Chapter 3 - No Respite
It had been four days, and the woman had not seen her family. No one hailed her, and she became worried about their wellbeing. The nagging doubt and the fear of death propelled her to follow their path towards a field of churned up soil and mud. As she approached the area, the carnage was overwhelming. Bodies lay everywhere, with piles of them stacked like wood for a fireplace. She gasped in horror. A tremble of her lips and a shrinking of her shoulders ended in a wail of pure despair. Her eyes cast about, looking for her loved ones, as she searched endlessly through the piles of bodies, hoping they were still alive.
She cried out with deep sorrow and tears ran down her face as she shook with spasms of choking. Her face was flushed by the emotion of loss, and she clung to memories slipping away in a morass of psychological debilitation. She put her hands up to cover her shame, bowing her head to time’s fate and her loss of choice.
After considerable effort, she found her husband and son; they laid at her feet in death’s embrace. Their eyes looked up to heaven with sight long gone, while peering into the depths of Hades’ realm. She wrapped her arms around her son’s head, rocking it back and forth, sobbing into his hair, willing him to come back to her, shaking him in desperation, and questioning the rationale for warfare.
Who suffers? The dead? No, it is the surviving loved ones who have to perform the rituals of burial preparation and cremation. They are the ones with the memories lost to the winds of time and change and the songs of mothers, wives, and daughters not willing to forget—not willing to let go of those memories of days lost.
She stood up and directed a horse toward her husband and carefully dragged him onto the wooden travois she had made to transport him back to their home. She gently pulled her son onto it as well and tied both father and son down, so they did not slip off. Once finished, she moved to the front of her horse and guided it forward, walking off into the afternoon toward their final resting place.
She began to sing a death song, announcing herself to the world while letting out her pain. That song merged into a chorus of voices across the field as other women sang their grief out toward their gods, hoping for the safe passage of their men toward each of their destinations.
“Yes, I stormed out of the tent after shoving the sword into Hattusili’s chest. I ran toward my horse and fled to our agreed-upon meeting place. I am shocked that Hattusili is still alive. The gods must be displeased with me over something. I do not know what, though,” Talmido mused.
“We are so sorry for your loss, Talmido. May your wife find safe passage to her god’s gate,” Si-tatious replied.
After nodding his head, Talmido looked at the ground, trying to find a rationale for the past ten days.
“So now the question is, what do we do with Hattusili?” he asked.
“We tie him up to a pole and skin him alive,” Si-tatious answered.
“No, no. That is too easy. Hattusili knows the secrets of every officer, politician, counselor, magistrate, and courtier alive within the Assyrian Empire. I think he would be valuable to someone,” Talmido thought aloud.
“Talmido, he is a very dangerous man. He will stop at nothing to avenge his capture and humiliation.”
“Hmm, I wasn’t thinking of letting him go. I am thinking more along the lines of extracting the information from him and then using it to keep the Assyrian army at bay.”
“I’ll get the men on it right away, and we’ll either get the information out of him, or he’ll die. However, one thing I do know about Hattusili is that he loves above all else his own skin,” Si-tatious acknowledged.
“Also, we need volunteers to infiltrate the army and extract Hattusili’s scribes. But first, find out how many are involved so we can mark them for capture. We also need the location of his gold reserves.” Talmido nodded toward the attending spymaster.
“Yes. Of course, it’ll be done,” the spymaster replied.
The command went out, and men volunteered for the assignment. Hattusili was interrogated remorselessly, and eventually, all the information was extracted, compiled, and detailed for future use.
Hattusili sang like a bird, revealing revelation upon revelation of the decadence and corruption within the Assyrian political system and army hierarchy. The amount of information was astounding. The bribes, murders, and lies ran so thick it was almost impossible to tell the difference between truth and falsehood. The whole course of the empire seemed to be built upon lies of lies.
It sickened Talmido to his very core, knowing he had fought for those lies, the corruption that supported them and enriched the status quo of corrupt officials and influential families. This cannot last, he thought.
The former slaves and soldiers of the Assyrian army continued on their way due east toward the mighty Tigris River, heading to the place where it drains into the Sea above Akkad, south of Babylon. They slowly pushed their oxen forward as clouds of dust and mosquitoes rose into the air, blocking out the sun. The caravan’s tendency was always to lengthen itself along a chosen path to the point of days or weeks, depending on the straggling members and their needs. Si-tatious kept a rigid focus on formation, pulling the stragglers forward, keeping the soldiers close to the caravan and the scouts a league and a half away from the group to spy for any enemy pursuit, possible bandits, or Babylonian army contingents. It was a dangerous country to travel through for regular people and even more dangerous for them since they were a deserting Assyrian army group.
Approximately eight thousand souls traveled for six days and nights before coming upon an escarpment overlooking a valley of lush greenery, a wide river running down the center of the valley, and trees of magnificent stature chasing the flow of water as far as the eye could see. The women and children were tired, and the animals needed rest as well, so it was decided they would set up a temporary camp within the valley. They chose a spot close to the river and behind the small bluff of a rock outcropping to conceal the travelers and perhaps discourage any roving bandits. A clearing was made, and they utilized oak trees as temporary fortifications. Each company settled within its own sphere of friendship, allotting spaces and defenses among themselves, with the larger companies taking up the front and the smaller groups staying in behind with the animals and provisions.
“Si-tatious, we need to convene a meeting of all platoon commanders. Please see to it on the morrow at first light,” Talmido commanded.
“Yes, sir—absolutely,” Si-tatious replied. “If I may ask, what will be the topic?”
“We need scouting parties organized and sent out, pickets set up, watchtowers erected, food gathered, and any people or animals that require tending looked after. We’ve had an arduous journey so far, but this is only the beginning, Si-tatious, and we need to prepare everyone. I want to give a speech to the whole group at noon, as well. Please look after this.”
“Of course. It will be done as you ask.” Si-tatious saluted him and promptly left Talmido’s company to let the platoon commanders know of the meeting, and to assist with the organization of the camp.
Talmido sighed and sat down at his table and stared at a map drawn onto a calfskin. The men were able to steal it from the Assyrian general before deserting, and now it was an invaluable asset in assisting the group on their journey to start a new life and perhaps a new civilization. The drawing showed a shoreline of the Philistine and Edomite Empires on the far left, with the Kingdom of Israel to the north and extended to the far right to the mountains of the Babylonian and Elamite regions. To the south were the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, which eventually converged into each other, joining into a massive confluence of water draining into the sea above Akkad.
It was here, southeast of the city of Kish, on the Tigris River, that Talmido planned on settling and building a city of their own—one to perhaps rival the cities of Assur, Babylon, and Ur. He smiled with satisfaction and ran his fingers over the rough calfskin map, contemplating the adventures to come; however, he had important affairs to take care of and could not imagine what the gods would or would not allow to happen. With his mind made up, he washed and lay down for a good night’s sleep—something he had not received in a long time.
The next day, camp life resumed its normal rhythm of organization and preparedness for the day’s routine. It started with a slow shuffle of waking children with an occasional cry for parental care, the snorting of animals demanding to be fed, and a changing of the guard as the sun slowly rose from the east and cast its blanket of warmth over a cold and harsh world of extremes. Birds began to move about, exclaiming their joy at another day with screeches and warbles of song. The dew left behind by the condensation of freezing water glittered in the refraction of light and bounced on blues, reds, and greens from flower to flower. Insects began to buzz about in their never-ending search for food.
The nervous energy of pent-up anxiety and stress permeated the camp. People moved quickly with or without purpose, hoping a busy attitude would ward off the day’s insistence for happenstances or, more realistically, the anger of the gods. Talmido felt this tension; he could see it written on the faces of his men and in the movements of the animals. They all sensed, perhaps, an impending doom—a final end to their journey.
Once the officers had broken their fast, Talmido assembled them to go over the plan for the day and the future purpose and direction of their escape.
“We have made our choice, my friends. We have declared to the Assyrian hegemony our commitment to our cause. They will not give up easily. Word will get out, and it will threaten their very existence. This they cannot allow. The Kassites will not jeopardize their hold on power, so expect the Assyrian army to pursue us to the last. We will need to make friends, possibly with the Elamites to the east, and keep silent as we pass through the Babylonian lands so as not to attract any attention. Si-tatious, how goes the infiltration of the Assyrian army?”
“Talmido, the spies report a grouping of twenty thousand men-at-arms along the Babylonian border 140 leagues northwest of our position. They are preparing for a pursuit,” Si-tatious said.
“Sir, what are our countermeasures to be?” a nervous young lieutenant asked.
“We must maintain a measure of stealth and silence. We must have no interaction with the local tribes, which means we will need to be self-sufficient. If we must interact with any nomads or bandits, it has to be done in small contingents,” Si-tatious said as he looked around the tent.
The men all nodded with affirmation while some rubbed their chins and others palmed their swords. The focus of the group was intense. They knew of their perilous position.
“Yes, it is imperative that we keep our movement out of sight,” Talmido interjected as he walked up to the table with the map lying open on it.
“Men, note the final destination of our journey. Nine hundred and forty-seven leagues south from here is where our new home will be located. We will build for ourselves a new nation—one outside the confines of slavery and corruption. That nation will be where men who want to be free may come and live without being trapped in a system of deceit and lies. This is where we will codify our conscience of free will and choice. Is this acceptable to you? Is this a purpose worth fighting and perhaps dying for?” Talmido asked as he placed his fist down on the map with a resolve to instill the desire and firm commitment in his men.
As one, they all voiced their consent. A look of hardened purpose passed through all of those present. The chiefs would convince the rest of the people of the righteousness of their cause and of the favor the gods would give them for their decision.
By high noon, the sun beat down on the parched landscape, driving even the most intrepid reptile, bird, or mammal to find shade. Shimmering waves of heat floated across the ground, trying to suck the life out of it.
The crowd that gathered waited patiently for Talmido to start. He cleared his throat, coughed, and began. “My friends, fellow companions, and those of you I have not had the chance to come to know yet, I thank you for taking this extraordinary journey and for trusting us to guide our way toward freedom. It is lovers of freedom that I see gathered here, and it is this that unites us together as one. The journey has been arduous so far. However, this is not the worst to come. At this very moment, a contingent of Assyrian soldiers 20,000 strong is amassing 140 leagues north of us.”
The crowd grew restless with fear, and the people murmured among themselves. Talmido could see the mood becoming more anxious and pushed forward with his speech.
“My men and I are prepared to defend you to the death if need be. However, it will not come to that. At the half moon of the last solar cycle, thirty of our men went back to the Assyrian army group to infiltrate it and gather information to send back to us, and this is the reason why we know what the Assyrian army group is doing now. They were also successful in abducting five of Hattusili’s scribes, crates of documents, and eleven wagonloads of gold—all of these from under the army command’s watchful eye.”
The crowd continued to murmur and shuffled about as Talmido spoke. Fear presented itself on their faces and through their body language. Many of the men stiffened with resolve. Some stamped their feet with defiance while a small few stayed quiet and studied the crowd. Talmido took note of those, as did Si-tatious and his men. They would be watched and followed to determine their commitment to the plan.
One man shouted out from the crowd, “How are we to defend ourselves? One thousand soldiers against twenty thousand? Those are odds that I do not think we can win against.”
“True, it does seem daunting and unbelievable at this time. However, we anticipated this and have taken certain actions to swing the pendulum in our favor,” Talmido replied.
Another man spoke up. “What can those of us who are not soldiers do to help? We are all in this together. We all will either live or die together depending on our actions, so what must we do to prepare?”
Talmido replied, “First, we have invaluable information and evidence that we will be able to use to perhaps dissuade the army group preparing to pursue us from taking any action. Second, we have Hattusili’s gold to hopefully buy our way out of the predicament. However, if those two do not work, you have the finest and best veteran soldiers at your side to take on the enemy army group. Remember, most of those soldiers are slaves, as we once were. They have no love for the Assyrian hegemony. Perhaps they crave freedom as we do and only need the right reason to grasp hold and fight for it. At this very time, we have ten men within the army group determining their morale and trying to persuade those so rightly disposed to join us. There are quite a few that have decided, in principle, to assist us in our quest. Those of you who are not in the militia can clean armor, weapons, shields and saddles. You can mend clothing or make arrows and fix swords, spears and axes. You can help in making defensive structures, as well. Whatever you volunteer to do is helpful and appreciated.”
“Should we flee or stand our ground? Do we have enough weapons?” another asked.
“These are all good questions, and we will answer all of them to the best of our ability. However, please let me first let you know our destination. We are heading southeast toward the confluence of the Tigris River and its tributaries that is west of the Elamite Empire but still within the Babylonian influence. There is plenty of water, game, and rich soil for farming. I have a map to guide us. We will try to build friendly ties with the Elamites, as they fight the same enemies as we do. Perhaps they will assist us. Si-tatious will now call the older men of each family group to apprise them of the situation in greater detail and the tasks to be assigned to each family group.”
Si-tatious stepped forward and began. “All men of the age of eighteen, barring any with deformities, must register for militia training. This training will provide you with the basics in defense and tactical maneuvering. All family groups and members must be registered so we may account for all of you and the necessary provisions required. As you can see, my men have set up tables to the far left. Please line up over there so we may process you quickly. Thank you.”
At that, the meeting ended. The men in the crowd moved over to the tables, and lines began to form. By the time the registration process was finished, 8,593 individuals, 14,629 sheep, 7,131 goats, 5,840 cattle, 2,674 oxen, 1,146 camels, and 1,293 horses were accounted for. In the end, 2,741 able-bodied men were registered for militia duty.
Si-tatious and Talmido were satisfied with the outcome; however, they, of all people, knew the odds and were not overly hopeful if it came down to a full-on fight with the Assyrian army group. Those men were professional soldiers used to the rigors of warfare, were without fear or remorse, and had no families or possessions to account for and protect. With twenty-to-one odds, the outcome was stacked in their favor, as well.
So a plan was needed, and Si-tatious was just the man for the job. Talmido left the tactical aspects of the coming confrontation to him and focused his attention on the strategic requirements of the overall plan. Everyone pitched in to implement the preparations. All moved about with purpose. Everything was thrown into the battle plans with desperation and hope bound to the outcome.