Moss-covered Monk

Moss-covered Monk

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ghosts of Carrhae

Marcus Crassus assembled the legions for battle late in the afternoon. Having spent much of the day in pursuit of the enemy, the men have consumed nearly all available water but remain parched. The effect of the march upon their constitution was dramatic considering their overall level of fitness was exemplary. The desert into which they marched did not resemble the land upon which they were raised, and their excess gear placed additional stress upon the fresh legions. The breaking point would soon be reached. Crassus picked a battle with a foe which could not be won over; in the barren land of blowing sand, the legions would soon succumb.

Marius saw the situation more realistically than his commander. Each hour that passed in pursuit of the Parthians was sapping the strength of the legion, while the enemy remained free to relax in relative comfort. Able to ride comfortably, acclimated to the weather, the Parthians did not place stress upon themselves. When the time for battle came, only one force would be rested. They could attack when they were ready, while the legions were forced to pursue in formation. Any fool could have seen the folly of pursuit, against a vastly more mobile force over hostile terrain, but Crassus did not listen to better judgement. His mind remained preoccupied with the glorious triumph to come.

"The fool sees exactly, and only, what he wishes to see."

Nothing more could be done. Nothing but march on and hope for a chance to turn a hopeless situation around. Marius shouted for order, but his words fell on deaf ears. The legion could not maintain discipline, as each man's dehydration, exhaustion, and eventual collapse drained their combined resources. Only through order could victory be salvaged, while chaos provides the seed for every defeat.

"Testudo." The legion formed up, squares slowly coalescing as shouts, slaps, and shoves brought the tired men into proper place. Set apart from one another by a narrow lane, the four blocks of infantry surrounded the cavalry wing and Crassus' bodyguards.

The supremely defensive formation had been chosen to nullify the Parthian advantage in ranged arms, as each square maintained their shields to protect from arrows shot in any direction. At first, Crassus appeared to have a grasp for strategy, choosing to protect his small mounted force in the middle of his supposedly impervious infantry blocks. Marius saw where his commander's strategy made sense, but he also recognized the dreadful efficiency at work in the Parthian strategy.

They will wait for us to tire. When we begin to rest upon our shields, they will rudely wake us up. While we thirst, they have replenishment. If we falter, they will fall upon us. They can achieve victory without bow, lance, or sword; the sun is our enemy now as well. How can we hope to win?

Treasonous thoughts are best left in one's own head, Marius reasoned. He could have gone up the chain of command, imploring Crassus to find a better location to mount a defense, where the elements were not against them and terrain could be used to break up the enemy's mounted force. However astute such advice may have been, Marius could not leave his post. His place was with his men.

"Keep those shields high. They will test us soon enough." Marius yelled. The first volley fell soon. The half-hearted attack caused a few casualties, but it failed to disturb the unity of the roman formation. The scouting force, no more than a few dozen in total, made a large circle around the force before returning to camp. The Parthians did not appear in a hurry to force battle, allowing the constant threat of danger to wear upon the legions.

Relying upon lies instead of intelligence, Crassus took six legions into the desert for the decisive battle. When that battle finally began, any hope of victory had long since vanished. He could have ordered a desperate charge, but the Parthians could have simply retreated further into the desert. Retreat seemed to be the only sound strategy left to the Romans, but even that possibility was removed when the native guide fled the Roman camp shortly before nightfall. The man was soon witnessed heading towards the Parthian lines. His duty done, the guide collected his reward and began the trek back to Syria. No one would survive to spoil his secret; the army of Marcus Crassus would have simply disappeared into the desert sand.