Chapter 4 - Preparation
Training men who had never held a sword or a javelin to learn the art of war was not for the faint of heart or the impatient. Slowly, they began to master their tasks due mainly to their desperate fear of what the Assyrian army group would do to them if they failed.
It was determined three hundred of the men would accompany the caravan as it moved southeast. The balance of them, including the soldiers, would move northwest to harass and counter the army group. Hoping for fast and agile movements, they would be able to dissuade the army group from continuing on, or perhaps persuade many of the rank and file to abandon their officers. At the same time, Talmido dispatched emissaries to the Elamites to convince them to assist in their plight.
On the second day, a scout approached Si-tatious with news. “My lord, I have come back from scouting the left flank approximately seventeen leagues from here. I bring word of a battle between the Babylonians and a little known tribe. It seems large amounts of materials are laying about the field,” the scout said.
“Hmm, interesting. What do you think, Si-tatious?” Talmido asked.
“A good opportunity to add to our weapons and food stock,” Si-tatious replied.
“Let’s put together a reclamation party and take a look,” Talmido commanded.
“Right away, sir,” the Scout answered.
Looking at Si-tatious, Talmido nodded his head and said, “It’s a good opportunity to stock up and to get a feel for the lay of the land.”
Si-tatious nodded back and replied, “Yes, good idea. I’ll see to the men.”
Talmido decided to join the troop of men to take a break from the day-to-day stress of organizing and planning for so many people.
The valley was lush because of the tributary, and the animals were plentiful. What more could a man ask for? Perhaps peace? To be left alone to live out his days in simple pursuits of pleasure? Leaves rustled in the breeze as if to a composer’s melody as the men slipped past with barely a whisper. The wheels of the carts were well greased so as not to give themselves away, and the oxen were muzzled to keep them quiet.
For men used to marching, traveling seventeen leagues was not much of an effort, and the distance was quickly covered in a day and a half; however, the day before their arrival, scouts were sent ahead to alert the group of any impending problems. They came back with news of the remnants of the battle still being there, and they urged the men to pick up the pace.
The scene that unfolded was one of absolute carnage. Tens of thousands of men lay dead. Thousands of animals rotted in the open air with a putrid aroma of decay blasting the men’s nostrils with a sharp bite to the roofs of their nasal passages. Each man covered his nose and mouth with linen given to him for this very purpose and approached the dead with caution.
The heat cooked the corpses, bloating them up into round balls of rotting flesh ready to burst open at any moment. If one did experience the unfortunate occurrence while trying to extricate an item from a body, the gases issuing out of the corpse would kill the individual immediately. With long years of practice, the men went to work on organizing the goods into various categories: weapons, clothing, armor, food, water, precious metals, gems, and carts. Ten men were sent to scout out the perimeter of the battlefield to see if any stragglers or other looters were present.
By the evening of the first day, groups of women were arriving to look for dead loved ones. These were people of Sutean descent who had lived in this region for generations and proudly fought for their independence from the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires. A people of cultural depth and tight bonds of tribe and family, they preserved the traditions of their ancestors with fierce pride and resisted any influence from their neighbors.
None of the women approached the contingent as they went about their business of quietly gathering up their men onto small travois attached to either horses or oxen. Talmido sat on his horse and watched the women as they cried and trembled with the pain of their losses. His heart beat faster as he witnessed the true nature of love and the cries of sheer destitution.
He heeled his horse to move forward as he witnessed one woman holding a young man tightly while rocking back and forth. Stopping a dozen feet away, he got down from his horse and kneeled down to watch her religious gathering of her husband and son. Talmido did not offer any assistance, knowing it was not his place as a foreigner to intrude on her mourning, but he took careful note of her actions and demeanor.
Once she had the two men securely strapped to the gurney, she led her horse away and began a low humming—a song of death, mourning, and the days to be. Talmido had heard that song before, many years ago as a youngster when his father would burn candles at the shrine for his mother. He shook his head and listened carefully to the tune, not understanding the words but knowing in his heart that he had heard it before.
By the end of the second day, the men were ready to return to the caravan. Talmido could not, for the life of him, get the woman’s face out of his mind. The song continued to haunt him, depriving him of sleep and peace of mind. He instructed the others to head back, indicating he would catch up shortly. He motioned for one man to follow him, and he heeled his horse to follow the woman to where she might have gone.
The man accompanying Talmido was an excellent tracker, and after being taken to where the woman had initially picked up her dead husband and son, he was able to decipher the direction and approximately how far ahead she was of their position. They pushed their mounts on at a brisk walk, wanting to overcome her within daylight so as not to startle her.
As they followed her trail, the beauty of the landscape pulled the two men out of their inner thoughts and made them gaze about with wonder and awe. Marshes of fronds and bulrushes grew across the open fields with cranes, storks, and numerous birds of all varieties and colors flocking to the rich pickings of fish and snails. The smells of the grass and pine trees mesmerized them with enticing scents of calmness and peaceful silence.
The waves of sound vibration travelled toward Talmido and his companion at an unimaginable speed, hitting their senses with a sub-tonal consciousness. It floated on the air with an expression of love and devotion, while at the same time sending out a plea for respite from the hardships of life. It slowly settled into the brain of any recipient with a tug of the heart and a pull of the mind, willing anyone anywhere to come and comfort the need for belonging and the desire for happiness.
The horses heard it first, their ears turning toward the sound, and they began to move as one toward the source. Talmido heeled his horse on and followed the vibrations with a deliberate sense of fulfillment. As he approached, he could see the woman had the two dead men on a pyre of wood, ready for cremation. It seemed she had not noticed him while she carried on with the business of disposing the bodies and mourning her dead. She took a torch and lit it with an ember in a fire pit and threw it onto the pyre. Slowly, the wood started to burn, eventually rising up to a roar of escaping carbon and gases. The heat could be felt three dozen feet away, and Talmido had to back his horse up to avoid being burned.
The woman had turned away and approached a makeshift shrine, kneeling down to pray to her god or gods. Talmido moved closer to her and watched as she silently offered up her supplication and some vegetables in the hope of being heard and, perhaps, pitied. When she finished, she stood up and turned toward Talmido. Looking him straight in his eyes, she stretched out her arm toward the northwest and held up five fingers while nodding at the same time.
“I think she is telling us her home is five leagues from here,” the tracker whispered.
“Yes, I think so as well. Let’s follow the woman and see what happens,” Talmido suggested.
The travois had been thrown onto the pyre, so the woman was now free to jump onto her horse and ride back to her home with Talmido and the tracker in tow. An hour and a half later, they came upon a clearing butting up to the beginning of a range of hills, and in the middle of it was a small wood-and-thatch structure with a wooden-stick fence ringing it. Some sheep and a few goats were corralled within the fenced space, calmly chewing their food with amicable eyes of complete emptiness. Talmido was about to burst out laughing at the sight; however, he was able to stifle the urge and keep a straight face to the open amusement of his companion, the tracker.
The woman slid off her horse and said something to them while gesturing for them to stay outside. She went into the home and was gone for quite a while. Talmido was tempted to enter the house if she did not show herself soon; however, as time would have it, she appeared with three bundles that she threw over the back of the horse. She untied the gates to the corral and let the sheep and goats out, clicking between her teeth to command them to follow her. At that, she got up onto her horse and motioned for Talmido to lead the way.
Nothing was said. Nothing was exchanged. The woman seemed to know Talmido’s intentions and her need to join him wherever he might go. During that time, if a single woman had no family or they were not near to one another, what could she do? She would be at the mercy of the elements—whether man-made or natural.
It was a simple decision to make, and she used the typical approach to dealing with life and death situations which were to be realistic, pragmatic, and humble. She had been carefully studying Talmido, as well—watching his posture, demeanor, and attitude. She could see he was a man of moral fortitude, conviction, action, and honesty. So she chose him and let him lead the way to a new life—one full of adventure.
It took them four days to return to the encampment, to the relief of all concerned. Preparations for a possible battle were underway, with Si-tatious slapping Talmido on the back and lamenting the disorganization of the people.
“Praise be to the gods, Talmido, you made it back. What were you thinking to leave and go off on your own with only one other man?”
“A sense of the future, perhaps, Si-tatious. I don’t really know. Possibly a whisper of the truth or a portent of possibilities. For sure, though, the gods played a part in this.”
“So what are we to do now?” Si-tatious asked.
“Have the envoys to Elam sent any word back?”
“Nothing as of yet, but it should be any day now unless they were delayed or killed.”
“Any news on the movement of the Assyrian army contingent?”
“Yes. The Assyrians started to march three days ago. Of the twenty thousand, three thousand five hundred and twenty-six have pledged to fight for our cause. However, the number is growing by the day.”
“Good. Let’s keep up the production of weapons and armor. Also, keep training the militia recruits as we’ll be using them to bait the main force.”
“Yes, of course—until either their feet or their arms fall off, one or the other,” Si-tatious said with a grin of determination.
The militia recruits trained each day for five hours until released to assist in the military or civil preparations. Everyone worked feverishly to get all the equipment organized or fixed. After ten days of this, Talmido instructed the heads of each family group to gather up their belongings and start traveling toward their ultimate goal. All the militia and soldiers were assembled according to platoons with one veteran soldier acting as the captain of each platoon.
The next day, the caravans struck out southeast toward the Tigris River, and Talmido’s men moved northwest to head off the Assyrian army. It was to become a defining moment of time and causality, of action and reaction, and of response and responsibility—a clash of values that could not be resolved through diplomacy or negotiation, but only with violence and the stout of heart with the will to die for a cause.