Chapter 10: Freedom's Flight
It was as dark as the pits of the Anunnaki’s purgatory. It had been said in antiquity that the gods came to earth to teach men the ways of life. Talmido did not believe this, as he felt the gods were nothing but men of deceit and lies.
Cloud cover held the moon and stars at bay for the time being, and Talmido surveyed his options, knowing time was quickly running out. Sapalulmea knelt beside him, wondering what to do, holding his hand, and faintly shaking under the weight of the darkness and the fear of being caught. He had ordered his slaves and assets to drive hard toward the south along the Tigris River without rest. Si-tatious was with them, beating the animals along as hard as he dared without killing them or creating a riot among the slaves.
The men under Talmido’s command had agreed to join him on his escape, thus forming a contingent one thousand strong. They were to take Sapalulmea with them and join the fleeing caravan at a designated spot where the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers were the closest to each other.
Katraneous stepped out from the shadows and whistled into the night to alert Talmido of his presence. When an answer came back, he moved on to hail his friend. Talmido clasped his hand and kissed him on both cheeks, as was the custom, and gave Sapalulmea to him for safekeeping.
Talmido had decided to pay the commanders of his regiment a visit to dissuade them from pursuing him and his men. Once he felt Sapalulmea was safely on her way from the camp, Talmido slipped a small dagger within his cloak and moved toward the tent of the company commander. Eyes followed him as he made his way through the camp, and whispers encircled him with questions and statements of treason. This was to be anticipated, as Talmido understood that a propaganda campaign had already started to dissuade any who contemplated leaving with him.
He knew the danger he was stepping into by approaching the general and challenging his decision. It was a direct threat to the hierarchy of the military establishment and an insult to the general himself. Talmido was very conscious of this; however, he could not come to any other conclusion as to how to possibly approach the matter. It was not his intent to harm the general, but only to try to reason with him and perhaps acquire his blessing and a proper discharge.
Talmido walked calmly toward the commander’s tent, contemplating the potential events to unfold, when the dark shadow of a hand clamped down on his forearm with a viselike grip, startling him out of his thoughts. Whirling around, he brandished his dagger at a familiar face. Talmido exclaimed in a hissed whisper, “Akhiramy! You almost got yourself killed, my friend! What are you doing here? You should be with the caravan.”
“I have urgent news for you, Talmido. Hattusili, the Hittite scribe, infiltrated our company with his spies and determined when and where we are going. He has informed General Bel-Taggil of the situation, and now three divisions of soldiers have left in chase of the caravan,” Akhiramy hastily spat out. “And at this very moment, Hattusili has formed a company of guards waiting for you at the general’s tent to intercept you and throw you into the stockades.”
“How many men are there at the general’s tent?”
“Two hundred and fifty,” Akhiramy replied.
“How determined are the men?” Talmido asked.
“They are Hattusili’s personal contingent.”
“Is the general informed of these current events at his tent?” Talmido shook his head in disbelief.
“No, he is not. He is with Diatri, the priest, questioning him on the outcome of the battle plans for tomorrow’s assault,” Akhiramy stated.
“Akhiramy, please do not worry about me. Go and meet up with Katraneous to provide cover support and meet up with me at the caravan,” Talmido commanded.
At that, Akhiramy took his leave and disappeared back into the shadows from whence he came, and Talmido turned and walked back onto the path leading to the general’s tent. He did not want violence but knew it might be inevitable. He did not want to kill any soldiers due to the confusion of politics and his desire for freedom, but if it came down to a fight and that was what they wanted, he would give them one they would never forget.
Straightening his back with resolve, he passed men hunkered down by their campfires, who were either eating, drinking, laughing, crying, singing, or sleeping. They were living a life he had known for thirty-four years—an experience ingrained into every fiber of his mind, body, and soul. He knew these were to be the last moments of that life and from then on, the future was up to him—a daunting thought, to say the least.
As he approached the general’s tent, he noticed more and more men were absent, and silence seemed to descend upon the immediate area. His ears became acuter to the whispers of men and the wind. His sense of smell picked up the odors of polished iron and greased leather. His muscles instinctively tightened, creating a knotted spring of explosive reaction. Talmido began to walk slower, waiting for the trap, but none appeared, to his surprise. The general’s tent came into view, and standing outside was Hattusili, hands clasped together in front of him in submission. Once he caught sight of Talmido, he waved his arms, indicating to Talmido to come to him, and he smiled with a practiced grimace of welcome.
Talmido—a man of action, a destroyer of life, and a taker of defiance—stopped where he was and looked intently at Hattusili with puzzled amazement, not quite knowing what to do.
“Talmido, my friend and brother, what brings you here with such a look of confusion?” Hattusili questioned with a smile wide and beckoning, but with eyes full of dark, simmering jealousy.
“I desire to talk with the general, Hattusili. May I be allowed a meeting with him?” Talmido asked.
“Yes, of course, and what does it concern, my friend?”
“I would like to discuss it with the general himself, Hattusili,” Talmido answered.
“Come in, come in, Talmido. No need for us to carry on a discussion out here where the buzzards and the crows have wagging tongues,” Hattusili cajoled.
Talmido hesitated, thinking of the possible outcomes of agreeing with Hattusili. He is a consummate politician with the immoral values to suit the personality requirement. Climbing the rungs of the Royal ladder is his one and only passion.
Talmido knew it to be a trap, but he did not have any option since meeting with the general was his desire, and waiting for him in his tent was the usual protocol. So with a shrug of his shoulders, he calmly walked into the viper’s nest, all his senses heightened with awareness. He listened to the wind moving around the tent and felt the dust clinging to his skin while closely watching Hattusili for any sign of malcontent.
“Please, Talmido, sit here where it is comfortable, and I will fetch the general for you.” Hattusili graciously motioned toward a couch and waved a slave over to pour Talmido a drink of wine.
“Thank you. If the general is too busy to meet with me now, perhaps another time is more favorable?”
“No, no—not at all. The general will be done shortly, and I’ll let him know you are waiting to see him.”
“Hmm.” Talmido nodded while taking the cup of wine from the slave.
At that, Hattusili turned and left the tent with a flourish of his robe and a quick nod to Talmido.
Talmido looked around the tent and pondered this strange behavior, wondering if it was about any leaked news about his leaving the army.
“How can it not be?” He thought. “There is a catch to this, but what is it?”
He sensed more than heard a gentle rustling coming from outside the tent, adjacent to the entrance. It was so soft a movement that he would have missed it if not for a lull in the breeze blowing against the sidewalls. It quietly persisted until a more particular slight of foot revealed a mass just on the other side of the wall behind Talmido. With a jump, Talmido threw himself toward the right of the couch, and after rolling onto his feet with momentum to spare, he drew his knife to slash the wall of the tent.
He exploded out into the dark of the night, his feet hitting the ground with a thump and a stride to match, and he ultimately caught the individuals hiding behind the wall in utter and complete surprise. He rammed his fist into the first face he saw and kicked the second just under the chin to sudden gasps of disbelief and panic. The two men had been hiding in this position under the order of Hattusili to pull a switch in which to trap Talmido inside the tent while he was lounging on the couch.
Talmido ran between the tents to startled looks from soldiers and civilians alike. Unbeknownst to him, riders were pacing him, adjacent to his path, with ropes slung from the sides of their horses that were ready for deployment. With a crash and a rush of flesh, the horsemen advanced on Talmido and threw their ropes around him with able adroitness. Stepping to the side, Talmido tried to avoid the lines but tripped when the balls at the ends of them slammed shut against his legs and arms, pinning him to the ground as surely as a tent is pegged in place.
“Ah, Talmido, you thought you could talk or run your way out of this predicament, didn’t you?” one of the riders commented.
Talmido just grunted while trying to slip the dagger out of his cloak to cut the ropes. Lying on his back with his arms wrapped around his front, he found it next to impossible to grasp the dagger. It didn’t matter anyway, as the rider kicked him savagely in the legs and snatched up the blade with a satisfied grin.
“And what are you going to do with this?” he asked.
“If you do not let me go, I am going to kill you with it,” Talmido calmly replied.
“Hmm, I suspect you don’t realize the seriousness of your predicament.”
“Oh, don’t be deceived. I am very aware of the seriousness of your situation,” Talmido spat out.
“Ha! You think you can get into my mind with words of defiance? Wait until the general hears about you and what you and your cohorts have been up to.”
Talmido feigned indifference; however, underneath, a cold tremor of anxiety took root in the pit of his stomach. Had Sapalulmea escaped with the rest? Hoping with an intensity drawn from years of struggle, Talmido visited in his mind all the plans and steps put in place to assure her escape and eventual rendezvous. It was, in his mind, seamless—without fault. She should have been halfway to the meeting point northeast of the camp.
He turned his attention back to the current moment and relaxed his muscles and slowed his breathing to give the outward appearance of surrender and compliance. Now was not the time to resist but the time to divert attention and purpose.