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Arms and the Men

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The further from home that Mita and the others drifted the richer they found themselves. Kurunta's gold-and-ivory armlet, or Aradus' small golden image of the Mother were both of a workmanship unmatched in all the great, green land beyond the terrible mountains. Certainly nothing could match the lapis inlay in the amulet Mita's wife had fastened about his neck on their wedding day.

It was their swords that made them truly rich. They saw bronze become scarcer in this distant land, and watched how men's eyes fastened on their weapons.

They hid their other treasures and kept their blades sharp.

* * *

Mita found a facility with barbarian languages that surprised him. If the gods had cast the dice another way he would perhaps have spoken with the kings of Bab-ili and Aššur, or journeyed the length of the Great River. Now he spoke with men of low estate, whose speech was just that - speech. A world without scribes, he thought. How can their kings know each others' hearts?

Perhaps it was better, with no scribes. These northern men would never need to wake to the news that kings had conspired in lying letters. Their kings' lies would not fly as far.

* * *

Kurunta laughed and joked, as if they enjoyed a morning's hunt. Only rarely since they fled had he seemed downcast. His accent in all barbarian languages was appalling; he rarely bothered to learn more than enough to request food and lodging.

"Why talk to these people?" he said, lightly. "Their speech is like the howling of dogs. Another game of knucklebones?"

Even when he called men fools he did so with grace and laughter, in speech they did not comprehend, and they laughed with him.

When he wept, waking from his dreams of home, Mita pretended he did not hear.

* * *

Aradus spoke less and less as time went on, though in his eyes lay the horrors that his tongue refused to give sound to. When they crossed the mountains Mita feared he would cast himself on the rocks below, but Aradus flung off his hand, and strode on with the guides.

"Brother," he started later, unsure how to apologise for assuming his brother was a coward.

"No," Aradus said, and refused to say more.

In the far north, men seemed to accept his silent presence once Mita told them it was a vow to the gods.

Perhaps it even was.

* * *

"I've found us employment on a merchant caravan," Mita said. "We'll have food for weeks." Aradus did not look at him, Kurunta was grinning.

"Going north?" Kurunta said archly, and groaned as Mita nodded. "By the Mother's Twins, why didn't we stay with the others? We could be living in actual houses by now."

Mita thought of the flight from the City and the terrible sea-crossing. Young and old had fallen to their knees praising the gods' mercy when they made shore. Men had embraced their wives and children, talking about rebuilding.

"There was nothing for us there," he said.

* * *

The slaves were laden with ingots of copper and, more precious, tin. The two leaders of the merchants - who imagined themselves men of name, Mita thought sourly - had brought their women with them. The rest of the company, merchants and guards, made do with the women who served as cooks. Mita looked at the expressionless eyes of the women trudging to their fate as men waited their turn and gave thanks that civilized men could exercise self-control. It was vile to be a captive woman.

He tried to give thanks that he and Aradus had spared their wives such horrors.

* * *

A young man amongst the guards spoke with them often, repeating himself slowly and clearly so Mita could follow. His name, in the amusing manner of the barbarians, was Spear Wolf. Kurunta, of course, called him Puppy, though it was ill-fitting for a man so large.

"Why does he talk to you so much?" Kurunta asked. "Is he trying to learn to speak like a man rather than a bear?"

Mita chewed the tasteless bread, head aching from concentration on a foreign tongue.

"I think," he said in wonder, "that he wants to be friends."

Even Aradus seemed briefly amused.

* * *

"North, far, the - " Spear Wolf said. Mita did not know the word. "Big water," Spear Wolf said hopefully, "like lake. More-big."

Mita's heart clenched, remembering sunlight on blue water and ships coming in to port laden with the good things of the world.

"My home," he said, though he had evaded questions on the matter thus far, "is at the sea. I say this right?"

"Cold," Spear Wolf laughed.

Mita did not weep, for which he thanked the gods.

"No, warm. South sea. My home Wilusa is."

"Wil-u-sa," Spear Wolf said carefully.

It meant nothing. Not here, not any more.

* * *

The land was unnaturally green, rain falling throughout the year. Kurunta debated whether this was a divine blessing or a curse as men and horses plodded along in damp misery.

"Why you-three leave Wil-u-sa?" Spear Wolf asked, clearly desperate for entertainment.

Kurunta frowned, unscrambling the question, then laughed. "To sample the wonders of your land! Tell him, Mita."

Mita sighed. How could he explain the perfidy that had gripped the hearts of the kings of Hatti and Ahhiyawa, when they made plans to take the city?

"Raiders come," he said flatly. "All die. We run."

"You're no fun," Kurunta muttered.

* * *

The guard captain poked a finger into the lead merchant's chest and spoke too quickly for Mita to follow.

"Some sort of trouble," he said.

"They're just squabbling over who has the most ridiculous name," Kurunta said.

"Aradus, something's happening."

Aradus met his eyes for once. He looked half-barbarian himself, with unkempt beard and haunted face. Mita shook the unworthy thought away. His brother was braver than him and had done for their family what Mita could not.

He tried to forget his daughter looking at Aradus standing, sword in hand, over her.

He should be grateful to his brother.

* * *

"Brave Friend says men follow," Spear Wolf said, gesturing at the captain. "He says, Be wary."

"We are ten tens of warriors, and slaves, and merchants," Mita said. "We fear not."

"I am not afraid! Brave Friend is - " Spear Wolf looked frustrated. "He knows much. Be wary, Mita. You, and Kurta and Rads." He stayed beside them, taking his club into his hand.

"He says we're followed," Mita said to Kurunta's quizzical look.

"We're a good number, but look at everyone's weapons," Kurunta said. "They're more suited for driving off dogs."

Mita nodded. They were among the few with swords.

* * *

"Show me."

They looked up from sharpening their blades to find Brave Friend, Spear Wolf behind him. Aradus silently held out his sword. The man spoke quickly, repeating himself when Spear Wolf prompted him.

"Where? You get where?" he said, loudly and slowly, as if they were imbeciles.

"Commissioned from our families' swordsmiths," Kurunta said in cheerful contempt.

Brave Friend ran a finger along the blade, comparing it to his own leaf-bladed sword, examining the patterns of use, then handed it back.

"Good," he said. "You are warriors. Good. You can kill."

"Yes," Aradus said, ghosts in his quiet voice.

* * *

"Wil-u-sa," Spear Wolf said, watching the slaves struggle down the hillside. "It was good?"

"Yes," Mita said. "Many houses in big - " he sighed. "Fence."

"All your kin died? In so big a farmstead?"

Mita could not say what was in his heart. The king of Ahhiyawa sent forth lies that Alaksandu the son of Piyama-Radu broke the bonds of guest-friendship by stealing his brother's wife, and sought aid from the Great King of Hatti and all the kings of the world to retrieve her. The gods believed it, fled to Hattusa and Ahhiyawa, and Wilusa fell.

"Yes," he said. "All."

* * *

Brave Friend ordered double watches that night. Mita was unsurprised when Spear Wolf stood with him. The young man drew his cloak about him, passing over a skin of the awful wheat-wine drunk in this northern land.

"Mita," he said, and Mita felt sure his ridiculous fair skin was red with embarrassment from the tone. "When raiders come, they do not kill all. They capture. After this you, Kurta, Rads, me - we go to Wil-u-sa, yes? We find your kin."

It was a wonderful dream. Mita wished he were as young as Spear Wolf, and could dream it with him.

* * *

"I think once we cross the river it's another five days to journey's end," Mita said.

"May all the gods be thanked," Kurunta said, with no laughter in his mouth. "We can think about our path out of this land of rain and ghosts."

He had dreamt in the night of his mother, crying out for her not to jump, that he would save her. Mita did not mention it. Kurunta's lady mother had been a lioness amongst women, and had saved herself and her little granddaughter from dishonour.

It had still been a hard thing for Kurunta to see.

* * *

Men came out of the trees across the river with the dawn. Hundreds of men with bows and spears.

"Sweet Sun-Archer," Kurunta breathed. "Were there even as many Ahhiyawans?"

"We have to go," Mita said, as Brave Friend yelled at the guards forming a line and the merchants lifted bronze-tipped spears. "We can take horses and -"

"Run?" Aradus said. "Again? I am done trying to outrun my ghosts."

They stared at him, at each other. Mita took a breath. Wilusa was gone. Their names and families were gone.

They had only themselves, and the men they had bound themselves to.

* * *

"Stay by me," Mita said, as Spear Wolf prayed to his unknown gods. "I have lived through a great war before."

"What?" Spear Wolf said, distracted.

"You stay here, shield side," Mita said. "We live, yes?"

Spear Wolf smiled, his lips red in the light-coloured beard.

"After, we go to Wil-u-sa? First, you come to my home. You-three are my guests."

"We go to Wilusa," Mita said. "We will find my family, we will feast forever, you will be my guest, may my gods welcome you."

"What?"

Mita shook his head. The enemy was coming. They were out of time.