Reads: 115

Early the next morning, before the sun had fully risen above the hills far to the east of the stadium, I went with Nicholas to the Spartan camp. I asked a guard if I could speak to Cynisca. When Cynisca approached me, I tried to read her face for signs of annoyance or curiosity, but her features were blank.
“What is it Phrygian child?”
I kept my hands clasped together and stared down at my feet through my sandals.

“May I trade you your unused chariot for gold?”

“What? Why?”

I had worked out what to say in case she asked why. “Well, last night your cousin Cleo said that these competitions are not for the feebleminded or greedy. I think a lot of coaches and athletes here are foolish and greedy and I want to prove it.”

I couldn’t help but look up at her olive-toned face. “I mean, if they’re not worthy because they’re lacking in virtue, people should know, right?” 

She raised an eyebrow. “You mean he accused your father of being those things. It's okay, I know Cleo is self-righteous. Tell me your plan.”

I explained our plan to her. She tilted her head back and let out a deep, hardy laugh.

“And you would keep the gold,” I finished.

“Yes, you may have that chariot. You’ll need its team of horses hitched to it. The lame stallion will be fine for this purpose. I look forward to seeing what happens.”


The chariot teams formed a haphazard procession to the Hippodrome, a building that was square on one end, horse-hoof shaped on the other, and lined with archways and columns. I was in a river of horses and wheels. The chariot team owners, many wearing fine linen robes and big jewels, waved to the onlookers. I held my head down staying close behind Dad. Some chariots had silver inlay gleaming in the sun, but none of them produced the gaudy shine of the golden wheels on Cynisca’s chariot. Onlookers and chariot owners alike gawked and murmured in awe. 

“Are those wheels gold?” someone shouted.

Dad turned his head in the general direction of the voice. “Yes,” he said loudly. “I turned my wood wheels to gold by simply touching them.” 

“Nonsense!” a closer voice behind us said.

“Would you like me to prove it? Imagine how beautiful your chariot will look with gold wheels! And when you return home you can melt them down into anything you want.”

“Sure, turn my wheels to gold,” the man said slowly and sarcastically.

Dad removed his special gold glove, with the notch for holding reigns, and reached out to the left wheel of the man’s chariot. While the man stood there with his mouth open, Dad reached over to make the right wheel match. 

Gasps and cries flowed over the crowd. Other chariot owners called for Dad to do the same for them and he began to make the rounds.

  “Those wheels could fetch enough food for our struggling villagers for months,” I heard someone say. I turned and caught my breath when I saw it was the long-lashed young man, talking to someone older. “But don’t take the offer because—” 

“Do mine!” The shout overshadowed the young man’s explanation. 


Inside the Hippodrome stepped stone sloped up the sides where an audience could sit or stand. There were more rows than I have fingers and toes. On both ends, on the inner side of the track, were large posts indicating the turning points. On the other end from us, a platform held four tall slender-legged chairs for the purple-robed judges. Officials directed the charioteers to line up behind a row of gates. Once all the chariot teams were inside, the onlookers from outside flowed up onto the stone steps to stand and watch; no one sat.

The twenty chariots in the staggered row each had two large wheels and four horses. I had never seen so many horses lined up so neatly in my life. I could now see that half of the chariots had shiny yellow wheels. 

A few charioteers did a double take when they noticed that Dad had left his golden-wheeled chariot behind and was now on a normal one.

I moved to the special area at the bottom near the gates reserved for team members and family. Their faces, young and old, bore tense jaws and crinkled brows.

A judge called out, “ready!”

A trumpet sounded.

The gates opened and the chariots were off. 

I fingered my warped bracelets, knowing what would happen soon.

Three-hundred-twenty hooves thundered on the dirt track, stirring up dirt clouds. Wheels became blurs of brown or bright yellow. In a matter of moments, the chariots with gold wheels became erratic. Startled, the drivers strained at the reigns, but they began to swerve into other lanes. Judges waved their rods and yelled out angrily that the drivers were violating rules.

Most of the golden-wheeled chariots stalled to a stop, the drivers lurching forward, and I could see that the wheels were more like bent ovals. My shoulders tensed and I gritted my teeth as one swerved into a wooden-wheeled chariot. The crash forced them both to stop. I felt my face warm with shame for being partly responsible. 

The surviving nine charioteers continued on, including Dad. My shame dampened the pride I should have felt when Dad tightly rounded the posts, and the excitement I should have felt for Cynisca’s team taking the lead. In the end, Cynisca’s team won. The long-lashed boy came in second. I should have felt relieved and proud that Dad completed safely at number eight instead of last, but I was too numb.


“Ha, that worked so well.” Dad chuckled. 

We stood in the shade of our tent. He ripped off a big chunk of herbed flatbread with his mouth. I stared down at my uneaten oil-dipped bread.

Right after the chariot race, Dad got a massage and stretched his muscles. We still had time for a light lunch before the next event so we bought some bread and now here we were.

“Dad, people got hurt. Let’s not do that again,” I pleaded.

“How can people get hurt in the next part of our plan?” He furrowed his brows and his mouth formed a pouty frown.

I thought it through and couldn’t think of an answer. I relaxed a little and took a bite of my oil-slathered bread.

Submitted: December 19, 2021

© Copyright 2023 LaVonna S.. All rights reserved.


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