Chapter 5 - An Unmovable Will
Dawn had arrived with an exhale of mist rising up into the dark sky. The march started with four men abreast moving along to the steady, rhythmic motion of a fast-paced walk. The men said nothing as there was nothing to say. The animals were quiet as well, seeming to sense the impending battle of wills. The clanks of weapons on leather or copper armor and the pounding of thousands of footsteps on the hard ground sent a message of defiance. Anyone observing the march would have been impressed with the precision and professionalism of the group. Si-tatious had worked a miracle with the militia. He formed them into a cohesive fighting unit with a modicum of professionalism that made him proud of their accomplishment. The men sensed it, and with respect for his command and the overall strategy of Talmido’s war plans, worked harder to impress him.
The day before, Talmido and Si-tatious apprised the men of the battle plan and the militiamen of the critical strategic and tactical applications. With the assurance that a portion of the Assyrian army group’s soldiers was going to defect, the militiamen calmed down and began to understand and accept the madness of the method.
The militiamen were to be the bait. They were to march ahead of the veterans and the archers just out of sight so as not to draw attention to the groups lagging behind. The veterans and the archers would split up into two groups on either side of the militiamen, ready to enter the battle once engaged. The defecting contingents of men in the Assyrian army group, upon hearing the call to arms of Talmido’s men, would then turn on their army group and begin closing the encirclement and eventual destruction of the enemy. At least, that was what was supposed to happen in theory.
A new day announced itself with the first shafts of light splaying themselves out over the hills and touching the cloudless, star-filled sky. Roosting birds began to wake with the chatter of their morning ritual drowning out the footfalls of men and animals alike.
The two militant groups approached each other at a pace of one and a half leagues per hour, quickly closing the gap for an eventual conflict that would change the course of history. The battle to come would incite the parties that be to instigate battles of antiquity that would resonate throughout history, changing the landscape of humanity for all time. Empires would fall and Empires would rise, with ethnic groups and languages blossoming forth in an ever-shrinking variety. The change in communication would have a dramatic effect on culture and the future wars to come. Talmido and his men would know nothing of these significant transformations, or of the far-flung universal issues at play across the cosmos. Perhaps ignorance is bliss.
Soon Si-tatious sent out scouts and pickets to gather information on the Assyrian army group’s position. Within two days, the gap was closed to a three-day march in which the two opposing armies would meet, so Talmido ordered the men to halt, check their equipment for the tenth time, review the battle plans, and split up into their respective divisions. Scouts came and went with increasing regularity, reporting on the Assyrians’ position, morale, and preparedness.
Talmido and Si-tatious chose a valley four leagues away from their current position and ordered the men to move out, with each division separating themselves and marching forward in their respective manner. As one group, the militia marched quietly and resolutely, determined not to fail the man to their left or right and, most importantly, their families fleeing south to the Tigris River.
No cowardice would be tolerated. There was no need to voice the need for courage, as desperation brought about a resolution of fortitude that no amount of threat or wrath could instill. The men marched into the valley and held their position, waiting for the Assyrians to arrive. The two flanking groups stayed behind, one league away, hidden among the trees and boulders thrown about eons before any of man’s tempestuous actions ushered out onto the earth.
A day passed with the men starting to grow restless; however, the veterans were accustomed to this “hurry up and wait” approach to warfare and the inevitable positioning and jockeying for tactical advantage.
A scout arrived with news, saying the Assyrians had camped directly north of the valley and set up camp. Additionally, two Assyrian scouts were captured and brought to Talmido. These were proud men, seasoned in the art of war, who knew what was needed to be done.
“Tell me the purpose of your army group,” Talmido demanded.
“We are to pursue the deserters, destroy any resistance, and bring back any survivors along with the heads of the group’s leaders,” the man explained.
“And who are the leaders thought to be?”
“Talmido the Terrible and Si-tatious the Crusher,” he replied.
“Ah, the ‘Terrible’ and the ‘Crusher.’” Talmido laughed with Si-tatious. “So the army has resorted to providing inspirational names to these leaders?”
“No. It is coming from the men, sir.”
“And what is the position of the men regarding this situation? Are they ready to fight?”
“The morale is quite good. The men will be given double rations, triple the coin, and reduced service times upon the successful completion of the tasks,” the scout remarked with a straightening of his shoulders and the beginning of a smile flickering at the corners of his mouth.
“What is it that you find so humorous? Speak now, man, or I will have you run through,” Si-tatious commanded with a growl of menace.
“Your spies have, however, done a superb job. Many of the men, it would seem, love freedom more than food, gold, or acceptance within the Assyrian military. Almost half have pledged their allegiance to your cause, my lord, along with my companion and me. We knew your scouts were following us and let ourselves be caught so we could see for ourselves the men that will defy an empire with such terrible deeds and crushing opposition. We want to be a part of your vision, if you so allow.” The two men smiled and nodded together as one.
“And how are we to know of your fealty toward our cause?” Talmido asked.
“We bring you private communications between our army commander and the new general of the Assyrian army that I am certain you will find very informative and helpful. We have information on the Babylonian army contingents stationed throughout their kingdom as well, which will assist your group in avoiding them,” he said as he stretched out his hand with parchments grasped firmly in it.
Si-tatious took the parchments from him and unrolled them on the table, studying them intently while the others looked on.
“It would seem you are telling the truth. Guards, put these men into the stockade until we confirm what they have provided us,” Si-tatious ordered.
The two men complied, knowing it would be foolish to protest or resist, and followed their armed guards toward the stockade.
“What do you think, Si-tatious?” Talmido asked.
“It seems the truth has been provided. I’ll check with our spies and scouts to confirm this. It will only take me until the morrow.”
“In the meantime, let’s put together a delegation for a parley with the Assyrian commander to determine if there is any hope for the negotiation of a truce, or if war is the only way,” Talmido directed.
The next day, Talmido, Si-tatious, and ten soldiers set up a table and shade in the center of the valley and waited for the Assyrian commander to arrive. Messengers had been dispatched the day before with a request for a parley, and the commander had accepted. Now, with the sun beating down and flies biting chunks of flesh out of horse and man alike, it seemed like a futile effort; however, a horn blew, announcing the commander’s approach. Talmido and Si-tatious, out of habit, both stood up as the commander dismounted from his chariot, along with his own delegation of ten men.
The commander wore the usual clothing of the time for a man of his stature—long linen garments fringed with tassels of gold beads, interlaced with blue and purple silks. He had a beard of black hair running down the front of his chest braided into independent strands with gold and blue silk strings intertwined within each braid. A slave shaded him from the sun with a palm frond as he walked toward Talmido and Si-tatious.
The man was no general. He carried himself more like a politician or courtier. His hands were not the hands of a warrior. Both Talmido and Si-tatious looked at each other questioningly and then back toward the man smiling at them with such a broad smile of consumption that it would make the hair on any sane man’s neck stand up in repulsive reaction or complete dread. That man—a person used to the political machinations of men, tribes, and nations—was not someone to trifle with.
He had witnessed and assisted in the complete destruction of diverse peoples; they were so numerous, in fact, that it was almost impossible to count them. This man was the emperor’s personal viz’ir. He was the emperor’s highest-ranking official, and a gold seal confirming his status hung from his neck for all the world to see.
“Ah, it is good to finally see the two of you in the flesh, Talmido the Terrible and Si-tatious the Crusher. They are singing songs of you two in secret, thinking the emperor and I would not hear. The peoples of our kingdom seem to find inspiration in your exploits. So the question is, what should we do? What are you going to do?” he asked as he spread out his arms, settling himself on a couch and accepting a goblet of wine from one of his slaves.
“The situation we find ourselves in must be of great significance for the emperor to send his most trusted and favored viz’ir. Is the empire in such a precarious position that the emperor must focus his attention on our plight?” Talmido asked.
The viz’ir took a sip of his wine and looked around the table at each of the men while contemplating his response with the careful calculation of a man used to these conversations and entirely in his element. “Talmido, understand that the emperor is not interested in your “plight,” as you put it. He has an empire to run, with much more important matters of state to deal with.” The viz’ir stared across the valley with a look of disdain and boredom, trying to incite Talmido to expose himself by feigning disinterest.
Talmido would not take the bait; instead, he sat back and sipped on his wine and ate some bread while listening to the breeze slap against the ceiling of the shade. The meeting became nervously quiet before the viz’ir returned his gaze to Talmido with a grin on his face.
“So . . . What are we to do? You know as well as I the emperor will not tolerate this rebellious desertion. It would send a message to all the vassal states of a potentially weakening Assyrian resolve. We cannot allow our slaves to dictate their terms of subjugation, Talmido. You know this. If I may ask, what caused you to act so, so irrationally, for lack of a better word? Perhaps this has all been a complete misunderstanding.”
“No, this is not a misunderstanding. My men and I desire freedom from warfare and slavery. We are men like you and the emperor. We cannot tolerate the status quo anymore,” Talmido replied. “We have enriched the emperor and his generals while increasing the empire’s size and scope beyond what his father had. Now we want no part in it.”
“Yes, all of those are true, Talmido. They cannot be denied. Where do you expect to go if the gods are willing and the Babylonians approve? You and your group are no ally to the Elamites or the Babylonians. How can you stand before them? The emperor is a just and benevolent man. He will forgive these misgivings if you but surrender this ideal and come back to him with a repentant heart.”
“What guarantee would we have if we took this action that you suggest? How can we trust impalement stakes are not waiting for us back in Assur? No, we cannot take that risk. We have chosen to grasp our freedom and take what comes our way to perhaps curry the favor of the gods someday,” Talmido said with a smile on his face as he gripped his wine goblet harder and harder to release his anger.
“Listen, Talmido, the emperor is willing to forgive you if you submit now to his divine authority. He will provide you with land and gold as long as you provide fealty and men for his army. This he guarantees with this seal.”
At that, the viz’ir held out a tablet of gold with the emperor’s seal on its top. Written on it was the expressed authorization for Talmido to be given land east of Assur with ten talents of gold. He was to be a free man with all the rights of the Assyrian state.
Talmido whistled through his teeth and handed the tablet over to Si-tatious. He read it and exhaled with a sharp burst of disbelief. They both looked at the viz’ir with doubt and confusion on their faces.
“What is this? It makes no sense. Why would the emperor do this? We have deserted his army, slain his soldiers and one of his generals, kidnapped his scribes, and stole his gold,” Si-tatious stated.
“As I said, he is a benevolent man willing to forgive.” The viz’ir gestured with his hands in an open and accepting way.
“We will contemplate this and provide you with an answer on the morrow at sunrise,” Talmido said while standing up and nodding to his men, signaling for them to leave with him.