Chapter 2: Counter Maneuvers
They rode hard toward the group that was tracking them. Death closely followed, trailing an invisible cloud of desperation and desire. Talmido put up his hand to slow the team down as he came upon a wadi he recognized from three days before and jumped off his mount to check the surrounding area for any evidence that the trackers had passed by there. Nothing showed up, so he directed his men to spread out behind a small hill to the northwest so they could outflank the pursuers and fall upon them from behind, as they would not be expecting an attack from that direction.
The horses were moved behind the hill and kept quiet with bales of grass and water while the men held the reins and waited for the word to mount an attack. Talmido positioned ahead of them and spied from behind a group of trees while remaining silent to give the signal for them to attack.
Nothing showed up, and soon the men and horses became restless with fatigue. Talmido, anticipating a potential disruption in the positions, moved out farther to see if he could make contact before anything untoward happened in the ranks. He walked silently, crouching along a grassy knoll to prevent the moon from highlighting his outline. As he came up to the edge of the mound, he heard breathing and a horse nicker. He lay flat on his stomach and crawled toward the sound, breathing in the smell of the earth and grass. A clump of shrubs came into his view, and he moved within it to conceal himself and waited.
Soon, movement came, with men and horses slowly making their way southwest of the knoll. It was Hattusili’s troupe, with its trackers guiding the way. Talmido edged back away from the shrubs and made his way to the north of the knoll, running toward his men.
“Hattusili and his men are just around the knoll on their way south. They have not spotted us,” Talmido whispered. “You five go north and cut across their tracks, and the rest of us will head directly towards them.”
“Yes, sir,” one man answered.
“If you come upon Hattusili, do not kill him. I want him alive,” Talmido said while turning to depart.
Talmido hid behind a tree, keeping a sharp eye out for the trackers. He did not have to wait long before the first man came into view, then the second arrived, and so on. He let them continue on toward his men, allowing them to be enveloped by his force’s attack radius before he would sound the alarm.
With a grinding of wheels, the last to arrive was Hattusili’s carriage, which passed Talmido by without a pause. At this point, he motioned for the other guards to come out for the attack and sounded the alarm with the horn given to him specifically for this purpose. With a blast of sound, the horn blew out its tempest, alerting all parties of the impending doom. Talmido’s men rushed out from the wadi, swinging and hacking with all their might, knowing, remembering, that war was a life-or-death affair. Talmido drew his sword and slashed the first guard he came upon with a swift slice across the midsection, separating the man’s intestines from within and assisting him on toward his final destination.
Jumping over the fallen man, Talmido ran toward the carriage, stabbing at the men trying to guard it. He focused on his target, neither veering to the left nor the right. He jumped onto the back of the carriage, reached for the handle, and pulled with all his might, yanking the door off its leather hinges and throwing it toward the forest with such force that it shattered against a giant oak tree, sending a shudder up the trunk, through the branches, and toward the leaves.
Hattusili shouted with shock and despair, knowing his impending doom was soon to be upon him. Talmido grinned with satisfaction, grabbed Hattusili by his robes, and threw him out of the carriage, landing on the ground in an undignified pile of silk and linen. Jumping out of the wagon and slowly walking towards Hattusili, Talmido had murder on his mind.
“Please, please don’t kill me. I’ll do whatever you want. Just, please, do not kill me.”
“Kill you? I am not going to kill you, Hattusili. That would be too easy.”
“What are you going to do to me?”
“I am going to let you live so you will be of some use to me,” Talmido replied.
After tying Hattusili’s hands, Talmido dragged him toward his horse and began pulling him back toward the fleeing caravan as the rest of his companions finished up the grisly work of eliminating the desperate soldiers trying to escape their vengeance.
The next day, Talmido and his men approached the convoy with a flourish of triumphant shouts and laughter. Hattusili was taken away to a holding cage while Talmido washed up, ate, and related his ordeal to the gathering crowd of men, women, and children. Talmido sang the songs of his ancestors and the ancestors of his companions for the courage and strength to face the challenges to come.