Marlin the Archer: Escape from the wrath of Sargon


Pelop and Herakul, The wrath of Lipit-Sin, Lahalit and Pelop escape through the Garden of Eden, freedom in Elam

I didn’t realize I had the big cut on my leg until I tried to get down into the street from the balcony. The intensity of the battle had dulled the feeling of it. But now I looked at it, an ugly gash across the back of my calf. I reached down and tried to see if the torn meat of my leg would pinch together. It wouldn’t. I found a discarded head-scarf and wrapped it around the wound and limped out the gate, back towards the camp far across the plain of battle. Herakul left me and went and righted a wrecked cart and we rode back, in the company other wounded men trudging through the mid-afternoon heat.
I had never seen so many dead men. They were everywhere, thousands of them some lying in twisted poses, arms or necks laid out at impossible angles, vacant eyes staring into the merciless sun. Vultures circled and dropped down. Large flocks of the huge, black carrion-birds already tore flesh from the dead and even from the wounded, who lay begging pitifully for water or for the dispatch of the battle axe. One of our men, Niarkos, an Achaean from the town of Atena, lay dying slowly in the cart, his death rattle growing fainter as we creaked across the field of war. I was feeling a bit light-headed, but kept sitting up. I felt that if I lay down, death might mistake me for one its own and take me away. Herakul seemed lost in thought. Even he was overcome by the sight of so much carnage.
“Where do you think we go, little Pelop?” he said, not looking at me, but rather staring at the distant hills to the east.” To a dark netherworld?”
“I don’t know, my friend, that’s what they say, but then again, I don’t trust what priests say. Seems to me that when something dies, it rots away into the ground and disappears. End of the story”
Herakul was unusually pensive. He twisted around and I could see the lines on his furrowed brow.
” This morning, these fools thought they’d have glory and plunder. Now they’re vulture food. Hah!”
He spat, and I knew that for him, this was to ward off the evil curses of the shades of the untended dead warriors around him.
“Well, if there’s a bad place, it must be crowded!” I tried to laugh, and Herakul chuckled.
“Yes, I’ll give you that. And it’s going to get worse!”
We passed where Sargon’s command had been. He had returned to camp, or perhaps gone to the fallen city to supervise the looting.
“The god-king better uphold his promise. “I said aloud, then regretted it, for there was a Sumerian driver at the reins of the chariot that I didn’t know.
Herakul spat again, this time with more vehemence. “I won’t lay you odds on that one.”

It took us the better part of two days to return to the big camp along the river. By then the gash on my leg had festered and I feared it would get the black disease. I had seen men lose their lives from lesser cuts.
I sat on the edge of my cot in my little tent trying to bind the wound with the head-scarf. It was raw and I saw it would surely get worse if I left it alone, so I called for one of my men to being me a firebrand. Herakul came as well, bringing a jug of the Sumerian white vanna, the strong kind. I took a long drink and lay face down and Herakul held my legs still. Dion, the Kannaanite archer brought the firebrand in and blew off the ash to make it extra hot.
I said, “Let’s be done with it,” And gritted my teeth. I thought, this can’t hurt worse than when I got the damn wound, and I didn’t even feel it then.
Dion leaned over and brought the brand down. But just as he did, my tent-flap was pulled back. A huge black slave from Punt held it. A small man, wearing robes trimmed in gold threads in the royal fashion, came in, put his hand up, and with a voice used to command said, “Stop!”
Dion stood up and stepped back. The man was an unusual type; extremely short, wiry, bearded, older, maybe even fifty years or more, with white hair and brilliant grey-blue eyes. He looked somewhat effeminate. I couldn’t place his people.
“I have been sent to help you, “he said calmly. “ You, the big one, stay. You leave.” He spoke with quiet authority. Herakul stayed put and Dion left, taking the smoking brand with him. The man had a big goatskin bag sewn with sliver clasps and fancy stitching around the edges. He looked into it and reached in and pulled out a small pouch. He poured a small amount of a white powder into his palm. My eyes must have been wide.
“Don’t worry. This will hurt, but it won’t kill you, “he said gently. I put my head back down, Herakul tightened back down on my legs with his unbreakable grip. I guess the healer poured the powder into my wound. I almost cried out, for the pain was like fire itself.
“Ah, I see it’s working already.” He took out a small bone needle and sinew from his bag. “I’m going to sew this up. You’ll be good as new in no time.”
After the powder, the sewing was nothing. He pulled up a tripod stool and sat down. “You may go,” he said to Herakul, “and drop the flap if you please.” Herakul looked at the tiny man like he was going to laugh, but then made an exaggerated bow of courtesy and left.
The little man leaned over so that his face was near mine. He whispered, “She sent me, but you may tell others it was by order of General Shul-lat.”
My mouth was unexpectedly dry and I asked him for vanna. Then I said, “I thank her and the General. May I ask your name?”
“My name?” he laughed, a tittering sort of laugh that you’d expect at court, sort of a he-he he.
“That would depend on when. I have had many names, and you?
“Pelop is not my first.”
“I come from a land far beyond these barren wastes, from a place where the snows only end in summer and people ride on sleds pulled by tiny deer. My name when I was a boy was Ogarik. But here I am called Lu-Zu. That means wise man. I don’t know if that’s the name I would give myself. I think Lu-Mu-dutu, man of knowledge, would be closer. Or lucky man, for I have thus far avoided death at the hands of my patients!” his eyes sparkled.
“Do all your people have the blue eyes?”
“Yes, and you yourself have them as well, so you must have northern blood, though they call you the Achaean. I have found them to be mostly dark-eyed.”
“When I was boy I was taken from the land of high mountains far north of Achaea. It seems strange now, but that was only a few years ago. I have lived many other lives since those days. They seem like a dream to me, “I said.
He looked at me, a bit of sadness in his eyes.” My father took me on a trip to the great river when I was a boy. We had hides of the red snow-deer to trade for tools from the people of the river. My father made a raft and we floated south for many days. He was killed by an arrow from people on the banks of the river. I couldn’t save him from death. I drifted with the current for a long time until the raft ran aground at a bend. I ran off and hid in the woods. I was hungry and cold and thought I would die. I wanted to. But an old woman found me and took me to her little hut of branches and turf. She was a witch, that’s what she was. But she was very kind to me. I was little, so I became her grandson, that’s what she called me. She knew all the plants and animals of the forest lands better than anyone else. People came to her to be cured of their illnesses. She was smart, and could tell what was bothering people. She knew how to fool them into thinking they were well. And she knew how to make the powders and poultices that draw out the sickness from wounds and sores. I lived with her for ten years, until I was almost a man. Then she grew sick and died. I stayed there, for now the people came to me for cures, and I found I was able to help them, too. “He paused as if remembering something difficult. “ But then raiders came from the south. They took many of as slaves and sold us down the river until we came to the great Black-water sea that was made by the flood. There I became a healer for a king named Duma- El. He was a good man. The place was called Kolkis. I practiced the healing arts for a long lifetime there. Then his kingdom was conquered by the Hattusans, and I wound up coming here with the troops. That was ten years ago. I have lost count, but I believe I have more than fifty years to my life. I find the heat here helps my old bones. I wouldn’t want to return to the land of the snows again.”
He leaned close again and whispered.” But enough about my life. I must tell you something. You are in great danger now. The certain someone who sent me here has been watched by the Great King. He knows of your trysts with her. And there is another man who bears you a greater malice, your patron, Lipit-Sin. You have stolen his glory in this war by your cunning and bravery. Everyone is talking about you at court. The king realizes you saved his life today. But Lipit-Sin, who has just been named Ensi of Uruk, fourth in line for the throne of Akkad, is furious. He covets our lady. He’s going to have you killed.”
I sat up though the pain in my legs was like a snake bite.
“I would worry about my own men if I were you. Outwardly, you are in great favor right now. The king owes you a life. I would use that life carefully.”
“Is she in danger?” I asked.
“She must be very careful as well. Lipit-Sin could save her or destroy her.”
“I must see her.”
“Impossible, “he said as he closed his bag and stood to go.” Tomorrow is a great victory sacrifice and feast. You will have to be there. Watch your back.” He lifted the flap and was gone.

Night had now fallen. Though my leg was stiff, and the stitches made it tight, I stood up and stepped outside. To my alarm, I saw the shadow of a huge man looming a few feet away. I stepped back and felt for my sword inside the tent, but it was not leaning on the pole where I always left it. The shape came towards me. I tripped and fell backwards into the tent. I felt a vanna cup and grasped it. The tent flap lifted and I heard a familiar voice.
“I don’t think a cup will stop them, little king” It was Herakul. He uncovered an oil lamp. It lit his eyes and sent its flickers around the tent walls. I breathed out.
“You scared the shit out of me!”
“Sorry, “he laughed, “We’re standing guard over you. Lu-Zu gave me the order. Dion is over there,” he waved his hand in the direction of the river, “Urartu- one of my Hurrians- is in the grove, and Anarkos has men along the perimeter. I trust all that are here with your life. You need to sleep. Leave this to me.”
“Thank you, my friend, “I said.” I think I need to get out of here.”
“It doesn’t look good right now. There’s a big feast going on in Sargon’s camp right now, celebrating the victory. Lipit-Sin has been claiming the glory, but everyone knows the truth. You and I are both in danger from him.”
“Let’s go right now, “I said, while they’re feasting and drinking.”
“Jackals feed at night, little Pelop. The word is that there are troops all around our camp, watching for our escape. We’ll have to tough it out. As I said today, we’re dead men.”
My head swam. The cut had made me feverish and unclear.” I must lie down, “I said.
“Sleep, little king. Tomorrow is another day to fight.”

When I woke it was deep in the night. A sound had brought me from my dreams. I felt where I was, in my cot. My head hurt. There it was again, a scratching and faint hissing. In the deep darkness I could see the tent flap move. I heard Herakul whispering.
“Wake up, Pelop. We must flee!” I pulled myself up and slowly stood, careful not to make any noise. Herakul was holding the tent flap. I was dizzy and sore. My leg was on fire. I stepped gingerly forward and nearly fell. .
“I’ll have to lean on you for a moment,” I whispered back. I didn’t ask him where we were going. He helped me move away from the tent. Against the night sky full of stars, I could see him put his finger to his lips for silence.
We slowly made out way down to the river. It was so still, even the night insects were silent. I could hear the lapping of the water on the bank, the murmur of the slow, strong current rolling the great river along. Outlined against the faintest sheen of the water was a dark shape; a Sumerian barge.
“Hang on, “whispered Herakul. He lifted me up and waded out waist deep into the river. He put me up on the deck and then climbed up himself. Two other figures were there on the deck. One raised his arm and the barge began to slide noiselessly down the river. The stars shone in a million points on the mirror surface and in the clear night sky. We crouched on the deck and let the camp slide away behind us. Here and there there were torches burning low at guard posts, but all was still for now.
There was a movement behind me. The door of the cabin opened and a small figure emerged. She reached out and found my hand in the darkness. I put my arm around her shoulders and she drew up next to me. We huddled there silently as the quiet riverbank slipped by and stars wheeled in the heavens.

By the time the dawn began to shift the world from the fearsome, ever- changing shadows to the solid shapes of the day that we know, we were deep in the marshes of the river-mouths. Here, the mighty rivers Idiklat and Purattu came together in a vast maze of a hundred winding channels, ever merging and diverging and changing. The date palms were so thick on the islands that they made solid walls of impenetrable greenery. It was the home of the marsh people, who they say were there before the Sumerians came out of the Abzu. These were the people who first made the reed boats. It was said they sailed their boats to far Harappa and even around the great horn beyond Dilmun to Punt and Egypt. I didn’t know about that, but I was glad for the protection of the jungles around us. Lahalit’s giant, black-skinned slave, named Mtombe, wielded the steering oar and guided the barge, which was moving with a fair amount of momentum, into the jungle at the river’s edge. I thought we would be surely stuck on the bank. But Mtombe yelled at us to push away the trailing vines and fronds, and with his huge muscles pushed the barge with the sweep through the green barrier of overhanging branches and vines, and we passed with much cracking and rustling into a hidden backwater behind the screen of jungle. The palm fronds grew together above us like the roof of a great temple and we were completely out of sight of the channel in which we’d been floating. The sun had by now fully risen and the heat under the canopy was stifling. Herakul, Urartu the Hurrian, Dion, Lahalit, and I sat on the foredeck under the shade of the overhanging fronds. Mtombe signaled for silence and stood stock still at the oar, watching the river beyond the branches. It was quiet in here, with only the insects and the birds making their commonplace sounds.
“This is the place he told us of, “said Mtombe quietly in his deep voice, “we’ll await them here.”
We sat on the reed deck and waited. Some time went by and no one came down river. We talked in whispers of our escape.
“It was Anarkos, “said Herakul quietly. “I caught him coming back around midnight from the camp of Lipit-Sin with four armed Hattusans. When he saw me, he turned and tried to run. I’m afraid I didn’t spare any of them!” He shook his head, smiling.” By the luck of the gods, that’s when Dion came up and told me the barge had pulled up.’
Lahalit spoke.” Lipit-Sin took it badly. It was his night and his glory; he wanted me and I refused him. He gave me until today to accept his offer.”
“And the King?” I asked.
“He has set Lipit-Sin on the high seat of Uruk. That makes Lipit-Sin an Ensi of Akkad; a General and High Priest of Enlil and Nanna. You are a slave. What is Sargon’s choice? Believe me, he bears you no love, and though he has still a little fear of the gods in him, it’s not much. He only learned of us yesterday, after the battle, from Lipit-Sin, who had me watched. You saved Sargon’s life. That saved yours until last night. Lipit-Sin told me about your traitor, that you’d be dead within the hour. I don’t know how I held back my tears, but I left Lipit-Sin, saying that I would answer him tomorrow. He let me return to my pavilion. I thank the goddess for my loyal Mtombe, who helped me steal away to the barge.”
“They’ll be coming any time now, “I said, “searching for you.”
“We have to trust in Utu-Nanna. He swore an oath to Inanna, and he’s very religious, “said Lahalit. “I trust him.”
I remembered Utu-Nanna from the feast in the palace of Ur; he was the chamberlain who had led me to my seat and also seen us out. I saw him in my mind’s eye; hands clasped in the Sumerian way, watching us intently that night.
“Sargon has many enemies.” I said.
Urartu the Hurrian spoke softly. “Every ruler has enemies. When I was a boy, Sargon first conquered the lands. I thought of him as a uniter of people, a bringer of peace. But he has become obsessed with his power and calls himself a god. My people hate and fear him. We only serve because we want our families to live. We don’t want our towns and cities sacked. We’ll escape to Hurrian country and we’ll be safe there. Sargon could never find us in the mountain villages.”
“Hush”, whispered Mtombe. He crouched low and stayed perfectly still, a hunter’s stillness. Through the screen of jungle we could see the river channel flowing by, green and murky. There were the sounds of scraping and thumping; oars being pulled. A wooden galley. We saw it coming down the channel, slowly. On the bow stood five Akkadian warriors in full armor. They held bows and spears. I recognized two of them from Lipit-Sin’s retinue. Mtombe put his fingers to his lips, but it wasn’t necessary. The flies and crickets sang and buzzed. The slap of the galley’s oars on the water was low and rhythmic. The galley moved slowly along, just faster than the current. The Akkadians peered this way and that, scanning the banks for any sign. My heart was almost stopped in my chest. I squeezed Lahalit’s hand, and she clutched my forearm, digging her fingernails into my skin.
The galley slid past us. One of the Akkadians looked hard into the jungle and I felt sure he would spot us, but they moved on downriver and were out of sight in a moment. We breathed again, but kept silent. All was still for a minute. Then I heard the cracking sound of a branch snapping in the jungle behind the barge. Mtombe’s head swiveled to the back. There was movement in the jungle. Branches swayed and were still, and then moved again. A hand and then a head appeared in the tangle of growth. It was Utu-Nanna the Sumerian.
He signaled for silence, but waved us to come. We crept along the side of the barge. He moved back into the jungle, waving for us to follow him. One by one, we lowered ourselves into the water and waded, waist-deep into the dripping greenery. I carried Lahalit in my arms. Herakul helped her climb up the slippery bank. We slipped into the thicket, taking care with each step to not break branches underfoot. The vines and lianas, which scraped at our faces, feet, and arms made progress difficult. We slowly moved forward like a centipede crawling through the jungle
We made our way for over an hour until we came to place where the undergrowth had been cleared back a little, though the fronds above still did not let the sunlight in. In the clearing were small houses with peaked roofs, five in all, made entirely of woven reeds, tied together in the same manner as the reed boats, with cords made of reeds themselves. They were empty. I supposed the people had run off to hide, fearing the persecution of Sargon’s nearby army.
Utu-Nanna clasped his hands in the Sumerian fashion and spoke quietly.” My friends, you will be safe here until tonight. The channels are full of Sargon’s galleys right now, but our hosts, the marsh people, know the secret back ways that even we Sumerians don’t know. You will have guides who I trust who will take you up the Idiklat to a safe place tonight. Our people will help you from there.
“Utu-Nanna, my old friend, thank you, “said Lahalit, suddenly Enheduanna again. She bowed formally to the Sumerian “You have helped me in my hour of greatest need.”
“My Princess, as you have helped me and my people before. We serve the same mistress, our Lady Inanna. You know I have no love for the King.” He made a hand gesture, like a circling motion. “I ward off his evil.” He said.” The new Ensi in Uruk will soon be a cruel tyrant as well, I fear; I have watched him grow yearly more hard and greedy.” Utu-Nanna looked worried, careworn. But then he looked up and smiled.” I am happy to be of service to you, our lady.”
Lahalit bowed to him. It was a solemn moment. Even Herakul was silent and unmoving.
We rested uneasily in the huts until nightfall. No intruders came our way, and we heard no search parties. At the last of dusk, Utu-Nanna led us again through the jungle by some other trail, or lack of one, to a place on the river, still under the cover of the jungle. There were three slim reed boats drawn up there. Three small, dark-skinned men sat on the boats in the water. They clasped their hands and bowed to us, but said nothing. The language of the marsh-people is older than Sumerian. It is said that the first humans of mankind came from this place, called Ed-Enna by the Sumerians.
When it was fully dark, we got on the boats, two of us to each, with a boatman in the back with long pole and an oar. There was also an oar in the front, which our boatman signaled me to take up. Utu-Nanna bade us a silent, bowing farewell, and we thanked him by clasping his hands in ours, in the Sumerian way. Then we slid the reed boats into the water and nudged our way through the tangle of vines and fronds and into the open channel. The stars shone above. The boatmen used their poles and we were soon slipping upriver at a good pace, keeping to the side, out of the current and right near the jungle as we went. We passed from one channel to the next, and I was almost at once completely lost in the maze of small and great waterways. Once, in the middle of the night, there was a distant thudding sound of oars slipping oarlocks. Down a channel a few hundred yards away, a galley passed with torches blazing at its bows. We stayed hidden under the jungle’s eaves and then moved in when it was again quiet.
Before dawn, we laid up in another jungle spot. We stayed there all day under the fronds. The heat and insects were terrible. Our guides said not a word, but they had gourds over fresh water and a bag of dates, which sustained us. We thanked them with looks of gratitude. I don’t know what favor they owed Utu-Nanna, but it must have been great; for their task meant certain death to them should they be discovered. Of course, our death was even more certain.
At nightfall we once again headed upriver. We joined in paddling against the current and made good progress. The work was relentless. We only rested for a few minutes three times in the whole night idling along the bank out of the current. At first light, we could see that the jungle had given way to the more random stands of date palms and stretches of desert so common in Sumer. We made for the east bank of the river, for we were beyond the jungle and the braided channels now. Our guides pulled over at a spot under a grove of trees. The dawn was beginning to give substance to the land and details of the scene. I was alarmed that there were a dozen mounted men there. I wondered if we had been betrayed. But if it was so, it was too late; there was no chance of escape.
A man dressed in the robes of a priest of Enlil greeted us from the top of the sloping riverbank. I recognized him at once.
“Welcome to Elam, my friends.” He said warmly.

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