Chapter 4: Wars of the Mind
Men from various tribes and nations were screaming at him with their eyes wide open, imploring him for mercy, he continued striking them down with blows of damnation and hell. He forged ahead, cleaving them in two while spitting out a rage of contention, demanding an answer. Not wanting to give in to its timeless finality, eyes of blue, green, brown, and gray looked up, weeping with tears of sharp pain, each of them writhing in the agony of death’s strangling embrace, begging for mercy, but Talmido gave none.
A fog of silence slowly crept into his mind, closing the gap of crying vibrations, allowing him to catch his breath and slow the pounding of his heart. While looking at his hands, wondering at their calloused bluntness and gnarled strength, Talmido’s muscles began tightening up, developing a knot of pain in his back while his legs began to tremble. Jamming his sword into the ground and leaning upon it, he watched the dying reach for life to no avail. The fog started to close in tighter as he panted for each breath, sounding like the long bellows of an iron smith’s blast furnace.
Sitting up in bed shaking his shoulders, Talmido began shivering from the cold sweat caused as if by death’s fingers of decision running down his spine. After thanking the gods for sparing his life, he stepped out of his tent into a bright day. His rotation on the front line was not for another five days, so he took the time to rest, clean up, and do his chores around the camp.
Four army groups were rotating off the front line with two always in reserve, and the fourth was sent to the supply camp to act as guard detail or for recuperation. The campaign had been going on for six months with the Babylonians giving stiff resistance to the Assyrian onslaught. Maneuvering attacks from various sides and probing for enemy weaknesses were the daily routines of the Babylonians and Parthians. The Assyrians were trying to pin them down for a full fight; however, after the first round of battles, the Babylonians decided to opt for more strategic tactics. It seemed the enemy was continually fighting a rear-guard action, causing the Assyrians to dangerously stretch their supply lines beyond meaningful assistance. So, Talmido’s job was to watch for flanking attacks from the enemy while reclaiming battle debris.
The din of blacksmiths repairing armor and weapons, cooks preparing meals, and slaves hauling water and wood for fires beat upon his ears with a now-familiar ring of satisfaction; at least it wasn’t the high-pitched screaming of the wounded or the grunting of pitched battles.
Reporting to his company commander, Talmido was soon tasked with cleanup detail. This meant going up to the front line and bringing his dead comrades back to camp for proper burial, as was the Assyrian custom, as well as bringing back any and all booty for disbursement to the various camp sections for assimilation into the army-material-appropriations system. All the acquired goods were to be recycled back into armor, weapons, and other materials germane to the needs of an army of 600,000 men, 55,000 horses, 20,000 chariots, 13,000 camels, and 400,000 supply and support men, women, and children. A military campaign was a big undertaking and very, very expensive, so all items of friend and foe were recycled.
Talmido joined his detail, jumping up onto his horse and moving out with the supply wagons. The front was approximately five leagues to the northeast on a broad, flat plain. The group of ten thousand men wound its way toward the plain of Manassar with the sun dripping its ultraviolet rays of heat down onto them, causing the flies to continually buzz around their heads, trying to drink their sweat and simultaneously take chunks of flesh out of them.
The horses and camels were shaking their heads and flinging their tails back and forth, trying to keep the flies off to no avail. Dust was thrown up into the air, compounding the discomfort and driving the flies to become an even-more-persistent annoyance. Settling back on his horse smiling and relaxing his muscles, knowing the futility of trying to keep the dust down or the flies away, Talmido let his mind wander to reflect on the previous battle.
He had not known he possessed such astonishing abilities until that first day of battle. He was as surprised as his companions. Over the next six months, his body seemingly grew in strength, speed, and endurance beyond the normal growth phase of his fellow soldiers. His hearing became acuter, his olfactory ability was more intense, his sight keener, and his mind much more holistic. By perceiving the very intent of another man’s thoughts through the observation of his external stimuli, processing it with such quantity and speed, he was able to determine the direction of either an action or a conversation before the conveyor was able to fully enact upon his thoughts.
Also, it seemed his thought processing and physical timing sped up. His perception of time would slow to the point whereby he would move around people, animals, and objects with a fluid rapidity, giving him a distinct advantage. The resulting situation initiated a shocked reaction from others. Quickly, he found it was more prudent to mask his abilities and blend in with his surroundings.
Sitting in his tent for hours, pondering this sudden change of events and carefully thinking through the meaning and potential outcome, Talmido would bring to mind his father’s words, cautioning him against being impulsive and making sure to look after the details. His father would always point out Kunara was waiting for him behind every rock or tree—waiting to tear out his liver if he was not careful to attend to all the details of his life. Riding upon his horse, he continued to wonder about the changes triggered within his body, surprised at all the new results he experienced each day.
Soon the column broke out onto the plain, and the carnage came into full view—bodies scattered about for leagues with piles of men, horses, and military gear thrown up in pitched battles of desperation. The squad leaders began barking their orders, and the men broke up into their groups, moving out with the wagons in preparation for the work ahead. It was a grisly task, one of stripping all the bodies of their weapons and clothing, along with separating the bodies of men from animals and friend from foe. They left the resulting piles for the next group to throw into the wagons as details of men began digging large ditches for the burial of the enemy combatants in an effort to stave off sickness and death.
Talmido looked around, sighing with an overwhelming sense of confusion. All this death and destruction for an idea? What drove this desire for power? It puzzled him as he continued stripping bodies of their worldly possessions and piling them up for their eventuality. In the distance, the billowing dust of the maneuvering armies could be seen shimmering in the sunlight. Occasionally, a clashing of sound would reach their ears, and the men would look up, hoping the outcome to be favorable.