War Stories

Moon Over Mountain Pass

A bright moon rising above Tian Shan Mountain,
Lost in a vast ocean of clouds.
The long wind, across thousands upon thousands of miles,
Blows past the Jade-gate Pass.
The army of Han has gone down the Baiteng Road,
As the barbarian hordes probe at Qinghai Bay.
It is known that from the battlefield
Few ever live to return.
Men at Garrison look on the border scene,
Home thoughts deepen sorrow on their faces.
In the towered chambers tonight,
Ceaseless are the women’s sighs.

~ Li Po

Cold Iron

“Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid —
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.”
“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.”

So he made rebellion ‘gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
“Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!”

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid ’em all along;
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
“What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?”
“Nay!” said the Baron, “mock not at my fall,
For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all.”

“Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown —
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.”
“As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
“Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.
Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall
How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!”

He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread.
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
“See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all.”

“Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall —
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

“Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!”
“Nay!” said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all!
Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!”

by Rudyard Kipling

The Epic of Erra


Erra was the warrior of the gods and the commander of the Sebitti, seven gods of war who marched at his side when he went into battle. There had been peace in Babylon for a long time, but the Sebitti began to cry loudly that they were growing bored and old with no more battles.

Erra’s weapons complained, “We have become blunt, and rusty, and covered in spiders’ webs, and we have almost forgotten how to fight! It is time for a war!”

Erra believed that Marduk had become a lazy ruler, allowing his people in Babylon to become too numerous and noisy, and he decided to begin a war in the city. But first he had to get Marduk out of the way.

“Your crown looks so battered and dirty,” he told Marduk. “It is not fit for a god who rules a city as beautiful as Babylon.”

Erra persuaded Marduk to go in search of the skilled craftspeople who could restore his crown to its original golden brilliance. The craftspeople lived far from Babylon, and Marduk was reluctant to leave his temple, not knowing what would happen if he was not there to protect his people.

Marduk consents to Erra’s plan but only when Erra promises to maintain order in his absence. Marduk returns Erra takes offence, either at some slight or because he has been tricked out of the opportunity to use his power. He vows to give Marduk and the other senior gods cause to remember him, and brags of his warlike prowess and destructive power. The effect of Erra’s anger is immediate bloodshed and anarchy.

Erra began to spread devastation – he set families against each other, creating conflict and wars. Shrines, temples, palaces, and houses were destroyed in the fighting, and many people were killed. The city is so polluted by bloodshed that Marduk cannot any longer abide in his temple and, amid bitter lament, leaves his station at the center of the cosmos. Erra now has the whole world at his mercy.

This violence is not the result of Marduk leaving his cosmic station a second time. Rather it seems that his earlier absence from his temple has produced an instability in the cosmos which has repercussions even after he reoccupied it

Next Erra vows to destroy the seat of cosmic government so that all voices of moderation are silenced.  And the effect of Erra’s ambition then becomes yet more terrible, as he launches on the world a conflict that will bring all countries to civil war. Only then will Erra permit the carnage to cease, when a new ruler will arise in Babylonia.

To facilitate this new order, Erra allows Ishum to bring an end to the conflict, which he does. At last he is content, basking in the gods’ acknowledgement of the supremacy of his power. He commands that the country shall thrive in a period of new prosperity. Erra gives to Ishum the tasks of perpetuating Ishum’s victory over the enemies of Babylon.

From: World Myths and other sources

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