Empire and Revolution
"The small kingdom cannot contend with the great, the few cannot contend with the many, the weak cannot contend with the strong"
1 - Treason
Memphis, Egypt, 404 BC
Many could say that the heat of Memphis' urban streets was oppressive and uncomfortable; many could say that the mud-brick buildings were small and insignificant compared to the satrap's villa; many could say that the common people of the city deserved better for all the hard work they did for the empire.
But for Aberkios Theos, son of Diodoros and protector of Egypt's most important native dignitaries, it was perfectly familiar. While the priest of Artemis from Ephesus was sweating like a prize swine, Aberkios managed the heat very well. After all, he had been born and raised in Crete, in the south where the temperature wasn't that much unlike that of Memphis. He flicked his eyes from the perspirating priest towards the half-dozen Egyptians preparing the main hall of the newly built Greek Embassy for the arrival of the Satrap of Egypt. It was a relatively rare occurrence to see a Greek priest and a Persian Satrap together in the same room, let alone discussing matters of great importance.
"Are you sure that this was the scheduled time of visit, Theos?" the priest asked, his deep voice breaking Aberkios' state of passive observance. "I am absolutely sure that the Satrap agreed to meet us at this time, your Holiness, and I would appreciate it if you did not ask again" he replied without turning his head to look down at the old man. Aberkios was only 17, but he stood high above every single one of the labourers as well as the priest, who was beginning to develop a stoop.
The Ephesian kept quiet for the next few minutes, until a fanfare of trumpets followed by a rumble of drumming signalled the arrival of their distinguished guest. "Well it's about time!" the priest exclaimed.
"Sir, I don't mean any offence, but shut it!" Aberkios said with quiet but considerable force. The priest began to protest, but realised the futility of his actions, and grudgingly closed his mouth.
The drumming and trumpets had finished by now, and a young boy that Aberkios recognised as a native Persian took a deep breath.
"Presenting the Satrap of all Egypt, Syria, and Phoenicia, servant of his divine Imperial Majesty, the Shah-an-Shah, Ardumanish!"
For all the build-up, the Satrap Ardumanish was not disappointing. He wore a sweeping emerald robe, a heavy golden necklace bearing the symbol of Zoroastrianism; the peacock wings, a small and brightly coloured skull cap, and loose fitting shoes bordered with dyed cloth. Six guards followed after him, carrying large wicker shields and spears weighted down with golden "apples" at the ends. "Immortals" Aberkios thought. Striding up the hallway with an air of confidence that was almost tangible, he looked straight ahead, not even glancing at the Egyptian slaves who were staring at him.
The stare was not one of admiration; however, it was one of total hatred and disgust.
The Satrap gave a sweeping bow in front of the two Greeks, and put on a large, forced smile. Aberkios returned the bow, and nudged the Ephesian priest to do the same. "We are honoured to receive the Satrap of all Egypt, Syria, and Phoenicia into our humble embassy, my lord" Aberkios spoke in fluent Persian, and then, in Greek, spoke to the priest. "Remember the plan, and stick with it!"
Ardumanish merely nodded, then looked questioningly at the portly holy man next to Aberkios. Taking the hint, he explained "This is Archidamnos, High Priest of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus"
"Bah!" Ardumanish exclaimed "Why do we need a priest to carry out a domestic function?" he asked, his thick accent making it hard for Aberkios to understand him.
Gradually piecing together what the Satrap had said, Aberkios replied "Because it is our tradition to bless Greek buildings to bring about good fortune within its wall, you would not deny us that practice, would you my lord?"
"I suppose not" the Satrap conceded, "But I fail to understand why I had to make time in my schedule to meet two Greeks inside a small, insignificant building!"
Aberkios seemed not to be listening.
"Are you even paying attention to me?!"
Still no reply. The Cretan seemed to be seeing whether the embassy's doors had been closed yet. Ardumanish turned his head to look ... indeed they were.
"Now!" Aberkios shouted.
At that moment, twelve men leapt from the top of the building, through the roof's main hole, swords drawn. The tight fitting helmets and round shields identified them as hoplitai.
One of them smashed an Immortal's face with his shield, and drove his sword through the Persian's cloth armour, the point emerging through his back. A further two cornered an Immortal and kicked him to the floor, followed with brutal stabs from their swords. Aberkios drew a longsword from within his robes, and, with a great leap, brought the blade down through a Persian shield, shattering the wood and shocking the bearer's arm. Not waiting for his opponent to recover, Aberkios brought his weapon down into the dazed warrior.
The hoplitai had finished off the Immortals; their prostrate forms scattered across the floor of the embassy. Two of them seized Ardumanish, while the young boy who had entered earlier was seized by an Egyptian. "What is the meaning of this?!" the Satrap shouted in outrage. Aberkios walked up to him and looked straight into his eyes. "This is the start of a great change for Egypt. We are taking back what is rightfully ours".
"You will be executed for treason!" Ardumanish yelled before he was bound and gagged. A rope ladder was let down from the roof hole, and the hoplitai, carrying Ardumanish with them, ascended with their shields on their backs. Aberkios went last, helping Archidamnos up the shaking ladder.
On the roof of the embassy the group passed over several wooden boards that had been laid between the buildings earlier in the day. They headed for a modestly sized house a fair distance from the embassy, where the Satrap's retinue were beginning to get restless. The only way into the building was through a small hole to let light in when the other windows were shut, and although Archidamnos got slightly stuck, everyone slipped through and landed in a large room.
Lit only by the light that got through the hole they had just jumped through, Ardumanish nevertheless noticed that the room was pleasantly furnished, with many cushions and a wide table in the centre. His eyes then fell on a dark figure, which advanced towards him with slow and deliberate steps. Then he saw the person's face. It was a girl who could be no older than Aberkios. Her shoulder length hair was the deepest black, and her dark eyes seemed bottomless.
She smiled. "So, Lord Satrap, you are lucky enough to witness the beginning of a revolution"
"Who are you?" the Persian asked.
The girl's face hardened. "I am Isis, Princess of Egypt.
2 - Rebellion
Persepolis, Persia, Eight days later
A messenger ran through the crowded streets of the Merchant's Quarter of the Imperial Capital Persepolis, dodging and weaving around burly Indians and tall, thin Scythians. He made his way hurriedly to the Royal Palace, a titanic structure of marble, alabaster, and gold. Even though the messenger had seen the great building many times before, he could not help but stop for a few seconds to regard the sheer size of it. After a moment of contemplation, he resolved to go inside.
Reclining on a large golden throne in the grand audience room, fashioned into the Zoroastrian peacock wings, the Shah-an-Shah Artaxerxes the 2nd, newly Emperor of the thousand nations of the Persian Empire and possibly the most powerful man in the entire world, called one of his advisors to him with the wave of a hand. The advisor, a dark-skinned man from Bactria, made a low bow. "How may I serve you, most gracious Majesty?" he asked.
Artaxerxes thought for a second. "Gerodin, I trust your judgement and your advice, so you would do well to answer me"
"Yes, my lord"
"I plan to journey across my empire, from Bactria to Byzantium, visiting each of my Satrapies. I intend to show the many people of my kingdom that the authority of the new Shah-an-Shah is real, that I am real, and that I will condescend to meet with all of my subjects"
Gerodin bowed again. "That is a most wise course of action, my king. From the Nile to the Indus people will cry out your name and show their love for you"
"Enough, my friend" said Artaxerxes "I have brought this to your attention first because I would like you govern the Empire while I am travelling" Gerodin was visually shocked by the Emperor's words.
"Me? But why? There are many other men, who are both of higher birth and of Persian blood, who you could give this task to" Artaxerxes looked him straight in the eye. "I am giving this task to you because I trust you. I trust you more than my over-ambitious Satraps, who pretend to rule their provinces but are secretly furthering their own designs. While I am travelling it will be hard for me to manage the business of empire, and I need someone of great acumen to administrate my realm during this period" The Bactrian retired into deep thought, and jumped into the air when the throne room doors suddenly opened, and a messenger ran through, panting.
Despite his fatigue, the messenger obeyed decorum and made an exceedingly low bow. "Salutations to his Luminous Majesty" he said in between breaths. "I bring bad tidings from Egypt" Artaxerxes looked hard at the messenger. "Speak quickly"
The young man swallowed hard "I bring word that the Satrap Ardumanish was been abducted by Egyptians" Gerodin looked shocked, but the Emperor's expression did not change. The messenger continued. "I also bring word that the entirety of Lower Egypt has risen up in revolt against your benevolent rule, I am very sorry to bring you this news, my Lord"
Artaxerxes exhaled deeply, and closed his eyes for an instant. "I would like everyone to know that this rebellion is not my doing. Nor should it be remembered that it was so"
"Of course, sire" Gerodin said quickly. "The Egyptians revolted because they have not realised how enlightened your rule over them has been" The Shah-an-Shah rolled his eyes. "This situation was not brought about by the Egyptian people; it is because of the utter ineptness of Ardumanish. The Egyptians may resent our rule over them, but they are a true asset to our Empire when governed well"
The Bactrian bowed his head in acknowledgement. "What action will his Majesty take?"
Artaxerxes exhaled again. "Against my own conscience, but in the name of Persia, I hereby command the Army of Syria; led by Achaemenes, to crush this rebellion and bring Egypt back under our dominion" The messenger bowed and stepped quickly but politely out of the throne room.
Artaxerxes turned to his advisor. "You must remember, my friend, if Egypt were not so important as a food supply then I would leave it to its own devices. I had not desired conflict as the first recorded action of my reign"
3 - Preparation
Sais, Northern Egypt, Three days later
Despite the abduction of one of the most important men in the Persian Empire, there was very little reaction from the Persian residents of Egypt who had been transplanted there some years ago. And no where was more jubilant in the declaration of Egypt's independence than the old city of Sais, on the Nile Delta. Once the capital of the whole state, Sais still exuded much of its old grandeur, even if the old statues to Set, Horus, and Osiris had been torn down and replaced by Zoroastrian monuments.
Aberkios stood in the conference room of the governor's residence, now the Royal Palace, along with the Princess Isis, the hoplitai, several native soldiers, and the new King of Egypt: Amenirdisu. The Pharaoh had only just assumed power, but already looked like he had ruled for years. He wore the red and white crown of Egypt, the symbol of the country's unity, on his head, and a great ankh, symbol of life, hung from his neck. His clothes were of white linen, which contrasted greatly with his dark skin.
The group stood around a large wooden table, upon which a map of everywhere from Egypt in the west to the River Indus in the east was spread out. The map was not very detailed, but showed all the important cities such as Memphis and Sais in Egypt, Persepolis in Persia, and Bactria between the far eastern mountains of the Hindu Kush and the River Amu Darya.
"As I see it" a native called Paskheban started "The only immediate threat we have is from the Syrian Army of Achaemenes"
"How soon would they cross the first distributary of the Nile?" asked Amenirdisu. Paskheban shrugged, "at the most a week, at the least about three days"
"How many men?" Isis asked. The general's face fell.
"No less than ten thousand"
Amenirdisu sighed. "We can only muster half that number at best"
Aberkios considered this for some time, and then spoke. "What if we pitch a battle here?" He pointed to a small area in between the first and second distributaries of the Nile. Another Egyptian; Nakhti, the Master of Cavalry, looked questioningly at the Cretan. "Why?"
Aberkios went into greater detail. "If the Persian army is at least 10,000 strong, then we should find the area where they can use that advantage the least. If they cannot deploy their army effectively, then it will be a lot easier for us to fight without being engulfed"
"He's right" said one of the hoplitai, Olympios, stroking his beard. "If we form up the hoplitai in the centre with the Egyptians on the flanks, we should be able to take full advantage of the space provided." Aberkios nodded "We'll also have a detachment of cavalry, hidden from view, which we'll use in ambush"
"Seems like a fairly sound plan to me" said Paskheban. "The closest Persian army apart from the one in Syria is in Armenia, but that is busy trying to fight off a Scythian invasion"
"Very well" concluded Amenirdisu. "I believe that the strategy laid out by our esteemed ally, the most noble Aberkios of Crete, is our only hope for achieving safety for Egypt at present" He turned to Nakhti. "I want you to head down to Memphis, and gather as many troops as possible. Paskheban, you have the task of arming this city's men for war" Both men nodded solemnly as their king turned to Aberkios. "Where are your soldiers now?"
"They are marching here from the Cretan colony as we speak, your majesty."
"Then let us prepare to fight for the very survival of our homeland. You each know what is expected of you, and I am proud to be going into battle alongside such brave and noble men. You are dismissed"
As the group filed off through the main doors, Amenirdisu called out "Aberkios, you must remain" The Cretan turned round, and came back to the waiting king. "I am sure that you know that my daughter expects that she will go into battle with us". Aberkios nodded. "I want you to make sure that nothing happens to her. As my only heir, she is very precious to both me and the rest of Egypt"
"I'm well aware of my responsibilities, my lord"
"Then you must also know that Isis loves you with all her heart, and that she would follow you to the ends of the earth"
Aberkios was silent. "You thought I didn't notice. I once thought that you would be little more than a bodyguard, but as the year has passed I have noticed the way that she conducts herself with you has changed. I can see it in her eyes."
"Which is why, I want you to marry her when Egypt is safe from the Persian tyrant" Aberkios' eyes widened.
"You can't be serious, your majesty!"
"Perfectly" Amenirdisu said evenly.
"Surely you must be mistaken?" Aberkios protested. "The marriage of the sole heir to the throne of Egypt to a minor noble of Cretan blood would be politically devastating for you!"
"Not if the princess' betrothed is the one who helped to save Egypt from subjugation". The king looked him straight in the eye.
"I don't understand you" Aberkios said. "I'm just a mercenary, not a royal"
"Whoever liberates a nation is worthy of every honour, for freedom is a precious thing often taken, but seldom given."
Aberkios considered this for a moment. "Should I live, you will have my answer. Farewell, until tomorrow" At that he walked through the large doors without waiting for Amenirdisu's reaction.
Isis sat in a bare wooden chair, passing an ivory comb through her long, dark hair in silence and deep reflection. The sun was setting, casting rays of pink and crimson into her bed chamber.
Suddenly, her chamber doors were flung open, and Aberkios walked briskly in. Isis stood up. "Aberkios?"
But before she could say anything else, the Cretan dashed over and embraced her, kissed her, held her close, and then brought her back and said quietly "Isis, thank you."
"For what?" she asked with shining eyes.
"For not telling me. If you had, then our destinies may have taken very different paths, and this moment would never have happened."
And they embraced again, amid the last rays of the setting sun, for what seemed an eternity.
The next day Aberkios rose to the sound of Olmpios shouting orders in Egyptian. "Open the gates! Allies are approaching!"
Horns sounded from outside the city, and Aberkios recognised them immediately as those of the city of Khreti, the only Cretan colony in Egypt. Five hundred troops marched proudly through Sais' open gates; 450 hoplitai and 50 equipped in the panoply of the legendary Kretikoi Toxotai, the Cretan Archers. Such was the skill of these warriors that rumour had it that they were blessed by Artemis; the Goddess of the Hunt.
Quickly dressing himself, Aberkios joined Amenirdisu on the steps of the Royal Palace, looking out at the new forces. "It's a beautiful sight" the King said. "Aye, that it is" agreed Aberkios, "The spirit of the Bull is in each of them, and nothing can stop a bull at full strength"
"Yes, but Herakles had the Gods on his side. Those Persians..." Aberkios shook his head "They fight only out of fear of their general, not belief in their cause." He turned to face Amenirdisu. "I believe that we will win, for I know that the Gods are with us. Zeus and Amun, together in triumph".
4 - Confrontation
Three days had passed since the Cretans arrived at the gates of Sais, and King Amenirdisu had given the order for his army to march towards the first distributary of the Nile, in preparation for the arrival of the vast Persian host. On the second day of their march they were joined by Nakhti with his forces from Memphis. Now at full strength, the Egyptian army was around 5500 men in size. This still paled in comparison to the enormity of the Persian horde that was bent on their destruction.
The Egyptian army assembled itself between the first and second distributaries in three wide rows. In each the centre was comprised of a number of the Cretan hoplitai, flanked by native Egyptian spearmen, who carried large wicker shields and little armour save for a cloth shirt. Behind each of these lines stood the Cretan Archers, had already knocked the first arrows in their recurved bows.
Amenirdisu waited behind the main formation aboard a chariot, wearing the blue War Crown that had recently been "liberated" from Ardumanish's vault in Memphis. Despite the fierce determination that showed on his face, the Pharaoh's eyes betrayed a deep fear of what was to come.
Isis and Aberkios rode up beside him, and saw one of their outriders speed back towards them. Aberkios was fearsomely equipped; with his mighty long sword, recurved bow, closed helmet, cuirass, and 3 metre long xyston lance. In the centre of the cuirass was a metal plate, which bore the symbol of Aberkios' family: the Chimera.
The scout had arrived next to them, paused for a moment to catch his breath, and then spoke to Amenirdisu. "They are here my lord, in numbers far greater than our own."
Aberkios snorted. "Numbers do not win a battle."
And then it appeared.
Preceded by a great cloud of dust that swept across the battlefield, the Persian army came into view. A massive host of over 10,000 men, an army with a single purpose: to subjugate Egypt once and for all.
"Shit" Aberkios said.
The shrill, high sounding horns of the Persian Army sounded, and all at once the great mass halted. Three men rode down into the middle of the field, one carrying a white flag. Amenirdisu nodded to Nakhti, and bade Isis and Aberkios follow him to meet the Persians.
The six riders met in the middle of the battlefield, Isis holding the Great Standard: the Ankh and Scarab, symbolising Egypt in all senses of the word: The Black Land, Domain of Life and Death, Home of the Gods. She bore it proudly with no fear on her face.
Opposite them, atop a great Syrian horse, sat Achaemenes, who smiled eerily at the three. "Are you here to treat with us?" he asked, almost mockingly. "We are not here to treat with tyrants, faithless, and accursed!" Amenirdisu said, spitting the words out.
"Aah, the new Pharaoh" the Persian said, "I remember when you were a mere governor, advocating the rights of the pitiful swine that you call your "people""
"Spare me the insults Achaemenes" Amenirdisu interrupted, "Before I drive your army of slaves from the field, I would like to give you a small token... Isis, give it to him" Isis threw a bag to Achaemenes, whose eyes widened when he saw that it contained the head of Ardumanish.
"You will pay dearly for this insult and treachery, scum!!" he shouted.
Amenirdisu, completely calm, said "I'll look for you on the field"
Even as the three rode back to their army, they could hear the first lines of the Persian infantry beginning to move, a slow, deliberate rumbling.
Aberkios rode away to the right of the Egyptian army, over a large mound, where, hidden from view, waited Nakhti and the finest cavalry in Egypt. "You will wait for my order to charge, and no one else's, alright?" he said to the assembled horsemen, who nodded their acceptance.
Amenirdisu rode out in front of the ranks of his army, while Isis held the Great Standard up high. "Egyptians, Cretans, Allies! I know that you may fear this enemy, I know that it has great and terrible strength, but I also know that every one of you is worth three of them! They are slaves, forced to fight when all they have ever known is the farmstead. I see before me the finest soldiers in all the land, perhaps all of Africa, and I know that we will defeat the Persians! We will smite them with the fury of the Gods, and drive them back fleeing to their perfume wearing, fire-worshipping masters! And I have one last question to ask before we do battle: Are you with me? ARE YOU WITH ME?"
A thunderous cheer went up from the entire army, and seemed to halt the Persian advance for a few seconds.
"Good speech" Aberkios said under his breath.
Olympios shouted above the rhythmic rumbling of the advancing infantry "Hoplitai, close ranks and lower spears! Battle positions!" horns sounded within the Cretan ranks, and as one, the hoplitai lowered their spears to face the Persians; a veritable wall of spikes.
"Archers, prepare to fire!" At this the Cretan Archers raised their bows into the air, ready to release their deadly missiles. Isis took position at the back of the army as reserve, near the bank of the 2nd distributary. Amenirdisu and his royal guard, including Paskheban, waited behind the main line of infantry. "Good" the Pharaoh said, "It would seem that the Persians have a distinct lack of cavalry. That should make things easier for us"
"For once" Paskheban replied, "Remember how much they had at Mirolaeum"
Amenirdisu daren't think, for Mirolaeum was where the entire army of the previous Egyptian kingdom had been utterly destroyed, thanks to the Persian's huge advantage in cavalry.
The Persians were getting close now, and Olympios decided to open the battle.
All at once, the Cretan Archers loosed their arrows; a great cloud of death that whistled through the air. And as one they fell on the advancing Persians, felling dozens of them. Olympios noted with satisfaction that the archers were instinctively aiming at the flanks of the infantry, making them cluster and slowing them down. This slowness brought with it terrifying vulnerability as scores of soldiers were cut down by the fatal arrows of the Kretikoi.
Achaemenes watched the stumbling line with increasing annoyance. Traditional Persian tactics emphasised the use of cavalry, relegating infantry to a "force of numbers" strategy, but his force was dangerously short of the famous horsemen that came from across the empire. But the general wasn't fazed, for he had a secret and terrifying weapon.
The high pitched horns of the Persian ranks sounded, and the battered mass charged. The Egyptian flanks now too assumed battle positions, spears ready to receive the enemy. The Persian infantry shouted their war cry, a few of which were silenced by the last few Cretan arrows before the archers drew their knives in preparation for hand to hand combat.
The lines collided, and the battle proper opened.
Olympios was in there from the start, wading into the fray on the side of a block of hoplitai, blocking with his great round shield and delivering vicious stabs from his shortsword. He shouted words of encouragement to his men, and continued to fight off any challengers, blood staining his once white linen cuirass.
The greater part of the Persian infantry was now committed to the battle, and the sheer weight of numbers was beginning to force the Egyptians back. The Cretans held steady, their iron discipline and impeccable drill serving them well in the fury of combat. As long as their formation held, they would never be defeated; their long spears easily dealing with the shorter Persian weapons ranged against them.
Aberkios decided his moment was now, and bellowed the order
The cavalry spurred their horses on, riding up and over the dune. Achaemenes turned to see the cavalry charging towards his infantry's left flank, and sneered. "Clever bastards, but it still won't be enough".
Aberkios drew his bow, and, tightening his thighs, partially stood up on his horse. In one blurred movement, he shot a single arrow into the throng of warriors, and sat back down on his mount. Returning the bow to his back, the Cretan grabbed his xyston lance and lowered it towards the melee. He gave a mighty war cry as the entirety of the cavalry crashed into the exposed left flank of the Persian infantry.
The sheer force of the charge sent several men flying; screaming in shock and horror. Aberkios ran a Persian straight through with his lance, the point sticking out his back. He twisted the weapon to prevent it getting stuck and pulled it out of the already dead warrior. An instant later he saw a charging Persian out of the corner of his eye and jerked his lance backwards, the sharpened end driving right into the face of his assailant. His horse reared up unexpectedly as a Persian approached him from the front. The panicking steed threw Aberkios off violently and galloped through the melee towards the Nile.
Aberkios started upwards to avoid being trampled by the throng of blooded men, and drew his longsword. The bronzed blade glinted dangerously in the light and foretold the impending death of everyone who dared attack its wielder.
With a swift spin, he completely decapitated the first enemy who came towards him, and in a seamless, flowing movement, brought the blade down into the torso of another, cutting the arm clean off. Aberkios held no pity for those he slew, for he knew he was fighting against an enemy that desired nothing less than his and Egypt's destruction. That grim knowledge drove him continuously onwards; a whirlwind of sword-strikes and blinding bronze.
The Persian infantry force; now spent of its energy and having suffered horrific casualties, began to fall back, but under pressure from the ferocity of the Allied cavalry, this retreat quickly turned into a full scale chaotic rout. Nakhti blew on his horn to rally his horsemen, and together they pressed on into the retreating soldiers, cutting down tens of Persians, and spurring the survivors into greater panic. Aberkios put his forefinger and thumb into his mouth and gave a long, shrill whistle, and quickly his horse galloped back towards him. Hooking his left arm round the steed's neck, he swung himself back into the saddle, and rejoined the Allied cavalry as it returned from its pursuit.
Achaemenes looked at the jeering Egyptian army with contempt as his infantry streamed past the remainder of his force. He turned slightly to face his second in command; a wiry man from the steppes of Asia. "Kill them all" the general said without any hesitation. The wiry captain gave a few hand signals and a small group of elite cavalry broke off from the Persian rearguard and chased the terrified infantry, hacking them down with wicked curved swords.
Achaemenes smiled. "Now with the mess out of the way, how about starting the real battle?" he said to himself. "Send forth the elephants!!! I will lead them personally" he bellowed "Leave none of those rebellious scum alive!!!!"
And the monsters went forth.
The Egyptian ranks were silenced by a sound that none of them had wished to hear. Amenirdisu's hope; just moments ago so great, sank like a dead weight.
Isis sat transfixed atop her horse.
Aberkios gritted his teeth and realised that the battle was far from over.
Fifty massive Indian elephants; roaring at the top of their voices, fearsome tusks covered in spikes and rings of gold, charged down the dune from where the Persians had advanced less than ten minutes earlier. Archers stood on towers that were strapped to the elephant's backs, and at the head of the group, atop a gigantic bull male, stood Achaemenes, laughing maniacally.
5 - Crisis
As the monstrous elephants drew ever closer to the Egyptian line, Nakhti looked impatiently at Aberkios. "Well, what now?" he asked.
"Give me a second" the Cretan replied. But before he could make a suggestion, he saw Isis dash past him, charging directly at the elephants, holding the standard as high as she could, screaming "Sons of Egypt, follow your princess and meet the enemy!! Show them our resolve!"
Just then an arrow from one of the mounted archers plunged into Isis' left shoulder, but still she held the standard "Come forth, and fight them!!!" she shouted at the top of her voice before another arrow hit her horse's breastbone, and the wounded animal; startled, catapulted her off and onto the burning sand.
Amenirdisu watched this whole scene aghast, his mouth falling open. Aberkios sat on his mount in shock, but then something clicked inside him. "Reform the lines, we'll take them head on and recover the princess! Olympios give us covering fire!!" he shouted at the paralysed Allied forces. The gruff hoplite nodded and commanded that the archers prepare to fire their lethal volleys once more. Aberkios turned back to face the charging elephants and bellowed "The rest of you, with me!!! Charge the enemy!!!"
At this, the entire Allied army; save the archers, surged forward and screamed their war cries. Achaemenes looked at the charging force in disbelief "What in the world do they think their doing? They'll all be killed!" Then the madness returned to the Persian commander's eyes, and he laughed out loud "They'll be slaughtered!!! Ah ha ha haaaaaaaa!!!!!!"
Aberkios led the charge, looking desperately for the standard, which he assumed would mark Isis' position. Amenirdisu caught up with him, his two chariot-pulling horses panting from their exertion. The Pharaoh took a spear from a pack fixed to the side of his vehicle and then shouted across the sand to Aberkios "I will handle the elephants! You must find Isis or I fear the army will break!" The Cretan nodded and spurred his steed on as men and monsters collided.
Amenirdisu threw his spear at the temple of an oncoming elephant, but it bounced off its ornate headgear. The king pulled the reins and swung to the left, narrowly avoiding a swing from the elephant's trunk that instead sent several horsemen behind him flying off their mounts. A volley of arrows flew from the archers behind the melee, the Cretan's impeccable aim holding true and piecing several elephants with a multitude of arrows. Olympios strung his own bow, said a quick prayer to Artemis, and let fly. The arrow flew in a high arc and plunged straight into the chest of a Persian elephant rider. The man keeled over almost instantly and the elephant; now directionless, panicked and wheeled around, back towards the remaining Persian cavalry.
Achaemenes laughed insanely, throwing spears at the Egyptians below, his elephant smashing men and horses to pieces, tusks tearing great wounds in any who got in their way. The archers accompanying him in his wooden tower fired barbed arrows at several cavalrymen who tried to approach the General's mount. "Come on Amenirdisu!!!" he roared "You must have more than this!"
Aberkios rode through the pandemonium, ignoring the plight of either side in his search for Isis. At that moment he saw a flash of gold fabric on the sand, and veered towards it. Stopping close to the fabric he saw that it was in fact the Egyptian standard, and lying next to it, as Isis.
Aberkios dashed over and held the Princess in his arms, trying to shake her awake. "Isis! Isis! Can you hear me? Wake up!" he shouted. He noticed a large patch of red that was slowly spreading outwards from her wounded shoulder. Cursing, he tore off a large strip of his cloth under-armour and tied it round Isis' shoulder, under the arm, making a makeshift bandage.
The young woman opened her eyes slowly and spoke so quietly that Aberkios had to lean close to her mouth to hear. "Osiris... is that... you?"
"No, Isis" Aberkios said softly "It's me, your protector"
She looked right into his eyes "Set me on your horse and let me return to the archers... you must... slay... Achaemenes"
The Cretan nodded slowly, and carried her to his horse. Sitting her in the saddle and making sure her hands were firmly holding on the reins, he whispered in the horse's ear and the mighty steed galloped off in the direction of Olympios' deadly archers.
Freed of one worry, Aberkios looked wildly across the battlefield for his quarry. Bodies lay destroyed by massive feet, pierced by tusks, and broken by ferocious charges. The Egyptians were running out of steam, and Aberkios knew it.
Suddenly an elephant stormed towards him, but Aberkios noticed several arrows stiff embedded in its side. Timing his move to perfection, the Cretan leapt to the side as the monster charged him, grabbed one of the protruding arrow shafts, and used his powerful arms to catapult him into the archer's box. Taking the Persians on top completely by surprise, he drew his sword like lightning and sliced across, cutting down both archers. The elephant's driver was in a frenzy, crying out and shouting Persian curses at the hapless Allies below. Aberkios merely snorted and beheaded the man before he had the chance to turn round. The headless body simply fell to the ground and was forgotten.
Leaping onto the neck of the elephant, Aberkios grabbed the reins and gave a mighty pull to the right. The creature responded and altered its course. Quickly glancing to his left, the Cretan saw to his relief that his horse, with Isis still mounted, had reached the line of archers. Now he prayed that she could be healed in time.
At that moment, he saw Achaemenes, atop his opulently dressed elephant. With a great shout, Aberkios forced his own creature forward. The Persian general looked at the approaching elephant in disbelief. "What!?" he cried as the Cretan's mount reared up and struck his one straight in the face.
Dazed, Achaemenes' elephant stumbled backwards and collapsed unconscious, flinging him to the ground. Aberkios saw his chance and took it, leaping from his elephant, drawing his sword, and bringing it down into... sand.
The Persian general had rolled away just in time to avoid the vicious stab, and drew his own cruel blade. Catching Aberkios as he recovered from his attack, the sword cut both his right leg and arm. Aberkios yelled out in pain, but managed to complete his movement. The two circled each other, both waiting for the other to make the first move. "So what's it going to be Cretan?" Achaemenes spat "It's up to you now!"
"I will cut you down and end this madness!" Aberkios shouted intensely.
"Heh heh, perhaps after we reconquer Egypt I'll send a great host to destroy your nation as well!!!"
At this Aberkios leapt forward and ducked under a high swipe from Achaemenes. Seeing perhaps the only opportunity, he cut upwards diagonally, cutting off the Persian's right arm.
Howling in agony, Achaemenes fell to his knees, holing up his one remaining hand imploringly. "No, please!!! Mercy!!!" he pleaded.
Aberkios simply looked hard at him for a heartbeat and then spoke quietly. "Ooooh not today".
The Persian could only look on in horror as his enemy span round and brought his bronze sword cutting swiftly into his neck.
Everything was over for Achaemenes.
Taking the Persian general's head and leaping on top the still unconscious elephant Achaemenes has do recently ridden, Aberkios filled his lungs and bellowed "Achaemenes is dead! He has been slain!"
Several elephant riders close to him heard this powerful voice over the din of battle and saw the bodiless head of their general. They lost heart almost immediately. Achaemenes had been all that held the Army of Syria together, and now his head was being held high by a young mercenary of whom they had heard nothing. Many of the elephant riders started to retreat, and panic quickly spread through the remaining Persians. The elephant riders; the Persian key to victory, turned and ran. Seeing the elephants coming back towards them, and assuming that the worst had happened and themselves took flight.
Amenirdisu, bloodied and bruised but still alive, looked at the sight before him in joy. "Victory!!!" he shouted "We have victorrrrrrrrry!!!"
A mighty cheer erupted from his surviving men. "For Egypt, for Egypt, for Egypt!" they chanted. Nakhti stopped on his panting horse beside the jubilant Pharaoh. "Should we pursue, your Majesty?" he asked.
"No..." Amenirdisu said quietly "Let them run back to Artaxerxes, so he knows how his men fought and died. Now there is nothing he can do to stop us re-establishing the Kingdom of Egypt"
Nakhti nodded "I will organise parties to recover the wounded" and sped off to rally his cavalry.
"It's over..." the Pharaoh thought "It's over and... we won" He closed his eyes and breathed easily for the first time in what seemed like years.
For the Black Land had been freed.
6 - Conclusion
Sais, Two weeks later
Following the Allied triumph over the Persians several Greek city-states; including Athens and Sparta, had rushed to recognise Egypt as an independent nation and set up trade deals and military assistance in a very short space of time. Since the Army of the Caucasus was still tied up dealing with a Scythian invasion, Emperor Artaxerxes had to reluctantly sign a peace treaty with Egypt as well.
The results of the battle were hard to accept for both sides. Nearly 4000 Persians and over 2000 Allied warriors had lost their lives on that small space in-between the distributaries of the Nile, but now the Persians had to deal with the inevitable unrest caused by a defeat so early in the reign of an Emperor. The main thing was that a small kingdom had defeated a massive empire in open battle, and won its independence. This was sure to serve as encouragement for the other subject peoples being oppressed by Persia.
Amenirdisu; magnanimous in victory, guaranteed the safe passage of all Persians who wished to leave Egypt. However, he ruled out any attempts to directly intervene if another subject kingdom should declare its independence from Persia. At least not yet.
Aberkios mulled these issues over in his mind as he walked alone alongside Isis through one of the Royal Palace's corridors. The Princess had fully recovered from her arrow wound, and was being celebrated across Egypt as a heroine and an inspiration to all the land.
Presently Isis spoke. "I never thanked you, Aberkios"
"For what?" he replied casually.
The princess smiled "For saving my life of course!" she said, punching Aberkios' arm playfully. The Cretan shrugged. "All in a days work"
They continued down the corridor in silence for a while longer until Isis stopped suddenly. "My father told me that he asked you a question to which the answer was either yes or no. What was it?"
"Ooooh I can't tell you that right this moment, Isis" Aberkios said. Then he leant down and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "But I can tell you that the answer was yes"
They resumed their walk again and Aberkios realised that he was walking into a future beyond his wildest dreams.