On Xeo’s family’s farm lived a slave named Bruxieus, beloved and deferred to by the entire family. Bruxieus was captured and partially blinded by the Argives in his youth and was acquired by Xeo’s father past age 40. Xeo believed Bruxieus knew everything and was deeply attached to him. Xeo recalls watching the citizen-soldiers’ summer military drill, concluding with a glorious parade and feast, after which many well-fed, drunken warriors being carted home snoring.
Xeo grew up in a comfortable family, including a partially blinded elderly slave who was doted on by the family, and vice versa. Xeo enjoyed being a spectator of the citizen-soldiers’ drill as a boy, in contrast to the much closer view of warfare he’ll get as he grows up.
Very early the next morning, Xeo and his cousin 13-year-old Diomache head to town early. Xeo hopes to sell some precious ptarmigan eggs in the market in order to buy himself a flute. But no sooner do they reach the main road than they see fire blazing to the north. The two soon realize that numerous farms have been set on fire.
Xeo sets out on an innocuous boyhood errand, but the morning’s happy anticipation is soon interrupted by ominous fire, which will be a symbol of transformation throughout the novel.
A platoon of cavalry thunders toward them, and Xeo realizes that their allies, the Argives, have betrayed their city, along with a coalition of allies. He and Diomache hurtle homeward. They suddenly come upon Xeo’s uncle Tenagros, weeping, in his nightshirt. He tells them that Diomache’s mother and Xeo’s parents have all been killed. He angrily crushes Xeo’s ptarmigan eggs and orders the children into town, to get behind the safety of the walls.
The Argives’ betrayal shows that bitter rivalries between the Greek city-states were a common feature of life at this time, with shattering consequences for everyday Greeks. Xeo and his cousin learn that their family has been virtually wiped out. Xeo’s eggs are crushed, symbolizing the destruction of his childish hopes and expectations.