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Below is the prologue for a book that I am about a third of the way through writing. I am hoping to complete it within the next year. I would like to know what your opinions are, any suggestions you might have for improvement or anything you don't like about it. If you don't like science fiction or historical fiction though, this is not for you anyway. If you want to read more, please say so. If enough people do, I will publish the rest.
Assur, Assyria, April 1782BC
His breath came in ragged gasps, feet pounding on the rough dirt track. The thick air was stifling here, heavy with the smell of human waste which lingered and combined with the stench of the nearby Tigris. At this time of night the streets were practically empty, only the glow of the odd torch and the waning moonlight lit his path. Reaching the end of the street, he skidded around the corner, dust spiraling up from the road. Torches still bobbed in the darkness behind, threatening shouts in the distinctive Akkadian dialect drifted towards him. He dug his boots harder into the track as he sprinted on this new heading, sweat mingled with hair, boots chafing his ankles as he ran. As he reached the end of the street, he leapt up, catching the edge of the roof of the nearest house, swung himself up, and crossed the top, dropping silently to the ground in the next street over. His pursuers were not fooled however, skirting the house and appearing at the end of the street.
“There!” the chase renewed, one of them stopping to loose a sling at him, the missile whistling by dangerously close to his head, pinging off a house nearby.
He was nearing exhaustion now, knowing he could not continue at this pace much longer. He felt the pommel of his dagger for comfort, then gripped as an armed shape appeared out of a side street ahead. Without stopping he ducked under the spear slash, drawing his dagger in the same movement, angling his arm up and slashing it viciously across the man’s neck as he passed. The man fell gurgling, drowning in his own blood. There were shouts of horror from his pursuers as they discovered their mortally wounded comrade.
He gripped the parchment tighter, determined not to lose it now, close as he was to his goal. The western wall loomed in the distance, a tangle of streets with squat, flat roofed houses stretched out between him and freedom. He steeled himself, pushed on by the sounds of pursuit behind him, and put on a burst of speed. He ducked low behind a wall as he passed the temple, avoiding the glare from the torches. Scuttling down a side alley, he took a zigzag path through the back streets, slowing him down, but he could hear the sounds of pursuit gradually beginning to dissipate as the Imperial soldiers became entangled in the maze of back alleys.
He scaled a low wall, jumping back out onto the main streets, slowing slightly, grinning smugly at the respite his efforts had allowed him. He checked both ends
of the street, and, seeing no sign of the guards, he stuffed the parchment into his woollen shirt, retrieved his hat from inside, and continued.
At a more leisurely pace, he picked his way toward the edge of the residential area, heading for the wall. As he neared it, he became more alert, his breathing more measured, watching for any further sign of pursuit. He scanned the top of the wall, looking for the tell-tale torches of the night patrol. He could make out the tiny figures over the gates, leaning against their shields, chatting and drinking. He could almost listen to the conversation, drifting on the still night air. The wall was within reach now, the battlements nearest to him completely clear.
As he broke into the open under its shadow, he stopped, looking down in utter surprise. A line of red appeared in the corner of his mouth, trickling down his beard as he stared uncomprehendingly at the thin iron spike protruding from the left side of his rib cage. Blood welled from the wound. With a choking sound, he dropped face down in the dirt, the sand gradually turning crimson beneath his prone figure. As he breathed his last choking breath, he caught a smell, barely noticeable in the dank, putrid air. In the darkness behind, there was an almost imperceptible movement, then a sound unlike anything that any ancient Assyrian would recognise. The faint odour of burnt aluminium dispersed on the evening air. Where the body had fallen, there was now merely a dark patch and the sickly scent of scorched flesh.
Corupedium, Lydia, January 281BC
The tramp of the approaching Seleucid phalanxes became gradually louder as they marched across the plain, sunlight causing their helmets and weaponry to flicker and flash through the haze of the mid afternoon heat. A shout from the chiliarch and the hoplites immediately next to him tightened their shields to his, gripping their spears with determination all along his stichos as the Seleucid formation directly to their front began to take shape, growing larger out of the dust.
Men dropped at random, victims of the Seleucid skirmishers running ahead of their phalanxes. Arrows fell intermittently among them, claiming the odd hoplite foolish enough to peer out from behind his shield. He could smell the fear all around him. In the front rank, there were no illusions that they would take anything less than huge casualties.
The Macedonian skirmishers stood and fled for the wings of the phalanx as the huge formation bore down on them. He could make out the Seleucid skirmishers following suit. The Seleucids were now so close he found himself counting the individual spear tips.
“STEADY LADS!” the chiliarchs voice was a calming influence as the phalanx sought to maintain its cohesion at an even speed. In spite of this he could feel the pace quicken slightly as the adrenaline began to take over.
“WAIT FOR IT!” the hoplites prepared for the charge, waiting until the last second in order to keep the line. The hedgehog of Seleucid spears bristled towards them, alarmingly close now.
“NOW!” at the chiliarchs command the entire formation surged toward the Seleucid phalanx, the hoplites screaming their death defiance. The two crunched together with the sickening sound of metal on metal, bone and flesh coupled with the sound of spears snapping against shields. The hoplite to his immediate right tilted back, screaming, the broken haft of a spear jutting out of his right shoulder, only to be replaced by the man behind him. The front rows began methodically thrusting at each other with their long spears, probing and pushing, searching for a weakness in the enemy line. Dust choked the men, packed tightly together as they were, it was impossible to see anything but their little section of hell.
The Macedonian phalanx began to pivot slightly to the left, as the hoplites sought to remain behind the shields of the man to the right.
“HOLD THE LINE!” the chiliarch sensed the danger; the Seleucid phalanx was not following suit. As the Macedonians pivoted they began to lose touch with the Thracian phalanx to their right.
“RIGHT PUSH!” the chiliarch attempted to correct what he knew to be a fatal error, but it was too late. The two phalanxes split apart slightly, and the Seleucids began to exploit the gap, tearing through the ends of the front two ranks. Those behind pushed forwards, attempting to seal the hole, but they could do no more than hold their ground.
In this position the opposing phalanxes stayed for what seemed like hours. Spears mostly snapped or lost, the men drew their swords, hacking and slashing at each other as the Seleucids attempted to widen the gap.
A shout to their right made the men look up from the slaughter. The Thracian phalanx was losing cohesion, and the Seleucids tore into it. Unable to withstand the onslaught, the Thracians began to panic, and the phalanx collapsed, men running from the butchery that was now visited on their fellows. The rear ranks fled and those brave enough to attempt to hold fell before Seleucid swords. All that now remained of the Thracian phalanx was a mass of dismembered humanity and bloodied weaponry. The entire right flank of the Macedonian phalanx was now completely exposed, a fact not lost on the Seleucids who fell upon it with renewed gusto.
He turned forward again, back to his own private nightmare. A Seleucid hoplite, sword raised, screamed unintelligibly as he made to deliver the killing blow. He raised his shield, blocking the sword slash, and jabbed viciously under the man’s shield. He could hear the chiliarch screaming over the din, but the noise of battle made the words impossible to distinguish. He tried to push forward with his shield, but the mass of bodies, both dead and alive, prevented him gaining any headway. The pungent smell of death and fear filled his nostrils. A hoplite on the ground beneath him attempted to claw his way out of the melee’ with his one remaining arm.
The men to his right were turning to face the Seleucid attack, but the situation in the Macedonian phalanx was becoming completely untenable. It began to slowly crumble under the assault. A sharp pain shot up his right leg, and he could feel the warm blood seeping from the wound. His leg gave, and he dropped to his knees, shield still up, still attempting to hack at the enemy line with his sword. A Seleucid face appeared above his shield, a blank, cold expression in its dead eyes. Men were falling all around him. Something huge crunched into his shield, then blackness.
The Seleucid phalanx rolled over the top, hacking the Macedonians to pieces. All along the line, Macedonians and their Thracian allies were dying or running from their broken formations. The wounded lay strewn across the plain amongst the dead, begging for mercy, calling for water or lying silent, waiting to die. Victorious Seleucid warriors picked their way through the carnage, occasionally stopping to loot the dead and dispatch the nearly dead. Crows circled the battlefield, vying with each other for the fresh meat.
He opened his eyes, blinking at the blinding sunlight.
“Hey, this one’s still breathing!”
“What’re you waiting for Eukleides, kill the fucking Macedonian bastard!”
The soldier looked down at him, curiously.
“What’s the matter, haven’t you ever seen a half dead Macedonian before?” the Seleucid chuckled at his own joke.
“I don’t think he’s dying, sir. Maybe we should take him back”
“Take him back?! This is war boy, not a day at the games! Kill the fucker and be done with it”
“I think we should take him back sir. We’re all Greeks here aren’t we?”
“Right” He shrugged apathetically “Well, you can carry the fat fuck then”
He turned to walk off as the younger soldier attempted to help the Macedonian sit upright. Then he stopped, sensing movement in the brush not two metres away.
“C’mon you might as well come out, the battle’s done”
There was a sound like a low whistle, and the Seleucid chiliarch flew backwards as if hit by an invisible hammer.
The young soldier looked up.
“Sir…” he began, and then he too was thrown face down into the mud.
The Macedonian peered bleary eyed toward the undergrowth. Shapes appeared in his darkened vision….the view faded, and then was gone completely. He felt a floating sensation. There was a strange sound, the like of which he had never heard and infinite blackness descended.
Where the three men had fallen, there were now only vague scorch marks. If the nearby crows could smell anything other than their food, they would have noticed the faintest hint of burnt aluminium.
Chang’an, China, October 8AD
The city was calm at this time of night. The usually hustle and bustle of the nearby market streets had given way to the low tones and clunking sounds of the merchants packing up for the day. The setting sun still cast its orange hue over the city, mingling with the freshly lit lanterns. He looked down at the myriad of figures on the desk. He could never quite get past this end of the day ritual. He could never understand how the other administrators managed to keep on top of this throughout the month. There always seemed to be so many other things to keep him occupied. The lanterns flickered, casting odd shapes around the room. He knew he should have left hours ago, but he felt obliged to complete his work before the new moon tomorrow night. His eyes began to wander as he struggled to make sense of the figures.
A shape appeared behind the sliding doors to the outer room. A short, rather non-descript man, opened them and bowed low, waiting for his acknowledgement.
“What is it, Chen?”
“Apologies, sir, I was led to believe you had already left”
He grinned inwardly at the response. He knew Chen was lying. Chen was a fusspot, in his view. The man was always somewhere near, trying to make sure he did not overwork himself, or did not forget to eat, or, as in this case, go home.
“It’s alright, Chen, I won’t be long”
“As you say, Sir”
He bowed deeply and closed the doors behind him.
The old man sighed and turned back to the desk. There was a definite chill in the air tonight, and he pulled his official robes slightly tighter around him. The wind whistled eerily through the gaps in the buildings. He trawled through the latest taxation figures for the district. Business was good here. This was good for a man in government employ however the taxation policies were complex and required many hours of administration. He fiddled absent mindedly with his abacus, trying to make sense of the numbers scrawled across the page in front of him. Mumbling
figures to himself, he began to scribble his way through the reports and assessments.
There was a low thump from just outside the room.
“Chen?” he looked toward the door. There was no sound.
“Chen, I’ve already told you, I’m finished here, now go home to your wife” he said, dismissively.
The door creaked in the wind. He got up, moved over to it and pulled it open.
“Chen?” He looked out into the narrow corridor leading from the adjoining room to the exit. There was no sound. He could see Chen’s things were gone. He shrugged and shuffled back to his desk.
He turned back to his work, rubbing his forehead in consternation at the pile of paperwork which did not seem to have reduced at all since the morning. A low whistle made him look up, just before he was flung across the room, through the paper thin walls and dumped unceremoniously into the mud outside. He blinked in total shock. He opened his mouth, filling his lungs, but found himself unable to scream. A strange sound filled his ears, the lanterns hanging from the nearby houses dimmed slightly, then nothing.
The faint smell of burnt aluminium mingled with the heady scent from the lanterns.
If you liked this, click the link to go to chapter one: My idea for a book Part II.