Some complacent god in the skies might have mistaken the Paeonians for a line of ants crawling toward their trivial ends. The stalking Achaean scouts knew better. The Paeonians were marching for almost a day at the fastest pace the caravan would sustain on rough terrain. Bags of precious wheat, barley and spelt tottered their way from the southern coast of Troad to the hungry army of king Alexander, son of Priam, of Troy.
Smell of pack animals and human sweat filled the nostrils of Teres and the two scores of Paeonian warriors he led as rearguard. Fine dust, stirred under hooves and dragging feet, stung their eyes and powdered their mouths and skins. Teres’ scalp itched under the bronze helmet. The scorching late summer sun had turned it into a boiling pot sending rivulets of sweat that washed paths on the dirty face down his square jaw. The skin under the stubble was irritated from the constant scratching, its color prominent against the white lumpy scar that ran along his left cheek. All his gear seemed to be specifically designed to obstruct his movement and to irritate him. His short bronze sword sheathed in a leather scabbard flapped annoyingly against his knee and his waterskin kept sliding down the long spear he carried on his shoulder. The splashing sound of the water distracted him and, he thought, gave him urges to piss.
“Dropion, do you hear it?” Teres raised his hand and turned to his cousin and best friend marching next to him.
“What?” Dropion’s thin sharp face tensed.
“My ass sizzling in my leggings.” The short burst of laughter startled a bony mule a few paces ahead.
“I miss the cold weather,” Teres said still smiling and lapsed back into silence. Images of the snow-covered mountains in his faraway home swam into his mind. He remembered how much he liked playing chicken over the frozen river and how he would show off for that girl, Meda, and keep walking long after the others had given up, with the ice crackling underneath.
Teres’ eyes were fixed on the rumps of the pack animals at the end of the caravan. He kept yelling at the caravan drivers to pick up pace. Every time he glanced around, some new grove, a crag, or an overgrown gully would have appeared as if out of nowhere. A sharp whistle from far ahead made him straighten and look over the line of men and animals.
“They’re stopping to wait for us. We must move faster,” he told Dropion and waved to his father.
At the head of the column, lord Pyraechmes watched his son pacing along the path urging the men on. The thick chest of the grey-bearded lord was protected by a hard leather corselet with polished bronze shoulder guards and a broad, ornamented copper belt. He carried a spear and a long sword with a bone handle and a horned crossguard. His half-brother Asteropaeus, leader of the Paeonian tribe of the Almopians, stood next to him. Asteropaeus’ long austere face did not reveal any discomfort under the weight of the heavy bronze-studded leather armor and the sheaf of thin-shafted javelins tucked under the round shield on his back.
The two seasoned warriors waited silently in the stifling heat. Finally Pyraechmes nodded and Asteropaeus turned to give orders to the avant-garde to resume marching. Some distance ahead the narrow track opened into a broad valley. A range of low hills was visible to the northwest and behind it were the Scamander and the trampled fields around Troy.
The convoy was climbing out of a shallow trough when a howling mob swarmed over the edge of the ridge to their right, spears and swords bristling. The salvo of arrows from behind them hammered on shields and armor. The time the Paeonians took to turn around while enduring the shower of arrows was enough for the attackers to cut them from the rest of the convoy. The Paeonian front line held the initial ferocious attack, but Pyraechmes’ men were pushed further down the path. In the midst of the press of men, a band of Achaeans were swinging long heavy swords, pounding and thrusting at the line of shields in front of them with fierce war cries. At one point a sword found a shoulder and slashed a chunk of muscle and fabric off and a heavy round shield dropped. A tall Achaean with a red-plumed helmet and an aura of confidence, wielding a heavy bronze axe, plunged into the front line of the Paeonians. The first vicious blow to the right smashed with a thud against a leather-capped head. A side swing broke the spine of a Paeonian warrior throwing forward the wriggling body and expanding the gap in the Paeonian front. Achaeans spilled through the opening, but soon found themselves surrounded by stinging copper spears and nasty sword slashes from three directions.
When Teres spotted the dark figures of the Achaeans and heard their vicious cries far ahead he yelled at his people to gather around him and prepared to run the length of the convoy. His last orders were drowned by the shrill sound of the Achaean bugle, salpinx, calling from behind them. They swung on their heels and crouched, but no enemy rushed down the path.
“Mydon, scout the path,” Teres shouted. His temples throbbed, waves of hot sweat washed over his body.
The young slender warrior darted toward the piercing demonic call of the salpinx, his figure dwarfed by the bulging rocks on both his sides. All Paeonians held their breaths as they watched Mydon sprinting away. He stopped at the point where the path veered behind the rock wall and carefully peered beyond. An arrow bounced off his helmet and a lightning moment later another one pierced and lodged into his oxhide shield. The warrior ducked and crawled back changing his vantage point. After a few moments, he turned and ran back.