Read Iron Winter (Northland 3) Online

Authors: Stephen Baxter

Iron Winter (Northland 3) (7 page)

This ceremonial commemorated the culminating incident in the life of Jesus the Carpenter, a story familiar to every child of New Hattusa. After years of holy oratory that had infuriated the
religious authority in the Hatti’s vassal territory of Judea, Jesus had been betrayed by allegations of heresy by one of His own followers, Judas. He was turned over to the Hatti governor,
the Lord of the Watchtower, at his palace in Jerusalem, with a recommendation of execution. This Lord, who represented a state with an open pantheon, was repelled by these demands. And meanwhile a
rumour swept the city that the rogue apostle Judas had repented, and confessed the falsity of his allegations. The Lord of the Watchtower decreed that Jesus would be spared if Judas could be found
to repeat his recantation in the Lord’s own presence. So, throughout the city Jesus’ followers began a frantic search for the rogue apostle – and Jesus, some said to His own
astonishment, was spared. Much later Jesus was brought to Old Hattusa in chains, but was raised up by priests and scholars, who recognised in the prophet’s message an ethical foundation for
their own relatively tolerant, compensation-based system of laws.

After His peaceful death Jesus was welcomed into the Hatti pantheon. Now even a king would prostrate himself before Jesus Sharruma, son of Teshub Yahweh, the Storm God, and Mary, his Mother
Goddess of Arinna. With time the incidents of Jesus’ life were incorporated into the tapestry of the Hatti religious year – and so every autumn the citizens of New Hattusa went
searching for Judas, who had been identified with an older deity called Telipinu, the Missing God, who had to be brought out of hiding to bring the rains.

Usually the
was among the most popular of the many festivals of New Hattusa’s religious calendar. But today Kassu, standing impatiently until the procession passed,
could sense a tougher edge to the crowd’s pleading with Telipinu. No wonder, he thought, for judging by the evidence of the years-long drought, the god had never done such a good job of
hiding before. As soon as he could get by, Kassu pushed forward, making for the Pergamos, the old citadel with its temples and palaces. Even away from the procession route the city was crowded
– it was always crowded these days. As the drought had worsened and banditry went on the increase, more people from the countryside had got into the habit of coming into the city’s
safekeeping at night. So the marketplaces had been built over, and even some of the great temple places were crowded with huts and shacks, with fires burning on the marble pavements and
children chasing around the pillars.

When Kassu reached the King’s Gate in the wall around the Pergamos he was surprised to find the King himself was already out of his chambers, before the open gate. Shielded by a fine
curtain and sitting under a huge parasol to keep off the snow, Hattusili the Sixteenth was a small man, portly despite the years of famine and drought that had plagued his empire – but then
he was the King, and kings did not obey normal rules. He was muttering to a chamberlain, a flabby man in a purple robe who had the look of a eunuch to Kassu; the chamberlain was going through a
scroll, densely printed.

The King was surrounded on three sides by guards in suits of mail so complete that even their faces were covered, but with ornate embroidered tunics, and elaborately painted almond-shaped
shields. And before the King stood the supplicants, ordinary folk of the city in a long line, carefully shepherded by more guards with swords and stabbing spears. They all wore hooded cloaks so
they could not look at the King, and he did not have to look at them; they were like mounds of grimy laundry Kassu thought. At the head of the line they were addressed by more chamberlains with wax
tablets for note-taking. On festival days like this you could approach the King in person, and in his presence you would speak to one of his close advisers – never to the King himself, who
stayed back from the unwashed, discreetly shielded by a veil of near-transparent linen. The Hatti kings had always had a deep fear of contamination, of filth and dirt and corruption.

To one side of this small piece of theatre stood a group of men, some in mail, some in elaborately embroidered courtiers’ robes. Earnest, evidently powerful, they spoke gravely and
quietly. Kassu recognised Himuili, his own commander, as well as the Hazannu, the mayor, and Angulli Father of the Churches, the empire’s high priest – and Prince Arnuwanda, nephew of
the King and cousin to Uhhaziti, the
, the crown prince. Behind this group, as Kassu could see through the open gate, the Pergamos itself rose up, the wide avenues lined with grand
buildings, the summit of the ancient hill crowned by the royal palace and the Church of the Holy Wisdom. All this Kassu glimpsed in a few heartbeats.

Then a rough hand shoved him in the back and he fell heavily to the cobbled ground.

With a scrape of armour, heavy steel plates stitched into leather, Himuili Chief of the Chariot Warriors of the Left, came and stood over Kassu and kicked him in the ribs, as it happened just
where Zida had got him that morning. ‘Get up, idiot.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Kassu scrambled to his feet.

Himuili was half a head taller than Kassu, maybe forty years old, with a face like a clenched fist. ‘Kassu, is it?’

‘Yes, sir. Of the Fourth Infantry—’

‘Shut up.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘I told that idiot Zida to take somebody and go scout out whatever’s going on at the Simoeis. He said he’d take you, Kassu. He said you’re an idiot.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘But he didn’t say you’re an idiot that deserves to get his head stuck on a pike for failing to prostate himself before My Sun,’ and they both nodded their heads at the
King’s title. ‘A dozen lashes. Report to the wall barracks later.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘Shut up.’ Himuili beckoned, and led Kassu back to the group of high-ups.

Father of the Churches Angulli regarded Kassu with curiosity, Prince Arnuwanda with a kind of grim readiness despite his youth, and the Hazannu stared with contempt. They were all tall, well-fed
men, like great trees standing around Kassu, and he prayed that his tongue wouldn’t tie itself up.

‘Well?’ Himuili snapped. ‘Good news from the Simoeis, or not?’

Kassu briskly described what he had seen on the far bank of the river, the fires he had counted, his own rough estimate of the force that was approaching the city.

Arnuwanda spoke now. ‘The question is who they are. The Franks rarely come so close to the city and we can usually buy them off anyhow . . .’ The prince was no more than twenty years
old. He wore his hair long but loose, his upper lip was clean-shaven, his beard carefully shaped, and his young skin shone with expensive oils. He had a new tattoo on his cheek, a circles-and-bar
design that looked like a souvenir of his long summer visit to Northland. His accent was smooth, Kassu thought, but oddly spiced, probably thanks to the Greek and Northlander tutors who had been
imported to educate him. But he held himself like a warrior, having been educated in those arts by men like Himuili, and having ridden out in battle at the age of fifteen, or, some said, even
younger. The Hatti had always needed their princes to be generals. ‘If it’s nomads,’ the prince went on, ‘we might have more trouble. Difficult wretches who don’t know
when they’re defeated. They just scatter on their ponies hoping to lure you into traps—’

‘If they haven’t eaten their ponies already,’ Angulli said, and he giggled. This was the Father of the Churches, Brother of Jesus; he sounded slightly drunk to Kassu.

Himuili rolled his eyes. ‘We’ve ways of dealing with nomads, sir. The Turks are more persistent nuisances, especially now they’ve captured so much territory in eastern
Anatolia. Gives them a base to fight from, you see.’

Arnuwanda nodded. ‘But at least, again, we know what we’re dealing with. The problem will be, as always, raising the manpower. And feeding the men.’ Another swirl of snow came
down, thicker than before. Arnuwanda pulled his expensive-looking purple cloak tight around him.

‘Not the Turks,’ came a booming voice, immediately recognised by Kassu. ‘And not the Franks either.’

There was a commotion among the outer layers of the guard. Zida, for it was he, strode boldly towards the group of dignitaries. He had taken off his cloak and had wrapped it around some
kind of trophy that dripped deep-red blood as he walked.

‘Let him through,’ Himuili snapped. ‘Let him through, I say!’

Zida, standing before his general, panted hard. Even the King, Kassu noticed, peered out of his linen tent to see what the fuss was about.

‘You’ve been running,’ Kassu murmured.

‘Faster than you, farm boy.’

‘A dozen lashes for your failure to prostrate,’ Himuili snapped.

‘Of course, sir.’

‘Tell me what you have.’

‘The identity of our attackers.’ Zida held up his bloody bundle and pulled away the cloak – to reveal a human head, roughly severed at a neck from which blood still dripped, a
face pale with a heavy moustache. Zida held it up by a hank of red hair. There was a collective gasp, a wave of shock that spread out through the crowd of onlookers. Even the hooded supplicants
were distracted, even the King. Reflexively the guards clustered closer around their master.

Kassu spotted his wife Henti, on the edge of the crowd, dressed in her
finery, the robe shabby, faded, old, as everything was in New Hattusa these days, but still she
looked radiant in his eyes. But she had come with her cousin Palla, the priest, who probably had business with Angulli. Side by side the cousins looked very alike. Kassu saw that Henti held the
priest’s arm firmly as she stared at the head.

Himuili stepped forward. With his thumb, he opened one of the relic’s closed eyelids, to reveal an eye as blue as the sea in summer.
‘Rus, ’
he growled.

‘In fact he found me before I found him,’ Zida admitted. ‘He crept up behind me. Lucky I got him first. Otherwise—’

‘Otherwise you would have died uselessly,’ Himuili murmured, gazing at the head. ‘And all that expensive training wasted. Careless, that. Make that two dozen

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘But he
Rus. You established that?’

‘Yes, sir. He lived long enough to convince me. But they aren’t just Rus out there.’

‘Who, then?’


Another gasp of dismay.

‘While he was begging for his life, he said it wasn’t his fault.’

‘What isn’t?’ Himuili snapped.

‘Their emigration.’

‘You mean their invasion. The assault they’re mounting.’

‘No, sir.
is the word he used. His Hatti was quite good. Well, it’s no surprise. He said he’s served in the armies of My Sun, a mercenary regiment. He said,
’ Zida repeated. ‘And he said they’ve been driven to it by the drought and now the ice in their own lands, and by the wave of Scand that came down from their
distant lands further north yet. The Scand sacked Kiev, it seems, before they all came to an arrangement.’

Himuili grunted. ‘That’s nice. An arrangement to attack us.’

‘Yes, sir.’

Arnuwanda paced, fists clenched, the muscles in his bare arms bulging. ‘The Rus! Do you know any history, good Himuili?’

‘Not as much as I should, sir,’ the general said drily.

‘Throughout its existence the empire of the Hatti has been besieged by enemies, within and without. Well, we fought off the Kaskans and the Arzawans, and the Greeks and the Persians and
the Carthaginians and the Arabs and the Mongols, and we’re holding off the Turks – but now this! The Rus have been our allies. We gave them our god, they rejected Thor and Odin for
Jesus! And now they turn on us.’

Zida, eyes cast down respectfully, said, ‘But they’re starving, sir. And freezing. This fellow told me about his own family, before he died.’

Angulli laughed. ‘He must have taken a long time dying, soldier!’ said the Brother of Jesus.

‘That he did, sir. This isn’t an army; it’s a people on the move. They have made up their minds to come south – to come
for there’s nowhere else for
them to go. So they came down their rivers where their traders have sailed for centuries, and crossed the Asian Sea to our shores. Their Khagan is with them, and just now he is preparing to lay
siege to our port of Byzantos.’

Arnuwanda grunted. ‘Which will cut our trade routes to the Asian Sea and the continent beyond, not that they aren’t withered already.’

‘Sir, I think—’

And at that moment the assassins struck.

Two ordinary-looking supplicants broke from the head of the line, pushed past guards who had been watching Zida rather than attending their duty, threw back their hoods to reveal shocks of red
hair, and opened their cloaks to reveal single-bladed battleaxes. And they fell on the King.

Kassu saw it. Saw the first strike lay open the King’s chest, splaying ribs wide. Saw Hattusili the Sixteenth, still alive, looking down shocked at his own beating heart, his spilling
organs, which looked like any other man’s, Kassu thought, battlefield memories flooding back.

Then the guards were on them, led by Himuili himself, then Zida, and there was a brutal struggle. Arnuwanda went to the aid of his uncle. Kassu would have followed, but an officer snapped an
order for him to stay back and help round up the other supplicants, in case there were any more Rus assassins among them.

So it was that Kassu saw his wife in the churning crowd. Saw her, terrified, folded in the arms of the young priest beside her. And saw Palla lift her face and kiss her full on the lips, before
wrapping his arms around her and leading her away.










It took until the equinox for Pyxeas to make the arrangements for his epic journey to far Cathay – and, Avatak suspected, to allow his old body to recover from the sea
journey from Coldland only months before.

The family, led by Pyxeas’ niece Rina, were opposed to him going at all, and they pressured a doctor, a family friend called Ontin, to tell him he wasn’t strong enough. But Ontin was
about as old as Pyxeas, and Avatak thought he secretly envied Pyxeas’ boldness, and he would not stand in the way. After that, Rina, with very bad grace, insisted on accompanying Pyxeas on
the first leg of the journey, as far as an eastern city called Hantilios, where, maybe, the old man would see sense and come back home again.

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