Sodom and Gomorrah
There was an army of sorts standing between us and the city of Gazah. I was gladdened by the reports that Sargon’s armies had quit this region, for no matter how well I had trained my soldiers, our four thousand men would have been no match for the huge armies of Akkad, with their horsemen and phalanxes of armored fighters. The city of Gazah was not much more than few hundred houses spread out along an endless straight stretch of beach, with only a small breakwater harbor. There were fields and palm groves inland for a way, like islands floating in a dune sea. Rows of palms lined the ditches and canals of the settlement. Further inland the land rose up and there were distant hills, the ones I remembered from the trek fro Yeriko. There was a wall around the inner part of the town, but it wasn’t high. The Egyptian ally defenders sent a messenger out at night that brought us word that they were down to their last supplies and arms.
The tribal chief, Malek, had his camp south of the town. I sent a column of a thousand men right along the beach to catch his attention. As I knew he would, he threw his full force of several hundred fighters against our column. Meanwhile, I sent my archers and the One Hundred around to the east in a circling movement. When we had reached as far north as the town we turned and charged suddenly back towards the coast, fell on their exposed flank, and drove them literally into the sea, killing many of them as they retreated into the waves with nowhere left to run. The defenders of Gazah broke down their gates and came out too, taking vengeance on the rebels. I put Malek’s sad, bloodied head put on a stake near the beach. I ordered that a few of the defeated rebels be let go to flee away to the north and east. I wanted news of our coming to spread among the other rebel forces. From Gazah we marched up to Isqalluna, where we drove away another, smaller band. They scattered like leaves before the wind. Lachish we took without a fight. The town opened its gates and welcomed us as liberators. I knew they were just trying to spare themselves. It looked to be an easy campaign.
But locals who had interest in surviving and saw that we had the power to bring peace to the land brought us word that the larger armies were lying away to the east, in the hills towards Yeriko. They said two generals, Cheroboam and Hektmakar, were joined together near a pass that led over towards the lower inland sea. Rumors abounded, for the Kanaanites are superstitious, wild people, easily swayed by lies and tall tales. It was hard to tell what was truth and what was a tall tale. I dismissed the story that there were giants among the rebels, men ten feet tall, who could throw stones a mile. I had heard that kind of rubbish my whole life. But it seemed we did have a more difficult task in front of us. We sent out scouts with certain locals, sheepherders and the like, to get an accurate picture of the hills and valleys ahead. They reported what I already knew fro my flight through this same country, that the coastal plain gave way to rolling hills that became thickly forested steep slopes. An enemy who held the high ground there would be impossible to dislodge. I marched our army straight towards the mountains and came within site of the camp fires and scouts of the forces of Cheroboam and Hektmakar. I knew they watched us from the ridge tops. I had our troops pretend they were coming up into a pass along a clear-running stream, right below the heights held by the rebels, but at the last we turned south and moved swiftly south down a valley that locals told us would take us to lower, more desert passes east towards the inland sea.
We made a fortified camp, ringed with solid lines of defense. I ordered the archers to stand watch in shifts, but told the rest of the men to act normally. I wanted the enemy to think we might be vulnerable and come down out of their mountain lairs so we could engage them on more open ground. But none came. The next day we crossed a low pass that led to a semi-desert plateau of low hills near a village called Hebron. I was undecided as to our course there.
Old man Abraham came to me as I sat at my fire in the company of Finn, Urartu, Sadik and the other leaders of the One Hundred. The crane-like old coot sat down, his arms and legs like sticks now. His age was finally catching up to him. I saw the fire in Urartu’s eyes. Abraham paid him no notice, but flapped his long sleeves and waved out at the darkness.
“This is the land our people, the home my future children have been given until the end of days. We will stay here. Whether you stay or not doesn’t matter. Our Lord will protect us. Pharaoh’s power is weak here. These men out in the hills live here, too. You will never defeat them. The hills are riddled with caves and secret springs. The fighters up other can go on attacking you forever. Return to Egypt.”
I looked sideways at the old man. What he said made sense. But I had a job to do to win my freedom. If I let an undefeated army run off, I would go back the Two Lands in disgrace. I wouldn’t be given my freedom; more likely I would be killed. I secretly feared that Shesut’s marriage to the Pharaoh had put my life in jeopardy as well. If anyone knew of our parting tryst, I was as good as dead. Pepi liked to have monumental depictions carved of him striking down bound prisoners. I had no desire to be among them.
“I must fight these rebels and defeat them. There is no other answer. I will lure them to us and then destroy them. You are free to settle any place you want. There are not so many of you that these hills could not take you in.’
“But, “Abraham said, “The men of the eastern cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and Zoar will move against you, too. They you can defeat, for their towns and holdings are on open ground just to the east, along the shores of the inland sea. They are wicked men, not like the honorable shepards who band together to drive you from their ancestral homeland. The men of Sodom and Gomorrah are city dwellers. They are cowards, who hope the honest hill fighters will do the job of ridding the land of you. Then they will fall on the survivors and take them as slaves or worse. I know these people.”
Abraham looked sad, his usually vibrant spirit suddenly dulled for a moment.
“My nephew, a man named Lot, lives among the wicked men of Sodom. I sent two boys to tell him of a vision that I had of that town being visited by God’s wrath, but I fear he will reject them, and the men of the town like to have boys in unnatural ways.” He was grave. “It is a strange place. The valleys are green and the fields are fertile, but the hills have rents in them which burn with foul smelling fires, and there is brimstone around the inland sea. I foresee a great catastrophe there.”
I had learned that Abraham’s visions were worth paying attention to, though I was more interested in the fires from the ground and the brimstone, which I knew as a yellowish, bad-smelling soft stone. I had seen such places in the hills of western Achaea, where the locals said the smithy of the gods made his bronze swords and helmets for Dyaus and Perunas the Striker. I knew that in such places, the land shakes often and walls fall. Also, in such places, seeresses and priests inhale the deadly vapors of the earth and give their oracles.
“I thank you for your counsel, my friend, “I said to the thin old wraith of a man, “but my course is clear. I must beat these armies or have them at my back. After I have defeated them I will turn my attention to the cities of the inland sea, unless they sue for peace first and make that unnecessary.”
He looked at me with his deep, wise eyes. It looked as if he wanted to try to convince me further, but knew me well enough that he knew it was useless to try. He turned and stalked quietly away like a great stork or crane, but slower than before. After a few steps he looked back and said, “There are caves near here where we will take shelter. Trouble yourself not with us, and thank you for providing us with your safeguard. May the Lord be with you.” he held up his hand in blessing.
I saluted him, hand on chest in the Achaean way, an said, “and with you.” For I couldn’t think of any other response, not being a religious man myself.
We crossed over the desert ridges to the village of Hebron, where we parted company with Abraham and his followers. I saw Urartu standing apart, looking at the ground. Sarai held her head high and wished me luck, and then went with her aged husband and the others towards a large cave in a hillside. We marched away north up though the rolling hills, heading for the Yeriko road, that went through Bet-Lahm, a small village, and staying close enough to the rising ground on our right to take the high ground should be attacked. In the late afternoon on the second day we met the two generals as they led their troops down towards the south from their earlier position. There was an open space between us, but we had the better of it, with some hills to the east and the enemy somewhat below us to the west. We also outnumbered them by a third or so. Theirs was a substantial army, and appeared somewhat disciplined; instead of a rabble, they marched in ranks. I could see that there were many slingers among them, no more than shepard boys. But I knew what damage slings could do. Stones are plentiful and as effective as arrows. I wished to avoid combat, but knew it was a certainty. I decided to take a surprise course and sent the One Hundred rapidly east out of sight behind the hills, where I told them to then turn south at a run and then west, to get completely behind the enemy. I knew the Kanaanites would look for us to try to outflank them to the north and east, from the hills. I played the chance of illogical attack; coming from the unlooked-for quarter.
I also chose to send a first attack right into the setting sun, once again to take them by surprise, since they could easily see us, whereas we could only see their shadows silhouetted in the brilliance of the setting sun.
They must have thought me stupid. They recklessly charged into our feint and we drew back and unloosed our Nubian archers on them, while letting the Kannaanites advance ever further into our center. I ordered the men to keep their shields up against the rain of stones coming from their slingers and archers. I commanded our center to fall completely apart and the rebels charged through our lines. The van of the enemy had easy success and swept forward. They seemed to taste victory and pressed quickly. But they should have known that it was too easy. By the time the rebels had passed through our center Cheroboam and Hektmakar probably had realized the danger of a trap, but for them it was too late. We let a big part of their forces run through us, and then closed ranks, while the One Hundred, who had run up into position, charged out of the setting sun and fell on their rear, causing panic. I had kept back a third of my forces behind a hill and now sent them after the now eastern-fleeing rebels, chasing them into the desert towards the inland sea beyond the arid ridges. The others we obliterated with archery, spears, and battle axes. I wanted to spare some, but they fought too hard, showing no desire for mercy. Against such a foe, death is the only strategy. Better to destroy them than to leave them behind us. They’d only revolt again later. The carnage was terrible on both sides. I finally called our troops back and let the enemy carry the dead and wounded away to minister to them in whatever way they saw fit. We ourselves had lost over two hundred, nearly one of every fifteen men. Hektmakar was killed; Cheroboam escaped northward with his few horsemen. Night fell and across the field you could hear the cries and moans of the wounded as they lay beyond hope on the stones of the desert hills.
In the dawn, we piled up the bodies of the fallen and held a soldier’s simple funeral service, using the battlefield way of mass cremation. Otherwise, disease would spread among us and the people of the valley, whose ill-will toward us needed not be compounded by disease. Our soldiers wanted to leave at once, fearing the unburied spirits of the dead. But I ordered my most loyal Egyptian commander, Ani, to fall south and stay with the main force just north of the village of Hebron, fearing that Cheroboam would once again attack and take control of the strategically important road through the hills. Then I took three hundred mixed spearmen and archers, and my One Hundred, and we turned to the east, following up our earlier force chasing the rather sizable band of rebels who had fled towards the vast valley of the inland sea.
The land quickly became a desolation, a wilderness of dry wadis and cliffs. There were at least a few hundred men ahead of us. We couldn’t let a band of that size go free. Their sign was clear enough on the trackless hills and bluffs. We followed them, at times seeing them in the distance crossing a ridge or coming up the side of the bluff. There was no place of refuge for them or us here, for there was no water at all in this hard desert. We dropped lower and lower, heading ever closer to the inland sea, which seemingly is below the level of the rest of the earth, in a cleft formed by forces unimaginable, yet visible for all to see. It looked as if an axe of the gods had struck the earth and left a deep cut, in which lay the sea. At the end of the day we came to the edge of high cliffs. Our earlier force had stopped there as well and awaited my orders. Combined, we numbered over five hundred. The way ahead led down the cliffs on a steep winding road to the flat lands around the sea, which stretched out before us from north to south, with only a thin strip of land that seemed to separate northern and southern sections of the sea. At the western end of the strip, at the base of the cliff where we now stood, was a large flat-topped bluff a few hundred feet high, like an island in the desert. It was about a mile and a half away. We could see the rebels had climbed to its top and taken up a position that would be impossible to attack.
Beyond the hill lay the strip of the land that led to the other side of the sea-valley. Massive cliffs and ranges of harsh mountains rose in waves beyond the sea. I ordered the men to make a fortified camp and rest. We had marched twenty miles that day after fighting the day before, and though the wounded were back with the main force near Hebron, the men were worn out. We set up watches and through the night we saw the fires that were lit by the rebels on the fortress rock out in the valley.
The sea is a strange, otherworldly place indeed, sunk down in a deep valley below high cliffs and strong, empty ranges. The desert cliffs were not unlike Red Egypt in their bareness, and the valley of the sea, like a less fertile Nile Valley. I knew from before that Yeriko was at the north end of the valley, near where the little river flows into the long sea. Abraham had told me that along the eastern shore of the southern part of the sea were five towns, small cities, of which the two most principal were Sodom and Gomorrah. It was in Sodom that Abraham’s nephew Lot lived. I wondered what had become of the two boys Abraham had sent to Lot, but it was not of my business to attend to, so I put it out of my mind.
In the morning, the rebels still held their place on the bluff.
“We’ll never get them down from there, “said Finn. Urartu and Sadik agreed. I pondered the situation. If we left them there, they would certainly cause trouble down the road. I didn’t know if there was any source of water for them on that rock, but I knew we had only what we carried in our water bags. So we didn’t have the ability to wait them out. I decided that must abandon our position and return to Hebron. We would wait one day here to see if there was any movement, then turn back.
I had sent runners to Hebron to exchange information with Ani, the commander of Nefer-Kah’s householder archers. Strangely, a troop of Egyptians arrived at our camp at dusk. They were not my troops at all. Their commander was a man named Tanisre, who identified himself as being from the Royal Guard. He rode in on a horse, a most strange thing for an Egyptian, for though there are horses in Kanaa, they are rare in the Two Lands, donkeys being the usual steed. Tanisre was a haughty, hawk-face man, short, like many Egyptians. Plainly he was used to command and expected me to regard him as my superior. He came with two hundred fresh spearmen of the Libyan type, broader and more heavy set than the average thin Egyptians. He came to my fire.
I saluted him and asked how he came here, to this desolate place. I had not known of any reinforcements.
“I have been sent by the Lord of the Two Lands, the Black and Red, Horus Incarnate, Pepi the rightful son of Osiris and Isis, to oversee the subjugation of the rebels. I am to take the lead in the campaign.” He said flatly. His servant had brought him a camp stool with three legs, which he sat down on, ignoring the fact that I, the warrior who already had defeated the enemies of the Pharaoh, was still standing. I felt my mountain-man blood surge. I stood over him. I could have struck him down with my dagger right then. His Libyans would have been no match for my battle-hardened fighters. But Finn stood a few feet apart. He stared at me and gave his head the slightest shake. I took a deep breath.
“As my Lord commands, “I said, “But my master Nefer-Kah gives me my orders.”
“Nefer-Kah has given you to the Pharaoh,” said Tanisre in a dismissive way, “you are now under my command. “
There was bustle of commotion among the troops. I saw that Finn, Urartu, Sadik and I were surrounded by Libyans.
“I am in command here now, of all the troops, “he said, “and I am to bring you all before the Living God.”
He waved at his guard-commander, “Bind them!” he said.
I yelled, “What?”
The Libyan commander and some men stepped towards me. My hand went to my dagger. But at that moment two of my soldiers burst forward through the Libyans and threw a man headlong into the dust next to the fire. He was middle aged, somewhat fat, dressed in finer clothes than one would see in the desert hills: a town dweller. Tanisre stood up, and pulled back. The Libyans leveled their spears at me and at the man on the ground. Finn and Urartu had come to my side; Finn held a mace and Urartu his axe.
My soldier looked with surprise at the Libyans and he and his men held their own spears toward them. He seemed unsure what was happening. Tanisre had eased back into the Libyans.
“Speak, Hotep, “I said to my soldier.
Hotep held his gaze on the Libyans and said, “We found this man and several others running up the road from the east. We though they might be rebels.”
The man had pulled himself up from the dust and stood there brushing the dust from his bearded face and his robes in a panicked way. There was a look of absolute terror on his face. He held up his hands as if beseeching the gods.
“The wrath of God is upon us!” he cried out.
And then there was a sound that I had not heard for a long time, a deep rumbling coming from the very depths of the earth itself. It seemed to start from the east and came rolling like an endless herd of thunder-cattle stampeding towards us. The ground began to shake, then to violently jerk back and forth. The rumbling grew louder than any thunder and the rocks shook back and forth. I fell to one knee and steadied myself with my hands on the ground. I suddenly felt as small as an ant, and as powerless. The soldiers all fell, their spears clattering. There were cracking noises as huge pieces of the rimrock broke off from the cliff face and crashed down into the chasm below. Great clouds of dust rose, and the tripod holding the fire fell and sparks flew in a sudden blast of wind. The land was suddenly dark with night and dust. Everywhere men were crying out to the gods for mercy.
Then all at once there was a red light across the valley. What was it? I found my feet and peered into the void. It looked like a gigantic wall of flame was rising, starting from the north and almost instantly spreading south. It was many miles away, yet there could be no doubt. It must be fire. It spread quickly and here and there were huge balls of flame, as if something had suddenly burst into fire. I thought of the smoking islands of the Achaean sea. It was what was called the fire of the gods from under the earth.
Then there was a new sound, coming from far across the valley of the sea; a loud, but distinct cracking noise, as if the very earth was a huge log had being split by the axe of heaven. Then came a deep thudding sound, sharp but heavy, as if mountains them selves had smashed into each other at tremendous speed. We all grabbed our heads. I thought my ears would burst. Truly, this was the vengeance of an angry god. Had anyone ever heard such a sound before? There were three different claps of this earth- bound, mind-shattering thunder. We fell to the ground. The deafening sounds seemed to go on past us like gigantic waves as the ground quaked.
“Don’t look at it! “Shouted the man next to me. In the red light I could see him. He was on his knees, his face in his hands, turned away from the dreadful fires of the underworld. “I am Lot, “he said,” I was told this would happen.”
Then the quaking eased, though the ground still shook. Someone ran up with a torch. My head was racing. Whatever had just happened, I knew one thing: I would not be taken. This was my chance. I pulled my dagger and I turned. “Come with me!” I ordered.
I found Tanisre running in fear into the desert, surrounded by a handful of Libyans. Finn was with me now. I ran through the terrified Libyans and grabbed the Egyptian. I pulled him up to me. I was six inches taller than he was, and outweighed him by plenty. I lifted him almost off the ground and plunged my dagger into his heart. He died quickly, as much from fear as from my mortal thrust, I suspect. I tossed his body on the ground. Other torches appeared. “Kill the Libyans”, roared Finn. The word was spreading of the Libyan’s treachery, and my men, scared as they were by the earthquake and the distant fire, fell upon those that didn’t cry for mercy. I shouted for my men to come to order and fall back to camp, which they did, though in a confused way. Finn and Urartu ran among the men, calming them and ordering them to come to their ranks. “Falcons!” Crocodiles!” Cobras!” Came the shouts of the unit leaders. I ordered that the highest ranking Libyans who yet lived were to be brought to me. I found Lot and a few of his people, including three women and two young boys. They were at the edge of the cliff. Lot was turned away from the fire, though one of the women stood there watching, her face illuminated by the red glow. The flames were astounding. Even at this distance one could see the pillars of fire.
“The cities are destroyed, just as he said,” said the woman.
“Just as who said, “I asked her.
She turned to look at me, “Why, Abraham, of course,” she said calmly.