“Raise my Standard.”
The young soldier behind did so, her personal colors snapped in the dry desert winds.
When she had conquered Athens, out of deference to Athena, she had changed her banner to the black “X” of her name over a field of pure while, bordered by blue. Ares had vigorously objected, wanting his color, red, to be the field behind her black “X”. She had overruled him,
Seems she had been doing a lot of that lately with Ares, overriding his advice.
Horns blared across the field as the Persian army moved into position, the bronze of their armors glinting in the sunlight, cavalrymen astride magnificently barded warhorses, archers with long bows, pike men with red and gold streamers fluttering from tips of their weapons. The whole grand display was designed to intimidate.
Xena remained decidedly unimpressed.
“Lemmings…” she muttered dismissively, “Walking, arrow fodder.”
“Pardon? Empress?” Sevastian asked from his position next to her, they both being ahead of the massed Greek Phalanxes.
“Nothing Lord Commander,” She said while continuing to scan the formation, looking for…”
Ah, there he was, sitting upon a black stallion, Xerxes himself.
Raising the looking glass, Xena watched amusedly as an aide de camp rode up with a…mirror. Xerxes vanity showed. The king adjusted his bronze armor, and then checked to see if his hair was in place. Finally he donned a most ridiculous helmet, adorned with a garish plume of red Rosefinch feathers.
She handed the looking glass to Sevastian who, after a moments searching easily found the king.
“Hard to miss, that one.”
Xena laughed at the remark. “Whatever god rules their underworld better prepare, many of the enemy will die. History will mark today as the date the great Persian Empire fell.”
“Now listen well, my second.” She took the spy glass from him. “We hold the center of the battlefield, you must not yield this ground. We hold it, we win the day. Understood?”
“Understood.” Sevastian felt a bit of deja vu, this order having been given to him long ago by Xanthos outside the walls of Olynthus.
“Very well then, call attention.”
At Sevastian’s shout, the various group commanders called their men to attention, the commands sounding out as individual units snapped to. The kid on horseback behind raised the banner of Xena’s Army, the rising Phoenix with wings outstretched.
“A final bit of advice....” Xena began.
Sevastian leaned forward as he sat upon Gisela, intent upon her next words.
“Bend but do not break.”
“What?” he asked confused.
“You’ll know what I mean when the moment arrives.” She stated cryptic. “Now, since I don’t wish to sit here all day, we must find a way to goad them into attacking.”
Looking across the field, Xena observed the King, watching her in turn through his looking glass.
A perfect moment was at hand…
Casually she raised one gauntleted hand… and pretended to stifle an exaggerated yawn.
Even from this distance, she could see his taking great exception to her action. Grasping a spear , the king motioned with it and thousands of Persian cavalry began their charge toward the far right flank of her army.
The men of her old guard responded immediately, meeting the enemy on the ground between the two armies.
“Amazons! With me!” At the order, the warrior women blazed past Sevastian following Xena directly into the enemy. For a moment, his eyes met with Siri’s.
Selfishly and unapologetically, he hoped she would be spared from injury this day.
Sevastian was now in sole command of the main force. This was unexpected...
He watched as the king gestured again, causing horns to blare across the Persian lines. The enemy ranks split, making way for massive war elephants to move to the front of the lines. Hundreds moved into position to charge.
Sevastian thought to use the spikes, the Caltops first, then discarded the idea no riders to disperse them, nor catapults to fire them.
“Ready Sarrisa!” The signal man nearest raised flags to send the message.
Every high Commander repeated the order. The command echoed through the ranks, being called out by officers within.
Thousands of 16 foot metal tipped poles rose vertical in the air, points shinning in the sun.
Now the men in the first six rows worked together to angle the tips at a 45 degree slant, each, putting down their pikes of shorter length to instead grab hold of the long poles. Right foot was stationed forward, the left foot planted behind for support.
A wild cheer went up from the Persian lines as the Elephants commenced the charge.
“Catch them! Other side!”
Siri, riding near veered her horse off at Xena’s command; the rest of her Amazon’s following. They skirted round the enemy, now to one side of the Persians as the men of the old guard engaged the other.
Precise volleys of arrows were fired by the Amazons, devastating the Persian ranks. Horsemen by the hundreds fell.
As the Amazon arrows struck, Xena picked out the first who would die by her blade this day. With deft slash, her sword cut him open. While she rode on, he fell from his mount.
The opposing forces soon crowded together so much so that maneuvering a sword in the melee became near impossible. Here was the reason; she wished the Amazon force to use the Halide. The small one handed weapon was perfect for close in fighting. However, it was not as perfect as her Chakram, which flashed in the sunlight momentarily before slicing into the throat of the enemy rider nearest. Turning Argo about, Xena managed to gain just enough space to bash in the skull of the next challenger with the pommel of her sword.
The enemy, crippled by the quick dispatching of so many of their number, attempted to extricate themselves from battle.
Her Amazons skillfully cut off any escape route.
Seeing fear overtake the enemy, Xena grinned savagely, “Kill them all!” At hearing the order, the Amazons responded with their own series of terrifying war cries.
“Charge Sarrisa!” Sevastian yelled over the din, his order signaled to the army.
The first rows of the long pikes were left at a 45 degree angle, but the ends were now butted into the ground. In the ranks behind, men raised their spears high and horizontal to the ground. Thousands of metal points glimmered in the light of Helios. In the distance the elephants began to lumber forward at a slow pace, their riders shoring up the line into neat rows.
Spurring Gisela forward, Sevastian raced further ahead of his own line, seemingly oblivious to any danger.
“Archers!” he cried out while momentarily standing up in the saddle, blade tip pointing to the enemy beasts charging forward. The order dutifully repeated by commanders to either side of the thousands holding Sarissa.
Xena’s men, trained so well, fulfilled the order to perfection 40,000 bowmen moved as one, spreading out, readying their stance in order to fire.
Men drew arrows from quivers strapped to their backs. Holding the arrow by the nook, the area behind the fletching, they seated the shaft upon the arrow rest of the bow. The nock, the channel cut into the butt end of the arrow, was snapped onto the bow string.
The ground began to shake from the motion of the beasts rushing forward.
“Mark!” Sevastian yelled.
Targets now marked by the archers, bows were raised strings pulled taut. At the order to fire a mass of arrows would be let lose
Sevastian didn’t need to give the order to fire…
The elephants, of their own accord, halted the charge. They refused to take another step forward!
“Hold!” Sevastian ordered.
Strings were relaxed bows lowered.
Now the men of the Xena’s army cheered. The first attack had failed.
Running a man though, her blade caught on his bones. With a kick she tried to force the blade free, succeeding on the second try. In that span, she was thrown from Argo by one of the enemy who leapt from his mount. The sword in her hand clattered free as the two hit the ground. With her freed hand Xena punched the man square in the jaw. The strike was of such force that it dazed her attacker long enough for her to grab then thrust her dagger into his stomach. His screams filled her ears as she tore him open.
Throwing his hulk off, she grasped her sword, then watched as the men of her Old Guard and the Amazon’s killed the last of the enemy cavalrymen. Her force had decimated what Xerxes called his Immortals. Thousands of the enemy’s best had been felled in moments.
The cheers of the men in her line drew her attention. She whistled, and Argo came near.
Stepping up into the saddle, Xena watched as the elephants, of their volition, turned and meandered back to their own line. She couldn’t help but laugh. Xerxes placed too much hope in his Vengeance Weapons. Battles are fought with weaponry, but they are always won by soldiers.
“What now?” Siri questioned.
“Xerxes will make another attempt to break…” Xena stopped speaking and straitened in the saddle. “Look there,” her sword rose, pointing. “The king moves to the flank of the army nearest us.”
There was the opportunity she needed…
“Conqueror, he looks to be readying more mounted troops to attack us.”
Xena reached out and patted Argo reassuringly, “Yes, and when he does, all must follow my lead.”
“As you wish.” Siri replied, unsure of what would happen next.
“The Persian calvary has pushed back our weakened flank defenses on the left! They are looting our camp! In taking the Amazons Xena overloaded the right flank, leaving the other vulnerable!”
Kodi… Sevastian rose in his stirrups to look back at the tents of the encampment.
“This is precisely what Talmadeus and I feared! I will take a quarter of my army group and—“
“You will do no such thing!” Sevastian replied with force. “We hold this position!
“Lord Commander, the Amazon guard within the camp is minimal and Meleagers men are not front line soldiers. The Persians—“
“We hold!” Sevastian eyed Adamis fiercely daring him to urge his cause once more.
Now it was Talmadeus who rushed up.
“They mean to attack us again, war chariots with blades attached to the wheels.”
Shielding his eyes against the rays of Helios, Sevastian squinted to see light dancing off the rotating blades as the chariots got into position.
Those rotating scythes would mow down rows of men.
“Bend, do not break… bend, do not break…” Xena’s words ran thought his thoughts, so much so that he spoke it aloud.
“Lord Commander?” Talmadeus asked at hearing Sevastian. He was further puzzled to see the high commander smile in this most serious of moments.
“Sevastian!” Talmadeus yelled in vexation. “They will wipe us out!”
“No, they will not.”
“What? Sevastian I fear you have lost your sanity.” Adamis warned.
“No, though you and the men may think it, I have not. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
Kodi dove under the wheels of a supply cart as Persian calvary thundered thought the camp.
“Get outta here, can’t you see the space is full!” a voice commanded.
Looking behind, he saw members of Xena’s household, slave and free alike, packed beneath the wagon.
“That’s the Empress’ servant!” one hissed. “We should give him to the Persians then, perhaps they will spare us!”
“Don’t be foolish child; they don’t care a lick about any of us.”
“Come here, Kodi.” Minya gasped as the kid almost bowled her over, latching onto her ferociously due to his fear.
“It will be alright…It’ll be alright.” She soothed over the sound of the screams.
She watched the second cavalry force form up, then charge.
Silently, Xena raised one gauntleted hand, a signal to hold position. Her Amazon’s and the men of the old guard used the time to form up behind her.
On they came, the next wave of Persian cavalry.
Xena’s hand dropped and the charge commenced, her battle cry sounding over the field.
Siri was astounded! The Conqueror wasn’t charging toward the attacking enemy cavalry, but right towards Xerxes himself!
The enemy horsemen had to haul back on their reigns forced to turn and give chase having overshot Xena’s force!
“Open ranks!” Sevastian yelled.
The men did just that, parting to one side or the other. The Persian chariots rolled right though the Greek formations. When they emerged on the other side, the charioteers had to slow to turn round, when they did, thrown pilum, or arrows cut them down.
The second attack had failed. Once more, the soldiers of Xena’s army cheered.
The King Persia ran…
His army of 400,000 dissipated, melting away in fear as the barbarian woman charged with her cavalry. At first he tried to rally the men, but they would have none of it, instead they blindly trampled each other in their haste to run.
His grand helmet fell off as he urged his horse on.
She was behind him, her cry sounding like thunder in his ears.
The king blazed by the men of his army to either side.
Her laughter caused him to look back.
He wished he hadn’t.
The blade of the barbarian leader tore through the top of a soldiers head, blood and gore flayed outward in all directions. She was a sight straight from the underworld. Black leathers and bronze armor coated in the blood of Persia. Her cape of red so saturated, it stuck to her horse.
Far behind the barbarian, was her cavalry, both men and strange female warriors cutting a bloody swath through the retreating men of his army. An arrow fired from one of the female warriors struck his standard bearer. The man slumped forward, and then fell from his mount
“Face me!” she yelled as Xerxes spurred his stallion to move faster. Still she gained, her golden horse seeming to fly over the field.
“If you fight well, perhaps I’ll spare you!” Xerxes looked back once more to see her grin wickedly. “I’ll make you part of my harem!” she taunted.
He turned forward, urged his horse faster.
Xerxes heard something screaming though the air, towards him.
He looked back once more to find the source of the oncoming noise…
…And was decapitated by the chakram.
Jubilation engulfed the whole of the Greek army as the men watched the Persians disintegrate.
Helmets and spears rose men cheering wildly, from officers down to lowly pike men, all caught up in the joy of victory. Across the whole of Greek line the various standards rose, sweeping back and forth, from small unit guidons, to the flag of the Army itself, the latter being waved vigorously by Sevastain’s bearer.
“Commanders! To me!” Sevastain yelled, signal man echoing the order.
As the cheers of 200,000 plus solidified into deafening chants of the Empress’ name, Sevastian was forced to shout orders to the commanders surrounding him.
“Mercer, send men into our camp, regain order, go now!”
With a nod, the commander heeled his horse back from the group and galloped away, bellowing orders to his men.
“Send your phalanxes forward, split off into groups, round up the remnants of the Persian army. “Those that chose to turn and fight, kill.
“But we have won the day, they--” Menticles voiced objection, before Sevastian cut him off
“If we allow those men to escape, they may regroup and attack us again.”
Orders were shouted, the men moving to fulfill the task.