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  1. #1
    Joseph Gian

    an excerpt for critique

    This is the first chapter of my retelling of the battle of Thermopylae:

    A Persian scout named Kurush rode close to the top of a hill overlooking the Western Gate of Thermopylae and dismounted. He walked slowly and carefully to the top of the precipice and soon his eyes were able to see the entire valley. To his right lay the foreboding peaks of a mighty wall of jagged rock; and to his left there was the Gulf of Malis. From where he stood he could see the rocky turf that coated the ground of the valley floor.
    Kurush was a Persian scout who was personally sent out by his king to ascertain the nature of the opposition, the Yaunâ. King Xerxes, having heard rumors that a small contingent of Greek soldiers watching the Western Gate and decided to send a scout to report on their numbers and doings.
    Meanwhile, Kurush finally looked out over the top of the hill and into the valley. He saw three scores of men guarding the wall which was only thirty feet in breadth. These men were mostly of the Lacedaemonian race of the Pelloponesian Peninsula. When named for their city they were called the Spartans. The men were standing in the valley doing naked gymnastic exercises while some were combing the long hair while others bathed in the Gulf. Kurush was angered by the tacit display that the Spartan men were giving him; however, he was also nervous at the exhibition of disregard to his existence. A feeling that was just above worry and still below fear gripped Kurush when one of the Spartan men with a large scar that stretched from the top of his chest to the bottom of his sternum looked up at him and smirked. There was no doubt in Kurush’s mind their foe had heard of their coming and knew of their strength. Despite this knowledge the enemy still occupied the Western Gate and by the way that the Spartan men still had their weapons and armor it looked as if they intended to do battle. Kurush was unnerved by this because for a moment he feared that his foe was among the divine, for mortals had fear in them—no matter how mighty they are.
    Kurush had an excellent memory and began taking mental notes of what he was now witnessing. He noted the number of men there, but was disappointed at the fact that he was unable to see the whole Yaunâ army. They were beyond the Western Gate and encamped at Alpeni, six miles from the Western Gate of Thermopylae. After taking note of what he had seen Kurush walked down the hill once more and remounted his horse. He prepared to ride back to Xerxes’s camp just a little more than two miles from the neighborhood of Trachis. It was nearing sundown and he needed to return to the camp with as much speed as possible.
    Though Kurush was riding fast there was always the fear that the Greeks had several men lying in ambush hidden in the cliff-wall to his south. He did not want to loiter in the area any longer than he had to; but the rocky ground made him unwilling to risk injuring his horse should it take a fall. Kurush looked back once more to assure himself that he was not being followed by any sortie of Grecian men.
    Once Kurush reached the point in the road where the cliff-wall was beginning to recede further and further south he began to gallop faster. The sun was still towering in its heavenly throne with not a single cloud even visible. The August heat was beginning to place a toll on the Persian soldiers who had been marching continuously since they reached northern Greece and began to conquer various city-states: most of which just surrendered without even putting up a fitting defense.
    After ten minutes of galloping he reached the River Asopus. Kurush now looked to his right and could see the Gulf of Malis pounding the shore with mighty waves. From where he stood it was only several miles to the Persian camp. It would make no difference if he were to become lost, for the Persian army was so large that if he only traveled north he would find himself somewhere in the Persian camp.
    As Kurush kept riding the sun only got worse. Although he had grown up near Babylon the sun shone with new fury and it was now a foreboding hue of red; or so that was the way it seemed to Kurush. He began to think that it was only the heat that made the sun appear so red. Kurush was not a superstitious person and mostly thought things out reasonably. So the thought of foreshadowing was never one that carried much weight in his mind. Kurush had great faith in the men of Persia; he had great faith that they could overcome any foe, not because fate had destined it, but because they were superior to their enemies.
    Within fifteen more minutes he reached the Persian camp at the outskirts. Already tens of thousands of Medes were already inside the encampment in neatly-lined rows of tents. If he had been standing on top of one of the many cliffs he would have seen then thousands of men and tents lining the floor spreading like a blanket. He also would have seen a massive line stretching for miles with men and supplies making it to the encampment.
    It did not take long for a sentry to show Kurush his bow and inquire him of who he was and what business he had. “What business do you have here in our camp?” he asked.
    “I am the sentry that King Xerxes sent out to spy upon our foe,” replied Kurush. Although the sentry was more on edge than Kurush, Kurush was not worried that he would be mistaken for a Grecian spy (his dark and tanned skin gave him away as a man of Persia). “I must go to him right away, for I have news to bring him that it vital to our labors here. May I inquire as to where the king is encamped?”
    “His tent is at least one more mile from here. His tent is the largest one; and you can simply ask other men along the way to find the specific directions.”
    “Thank you good sir. May our endeavors be looked upon graciously.”
    Kurush then continued to ride while in his mind he was exhausted. He thought: More riding, and it has been a long day already. Then Kurush began to laugh quietly. He was not one to complain openly about hardship, but he would most definitely think about it. The only person he would even think of relaying his frustration to was his friend Mehrdad.
    There were thousands upon thousands of tents set up in the plain just north of the neighborhood of Trachis. Kurush had to ride his way slowly through the thousands of men who were constantly walking about the camp and constantly getting in his way. This camp was not built to last more than a couple of days, however. The Persian commanders were not expecting that they would receive any kind of resistance from the Grecian soldiers. Although it was only a mile in order to get to Xerxes’s tent, it took Kurush almost twenty minutes to arrive at the tent. Kurush was recognized by the guard who once Kurush dismounted from his horse let him enter the tent. The guard standing in front of the tent took the reins from Kurush’s horse and held them for him. Despite the fact that the Persian commanders were not expecting much of a resistance from the Grecian Hoplites, Xerxes spared no time in fully outfitting his tent trying to make it look like one of his many golden palaces in Babylon. Xerxes, a man in his early thirties, stood at the head of the table with his two younger brothers standing next to him, one on each side. Their names were Abrocomes and Hyperanthes.
    “My liege,” started Kurush, “I have achieved the task that I was given. I saw a sortie of threescore men guarding the Western Gate of the Pylae. The rumor that the men of the Lacedaemonian race were present was true, for I saw shields that bared the emblem of their city: a red .” Kurush then drew the letter on a sheet of parchment that was on the king’s table.
    “Were you able to make out the full strength of our foe?” asked Abrocomes.
    “No my liege, I was not. It appears that their main encampment is still many miles from the Western Gate. However, there was a feeling of uneasiness that could be attributed to these men. They saw me clearly, for I made no effort to hide myself; but they made no reaction to my presence. They only looked at me and continued doing their activities.”
    “Do you believe that they intend to fight brother?” asked Hyperanthes of Xerxes. “These men were not encountered when our father fought all those years ago. Yet I do not believe that they truly intend to mount a resistance that could turn us back.”
    “Nothing is certain,” said Xerxes trying to keep his true emotions masked. Most of the men believed that this war was fought mainly for conquest; however, those that knew him closely, such as Kurush, knew that this war was fought mainly for revenge. “My father did not expect a great deal of resistance when he first invaded, and because of that he was defeated. We cannot believe that the enemy will concede to us based on our strength in numbers. Yet we hope that they will do that, for we cannot tarry here too long. The men of Athens are gathering more of their forces as we speak and we must strike before they can all join with each other. I would rather let the men that are here go free than allow our foe enough time to gather their full strength.”
    “Yes, but it would be foolish to give them more credit than they deserve,” said Abrocomes. “We must not instill a sense of fear inside of our men by portraying these men as godlike. They can be defeated, and we shall defeat them regardless of their fighting skill.”
    “But do not make the mistake of underestimating them,” Kurush said. “You forget who is leading the Grecian states who are here. Men say that he is the heir of Heracles; and men say that no living man can withstand him in combat. No soldier has ever defeated him; and few have the valiancy to brave him. ’Tis he who is unyielding and fears none, and ’tis he who is god-like in his nerve.”
    “I do not fear this man,” said Hyperanthes. “I shall be the one who will meet him in combat.”
    Hyperanthes now looked bold and mighty. Whether this was a false sense of audacity or a true one was unknown by Kurush. But the powerful Persian warrior appeared to be a man who could take on the leader of the Grecian soldiers and perhaps withstand him. Hyperanthes, unlike his younger and older brother, was a tall man with broad shoulders who was unbeatable when he wrestled with his own men. Like the leader of the Lacedaemonians, no living enemy had ever withstood him in combat.
    Xerxes now sighed, not knowing what to think. He was a man of great valor and prowess; however, there was a nagging feeling of failure that would not leave his mind. Many had doubted that his father would lose to the Greek forces, but he was horribly defeated at Marathon and the rest of his men fled in fear before the men of Athens. Only one city-state had defeated his father, and now he was fighting against several of them, most notably the men of Sparta. The Persians had yet to encounter the Spartans, and the same could be said of the Spartans.
    “What are your intentions my lord?” Kurush asked.
    “I will give them four days to leave this valley,” Xerxes responded. “That should enable our entire army to gather and be present in case we need to drive them out of the valley with a mere showing of force or an actual confrontation. I do not believe that they intend to actually fight us, for they would be fools if that was there intent. Nevertheless, on the morning of our sixth day in Trachinia, we will prepare for battle. You have done your duties well Kurush. You are now excused from my tent. We took the liberty of setting a tent up for you outside of mine on the left side next to Abrocomes. ”
    “Thank you my lord. May our endeavors be looked down upon with good fortunes.”
    Kurush then bowed in front of his king and left the tent. He remounted his horse and began to ride until he went fifteen feet when he reached his tent. It was right where Xerxes had said—next to Abrocomes’s. Although it was only around three in the afternoon, Kurush was weary from his day of riding and ready to rest for a while. He believed that no one would mind, for he had done the task that was his charge, and there was nothing more that the king could ask of him.
    As Kurush was resting he had a dream. He saw a small falcon in an aerial battle with a large eagle, both fighting for a meal that the falcon had killed. Despite the fact that the falcon was greatly undersized, the falcon continued to fight the eagle until it fell, but not before inflicting massive harm upon the eagle. The eagle was not completely victorious, however. After the eagle seized the prey from the dead falcon, another falcon attacked the weakened eagle and finally retook the prey that the eagle had stolen. It was no mystery to Kurush what obvious comparison he could draw; but he was unwilling to admit what it was telling him. The dream left him with a great feeling of uneasiness.
    The only thing that stopped him from finishing the dream was his friend, Mehrdad, entering the tent and waking him. Mehrdad looked very much like Kurush physically, for they were distant cousins who lived in the same town. Mehrdad was not as close to the king as Kurush, but he was close enough to be among the Hydarnes, the king’s best soldiers.
    “Well, what did you discover?” asked Mehrdad. “How many are we looking at?”
    “I could not tell how many there were,” responded Kurush. “There was a group of sixty who were guarding the Western Gate of the pass. All of them are of the Lacedaemonian race. They did not look like they were intending to fight at all, however. I do not know whether they were watching the valley to keep an eye on our movements as well and give us the thought that they would fight so as to frustrate us.”
    “All I can say is that if it comes to battle then I will probably not have to worry about fighting. We have many more Medes than they probably have men.”
    “Let us hope that you do not have to fight at all, for I see nothing positive resulting from this battle. Even if victory is achieved the cost of it will be so great that it will seem pointless.”
    “Battle is never pointless. Even when the losses are horrendous, the result will inevitably make the losses that are suffered seem worth it. Although I can not speak from experience of battle, we must still believe that what we are doing is useful and serves a purpose. To not do so would be to risk this entire battle. One doubt is all that is needed.”
    “I do not doubt our efforts; but that does not mean that I fear the impending doom that may await us all. Now if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to be alone.”
    Mehrdad then left his friend to contemplate in his tent. Kurush kept thinking to himself over what had just happened. He had great pride in his country and believed in their ability to conquer any enemy; however, his dream still hung heavy in his head and he put his head down and could now only contemplate over what was to happen next.

  2. #2
    Joe Zeff

    Re: an excerpt for critique

    Before I could possibly critique this, it needs "line editing." That is, it needs to have the syntax, word choice and language cleaned up, e.g., "The men were standing in the valley doing naked gymnastic exercises while some were combing the long hair while others bathed in the Gulf." has the word 'while' twice; changing the second to 'and' makes the sentence much better, both in grammar and clarity. Also, I think you meant "gymnastic excercises while naked," as I don't know of any exercises that can't be done when you're dressed. The story might be interesting, but I kept stumbling over things like that and getting distracted by the errors. If you're not that good at this, find a friend with the appropriate skill to go over your WIP and mark the needed changes. That way, you can decide for yourself what to change, and learn from the process.

  3. #3
    Michael West

    Re: an excerpt for critique

    Mark Twain said, the adverb is the enemy of the verb, and Voltaire called the adjective the enemy of the noun.

  4. #4
    Eyan Carrington

    Re: an excerpt for critique

    Joseph, not that I'm an expert, but the passage seems to have a number of cases of telling. I have just picked one example...

    It was nearing sundown and he needed to return to the camp with as much speed as possible.

    *It was* and *he needed to* are telling us.

    Show the sun setting - what does the sky look like? Don't tell us Kurush is running out of time. Instead show his reaction to seeing the sunset. I can see his eyes widen, I can hear the horse complain at being startled into a gallop. Unfortunately, I can't hear, see, smell or feel anything if he just needs to return as quickly as he can.

    Of course, my problem is I get so caught up in the atmosphere, I get too descriptive and forget to tell the damn story.

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