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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT #37: WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

THESSALY

I'm back from my road trip to California. Had an excellent time, which I'll write more in detail about soon. I came back on the weekend faced with a load of work --writing, that is. The question is, What will happen next?

It took a bit of time (and procrastination) to reorganize myself. I started out by the usual - unpacking, laundry, reorienting myself. (Missing my bird a lot. He's still at the sitters.) And then I did a bit of the editing on a travel manuscript I'm doing before figuring out where to begin with the novel.

While I was away I did jot down a couple of brief notes and since coming back it's been on my mind. So I got the MSS out and made some editing notes and today I managed to finish off a chapter and get myself set up for the next one. I really do want to get this novel done quickly now. When I was visiting my cousins and Aunt in California they kept asking me about it. When will it be finished? When can we read it?

So here goes the latest snippet in the trials and tribulations of Polyperchon, the Regent of Macedon as he is holed up in a quickly diminishing army camp on the plains of Thessaly, while back up the coast in Pynda, Roxana, Iskander and Olympias wait hopefully for him to rescue them from their enemy Kassandros, who is camped dangerously near.

This scene is in the camp at Thessaly just after Polyperchon has received an ultimatum (to surrender) from Kassandros, and finds out Kassandros' general is quickly approaching. Rather than back down and surrender, the army agreed to confront the enemy in hopes that they can hold off until more recruits come.

The next morning, as a pale sun dawned over the low Thessalian hills, Polyperhcon stood by the alter in the midst of his camp. The priests and acolytes sang the hymns and the ram stood dumbly waiting, its amber eyes blank, empty of will, as though it was dead already. One swift slash of the priest’s sacrificial knife opened its throat and the blood spilled, bright crimson. But as the acolyte stooped to catch it in the bowl, some splashed him, drenching the front of his tunic. Polyperchon heard the hiss of the priests’ indrawn breath. A moment later, as the priest made the ritual cuts through the ram’s belly, he smelled the stench of animal guts. The knife had pierced the innards; another bad omen.
The priests muttered among themselves.
“This bodes ill, Sir!”

Polyperchon felt a throbbing in his temples and his mouth went dry. “Never mind!” he growled. “Perhaps the gods have lied.”

Within the hour, dressed in helmet and armour, Polyperchon mounted his stallion and raised his sword. A herald blew the trumpet as commands were shouted and the men came out at the call, infantry and cavalry both.

The commanders’ orders sounded crisp and clear, a chorus of calm, controlled voices. The the soldiers scrambled for their weapons and joined their units.
Polyperchon rode down the pitifully sparse ranks then back again and stopped.

“We’ll put up as best a fight as we can, take a few of those bastards down to Hades with us!“ he shouted.

There were no cheers to greet his speech, only a deadly silence. He could feel a gloom descending over the troops. It was too late to reverse things now. His horse snorted and tossed its head. “You who are loyal will be rewarded!“ he shouted. He gave the call to his trumpeter to sound the charge. He gathered his reins, dug his heels into the horse’s flanks. His stallion lunged forward. To the right and left were the squadrons of horse troops. As he glanced back he saw the peltasts march forward, the sun glinting off their forest of spears. The straggling lines of cavalry and footstolders faltered then slowly formed their units. He hauled his horse around and shouted: “March, damn you! March!“ In spite of the chill autumn air, sweat tricked from beneath the rim of his helmet.. He raised his hand to wipe it away, his eyes still on the disassembled troops. He kicked his mount again and it half-reared as if it too was resisting the order. Then someone began to sing a paean. Others took up the words, The song swelled through the ranks. The air rang with trumpet calls and slowly the army moved forward.

Before them lay a swath of sun-burned fields, scattered with boulders and stones among the heather and scrub. Towards afternoon they stopped to water their horses at a river. Polyperchon could feel the tension, taut as a bow-string. The river gleamed between the poplars. Beyond it spread a plain where the armies would meet. He pictured what might come once they had crossed and formed their lines of battle.

He sat on the river-bank and ate his meagre rations without much appetite, his
mind on the augurer’s predictions, the ramifications of the omens. He knew he should have considered them more carefully; instead, he had buried his head in the sand of delusion, imagining a certain victory. The truth was, the nearer they came to the enemy, the more his battle spirit waned. Now reality caught up with him. He must do something immediately. He felt the futility of facing death on this obscure, insignificant battle field. What was there to gain? A full-fledge battle when his men were so badly outnumbered meant certain death. There would be no victory here. Casualties would be massive. The gravity of the situation compelled him to reconsider his orders. Would his men defer to him without resentment? Resentment, he knew, bred treachery.

He sighed wearily, his mind going back to the days when he had been a crafty, stubborn war-dog. He had spent the best part of fifty years at arms; now,
when he should be living on the bounty of his years of service to the Kings, he was once again caught up in the maelstrom of war. He had survived many battles fiercer than this one would be, but he was no longer young and had lost his arrogance and taste for combat. He knew what taking chances could mean. Every morning he had made offerings and the seers read the omens, always adverse. Each day he had held councils with the officers of rural garrisons and tribal chiefs.. They had offered only token support. Knowing how many of his men had been bought off by Kassandros, none were willing to provide more than a scant compliment of men and horses.

He threw down the remnants of his food and called the herald to signal the mens’ attention. Within the hour he had the army assembled.


HOPLITE

So what do you suppose will happen next? And will I finish this endless saga before the summer ends? I certainly hope so! I've already written up an idea for the wrap party invitations; bought a bottle of champagne at a winery in the Napa Valley, and have a bottle of ouzo that was given to me on mother's day. It will be a grand celebration when I finally write "the end". But it will also be kind of sad saying goodbye to my long-time Macedonian and Persian friends.

Here's a picture of another part of Thessaly, Meteora. I've visited there a couple of times.
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7 comments:

Meghan said...

Polyperhcon seems like a man with a heavy burden on his shoulders. There just doesn't seem to be a way out for him. I hope you get the book finished soon!

I like your picture of Meteora. I'll actually be visiting there while I'm in Greece. :)

Wynn Bexton said...

Yes, unfortunately he's in a big mess. I'm glad that came across clearly.

You'll love the Meteora. An incredible sight to see.

Father Park said...

Well, the first thing he will not do is mount his stallion...for the third time.

Kallas had indeed "bought his men" and this battle never took place as Polyperchon was left with "only a few and these the most faithful". It is unlikely in the extreme that he contemplated battle. More likely he will have retreated to Aetolia which he had seemingly successfully raised in revolt.

It is but a hop and a skip to Cassander buying off Polyperchon's son - Alexander funnily enough - with his father's moniker of "Strategos of the Peloponnese".

Loyal Polyperchon might have been but his conduct of this war and his empowering of the muderous mother of Alexander III speak to his lack of perspicacity.

Polyperchon needed her testicles not her.

Wynn Bexton said...

Nice to hear from yo Father Park. You're right. Poly does not have 'the balls' to do anything more than try for a truce. It's unfortunate he did not have the competency of Antipater and as a result all is doomed. (Oops, am I giving away the plot to those who don't know the history?)

AnnaReiers said...

This is fascinating, Ruth!
But methinks Polyperchon can't win - either way...
What will his men think of him when he orders the retreat? (or if...)

Wynn Bexton said...

Aha.. I see I have set up the suspense. Good! Now wait to tune into the next snippet...

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