The Hittite Warrior
Silently, like a mountain lion prowling for its next meal, Hektor lead three hundred Achaean soldiers from the military garrison in Ankara, through the coal black night. His silhouette like a shadow on an invisible screen was hidden, absorbed by the thick blackness. His destination: Hatusha, once the capital city of a strong empire, now a small town in central Anatolia. Brought down by strong invaders from the west -- Achaean invaders, it continued to survive as an agricultural village. Hatred drove him. Revenge led him. Someone from Hatusha had ambushed a squad from the garrison killing ten men and wounding two others who escaped to report to the commander. Now they would be redeemed. But not as an eye for an eye -- there would be a hundred dead Hittites, as they were called, for every dead soldier. The Hittites, not having a military and lacking any military training, would not fight back.
Hektor seethed. No one can kill an Achaean soldier and live to tell about it.
He vowed to his gods that he would be first to avenge his lost comrades. His soul could not rest until they had been avenged, so he believed. These Hittites had caused problems long enough, a constant source of trouble, they kept talking about the day when they ruled the world before the Achaeans arrived, and someday they would be free again. Did they think they could defeat the mighty Achaeans? Tonight it would end. They will know their place beyond any doubt when tonight is over. Blackness as thick as pitch absorbed his image on the rocky trail and matched the hatred in his heart. He had served his five years in Ankara, an honorable tour of duty, receiving two promotions for bravery, and was scheduled to return to Troy, then to his home in Achaea next week--retiring after thirty years of service. But he was chosen for one more special assignment. Anger engulfed him. Why him? Why now? The Hittites would surely pay for this.
Nothing stirred: no sounds of crickets, frogs, owls, or any nocturnal animals. The squad of death moved through the night, drawing ever closer to their target. The only sound was the steady gait of the horses, trained for military duty, as they moved over the gravel. Even the moon and stars hid behind thick, low clouds, as if they did not want to witness this massacre, like turtles afraid to come out of their shells. Even the air was still. Seemingly, Nature held its breath in horror, afraid to observe the fate of Hatusha, capital of the once mighty Hittite Empire.
Hektor, leaning forward and squinting, peering into the darkness, seeing nothing past the head of his horse, cursed under his breath, how far to town? It must be near. Let’s get this over and go home. It seems there would be a torch lit in one of the Hittite homes. If there was, Hektor could not see it. He grasped the hilt on his sword fastened securely on his belt. He anticipated his kill, knowing that his brothers would be avenged tonight. And he would be the first to draw Hittite blood.
Hektor knew that inside the twenty foot rock walls of Hatusha, families slept in stone houses. He had been inside the walls many times to do business. But tonight he had a different kind of business. He also knew most of the Hittites lived in homes outside the walls where their wood frames and mud walls offered little protection. Last to move to Hatusha and forced to build outside of the walls, they would be first to die. Then he would go inside the walls to kill the rest of them. He thought that no one would be expecting them. He sneered. They will be surprised.
Suddenly he heard frightened horses whinnying and snorting, breaking the silence, sounding the alarm. His adrenaline erupted. Startled at first, he turned toward the sound and saw a man dash from his home towards the horses, carrying a torch apparently to see what was happening. Hektor moved in among the horses. As he raised his sword high over his head he could see the man’s wife in his peripheral vision, watching and waiting at the door. Without a sound a swift and mighty blow came from the darkness. The man cried out, dropped his torch, and tumbled to the ground like a pine cone falling from a tall tree. Hektor heard the woman scream. More like an agonizing groan, “No!” loud enough to warn the neighbors.
He cursed again. Now to get her.
Ravia, fearing for her life, terrified beyond wildest imagination, fought the instinct to run to her husband, lift his head and hold him in her arms. She could hear her husband’s killer breathing and smell his body odor. He was coming towards her. Slamming and bolting the heavy door her instinct changed from running to her husband to saving her family. Fear flowed down her back to her arms and legs, paralyzing, horrifying fear as Hektor began trying to break through the solid wood door with his strong sword. The door would hold only a minute. She had to move quickly. She grabbed her sleeping son by his shoulders and shook him. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth as she tried to shout.
“Uriah, up. Get. . . ”
“What?” Uriah jerked to a sitting position on his bed.
“Someone just killed Dad,” she half cried, half screamed.
“Who?” he asked as the pounding and shouting at the door continued.
Ravia could see the look of fear and anger on her son’s face as if panic and anger baptized him when he seemed to realize what was happening. Why is he asking questions? He needs to get up, now!
“Annitis?” he asked, with the high pitched tenseness of fear in his voice while jumping to his feet.
“Here,” Annitis told him. “They killed dad. We are next” as she threw on her clothing.
Uriah shook his head, swallowed hard and fought back tears as he pulled a shirt over his head. “Dad dead? How?” Fear, grief, and disbelief stabbed his heart, stopped his breathing, confused his mind, and froze his actions.
“It is true. We leave now.” Annitis said.
The pounding on the door continued as Uriah yelled, “You, what do you want?” as he pulled on his boots.
“I am from the Ankara garrison. Open up. I want to talk.”
Ravia shook her head and whispered, “No do not. He just killed your dad. Now wants to kill us. Move faster Uriah. We have to run!”
Uriah pulled his shirt over his head and tied up his woven kilt with trembling hands. Ravia could not believe what she was hearing She recalled the garrison consisted of five thousand Achaean soldiers deployed from Greece. Hittites hated their occupation and had fought two unsuccessful wars for their independence. Even though she hated their occupation of her country, they were regular customers purchasing honey from Uriah, buying horses from her husband, and wool from her.
“Someone ambushed an Achaean patrol. We found a ring with the inscription for Hatusha,” Hektor said as he continued smashing the door with his sword and calling for help, his anger increasing with every strike to the door.
Uriah saw Ravia grab an extra tunic. He motioned towards the back door with a quick nod of his head. Looking at his right hand, where the ring used to be, he remembered selling it to some Assyrians last week who said they wanted a souvenir. It must have been his ring they found. Uriah had sold the ring, a simple thing with the head of bull inscribed on it, representing one of Hatusha’s gods, to buy a new horse for his father. Now his father had been killed and who knows how many more will die tonight. Horror induced nausea overcame him. What had he done? He thought of surrendering. Then he changed his mind. If he surrendered he would die for sure and there would be no guarantee of the safety of the rest of the town.
Uriah saw his mother and sister jump when the soldier broke through the door. Panic pulsed through his veins. He had gotten his father killed; his mother and sister’s lives were threatened. He could not let them be killed too. Looking around for something to defend himself, he saw on the table the dagger his father had recently given him for his sixteenth birthday. Snatching it up, he plunged his dagger deep into the Achaean’s chest. Uriah felt Hector’s knees go weak and begin to buckle. He saw his look of surprise, and then saw his eyes grow large in horror and panic, and grow cold from death. He released his tears for the loss of his father, tears for the fear in his mother and sister, tears for his own fear.
He feared because he knew his simple and peaceful life of keeping bees and selling honey would never be the same. He angered because he had no choice except to run. He had no other options. This moment would change his life forever. There will be more soldiers soon. His heart screamed. His veins throbbed. His head ached. Someone else was always directing his life. It was happening again. He would have to stay and fight, or flee. Either way he could lose everything. Someone else seemed to always be in charge of what he did with his life. But this time he knew he deserved it. Why had he sold that ring? Where were the Hittite gods?
Uriah remembered the dagger in his hand, a half cubit of forged iron with an ivory handle carved with eagle designs, bought by his father from some Achaeans who came to buy horses, a talisman he used to kill an Achaean. Ironic. He pushed the man out the door with his right foot as he retrieved his dagger. Hektor fell to the ground, dead.
“That is from father, you pig.”
He had never killed before. Fear, human odor, and the sight of blood caused his stomach to erupt all over the dead man.
“Idiot! Now more men will be killed!” Annitis chastised.
“We will be next if we do not run!” Ravia shouted.
“Come.” Uriah knew they needed the horses but he also knew they could be killed trying to get them. He also knew of a rally point the people of Hatusha would use to hide but decided against going there -- too much risk of being found. The Achaeans knew where it was and would figure out where everyone went. Instead, they would have to leave on foot and use the concealment of the darkness to escape.
“May the gods give us favor,” Annitis gasped as Uriah whispered, “Let’s get out of here!”
“Ahead of you,” Ravia replied, her voice constrained with fear but relieved they were escaping.
Panic led him and fear chased him out the unguarded back door. He knew if they were caught, they were dead. Their house like others outside the wall protecting Hatusha was timber framed with mud brick walls plastered with clay. The doors had been solid wood and built with strong locks. Most homes had only one door but Uriah’s father built this one with a back door looking toward the Halys River “just in case”. Running toward the river that flowed through the ravine, past the bee hives, down the steep bank in the rear of their property, slipping on the dew, stumbling over rocks, Uriah led as the trio ran through the darkness. Low branches on the fig trees swatted them, caught on their clothing as if trying to hold them back and scratched their faces, but they dared not cry out. They raised their forearms up to protect their faces and kept running.
His father had often talked of how this ravine would lead them to safety someday if any enemy attacked and they had to get away. But like other things planned for “just in case”, Uriah did not think they would ever have to use it. As they passed the fig trees he knew they were near the river. Hearing shouts of the men who found the dead soldier, Uriah thought they were going to be caught and wondered why his gods had failed him. Again. The sound of the voices behind them caused them to run faster.
He did not believe in the gods and only thought of them when they failed him. He believed that the best way to live was to be morally perfect through virtuous living. Obedience to the Law of Nature was the path to virtue. As long as he obeyed the Law of Nature things would be well for him. But why this?
As they splashed into the river and began running down-stream, Uriah knew the sound of the water splashing noisily over rocks and gravel as it raced downstream would mask any noise they made. He heard the Achaeans hollering. It seemed that someone had tripped over a bee hive and was feeling sorry for it. He looked back to see if they were followed. He saw no one. The water was cold but near the shore it was shallow and swift. The autumn rains had not started. Which god should he thank for summer? Uriah knew that a god had created everything, leaving the world in the hands of the Laws of Nature, and not interfering in daily events, controlling only the movement of the sun, moon, and stars. As long as men lived by the Law, everything would be alright. Did not the Law of Nature say to never trust a stranger? How could he forget? Why did he trust that Assyrian?
The night was so dark Annitis and Ravia had to hold on to each other’s hands to keep from being separated and falling over the rocks in the river. Uriah asked himself, so this is what fear tastes like? Sour. Bitter, Rancid. He could not see danger if it was right in front of him. He wondered how this night would change his life. Something always seemed to dictate what he did. Realizing he still had the dagger in his hand, he rinsed the blood in the river and put in his belt.
Uriah thought as he waded, most days go by, one like the other, with nothing significant happening. But sometimes when you least expect it the day presents situations that change lives forever. Had he begun one of those days? A seemingly insignificant event at the time, like selling a ring to strangers, had made significant changes in his life. Are the gods punishing him for disobeying the Law of Nature? Can obeying the Law of Nature reverse this situation? What do the gods expect from him? Is there a plan for his life? Or is life an endless sequence of seemingly insignificant events randomly blended together? Maybe life was like this river, different, every day. He wished he knew.