February 7, 2010
See Magi for Part One.
I had come to Assyria to find the Magi. Masters of prophecy they were renowned throughout the world. Merchants pleaded with them to divulge if their trade would be successful. Mothers begged to be told of their children’s fate. Kings demanded the Magi tell them of threats to their rule. I just wished to know who my Father was. The Magi could be found in many places, but their gathering place was Assyria.
Senbi had told me that the Assyrians once had a great Empire with trading cities in the lands of the Hittites and the Babylonians. Renowned as merchants, hagglers and caravanners with skill second to none, perhaps the Magi had given them the advantage in knowing just the right goods to bring with them. In any case, the omens must have been bad since Assyria, like every other land, had more tales of past glories than present ones. The omens were bad for us as well. Senbi fell ill on our journey. We rode along the Tigris, our chariot making slow progress. Late one evening we arrived at the city of Assur, the sun at our backs as we crossed the bridge over a deep moat and rode through the West Gate. It took a lot of asking and bargaining to find a place to stay and to bring healers to help Senbi, but my efforts were paid back in another way when several hooded men approached me. Magi.
Their leader called himself Esar, an old sly man, the others did not give names. They asked for my assistance to help defeat an evil omen, and I agreed. In return I asked for them to read the entrails and the stars, to discover my fate. My task was not an easy one, but then, when is it ever easy? Esar spoke for the group.
“Several moons ago a great light appeared in the sky and our King, Ashrabi, asked us to interpret the omen. There was no mistaking this sign. It foretold great danger to the King, perhaps even his death. Nothing is absolute, but the King is panic-stricken and will not leave his palace. Our Kings are not as other Kings of the south. He is no warrior or general, he is the High Priest of Assur. Living conduit to the God of this city. He cannot be allowed to neglect his duties, indeed as King he must still organise the irrigation of the fields, the maintenance of the northern canal, forgive debts and enact justice. We are of the opinion that the King is in no danger from the Gods, but the King has mortal enemies too. These enemies will no doubt have deduced from the omen that the perfect time to strike is soon. We need to make sure the King survives any attempt on his life.”
“You wish me as a bodyguard? Very well, I can do that for you.”
“No Goliath, we need more than that. We need you to be King.”
My heart jumped as Esar spoke the words.
“I am no King. Nor would I know how to be one.”
“Fear not, it is a temporary thing, and you will have instruction. It is vital that the King makes the journey to the Temple of Assur to bring in the New Year. This is when our enemies will almost certainly strike. If you are King then you will stand a great chance of surviving. Ashrabi would die of fright before the killers struck. Once the New Year is started then you can renounce your kingship and Ashrabi will resume his benevolent rule.”
During Esar’s speech I noticed one of the other Magi was nervous. His stance and the way he avoided my eyes made me suspicious. Something was not right here, but I knew I wanted to find out more.
“Very well, I will help you if you in return help me. My friend here will need to be looked after, and I require a reading of my destiny.”
“Of course, of course. I will send our finest doctors.”
I agreed to go to the palace in the morning, and as the Magi left I held back the nervous one.
“What is your name my friend? I wonder if perhaps we have met before?”
He flinched at my touch. “My name is Nadin-shumi, and Goliath, we have never met. That I can assure you.”
I did not sleep well that night.
I made my way to the palace the next day. Senbi was still unconscious, but breathing a little better now that the doctors were chanting over him. There are three enormous buildings in Assur. At the curve of the river is the Temple of Assur (how annoying that their God has the same name as their city). Next to it is a Ziggurat, less impressive than ones I have seen to the south. Next to that is the Palace complex, painted with scenes of the Kings triumphs. I wondered if they would paint any scenes for me. Esar was waiting for me and brought me inside to a room with an altar at its centre.
“Our King, the beloved Ashrabi, second of his name, has descended to the underworld and will not return until you relinquish the Rod of Rulership.”
He handed me an engraved iron rod.
“By the way, you’re King now. Lets go through what you have to do.”
I did not leave that room for some time. Esar told me of my duties, limited as they were since I would not be King for long. He paid particular attention to the New Year ceremony. I was to lead a procession from the palace up to the top of the Ziggurat. At the same time the God Assur would lead a procession from his Temple. When we met I would make offerings and if the God chose to speak through me then I would say his words. Esar made it clear that the God would not speak through me and that I was to stay silent at that part of the ritual. Unfortunately I was not to stay silent for the whole time and so I learned the enormous amount of words I needed to know, sacred words that meant nothing to me.
On the second day of my kingship I explored the palace. It was woefully undefended, but I spoke with the palace guards and made some changes that would ensure a little more safety. I would rather not be killed by some sneaky assassin after learning all those rituals. The guards were good men and they enjoyed my questioning of their routines, for it seemed that the previous Kings had decided on a lot of their duties without regard for security. I decided to bring a couple of the guards with me as I explored so that they could point out any weak points in the palaces defences that I missed. It was during my explorations of the palace that I found Naqi’a.
I had walked into the women’s quarters and encountered King Ashrabi’s mother. She was a frightful presence with coal black eyes and a permanently furrowed brow. She made it clear to me that the wives and concubines of Ashrabi were not to be touched by an interloper such as myself. She followed me as I brought the guards around, just to make sure. The wives and concubines seemed to live a life of some hardship. I had thought that they would be pampered, instead they spent their time as women do everywhere, making textiles, weaving and sewing. The quality and quantity of the textiles was impressive, it obviously did the royal household well to have so many high class women working here.
I talked to some of the wives and they seemed only too happy to talk back. One in particular, a dark haired beauty with haunting eyes, caught my attention. I managed to speak to her away from the guards and out of earshot of the King’s mother. I noticed scars on the inside of her arms and wondered if the King took pleasure in cutting her.
“The King’s mother tells me you are called Naqi’a. She says she has great hopes of you bearing a grandchild for her.”
Naqi’a shook her head.
“I hope I disappoint her then.”
Her bearing was of one defeated. Worn down.
“I hope so too.” I did not know why I said it.
I left the women’s quarters then, but over the next few days I would return and speak with Naqi’a. Never for long, only a few moments. I found myself looking forward to our short meetings more and more, and she gradually opened up to me. Eventually she told me of how she came to be in the palace.
“I was never intended to be a wife of a King, though I am a princess, of noble birth. My father sent me to the Temple of Shamash to become a naditu. I was betrothed to Shamash, never to take a mortal man as husband. Unfortunately the high priest of Shamash wanted favours of the King and gave me as a gift. I have sinned by marrying Ashrabi and any children I give him will be cursed too. My fate is not an easy one to bear, yet you have taken my mind away from such troubles Goliath. Now I worry for you.”
“Why so? I am ready for the procession, I have made good plans to avoid any danger.”
“It is not the enemies from without that worry me. It is Esar. He will…” she paused. I could see conflict in her eyes. Then,
“He will have you killed as a sacrifice to bring back Ashrabi. I’m so sorry. I wish you didn’t know so that you did not fear, but I had to tell you. We know that Ashrabi is just hiding in the catacombs under the palace, but the people have been told that he has descended to the underworld. Without a human sacrifice they will never accept his return.”
She was crying now, and I placed my arm around her.
“It’s all right. If I have to die then I shall die. But I wont be anyone’s sacrifice.”
And I wouldn’t leave Naqi’a to be sacrificed to Ashrabi. Damn but that complicated things. Where was Senbi when I needed him?
Well it turned out that Senbi was busy sneaking past the palace defences. He got quite far before my guards brought him to me. I wish I could say he had returned to his full health but the guards had left some welts and blood from beating him. I had him brought to my quarters and tended to. There I explained all that was going on and for once Senbi refrained from interrupting, only rolling his eyes every few moments. I gave him the night to recover and in the morning we worked on a plan to leave Assur safely. Senbi headed out of the palace to gather the information we needed while I practised fighting naked with the guards.
Had I mentioned that I would be wearing nothing but a cape during the ceremony? No place to hide a blade to defend myself.
Our preparations went well, swift as they needed to be. On the last day of the old year I gave my final orders to the owner of the barge which carried the palace’s textiles, confirmed that the guards knew their places and disrobed. I put on the yellow cape that identified me as the High Priest of Assur and started the ceremony under the watchful eyes of Esar. My chanting was not the greatest but it sufficed and before too long we were ready to leave the altar in the palace and head out into the city itself. My retinue stopped when we stepped outside into the overcast day. It was tradition that I continue alone. There were crowds all around, kept back from the path I was to take, hot and sweating in the drizzle. My guards were stationed in the crowds just in case.
I stepped barefoot through the now muddy ground. My eyes scanned left and right in anticipation of an attack. My breathing was deep for I was still chanting the sacred words. I had just stepped onto the Ziggurat when the crowd surged from the right. My guards started pushing the people back but two men broke from the others and rushed at me, crossing the space between myself and the people in an instant. One had a knife. The other had a bronze sword. I had nothing but a flimsy yellow cape and my years of fighting.
I ran towards the one with the knife, screaming at the top of my lungs. This startled him and was enough to allow me to drop and slide though the mud into him. His legs gave way and he was too slow bringing his knife down, it slammed into the ground just before I wrapped some of the cape around his neck. I was up on my knees as I pulled tight and heard his death rattle. I had no time to savour my victory, the swordsman was nearly upon me. I only had time to grab the knife, no chance to throw the body of the first man at him. It would have to do.
His eyes met mine as I backed away quickly. But what I saw was fear. I knew as I avoided his attacks that he was no match for me and I smiled. My moves became more leisurely, jumping, skipping, always out of his reach. I only had to wait until…then, yes, he knew it too. His realisation that he would die by my hand. I let it seep into his bones, carry away any hope he had. Then, on his next thrust, I dodged, spun, moved in and stuck the knife into his ribs. I pushed him back and down into the mud, too close for his sword, my weight pressing down on the blade.
His eyes were glazed as I stood and threw the knife away. I let the light rain take away the blood that covered me and continued my way up the steps of the Ziggurat. The guards took the bodies away and the crowd was eerily silent. With each step the joy of the fight left me so that by the time I arrived at the top I was calm again. From the high vantage point I could see the Temple of Assur with its procession heading towards me. To the north I could see the docks and the textile boat waiting. I could just make out Senbi who was waving a blue cloth to say everything was in place.
The procession arrived, the statue of the God was impressive, though again I have seen better in my time. Assur’s other priests said their parts, and I said mine. As we neared the end I turned from the statue and addressed the crowd.
“People of Assur! Today I speak not as your King but as your God!”
I could not see Esar but knew he would be fuming about now.
“I am Assur and I have given and I have taken. Your King, Ashrabi, has descended to the underworld but I desire him to return. He cannot return on his own though, no mortal is so powerful. And so I will send my boat ‘The Hawk Who Sees’ northward until I bring it to the underworld. I send King Goliath, for no one other than my high priest can steer this boat into the underworld. I send the Magi Nadin-shumi, for none but a Magi can steer the boat back. And I send Ashrabi’s wife Naqi’a to entice him back from the world of the shades. So I have spoken, so shall it be.”
“Assur! Assur!” the crowd shouted in response.
I did not waste any time. I finished the ritual and bowed to the other priests then made my way directly towards the boat. I was not surprised to find Esar blocking my way at the docks. He approached and spoke quietly.
“I have no idea what you are doing, but this dangerous game stops now.”
“Don’t worry Esar, everything will be just fine. We will sail north and in a few days the boat will return with Ashrabi. We loaded him on this morning along with Naqi’a. Just give us Nadin-shumi and we’ll be on our way.”
“I think not, you have overstepped your mark young King.”
“You have overstepped yours Magi. I am still King and if I desire it I shall wipe all debts owed to you clean. I will ruin you. You gave me this power, how could you expect that I wouldn’t use it.”
His eyes narrowed at the talk of debts. Senbi had discovered that most of Esar’s wealth was owed to him and this had given us the crack in his armour. I didn’t give him time to think, I looked around and saw Nadin-shumi.
“Come, the God wishes us to go now. Quickly!”
Nadin-shumi climbed onto the boat with me. Esar did nothing to stop us and we launched northwards. I helped with the poles and pushed us away from the city that had given me so much while trying to kill me. Senbi looked pleased to see the plan had worked.
“That went well! Off we go with a boat full of textiles, two Kings, a Queen, a Magi and your humble servant.”
“Never my servant Senbi, always my friend. We’ll have to send the boat back with Ashrabi of course, but I think you should have the textiles to make up for that poor treatment you had with my guards.”
“Of course Goliath, and what about you? What is your reward? The young Queen perhaps?”
I smiled. “Perhaps. But I think first I will do what I came here to do, talk to a Magi. How lucky for me – I have one to hand, stuck on a boat with us for several days.”
So that was how we spent our time in Assur. Overall it went very well - I became a King, I rescued a damsel in distress, Senbi recovered from his illness and gained a large amount of cargo. I will stop my story there while it is still a happy one, for what Nadun-shumi told me that night in hushed tones still haunts me. Still keeps me awake. And what happened after that is a tale I will not tell until the horror has faded from my memories.
December 9, 2009
Sacred Mother, Glory of the Hittites, Great Wife of Lord Suhis, hear my words. I have not been able to write my thoughts to you since leaving Carchemish since my letters will be read by father before they can be placed on your altar. I will entrust this letter to Inara, for I know her well enough now that she will do me this favour. We have become close as I never imagined, but perhaps I should start at the beginning.
I left Carchemish on the orders of father. He had arranged that I should be wed to the son of the Prince of Byblos and that once in the royal court I should send any information on the state of Byblos back to him through letters to Bathsheba. I was rather surprised when I arrived in Byblos that my future husband had been killed by an unknown assassin. Father had an ally already in the court, Bedeq, a weasel of a man who had often spoken in Carchemish of how much better things would be if he was in charge of Byblos. Only his own father and Ribaddan, my husband-to-be, stood in his way. I wondered if perhaps father really wanted me to marry Bedeq and place him on the throne here. In any case it did not matter since Bedeq was killed shortly after and I spent some time consoling Prince Tjeker-Baal who had lost two sons to violence. He is a just and noble man and I rather pity him since father most assuredly desires to have Byblos become part of our lands.
Since I could not marry Ribaddan and the Prince did not want me to return to Carchemish, he placed me in charge of the Temple of Inara. I had the greatest of fortune that Inara accepted me, as did the people of her Temple. I have been kept busy with the daily offerings and preparing for the festivals. Each morning the servants bring us food from the temple stores and I must break my fast with Inara in her sacred chamber. After we have eaten it is time for Inara to be cleansed. Water is brought in and I personally wash every part of her. Then she is dressed in marvellous clothes, especially made for the Goddess since she stands over six cubits tall. Once dressed I recite the sacred words of dawn and leave the sanctuary.
It is only then that I can start the administration work which takes up most of my waking life. The Temple of Inara is no longer the largest in Byblos, but we have much land and many businesses. As the final judge of Temple business it is up to me to stop any disputes amongst the Temple workers from reaching the Prince. I have been successful in this so far, a fact which I put down to inheriting your wisdom. I would have thought that serving the Goddess would have made the workers a little more reverent, but they still complain and argue amongst themselves over the smallest amount of money. Just a few days ago there was nearly a riot on one of our boats when someone tried to steal some incense required for the upcoming festival.
Preparation for the festival is taking a lot of work. I have had to talk to many people here since the Walking of the Gods differs from the festivals in Carchemish. Also I have to remember to call Inara by her local name – Astarte, Lady of Byblos – which I may never get used to. I know the route we will take when Inara leaves the Temple and travels around the city, and I have commissioned skilled carpenters to restore the somewhat shabby barge that the Lady of Byblos has been forced to travel in over the last few years. I think next year I will buy a new barge for her if our finances allow. During the festival the Gods and Goddesses of the city will meet at the shore and we will allow the Gods to talk. The people of the city also come to the shore and drink and feast as the Gods make sure the sea does not rise up to destroy us.
Many Princes from other cities come to the festivals and father is keen that I speak to them all and learn as much as I can. That is why he has sent me fine gifts that I will pass on in the hopes of impressing these rulers. I do hope he doesn’t want me to marry one of them instead since I have only just begun to realise how much I love working here for Inara. I must still obey father however and I will make sure I am at my most resplendent when I talk to the Princes at the shore. My dress arrived from Alashiya and makes me look like a Goddess. I will wear the make up of Inara, and I have myrrh to chew so that I will smell like the dawn of time.
I have no more time now – I must begin the nightly rites. I will place this parchment with the offerings to Inara and trust that she tells you all of what I have said. I miss you so much and it warms my heart in the cold nights that I know you still watch over me. I am always your loving daughter, Hatisha.
November 30, 2009
A curse on the Gods of Assur! Our journey along the Tigris paralleled my journey towards the otherworld. Illness and plague had fallen upon me, demons attacked my very being. Goliath revealed himself as a true son of a God since he showed no sign of the curse that led to my aches, my fever, my chills and my visions. We stopped in any village we came to, but the doctors were of no value and so we carried on towards the capital of the decadent Assyrian Empire. I knew that their medicine was childish compared to the advanced Egyptian knowledge, but I was in dire need of help. My own herbs and wooden Gods were failing me. On one night I even threw my half-carved statue of Marduk into the river, just in case his presence was anathema to the local Gods. By the time we approached Assur itself I was dehydrated, I could not keep any food down and demons clouded my sight. We arrived at the city gates as the sun was setting and I swear I saw the full moon pass in front of the spires in the centre of the city.
The gates were about to close for the night but we managed to make it through, passing by the stone guardians of Assur. The winged bulls and lions stared at me, baleful eyes offering no protection to a foreigner such as me. I passed out, darkness taking me as quickly as the night hag steals a child. I awoke coughing during the night. Goliath had found us a place to stay, a small room with fresh straw on the cot I was lying on. There was a jar of water by my side and a fire burning at the far end of the room. Goliath was there talking to several robed men. I wondered if they were the Asu, the only healers worth anything in this Gods forsaken land. I strained to hear what they were discussing. I overheard a few words – “prophecy”, “stars are right”, “your arrival is no coincidence”. Had I not already lost my senses I would probably have barged in to stop Goliath getting himself into any trouble. Instead I found the best thing to do was to collapse unconscious again.
Days must have passed as I swam in and out of the dream worlds. An old woman was tending to me, I remember her and someone else holding me down as I thrashed in the middle of a fight with demons. I did not see Goliath, indeed the only people I saw were the woman and a one-armed man who sat next to the door and rocked backwards and forwards. Eventually the Gods must have grown tired of tormenting me and their fickleness led to an improvement in my condition. I was able to drink and eat and listen to my hosts. They spoke rarely, and when they did it was in Aramaic rather than Assyrian. I did not know if this boded well, the Assyrian Empire was infested by the wandering Arameans and clashes between them and the locals were common. As I regained my strength I stayed silent hoping to learn as much as possible before revealing how well I was recovering. Eventually, when I figured I was well enough to leave, I spoke to my benefactors.
“Thank you my friends, you have been most kind to me. My name is Senbi, and I am at your service.”
A grunt was the only reply from the one-armed man. The woman ignored me.
“I wonder if you could tell me where my friend Goliath is. I imagine he will want to know that I am beginning to feel better.”
This garnered only a shake of the head.
“Perhaps I should go looking for him, he gets very worried about me, violently so on occasions, and it wouldn’t do to keep him so concerned…”
This at last brought a response.
“You must stay here. You can’t leave. Orders of the King.”
“What? That makes no sense, I am a poor traveller, what trouble could I cause to the King?”
No reply. While things had certainly improved for me, the same could probably not be said for Goliath. I knew he would get into trouble without me! There was only one thing to do – I had to escape my captors and find Goliath. He would do the same for me. I waited until both the sun and moon had set, the darkest part of the night. Although stiff and sore from lying in the cot for so long I was still nimble enough to creep silently to the door, step over the one-armed man, and make good my escape onto the streets of Assur. It was then a simple matter to make my way far from my captors and to wait until dawn and the crowds of the market place.
I will spare you the details of asking every merchant, local or foreign, every beggar, every Aramean nomad, every passing priest of the Storm God, every blasted person in the city of Assur to find out what I needed to know. In the end I discovered a man who could help me. The sort of man who can help anyone if they so desired. A Magi.
This Magi was old, an ancient master of his craft. He was shaved bald as a priest would be, wrinkles in his skin showing his age instead of greying hair. His robes were covered in the symbols of his craft – moons, stars, and the sun. Convinced by my entreaties and by giving him some knowledge of the state of affairs in Egypt, he told me of the great alignment of stars that foretold an evil portent. The death of the King! All the Magi had seen the omen, a shooting star many moons ago, and now the great zodiac was aligning. In just a few short days the King would die. Now it made sense that Goliath was missing. Surely the King had seen him and considered him a threat. Or perhaps those robed men were Magi who wanted the King assassinated and convinced Goliath to try. Oh the fool! And curse those Gods for leaving his good sense behind, ill and confined to a cot! One glimmer of hope remained. The King had confined me but not had me killed, presumably so that he could question me when I recovered. It was possible that Goliath too was languishing in prison.
A new plan was in order, one that would take all my daring and cunning, and I only had scant days to prepare. My best bribery was needed, but before long I had an insiders knowledge of the palace, its layout and even the names of some of the guards. I acquired dark clothing and a knife. Nothing would stop me from getting into the heart of Assur and freeing my friend. The moon was still up when I made my move, but I could not wait any longer. I made my way to the palace and with gusto distracted a guard – I called his name and he trustingly came close enough for me to hold my knife to his throat. Shortly after I had his clothes and weapons. With my disguise and striding confidence I made my way into the palace building itself. Mighty statues lined the walls and I walked humbly past these ancient Gods. I was far from the eyes of Seth and needed all the help I could get. Alas, my informant was remarkable with his details of the palace, but he missed one important point about quite how many guards were in the prison area.
My knife skills would stand me in no stead here as I was spotted and revealed as an impostor. Pleading was my best bet and it worked enough to have them only beat me slightly before one of the guards pointed out that all intruders were to be brought to the King. Late as it was I was dragged to the throne room. My head was swimming again - this time from the mortals of Assur rather than their Gods. It took me a moment or two to realise what I was seeing in the centre of the palace. Standing in front of the altar, resplendent in yellow robes was the man who would decide my fate. I was thrown on the floor and the guard barked at me:
“On your knees assassin. Bow to the Beloved of the Gods - Goliath, King of Assyria!”
You see what happens when he doesn’t have his trusted advisor with him? A curse on the Gods of Assur!
January 30, 2009
It’s a commonly known fact that my home country of Egypt is the oldest and greatest civilisation the world has ever seen, or ever will see. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have problems. Since the collapse of all the other great empires even Egypt itself has struggled with infighting and petty squabbling. It was during one of these minor spats that I managed to get myself involved with Weni, the Nomarch of Khent-abt. What a fine fellow he was too, very generous to his servants and keen to make merchants like myself happy. Alas Weni had some worries. He couldn’t trust his neighbours and the Nomarch of the Sepat next to his always seemed to have his eyes on Weni’s lands. Even worse, Weni was not sure he could even trust his own advisors. It was thanks to this unsettling fact that I was brought in to ensure the Nomarch’s safety.
You see, everyone assumes that merchants are always spying for someone or other. That’s only half true, but we do know a few techniques to get information back to our homes. With my expertise I was therefore put in charge of the gate that led out of his capital city Silu. Searching everyone that left the city was not yet something that Weni would allow me to do, but I could spot the agents looking to report back some vital information to Rensi, the neighbouring Nomarch.
The first ones were obvious – and finding their secret messages wasn’t too hard either. Tin plates with letters scratched upon them were stored between two flat pieces of wood that served as sandals for the agents. A quick look at their shoes was all it took to send these traitors to jail and ensure that Rensi did not find out about Weni’s food stores.
Next it was the turn of the ladies. Courtesans with small rolls of papyrus stored in their elaborate earings. Clever, but I had used the trick before. More women for the Nomarch’s harem and Rensi did not find out about Weni’s water supplies.
Finally it was the beggars and the lepers. No one goes near a leper, much less peel off the large leaves they use as bandages. But some of those leaves had writing upon them, and so the beggars and lepers were put to death and Rensi did not find out about Weni’s military strength.
I was feeling rather proud of myself for having stopped all this information from getting to Rensi. The city of Silu would be like the night to him, sure he could make out the broad outlines, but no detail, no weaknesses to exploit. It was then that I was summoned to Weni’s council. It appeared that Rensi had sent a message that no one could understand. The tablet had been passed around the entire council for a whole day but none could work out its meaning. When I was finally allowed to see it I recognised it immediately and quickly made a purifying sign. It was ancient assyrian magic – secret codes that could only be understood by mystics or the mad.
Handily, I knew just such a chap. I had met Montoses many years ago and knew he walked an untrodden path. He knew the secret colour of numbers, and of the months of the year. He could taste shapes and was able to talk to the crickets of the desert. Sometimes he said faces had colours, and that although he couldn’t see an aura he knew what it was, and it never changed for that person. I have a green face apparently. Anyway, Montoses was bound to be able to figure this one out and he happened to be living with the Pharoah close by in Tanis. I sent word for him and he came as quickly as he could.
For several days he was locked away in a small study. When I brought him food he would be staring into the distance, sometimes moving his hands as if he were taking invisible boxes and rearranging them. Finally he came to me and told me of the message…
“Senbi, I fear the worst. I have translated the message and it seems that it was intended for a traitor amongst Weni’s council.”
“Grim tidings indeed. Praise Seth that you were able to decipher it!”
“That is not all – since Rensi has been unable to determine anything about the city he plans to attack it with overwhelming force! Our lives are in danger!”
Montoses read the exact message and it left me in no doubt that Weni would soon be facing an army that he couldn’t possibly resist. It’s in times like those that it’s not so good to be the favourite of a fading star. I went to Weni.
“Oh noble Lord Weni, we have uncovered some of what the message says and it is grim. There is a traitor with you, your chamberlain in fact. It would be wise to detain him and perhaps extract a confession. As for the rest, Montoses needs some of his scrolls that are in Tanis. Perhaps I should go with him to encourage a speedy return?”
“By all means Senbi, but go quickly! I will deal with the chamberlain while you are gone.”
By the time Montoses and I had reached the border of Weni’s lands we could see the dust cloud formed by Rensi’s approaching army. Montoses heard the sound of a falcon, and he said its cry was the darkest black.
October 11, 2008
The river roars with fury below me. I raise my staff in praise to Leviathan. Sacred chants flow from my lips.
My thoughts are interrupted by a call from Uriah – “He’s ready.” I step back from the edge of the escarpment and turn from the turbulent river. We are on a slope that leads down to a sharp cliff many cubits above the water and I spend some effort in walking up to where Uriah has finished the preparations for my spell. I place my iron staff between two ropes into a small hole in the ground. Uriah releases the piece of wood that the ropes are attached to and it rests against the staff. Only the iron serpent Nehushtan stops the weight on the other end of the ropes from sliding down the slope and into the river. I need but raise my staff a little to change this.
Uriah has spent some time on the target of this spell. The weight that my staff prevents from plunging into the raging depths is a man, tied up and laden with rocks. He is a murderer and worse, and he will face the wrath of the Serpent God.
“All mighty Leviathan, hear my call! I bring to you this wretched man of Byblos that you may bring truth from his lips. I bind him to your service and I give his name, Karqan, for you to swallow for all eternity.”
Karqan is not silent during this, he moans in pain. Before we started the ritual Uriah had attempted to get information from the murderer by his own methods. He is normally effective but though Karqan told much he did not tell us the one thing we need to know. His resistance is strong. I see several of his fingers scattered around the ground. Yes, it will take magic to draw forth the truth from this one.
“Karqan, you have murdered, and that is an offence against the Gods who gave us life. But it was not any man you slew, you murdered the son of your Lord and master Tjeker-Baal. How despised you will be in the underworld. How loathsome is a man who slays the son of his Prince. Pity Tjeker-Baal, he has lost two sons this year, both to men with knives. It was the will of the Gods that his eldest Ribaddan should die, but you have killed Bedeq, the next in line to the throne.”
Karqan raises his head to look at me. His hair is stuck to his bloody face, his eyes steady.
“Go to hell.”
I continue the spell and recount his misdeeds.
“You have gone against the will of the Gods. My Lord, High King Suhis of Carchemish brought a prophet to the sacred stone of Kubaba. The prophet stated that Tjeker-Baal would die and his son Bedeq, a loyal friend of Suhis, would ascend to the throne. When Ribaddan was killed it was in line with the will of the Gods, but what you have done is an abomination.”
Kurqan groans in pain again. I hope that Uriah has not done his job too well and that Kurqan will not die of blood loss before we are done. The rocks are pulling at him, their weight and the weight of his guilt being held up by my staff. I speak softly.
“Kurqan, we know you are the killer. We know that your family is no longer in Byblos and while many would think that this was a precaution you made so that none could exact revenge on you, I know better. You were a good man. You have resisted Uriah’s attempts to bring forth the name of the man who paid you to kill Bedeq, and no cold hearted beast would do such a thing. There is only one explanation, your family is being held hostage by those who wanted Bedeq dead. I understand your reluctance to name your master, but you stand between the staff of Nehushtan and the mighty Litani river. You are in the power of Leviathan now.”
The river rushes quickly and it seems to roar louder at the mention of Leviathan. In this land Leviathan is called Lotan, and the Litani river is said to flow along the path carved by Lotan during her fight with the Storm God. It is sacred to Lotan and contains her spirit. My magic is strong here.
“Let me die…”
The pain must be unbearable, and I feel pity for this foolhardy man forced to go against the will of the undying Gods. But he is accursed and must meet his fate.
“I will, I will. But you have a choice. One way or another we will find out who ordered Bedeq’s murder. When we do so your family will no longer be safe. Only the Gods can protect your family. I can kill you now and you will wander the land as a shade, until a necromancer calls your spirit up and forces you to reveal your employer. Or you can be sacrificed to Leviathan and in doing so have your sins washed away. As a sacrifice you will be pure, and the power of Leviathan will be turned against the one who has harmed your family.”
I speak my words with speed for Kurqan is on the edge of consciousness.
“Quickly Kurqan, say aloud the name of the one who ordered you, and save your family!”
Once again his eyes are raised to me, but this time they are not steady, this time they are soft. The magic has taken its effect, his mind has been dulled and truth is pulled from him.
“It was Prince Hiram of Tyre. He was the one who took my family. He is the one I curse with my death.”
Sacred chants flow from my lips. I raise my staff in praise to Leviathan. The river roars with fury below me.
October 8, 2008
So this one time I was hiding from a disgruntled local. Usual story, he didn’t like my sales pitch and he really didn’t like that it was so effective on his wife. I can’t help it if women are naturally drawn to my Egyptian charm and I was only trying to sell her some aphrodisiacs which I’m sure would’ve been pleasurable for him as well. In any case, he was small minded and after I remarked that he was possibly small in other ways he decided that physical violence was needed. I must have hit a little too close to home.
I headed for the hills, and it didn’t take too long before I found a convenient cave to sidle in to. I could hear the angry local in the distance but was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to spot the cave entrance. I picked up a handy rock (just in case) and waited. That local knew a lot of curses and I heard them ringing around the valley. Fortunately I was protected by Seth, a great god to have on your side in situations like those.
After a couple of hours he seemed to have given up. Or perhaps his throat had given up after all the shouting, so it was with caution that I started to leave the cave.
“Going so soon?”
By all the gods and their bowel moving mysterious ways I never jumped more than when I heard that voice. I shouted a few curses myself before seeing a figure emerging from deeper within the small cave. He was an ancient man, thin and scraggy wearing nothing but a rag around his waist.
“Who in the name of Seth are you? And what are you doing scaring people like that!”
“Oh, well, you seemed so worried when you came into my cave I didn’t want to disturb you. Then when you started
to leave it occurred to me that you might be the Bab. I’ve been waiting such a long time you see. You don’t look like the last Bab, but then why should you I suppose…” He trailed off into mumbling.
“What are you talking about old man? I don’t have time for these riddles in the dark, there’s a rather nasty large man out there who thinks I should be a eunuch.”
“What? Oh, er, well, it would take an age to explain all the myriad things that – “
“Fine, see you, bye!”
“No wait, I’ll give you the quick version. I really feel I need my Bab, it gets so lonely up here…”
“All right, just don’t make a lot of noise.”
We went back into the depths of the cave and as my eyes adjusted to the dark I could make out markings on the wall and lots of bones, fish bones?, on the ground. The smell indicated that the man had been living here for quite some time. He sat down to tell his story…
“Once, long long ago, in the land of Dilmun the people lived simple lives. Then the gods of the deep, the fish gods, came up onto the land and started speaking their ancient wisdom. Seven sages were selected to transmit this knowledge through the ages so that all men might become civilised. I was the last of the seven, and during my time the kings started to persecute us. They had their own wisdom and tried to kill those who disagreed with them. I went into hiding. But I still contacted the people through the Babs, that is the Gates of wisdom. The Bab would come to me and I would give them wisdom to take back. But eventually the Babs stopped visiting and I have been waiting here in hiding ever since.”
This was a strange story, the seven sages were supposed to be ancient indeed, from before the time of Gilgamesh even.
“And how long have you been here waiting?”
“Time passes differently in this cave, I don’t know, one, maybe two thousand years?”
I looked around. The markings on the cave walls were all symbols of time. And the fish bones, how did he get fish so far from the sea? A worry began and I made a silent wish to Seth. If time passed differently in here, when would I return to the outside world? Would my wife be still alive? My other wife? Suddenly I wished I had never entered this holy cave. I began to back away from this ancient sage.
“Sorry old man, but I can’t stay here any longer, you’ll have to look for a different Bab, I need to get back to my own time!”
I ran out of the cave, half expecting the sun to be long gone. But no, it seemed that only a few moments had passed. Had I aged? Who knows what had happened to me while I was in that magical cave, but clearly it wasn’t worth staying near. I called into the dark but there was no answer. Perhaps the sage was miffed that I wouldn’t be his Bab. Oh well, the chance of wisdom was all very well, but losing the time of my life just to get it seemed a bad deal.
As I walked back down from the hills I heard the screams of the angry local man. It seemed that not too much time had passed after all, but I still had the wisdom to start running again.
September 28, 2008
It was in the smallest of the villages in Babylonia that we first heard the prophecy. Senbi and I had stopped to refresh the horses, tired as they were pulling us along. Our chariot, gift of Nippur, had served us well and no trouble had come to us that we could not outrun. But it took its toll on our steeds and so we paused again to refresh ourselves. The village had a few mud brick houses and the obligatory temple, or House of the Gods as they called it here. There was no palace though, no headsman or soldiers. When we stopped a local farmer bid us welcome and invited us into his home where we drank fresh beer and shared bread and broth. News from the south was payment enough for this kind stranger, and we tarried as his excitement over hearing Senbi’s stories provided us with more provisions. As the day wore on the other villagers stopped by and listened until by evening it was as if we were at a festival or a feast.
During the talks one woman spoke of the end of the world and of the coming new age. We had talked about the collapse of the old ways and the people of Babylonia often thought that there was no hope for a better future. But this woman spoke of a God who would come to save the world. In fact he was already here, he had taken the form of a man and lived as a beggar outside of Assur awaiting for the one day, just one day, when all people across the world would perform the sacred rites and sacrifices in the proper manner. If for one day the whole world could follow the wishes of the Gods then the beggar would reveal himself as the Saoshyant, the redeemer who would bring about a new creation. It was heady fare for we had drunk much beer and I thought little of it at the time. But the next day when we left that kind village the word Saoshyant ran around inside of my head. It seemed familiar to me. And when we passed through more villages we heard the same prophecy. I was determined to find this beggar, this Saoshyant, when we arrived at Assur.
We had followed the Tigris for many weeks and passed through the mighty city of Babylon when the story of the Saoshyant changed. No longer were the tales of a beggar outside Assur, but of an old man who lived in an abandoned House of the Gods in nearby Dur-Kurigalzu. That was the abandoned fortress of an ancient king of Babylon and it was known for its mighty ziggurat. A visit was in order, a few days extra to our journey was a price I was willing to pay gladly.
The trail to the fortress was clear and the road smooth. The chariot carried us quickly and before long we could see the mighty ziggurat in the distance. It rose to the heavens in defiance of the cthonic entities who keep mortal man chained to the ground. It loomed on the horizon for many hours before we arrived at the abandoned city. We could see smoke rising at the south of the mighty building and while Senbi shouted out greetings to any unseen watchers I steered us to this sign of civilisation.
There at the base of the mighty tower to the sky was the man I had come to see. Old indeed, his face showed the signs of at least one lifetime lived in this harsh world. His clothes were thick and dyed a deep crimson, his hair long, grey and unkempt. As we approached he stood from the fires he was tending and waited for us. I slowed the horses, left Senbi with my spear in the chariot and walked towards him.
“Greetings old man, I am Goliath of Gath and come seeking the Saoshyant.”
He regarded me carefully. He was still, as though he were a statue of a God, his eyes the only part of him that moved. I could tell that it was not weakness that kept him so steady, but a calmness of spirit. Finally his lips moved.
“Greetings to you Goliath. I may be able to help you with your search. But come, let us sit first, share a meal and you can tell me why you seek the Saoshyant.”
I sat down and introduced Senbi to the old man, but he quickly waved him away.
“We have much to talk about, but it is good that you have this friend of yours here. A bull must be procured for a ritual, and it would be wise if your companion were to go and find this animal while you and I talk.”
Senbi had only just sat down and sighed as he uncrossed his legs and brought himself to his feet. He looked at me with his eyebrows raised.
“Sure thing Goliath, I’ll just wander this deserted town and see if there’s an exceptionally convienent bull around. Save some food for me though.”
Senbi walked away shaking his head and I turned back to the old man. His eyes were fixed on me again.
“Speak then, tell me why you seek the Saoshyant.”
I started to tell my tale then, of my encounter with the witch of Endor, and my search for my father. I told him of the tales we had heard around Babylonia and through it all he asked no questions, merely nodded or grunted from time to time. Eventually I completed my story and awaited his response.
“I can tell you right now that your search for your father is ultimately unimportant. I can tell you that it matters not which God gave you life but it only matters how you spend your time. But telling you this would achieve nothing. You must experience the revelation. We will perform a ritual and perhaps it will lead you to the truth about your origins. But beware, for there is always the possibility that you will instead experience the lie. Truth and lie, these are the things which pervade the world. On the one side is the shining truth, the followers of Ahuramazda who bring goodness to the world. On the other is the lie, the followers of Ahriman, the brutal, the cruel, the evil. War has raged between Ahuramazda and Ahriman since the creation of the world, and it will only end with the triumph of the Truth!
“I had once thought that I would help lead that final victory. In my youth I thought that I was the Saoshyant, the saviour of the world. But no, look, I am an old man now and will die soon enough. Maybe one day the Saoshyant will come, but I doubt I will live to see it. Perhaps you are the one the world is waiting for? In any case, the choice is there for us all, we can help our fellow man, become an Ashavan – a champion of truth. Or we can succumb to pettiness, to bitterness, to evil and to the lie.
“Come, it is time to prepare for the ritual. Your friend will return soon and we must be ready. I will explain all that needs to be done.”
We stood and the old man took me to an empty patch of dirt on the ground. Together we scored a large circle into the land and while he collected a bowl of water and some plants I made a fire pit in the circle and found some good wood for burning. It took some time, and during this the old man explained what would happen during the ritual. We would be replaying the creation of the world, and the spirits of the world would be drawn close to us. It was dangerous, but I knew I had to face the truth eventually.
Senbi returned then, leading a small white bull with one hand and holding his sandals in the other.
“OK, you got me. This place is holy, I mean, a bull like this just happens to be wandering around unattended? The gods sure do like you Goliath. I hope the gods like your friends too.”
I smiled and took the bull from him.
“I am about to enter a ritual. Watch me carefully my friend, help the old man if things get dangerous. Help me too if things get really dangerous.”
The old man looked at me and I stepped into the circle, leading the bull with one hand. In the other hand I held a bowl full of a strange potion the man had made out of the plants. We were sacrifices, sacred offerings as the gods themselves were sacred offerings. Mithras the Bull. Soma the Plant. Gayomard the Man. All had died and been reborn as the animals, plants and people of the world. The old man stepped into the circle and kindled the fire. Agni the sacred flame was with us. He took water from the bowl and sprinkled it over me. Apis the water god was with us. He reached down and took some earth. He rubbed the earth onto the bulls flanks. Prithvi the earth godess was with us. Finally he handed me the stone knife. The stone was the stone of the dome of the sky. It was sharp, as sharp as the lightning of Indra, the thunder god who slew the dragon Vritra. The old man stepped out of the circle. I drank the sacred Soma and my head started to burn. I turned to the bull and drew the stone knife along its neck. My head swam. The power of the gods was upon me.
I felt the gods presence in the circle and I cannot be sure if they had changed the world or merely changed my understanding of it. The sky had become a deep purple and the ziggurat moved backwards and forwards across the city. The old man was talking to me but I did not understand his words. Was he speaking an ancient tongue? Or had I transcended, no longer able to hear directly the voice of a mortal? His face was lopsided and started to melt. Everything felt dull one moment, and sharp the next. It was then that I became aware of the noise, quiet at first, a hissing, like a snake, that swelled and became like the rushing waves of the sea. The dead bull was moving. Then I realised that it was something inside of the bull that moved. Its flesh rippled and I backed away. I gripped the stone knife in my hand, blood drying between my fingers.
The snake exploded out of the bull’s stomach, raw flesh splattering over me as its gaping maw filled my vision. I twisted to the side and rolled across the ground. Thunder echoed around me. The snake turned, it was fully out of the bull now and I wondered how it had ever managed to fit inside. It was immense, larger than the bull, larger than any animal I had ever seen. It reared up and stood twice as tall as a man. I watched it, waiting for it to strike again. I knew then as surely as I have known anything that this was my enemy, that I must fight this evil. Was this the Ahriman that the old man had talked of?
Fangs glistened in the unreal light. The snake pulled back its head and struck but I was ready for it. Once again I dove to the side and then brought the knife up into the snake’s body. Except the knife had changed. No longer a piece of flint it was now a bolt of lightning and it burned its way into the belly of the snake. It screamed in agony, the sounds of a dying man. I stabbed again and again with the lightning bolt and the thunder rolled around me. I tasted blood on my tongue and could feel water on my skin as it started to rain. I do not know how long I struggled with the dying beast, but at the end I was on my knees in the mud, exhausted, with the rain running down my face and the charred remains of the snake in front of me.
As I drew ragged breaths a calmness spread across me. My body had been pushed to its limits but I started to feel detached from it. I focused on my breath and an awareness came upon me of the connectedness of everything. I was the bull and the snake I had slain, I was the rain on my face, I was the mud on the ground, I was the sun in the sky, I was the man Goliath. All was one, but I cannot explain the feeling any more than I can explain colour to a blind man. I remember the sense of freedom and of understanding, I remember the feeling that everything would be good in the end. I thought perhaps that this was a message from Ahuramazda, Lord of Truth. Then I heard the voice.
“You fight well Goliath. You fight with an inner strength.”
There was no source to this voice, it was all around and within me. I could make no answer, my tongue refused to move and my mind could form no response.
“I have seen many who fight as you do. Indra, Marduk, Assur, Adad, Baal, Yahweh, Theus the list goes on and on. They are my children, the thunder gods who bring war and battle to the people of the world. That is my hope for you too Goliath. The world is a shadow of its former self, you have seen it yourself. Cities lie in ruins, people are afraid to travel, kings watch the skies for the portents of their downfall. No one seeks to build any more. It is time to end this world and begin again and you will be an agent of this glorious rebirth. Your destiny awaits my son. You know the truth now. I, Ahriman, am your father.”
I could barely make sense of the words, my head was spinning so fast. The world was turning and I could no longer feel my connection to all things. I felt sick, hot and cold at the same time. I stood and tried to speak but my legs were weak and I collapsed onto the ground. All was lost, all became black as night.
When I awoke Senbi was beside me. My muscles ached but my sickness had passed. The smell of cooking meat was strong but did not turn my stomach. I sat up and Senbi brought me some water. I drank greedily and thanked him.
“So, how you feeling big guy?”
“I am unsure. I had such knowledge when I walked with the gods and now it fades from me like a dream. Wait, I remember one thing, the name of the old man! Where is he? Where is Zoroaster?”
“No idea, halfway through the ritual he sent me to get some berries that he said would help you recover. When I got back he was gone. I fed you the berries though, I think they worked, they made you throw up a lot. So did you find what you were looking for?”
“No. Maybe. I spoke to a god who could be my father. But he is the Lord of Lies so how can I ever know? The old man was right, whoever my father is will not determine my destiny nor my actions. Even if I am a son of evil I will still strive to be an Ashavan.”
My search for my father was a search for truth. And I wasn’t finished looking yet.
September 16, 2008
Jaela sang softly to herself as she stepped outside of her tent into the cool air. It was twilight and as the sun went down the revellers threw more wood upon the feast fires. The village of tents was still an unusual site for Jaela who had grown up in the city of Salem. She was a Kenite living with a clan of Jabalites and on days such as this she longed for the festivals of her youth. The ways of her adopted clan would always be slightly strange to her, but truth be told none of that mattered to her now. Her beloved had returned to the highlands and was on his way to her. Not long, not long now till they would be together again.
The firstlings had already been killed and stripped of their wool. As soon as the full moon rose they would be placed on the cooking fires and then eaten throughout the night. All of the meat had to be eaten before Father Sin set again in the morning. Jaela crossed her little fingers to remind herself that the Jabalites called the shining moon Abram rather than Sin, but she knew it was the same God who they all gave thanks to.
Wine was being poured and songs were being sung. It would soon be time for Jaela to play her part. She had been practising her steps all winter and was confident that she would honour the Gods properly. It was a shame that her beloved would not be here for the Festival. Would it be better to perform the dance with him watching? It might make her more nervous…but then it would surely please him to see how she had adapted to life here amongst his clan. As he had adapted to life in her clan.
Jaela kept the memories of how she came to be here hidden most of the time. It was another life in Salem, a happy one to be sure. When her family had been murdered by the vile Jabin, her life had been shattered and she had wished to be dead. It was only a young Jabalite warrior who managed to save her, by keeping her from Jabin’s men and by giving her reason to live again. Their love had grown out of tragedy, but it was a strong and pure love nonetheless.
He had brought her to his people, the wandering shepherds of the highlands. She was well respected here and allowed to make the mistakes of a child as she learned the ways of the nomads. And just as she became a Jabalite, her beloved had joined with the other exiled Kenites from Salem. There he gained the Kenite Tattoo – a warning to all that his new kinsmen would visit sevenfold revenge upon any who harmed him. Truly now they were both of two clans, of two tribes, but of one heart and spirit.
The music changed and Jaela knew her time had come. She quickly ran to the centre of the encampment and joined her new sisters, cousins and aunts as the dance started. Jaela abandoned herself to the moment as she had been taught to do. She thought of the deeds of the Trickster God Yacob, of his masks and his cunning. She lept in the air, one leg limp, and then her hands waved as she dragged her leg around the circle of women. The men of the village watched and cheered as the women limped around the circle their bodies swaying when they stopped walking. As the music reached a crescendo the men ran towards the women and the trick of the God was revealed. The woman ran away, no longer limping as they tried to outrun the men that chased them. Laughter was heard from all around as brothers caught sisters and husbands caught wives.
Jaela ran like the wind and twice she felt a hand catch at her clothes. She laughed as she outpaced the men who chased her, all her thoughts focused on running, the pounding of her feet, the breeze on her face. Suddenly an arm grasped her about her waist and she was tumbling, pulling the man along with her as she fell and rolled along the ground. Her capturer wrestled with her and she giggled as she tried to get away. Then in the moonlight she saw his face, saw the mark of Cain on his cheek. Her beloved was here.
“Elhanan!” she cried and buried herself in his embrace.
“Jaela, Jaela, I have missed you so much.” They lay then in silence for some time, their bodies squeezed together, until eventually Elhanan stood and offered his hand to Jaela.
“Come Jaela, I have something to show you.” She walked behind him back to the camp where she could see the arrival of her Kenite kinsmen, other refugees from Salem who lived as Apiru now. They were invited to the feast and the Kenite’s hunger was quickly dealt with as the village and the visitors passed around the lamb meat, without the fat that had been burned in offering to Sin. Elhanan brought Jaela to a group of tired looking donkeys and pulled back a blanket. In the moonlight the metal shone.
“Silver Jaela, purest silver. My mission to Byblos was a complete success. An evil man no longer walks the earth and the great King Suhis paid us well to make it so. He will be a great ally Jaela, and he has more work for us. It wont be long now before we have enough money and men to retake Salem. Then, as a warrior of Cain I will take vengeance on those who killed your family. As Yahweh lives I swear it will be so, and we will be so happy living in the city again.”
Jaela smiled, but hid her feelings. She did want to return to Salem, and she did want justice. But more than that, she was happy whenever Elhanan was with her. The hatred for those far off cowards who had killed her family was always there, but no longer did it burn within her. Now she was alive when Elhanan was here, and counted the days when he was away. She knew he lived the life of an Apiru for her, but it was a dangerous life. And it would become more dangerous still when Elhanan’s plans to retake Salem became reality. What use would it be to regain her city and lose her love.
“I love you.” she whispered.
“And I love you. You are my Asherah. All I do, I do for you.”
She looked deep into his eyes. It would do no good to ask him to stop. He was a Kenite now and his vow would not allow him to return to life as a shepherd. So be it, he would leave her again and again, and one day he may not come back.
All that mattered then, was now. She kissed him and wished that it could last forever.
September 9, 2008
So I may have been a few hundred miles off, but we did get to the heart of Babylonia. I mean sure, we were trying to get to Assyria but everyone knows that if you want to know the will of the Gods then you have to travel to Nippur! Ah Nippur, ancient home of the Temple of Enlil (that’s what the Babylonians call Amon, they have funny notions over here but I’ve learned to deal with all the names that they call our Gods). Somehow I was expecting more. When Goliath and I arrived the only thing that stood out was the Temple. The rest of the city was barely a city at all, more like a little village like you would find in the highlands of Canaan. Nonetheless I convinced Goliath that this was an important place and we would find answers in the stepped pyramid that towered over the rest of the buildings.
You know despite the fact that I was a little disappointed in the ‘city’ of Nippur, the Temple was still quite impressive. It shone a bright blue with golden images of the Gods along the various walls. They marched around the Temple and we followed in their wake. After a short while a man came out of a nearby house to greet us. We struck up a conversation after we found a common language and he revealed that a prophecy was about to be fulfilled. Now he only really got excited about this prophecy when he saw Goliath’s spear, which made me a little suspicious, but you never know how the Gods work so we listened to the man’s tale.
It turns out that Nippur was being raided by a demon, a daeva from the far off mountains. The local man described the demon in hideous terms, I was trying to eat my lunch at the time so I remember it vividly. The daeva spent his time outside of the village ruining peoples crops and stealing their animals. Sometimes the demon would do despicable things to the animals and their remains had no tongues and warped anuses. Weird. Anyway, the local priest (for that was who this man telling us this story was) had consulted with the Gods and the prophecy had been revealed – the demon was Humbaba returned. Yes, that Humbaba, the one that Gilgamesh killed in the Cedar Forest thousands of years ago, we’ve all heard the story.
Anyway, the Gods told the priest that the only one who could kill the demon would be one like Gilgamesh the great warrior. And lo and behold who should show up but Goliath, and in all fairness he does look like he could be an ancient hero returned to slay a demon. Well Goliath didn’t need to hear much more, he was ready to spear this demon no matter how many horns it had. He jumped to his feet and asked where the demon was.
Well things weren’t going to be that simple. Apparently the demon had taken human form – just as well considering what it naturally looked like – and so it would require some skill to find. Nonetheless the priest gave him a description and the name he replied to – ‘Lagakal’ – and off Goliath raced. He said he’d be back with the head of the demon and if he should fail then he would at least have failed fighting something that only Gilgamesh could have bested.
I’m glad he didn’t take me along. Not because I’m no use in a fight, though that’s reason enough, but it allowed me to do a little bit more investigation around Nippur. Oh shock and horror would you believe that the priest had not told us the entire truth? It didn’t take long for me to discover that Lagakal wasn’t just demon possessed, but was also the son of the local warlord, or Ensi as they call them around here. And Lagakal wasn’t just recently possessed, apparently he had been a demon child too. No one dared harm him though since it was well known that the Ensi would avenge his death and kill anyone related to the murderer.
Well how lovely, it looked like the priest had set Goliath up for a fall – getting rid of Lagakal and any reprisal against the locals at the same time. Gilgamesh indeed. Nothing for it but for Senbi to save the day! It so happened that I had a few items worthy of trade, nothing much, but enough to get started on a plan. Before long I had a lovely piece of wood and many paints. A few days later I had carved an amazing looking God – Ra the Sun God (who they call Shamash here). If I do say so myself he was one of my better works, and from such good quality wood as well. The long hair was particularly intricate.
OK, so now I had a God on my side. It had been several days and I knew Goliath could return at any time. Assuming he returned at all. It was time to go to the one person who could get us out of here when things went wrong. The Ensi.
It wasn’t difficult to arrange a meeting and during my journey to his abode I took note of the various horses and chariots that were nearby. Only the military could afford to keep such things, but perhaps they could be persuaded to part with one for the right price. I entered the presence of the Ensi and his attendants and prostrated myself on the ground.
“Oh great Ensi, Lord of Nippur and the surrounding lands. I am Senbi and I greet you from far off Egypt. The fame of Nippur is known throughout the four corners of the world and I come to do homage and offer my help to your house and your Gods.”
I heard a sigh, and then, “Get up you fool. I am no King, I merely keep this land safe from neighbouring villages. I doubt my fame has spread as far as Babylon never mind Egypt.” I looked up and saw an ageing man, his face hard and scarred. It looked as though a weariness had settled about him many years ago and he wore it like a warm cloak.
“Indeed Ensi, you are wise if not famous. I had not heard of you but I come to help this land anyway. Nippur was once the heart of Babylonia but now it lies a shadow of its former self. There is a way to bring back its glory however and all it will require from you is a little faith, some courage and a chariot with some fine horses.”
I pulled out Shamash then and his attendants gasped. He himself seemed less impressed which meant my sell would have to be that much harder. Or at least it would have been had Goliath not shown up just at that point. The door flew open and as I saw my enormous friend and his bloodied spear my heart sank. Now we were in trouble, the chariot which would have allowed us to escape north was not yet in my hands!
The Ensi spoke, “What is this, who are you?”
Goliath replied, “I am Goliath, and I have done for you a great deed as Gilgamesh did in days of old!”
Ooooh, this was going to be bad. I moved myself back towards the wall, Shamash in front of me, silent prayers to Seth on my lips.
“What is the meaning of this?” said the confused Ensi. I believe he was also somewhat upset that none of his men outside had stopped Goliath from coming in.
“I was told of a wild man who stole sheep and destroyed the grain of your people. Nippur may be small but it does not deserve to be at the whim of such a beast. And so I ventured forth and encountered the wild man, the one they call Lagakal.”
At this the Ensi’s face had turned pale. He was looking at the blood on Goliath’s spear as it dripped on the floor.
“And so I hunted Lagakal, though it took me many days to find him. And when I finally did find him we fought. Hand to hand we wrestled for what seemed like hours. Eventually though, I understood the prophecy and through understanding I won! This was no demon, no Humbaba returned from the past. This was an Enkidu, the great friend of Gilgamesh who was once wild and was tamed. We stopped fighting and we started to talk. It took some time, he is a strange and crazy man still but eventually we reached an understanding.”
“What has happened to Lagakal?” cried the Ensi, “What has become of my son?”
“Fear not, he is safe. We returned to the village and to the Gods. I made a sacrifice of a sheep to Shamash, favourite of Gilgamesh, and took Enkidu to the nearby priestess of Inanna. There they are performing the sacred act that will bring fertility back to the land.”
Oh Goliath, what a piece of work you are. You go out to find a demon and bring back a lunatic who you give to the local priestitute. Well, if a romp in the sack worked for Enkidu maybe it would work for this poor fellow too. And what do you know, it did! Goliath spent another week with Lagakal explaining the ways of civilisation and the two of them would occasionally be seen wrestling near the Temple. The locals were still wary of them both but the Ensi seemed most pleased in the change that had come over his mad son. I didn’t need to bargain for a chariot in the end, we were given one by a grateful father.
You see that’s when I started to think there may be something to Goliath after all. Who knew, if he followed in the footsteps of Gilgamesh he may discover the secret of immortality and I’d be there to make sure it wasn’t lost this time! In the end it was clear that the detour to Nippur wasn’t due to my lack of navigation skills, instead we merely followed the whims of the Gods!
September 9, 2008
Tell Bathsheba; Hatisha says:
May all be well with you, all is well with me. I have arrived at Byblos safely and am well after the journey. News must have reached you now of the untimely death of my husband-to-be. The palace is in mourning but my needs are being attended to. The hand maids I have been given are kind and gentle to me in this strange place. It was upon my arrival that Tjeker-Baal, Prince of Byblos, stood before me wearing a shawl decorated with golden threads. It is the ritual here that the Prince wears this when one of the royal family dies. I did not understand this at the time and so our meeting was one of confusion as I tried to smile and show my eagerness to be wed to Ribaddan. It was not long before Tjeker-Baal took me to the resting place of his son. He is buried underneath one of the Temples here and his soul has been dedicated to Melqart, the hero’s God.
I was put aside for several days but I did hear the gossip and rumours that flew around the palace. It seems that Ribaddan had been killed in a fight with a Kenite from the south. I was told that the Kenites are a tribe of assassins who travel all of Canaan offering their services to whoever desires another man dead. The Kenite fled and has not been caught yet. Whoever it was that arranged for the death of Ribaddan must be well pleased at the sorrow in the palace of Tjeker-Baal.
I did not know what was to become of me and had feared that I would be sent back to Carchemish. But the Prince is kind and generous as are the Gods. I will remain here and serve as a priestess at the Temple of Inara. Our glorious father Suhis need not worry that I will not be able to live in Byblos as he had wished for me. Tell him that instead of serving a future Prince I serve the very Gods of Byblos but remain his dutiful daughter.
To that end I intend to talk to Hiram, Prince of Tyre, and Beder, Prince of Dor when they arrive in Byblos for the autumn sacrifices. They will know of the loving respect that our father has for all the peoples of the sea. To show our generosity please arrange for gifts to be sent here that I may pass them on to those who require them. Lapis Lazuli from far off Babylon would be best. Byblos has many ships passing through the harbour every day bringing gold from Egypt, copper from Cyprus and wine and oil from further west.
Let it also be known that the Prince of Byblos is most wealthy and his city has no abandoned buildings like the cities in the north. Instead they build new docks and extra warehouses. There must be enough wealth here to throw the most spectacular festivals for the Gods, and woe be to the person who thinks they could march an army on Byblos without meeting a thousand freshly bought mercenaries. It would require much cunning to cause the fall of our newest ally.
I will pray to Inara and Kubaba that such a cunning enemy does not exist.
Please write to me to tell me of your life in Carchemish. I already miss our days in the sun together and long to hear of any developments with your handsome courter. May all be well with our family and do please read this letter to father. How lovely it will be for him to hear my words with your voice.