PART 5 - Chapter 1 - Hope
As the clarity of the moon wavered in the bright sky, the frost gradually began to recede from the ground earlier and earlier each day. It was an indication that spring would soon announce itself with an abundance of blooming flowers, arriving animal migrations and receding snow lines. Torrents of water rushing down from the mountain range—filling the streams, rivers, gullies, and marshes with an abundance of life—assisted in the plethora of birth and renewal.
The announcement of spring initiated a natural reaction not only from plants and animals, but also from humanity. Usually, a spring festival would be organized to welcome in a new year of hope and success; however, for the people fleeing to the southeast of the Fertile Crescent, there was no time.
Work needed doing as oxen and horses required readying for the future journey. Wagons and carts required repairs, clothing needed mending, food had to be gathered and stored, and weapons and armor needed appropriate refurbishing. At the same time, scouting parties had to be sent out to determine eventual crossings, as the group came upon rivers and tributaries crossing their path, and to possibly trade with villages, hamlets, and towns along the way.
Talmido’s men and the militia continued to run military exercises, honing the skills of the two groups so they could work as one. Approaching Talmido, Si-tatious asked what to do with the Assyrian prisoners. It was decided to talk with them to determine who would pledge allegiance to their cause and perhaps assimilate into the militia army. It was a waste not to utilize their professional soldiering abilities and only use them as forced labor. So, Talmido and Si-tatious approached the men early one morning to provide the opportunity.
“Men of the Assyrian army, the current situation today is not honorable—neither for you nor us. You are professionals. It is obvious that your labors are most needed and appreciated. However, what the Assyrian army has taught you is a most valuable asset. Do you want to spend the rest of your lives as prisoner slaves? Continuing as indentured labor would be unbecoming of your professional status. We would like to invite those of you so inclined to assist us in our military endeavors by using your guidance, discipline, and knowledge for better use. As you know by now, we are not a rabble of disorganized deserters. We are a focused group of men, women, and children desiring freedom from corruption and tyranny. What do you say? Those of you who want to move forward in your lives, step forward and affix your signatures to these agreements.” Talmido spoke with intensity and a flourish of desire for those men to make the right decision, and to hopefully weed out those who had no intention of joining the cause.
Whole platoons and contingents of men stepped forward as one to pledge their allegiance to the cause of Talmido’s people. They had witnessed the solidarity, professionalism, and desire for liberty from this group of disparate individuals, nations, and tongues. A minority stayed back, either unsure or unwavering in their disagreement with the efforts of the statement. Those men not immediately segregated or destined to be unusable in the new army became quarantined. Some men never make light of their decisions and hence always seriously consider the steps that must follow. Talmido and Si-tatious knew this and allowed them some time to think it over. The two of them would approach the matter in another five days, at which time a decision must conclude the matter at hand.
The recruits, officers, and soldiers in the militia army were welcomed. Those men came with an abundance of knowledge regarding military life and the rigors surrounding it. Training moved along swiftly with the new men integrated into the militia by the fourth moon cycle. After five days, Talmido and Si-tatious approached the remaining men, and again the question was put forth, of which only a small group of senior officers moved forward to pledge their allegiance. Talmido and Si-tatious took the remaining men aside to discuss with them what their concerns were and why they would not join.
“We have come to you twice now with the offer to join our cause so you can provide your experience and knowledge for the benefit of all. Why have you refused?” Talmido asked.
The most senior man of the group stood up, looked Talmido straight in the eye, and said, “If we pledge our allegiance to your cause, we can never return to our families. If this is discovered by the Assyrian army, our families will be in severe jeopardy. How can we put our families in this position? We would rather our families and the Assyrian army believe we are dead than create the possibility that our wives and children will be held responsible and killed,” the man stated.
Shaking his head while rubbing his chin, Talmido thought about the situation carefully before replying. “So what you are saying, if I am correct in my understanding, is that you men would join our cause if it did not put your families back in Nineveh in jeopardy. Is this correct?”
“As for myself, that is correct,” the senior officer replied.
The rest of the men stood up and gave their acknowledgments, as well.
“All right, we understand. What you are saying is realistic and makes sense. Let us reconvene this meeting on the morrow so we may come up with a plan of action,” Talmido instructed.
As the prisoners filed out, Si-tatious turned to Talmido and asked, “What do you have in mind that would be able to change their decision?”
“Do you think, Si-tatious, it would be impossible for us to send a contingent of men back to Nineveh to try to either convince or kidnap their family members?” Talmido asked.
“That would be a tall order—if not completely impossible. First, who would want to go back for those men whom we fought? Second, we have no assurance the family members could be convinced, or that we would be able to kidnap and transport them back to this place. Third, the time requirement would place a burden upon us and perhaps alert either the Babylonians or the Assyrians to our whereabouts. Shall I go on?” Si-tatious stated.
“No, no—you have made your point. It is well understood. Do you think we should execute those men? Perhaps it is better if we assimilate them into a more local administrative position? The men have training in managing people, animals, and materials from their experience within the Assyrian army.”
“Now that may work. That may just be a viable option. It is better than working these men to death through hard labor,” Si-tatious stated.
“Yes, I agree. Let us sleep on this, and come back to it in the early morning.” Talmido sighed with exhaustion from the day’s responsibilities and demands.
The next morning, the remaining men of the Assyrian army, the officers in question, were informed of the dilemma and assigned to sections throughout the camp to assist in various administrative matters. Their overseers were instructed to keep a close watch on their every move each day. With that decided, the guards escorted them back to their compound.
The ranks of the military had now swelled to a total count of 17,621. It was small in comparison to the neighboring empires’ armies, but it was a start—the beginning of a determined quest of like-minded men championing free will and choice.
The column of wagons, carts, men, women, children, and bellowing oxen blowing out their strain from pulling worldly goods echoed throughout the valley as one, and all began the march. The sense of excitement moved up and down the column; people chattered, whistled, and laughed with joy and a sense of purpose in their hearts. Contingents of the veteran soldiers were strategically placed along either side of the caravan and acted as guards at its front and rear. The advancing military and scouts had Talmido in the lead, with Si-tatious taking up the rear. It was a journey for their lives.
They moved along a southeasterly sloping direction with the foothills of the Zagros Mountains to their left and the city of Babylon to their right. Patrolling Babylonian army contingents were a very real probability, and the scouting parties were continuously checking for enemy spies. The caravan kept a constant pace that was as fast as its oxen could allow. It was a pace that created much consternation for the military men as they knew the potential for discovery this could cause.
It was along this route, twenty-eight leagues southeast of the fortified encampment, when three scouts rushed up to the front army contingent and reported troop movement nine leagues in front of them to the southeast. It was the Babylonian Golden Lions, the eastern army group. This army group was over fifty thousand strong. It meant the caravan needed to skirt around the garrison to keep its presence secret or risk destruction by the Babylonians.
The Babylonians were masters in the art of warfare, and Talmido’s group would have been no match if they attacked. A confrontation with this army group would have meant the deaths of them all; hence, they decided to leave their original route and traverse through the mountain range itself. It was now the beginning of summer, and the going was not very difficult. They did not want to be caught in the mountains during winter as the snowdrifts and the cold would most certainly take a toll on animal and human life alike.
Having made up their minds, the members of the lead army group began to turn directly east and look for ways into the mountain range, using valleys as their gateways and roads to freedom. Time was of the essence as only nine leagues separated the Babylonian army and Talmido’s caravan. The oxen were whipped and pulled without mercy. They pleaded and cajoled through tears of frustration and anxiety. They screamed and yelled at the animals while giving them beatings with anger and frustration. The oxen strained themselves to pull the loads ever faster and farther.
Within three days, the whole caravan had successfully moved east and entered the chosen mountain valley. A platoon of seasoned soldiers stayed behind at its entrance, waiting to see if any Babylonians had discovered the movement and trailed the caravan. Within hours of them positioning themselves, the soldiers noticed movement—which was slow, methodical, and with a calculated purpose—steadily advancing toward their position. It was not a merchant caravan but a scouting party from the Babylonian army unit. The men muzzled their horses and slipped forward, creating a trap for the scouts. They waited until the five men were well within their ranks before inflicting death upon them.
None were allowed to escape; they were all cut down, and their horses were gathered up and taken by the soldiers trailing the caravan. They raced toward the procession, dropped the extra horses off, and quickly moved back into position one and a half leagues away from the entrance to the valley, waiting to see if any more scouts or search parties came along. They waited two full days, and when nothing appeared, they packed up and headed back toward the caravan.
Unknown to them, situated high up on a bluff was a man observing the unfolding situation below. He was a trapper of various types of muskrat and mink for trade with the city of Eshnunna, which was to the northwest of his position. That man did not understand the goings-on; in fact, he thought they were perhaps a raiding party of Elamites. He packed up his meager belongings and hastened with his donkey to Eshnunna to sell his load of furs. Upon arriving in the city, he immediately stowed his wares, stabled his donkey, and found a tavern to satiate his desire for mead. He made mention of what he saw out in the foothills, including a description of the people and their mannerisms.
The news raced throughout the city like wildfire, as any new people found within Babylon’s territory was either a cause for concern or an interesting oddity. As the tale was recounted, it grew upon itself into one fantastic misunderstanding. Eventually, it came to the ears of the elders of the city, and they dispatched a message to the Golden Lions army unit stationed to the east, asking it to look into the matter and let them know if there was any cause for concern.
The military commander of the garrison issued a command for an army unit of five thousand soldiers to move across and into the adjacent valley to determine what, if anything, was traveling about within their lands. The contingent was to find, observe, and block any movement back to the plains west of the mountains until reinforcements arrived.