The dreadful news reached us when we were less
than a day’s march from the capital, returning home after a
long, hard campaign against the wily Armenians, in the
mountains far to the north. The gods had turned their
backs on our rightful emperor; he had been poisoned by his own scheming
sons. Now, lusting for the power their father had
wielded, the sons made war on one another.
The empire of the Hatti
stretched from beyond the twin peaks of Mount Ararat in the northeast to
the shores of the Great Sea. Our armies sacked Babylon
and fought the prideful Egyptians at Qadesh and Megiddo
in the gaunt lands of Canaan. With swords of iron and
discipline even stronger we conquered all that we
Now Hattusas, our capital, had crumbled into
chaos. Even before we reached its outer wall we could
hear the tumult of terrified voices wailing to the gods
for protection. It seemed as if the city’s entire
population was streaming out of the gates: white-bearded
men, aged grandmothers, children wide-eyed with fear,
whole families pushing carts loaded with their meager possessions, mothers
with crying babies in their arms, all blindly fleeing.
Smoke was rising from the citadel up on the hill in the center of the
city, an ugly black plume staining the clouded sky.
I knew what each of my men was thinking: what’s happened to my
family, my wife, my children, my mother and father? I
felt that fear clutch at my own heart as we reached the city’s main
“Stay together,” I commanded my squad. “March in
I knew that we would need iron discipline now more than
ever. They obeyed, good soldiers that they were. Instinct
born of hard training made us move as one unit, spears at the
Once inside the gates the stream of fleeing populace
turned into a torrent of people ashen with panic, all
rushing to get away from the city. And we saw why. Gangs of young men were
marauding drunkenly through the twisting streets,
breaking into houses and shops, stealing all that they could carry,
brutally raping any women they found. Screams and pleas
for mercy filled the air.
“Where are the constables?” one of my
Gone, I realized. With the emperor dead and his sons
warring against each other, order and safety had
collapsed into lawlessness.
A woman with a baby in her arms and
two more little ones trailing behind her rushed up to me, her
face twisted by fear.
“Soldiers! Help us!
My instinct was to fight these drunken looters, to
safeguard the defenseless people they were preying upon.
But all I had was my squad of twenty. Twenty men against hundreds, one
squad of soldiers against a city in anarchy. It was
“Leave the city while you can,” I told her. “Get away
until this madness burns itself out.”
She stared at me,
disbelieving. Then she spat on me. My hand flew to the pommel of my sword.
I told her through gritted teeth, “Get away while you
can. Leave while you’re still alive.”
She turned and hurried to rejoin
the stream of people fleeing for the city’s gates.
order,” I shouted to my squad. “We can’t fight them all.”
grumbled but we marched on, eyes forward, shields on our arms and spears
upright, up the narrow street that led to the citadel and
to the home of my father, where my wife and sons lived. Three of
my men had family in the city, I knew. The rest came from
elsewhere in the empire.
“We’re going to the citadel. From there
you can go to your families or to the barracks,” I told my
We marched toward the citadel, toward the
house of my father, where my wife and sons lived.
The gangs gave
us wide berth as we marched in step up the cobbled main street toward the
Twenty men in the emperor’s gear, each armed with a
nine-foot spear and killing sword were enough to make
most of them melt away from us. Someone threw a rock that
bounced off my shield. When the twenty of us wheeled and
leveled our spears in that direction,
the looters scattered away from
us like vermin they were, scurrying for safety.
together,” I repeated, resuming our march up the street. As usual, I
stayed on the right end of our line, since I am
left-handed and wear my shield on my right arm. Thus we presented a solid
line of shields from end to end.
It was hard to watch
the rioters looting and roaring, staggering from house to house, dragging
shrieking terrified women, and do nothing. Dead
bodies lay in the street. Blood ran in the gutter down its
middle. Young toughs in knots of four and five lurched
from shop to shop, flagons of wine in their blood-soaked
hands. I saw even bands of soldiers, still wearing the emperor’s leather
and iron, smashing and looting alongside the wild-eyed
“We’ll tend to our own families,” I repeated to my men.
“There’s nothing we can do for the others.”
Truly, the city was in anarchy. Twenty soldiers would not be
able to restore order.
Twenty hundred were needed.
The streets smelled of blood and panic. Smoke was thickening in the
The stone tower of the citadel, up atop the hill, was in flames.
Fire and death are ever the twin sons of war, and the
black smoke rising from the royal palace told me that the gods had turned
their backs on the Hatti. My home was hard by the high
wall that encircled the citadel. My father, my wife, my two little
sons were there. So I hoped.
“Stay in order,” I
called to my men. “I’ll drub the man who breaks ranks.”
marched onward toward the burning citadel. None of the drunken looters
came near us.
Brave they were with their clubs and
daggers against cringing women and quaking old men; against a disciplined
squad of armed spearmen they made no opposition. We
marched upslope along the cobbled street and everyone gave
us a wide berth.
Most of my men were too young
to be married. They lived in the barracks inside the citadel wall.
The three who had homes to go to I released once we
reached the wall, with orders to rejoin the squad before
nightfall. The others milled about uncertainly.
I told them. “Go to the barracks and save what you can. Then form up again
here, by this house.”
It was the house of my
father, the house where I had been born. And my sons, as well.
Like all the others along the street, my father’s house was
braced along the citadel wall.
Built of well-fitted
stone, it leaned slightly aslant. Its one window was tightly shuttered,
but the door was ajar, leaning crookedly on its hinges.
Not a good sign, I thought. The roof thatch was smoldering,
probably from a spark wafted on the breeze. The very air
was thickening with smoke from the burning
I stepped into the shadowy interior of
the house, my eyes quickly adjusting to the gloom. My heart
sank. The room had been ransacked; table overturned,
chairs smashed to splinters. The fireplace was cold and
dark. I looked up to the loft where the beds were; silent, empty. The bed
clothes had been torn off and ripped.
the far corner where my father had often told me tales of war and
conquest, I saw his withered body on the packed earthen
floor, huddled beneath a blood-stained cloak.
I had seen dead
bodies before, by the score, by the hundreds. Yet the sight of my father
there in the shadows made my throat go dry. I sank to my
knees beside him and gently, gently turned him so I could
see his face.
They had battered him terribly.
Yet his eyes fluttered, then focused on me.
“Lukka…” His voice
was a tortured sigh.
“Don’t try to speak. Let me – ”
clutched at my arm, his aged fleshless fingers still as strong as a hawk’s
talons. “I knew you would return.” He coughed
painfully. “I knew…”
“Quiet, Father. Quiet. I’ll get a healer, a
“No need. No use.” He coughed
“Your sons,” he gasped. “Gone…”
“They fled.” He coughed again, his frail body spasming in
my arms. “Your wife was mad with panic.
breaking into the houses…”
them…she took my grandsons…”
The third child of war, I thought.
The poor wretches who were not killed or maimed were made into
“Find them!” my father commanded me.
Gripping my arm even harder, he hissed, “Find them. My
grandsons. They are my flesh. Find them, Lukka. Find
Those were his last words to me. He died in my arms, his
blood soaking into the earthen floor while smoke from the
burning thatch made my eyes sting and