How did it come to this?
General Diaeus stands surrounded by 15,000 of Achaea’s finest warriors, feeling more alone than he has ever felt before. The field in front of him, soon to be reddened with Roman and Greek blood, looks as though it has accepted its fate. It is to become the grave of husbands, fathers and brothers. It will no longer be the last green before the city of Corinth, but the last battlefield before her gates.
“The Romans are here!” calls an Achaean knight.
Yes, they are here. And they bring death.
Seeing them for the first time makes Diaeus curse the men who started this war. We could have found peace, he thinks to himself. Now, he and Achaea’s last fighting men will have to defend their home against a Roman horde far outweighing their own.
Their armour is thick. Heavy metal adorns their chest and unshakeable shields are at their sides. Diaeus looks at his men once more, not seeing soldiers, but farmers, bakers, potters… He has to lead this legion of workers against a mountain of steel.
A breeze brushes past the general’s face. It angers him. He imagines the gods taking joy in taunting him with a final reminder of gentleness…
“General!” a voice cries.
“What is it, Bastian?” Diaeus calls back. “What do you see?”
Bastian, Diaeus’s best knight, rides over to him and says, “The men are ready, but our lines are thin.”
Diaeus is happy to have Bastian by his side. He was a close friend after the general’s wife died. She took their son with her during childbirth. Bastian was the pillar that Diaeus needed; he would not have survived the time after her death without him. They became lovers shortly after. “And how are the men?” the general asked.
“Scared,” Bastian replies, almost whispering. “But ready to die.”
Bastian looks older than he is. He has been fighting for longer than he should have been allowed to. He joined the army after he killed for the first time, at the age of 12. Using his father’s sword, he defended his mother against a drunken soldier who became violent after she refused his advances. Bastian knew as the sword plunged into the degenerate’s chest that he would kill until he died. Now, thirty years later, Bastian knows that his death is in front of him. Every battle he has fought, all the men whose days he’s ended, everything has prepared him for today.
Why is the sun shining so brightly?
Diaeus curses the gods again. Why should a day like this be gifted with sunlight? Heavy, dark clouds should blind the sun, shielding the world from its view.
As one murderous mass, the Roman soldiers begin smashing their swords into their shields. The thunderous roar of thousands of steeled soldiers, sends a shudder down Diaeus’s spine. “FORWARD!” a Roman captain bellows.
The soldiers move forward, each step hitting the ground harder than the one before. The synchronised thump of thousands of feet is the only sound. The earth has a heartbeat. “Ready your spears!” Diaeus yells to his phalanx.
In one swift motion, the front row of men raise their heavy shields as if weightless. The men behind them lower their spears, resting them on the shoulders in front. Battle formation.
The Roman force begins to speed up.
Earth’s heartbeat is skipping.
“Hold your line!” Bastian’s voice roars against the thunder.
One Greek soldier starts to yell. It’s a guttural, primal scream. Another yell rings from behind, followed by another, then another. Bastian joins in. Diaeus only hears his voice through the cacophony.
The Romans are now sprinting towards a chorus of Greek soldiers ready to die for Corinth. The Roman tide crashes against a rock of Greek phalanx.
Diaeus’s men are knocked back, only slightly. For what feels like an age, there is silence. Bastian’s voice breaks it violently.
“Achaeans. Form up!”
The front row of Greek soldiers dig their heels into the earth and push forward, knocking hundreds of wounded and dead Romans to the ground. The phalanx reforms. Hundreds of spears are thrust from behind the wall of Greek shields, most finding their target.
The sound of steel on steel covers the sound of dying men. Flesh is punctured, bones are broken. Diaeus keeps a close eye on his lines. They are holding firm against the never-ending onslaught of Roman soldiers. They have been trained well. They will need to hold until nightfall. If the Romans don’t break their line before then, they just might have a chance. Under the cover of darkness, his assassins will be able to make the difference.
Diaeus extends his gaze over the field ahead of him.
Why haven’t they deployed their cavalry?
The thought chills him and is made worse by the fact that he can see the Roman horsemen, just behind the battlefield, on the hillside overlooking the fight. They are still.
The battle rages on.
Romans are falling faster than they can replenish their lines. Diaeus sees his opportunity. “Bastian, push the right phalanx forward. We’ll surround them.”
Bastian nods to the general and rides his black war horse as fast as he can to the right of the field. He, like Diaeus, feels like they have a chance at victory. He pushes his horse hard to reach the men in time.
Bastian arrives at the right of the field. The right phalanx has been the hardest hit by the Roman horde. The line, now just four-men deep, is close to crumbling. They will have to make their move now.
The spears in the second row are thrust forward in unison as the men at the front push forward, shields held high. The phalanx moves forward. Every last ounce of Greek strength is used to plunge spears into Roman chests. Shields knock dying soldiers to the ground. Roman skulls are crushed by Greek feet.
“Yes, men! Push!” Bastian spurs his soldiers on.
Victory is within our grasp.
Bastian regretted the thought as soon as the shadow passed his face. For the briefest of moments, the sun was blocked. A black object soaring through the air signalled the beginning of the end for the Achaeans.
Bastians warning cry was far too late. Before his men could look up, the first boulder crashed into their line, crushing two soldiers and tearing limbs from many more. The barrage continued, killing Greek and Roman alike. Bastian, seeing that his advance had failed, turned his horse to retreat.
Diaeus witnessed the destruction of his right flank, knowing that nothing could be done to stop it. His eyes turned to the Roman cavalry, not as still anymore. They were beginning their charge. Death was here.
Bastian, riding to Diaeus, had also seen the Roman cavalry descend the hill towards what remained of the Greek force. He kicked his horse, urging it to use every bit of energy it had left to get him to his General. The Roman horsemen were heavily armoured. They would slice through the Achaens without mercy, like a sword through flesh.
“Follow me!” Bastian called to the soldiers he passed. “Your general needs you. Use your strength, Roman horses are coming!”
Bastian knew that his men stood little chance against the advancing horde, but if they could slow the cavalry long enough, with some luck, he could get Diaeus away from the battle safely.
Diaeus drew his sword. He had wiped the blood of many men from it, but this day he knew, no blood would be wiped from it. He proudly held it aloft nevertheless. He would not die without his sword in his hand. As the Roman cavalry crashed into the men in front of him, he heard nothing. He didn’t feel the spear pierce his chest, nor the sword that cleaved his head from his shoulders. He went into the dark, unfeeling.
Mars, the Roman god of war, exclaims as he moves his knight into its final position. Ares, defeated, knocks his king to the ground.
Corinth Has Ended. Swords Speak.
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