Our king was in high spirits as Clearchus the Lacedaemonian had recently bolstered our ranks with one thousand hoplites and eight hundred Thracian peltasts and two hundred Cretan archers. In supplementary negotiations Sosis the Syracusian granted us three thousand hoplites, and another one thousand hoplites courtesy of Agias the Arcadian. Finding me in transcription, Cyrus instructed me to include in my record, “One can never have enough hoplites.” Far is it from my station to question the wisdom of a king, though I will allow the hoplites have clearer skin and walk with proud carriage, while any farmhand may pick up two long sticks and call himself a peltast. And they do.
Thereupon one evening, to a small council, of which I was in number, he spake: “I daresay the gods themselves have blessed our cause, as evinced in the swelling of our army.” Gaulites, a Samian exile and trusty friend of our lord, said: “Surely there can be no clearer sign of their favor.” Clearchus said: “We’ve victuals and wine to support half again our army, and we’re but one month’s hard march from Trapezus.” To this Cyrus answered: “Yet I am impatient to learn of the battle in Trapezus.” Menon the Thessalian, a brilliant strategist, said: “I suspect my lord to propose a division.” Cyrus was content, having surrounded himself with counselors at least as wise as himself. Thus, our “marching republic” would follow the Euphrates river around the Phasianoi mountains, while Cyrus would lead a light stage—one parasang—north along the Harpasus river and into the Hieros mountains to Cymnias, a reprieve on the way to Trapezus. We took our separate paths the next morning, Cyrus bringing with him Seuthes, Heracleides, Anaxibius, and myself with a retinue of sixteen hoplites (and, I noted with pardonable pleasure, no peltasts).
The week passed swiftly and without great event. We did come upon Cymnias, whose governor greeted us warmly and resupplied our stores. Jealously I availed myself of this respite to organize my chronicles, while Seuthes and Heracleides got drunk with the hoplites. Yet the anxiety that spurred Cyrus to travel without his army likewise cut short our rest in Cymnias. For the governor’s gift of three handy guides who should lead us through the valley of the Colchis, whereupon Trapezus should all but lie in sight, Cyrus swore to shower the governor’s head in riches, upon the inevitable reclamation of his rightful throne from his treacherous brother, Artaxerxes, which vow gladded the governor no end.
Strong and capable were our guides, surely, but hardly had we crested the first ridge of the Colchis before they began to show signs of reluctance, then rebelliousness. They insisted we set up camp before sunset, and they delayed pitching site until fourth hour. Neither could Seuthes coax a sensible answer from them for this troublesome behavior, nor could Heracleides bully them into compliance, but one morning we discovered the guides had fled in the night. Full wroth was Cyrus, for we lingered an extra day in the valley to consult our maps and make survey.
That evening pulled over us swiftly like the sheets upon a bed, and our ruminations gave way to roasting a hunted boar over an aromatic fire, when we heard what might be a bear, even its family, shoving the woods out of its way. The hoplites scrambled to seize their arms, while our group of five only looked up dumbly from our dinner. From the woods emerged a woman, and it is no great device to suggest the woods parted to admit her, for she was easily as tall as several of us standing on each other’s shoulders. Her rough boots gently kicked a tree aside as she entered our light, and we rose to meet her, upon which I discovered none of us stood as tall as her bare knee, poking from the folds of such a pile of sumptuous textiles as would keep a clothier in business for a year. Her face was rosy in the fire, her brow wise, wreathed in her own russet tresses and again wimpled in fine cloth. Her ruby lips parted to grin as she considered our retinue.
Cyrus bade the hoplites disarm, which they did not like, and he addressed the gigantic woman directly to explain our presence in what was likely her territory. I made mental note of her appearance, the contrast between the elegant drapery and her savage boots, stitched with pelts of boar, wolf, bear, and so on. I might have slept in this enormous garment with space left over, if not comfortably. With a voice loud and strong she spake: “I am Dilruba. I mean you no harm. As your guides have spurned you, I will escort you to my queen for judgment.” None of us were pleased to hear this but Cyrus, who readily agreed and ordered us to strike camp.
We followed the gigantic woman in near-perfect darkness, the stars blotted by the canopy of trees, until we came upon a vast clearing with several more women like her, all clad in boundless folds of crimson, juniper, tiger, and violet, cinched at their waists with a rude belt or flowing from their heads like waterfalls. Any three hoplites might have stood between the calves of such a woman and been lost within her sarong. Commensurate with their height was their beauty, to our eyes: Dilruba, as darling as she was wise; Afet, whose jade eyes and night-black hair robbed us of breath and weakened our knees; the amply endowed Jülide, protected by her childlike demeanor; Necmiye with glowing violet eyes and knowing grin, studying us as soon as we arrived; and Şeyda, who liked to strut around us, thrusting her chest and tossing her mahogany locks over sloping caramel shoulders.
We hardly knew what to think, surrounded by these bold and indomitable women. Heracleides muttered, and we agreed: “Were they closer to my size, I should like to seize their lovely tresses and tug them upon my lap for a sound spanking.” Shrewdly Seuthes added: “As it stands, however, I don’t like my odds in a duel against their mere foot.” I was unable to resist quipping: “Wise you are, for we’ve only two feet, and any one of them has many dozen on us.” Anaxibius gave me a look to quiet my soul, and I felt quite the peltast.
Dilruba summoned their queen, and a goddess among goddesses emerged. This was Ulviye, of unearthly beauty and perilous mien, whose high cheekbones, firm jawline, and wearied eyes spake ten lifetimes of wisdom. She and Cyrus regarded each other, perhaps communing on that lofty plane to which leaders are native, before she said: “You are welcome here, King Cyrus, and we afford you all the board and staple we grant to any under our protection.” Cyrus ventured to reply, though displeased to fix his gaze so high, for the tribe would not condescend to accommodate our lowliness. He exclaimed: “Well met, Queen Ulviye. We have been separated from our army but will meet them at Trapezus.” Ulviye asked: “An army? I hope you do not mean us any ill.” None of our retinue missed the mirthful curl of her lips at this, but Cyrus continued: “None of us should dream of laying an untoward hand upon you, I swear upon my life.” To me and Seuthes, Heracleitus commented sub rosa: “How unfortunate, that with these words he transforms me to his unwilling assassin.” Cyrus said further: “Rather, I should like to enjoin you and your tribe in our noble cause, for you provide a force with which no army has reckoned.” Tilting her regal headdress (again, large enough to house me), Ulviye spake: “Scarcely has the echo of our greetings faded within the valley than you would indenture us? With what coin might you ply our servitude?” Cyrus made mention of some tens of thousands of dinars, which gave the queen of the giantesses to bend her massy head back and laugh at the stars through the treetops. She said: “What should we do with the money of puny men, but let it sift from our fingers like fine sand? Have you no enticement of significance?” Cyrus insisted upon the nobility of our cause, but again she mocked us, saying: “Now, tonight, rather than luxuriate in the hospitality of the heras of Colchis, you must justify your existence.”
With that, she bade her followers to select from our number an audience for the night. Dilruba, our guide after our guides abandoned us, chose my friend Anaxibius, before I could speak with him for advice. Heracleides made such bold eyes at Afet that she was bound to teach him a lesson. Seuthes introduced himself to the naïf-goddess Jülide, and she lodged him between her tremendous breasts to tote him away. Ulviye hoisted Cyrus like a child’s doll, which suited him ill, and Necmiye dragged me incontrovertibly by the hand to the bank of a pond. Şeyda selected several hoplites to accompany her.
I know not what was discussed in the other groups. I heard cries and moans and screams all throughout the night, some alarming and some enviable. Necmiye smiled upon me, where I sat by her large hip, and she asked me the names my people have given to the stars. I pointed out the guardians of our sky, where lay Regulus and Antares, according to Zarathustra, and where might be found Aldebaran and Fomalhaut. She laughed as musically as a river over smooth rocks and stroked my head with long, draping fingers. Something in her touch intoxicated me and, unbidden, I issued all manner of questions to her. Her teeth glowed in the moonlight and she answered every last one, though I was possessed not of the faculty to recall her responses. I dread that I squandered an incalculable wealth of knowledge that night.
Morning found me curled upon the softest bed I’ve ever known, strange to find in the mountains. This was Necmiye’s belly, and I rose and fell with her gentle breath until she stirred. How strange, the pang in my heart as she lifted me away and cradled me, returning to the women’s camp. Likewise, Anaxibius gazed moonily up at Dilruba over spiced wine. Afet poked at Heracleides and giggled to see him tumble about her feet. Seuthes was unable to look in the direction of Jülide, and nor would she face him but negotiated herself as far from him as she might while remaining in the area. I resolved to petition each of these, on the road to Trapezus, and learn of what they spoke, if I could. It was some time before Şeyda made her appearance, flushed and smiling like a she-wolf. I indicated to Seuthes that now we had only thirteen hoplites, not sixteen, but he seemed disinclined to pursue this matter.
Our host and retinue fell silent as Queen Ulviye and King Cyrus strode into the clearing as equals—indeed, anyone who didn’t know them might have taken them for lifelong friends, if not siblings (but for the variation in altitude, granted). Ulviye explained to her ranks, as Cyrus did to us, that the tribe would indeed accompany us out of the Colchis, and with their assistance we made excellent time up to Trapezus, and Cyrus obtained all the news he liked. While we waited for the army to rejoin us, Ulviye consented to assist Cyrus in rebuilding the Grecian colony at Cerasus, which had been harassed by forces established in Mossynoeci. More than anything, I craved to know what it was they spoke of in their night together, but this would have to wait for another time, as the scouts of Trapezus sighted the first platoons of our army over a ridge, and so we purchased what supplies we needed and girded our loins, men and women, small and gigantic, for the confrontation at Mossynoeci.
My submission for the Size Riot #HistoricalJuly20 flash fiction contest awkwardly wedges itself into the middle of The Anabasis, in which Xenophon records his involvement with Cyrus the Younger assembling an army to reclaim his throne from his brother, Artaxerxes II. The Anabasis has been the inspiration for innumerable fantasy and sci-fi works, as it’s a compelling drama and a riveting exploration of exotic creatures and peoples, interrupted occasionally by dense recitation of troop strength and armament as they progress.
I tried to emulate the author’s (and the translator’s) flavor in this story, so I adopted its antiquated format. Some readers found this troublesome, notably jamming all the dialogue into a single paragraph. Go read The Anabasis on Gutenberg Project, you’ll see it was all intentional.
Some readers felt like it was missing something: this was one little story arc that happens in the middle of a saga. It was my hope that readers might discern the context and appreciate it for one complete event with much before it and much after, and that this wouldn’t be terribly disruptive.
Two readers picked up on this cribbing Xenophon’s account, which was one more than I was expecting. A couple readers sensed a Futurama vibe, which I can’t deny. Others shared stark and harsh interpretations of scenes that were implied, and I’m unwilling to agree these were my intent, but reader interpretation is its own valid thing. Some were shocked at the implication of nonconsensual sex, and some stated they would have liked to have seen any.
You cannot please everyone, all the time, so you’ve got to focus on entertaining yourself. Fortunately several people were entertained, so I know I wasn’t totally alone on this. It was enjoyable for me to write: reworking The Anabasis was one of four ideas I came up with for the contest, and maybe I’ll work out the others as well.
Image: Adrien Guignet, “Retreat of the Ten Thousand”