Chapter 6 - A War of Wills
As Talmido and Si-tatious rode back to the camp, they remained silent, contemplating the viz’ir’s offer. It just seemed too good to be true. The emperor never forgave and never rewarded treasonous behavior, so that move was completely unexpected and uncharacteristic of his nature. Talmido could not remember any precedent for that type of action, so he had his interrogators fetch Hattusili for questioning. Of all people, he would know.
Hattusili was dragged into the war tent and thrown to the ground. His hair was matted, and his beard was long and scraggly, with bits of debris and food stuck in it. He smelled so terrible everyone had to cover their mouths and noses to keep the stench out. Hattusili kept his head down and looked at the ground.
“Hattusili, you look the worse for wear. Have the guards been feeding you and looking after you properly?” Talmido asked.
“Yes, my lord—very well,” he replied.
“Hattusili, do you remember when you asked me to fetch for you a ring from one of the officers before you would let me have Sapalulmea?”
“Yes. Of course, my lord, I remember.”
“You have never once explained to me the purpose of the ring.”
“I was going to slip it into one of the emperor’s emissary’s tents and blackmail him with it,” he replied.
“Where is that ring now?” Talmido asked while considering the outcome of the ring’s original owner. He had served under Mindroos for some time and had come to respect him as a leader. Talmido knew of Mindroos’ devotion to the Assyrian emperor and felt a twitch of regret knowing Mindroos was probably dead because of him.
“It would be with my belongings back in your army camp.”
Talmido nodded to Si-tatious as he waved at an officer who left the tent to find the ring.
“Tell me, Hattusili, why would the viz’ir be in an army camp? Not only that, why would he be part of the war party tracking us down?”
Hattusili snapped his head up with such a start that it caused an audible cracking of his spine, startling the men around him.
“The viz’ir is here? That is most unusual,” he said with deepening lines of worry creasing his face, as he contemplated the new development. After a moment, he said, “It would seem the emperor is deeply agitated with your desertion or he does not trust anyone to negotiate a potential arbitration for a treaty. He wants to end this affair swiftly either through arms or negotiation with no intent of fulfillment,” Hattusili spat out as he gestured for some water. “May I?” he asked.
Talmido nodded and asked, “What do you think the real reason may be?”
“The empire has been experiencing quite a bit of desertion over the last five years due to poor payment to its soldiers, lack of funding for weapon procurement, and corruption on the part of the officers and government administrators. It is nearly broke, from what I can understand, and the emperor wants to take Babylon for all its riches. It is purported that the king of Babylon sleeps on a bed of solid gold and throws copper coins to the crowds each morning as he walks the streets of his city,” Hattusili said after taking a long drink from the water jar.
“Thank you, Hattusili. You have been very helpful. See to it that he receives a bath and new clothes. He may now be confined to the tent of detention rather than the stockades.”
“Oh, thank you, my lord. Thank you. You will not regret this, I promise.” Hattusili bowed as he was escorted out of the tent.
“What do you make of this, Talmido?” Si-tatious mused.
“It explains the viz’ir’s presence and seeming conciliatory manner, as well as the emperor’s willingness to provide such a tablet,” Talmido replied. “We need that ring, Si-tatious. We can use it to create confusion and mistrust throughout the Assyrian military apparatus.”
Si-tatious nodded in agreement and took his leave. Talmido pondered the new events and possible ramifications of their revelations. “Perhaps the ring could be used to our benefit by throwing the proverbial dogs off our scent,” He thought.
The next morning, before the cock crowed, Si-tatious brought Talmido the ring, as requested, and they prepared to meet with the viz’ir at the tent of meeting. The mist had formed along the valley floor, and the frost from the early morning was settling onto the vegetation with a cold touch of reality. The men shook off the night’s web of dreams and sleep. The horses stamped their hooves to warm themselves while tendrils of heat floated off their backs as the men prepared them for battle. The time for war had come.