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A soldier's arms

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  • A soldier's arms

    New story. I've always thought that most accounts I've read of the battle of Thermopylae are way off the mark, so I'm trying to reclaim it.

    This will take a while to write, so don't hold your breath between episodes. Enjoy.



    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 ****.". 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....."

    The genesis of the "evil Finn" concept- Evil, evil Finland

  • #2
    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 *****", 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 Iannis's 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.
    Last edited by Bugs ****ing Bunny; February 2, 2003, 07:19.
    The genesis of the "evil Finn" concept- Evil, evil Finland


    • #3
      Sheer magic, please dont take to long.
      A proud member of the "Apolyton Story Writers Guild".There are many great stories at the Civ 3 stories forum, do yourself a favour and visit the forum. Lose yourself in one of many epic tales and be inspired to write yourself, as I was.


      • #4
        In an astonishing coincidence, I've been toying with the idea of writing about Thermopylae myself. My world history teacher covered it last week and I was fascinated by it.

        But your version will undoubtedly be far better, so I'm looking forward to the continuation!


        • #5
          I hope you do write about it. No two authors approach such a tale in the same way, and it's amazing just how different they can be.

          I don't think it's possible to write a story in depth without projecting some of your own personality on it, and that's where the differences really lie.
          The genesis of the "evil Finn" concept- Evil, evil Finland


          • #6
            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.
            The genesis of the "evil Finn" concept- Evil, evil Finland


            • #7
              Great stuff, as always, Laz. Unfortunately, I can't offer you a literary analysis, but I think it would suffice to say that the story is awesome.
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              • #8
                An interesting tale, as I didn't study this portion of history in any depth, I definitely want to see more, the only thing I found wrong were one or two sentences that were semi-confusing, but if you were to read it aloud, you could catch it with no problem.
                Weaseling out of things is what separates us from the animals....except the weasel -Homer
                Who's up for some scroungin'? -Homer


                • #10
                  A proud member of the "Apolyton Story Writers Guild".There are many great stories at the Civ 3 stories forum, do yourself a favour and visit the forum. Lose yourself in one of many epic tales and be inspired to write yourself, as I was.


                  • #11
                    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.
                    The genesis of the "evil Finn" concept- Evil, evil Finland


                    • #12
                      In case anyone's getting twitchy, you're two episodes away from the carnage beginning in earnest. The next episode is my favourite, however.
                      The genesis of the "evil Finn" concept- Evil, evil Finland


                      • #13
                        Looks cool. Eagerly awaiting for the next part.
                        Last edited by vovan; February 19, 2003, 20:15.
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                        • #14
                          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 **** 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.
                          The genesis of the "evil Finn" concept- Evil, evil Finland


                          • #15
                            Superb. I'm glad you're not afraid to show the depth of the bonds between members of the Spartan army. After all, that unbreakable brotherhood was the reason Sparta was the greatest military power in the world for several hundred years.

                            Anxious for the next installment.