|Posted By||Topic » The Exile, Chapter 2|
Posted: Sunday, Jul 28, 2013 at 6:24 PM — Edited on 2013-07-29 22:14:57.0
Under normal circumstances, he’d have sent Ixios to do his scouting. The young lad had the eyes of Zeus himself, and could spot a spiny mouse peering out of a hole at two hundred paces. Ixios possessed sound temperament as well, which meant he measured what he saw, unfazed by distraction, ostentation, or displays of power, and would report honestly and with little margin for error. That was something immeasurably useful to a strategos. So when word came that a Hittite band had moved into the region between Lycia and Caria, his first command was to send out the blonde-haired Trojan into the night to see what these interlopers were about.
But this night it would not be Ixios who would seek out this possible enemy. This night belonged to Demetrios. He had finally brought the raiding group to bay, it seemed, and he desired to look upon these raiders and take measure of them himself.
He sped along, crouching slightly to keep his silhouette small. It was the time of day where the lingering light from the just-disappeared sun contrasted starkly with the darkening hills. It was hard for eyes to adjust to the change in that hour, and so it was the hour he’d chosen to seek out the enemy camp. Though moving with celerity, he picked his way carefully, wary of loose stones that might trip him, eyes scanning the horizon.
He’d never felt so alive. In the past few weeks since discovering the glittering trident buried in the sand he’d felt awakened to the world as if for the first time. The air was fresher, vitalizing. His limbs felt stronger, his will emboldened. And, he had discovered, it was now not only Ixios who had the vision of an eagle.
And yet, somehow, none of this seemed new to him at all. How can everything be different and yet not different at the same time? During his service as a royal bodyguard it had often fallen to him to advise Prince Hektor on what he saw in the distance, spotting things long before anyone else could. It was as if the scales had fallen away from his eyes and he was remembering that he could see all along.
Halting, Demetrios pulled himself down into a crouch beside a clump of sage brush. His refreshed eyes began to examine a make-shift encampment below him, the camp of the Hittite raiding party.
It was highly unusual that the Hittites would be ranging this far west in force. It had been Ixios, of course, who had first alerted his commander to their presence in the area. The boy had been out scouting one day and he spied them from afar, moving down a valley from the central uplands. But additional news of them had soon come to him from a different source. His employer – the owner of the vast flocks of sheep Doson had so come to despise – had come to Demetrios begging help. His caravans had been raided, he’d said, his men murdered and his coin plundered. When Demetrios agreed to assist in their recovery, he learned that not only had the Hittites raided caravans, they had pillaged several temples in the area as well, robbing their treasuries of gold and their priests of their lives.
Such a thing could not be borne. Though the Hittites were nominally allies to his native city, he could not tolerate such disrespect. Mustering his little band, they set out at once to discover the location of the barbarian warband.
And now they were before him. Two days ago the Hittites had sacked a temple of Apollo near Halikarnassos and broke away with sizable treasures. The affects of their success was immediately apparent to Demetrios. There were a few guards deployed in the rocky swale before him, but they were clustered together, chatting loudly and taking hearty pulls from skins, most likely wine. The camp itself was a ramshackle affair, obviously thrown up in haste, and in an ill-chosen position. Of their captain, reportedly to be some bastard prince of a long-dead Hittite king, Demetrios could see nothing.
His eyes and ears were drawn to a young a musician, not yet bearded, who in the middle of the camp was sitting alone practicing on his bronzed horn. Even at this distance he could make out the tinny sound, but his playing was far from unpleasant to the ears. On the contrary, the rolling notes brought back memories of visiting Hittite players in Troy from years ago, memories of more idyllic time. Demetrios watched as one of the nearby soldiers walked over and swatted the horn out of the young man’s hands, then backhanded him and said something to him in Luwian that the hiding Trojan could not make out, then returned laughing to his fellows. The horn-blower looked askance at his attacker, then recovered his instrument, and after a brief moment, resumed playing again, greatly to the annoyance of his comrades.
Demetrios smiled, but he did not have time to linger. Rising, he slid away under the bright moon, back toward his warband, hidden in a dell not a mile from the Hittite encampment. It was fully dark when he arrived. He had allowed the pitching of only one tent, where he would meet with his captains around a wooden board that would serve as an impromptu planning map. When he strode up out of the darkness, he saw them awaiting him. The rest of his band milled about, weapons in hand, fully armed and armored for battle. They all turned to regard him as he approached alone.
“Blessed of Poseidon! You return to us,” Doson greeted him. The pirate’s calloused right hand held a half-empty wineskin, while his left cradled the slender hip of Lione, his lithe, wild-eyed, raven-haired favorite. Of Doson’s crew, Demetrios regarded Lione with the most suspicion. She was, to his eyes, not only murderous and sadistic but treacherous, and inclined to incite others to treachery to boot. He always gave the woman a wide berth; he did not like the ravenous way her eyes sometimes devoured him.
“And so?” Doson inquired, leaning forward eagerly. His eyes glistened in the moonlight. “How fare our Hittite friends?”
“Far afield, low on provisions, encumbered by their loot, and in desperate straits,” replied Demetrios. Brushing aside the Cretan, he entered the tent, setting the trident down on the makeshift table. Though the weapon felt light as air in his hands, he sensed the table strain under its weight, threatening to upend. He placed his hand upon it and glanced around at his captains in the semi-darkness. “They’ve posted guards, so they aren’t entirely fools, but they appear far less wary than they should. Some of the guards are drinking wine on duty.” Here he glanced at Doson. How much had he imbibed tonight?
“And how many do they number?” His Phrygian captain asked. Her hair was pulled back and tightly braided in multiple, functional plaits.
Demetrios considered what he’d seen. Judging by the number of tents….“Two score, at least,” Demetrios replied. He sketched it out on the wooden board with his fingers. “They appear to have no horses save the two dragging the wagon, a job better suited to oxen than those two unfortunate beasts. Their success at raiding may have exceeded both their expectations and their ability to carry their loot away. They have no chariots either, not that the ground would be suitable for them.”
Stratonike looked pensive. “Their position is a terrible one. The road above clearly leads to open high ground, excellent for deployment, especially for missile troops. Either this ‘prince’ is an utter fool to make camp there and not on higher ground, or…”
“…or they are expecting us,” Doson and Demetrios completed her thoughts in unison.
Stratonike nodded. “Agreed.”
Doson shook his head. “And yet without proper arrangement. Arrogant, then.” Then added. “And foolish, both, it would seem.”
Demetrios glanced at Lysias. The tallest man in the band, he was a hoplite of unsurpassed skill. “I want you leading our spears, but do not form phalanx. The ground favors us, but it does not favor a solid body of shields on the descent. It is not level as you make your way down, and is strewn with stones.”
Lysias nodded. “There are almost too few of us now to form a proper phalanx anyway, strategos.”
“Ill truth given voice,” Demetrios acknowledged sadly. We need more trained hoplites, and badly, he thought. “But speed is of greater import today, not solidity and defense. We need to get down among them swiftly, disrupt them before they can form ranks. We have archers, but so do they. I do not want to stand and trade shots. Close the range and do not delay.”
“I have fought with and against the Hittites,” Stratonike noted. “Their archers can be deadly, but as with all such bowmen, they will run if we come swiftly among them.”
“We’ve fought archers before, too, Amazon woman,” Doson grinned. “Hittite or otherwise. It’s always the same with cowards who fight only from afar.”
“So you admit your band of Cretans are cowards?” Stratonike countered. Nearly all of Doson’s crew carried bows. Some were truly accomplished archers.
“I said only from afar,” Doson’s teeth glinted, giving him a feral appearance. He patted the bronze kopis at his side. “We choose to fight both ways.”
“I want no more than one volley from your Cretans, Doson, and that only when Lysias’ spears are almost among them.” Demetrios commanded. “Then I want you down among them as well.”
“As you say, strategos,” Doson bowed deferentially. The temperament of the Cretan had changed for the better since Demetrios had climbed back up from that empty beach that fateful afternoon.
“That’s it then.” Demetrios looked around, speaking with authority. “Summon your men. Do not use the horns. Stratonike, you form our swordsmen to the rear of Lysias; you shall be the reserve. Doson, split your men to the flanks, you on the right, Eristocles on the left. I want no noise, and I want tight march discipline. The distance to their camp is not far, yet detection puts success in jeopardy. We cannot risk discovery.” He straightened. “All stand in agreement?”
There were nods from around the tent.
Demetrios hefted his trident. “The Hittites may indeed be expecting us.” He said. “Let us not disappoint them.”
“Disposition is ordered,” Stratonike noted, “with deployment of our strategos yet unmentioned.” She regarded him plainly. “Where shall we find you?”
“Where else?” Demetrios answered. A rare smile found his lips. “Out in front.”
* * *
All was in place. Their brief march to the little valley had gone unnoticed, and now Demetrios looked with satisfaction as the last of his units took position behind him. Stratonike’s plumed helmet blew in the breeze as she knelt in front of them, gazing his way with steely eyes. Lysias leaned on one knee beside him, looking down upon their intended prey.
Yet something nagged him. The camp was just as he’d seen it earlier in the evening; the horn-blower was still irritating his comrades with his ceaseless practicing, and several of the guards, apparently having drunk their fill, were asleep on the ground. From the various tents he could hear laughter floating on the wind. If they are expecting us, why do they not even pretend at defense?
There was no time to wonder. Doson sidled up to him in the dark. “All are in position, strategos,” he said. Demetrios could smell the wine on the Cretan’s breath. “We await your command.”
“Does the fact that they seem utterly unprepared and so poorly positioned bother you at all?” Demetrios whispered back.
Doson shrugged. “Good fortune is good fortune. Let’s not wait around for them to correct their mistakes, eh?” The pirate clapped him on the shoulder and made to move off, but Demetrios stopped him.
“One last thing, and pass the word.” He pointed at the persistent musician below. “That man has been abused by his fellows for practicing at his craft. I would see him spared, if at all possible.”
Doson raised an eyebrow. Lysias asked, “May we ask why, strategos?”
Demetrios looked back down at the camp. “His courage pleases me, as does his playing. If his prince is inept, he at least does not deserve to die for it.”
The Cretan shrugged. “As you say,” he whispered, and then rose to speed off to his group on the right. Demetrios watched as they put arrow to string and awaited his orders. Turning, he glanced out of the closeness of his helmet at brave Lysias, signaling for him to take his place at the forefront of the hoplites. Once the big man was in place, Demetrios nodded, rose, and began the descent. The hoplites rose and followed.
They moved swiftly. With the moon shining brightly down upon them, the ground felt less treacherous. The hoplites ran in a loose formation, leveling the points of their spears toward the enemy. Demetrios raised one hand – he knew that from where he posted the two Cretan groups, they would easily be able to see him. He lowered his arm, and the Cretans volleyed their arrows down into the valley. The missiles arced up and back down, plunging through thin cloth and leather to seek out the soft targets within. Screams erupted from the camp. The trap now sprung, Demetrios cried out, Lysias and the hoplites crying out with him, and together they plunged into the enemy.
What followed was a brief but bitter slaughter. The Hittite archers, swordsmen, and spearmen had mingled together in their tents, and there was no time to set any sort of order before the Trojans were among them. Spears struck and stabbed, blood spilled, and Demetrios began to hear the terrible keening of the mortally wounded. It was a sound he hoped he would never get used to. But he thrilled to the combat nonetheless. In amongst the tents he struck out with the trident, catching one spearman in the chest and knocking him down to a boneless heap. Then, spinning the shaft, he sent it crashing across the conical helm of another. His heart raced as he moved, eyes darting to and fro, looking for a captain or hero who might try to rally the easterners into some semblance of order.
He could hear Stratonike’s signature call, an ululating Phrygian battle cry, as she and her mongrel group of swordsmen entered the fray. To his left, he could see Eristocles and his pirates close in, doing their work with sword and knife, and to his right he could hear the raucous laughter of Doson as he led his own men into the fight. The Hittites were reeling, and beyond Doson’s men he could many of them fleeing down the valley into the night.
And then came a booming voice near the blazing fire at the center of the camp. Rich and resonant, it spoke of authority, and when it spoke, for a moment the slaying stopped, as all took note of the speaker.
He was tall, broad shouldered, and muscled like a bull. A beard black as death framed his face, braided in the eastern fashion like a Mitanni or distant Assyrian. Shirtless, his bronzed chest looked as if he’d been sculpted from stone and not born of a mortal woman. He wore a woven kilt of fringed cloth, tied around his waist with nothing more than a simple rope, absent all embellishment or armor. Truly, he looked more priest than prince. Yet his voice carried like an oncoming storm.
“So you have come!” he said. Demetrios saw he was looking directly at him. “I knew it would be so.”
Demetrios raised a hand as Stratonike came up beside him, eager to race in for the kill. Here was obviously the so-called prince of the Hittite party; break him, and all hope would truly be lost for the raiders. But as the man before him drew himself up to his full and considerable height, Demetrios sensed a change, that intangible metamorphosis in battle that told of a shift in fortunes, when victory truly hung in the balance. He felt the resolve of his own band wither, and with it, felt a pang of hope amongst the remaining Hittites, who were trying to regroup beyond their master.
The prince pounded his chest. “Do you know who I am, Trojan? I am Mutullu, prince of Hattusas, son of Tarhun the lord of lightning, grandson of kings!”
“We know that name. You are but a would-be usurper, and murderer of your own brothers,” Demetrios was stunned to hear Stratonike call out. Alone of his band, she stood close to him, her dory gripped tightly in both hands, while all others shrank away from the tall prince. “You are no son of a Hittite god.”
“Who is this woman that she should address me?” Mutullu thundered. Spittle flew from his mouth. “I am the son of thunder, the bringer of rain and flood! I did not come to this land to bandy words with some woman!” Demetrios now noticed the weapon he bore as Mutullu brandished it. It was a metal-bound club, a primitive and brutish looking thing, not at all what Demetrios expected a prince to be bearing, yet somehow fitting of this beast of a man. The Hittite leveled the club directly at Demetrios’ chest. “I came here for you!”
“Then it seems you’ve found me,” Demetrios said.
Mutullu began to wildly swing his arms toward the heavens. Has he lost mind? Demetrios thought, wondering at what he was seeing and hearing. The Hittite thrashed and contorted before him as he shouted. “I am come to the land of Lukka, of Ahhiyawa, the lands of fallen Arzawa, and I mean to claim them for Hattusas!” he cried. He waved his weapon. “You stand in my way. You protect the Lukka people in their hills with their sheep.” His eyes narrowed. “These things I have seen. These things I have heard. I know who you are, Demetrios of Troy, for I am sent by the storm god himself to destroy you!”
What is this now? He did not want to let Mutullu see his confusion, so he spoke quickly and with resolve. “Your storm god honors me beyond reason, then,” Demetrios replied. “I am but the captain of a little band. That I should warrant such attention…the head swells with pride.”
“Arrogance!” Mutullu thundered. “You lack the wits to see what is happening here! I set the trap, and you fell into it. I raided your temples, knowing that you would be drawn out of the hills where you hid, and would seek advantage in this place. But the advantage belongs only to Mutullu! The spawn of false Aruna shall fall before me.”
Who in Hades is Aruna? “Your warband is scattered, fleeing into the night, or dying here upon the stones,” Demetrios replied. “You let them die so that you could face me? Now they are lost, destroyed. The lives of his men should mean more than that to a captain.”
“What do you know of command? A captain of men dictates the course of action, as I have done, so that all others bow to it. You are no more than a slave, spawn of Aruna! I set the conditions to draw you to me, and you came when summoned! You are nothing more than servant here, and I your master to be!”
Demetrios gestured around him. “Eyes fail you. To me you appear to be master of nothing.”
“Enough!” The prince looked up to the starry sky. “Tarhun! Great god of lightning and storm! Look down upon your son and bless his limbs with strength, and his hands with victory!” He set his feet and glared at Demetrios. “Prepare yourself, Trojan, for this is my hour!” Demetrios planted his own feet firmly against the ground. He felt the power of his weapon pulsing up his arm, a reassuring surge. Demetrios was not a small man by any measure; in Troy he had towered above all others save Prince Hektor. Yet the man before him was a raging giant, taller again by at least a foot. He would have to use distance to his advantage. He would have to be swift. Poseidon earth-shaker, guide my hands and feet.
Roaring, Mutullu charged, raising his leather-bound shield to his shoulder. He was going to simply run him down, just like a bull after all. Demetrios barely had time to think before the giant was upon him.
Pivoting, Demetrios spun to his right, away from the onrushing shield, letting the trident slide out the length of his arm with the movement, turning the forked head sideways. He caught the edge of Mutullu’s shield with his reversed momentum and nearly tore it out of the Hittite’s grasp as he barreled by. Mutullu stumbled for a moment, his feet skidding in the sand, then brought his club in a huge overhead arc toward Demetrios. The swing was slow, and Demetrios danced away. Taking a firm hold of his trident with both hands, he lowered his stance, and the two maneuvered around each other for a moment.
“You hide behind your shield,” Demetrios mocked him. “Not terribly brave, prince.” The jibe had the desired effect. Mutullu bellowed again and came forward, swinging the club wildly from left to right and back. Demetrios dodged, stepped back, and then lunged forward, landing a hard blow on the cow-hide shield, scoring it deeply to the wood. Vibrating, the head of the trident let out an enormously deep bass note. The sound was deafening, and the ground trembled beneath them. Shockwaves rippled visibly up his opponent's shoulder. The Hittite was obviously surprised and confused by this unexpected hazard. Keep working the shield, and his arm will go numb in time, Demetrios thought. He lunged again, but this time it was the Hittite who gave ground. Mutullu recoiled, still shaking his arm.
In that brief moment Demetrios gave a quick glance around and was struck dumb with what he saw.
Near the edge of the camp, Stratonike appeared to be struggling against some invisible barrier. She looked as if she wanted to come to his aid but her hands and body appeared limned in a strange luminescence, like the light of the moon on a tidepool. She banged her fist against it, eyes wide in wonderment. The rest of his contingent were visibly shrinking away, looks of terror and awe on their faces. He barely had time to notice that there was what appeared to be a faint circle of light on the ground, circumvallating the ground upon which he fought, before Mutullu’s heavy club came crashing down once again.
Demetrios caught the blow with the length of the trident. It was then he realized that he could ill afford a single blow from the man land home. There was great strength in the strike, knocking him bodily backwards. Had the club connected his body, the fight might well be over.
Mutullu sensed Demetrios’ epiphany. “Yes!” He roared. “Yes! You know it! I see it in your eyes! I come for you!” The club swung again, and this time Demetrios had the sense to let it slide lengthwise down the shaft, deflecting the force away from him. With the club low, he quickly stabbed outwards with the forked weapon, again striking the shield with a resonant thrum. The Hittite stepped back momentarily, then came charging again.
“Demetrios!” Stratonike called to him, but her voice sounded muted, muffled, far away. The Trojan danced again, keeping his distance, as now Mutullu began a series of short, back and forth strikes. When the opportunity presented itself, Demetrios soundly struck at the shield. He could see it was beginning to suffer under his assault, and Mutullu was favoring his left.
“Come and embrace me!” Mutullu cried. “Let us see who makes the greater noise!” Abruptly, he opened up his defenses, revealing his torso openly, his right arm held up toward the sky, swinging his left hand out and away from his body, moving the shield out of the line of attack. Shocked, Demetrios thought he saw his chance. Quick as a snake, he lunged.
Light shot out from Mutullu’s open left hand, tracing across his huge fingers, a crackling arc of blue-white energy. With a great crash and a wave of heat the light raced up the trident, coruscating and flickering. Demetrios gasped as he felt a burning sensation, like being stuck with a thousand pins of fire, race up his arm and chest. Mutullu swept the club down again, and this time the force of the blow knocked the weapon of Poseidon from Demetrios’ hands. The Trojan, breathless, fell to his knees.
“Now you die, spawn of Aruna!” Mutullu cried, his face twisted in rage, his eyes narrow, blazing with some fell energy. “I shall take your head back to the Great King of Hatti!” The club swung again, deceptive in its lack of speed. There was great strength behind that blow, Demetrios could tell, and he rolled desperately to get out of the way. The head of the club smashed down into the dirt and stone, debris striking Demetrios in the cheek and shoulder. Frantic, he reached for the trident. The brute attempted to kick it away, but Demetrios was quicker. Barely in time he brought it across his chest as the club rushed down to meet him. The blow was blocked, but supine as he was Demetrios knew he had do something, anything, or Mutullu would be proven right as Demetrios would certainly die.
Screaming, he raised up his back and shoulders with all his might, lifting as far up off the ground as he could. He lashed out as the momentum of his last swing brought Mutullu’s face close, and the tip of the center prong raked the Hittite across the face, just above the left eye.
Mutullu shrieked in pain and dismay. Reversing his swing, Demetrios struck out awkwardly with the haft of the trident, but his blow missed as the prince retreated. This gave Demetrios the space he needed, and in one swift motion he rolled to his knees and rose into a crouch, the trident once more securely in his hands.
Blood was flowing freely from Mutullu’s forehead, down over his nose and into his left eye. The flesh was peeled back and hanging over his brow. Beneath it and through the flow Demetrios could see the white bone of his skull. Mutullu was trying to raise his shield hand to wipe the blood away, but he couldn’t quite lift it. The shield, Demetrios thought. Now, work the shield again. He lunged once more. Mutullu raised his defense –just as the Trojan desired – and once more the deep base note rolled out across the valley, rattling the teeth in Demetrios’ head. The Trojan moved to his right, trying to keep to the damaged left side of his adversary. Again, and again, and again he struck, and with each note he saw the shield become heavier and heavier, drop lower and lower. Mutullu wasn’t even trying to strike him now. The club lashed out only in vain defense.
And then the shield dropped just an inch too far.
Demetrios did not hesitate. He lunged again, feinting toward the shield, but at the last moment he raised his strike just above the lip of his enemy’s battered guard. The prongs slipped by, deep into Prince Mutullu’s neck.
Demetrios violently swung the trident, tearing it out of his foe with a great gush of blood. Mutullu wordlessly fell to his knees, and with one last uncomprehending glance at the sky, he fell backward into the dirt, his lifeblood pooling beneath him.
For the briefest of instants everything went silent, and then erupted with a noise that threatened to shatter the world itself.
He felt himself wracked with energy, calling vaguely to mind the lightning that had just before needled up his arm. Rising up, he threw his head back and roared, a cry of pure primal ferocity, both arms outstretched toward the ground. Light surrounded him, suffused him, assaulted his confused mind. His body became as rigid as stone, back arched to the point of pain, his limbs spasming with a power he had never before experienced. Stunned nearly insensate, the elements churned and roiled around him.
And then it was over. After some interminable time, Demetrios of Troy found himself on his knees in the rough dirt, trident still gripped tightly in his right hand, gasping for air and staring up at the sky. In his ears lingered a diminishing noise, growing fainter by the moment, the dwindling sound of retreating thunder.
Posted: Thursday, Sep 26, 2013 at 4:22 PM
An accidental demi-god! What a wondrous concept, and - like Vol 1 of The Exile - a ripping tale well told.
Posted: Sunday, Sep 29, 2013 at 6:22 PM