War with the Scyths part 24

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XI After taking three days’ rest there he moved on to Tzouroulus. He contemplated remaining there for some time, and therefore had an entrenched camp made on the eastern side of the town large enough for the troops he had with him and stored the imperial tent and all the baggage inside it. Then the Scythians in their turn advanced on Tzouroulus, but oD hearing that the Emperor had already taken possession of the town, they crossed the river running through the plain somewhere near this town (the local name of which is Xerogypsos) and fixed their palisades between the river and the town. So they were outside and encircled this town, and the Emperor was cut off inside as if besieged.

When night descended, ‘all the gods; and warriors with horsehair plumes slept,’ as Homer’s muse says, ‘but balmy sleep did not visit’ Alexius; the whole night long he lay awake, revolving schemes for overcoming the Scythians’ daring by craft. Seeing that Tzouroulus was a fortified town situated on a fairly steep hill and that the entire barbarian army was bivouacking down below in the plain, and that his forces were insufficient to allow of his attempting a pitched battle against their overwhelming numbers, he devised a most ingenious plan. He requisitioned the inhabitants’ wagons and lifted off the bodies from the wheels and axle-trees, and then suspended the latter, for he had them hung out in order from the battlements on the outside of the walls and tied by ropes to the parapets.

Soldiers from the gates

He no sooner thought of this than it was done. And within an hour there was a circle of wheels with their axle-trees hanging up, a regular row of circles touching each other and fastened to one another by their axles. In the morning he armed himself and got the army ready and led out his soldiers from the gates and placed them in full view of the enemy. Now it happened that our troops were placed just on that side of the wall where the wheels were hanging, and the opposing army was straight opposite them.

Then Alexius stood in the middle of the army and explained to the soldiers that, when the trumpet sounded the attack, they were to dismount and march forward slowly against the foe and by using mostly their arrows and javelins to provoke the Scythians to the attack; and as soon as they saw them drawn on and urging on their horses to the attack, they were to turn hastily and in fleeing wheel off a little to the right and left and thus open to the enemy a clear path for coming close up to the walls. And he had given orders to the men on the walls that when they saw the ranks dividing, they were to cut the ropes with their swords and let the wheels with the axles fall headlong down from above.

All this was carried out according to the Emperor’s orders. The Scythian horsemen raised their barbaric shout and hurled themselves in a body upon our lines who were marching slowly towards them, the Emperor alone being on horseback. Then our men according to Alexius’ plan drew back step by step and, pretending to retreat, unexpectedly split into two parts as if opening a very wide entrance for the enemy into the town. Directly the Scythians had entered this mouth, as it were, of the two parts of our army, the wheels came whirring down.

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