Chapter 1 – New BloodA camp on the outskirts of SinopeSpring, 271 B.C.
The crown prince fidgeted in his saddle. Arsames never wanted this responsibility. He wasn’t ready to be named Koiranides anymore than he was ready to lose the king that he called father. He certainly wasn’t ready for the battle which awaited him.
The letter came just months shy of his sixteenth winter; sealed with the sigil of the Basileus, signed with the name Ariobarzanes. Mithridates Kianos, Ktistes, founder of his line, had passed on to his ancestors. For weeks an illness had ravaged his frail body, starting as a fever and culminating in a horrible seizure. He never awoke from the violent ordeal, and stopped breathing two days later, an hour before the dawn broke.
For months his mother wept, and as her youngest son, Arsames did all that he could for her. Couldn’t his brother see that she needed him? What help could he be in this battle? As the youngest son of Mithridates, Arsames had trained to be a priest, or perhaps a member of the Basileus’ council. He didn’t have the drive or the ambition for war, and he knew that the young noblemen named him a coward behind his back. Yet here he was, named as Koiranides and summoned to fulfill his duty as crown prince. He would ride into battle alongside his brother, his king, whether he wanted to or not. To refuse the order of the Basileus was unacceptable.
The siege would break any day now. Inexperienced as he was, Arsames knew that the defenders could hold no longer. A year had reduced their supplies and manpower as starvation took its toll upon the populace, and even the most loyal citizens whispered of regicide. Alkimos and his spies reported that King Aigicoros would be forced to sally forth within the week. They were right.
The levies raised arms and prepared for battle. The skirmishers readied their slings and javelins. A sea of pikes bristled. It was time.
The gates opened, and the forces of Sinope poured out. Half starved, the soldiers had a look of grim determination on their faces. There would be no retreat for them. They would fight, or they would die.
The Greeks charged as the skirmishers released their javelins. Holding their hopla aloft, the Greek warriors were protected from the barrage of stones and missiles. They closed in on the Pontikoi skirmishers, a collection of young farmers and herdsmen, and the line broke. Barely fit to hold a sword, they turned and ran, desperately seeking the safety of the phalanx.
As the skirmishers weaved between the rows of pikes, the men within the phalanx readied themselves for the coming battle. Digging in their heels and gritting their teeth, the phalanx held as a mass of bronze and battle ready hoplites crashed into the line. Five good men fell in the initial charge, but the soldiers behind were quick to take their place.
As the levies battled in the center of the line, Aigicoros himself led a desperate charge towards the Pontikoi cavalry. Calling out, Ariobarzanes commanded his honor guard to retreat, and Arsames was happy to oblige. With no hope of catching the enemy cavalry, Aigicoros pressed on, smashing his personal guard into the left flank of the phalanx. The Basileus immediately saw the danger of encirclement, and drove his cavalry headlong into the enemy.
The Greeks were ready for them. Their doru poked and prodded at the horses, driving them wild, and Ariobarzanes saw one of his closest companions die before him, his horse brought down and his brains dashed out by a fateful blow. Fearing for his life, he ordered a retreat. As the king's guard retreated, Ariarathes was ready. Horns blew and spears lowered and a second charge crashed into Aigicoros' guard.
It was not enough, and Ariarathes ordered his horsemen away from the fight. This was it. Arsames cried out, but his voice escaped him. He looked down at his knuckles. They were bone white from gripping his kontos, and when he relaxed his grip, it seemed as if his spear would shake right out of his hands. Clearing his throat, he gave the order to charge and kicked his horse forward. The sound of hooves was an earthquake around him.
The force of the charge shattered his kontos, and it drove clean through the gleaming bronze of a grizzled hoplite who immediately dropped his shield and gripped his doru in both hands. Shifting his body in his saddle, Arsames dodged a thrust that would have skewered him like a stuck pig. Dropping the useless lance, Arsames drew his kopis and lashed out at the man, opening his throat. With widened eyes and a gaping mouth, the man fell to his knees. The screams of the dying replaced the thunder of the charge.
He looked around. All around him his guard was pressing hard upon the Greek's line. Men fell like the man before him, their blood seeping into the ground like rainwater. He looked at the dying Greek. He looked odd, resting on his knees in the mud and the blood. Arsames wondered who he was, if he had a family. Then, the line broke. Shaking himself out of his trance, Arsames bellowed out the order to pursue. He was a boy no longer.
Aigicoros wouldn't live to face his cowardice. As he ordered the retreat, he was knocked to the ground by an armored boot. Struggling to rise, he caught the sharpened edge of a horseman's kontos. It entered between his shoulders, and the horseman pushed with all his might, driving the stake through the king's chest and into the ground. Aigicoros looked up and saw his men retreat, before the shower of hooves rained down upon him.
The death Aigicoros was too much for the soldiers of Sinope. Faced with the fate of their once proud king, they began to flee, first as individuals and finally as a host. Arsames watched as his brothers charged, cutting down all within their path.
It was a massacre.
Men trampled over one another to reach the safety of the city walls. Comrades forgot their brothers as panic descended upon the soldiers of Sinope.
The city walls would bring no respite. Ariobarzanes himself led the charge into the city, cutting down soldier and citizen alike as he made a beeline for the town square. Women pulled at their hair, children screamed, and soldiers dropped their arms and begged for mercy.
As he pushed into the city square, Ariobarzanes blew his war horn. A cheer rose up among the ranks. The city was theirs.
SinopeLater that night
Darkness fell over Sinope, and despite the obscuring clouds which had rolled over the city like the army before them, the market square was lit up like midsummer’s day. Braziers burned brightly on every corner, music played from every home and wine flowed freely from every cup.
Ariobarzanes gave his brother a playful shove and a lecherous wink. “Oh, come on Ariarathes, live a little! There are plenty of fine women in this city, and all of them willing to show fealty to their new lords! You should take them up on the offer.”
Ariarathes grinned. The Basileus was deep in his cups, that much was sure. “And how do you think your dear sister would feel if she knew her honorable King was encouraging her husband to stray?” He chuckled to himself as he watched Ariobarzanes stumble and catch his balance on a royal guardsman.
Ariobarzanes snorted in contempt. “Bah, I thought you were supposed to be a Greek! Perhaps you’d enjoy the company of a young boy instead?”
Ariarathes burst into laughter along with his companions. “Why don’t you go find our little brother and get him to bed a woman? He has yet to find a wife that he can dishonor.”
Nodding in approval, the king sauntered off to find Arsames, followed closely by four of his royal cavalry. Breathing deeply, Ariarathes enjoyed the cool air that blew south off the Pontos Euxinus. The night was still young, and to the victor goes the spoils. Draining his cup, Ariarathes wondered what fortune would bring him. Pushing the memories of war out of his mind, he made his way to the market square, where suckling pig and fresh grapes were being served to all manner of soldiers, both noble and common.
The morning after.
Arsames woke to the sound of shouting. He tried to stand, but the fire within his head caused him to reel. With bleary eyes, he looked over at the young maid who lay asleep in his bed. Who was she? She had long and curly black hair, but he couldn’t remember her name, much less anything else that had happened that night. Rolling over on his side, he retched into an empty jug of wine. “How much did I drink last night?” He closed his eyes, but the shouting persisted. With great effort, he roused himself from the sheets, tousled and damp from his own sweat.
As he left his room, he found himself standing in the hall of King Aigicoros. Members of the royal cavalry were lying on the floor of the great hall, most of them trapped in their drunken dreams. A few soldiers noticed him and made an effort to stand, but he motioned for them to relax. His head pounded as he made his way towards the shouting, and as he approached closer he recognized the voice. It was his brother.
Ariobarzanes was in a rage, his face red and twisted with anger. Navid, his hulking retainer stood beside him, and Arsames recognized his mistress in the bed behind him, her face white. Shards of broken pottery lay strewn about the room, and standing before him was a portly man in fine clothes. Glancing briefly at Arsames, he turned his gaze back towards the man before him.
“How could my father leave me with such a debt? Surely the value of this city will relieve most of the cost taking it!”
The portly man looked concerned. His hands were clasped together in an attempt to belay any fidgeting, but the man’s fears were written plainly on his face. “My most sincere apologies, Basileus, but there is nothing I can do. Your father had expensive taste, and of course we have to provide for our soldiers. My arithmetic tells me that it will be many years before the crown can begin spending again.”
Ariobarzanes glowered at the man. “Alkimos, how many years have you served my father?”
Alkimos stammered, “Twenty three winters, my lord. I have been a loyal servant to the crown.”
Ariobarzanes smiled. “And I am not calling your loyalty into question. Rather, I am questioning your usefulness. Your service was valued by a different crown, but I am the Basileus now. And I have never found your services to be valuable.” He smiled. “Navid, please escort this man outside of the palace. I wouldn’t want to stain my new floors.”
The giant Kappadokos nodded, “Of course, Basileus.” Navid stepped forward as Alkimos stepped back, his face pale as the snow.
“Your grace,” Alkimos stuttered, “surely you can’t do this! Your father…” Navid grasped his arm with a huge hand.
“My father is dead.” Ariobarzanes turned away as Navid pushed past Arsames, dragging the eunuch into the hallway. He looked back. “I’m sorry you had to see that, brother, but you are the Koiranides, and someday you may have to make the decisions of a Basileus."
Arsames silently nodded, not trusting himself to speak past the lump in his throat, and he could hear the screams of the portly man echo through the great hall. Stepping out of his brother’s chambers, Arsames watched the poor man kick and bite at his captor, to no avail. “If this is the duty of the Basileus,” he thought, “I am not fit to be king.”