For God is my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the Earth; You divided the sea by Your strength. You broke the heads
of dragons in the waters, you broke the heads of Leviathan and gave them as food to the people in the wilderness...the day is thine, the night also is thine...”
--Old Hebrew victory chant from the Book
of the War of Heaven and Earth
“The stone which was rejected by the builders
now has become the chief cornerstone.”
--Old Hebrew paean from the Book of the
War of Heaven and Earth
First the rosebud of life, then the rose of eternity.
--Joseph Forgione, Poet Laureate of New Jersey, Pre-Holland America State, ANNO STELLAE 1996
“The West Rose Window of the Washington National Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Mount St. Albans, Washington, D.C., is over 25 feet in diameter, contains 10,500 pieces of stained glass, and represents the Creation.”
--Excerpt from a writing taken from the Cathedral ruins
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD, and
His train filled the temple.
--Prophet Isaiah in the Book of the Wars of Heaven and Earth
Volume III, Retro Star
Copyright (c) 2004
Ronald D. Ginther
All Rights Reserved
C H R O N I C L E
F I F T Y - F I V E
A N N O
S T E L L A E
7 5 3 7
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN
The Sharru of the ill-starred Colossus died in peace in his palace, and another like him but not as great took his place. His eldest son ruled until the two reigns together attained threescore and almost ten years. Daniyel now was an aged man. Though rarely called to court now, his wise counsel was still remembered and valued, but there was little resort to it since the kingdom and dynasty fared well, it seemed. Peace and prosperity abounded in the kingdom and its tributaries. It seemed to many that things would always go on that way--Babelen the Great forever!
Suddenly, with no apparent warning, the golden head began to totter. The Sharru, grasping for remedies, consulted everyone but Daniyel. Trade was down, far down from former levels. Nobody wanted Babelen’s wonderful, somewhat over-priced goods anymore. Hating the heavy surcharges and the short-changing, false weights and measures and other trickeries of Babelen, caravans bypassed her
marts and cities grew rich on the fringes of the realm, stripping the Sharru of much needed taxable income. His advisers came to one solid conclusion about the crisis. Seize the distant trade-cities and put them all out of business! If the caravans had no alternative, they would be forced to return to Babelen.
On surface, the strategy seemed perfect. The Sharru, outfitting his army, set out at its head; he was determined to see his generals did exactly what he had commanded. This was just too important a mission; if bungled, Babelen was bankrupt! If successful, Babelen would overflow with gold once again, as it had under his father.
His father! The Sharru even had to strip the gold and jewels from his father’s tomb to provision and arm his fighting forces. It was done under cover of night, of course, so the citizenry would not be see and be offended. Many people, though grown old, recalled the former Sharru and his memory was reverenced, along with the Invisible God the king’s chief seer, Daniyel the Jew, had made known to the Sharru. Now he himself did not place any stock in the Invisible God; he preferred old, traditional gods he could see and touch. Restoring many old temples, he gained much support for his throne from his own generation, though, in doing so, he forewent the favor of his father’s generation, of which many held on to the Invisible God.
So the anxious, purse-poor Sharru set out from Babelen, leaving a son, Dauphin Prince Nir-e-shaddrezzar, behind as Second Sharru.
The old monarch was no sooner out of the gates of his capital than Nir-e-shaddrezzar began acting like his father would be gone forever. He proclaimed a Kingdom Jubilee to initiate his reign, calling on the priesthoods of all the temples to present themselves in the royal parade. Taxes were not abolished on that day, it is true, but the co-Sharru made up for it with vast expenditures on the entertainments and banquets.
The truly glorious hand of the Invisible God, which not only laid bare the heart of kings to Daniyel, but had previously lifted Joseph in one triumphant move from prison to palace, was utterly forgotten in the young ruler’s agenda. He favored all gods, high and low. The more gods, the better, he reasoned. He discriminated against none and upheld the rights of his subjects to worship them in any way they wished, however many children were sacrificed in the present generation, or how many abominatiions were committed by the cult prostitutes in full sight of the city or how many worshippers queued up to drink the soups of miscarriages or extracted infant brains mixed with perfumes in golden cups. To him, the gods were a very good idea, and no practice of piety too base. Let them favor his mighty city and kingdom, Babelen, in turn!
Unifying his supporters with this plan, Nir-e-shaddrezzar embarked on a spending spree of unparalleled pomp and splendor, satisfying the whims of greed and self-indulgence while his father, out of sight, wearily plowed through burning sands and wildernesses with a sweating army to find and level Babelen’s economic competition.
Daniyel, cast into obscurity by the worldly court, but still active in prayer for the restoration of his people and the Temple, kept to his house and high-walled courtyard. Evenso, he knew what was happening around him. His fellow Jews came with reports that the new king’s tax collectors were bearing down especially hard on them--seizing all the goods of their shops if they resisted the huge new levies to pay for the Jubilee. Jewish widows were driven out of houses left to them by loving husbands, and everything sold to benefit the king. If a hard-working, thrifty Jew had come into ownership of a vineyard, that was taken and sold, and he was returned to it a pauper and a slave. On and on the accounts went, how the new Sharru had exceeded the grasp of his father, robbing people outright, particularly when they were found to be believers in the Invisible God.
To add fuel to the outrage, the Sharru commanded new additions to the palace, all paid for by stiff new “levies.” Though starving widows and children filled the streets, the palace soared several more storeys, each more splendid than the other. The temples, too, cashed in. Their coffers overflowed with stolen Jewish gold.
Daniyel soon found himself with so many hungry people at his door, he turned his house into a soup kitchen. Drawing on his life’s savings, and utilizing his portion from the Sharru’s kitchens until the economizing Sharru ordered it discontinued, he fed hundreds of old men, women, and children, mainly oppressed Jewry.. How long could he do so? he wondered. How long would the new Sharru continue to oppress the people so pitilessly. Would it stop when his father return? Daniyel prayed fervently for the return of the old king to come and restore former laws respecting the Jews--which were utterly disregarded by Nir-e-shaddrezzar.
Finally, when Daniyel faced his own impoverishment trying to feed a multitude of the poor, the palace lit up with the royal banquet for the Royal Jubilee. This was the climax of month-long festivities during which Babelen filled with chanting, sumptuously-dressed priests of every god of Babelen, dancing girls, bears, magicians performing tricks, and all the rest of it.
The whole capital became drunk with free lager and wine dispensed by the celebrating Sharru. Soldiers danced with women of the streets, generals and statesmen with concubines, the Sharru with the pick of his harem. From walls to palace the city was one great party. The temples were decorated as richly as the palace; returned to full royal favor they strove to outdo each other in processions, number of sacrificed animals, and free favors from cult prostitutes. A thick clouds of incense and smoke hung over the city like a shroud, morning to night, and there was no ceasing in the music-making, drinking, and dancing. If anything, the celebration grew more intense as night fell. Celebrants were getting robbed, beaten, and sometimes killed, but few kept safely indoors. Some houses were set afire, and people gathered, but they were laughing, not bothering to help the victims caught inside. It was all part of the entertainments, and no one seemed to care if the fire spread. Soldiers drunkenly came to investigate, but when they found they were Jews’ houses, nothing more was done.
Daniyel, keeping indoors all during the riotous day of the state banquet, felt the world was coming to an end. His expectation of the Restoration of the Jewish kingdom and temple was dashed once again. He prayed but felt there was nothing else he could do. His own prophecies, apparently, would now come to pass, fulfilled by this excuse for a man, the Second Sharru. The Dire Night he had foreseen for the world was now fast descending upon them. Instead of wisely conserving what remained in the Royal Treasury, the Second Sharru was flinging off all restraint in royal expenditures. He gave no heed to anything but his gods that promised him a river of gold and pleasure that would never cease flowing. Wearing a perpetual smile Nir-e-shaddrezzar put the best construction on the state of the kingdom under his rule. His statesmen and generals, though worried about the lapse in royal funding for the outlying garrisons and even the capital’s protection, could not convince the Second Sharru there was any danger. The great defensive Wall of the Plain was not even guarded; the militia was de-commissioned and sent home without pay. The spy service was also sharply curtailed, except in the capital and palace, to forstall any opportunist who might wish to be Sharru in Nire-e-shaddrezzar’s stead. To show everyone that he was in charge, the Sharru sent token forces out form the city to make peace in rebellious or restless districts, where the citizens were fighting amongst themselves over scraps of food in the empty granaries and storehouses. He himself rode out and reviewed his peace-keeping troops, but soon left to return to the joys and amenities of the capital. No ruler of Babelen had done things in this fashion--or to such a degree. Yet the kinglet (for he was no great king as he made himself out) grew bolder as time went on and his father tarried in distant lands.
What was to be done with such a one at the helm of state? Dissenting statesmen found themselves barricaded by palace guards and spies. The Second Sharru brooked no opposition; if he could not risk slaying certain highly respected officials of the old regime of his father who differed with his policies, he at least quarantined them. Destroying their reputations was also effective. His spy service worked over-time fabricating accounts of crimes the men never committed, but these were read out to the people and in the courts as though there was no disputing the facts. His wife, too, joined mightily in propping up his administration. An energetic woman with strong speaking abilities, she attacked all those who thought the king might be spending too much, calling them traitors and malefactors. Though her speaking out was unprecedented, the Second Sharru allowed her every liberty. She also was delegated enormous powers of state and despite continual failures exercised them publicly, a thing that had never happened, even with the queen mothers. Bombarded daily with reports she hatched of the misdoings of those who opposed her royal husband, the people were led increasingly to think the Second Sharru was doing a good job. Though Babelen was falling apart in plain view, they thought they saw how much their leader was doing to rectify conditions he said he had inherited from others, not himself caused. Together, the Second Sharru and his chief wife strengthened his position among the nobility and ruling classes, though he was never very popular with the military he despised and underfunded. Murderers, robbers, thieves, and rapists stalked the kingdom from end to end, enjoying free pardon in the courts of the king, but the Second Sharru passed decrees almost every day saying how much he hated violence of that sort. Though he hated families too, particularly godly-living, closely-knit Jewish families, he told everyone how he loved such families, though his palace was thronged with women for his own enjoyment. Whatever the nobility thought they needed in a leader, he could assume those qualities whenever they were present. Many knew he was a shameless sham, but it made no difference. They went along, for they profited hugely from his corrupt administration. The common people? They cheered the Second Sharu whenever he went forth in his state chariot with his chief wife, for they actually thought the young man was doing his best for them--just as he assured them repeatedly he was doing.
Truth, beauty, justice, holiness, integrity, loyalty, fair-dealing, honor, peace, happiness--not a trace remained in Babelen. Decadence and moral degeneracy, with fashionable toleration of every kind of crime and evil-doing, ruled the entire society. The Second Sharru had destroyed every decent thing, even the possibility such could exist. Though he constantly spoke for the poor and oppressed, he robbed them himself. Though he spoke and passed decrees against crime, he promoted it. Though he said he cared only for the welfare of his country, he gave away entire districts to curry favor with some neighboring kinglet; or made alliances that put Babelen at severe disadvantage to some other power. Though he spoke for wisdom and probity in the administration, he promoted only self-seeking, embezzling nobles. Though he preached good government and his aim to maintain the commonweal’s peace and harmony, he sent his spies and bullies everywhere, letting them molest the people however they wished. Though he let the Jewish community know he valued them highly, synagogues were closed at the slightest pretext for the sake of the “kingdom peace”; the schools of the Jewish people or other godly people were forced to accept his own administrators, who installed his state-authorized gods and all the licentious rituals of the priesthoods. Hating businesses that reaped profits that he did not want them to enjoy, he taxed them out of existence if he could, then passed so many laws that they could not begin to obey and were forced to close their doors under threat of seizure. No house, no synagogue, no school, no business was safe from invasion.
“How can a kingdom long endure this kind of misrule,” Daniyel sighed. “We are driven to blackest despair by the Second Sharru, but he overcomes every difficulty and continues to plunge us all into the abyss!”
After his last prayers for such a benighted ruler and God-forsaking kingdom, the grieving Daniyel retired to bed, his jogger’s bracelet blinking on and off as usual. It was there he lay, unable to sleep because of the screams and babbling all round his house, when the gate was nearly knocked off its hinges by the Sharru’s ruffians.
“Jew, you’re wanted by the king of kings!” the captain shouted at Daniyel. “Hurry, get a robe on your wretched, thieving old bones! Something decent for the court now! Not some old rag you stole off one of our poor widows who couldn’t pay your interest rates! We can’t wait all night! Hurry!”
The invasion of his privacy and the taunts concerning his Jewish antecedents were unprecedented on his level of nobility but expected. Daniyel knew that what his people were experiencing would one day come to his own door. Well, here it was! Evenso, the captain of the guard had no right to come without being announced into the presence of such a high-ranking foreign noble as Daniyel, though he be a Jew, member of a thriving, hard-working, law-abiding, community-minded, charitable, religiously separate people but now despised, persecuted minority. Clearly, all force and spirit of the law was overturned in the present kingdom, and he had watched for this very hour.
Daniyel did as he was ordered and got ready as fast his “wretched, thieving old bones” could in obedience to the summons to advise the truly wretched, low-spirited Second Sharru.
Grooming his own hair, beard, and gown as best he could, he paused at the door as he was being led out to the waiting chariot. He quietened the servants who had come out, anxious, confused, and prepared to fight for his safety, then turned to the impatient, grumbling captain. “What, pray, is the desire of the Great King? Why am I being called to court so late in the day? Can you tell me, your humble servant?”
The captain shook his head importantly. “Just do as you’re told, and you’ll be spared a thrashing that way! It’s the greatest honor, that’s all. Imagine, you, a grubbing, old stick of a Jew, being asked to the mighty Sharru’s presence! You had better have something good to say when he asks, or I’ll see to it myself you won’t return home as you went! The Sharru, he and I have an understanding, and I don’t like to disappoint him any. He’s my friend. I look after his best interests too, same as he does mine. You get that?”
Daniyel delayed no more and climbed and was hustled into the chariot. It was a madcap ride to the palace through celebrating, drunken multitudes. Soldiers riding ahead of the speeding chariot whipped a path for them, but they still ran over several aged people and also some small children playing the perennial children’s favorite game “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” who couldn’t move out of the way fast enough.
Badly shaken by the ride, Daniyel nearly fell down from the chariot, unable to stand, but the royal guards grabbed his arms and hustled him into the palace.
It was impossible to tell where the Jubilee was being celebrated the most, the streets or the palace.
People milled freely in and out the huge entrance gates and doors. All attempt to keep the palace safe for the king was abandoned. The Second Sharru himself had ordered the palace guard to eat and drink from the palace banquet tables as much as they wanted.
Dazed by the chariot ride and the chaos of the banqueting crowds packing the palace, Daniyel hardly knew at first where he was. Then his senses sharpened and he saw the glittering man in front of him had to be the one who summoned him from his bedchamber. But was this really the Second Sharru? Though garbed in gold and jewels from head to foot, the ruler had such a youthful, pale, and unseasoned countenance Daniyel was unsure it could be Nir-e-shaddrezzar, whom he had never formally met in royal audience since he had been thought too infirm to attend the new Sharru.
A highly favored Median courtesan was leaning on the ear of the youngish man in gold, telling him a joke or witticism, for he laughed uproariously, head thrown back. After giving her a jeweled goblet and a squeeze as a reward, he stumbled forward toward Daniyel, his hand out with a cup in it.
“Come drink to your health from my own royal cup, prince!” the co-Sharru laughed, smiling boyishly. “It’s one fashioned by your people, is it not? That should evoke pleasant memories for you! Go ahead! It’s to my royal honor that a man like you sup from it!”
Daniyel made no move to comply, for he had already bowed as low as could be expected from an aged man. What was far worse than disobedience to a sovereign was what the king himself was doing. For the infidel, heathen Sharru held a holy, consecrated cup from the Jewish Temple!
Sickened in his spirit, Daniyel wondered how the man could have thought to commit such a heinous sacrilege. All his life he had served Babelen’s rulers as faithfully as he could and it had come to this! What favor could anyone possibly think to gain? The Sharru had plenty of gold, silver, brass, and wood drinking utensils. Why did they have to defile with his polluted hands the sacred Jewish temple things his grandfather had stolen from Jerusalem?
Some concubines around the Sharru gasped at Daniyel’s refusal to drink from the royal cup. One shrieked, “I know why. He’s a foreigner, a Jew, that’s why he won’t touch the royal wine. It’s some quaint superstition they have, something about being defiled before their strange, invisible god! Imagine that! What these foreigners don’t think of! I still don’t see why that means they must be so nasty to--”
“Yes, I’ve heard of the foreign prince! If he weren’t so old, I might go for him. He’s quite handsome still, this one! Such royal bearing and dignity, you’d think he were king himself and not just a noble! Why, the Sharru acts like a child beside him!”
The kinglet, embarrassed, heard the concubine’s slighting remark, glanced at his cup and then withdrew it. “It was just a little joke of mine. I honor all gods, why not yours? I don’t discriminate in matters of religion! All my nobles and guests were amused beyond telling when we trotted out these rather old-fashioned things from my grandfather’s treasure rooms! They’re so old-fashioned, without the usual images of gods and sacred beasts, that--that--well, it was wonderfully amusing!”
When he saw that his glib explanation did not go over with Daniyel, anymore than offering him scented wine from a sacred Temple vessel, he got down to business, his features changing in a flash from embarrassment and anger to respect and deference toward an elder statesman. “I’ve called you here for something very important.” He turned, saw no one he could call a state counsellor, and gave it up. “They’re never around when I need them! Oh, well, I’ll say what it is myself. You are here to translate. It’s that writing up there on the wall. Confound it, no one can make it out. I and my nobles and wives were praising our gods and drinking their health when the writing--a child’s ditty, I am informed--suddenly appeared, etched by a hand that appeared out of thin air! Is it some god’s trickery? Tell me! I am man enough to stand up to any such god! What is its name, O Prince and Revealer of Secrets!”
Evidently, the experience was still quite fresh, for as Nir-e-shaddrezzar related the incident, his knees knocked together so violently his robe shook. “Well, can you do it? I cannot enjoy my Jubilee unless you tell me what the blasted inscription means, or at least what god sneaked in and did this--yours or one of mine? I simply won’t let gods scribble nursery rhymes on my palace without letting me know what they mean by it! We’ve already had some children brought in from the street, but they’re struck witless by what they see here, saying it means nothing, they just say it that way! So I called next my chief astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, and they too were no help at all! Then the mother of my father, the queen mother heard of it and sent word that I should call Prince Nir-e-shazzar, saying you are a man surely in whom dwells the spirit of the holy gods. So I called you!”
Daniyel slowly turned and looked where the Second Sharru had pointed. His eyes were dim, but keen eyesight was not required. The lettering was there on the upper wall, shining brightly, as if gold had freshly been inlaid. As he gazed at it he felt his heart sink. His knees too turned to water, though it was not from simple fear. It was everything he could do to keep from collapsing in the king’s presence, a lapse that would have gotten him beaten and thrown to the lions in the palace zoo.
Glad of a staff that a court magician hastily thrust into his hand to steady him (a man whose father’s life Daniyel had saved from a former monarch’s fury), Daniyel struggled to get control of his reeling emotions. By this time the scene had percolated outwards into the palace, bringing a strange hush. Everybody had stopped laughing and drinking toasts and belching. They turned to observe the Sharru and his elder counsellor, wondering what the king could possibly want from the lips of this simply-attired old courtier.
Astonishing everyone, the Second Sharru stumbled forward toward Daniyel, his features white as poached egg white and his perpetual smile gone, replaced by grim desperation. “I’ll give you anything in my kingdom if you translate it correctly! I’ll clothe you in finest scarlet and put a gold chain around your neck and make you third in the kingdom! Say! What does it mean? Children may sing it every day in the streets of my great city, yet they don’t know the meaning. Now it appears up on my own palace wall! Nobody else can interpret it! But I feel--yes, I know you alone can tell me, so I can have peace of mind!
More is--more is not required. Simply translate it satisfactorily and I’ll--”
Daniyel, his eyes lowering to the floor, spoke slowly. “Keep your gifts, O son of the king, and give them to another. Yet I will read the writing out to you and interpret it. That is what you want, isn’t it? You didn’t drag an old bag of bones here from his bed just to put a robe on him and a gold chain. Cease from playing false, O son of the king! Your whole nation is sinking fast in deadly peril.”
How did a subject dare to speak to his sovereign so? Making light of him was one thing, but this man was serious! The entire palace grew quiet, even breathless, as they waited for the next event. Making light of the king was one thing--everybody did that--but right to his face? Would the Sharru be offended and seek torture and execution for the old man? Or would he defer to age and wait to slap the old man’s cheeks until after the old man had translated the strange rhyming verses on the wall? This ruler had been known to have dignified courtiers entertain the gatherings at his banquets by having their robes cut off at the waist, donkey ears tied to their heads, and the men paraded around so that all could enjoy the shame of the men. But this was a sensation beyond anyone’s recollection, a scandal beyond the others. A noble at court dared address the Great King of Kings as if he were a base pretender, which they all knew him to be but treated with the respect (as best they could) due his high office.
Smiling again, the son of the unoffended king nodded vigorously. “Yes, I won’t argue with that! You spoke truly and bravely, if not diplomatically. Well? Speak the meaning of the writing! And if you do so to my royal pleasure, I will exalt and honor to you to third position in my kingdom despite what you have dared to say to my own face! Why, I like a man who has some stuffing to him--not like these lickspittles--these chief cupbearers, chief bakers, chief priests, chief magicians, chief generals--all chief pigs at the royal trough, I say! Faugh! I’m heartily sick of the whole swilling, gorging swineyard of them!
The topmost twig of Judah (and the beginning letter of a divine aphabetic count-down for the Siege’s denouement and end) was not listening to the frivolous man masquerading as a king of Babelen. He glanced upwards, his eyes closed, as he faced the holy inscription--the only holy thing beside the desecrated and profaned Temple utensils in the hands of the king and his thousand nobles and concubines. Yes, children had been given the prophetic warning first--for it was written in the Scriptures of God, that out of the mouths of babes would pour forth divine wisdom.
He began speaking, and his voice, feeble and thin, gained strength and volume as he spoke. No one in the palace could stop the words that poured from him. Everyone was astonished what they were hearing. They might as well have tried to stop a breaking storm as prevent the speech of Daniyel as he admonished the king’s fool of a son for the dire calamity he had brought upon the nation and his absent father’s throne.
“O son of the king, the Most High God gave Niredam-belladon II your father’s father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honor. And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him. Whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive, and whom he would he set up, and whom he would he put down. He was a mighty king, your father’s father! But he grew proud of what he had not fashioned, thinking himself the Creator, so he raised the Image to his own glory and commanded all people, nations, and languages to fall down and worship when they heard the music of his priests. For that reason the Most High God destroyed him and drove away the evil star that sat hatching vanities upon the king’s brow, even as it sat upon the brow of the golden Image on the Plain. Yet God the Most High saw fit to save the wicked Sharru, when he was humbled and cried for mercy. And his throne was restored to him, with his former majesty, and glory, and honor. These he passed to his son, your father. But your father found himself less in glory and honor and majesty, when he had set up other gods and temples before the Most High God. Did he not harden his heart against the Truth after a star of gold, full of greed and pleasure-seeking, settled deep on his brow? He did not repent of his false gods, but went on serving them, until the nation was stripped of its former greatness. Even then he did not soften in his heart, or change toward the Most High who chastened him. He listened to his counsellors who weigh nothing but their own advancement, and he was misled. So he went off to far lands to steal back the gold the Most High had given to others. And, in his folly, he put you in his stead, to rule in Babelen his city and kingdom until the time he returned from war and gathering in the gold of other lands. He will not succeed, and you, O specious son of this wayward king, will fail, will fall, with him, even before him. When the king hears of the fall of his city and rushes to it, he will hear you his son are taken and slain. God will do all this to him and you and this city since you have lifted up your hand also against the Most High God, in taking his holy things from his Temple and defiling them with your nobles and wives and concubines. You have drunk wine in them and praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know, but the Living, Invisible God who made all these things and put breath in your mouth, you dishonored tonight in your house. For that God, the Holy and Invisible One on high, will surely rain coals on you, fire and brimstone and a burning wind. Has he not written on your wall this writing...?”
Demonstrating the skipping dance with astounding agility for his age (his feet flying as if he were held up by angels), he performed the old cruciform rhyme just like the expert but unschooled, tatterdemalion children in the streets.
PIN A POSY TO TWO HORNS IN BABELEN;
SECRETS KEPT ARE HEARTHS WELL-SWEPT,
THE LION LEAPS WHERE BABIES CREPT.
PIN A POSY TO
PIN A POSY TO
ALL THE KING’S
MEN ARE IN
WHAT’S MY SECRET?
DON’T DARE ASK IT!
DON’T DARE ASK IT!
By the time Daniyel had quoted and performed all the following verses, the would-be Great Sharru had collapsed on his royal couch, gasping breathlessly, but unable to get a breath while Daniyel appeared to be in the best of health after all his exertions. A chief cupbearer offered the prostrate ruler some restorative. He gulped down the entire cup, then his face grimaced as he felt coals, fire and brimstone, and a burning wind within his bowels.
Daniyel now turned to the revelation of the meaning of the writing on the wall, but he paused to address the king. “Sire, there is a most grave penalty laid on the one who demands the Secret. Whoever asks will surely die.”
The king revived, laughing. “Oh, that is stuff and nonsense. Who in all this world would dare to lay a finger on our royal person? Who? Tell me the meaning at once! At once!”
Daniyel inclined his head, his eyes fixed with sadness on the son of the true king.
“This is the interpretation of the rhymes, beginning with the head of it that begins the judgment with my own language. “‘MENE’--God has numbered your kingdom and finished it. (Twice spoken, the prophecy is quickly accomplished.) ‘TEKEL’--You are weighed in the balances and found wanting. ‘PERES’, the last word, taken from “PARSIN”: There, you are no king of kings; that place belongs to Another! And this kingdom over which you rule falsely and unwisely is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” There was much, much more.
He went on, detailing every event as the verses portrayed them in the two arms of the figure and in the accompanying rhyme-figures of Monster Fish, Rosebud, Sword, Runner, Heavenly City, and Royal Victory Train, letter by letter, in the unknown, new language, up to the concluding “...Victory, victory, dire was the Night; Rejoice, Rejoice, Jerusalem is in sight!”
It was quiet as a tomb though the the palace was crowded with highly educated, sophisticated nobility and four times their number in servants and guards and concubines and eunuchs. Without making a sound, everyone holding a Jewish Temple utensil as a wine cup put it down, feeling as though it had scorched them with coals, fire and brimstone, and burning wind too. The Medes and Persians? Who on earth were they? The Sharru was weighed in the balances and found deficient? And the dark sayings beginning with the letters “D”, “U,” “B,” “E,” “S,” “O,” and “R,” ? What did it mean? Yet no one dared shoot the lip and contradict what the Jew had pronounced upon the king and his kingdom until the His Majesty himself first spoke.
The king’s son struggled to regain his dignity, for something had to be done, and all were looking to him. Strong wine mixed with stimulating herbs and perfumes was brought to him. He reached for the cup, a Jewish Temple utensil, then reared back in alarm. Quickly, another cup--this one of fresh mare’s milk, perfumed--was brought for his burning entrails. He drank, then clutched his belly of fire, once more, had been poured into it. Nevertheless, remembering royal majesty must be maintained or lost forever, he rose to his feet and motioned to his lords and ladies. They did as he commanded. A scarlet robe was brought from his father the king’s own wardrobe and put on Daniyel. A state treasure, a massive gold chain adorned with jewels that once graced the neck of his father’s father, was added to Daniyel’s awards.
“For your wonderful achievement I make you third in the realm, Prince Nir-e-drezzar!” the son of the king managed to proclaim. “No one is greater than you but--er--my exalted father and me.”
That is as far as he got. The giver was suddenly sick in a hastily brought golden bowl from the Jewish Temple service. Servants fell back and screamed as flames immediately smote the foul contents of the sacred vessel with violence. The only authentic king in the room chose to slip away amidst the confusion of the moment.
Daniyel went home, leaving the royal gifts with some sprawled, snoring soldiers at the gate, who had all passed out while throwing purim for the favors of various leftover courtesans who had turned to seducing high rank guards and commanders of the Sharru's bodyguard.
That night the state banquet, such as it was after the shocking judgment Daniyel had uttered, was rudely interrupted. Undetected Mede and Persian forces attacked the city, broke into it by the unlocked, unguarded water gate at the river, and entered the unwatched palace like wolves bounding through a sheepfold. The first to reach him disentangled Nir-e-shaddrezzar from bedclothes in which he was hiding, and slew him on his own couch.
Daniyel? He was gone when soldiers broke into his house. His heart broken within from the realization that he would never live to see his people restored to their land, never live to see the Temple, never live to see good come of this long sojourn and captivity in a foreign land, he decided it was no longer necessary to keep to his house and his long-lapsed, obsolescent court duties. Putting his God-crafted bracelet aside, he clothed himself with a simple woolen robe for use during the day and to serve as his blanket at night. He then took his prayer shawl and a walking stick and, trusting God to provide food and drink, he left all to his servants and walked away.
Like a sword, the realization pierced through his heart as he quit the wide-open city gates, slipping through the rioting and looting bands of victors, for they paid no attention to one old, evidently poor man.
Gaining the safety of the wilderness beyond the Land Wall, he paused to rest and think about his life. It was more cruel than death. What was the point of his loss of manhood, family and posterity, his loss of parents and clan and nation, the much greater loss of the holy Temple, the long, long years of exile from his own country, the faithful service to pagan foreign kings, the prayers, the travail for the Restoration of his people, the nation Israel, Jerusalem the holy city, the Temple his chief joy? What was the point of it all, if it was not to be? Cruel! More cruel than death!
Soldiers, not knowing who the owner was, stripped the only valuable thing left by the servants in the old courtier and wiseman’s bedchamber--the strange, magical bracelet that blinked on and off. “Well done--!” it said, again and again. “Well done--!”? They laughed at it, pounded it on the haft of a sword, then flung it through the window when it still wouldn’t say anything better than “Well done--!”
Lying below in the street, the Zion Jogger’s bracelet shaped like a butterfly continued to blink on and off. Several times people fleeing for their lives from the rampaging troops picked it up, then quickly discarded it. By this means it landed in a garden, out of the way of foot and chariot traffic. It lay there, repeating its message unheeded, but something, after all the knocks and bumps and the loss of its two straps, was happening to it. Slowly, it began to make sense of its situation and gather intelligence that would enable it to take control. Though it had rigid wings, it found the means somehow to raise itself. Ungainly at first, it moved about, running into walls and roofs, falling, then beginning again. Finally, it achieved the power of flight that took it skyward and away from the dying city that was dissolving everywhere in turmoil and flames from wall to wall.
Wally the Pedometer, though considerably reduced in scale and ability (he jerked about inelegantly like a common Skipper butterfly, Polites themistocles) and no longer stuck like a broken plowshare in a furrow, was again consciously on-line, able to move about, physically and mentally!
His first object of business? He couldn’t locate Daniyel, but there was the matter of the Chrysolithos, the stone of gold, of course! Where was the Source of Babelen’s self-seeking indulgence and greed? Where had it gone after precipitating the fall of Babelen?
Wally circled the capital one last time, intending to look for both Daniyel and the star-stone.
“This wicked place will never rise again!” he thought, greatly relieved.
The enemy, composed chiefly of far-ranging, barbarian tribes, was just too disinterested in grand metropolises full of teeming multitudes of people. They meant to destroy every vestige of it. No one would be spared. What fire would not wipe out, the river would. They would no doubt cut the levees and water gates and let the entire site be engulfed and washed downriver. There would be nothing left for any survivors to restore--which was highly unlikely anyway. The returned king would find himself king of the dead, and in despair he would have to go somewhere else and wait for his own death. Babelen the Great was finished! And good riddance to the riverside Whore, the shameless, drunken Harlot of the nations, her lovers clinging like leeches to every leg and arm! Good riddance!”
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