Part 2Euergetes stepped from his command tent into the snow. He was a cranky and foul-mouthed man, Euergetes the Profane some called him, and the bitter cold had brought out the worst in him, but he was of royal blood, so the men would followed him anyway. Of the entire family line, only seven men bearing the name Ptolemy had reached Britannia alive, Heruben the pharaoh-of-no-land included.
"Colder than a spartan's date..." he muttered. How the rest of the army was able to sleep in this cold was mind-boggling to him. His guess was that they couldn't. He and the rest of the men from egypt had seen many strange things in the weeks since their landing, such as the ice. Back in Alexandria, it was a luxury one only got with a lot of money and a good chemist. Here, it was everywhere. It blackened his soldiers' toes, clogged every well they dug in the camp, collapsed tents, and froze body armor into rigid paralysis. The Ptolemaics had never known what it was like to have their eyes frost shut, their boats trapped in harbors, and the snot freeze in their noses.
There were half a dozen hastily-constructed forts like his, scattered across the valley. He wondered how many of his family members in the other camps were also out in the snow, restless and uneasy, drumming their heads over their situation. Was that drumming he heard?
Euergetes ran over to the palisade barrier that had been erected to keep wild animals out of the camp, and climbed the nearest watch tower. The watchman inside had frozen to death, and Euergetes again cursed the british winter. Then he looked out over the plain beyond him.
Britons. "TO ARMS! We are being attacked!" Euergetes screamed, and the alarm rippled throughout the camp. "Move it, double time! I've seen old people FUCK faster than this!" He returned his gaze to the advancing Britons, as they quickened their pace, wheeling a battering ram to the gate.
The natives had been probing the Ptolemaic defenses all winter, favoring night raids at random. And it was wearing the men down. Already the barbarians were smashing down the gate. "Form a phalanx! I want the guard on that gate to be tighter than the ice-queen's tits!"
The wooden gate flew open, showering the men with splinters. As soon as the Britons had removed the battering ram, their slingers began pelting the phalanx with stones and ice.
The barbarians charged straight into the mel.e.
And then, just as quickly as they had appeared, they retreated back black night, abandoning their ram.
"Come back here!" Euergetes shouted after them. "You fight like idiots squabbling over a ham sandwich! Fuckers!"
Turning back to the gate, he beheld the bodies of the dead, and then his own grinning soldiers. "Clean this shit up and start a pyre. It's already beginning to smell like a horse gave birth over here."
* * * * *
With spring came the melting of the ice, and the gray haze that smothered Britannia lifted. For the first time since their landing, the Ptolemaics saw the sun they had taken for granted back home. With the melting of the ice, however, came more ill news. Two fleets of the Britons had entered the frozen bay and destroyed the remnants of the egyptian fleet. The Ptolemaics were now stranded on Britannia.
Heruben took in the landscape around him. Britannia was full of life, with emerald fields as far as the eye could see, dotted with the largest trees he had ever seen. And yet, a fourth of his people had starved over the winter. None of the seeds they had taken with them from Alexandria would grow in this climate, and the traditional garb of egyptian royalty was not sufficient against the piercing cold. He had even grown a beard for warmth.
It was impossible to build the roots of a new civilization here. He had to take them by force and adapt. That was why earlier that week, he had decided to split the armies in three. They were stranded in hostile territory and now fragmented, so their next moves would have to be swift and daring. The Pharaoh would march his army to Calleva while the other two armies, led family members made generals, would take Isca and Cuniento. His uncle Euergetes the Profane, possessing no political qualities whatsoever, was relegated to scouring the countryside in search of supplies and cheap mercenary forces for hire.
On the way to Calleva, Heruben met the first organized enemy resistance.
* * * * *
The royal army deployed with a huge convex phalanx, a quarter mile long and eleven men deep the ends of which had been tucked in to protect the flanks. Behind this sat one and a quarter thousand archers and the two Ptolemaic commanders: Heruben and his brother Acestes Ptolemy.
Though a restless disquiet fluttered through his men, Heruben was confident. When he divided up the armies amongst his family members, he had taken the very best troops, who were now deployed in a position that was perfect for engaging any other hellenic army. Ever since he was a boy, he had benefitted from a classical greek education, including military tactics.
Acestes leaned over to his brother, making sure he didn't speak too loudly. "Are you sure the men are ready for this?"
"Of course they are." Heruben responded, making no effort to keep his voice down. "More than ever. They have spent so long enduring hunger and seasickness, disease and the bitter cold of this land. They finally have a chance to endure a foe they can now fight back against."
The barbarian army was pouring over the hills, bolting through the dry, crackly grass with almost animal speed. "It's a pity we burned all our oil for heat," Acestes confessed, "I've never seen such a wasted opportunity for flaming arrows."
"Indeed." Heruben concurred. He raised his voice and began shouting orders "Archers! Fire at will! Fire as fast as you can when in range!" He saw the Britons moving with such speed that he knew the window of time between them entering firing range and close combat was slim.
A thousand bows twanged about him as their payloads took to the breeze.
The Britons, under fire, accelerated. Soon they filled the field of sight for each soldier on the front line. "Steady, men! Brace yourselves!" Thousands of hoplites crouched, planting the sauroters of their long spears into the ground, bracing for the tremendous impact of the charging horde, while the archers behind them continued firing.
The Britons slammed into the front of the phalanx with the momentum of a cavalry charge. Spears and shields snapped like twigs, showering the phalanx with splinters and dust. Many spears were dropped or discarded, either from the sheer shock of the impact, or from the dead weight of the corpses skewered onto their ends. The barbarians who had survived the initial charge recoiled from the force, as did the hoplites opposite them. The rigid greek lines were thrown into chaos as those knocked back staggered to their feet.
The phalanx was quickly beginning to buckle.
Heruben watched the carnage in awe. He had never seen this before, and it alarmed him. "Why do they attack from the front? You should never expect to defeat a phalanx from the front, except perhaps with another phalanx!"
"Straight from the scroll." Acestes chuckled. "The inhabitants of these islands are not easily intimidated. Some of them are almost suicidal in their bravery. Instead, we must frighten them with a show of force."
"I see." Heruben considered. "Once broken, these people are easily crushed."
"The phalanx is being pushed apart." Acestes warned, the urgent tone once again in his voice. "If you don't do something, our archers will be serious trouble."
"Right." The confidence was now back in Heruben's voice. "Thorakismenoi!" He shouted the order, "Charge!"
It was his turn to alarm the barbarians with something they had never seen before.
Despite it's advantageous deployment, the right flank of the Ptolemaic phalanx was in a state of collapse as the Britons threw themselves into their opponents' lines, howling in tongues and froth. The hoplites had dropped their spears for their swords and were fighting for their lives when the ground behind them began to rumble.
The barbarians paused, staring in horror at the approaching monstrosity. Legs like tree trunks, with bronze and gold for skin. It stood as tall as a house, with a mouth full of horns and a nose like a snake. Dozens of them, bellowing and stamping, the archers sat atop their shoulders sinking arrows into the victims below.
The royal elephants charged the panicked Britons.
All sense of order in the barbarian army collapsed as they fled in hysteria, pursued by the wrathful beasts and the general's cavalry. The order was given for the Ptolemaics to hold, and the phalanx was reformed. Archers once again stopped forward and loosed ariel death on their retreating foes.
The Britons died in the thousands. The fleeing, broken remnants of their army ran as fast as they could away from the horrifying invaders.
"VICTORY!" Heruben thrust his sword into the air triumphantly, to the cheers of his men. He turned to his brother, "Would you say we were ready for this kind of victory?" He asked Acestes jovially.
It was Acestes' turn to be awed. The enemy army had been obliterated. "Yeah, that wasn't bad..." he mumbled absentmindedly, his gaze transfixed on the sea of the corpses of the enemy. The troops were wild with joy, where dread had been before, almost as if the harsh winter had never happened. The elephants were milling around, still excited from the combat, ripping up dirt and blades of grass with their trunks and throwing them at the bodies of the Britons before them, while their trainers attempted to soothe the beasts with wine and hay. "Not bad at all."
* * * * *
The annihilation of the Brittonic army at Brittania Superior sent shockwaves through the islands. In Brittonic and Gaelic cities all across the islands, whispers of the emerging threat of the Ptolemaics turned to shouts. A hastily-assembled confederation of clans calling themselves the Picts had begun to form, and it was even rumored that to the north the highlanders were preparing for war.
And while Heruben and his army celebrated their victory that night, a far more terrible battle was being fought in the north.