Part 5For ten years after the death of Philadelphos Ptolemy, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, the Ptolemaics had been led by Heruben Ptolemy. A youth, a whelp who had assumed the position of head of the family unceremoniously. There had been no time for coronation, for the week of celebration and games and prayer; the Seleucids had driven their armies without rest across the desert. For the Ptolemaics there had only been time for escape.
Heruben, raised to believe that one day he would be crowned pharaoh, had found himself a king without a kingdom, leader of the rabble of refugees who still pledged their loyalty to the Ptolemaics, and had followed him to the far corners of the earth. Here, the Ptolemaics had fought for their lives against the elements and wildmen alike. They had suffered catastrophic casualties so that they might have a place in the world.
And just as it was seeming the last chapter of the Ptolemaic Bloodline had been written, they had won. Now, nearly a decade after their flight from Egypt, thousands of men and women, both Ptolemaic and Britonic lined the summer-lit streets of Calleva, craning their necks to see their ruler and his glittering chariot procession as it rode towards the governor's palace.
As Heruben took in the sights around him, the thousands of hopeful faces, from his view on the royal chariot, he continued to reflect on the plight of his people. So many of them had died for him to see this day, the day that Heruben Ptolemy would be crowned Pharaoh of Britannia and King of the Britons. He looked at all the faces of the Briton women around him. How many of them had he made widows? So much death, but what else could he have done against the overwhelming might of the Seleucids?
The chariots reached the palace. Heruben silently vowed to himself that he would bring glory and strength to the name Ptolemy, for to do any less would be an unsightly waste of all the lives that had been sacrificed to give him this second chance. He ascended the steps, hewn from the gray rock of the british hills, as trumpets around him blared and the ranks of his elite Hetairoi parted. In one hand, Heruben was presented the Heka, the ruler's scepter. In the other, he was given a Nekhakha fly whip, a symbol of his might and authority.
He turned to the thousands who stood below him silently, and brought the two symbols together, raising them above his head in unison. The Khepresh, the blue war crown was placed on his head, the golden vulture on it's crest glinting in the sun.
Heruben Ptolemy was now Pharaoh Heruben Neos I.
* * * * *
Fifty miles north, Auletes Ptolemy and Sekoundos Philadelphos had begun the begun the push northward with the third army.
With the crowning of Heruben as King of the Britons, the Ptolemaics had expected the city of Cuniento to submit to their new overlords, but the mettle and spirit of the Brigante Homeguard had seen the siege drawn out into the winter.
Sekoundos wiggled in his saddle, trying to keep himself from shivering in front of his troops. Until earlier in the week, the winter had been quite mild, feeling more like an extension of summer than the season that had ravaged the Ptolemaics in their earlier years. Yet, Sekoundos knew that while his kinsmen to the south were settled safely in the warm houses of Isca and Calleva, the only shelter he and his army could have this winter was in front of them.
Beside him, Auletes Ptolemy stared hungrily at the city, through the massive helm he wore. "I don't know about you, Sekoundos, but I'm looking forward to the next generation of my line having red hair."
Ignoring his disgust with Auletes, Sekoundos turned and addressed his troops. "In front of you lies your winter accommodation. Warm houses, taverns, firepits and grog!" A slight smile crossed Sekoundos chapped lips. "If, in the course of your entrance, you find the city's inhabitants to be less than hospitable, then make them hospitable! Go forth and conquer in the name of Ptolemy!"
The men cheered. Sekoundos wasn't a Ptolemy, though he was a part of the royal family through marriage. He was one of them, and a better commander than the perverted Auletes.
"Rams!" He belted out loud, "You know what to do. I want seven hundred men supporting each ram, in three segmented phalanxes per ram!" His men complied immediately, glad to be moving again in the cold.
In the years since their arrival, the Ptolemaics had faced an ever-more prepared enemy who had quickly learned to exploit the weaknesses of classic Hellenistic tactics. This time around, the defenders were prepared to meet the phalanxes in the wide-open streets, to attack them in loose formation and to surround them and crush them from the sides. A majority of the defenders had congregated in the outskirt, the wide gap between the walls and the rest of the city, hoping to swarm the Ptolemaics as they slowly funneled through.
Sekoundos knew that was why he must drive the defenders away from the walls before the rams had smashed them down. "Machimoi! Fire at will! Let them eat iron!"
As shafts and corpses alike peppered the ground around them, the Brythons slowly backed away from the walls, which had now started to buck, clatter and splinter.
At the village square atop the hill at the center of the city, Glasobrin watched with rising anger as his warriors slowly falling back from the walls. Where the hell had his ally gone in this time of need? He could remember a time when the isles were aflame with bombast and pride over the grand victories of Vortigern the Elephant Slayer. Now he had abandoned Cuniento, just as his own men were abandoning the walls. "Get back there!" He whipped his chariot into flight, the rest of his royal company following as they thundered down the hillside towards the fracturing walls.
Perhaps the sight of the redheaded general and his heavy chariots riding towards them, bellowing curses and commands frightened the the retreating defenders more than the Ptolemaic conquerers on the other side of the walls, or perhaps they had simply seen their folly. Either way, the Britons returned to the walls in full force, Glasobrin at their heels, frothing and cursing.
They ran back, but this time met the tips of a hundred spears. The Ptolemaics had breached the perimeter and reformed into a thinner, wider formation.
In the thickest of the fight, Gasobrin cast about him. Everywhere was a forest of 20-foot spears. His men began to break and run, but they had already been surrounded. While they had been held at the walls by the first three units of spearmen, the other eight had raced to take up positions at the surrounding chokepoints.
"All at one, lads!" Glasobrin shouted, and a thousand pairs of eyes turned their animal gazes on him, "Fall Ba-" a spear punctured the side of one of the horses on his chariot, pitching the Brythonic Commander over the side. The other horse, panicked, tried to bolt, lurching the chariot forward through the thicket of men and steel. Glasobrin's torso was sliced in half as the scythed wheels of the war chariot contacted his flesh.
The gruesome death of Glasobrin, combined with the force of his final words, triggered the fastest mass rout that Sekoundos had ever seen. So many barbarians ran for the village square, their last hope for defense, that they broke right through the phalanx units guarding the street. Spears were snapped or discarded as the Ptolemaic infantry drew their swords and threw themselves into the melée.
Slowly, the wall defenders found themselves enveloped as the spearmen broke their rigid line to close about them in a pincer-formation.
Auletes was clearly apprehensive, almost twitching in his armor. He wanted to be in the thicket, to drench his hands in barbarian blood. "Alright lads!" He addressed his bodyguards and cavalry, "Let's go get the bastards!"
The defenders on the village square were fighting to the death against the massed spearmen when they saw the enemy ranks part, and two hundred men on horseback slammed into the fray.
The rest of his army was celebrating the capture of Cuniento when his chief aide came up to Auletes. "Sir, we found one survivor."
"Good." Auletes smiled slightly, marveling at the ruthlessly efficient killing machine his army had become. "Take me to him."
* * * * *
Four hours later, in the cold night air, a knife glinted under the moonlight and a man cried out. Auletes stood before the prisoner, who had been tied to a thick support beam, with a dagger in one hand and a human ear in the other. The interrogation had been brief and to-the-point, much to Auletes' disappointment. He had learned, with his rudimentary understanding of Gaelic, that the prisoner had been one of the captains of the garrison and that his name was Ivomagus.
"You are a cursed dog!" The bleeding prisoner spat at Auletes.
"Vortigern killed my brother, barbarian," Auletes traced the man's jawline with the tip of his blade, cutting ever so softly into his face, "and yet he hides in the North with his picts." He sheathed his blade, leaving a red line on Ivomagus' face. "I am done with you, Ivomagus. I have relished in your pain enough. My guards will escort you to the wilderness and turn you loose." Auletes turned and strode towards the door, pocketing the ear he had cut from his prisoner. "Go north. Tell Vortigern the sons of Ptolemy hunger for his demise."
* * * * *
"My recent forays north have uncovered heavy military activity along our border." Khu spoke quickly, his fingers flying over the map scroll as the Pharaoh listened intently. "The picts have even gone to the expense of maintaining a presence in the hills during the winter. Our goal, the fortified city of Dalriada, is within reach, but if we attempt a border invasion, we may incur heavy losses before reaching the city."
"Damn them." Heruben shook his head in frustration. "We've told them to submit. We've told them that if our armies entered their lands, the consequences would be dire for them. Have they any response to that?"
"Their written response was one word, my lord: 'If.'"
They were right. To conquer the north one mile at a time would cost the Ptolemaics dearly. "Then we will sail around them. The armies at Calleva and Cuniento will combine and depart from the port at Isca. Then, they will sail to and invade ƒireland, to the west, to be used as a staging point for our final invasion of the north."
"A bold plan, my lord. I shall go meet them at Isca for the campaign."
"No, Khu, you won't." Heruben looked up from the map at his master spy, who had in the recent years lost his portly figure. Dark bags hung under his eyes and sores had opened where he had applied too much of the lead paint for disguise. "Khu, you look terrible. I want you to spend the rest of the year in the city, regaining your health."
* * * * *
With the spring, came news from egypt. The Seleucids had restored much of Alexandria to its former state, though civil unrest continued to permeate lower egypt. Rumors told of several minor uprisings against the Seleucids in the southernmost of the former holdings of the Ptolemaics.
The armies of Acestes and Philopater Ptolemy had met with and crushed a small army of rebels in the British countryside, before meeting Auletes and his men from Cuniento, combining and then marching west.
They had sailed unchallenged across the Irish Sea and landed in Irish Hibernia.
Acestes missed the warm hall in Calleva. It seemed like all the Britons they had encountered since their arrival wanted to fight in the cold. He, too, had grown used to fighting in the winter. Perhaps it was best that the battle for Hibernia be fought in these conditions, for Acestes had a surprise for the enemy.
Once more, the enemy filled his field of vision.
He remembered the last words Heruben had said to him before he had left Calleva: "Be flexible, Acestes. Show them something they don't expect." The war had cost the Ptolemaics dearly, and the army that Acestes had brought with him was almost the entire fighting strength of the Ptolemaics. Three quarters of the force that they had landed with a decade ago was either dead or disbanded, as elderly veterans were relegated to garrison duty or settled down to start families. The role played by the powerful but inflexible phalanx was fading from importance, as they were gradually replaced with lighter, more mobile troops.
Acestes had brought with him four units of pezoi hoplites, arranged in a staggered hinge for maneuverability, and eight units of machimoi archers. Of the two dozen elephants the pharaoh had first debuted at the battle of Isca, only eight now remained. He had brought them too, along with every horseman bodyguard the three generals could muster.
"Hold!" He called, and his army came to a halt, the pezoi forming a protective line of spears of shields in front of the archers. "Archers fire at my command!" The Hibernians (or was it Hirish, he wondered) had not yet summoned the will to charge, instead sending forth skirmisher units to probe the mettle of the Ptolemaics. "Volley!" He shouted, and a wave of flaming arrows arced into the slinger skirmishers.
The Hibernians held, rooted to the ground in awe of the flaming projectiles descending in their midst, then quickly broke. Yet still, their main army didn't charge. "Wait here," Acestes heard a voice behind him, and turned to see Philopator Ptolemy, grinning boyishly. "I'll provoke them." With that, he turned and led his unit, wheeling around the left flank and straight towards the enemy.
"Hold your fire!" Acestes cautioned. Philopator had always been impish and daring as a youth, and Acestes was glad that he was back in his spirit. He just hoped Philopator hadn't just bitten off more than he could chew.
Sixty seconds later, Philopator and his guards were riding back as fast as they could, two thousand angry Irish Hibernians swarming behind them. Seconds before he was about to slam into their right flank, he had raised his spear and hurled a snowball into the enemy ranks. Now he was running like hell. "Fire at will!" He was yelling, despite the proximity. "Kill them! Kill them with fire!"
The archers complied, unleashing a firestorm of flaming arrows. A second sun briefly took to the sky as it filled so densely with flaming iron and wood that it was difficult to make out where one ended and the other began.
Skin punctured and charred as arrows splashed flaming oil into their panicked targets, and battle flags and banners burned and fell, consumed by flames. When the smoke had cleared and the archers had fired their last arrow, three quarters of the enemy army had been eradicated.
"Pezoi! Execute Phalangophagy maneuver! Cavalry and Elephants, follow me!" The phalanx again broke into a segmented formation, winding slowly up the hillside towards the terrified survivors. Slowly, they were encircled by spears and shields to the front, and cavalry to the rear.
The last of the enemy army was swallowed up and crushed.
* * * * *
That evening, the city of Tara threw open it's gates and surrendered to the Ptolemaics. Hibernia, apparently, had been conquered.
* * * * *
"Damn" Auletes cursed his own stupidity. In the absence of the Pharaoh's master spy, the army had divided into many parts to construct watch towers and outposts in the countryside, to serve as early warning of an uprisal. That spring, Auletes had ridden south with his unit of bodyguards, and had stumbled upon a huge army of rebels. Already tired from the long march, he had been unable to flee before they engaged him. "Khu would never have missed this," he mourned.
He was outnumbered almost a hundred to one, he figured, and now he was cornered. "Alright lads, we're done running." He unsheathed his sword and looked about the frightened Hetairoi around him. "Every bastard you kill here is one less that our main force will have to hack to pieces later on. How many wailing widows will you rack up before day's end?" With that, he about-faced and charged, his men following.
The fight lasted only seconds. No sooner had Auletes skewered a rebel on his xyston, then a heavy chariot sideswiped his horse, slicing the beast's belly open and pitching Aultes head-first to the ground. He landed with a sickening snap in his spine and tumbled. He couldn't feel the rest of his body. The rest of his men had either been pulled from their horses, or killed where they sat. The crowd around him parted and the rebel general stepped over Auletes' dying body.
No. It couldn't be. Him? Oh, Anubis, why hadn't he killed this man when he had the chance?
The rebel general lifted his blade. With the first swipe, he severed Auletes' ear from his head, holding it near the stub where his own was missing, then high for his cheering soldiers to see. With the second swipe, the rebel general severed Auletes' neck.