ANABASIS

The Colonial Boy - Rhodesia

 

 


 
 

Anabasis Excerpts

Excerpt a) Of the Men:


. Chapter One - The Mission
The still air stirred. Alexis felt the first
gust of wind on his face. They were
still some way from their goal, the village
set amidst the shady fertile lands
along the Helmand River. The sky was
beginning to cloud over, yet the whitewashed
mud walls ahead gleamed in
the bright sunshine. He urged his tired
horse, pricking it lightly with his
spurs. Skyron followed. The stifling dust rose around and
about them. The light cavalry outriders were ever vigilant out on the flanks, to front and rear. They were armed as Tarentines, but only a couple of  veterans besides their scarred leader, Kleon, had ever seen Taras in Magna Graecia,

Alexis felt the first droplet of rain on his head, and
took off his kausia, his felt beret. It would be no protection
against what was to come, that he knew. It was time
to look like a soldier again. He pulled on his Boetian helmet,
itself a farmer’s hat set in bronze, its shady brow
both a protection from the Bactrian sun and its downpours.
His score of mounted Royal Companions followed
suit.

The column of Royal Companions and their accompanying
Tarentine light horse were travelling alongside a
dry wadi from the desert lands of the South, a dry watercourse
which cut through the thirsty plain like a swordslash.
Although all was now parched earth, immediately
ahead was the brilliant green of the lands beside the
Helmand River. On the other side of the river, far away in
the distance, rose brown-grey hills, beyond which in his
imagination were snow-capped mountains. They were his
promise of home.

Alexis was on a mission for Demetrius son of
Euthydemus, King of Bactria. He was tall and lithe, his
long brown wavy hair blowing in the wind where it es2
caped his helmet. He could be taken for a dreamer, until
one saw the jagged scars on his limbs. His eyes confirmed
what his scars suggested. He had experienced much, this young man.


Excerpt b) Of the place:


The journey was again easy, with government hostelries,
food, and drink. It was easy going for both horses and
men despite the steadily steepening path. They were back
in civilisation, heading home towards one of the richest
lands in the world, Bactria. Alexis and Skyron could devote
time of an evening to writing their reports.

On the last night before reaching Bactra the party readied
both themselves and their horses. Alexis’ man- servant
brought his armour to a brilliant shine, and did what
he could with his travel-stained garments. Kinon took especial
care shaving Alexis. He felt cleansed and refreshed.
The horses were combed, their gear polished and helmet
crests again flowed clean. When finally they saw the great
city before them the group halted and dressed their ranks.
They were soldiers of the King. Around them now on the
highway were throngs of other travellers on horse and
foot. Some were far-travellers like they, others were locals
merely on their daily errands. Intent on their own business,
few looked twice at the horsemen.

When the mighty walls of Bactra-Balkh reared up above
him, Alexis felt the same awe that he had as a boy on his
first visit with his father. These were the walls that had
withstood the mighty Emperor Antiochus for two long
years, finally forcing him to the peace-table. Here
Kalisthenes the Historian, nephew of Aristotle, Alexander’s
old tutor, had died when he refuted Alexander’s claim to
be a God.

These walls encircled one of the mightiest and richest
cities in all of the Hellenistic world. The great trade routes
from India and even the Silk Road from the fabled land of
the Seres were but tributaries which converged here into
a mighty river which flowed both East and West, carrying
the goods of the East to Mesopotamia and westwards, to
Antioch in Syria and the Egypt of the Ptolemies, and to
Old Greece and Europe. In the West it swirled around,
and then flowed back again to the East. It was not a river
on which any one boat sailed, but a stream on which many
boats travelled short journeys, transferring their goods to
others, who in turn carried those goods further, adding
and subtracting their own unique and valuable goods.
At the great gates he identified himself, and a guard
was sent hurrying to the guard-commander. He knew
Alexis by sight, and they exchanged a few words in greeting.
Demetrius, Alexis was told, was not actually in the
palace but a few miles outside the city, spending a few
days “relaxing” with his chief advisors at his lodge in the
hills. The commander would give them a guide. Alexis told
him that would not be necessary as both he and Skyron
knew the place well. Wheeling their men, they trotted off.
Demetrius’ lodge was a relatively modest abode for a
king. Riding up the approach drive the men were surrounded
by beautifully laid out gardens on either side, with fountains in a lake and quiet groves in which to stroll. The view was magnificent. The building itself was rather
rustic, without colonnades or adornment. They were received
by the Deputy Commander of Demetrius’ Companions
and by a further dozen or so who hurried from
the barrack block and stables. Here Phineas came into
his own, surrounded by his own immediately on dismounting,
his men similarly treated, laughing and joking with
their comrades. Alexis told them that they could disperse,
and they and their horses were led off, Kinon and Dion
following them. Alexis knew however that Phineas would
be giving a brief report to Demetrius before ever he and
Skyron saw the King.
He turned to Kleon and told him to return to the city
and to dismiss his men for a couple of days, but to hold
himself in readiness to be summoned by the king. Alexis
bade the Tarentines farewell for now, wishing them all
the best.

Kleon’s last words were accompanied by a wry smile
which contorted his wizened face. “ See you at the Muster,
M’Lud”

It was with a smile on his face that Alexis and Skyron
strode into the lodge. The Chamberlain greeted them and
clapped his hands for servants to bring them water, and
food and wine.

“The King is talking to his military advisors, but he
knows you are here, My Lords. He will not keep you waiting
for long. In the meantime please give me any details of
your losses in men and equipment. I believe that you lost
a man? Unfortunate. We must find his widow and arrange
her pension.”

Within a short space of time they were ushered into
Demetrius’ war-room. Alexis had known him since boyhood,
but was still taken aback by his aura, the way in
which his personal magnetism drew him. Why, Alexis
knew not. He was no lithe young Alexander. Demetrius
was in his prime, a tall and heavily built man, bull-necked
and broad shouldered, with yellow hair curling from beneath
his kausia to frame a strong face. His features were
handsome but rugged, his nose jutting imperiously forward,
his chin square and determined. His blue eyes
seemed to see into a man’s soul. He was clean- shaven,
like Alexander. A leader. A man in a hurry.
Yet not impetuous. He had laid his preparations carefully,
had chosen his moment. Alex knew this all too well.
He was an officer on Demetrius’ staff, had spent the summer
planning Demetrius’ grandiose adventure. Along with
his colleagues he had pored over the maps drawn by agents
and traders, had calculated the numbers of troops to be
involved, the needed supplies, their logistic support. It
was men like himself, inspired by Demetrius’ dream, who
would make that dream a reality.

The East, India and all its fabled wealth, lay open before
him. The Seleucid King, the Great Antiochus, was
dead. His successor had not yet found his feet. He was
safe from that quarter. In India Asoka was dead, his
Mauryan Empire tearing itself apart, and his successors
were minor oligarchs and petty kings squabbling over the
pickings. The inevitable Vedic or Hindu revival had added
another dimension to the tangled strands of the web. Persecution
of the Buddhists of the North West had begun.
Religious hatred flared like a forest fire. Demetrius, like
all Hellenistic leaders of his time, with perhaps one or two
exceptions, aimed to stand above the religious bickering
of his subjects. Therein lay weakness and division. Yet for
all that his intelligence was good, and such rivalry was all
grist to his mill. He knew the power of propaganda. Already
his agents were spreading the word. The Liberator,
Demetrius Soter, the Saviour, was coming.

To the Greeks who had remained under Mauryan rule
when Seleucis had pulled back from Alexander’s furthermost
Indian conquests his coming was looked for with
longing. During all those generations they had lived quietly,
retaining both their culture and their identity. Under
Mauryan leaders such as Chandragupta and the great
Asoka they had prospered, rising high in the army and
bureaucracy, thriving as artists, sculptors, and poets. Yet
it was to the Buddhists that his coming was to be Salvation.
Demetrius the warrior, Demetrius, whom the Great
Antiochus his enemy had praised before the walls of Bactra
during the two-year siege and war, was in a hurry. Because
this was his moment. To strike now, at this one
time in history, when the irons were hot in the fire. This
was the man they were to face.