The docks of the trading port got crowded with spectators when a mix of trumpeting sounds, shouting, and screaming suddenly drowned out the usual sounds of the harbour. Again and again, the crew of the Phoenician merchant vessel had tried to push the grey giant to take the first step on the loading ramp. But nothing had worked out. This bull-headed humongous animal just didn't want to step on the wooden plank. It was as if he knew that this small bridge wouldn't carry his weight. "Father, have you ever seen an elephant that size?" Hasdrubal ask. "No, but I heard many tales about him. They say he was begotten by the god of war himself. A living weapon, created for battle. They say only your brother can tame him. He named him Surus, the Syrian because he brought him from the bazaar in port Laodicea." "Indeed," Hasdrubal confirms. "the keepers say that my brother speaks to Surus as if he were a person." "Tales or not," Hamilcar replies. "we shall get this beast off that ship before he chops it into pieces."
Soon after, a crane, borrowed from the nearby construction of the new granaries, had been brought in and set up at the pier. The crane's hook was holding two huge lifting belts that were strapped around the elephant's belly. A dozen slaves were now pulling on the counterweights on the backside of the crane's boom. Sweating with fear and effort, they are finally able to lift the precious cargo off the ship's deck just high enough to swing the loading arm over to the pier. "Almighty Baal Hammon, you are a genius Hasdrubal." Hamilcar praises his son. "How did you come up with the idea of that crane?" Encouraged by the words of his father, Hasdrubal steps forward and pushes the crowd of spectators out of the crane's boom range. Finally, the cargo lifts off the ship's deck, Surus now hanging above the pier.
Suddenly the beast loses his temper and starts kicking with his legs hanging free. From the crowd on the pier comes a sound of admiration and entertainment. Nobody recognizes the crackling sound of ropes tearing. Then, with a big blast, the disaster strikes. The bursting ropes catapult the lifting belts into the slaves at the counterweights, lashing down most of them. The same moment Surus hits the ground, going onto his knees by his own weight. The shock of the crowd is followed by silence. The silence before the storm. Outraged and in pain, the angry giant gets back on his feet. With a deafening scream and protruding ears, he runs straight into the crowd, mowing down everyone in his path. Panic breaks out. The screaming crowd of spectators tries to escape in all directions. Quick-reacting, Hamilkar pulls his son away from the pier, back on the deck of the ship. Reaching for his spear he shouts to the cabin boy. "Go, find your master! Bring him here before we have to kill this beast."
Hot steam rises from the heated basin up to the dome-shaped ceiling. Shiny layers of condensed water are building up there. The Syrian mosaic of the stones under the cupola smoothly merges into columns of Armenian marble that surround the basin in the middle of the bathhouse. Behind the columns, small separees with heated marble plateaus surround the central room, hidden behind opaque curtains of silver-embroidered Nubian chiffon. Behind these shades is where the bathing girls usually fulfill the exclusive wishes of wealthy guests. But not so today. On learning of the Punic fleet's arrival, Zarina had closed the bath for the public and had sent all the girls away. She knew all too well that after a long journey, her lover would first head to the bathhouse, to spend the rest of the day with her.
The rising steam fills the space between the columns and swallows any disturbing noise. Only once in a while, a big drop of water falls down from above, breaking the silence with a plop building concentric circles on the water surface. The Punic general moans with comfort each time when Zarina's elegantly long fingers slide over the tense parts of his neck and shoulders. With spread legs she sits behind him on the edge of the basin, applying with every move of her hands relaxing pressure to his skin. Aroused by the muscular shape underneath, she enjoys the physical exertion. Her naked skin is soft and as black as a moonless night. Her curled glossy hair is firmly tied back as Iberian women here do. The strenuous movements of her arms and the steam of the bath are putting small drops of water on her brow. A thin film of sweat is building upon her pointy breasts, flowing in small runlets down to between her thighs. Once in a while, the General's strong hands gently caress Zarina's feet and glide up along her long legs until they reach the soft spot that evokes exciting memories in him.
"Is that to your liking my prince?" Zarina leans over and gently nibbles at his earlobe. "Yes, my shiny black pearl, this is what I was imagining, since we had left the port of Karthadasht." She smiles contentedly when her fingers slide up through the curly black hair of her lover, circling gently around his temples, the forehead, and back to his neck. "I see, Karthadasht," she says. "Is that where you got that stiff neck, my prince?" Moments later, her hands glide over his muscular chest down into the water. With a waggish smile on her lips, she whispers into his ear. "Oh, the way it feels, your neck is not the only stiff muscle you brought from Karthadasht." The general laughs, amused and aroused at the same time. Zarina's long fingers gently embrace his shaft, moving slowly up and down. With each move of her hand, the General moans quietly. Trembling with desire, he opens his thighs and invites her hand to reach further down.
Zarina slides slowly from the edge of the pool into the water. Her hands clasping his neck, she climbs on top of him and her thirsty lips find his. With an intemperate desire, she gently bites his lower lip and presses her firm breasts against his chest. Both hands tightly cramped in her buns, the General pulls her up until her dark breasts reach his face. He feels her racing heartbeat as he passionately soaks her feminine areolas into his mouth. Showers of arousal pass through her trembling body every time her lover cautiously nibbles her salient teats. His bustling hands fondle the inside of her thighs. His fingers sink into the slithery gap between her velvety rich lips, opening the divine passage to eventually immerse deep into her. "Wait!" she whispers. Slowly she frees herself from his embrace and pushes her balletic body down into the water. With an all-telling last glance at her lover, she vanishes fully under the surface. Holding on to him, her skillful tongue fervently glides over the bulging curves at the base of his shaft, while her fingers gently encircle the delicate contours of his glans. With a deep sigh, her lover leans his head back over the edge of the pool as Zarina's breathless lips fully absorb his phallus. His eyes close and his soul ascends for a heavenly voyage.
A vehement knocking at the front door breaks the silence of the bathhouse and summons the general back to earth. Pulling Zarina up, he climbs out of the pool and rushes enraged to the front door. Outside he finds Degou, his ship's boy, sweaty and out of breath. The General says angry: "You better have a good reason …" "My lord …," the boy interrupts him. "… come with me! … Surus …," the boy gasps for breath. "… out of control … the harbour … your father …" The General had heard enough. "Stay here with Zarina," he instructs the boy. "I will come back later." And not missing a heartbeat, he runs off towards the harbour. "Wait my lord," the boy calls after him. "You are naked!" Turning to Zarina at the door he says ashamed. "and his thing is still …".
master of elephants
Down at the harbour, the General is met by a horrifying scene. Piles of army equipment lying strewn everywhere, trampled, torn to pieces, pierced through. In his rage, Surus attacked everything in his path. Wounded people lie scattered across the pier. Soldiers, slaves, merchants. Most of the spectators have taken refuge in the warehouse at the pier, hoping to find protection behind the big oak gate.
A small group of hoplites, armed with shields and lances, keep trying to push off the maddening bull elephant to rescue their wounded comrades. The second group of soldiers has taken up position in front of the storage gate. But Surus seems unimpressed. With deafening screams, he first goes after the hoplites, who give up their formation at the last moment and jump apart in all directions. No one risks hurting the attacking war elephant. "What do they have their lances for if they don't use those things?" Hasdrubal asks his father. "They fear your brother's wrath more than the tusks of his favorite toy gone wild." Hamilkar replies.
In the next moment, Surus turns around and sets course at a run towards the soldiers in front of the storage gate. The men suspect what is coming and get out of the way in time before the elephant's tusks crash through the storage gate. "Haha, that's it," Hasdrubal triumphs. .. "now he's stuck in the gate." "Hurry!!!", Hamilkar shouts to his soldiers. "Take the ropes and tie his ankles together before he gets loose again." But that was easier said than done. Furiously Surus beats with his huge feet against the wooden gate to free himself. With each blow, the hinges loosen from the masonry. When the huge gate finally collapses with a crash, Surus can free himself. The crowd in the warehouse is frozen in shock. Any moment now, the giant will come into the storehouse and is going to trample everyone and everything in there and will tear the warehouse into pieces. The pissed elephant scrapes its feet on the ground like an Iberian bull in the arena. The crowd in the warehouse holds its breath in expectation of the inevitable.
"Suruuuus ..." it suddenly echoes across the harbour. "Suruuuus ..." once again. Hearing his name, the elephant bull abandons the warehouse and turns towards the harbour's dockyard. "What's happening?", Hasdrubal asks his father. Their eyes are drawn to the dockyard. "At last," Hamilkar replies. "Your brother has arrived." And there, in the center of the square, surrounded by the aftermath of the devastation, stands the general, sweating, naked with outspread arms, being armed with nothing but his very appearance. The crowd in the harbour falls silent as they recognize the general, standing there, motionless, like a statue of the god of war himself. With dropped jaws, their gazes are sweeping from the elephant to the general, back and forth. It is the calm before the storm.
Loud trumpeting ends the moment of silence. Snorting with rage, Surus now charges at the general at maximum pace, cloaking himself in a thick cloud of dust. In anticipation of the inevitable, the crowd stares in horror at the general. The bloody encounter seems now imminent but the general doesn't intend to move from his position. Too late now to sidestep the elephant's advancing tusks. Too late to do anything … when Surus suddenly breaks off his attack and comes to a halt. With a loud scream his body rises into the air and the next moment the giant stands up on his two hind legs. Moments later, the whole square shakes as the colossus' front legs hit the ground again. The scenery is shrouded in a cloud of dust and no one can see what happened to the General. Everyone is frozen in shock and the moments before the dust clears turn into an eternity.
Slowly the square clears up. The General still holds his ground and just a step away stands Surus in front of him, silent and calm. The general extends his hands when the grey giant gracefully lowers his huge forehead. As if the beast wants to ask for forgiveness. The next moment their foreheads connect but it seems more as if their minds connect. It is dead quiet and everyone can hear the elephant's contented growling. Carefully, the elephant's trunk snakes around the general's back, and with ease, he lifts him into the air, onto his neck. People can't believe their eyes as they reluctantly come out of their hiding places. On the ship, Hamilkar turns around to his son: "Did you also see what just happened or am I dreaming this?" "I told you, father …", Hasdrubal answers. "… he speaks to that beast."
Hamilkar looks at the destructions in the harbour with a shake of his head. "Good thing we didn't have to slay the damn thing," he thinks to himself. "When the time comes, this beast alone will hack the Roman infantry to pieces." Finally one of the Mahout arrives to take care of the elephant. As if nothing had happened, this tiny white-dressed man turns the giant around, and calmly they walk away from the port towards the camp near the temple mount. Before they get out of sight Hasdrubal yells to his brother: "Hannibal, what is this? Where are you going?" Hannibal turns his head backward and replies with an impish smile: "Taking a bath, brother. A very long bath."
above all others
The sunset dips the harbour of the city in a rusty dark colour. The bay is still full of carrier ships, loaded with the Punic army and war machines for the upcoming campaign. 20,000 Libyan Hoplites, 10,000 Iberian foot soldiers, and 10,000 Iberian and Numidian Horsemen. A fine army, reinforced with a gift from the young Nubian prince Ariston - 36 mighty elephants. Big creatures from the steppes deep in the south of Nubia, able to carry baskets with archers into battle. They were brought overland from Nubia to Karthadasht and trained there to form spearheads that would break through infantry lines and take out enemy cavalry. Their impressive size and the smell of their evaporation could frighten even those horses that were used to fight with warriors in battle. They would crush the Roman legions in the war to come, but first, they had to get there.
The army camp grew with every day and already stretched far over the hills in the south of the city. Soldiers gather around the fires between the tents, sharing bowls of fish soup with flatbread and stories of bravery and grief. Hannibal now commands all Punic troops and ships in Iberia. On his way to the temple on top of the hill, Hannibal strides through the endless rows of tents and soldiers. He seems to know every single fighter, addresses them by name, gives short and clear instructions, which the men immediately follow. He speaks to all in their languages and the men obey the young general to the word, often at a glance. Tired faces of exhausted fighters lighten up when Hannibal comes near them. Praise or blame, he always finds the right tone. When he raises his voice, everything moves around at a run. He is constantly on the move as if his muscular body cannot contain all his energy. Everyone feels the power and magic, wondering what it might be that lifted this 18-year-old son of the Barca family above all others.
the universe is mental
Arriving at the top of the hill, Hannibal sits down and leans his back against the massive gate of the temple. Down on the plain in front of him, campfires of the army flicker between the tents. He loves this place up here and the fresh sea breeze it provides. Not far from him he recognizes the elephants swinging on their sticks. The strange smell of these grey giants reaches the general with the wind. The animals are still and chained together by their forelegs. White-clad keepers are rushing through the rows of elephants, bringing food, hauling buckets of water, and singing the giants to sleep. They are Nubians, but the soldiers call them Indians, like the people from behind the Hindu Kush, who were the first to train and guide Indian war elephants in Syria and Egypt decades ago. The bright shine of the full moon reflects on the marble columns of the temple. Hannibal gazes up at the stars, which shine exceptionally bright in this clear night. His thoughts, his fears, and his worries are lost in the vastness of the firmament until he eventually closes his eyes and falls asleep from exhaustion.
"What worries you, my prince?" a voice unexpectedly asks, originating from the darkness. Hannibal reaches for his sword, but out of the shadows of the column next to him, two bright blue eyes of a Direwolf come growling at him. "You will not need your sword, my lord commander." assures a woman figure now standing in front of the temple. My grey companion beside you, will provide for our safety. Hannibal looks at the enormous grey wolf, now lying alertly on the pavement next to him. His attention returns to the exceptional woman figure, standing only a few steps away from him. She has Hannibal's sword in her hands, wielding it through the air as if in battle so that the blade begins to sing. Her oversized body is wrapped in a coat of turquoise shining cloth, ornamented with precious stones and shimmering pearls. An Armor of gold is covering her shoulders. Her headdress is made of two strange circular discs of gold and silver, held in place on her head with ornamental bands. Her pale blonde hair is hidden under a cape and her forehead is adorned with a gleaming gem made of lapis lazuli, the very same colour as her beautiful eyes.
"What is your name? Why are you here?" asks Hannibal, impressed by the woman's graceful appearance and the intimidating size of her guardian. "I have many names, my prince," the lady replies. "Many temples like this have been built in my name. Many warriors like you have been killed in my name, by many swords like this." With these words, she raises Hannibal's sword and rams its blade upright three fingers deep into the granite slabs of the temple stairs. At the same moment, the wolf jumps up with a snarl and fletches its teeth. Hannibal is trying to avoid any movement and freezes as if turned into stone. "Be at ease my Punic warrior, my master of elephants" the lady proceeds. "I'm not here to see you dance for me. I have come to protect you."
Slowly, Hannibal pulls himself up and replies, "Protect me from whom?" "From your Self," the Lady replies. "In these days it is your Self that feeds on your energy, your doubts about your march on Rome, your fears about crossing the frozen mountains, your anger, your pride. Isn't it why you come here every night, to seek the blessing of your God? But this Temple is made of stone and marble and will only protect you against a direct experience of God. Your God isn't here, Hannibal. And yet he is.
With these words, the lady stretches her arms up to the night sky. Around her body forms up a glowing blue spiral of light. Shining circles appear around the spherical discs of her headdress. The next moment, the Lady lifts slightly off the ground, is taken aloft in a field of sizzling cold flames. Her eyes are staring at Hannibal as they begin to gleam. "You see Hannibal," the lady addresses the general in a deep voice. "There are no limitations, except those created by your Self. Because all there is, is Mind, a universal, infinite Spirit, which is everywhere. It is bigger than the both of us. It is Mind, who builds the connection between you and the Source Energy, the Force, God, the Universe. It is your Mind, that foretells the future. It is your Mind that conquers the frozen mountains. All is Mind, Hannibal. The Universe is Mental."
Hannibal can suddenly feel the Direwolf tugging at him and the darkness is unexpectedly overwhelmed by an annoyingly bright light. Lying on his back, he struggles with all his might to keep the beast away from him. "Brother, hey brother, calm yourself" a familiar voice calls out. "Wake up! It is me, Hasdrubal." With horror in his eyes and dazzled by the rising sun, Hannibal stares into his brother's face. "Everybody is looking for you!" Hasdrubal says with a tone of reproach. "I must have fallen asleep," Hannibal replies, still wondering what had happened to him. "I had a dream. There was a …," Hannibal hesitates for a moment. "… a wolf, a very big wolf that attacked me." Hasdrubal helps his brother to get on his feet. "Come here, I was so worried about you." He pulls Hannibal into his arms and presses him tightly against his chest. "I love you brother, I'm so relieved that it was just a dream. "We should go now," Hasdrubal urges his brother. "Zarina is expecting you for breakfast." Soon after, the two brothers walk down the hills towards the town. All of a sudden Hannibal freezes. "Where is my sword? Have you seen my sword?" "Yea …," Hasdrubal replies hesitantly. "About that sword …"
Cartagena - almost famous
Build in the 3rd century BCE on the foundations of an ancient Iberian settlement, the City was founded by the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal Barca. Cartagena's name is derived from the Phoenician word Karthadasht (New Town). Besides its natural port, Cartagena was important to her mother city Carthage because of its rich silver mines. Here in Cartagena, the famous General Hannibal Barca assembled his army including the legendary 37 war elephants. From here he launched his march on Rom and the legendary crossing of the Alps in Winter 218 BCE.
Although there are still some ruins from the Carthaginian period, most of its oldest monuments date from the time of the Roman Empire. More or less neglected by the mass-tourism, Cartagena allows visitors to enjoy a wide range of activities, discovering its cultural wealth, secluded bays and beaches along the coast, and the hospitality of its local residents. Besides this, the Plaza de San Francisco in the center of Cartagena hosts the largest rubber trees (ficus elastica) I have ever seen. The trees are probably much older than any of the historical buildings surrounding the plaza. It is a wonderful example of ecological city planning. However, if you ever visit the almost famous Cartagena, don't miss the green rubber giants at the Plaza de San Francesco.
Epilog - master of mountains
Hear what can not be described. A miracle has been accomplished. Oh, Hannibal. The staggering ones, you have supported, the fallen, you lifted up, the despondent, you encouraged, the strengthless you have reinforced. When avalanches smashed into our army, you joined the pieces back together. When the path was no longer passable, you moved the boulders away. Before the frozen endlessness of the piled-up ice made us despair, you showed us the green plains of Italy. But the casualties were dreadful, the exhaustion and suffering were unspeakable, the sacrifices so many. You, who conquered the frozen mountains and gained immortal fame, who will ever defeat you?