View Full Version : A soldier's arms

Lazarus and the Gimp
22-02-2003, 15:56:56
A story I've been writing on Poly's Civ3 story forum. My motives for writing it were as follows-

1- Every story I've read about Thermopylae has been cack.

2- I wanted to see how they'd react to certain types of scenes on the forum. To their great credit, they barely batted an eyelid.

The opening's a bit shit, but stick with it. It's not yet finished.


Sparta 450 BC

......and when Cimon poured wine over my head I just laughed. Grabbing him around the shoulders we all tottered around the plaza and towards the shade of the trees. Mardonius grabbed the jug and gulped down a heroic draught. Then he belched and pointed towards the east.

"See? We can see the sun. Not like those Athenian bastards cowering behind their walls."

Cimon wrestled the wine away. "They'll keep." he said. "Their time will come.". Then he drained the jug and tossed it towards a huddle of old helots who were repairing a wall.

Mardonius sniggered. "We'll winkle them out like fat oysters. They can hide all they like- but they won't stop a Spartan!". With that he took a deep breath and started singing the first bars of "Leonidas".

He was silenced within seconds. The earthenware jug came flying back and struck him full in the face, shattering with the impact. Mardonius shrieked with shock and pain and reeled back, blood flowing from his nose and brow. I turned back and stared at the old helot who watched us with a cold insolence, gripping his mattock hard.

Cimon had drawn his knife, but something in that old slave's manner had frozen him in his tracks. Though he must have been well over 50 years old, he was still a lean and hardened man and he looked ready to kill us where we stood. Slowly reaching down, he raised the hem of his tunic to reveal an ugly scar running across his ribs; a white and shiny viper around his side.

"See that, boy?" he said. "A Persian left that on me. Think you could do better?".

Mardonius was silent and breathing hard. Sometimes these old Messenian veterans were trouble. They had reinforced our elite hoplites in the Persian Wars and had seen their share of killing. Once too old to fight they would be returned to helot status to serve us, but it was not unknown for them to rebel bloodily.

Then the helot pointed to another scar, this one running down his calf. "The crush of the bodies drove the edges of my greaves in..." he murmered,

An armoured helot? Surely not! "You were a hoplite?" I asked.

"I was.". Now, only now, the warrior in him was fading and he looked tired and old. He leaned back against the wall.

"What happened to you?"

He looked up again, and that disgusted look was back in his eyes. "I used to be like you. So arrogant. So keen to go to war. Singing "The Ionian revolt" and swaggering about, so full of shit.". Now he sat down under the trees and beckoned us forwards. "Let me tell you what it was really like. Let me tell you about Thermopylae."

"Simoniedes was on my left, for I was stronger....."


30 years earlier.

The third night at Thermopylae

"They're in good voice tonight" I said . I was braiding my long black hair, as were several others around me. Others among the Spartan hoplites tightened buckles on their bronze breastplates, exercised or poked campfires with sticks. Everyone was fidgeting- the tension hung over their camp like a blacksmith's hammer, and men by the thousand clutched at any pointless action to take their minds off the clamour coming from the Persian lines not half a mile away.

Simoniedes had wrapped himself tightly in his blanket- autumn was here and the nights were growing colder. The wind was picking up tonight and it whipped in from the sea, around the mountains and up the narrow pass of Thermopylae. "I can't blame them" he said. "It'll warm them up". He wriggled a little closer to their fire.

Our army wasn't large, but it stretched a long way down the pass that in several places was less than ten feet across. On one side the sheer grey face of the mountains, on the other a cliff onto rocks and surf- the knife-cut that was the pass of Thermopylae cutting between them for four miles. Our camps stretched back nearly a mile and housed 4200 fighting men, all grouped together according to nationality.

The largest force were the Athenians, numbering 2600. They had been the loudest on the first two nights, screaming out their songs commemorating their great victory at Marathon ten years earlier. This was done to intimidate the Persians, but also as a rebuke to us Spartans who had not fought at Marathon, and had barely raised a presence here. They lacked our discipline, but Marathon had shown they could still fight with desperate courage. With Athens under threat, no-one expected them to be any weaker now.

Next were the 1100 Boetians, Thebans and Thespians. They were the quietest and showed the fear most openly. No surprises- their homes faced no immediate threat, so it shocked no-one to find scores deserting each night.

Finally there were the mixed races of the armed helots, and the 300 Spartans. As ever, faith had hamstrung our effectiveness as the great festival in Sparta had delayed the muster of the phalanxes, just as it had at Marathon. Though the combined Greek army was led by a Spartan, King Leonidas, his countrymen were little more than a token presence.

Leonidas was in a foul mood again. For the last week, his every waking hour had been spent hearing Athenian jibes and songs, reminding him that for all our much-vaunted military prowess it was Athenians who did the fighting. His knuckles were bone-white, and this morning he had beaten a helot to death for oversleeping. Marathon had made him bitter- the soft and timid little Athenians had emerged from behind their coward's walls and fought like demons, while we who laughed at defences had prayed in our homes.

Iannis already bore the scars of his king's wrath. On the march to Thermopylae he had brawled with an Athenian who had called him a "Spartan bitch", and had been flogged in front of the assembled phalanxes. He lay on his belly to save his scabbing back and morosely scribbled pictures in the dust.

"How's the back?" I asked.

"Itchier than a whore's crack." said Iannis. "It's keeping me awake."

"That's good" I said. "It's healing."

Simoniedes chuckled. "Hey, you always wanted a war-wound, didn't you? Something to impress the lads with". He slapped Philotas' invitingly upturned backside. "Those scars should win you a drink or two at the next festival."

"What next festival?" said Philotas, pointedly. "Planning on getting back home?".

Simoniedes laughed at that. He was always like that. We were all supposed to be impervious to fear and discomfort, or at least to not show it, but to Simoniedes it was as if this was just another training game. His jokes and laughter poked and cajoled at his companions, annoying and (finally) amusing them into laughing back. Perhaps there was one like him in every phalanx, keeping the morale of his fellows up, but I never met anyone quite like him. In contrast, I was the slow and dull one floundering behind him.

Our group all came from the same village- myself, Simoniedes, Philotas, Iannis, Perdiccas and Eumolpas. In Sparta's armies old friends were kept together so that every hoplite knew and trusted the men holding the line with him. We were also paired- my pair was Simoniedes and we were together at all times. In the phalanxes, each man's shield protected the man to his left so there was a tendency in battle for the line to drift to the right as each man sought a little more protection. That's why the stronger men were placed on the right- to anchor the line. Simoniedes on my left, for I was stronger. He called me his "big, dumb ox".

Tonight, however, even Simoniedes' charm was struggling to lift our spirits. Word had reached us that the Greek navy had been defeated, so we were no longer waiting to sweep the Persian invaders away.

We were stuck on a mountain slope with no hope of reinforcement. Outnumbered more than twenty to one. We all knew our chances of surviving were very slim.

Lazarus and the Gimp
22-02-2003, 15:57:38
Part 2- Morning. 4th day.

The sky was greying as dawn approached, and birdsong could be heard over the singing and bellowing from the Persian camps. With quarter of a million men at his disposal, Xerxes could easily spare a few thousand each night to approach the mouth of the pass and spend all night screaming at us. It was standard practice- an attempt to deprive us of sleep and undermine our morale. Usually it was just screaming and drumming, but the occasional mispronounced obscenity in pidgin-Greek could be made out. Sometimes the more educated attempted a spot of propaganda- reminding us that we could be crushed underfoot by overwhelming odds at any moment- but it usually got drowned out and just blended into a constant idiot blaring.

Not that we were slacking in that field, however. We had something that the Persians didn't- abundant food. They were hungry- the land could not support an army of one hundred men, let alone one hundreds of times larger. Xerxes had arranged his next supply landing from his navy to be beyond the mountains, which was why he had to take the pass. A detour around the mountains with an army that size would have taken over a week, and he would arrive with his forces weak and half-starved. We played on this- every time we received our meals of vine leaves fatly stuffed with lamb we would wave them at the Persians and ask if they were hungry. I swear we could hear their bellies growling from half a mile away.

Xerxes was no fool. His intelligence was excellent and he knew we were dug in hard. Taking the pass would be bloody and brutal, so he had paused for four days as he tried to intimidate us into surrender or retreat. However his supplies must have been near-exhausted by now, and within a day or two he would have to attack. With every day the tension grew.

Philotas was showing the strain. He had spent some time softly punching at the grey cliff face as we idled round the fire, until Iannis noticed the blood smearing across the rock from his torn knuckles. His pair, Perdiccas, took him away to a quiet corner and we could hear him crying. Now he was silent and pale, so Perdiccas was gently cajoling him to rest and eat. Perdiccas was a quiet and soft-spoken man, but understood his boisterous pair well and could be relied on to coax him through if anyone could.

At the other extreme, Eumolpas was taking his usual morning exercise which consisted of a good hour of shouting abuse at the Persians. He usually began by reminding them that they had been away from home for a long time, then moved on to suggesting what their women were doing with Ionian Greeks in their absence, which orifices were involved and how much they screamed with delight at being filled by a real man for a change, rather than a Persian eunuch. Simoniedes would sometimes join in, and his suggestions would become so spectacularly disgusting that the two would end up howling with laughter, unable to keep up the abuse any longer.

Sometimes one of the Persians, usually a poor and inexperienced Medean warrior desperate for glory, would approach the pass entrance and challenge a Greek champion to single combat. We were under strict orders not to do so- I usually replied by lifting my kilt and waving my penis at them. In the absence of a common tongue it was a suitably eloquent retort.

However these moments of amusement were growing fewer and further between. This was the fourth day at Thermopylae and we were tired, dirty and shivering at night. Conversations were less common, and were replaced by terse scolding and flashes of temper. Leonidas stalked through the camps with his retinue like a thundercloud, issuing orders and summary punishments for idleness.

As the day dragged on, and noon passed, Perdiccas climbed up the steep face of the pass until he reached a ledge over two hundred feet up. He stayed up there for a couple of hours, watching the activity in the Persian camps. Then he climbed down and hurried over to Leonidas's quarters.

It was near dusk when he rejoined us, looking grim and dejected. "What did you see?" I asked.

"A lot of activity. Drilling, quartermasters handing out arrows, instruction sessions. The infantrymen from Menes are all being moved up to the front."

Iannis swore. "They're coming, aren't they?"

"It looks like it. Tomorrow looks like being the one."

Not even Simoniedes had a laugh at that. His jaw was clenched and he looked thoughtfully at the ground. For once, it was Philotas who broke the silence.

"Good. I'm tired of waiting. I just want it to end."

He sat down heavily. I leaned back against the rough rock face and slowly slid down it, feeling it drag and graze my elbows. There was a great weight in my belly and a dry, bitter taste in my mouth.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to defacate. I wanted to cry. I wanted to beat my head against the rocks until everything stopped. Instead I checked my sword's edge and tried to become as cold and numb as the cliffs around us.

Lazarus and the Gimp
22-02-2003, 15:58:03
Part 3. Evening, 4th day.

Leonidas had spent the last hour addressing groups of soldiers according to their nationality. He had saved us Spartans until last, obviously planning to make a rousing finale to his countrymen. One of his helots, a Messenian clerk, was taking notes of his speeches to report back to the waiting ears in Athens, Thebes, Thespiae and Sparta.

The light was failing by the time he reached us. We all stopped checking our equipment and drew around to hear his speech. Leonidas was quite a short man, but heavily-built, and had a pugnacious bulldog's face that looked ridiculous when coupled with his lavishly braided and oiled hair.

Stepping up on a boulder to gain height, he looked around at his troops, then began.

"Countrymen! You have spent your lives preparing for this moment. You were fortunate enough to be born into the greatest culture in the world, and to be born into the purest and noblest bloodline in humanity. Now you must prove yourself worthy of it."

He was gesticulating so wildly that he almost fell off his rock. Regaining his balance, he continued.

"Your ancestors brought Sparta glory by enslaving the Messenians to serve us. You will now prove yourselves by bathing in the blood of those Persian vermin ahead of you. They are not men. They copulate with lesser races and animals, while their women drop runts and cripples from their stinking holes. There is nothing pure in them."

His face was flushed and sweating, and he was near-screaming. "Kill them all. Kill them even when your spear is lost and your sword is broken. If your pair slackens in the combat cut open his belly yourself, for he is a traitor to his people. Only be.....only by.....You must..."

He stumbled to a halt, his mouth working like a landed fish as he tried to find the words. Seconds dragged on, and his face was purple with frustration. Dumb and raging. His arms jerked up spastically, but still the words failed to emerge. None of us moved- we weren't even breathing.

Finally he snapped. He cursed us as dumb animals, stepped down from his rock and punched his clerk full in the face, before stalking back to his tent.

In the collective grip of an awful embarrassment, we all avoided each other's eyes. Instead we went back to our camps and stoked up the fires to ward off the night's chill.

Lazarus and the Gimp
22-02-2003, 15:58:32
Part 4.

Night, 4th Day

I measured out the evening in the rhythmic hiss of the whetstone on my sword's edge. Hiss, hiss, hiss....a simple, repeated task can drown out thought. Anything to fill the time, to give it some sort of meaning.

Simoniedes was watching. "You'll wear that thing down to a dagger" he said.

I checked it's edge with my thumb- it was no sharper than it had been an hour ago. Any sharper and it could have sliced the moonlight.

He yawned, his breath clouding in the cold air. "Get some sleep" he said.

Seeing as I wasn't in the mood for arguing, I sheathed my sword before pulling the blanket over me. Carefully tucking it under my legs to keep out the chill, I watched the flickering light of the campfire dance over his face. The conversations from neighbouring groups were dying down and the were few sounds other than the sharp popping of burning firewood.

Simoniedes rubbed his eyes. The smoke tended to hang in the pass like a chimney, and we were all red-eyed now. Looking up, he saw me watching. "Can't you sleep?"

"No chance" I answered. "Can't stop thinking."

His teeth shone as he flashed that winning grin at me again. How many times had I seen that now? "You think too much" he said. "Too much furrowed brow, too little cock and balls".

"I thought I was your dumb ox?"

"You are. Oxen are very thoughtful animals. Big on thoughts, small on conclusions. So deep in thought they never notice they're in a yoke and knee-deep in their own crap".

I laughed quietly. "Lovely. That's me, is it?"

"Of course". He shuffled across until he sat on the edge of my blanket. "It's about time I heard you laughing again. You've had a face like a rainy day for weeks".

"Well pardon me. I've had a few things on my mind."

He was watching my face, looking for the reactions. "Like what?"

"Like getting a Persian sword in my guts. It's the thought of being opened up like that..."

Simoniedes went quiet and gazed around. He watched the huddle of blankets on the other side of the fire where Philotas and Perdiccas lay huddled. They were whispering very softly, too softly to be overheard. He watched them for several minutes.

Then he looked back down on me. "Like I said- you think too much."

He lifted the edge of the blanket. "Come on- move up a bit. A man could drop dead in this cold.". He shuffled under the blanket alongside me. Then he ran his had up my kilt and lightly took hold of my phallus.

I nearly shot bolt upright in shock. "Aaaah! Your hand's freezing!" I howled.

He nearly passed out with laughter. For a good minute he could barely draw breath, and tears were streaming down his face. Finally he wheezed and spluttered to a halt, and stared across at me, grinning. "You'll soon warm it up" he said, feeling me grow and harden in his hand.

Before he could react, I drew my cold hand down under the blanket and grabbed him likewise. He bellowed in outraged delight and shock. "Aaaah, you evil bastard!". The laughter again, and this time I joined him, laughing every bit as hard....

.....and then we stopped talking and let our hands move together while we held each other close for warmth and strength. For those sacred moments I forgot to be afraid. When the climax took me I knew that other pairs across our camp were doing the same- each act was an act of defiance in the face of death. Each hoplite helping each other draw strength and reinforce the bonds between them.

We were Spartan hoplites. We would kill for each other and die for each other. We would do this because we loved each other.

Lazarus and the Gimp
22-02-2003, 15:59:07
Part 5. Thermopylae, 5th day.

The battle began at first light. When our scouts raised the alarm that the Persian army was advancing, Leonidas ordered the Athenian hoplites to the entrance of the pass. They held the ground before the first barricades which were manned by a mix of Thespians and Messenians. We were half a mile back, holding in reserve ahead of the second barricades, at one of the tightest stretches of the pass. In ranks no more than four wide, we waited in case there was a breakthrough at the front.

Echoing down the mountain-walls came the sounds of battle- screams, bellows, crashes and thuds. Messenian runners carried reports back to Leonidas at the first barricades, and ran his orders back along the line. The word was that the Athenians were holding up well, news that must have soured the promising reports for our king. To us it came as no surprise- the Persians still clung to the old ways of heroic battle, all swordplay and dramatic one-on-one melees. Such tactics were devastating on the open field, where the speed and overwhelming numbers of the Persian attacks could outflank their opposition.

Here at Thermopylae, however, they were fighting on our terms. Our defensive formation, strict discipline and positional advantage firmly tipped the balance in our favour. From my position on the right of the line, I was right up against the edge of the cliff and had a fair view of the battle. What I saw shocked me. I could see that it was the Medean spearmen who were fighting the Athenians- the light infantry making up a large part of Xerxes' rank-and-file. The Athenians had retreated back to one of the narrower sections of the pass to make a stand, and the Medeans were being forced onto their spears, or driven off the cliff by the force of their advancing ranks behind. Before panicked orders could be screamed back along their lines I had seen a rain of men fall onto the rocks below. Hundreds must have been killed or maimed without a sword or spear coming near them.

When Xerxes finally ordered the Medeans to retreat and ease the pressure on their front-line, the Athenians began to drive forwards in close order. Their morale badly shaken by the slaughter, the Medeans gave ground and were driven back along the pass. Two hours after battle had commenced, the Athenians were right back at the entrance of the pass having killed over a thousand of the enemy at a loss of less than fifty of their men.

For the next two hours they held that position, crouched behind their shields while arrows rained down from the Persian archers. Then a second assault was made by the Medeans- again the Athenians fell back to the chokepoint to make a stand. Though this assault was more cautious, the Medeans were still taking a ferocious savaging and they retreated out of the pass less than an hour later. By now the floor of the pass was carpeted with Medean bodies, and they were on the point of routing. The Athenians were close to exhaustion, but jubilant.

By noon, it was eerily quiet. The Persian ranks were seething but holding back from the pass. Then trumpets announced the arrival of Leonidas at the Spartan position. We rattled our spears in salute as he stalked up to our lines to speak.

"All Spartan hoplites will now advance and relieve the Athenians. Take up position at the pass entrance and hold the ground before the first barricades". He raised himself up to his full height, and unlike last night's fiasco words didn't fail him. "You have been trained to be the finest soldiers this land has ever known, but now you must prove yourself worthy of that training. Xerxes has withdrawn the Medeans- the next assault will be made by the Immortals."

Every second of the march up the pass is stamped on my memory- the smell of blood and sweat, the dust in the air, the way my breath rasped through my throat and seemed so loud as to drown out the sound of the marching feet. Then we were at the frontline. Then we were fighting for our lives.

Lazarus and the Gimp
22-02-2003, 15:59:39
Part 6. Thermopylae, 5th day.

Have you any idea what it feels like to fight?

The impact of shield on shield, and the pressure of those behind you, is crushing. I was a couple of rows back from the front line, which meant I could actually do some fighting. Those right at the front were so crushed together that they could barely move- all they could do was keep their shields up and push.

That's what war is. A dirty, noisy shoving match between two walls of shields. After our position, our biggest advantage came from our large, bowl-faced shields- the smaller and flatter shields that the Persians used tended to slide across them under the pressure, leaving gaps that could be exploited. Our next big advantage came from our spears, which were longer than those used by the Persians. This meant that despite being a row or two back from the enemy, I could look for gaps and stab at them.

The Immortals were terrifying. An elite chosen from all over Persia, each man towered over six feet tall, and was heavily-muscled. They spurned armour and fought with sword and shield in light shirts and trousers. Over the course of six hours, we slaughtered them.

For the last two hours, I was at the front. I had moved forwards to plug a gap left by a fallen hoplite and joined Simoniedes who was already at the front. With a crash of bronze on bronze, my shield hit a Persian shield and I became part of that screaming and lurching wall. My friends gradually worked into the front line too, until we held the line together.

What was it like? The heat was awful. In the crush of bodies we sweated and groaned, getting thirstier by the second. We pushed against the Persians, our feet braced in the stinking soup of blood, piss and shit that coated the ground. All the time we were no more than two feet away from an enemy face, while spears stabbed over our heads and past our shoulders. Sometimes the pressure would suddenly ease on the Persian side and we would stumble forwards onto an uneven footing of Persian bodies. Some of those under our feet were still alive, but were quickly crushed.

The first man I killed simply slid across my shield, and with a heave of my shoulders and hips I forced him over the cliff. My spear had been lost as I forced my way onto the shield-wall, and for over an hour I never came close to drawing my sword. My entire body and both hands were braced against my shield as I tried to become as dumb and unyielding as the mountain. I rarely raised my head over my shield's rim- the first time I tried this, a Persian spear rammed into my helmet making me dizzy with the impact. Instead I pushed hard and wrenched my shoulders from side to side, trying to unbalance the Persian crushed against me, trying to force his shield aside for one of my fellows to kill him, or to simply push him off the cliff.

Simoniedes was crammed against me, and we were both crouching into the cover of my shield. "Keep pushing, you ox!" he said.

Philotas died first. Soon after taking the front, he started to panic in the crush and his thrashing threatened to break our line. A hoplite behind him managed to draw his sword and cut his throat, then forced his way forward over his body to take his place. Blood was sprayed on me, but I couldn't swear that it was Philotas's.

During the crush, the straps fastening my breastplate broke under the strain and I was soon fighting bare-chested. Soon after that, the pressure on the front-line started to ease as the Immortals sopped trying to push us back. It was then that the fighting really started.

The first I knew of this was when I realised that the Immortal in front of me was trying to bite me. His sword was still pinned behind his neighbour on his left, but he was forcing himself over the top of my shield and snapped at my neck. Still unable to draw my own sword, I butted him in the face with the brow of my helmet and kept butting until he didn't have a face any more. The ridged bronze brow turned it into screaming meat that sprayed blood and saliva down the back of my shield. Once I forced forward until he had fallen underfoot, I stamped down until he wasn't moving. Then I drew my sword and killed, and killed, and killed.

Finally able to move and being on the right of the line, I used the freedom of my sword arm to hack at the Persians. If they turned their shields to meet my sword, they exposed themselves to the spears of our second and third rows. If they held fast I hacked at their legs, attempting to cut the tendons, and forced them up to the cliff's edge.

I have no idea how many I killed. Thirty or more, perhaps. It felt like it would never end, but this wild slaughter in fact lasted only a few minutes. The easing of pressure meant that the Immortals were pulling back and we were advancing to force them out of the pass. Eventually we were at the mouth of the pass, the last ranks of the Immortals broke and ran to join their fellows who had pulled out of Thermopylae.

I was swaying and dizzy, exhausted and thirsty, and covered in blood. Some was mine- at some point a Persian spear had skidded across a rib and nearly impaled me. We had held, however. We had faced the Immortals and driven them back out of the pass. The sun was setting and the hungry Persians knew they faced another night with little food.

24-02-2003, 05:55:20
I'm enjoying this very much...my favorite so far.

Lazarus and the Gimp
25-02-2003, 22:34:15
Part 7. Thermopylae, 6th day

We were rested on the second day of the battle. Leonidas ordered us back to our base at the southern entrance to the pass, and moved up the Thespians and a reserve company of Athenians to take our place at the front. There they fought Xerxes' Cissian spearmen. Eumolpas and Simoniedes couldn't resist nipping back down the pass occasionally to insult the Persians- they had spent the morning trying to come up with new and breathtakingly obscene curses and wanted to try them out on the enemy.

That meant that we were kept informed of events at the front. Simoniedes was so keen to make sure he had an attentive audience that he would scramble up the mountain's face to scream his insults at them, getting a clear view of the fighting in the process. Eumolpas was scared of heights, so he settled for shouting his insults up to Simoniedes to relay on to the Persians. From their reports we learned that the Thespians had been badly shaken when their shield wall was broken and were driven back to the second line of barricades. For the first time the Persians held the northern mouth of the pass, but the Athenians held them at bay at the second line which was set at a particularly narrow stretch of the pass. At that point they held the Cissians back with a shield wall just four men wide, and the Cissians lost many men in the crush.

It was a strange day. We idled and tried to talk while the sounds of battle echoed down the pass. Among my friends, only Eumolpas and Simoniedes were unscathed. Philotas was dead. Perdiccas had only a scabbing gash across his eyebrow from a blow to his helmet, but was inconsolable at the loss of his pair, Philotas. Iannis carried the worst injuries- a Persian spear had stabbed clean through his thigh and his collarbone had been broken as he fell. He had come close to bleeding to death, and was carried back south on a stretcher before we had a chance to say goodbye.

My spear-gash was stitched up by Simoniedes and bandaged. I wasn't leaving the battlefield, so I limped around and winced with pain whenever my stitches pulled.

As dusk fell, the sounds of battle eased again as the two sides disengaged. The Persians had fallen back to the captured first barricades while the Athenians held the line just before the second barricades. It was an uneasy stand-off, with occasional flurries of arrows flying in both direction throughout the night. Surprisingly, the Persians started up the drumming and clamour again- the first time since the third night. We settled down around our fires and tried to grab what sleep we could.


It must have been around midnight when I woke from a fitful sleep. Simoniedes was lying next to me, and from his breathing I could tell he was awake. I rolled over towards him.

"Can't sleep?"

"No" he replied. "I nodded off for a while, but I had a bad dream."

"What did you dream about?"

"About you, partly". He turned over onto his elbow and grinned at me, but he looked strained. "Should have been a good dream, shouldn't it?"

"Come on. What happened? It could be an omen"

"I was in a field of wheat. It was all swaying in the breeze- you know how it makes that whispering sound that's sort of quiet and loud all at once?"

"I know."

He lay back, looking up at the stars. "I had a sickle in my hand and I was harvesting the wheat. Just me in this great golden sea that went on for ever. Slash, slash, slash, leaving rows of cut wheat behind me. Then you were standing in front of me, screaming at me."

He paused a while, troubled by the memories. "What was I screaming?" I asked.

"Just screaming. Like you were terrified of something. Then I felt my hand was wet, and I saw that the sickle was dripping with blood. I was covered in it. I looked back and there was row after row of hacked bodies behind me, lying in pools of blood and guts. Millions of them- they stretched back as far as I could see. Some were still moving and thrashing about."

He paused again, for several minutes. This time I didn't try to prompt him, but he continued anyway.

"Perdiccas, Eumolpas....their bodies were there. Then Iannis was in front of me, and I hacked him to pieces with my sickle. There was this sea of blood and bodies, and I couldn't get out of it. All I could do was keep hacking away at everything and try to cut a path out. Philotas tried to run away, but I caught up with him and cut him down. All the time I was screaming and crying for forgiveness."

Another pause.

"Then it was you in front of me. I hacked my sickle straight at your face."

He didn't speak again. Some time after that, he fell asleep and I joined him


Panic. Confusion.

Still dark, but with the deep blue light of pre-dawn in the sky. Screaming.

I'm staggering upright, still fogged by sleep. Alarm calls on the trumpets. Simoniedes is scrabbling for his shield. Shouting. It's Eumolpas.



26-02-2003, 15:56:10

26-02-2003, 16:53:00

more nice work laz, btw

26-02-2003, 21:24:51
I just want everyone here to know that I posted my first glowing review before I got to the gay parts.
Oddly, I'm enjoying it even more now.

03-03-2003, 18:45:03
Hey, where's the latest installment of Soap Opera Buggery?

12-03-2003, 18:43:08

Lazarus and the Gimp
12-03-2003, 21:55:30
Part 8. Thermopylae- final day.

It's funny how history hinges on the smallest things, isn't it? One word can bring down an empire....

In this case it was leaves. That's all- just fallen leaves. The usual autumn fall had covered the pathway, and the noise of feet crunching on dried leaves alerted a sentry's attention. Had it not been for that, the Persians would have pinned us in at Thermopylae and had a clear run to Athens before it could be evacuated fully.

The pass of Thermopylae was not the only path over the mountains. There were narrow and daunting goat-paths that ran over them. Leonidas knew of them, and had set a guard on the most obvious of them. On the others he took a gamble that they would not be found. He lost. He failed us.

Ephialtes was the name of the goat-herd. His name is now the most reviled in Athens and Sparta, for he revealed a path to the Persians. Though he’s known as a traitor, I can’t blame him. Having a Persian sword at your throat could turn near anyone into a traitor. Leonidas should have placed patrols on all the known paths. It wouldn’t have taken many men- a few dozen could have held those paths for weeks.

So Xerxes knew of the paths, and had known from the first day of the battle. He always seemed to know everything we did even before we had acted. If Leonidas had possessed half as much intelligence as Xerxes we’d control all Asia Minor by now. Xerxes had thrown wave after wave of assaults at us, while all along he was quietly threading soldiers along the goat-path, awaiting an assault on our flanks. To move his entire army along that narrow mountain path would have taken weeks, but in a couple of nights he had a few hundred men poised and ready to attack our supply depots and pin us in the pass. Without water, we would have been finished in a day or two.

His plan almost succeeded- they had enough men down to cause panic. In the semi-darkness we had no idea how many of them there were. Suspecting a much larger force than actually emerged, Leonidas pulled all the Athenians and Messenians out of the pass, and ordered them to retreat towards Athens in an attempt to hold up a Persian advance some miles back from the pass. The Thebans and Thespians were also pulled out, and launched at the Persian assault party that was already burning our supplies.

We Spartans were to hold the pass. We were to hold the pass in the face of an all-out frontal attack from the Immortals, while praying that the Thebans and Thespians could hold back the assault from behind. Just 250 of us to hold the last barricade.

This was bad. The Immortals had attacked furiously, trying to prevent us getting an orderly shield-wall up. Simoniedes and myself were a few rows back from the frontline, but the front rows were broken into disorganised fighting. We were the first row to form a tight line. I was on the right extreme, with the cliff-edge by my side and Simoniedes crouching into my shield. We braced hard, and watched the front rows get slaughtered.

13-03-2003, 07:40:04
You need to have parts where people's eyeballs get pierced.

13-03-2003, 14:13:42
I may be preaching to the converted but some italian guy has just released a book called spartan, with a similar vibe.

i'll do some research and update this post.

[researches] Ah, actually it's just come out in paperback, been out for a while. it's by valerio massimo manfredi.



Resource Consumer
13-03-2003, 14:58:38
I thought this thread was about a pub...

Lazarus and the Gimp
13-03-2003, 18:19:29
Originally posted by King_Ghidra
I may be preaching to the converted but some italian guy has just released a book called spartan, with a similar vibe.

i'll do some research and update this post.

[researches] Ah, actually it's just come out in paperback, been out for a while. it's by valerio massimo manfredi.



Seen it, just after I started writing. It's the story of my life- some fucker always gets there first.

I'd started serious research on a novel-length work on Boudicca, only to see it all over Waterstones last week. The difference is that the one in the shops is all "mystic powers of the Celts" whereas mine would have been "Insane bint with an axe".

14-03-2003, 17:49:13
Casca The Eternal Mercenary is a series written by famed Green Beret Barry Sadler and covers a wide range of conflicts with Casca (the side piercing soldier of Jesus fame) damned to walk the earth until the second coming. Not great literature, but a very entertaining read. I think he's a Panzer commander, Persian, Visigoth, etc. in the several books.

The Shaker
14-03-2003, 18:14:38
Steven Pressfield had a thermoplae novel out last year as well I think, that was quite good I thought.

Oh yeah, nice work laz.

Lazarus and the Gimp
30-03-2003, 17:28:51
This was bad. This was really bad.

"Come on! Put your back into it!" Simoniedes screamed into my ear. I braced against my shield and flailed around the edge with my sword. Each thrust pulled on the partially-healed gash in my side and I could feel blood running down the inside on my breastplate.

In the first minutes, the rows behind us had tried to use their spears but we were so few that the Immortals had started forcing us back down the pass. Now we were all just braced and pushing, just trying to hold back the onslaught while our rearguard dealt with the assault to our rear. If they could rejoin us, perhaps we could hold the pass for another day.....


The Immortal facing me was being forced across my shield. I waited unto he was desperately focussed on keeping his balance on the cliff-edge, then thrust the point of my sword straight at his face. It cut through his lips, there was a brief scrape of bronze on teeth, then the point emerged through the back of his neck. With a coughing gurgle, he pitched over the cliff. His replacement was caught off-balance and fell straight after his comrade without coming near my sword. The next one stayed upright and slammed into my shield. I started raining blows around the side of my shield, feeling the crunch and bite of bone beneath my sword, trying to ignore the blood now running down my leg.

For an hour we held up. I spent the first few minutes killing, but my arm became leaden. "I can't do it!" I said to Simoniedes. "I can barely lift my arm".

"Just keep pushing! Let them force themselves off the edge!"

I was a rock in a wall. Braced hard into my shield. Eyes shut and just the blood in my head pounding...



"Keep going! Stand up!". His voice came as if from far away. He could feel my legs starting to buckle.



"Don't do this!! Keep fighting!!"





"Fight, you bastard! You'll kill us all!! FIGHT!!!".


I'm so sorry, Simoniedes. If I could speak, I would tell you how ashamed I am that I'm failing. I would tell you how much you meant to me. I would tell you what an honour it was to serve with you. I would tell you that I loved you. But I can't do it anymore. I'm too tired of it all. Can't fight. Can't speak. Can't even keep pushing. I'm so sorry.

...and my shield dropped. And my legs gave way.

....and the Immortals surged forward, breaking our shield wall. As I pitched backwards over the cliff, I saw the fear in Simoniedes' eyes as a Persian spear impaled him through the throat...

Then nothing.

31-03-2003, 08:15:41
I heard this very story on a Christian channel just a few days ago as I was scanning the dial. The speaker was very eloquent and dramatic, placing emphasis on a traitor who showed them the path. I don't know if he was making some analogy about current events or not. Probably. It's a great story.
Your imagery was great...something you don't often utilize. It's effective and hard to write well.
I think you should write a "history for cynical grownups" book.
It would probably be a big hit. Just enough to read while I'm in the crapper now and then.
Good work...thanks!

Lazarus and the Gimp
04-04-2003, 21:16:44
How many men had fallen down that cliff before me? Thousands, surely. When I landed, it was on yielding flesh and bone instead of rock. In a way, it's funny how all that death saved my life. I was unconscious for no more than an hour, and I could hear the battle still raging when I finally opened my eyes.

I made no attempt to rejoin it. Instead I buried my face in the corpses below me and played dead.

Others did the same. Two Messenians hid behind bodies in the battlefield beyond the pass, and it was from them that I learned of how the battle ended.

My collapse broke our shield-wall, and the Spartans were unable to rebuild it. The sheer weight of numbers on the Persian side forced them out of the pass, and for the first time they were fighting in open ground. In open ground, surrounded by enemies, hoplite tactics were largely useless and the closing stages of the battle for Thermopylae was a furious riot of man-to-man free combat with sword and shield. "Heroic combat", we call it, for it is a throwback to the time of heroes in the Trojan wars. It's the greatest misnomer ever- it's a confused slaughter.

What made them carry on? There was no hope of victory and no hope of rescue. The pass was lost, they were hopelessly outnumbered and were forced to break away from their tradition of organised close-rank combat. They were just fighting out of habit- to kill as many Persians as they could before they were cut down.

They were incredible.

Two loose knots of Spartans had formed, as they tried to reassert some degree of order. The smaller force was centred around King Leonidas and was fighting close to the pass of Thermopylae. The second and larger group (which included my friends Eumolpas and Perdiccas) had taken up a position on a small hill further back. Inevitably, Leonidas became the focus of attention. With his bodyguards whipped into a killing frenzy, our king took his final stand in a bid to turn this battlefield defeat into a heroic legacy. Though his judgement was suspect, his courage was never in doubt, and the Messenians described sprays of blood flying around him as he hacked at the remnants of Xerxes' Immortals with his sword.

It took the best part of an hour for his force to be overwhelmed. Sheer numbers of enemy wore them down and Leonidas was among the last to fall, still struggling despite carrying dozens of killing wounds. Our king was dead.

Amazingly, the real heroics were yet to come. The second Spartan force holding the hill, defying all credibility, launched a counter-attack towards the point where Leonidas had fallen. Eumolpas, the little joker, was at the front of the assault team as they attempted to force their way over to where our king's body lay. Twice they were forced back, but on the third charge they reached their target and started dragging the body back to the hill. A burly hoplite did the dragging while his comrades fought around him. Every few metres or so, one of them would fall to a Persian sword.

By the time they reached the hill, only a handful remained. Eumolpas was now carrying Leonidas' body, and struggling under the weight of the far bigger man. As he started to ascend the slope, a spear took him through the thigh and he collapsed. His last living minutes were spent writhing on the bloody ground, still lashing out at Persian limbs as their spears went in. His exploits you will know from the closing verses of "The battle-hymn of Leonidas", and he is justly remembered as a hero. To me, however, he'll always be that laughing boy ready to taunt anyone to distraction, not some celebrated corpse.

Perdiccas? Quiet and thoughtful Perdiccas, so heartbroken by the death of his friend. No songs name him, but he was the bravest of us all. He was one of the very last to fall. Despite their massive superiority in numbers, the Persians were demoralised. The Immortals were decimated, and they had no shock troops ready to take on these blood-drenched and crazed Spartan remnants. They could not take the hill. Every advance they made was beaten back, and their dead piled up on the slopes. Perdiccas was one of those at the redoubt- no-one will ever know just how many he killed, but it must have been hundreds. They would not give up. They would not die.

Xerxes was enraged, but even he failed to drive his terrified infantry back towards the slopes. Finally he massed all of his archers around the hill, and had them fire wave after wave of volleys at the Spartans. Tens of thousands of arrows fell on them, so many that the sky was screaming as they ripped through the air. One by one, hit repeatedly by the arrows, they fell. One of the last was Perdiccas, still trying to keep Persians back from the body of his king.

It was over.


Sparta 450 BC

"That night, as I hobbled away from Thermopylae with the Messenians, we watched the first glows in the sky as Athens started to burn. The city was sacked, but the people had mostly been evacuated. In time it was rebuilt.

I stayed with the Messenians and lived as a helot. I never returned to my old life- how could I? About ten years after the battle, I saw Iannis again. He was a wealthy landowner- famed and rewarded as one of the few survivors of Leonidas' force. As far as he knows, he is the last survivor of our group, because I couldn't let him know I was alive."

The old soldier wiped the sweat from his eyes. "I never saw Simonides' body. I wanted to remember him for what he was, not as some butchered piece of meat. I was never really worthy of him. Never worthy of any of this". He stood up, and started to walk away from us.

"Wait!" called Cimon. "We don't even known your name."

He turned on his heel, and there in his eyes was the killing fury of the Spartan hoplite he once was. "Call me "coward". Or "traitor". They're the only names I've ever earned."

With that, he was gone. An awkward silence fell. Mardonius attempted to rouse us by singing "Leonidas", but no-one joined in and he quickly stammered to a halt.

The end.

05-04-2003, 07:49:11

23-04-2003, 19:12:05

A propo, Efialtes has come to mean "nightmare" in Greek.

09-05-2003, 11:08:52
There are two bits in that last section that i don't like.

The first is the 'They were incredible.' line used as a punctuation to the first few paragraphs.
The second is the 'It was over. ' line used to punctuate the final defeat of the spartans.

Using these short sentences, as i said to 'punctuate' the story, i find a very weak technique. In the first instance, if indeed it was incredible that should be communicated to me through the scenes you describe in the paragraphs themselves. I can make up my own mind if it was incredible or not from what you tell me about what is happening.
In the second case, writing 'It was over' is a terrible cliché that also fails to communicate the power and import of what has happened. The scene as the last spartan falls is a tragic and moving image and the natural end to the scene. But 'It was over' is not.

Although, criticism aside, let me reiterate that i thought the final battle was very moving and well written. Oh and i really like the ending:

An awkward silence fell. Mardonius attempted to rouse us by singing "Leonidas", but no-one joined in and he quickly stammered to a halt.