Chapter 3 - A Rapacious Foe
The army commander of the Babylonian northeast garrison received the messengers two days later and commanded a contingent of fifteen thousand men to ready themselves for a march toward the bridge situated on the south tributary, which emptied into the Tigris River. Within hours, the men were prepared and started marching, moving at a steady pace of one and a half leagues per hour. They intended to cut off Talmido’s people before they were able to emerge and turn south along the foothills of the mountain range. Because these were Assyrian deserters, it would not sit well for the careers of either commander to let them pass; hence, the decision went forth, the die cast, and the action taken.
At the same time, the army contingent of five thousand men was steadily moving southwest along the north side of the river. Gradually the river valley widened, and the slopes began to have lower angles of assent. These changes indicated to the men that they were coming upon the foothills. Scouts on horseback were sent to make sure the army contingent was moving in the correct direction and had not lost their prey.
Talmido sent out scouting parties looking for a path to move through the foothills instead of along the side of them, and at the same time dispatched men to take care of the Babylonian army contingent’s scouts. The militiamen and veterans had come upon the caravan eighteen hours later and had spread out to surround the convoy and urge it to move faster. It would have been impossible for them to outrun the enemy, as the procession moved much too slowly; hence, Talmido convened a meeting of the senior officers to decide what they would do.
“Men, as we all know, we cannot keep up the pace. We also know the Babylonian army contingent will overrun us shortly. We must devise a plan to counter them and allow the people to escape. Any suggestions?” Talmido opened up the meeting, encouraging comments and discussions.
“Sir, we can send out a diversionary force to perhaps move the Babylonian contingent away from the caravan in a more northwesterly direction,” an officer suggested.
Another officer spoke up. “Perhaps we can send back harassment squads to slow them down while our main force escapes.”
A third officer stepped forward and suggested, “Maybe the caravan should move into the foothills, not along the outside of them where the area is flat and leaves it open to discovery and attack. At the same time, as was mentioned, we can send back a diversionary force to harass and misdirect the pursuing Babylonian army contingent.”
“Yes, these make sense. Si-tatious, I want you to take command of the caravan and the army groups left behind and find a passage through the foothills to continue the journey with all haste. You three men, I want you to gather your squads, platoons, and units together and head toward the confluence of the Tigris River and this tributary to harass and misdirect the enemy. We will need five thousand men with half of those on horseback. The men are only to bring their kits. No wagons or carts will accompany us, as we will not be gathering any loot. It will be a slash-and-dash campaign. Be ready within the hour,” Talmido commanded with a determined sense of urgency, turning away and marching off to get ready.
A broad valley quickly opened up, and the caravan turned left into it while the army contingent peeled off and continued its southwest direction toward the Tigris River. The veterans and the militia alike moved with an increased pace toward the river. There was no need to remind the men of the seriousness of their situation. They marched as one group, all of them veterans now, on that journey to freedom, ready to battle anyone foolish enough to get in their way.
The sun shining down was occasionally blocked out by clouds, creating long shadows within the valley as the land slowly began to flatten out toward the plains of Mesopotamia. As the season had recently moved into spring, the river tributary swelled with runoff. Herds of deer and antelope could be seen grazing along the banks and drinking the water as the men swiftly moved away. The animals, perhaps startled by this brief intrusion, quickly lifted their heads, pointed their ears, and eventually bound away into the forest. The men did not talk, nor did they sing, as this was a march toward battle, and they knew this might be the last time they would ever see their wives and children.
A scout came galloping back with the news of a bridge crossing the tributary. Talmido ordered fifty men to go and burn the bridge down as quickly as possible. The men galloped away with all haste to carry out his orders, and the remaining men picked up the pace of their march. The next day, Talmido’s army group could see the smoke rising from the burning bridge and moved swiftly to provide support to the fifty men.
Scouts had been sent back by Talmido to eliminate any tracking parties where the fleeing caravan turned into the foothills to make sure word would not get back to the Babylonian commander. Additionally, constructing a bridge across the river at that particular junction would be halted. If the Babylonians built a bridge, it would have opened up two fronts for Talmido, which would have made their situation challenging to manage and almost impossible to win. Fortunately for Talmido and his men, the Babylonians did not anticipate the caravan moving off on its own away from its military support. The convoy waited for five days expecting trackers, but none showed up, so it moved on, following the mountain range south.
However, scouting parties were sighted coming down along the tributary from the northeast toward the destroyed bridge currently in front of them. It was a new development for Talmido’s contingent, so he ordered for ramparts to be set up in front of the bridge crossing. Men stationed along the riverbank up to four leagues away to where the river valley opened to the flat plains harassed the Babylonian army units traveling along the north side, hopefully slowing their progression.
It was night, and as Talmido laid down to sleep, he was contemplating the problem of keeping the Babylonian engineers from constructing a bridge when he began to think of his archery units and their bows. It was apparent the men did not have nearly enough power to project their arrows any further across the river than perhaps a few cubits in length with any measure of accuracy or force of impact. That was a dilemma many centuries old, and the ability to reach their enemies without the sacrifice of men, animals, or equipment was something all commanders desired.
It occurred to Talmido the Assyrian army had used many siege engines to break down the walls of their enemies. That was the type of machine Talmido needed; however, it would not be walls he would be breaking down. It would be a bridge construction and the men surrounding it. So it had to be smaller in structure, more mobile, and with the ability to adjust its aim easily. His mind went back to the archers and the type of bow they were using and pictured what would happen if they laid a bow horizontally and used a rope-and-pulley system to create the tension needed to hurl its projectile. He eventually fell asleep while running the thought through his mind.
The next morning, he convened his archer and engineering commanders to broach the subject.
“Men. I have asked you to gather together to find a solution to a perplexing problem or opportunity depending on how you want to see it. I contemplated the use of the bow to hurl large rocks at the enemy. I do not have any idea how to put it together and need your help.” Talmido said.
“Sir, we will need to construct some type of torsion system to create enough forward force to inflict the damage you are envisioning. That will require a lock and pulley approach.” One engineer commented.
“Exactly. Please put together a working prototype by the third new day for examination.” Talmido said.
“Yes sir.” The lead engineer replied and grinned at his men. They all smiled back with anticipation.
Eventually, an idea hatched with such clarity that it seemed Marduk, the god of gods, had dropped the seeds of creativity into their minds and encouraged them to find the solution. They all agreed upon a bow that sat horizontal and used ropes to create the tension it required through a twisting motion. Also, it was to be attached to a tripod structure with the ability to swivel left and right and turn up and down.
He also instructed the men to fire upon the Babylonian units coming from the northeast if they began to rebuild the bridge. The men moved swiftly to construct their ramparts. The archers and slingers took their positions and waited. Many of the spearmen, as well as the shield and buckler men, were trained in archery or slinging; hence, they were pressed into service in these two areas to provide support. Men worked on finding the correct stones for the slingers and created piles of them near the ramparts; they also constructed arrows with flint or stone heads shoved into the tips of wood shafts, as well. Those bolts would have to do, for time was of the essence.
The caravan, as it moved through the valley of the foothills, kept a steady pace; however, once the scouts reported that no tracking parties followed, it was able to slow its movement to a more reasonable walk. Si-tatious continuously moved from the rear to the front, making sure the men were ready as he encouraged the people to keep up their optimism. It was a beautiful valley, with sheer mountains on its left side and gradually sloping hills on its right. Beautiful trees of sycamore and oak rustled in the breeze as herds of elk and deer made way for the caravan.
Their journey was uneventful, and as they came to another much smaller tributary on their way, they rejoiced at the possible freedom yet also prayed to their gods for the safekeeping of the men now defending their escape. Si-tatious kept the people busy with fixing their wagons and carts, tending to their animals, gathering food, hunting some of the elk and deer, and producing large numbers of slings and arrows. Also, Si-tatious sent scouting parties ahead of the caravan to check for any indigenous peoples with which to barter.
As the caravan was moving along its route, Talmido and his men worked feverishly to finish the ramparts, the ballistae, and the collection of projectiles. The men along the riverbank were continuously engaging with the Babylonian contingent moving south along the north bank, slinging stones and firing arrows into their ranks, creating havoc and slowing their pursuit. They performed hit-and-run tactics to wear down the enemy—not to defeat them, but to let them know of the cost involved in fighting them.
Toward the middle of the afternoon on the eighth day after the original crossing of the tributary, a dust cloud rose up into the air from the northeast, indicating the movement of a large group. The scouts rushed into the camp and told of the imminent approach of the Babylonian Golden Lions’ troops. As the afternoon wore on, the shapes of the Babylonian army came into view, and the sounds of their footsteps, like the sounds of rushing waters, could be heard above the river. The men could also hear their horns and drums steadily beating out a tone of denunciation to create fear in the hearts of all men standing against them.
The Babylonians camped just out of reach of Talmido’s ballistic weapons on the opposite side of the river and in full view of all the men as a demonstration of strength and power. The commander’s tent was visible, with his army’s banner situated on a high pole for all to see in the center of the camp. The campfires of the Babylonian soldiers extended back over the hills and away from the Assyrians’ sight. It was an impressive display.
There were no messengers sent by the Babylonians. No requests for parley or threats issued. The Babylonians meant business and were there to conclude theirs. The commander’s reputation and life were possibly at stake. He could not allow that deserting Assyrian group to escape. The Babylonian army group situated in front of Talmido’s men waited for the approaching army contingent moving along the north side of the tributary toward their position to arrive. It was only once the two groups were together that the battle would begin and reconstruction attempts would start.
It was two more days before the first army contingent arrived and joined forces with them to form a full strength of approximately twenty thousand men. The Babylonians built ramparts as well to provide cover for their engineers as they rebuilt the bridge. It was going to be a battle of attrition—neither full-on nor entirely decisive; however, Talmido’s aim was only to slow the Babylonians down until the caravan was able to escape along with himself and his men.
Pickets were distributed along the riverbank to keep watch for any infiltration by Babylonian saboteurs or assassins. A few were discovered and immediately dealt with, and after a few days, they stopped coming across.
Three days after the arrival of the original Babylonian army contingent, a messenger stood upon the opposite bank and began to shout curses and insults toward the Assyrian men. Eventually, an arrow from who knows where was let loose. It flew through the air and was straight and sure in its purpose, closing the gap between arrowhead and flesh in the blink of an eye - sinking deep into the chest of the man shouting with such flourish and animation. He stepped back with his eyes fully opened in shock as blood began to bubble up and out from his mouth. He slowly sank to his knees and fell forward, snapping the arrow off to the cheers and laughter of the men on the opposite bank.
Soon a large body of soldiers, who had their shields held up high to cover their exposed surfaces, emerged from the Babylonian camp and marched toward the riverbank with slaves dragging timbers behind them. The ballistic machines were in place and aimed squarely at those men. The Assyrians blew a horn to command the ballistic units to arm their weapons and ready them for firing. The men hooked the ropes up to their horses and pulled the bows of the ballistae to create the required tension. Slipknots tied to the lines for quick release dangled behind. The Babylonians were oblivious to those new developments and continued their march toward the river, confident in the fact that their shields would be able to protect them as they constructed the bridge.