Chapter 3: The Reality
(1194 BC Earth Time)
The sand hit the nostrils with a tempest of acrid nausea like the impact of a strike to the stomach. The sun shone down, thrusting sweat from the pores of men and beasts alike. The bellows of elephants and horses hit the senses with a cacophony of sound that confused minds and dulled perceptions. Men yelled out their tension and fear to the blue sky, invoking their gods for courage and strength. They beat their swords against their shields, creating a sound of rolling thunder meant to intimidate their opponents.
Talmido was standing five rows from the front of the column as one of the expendables, sweating with anticipation and pent-up fear, knowing this was the moment he had slaved for over the past four months. He had pushed himself almost to the point of breaking and learned what it meant to survive and live or give out and die. Many of the students in his training class had been killed under the Master Trainer’s bone tipped whip.
For Talmido, today was to be a day for glory—a day for the gods to be honored. It was a day for victory and conquest—a day for history to remember. He felt he was part of something momentous and desperately wanted the glory as the burning smell of fear blended into the possibility of death with everlasting life in the annals of remembrance.
Talmido stamped his foot and hit his shield in response to the thrumming drumbeats of false bravado. Yelling into the sky, releasing the pent-up tension and roaring for the inevitable rush into battle. Talmido lifted his sword towards the heavens, indicating to all his courage and bravado.
As one, the trumpets blew out their orders, and the soldiers moved forward as one mass of cruel death, one step upon another, toward the enemy with the growing courage and determination of youth and the persistent prodding of the captains. Drums and trumpets continued blaring out to the day, issuing orders, and masses of men, hundreds of thousands strong, began pushing forward toward the amassing enemies of Assyria. Babylonian soldiers and the Parthian lines, initiating an involuntary reaction, pushed their columns toward the Assyrian wall of men while bellowing their defiance and roaring petitions to their gods.
The day of battle had arrived, and who was to be victorious was up to the gods. Had the entrails or the stars been appropriately read? Did the masters of the unknown divine the unknown adequately? Those questions were to be answered in the hours to follow with the results of battles gone and battles to come.
The Assyrian front column stopped, the front line closing rank with a snap of its shields and a lowering of its spears. In the rear, the archers began firing their arrows with the rhythmic whumps of strings snapping back and missiles being shot into the sky to blacken out the sun with a passing shadow of expectation. Squinting, Talmido watched the arrows as they arched their way over the column of men bent on the destruction of the enemy. Awed by the spectacle, Talmido shivered at the thought of where those arrows were heading. They hit their marks with bone-crushing finality nearly simultaneously, slicing through masses of soldiers like blades of wheat to a reaper’s scythe.
The Assyrian columns began to move forward again with increasing intent and a quickening pace. The Captains barked their orders and began to push the men forward into a trot. The whole front started to run with decisiveness toward the enemy whom at the same time was running toward them, bent on killing as many of the Assyrians as possible. With one mighty climax, a shudder moved through the front columns of both armies, reverberating back and forth across the front as men staggered under the onslaught of two armies smashing into each other, pushing with all their might to try and break the collective will of the other.
Talmido shouted encouragement to his companions in the front, willing them to fight for each other and for their will to live. The men in front stabbed, jabbed, and fought against the enemy as one monster of murder, pushing forward while the men behind them struck the downed enemies that had fallen under the ferocious attack to have their spirits released to a netherworld of damnation.
The rotation of men moved with precision as the front line, now exhausted, backed away with a quick turn and walked toward the rear of the column, allowing the next in line to fight on with renewed vigor. Soon Talmido found himself second in line to the front, looking into the eyes of veteran soldiers bent on his death with the same bravery and will as he. He commenced pressing forward, pushing into a comrade in front of him while jabbing his sword into the belly of the enemy, a young man with bright-green eyes full of shock and despair. Blood began gushing out of his mouth, vomiting onto the ground with a finality that only death would covet.
The rotation started again as the horns blew. Talmido growled into the face of a Parthian man with shoulders like mountains and arms like trees. Feinting to the left and jabbing to the right, Talmido found only air and a shield slamming into his chest with the force of a pile driver, pushing the breath out of him in one gasp. Staggering, he took a reflexive step back to position himself, then thrusted upward toward his opponent’s face with his sword, cleanly slicing through the nasal cavity and up into the brain, exiting through the top of the skull in one fluid motion. He pulled the thrust back with pivoting balance.
The ballet of death went on while dust, blood, and bodily fluids turned the ground into a dark-brown mud that almost made it impossible for Talmido to find his footing. The trumpets began blaring, and the men at his side rotated to the back of their column, but Talmido continued with his dance of death, neither tiring nor giving out. Speed and strength seemed to emanate from him as the minutes turned into hours. He fed off the action, encouraging the enemy to match him step for step, cutting into the masses of flesh and bone, slicing through the memories of men, decapitating hope, and ending desire like the ferocity of a lion ripping its prey apart in a death spiral of feeding.
Talmido’s perception of time slowed to the point whereby he could anticipate the very thoughts of his adversaries, helping him weave around or dodge the thrusts of his opponents without effort. He could see the movements of the enemies’ commands as if written on the very air; hence, he reacted with a timeliness that allowed counter strike upon counter strike while parrying blows with ease. Covered in blood and dirt with sweat pouring down his face, Talmido hacked his way through the enemy column, soon finding himself alone and surrounded.
Violence was his only friend; he was moving with the savagery of a tiger, slamming his sword, slick with the bile of the dead, into the chests and stomachs of men in an ever-increasing mass of death. Pile upon pile of bodies amassed together while time continued its slow crawl. Suddenly, Talmido found himself facing nothing but the dead in a story of the nightmarish finality of battle.
Dusk had fallen, and the enemy retreated for the day to renew the battle the next morning. Talmido was now standing amid hundreds of corpses covered in the throes of death’s release. Panting, he looked around, wondering what had happened, and to his surprise, he found the men of his company standing and facing him with a look of awe and wonder in their eyes. Their mouths hung open with trembling fear as they whispered among themselves and asked what he had just accomplished.
Had he done this? Looking around at the dead and dying, he could not understand what happened. So, shrugging, he did not try to explain. Slowly moving toward him with respect and wonder as Talmido stood there grinning, the men of his company began slapping him on the back while walking toward their encampment, looking for food, beer, and a chance to clean up.
That day was the first of many days of battle that would create a man out of Talmido and propel him on a path questioning the very fabric of belief and conviction. It was there the distinction between man and animal began. From that time forward, Talmido began to ask the gods for purpose and direction, but no answer ever emerged—only more questions lurking in the dark recesses of his mind.