Chapter 11: Capture's Demise
Laying in the mud with hands and feet tied, Talmido slowly stretched his bonds while calming his mind and emotions. Now was the time for subterfuge, not resistance. He needed his strength and focus to get himself out of the predicament he found himself in.
“So tell me, how does it feel to be the one in bondage, Talmido? To know your ultimate fate—your destiny?” Hattusili asked as he walked around Talmido, grinning and puffing out his chest as if he were a great warrior subduing a heathen from some surrounding tribe.
“My fate? My destiny?” he retorted, turning his head back and forth in the mud to watch Hattusili through eyes of pure hate.
“Yes, your final outcome to be. What do you think?”
A fire of revenge deep in his belly seared him with a pain so sharp he had to hold his breath. He stifled the urge to rip the cords binding him apart and strangle that duplicitous, envious scoundrel then and there. Looking at the ground to steady his impulses, Talmido shook his head to clear away the sting of humiliation.
“Ah, nothing to say? No command of excellence to order your way out of this predicament? Talmido, what has happened to your resolve of character—your strength of will?” Hattusili gibed.
Talmido continued to stare at the ground while grinding his teeth in a seething action of contemplation, biding his time, waiting for the moment to strike back with death and destruction.
“I have watched you all these years as you grew in strength of reputation and power of desire. I knew one day it would catch up to you with a defining rebellion. I knew you were not a man of substance but instead one of self-interest and the luck of the gods,” he spat out with the vehemence of wanton jealousy etched onto his brow for all to see and speculate on.
Talmido lifted his head while coughing. “Substance? You, of all men, question my substance? Of what great legend are you referring to? Have you not witnessed my devotion to our commanders? Our emperor? Have I not put my life on the front line time after time for the glory and success of Assyria?” Talmido countered.
“All done for your own glory, fame, and wealth. Nothing less, nothing more,” Hattusili sneered.
Talmido clenched his hands in the dirt while labored sweat dripped into pools, waiting…waiting. He made his mind go blank to shut out the taunts and gibes and to focus his energy on the task at hand. He needed to free himself and link up with Sapalulmea to escape this never-ending hell of death. He thought of her face and her eyes - dark pools of simmering desire and warmth. He thought of her hair, as black as a raven’s shimmering in the sunlight with waves of deep blue catching the eye of anyone passing near.
At first, a ripple of motion sent successive waves of vibration through the men that finally came to a stop at the foot of Talmido, causing him to lift his head and look around for its source. Men shuffled aside, and Sapalulmea, Katraneous, and Akhiramy were thrown into the ring of men with their hands bound and their mouths gagged. Blood ran down Sapalulmea’s face from a gash on her forehead. Talmido lunged for her to shelter and protect her; however, the cords binding him cut hard against his wrists, pulling him back with a snap of muscles and ligaments. Sapalulmea’s eyes went wide with hope and pain, wanting to go to Talmido—to his muscular arms of assurance, but the guards yanked her back with a hard tug on her ropes. Talmido lunged again to no avail.
“So, what have we here? Three co-conspirators, I see. Now, what should we do? Soldier, send a message to the general requesting his presence,” Hattusili commanded as he pointed to a soldier at Talmido’s right.
The soldier turned and marched off with his assignment. Talmido and Sapalulmea locked eyes, scanning each other for any injuries.
Hattusili walked around the four, examining them with an air of thoughtful contemplation while holding his direction stick firmly and hitting his palm with a loud smack. After circling them twice, he finally made a decision.
“Move them to the poles and tie them up,” he ordered.
They were kicked to a standing position and marched out of the area to the poles for deserters on the outskirts of the camp. They were bound to the poles as all in attendance waited for the general to come and attend the adjudication of their crime.
“Hold steady, Sapalulmea. We have the protection of the gods on our side. We have righteousness in our hearts for the general to discern. Men, stand erect. Do not let them see you despair. Face your captors with pride and honor,” Talmido encouraged.
“Talmido, I am not worried about us, as the gods seem fit to leave us to our fate. However, I am afraid for the others in the caravan,” Katraneous choked out.
“They are well accompanied, my friend, and we will see them by this time tomorrow.”
At that moment, the general walked up with his entourage in accompaniment, scowling to the sky and the ground. He approached Talmido, shaking his head.
“What is this I hear, Talmido? You have left the service of our emperor’s army without a signet ring? This is desertion and treason! What do you have to say for yourself?” Bel-Taggil demanded with his head tilted back to let it be known that he felt intense displeasure from this action taken by Talmido and his accomplices.
Talmido looked deep into the commander’s eyes, looking for any shred of mercy or any crumb of complicity. Bel-Taggil’s mouth twitched with a nervous pull of his jaw muscle that belied his outward intent, giving what Talmido thought was exactly what he needed.
“Yes, I am responsible for this terrible cowardice. These others went in search of me to bring me back to my senses, knowing that I love the Assyrian emperor and nation with its victorious army and plethora of gods. Yes, I ran away in the hope of living my life without the maddening day-to-day assassination of my soul. Please, my general, punish me, but let these others go as they were only doing what any man of this lofty army would do—trying to bring one of their own to his or her senses and back into the emperor’s grace and the favor of the gods.”
“Talmido, this groveling is beneath you. What are they to you? We know of their complicity in your plans for desertion. They are not innocent to this fact!” he hissed out.
“Yes, my general, they are as involved as Talmido. They knew what they were doing. I have witnesses to prove this, if you like,” Hattusili interjected.
“No, no need. I see the guilt written on your conspirators’ faces and in their eyes. Guards, take them away for execution on the morrow at high sun.”
“Yes, sir,” the section guard replied while dragging a distraught Sapalulmea away.
Talmido strained against the cords bound to his arms and legs to no avail. He tried willing himself to save Sapalulmea, but the gods did not give him their favor. They did not listen to his pleas; instead, they turned around and left, or so it would seem.
“However, you, Talmido, I have something else for you. Take him to the stockade for final judgment at the first moon in the fortnight,” the commander spoke.
The air exploded out of Talmido with such force that the guards thought someone was attacking them. Turning around, they witnessed the hollowing out of a man’s reason and hope. The shrinking tide of confidence and faith ebbed into the night, carving lines of despair on his face. Talmido slumped to the ground, hanging his head with an assurance of defeat that was unknown to this man and the men surrounding him till this date. They let him sit for a moment out of respect, then kicked him to his feet and dragged him to the stockades while whipping him across his back and legs.
Talmido sat with his back against the wall, looking out at the night sky and contemplating the predicament he was in. How was he to undo the possible actions of his captors and, at the same time, save Sapalulmea and his faithful friends? This was, by far, the most challenging situation he had found himself in.
It seemed the commander and Hattusili knew his thoughts and outflanked him each time, to his chagrin. Strength and will were not the right partners for this course. It seemed deception, duplicity, and the skill to out-think his enemy were the talents he needed at this time. The physical attributes would need to wait for the right moment. He would not require any pretense of conscience or mercy or forgiveness. No, these were now for men of weakness.
Talmido needed the strength of will and character to flank these oppressors and pull them toward the tangle of mistakes and incompetence that he knew they would fall into. It was their nature—their very reason for being. They could not function on their own as fear and desperation were their constant companions that held tight to the reins of their thought processes.
Men of that stature needed men like him to be successful, for it was the downfall of men like Talmido that gave these men their strength and will to go on. They craved the suffering of others to justify their own inner torment and outward desire for attention, praise, and glory.
Power over others was necessary for them. The ability to enslave others, either in body or mind, was their prize—a prize worthy of careful planning and stealthy implementation. It is a twisted mind of an evil character that is unable to call to mind the simple act of empathy. These men handling Talmido were men of the lowest class of character, slaves not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally, to their desires and the desires of their masters.
Finally, through complete exhaustion, Talmido fell into a sleep of injurious dreams involving hate, anger, and loss. Crying out with hands thrust into the dirt, he screamed his frustration to no one and nowhere. Again and again, he poured out emotions of deprivation and hatred to the wind and sky. Nothing answered back, and a sound of soothing calm soon twisted the knots of anxiety and stress tighter in Talmido’s mind. He cooled the hot hatred and the screaming deprivation of peace and love to a dull, numbing ache in the recesses of his heart, knowing there was nothing he could do and nothing he could solve—nothing except the silence of his resolution.
The morning came with tentative steps as if it was unwilling to open up to a day of full glory. It seemed the very skies knew of the severity of Talmido’s predicament and were holding back their goodwill and cheer by hiding the sun to perhaps delay the final outcome of Sapalulmea, Katraneous, and Akhiramy. Rays of sunlight crept across the cell, slowly climbing up to Talmido’s face, warming his brow, and waking him to a day of reckoning.
“Get up, you deserting dog!” the guard snarled at Talmido.
Talmido shook himself and stood up while three guards entered the cell and tied his hands and shackled his legs. He was led out of the cell block toward the central common area of the camp for the final judgment and punishment of his friends and love. Walking through the columns of soldiers, he met the eyes of many whom he had helped survive at one battle or another. They cast their eyes down with shame and regret of their cowardice. Talmido moved past them with nothing but stoic focus and hardened intent.
Standing on a dais, the general addressed the garrison and army group with a flourish of pomp and ceremony designed to elicit a fervor for the Assyrian hegemony and the moral legitimacy of the army command. Sapalulmea and the other co-conspirators were led up to the dais and chained to poles placed evenly along the center. Talmido stood to the right, flanked by the commander’s guards and held in place with strategically locked leg irons connected to the floor of the dais.
He looked into Sapalulmea’s eyes, seeing those deep pools of love and anguish flash out to him in despair and hopelessness. He tried to encourage her to no avail as she was turned and chained to a pole. With a widening intensity of purpose to instill into his audience the severe nature of the offense and to dispel any future thought of others copying the actions taken, the general continued his speech on discipline, unfaltering focus, and faithfulness to the Assyrian hegemony.
A lull in the commander’s speech seemed to trigger a response from the three guards on the dais, and they moved in closer to the convicted. With the speed and dexterity of years of practice, they all, as one, unsheathed their knives and slit the throats of Sapalulmea, Katraneous, and Akhiramy.
There is no other way to describe the execution than that it was the formal army way of implementing military law and justice—quick and concise. Sapalulmea gasped with a shocked look on her face as the blade cut across her throat, creating a red line of severed flesh and a neat separation of life and death. Blood shot out with pressure onto the floor as the executioner stepped back out of habit to not let his armor and cloak get stained. Sapalulmea’s eyes searched for Talmido and slowly wound their way around the crowd to finally end up looking to the sky for relief as she lowered her head with the last dying breaths of her short life.
Talmido could not see what was happening as he was situated behind the poles and flanked by the guards; however, he knew the intent and final outcome of the speech due to the movement of the guards themselves. He let out a howl of grief, startling his captors and the crowd, unnerving even the most hardened soldiers and sending ripples of unease throughout the ranks.
Men did not look upon the scene, but instead at each other, the ground, the sky, or anything else while trying to stifle their shock and revulsion at the perverse action of the general, which was done in spite of all that Talmido had done for the army and the Assyrian Empire. The tension was palpable, intense, and seemed ready to break out and over any notion of military rule. If it weren’t for the immediate reaction of the general, who knew how the soldiers felt toward Talmido, to call for a dismissal, the discarding of the executed, and the sending of Talmido back to his cell, there might possibly have been a full-blown rebellion of the rank and file there. The general knew the course of action was a mistake; however, he believed it was a necessary one due to the continued campaigning required by his division and the army in general, as requested by the emperor himself.
“You know this cannot go on, Hattusili,” the general stated.
“I do, my lord. However, what was to be done?” he replied.
“I do not think this matter is over with, Hattusili. Perhaps we should just execute Talmido and be done with it.”
“It will make a martyr out of him, my lord. That will be worse than keeping him in chains as a reminder to the rank and file of the penalty for desertion.”
“Ah yes, martyrdom—a twist of perception, isn’t it? It is a man’s point of view thrust up to his face and held there for conscience’s sake to remind him of his own cowardice—sticking the knife of justice into his liver and twisting and turning it for the whole of his life. Which is better, Hattusili—the whipping of one’s honor by his conscience or the taking of action, however disastrously noble it might be, to appease the private hell of dialogue and self-judgment?” he whispered with a slight tremble of his hands.
Hattusili narrowed his eyes while taking stock of the commander’s hidden words. He walked around the commander, reached for a goblet, and poured wine into it to help calm the nerves of his general and to steady the hand of the conversation, to move it in the direction he needed it to go.
“Yes, my lord. You are right. But, we do not need any martyrs to contend with. This campaign has gone on for a considerable time. It is wearing on the troops and officers alike. Perhaps relief should be for all to regain their state of mind and resolution for the cause. What do you think?” Hattusili asked.
“Hmm . . . Perhaps, perhaps. I’ll consider your suggestion, Hattusili. Now leave me, for I need peace and rest for my bones are tired from the day’s situation.”
“Yes, my lord. Of course,” Hattusili replied as he hurriedly departed the general’s tent, thinking to himself the perverse thoughts of those men of the lowest order while smiling to himself and knowing he would end up with Talmido’s fortune and useful favor. He chuckled to himself as he walked toward his tent, looking forward to scolding a lower assistant scribe for his failure to account for all of Talmido’s gold.