Unlike Homer’s accounts, the great Siege did not turn on the love of a young, rather
reckless man for another man’s wife so much as it had to do with trade and commerce in the Aegean Sea region, and the question of which city was going to dominate it. But not even this accounted for the event, which (and this is only part of it) began in the shadows of a lost continent’s catastrophic sinking, ages before the Greeks happened on the Aegean Sea-World.
How many thousands of years had the monstrous spawn of Rahab coiled and struck at the Sea Gate far beneath the earth’s surface that refused to let them pass? When a man raises a son to the age where he too becomes a father, that is reckoned a generation. But that is too brief a measurement. It was said that a moment to the Almighty Creator is a thousand years to mortal men. If that is used, then at least eight moments passed before the Door was touched by its Keeper, Who appointed a warden, a blue centaur, to guard it and release whatever the Almighty wished to release, and the Two Serpents (twins of born from a dark science of lost Atlantis) passed free into the Upper Waters.
Swimming through the seas in the brightness of light they had not known for thousands of years, the half-blinded serpents kept to the shadowy parts as they explored their new domains. But the were not entirely free of restraint. A ceaseless tugging at them made them restless, and eventually they began to follow the direction the invisible Hand led the monsters--straight to the Hellespont and a certain queen-city known to the Achaeans as Illios, City of the Two Serpents.
Now this part of the world was a land bridge between two continents, with so many armies and conquests that the name changes were frequent and almost beyond count. Hellespont, Mysia, Asia Minor, Anatolia--are but a few names. As for the chief city, Ilios, it was known as “Troas,” to the Romans who came long after to rule that part of the world, and after Rome passed, “Troy.”
Before Rome, before Greece, before the Achaeans, it was really Lud’s City--named after Lud, Noah’s descendant. Lud was forgotten in the passing of time by his descendants, who named him a god and a consort of an increasingly popular Goddess of the Earth, the Ludim people preferring a deity of human blood-sacrifice and prostitution as their foundress instead of the original founder, Lud, a mortal man.
Lud also became the name for the surrounding territory over which the city held sway. Its inhabitants then were known after the goddess’s name as Ludim to themselves, and as Ilians to Achaeans. But yet another name grew prominent, especially after the Achaean tribes poured down into the sun-bright lands surrounding the Aegean Sea.. Because the goddess’s ivory hands had come to hold serpents, the deadly asps that infested the rock walls of the countryside, she was called “Goddess of the Two Serpents,” or, simply, “The Serpent-Armed.”
These last names were shared by both Achaeans and Ilians, for they both revered the goddess as chief deity, at least until Agamemnon’s reforms.
All this name-business could not have mattered less to the attacking Achaeans. Lud’s City? Lydia? Ilios? “City of the Two Serpents” “The Serpent-Armed” “Ludim”? “Ilians”? It was the biggest and richest of the cities within easy reach of their swift, black-sailed ships--that was all they knew and cared about. For centuries it had defied their attempts to take it.
Kaphtor--ringed by a seemingly invincible navy--they had taken, with the many rich cities and trade empire. Why not Ilios too? Yet the city was not easy prey. For one thing it was situated a distance from the shore--no attack from the water could surprise the defenders. It was built on the highest ground in the area, so it could see anyone coming, surrounded by high, thick walls that made defense easy and attack very difficult. The city’s lands were rich and productive--it always had plenty of food in store for emergencies.
The city raised horses on outlying ranges and the luxuriant grass produced strong, swift chariot and war horses the whole world wanted--and they gained much gold from selling them. The city also commanded numerous towns and villages throughout the region, which also sent men to the city’s defense whenever called.
Though the Achaeans, man to man, stood a head above the average Ilians, the Ilians with their vassals and allies could equal the Achaeans in numbers, and on their own territory they far surpassed any force the Achaeans could send against them by sea. The city’s many metalsmiths and chariot works worked day and night to keep the city’s armies well equipped with armor and chariots.
The city maintained a standing land army for the city’s protection.
For the city’s defense, added to all these, was the naval force. The city’s fleet was powerful, able to keep the barbarian cities ringing the Angry Sea in line with her policies and trading exclusively with her.
Ilios held other strengths as well. But the one that rankled most to the Achaean sense was, perhaps, stable and excellent leadership. King after king, Ilios was ruled by good kings, a long, unbroken dynasty of rulers who cared for the city’s best interests, ever seeking ways to expand the city’s power and sovereignty and wealth. It was these wise and careful rulers, more than anything else, that kept the city free and ever growing in strength and wealth despite the neighbors--mainly the Achaeans--who coveted everything Ilios possessed.
To attack so mighty, vigilant, and sacred a city was, in the long-held Achaean view, madness. Only a fool would try it. No navy could take it, however strong. Perhaps a land army could, but only after a long, long siege. But the Achaeans, long-adapted to being a sea-people, dreaded extended operations on land, especially on territory unknown and hostile to them as this would be.
What fool would try such a thing?
To oblige the Achaeans to do it, that fool must be a very powerful one, indeed, and not only would he have to be an egomaniac, but he must never entertain self-doubts. The Achaeans could never have seized the Empire of Kaphtor against seemingly overwhelming odds if they had been such fools in the old days. But times had changed. New men, new leaders, had come to power. Such a fool as the attack on Ilios required now existed, as a matter of fact, and it helped greatly that he happened to rule Mycenae, the greatest of the Achaean city-states.
Having dealt with the political side, the more difficult barrier to leap was worship--a point which the Chief Cupbearer was quick to make to the king. Though Achaeans routinely attacked and slew people who worshipped the same gods as they did, attacking a city that was a Mother House of the Goddess, as this one was, a city that held the oldest temple to the worship of the Serpent-armed, this gravely afflicted the minds and hearts of the Achaeans.
It was so hard a thought that Agamemnon knew he must deal it a death blow, or he would never succeed in rallying the Achaeans to his campaign. Calling his chief priests from the Temple of the Serpent-Armed in his kingdom, he informed them that, on pain of death, they were now to serve “her father,” Zeus of the Lightning Bolt.
This was a hard thought for the priests, of course. They knew very well that the Serpent-Armed was no such daughter, that she was far older than the worship and deity of Zeus, a minor divinity of the vanquished and enslaved Kaphtorim. Even the Kaptorim averred that Zeus, though once powerful, had died on their island. They pointed to Dictys Cave which they claimed was his tomb.
Agamemnon swept these trifling quibbles aside immediately. “Zeus is very much alive, I tell you! We all know the Kaphtorim are liars and slow bellies. Why should Achaeans, their masters, listen to them! No! You will now serve the Great God, Zeus of the Lightning Bolt!”
Agamemnon’s soldiers, as instructed, swept into the temples of the Serpent-Armed, broke down the images of her with iron hammers, and images of Zeus were installed. This was the easy part. Switching the people’s allegience so suddenly was not as seamless as the king would have wished. He nearly had a full-scale revolt in his own dominions. But he prevailed, by force of arms, and a clever distraction of splendid banquets thrown open to commoners, after which everyone was sent home to his household altar with an image of Zeus.
The rest of the Achaean world was scandalized over Agamemnon’s impious deed, but when time passed and the goddess did nothing to remove him from his throne in punishment for his sacrilege, her worship lost respect and following. It appeared that Agamemnon was right--the goddess was less than Zeus, she was his daughter, and to Zeus they owed their greatest devotion. The people neglected her temples, and most all turned voluntarily to serving Zeus of the Lightning Bolt and required no royal decrees to do so. But the Achaeans, after all, were practical folk. They recognized power sources, and worshiped them. Being seen as less powerful, they naturally moved from the Serpent-Armed Goddess to “Father Zeus.”
Having scored this great coup against the strong hold of the Serpent-Armed upon his Achaean people and allies, Agamemnon knew that a last great barrier to his campaign had been removed. He had also struck a blow at the Serpent-Armed, reducing her stature profoundly in the eyes of the watching world. Her remaining centers of worship, Ilios being the chief, were made to look backward and lacking in proper reverence for the high gods. “They are mean and nasty foreigners--look at them! So small in stature, so dark in skin, and always seeking ways to rob and enslave us Achaeans!” he said to many people. “Let us now rise up and destroy this nest of serpents and their petty gods with them! Let us leave not one man, woman, and child of this race alive! We shall build a new city, full of our own good people, upon their ashes! Achaeans, be men and arise to cause of Father Zeus against these wicked and degenerate offspring of sea serpents!”
Yet, admirable as this achievement was for the sake of the war, Agamemnon’s military strategy could only suffer in comparison. It would happen exactly as the commanders--all those allied to Agamemnon--feared. A protracted, bloody siege! The last thing for which the Achaeans were temperamentally prepared!
“By the Great Zeus, we’ll be forced to fight them, man to man, on their own ground, in the shadow of their walls and holy places!” men had protested to their commanders, when they heard the king’s decision.
Other men, with tongues loose as dogs, talked to their friends and even to their gossipy wives, they were so angry at how the war was being run. “How can we possibly win it, without many of us dying on foreign soil and going unburied like dogs and slaves?” they had cried. “Our enemy has many fighting men, and much food and weapons! And while we are fighting them, what becomes of our own cities and homes? Will they not be raided, and all we have in this world be carried off while we are away? Lovers will steal our wives, they will eat at our tables, and kick our sons like slaves--and we will know nothing of it until we return--if we return! Brothers, let us not go to war against so mighty a city!”
Now most Achaeans thought the same as the foolish-tongued ones, though they kept more silent. And there was little chance they could be forced into the fray, once they had seen that this war would not be fought intelligently so that they stood a good chance of winning. Never had so strong a city been taken by Achaean arms! Yet Mycenae, as chief of the Achaean League, thought it could be done--should be done, since the so much trade and booty was being taken from them by their rival. Determined to make war, Agamemnon put pressure on the heads of cities allied to him, and they were, one by one, forced to bow to his will.
What choice did they have? Agamemnon, if he called any one of them a rebel, could crush them with his fleet.
Singly, they were helpless; together they might resist him, but how could they unite to overturn his decision? Agamemnon’s spies were everywhere, he always knew what they were talking about in their home cities, he would be alerted about what they were up to, and he would, they knew, move quickly to squelch them.
One of this titles the court poets used in praising him was, “Sacker of Cities,” and he would show no pity to former friends and allies.
Grumbling, the cities began the preparations for raising and combining their fleets. But no one wanted this big a war, and the work dragged, month after month, with the allied cities sending excuses instead of their warships. Mycenae’s king, after seeing that threats to hasten the work did no good, turned one day privately to his Chief Cupbearer, Philetos of Hymenaeos.
“How do I get these malingerering dogfaces to work harder and join my fleet? I cannot wait forever. I will be humiliated and shamed before all the Achaeans if they go on any longer this way!”
The advisor, himself a nobleman from a city subject to the Ilios, fled to Agamemnon’s court and aegis because of an indiscreet affair with a royal concubine’s daughter that the king and queen never intended him to marry, had thought about the question long before it was asked. That was his business after all, anticipating his royal patron’s every wish and concocting the right response. He bowed low, smiled, and delivered his prepared answer. “The enemy must commit some grave outrage against your city and your honor, Great Everlasting King! Then your worshipful subjects, the Achaeans, will rally round your flagship!”
“Excellent! Of course!” replied the king who liked the new title given him. But his mind was cunning but not so quick to speculate how, and he turned again to his counsellor, who was quick to supply another answer.
“You wish to know what sort of outrage? Well, it could be any number of things. What do the Achaeans care most about, Your Majesty? What would damage their honor, or your honor, in their eyes? That is what we must look at!”
The king turned on his imported, gilded Mizraimite chair, which was really much too small for his haunches but looked better than anything his craftsmen could produce. He was a military man, impatient at court with flatterers and oily-tongued nobility. He liked straight answers to straight questions.
“Well?” he thundered. “You are my father in counsel-craft! What is your word of wisdom to me your royal son?”
The counsellor decided he had better not keep this fierce-tempered lion of Mycenae, a notorious robber-baron and pirate, waiting another moment. “We all know their rich and idle princes like to travel and seek pretty women among the barbar--er, to ‘sample the women of Achaea,’ as it could be phrased. Why not set it up so that one of them outrages the honor of a royal princess or perhaps even a king’s wife? That would furnish sufficient outrage, Your Majesty!”
The king looked immediately pleased. He thought about it for a moment. “Of course! I’ll do it! But which royal princess--surely, not one of my daughters! I’ll take off your head if you are suggesting such a thing!”
The Chief Cupbearer bowed again. “Surely not! It can be one belonging to an ally of yours, one who is not so apt to realize what is being done until it is too late to stop. One who trusts Your Majesty implicitly, yet is somewhat slow of wit and unable to comprehend fully the situation--”
The king thought hard while the advisor spoke, describing the fool they wanted. Nestor? No, that old man was altogether too sharp and keen-witted--he’d spot a serpent coiled beneath the leaves in a moment’s time! He thought about several more, but it was difficult, so he had his advisor get a scroll and read out the names and their cities.
He had some thirty walled cities and their kings as allies--the rest were stinking, fly-bedeviled villages and isles too small to bother with.
It took quite some time for the reading as each one the king chose had to be discussed. Fortunately for the advisor, he had done his preparation well, and he was informed on the households of each king.
Finally, they settled on three. Of the three, Menelaus of Sparta seemed best after they had discussed him, and the king ruled that Menelaus was their man.
His daughter? He had several, but they resembled him too much, and weren’t considered attractive. But his wife was renowned for beauty, and she would serve admirably. The advisor assured the king that Menelaus wasn’t the most attentive husband, leaving his young, beautiful wife for long stretches while he hunted pard and lions and wild oxen on hunting expeditions--it would be easy to slip the prince in for a visit, and the cuckolded Menelaus wouldn’t even know until it was too late.
The king of Mycenae was very pleased with himself. He had found the way to raise the whole Achaean world to his side. Savage beasts at heart--men with a love for swordplay who would soon as much pounce on any sleeping, unsuspecting city they could find and put it to the torch after taking loot and slaves as trade with it--nothing could equal their fury, he knew, if properly aroused.
“I’ll send for this prince today!” he informed the Chief Cupbearer. “Also send purchasers and bring me more finely woven goods and war horses, anything to keep things looking friendly between my city and theirs.
Take any amount from my treasury they may need, and tell them to kiss the king’s arm as often as he will permit--the Ludim can’t get enough flattery. Now I want the prince directed to Sparta as quickly as possibly, as soon as Menelaus has left it, of course!”
Why say anything more? The Cupbearer had more than he had ever dreamt of as vindication for what he had suffered from the crowned heads of Illios. Vengeance! Was anything sweeter in the whole world? After bowing and kissing the king’s arm repeatedly, he scurried off on soft, hissing slippers to do the king’s bidding.
The old man in royal robes looked out the window toward the plain and the shore where the ships came and docked--and sighed. It was going to be war, he sensed. The Achaeans were unashamed liars and deceivers--a band of lazy, banqueting pirates who knew only how to make war about peaceful, industrious people and steal everything they had achieved by skilled, hard labor . They flattered him at court while they were busy assembling a big fleet to come and attack him! Why? Why all this treachery and killing--for many men on both sides would lose their lives and their wives and children would starve.
He knew one cause--Agamemnon! That big pointy-nosed, pointy-bearded donkey with a king’s crown was alone responsible for stirring up the Achaeans against the Lady’s Sacred City. Besotted with greed and vainglory, growing unable to inspire his overfed dog-pack of court poets to fresh burst of flattering verses--they needed greater expoits from him than drunken banquets--the beast of Mycenae aspired to greater wealth and glory. He could only get it by robbing and slaughter, and so he was going to war by calling to his aid his rag-tag, half-civilized league of robber barons and pirates.
It had grown late in the day--the business of court had concluded with the last ambassador kissing his arm and presenting a gift of his country’s best things, and he was left with a few guards and servants, and he had already sent away the nobility and the last ambassadors to lodgings in the outlying towns. He had concluded business profitably too with the cities ringing the North’s Angry Sea--everything agreed to in his city’s favor. Since his fleet was much the stronger, they had no choice but to accept his terms, and give him gifts in addition. A king must be strong with dependent trading cities, or they would refuse all interference, and then begin extorting exorbitant prices on grain and slave shipments.
North Wind was blowing hard on the exposed side of the palace. Shutters were kept closed on that side while winter lasted. Braziers were still burning in the throneroom, so he went down the steps of his throne and across to one to warm his hands. He shivered even with a thick woolen lining beneath his king’s robe.
As always, servants carrying refreshments and several musicians entered when court business was concluded, and the Chief Cupbearer had returned to do his official duty. No one but the Cupbearer could give the king anything to drink, and so his life was held responsible for the king’s. That made honest men of Cupbearers, of course, but they also were closer to the king than anyone else except the Royal Family, and therefore had the king’s ear on matters.
Sending the refreshments back to the kitchens, Priam remained with the Chief Cupbearer (the guards at the far end of the hall did not count, for they shut the door after them to stand duty for the night watches). Distracted by some noise outside, Priam was just about to say something to the Cupbearer who still had his mixed wine ready in hand for the king, but he went to the window facing the inner courtyard instead.
Looking down, he saw a richly-dressed young man leap from a state chariot and quickly enter the palace where the royal women’s quarters had a closely-guarded outer gate.
“Paris!” the doting father cried softly. Then he sighed. His son and heir would rather run to the women’s quarters to look for his favorites then come immediately to his father to tell him what he had seen in the Achaean cities he had just visited. It would be perhaps a day or so before the prince grew tired of his courtesans and finally made his appearance in the king’s private chambers or in the throneroom. Then he wouldn’t tarry very long, but would fabricate some clever excuse for leaving to go on yet another visit, taking the king’s best ship.
The old monarch looked out above the courtyard, toward the West. He saw dark clouds, and shuddered--a storm from the West! Very seldom did storms come from that direction. But now it was appropriate, he thought. The Achaeans were now rising in their western isles, gathering their best warriors and warships to come and attack his city and kingdom. Did Paris care about that? Probably not. He was too busy chasing amusements and the prettiest women he could find.
He turned away from the window before the chief jem of the prince’s entourage arrived in the courtyard. A woman had been found worthy of the prince’s household, and now--heavily veiled in the Achaean style--she was led from a litter through the gate and into the women’s quarters, though she was not staying there but would be introduced first to the Queen Mother before being taken to the prince’s private chambers. Before long, the whole palace buzzed with the news and descriptions of her exceptional beauty, everyone except for the king taking part in the gossip. He would be the last to know such things--people fearing to tell him things that might upset his gray hairs.
While the great event of Menelaus’s tall, green-eyed, fair-haired wife coming to Paris’s city became the talk of the day, the king went about his king’s duties, among them the periodic inspection of the defenses of the city and his kingdom. Even if he had heard of the latest arrival, he would have dismissed it as of no importance, since Paris was always bringing pretty maidens home, favorites of the moment that he soon discarded for others. What happened to them all? Some were sent home, others were given to friends, still others ended up as sacrifices to the Goddess on the altar or as consorts to the worshipers. The Goddess took many sacrifices of comely boys too, but these were mostly runaway slaves. But the disposal of Paris’s playthings was of no real interest to a reigning king,a nd Prim continued with his main thoughts.
What chief duties had a king, other than rule well and produce an heir? He had produced an heir--brave, foolish, and given to pleasure--but he was still capable of superintending the country’s defense.
“Let the boy play a bit more, maybe soon he would find serious business enough in life to turn his head gray before his time,” the father thought, reminded by certain pains in his side and chest that he might be going before long to his fathers.
As for defense, the years of his long reign had taught him how many deadly enemies the world could hold, so he took this duty with utmost seriousness. In fact, he had commanded the nemesis of the Achaeans to be built, whatever the cost.
In the palace workshops? Certainly, not! Nothing could be kept confidential in the palace--what with his wife’s spies and informants spread throughout. Only one place in his city and kingdom had this cunning woman, jealous of her powers and privileges, failed to penetrate--the Temple of the Goddess.
The priests of the Goddess, led by the chief priest, ruled. The Queen Mother, her eagle-eyed spies, and all the twittering corps of gossips depending on what she gathered--they were left out in the cold! Despite the Queen Mother, the temple remained an exclusive male preserve within the kingdom.
Feeling the icy, cutting blade of the North Wind pierce his clothing, he walked down out of the palace, receiving the salutes of the guards stationed along the way. Just outside the palace walls he turned to the left, and attended by several royal guards he went to the temple of the Goddess. He gave only the briefest glance at the latest offerings for sacrifice, nine good-looking Achaean striplings and maidens sitting with their arms and legs shackled with bronze chains, whose blood would soon fill a golden cup that the chief priest would present to the Goddess.
There was no entering the Temple’s main sanctuary without seeing her, a tall figure carved in ivory, wood, bronze and shining with gold and jewels. In the light of many oil lamps, her pale face gleamed with precious ivory brought down from the far north, and her ivory eyes flashed with obsidian as she extended arms entwined with serpents, their jaws and fangs open as she grasped them by their necks. Filling the end of the Sacred Hall, the Goddess stood huge and overwhelming, the incense curling upwards round her in blue tendrils.
High ranking, shaven-headed priests in gold-fringed Tyrian-dyed purple robes bowed to the king and, since he showed by his giftless hands that he was not coming to worship and pray for Goddess’s blessing on the kingdom and city, then led him to the work he had commissioned to be done there years before.
They were accustomed to his periodic inspections, and knew he was still interested in the progress of the work, but not so much lately out of reverence to the Goddess--for whom he seemed to have lost his former ardor of worship. Why? They had discussed it in the inner chambers at length, and concluded that the king was too old now to care about pleasure with pretty temple women or the divine madness that dancing of the priestesses and wine could inspire.
Sacrifices gave him no pleasure any more, as the blood of young men and girls was poured out in the golden cup set before the Goddess. Had he lost faith since an ancestral shrine of the Goddess had been discovered beneath the foundation when they were enlarging the Temple workshop--a shrine with an image of her as a many-breasted sow with suckling shoats? They had quickly, at his order, covered it over for the sake of the people’s piety.
What did such an image matter anyway? they reasoned to him. Had not his fathers received a living image of the Goddess as she truly was--a figure in white ivory, with arms entwined with serpents, and a necklace of many, glowing colors covering her shoulders? The priests who had left instructions for the Goddess’s Destroyer of the Achaeans had shown his fathers her divine image in a glowing mirror, had they not? It was all recorded in the Temple’s records.
Yet, despite all that they recalled to him, nothing availed. The king kept glancing down toward the spot in the floor where the ancient, many-breasted Pig-Goddess was hidden. And all the power and glory of the Serpent-Armed Goddess, given to the king so freely for so many years--he had come to take it for granted. That is what they had concluded.
But Paris? Making up in part for his father’s growing disinterest in religion, he was coming more often, and bringing fine sacrifices and big gifts of gold. He would make a fine king of the Ludim people!
With him the policy of spreading the Goddess’s worship over the whole world could resume with full speed. He would be the Goddess’s champion, and conquer all the surrounding countries and set up the Goddess’s shrines in all the chief cities of the foreigners.
The Goddess of all the Earth would then rule supreme! It was ordained in the sacred writings of the Temple--only the present king had proven himself not the one to bring it to pass. Paris, then, was the one to do it! Until then, it would be hard for them to wait. But the king was very old, and it could not be much longer. The crown prince himself might grow impatient and simply seize the scepter away from his father’s feeble fingers! To help him think of this, certain priests had been dispatched to cultivate the idea in the prince’s mind--but the prince was presently too entertained with his mistresses to give the idea serious thought. What a pity!
He was such a fine prince in every respect--like his people being slim and medium in height, arrowlike in the waist, neat in the hands and feet, not broad chested but manly in every respect--except that he liked women a bit too much for his own good and mayebe his country’s security.
Arriving at a guarded chamber full of smoke and activity, one of the workshops for his project, the king went in. He found men working just as he entered, and was pleased. Metalsmiths were fitting parts together part of a framework, and so he had to stand back a few feet from the heat of the fire that was being fanned with bellows to make it hot enough for melting fine metals.
There was an opening in the roof for the heat and smoke to escape freely, for they would have suffocated. Priam observed the work for a time, but his eyes were elsewhere, turning inwards. Sometimes he saw, in the darkness, a Golden Door opening in the dark clouds. He had thought, for a long time, that the door meant his city’s future.
Things had gone very well in his reign, and the idea had pleased him. But now with the Achaeans rising up against the Lady’s City and her dominions, the Golden Door appeared less and less to him. He had, in growing alarm, questioned his not giving as much lately to the Lady, but to no avail. The golden door no longer appeared.
Would it cease appearing to him? he found reason to wonder.
Or had it all been trickery in the first place, like one of those false doors the Mizraimities liked to build in the cenotaphs of their rulers?
Now his only hope of turning away the dark clouds and bringing back a golden destiny lay before him--in the work he had commanded. Though years and much treasure had been been expended in the effort, he would crush the Achaeans! Though they presently kissed his arm, it was only to break it at the first opportunity--and so for that time which must come he must be ready.
He did not want the Achaeans to do to his city and kingdom what they had done to the once-glorious Kaphtorim, reducing their Mother Island and many splendid cities to wretched villages, their glory stripped to a a few goats and poor farmers among the ruins.
Once his people and the Kaphtorim were mighty sister-kingdoms, being descendants of the same fathers, but the Achaeans had come between, dividing them, and then destroying Kaphtor after years of peaceful trading and false-hearted “arm kissing.”
Now the Achaeans, particularly Agamemnon, felt their rising strength, and regarded their chief rival, the City of the Serpent-Armed, with familiar contempt.
Being newcomers, they were either ignorant or simply forgot that this city and kingdom was the only one that kept the warlike, broad-chested Hatti, with their splendid city-destroying army, from attacking and dispersing them from their island kingdoms like a pack of dogs sent running from a city dung-heap by armed warriors’ arrows.
Only his city had been able to diplomatically keep in check this powerful people of the hinterlands. The Achaeans thought the Hatti did not come forth against them due to fear of them. They gave no credit to the clever ambassadors of the Ilians whatsoever, nor of the huge treasure in bribes that kept back the ravening wolves of Hattusas from the coastlands and islands.
The Achaeans also thought that his throne and city were alone, without any great weapon to defend herself, other than the weapons they themselves possessed in abundance--warships, spears, arrows, and trained, armored warriors and charioteers. How wrong they were!
Secrets had been discovered in the temple archives, which would enable the Ludim to rise to glory approaching the gods! What Kaphtor had been in power and glory, his city would soon become!
Priam knew that his city and kingdom--with no one else to stand in the way--could rule the world.
Messengers of the gods had flown down to earth in sky chariots and parleyed with his forefathers--had they not?--offering a two-sceptered rule, a dual empire, where they would rule the upper sphere and the Ludim would rule the lower sphere, with the Achaeans and beasts supporting them from the carapace of the Great Turtle that swam in the River Ocean, which in turn was secreted by the Great Octopus which gave the waters their diluted, wine-dark or inky color.
To that end the gods’ ambassadors had begun teaching the Ludim clever things, and though they departed, they left drawings and instructions on how to construct a great machine that would destroy their enemies.
With it they left their power-stone as well, that would lift the Achaean-killing machine into the skies. To confirm their mission, they had shown his fathers the Goddess herself, standing serpent armed in her sky-chariot, which was so large it was like a palace around her.
She stood with other gods like herself, all shining with wide necklaces of shining colors and wearing robes like those of the Mizraimites.
Why should the gods and their messengers favor them over the Achaeans? And why didn’t the gods kill the Achaeans themselves, without aid of the Ludim? He had wondered about it many times, and had pored over the ancestral tablets. Were the sacrifices the Achaeans giving to the gods so poor and scanty that the gods had grown displeased, angry enough to want to wipe them from the face of the earth? He found only one tablet that shed any light on his question.
It carried the instruction to destroy it after it was read, but somehow it was not broken to bits. It named the grand, godlike ambassadors of Orthys their city set among the stars of heaven as Lord Most High Kalos, Lord Most High Hermos, and Lord Most High Zelos. It praised the Ludim of the City of the two Serpents, saying that the gods of heavenwanted to make a pact with their king.
The Ludim would destroy the Achaeans, who were barbarians and would not sign the pact with them. The Ludim were chosen of the gods to destroy the Achaeans, for the gods required the blood of humanity to restore their strength from time to time, and the Achaeans refused this offering. But the Ludim were more pious, and so they must take care to supply the gods when they came back to the cities of men.
Was the sacred pact ever signed? Since the ambassadors had delivered their secret wisdomf or the making of the war machine, Priam had to believe it was signed by the one who was then king of his people, but there was no record in the temple archives. Over the years he made dilligent search, demanding that the priest who kept the archives find the tablet of the king’s seal and the conditions of the compact, but Laokon could not produce any such tablet.
Learning the clever things shown them for developing their kingdom, the Ludim had raised themselves in numbers, wealth, and power--mastering many arts and trades, so they were enabled to spread far abroad over the earth.
World rule was within reach, if only the Achaean upstarts were put down. His city still held mastery of the sea lanes to the North and South, was rich in herds and farms, and mistress of trade--all this the Ludim could boast.
But he knew very well that if he let the Achaeans muster their combined strength then his great city and kingdom would be reduced to another Kaphtor--a wilderness of ransacked, people-less, ruined towns, cities, palaces, and ship-forsaken ports.
Never would he let that happen to the Ludim! he had decided. To put the Achaeans down at his feet, he had a plan--and a great war-making machine that could pierce any Achaean armor.
Leaving the workshop, the king went down a stairway lit by torches, and came to a guarded door that was kept closed at all times. Recognized by the captain of the guard, he was garbed in a special, clean linen, and his feet were put wrapped with linen and tied around the ankles. A strip of linen was placed over his mouth as well. Only then was the door was opened, and the king was passed through into the chamber where only he and guardian-priests were permitted entrance.
Watched day and night always by two priests stationed at opposite ends of the chamber, who wore the same clothing as he did to preserve the room’s cleanliness, the king’s eyes faltered for a moment before he adjusted to the glare. The glowing blue stone in the center of the room, set on a stone slab, put out so much light that he could not quickly see the machine, which, when complete, would be lifted by the blue stone into the heavens, where it would circle about the Achaean cities, scorching them all black.
The guardian-priests made no move to caution him, but strict instructions from the gods’ ambassadors forbade touching it without gloves. Yet he moved a little closer, wanting to be more sure that the Golden Door would not forsake his kingdom, that this was, indeed, the Savior of his city, kingdom and people.
Nemesis! I am Nemesis your servant! the thing seemed to shout in the silent air. Look on Me and shudder, ye mighty of the earth! For I am invincible! I will slay the Achaeans, every man, woman, and child of them! Then I and my masters will rule the world together!
His blood ran cold looking at it, but he remained half-believing with one part of his mind, not sure in the other. How could a thing so small knock down so many walled, fortress cities as the Achaeans now possessed? How could it burn them with fire with a beam of light more deadly and sure than lightning, which hit here and there and could not be controlled by mortal men?
How could it stop an advancing fleet or an army in its tracks, and turn them to ashes in a moment or two, while delivering the now undefended Achaean populace to him as helpless captives? Yet he believed, the gods’ messengers had never played false with his forefathers.
The one requirement they left was that they turn over the young male and female captives to them--that was all. But there was something else--one more slight request made of them. The destroying Nemesis Machine would continue to rove across the sky unless the empowering stone was returned to the gods.
When the Achaeans’ cities were destroyed, with their armies and fleets, the people of the Two Serpents were to return the stone to the gods residing in the heavens, according to instructions left in the archives with the teachings. It was his last hope, this sacred engine of death.
Priam felt a wave of triumph sweep from the machine right through his old bones, driving away his nagging doubts and misgivings. Intoxicated by the supreme power of the machine and what it was promised it would do, he could almost taste the coming victory. It made him flame with vibrant, renewed youth--for a moment. But the moment passed quickly, and he sagged in his winter robes, and felt as if he could not get his breath. War, and ravaging, sword-swinging armies were powerless beside this spectral Engine of Terror.
He shuffled toward the door. The sacred weapon of the gods, with so much promise of death and destruction in it, seemed to take away all life surrounding it. Priam could not stand being near it for more than a short time, before all life was drained from him.
“When would it be finished?” was his only question. He could see for himself that it was not quite complete, according to the scrolls he had studied.
“O Great Everlasting King of the Ludim, we know there is none beside thee in splendor and power, and so with unending gratefulness we thy humble servants greet thee, O Father-Fount of Perpetual Blessing--” the chief priest began, bowing low and kissing his arm.
Even with his wide trading contacts, the priest carefully explained to him, it was very difficult to find the many, previously unknown ores and substances needed to make the machine.
The chief guiding element, being so rare and precious as it formed the part that was clever and cunning in thoughts, was the hardest to locate in any significant amount. A chunk about the size of a man’s head had fallen from the sky in ages past.
One temple record described a sky chariot burning up and releasing the “Sacred Tear” before the chariot exploded on contact with the ground. Portions, being thought to be the tears of a god because they flowed with magical power and colors, were put in temple images.
These he had been obliged to gather--a difficult process of part-negotiation, bribery, and threates of attack--from ancestral temples in the east.
It had taken much effort, treasure, and sometimes armed raids, but they had gathered just enough to finish the machine.
Carving the patterns required to direct the war machine to its targets, that was even harder. Peering through special “Eyes” given them by the gods’ messengers, priests peering through special crystal eyes left by the ambassadors had carved the patterns no ordinary eye could see. Piece by piece, the machine was slowly, expertly put together, though there were many delays, many excuses.
The priests even said that they has mislaid the proper magic incantations, by which the machine was given wonderful powers by the gods--and it would not work properly without them, so they must make thorough search in the temple archives. Meanwhile, the Achaeans grew more powerful and more difficult to handle.
The king, on going to his private chamber for the night, paused to look out at the moonlit city and the plain where where the city’s dependent villages and towns reposed and the waters of the sea gleamed on the far beaches. The busy day of work and trading over, and the ships at the port were tied up for the night.
Only the priests worked through the night watches--or, rather, made effort to appear they were doing so, he reflected. Would the Nemesis of the Achaeans be finished in time to overcome Agamemnon and his allies? He did not know for sure.
All he could do was add another increase of the royal tithe to the temple treasury, making inspections as often as he had the strength to do so. It was so irksome, to have to continually prod these supposed servants to do their duty in order to save the city from her enemies. But how could he let down his vigilance?
An old man with the experience of a lifetime as king, he knew the best-laid plans could still go awry, like a mother’s weaving unravelled by a naughty child.
Nine years of bitter siege passed--the thing the Achaeans feared most--King Agamemnon’s rash act played out in endless spilling of blood, with no real gains to be shown the Achaean side. For all the bravery of Achaean arms, the City of the Two Serpented Lady still stood strong and rich and full of warriors! The wide coastal plain of the Xanthus, the river of Ilios, once green with grass and trees, and thick with villages, towns and trade, was deserted, swept by fire and continual battle. All its horses, thronging crowds and markets, swept away as if they had never existed!
Odysseus of Ithaka, one of the more cunning Achaean commanders, had a plan, however. On the Isle of Tenedos he had skilled workmen and artisans construct a wooden horse. Guards were posted all around the port, to permit no one else to view the work but himself. When it was finished he loaded it on two vessels lashed together to make one vessel.
First sighted by the Ilians from a citadel tower, the marvel of a horse striding the waves brought the entire city flocking to the walls. The port was in Achaean hands, but the city was able to send armies out and capture it anytime the king commanded--yet he had never given the command. This time he did not need to do anything.
The Achaeans, soon after landing the great Horse, packed up and departed in their red or blue, black-sailed ships. The siege was over!
The city went wild with celebration--after a pause of profound disbelief and shock had worn off. The gates sprang open at command of the king. Soldiers, courtiers and courtesans, temple priests, workmen and artisans, sailors, nobility--everyone forgot rank and mingled commonly, singing and rejoicing in the wonderful release of their city and kingdom from the hand of the enemy.
Musicians recalled their arts and sprang forth with harps, drums, and flutes. Dancers led the way.
Tavern-keepers were not far behind them, bringing forth wine in abundance from their storage vats. The king commanded a holiday in the uproar, but no one could hear him, they were all shouting and singing so loud.
The whole plain became one vast scene of revelry, spread with merry dancing and drinking multitudes, who let long-pent up feelings burst forth like spring torrents after a hard, ice-bound winter.
Unable to resist the excitement, hundreds of high officials and nobles in the palace complex hurried out to the world most of them seldom visited because of its noise and dirt.
Though the queen, her women servants and the other palace women were not permitted at the first to join the public, the men were free, and even the eunuchs quit their posts, affording the public its first sight of this hiddenmost, pale-skinned race of palace guardians and administrators. Common people gaped with wide eyes, speechless at the sight of the linen-garbed creatures, so fat and covered with topaz jewelry and golden chains, perfumed from head to gilded slipper, as the eunuch classes went out to view the enormous, captive “Achaean,” as the war-trophy Horse was being called. Waving palm branches taken from the palace garden’s trees, once jaded eunuchs, sensual, uxurious serpents of humanity, ululated a chant,
a mountain, around nigh the Achaean carried upon ships, hallowing in choruses, unleashing invocations!”
The king, too old to dance and drink himself senseless, went back into the city alone. Surprising him, for she seldom left her quarters these days, the Queen Mother met him. They met in the palace hall, two servant women supporting her thin arms.
She looked at him with amazement. “Yes, indeed, they are all gone--we are free of them! The Great Goddess has prevailed over their upstart god, that one of the Kaphtorim they call Zeus the Lightning-Armed!”
The old king, rather than rejoice with her, looked weary. Her eyes looked more doubtful. “But for how long? Perhaps, it is a trick, and they will turn and sail back, to catch us off our guard!”
The king appeared to be surprised. “Yes, they could intend that. I will make sure that the port approaches are fully garrisoned, and that the men do not join in the drinking.”
“One thing more before you go, my husband!”
The king paused, displeased since he feared a mother’s fears about their son more than the Achaeans. How often she had warned him, that people were talking, saying he was too weak and old to be king, and Paris ought to be sitting there instead. She had even sent their eldest daughter to speak more forcefully to him--Leto--who was strong in her mind and will as any man. When he told her that Paris must rule over them someday, she had spit right on the floor. But something of her fury sank into his own heart, for he had vowed to her: “No, he won’t take my scepter--not yet! He’d lose my fathers’ kingdom in a day, just as you fear, playing with it as he plays with pretty women.”
But it was not Paris--the queen had a greater fear now that shone into her dark, sunken eyes. She came closer to him, looking inquiringly into his face. “Are you ill? You’ve sent food away again! You are doing this far too often. Your strength will fail utterly--and then where will we be? Our son will sweep us aside and sit on our--”
The king could bear no more. He hurried off to his chariot, to go and talk with his commanders.
The machine? He had momentarily forgotten it, in the confusion of the celebration. Not quite finished, he had been hoping he could have used it, just to display the great powers of his city against the Achaeans--a feat that he was sure would make them throw down their arms and run as fast as they could to their ships--but it had not been needed after all to break the siege and scatter the Achaeans.
After giving commands, the king returned exhausted to the palace. When he reached his private chamber, his arms supported by men servants who had kept him from falling several times on the way, he sank on his bed, and only then did he consider what he would do, now that the Achaeans had returned home--or appeared to do so.
The machine? He would finish it, then destroy them where they lived--a more perfect arrangement, to be sure. Nothing had been changed in that regard. He must insure that the Achaeans would never again present a threat to his city and kingdom nor cast in doubt their existence and future. The City of the Two Serpents would rule supreme in the world--that was her glorious destiny.
The king sank into deep sleep.
Meanwhile the city celebrated, hour after hour, deep into the night. Finally, the last celebrants grew quiet, and the city slept. The wooden offering to the god Poseidon, divine master of the Sea, had been brought into the city for the night--unknown to the sleeping king. As a gift of the generous Crown Prince, the priests intended to offer it to the Goddess. Only one thing had spoiled the celebration somewhat--a strange incident occurring, which would never be forgotten.
Two serpents had climbed out of the waters of the port and raced across the plain, catching a priest who had just been speaking against the great Horse of the Achaeans, warning the city that the Achaeans meant some evil against them and not to take it within the city as many wanted to do.
Unable to stop the massive serpents, the crowd fled away at their approach. They all watched as the serpents caught the priest and his two sons, killing them on the spot. It was a horrible spectacle, and done so quickly that the armed soldiery stood, transfixed by the sight. When they began to throw spears, the serpents departed just as they had come, racing back to the sea so swiftly that runners could not catch them.
So in this way the priest was punished--or so the people understood the event. The chief priest commanded that the will of the people be honored, and that he would personally see to it that the offering was given to the Goddess. So the horse was brought into the city, though it required that a part of the wall had to be removed to bring it in, as it was too tall to pass through the city gate.
The king was shaken awake by his own wife the queen. Confused, he looked into the wild eyes of his wife, unable to fathom how she had dared do this to him. Invading his chamber at such an hour--for he knew it was late in the night by the shining of the torches her servants held--it was unprecedented even for a royal queen mother.
“You must hear what the priests are telling me! You cannot wait for the morning to hear them!”
It had to be a conspiracy against the throne, an attempted assassination, or a plot just now discovered, he thought quickly. He sat up and signed for her to continue.
She motioned instead for the priests to come forward. But the high priest held a slave, pulling him with him. It was an Achaean, whom the priests used to do the cleaning in the temple archives.
The slave fell before the royal bed, and the high priest prodded him with his staff. “Speak to the king! He is waiting, you donkey! Tell him exactly what you told me just a little while ago!”
The Achaean’s eyes, when he looked up, glowed with fear and anger. “My master--”
“He names the Keeper of the Tablets, Your Majesty!”
“Laokon?” the king responded.
“Yes, the one who was just killed with his sons outside the walls, for his treachery and impudent acts against you and the Great Goddess!”
“He is dead? What is going on?”
The queen mother interposed quickly. “Yes, O King! Laokon was slain by two serpents the Goddess sent from her own side. But let the priests’ slave tell you why!”
The high priest pulled the head of the slave up by the hair, and the slave continued quickly. “I caught my master speaking to his sons. He said that he had destroyed tablets so that you, O king, would not find them. I found the pieces thrown in the rubbish and hid them away.”
The slave fumbled, and pushed forward a bag he had brought in tied to his waist. “I cannot read them, but my master said what they were. They were tablets of the king, who made a pact with the gods’ ambassadors who came once to this city in a great sky-chariot.”
Thunderstruck, the king nearly leaped from bed, forgetting his royal dignity. Priests hurriedly thrust the bag into his clutching hands, and with a torch held close he examined the fragments to see if the slave was speaking the truth.
His eyes gleaming, he turned back to the slave. “Go on. What else did your master say?”
“He said no more, perhaps he feared I was listening. But another time I heard his sons question him, and he said to them, “The Goddess required the blood of the whole earth, and no other god would enjoy her blood sacrifices as long as he lived. Ambassadors who served the new chief god of the Achaeans, the one called Zeus the Lightning-Armed, were traitors to the Goddess!”
The queen mother thrust her face into the kings. “You see?” she hissed. “That priest was a traitor to you! This is nonsense about the other gods requiring her blood sacrifices--I have never heard of it! That goatherd’s god from the Great Island named Zeus is nothing beside our Goddess. He was using this lie against you, just to turn the city to him, so that he might sweep you from the throne he covets so dearly! I know Paris’s plans! He will turn me out, in my old age, from my palace, and put her--that latest Achaean wench he picked up in Sparta, that so-called queen!--and lie with her in my chambers on my royal bed! She will die first!”
The king was enraged. He knew nothing about the latest “queen” in the women’s quarters. He was even more angered about the queen mother’s charges and meddling in his affairs. He gave orders to clear the chamber, leaving only the queen.
“You know nothing! The priest was no traitor to me--he doesn’t want a young womanizer with perfume in his hair and garments to rule any more than he wants any long-legged Achaean to rule here in my stead, though I know the other priests favor my son over me and drag out the work I have given them!
Nine years ago they should have finished, but they have not! Excuses, nothing but excuses for all the gold I have given!
But I know Laokon is my servant because he favors the Goddess above the other gods and this new god the Achaeans have taken as chief, and will do nothing against her, even to favoring the prince over me, and though I do not favor her as much he knows I will do nothing against her reign in this city and kingdom as long as I live. In one thing only do we differ.
He does not like it that there is any gods greater than her, whose ambassadors approached our city in the long-ago, who promised to make our city great if we would serve these gods and supply them with blood offerings from the whole world once they had made us ruler of it.
My forefather signed a pact with them, and I will be faithful to it for the sake of this city and the power we will gain by it. These fragments tell of the pact, and what we are to do for the gods when we are ruling the world.
It is our destiny, old woman! Think of it! We have been given the means to rule the world, and sweep the Achaean host aside like a mere horsefly on a horse’s rump! The tablets say that as long as we supply the gods with blood offerings, we will keep all the peoples as our slaves and rule the world!”
He rose from his bed, pulled a blanket around his shoulders, and walked to the window, throwing open the shutter. He looked out on the sleeping city.
His eyes were slow to take in the strangeness of the sight of --what new thing had the priests built, which now stood just inside the walls? Was it the Achaean horse? Why had the wall been torn down to let it in? Who could be so foolhardly to do that?
His blood ran cold as he continued to look out on the city. What was going on? Some one had countermanded his express order. Who would dare his wrath? And why were men, carrying torches, jumping down from the horse and running this way and that through the city?
He turned to his wife and found her fingering a votive image of the Goddess and praying for vengeance on the wife of Menelaus.