This is a short story/essay I wrote a while back. I've just re-worked it slightly so decided to post it.
It's been a while since I posted anything; been too busy with work - just a poor struggling author see - perhaps I'll be posthumously famous?
First Steppes to wedlock
“Fear not Aliyeh, it will be over quicker than the men would have you believe,” said Madiha climbing into her saddle. Serious features hardened by a life on the steppes were suddenly betrayed by an unconscious smile, as she gazed across at the fresh- faced girl beside her. “It’s a proud day when a girl draws her first blood. Think of it as a transition to womanhood; for once it is done, the men shall find you… how shall I put it? More appealing!”
Eager to please, Aliyeh returned the smile and mounted her own steed. Drawing alongside her mentor she took up a spear; indicating she was ready to proceed. With the perpetual winds of the barren grasslands dancing through their long braided hair, the two riders trotted the short distance between their tented camp, and the gathering band of warriors.
“Today, we take the battle to the Scythian dogs,” yelled Belnirari. “They dare call us cousins, but do they welcome us? No! They treat the land as though it belongs to them. The fools! We all know land is owned by no man.” The chieftain’s speech helped rouse the spirit of his proud warriors. “Do you ride with me this day?” asked Belnirari, and with one voice they returned their elated reply, “Aye!” Hardy warriors and exceptional horsemen, the Sauromatae tribe, were of Sarmatian birth. Their nomadic nature, and a series of bitter winters, had caused a migration. With each spring a fresh move was made; a journey westward that brought them into Scythian lands.
With their spirits raised, the war band rode off at a steady pace. Years of fighting, had gained the Sarmatians much battle experience. Their opponents… the Scythians also lived in the saddle, and they too were fine combatants; yet by Sarmatian standards, they fought in a most abhorrent manner. The cowardly Scythians; would ride towards an enemy formation on mass, shower them with arrows and then gallop off. Such tactics had frustrated many an enemy, but the Sarmatians had developed systems to combat such craven actions.
As they picked their way over the rugged tufts of marshy ground, the fresh bite of the pounding wind raced through their formation. Lesser nations would have struggled in such testing conditions. But harsh, self induced conventions saw these people shrug off what they considered - the trivial discomforts of a bitterly cold day. Not one rider complained as they ventured over the open grasslands: all thoughts lay with the battle ahead.
Breaking the brow of a small hillock the formation fanned out. In a loosely extended line they made the swift transition to a canter. The downward slope aided the horses’ momentum as they strode toward the Scythian encampment.
An alert sentry sounded the alert - causing sudden pandemonium amid the enemy camp. Pots crashed to the ground and half empty tankards were discarded as panicked warriors raced in all directions. Though caught unawares, years of living along dangerous borders had honed slick drills, and the opposition quickly found their own chargers. In next to no time, the first volley of arrows drove into the Sarmatian cavalry. An expression, knotted by intense worry, did little to cover Aliyeh’s fear. Madiha shouted words of encouragement as the signal to charge was given. “Ride hard… ride fast and don’t look back,’ she shouted, but her yells were soon lost, as a screaming cavalcade of horse flesh and armour tore down the slope - into the encampment. A shrieking war-cry resounded throughout the valley, as the heavily armoured force clashed with the freshly formed line of dismounted axe-men. Swinging wildly their brave efforts proved fruitless beneath stomping hoof and levelled spear. Aliyeh’s fears were shelved by the sudden euphoria this clash provided. She praised the power of her horse and the sanctity of her armour, surely gifts from Afsati.
With arrows glancing off the charging horsemen, the Scythians knew they stood little chance. Their only hope was to maintain their distance, and continue to deliver their arrows onto the Sarmatian war machine. They hoped this continual bombardment would allow their woman and children to escape the fray.
A sudden break in Belnirari’s formation saw pressure applied from two angles; driving the Scythian archers into a wedge. The archers, aware of the dangers now facing them, turned tail and attempted to make good their escape. However Belnirari’s plan had worked; the archers were being driven toward the frozen banks of the river Don. With no option left but surrender - or fight; they turned to make their stand. In no time the far-reaching tip of heavy lances crashed through flesh and bone. Horses wailed and men screamed as the unstoppable force crushed the unprotected line.
At the front of the Sarmatian charge Aliyeh’s lance found its mark; felling a defiant Scythian archer. The charge now petered out to a confusing stomp of man and beast. Spear and lance were replaced by sword and axe, in a close quarter struggle of pure survival. With all hope gone, the few Scythians still alive tested the icy waters of the Don. In this desperate bid to escape they were soon free of their misery - released by Sarmatian arrows.
The cheer of victory marked the end of the skirmish. All that remained of this venture was the clearance of the Scythian encampment. Dismounting the warriors shook hands and patted each others shoulders. A friendly gesture of relief, before they began looting their fallen foe.
A joyous Madiha embraced a blood stained Aliyeh. “You see, it was nothing,” said the older woman, pleased with her apprentices’ performance. “It is but the first of many such battles, but the one of most import; for from this day on you are truly a woman.” Madiha’s grin was wider than Aliyeh had ever thought possible. Especially from so harsh a woman. Madiha turned to retrieve her horse, but was interrupted by Aliyeh’s question, “then what now?’ she asked.
“Why, you take a man of course! What else?”
1. Both the Scythian and Sarmatian races spoke an Iran based language. Very similar in their beliefs they worshiped the sun, the earth and various elements.
2. Both races were nomadic, but they fought in very different ways.
a. The Scythians used hit and run tactics, maintaining their distance from an enemy thus avoiding close quarter battle. They wore no protective clothing and their weapon of choice was the bow.
b. The Sarmatian races developed heavy armour to cover both rider and horse. The armour was made of overlapping horse hooves to form an inverted pine cone effect.
Such armour was designed to defeat the Scythian tactic of continuous arrow barrages.
The Sarmatian cavalry using 15 foot lances would then steamroller the enemy in a crushing charge.
3. The Romans lost two cohorts (6 centuries per cohort/80 men per century = 480: Hence 2 cohorts = 960 men) to the Sarmatian cavalry in AD 68. Tacitus commented that "there is scarcely a line of battle that can stand against them" [the Sarmatians] “when they charge on horseback.”
The Romans were so impressed by these warriors that they enlisted them into the Roman army.
4. The Sarmatian women dressed and fought alongside the men. It is believed that they form the basis of the Greek Amazon stories. It is also speculated that the Amazons once defeated were taken to the Steppes and dispersed amongst the Scythian people. Unable to adjust to the woman’s role in Scythian society these Amazons took their husbands and founded the Sarmatian race.
5. It is thought that the Sarmatian women cut off their right breasts to allow easier manipulation of their bows. It is also said a woman was not allowed to marry until she had killed a man in battle.
6. Aliyeh; means - noble, high-standing or great. Madiha; means - praiseworthy. They are both taken from ancient Persian female names.
7. Afsati; was the Sarmatian god of animals. He was represented by a horseman riding a stag.
8. Belnirari, is a Sarmatian man’s name, I do not know what it means (if anything)