Battle of the Persian Gates
Farhad, the blacksmith, kissed his sleeping children, six year old Leila and three year old Hashem. Standing up, he opened his arms. His wife, Parisa, brushed the tears in her eyes and went into his arms. Her throat seemed constricted with sadness as she said, “I love you.”
Farhad softly hugged her and replied, “I have loved you since the day my eyes fell upon your face. May the gods protect you and the children.” With those words, he released her, picked up his hammer, and stepped out into the cold winter morning.
The yawning breath of the rising sun gave a pale pink hue to the horizon. Farhad wondered how many more he would see. He felt how the coming battle with the Greeks under their king, Alexander, would end. Why else would their king, Darius, leave the defense of his capital, Persepolis, to one of his satraps, except to borrow time to raise an army to replace the two that had been destroyed?
Farhad rounded a corner and saw familiar faces in a small crowd. Approaching them, he was greeted, “Farhad! Good to see you and your mighty hammer.”
Farhad smiled, raised his hammer sheepishly, and said, “Good day, Samir, Mehdi, Javad. I feel much better knowing you will be at my side.”
Samir replied, “We will need more than men in the coming battle. May the gods be with us.”
Mehdi said, “We’ve heard rumors Alexander is leading the approaching army. We will march into the Zagros Mountains and make a stand at the Persian Gates.”
Farhad replied, “A good plan. Two men can block the way at the narrowest point. Their advantage in numbers will be nullified.”
Javad agreed. “And if archers are put on the heights above, we’ll be able to hold them off forever. Then, Darius will return with an army he’s raising in the east.”
The notes of horns followed by the cacophony of startled birds heightened their tension. They formed a circle, extended their arms into the center, and clasped their hands. As one they shouted, “Brothers, pray we return unharmed.”
Arriving at the camp, they were stunned by the low number of men. A rustle of whispers rose as their general, Ariobarzanes, appeared. Silencing the men with a raised hand, he shouted, “Men of Persepolis, I thank you for gathering here, to risk your lives in the coming battle, and for your allegiance to Darius. My soldiers will block the pass. You will be divided into two groups. Those of you with skill in the bow will man the heights in the north with my archers while the others will rain stones upon the enemy from the southern cliffs. If we can hold them off for three moons, the King of Kings will arrive and smite Alexander and save our city and kingdom. May the gods be with us.”
He motioned for two of his captains to separate the men of the city into two groups, then with the remnants of his force headed for the Persian Gates.
Samir faced his friends. “I count fewer than 300 men with Ariobarzanes. How will we be able to hold off the Greeks?”
Farhad replied, “We must put our trust in him. Alexander will be confident of victory and blunder into our trap.”
Their conversation was cut short. One of the captains shouted, “Those of you with bows follow me. The rest of you stay here and receive instructions.”
Farhad waited with his friends and those citizens who had not yet gone off to war in the last four years. None of those who had gone returned from two disastrous battles. Those around him were all that remained, outside of the garrison, who could fight. He did a quick calculation. Counting the 300 soldiers with Ariobarzanes, 150 men with bows, and 250 citizens there were 700. How many would Alexander bring? He was sure it would be more than 10,000.
A soldier waved for the men to come closer, he said, “I am Sergeant Servin, you can address me as Sarge. You will be under my command and do exactly as I order. Understood? Excellent! I will lead you to our position above the narrows on the southern cliffs. There we will position rocks to plummet upon the bastards. We have much hard work ahead of us, but I am confidant we will see the scum retreat. Brave men, follow me.”
In the evening they arrived at their position and immediately started work. At dusk they broke for bread. Sergeant Servin gathered the men and said, “We have reports from our scouts that the Uxians have been routed. The way is clear for Alexander. Expect to see his rabble tomorrow.” He pointed to the rocks they had gathered. “When I give the order, throw those rocks and watch Death do his work.”
Next morning lookouts reported troops in the distance. Sergeant shouted, “Stay away from the cliff. We must not be seen until they are directly below us.”
Farhad sat down and leaned against a boulder. He took his purse out from his tunic. Inside was a treasured piece of folded papyrus. It was a drawing of his family by his daughter, Leila. He was proud of the talent shown in the drawing. Remembering the day she had given it to him, he smiled as he outlined with his fingers the faces she had drawn.
He had been thinking deeply the past two days on war. Why do men plunder at the risk of death? Why can’t they be satisfied with what they earn from honest living? But, then, he realized that as a blacksmith he had benefited greatly from the forging of weapons. Perhaps, only children were truly innocent of complicity.
His hammer laid at his side. Its function from making swords to making rocks had changed, but its purpose to make weapons had not. Soon, men would be killing each other. Though, he had seen murals and listened to tales, he doubted his picture of battle would prove close to real. He was terrified, yet he couldn’t deny he felt more alive than ever before.
Javad came to Farhad and said, “Come Farhad, the enemy can be seen. There are many.”
Farhad followed his friend and looked where he pointed. The sight took his breath away. They came in formations of ten abreast and six deep as far as he could see. In the vanguard were men with shields, swords, and spears. Some spears were as long as two men. Behind them were archers in looser formation, and last he could see men on horses.
Farhad said, “It’s an impressive sight. It’s something to tell our grandchildren.”
Javad stared at his friend with disbelief, for he felt only fear. He laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder, and softly, he said, “Yes, it is.”
They watched as the formations began to slow and bunch up as the pass narrowed. The signal to get ready passed from man to man. Stones were chosen and lifted.
There was a shout and then a roar as the Greeks charged. From the north cliff, archers rose and released their arrows. Sergeant Servin shouted, “Lions of Persepolis throw your stones upon the scorpions who defy our land!”
Another roar, this one much closer, as Farhad rushed forward and launched his stone over his head. He watched it fly into the midst of the enemy.
The combination of arrows from one side and stones from the other upon the packed soldiers was devastating. Yet, more men kept coming thus preventing any retreat or escape for those in front. The fallen piled up and blocked the way forward. Soldiers were pushed from behind to stumble and fall on the dead and dying.
Sergeant Servin cackled and howled, “Keep at it men. Kill them till the pass runs red with their stinking blood!”
How long the sands of time fell, Farhad knew not, but finally order was restored in the Greek ranks. They left their dead and dying on the field. He knew a humiliating defeat had been inflicted on the proud Alexander.
Farhad looked around for his friend Javad, Samir, and Medhi. He saw they were jeering at the retreating enemy, but he couldn’t join them. In his heart, he knew Alexander was not yet beaten.
Stalemate came between the foes and stayed for a moon.
As the full moon lit the way, Alexander led his men into the Zagros Mountains. Revealed by a local goat shepherd, this path would take them behind the Persian Gates and its defenders. It was ironic that this was almost exactly what had happened at Thermopylae 150 years ago, thought Alexander. But, this time the roles were reversed.
His second in command, Philotas, would fall upon the men on the north cliff while he would rout the contingent blocking the pass. Just before they parted, he told Philotas to attack as soon as the sun peeked over the horizon.
Ariobarzanes opened the flap of his tent and looked at a cloud of dust on the plain marring the glow opening another day. A horse with the rider slumped over its neck galloped into the camp. The shaft of an arrow protruded from the back of his blood stained tunic. His aide rushed to help lower him off the steed only to discover his life had passed away.
Ariobarzanes shouted, “Blow the horns. Alexander has found the path and will soon be upon us.”
Sergeant Servin scanned the eastern horizon, for the horns were warning of an attack from that direction. He bellowed, “The Greeks are coming behind us! Prepare for battle!”
Farhad grabbed his hammer. His heart was pounding. The world was full of sound and motion, yet he could focus with amazing power. He shouted, “Javad, Samir, Mehdi!”
The four friends gathered. Mehdi said, “Does anyone have a plan?”
Farhad replied, “Grab two stones. As you charge, throw. Wrestle one and take his weapon. I will wield this hammer.”
Samir said, “May I come back as a woman.”
Javad added, “Of high class.”
Medhi nodded. “In a peaceful country.”
Farhad smiled. “With a different nose.”
All except Farhad chose stones. The Greeks came.
Three days later.
Alexander rode tall on his horse as it trotted in front of his elite soldiers, The Companions. Pointing his sword to the walled city crowning the hill, he shouted, “There lies the most hateful city of our vilest enemy who burnt Athens into ruins.”
His sword swept the ranks. “Here we are. Victorious. Strong. Stronger than any army the world has ever seen.”
Alexander reined his horse and faced his men. “Will you step forward to avenge Greece?”
The air and ground shook as every man responded.
In the present, 2340 years later.
A ten year old boy ran forward. His father shouted, “Keep us in sight, Johnny.”
Johnny ran up the ancient steps. Arriving at the top, he saw carvings on a ruined wall showing a horse with wings and a human head. The head was of a man with long hair and beard wearing a pail on his head.
He wondered what kind of strange people had lived here.