Chapter 9 - The Race
As Talmido rode on, he reminded himself of poems handed down to him by his father. The poems always had something to say about life, people and their motivations. There was one handed down for an untold number of generations, and he thought of that poem then.
Driving through the madness of hope
We take the road of heart’s leaning
Desiring for ourselves not the night’s black
But the day’s light of sunshine’s slope
The days and years toil to our wishes
Providing the results of works done
Laughing as we plan and scheme
Offering only the holy spaces
You who toil
Plow the fields
Are you satisfied
With pleasure’s soil?
Is this life but moment’s desire?
Taking hold of night’s hope
Waiting for light of day
While we plow away our mire?
Family’s love and intimacy
Intertwined with future’s loss
A legacy of life’s fruits
Nothing but our youth’s energy
You who toil
Build the fence
Hem in the time
With fear’s recoil
Turn to the hand that feeds
Hold fast the belly of full
Keep the tides of gladness
As time’s rush runs life’s seeds
Is it here that you are too late?
Looking at your life’s line
Knowing the cause of your life
Keeping hold of your mind’s spate
The two groups kept up a steady pace, moving southeast in their desire to meet at the foothills of the Zagros Mountains east of the Tigris River before it veered steadily southwest toward the Euphrates River. It was decided if the army group were successful, they would winter at that site, resupply, set up diplomatic communication with the Elamites, and scout out the land above the Sea of Akkad for a suitable location to build a city. The emissaries arrived at the site before either group assembled and proceeded to send out scouting parties to find out if the caravan was on its way and if the army group had been successful or not.
Four days out, the scouts came upon the caravan slowly making its way across the barren land. The convoy was happy to know the emissaries were already at the predetermined rendezvous and had started preparing for its arrival. Twelve days out, the scouts came upon Talmido’s army and joyfully exclaimed their relief at seeing them. The scouts announced to all the successful movement of the caravan and the preparations being made at the rendezvous site.
Later, they delivered to Talmido the surprising answer from the Elamite king. Talmido took the parchment and unrolled it. As he scanned the cuneiform inscriptions, he became more and more agitated. The king of Elam was refusing to offer sanctuary or an alliance. It was a slap in the face to Talmido, so with measured calm, he rolled it back up and handed it to Si-tatious for reference.
This changed the dynamics of the voyage. Not only did the fleeing soldiers, slaves and new recruits have to be wary of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies, but now they needed to avoid offending the Elamites as well. That was going to be very, very tricky.
Talmido ordered the men to pick up the pace and move faster toward the caravan, understanding their precarious situation. Within six days, they arrived at the rendezvous to the joyous cries of their women and children, with song and dance welcoming them, but they also came to the mournful dirges of death songs and the weeping of families bereft of their husbands, sons, and fathers.
Standing within the military planning tent, Talmido looked down at a map, then up to Si-tatious, eventually stating the facts. “We cannot stay here for too long. Surely the Babylonians have been alerted to our position and will be searching for us before too long.”
“Yes, I agree. However, it is much too soon for us to move on, Talmido. The people are tired and need to rest.”
“Ten days it is, then. That should be enough time for the people to recuperate and for us to organize the men and supplies,” Talmido stated.
“We need to scout out a proper crossing along the Tigris River. We cannot allow nor afford anyone being swept away. I’ll head up the scouting party, Talmido.”
“Very good. I’ll organize the men and make sure all supplies are accounted for and properly loaded onto oxen trains,” Talmido replied.
It was decided that, due to the refusal of the Elamites to provide sanctuary, it was not safe for them to stay in the location they now occupied, as it was still within the Assyrian Empire and it also bordered the Babylonian vassal state. After ten days of recuperation, and organization of the prisoners for work details, the group loaded up and began their journey toward the land above the Sea of Akkad.
Talmido sent a scouting party of two hundred men, with Si-tatious in command, ahead of the column to find a suitable crossing along the Tigris River or determine if they should continue to follow it south to their destination.
With the mountains to their left and the plains and marshes of Babylon to their right, they moved with anxious haste, skirting all the villages and cities along their way while keeping vigilance on foreigners being alerted to their movements. A quarter moon later, they came upon a confluence of a minor tributary and the Tigris River, and they decided to move the caravan across it. By that time of the year, the water flow was at its usual lowest point, so a bridge of papyrus stocks was made and tied to the sides of the confluence with large tree poles harvested along the bank.
It took two days to move everyone across due to the significant amount of accumulated materials and the slow pace of the oxen. Once across, the makeshift bridge was dismantled and packed, in case it was needed for future crossings.
By that time, they were well into the Babylonian Kingdom, approximately eight leagues northwest of the city of Eshnunna. Winter was quickly approaching, with the snow that capped the Zagros Mountains glittering in the sharp morning air. Wonder at the beauty of the spectacle to the east and the lush marshes to the southwest caused many to pause to take in the sights, thus slowing the column down even further.
The people were beginning to tire of the traveling and wanted to rest their weary souls and gather their wits about them. They had now been on the run for five months. Their sandals were wearing out, food was running low, and the sick and injured needed tending.
A man came running up to Talmido and asked, “My lord, please forgive me. I am in need of some help. My wife and children have given out on the road and cannot continue. We will be lost soon and at the mercy of the elements and animals. Please, may we stop for a while to gain our strength?”
Talmido looked down with pity on the man and said, “Yes, of course. Si-tatious, please see to this man’s needs and find his wife and children. Also, let the men know we will stop at the Diyala River just ahead.”
“Right away, Talmido. Come with me,” Si-taitious said as he nodded for the man to follow.
Talmido could not push them any farther, and upon arriving at the Diyala River, he directed the men to stop and build a fortified wall to surround an area the people could live in. With the sick and infirmed, a temple, a meeting lodge, and a marketplace at its center, and each family group assigned a specific area to pitch their tents and to graze their flocks, they rested until the arrival of the third quarter moon.
Once the wall and the buildings were erected, Talmido began to relax. At that time, he decided to take heed of the dream he had when he and Sapalulmea decided to leave the Assyrian army and wrote down the exploits and adventures he had experienced thus far. He placed special emphasis on the nature of man and the decisions he invariably made and the subsequent consequences such choices received. His thoughts went back to the death of Sapalulmea and the pain he experienced, and he asked himself why he should have such intense feelings of loss if the nature of man seemed only to be one of violence, greed, and destruction. From that time on, he kept his manuscripts close and continued to add to them at a copious rate. Soon, over the months that followed, he had stacks of parchments strewn about his tent.
One day while walking along a path he usually took to clear his mind and recharge his soul, he noticed the woman he had, through persistent action, convinced to join his group and the journey to freedom. She was washing clothes in the river at high noon, as the cold of the morning had worn off by then, and the temperature was tolerable for such an activity.
Talmido watched her for a few moments, contemplating the randomness of his actions and the questions to follow. He had not seen her and had no idea what had become of her; in fact, he had forgotten all about her due to the very situation they were thrust into. Now, however, he watched her dip clothes into the river, beating them against a large stone and occasionally adding some lye to wash away the filth. It seemed she had not noticed him, so he leaned up against a tree and unabashedly stared in her direction.