The Spartans

by JJPOR [Reviews - 47]

Printer Chapter or Story
  • Teen
  • Explicit Violence
  • Action/Adventure, Drama, General

Author's Notes:
So, I’ve wanted to do a straight-up historical for a while now, and this one in particular has been bouncing around my head for some time. I know One is really the Doctor for that sort of thing, but I’ve wanted to do a story with Two, Jamie, Polly and Ben for a while now too, and they were in one historical. Obviously, Doctor Who, its characters and copyrights are definitely not mine, although we have all wished it, haven’t we?

It was in the sixth year of the Great King Xerxes, the first of his name, during the war against the savage Hellenes, that the strange soothsayer known as the Doctor came into his court. His arrival was heralded by many ominous signs and portents. In golden Susa, the first city of the Empire of the Achaemenids, the Great King’s mother, Atossa, dreamed of blood and slaughter, of wrecked triremes tossed on gore-reddened seas. In Sardis, the capital of the west, it was said that a pure white calf was born with golden hooves and a single horn in the centre of its forehead. And the sacred order of the Magi, the priests of great Ahura Mazda and the guardians of his holy fire, tracked the courses of the stars across the sky and portended omens both great and terrible.

And this was fitting, for the Doctor was both of these things; it was said that he always spoke the truth, even if was not always apparent until long afterwards, and his pronouncements brought joy to those who earned it, and horror to those who deserved it. And not even mighty Xerxes, the King of Persia and Media, Great King, King of Kings and Ruler of the World, proved immune to his words.

* * *

The sun hung like a polished shield in the deep blue dome of the sky, its rays beating down almost hard enough to split the rocks of the rugged hillside below. The heat, the dust, the reflected glare, all combined to make this spot almost unbearable to humans at this hour, in the middle of the day. The lizard, however, was no human. It basked in the blistering heat, unmoving and unblinking, its scaly skin the same sandy yellow-grey hue as the stones on which it lay, feeling its blood slowly warming in the sunshine, drawing life from that divine golden disc overhead. It seemed like just another day for a lizard; skittering across the rocks, bathing in the sun, snapping at passing flies; maybe not just another day, however:

There were distant rumours of something untoward; a rumbling deep in the earth, a discoloration of the northern sky. And closer, even more disturbing signs. The strange sound was felt rather than heard at first; a deep groaning that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, slowly growing louder and more insistent. The reptile raised its head a fraction to consider the unfamiliar shape that was gradually fading into view among the rocks; it became more solid with every flash of the bright blue light that adorned it, even as the sound continued to swell, wheezing rhythmically like the breath of some enormous subterranean monster.

As the noise and the flashing finally ceased, the lizard casually extended a blue-grey tongue and cleaned some specks of dust from one of its large eyes. Then it scurried off about its business, claws clattering across the loose stones. It takes more than a mysterious weather-scarred blue box appearing out thin air to impress a lizard.

Had it stayed there long enough to see the door in the front of the box open and four people walk out of it (and the box did not really seem large enough to contain more than two or three with comfort), then it likely would not have been impressed by that either. Lizards, on the whole, severely lack a sense of wonder.

“Well, where are we then, Doctor?” asked the blonde girl, who was, appropriately enough, wearing a large, shady sunhat and oversized sunglasses.

“Where are we?” The crumple-faced man in the shabby frockcoat and baggy trousers seemed vaguely shocked by the question; he looked around him helplessly for a moment: “Well…er, oh dear…”

“I thought you knew your way around the universe,” the girl observed, affectionately.

“Well, I’m afraid one rocky hillside does look much like another,” the Doctor protested. “I think it’s Earth,” he mused; he tried jumping up and down on the spot a few times: “It certainly feels like Earth, doesn’t it? Now, where on Earth we are, in fact, when on Earth we are, well that’s another question entirely…” He sucked a finger and held it up to test the nonexistent breeze as he wandered away from the others, apparently searching for some clue as to their location.

“I used to have a captain like him,” interjected one of the two young men standing by; the fair-haired one with the wry expression. “Set out for Gibraltar one time and ended up in bloomin’ Tangier.”

“That’s not very fair, Ben,” said Polly, quietly. “He does his best.”

“Aye,” the younger, darker man in the kilt loyally agreed; “I reckon canna’ be easy steerin’ that thing, y’know. An’ he kens things; he’ll figure where we are right quick.”

“Jamie’s right,” Polly insisted.

“Ah, maybe he is.” Ben brightened slightly, turning to the young Scot: “So, where do you reckon we are?”

“Och, well, ‘tisnae Scotland, I can see that much,” Jamie replied, considering the arid landscape around them. “I doesnae like it; where’s the green, eh?”

“You can say that again, mate.” Ben shaded his eyes against the blinding sun: “Blimey, it’s hot, though, isn’t it?”

“Aye.” Jamie looked at the Doctor, who was receding into the distance, apparently under the mistaken impression that his companions were right behind him. “Is he comin’ back, or d’ye think we should follow him?”

“Yes, I think we should,” Polly decided, and set off in pursuit, giving Ben and Jamie little choice but to follow.

They caught up to the Doctor standing on the edge of a cleft in the hillside, peering down at something; white clouds rose from the earth and coiled around him as he pulled out the creased handkerchief dangling from his breast pocket and held it to his face.

“No closer!” he insisted, holding out a hand as the others approached him. “I’m not entirely certain that you should be breathing these fumes.” Down in the cleft, steaming water bubbled out of the ground, trickling across rock weathered into molten, twisted shapes and stained bright yellow by chemicals.

“Oh, what’s that awful smell?” Polly held her hand over her nose as one of the steam clouds drifted her way.

“A right pong, it is,” Ben agreed; “like bad eggs.”

“Or gunpowder,” Jamie said, grimly. “Aye, I ken that smell too well.”

“It’s sulphur, Jamie,” the Doctor informed him as he came back from the brink and rejoined the group, “which is indeed one of the constituents of black powder, so very well observed.” Jamie visibly swelled with pride at this praise. “Yes, hydrogen sulphide,” the Doctor went on, “the same chemical that gives rotten eggs their distinctive smell; a whiff of brimstone.”

“Is it a volcanic spring?” asked Polly, edging forward for a closer view.

“Yes, this whole area would seem to be geologically active,” the Doctor agreed. “Well, that narrows down the possible locations we could be in,” he happily decided, before noticing that Polly had ventured a little too close to the edge of the rift: “Now, I really don’t think that you should…” He reached out a protective hand.

“Oh, I’m all right, Doctor,” she insisted.

“You can feel it,” Ben said, stamping his foot upon the ground. “Can’t you?” He laughed in disbelief: “The earth’s only shaking, isn’t it?” Loose stones rolled down the hillside around them as the very ground gently trembled underfoot.

“You’re right,” the Doctor answered, curiously reaching down to touch the ground at his feet. “Oh, I do hope there isn’t going to be an earthquake,” the said, as if hoping that it wouldn’t rain. “It doesn’t seem like seismic activity, though,” he decided after a moment. He lay on the ground and pressed his ear to the rock as Ben and Jamie stared down at him in bemusement.

“Does anybody else hear that?” Polly asked, oblivious to what the Doctor was doing behind her.

“Aye, I reckon the Doctor does,” Jamie grinned. Polly turned around and looked down at him as well, eyes widening behind her sunglasses:

“Oh!”

The Doctor sprang to his feet with the athleticism of a much younger man than he currently appeared to be and looked around him again with a thoughtful expression as he beat the dust from his coat as best he could.

“I’m starting to get a nasty suspicion of where we might be,” he muttered, not seeming too happy at the idea. Jamie, however, smiled proudly at Ben:

“See? I told ye he’d ken where we were!”

“I think it’s coming from this direction,” Polly volunteered as she set off further up the hill. “Look at the sky!” she declared, pointing above the crest of the hill. In all other directions, the sky was a deep, flawless blue, but in the direction of the mysterious sound, dirty yellow clouds drifted slowly into the heavens, spreading and dispersing gradually across the blue dome like ink stains. Polly headed towards them, picking her way awkwardly across the loose soil and sliding scree.

“Now, hold on, Polly,” called the Doctor, climbing after her with the two young men in tow; “wait for us!”

“Yeah, watch yourself there, Duchess,” Ben agreed. “This is a bit of a slippery slope if you ask me.” He slipped as a stone moved under his boot, but quickly regained his footing: “Blow me, if I’d wanted to climb bloomin’ hills, I’ve have joined the Army, not the Navy.”

“Ach, ye Sassenachs dinnae know what a hill is,” Jamie laughed, overtaking him on the slope: “I’ll be up there in a minute, Polly!”

“What, it’s a race, now?” Ben grinned back. “Right you are, then, mate!” Polly, in the meantime, was nearing the crest of the hill and was too busy pondering the nature of the sound she could hear to pay much heed to Ben and Jamie’s shouts and laughs as they competed to catch up to her first.

“It sounds almost like a train,” she mused. “An express train, off in the distance. Or…” She crested the hill and stood there for a moment open-mouthed, shocked into silence by what she had seen, before she started shouting to the others: “Doctor! Ben! Jamie! Come and look at this!”

“Can it really be…?” mumbled the Doctor to himself as he followed her. “That would be rather unfortunate timing indeed…just my luck…”

“Are ye all right, there, Doctor?” asked Jamie as he caught him up.

“Personally,” replied the Doctor, mopping at his crumpled face with his crumpled handkerchief, “I think I’m getting rather too old for climbing hills; I’m not three hundred and fifty any more, you know. And…” They reached the top of the hill and stood beside Polly for a moment, staring down: “Oh, my giddy aunt…”

“Cor blimey!” exclaimed Ben, which seemed to sum up the view from the hilltop very succinctly indeed. Almost involuntarily, he found himself holding Polly’s hand, although whether it was to reassure her or to reassure himself was a matter of debate; she offered no protest for the moment.

They were looking out across the sea; a flat, sapphire-blue expanse, glittering in the sun. Rocky islands stretched across the northeastern horizon. The land dropped steeply away from the hilltop and then dropped again into the sea, creating a narrow shelf of flat ground between the rocky hills and the water; to the southeast, the shelf became ever narrower and the hills became ever higher and more precipitous, piling upon each other to form a great mountain peak, dotted with shrivelled trees around its lower reaches. Eventually, there was nothing but a narrow path with a great cliff towering above it on one side and another falling away on the other side into the crashing white surf.

The terrain, however, went almost unnoticed for the time being; the four travellers were too busy looking northwards, where the flat ground was wider, and where they could see all too well the source of the strange sound and the rumbling in the earth, and the clouds of dust staining the sky. At first glance, it looked liked a river flowing across the narrow stretch of baked plain between the hills and the sea; it snaked away into the distance, following the shore as it curved around to the north and east, and just like the sea, it glittered in the sun as it moved. It took a moment looking at it before you realised that it was not a river at all, or at any rate not a natural river.

It was a river of men, some on foot and some on horseback; hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands; enough of them to shake the very earth beneath their feet; enough of them to turn the very sky yellow with the dust raised by their march. And the glittering was the glittering of spear-points and arrowheads, metal studs on wicker shields, bronze-scaled body armour and the golden circlets on the heads of those who led the mighty army that seemed to fill the entire landscape.

“An’ I thought there were a lot o’ redcoats at Culloden,” Jamie whispered, voice quietened by awe and, even though he never would have admitted it, fear; “but…who are they, Doctor?”

“That, Jamie,” breathed the Doctor, “unless I am very much mistaken, is the army of the King of Kings; Xerxes, “whose rashness emptied Asia of its men”…”

“Xerxes?” Polly bit her lip thoughtfully at the sight before her. “Where do I know that name from?”

“Xerxes was a king of Persia,” said the Doctor, already taking a step back from the hilltop, “best known for his invasion of Greece in the year 480 BC…”

“So that’s where we are?” asked Ben. “Bloomin’ Greece?”

“Yes, Ben, and I believe that that,” the Doctor pointed at the spot where the coastal plain shrank to a narrow path running along the foot of the cliffs, “is the place the ancient Greeks called Thermopylae, which means the Hot Gates, no doubt in reference to the hot springs that we discovered earlier.”

“Well, it looks like these fellas are here to stay,” Ben pointed out, and he was right; the great river of men finally came to an end almost directly below where they were standing, spreading out across the plain. Brightly-coloured tents blossomed like mushrooms across the strip of land beneath them, and smoke drifted skywards from a thousand campfires, mixing with the pall of dust overhead. The camp teemed with men and animals and was already the size of a small city, growing ever larger. And then there was the smell; the hot stink of a hundred thousand sweating bodies, of horses and dust and food and latrines and unwashed clothes; a smell like nothing else on Earth.

“There’s going to be a terrible battle here,” the Doctor told them, softly, his face creasing into an expression of sorrow and concern. “And I rather think that we should leave before it begins.”

“Och, ye wanna go back to the TARDIS already, Doctor?” Jamie grumbled.

“Yes, Jamie,” the Doctor said. “I don’t think that this is a place we really want to visit, do you?”

“I think the Doctor’s right,” said Polly, shuddering in spite of the heat. “Let’s go back.”

“You won’t hear any complaints from me, Duchess,” Ben agreed.

“We’ve no’ run away from danger yet!” Jamie protested. “An’ I’ve seen my share of battles before.”

“Now then, Jamie,” said the Doctor, laying a conciliatory hand on the young Scot’s shoulder, “it’s one thing to blunder into a battle by accident, but when one knows one is about to take place, it is a little bit foolish to hang around for it, don’t you think?”

“Aye, I guess so,” Jamie said, reluctantly, hanging his head a little.

“And once we get back to the TARDIS,” said the Doctor, brightly, as he led them back down the hill, “we can go somewhere else; I’m sure there are plenty of adventures waiting for us in time and space.”

A short while later, they came out of a dip in the hillside to the place where they had left the TARDIS, and stopped in their tracks; there were half a dozen men down there, surrounding the blue box. They wore loose linen tunics and trousers, with cloths wrapped around their heads and faces, no doubt to protect them from the sun and the dust, and they carried bows and javelins. Two were still on horseback, with only blankets for saddles, without stirrups, but the others had dismounted. While one of them held the horses, the other three were peering at the TARDIS from close quarters. One of them curiously raised his spear and tapped the butt-end of it against the TARDIS’s doors, giving a little start at the clunking sound that it made. The group backed away a little and appeared to be discussing what they should do next; as yet, they did not seem to have noticed the Doctor and his companions looking down on them from further along the hill.

“Do you reckon they’re part of the army too?” Ben asked in a whisper as they all dropped down behind a handy boulder and tried to stay out of sight.

“Oh, I should think so,” the Doctor confirmed. “They certainly look like Persian cavalry; probably outriders.”

“Reivers,” Jamie spat.

“That’s right, Jamie; in this case, scouting ahead of the rest of the army, looking out for any surprises.”

“Och, well, they look surprised,” said Jamie as the men approached the TARDIS again with visible apprehension.

“What are we going to do, Doctor?” asked Polly, with concern.

“I think that we’ll just wait here, and hope that they don’t spot us,” the Doctor proposed. “Hopefully, they’ll go away again when they’ve satisfied their curiosity.”

“Some hope!” Ben exclaimed as one of the dismounted men suddenly pointed in their direction and called out an order. “Looks like they’ve clocked us!” The two men on horseback immediately kicked their mounts into action and thundered towards their hiding place.

“Have ye got a plan, Doctor?” Jamie asked, seemingly confident in the Doctor’s ability to come up with an immediate course of action under even the most adverse of circumstances.

“Yes, Jamie,” said the Doctor, scowling at the two horsemen: “When I say “run”…run!”

“How did I know he was going to say that?” chuckled Ben as they all took off in the opposite direction to the horsemen. Polly gave a little cry of alarm as an iron-tipped javelin slammed into the ground inches from her; Ben grabbed her hand and dragged her after him up the hill: “C’mon, Duchess!”

“I don’t need to have my hand held!” she protested as they stumbled and scrabbled together in and out of the rocks.

“Nah,” Ben agreed, with a cheeky grin, “but maybe I do!”

The horses found the rocky hillside rough going, and the Doctor and his companions did their best to stick to whatever cover they could find, weaving in and out of every nook and cranny to make it harder for their pursuers. Soon, the original two horsemen were joined by their four remounted comrades, but the fleeing travellers somehow managed to reach the top of the hill again without being overtaken.

“Well, now what?” panted Polly, pointing down at the sprawling Persian camp, into which thousands more men seemed to be pouring with every passing minute. “We can’t go down there!”

“Caught between a rock and a hard place,” Ben gasped.

“Aye, well we’d better think of something!” Jamie yelled, glancing behind him at the rapidly-gaining horsemen, “’cause those lads there’ ain’t givin’ up!” As if to illustrate his point, an arrow whistled past his head, barely missing.

“This way!” called the Doctor, pointing in the opposite direction to the camp, to where the narrow path snaked between the cliffs and the seashore. “To the Hot Gates!”

“Once we get on the flat, they’ll just run us down!” Ben pointed out even as the four of them started running again along the rugged slope.

“Which is why we shall have to stick to the rocks!” the Doctor shouted back. “Now, come on; it isn’t much furth—”

“Gyahh!” one of the horsemen urged his steed on as it leapt the top of the hill, skidding dangerously across the downward slope before regaining its footing. The Doctor by contrast had lost his own footing even before the rider hit him across the back with a sweep of his javelin.

“Oh…my…!” he was heard to wail as he tumbled head-over-heels down the slope with the horseman in hot pursuit.

“Doctor!” Jamie drew his gleaming skean dhu from his sock and raced after him.

“Jamie!” Polly called after the Scots youth, stopping dead and pulling Ben, who was still holding onto her hand, up short.

“C’mon!” he urged.

“We’ve got to help them!” she insisted, but then the rest of the horsemen came pounding over the crest of the ridge; one of them reached down and grasped Polly’s free arm as he passed. For a moment, it was a tugging match between Ben and the cavalryman, with Polly protesting in the middle, but then another of the horsemen kicked Ben in the face as he rode past, and Ben too went careening down the slope after Jamie and the Doctor, leaving a trail of dust behind him as he rolled over and over to the bottom of the hill.

There, Jamie was brandishing his little knife at the first horseman, who had dragged the semi-conscious Doctor across the neck of his steed, and was now menacing the young Scot with quick jabs of his spear.

“Now, ye just let him doon from there!” Jamie shouted, dodging another spear-thrust, still flourishing the knife defiantly. “Come doon off that horse and fight me like a man, ye great—” Nearby, a battered and bruised Ben picked himself up off the ground and shook his head in an effort to clear it. Immediately, he saw Jamie’s plight, and snatched up a conveniently hand-sized rock from the ground.

“Gerroutofit!” he bellowed, heaving the rock at the horseman’s head, and quickly picking up another. His throw went wide, but the horse reared, skittishly wheeling away from Jamie; the rider hastily cast his spear at Ben, missing, and galloped off in the direction of the camp, the Doctor still slung across the horse in front of him.

“Ben!” called Polly from further up the hill, as she too was carried off by the horseman who had grabbed her. Ben pulled the spear out of the ground by his feet and prepared to give chase:

“Come on, Jamie, mate; we’ve got to rescue them!”

“Aye, I’m right behind ye!” It was then, however, that Jamie looked up the slope and saw the remaining four riders racing towards the pair of them, bows bent. Arrows thudded into the hard soil all around them. “Aye, well, maybe on second thoughts we’d better take cover,” Jamie decided, dragging Ben down behind another rock; more arrows clattered off it just as they ducked out of sight.

“We can’t just let them take Polly and the Doctor!” Ben yelled incredulously.

“We canna’,” Jamie agreed, “but fat lot o’ good we’d do gettin’ ourselves killed fightin’ yon reivers; there’s too many o’ them; we need to hide out ‘til they’re gone, and then go and sneak into yonder camp an’ get the Doctor and Polly out quiet, like.”

“You’re probably right, mate,” Ben sighed, the anger going out of him as quickly as it had flared up. He risked a glance over the top of the rock and another arrow sang past his head. “That was close,” he commented.

“Aye.” Jamie looked behind them, at the narrow defile that the Doctor had called the Hot Gates. “D’ye reckon we could make it to there before they caught us?” he asked Ben. The sailor gave it some consideration:

“Yeah,” he decided. “Or die tryin’.”

“Tha’s the spirit!” Jamie grinned and hared off towards the cliffs with Ben hot on his heels. They heard cries behind them as the horsemen caught sight of them again and set off in pursuit.

The dash across the flat, rock-strewn plain was perhaps the most nerve-wracking few minutes even of Jamie’s eventful life. More arrows swarmed around them without finding their mark, but as the cliffs grew higher and closer to the sea, as the plain shrank into a slim bottleneck, then into a precarious trail with sheer rock on one side and a wave-lashed precipice on the other, it became harder for the horsemen to pursue, hard for them even to keep their two quarries in sight all of the time. Even so, they gained ground; before long, Ben and Jamie could both hear hooves beating the ground seemingly only yards behind them.

“Tha’s it,” panted Jamie. “We cannae run no more; time to turn an’ fight; on this path, they can only come at us one or two at a time, right?”

“Right!” Ben agreed, enthusiastically: “Let’s ‘ave ‘em!” They whirled around, Jamie brandishing his knife and Ben his stolen javelin, ready for some bother, as Ben might have said. As great as their bravado was in that moment, however, they were still surprised to see the pursuing horsemen pull up short, milling about uncertainly on the narrow ledge, seemingly unwilling to come to blows.

“Ach, not so big an’ bold now, are yers?” Jamie taunted them. “Ye tim’rous wee…” He did not get a chance to finish this sentiment, however; the riders had already wheeled around and galloped off in the direction they had come as if pursued by all the demons of hell. “Hah!” Jamie exclaimed. “They didnae wanna tangle with the Clan McCrimmon, eh?”

“I dunno, mate,” said Ben, looking over his shoulder, “I think it might have had something to do with those blokes over there.” He pointed out a spot about a hundred yards further along the path, where the cliffs loomed even more impenetrably overhead and the ledge seemed to be at its narrowest; and there, in the shadow of the cliff-face, a wall had been constructed, blocking all passage apart from a single gate, and in front of the wall, apparently unconcerned by the approach and retreat of the horsemen, was a large group of men.

“Who d’ye think they might be?” Jamie asked, curiously.

“I dunno,” Ben shrugged. “Well, we’re in Greece, right, so…Greeks, I suppose.”

As they approached the group, they saw that it consisted of a few dozen tanned, muscular men. Some sat on the narrow trail, nonchalantly combing their long dark hair and beards, or dicing, or drinking wine; some stood leaning on tall, iron-headed spears, gazing out over the sea. Others seemed to be practicing various types of sport; running, boxing and some even miming javelin-throwing, the space being too confined to throw them for real. Most of the men were draped in blood-red cloaks even in this heat, but seemingly wore little else; the sportsmen, however, wore nothing at all, and seemed not in the least bit concerned by their own nakedness. Ben and Jamie, by contrast, tried not to stare.

“Well, just remember what the Doctor says about other cultures,” Ben whispered. “They’re not all, you know…like us.”

“Aye, mebbe not,” Jamie hissed back, “but they could at least put somethin’ on, instead o’ goin’ around all…unmentionable an’ that…”

Even as they approached to within a few yards of them, the long-haired men seemed not to notice their visitors. It soon became clear, however, that this was deliberate; they were making a great show, it seemed, of not showing the least interest or concern for the newcomers.

“Er, hello there, fellas,” Ben tried, and was ignored.

“Hey, youse lads there,” Jamie called, “Ma pal here just said something to yers.” One of the men paused in running a comb through his luxuriant black locks to let out an exaggerated yawn of boredom. “I dinnae know what kind of daft game ye think ye’re playin’,” Jamie added, heatedly.

“Did you hear something, Alpheus?” the man who had yawned asked one of his fellows, still ignoring them.

“The sea, perhaps, Dienekes?” the other replied, with a shrug.

“For a moment there,” Dienekes smiled, “I thought that that barbarian over there had had the temerity to speak to me. A foolish notion, I know; he looks far too faint-hearted to swap words with a full-blooded Spartiate.”

“Aye, so ye can see us an’ all,” Jamie fumed. “So stop playin’ yer daft wee game, an’—”

In an instant, Dienekes had dropped his comb and scooped up the long spear that lay on the ground beside him, catching Jamie a walloping blow on the side of the head with the shaft of it as he rose. Before he could react, Jamie was stretched out on the ground with the Greek’s foot on his chest and the point of the spear poised at his throat.

“You should have run away with your friends on the horses when you had the chance, barbarian,” Dienekes said, cheerfully under the circumstances.

“Now, just hold on a minute,” Ben said, but then two more of the men had risen from their hair-combing and there were spears pointing at him as well.

“No doubt your friends will be back soon,” Dienekes mused, “and in greater numbers; I think we should prepare a suitable welcome for them. And your heads on poles should do very nicely indeed.”

To be continued…