By Clive Cussler
eBook created by: cdog
Night of Infamy
About 1190 b.c.
A Citadel on a hill near the sea
It was a setup, created with simplicity and an acute insight into human curiosity. And it fulfilled its function flawlessly. The ugly monstrosity stood twenty feet high on four stout wooden legs propped on a flat platform. The housing, mounted on the legs, sat triangularly with open ends. A rounded hump rose on the front of the peaked housing, with two forward slits for eyes. The sides were covered with cowhides. A platform supporting the legs lay flat on the ground. It looked like nothing the people of the citadel of Ilium had ever seen.
To some with a good imagination, it vaguely resembled a stiff-legged horse.
The Dardanians had awakened in the morning, expecting to see the Achaeans surrounding their fortress city, and ready for battle as they had been for the past ten weeks. But, the plain below was empty. All they could see was a thick haze of smoke drifting over the ashes of what had been the enemy camp. The Achaeans and their fleet had vanished. During the dead of night they had loaded their ships with their supplies, horses, arms and chariots, and sailed away, leaving only the mysterious wooden monster behind. Dardanian scouts returned and reported that the Achaean camp was abandoned.
Overjoyed that the siege of Ilium had ended, the people threw aside the main gate of the citadel and poured across the open plain where both armies had clashed and spilled their blood in a hundred battles. At first they were mystified. Several of them suspected some kind of trick and argued in favor of burning it. But they soon discovered it was simply a harmless housing on four legs crudely constructed of wood. A man climbed one of the wooden legs, entered the structure and found it empty.
"If this is the best the Achaeans can do for a horse," he yelled, "small wonder we won."
The crowd laughed and chanted with glee when King Priam of Ilium arrived in a chariot. He stepped to the ground, and acknowledged the cheers of the onlookers. Then he walked around the odd-looking edifice, trying to make sense of it.
Satisfied it presented no threat, he declared it a spoil of war and decreed that it be dragged on its rollers across the plain to the gate of the city, where it would stand as a monument to the glorious victory over the raiding Achaeans.
The happy event was interrupted as two soldiers escorted an Achaean prisoner through the crowd who had been left behind by his comrades. His name was Sinon, and he was known to be the cousin of the mighty Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and one of the leaders of the great raiding party that had besieged Ilium. At the sight of King Priam, Sinon prostrated himself at the elderly king's feet and pleaded for his life.
"Why were you left behind?" the king demanded.
"My cousin listened to those who were my enemies and cast me out of the camp. If I had not escaped into a grove of trees when they were launching the ships, I would have surely been dragged behind until I drowned or was eaten by the fish."
Priam studied Sinon intently. "What is the story behind this aberration? What purpose does it serve?"
"Because they could not take your fortress and because our mighty hero Achilles was killed in battle, they believed they had fallen from the favor of the gods. The edifice was built as an offering for a safe journey home across the seas."
"Why so large?"
"So you could not take it inside the city as a prize, where it would be a reminder of the greatest Achaean failure of our time."
"Yes, I can understand their vision." Wise old Priam smiled. "What they failed to predict was that it can serve the same purpose outside the city."
A hundred men cut and trimmed logs for rollers. Then another hundred gathered ropes, formed two lines and began dragging their prize across the plain between the city and the sea. For most of the day, they sweated and hauled, more men taking their place on the ropes as they pulled the ungainly monstrosity up the slope leading to the citadel. Late in the afternoon, the effort ended and the great effigy stood before the city's main gate. The populace emerged en masse and for the first time in over two months passed freely outside without fear of their enemy. The crowd stood and stared in awe at what was now called the Dardanian horse.
Excited and jubilant that at last the seeming endless series of battles was over, the women and girls of the city went outside the walls and picked flowers for garlands to decorate the grotesque wooden creature.
"Peace and victory are ours!" they cried joyously.
But Priam's daughter, Cassandra, who was thought to be mentally unbalanced because of her dire predictions and foresight into future events, cried, "Don't you see? It's a trick!"
The bearded priest, Laocoön, agreed. "You are beguiled by rapture. You are fools to trust Achaeans offering gifts."
Laocoön reeled back and with a mighty heave threw his spear into the belly of the horse. The spear pierced the wood up to its shaft and quivered. The crowd laughed at the crazy display of skepticism.
"Cassandra and Laocoön are mad! The monster is harmless. Nothing more than boards and logs tied together."
"Idiots!" Cassandra. "Only a fool would believe Sinon the Achaean."
A warrior stared her in the eyes. "He says because it now belongs to Ilium, our city will never fall."
"Can you not accept a blessing from the gods?"
"Not if it came from the Achaeans," said Laocoön, pushing his way through the milling throng and striding angrily to the city.
There was no reasoning with the happy mob. Their enemy was gone. To them, the war was over. Now was the time for celebration.
The two skeptics were ignored in the euphoria that swept the crowd. Before an hour passed, their curiosity waned and the people launched a great feast to celebrate their triumph over their Achaean foe. Music from flutes and pipes soared within the citadel walls. Song and dance swept every street. Wine flowed through the houses like streams down a mountain. Laughter rang as they lifted and drained their goblets.
In the temples, the priests and priestesses burned incense, chanted and made offerings to the gods and goddesses in thanksgiving for ending the terrible conflict that had sent so many of their warriors to the underworld.
The joyous people toasted their king and the heroes of their army, the veterans, the wounded and the revered dead who had fought the brave fight. "Hector, O Hector, our great champion. If only you had lived to enjoy our glory."
"For nothing the Achaeans, the fools, attacked our magnificent city," shouted one woman as she whirled and danced wildly.
"Like chastened children they have fled," cried another.
So they babbled as the wine coursed through their blood, the royalty in their palace, the rich in their large houses built on terraces and the poor in their simple hovels huddled against the interior city walls for protection against wind and rain. They feasted throughout Ilium, drinking and eating the rest of their precious food supplies hoarded during the siege and making merry as if time had stopped. By midnight the drunken orgy subsided and old King Priam's subjects fell into a deep sleep, their befogged minds at peace for the first time since the hated Achaeans had laid siege to their city.
Many wanted to leave the great gate open as a symbol of victory, but saner minds prevailed and the gate was closed and bolted.
They had erupted out of the north and east, ten weeks before, sailing across the green sea in hundreds of ships before landing in the bay surrounded by the great Ilium plain. Seeing much of the lowlands filled with swamps, the Achaeans set up their camp on a headland protruding into the sea and off-loaded their fleet of ships.
Because their keels were tarred, the hulls were black below the waterline but above sported a myriad of color
s preferred by the various kings of the fleet. They were propelled by rowers with long oars and steered with large oars mounted astern. With bow and stern virtually identical in symmetry they could be rowed in either direction. Unable to sail into the wind, a large square sail was raised only when the breeze blew from astern. Platforms rose fore and aft while carved birds, mostly hawks and falcons, sat above the bow stem. The number of crewmen varied from one hundred and twenty warriors in the troop ships to twenty in the supply transports. Most were manned by a crew of fifty-two, including the commander and a pilot.
Leaders of small kingdoms formed a loose alliance to pillage and raid coastal towns up and down the coast, much like the Vikings two thousand years later. They came from Argos, Pylos, Arcadia, Ithaca and a dozen other regions. Though considered large men for their time, few stood over five feet four inches. They fought ferociously, protected by cuirasses of beaten bronze, plates covering the front of the body and connected by leather thongs. Bronze helmets fit flush over their head, some with horns, some with pointed topknots, most all of them embossed with the owner's personal crest. Armor called greaves was worn that covered the lower legs and arms.
They were masters of the spear, their preferred weapon, and only used their short swords when their spears were shattered or lost. Fighters of the Bronze Age seldom used the bow and arrow, considering it a coward's weapon. They fought from behind huge shields made from six to eight layers of cowhide sewn with leather thongs to a wicker frame with the outer edges in bronze. Most were round, but many were in the shape of a figure eight.
Strangely, unlike warriors of other kingdoms or cultures, the Achaeans did not use horses as cavalry, nor did they charge with chariots. They employed chariots mostly for transportation, carrying men and supplies back and forth from the battlefield. The Achaeans chose to fight on foot as did the Dardanians of Ilium. But this was not simply a war to conquer and take over a territory as rulers. This was not merely a war for plunder. It was an invasion to gain ownership of a metal almost as precious as gold.
Before beaching their ships at Ilium, the Achaeans had raided a dozen towns and cities up and down the coast, taking a hoard of treasure and many slaves, mostly women and children. But they could only imagine the vast wealth that was guarded by the thick walls of Ilium and its determined defenders.
There was apprehension in their ranks as the warriors stared at the city standing on the end of a rocky promontory and studied its massive stone walls and sturdy towers with the king's palace rising above the center. Now as their objective stood before them it became obvious that unlike the others towns and cities they had sacked, this one would not fall without a long and lengthy campaign.
This fact came home when the Dardanians sallied forth from their fortress city and attacked the Achaeans as they landed, nearly driving off the vanguard of the invading fleet before the rest of the ships arrived and unloaded their main force. The Dardanians, soon outnumbered, retreated to the safety behind the main gate of the city after dealing the Achaeans a bloody nose.
For the next ten weeks the battle raged back and forth across the plain. The Dardanians fought tenaciously. Bodies piled up and were strewn from the Achaean camp to the walls of the Ilium citadel as the great heroes and champions of both sides fought and died. At the end of the day, huge pyres were laid by each side and the fallen were cremated. Mounds were later erected over the burned-out pyres as monuments. Thousands died and the seemingly endless battles never diminished.
Brave Hector, son of King Priam and the greatest warrior of Ilium, fell, as did his brother Paris. Mighty Achilles and his friend Patroclus were among the many Achaean dead. With their greatest hero gone, the leaders of the Achaeans, kings Agamemnon and Menelaus, were ready to give up the siege and sail for home. The citadel walls had proven too formidable to penetrate. Food supplies ran low and they had to scrounge the countryside, soon purging the land of all agricultural growth, while the Dardanians were supplied by their allies outside the kingdom who had joined them in the war.
Depressed with certain defeat, they began making plans to strike their camp and disembark, when wily Odysseus, king of Ithaca, came up with a canny plan for a last-ditch effort.
While Ilium partied, the Achaean fleet returned under cover of darkness. Swiftly they rowed from the nearby island of Tenedos where they had hidden during the daylight hours. Guided by a beacon fire ignited by the deceitful Sinon, they beached their keels again, donned their armor and marched quietly across the plain, carrying a colossal log in slings of braided rope.
In the guard tower above, Sinon slew the two slumbering guards. Never intending to open the gate by himself--it took eight strong men to lift the huge wooden bar securing the thirty-foot-high doors--he quietly called down to Odysseus.
"The guards are dead and the city is either drunk or asleep. There is no better time to break down the gates."
Odysseus quickly ordered the men who were carrying the immense log to tilt up the forward end and place it on a small ramp leading into the interior of the horse. While a team pushed from the bottom, another group of Achaeans climbed inside and pulled it up under the peaked roof. Once inside, it was lifted onto slings until it was suspended in the air. What the Dardanians never realized was that the horse, as Odysseus had conceived it, was not a horse but a battering ram.
The men inside the ram hauled the log back as far as it would go and hurled it forward.
The pointed bronze beak that fitted over the end of the log struck the wooden gate with a dull thud that shuddered the gate in its hinges but did not force it open. Again and again the ram was plunged against the foot-thick beam-supported gate. With each strike it splintered but did not give. The Achaeans were fearful that a Dardanian might hear the pounding, look over the wall, see the army below and alert the warriors sleeping off their premature jubilation. High on the top of the wall, Sinon also kept a wary eye on any townsman who might have heard the noise, but those still awake thought it was the sound of distant thunder.
The exertion began to look like an exercise in futility when suddenly the gate dropped off one hinge. Odysseus urged his crew inside the ram for one more mighty effort, placing his arms around the log and lending his muscle to the thrust. The warriors hurled the beak into the stubborn door with every ounce of strength they possessed.
At first the door seemed unconquerable, but then the Achaeans held their breath as it sagged on its remaining hinge for a few moments before giving a rueful tearing moan and falling backward into the citadel, dropping flat on the stone pavement with a great rumbling thump.
Like famished wolves, the Achaean army surged into Ilium, howling like madmen. Like an unstoppable tide they swept through the streets. The frustration flowing in their breasts from ten weeks of unending battle that had accomplished nothing but the death of their comrades, spilled over in a blood lust of ferocity. No one was safe from their swords and spears. They stormed into houses, slaying left and right, killing the men, looting valuables and abducting the women and children before burning everything in sight.
The beautiful Cassandra ran inside the temple, believing she would be safe in the protection of the guards. But the warrior Ajax felt no such misgiving. He assaulted Cassandra beneath the statue of the temple's goddess. Later, in a fit of remorse, he threw himself on his sword and died.
The warriors of Ilium were no match for their avenging enemies. Stumbling from their beds, muddled and confused because they were drunk with wine, they put up a feeble resistance and were slaughtered where they stood. None could withstand the vicious onslaught. Nothing could hold back the wave of destruction. The streets ran crimson with torrents of blood. The beleaguered Dardanians fought and fell, dying wretchedly, gasping their final breaths as death shrouded them. Few died before
seeing their homes blazing and their families being led off by their conquerors, hearing the screams of their women, the cries of their children along with the howls of a thousand city dogs.
King Priam, his attendants and guards were murdered mercilessly.
His wife, Hecuba, was carried off into a life of slavery. The palace was looted of its treasures, the gold stripped from columns and ceilings, the beautiful wall hangings and gilded furniture were all seized before flames gutted the once-magnificent interior.
No Achaean held a spear or sword that was not stained with blood. It was as if a pack of wolves ran amok among a herd of sheep in a pen. Old men and old women failed to escape the slaughter. They were slain as if they were rabbits, too frightened to move or too infirm to flee.
One by one the Dardanian hero warriors of the war fell slain until there was none left to wield a spear against the blood-crazed Achaeans. In the burning homes of the city their bodies lay where they had gone down fighting to protect their possessions and loved ones.