2012-01-01. Advances in Group Telepathy.
“Confessions of a Rebel Angel; The Wisdom of the Watchers and the Destiny of Planet Earth.”. – Book 1B. Chapter 14. ~ by Timothy Wyllie
“Listening to Beings, Origins of Metallurgy, Guided to Mexico, Van’s Devotion and Caligastia’s Failed Invasion”
Confessions of a Rebel Angel. Book 1B. Chapter 14. Advances in Group Telepathy.
Both Caligastia’s Northwestern Empire and Van’s Eastern territories were relatively self-sufficient in all staple products, so the minimal amount of trading that was taking place invariably involved luxuries. The distances were so vast that the items traded tended to be small and portable—pink pearls from one of Van’s fishing settlements on the coast of the South China Sea; pigeon’s-blood rubies from the Mogok Valley in Burma; saffron, a spice derived from a crocus native to southwest Asia, which became an acquired taste in the highest courts of Egypt; iridescent abalone shells, found on beaches along the eastern coast of the African continent, which made their way to the skilled artisans of northern India. The treks were long and dangerous, and the weather always unpredictable, with the trading paths snaking along dry riverbeds, through deep, sun-starved gorges, and over mountain passes where inexperienced travelers regularly died from the freezing conditions and the prolonged lack of oxygen. All this changed, however, when silver was found in sufficient quantities in China. Van happened to be visiting the settlement at the time so he saw for himself.
Not as soft as gold, silver, in the small pieces occasionally found in dry riverbeds, had been used decoratively for many generations by the local tribes. But this new find was different. When one of the shallow mines revealed massive deposits of silver, copper, and lead, Van must have considered it important enough to break his own rules—although I never overheard anyone in his entourage ever commenting on this apparent hypocrisy. Nevertheless, it was the rule sometimes termed the “Prime Directive” by later generations of spacefarers, and held every bit as sacrosanct. To intervene in any way with another culture, so the rule directed, was to deprive that culture of the necessary challenges required for its ultimate growth. As can be imagined, this required extraordinary self-discipline on the part of Van, as it had on the part of all the Prince’s staff back before the uprising. And, as we know, it was one of Caligastia’s main complaints in his demand to accelerate the pace of technological progress.
I’m reporting this event in some detail, because I believe it illustrates one of the inherent dilemmas facing any individual of a more advanced culture as she attempts to interact with a less developed one. In most of Van’s settlements there were a few individuals bold enough to work with fire and metals. This was largely dependent on what ores were found in the vicinity of that particular settlement and the methods of extraction were extremely crude. With the sudden availability of large quantities of silver, and in spite of all his injunctions regarding the introduction of any artificial acceleration of technology, Van passed along some of the closely held secrets of metallurgy. Nothing too advanced, mind you, we can be thankful for that. But overnight, or so it seemed to me, this select group was able to separate the various metals, stripping away the lead in their ovens. In these new ovens I saw Van’s hand at work. While a brilliant though obvious solution, granted, I could see that Van must have been planning something new. It hadn’t been easy for me to explore what was happening at the minehead. I only got a quick glimpse before Van’s midwayers threw up such a wall of confusion in subspace that I had to retreat before I found myself dragged into the barrage of emotional chaos and lost myself.
Yet what I saw in that one brief glance startled me, and I quickly understood why they were so protective of their secret. Even I, who was still thought of as a Caligastia spy, hoped this particular technique for increasing the temperature of their fires did not fall into the hands of the Northwestern Empire with their militaristic ambitions. You’ll recall the natives of this world had always been unreasonably frightened of fire. Before the uprising, time and again they’d rejected any demonstration of the many uses of steam. This fear had persisted through the millennia, sometimes easing for a while until a forest fire, an erupting volcano, or a sudden crack of thunder terrified the natives all over again. And the staff would be back where they started. Yet after the rebellion had run its course and Van’s group started off on the great trek eastward, perceptible changes were occurring in many of the native groups. There was a greater sense of self-reliance now that they were out from under the administrative surveillance of the Prince’s staff and the constant reminder of their superiority. The natives were being forced to be self-sufficient, and with only occasional visits from their immortal Van, a new sort of courage and confidence was starting to surface in particular individuals. Think of it as the start of the specialization that invariably appears as hunter-gatherer tribes transform themselves into agrarian settlements and then into towns and cities. Among the first of these specialists were those who worked with metals.
This had started early with the gold, silver, and the tin that could often be found on the surface. With the discovery of major seams of metal ore came the need to develop ways of heating the rock matrix and then cooling it to separate the metals from the rock. The limitation was always the heat. Wood fires burned hot enough to liquefy lead when that was one of the metals found in the seams, along with silver. But until a way of increasing the burn temperature was found, silver, gold, and copper, with their higher melting points, remained largely inaccessible. This is where Van bent his own rules. I suspect that he simply got bored with human limitations and indifference. Generations had passed before his eyes and nothing much had really changed—not in Van’s eyes, anyway. For most natives, fire had remained terrifying. Certainly they’d tamed it somewhat; they sat around their wood fires warming themselves on winter nights. After a successful hunt a wild pig or an antelope might be slowly turned on a spit by a small child blinking in the smoke.
The smell of cooking meat would draw the children around the fire, only to have them run away, squealing, after being burned by flecks of hot fat spitting out from the sizzling meat. Fires had to be constantly watched. If they grew too large and hot, the flames and sparks, lofted in the smoke when an unexpected wind picked up, were liable to start uncontrollable forest fires. Far more frequent, however, were the occasions within an encampment when the sparks from an open fire ignited the layers of dried leaves widely used as the roofing material for their huts. In light of these threats, it is no wonder that humans retained an uneasy relationship with fire.
Even a few of those most faithful to Van’s teachings sometimes spoke nostalgically of their distant forebears—men and women who devoutly believed in the fire god, people who were willing to throw their children in the sacred flames to appease their god. When these regressive attitudes from those most loyal to him reached Van’s ears, I’m sure he felt that his hand was being forced. It hadn’t been easy for him: the next step in the metallurgical process held many dangers, and all the Prince’s staff had been continually warned about it in their premission briefings. Lead was the first metal to flow when the rock was heated, and, although too soft for spearheads, it could easily be molded into storage vessels and drinking cups. Van decided to interfere when this became common practice in areas of China where lead was most commonly found. He must have realized that generations of humans would suffer and die from lead poisoning—long before they ever understood that the lead was killing them. I could feel Van’s hesitation. He had to be able to warn the natives about the dangers of lead, while at the same time not scaring them away from metals forever.
He was well aware that the introduction of metallurgy into a primitive culture would have a profound and long-lasting effect on that culture. Some suggest that metallurgy represents the true dawn of technological innovation, because once it has been introduced there could never be any going back. This had been demonstrated on many an infant world. Yet I knew Van had to act. He had to discourage everyone working with lead and could only do this by showing the metalworkers how to increase the burn temperature by intensifying the flow of oxygen. This then gave them access to tin and, later, at higher temperatures, to silver and gold. Unlike Caligastia’s northwestern kingdoms, Van had always firmly discouraged slavery in all its forms in his many territories stretching from Persia to the China Sea. The tenet that all mortals are Sons of God was at the center of his moral and spiritual teachings. As a consequence, there were not the large numbers of people available of mining as the slave-driven operations of Caligastia’s East African operation. Van’s ingenuity would be required to resolve this inequity.
This brings me back to the minehead and what I was able to see before I was chased away by those protective midwayers. I saw Van’s miners had chipped their burn chambers out of the living rock at the wide entrance to the mine. It was very clever. As heat rises, they created their burn chambers in groups of three, one atop the other in the vertical rock wall, and connected the three ovens with a flue. By controlling the air-flow in the flue with dampers the temperature could be progressively increased from chamber to chamber, so silver and copper could then be melted.
By adding two more chambers, the heat could be made to rise to over 1600°C in the top chamber. This allowed them to start smelting the iron from deposits recently found in southeast China. Using this stepped technique and by boring long flues up through the rock—I can only guess how long it must have taken them to hack their way through to the surface—they were able to radically increase the airflow in the chambers and thus the temperature of the fire. This ingenious solution must have come from Van, because after the dissolution of Van’s Eastern territories, stepped forges of this sort were not seen again in China until some 65,000 years later. After silver had been separated from lead and the rock matrix, the metal was then ductile enough to be beaten into flat plates. Under Van’s longsuffering tutelage, a new class of metalworkers sprang up. They learned to fashion the silver plate into the various drinking vessels and containers intended to replace the previous ones made of lead. Fortunately for those early tribespeople that Van stepped in when he did, because after only three or four generations many in the Chinese settlements were showing signs of high levels of lead poisoning.
The birthrate had been dropping catastrophically. Of the children born, many more died in infancy than had previously, and some of the few survivors were deformed or severely brain damaged. For Van this had been a serious setback. The symptoms of exposure to organic lead are so broad—from depression and neurological damage to loss of coordination and kidney failure—and can occur over such long periods due to the buildup of lead in the blood, that those afflicted would never have discovered what was slowly driving them insane before it killed them all off. I knew Van would never allow that to happen. He had to step in. Unfortunately, the very convenience of the malleable metal, and the relative ease with which it could be found, ensured that the use of lead had spread rapidly along the trade routes of southern Asia. This required Van and a small group of intimates to trek back and forth along the 2,500-mile silk road he had established on his first trip to China. They visited all the small settlements that had sprung up.
Their warnings about the effects of lead poisoning were frequently disbelieved or ignored after their first visit, in spite of Van’s imposing presence. But, as the natives’ physical and mental deterioration grew worse, the damaging effects couldn’t be denied, and by Van’s second or third visit, all the lead vessels had disappeared. I’ve heard Van argue this point, but from what I observed it had taken at least five or six generations for the natives in the various settlements to fully recover from the lingering effects of lead poisoning. Mothers with acute or chronically elevated levels of lead in their blood passed the toxins along to their children through the placenta and breast milk. Thus, each generation of surviving children grew to adulthood while accumulating progressively higher levels of toxicity. I knew this must be damaging their DNA, which is why I believe their recovery took so long. I could also see how responsible Van felt about the whole unfortunate affair. He was devastated. He’d faced one of the great dilemmas encountered by all such off-planet missions, and he had evidently failed in his own terms and by the standards M A had expected of him. I could feel that he was torturing himself.
Should he have stepped in earlier to try to stop the widespread use of lead? Did his intervention constitute an offense against the prime directive of noninterference? He couldn’t have just let them die, could he? They were like children to him! Then Van was worrying if he cared too much. Had he fallen into the trap of sentimentality about which he and the rest of the staff had been so consistently warned? “Human beings are real heartbreakers,” they’d been told. “Never become emotionally involved,” the tutors would insist. “Love them, by all means, but love them with your eyes open. Never become sentimentally attached. They’re not your children. You won’t be doing them any favors thinking that they are. They need to live out their own lives and make their own mistakes. Besides, they’ll break your heart if you do interfere.” I knew Van had been particularly observant of this warning. Apart from his faithful companion Amadon, with whom I’d frequently overheard him openly expressing his feelings, Van’s approach was to courteously avoid any personal emotional involvement with the mortals in his charge.
He went out of his way to discourage any hint of the inevitable hero worship. He was all too aware this was how Caligastia manipulated and used people, with his claim of godhood and his midwayers starting to think of themselves as divine beings. This was a deceit Van wanted nothing to do with, even if it meant painfully holding his feelings in check and ultimately having to go into an almost permanent monastic retreat to avoid being the focus of the natives’ attention. “You know what I blame myself most for?” I overheard Van confessing to Amadon sometime after the lead scare died down. “I was so careful to avoid becoming attached to individual humans that I’ve become sentimentally attached to all of them—to the whole lot. Think of the progress we’ve made together. Look at what we’ve achieved. I had to intervene, Amadon. They would have all died. Every one of them. We’d have had to start all over again. I couldn’t throw away what we’ve already accomplished, could I?” His friend had never seen Van so distressed. Amadon had always spoken openly to his chief, and when Van had consulted with him prior to intervening, he strongly supported taking action. Being a modified human being himself, Amadon had suffered acutely from what he’d seen as he traveled around with Van. Men, women, and children, in settlement after settlement, were manifesting the symptoms of lead poisoning.
Families were breaking up, the elders were acting irrationally, and now lethargy was spreading through the natives, where once enthusiasm had greeted their visits. Amadon was clearly thrilled when Van had stepped in against all his precious principles. It was the right thing to do—he must have interjected the phrase half a dozen times while Van was vacillating. This conviction made it all the harder for Amadon—the modified human—to take Van’s bouts of self-recrimination too seriously. However, with the original silver mine working at full capacity, a number of other newly discovered mines coming online, and an increased number of natives who came forward to be trained as silversmiths, all the lead storage containers, the cups and plates and other implements, were soon replaced by crudely made silver utensils. Although the population was still much diminished, within a few generations there were no signs of lead poisoning in the villages and settlements when Van and his entourage made their rounds and conducted their tests. In the great sweep of history, in spite of the tragic losses, the debacle with lead poisoning in the Eastern Empire was a momentary setback in the steady expansion of the population. There would be other times later in history when this lesson would be forgotten and empires would fall, their ruling classes rendered degenerate and impotent from wine that leached the lead from their storage vessels.
If such serious matters can be considered ironic, within three centuries of Van’s decision to prevent the use of lead utensils, some of the grandmothers in the burgeoning settlements remarked on the silver having some extremely beneficial effects. Not only was the infant death rate even lower than before the lead catastrophe, but the population’s general health had unaccountably improved, as the longevity of the tribes-people was increasing. Whether Van knew this would occur I was never able to find out, but I can’t help feeling that he must have been aware of silver’s chemical qualities and its germicidal effect on such a wide variety of microbial organisms. He was immensely knowledgeable. I can only assume that he preferred to keep the information to himself, trusting that humans would eventually discover silver’s healing properties for themselves. As a result, Van was delighted to pass along what the grandmothers had noticed about the beneficial and healthy effects of using silver, as he traveled from settlement to settlement across his vast domain. It took almost three centuries for the settlements within Van’s domain to build up their numbers to where they’d been before the lead-poisoning crisis.
Silver drinking vessels and utensils had completely replaced the lead ones, and the dangers of the metal’s toxicity had entered the stories the elders would tell around the fire. A favorite story I overheard more than once centered on a young boy who’d found a lead cup that hadn’t been melted down and destroyed. By this time lead had become taboo, but the rebellious little boy thought he knew better. He kept his special cup secret from his family and drank from it whenever he could. When he became a man, his family started noticing some unusual behavior. As a boy he’d complained of headaches and a whole array of stomach problems, but when he reached adulthood it became obvious that he was going to be of little use to the tribe. He was moving more and more slowly, he was depressed and irritable to his family, and frequently howled with pain throughout the night. He’d been falling in and out of comas, often emerging in a disoriented state of mind.
When one of the most ancient of the grandmothers called the young man over to her one night and pried open his mouth, she recognized the symptoms of the dreaded lead. She was old enough to have seen the last person in her settlement to die of lead poisoning, and once she saw the state of his mouth, with his teeth etched in a dirty blue color, she’d actually screamed in horror and thrust the man aside. The next night this man was escorted far outside the encampment and left alone without food or shelter to suffer a horrible death. After a long silence, the storyteller would peer around at all the children sitting in rapt attention before they were ushered off to sleep by their mothers.
The story had its variants from settlement to settlement and changed over the years, but the terrified reaction of the children was always the same. It was fortunate for Van that Caligastia had been preoccupied with the constant hostilities that had arisen between the various kingdoms within his empire. Although the Prince’s approach was based on dividing and conquering, it was a time-consuming affair and required his constant attention. Had he not been busy pulling the strings from behind the veil, he might well have taken the opportunity to attempt to invade those he considered his enemies while their numbers were so depleted. For some years his midwayers had been returning from their surveillance trips with reports on the problems Van’s settlements were facing and urging the time for action. I could see how infuriated Caligastia had become at this. There was obviously nothing more he would like to do—he was the god of this world, after all—than to exterminate those who opposed him. The whole world should have been his! It was a personal insult that Van’s settlements existed and did not worship him—Caligastia!
Yet, try as he might to change this humiliating situation, the Prince ended up by falling victim to his own divisive manipulations. He’d managed through his proxies to inspire such suspicion and hatred between the rulers of the different kingdoms that it became impossible for Caligastia to pull together a large invasion army. He had finally managed to align three of the great kings who had grown tired of fighting one another to his cause. He promised vast rewards—gold beyond anything they’d yet imagined, an endless supply of slaves, and the capture of the most beautiful women in the world—if the kings would just storm in and conquer Van’s territory. Speaking through his priests, Caligastia excoriated Van’s Eastern Empire as a den of godless barbarians. He them called them weak and disorganized. His priests preached the barbarians were evil, lower even than animals, and killing them would be cleansing the world—Caligastia’s world— of all those arrogant scum. He told them their crusade would be simple, that Van would not be anticipating an invasion, that the enemy had no army to speak of because the settlements were so widely spread out over such a huge area.
Evidently Caligastia couldn’t deny the vast distances, because his midwayers had been regularly reporting back to him. So he clearly hoped that by placing far more emphasis on the lack of resistance and the easy pickings, he’d be able to provoke their greed. But it was too little, too late. An invasion force had been hurriedly raised, yet their undertaking appeared doomed from the start. Many of the warriors who served at the behest of their various kings and tribal leaders were exhausted after the nearly constant hostilities between the various kingdoms. All those men wanted to do was to return to their homes and families. The small army, drawn in fairly equal parts from the military forces of the three kings, also never became cohesive. Although the kings and their satraps may have made an uneasy peace with one another, the men loyal to them—after years of mutual hatred—found it almost impossible not to pick fights at the slightest provocation. At this point Caligastia had established a fertile region of what was to become the North African coastline as his primary location. Much of this area that was later to become the coast of the Mediterranean was studded with lakes and endless forests of old-growth trees.
It included Rhacotis, a small settlement that would later become the Egyptian city of Alexandria, and farther east across the Nile Delta and then curving north up into present-day Israel, and culminating in the great temple of Shalim in the location that was later to become Jerusalem. Not having a material body, Caligastia didn’t strictly need a house or a home in the human frequency domain, so he worked through his priests in a series of temples. The largest and most important of the temples were at either end of what he insisted on calling, with no apparent irony, his “sacred crescent.” He divided his time between his two large temples, the first—now long-buried beneath the city of Alexandria—at one end of the crescent and, at the other, the more important of the two, which now lies deep under present-day Jerusalem. The remaining three smaller temples, one of which is under the waters of the Mediterranean, were equidistantly placed along the coastline between the two main ones.
What had horrified Van when his midwayer spies reported on Caligastia’s activities was how skillfully the Prince was able to operate through a number of different local divinities: each god or goddess was worshipped in their own temple and was served by their own priests. He had finally been persuaded to permit this abrogation of his supremacy on the proviso that the priests of the various local divinities preached also of a greater god, one that stood behind all the lesser gods and goddesses. While the midwayer/divinity to whom the Jerusalem temple was dedicated, for example, was a goddess of the dawn, the prevailing divinity in Alexandria happened to be a god of rebirth.
That appeared to matter little to Caligastia. They were his midwayers, and they obeyed his orders. The priests, in turn, took their orders from the midwayers, the strange beings who spoke in their heads and called themselves divine. And the people? They did what their kings and priests dictated: to refuse meant a lifetime sentence in the mines, or worse. I had no doubt that Caligastia would have preferred to have all the worship directed toward him. That was the nature of his personality. Yet he was no fool. Given the primitive stage of human development, he soon realized, after some failed attempts at what he’d called with a sneer in his voice “my monotheism,” that the people were still too strongly attached to, and far too dependent on, their various gods. I could see how deeply Caligastia’s pride had been wounded by what he’d taken as a personal rejection: it was a betrayal, to use his words, “of all I’ve done for this wretched little planet!” Absurd though it sounded to those of us observing, he ranted on about “the midwayers being loved more than me . . . that it was those damnable midwayers, those phony divinities, who were soaking up all that fine worshipful energy . . . and where does all this leave me?
I’m the God of this world—me, Caligastia!” Regardless of how dynamic we’d all thought our Prince was and how much loyalty we’d felt toward him, it was becoming generally accepted among us Watchers that Prince Caligastia had a remarkably well-developed penchant for complaining. This was when he showed his worst side: he blamed anyone within earshot for his own faults and seemed incapable of taking any responsibility for his own actions or their consequences. This outburst was made all the more pointless because his midwayers had already spent so many centuries carving out their own psychic territories and claiming their own godlike status. Through them the Prince had been able to operate—to control and manipulate people—as effectively as he needed, with the added advantage of being able to keep his midwayers on a short leash. It had been his plan—his idea! And now the power was slipping out of his hands. This was an open betrayal. The Prince was furious.
After his anger had subsided and he’d recovered his dignity somewhat, his council of midwayers prevailed on him to stick to his original plan to remain as a hidden presence. They certainly didn’t want to lose the perks of godhood. “A God behind the gods,” claimed one of them, appealing once more to Caligastia’s pride. “As it was before, with you behind the scenes. You’ll still be holding the power.” This had pleased the Prince. All those present, to their obvious relief, must have felt Caligastia’s auric field subsiding because another midwayer quickly picked up the thread. The midwayers themselves had a considerable investment in maintaining their divine roles. They’d been having far too much fun impersonating gods and goddesses. “You will be like the ‘invisible Father’ that Van worshipped,” said another midwayer. “You’ll be the ‘still, small voice’ he was always going on about.” This drew a caustic laugh from the Prince, yet the idea clearly appealed to him. No more needed to be said.
The midwayers knew they had won. And with the mention of Van’s name, Caligastia called the meeting back to the matter at hand: the invasion and occupation of Van’s Eastern territories . . . and the seizure of all that gold. Caligastia had instructed the resident midwayers to command through their priests the attendance of the three kings, together with their military strategists, at the temple in Rhacotis. One was the ruler—a tyrant in this case—of the immediate territory surrounding the town that was growing up around the temple. The other two kings arrived some weeks later from the south with their ragtag armies. They had already formed an alliance, since their territories shared a long border, and they arranged to travel north together. Their arrival was turned into a magnificent affair; the kings were richly feted in the tyrant’s palace, while the armies were being fed and cared for by the women of the town. Rumors of what might be demanded of them swept through the men. Where would they go? And who they were to fight? Arguments broke out, turning in some cases into shouting matches and fistfights that were only settled when bets started being taken between some of the warriors as to whom they were going to attack.
Yet, for all the bets and guesses, there was not one among them who could even have imagined they’d be ordered to cross the notoriously impassable Eastern Desert—least of all by the direct southern route! No alliance between three rulers had ever been attempted before, so the men all knew this mission was going to be important—something new, perhaps even something dangerous. They had no idea of just how dangerous it was going to be, however, or how few of them would survive. Caligastia, speaking mediumistically through his senior temple priest, urged the three kings to prepare for the invasion as soon as possible, because the mild spring temperatures were soon going to turn into the blazing heat of summer.
When they heard their mission announced through the trembling lips of the insensate priest, the royal troika had originally greeted the words with a mix of horror and bravado. But as they came to talk among themselves about the promised rewards—about the gold and the slaves and the women—they gathered their courage. Despite this, they decided not to inform the rank and file about the desert crossing until the last moment. Consequently, when the army was equipped and assembled and set out eastward in the direction of the great deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, the men finally realized what awaited them. A few tried to make a break for it before the column progressed too deeply into the desert. They were cruelly cut down by the men of a rearguard, deliberately placed half a mile behind the main army for just this purpose. When news of this spread among the men, there were no more attempts to run away, and within days the warriors were already too far into the desert wasteland to make any attempt at returning to their homes feasible.
Any initial enthusiasm for a battle among some of the more ferocious of the warriors soon withered, first into despair and then into a more serious fight for survival, as they struggled farther and farther into the desert. The men were unfamiliar with the terrain and completely unprepared for the life-sapping conditions. The distances were vast and the going laboriously slow. Men wandered off from the main column in the frequent blinding sandstorms, never to be found. The sun was merciless: a different sun from the one the men were accustomed to over the wooded hills of their homelands. Here the sight of dunes stretching interminably to the horizon, unrelieved by a single tree, drove men who were sane at daybreak, insane and babbling by that same nightfall. Strong men fell from exhaustion and heatstroke and died beside the slowly moving column. At first their comrades insisted on burying them in the sand, yet before long the numbers of the dead and dying became so great that they were simply left where they’d fallen. The blown sand covered their bodies soon enough. The journey must have seemed endless to the men.
I could only observe the terrible attrition, while being powerless to do anything about it. I’ve seen much of human death over the time I’ve been observing this world and have come to regard the fuss made about it with some indifference. It’s no secret to me that life continues for human beings after the death of their physical vehicle. Yet, to watch the agonies of strong, proud men and women, each fighting the inevitability of their death to the last breath remains as painful to me now as it did then. I believe it was fortunate that the armies the kings had promised for the venture turned out to be far fewer in number than originally pledged. Caligastia had hoped for a fighting force of at least 12,000 but had no choice but to be satisfied with the 7,500 warriors that the kings had managed to coerce into their service. But by the time they had reached the trail that hugs the southern shore of the Caspian Sea the survivors could barely be called an army. Worse still, soon after arriving at the Caspian, it emerged that two of the kings had been plotting behind the back of the third, claiming to expose him as a defeatist and a traitor.
Before any defense could be mounted, they quickly forced the undeserving king into a public execution, which further exacerbated the already tense situation between the remaining troops. There was, of course, no formal border between the two vast territories: the ever-widening Arabian wasteland was brutal enough to discourage any contact between them—until now. The few thousand survivors of an army that set off more than ten thousand strong, including camp followers, accomplished what had previously been thought impossible. Barely alive, the men—and the very few remaining women—had limped down to the shore and thrown themselves in the sea. With spirits restored somewhat, the two remaining kings divided the tasks required. They commanded some of their men to set up camp, others to explore for sources of freshwater, while wisely sending the remaining soldiers loyal to the dead king on hunting expeditions into the forests of the Alborz Mountains that rise to the south. The fertile plain between the mountains and the sea became an ideal place to make camp and take stock of the situation facing them.
Counting the remaining warriors, plus those who straggled in later—having become lost somewhere along the way and then forgotten about—they had a fighting force of only 3,223 men. Among the camp followers, the losses had been even greater. The total of the surviving servants and cooks, the women (a few with children), the smiths and tent makers, and the slaves had diminished to less than 250. Nobody was bothering to count them too accurately. No one had really counted them to start with. Warrior, servant, or slave—they were a hardy people for all that. Life had been tough enough before they attempted the desert crossing, and the survivors, once they’d regained their strength, could barely believe the paradisiacal conditions in which they now found themselves. After the agonies they’d faced along the way, the sandstorms and heatstroke and the death of most of their friends, it seemed to the survivors as if they, too, had died and gone to the happy hunting grounds. Gazelles and antelope roamed the narrow strip of land at the foot of the mountains, apparently unafraid of humans and easily hunted.
Seals abounded along the rocky coastline, and they were curious enough about humans to be trapped without difficulty. Freshwater was abundant; their scouting parties discovered so many rivers leading into the Caspian that they would never lack for pure water. When they finally ventured out into the sea—as an enclosed body of water, the Caspian was a great deal larger in those days—they were astonished to find the vast numbers of fish and the enormous size to which some of them had grown. The catch a few nimble fishermen could gather, spearing fish from the rocky promontories, proved quite ample to feed the entire army. Sturgeon, more than twenty-five feet long in some cases, were easy to catch. When one of the cooks discovered ovaries full of shimmering, black roe while preparing a large female sturgeon, a taste for this new delicacy spread through the camp with gluttonous speed. Although not yet processed into the caviar it was later to become, the sturgeon roe was both nutritious and much enjoyed for the energy boost it provided the men. Salmon were equally easy to catch; I watched particularly quick-witted youngsters snatching them out of the air as the fish returned en masse up the rivers to spawn.
The climate was temperate, cooled by the winds off the sea, and after a few months of recuperation and no sign of the opposing forces, the army grew relaxed and indolent. Their original intention— the greed for gold, slaves, and women that had been driving them—seemed to have dissipated in their relief at having survived the ordeal. The two kings, each of whom had vied so vigorously for the post of supreme commander and had already arranged the killing of their third, settled into an uneasy truce.
No one, not even the most ambitious, wished to contemplate the long return journey and the images of almost certain death it portended. Likewise, it didn’t appear as if either king were much interested in progressing with his mission. They were becoming far too comfortable. Winter was fast approaching, and the mountains to the east of the Caspian were already gathering snow on their summits. The passes—and I could tell the kings were unsure whether there would even be passes—would soon become impenetrable, and that became justification enough to stay exactly where they were. Crude dwellings had been thrown up as fall turned to winter and the winds howling off the mountains north of the sea carried the chill into their bones. Winter was hard for king, freeman, and slave alike—and colder than anything they’d been used to at home. The low salinity of the Caspian Sea made the northern fringes ice over as the temperature plummeted and a blood-red sun dropped behind the surrounding mountains. Fortunately for our inept invaders, the ice didn’t extend far south, allowing them to continue to fish successfully throughout the cold season.
The skins of the gazelles killed over the summer months kept them warm, and their diet of so much fish gave them the omega-3 fatty acids to keep their hearts strong and healthy. The kings, who by birthright claimed the best of everything for themselves, had enjoyed the meat and made fine use of the four bearskins the hunters had brought down from the mountains. The bears had been slaughtered at a terrible cost, each of the animals killing, or fatally wounding, a number of their pursuers. A large female, while protecting her cubs, clawed five hunters to death before finally dying herself, her cubs safely scattered by that time. The kings were casually dismissive when it came to the hunters’ sacrifice. They insisted that their men continue to hunt down these dangerous creatures, even sending them out in the winter. When the hunters returned empty-handed from their eighth trip into the mountains, having not spotted a single bear or found bear tracks in the snow or even seen the scat they’d have expected to find, the hunters convinced the kings their royal power had frightened all the terrible beasts away.
When the spring thaw arrived and the bears emerged from their snowbound caves, their hibernation over for the year, the hunters wisely avoided the hungry creatures. Between them, the men agreed to keep their silence about the bears’ unexpected reappearance. As a result, both kings were deceived into believing it was their power that had chased away the bears. Carried away by the hunters’ flattering words and preoccupied with holding on to their positions, they promptly forgot all about the creatures. And with the warm spring weather fast approaching, all thought of the bears’ warm fur coats became irrelevant. So the seasons came and went. No rescue party arrived, braving the desert, although they never learned that two parties had indeed set out, only to disappear in the desert. Neither had they seen any sign of the local natives in all the time they’d been there. A small expeditionary force had set out eastward to find a pass through the mountains but had returned without seeing a sign of human habitation.
As the months and then the years passed, there was nothing to do but to settle down and enjoy what they’d found. Permanent dwellings were built. Children were born. Warriors turned their hand to farming while others, of necessity, had to learn the trades of the day. The very best hunters and fishermen continued to feed the settlement, making sure to pass along their skills to their children, who in turn supplied the food for another generation of the rapidly increasing population. Later, much later, when the northern trading route had been established, it was the distant descendants of these people who guided the great caravans and developed the indispensable caravanserai wherever water was found.
I am a Watcher Angel and my name is Georgia.
The following is an excerpt from the Timothy Wyllie’s book series on rebel angels, specifically an account as described by the angel referred to as ,’Georgia”.
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