Chapter 9: Plotting
The schemes and machinations of men seemed to abound under crisis. The worst of behaviors tended to rise to the surface and display themselves in all their dark glory. Nowhere was slipping the bonds of morality and ethics more acceptable or more evident than in warfare. Even though armies tried to maintain a semblance of order, it was a challenge straining against the reality of death and destruction.
It was within those moments that a particular kind of man sees an opportunity in the misfortune of his brother or fellow man, utilizing the loss as a personal gain for an enhanced position, material wealth, power, or influence. A scribe of Babylonian origin, within the army unit under General Bel-Taggil, was one such individual—a man with a twisted mind of smoke, facades, and buttresses of stubborn greed born out of desperation and a desire to succeed as a scribe slave within the Assyrian army. The slave’s name was given to him by his master, Bel-Taggil, to indicate his supposed pledge of fealty to Assyria and Bel-Taggil himself.
“Where is Shishak? Send for him,” Hattusili commanded as he sat on his couch with a goblet of wine in his left hand.
“He is at the male harem, my lord,” the servant replied.
“Well, bring him to me. Immediately.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Shortly Shishak was escorted into Hattusili’s tent dressed in the customary kedeshah garb, indicating his pure devotion to the goddess Ashtoreth. Being a temple prostitute, a symbol of piety was to perform sacred sex devoted to the resident goddess.
“Come here, Shishak.” Hattusili pointed and waved him to move closer. An evil smile of what was to come played upon Hattusili’s face with a sickening suggestion of deviant vice.
The boy shuffled forward with his head hung down, knowing what the night was to bring. His hands trembled with fear, anticipating the pain and humiliation to be cast upon him from the evil presented before him.
Hattusili smiled and lifted the boy’s head up to look him in his eyes as he drew him closer. He ran his hands up and down the boy’s body, greedily taking in the youth and the pleasure to be. He turned and finished his wine with one swift gulp.
“Undress, Shishak, and let me take a look at you.”
Shishak obediently complied as his legs shook in fear.
This man of utter deviant behavior, Hattusili, kept records on all the men and materials of the general’s army so the quartermaster could fix appropriations via plunder and reclamation from previous battles. He was privy to Talmido’s material acquisitions, as all loot was apportioned first according to rank, and then by deeds, and finally by results. Talmido’s deeds and results were impressive in the extreme, and the poison of jealousy reared its ugly head within Hattusili’s heart, casting false reasoning to justify the passion of the course he so fervently desired.
Why do some men have gifts of one kind or another that seemed to stand out, while the vast majority of others moved through life under a cloak of obscurity? What force of accident put Hattusili on this course of life’s path?
He would click his teeth every time he thought about Talmido’s death-defying feats, wanting his gifts with covetousness of unbridled purpose. He focused all his energies on the acquisition of Talmido’s fame through the formulation of a plan to legally steal all his worldly possessions through either defamation of character, slanderous rumors of potential treason, unfounded accusations of murder, or a well-thought-out and prepared setup. But to Hattusili’s surprised glee, Talmido provided the reason on a silver platter.
“My lord, Bilkummi is waiting for you, as requested,” a female slave of Hattusili’s tent indicated. Hattusili lay upon his bed with Shishak sprawled next to him, with welts upon his back, buttocks, and legs.
Hattusili stirred and opened his eyes to stare at the tent’s ceiling, recalling the pleasure of the previous night. He looked to his left and frowned with distaste, waving at the slave.
“Send this boy back to the male harem and bring me some water to wash up.”
“Yes, my lord, right away.”
Hattusili swung his legs to the right and sat on the edge of the bed, cradling his head in his hands, shaking away the sleep to try and get ready for the day. He stood up as another female slave draped him in a silk robe. Walking over to the wash basin, he contemplated the day’s activities to unfold and chuckled to himself, thinking, “Talmido, you are such a fool. I will have your wealth and fame in short order, and you will be dead.”
After washing up and eating a hearty breakfast, Hattusili commanded Bilkummi to enter. He was his best spy, picked by Hattusili himself after witnessing his extraordinary ability to extract information, kill suspects and remain unnoticed by the commanding officers. Hattusili had immediately sent for Bilkummi and made an offer he could not refuse.
“Aaah, Bilkummi, how good it is to see you. It looks like my gold and slaves are treating you well these days.”
“Yes, my lord, they are, thank you. You sent for me?”
“Yes, yes. Come and sit with me. We do not need to be so formal. We are cut from the same cloth.”
Bilkummi relaxed and sat upon a chair as indicated by Hattusili. A slave gave him a goblet of wine and platter of meats which he graciously accepted.
“My lord, if I may ask, what is on your mind?”
“I need some special work done, and you are to be the only one to do it. I do not want any other agents involved with this.”
Bilkummi nodded his head in the affirmative while rubbing his chin as he chewed on some of the hors-d’oeuvres.
“I need you to keep an eye on a certain officer, Talmido, of the Blue Heron regiment. I want to know everything he is up to and reported back to me every three days.”
“Absolutely, my lord, it will be done immediately,” Bilkummi said with a genuine smile of pleasure. It was always a good thing when Hattusili set his sights on a victim, as it significantly impacted Bilkummi’s accumulation of wealth. “Are you considering an acquisition?”
“Perhaps. I just wonder how it is that Talmido can be so successful. There is something going on, Bilkummi. I can feel it. I want to know everything he does; who he talks to, how he fights, his friends and his lovers. He is becoming much too powerful. I fear the men will only take commands from Talmido and will ignore our great general,” Hattusili said with a slight sigh and a shrugging of his shoulders.
“I’ll put only the best men in place, my lord. We will keep him in sight at all times.
“Thank you, Bilkummi.”
Nodding, Hattusili looked up at Bilkummi. “Yes, we need to provide a report to Bel-Taggil. He is not yet aware of the potential danger this Talmido may become. We need to be prepared for when that time comes, Bilkummi.”
Spies of spies was an age-old tactic of informational awareness, and with Hattusili’s spies networked among the Assyrian army, he was able to keep a finger on the pulse of the morale, inventory, and status of each soldier and officer. This supplied Hattusili with valuable information on whom to target for the predatory acquisition of assets via various tried-and-true smear campaigns.
“Should I double your guard, my lord?” Bilkummi asked.
“Hmm…yes, that is a good idea. If Talmido’s people find out what we are up to, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of a viper.”
“I’ll station the men appropriately, my lord.”
Not once, but numerous times were assassination attempts made on his life; however, he was able to either thwart or dodge them at the last minute, to his credit. The rank and file knew of his machinations and hated him with a passion; however, from the senior officers’ point of view, he was a valuable asset in keeping discipline and order as well as increasing their own material assets without it being common knowledge that they were in on the game.
“Also, make sure General Bel-Taggil is aware of our counter measures, as well as the senior officers. I want to know if any are sympathetic to Talmido,” Hattusili said.
“Yes, my lord. I’ll have the slaves start some rumors to get the junior officers talking. I’ll have my spies spread information to create mistrust in the ranks, as well. That should start the process. What do you think, my lord?”
“I agree. Let’s get the rumour mill going. It has always served us well in the past.” Hattusili smirked into his wine goblet.
The corruption within the senior-officer pool had not lent itself toward a cohesive ideological mix within the army. Factions formed to counterbalance the power plays with an inevitable weakening of morale and ability of the military to campaign efficiently against the Elamites and Parthians, hence the prolonged fighting over the decades. Warfare had become a drug of choice for the Assyrian emperor, the senior military officers, and the supporting rank and file.
“Once we get everyone on board, we’ll need to discuss the usual fees to the officers involved,” Bilkummi mentioned.
“Hmm, of course. Send in Tukullu to handle the officers and I’ll deal with Bel-Taggil. This will be a very sensitive situation, Bilkummi. We’ll need to be very careful.”
“Yes, my lord, of course. I’ll apprise the men involved of the nature of this particular target,” Bilkummi said.
“Good. Now, let’s eat. I’m starving,” Hattusili replied as he clapped his hands for slaves to serve the noon meal.
As loot from the campaigns came into the army groups and appropriations were levied against the subjugated nations, Hattusili was the man in the center who coordinated the acquisitions and the subsequent dispersal. Slowly, over time, he was able to glean off a percentage for himself and the officers to their benefit, while shortchanging the rest of the army group. At times, faulty equipment or shoddy workmanship would show up within each battalion group to the chagrin of every captain and lieutenant alike. This severely compromised the integrity of the army’s effectiveness, but as long as the senior officers were well taken care of, it did not seem to matter.
Hattusili had noticed soon enough the exploits of Talmido and his ever-increasing acquisition of materials and slaves. Jealousy and covetousness encapsulated his heart, entirely overwhelming any and all sense. With all his stealth, he had continually maneuvered to put Talmido on the front lines and on the first detail duty while on reprieve. Hattusili knew no man could endure these successive trials of the body and mind, so he waited for Talmido to break and take the first wrong step.
He didn’t have long to wait, and to his great joy, Talmido eventually went so far as to make it substantially simpler for him to secure Talmido’s wealth and defame his character. Talmido was even foolish enough to convince the men of his company to join him in a desertion plan. Hattusili had allowed the men and their families, slaves, animals, and material wealth to leave. Five spies were following the caravan at a respectable distance, reporting any movement or change in the fleeing group’s direction directly to Belkummi, then on to Hattusili himself.
“My lord, a contingent of one thousand soldiers have left the camp and are currently moving southeast,” Belkummi reported.
“Ah, the game has started. Who are the co-conspirators?” Hattusili asked.
“They are Akhiramy, Si-tatious, Sapalulmea, and Katraneous, my lord. Si-tatious is with the caravan and Akhiramy and Katraneous are helping Talmido to take Sapalulmea out of the camp. What do you want to do?”
“Capture the three of them. I’ll take care of Talmido. Send two of the most disrespectful and hated men in the army. I’ll be needing their services.”
“Right away, my lord.”
At the right time, Hattusili would report this to the general and perhaps volunteer himself to assist in the pursuit to catalog the deaths of the mutinous soldiers and the capture of the slaves and materials. Because of the desertion, all the slaves and materials were to be apportioned to the emperor and then to the general, so of course, the general would acquiesce to the pursuit and request, so thought Hattusili.
What had surprised Hattusili the most was the audacity of Talmido. He wanted to just walk to the general’s tent as if he was a free man and demand a meeting with him to discuss his freedom and desertion of the Assyrian military campaign, as if that would happen. Ah, but the vagaries of man and his free will—would they see no end? Was there no boundary to their expressions?
Using the two men Bilkummi sent, Hattusili worked with haste to set up a trap for the time when Talmido would be waiting in the general’s tent for Bel-Taggil to arrive. He called two of the most undesirable men to him and ordered them to remain behind the shelter to pull a set of cords given to them. Hattusili had hastily put together flattened wooden cell bars under the rug flooring beneath the table in the middle of the general’s tent. Once Talmido was in a relaxed state, the men were to pull the cords and entrap him until the general arrived and judgment was given.