BOB CARLTON - HOWANAX
Bob Carlton (www.bobcarlton3.weebly.com) lives and works in Leander, Texas, USA.
The king awoke with a start from a dream he could not remember. Beside him, his wife stirred momentarily, but did not wake. Getting out of bed, he was surprised at the chill in the air. Summer, it seemed, had fled his land during the night, and in its place a shift in the wind announced unequivocally the turn of the seasons. The king had always been a believer in the prophetic nature of his dreams, and though no images of this one remained, the residual agitation was real enough. The changed face of nature to which he rose confirmed him in his faith.
A feeling that something of importance had occurred compelled him to gather a small troop and head for the coast. The sound of chariot wheels and horse hooves on paving stones, the rock and sway of the car, lulled the king to the point of sleep at one moment, then jolted him back awake the next. Through the stillness of the still-sleeping town, the king and his men rode across the culvert, the ravine dry these many months. They came out finally onto the plain, heading toward the markets of Argos, passing through olive groves, vineyards, fields where lately barley had stirred in the breeze, through small villages and family farms, slaves shooing cows and sheep out of their path as the king and his men rode on.
# # #
Commerce in the towns and estates of the plain is conducted on a point to point basis. One man takes his goods to market, trading his surplus for necessities, the pathways simple and explicable. The itinerant merchants on the coast, who ply their trade across the broadest regions, constitute an altogether different class. They move goods on behalf of powerful men, and while often artisans in their own right, they trade also in merchandise not of their own making. No correlation between what they produce and what they sell. From an economic point of view they are faceless, unattached to the products they trade, the masks they display those of the monarchs in whose palaces they move. Looking through the hold of any one of their ships will reveal where they have been and something of the conditions found there. Changes in style and quality of workmanship show the extent of foreign contacts, mass migrations, changes in climate, and the decay or growth of imperial fortunes. Burial customs, manner of worship, legal procedures, peasant population, dietary habits, rules of succession: gleaned over the years by paying attention to what a man packs on a string of mules headed for the palace. Accountants maintain records of such detail the mind blanks attempting to behold them all. No pot of honey uncounted, no amount of wheat and figs destined for the most humble pounder of flax overlooked. Beyond a means to control and maintain the productivity of the palace, all such data, every exchange of goods from one hand to another anywhere, are individual tesserae that, taken together and viewed from the proper distance, make an image of the world, not fixed but moving, one which, by understanding the laws of its motion, can be entered and altered. In the port of Tiryns a miniature copy of this larger world can be found. With the coming of autumn, sea-borne travel will soon come to an end, and with it the flow of information that forms the basis of foreign policy. Perhaps there is news that will provide a course of action through the winter, something to rouse retainers grown bored with the spoils of past campaigns. Also, the palace workshops are not producing the bounty of previous years. Marble and lumber are needed for tomb construction. Even bronze is in short supply, and bronze is the engine of empire, bronze the means to an end and an end in itself, a tool of and reward for the labor of men. The life of the kingdom depends upon imports. Imports and war.
There is talk of a massive earthquake in the land across the sea to the east.
# # #
Imports and war. Both are necessary to maintain rule. Metal workers manufacture goods, including weapons, at an ever-increasing pace. More weapons bring more gold, more gold buys more manpower, more manpower needs more weapons, and the fabulous tombs will house massive amounts of all these material products. There will come a time when this system is untenable, but until then, to maintain control of the region, not to mention preeminence among peers, acquisitive aggression must continue.
To an outsider, the dominance of Mycenae may seem curious. There is little arable land in the immediate vicinity, no direct access to the sea, a paucity of natural resources, and a less advantageous position to command the plain below than that of Argos. However, for more than one hundred fifty years, dating back to the beginning of the current dynasty, Mycenae has been the major power, first over the kingdoms of the plain, then over an ever-expanding area. None of this is the result of an act of God or the outcome of an inexorable Fate. Large, abstract forces, inscrutable to mere mortals, do not shape the destinies of men and states. It is the individual will, the actions of men strong enough to command, wield, harness, and shape that constitute the history of Mycenae. This is what the outsider must be made to understand. At sword point if necessary.
# # #
One of the first official acts of the last king was to begin a major construction project, the extension of the outer circuit wall of the citadel. Outward, symbolic displays of power often coincide with practical considerations. The new wall would reinforce the grandeur of the kingdom, the scope of military might and ambition. The fact that such a wall is in reality a defensive structure does not betray any weakness. It speaks, in the ominous silence of stones, of permanence.
This project has provided another propaganda opportunity as well. Just beyond the older walls lay the graves of the family that founded Mycenae. During construction, the graves were brought within the walls of the citadel itself. This was no simple matter, for the level of the cemetery floor had to be raised up to that of the surrounding city. Stone markers, salvaged from the older cemetery and carved with the wondrous exploits of these legendary kings, were then erected over the refurbished graves. A small stone wall encircled the entire area, making of it a sacred space. Anyone entering or leaving the citadel would stop and make sacrifice, offer a prayer, or at the very least, spend a silent moment contemplating the unbroken glory that extended from a remote and misty past right up to the present moment. Even the most orderly successions create schisms. To be linked to a past violently altered is a bold stroke. It is almost as if prior rulers were the willing offerings in a sacrifice necessary to secure the power of this new family. Where before there may have been the perception of a broken history, there is now a bond, mythic instead of familial, with the great city’s founders.
# # #
The Earth-Shaker Himself has visited the coast to the north-east. This as an invitation from the gods, a sign concerning a course of action. Considers the facts: an earthquake has devastated a wealthy state just as winter is coming on; the likelihood of effecting repairs is greatly diminished, both by weather conditions and the apparent loss of many members of the ruling family; there are large number of potential allies, both at home and abroad; recent shortages among the local kingdoms make an extensive raid attractive. All secular indications seem to recommend this course.
But the ways of the gods are strange sometimes. The earthquake to the east seems a call to act, a summons and a gift, not to be ignored. The weather is perfect for sailing, unseasonably warm and dry. All signs indicate that a successful campaign lies ahead. While diviners affirm this interpretation, other advisers, more familiar with conditions beyond the city walls, respectfully offer an alternate view. As one shareholder with land among the small farmers of the plain puts it, “We have already heard the first cuckoo. Three days later, a smattering of rain, not even enough to wet a bull’s hoof print, much less fill it. It will be a bad harvest for those who sowed late, and there were many.”
The prospect of shortages of any kind, despite being an incentive when properly considered, is always a concern. Most of the materials needed to operate the palace workshops must be imported: tin, copper, lumber, gold, ivory, marble. And while the production of luxury items and the accoutrements of war are the lifeblood of the palace economy, without grain and grapes, olives and flax, the apparent necessities of the system are as nothing; no food, no people.
# # #
Over the coming days, heralds head out, summoning the most powerful landowners in the area, men who have fought together, suffered losses and shared in glory. They stood by Mycenae as it consolidated rule over the sometimes obstinate kingdoms of the plain, and have been amply rewarded. The small farms, the flocks of sheep and goats, the vineyards, the olive groves, the scattered villages: there is all this, and of much else beyond, united under the acknowledged overlord of a vast group of local monarchs. Many of these vassals and fellow rulers are kinsmen, bound by marriage or blood, both spilled and familial. There is a complex system of oaths, treaties, obligations of various sorts, such as gift exchanges that, while on the surface appear to be signs of mutual respect, are in fact a symbolic debt that cannot be repaid. Royal hostages help insure loyalty as well, though the changing political climate can often negate a particular individual’s efficacy. Formal agreements exist which define boundaries, set forth terms for extradition, and lay out schedules for military aid.
Of course, none of this means anything without the demonstrable ability to execute responsibilities and enforce the obligations of others. It seems that with every generation, the new ruler of any land must be able to reinforce the legitimacy of his rule. The fortunate are able to do so without confronting peers and rivals directly. The skillful ruler, however, is able to buy their loyalty, enrich himself, and weaken their power bases, all at the same time. Realize that challenges faced by some on a grand scale are the same as those faced by others on a smaller one. If, for example, the ruler of Pylos has some villages in his outer provinces that are harboring a rival claimant, an ally could plunder the region, haul off captives and resources, swelling his own storehouses at the expense of the Pylian palace, and receive thanks from Enkhelyawon for support against the pretender Wedaneu.
Some call it raiding. Others might call it commerce. Landholders and villages under direct control provide only so much. Sometimes, it is necessary to venture outside the immediate environs in search of resources. Some call it piracy. Others might call it small scale redistribution of property and the securing of favorable conditions for future trading. Goods flow into the palace, craftsmen produce the luxury items used to appease any lesser monarch offended by incursions. If need be, enlisting the aid of the injured party on the next outing, and rewarding him amply, reinforces the social order. In the end, the Achaian monarchs understand and accept that the benefits of having an overlord outweigh the damage done by the occasional liberties taken. At least for now.
# # #
--And what of any allies they may have?
--You speak, of course, of Hattusilis.
--I do, your Highness. I think it wise to consider any possible involvement on the part of Hatti.
--Do you believe they will send in troops to defend Wilios in the event of an attack?
--Quite likely, your Highness. There is a treaty between Hatti and King Alaksandus of Wilios. Any move against his territory will likely bring an armed response.
--I have heard of this man. He fought with Muwattalli against Mizra some years back. He has proven his worth to Hatti over the years. Do we know what the treaty says exactly?
--I was in Wilios a few years ago. One of the clauses in the treaty requires that it be read aloud thrice yearly. I was present, among a number of other dignitaries, when this was done. Some hastily jotted copies circulated afterward among the diplomatic community. Though there is certainly room for error, I believe I have reconstructed the most important points.
--Can you do so for us now from memory?
--Of course, your Highness. I fail in my service to you if I cannot.
--There is first a good deal of past history between Hatti and Wilios. There is a long period of friendship between them, up to and including the time of this treaty between Alaksandus, current king of Wilios, and the king of Hatti, Muwattalli. The key point to remember is put thus: ‘Keep loyalty with my son and my grandson, with my grandson and great grandson.’ I take this phrasing to mean any of the king’s heirs.
--I assume so, my Lord.
--Then what of Hattusilis?
--I think, your Highness, that at this point, the reign of Hattusilis may safely be assumed to be sanctioned by powers both secular and divine. As such, all treaties previously in effect remain so.
--Of course. That was mostly said in jest. Please continue.
--Very well, sir. Now, following the injunction on Alaksandus to remain loyal to the heirs of Muwattalli, it states: ‘And as I have been loyal to you, because of the word of Kukkuni your father, and have come to your aid and killed your enemy, so in the future my sons and grandsons will be loyal to your son, grandson, and great grandson.’
--So the treaty pledges mutual military support in the event of an attack.
--Yes, your Highness. In fact, there are specific campaigns in which Alaksandus must provide infantry and chariots.
This fact is of interest. While some, such as Mizra, Sanhara, and Assura do not concern the present purpose, the mention of Arzawa does. Of the four Arzawan kings mentioned, one is a cousin of Muwattalli. The treaty states that the political clients of Kupanta-Kurunta of Mira, including members of the Arzawan royal clan, are a treacherous lot. “One shall be the help and support and offensive force for the other, and the one shall keep loyalty with the other” is how the treaty defines the relationship between Wilios and Mira. Clearly, several powers in the area are obligated to send troops in support of each other in the event of an attack. But what happens if several attacks are occurring simultaneously? Perhaps they make a mockery of the treaty’s closing formula: “So enjoy welcome authority in My Majesty’s sphere of responsibility, and grow old in My Majesty’s sphere of responsibility.”
# # #
The empire of Hattusilis is a precarious structure. The heartland itself is under pressure these days by warlike tribes on its northern border and an ever-expanding neighbor to its east. Mizra is a constant worry as a threat to its southern trading partners on the coast, which have taken on greater importance in recent years after several disappointing grain harvests. With all that going on, the last thing Hattusilis needs is an uprising in the west. The unruly rulers of Arzawa seem especially prone to such behavior. Uhha-ziti, for example, who rebelled against Mursilis. After his defeat, the Arzawan fled, and one of his sons, who had also taken up the cause, found refuge in the Mycenaean court. Though his stay was short-lived, royal Arzawans still dot the rolls of retainers, mercenaries who love nothing so much as heading east each year to burn a few villages and knock down a few walls, if only to annoy the king of Hatti. One man in particular, the grandson of Uhha-ziti himself, seems determined to spread as much discord in the area as possible in his ostensible quest to gain a kingdom for himself in the homeland of his ancestors.
# # #
“My brother, the Great King of Ahhiyawa,” spoken with mock gravity.
“Tawagalawa of Milliwanda,” replied in kind. “By Dzeus, you certainly are every bit the native of barbarian lands.”
“The better to serve the overseas interests of your empire, my Lord. I find my foreignness less a hindrance if I make a few concessions when it comes to dress and speech.”
“Of course, all this for my sake alone.”
Remember the proverb: when transacting business with your brother, laugh and call for a witness. The easy mirth and disarming manner can sometimes blind the casual onlooker to the ruthless cleverness behind the smile. Eteocles is no one’s fool and is well aware of his value, as well as aware of his own unique position and power. He possesses the ambition for empire, and the pragmatism to pursue it. A realist in his approach to policy, fluid in his ability to adapt to changing conditions. Not one prone to casting a backward glance, Eteocles is moving constantly forward, an Achaian warrior equipped with the curved sword and tasseled helmet of the East.
“My Lord, I present to you Prince Piyamaradu, grandson of Uhha-ziti of Arzawa.”
Everything about the man, from his physical stature to the way he nods a greeting that conveys respect without deference, marks him as a formidable warrior. Dressed in and equipped with skins and fashions that are exotic on this side of the sea, the effect of his appearance and manner is made all the more striking by his bright, almost waist-length red hair.
“You are most welcome in my palace, sir.” Eteocles translates into what, without understanding a word of it, anyone could tell is a broken form of a language.
For a decade or more Piyamaradu has campaigned in lands against the allies of Hatti, including an attack on Wilios, the subjugation of the Seha River Land, and the sack of Lesbos. Upon defeating the forces of the ailing Manapa-Tarhunta of Seha River, Piyamaradu installed his son-in-law, Atpa, governor of the land surrounding Milatos, over Manapa-Tarhunta. Massive numbers of skilled workers under Manapa-Tarhunta’s authority, as well as those on Lesbos, defected to Atpa. Manapa-Tarhunta appealed to Muwatalli for help. The Hittite response was swift. General Kassu, who had just saved Wilios from destruction, was dispatched to deal with the crisis. With the Hittite army in support, the Hittite vassal Kupanta-Kurunta, king of Mira, persuaded Atpa to return the workers from Lesbos, who were under direct Hittite control. However, Atpa refused to turn over those received from the Seha River Land, his reasoning being that they came with the territory he had been granted by Piyamaradu, who, as far as anyone can tell, had no authority to do so in the first place. The Hittites let the matter rest. The entire conflict illustrates the power Piyamaradu is able to exercise. It is only later, when the aging and ineffectual Manapa-Tarhunta is replaced by Masturi, that Muwatalli will regain control over the Seha River Land. When pursued, Piyamaradu has always packed up his entire household and fled to Milatos and the protection of Eteocles, or across the sea to Achaian territory. He is a man of proven military acumen, a natural leader, and someone with the ability to sow instability across the western lands of the Hittites. Support for him from the Achaians has usually been indirect. Now, in order to disrupt the movement of potential allies to Wilios, he will have men and a navy.
# # #
The most elite troops will descend on Wilios. Still, there are hundreds more, often unshod and nearly naked, armed with makeshift weapons, men hungry for the rewards of a summer spent ransacking the stores of anywhere that is not a rock-filled field carved out of a hillside, men willing to row up and down the coast between Milatos and Wilios just for a chance to seize slave girls and gold.
But further business must be postponed for the time being. Tonight is for feasting, with Eteocles, Piyamaradu, the remaining party of foreign visitors, members of the household, the leaders gathered to help plan the future of East-West relations. The queen and her ladies will be present for a show of regal finery, but will retire before the entertainment begins.
Great care should be taken in the presentation of revels. It is important to impress upon alien visitors both the extent of wealth and the reach of power through the judicious blending of the native and the exotic. The best wares local artisans have to offer are showered on guests, gifts of fine woolen stuffs, ornamental bronze weaponry, highly ornate drinking cups. However, throughout the evening guests will sample delicacies, both foreign and domestic, spiced with cumin from Mizra and sesame from Syria. Slave girls of every race will serve the men in every way, exercising all the remembered arts of their shattered homelands. Ivory gaming boards will host pieces of white marble and black obsidian. Stirrup jars from Crete will pour out perfumed oils, pressed from the palace groves, infused in the palace factories. Acrobats and jugglers from distant lands will cause amazement and merriment throughout the evening. The display of domestic wealth is proof of local power, while imported luxuries, sent as gifts, testify to the esteem of foreign monarchs.
Finally, appetites sated and energies spent, the gathered company will recline on the cushioned benches, partake leisurely of the best wine, and lazily drift along the currents of history into the lands of legend, swept along by the four-stringed phorminx and the rolling cadences of the finest rhapsodes in the land as they stitch together the story of this house, a lineage going back to the dawn of the gods, the great deeds of heroic ancestors as they overcome all manner of monstrous foes in order to found a city, the great deeds even of the guests and their forefathers, artfully entwining the fates and futures of all those present into a tightly woven narrative. The skill with which the singers accomplish this is such that by the end of the night, the already drunken sense of solidarity among these men will have become a deeply held, if only newly forged, belief in their essential unity in the eyes of Time.
# # #
Achaian interference in the east has a long history, but potential gains were measured only in single years. An alliance of noblemen, a solid power base in Milatos, a powerful ally in Piyamaradu, and Wilios, crumbling atop its hill, waiting to be taken. Prey upon any weakness, and there seems to be an opening on the western frontier of the Hittite empire.
The plan as presented: an assault on Wilios for the purpose of taking massive quantities of treasure. The city sits like a spider in the center of a vast web of trade routes. It is rich in gold, horses, laborers, women, and livestock. There are storehouses filled with the goods of merchants from all over the world. Then there are the ships anchored in the nearby bays, unable to pass through the straits until the northern winds die down. Wilios collects fees and taxes on all that is passing through or just sitting there. Obviously, the city did not acquire and maintain its wealth without being able to defend it.
The lesser Achaian rulers seldom think in strategic terms. The proposition has ramifications none of them understands. While they think of the invasion as merely a raid, albeit one on a grand scale, the use of such force will be perceived by every land to the east as all out war. An attack on Wilios with an army this size is not so much a bid for riches as it is for the expansion of power, for the kind of fame that, whatever material gains Wilios yields, will make a name itself a word spoken only in awe.
Normally, even the largest raids involve only a handful of royals, with troops numbering perhaps a few hundred. Retainers, vassals, and peers are all familiar with what is essentially a summer ritual, practiced among themselves as well as on foreign soil: the annual campaign for slaves and treasure. The targets are usually a few small towns, grouped closely along a coast, with perhaps a larger walled site nearby singled out for a quick strike. Most of these raids replenish supplies, with enough women and livestock collected to keep the troops loyal for another season. The practice is tolerated not only here, but by all the lands that lie along every coast around the world. The Hittites have long tolerated such raids in their western states. No one, theoretically, is exempt. Every ruler understands the laws of retribution, restitution, and retaliation. Every ruler knows and accepts the price of human life. Every ruler exercises his own judgment when deciding if he should accept four oxen for a trained female worker or go to war over it. Small disruptions of this sort open up trade routes, moving goods along new pathways created in response to ever-changing conditions on the ground. A little tension keeps everyone creative and elastic. There is a limit to which this model can be pushed. Find that limit.
# # #
--Let the kings of Achaia know that we mean to depart for Wilios immediately following Metuwo Newo. The new wine will fortify the troops with courage, and our endeavor will receive the blessing of Mater Theia Herself on the eve of departure.
--And what of Lekhestroterian? If the grain harvest is not what is expected, and we are not here to oversee the festival...?
--Is the mighty king of Thebes concerned that his comrades will not look after his interests in his absence? Does he not have skilled men who can apportion and transport in a competent manner? Or does he not trust his underlings? Does he not have the power over them that we all suppose? Come, sir, would you really have us believe that one of the richest kingdoms in all the land fears for its abundance?
--With all due respect your Highness, we merely feel that a protracted campaign is not the wisest course at this juncture. With the best men gone for too long, the worst may try themselves against us, aided perhaps by those suffering from want that we are not there to address.
--Take heart, sir. While we may miss the grain harvest and Lekhestroterian, with the aid of the gods we should return in time to celebrate Thrypteria.
--This, my Lord, is all we wish to be assured of.
--Keep this in mind as well: while our lands may be getting less rain than we would like, the lands of the Hittites are much worse. Many stories of severe water shortages in some of the kingdoms near their western coast have made their way here. Large troop movements are difficult, if not impossible, in certain areas. Besides, has not our Poseidon bested their Appaliuna already?
# # #
There is a good deal of intelligence concerning Wilios and the surrounding countryside. There is the bay just to the southwest of the city where many traders wait out the strong summer winds, as well as the harbor close by Wilios itself. There are dozens of crudely drawn maps, detailing the topography of the plain and location of local villages. Distill these into what is a fairly accurate picture: the best places to beach a ship, where most of the shoreline trading occurs, where beacons and watchtowers stand, where the rivers lie, where the plain will be its driest, the ridges from which the Troians will mount their most vigorous attacks. Here is where the most blood will be shed, a narrow passage of flat land between high ground on the south and a wide river mouth on the north. Wherever the landing, the troops must funnel through there to get to Wilios itself, unless it is possible to land in the bay and secure that high ground first. Many men attached to the court have visited Wilios, bearing gifts of royal stamp: perfume, ivory, decorated ostrich eggs, silver pins, the fine-spun wool and linen proverbial throughout the world. They return with diagrams of city streets, armory locations, descriptions of defensive ditches and walls, gate and tower locations, troop strengths and dispositions. When the assault on Wilios comes, there should be no surprises, no contingency unconsidered, no loss of time due to the unexpected. And time is of great concern.
All these maps and diagrams, and only one certainty: with the wind at its back and situated on an inland hill with a view of almost every accessible harbor, Wilios will not be taken quickly or easily. There is something eternal about the place; attackers come and go, the people slaughtered and scattered, the walls knocked down, the city put to the torch. Yet through it all, the people return and rebuild, out of tenacity, or stubbornness, or arrogance. This attachment to place means there will always be a source of plunder here, a post for trade, and people secure in the knowledge of their own blessed state.
# # #
The landings occur in phases, over a period of weeks and in several places. Largely unopposed, troops are able to ravage the countryside, gaining in strength and confidence, even as the people of Wilios, dispirited though they may be, prepare to defend themselves, gathering everything they can within the walls of the city, burning and polluting everything they cannot carry away. The preliminary moves of both sides have a chaotic, haphazard quality, as blood lust, panic, easy avarice, and staunch patriotism spill out uncontrollably. Brief skirmishes, civilian defections, senseless slaughter of livestock and prisoners, wholesale desertion by untrained soldiers quickly satisfied with easy rewards--all this and more characterize the first weeks. It is when men begin the serious business of armed conflict that a strange order arises, as if the participants are players in a larger narrative than they can comprehend. As if heaven-sent by Poseidon Himself to finish what the god has started. The time has come to gather timber to begin the construction of a tribute to the patron deity of this expedition, the Earth-Shaker and great Master of Horses.
Business continues apace in the harbor. Most of the merchants will trade with whatever partner is at hand. A steady supply of goods and services flows unabated. Sheep, goats, and oxen for food and sacrifice, camp whores for the pleasures of the troops, pour into the Achaian camps, bought and sold on the beach or seized in the countryside. Far from a deterrent to business, war is a boon to the independent merchant, provided of course he knows how to deal with men-at-arms in such a way that his wares are not simply seized and himself put to the sword. Being of some use beyond a source of material goods is an advantage. Every successful trader deals in more than worldly wealth. Most move through several different levels of society, across many different lands, speaking several different tongues. It is their absence of fidelity to anyone’s interests but their own that makes them valuable as messengers, translators, and spies.
Sinaranu of Ugarit, trading in grain, oil, and beer, is a man of great wealth and highly respected by Ammishtamru, ruler of Ugarit, from whom he is exempt from taxation, “clear as the Sun is clear.” From Knossos to Wilios, he is welcomed in the highest circles, and as such, he is always good for an interesting story at least, and more often than not, valuable intelligence concerning state matters.
--There is no trade to be had with the palace. The destruction is unthinkable, the dead were many.
--And what of Alaksandus?
--I cannot say with certainty, your Highness, but there is great mourning, burials and cremations, elaborate rites that apparently continued for weeks. Even now, months later, no sign of rebuilding.
--There is no one capable of leading them?
--If there is, I do not know his name. The crown prince, Walmu, is far too young to hold the throne. It is said that those loyal to Alaksandus have fled with the boy to await a more propitious moment.
--But the city...
--The people are demoralized, without purpose. But the wealth of Wilios, well, riches need neither morale nor purpose to survive, do they?
# # #
The often marshy plains are dry and easily passable, on foot, horse, or chariot. There is an advantage to any fighting done in the open. These elite troops are far superior to any that Wilios has to offer, and even the more undisciplined and unskilled foot soldiers have the advantage of numbers and morale. And more: an ox-hide car painted bright red, silver-covered wheels and horse equipage, brightly polished bronze and ivory, flashing in the sun. A panic-inducing sight, but of little use in hand-to-hand combat beneath city walls. Here: sword and spear, sharpened bronze with gold-covered grips, and a dagger, deadly anachronism passed down through ages, studded with silver, a clear round crystal embedded in the bottom of the handle. Boar’s tusk helmet and armor of bronze, worth several enemy lives based on nothing more than the fear they inspire.
Rocks, sling bolts, and arrows rain down from both sides across the ditch and wall of the town. Attrition, fatigue, and pestilence will soon erode the will of the inhabitants, and one day in the coming months, the assault on the town will breach the outer defenses, the gates will be flung open, and chariots will race across the bridges of the city and into the panicked crowds swarming the streets. The citadel should offer little resistance by then, and men will overrun the sloping walls, burn every building left standing, and overturn every stone not already leveled by Poseidon’s anger.
# # #
Summer continues, and various contingents come and go, sallying forth to raid further inland or sailing down the coast to make a quick strike against a defenseless village. Thus a constant flow of livestock and slaves is assured, and, well-supplied against the choked and hungry city of Wilios, the soldiers begin to exact an increasing toll upon the defenders. Fewer and fewer offensive strikes emanate from behind the walls, occasional night raids and sally-port surprise attacks resulting in fewer and fewer casualties on this side. In fact, most of those venturing outside the city are fleeing the war, deserting the cause, or staggering out to throw themselves on the mercy of their besiegers. Desperate messengers, riding in the night in hopes of reaching allies, are intercepted and dispatched. Hope and slashing bronze swords have become despair and hurled chunks of mud brick. In the brutal heat of the long days, blood and dust cake the bodies of victor and vanquished alike, though the import is different for each. What is a celebratory cup of wine at night in the camp of one is the grim liquor attempting to revive ebbing courage and resolve in the other, to wash away fear with the grit of the day’s battles.
When the first fires begin to appear within the lower town, the time has come for the final assault. The defensive ditch, filled with the rubbish of siege, can now be crossed with relative ease in many places. Battering rams and ladders follow the rush of the first soldiers. As the defenders expend energy and ammunition on these nameless, ill-equipped farmers, the well-trained, heavily armed troops swarm the walls and gates, their own dead and dying bridging the space and providing footholds from which to mount the outer defenses. The screams of men in agony mingle with the shrieks of women and children in terror.
The citizens of Wilios flee before the enemy as they pour through the city gates, across the ditch, and over the walls. Once the route is started and panic sets in, the slaughter begins. The lower town must be secured as quickly as possible so the looting can begin.
While the elite troops look to the citadel for their reward, the foot soldiers are concerned with the goods in the lower city: oil, wine, livestock, women, household goods useful to the man who spends most of his day walking behind oxen or protecting sheep. The barefoot man with the homemade spear, not the richly adorned warrior on the scarlet chariot, will win the battle for control of Wilios. Only later, when most of the populace is dead, captured, or fled to the hills, will the royal families of Achaia, in all their finery, argue over the wealth of the palace.
As the assault on the city continues, twilight sets in, and the king and his brother find themselves making their way around the city to the west. The two men decide to scout the area in darkness, on the lookout for useful information, or any strays they may be able to cut down. Accordingly, they strip off any weapons or armor that would slow them down or cause noise. These things they hide at the base of the hill. The king wears nothing more now than his helmet and breech cloth, and carries only a short sword and his favorite silver-studded dagger, archaic weapon of his ancestors. Waiting for night to settle in completely, they listen to the sounds of battle beginning to die down. As they creep westward, they get a quick glimpse of torchlight and movement on the hillside above and ahead of them. Pursuing as swiftly as silence will allow, they soon catch sight of two figures quickly disappearing among the brush and rocks into a concealed grotto just outside the city wall. The king and Eteocles are upon them in an instant.
The king knows at once that whatever fabulous wealth Wilios delivers, he has found his prize. As he lays hands on the girl, out of her shrieks he can understand the words “sacred” and “prophet”, but this only inflames him more. In this moment, his is the ultimate travesty, for as he drags her into the mouth of the cave, he cuts down the unarmed man at its entrance, a man whose garments and gesticulations mark him as a priest, this place as a shrine, and this girl, who wears an identical robe to his, as a priestess and perhaps his daughter. In her eyes the king sees a plea for mercy that will go unanswered, an arrogant defiance that will be punished, and a patient understanding that will baffle all attempts to fathom it. The rage to destroy that finds its satisfaction in warfare is the same rage that he unleashes inside her, both as a will to dominate completely, and paradoxically, a will to annihilate himself. His blasphemy is also his cry for salvation, his desire to rape the heavens themselves one and the same with that to protect this creature even as he is bent on crushing her. Every sobbed prayer is answered with a curse and increased brutality. The screams and tears of both are the climax of a communion, sacred and profane, filled with violence and hatred; his silent pleas for forgiveness the human mind can neither grasp nor grant, the divine mind neither assuage nor answer. From the moment he is finished with her, the king is dimly aware of some loss that offsets the material gain of his defiled treasure.
“What place is this?” the king asks, though the darkness, the echoes, and the sound of dripping water have already told him.
“This is the way into the Underworld,” Eteocles whispers back. “We have shed the blood of the priest of Kaskalkouros.”
# # #
Scouting parties head out continuously. While success is assured in the war on Wilios, there is no certainty of the result in a direct confrontation with the army of Hattusilis. With Piyamaradu roaming the lands and sea to the south, the Hittites will stay busy, assisting one vassal ruler after another in an attempt to quell any widespread uprisings in support of the charismatic rebel. Still, it is only a matter of time before Piyamaradu flees back to Achaia and the Hittites turn their attention northward.
When word finally comes, it is in the form of a squadron sent by General Kassu himself. The Hittite warriors, accompanied by the scouts who encountered them, are an impressive group, arranged in chariots by threes, long hair flowing out beneath tasseled helmets. They represent the highest ideals of Hittite military principles. They are at once courageous, skilled, disciplined, and thoughtful. It is easy to see why Hittite expansion over the last several generations has been so successful. These are men one could come to admire. Right now, however, what matters is the proximity and intentions of the Hittite army.
First comes the observance of the elaborate social rituals that govern displays of hospitality and friendship between battlefield enemies. There are the introductions, filled with genealogies and military accomplishments that allow those of more subtle turns of mind to gauge the relative merits of the participants. There is honest fellowship, the avoidance of any hint of aggression, the intricate courtesies and deferrals, the setting aside of hostility by those who know death first-hand and do not take casting a spear at another man lightly.
Local merchants and villagers, for whom little is at stake beyond the temporary discomfort of war, provide services of all kinds, from translation to entertainment. Women, skilled in the kitchen and seized as prizes by the various generals present, prepare a hearty local stew, a simple lentil, leek, and onion dish, heavily spiced with garlic, rosemary, thyme, fragrant toasted cumin, and fortified as befits the occasion with generous slabs of lamb. Wine flows freely from large Troian goblets, while Hittite beer, tart and bubbly, makes its way around the company, poured out to gods obscure and familiar, then consumed through straws out of shallow bowls. A convivial night passes, until the more sobering intentions of the deputation are made known the next morning. The small group of merchants who the night before translated the informal toasts and tales of men at rest now convene to commence the more delicate task of diplomacy. While certain details may become garbled, the sense of the plain talk of soldiers is almost certain. These are straight words not twisted by rhetoric, figures of speech intertwined with figures of thought into a unity approaching exactness. Dispensing with the overlay of ambiguous signs, a man becomes his language, every gesture containing the clarity of a single word. Here, where violence can spring suddenly from an ill-considered remark, relish the full weight of a necessary eloquence, a crystalline simplicity of expression devoid of ornament.
# # #
--Once before, Piyamaradu attacked Wilusa. It is said he defeated the forces of the naked and radiant Shaushka, who comes from heaven as a lion, turning warriors to women. Even so, General Kassu drove him away and freed the people of Wilusa. The Storm God of Ahhiyawa has run before you at Wilusa, but even now, General Kassu approaches. Do not mistake the peaceful intentions of My Lord, My Sun for weakness. If the army of the land of Hatti arrives to find you here, blood will be shed.--
It is fortunate that Wilios has already rendered up its treasures: women, horses, oxen, sheep, slaves, gold, silver, ivory, bronze. Achaian ships are going home so full of plunder that several will not finish the journey, foundering in sudden squalls and sinking along rocky coasts. Rivals back home are seizing on these calamities, with claims of arrogance and an affront to the gods in order to justify regime changes. There are rumors of shipwreck and death at sea. Are these bearing the first inkling of coming patterns? Far off days indeed.
--Let the general of the Hittite army know that the Achaians have no wish to engage in a war with the Great King Hattusilis. The dispute with Wilios over the abduction of members of the royal household from Milatos has been resolved. The gods have made their ruling and the matter rests. The land of Achaia has no wish to encroach upon any territory under the care and protection of Hatti. When General Kassu arrives at Wilios, he will find the Achaian army gone.--
# # #
While the Achaians are by and large a sea-going people, there is no feeling of power that equals this: standing atop a wall or hilltop, shadow cast forward, a dark double covering the stones of some conquered town or beloved fortress. A man can see himself here better than in any delicate mirror of foreign make, with feet planted firmly on the life-giving mother, a spear's shadow-point stabbing at an overturned stone, head thrust proudly into the sky, nothing above him but the gods.
# # #
The beacon burns atop the hill. Time to prepare for a long anticipated visit. Send out a small detachment of troops, borne in chariots and ceremonially armed, a formal royal welcome to friendly visitors, a display of military readiness to hostiles. In a few hours, the palace must be ready to receive and impress guests. Animals are gathered for sacrifice and consumption, and gifts are retrieved from palace stores and workshops: a pair of rhytons, gold and silver worked into stags, should probably suffice. Perhaps some lapis lazuli as well, just in case.
The Hittite ambassador makes his way up the hill, across the ravine, and through the town. A man called Kulana-ziti, known to be trusted by Hattusilis with the most delicate and sensitive foreign missions. A royal by blood, he has been a soldier and a statesman, a warrior and a scholar, and all at an age when he might still be driving chariots for generals. The combination of courage and cunning, his vast knowledge of the edges of the Hittite world, its peoples, languages, and customs, make him one of a select elite that is known and welcome anywhere he goes, even when he is functioning as the mouthpiece of an enemy.
Here is completeness, a moment to bequeath to eternity. Through the eyes of anyone looking on, a visiting Hittite dignitary for example, the design of the world is here made manifest; the grand exterior of the citadel, the great walls, the stately palace, the well-ordered streets, the restored cemetery, the newly completed main gate. It seems the visitation of a whispering god, this perception of a peak realization. Poised on the tip of history, the fear and exhilaration at the prospect of maintaining balance, knowing every future choice contains the seed of decline. Yet no prayer for guidance or wisdom will pass these lips.
A few steps from a palace window to the top of the grand staircase. Once the Hittites enter the citadel proper, they stop at the grave circle to make sacrifice. Three to a chariot as seems to be their custom, they dismount: the ambassador, his attendant, and the driver. Kulana-ziti performs a lengthy cleansing ritual, meticulously washing and drying his hands before he takes from the Hittite baggage the bread and wine that will constitute their offering. Standing before the first grave marker, he chants a summoning prayer, calling the warriors and kings of days gone by back from abroad, to seat themselves in chariots of stone in pursuit of lions forever frozen in rock. Kulana-ziti makes an elaborate gesture of passing his hand over the offering so the gods may know who feeds them. Bread is broken and wine is poured, the meal touched to the carved lips of each royal figure throughout the cemetery. The misunderstanding is amusing, the Hittite belief that a god lives in the graven image. Why else, they seem to believe, would one stop and pay obeisance? Hatti is indeed the land of a thousand gods. There is no deity to whom they will not appeal, none they will not try to win away from its native land. Their piousness toward foreign gods is both deeply respectful and extravagantly arrogant. But these stones are empty, the seat from which divine favor is dispensed lies elsewhere.
# # #
“Puduhepa, Queen of Hatti, sends her greetings as well.”
The sovereignty of the women of Hatti. Puduhepa is allowed to carry on diplomatic correspondence of her own, completely separate from that of her husband. She has political influence, disguised as religious duty, never direct in its exercise, but which may, perhaps even has, altered the fortunes of empires. On the other hand, while the Achaians honor the Divine Feminine, women themselves are bearers of children and weavers of cloth. Despite the limited domestic role assigned to her, the queen of Mycenae is something of a political force. Invested with no official power, she somehow manages to remain remarkably well-informed on current events, as well as acquainted with almost everyone who passes through the court. She harbors almost masculine levels of ambition. If given the opportunity through some weakness, she could, and in all likelihood would, ally herself with some rival intent on seizing the throne.
# # #
Gauge the gravity of Hattusilis’ message by its length alone. He will no doubt rehearse the entire history of contact between the two powers, going into particular detail concerning the career of Piyamaradu. Sometimes, the entire diplomatic enterprise seems a farce. No one involved speaks the same language. The translation may well take days. Words come from Hattusilis to a scribe and messenger, then to a scribe and messenger in another language on the other side of the world. Ambassadors will say things that cannot be written down exactly, each text will make its necessary substitutions and assumptions not to be found in the other one, wars will be fought, kingdoms won and lost, all on the words of men who can neither read nor write in their own tongue, much less speak to one another directly. The disclaimer concerning a previous misunderstanding at the end of Hattusilis’ letter sums it up: “Because your servant spoke that matter, may that man die! It did not come from the mouth of the god, the servant later altered it. He did not make it match my message for you!” It is amusing that Hattusilis could think that the word of his gods could be received, told, written, rewritten into another language, and retold without some loss or alteration, especially given the scope of the events in question. Hattusilis is a very intelligent man, and probably an accomplished orator as well; anyone who is a true leader of men must be. However, there is no way of knowing if the well-polished figures of speech are truly those of Hattusilis, or those of his ambassador. Is anything objectionable due to the arrogance of the Hittite ruler, or the unintentionally unsympathetic words of a servant? The one certainty is that there is too much at stake here to make hasty decisions based on nothing more than the face value of what is spoken or heard. Sift through every clue, every subtlety, in order to glean the exact thoughts of Hattusilis. Upwards of three hours passes as the entire letter is read by the Hittite ambassador and translated phrase by phrase, with appropriate explanation or amplification. Watch the way the foreign dignitary reads, search for meaning in voice and gesture to accompany the written text. Study, too, the reactions of the diplomat to the Hittite courtt, who will know when a confusing turn of phrase is conventional and when it is meant to be provocative, offensive, or disrespectful. It is imperative that nothing remains hidden, that nothing enigmatic stays enigmatic.
Though couched in restrained terms, the accusatory tone of the letter is unmistakable. Hattusilis has always seemed to be easily offended, as well as somewhat blunt, qualities which could be, indeed have been, exploited in matters of diplomacy. The Hittite king is an experienced and capable general, a truly formidable opponent, the ruler of an empire not to be trifled with, but a man whose emotions can perhaps prevail over his reasoned judgment on occasion. The kingdoms of Achaia have seldom experienced the external pressures necessary for the development of subtle speech. However, the highly evolved discourse of the Hittites is in some sense a sign of weakness, the development of the rhetorical arts a result born of the necessity for compromise. Hattusilis no doubt sees nothing but pirates here, despite the cultivation of the court. But the crude image of pillager and rapist inspires, if not respect exactly, a certain respectful fear. Hattusilis will try to hide the fact that he is essentially a usurping soldier; others can afford to flaunt their aggressiveness.
Hattusilis will go to great lengths to justify his complaint and request. Following his initial rehearsal of past events, he will swear to the truth of all he has said: “I, the Great King, have taken an oath. May the Storm God hear!” He will make an accusation, clothed in the form of a question that was asked in a previous letter: “That Piyamaradu kept attacking me, does my brother know it, or does he not?” He will forestall objections to his own tone by finding fault with past slights: “When the messenger of my brother found me here, he brought no greeting to me! He brought no gift for me!” He will attempt to show that Piyamaradu’s behavior is unworthy among such company Great Kings keep: “Even Tawagalawa, when I, the Great King, came, he came to Millawanda. Previously Kurunta was here. He drove into your presence, Great King. Was he not an eminent king?” He will go into great detail, several times throughout the letter, concerning promises made to Piyamaradu for safe passage into his presence: “When I, the Great King, put you on the road, I will write to my brother, the King of the land Ahhiyawa.” Upon continued evasions by Piyamaradu, he will again return to his suspicions of collusion: “But he kept attacking my territories! If I hinder him, he returns to your land. Do you, my brother, approve?” He will then answer that question himself, in the negative, and even go so far as to fashion an appropriate course of action to follow: “‘In the matter of the city of Wilusa, the king of Hatti and I were hostile toward each other, he persuaded me to make peace. Hostilities are no longer permitted between us’ Write that to him.” And immediately following that, he will justify sending troops into Milatos: “Even if he leaves Millawanda alone, my subjects will gladly turn to that man. So, my brother, I have sent my troops into Millawanda.” By this time, the outcome envisioned by Hattusilis will seem so reasonable that it must be seen as inevitable. Admirable, the way Hattusilis has managed his attack, all quick feints and flanking maneuvers, designed to box an opponent in without direct confrontation or an avenue of escape. It fools no one for a moment, but it is admirable. The entire performance is exhausting, and this too, may be part of the game.
# # #
--Thus says the Great King, King of Ahhiyawa: Say to His Majesty, King of Hatti:
Let my Brother know that I have received his request and most humbly wish to accede to it at my earliest opportunity. I am uncertain of the whereabouts of Piyamaradu at this time, though I suspect he may be in Milatos with my brother Eteocles and Atpa. I will ask that they deliver up Piyamaradu, or if unable to do so, inform me of his whereabouts. Please assure the Great King of Hatti that his Brother is not knowingly harboring a fugitive. Further, let him know that if, in the past, I have given reason for offense or mistrust on account of this man, that I meant no harm to my Brother, nor bear him any ill will. The Great King Hatusilis is indeed wise in counseling that war would not be in the interest of anyone, and I will endeavor to persuade Piyamaradu of this as well, and that it would be to his immense benefit to put himself under the Great King, to go before him and seek his friendship, and to accept such lands as the Great King believes befit his station. Further, I will make assurances to Piyamaradu on behalf of the Great King Hattusilis that he promises safe passage for him and his household on their journey into his presence. I will endeavor to make him understand that, as the Great King himself has said, bloodshed is not permitted in the land of Hatti. May the Great King, my Brother, rest assured that Piyamaradu will be informed of every detail: that I, or Eteocles, or Atpa will receive Tapala-Tarhunta as guarantee of his safe conduct, that he will know by bread and beer of the good intentions of the Great King, and that he may return to me if unsatisfied, under condition that he remain in the lands that I grant him, far away from Milatos and the territory that lies under the protection of my Brother.--
# # #
There is both opportunity and danger in the dispute between Hattusilis and Piyamaradu. The Arzawan has probably outlived his usefulness, and while providing him with refuge has cost little in terms of resources and risk, it not advisable to grant the perennially warlike Piyamaradu a state of his own on Achaian soil. However, a great many people in and around Milatos are loyal to Piyamaradu, whether or not the nominal governor in the area is Eteocles, Atpa, or a general appointed by Hattusilis. There is no benefit in forcibly seizing Piyamaradu there. However, Hattusilis has been pushed as far as he possible. An almost direct confrontation at Wilios, already once drawing the Hittite army, with Hattusilis himself at its head, into Milatos by assuring Hattusilis that Atpa had been instructed to turn Piyamaradu over to him, even as Piyamaradu was on a ship bound for Achaia. Any more trickery could result in all out war in Milatos, which of course would probably negate any advantages gained through the diminished power of Wilios. However, the presence of the Hittite army in Milatos, far from being objectionable, is actually of use if all ties with the Arzawan are severed. Then, any insurrection there on behalf of Piyamaradu will be a matter for others to settle. Unrest in the area will continue to erode Hittite power, and economic opportunity, in the form of trading or raiding, will abound.
# # #
The proposal to Piyamaradu is simple: if he wishes to remain unmolested in Achaian territory, there is a price. Making that price the most skilled and beautiful women seized as household workers and concubines is sure to provoke the wrath of the proud Arzawan.
The response is exactly what is hoped for: “I am not your vassal. There is no treaty between us, there are no obligations imposed upon me, a guest in your land.” Piyamaradu will flee back to the east. While he may take a few men with him, without royal support most will abandon him. With the Hittite army occupying Milatos, he will no longer have anywhere to go where he has a ready-made army at his disposal. Still, as long as he lives, wherever he goes he will occupy the attention of Hattusilis. Simply wait until the Hittite rulers no longer perceive the Achaians as a threat. Their army will be needed elsewhere, and soil that was once foreign is now the beginning of a much larger homeland.
# # #
A return home, all the feasting and celebration, and still this unease. Something is amiss, somehow this campaign, the most ambitious to date, has not remedied what ails this kingdom. Rulers of the past gained and maintained royal power through military prowess. Recent times have been unmarred by major conflicts within the kingdom itself, a relative peace seemingly sanctioned by the gods themselves. On the other hand, among more powerful followers and rivals, who are often as not one and the same, doubt concerning leadership roles could perhaps be creeping in. No one questions the right to rule; they may, however, question the right of being ruled. The raid on Wilios might once have settled the question, but it now appears to have only confused things further. Vast spoils were indeed brought back, more than enough to satisfy retainers and allies. No one should be unhappy with the division of booty. In fact, it appears quite the opposite is the case. Unfortunately, the riches gained now appear to be more a curse than a blessing. Tiryns, for example. While Mycenae may have to depend on Tiryns as its main port, Mycenae commands the approach to the markets of Argos and points inland. Having a navy sitting in the harbor of Tiryns itself and a well-paid, numerically superior army just to the north helped insure that current conditions remained in place. It was always easy enough to understand that treasure buys loyalty; perhaps too much treasure buys independence.
# # #
Every village has its own way of conducting its business: allocating land, settling disputes, enacting laws. For previous generations this had never posed a problem. As long as the palace could run its operation, how the locals twenty miles distant conducted themselves was not a concern. But think about the consequences of the widespread disturbances that seem to be occurring. With no formal administrative control over distant lands, the cooperation and competence of local authorities must ensure the flow of assessments necessary to maintain the palace workshops. However, if some displaced, marauding Achaian prince bent on establishing a new kingdom with the aid of bitter, unpaid mercenaries formerly attached to another ruler should sack a village that supplies, for example, timber, the link between palace and village, and therefore palace artisans and timber, would be lost. In addition, since many villages are dependent upon the palace for the staples the village itself cannot produce, and are also not necessarily connected to other villages, these villages themselves would soon cease to exist. While values such as personal responsibility and honor have long served Mycenae well, it would seem that at this point the expansion of the kingdom beyond its means has rendered them obsolete. It is not like repairing a chariot, replacing a broken axle with an identical part. Outside the tarasiya system, each part is unique. It is a new, and terrifying notion, that a kingdom can grow so large, powerful, and complicated, that it might be too much for one man and his immediate retainers to govern. Imagine a time when the machinery of kingship will require several levels of organization, one level nested inside another, a vast bureaucratic hive in which the smallest section is a mirror image of the larger whole, a set of relations that ancestors would no doubt find chaotic. Perhaps this is inevitable after all. But no one will effect such change if he believes that power does not reside in systems, but in men, even though, in his darkest, unspoken moments, he knows this to be a battle he cannot win. Besides, the decay all around seems to proceed at a pace that far exceeds the possibility of effective solutions. Still, though the enemy is unseen, perhaps even unknowable, some will go forward into what future they have left as warriors, doomed almost certainly to glorious failure. A fate far preferable to becoming like one of the sycophants the queen seems to favor these days, clever, devious men lacking the capacity to satisfy the physical appetites necessary for empire, men who make war on nothing more than clay tablets using nothing more than a stylus.
# # #
The difficulty of the age is in trying to decipher the meaning of the signs. As everyone knows, elektron is a rare and precious material, wealth infused with magic. Suddenly, after two generations gone it is returning to these lands once more from the far north, where it is forged in fires of ice from pieces of broken sunlight by giants whiter than snow. At the moment, the mystery of its origin is not as important as the meaning of its renewed presence. Normally a sign of wealth and status, could it instead be preceding the imminent arrival of outsiders, further sources of unrest and upheaval? Or could those merchants who traffic in it sense a renewed necessity for protection by magical means for those who sit on thrones about to topple?
This is not at all the way of the past, when effects had simple, often singular causes. The net of connections has become too large, too intricate to take in all at once. Kingdoms to the north are falling, one after the other. Some reports have peasants in the country storming the fortresses and slaughtering their masters, though this seems unlikely. Groups of mercenaries roam the hills and bays; are they fleeing the overthrow of their lords, rising against them, or a combination of both? The royal clans of the Achaians are large, and given the opportunity, any prince may convince himself of the unwarranted lowliness of his station. Lands that fell into disorder during long absence have become prey to the ambitions of kinsmen left behind to maintain the affairs of state. As the chaos spreads, so too does the number of royals, left without land holdings, who have taken to the road as bandits, to the seas as pirates. There is also the lamentable possibility of kings ransacking their own lands. Shortages on assessments headed to the palace cause the use of arms by less than judicious rulers, wolves bent on chewing off their own hindquarters.
# # #
It is a show of trust, to be entertained in the court at Tiryns. The ruling elite of this growing power are as yet uncertain of their ability in open confrontation. An evening spent feasting here will be a kind of game, one abounding in subtleties, coded messages, nuances of speech and gesture intended to gauge relative strengths. Every gift exchanged will carry a hidden meaning, and the course of future events will depend upon the ability of the two sides to interpret them correctly. Is a gold drinking cup, encrusted with precious stones, a sign of friendship and fealty, or the suggestion that an abundance of wealth, and with it power, now resides in Tiryns? And what of the songs of the poets tonight? They feel like the old stories, but turned to a different purpose. What were tales of heroic conquest, the creation of great dynasties, the vanquishing of primordial monsters, have become accounts of fratricide, cannibalism, child sacrifice. What are figures of speech to the mind of a monarch can easily become literal fact in the mind of a disgruntled peasant. The story of the marriage of a princess to the king of Assuwa dramatized as the offering of a daughter in exchange for favorable seas can be retold and perverted over the years, making it less a story of politics embodied in personal actions than one of a family curse brought on by unspeakable atrocities enacted on a cosmic scale. Sometimes brutal acts of political expedience become, when fostered by superstition and those unsympathetic to the regime, horrors so repugnant the gods themselves must intervene. Every clash and struggle for power feeds the fame of the victor, and his infamy as well.
# # #
The gods have deserted this temple. The rituals performed here have become increasingly empty; no sense of the sacred remains. Prayers, the chants of priests, the low intonations of seers and diviners, are now so much air set vibrating to no purpose. It is time to abandon former practices, to search out protectors in new forms, to let eagles and sparrows, barley scattered on the wind, point the way to a new center of sanctified energy.
The first order of business is the ritual disposal of cult paraphernalia. Directed by the highest religious authorities, items whose uses date back to legendary times and places are broken, then placed in a small room upstairs. Tripods, dishes, basins, ivory combs, statuettes of gods, goddesses, worshipers, and snakes, sacred stones, beaded necklaces, glass ornaments, even the scarab of Tiye of Egypt--all deprived of any sacred value and removed to the closet. The room is sealed and the wall plastered over, leaving a set of stairs that leads nowhere.
It is now imperative to find a new language in which to speak to the gods, gods who have become increasingly distant as the world becomes less and less familiar. Why are the lands of fellow kings and kinsmen in flux? How and why do refugees and landless clans roam and destroy kingdoms that have flourished for centuries? Questions asked, in silence, of the gods, and the silence of the gods is their answer.
# # #
Over the years, less and less taken from Wilios remains. There are memories of combat, surely some descendents of the livestock seized, gold melted and recast into other forms, broken ivory figurines, tarnished jewelry, piles of loot whose origin is beyond recall, but some of which must surely be of Troian origin. She is the only thing of value that has lasted, a treasure whose worth is beyond calculation or understanding. There is a hardness to her features now, a hardness that has not been able to dull the beauty, though it has erased any hint of innocence. This innocence, however, had seemed a strictly physical trait, a product of childhood merely. Always there has been about her an aura of knowing, perhaps even wisdom. This aura does not really seem to glow around her so much as, jewel-hard, encapsulate her, insulating her from her fate with a sacred protection through which no human act can pass to touch her innermost core, around which only the gods can converse. Even as she has aged, bearing all the abuses of time, there is something of eternity in her, something which stands in judgment and rebuke.
Youth has only the most general understanding of regret. All desires had been within reach of realization. But with age comes the knowledge that ambitions based on the easy acceptance of received values are not equivalent to the exhaustion of life’s potential. Now, a heaviness of spirit that can only be the weight of mortality. It is the God of Death that whispers in the night now, with His gentle insistence that fame alone is not enough, that only orderly succession secures a place in the company of illustrious ancestors. So how many children are there, working looms or tending sheep, born of slaves so slaves themselves by ancient custom? Those born of the queen have always seemed more hers, and her eldest son, training even now with men of dubious loyalty and motives, would be a mere puppet, an impotent witness to the disintegration of all here built. A fantasy (and that is all it could ever be): one of the sons of a Troian priestess assumes the throne. There is, however, the certainty of their fates if left alone. They are the end of two noble lines, and the world will never know their names, will never number them among its honored dead. The adulterated histories of the time will pass over them in silence. No gold foil rosettes, delicately woven shrouds, or beaten death masks will confer anything beyond the veneer of honor necessary to placate the people and satisfy fickle gods. This is what all kings truly fear: when they die, their entire world dies with them.
# # #
As unrest in the land grows and the arrogance of Tiryns increases, there is a need to take defensive measures. Now is not the time to hew massive tombs into hillsides, or decorate fortress gates with more impressive sculptures. It is time to repair and reinforce the walls of the citadel and ensure a source of water in the event of siege. Because of all the upheavals, securing enough limestone to accomplish this purpose requires deployment of troops, which in turn requires an outlay of resources which are themselves subject to increasingly tenuous supply lines.
There was once a feeling of safety standing alone atop this hill, nestled between the breasts of Mother Earth, head held high in the wind. Now, fear is beginning to creep into places it never has before. The thought of a stray arrow on the battlefield has never caused a moment’s pause, but that same arrow shot from within this city? Days are spent shut up in the palace, nights spent descending the steps that are being cut into the northeast corner of the hill, steps that lead underneath and beyond the walls, down to a cistern into which blackest thoughts can be cast. Perhaps to atone for some unremembered crime, or to escape a fate long ago foretold.
# # #
As the years go by, small bands of Achaians will return to harass the people of Wilios. So too will the wandering tribes of many other nations, people on the move away from some catastrophe visited upon them and into another of their own creation. Many old friends and allies, victims of some of these catastrophes, are gone, men whose last great act was to plunge a once shining city into a downward spiral from which it could not recover, leaving it easy prey to lesser men. The old stories become grafted onto the histories of these men, who conduct desperate searches for heroic stature that they can only find in lineage rather than action. The great war in the east did not establish a lasting empire; nor could it save anyone from their fates, and in fact may have hastened the downfall of everyone involved.
The king awoke with a start from a dream whose every detail he remembered. Beside him, his mistress stirred.
“A dream, my Lord?” she asked, her voice betraying no sign of emotion, only the confessor’s willingness or obligation to listen. The king groped in the darkness for the words that would make the images in his mind come alive to her, words seeming just then so inadequate to convey the dream’s fullness, much less convey that fullness to someone who often seemed to understand so much less, and so much more, than what he felt he was telling her.
“It was,” he began slowly, and with many pauses, “...it was dark. Maybe it was nighttime, or maybe the day had gone black. There was the clamor of battle, and fire all around me, though it did not seem to give much light. I could see no one clearly, but there were many men rushing around. I was in a courtyard of the palace. I had the sense of being at the summit of the hill. I had my sword in my hand, and I was turning about wildly, trying to figure out who my enemy was. Suddenly, it was...it was as if the wind shifted, though I felt no wind. A huge cloud of smoke started to swirl all around, and the fire seemed to be moving...not spreading, but moving. I slowly started to rise off the ground, not flying like a bird, but straight up into the sky. Soon I could see nothing but the fire below me. It was in the shape of a triangle, upside down, with a point on the bottom, and with the sides going up extending beyond the base, making the whole thing look almost like the head of an animal with horns or long ears. As I looked down, the whole figure was in motion, turning so that soon it had rotated exactly half a turn, and now stood, as if what had once seemed horns might now be legs. There it stopped, and burned, never growing brighter or dimmer, and I had the vague sense that it was some kind of sign, or symbol, for a world not yet here...”
And there he stopped, for there were no words left to reach for.
“Does my Lord wish to know the meaning of this?” she asked. Having never doubted her gift, he assented, though he had never before asked for her spiritual guidance. He had always had the implicit faith of the just monarch that his interests and those of the gods were as one. Now however, his spirit was troubled, and he did not know why, but he was sure that spilling wine and killing a snow-white ram would not soothe it.
The woman began to prepare herself. Naked, yet seemingly oblivious to the cold, she left the bed and disappeared into the annex which held the few things she owned. These she kept in a large reed basket, a modest vessel given that it contained some of the finest handiwork of the king’s own craftsmen, gifts of gold and ivory, silver and precious stones, bestowed upon her over the years as the king’s favorite, and lately only, concubine. It had always puzzled him that she did not seem to value these things as others did, but it was beneath these lightly regarded treasures that she kept her true riches. When she returned to the apartment, the king was stunned to see her wearing the same robe she had worn when he first saw her. How, through all the terror and death, had she managed to save it? How had he not known?
She worked in silence, a ritual of pure gesture. Her every movement was controlled and purposeful, paced to show the respect due each step, but without undue solemnity. On a low table near the hearth, she set out a small, plain woolen towel, on which she set what appeared to the king to be some kind of incense burner. Into this she placed a small amount of a black, resinous substance she kept in a little white container. The king knew this to be something which, in his experience, could be used to relieve pain and induce sleep, but which for her was a means of transport to that realm where mankind and gods could converse.
The woman lit a small piece of kindling from the hearth, and soon she was kneeling at the table, inhaling the vapors as they ascended, along with her mind, out into the night and toward the abode of the gods. Her words, mumbled and unintelligible at first, soon crystallized, the clarity of enunciation sometimes at odds with the obscurity of meaning.
“Woro...kijo...nejo...my Lord and his kingdom have fallen into confusion and do not know friend from foe. The burning figure is the bull, symbol of kingship. The turning of the bull on to its horns is the reversal of the fortunes of Attarsiya Wokode....Po-se-do-ne A-AB-BA Enasigaios himself, U-NILGAR-ENYA thrashing in fury, steps across the waters and makes his way inland toward your city. Your fame will be burned like a brand into this hilltop, to be remembered for as long as man walks the earth. All mankind will know the things you have done. A-re-ke-tu-ru-wo! The dawn is come.”
The king found Truth to be that most elusive of goddesses. He knew She waited for him somewhere in the opium-sated amalgam of languages swirling out of the mouth of this woman who, even after so many years together, was still a mystery to him, still somehow aloof and foreign, still untouched by him even in their most intimate, often touching moments, still harboring, however buried, the hope of divine wrath finding her captor.
A few moments of silence followed, as the king simply watched her, slumped and relaxed at the table. She then seemed to come back to herself. As she carefully gathered and put away her things, she began to hum, softly to herself at first, then gradually a bit louder. The king found himself touched by the strange beauty of the music, its exotic but unmistakable sense of melancholy and loss. After a minute or two, she began to chant.
“Ahatata ala-ti awienta wilusa-ti...” It was in a tongue the king did not recognize except for a single word, and he knew in that instant that the world she had known before his coming was gone for her, replaced by the stories of heroes, dim memories fleshed out by an imagination longing to return to a home now in ruins. He thought of Piyamaradu, a rootless prince, destined to wander, a man who had walked out of history and into legend, already remembered only as a mighty warrior, a ptoli-porthios. It was, he knew, an ironic fate, to be celebrated by future generations for a life you never lived, known by a name never yours.
Leave a Reply.