Aristides stared out at the setting sun as it sank beneath the waves on the horizon. He felt good—he always felt good after a hard swim, but this was even stronger than most. He felt as if he were on the precipice of something important and significant.
He felt as if his life were about to change, and he was about to become more.
Moments after the sun had fully set, he laid back flat on the tiny island he had swam to. Calling it an island was generous. It was a rocky outcropping in the bay, small enough to walk across with no more than four or five paces, but he liked to think of it as his island. No one ever came here. Why would they?
He came here to think, to prepare, to ready his mind for coming trials and troubles.
He stared up at the sky as it turned from blue to red to purple, and the first stars began to appear.
He watched his goddess manifest in the sky.
Angelos needed to compete this year. Kekrops had been clear about that, and Aristides was trying his best to entice his son into a life of competition. He could certainly order the boy to join the competition, but Aristides knew that if he did, Angelos would not win. He would not want to win. He would have no hunger.
Petros’ training was a surprising blessing. All these years, Aristides had trained alongside Angelos because he wanted the boy to prize competition and victory the same way he did, but now he knew that had been a mistake. Angelos saw only his father, a thing that he believed he could never beat, and so had never wanted to enter the contest. Now, watching Petros, Angelos seemed eager to prove himself against someone he viewed as a peer.
He was glad.
He wondered if Eudora would compete. She had a growing group of fans in Athens now. Sometimes they sent her gifts, which often made Aristides laugh. Young, unproven men trying to win her affection. Old, broken men enticing her to become their mistress. She told him everything, and sometimes playfully teased him that she would run off with some young boy or rich man if he didn’t do some chore around the house, or bring her flowers, or take her dancing. He wondered at the possibility of all three of them competing, and all three of them winning. What glory that would bring to their family then! Three champions, all under one roof.
Drako was rumored to compete in the games. His last year, with perhaps the upcoming Olympics his last competition before retirement. Aristides felt the burn in his stomach at the thought of the former champion, the driving hunger to beat him—again!—and force his acknowledgement. Eudora didn’t understand why beating Drako was so important to him. You have already defeated him once, she said. What does it prove if you beat him again?
It proves that it was not luck, or chance, or a fluke. It proves the truth of the matter is that I am better than him, better than he ever was, better than he could ever hope to be, and forces him to admit it. Not just to me, but to himself and to all of Athens. It silences all doubt.
Aristides flashed a toothy, wide grin up at the star-speckled sky. “I will win, and the glory of that victory will be yours, my goddess. You and the priest have given me everything. Bless me in this, so that I may repay these debts to you. Make me champion of Athens, and I will gladly be your champion.”
The stars twinkled silently back at him. The waves lapped at the edges of the island. There was no answer from Nyx, but Aristides knew he would have her blessing. There was no doubt in his bones that Drako would kneel, and that Athens would cheer his name.