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Rising quickly and quietly so as not to disturb Agiatis, he left the house quickly to consult the priestess at the temple.

* * *

He was not a fool, Agis thought fitfully, striding purposefully away from the heavy-gabled temple at dusk. He knew quite well there would be resistance to his plan -- and that enemies might seek his death -- but Sparta must be restored to her former glory. And now that he, Agis, son of Eudamidas and a rightful descendent from the royal family of Eurypon, had become one of Sparta's two kings, he would succeed. So he had taken a vow, a sacred oath taken at the Temple of Athens of the Brazen House.

He also knew he must be cautious. The omens at the temple were not auspicious, though what message was meant by the entrails of the sacrificed goat, the flight of the sacred doves, or the whispering of the wind through the fluttering leaves of the eucalyptus trees lining the banks of the soft-flowing Eurotas River were a mystery to him. The cold-eyed priestess, a hag of an oracle with her long white hair streaming wildly down her scrawny neck as if scrambling for roots upon the earth, looked through him as if lodged within his chest was another meaning, a truer and darker message. Though what it could be she did not relate, other than to say that his mission would be a troubled one.

Ha, he knew this already! Did not the oracles of old predict what had already taken place, that all this new-found love of gold and silver, of luxury and comforts, would weaken the Spartan character and bring on the city's downfall? When oracles conflict, who should one listen to? Whom do the gods favor? Is it not better to listen to the dictates of one's own mind? Or was one's destiny already ordained?

The temple, with its fluted limestone columns, revealed much of what was wrong with Sparta. Small bronze busts of Zeus throwing a thunderbolt and Poseidon instructing a dolphin stood on polished lintels as he had passed through a gloomy hall above a black and blue tiled floor. Plates of fruits, cereals and cakes were placed at the altars of the gods with the sweet odor of fresh honey, spread over the offerings, wafting through the dark corridor. Rows of white boars' teeth were painted at the edge of the stone walls.

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