Chapter Thirty-Nine – An Ancient Weapon
With Akhen gone and no immediate sign of Shu advancing towards them the five remaining berserker brothers spent the days and weeks of summer turning their home in Adab into a fortress, watched by my kin, Brak, Lek, and Tuluk who had now joined the other two, after somehow surviving the carnage.
Every day the brothers would go out in pairs gathering anything useful to help in their preparations for the inevitable attack by Shu. On one foraging trip, Seti was searching through the ruins of the ancient Sumerian city when he kicked a broken piece of clay lying beside an old stone watercourse. Out of curiosity, he picked it up and casually looked at it before he stuffed it into the cord of his loincloth. That night, as they sat around the fire talking over the day’s activities, Seti pulled out the clay tablet and brushed the embedded sand from its surface. In the warm light from the fire, he carefully inspected it, turning it over from time to time to study both sides. “Curious,” he muttered.
“Huh -what’s curious?” Max asked after spitting out a sliver of bone, as he chewed on a piece of meat from the goat carcass cooking slowly over the fire on a makeshift spit.
“This piece of clay has writing on it.”
Max took it from Seti’s hands and briefly looked at it. “That’s not writing,” he said, between mouthfuls, “It looks more like a bird walked all over it and scratched it with its feet!” before casually tossed the broken clay tablet into the fire. Seti angrily leapt to his feet and quickly retrieved it, cursing Max.
“Show it to me,” Khan said, holding out his hand. He brushed the ash and goat fat from the tablet and studied it for a long time. “I think Seti’s right,” he said finally as he stifled a yawn and handed it back. With their stomachs full the brothers turned in for the night.
The next morning when they awoke Seti had gone. Thinking nothing of it they continued their chores, making weapons and increasing the strength of the walls around them. As the sun reached its highest point in its passage across the sky, Seti returned with a bag bulging at the seams.
“Hey, Seti found something worthwhile this time I hope?” Akkad grinned.
“You’ll see,” Seti snarled. “All of you will be laughing on the other side of your faces!” He disappeared inside the small hut beside the wall, staying there for the rest of the afternoon and late into the night. (My kin’s influence over him would soon reveal itself.) Despite repeated calls to come and eat Seti refused to leave the hut.
“He’s acting like a spoilt child again, just like he did on Kallorn when we caught him stowing away that time,” Khan chuckled, remembering Seti’s panicked flight when Iset proposed marriage.
“Leave him. He’ll come out when he’s hungry,” Besal said, shaking his head and smiling.
The next morning when the brothers woke, the fire was burning and fantastic mouth-watering smells came from where Seti was cooking for them just like in the old days. “Good morning my dear brothers. Breakfast won’t be long,” he said, smiling and humming a strange tune. They all looked at one another, puzzled by his pleasant behaviour. Whatever it was that had put him in such a good mood would have to wait because their stomachs were growling in anticipation of the sumptuous breakfast spread before them. Khan, Besal, Akkad, and Max sat around the fire, belching and breaking wind, bloated by the magnificent heavily spiced meal.
Seti deliberately sat a little way away from them, upwind in the shade of the hut. His eyes sparkled with satisfaction. “Errp,” Khan belched, “Seti what have you done!”
Putting on a totally innocent expression, Seti looked across at Khan’s reddened strained face, trying hard not to laugh. “Remember the clay tablet that Max threw on the fire?” Seti began, as if nothing was wrong. “Well yesterday I came across a horde of them in a niche below ground level, in one of the inner walls of that old ruined building that looks like a school house of some kind.”
“Please, not more rubbish!” Max pleaded, belched, broke wind violently, and began picking his teeth with a sliver of broken bone. Seti glared at him.
“Go on,” Khan said, uncomfortably still breaking wind.
“Remember I said that the marks looked like writing? Well they are. Look at these!” Seti’s excitement over his discovery grew, overtaking his anger towards Max. Completely forgetting his culinary version of Montezuma’s revenge for the moment, which he had made from the ancient recipe that he found, which had proved itself to be a powerful weapon, he passed some of the clay tablets to his brothers. Khan and the rest looked at the sunbaked curiosities that Seti offered them. Each one was covered in different kinds of marks, some like crude hieroglyphs, and some in curious combinations of triangular shaped marks.
“Very interesting, Seti, but what possible use are they to us?” Khan asked, wincing in agony.
“We could always use them to stuff the cracks in the walls,” Max groaned as he belched fire and painfully broke wind yet again.
Khan’s stomach churned violently, causing him to break out in a sweat as he silenced Max. “Take no notice Seti. Please continue.”
Akkad and Besal were hardly able to focus on the tablets as their eyes streamed with tears. Akkad was suddenly overcome. He ran to the shadows where his bowels exploded in an explosive fiery convulsion filling the air with a smell so pungent that the insects about him fled for their lives. Besal threw up when the foul odour drifted towards him.
“Khan, I can read these tablets,” Seti said earnestly. “I can tell you everything that they contain. Remember how Shu taught me to interpret the ancient languages in the library under the tundra just like Hoetep? Look, here on this tablet it writes about an important decision long ago, when the king of this land decreed that his people would be double taxed to pay for a war. And this one talks of a battle between the inhabitants and invaders from the north.”
Khan put his arm gingerly around Seti’s shoulder. “It’s wonderful that you’ve found accounts of the history of this ancient land my brother, but now is not the time for history lessons.” He spoke as gently as he could, not wishing to dampen Seti’s enthusiasm, or to upset him.
Seti sighed and briefly hung his head. Then he straightened and stared directly into Khan’s watering eyes. “Dear brother, you’re wrong! This is one history lesson that needs to be taught. This tablet contains the complete instructions for building a weapon, the only one capable of destroying Shu!”
According to the tablet, and referenced to in others Seti had pieced together, thanks to Brak’s intervention, the weapon had been built to deliver the ancient Sumer people’s early ancestors safely from the goddess who made them long ago, when she originally seeded the land. The only one capable of using the weapon was her firstborn son. Because he was as mighty as her, he was the only warrior able to destroy his mother and rid the land of her evil. The list of materials needed, and the ritualistic recipe for the weapon’s construction, both puzzled and perplexed the brothers.
Matted hair separated from boiled rhino horn, acacia and green ivory, whole rhino horn, sinew from the back legs of Ibex dried in the sun, and Ibex horns, together with a few less exotic items, completed the list.
Days later, after making a mental note reinforced by the burning sensation still in his intestines never to let Seti cook again, Khan entrusted Besal with building the weapon, while Seti interpreted the instructions. The rest of the brothers were charged with the almost impossible task of finding the ingredients. Weeks later Besal began construction. Working day and night the weapon slowly took shape as the pair went about the task, while the rest of the brothers continued building their defences.
Finally, one day in early autumn, Besal proudly showed off the product of his, and Seti’s many hours of labour. Lying before them on a long table Max and Akkad had built which they all now used to eat their meals was a magnificently constructed triple curve bow, almost identical to the one Besal had admired hanging above the door where they had first met Shu beneath the jungle covered ruins on Kallorn. Constructed from alternating reversed layers of acacia, rhino horn, and slivers of cattle horn, substituting for ivory, bound with Ibex sinew at regular hand span intervals along each curve, the three sections were finger-jointed together and heavily bound at each joint by the strong sinew. The outer notched tips were carved from the points of Ibex horns. The bowstring was made from plaited hairs, freed by the process of boiling the rhino horn, with loops at each end tightly bound with fine strong goat hair, dipped in rendered goat fat. The centre of the bowstring, which took the most punishment from the notched arrows, was completely encased by a section of ibex windpipe soaked in a boiled mixture of beeswax and linseed oil, then heat shrunk by fire.
The arrows were fashioned from carefully fire straightened finger jointed slivers of acacia, bound with paper thin strips of goat hide along the extent of the shaft, dipped in the beeswax, linseed oil mix, and allowed to dry before being fledged with the precious wing feathers Besal had plucked from Jojo’s dead body. The razor sharp barbed arrowheads were carefully shaped from fragments of Nazpa plate from the twisted remains of their shuttle, wrecked after molecular charges had destroyed it, and bound securely to the acacia shafts.
Besal picked up the bowstring and looped one end over a notched horn tip. Then placing his leg through the bow and leaning heavily against it, he tried to loop the other end of the bowstring over the other horn notch. The powerful bow resisted his many attempts. Shrugging his shoulders, he gave the bow to Khan to try. By the end of the day, all five brothers had struggled to string it but none could. “Truly only a godlike prince could use this,” Besal sighed, shaking his head in frustration. Brak, Tuluk, and Lek looked on with disappointment on their faces from the shadows.
Next time – Chapter Forty