A wee excerpt from my forthcoming novel The Shadow of Troy, in which King Hattu finds himself in a rather tricky situation within the Ahhiyawan camp...
The nobles before and around Hattu parted with a clatter of leather and bronze, opening up a short corridor to the throne and the warrior king upon it.
Agamemnon was younger than he had imagined, chiselled with a dimpled, beardless chin and jet-black tresses of oiled hair, one lock curled on his forehead, the rest swept back and hanging in a thick cascade behind his shoulders. He wore a tasselled leopard pelt kilt. Hattu could smell a perfume of pine resin emanating from him, stark against the odour of unwashed nether regions elsewhere in the shack. Agamemnon stared back at him, head dipped menacingly. ‘Who… and what… are you?’
A moment of silence passed, broken only by the crash of waves on the shore outside and the cry of gulls. ‘I am a travelling peddler, 𝘞𝘢𝘯𝘢𝘹,’ Hattu lied. ‘I came here to this bay to provide you with whatever you might need.’
Agamemnon looked him up and down a few times. ‘Need? An explanation, perhaps. In the early years of this war, traders flocked to this beach camp. They would come to buy and sell wool, ingots, gems, spices, wine. But soon the war became fraught, resources stretched. Now, ships stay in port, merchants remain at home.’ His top lip quirked in disdain. ‘We have not had a trader here for over five years…’ one of his eyes narrowed, ‘then you arrived.’
Hattu’s mind flooded with ideas and explanations – all felt flimsy at best. At last, like the glint of a precious metal in the sunlight, he thought of something… the most precious metal. ‘None who came here before, nor any of those who have stayed away since, would have been in possession of what I can offer. Weapons.’
Agamemnon sucked his cheeks in and slumped back on his throne, resting his chin on one palm. ‘Oh?’ he said dismissively, glancing around the shields and crossed spears fixed to his hut walls.
Hattu’s lips twitched at one end. ‘Weapons… of iron.’
Agamemnon arched one disdainful eyebrow. He made a noise in his throat, somewhere between a grunt and a laugh. ‘Take him away,’ he said with a lazy swish of the hand, gazing outside through the doorway, ‘beat him and throw him outside the camp.’
The two guards moved for him.
‘… 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 iron,’ Hattu added.
Agamemnon’s eyes snapped back round. He perched forward on the throne, snapping his fingers to still his guards. All around Hattu, faces fell agape. After a pregnant silence, Agamemnon clapped his hands. The council is over. Everyone, leave me.’
The place drained, the council members helped on their way by the two elite guards.
Alone with Hattu, Agamemnon looked over him again. ‘Nobody knows the secret of good iron. It is an impossibility. A myth.’
Hattu simply smiled. If it was to be a game of bluff, then he was well-practiced. ‘I dare not contest the assertions of a Great King. Thank you for your time, Wanax,’ he quarter-bowed. ‘Now, I will take my leave.’ He turned to depart.
Hattu slowed and halted, turning back to the Ahhiyawan King.
‘How many such weapons?’
‘Racks filled with swords and spears,’ he lied. ‘Hundreds of them. Enough to help win you this war.’
Agamemnon licked his lips. ‘What do you ask in return? Silver? Spice?’
‘I have no need for such things. I would gladly give you the blades for free.’
Agamemnon looked at Hattu askance for a moment, then rocked on his throne, laughter pealing freely. ‘You have been out in the sun too long, my friend.’
‘All I want to know is that I am giving this gift to the right side in this war.’
Agamemnon’s laughter stuttered to a halt. ‘The right side?’ he said, leaning forward again. ‘What do you know of war, Peddlar?’
𝘛𝘰𝘰 𝘮𝘶𝘤𝘩, Hattu thought. ‘On my way here, on the plain before Troy, I saw shells of men, cages of ribs and armies of flies. I heard rumours that this conflict was started by one woman, and waged by the Ahhiyawan Great King, hungry to extend his territory.’
Agamemnon slapped a hand on the arm of his throne. ‘Ha!’ he forced a laugh that was terse and dripping with fury. Hattu knew he had riled the king: enough to elicit information, hopefully. ‘And did they tell you about the Trojan ships, confiscating huge tolls from our grain fleets that sail to and from the Hellespont strait? The northerly winds blow all vessels either here into the Bay of Boreas or into the Bay of Troy. Like two webs with Priam’s city crouching on the edge like the hungry spider. Meanwhile the harvests of Ahhiyawa – meagre at the best of times – grow dangerously light with every passing year of this damned drought.’
Hattu felt an unexpected flicker of sympathy. The story was the same all across Hittite lands. A world drying up, the parched crust cracking with every earth tremor.
‘These weapons… give them to me,’ Agamemnon demanded, ‘and I will finish this war before the summer is out.’
Hattu spread his palms. ‘I do not carry such precious goods with me – I’m sure you understand. I will take leave of your camp, and return with the weapons tomorrow,’ he lied.
‘I will provide an escort for you,’ Agamemnon said, eyes growing hooded.
Hattu smiled, masking his frustration. ‘That would not be good. At my hideout, I have a band of archers who have sworn to shoot on sight anyone they see approaching, unless it is me alone.’ He slid his satchel from his shoulder and left it on the floor, the simple goods within partly-visible. ‘Keep my belongings as assurance.’
Agamemnon scowled at the satchel then scrutinised him for a time, before flicking his fingers towards the hut door. ‘Go, and return here by dawn… or I will have my dogs track you down.’
Hattu, head full of the things he had heard and seen, bowed and turned towards the hut door. In his way stood two of
Agamemnon’s bodyguards, spears crossed, granite faces glowering at him. They slid their spears apart to let him leave, but before he could do so, a scrawny figure entered. The Sherden pirate who had watched him closely on the shoreline. ‘Do not let him go, 𝘞𝘢-𝘯𝘢𝘹,’ he said in that awkward accent. ‘He is a Hitt-ite!’
Hattu’s blood ran cold.
Agamemnon’s lips peeled back to reveal clenched teeth and gums. ‘A 𝘏𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘪𝘵𝘦?’
‘I heard them talking in the Hittite tongue, I have seen their like before. I know it, Wa-nax, I do!’ the Sherden gushed like a child trying to impress its parent.
‘I know many tongues,’ Hattu waved a dismissive hand. ‘That does not mean that I am-’
‘You are a spy,’ Agamemnon hissed. ‘A Hittite spy for Troy. How many of your kind are there here?’ he said, his face growing ashen. ‘Where are your armies?’
𝘐𝘧 𝘰𝘯𝘭𝘺, Hattu thought, 𝘪𝘧 𝘰𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘥𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘌𝘮𝘱𝘪𝘳𝘦 𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦, 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘸𝘢𝘳 𝘸𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘣𝘦 𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘯 𝘥𝘢𝘺𝘴.
‘I am a mere peddler,’ Hattu persisted.
‘After he came into the camp, the archers advanced to the brow of the hills, Wanax,’ one of the guards advised. ‘There are no signs of a new army in the vicinity.’
Agamemnon drummed his fingers on his bottom lip. ‘Whoever you are, you have heard too much in this hut. Perhaps you are a Hittite, perhaps not. At dawn tomorrow, when we advance to fight the Trojans again, you will come with us… and you will be impaled on the hills as a pre-battle sacrifice.’ He clicked his fingers. ‘Seize him, bind him in the prisoner tents, then prepare a stake.’
The guards’ hands slapped down on Hattu’s shoulders.
Hope that tantalises! THE SHADOW OF TROY is available worldwide in eBook and print formats, now!
Gordon Doherty: writer, history fan, explorer.
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