C H R O N I C L E

F O R T Y

A N N O

S T E L L A E

5 9 2 0

P A R T

I I I

7 The Road to Babelen

Vultures circled not only Potiphar’s house but the entire continent of the second Atlantis. An unfeathered variety of stellar bird, the flock positioned itself just out of eyeshot during the day and closed in at night, hovering over the chief cities of Mizraim. Unable to restrain themselves, motivated by the widening destruction brought on by OP’s Atilla the Hun-like scorched earth program, the Atlanteans claimed the miraculously restored island-continent they had once ruled with incredible might and splendor.

Backward in technology, fighting amongst themselves, the human residents would be easy to subdue, and so the Atlantean fleet prepared and fine-tuned re-colonization plans with no doubt they could be attained. The only fly in the ointment, of course, was a certain “Wally,” a strange left-over from some previous era that was forever meddling in human affairs. Once he was dealt with, there would be not one obstacle in the path of the Atlanteans as they set out to rebuild a glorious second Atlantis where they could take up things where they left off. Despite what the commander had thought of him, he was something more than just a nuisance. The generals, reviewing the data on him, at least thought so--though Elektra was not one to change her mind once maide up.

Wally, in turn, was not pleased to find Atlanteans on the gameboard, all of them hankering to play a major role. He decided he would not wait for them to attack him. No, the moment he felt he understood the enemy, he would do something. But what? For that reason, the Hantsbo-NRA records were vital.

While the Atlanteans were pulling their dragnet together to take Earth and Wally boned up on all available information, the “Forbidden Category” was also busy, taking apart OP-generated Hatti, Ken’an, Babelen, and Keftiu.

O windy man, be silent now! Contend no more and humbly bow! Can rushes grow except in mire? You sinned and so thy hurt is dire. The paths of those who forget God are like the green and grassy sod; Before the mower swings his scythe, the heat will smite, the grass will die. --Bildad to Jobab, "Woes of Jobab"

Before dawn an old Shuhite left his tent set apart from the main camp. Taking his staff, he walked along a deliberately torturous, winding path he had hacked through the thickets of thornbush to a solitary place of prayer. Somewhat spotty but torrential rainfalls had lately watered the surrounding desert's yellows and browns, and already grasses robed the southern desert with green and the mountains to the north with a coat of red, blue and gold wildflowers. A large, stealthy animal, stalking its prey in the dark, bounded away at his approach.

Taking no notice of the movement of the retreating lion, Bildad went and knelt down.

Bildad the Prophet

The place knew him well evidently. The kneeling stone was hollowed out and smoothed in a way that would otherwise suggest constant wearing of wind or water. Duke of a numerous people related to Edomites, Bildad might have lived in his walled town seat instead of an outlying, tented village of his half-nomadic tribe. Jobab even preferred life in a town, and so did Zophar and his other friends; yet Bildad, especially since Jobab's testing with life's most bitter fruits, never felt at home in more settled and civilized places. It was only in wilderness that he found he could breathe freely and feel the presence of El Elyon, the Most High God.

In desert and wilderness he was overcome by the fear of the Lord, and he was granted wisdom and understanding of the Lord's marvelous and mysterious ways. In a noisy town it was not so; too many pleasures or distractions, it would seem, required his attention. Then too he was always being sought out, because of his chieftainship and final authority, to settle some dispute or cut through a thorny, legal knot regarding inheritance rights. Leaving the scurry and tittle-tattle of town with no regret, he intrusted its civil affairs with the octogenarian elders at the gate. Free of all encumbrance, Bildad camped in his lonely retreat and felt himself fortunate that he, for one, was happier with less.

As the day sent forth its first rays of light, searching out the darkness of the west, Bildad expressed to God his thankfulness and praise. He paused, a letter from the king of Babelen coming to mind, as it had many times during past weeks. Urgent in tone, delivered by a golden state chariot and a detachment of palace troops, the request was couched in the accents of a royal decree to a subject, tributary people--diplomatically, to Bildad a very serious thing, since the welfare and safety of his own people might be jeopardized by a faulty decision or impulsive rejection.

Pondering the king's letter and what should be his response, Bildad kept the matter in his heart, waiting on the proper time to pray and bring it before the Most High.

This particular morning, however, the quality of the light shining from the east was so sharp and defining, revealing every petal and detail of their pattern of whatever wildflower he looked upon. Illuminated in turn by such flawless clarity, Bildad felt as if life stood still, and a prayer, kept long in his heart, boiled up from the depths of his troubled soul.

"Why should the nations say, 'Where is their God?'" he cried out, astonishing several prowling jackals and flying nightjars that still had not found their dens and nests. Tears spurted from Bildad's deeply-furrowed face and anointed his beard. No more than a moment passed after his outburst of prayer when into his mind's eye flashed an unexpected vision of a golden-crowned woman stretched on a bed of purple cushions. The alluring woman was holding out to him a cup of sparkling honey-beer.

Bildad sighed. He knew Babelen the exceedingly great city too well. Sheltered by immense, encircling walls were temples that, like Babelen's flies, could not be numbered. When he was an untried, susceptible youth, passing through the city's world trade marts on way to Mari and Hauran, Babelite women had proved an irresistible temptation. Each temple was devoted to a different god, served by multitudes of naked eunuch-priests while, in certain lavishly decorated courts of each temple, a horde of prostitutes of both sexes and catamites plied their various trades.

Babelen's showy vanities slowly faded from his view; then came the answer to his own burning question: a searing shaft of light, curving like a scythe, outshining the new day, straight from the hand of the High and Lofty One inhabiting eternity.

Seeing its glory, the holy man prostrated himself. For a time there was utter silence after the passing of the eastward scythe that was bright green as though it had already mown down fields of grass.

Beginning with a murmur, a rumbling sound of ever-increasing turbulence reached the ears of the prostrate man. He raised his head, and then the winds of heaven struck like a runaway caravan of thousands of animals. Gripping the ground with all his might, Bildad was nevertheless blown some feet from his place of prayer and a blast of sand blinded him.

"Our holy God is in the heavens!" the chieftain found himself shouting to the hillocks, rocks, and desert shrubs. "He reaps whatever he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands--"

A sound of someone calling disturbed him. He looked up but saw nothing, and so continued. "--they have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not even make a sound in their throat."

Yet he had heard their chief god, Tareph, uttering impressive, bellowing sounds that carried from the god's moving jaw as far as the Sojourner's Court where he once stood viewing the temple's wonders. As a simple nomad youth lacking wisdom concerning such things, he had not known what to think and was cast into confusion. Now he knew it was a pious fraud of the priesthood's, and Tareph's frightful greetings easy enough to contrive with a fettered bullock set behind the huge, gold-plated idol. Somehow, the same beast that was used to strike terror and fear of Tareph into people did not raise any eyebrows when it was brought afterwards into open view for sacrifice on the altar. Perhaps the people could not imagine how the bull's sounds could be raised and channeled in order to pour forth from Tareph's gilded lips. Or those who were not simple in mind were cynical in heart. They didn’t care in the least--the show of piety was everything.

Yet Babelen, the world's wonder, the chief marvel of man, was served from wall to wall by ingenious pipes and plumbing of fired clay that carried drinking water into the city and sewage out! Though they all knew of such things, the Babelites still persisted in honoring foolish gods!

"Those who make idols are like them; so are all who trust in them," Bildad concluded. He was speaking, not so much to God now but to himself, and he looked out across the forbidding but momentarily blossoming landscape that contained as much death as beauty. To displease a king, particularly Babelen's, was sure annihilation. One thing only he knew for certain: he would not please the king with truthful, unflattering words from the Most High God.

Bildad knew, with heavy heart, the king's matter would not be resolved peacefully. Babelen was not known for humility before the Most High, or fear of Him; she had always been a proud and lofty minded city, ever since Babel the tower to high heaven had been erected. Though unfinished at the time of the confusion of tongues, the people had not repented but raised up heaven on earth--staged temples called Maharere, dedicated to every god but the true Holy One.

Now that Bildad was old and very advanced in years, he had more courage to stand and spit on an abomination, having little fear of what man might do. But somehow the thought of going to Babelen to pray for its king struck fear and foreboding into his heart and made water of his knees.

Bildad threw himself down on the fresh, spring grass and began to weep. "The Dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that do down into silence in Sheol." His words shocked him, though they reached his ears half-choked by his beard as he lay face down on the ground. He wondered at himself. Was he such a fearful man that he had no hope in God's delivering power?

"O Father Bildad!"

Startled from his reverie, the Shuhite rolled over and gazed up into the eyes of a man-servant even older than himself.

"Aha, I found your little hiding place!" the servant cackled, pausing to sneeze violently from the dampness rising from the dew of the morning. "So, master, you would rather stretch your old bones on the bare ground than bed in comfort on the fat bellies and breasts of your loving wives!"

Bildad turned his face away, then slowly rose. He knew there was no turning the old busybody away now that he had come all the way from the camp for him. "What is it, good Elmaah?" he said with a weary voice. "Do my wives wish to hear if I live or die out here?"

Surprisingly frisky for his age, Elmaah did a little jig before he stopped to gasp for breath. "The gods and their consorts be praised! I feel no older now than I was as a beardless goatherd, watching the he-goats and nannies in my father's fold!"

Bildad gazed at his old servant and could read his unspoken thoughts. "Ah, you think me a fool to come here in the damp and cold, seeking the Invisible, when I might lie in bed, sporting with my wives! Is that all you think of, dear Elmaah? There is a time for that, but isn’t there a more solemn charge on us, and dignity in old age, even for a brief morning?"

Elmaah laughed at the hifalutin, unnatural notions of his master. "Did not the gods of heaven and earth favor us, the sons of Esau, with the tireless vigor of goats? Good master, why must you think differently and separate yourself from such good and natural things?"

Bildad had been over this tawdry ground with the old heathen many times before. He sighed and looked away to the west, where the searing flash of pure and holy light had sped to an unknown target. After sending Elmaah back to camp with a word to his wives he would soon return, Bildad lay back down on the ground. After much prayer, he again arose.

Gripping his staff, his knuckles turned white as he faced northwestward, toward the road to Babelen. "If it be Thy will," he groaned, "take this cup of bitterness from me!" Then he turned away from his place of vigil toward his distant tent.

As if alarmed by his pale and disheveled countenance, his womenfolk, followed by Elmaah wagging his head in disappointment, rushed around him when he came up. They cried in remonstrance for his always going off to be the prey of serpents and wild animals, where if anything happened to him no one would know of it.Yet they had acted out this charade so many times, Bildad could only sigh and endure it.

"Look!" cried the wife with sharp eyes and a sharper tongue. "See the green sprigs of grass stuck to the good man's face and beard! That's why he is so afflicted with greenness of face! Surely our lord has brought it upon himself for sleeping out in the open like a wild beast!"

Waving them aside, Bildad went into his tent to take a few bites of bread, for he ate seldom and sparsely, unlike earlier years when rich viands, prepared in the style of the vanished kingdom of Mari, and served on gold and silver vessels, were his chief delight. He snatched up a wife's mirror and put it down again before anyone noticed. His face was, indeed, green as freshly mown grass. That meant one thing. He need not wonder or pray about it any long, the Lord God was sending him to Babelen! He had been given a sure sign.

Bildad comforted himself with the thought that he could stop one last time at Mari for prayer. Mari, a forlorn ruin of a once palatial, queen city, lay far away on the East's main caravan route to Babelen. No one except Bildad and a few wild goats went there anymore. It was his favorite place of vigil and prayer. Few fellow Shuhites ever came and disturbed him in the ruins as they did when he was at home.

Spending much time at Mari, Bildad had begun the practice of putting his thoughts and reflections into singing verse, the kind that flowed so naturally and spontaneously from any son of the Desert. Though he did not call attention to his particular gift, it became known somehow or other, and his people began eliciting his poems on special occasions. His Eastern Desert tribe was known for wisdom poetry and the ability to convey epic stories from one generation to the next. It was quite natural for him to commit his friend Jobab's epic sufferings to verse.

Bildad remembered, however, his callous and harsh treatment of Jobab when he went with Eliphaz the Temanite and Zophar the Naamathite to comfort him after various calamities took away Jobab's family and all his flocks in a single day. Elder Eliphaz, though his wisdom failed Jobab, at least was sympathetic. Bildad cringed whenever he recalled how roughly he himself had handled Jobab, a kingly, righteous man caught in an olive press of unsurpassed pain, afflicted by enormous grief that would have destroyed a lesser man's integrity and caused him to mock and deny God. Yet at the time he accused Jobab of willful, secret sowing of sin under the full and outraged gaze of God. He had risen up before poor Jobab, shaking in indignation.

"That wind that knocked down the house in which your sons and daughters were drinking and feasting was sent by God!" he thundered in Jobab's face. “Now don’t you deny it! You winked your eye at their gluttony and nasty deeds far too long, and this is the fruit of your wanton neglect in disciplining them!" Jobab had protested his innocence, reminding Bildad of his many prayers and offerings, given daily lest there be some unknown fault in his sons and daughters that offended God. To this Bildad had a good answer that was meant to knock him flat on his dung-heap. "Oh, you shameless, old sinner!" he cried, wagging his finger in Jobab's face. "How can you explain that everything you had was taken in a day? Only Almighty God could command a great wind, a fire from heaven, and send Sebaeans and Chaldeans from afar to destroy all you had in this life!"

Joined by Zophar and the others, Bildad had berated Jobab for quite some time, trying to break him into many, cringing pieces. Finally, God had broken silence, calling Eliphaz, Zophar, and himself to task for their unrighteous words concerning Jobab. Amazed and cast into a panic, he had been unable to even think what God meant; it had taken many years, spent in solitary meditation, to work out the implications of God's severe censure.

At the time, it seemed certain God intended to slay the three of them, yet, showing utter grace, he had allowed Jobab to sacrifice seven bulls, seven rams, and pray for them. Until the sacrifice was made, all three had lain on their faces on the dirty ground like common goat-herds, trembling before a roaring pillar of wind which surpassed the Tower of Babel many times and mounted to heaven itself.

In no condition to help themselves, the three lay crying out to God for mercy the whole time and bemoaning their presumption and false constructions. It was a terrible experience that cost Eliphaz, perhaps most of all; for he did not live long after that, poor fellow. And Zophar's rich, black, curly beard streaked with gray overnight and he no longer laughed with his thickly-beringed hands holding his quivering belly. His face had even broken out in curd-like weals, for he was always plucking witlessly at his beard and cheeks until his wives sewed and fitted him with wool gloves.

And even Bildad, flourishing in vigor and manhood in the prime of life, found his fountain dried up and unable to touch any of his wives when he finally returned home. How his wives ridiculed him when they had to be turned away, night after night! "There's one who cannot lift a scythe to mow his own grass!" the coarser-minded laughed behind his back. “Soon, if he isn’t careful, the grass will lie down to another mower!”

It was at Mari the official courier from Babelen, alerted by the king's excellent corps of spies, had found Bildad; and the old chieftain returned home at once, to sit among his own people and sheepfolds and decide the matter. Despite the king's strong injunction against making the letter known, a citified Amorite could not be expected to know how quickly even the most secret, private matters are found out in a community of close relatives, where a continual buzzing went on about other people’s business both day and night. Besides, Bildad’s face was green--and the people were well enough acquainted with prophets to know immediately that whenever that occurred then they could expect something of note to happen.

Bildad's residence was soon besieged by a noisy multitude of eager counselors, of course. And not a few young, beardless upstarts came forth to offer unwelcome advice at odd hours of the day and night. How foolish! Bildad thought, when even the elders imbibed some of the ardor of the hot-blooded, young men. They stoutly declared that the noble and fearless Shuhite people, to a man, would fight and die for him, rather than let him go alone to face a blood-thirsty, Amorite tyrant. "Would it not be more expedient for one man to die instead of a whole people?" he said to all of them.

And his elders, shame-faced, had nodded and slunk away to the city gate, to discuss other, more pacific affairs of goat-husbandry and caravan trade--things they knew more about.

Having made his decision to go, Bildad felt a divine peace steal into his tortured heart and knew he had decided rightly. Taking a few donkeys laden with provisions for the long journey, Bildad waved aside all the objections of his wives and friends and started for Babelen, accompanied only by a few trusted man-servants. Fortunately, he could leave the dirty-tongued Elmaah behind, for he was considered too old to leave the camp, though he was really just too much attached to his goats, tent, and wife.

Bildad was some days resting in Hauran of Padan-aram, The Field of Aram, among the people of Laban and Nahor (Terah’s descendants), who troubled him a great deal for recitations of his Jobab poem. In the area was a town named Ura. But it was not the one that had the great staged-temple, in which shadow Father Terah and his (some thought wayward) son Abram had once camped beside the city wall in the Quarter of Foreign Tribes. Ura the Great was no longer the city it was, of course, but the busy town near Hauran was nothing beside even its namesake in decline.

Resuming his journey, he had just cleared the camps of Hauran, with the city wall and the staged-temple rising beyond, when a courier on horseback galloped toward his little caravan. Veiling his green face, Bildad called a halt and stood waiting, eyeing the rider and the lathered horse. Having grown so old, he was not afraid, and noted the rider's habit as Edomite, closely related to his own Shuhite people as descendants of Esau.

As Eastern custom dictated, the younger man dismounted and, deferring to venerable old age, threw himself down in repeated bows. "The princess, Lady Kezia, begs to meet with you at some convenient point on your journey."

Bildad stared at the man-servant for a moment, stunned. Somehow news of his going reached Jobab's daughter, who resided far to the south in Uz, all in time for her to ready a caravan and intercept him on the high road to Babelen! Yet he must return some answer to her. "Mari will be my next stopping place, where there is plenteous water for my beasts. I will be waiting there for the lady, but I can stay there only three days. Please convey my greetings to the princess."

After more bows, the man took himself off, and Bildad returned to his own unusual business. He knew full well the daughter of Jobab would never catch up with him before Babelen; but he also knew he had delayed long enough. Any longer delay would make the king furious and untreatable with any amount of prayer.

He was astonished when at Mari he had no sooner set up for the night, choosing a grassy and rush-reeded site by the Euphrates, when he sensed the approach of a caravan. Bildad and his men stared in amazement as the splendor and magnitude of the caravan began to make itself visible. Surely a king of most exalted rank was coming! Donkeys by the thousand, armed horsemen, and palanquins for the womenfolk began moving into position before the mounded ruins of Mari. Yet Bildad was somewhat perplexed when he saw the Edomite livery of the gorgeously-dressed footmen. He was able to compose his features for the arrival of Kezia by the time her palanquin was set down before him.

Kezia

The most beautiful and richest woman in the East would not be bowed to first, but got down from her chair, ran and wept tears of joy at Bildad's feet. Greeting him with the happy affection due her own father, Kezia looked him over with wondering eyes that had that rare, pure color captured only by amethysts. He had heard Adam and all his children had eyes of that heavenly color, but it had almost disappeared since the Dawn of Mankind.

"My lord, why are you so sad and green of countenance? And you have grown thin! Are your wives serving you so poorly? I fear for your strength and number of days. Please join me for the evening meal in the pavilion I brought for our meeting and place of prayer!"

Bildad had not seen the woman; he had left Jobab's deathbed when she was a toddling child. Yet there could be no mistake. Her violet-colored eyes and riches were renowned throughout the East, and she had yet chosen no man among all the princes and kings that continually dogged her tents and gratefully ate the dust of her sheepfolds. One suitor, an immigrant Philistine from the coast, had proven most persistent and followed her all the way to Mari. A head taller than the Edomites and made more so by a distinctive, high-ribbed helmet of his kind, the sea-lord now came bowing toward the lady.

The moment Kezia glanced with embarrassment toward the old sage he knew what to do for a daughter of his best friend. He addressed the suitor at once. "We are invited by the king of Babelen to a fete at the palace, O prince! Are you inclined to accompany us there to celebrate Tareph's New Year Festival?"

Philcol paled even behind his fairer, northerner's skin. Everyone knew the Amorite king of Babelen would gladly flay a Philistine newcomer from the coast of Kena'n, however enamored of Tareph, just to exhibit the foreigner's hide to the learned and curious-minded Babelites. With an awkward bow to the princess, the Philistine retired in haste to his chariot, still laden with spurned gifts. In a moment he was a puff of dust on the western road.

Kezia turned to Bildad with a sigh of relief. They talked for a time of where they might meet together, while the caravan set up for the night. "We can talk freely in the ruins, of course," said Bildad. Kezia nodded, for she had hundreds of maid-servants and men-servants, and the walls of her tents held few secrets. Ruined Mari was a dangerous place, alive with jackals and vipers, but at least solitary, avoided by men. So when the camp was at last resting Kezia went out with a single maid-servant to join Bildad. He had gone to pray and meditate in his usual place--the old throne-room of Nikrathah, the last king of Mari.

Roof burnt by the bitumen-filled fire-pans of a king of Babelen, the fifteen-foot- high walls kept out, nevertheless, most of the chill winds of the night, though sand still entered and lay in thick drifts where once hundreds of robed and jeweled courtiers abased themselves before Mari's king. The largest palace in the East had covered many acres. Now its courts, kitchens, store-houses, apartments, walls, towers, and throne-room seemed to shrink at each passing moment beneath sweeping circles of sand. Yet Bildad had heard tales of Mari from his forebears. They had seen it in person when their father, Abram, still resided with his father in the rich-pastured kingdom that included Hauran.

Jobab's daughter, her shoulders protected with only a thin linen from Mizraim, shivered as she came to their rendezvous. A maid stood back by the arched door at the entrance, far enough away to be out of earshot.

How did you know I was on this journey?" Bildad inquired abruptly with an old man's arrow-straight candor.

Kezia's eyes widened for a moment. She paused, just as a wise daughter of Jobab would, considering her response. Her eyes held a look of sympathy and high regard. She reached out and touched Bildad's sleeve. "I had to act quickly, without recourse to the usual ways. The Most High--"

The moment God's majestic Name, El Elyon, was voiced by the princess, Bildad knew everything. "--spoke to you in the night, calling you to this absurd undertaking," offered Bildad.

Kezia looked at him with surprise. The bright moon revealed every detail of her expression, which changed quickly to the warmth of recognition.

Bildad continued. "What, may we inquire, was the Lord's instruction to you? Did he say what you are to do in the city?"

Kezia looked away, toward the deserted dais on which the king of Mari once sat. Now his Peacock Throne reposed in the loot-heaped treasury of the king in Babelen, a clay tablet attached fussily detailing its stock number, gold weight, number and types of jewels, and origin.

"I see," said Bildad after a few moments passed. "But that is often the case. And I know He will make his intentions clearer as you proceed in obedience. Until then you are free, like me, to stumble in thick darkness."

Kezia shared the old man's joke. The eccentricity of the old wiseman humored her, though she knew he was also speaking plain truth. "I also ask your forebearance, " she added, "for I knew I, mere woman, must display a queenly splendor to cultivate respect instead of concubinage from a notorious king."

Having heard of Kezia's personal frugalities, he nodded at her wisdom, though he did not approve of her husbandless bed. “Myself I have taken nothing splendid," he said. "An old man can be forgiven a more humble caravan by a king who has called him only to pray."

The stooping Shuhite and the daughter of Edom moved slowly toward the arched doorway, which had once shone with gilded doors like all those in the palaces of Babelen. Stepping in deep sand, weeds, and rubble, the princess found difficulty walking, and her maid helped her out of the throne room. Together they slipped away into the moon-lit camp nearby.

Bildad stood watched them depart. He then turned and went back to his place of sleepless vigil for the night. Just before dawn the throne-room was empty. Leaving many tears of agony behind but taking a strength he had not had before, Bildad slipped back to camp. He made ready in the gathering light for the last trip to Babelen. As the two caravans slowly joined, Bildad walking somewhat to the side in order to avoid the dust, he had time to reflect on his life journey. His eyes fixed on the road ahead, but his heart was back with his Shuhite kin.

He knew his life was in vain; all his prayers for naught. Slowly and surely, they had slipped further from divine wisdom in all the years he had known them. Like their father, his people were wayward, and though they knew the truth, liked their henna-colored pottage too well. Comfort-loving folk, they put on a wonderful showing at festivals and memorials, but for God there was a half-hearted offering. Few among his people truly sought God or served him whole-heartedly. Precious few! Poor kindly old Elmaah, worshipping the chuckling and belching gods of his belly and procreative powers, was the general rule.

Despite the grief he carried everywhere with him, Bildad kept his eyes fixed toward the east, as the united caravan wended slowly through the Euphrates river plain toward their goal. Though early springtime, with thick, green grass covering all the region, from the mountains to the plains of Babelen, it was still dusty-going on the well-traveled track. And so much dust made for thirst in man and beast, and so they stopped from time to time to take welcome ease on the grassed and reeded banks of the great river. Occasionally fleets of tub-shaped, reed boats and timber rafts floated by, loaded with produce for Babelen's markets. Others of that kind, just as numerous, held armed men, but from shore they could not be distinguished from the usual traffic of farmers' produce and tradesmen.

At one such rest-stop they all watched as a cloud erupted on the horizon, toward the northwest, boiling rapidly down upon them. Even Bildad, who cared nothing for the outside world and its tedious intrigues and power struggles, knew of rumblings in the northwest. Something mighty was astir in the lands of Helech, Tubal and Meshech, even as far as Gamad-Kumidi--the kingdoms and vassals of the rising Hittite star.

He had heard a tale from a passing tradesman. The man told him of the king of Babelen's response. A grotesque effigy of Mursilis, the Hittite emperor, was set up in the throne-room of the king's palace. On it the king's sorcerers and wizards painted curse after curse and all sorts of magic formulae that would surely cause the Hittite to lose teeth and hair and manhood. Would the Gray Wolf of the Hatti Empire be deterred by magical arts, however powerful and pervasive in Babelen? Bildad had wondered. Bildad now had his answer. The plains were presently blanketed with horde after horde of disciplined horsemen and chariot corps, as they poured in waves from far distant mountain passes.

A wave of Hittite shock troops reached the camp of Bildad and Kezia at high noon (though the caravan had missed others). Both stood watching the Hittite vanguard halt at a distance, as Hittite and Edomite peoples considered each other. The army continued to swell, until soon the thousand donkeys of Kezia were swallowed up, a nothing amidst such greater masses of horsemen, chariots, and infantry.

The sealike roar of so great a force became so deafening that Kezia retreated to her tent, hastily erected at her command. Bildad joined her. “Some lord of Hatti is coming,” he said simply. “I wonder what he wants of us. Ordinarily he would just kill us, you know, and take your pretty women for concubines.”

Iron-plated chariots suddenly invested the caravan of Kezia and Bildad, and there was no chance for resistance, they were so overwhelmed in numbers. The sound of marching reached into the confines of Kezia's pavilion. They were generals and field marshals, not the common troops. Marching between strict ranks of soldiery, the generals approached the entrance of Kezia's pavilion. Then they halted, and a chariot with golden wheels approached. Menials quickly spread rare carpets across the ground between the chariot and the pavilion. A man stepped down, paused to study the lavish appointments of the Edomite pavilion, and strode slowly toward the entrance in his heavy, iron-plated armor and golden helmet. The generals prostrated themselves as Mursilis came up. He gave no sign he saw them, motioning to an aide to draw the entrance curtains after pushing aside Kezia's own bodyguards.

When the emperor entered, without attendants to announce him to them, he strode toward the two and smiled with more grimace than greeting. But even without a proper introduction, Bildad and Kezia could not mistake him from his dress and manner and the way everyone fell to the ground as he passed.

Outraged, Kezia neither bowed nor showed any expression of her true feeling. Bildad, being much older, felt himself at less risk than a beautiful, young woman and could freely speak his mind. He would have veiled his startling green face, but he had forgotten. "The lady and I are on way to Babelen, at the request of the king. What, my lord, is your word to him, that we may tender it in person?"

Mursilis's cool, gray eyes regarded Bildad’s odd color. Distracted by the green old man, it was difficult for him not to turn and stare at the incredible beauty by the side of the old man, but he forced his attention onto urgent statecraft instead. "I know who you both are, and the object of your journey. I should take all your goods and people away, and set your skulls on poles like Amorites are fond of doing, but we are civilized peoples in the north of the world and ask only for like behavior from you in response."

Bildad’s snow-white eyebrows lifted on his grass-green brow, for he too was fluent if not lettered in the universal tongue of monarch and merchant--Akkadian. "What favor then can we do in return for your kind visitation, O great king? We are but rude dwellers of tents set amidst hillocks and plains of sand and rock, simple folk accustomed to our sheepfolds. More civilized ways we leave to those who dwell in venerable and cultivated kingdoms such as yours."

The emperor of the northlands eyed them evenly, without a trace of anger. It was all the more frightening for his being so emotionless and contrary to the ways and feelings of Shem's people. "You’ll find I am no fool with time to waste on banter, when I have decided to take a great city and make it a dung-heap. You are going to the aid of that vomit of a bitch-dog in Babelen. Go, then! I myself will give you safe conduct to her gates--that is, if they are still standing when you arrive! I ask only one thing in exchange for your lives: his maiden daughter. She must be taken alive. When the capital falls she would no doubt fall prey and be spoiled by my army, but I have a better use for her. Everything else will be sacked or destroyed. You are most fortunate for me to let you live to do me this small service. The One who spoke to me in the night said not to touch you or do you any harm, lest he withdraw his counsel and the breath from my body."

At the mention of “the One” who spoke to the emperor in the night, Bildad’s eyes narrowed and his mouth opened. The Emperor of Hatti wasted no time on their response, taking it for granted as he turned and strode rapidly from the pavilion. His chariot shot away from the camp, and the earth thundered as the invaders began to move again across the plains toward the southeast.

Bildad and Kezia followed more slowly, finding time to adjust to the shocks of the meeting. They found their accompanying Hittite escorts no inconvenience. In fact, they felt more secure, as they came upon Babelite cities, sacked and burnt, and their treasures still in the process of being loaded into hay wains and led off toward the northwest to enrich the Hittites. Noble cities such as Yibetsor, Shibbar, Tashaqath, and Eshtoleiu, flourishing centers of civilization and learning for centuries, were left smoking piles of rubble in the northerner's wake. These were the same that had lately called upon Mursilis in their struggle to throw off Babelen's control.

As yet no Babelite general had been sent into the field against Mursilis. All fighting men were recalled into the main cities, stationed in the forts instead of being used to resist the pillaging and rapine of the Babelite marches and tributary cities. Mursilis knew his moment to strike was well chosen by his Visitor in the night when he saw all Babelite resistance melt away before his Assyrian-manufactured battering rams and sappers. At the sight of the Babelite collapse, he drove his armies even faster, a flying javelin of iron, straight at the center, the mother city of Babelen. He reached the palm gardens and taverns on the outskirts even as couriers were thronging into her gates to deliver the latest news of Mursilis's lightning progress. It was several weeks, however, before the slower caravan of Bildad and the Edomites could catch him.

They finally saw the city on the horizon, its skyline changed with new, higher towers and temples than Bildad remembered. The walls, too, had been strengthened and raised. He saw chariots driving on them, two and three abreast at a time. Blue, green, red, gold, and other colors, the great, staged-temples rose seemingly to the heavens, their topmost shrines wrapped in clouds of incense and smoke from the sacrifices. Around the city ranged the landward walls like great, golden bands that a god, not men, had built to last forever.

Far-off Mizraim had its glories--the chief among them being the world’s tallest structures, the stone Chrysali, the golden splendor of the royal court, the monumental statuary and ben bens, and the River Ioteru which made a garden for over a thousand miles; yet Mizraim was surpassed in one respect. It could not claim the greatest city. That was Shinar’s boast, that she alone possessed the world metropolis, Babelen the Great.

Though Hittite terror ruled the countryside, it was a different world inside the yellow-bricked walls of Babelen. Business continued very profitably as usual, the market places were well-stocked, thanks to the river that flowed through the city, and the mood was festive. Since it was nearing the time of the New Year Celebration, the rejoicing had going on for three months prior. Major pageants and banquets were enjoyed by thousands of nobles and officials gathered in the capital for the yearly observance of Tareph's great day. Babelen was also full of priests and idols from other cities. They came to do homage to Tareph in the final parade of the king and the priesthoods and images of the whole land to Tareph's gigantic, staged-temple, an event scheduled for the last day of the old and dying year.

Babelen, with walls and deep canals ringing its foundations, was, as it appeared, impregnable. Everyone, from the king on down to the lowest street harlot knew that. No one felt more than slight misgiving at the sudden investing of the city by upstart enemy forces. Babelen's internal forts were bursting with well-armed and trained soldiery and could send out two thousand chariots and 50,000 bowmen and infantry at the king's command, keeping in reserve another l00,000 troops and 4,000 chariots. All her treasure was assuredly safe enough with so much reserve armament; therefore no alarm was sounded within the walls to disturb the preparations of the Festival Parade. Since nothing was said publicly by the king of the siege, only word of mouth brought festival-costumed people out to stand on the parapets to wave and greet the armies of the northerners.

The gay, holiday mood of the city heightened as the day of Tareph's annual nuptials approached. According to traditional ceremony, the grand procession began at the palace. The king, attended by thousands of singing and chanting priests, would lead the procession to the Temple of Tareph, where he ascended the high staircases to the cloud-wrapped top. There a shrine representing heaven's house of the gods held a golden couch on which a beautiful priestess reclined. This year's celebration was especially important to Babelen and its king. The last Festival of Tareph had terminated with a disaster, so shocking the city still talked of it in low tones, lest the king’s spies hear.

It came to pass in this way. He had been climbing the Temple of Tareph as usual with his priests, at the conclusion of the grand parade, and Tareph's liturgy had been performed flawlessly from start to finish by the nine orders of priests. Then a cloud of perhaps a million birds, waterfowl congregated in the delta of the two rivers, appeared over the city. All eyes were astonished by the omen, and hurriedly the chief soothsayers and magicians prepared their addresses to the king concerning the meaning of it.

All Babelen was gathered at the base of the staged-temple, watching the divine king's ascent, and so were spectators of the omen. The king halted the procession, overcome by the noise and confusion of so many birds circling the temple. The heavens reverberated with the beating of countless wings. Even the massed eunuch priests’ choral singing could not be heard. Out of blue sky a bolt of lightning and a thunderclap occurred amidst the airborne congregation. The myriads panicked and, in their terror, shat on the temple.

Horrors! The holy temple of Tareph was defiled! Weeks after the event, crews were still busy cleaning the six stages of the 300-foot-high edifice, laboriously washing and scrubbing all the walls and steps with brushes and river water. The same water, mixed with perfume, could not cleanse the king and the priests. All were afflicted with strange rashes and maladies in their bowels despite the careful incantations of doctors and applications of healing herbs. Months after the event, the king's health declined.

When Bildad and the Edomite caravan reached the outer wall of Babelen and turned toward the Gate of Shibbar, the city’s main entrance, Bildad and Kezia watched the Hittites pull back from attacking the gate with armored rams. Babelite defenders looked down in amazement as the Edomites passed unscathed through the hordes of Hittites and reached the gate without incident. News of the latest arrival of what looked to be Edomite Tareph-worshippers was immediately forwarded to the palace. A high official, chief of intelligence, came to see the caravan's reported splendor for himself. A second, more secret message was sent to the king himself.

Finally, the gates were opened to receive the pilgrims, in full sight of the attacking army, which made no move to take the opportunity to push aside the caravan and burst into the city. The Babelites who saw it attributed the event to Tareph's power--that awe and dread of their supreme god had fallen on the enemy, so that he could do nothing to stop or hinder the Festival. When the amazing story of safe passage for such a large contingent of Tareph-worshippers circulated in the city, the effect was a madness and frenzy. Assured of the god’s invincibility, multitudes surged back and forth in the decorated squares chanting Tareph's praises all the more.

The entire caravan of Bildad and the Edomites passed within the walls and was halted for further instructions by the king's officials. The huge doors of the gate were ordered closed and barred. Despite the rejoicing of the people, the king was not so naive. Suspicious of possible ties with the Hittite, he would not let the Edomites circulate freely as other visitors in the city. And the Hittites continued as before, concentrating their attack on the main gate, Shibbar, despite Babelite arrows and baths of flaming oil and bitumen.

Bildad had been handed a message from Mursilis on their arrival at the gate. "You have one day to deliver the king's daughter into my hands, for after that I shall reap Babelen and cast her entire sheaf down to Sheol in flames. When you see me in city, do not tarry, if you wish to live."

And so Bildad knew a day misspent would cost them greatly, and he waited with impatience for the king's tardy summons to the palace. The ailing king, however, had other concerns. For example, how was he to climb to the top of the staged-temple? The ascent had become impossible for him. Though heavy and powerfully-built he no longer had strength enough in his legs for the climb. He also suffered from an internal putrefaction that jeopardized his role as the divine mate of the love-goddess.

Still considering his dilemma, he lay on the royal couch sighing with pain, one hand holding his side, as he looked out from the terrace commanding a view. The king gazed across the celebrating city toward the smoke-wreathed Tower of Babel. Nearby rose the mount of Tareph. And round these two chief structures incense plumes from a thousand shrines rose into the heavens from all sectors of Babelen. The Euphrates was full of white sails of pleasure-craft bending in the wind. The bridge over the river thronged with citizens passing to and fro, greeting each other with gifts of flowers or wine or sweetmeats. From his vantage, the king was able to see it all, though his pain prevented him from taking any pleasure. Feeling as he did, he was no longer amused by the effigy of Mursilis that stood near his couch, painted with curses from head to toe. How could such a toy amuse him now?

His pride and glory, the might of his power, afforded no delight in his condition. All his magicians and their arts were to no avail. He had called sorcerers from throughout his realm, and even prevailed upon foreign countries to send theirs as well. It was evidence of the king's cunning policy that his illness was a state secret. Few knew of it even at this date. After all, Tareph's incarnation could not betray weakness, particularly at the New Year Fertility Festival.

Bildad was one such foreign sorcerer who had been called. No one had heard the name of the man's singular, untempled god, leastwise in Babelite circles, but no matter. If the man could conjure effectively and heal a king's malady, he would be given a gold chain for his neck and a nice position in the government. His god might even be made into an image and given a temple in Babelen and cult women to serve his adherents. If not successful, well, the nomad and his god were not long for this world. The king had already grown furious with the failure of one famous medium after another. Each was impaled on a stake when he could not produce a healing. Not only did he kill them for magical malpractice, but a dead man could not spread evil rumors about his condition that might incite uprisings in his realm.

For meeting with the latest sorcerer or wizard, the king proceeded from the terrace, supported on the arms of his courtiers. "O King of kings!" one cried out to him, face lit up with traditional court joyfulness despite the unbearable stench of disease that surrounded the king. "I believe he has not yet been officially called to the palace!"

By the king's tell-tale narrowing of the eyes and compression of lips, the Chief Cupbearer knew the king's oversight had become his own and he was sure to be condemned to the stake if he didn’t produce the sorcerer in a very short time. His face ashen, he slipped away to call the sorcerer in question, charging the charioteer to make the greatest haste or it would cost him his head. Not making good progress on foot, a lion-clawed couch was hurriedly brought to the king's aid. Collapsing upon it, he was carried to the roof pavilion, gasping in pain on the cushions. And the effigy was also brought in, according to a royal decree the king himself could not shake, that it be kept in his presence until all the curses be fulfilled.

While the courier and chariot dashed fecklessly through the jammed streets, the royal divan was set in a private summer-parlor high on the upper level of the palace, where the breezes might do him and the royal presence some good.

As the courier and chariot dashed recklessly through the jammed streets toward the Edomite camp, the royal couch was set in a private summer-parlor high on the upper level of the palace. Entertaining musicians were brought, but the king waved them away. He fought off waves of pain that were attacking him through the strong wine he had drunk all that day to dull his pangs.

The charioteer reached the Edomites in record time. Soon Bildad was on his way, by the same dangerous route, to the palace. Several Tareph-celebrants and priests, too drunk to get out of the way, were run down by the horses.

Light entered the semi-dusk of the room through the windows on all sides, filtered through the gilded lattice and fell in a shower of tawny-golden patches across the recumbent monarch. In the quiet that reigned the pain-prostrated king could hear even the slide of a soft slipper across the tiled floor, so he would know in an instant when his visitor had been allowed to enter his private chamber.

Seized at the palace gate, Bildad was hustled up the grand staircases, from floor to floor until they reached the roof gardens. Out of breath, sickened by the mad chariot drive, Bildad tried to recover himself. He soon grew uncomfortably aware there were eyes upon him before his own eyes adjusted to the gloom and could make out the form of the king and his man-sized Hittite doll.

What was that horrible odor? he wondered, his senses reeling. It was like that of a putrefying corpse.

The eyes of the king noted the man's odd, green-painted face, but he said nothing.

Made dizzy by the nauseating reek, Bildad's breath stopped even before he reached the king.

More from weakness and nausea than fear of the king, he prostrated himself.

When he did not rise, the king broke tradition and spoke first. "I know everything about you. May the report be true for your sake, Sorcerer. What is this I hear of your caravan? That you travel like the richest king of the East? Surely you did not gain so much by your trade alone, unless you are the world's greatest charlatan!"

Bildad rose slowly, and half-stooped, for the prostration was difficult for an old man wearied by a long journey to a city he was loath to set foot in. The chariot and the rush up through the palace had only compounded his feebleness. Now he was faced with a sickness so advanced it was all he could do to keep from retching on the patient. Strange even to him, when he did speak, the words flowed effortlessly.

"The lady who accompanied me, a daughter of a friend, is the mistress of the wonderful caravan you mention. I have only a few donkeys and men-servants with me. As for my arts, they are not magical as you call them. I claim no power to produce wonders. I simply pray to El Elyon, God of gods, King of kings, whose throne is set above every power and principality in heaven and earth, and if He chooses you will be healed of the fiery worm consuming your bowels, O king."

Anger flared suddenly in the heavy-lidded royal eyes. "I have heard many foreign magicians come to my city claim much the same things for their gods, though our gods are even more ancient and deserving of homage. As for this woman who accompanied you, she is not safe either, though she come before me impudently green of face like you! But your words afford even more provocation. For how dare you come to me if you cannot first guarantee success and the favor of your uncivilized wilderness-god!"

An ominous fire began to burn in Bildad's eye as well. He viewed an aging libertine lying on his deathbed, yet defiantly self-indulgent and full of the suppurating rottenness of deadly pride, contumacy, and blasphemy. Bildad’s mouth tightened. Then it dropped open suddenly, and unbidden words poured out.

"If your gods had not failed, why then was I asked to come here? Great king, your city, dynasty, and realm are doomed. Together with all your gods they will be mown down like grass with a sharpened scythe. Your crown of gold will be cast into the river by your conqueror. The temples of all your gods will be broken down with the walls and all the city will be razed and committed to the flames. Your soldiers will fall as mown grass, to dung the ground. Your nobles, and all the fair women of high birth, will be stripped of fine clothes and made to ride out of the city in dung carts. Yet God will pluck for himself a topmost twig and a bottom branch, and all the rest of your tree will be cast into the fires of Sheol to burn forever. All this will come upon you, whether I live or die. You cannot frighten me with death and Sheol, for I am already a ruined, old man. I have come to you at my God's behest, not yours. But if the One, True, Living God should see fit to grant you healing this day, allow one request, O king."

At this point, Bildad was not raving, he was speaking so softly he could scarcely be heard.

The king’s countenance seemed to pale during Bildad’s declaration, but the royal will was still strong and he recovered, especially when he saw the sorcerer break down and beg a favor. "Green Face, I would give you half my kingdom, though you presume to scorn it with mad fancies concerning this god of yours. What else is it you want? It will cost me nothing, for I perceive you are a garrulous fool and a dead man to spout so freely of an unknown, untempled god to me in this manner."

"Your daughter--the topmost twig--is the price I exact for your healing."

A sound came from the couch, more like a beast's roar than a human gasp. "I will slay you on a pole set in a dung heap, but first my chief butcher will cut off your ears and nose and flay every bit of your lovely, green skin before your living eyes, if I am not healed of this foul misery. But if I am, you surely have your reward, even the princess royal. Is she to be your wife or concubine?"

Somewhat unnerved by the king’s ferocity and the references what would happen to him if his healing failed to come to pass, Bildad turned away from the king. He tottered to a spot a few feet distant and knelt. Moments passed, disturbed only by the king's hoarse and impatient breathing and great sighs of pain that he could not longer suppress for the sake of his royal dignity.

Bildad finally began to pray. There was no such thing as silent prayer in those times, just as there was no such thing as silent reading. The king could not understand a word of the uncouth Shuhite tongue, nor did he care to know the meaning of the word, Elyon, that kept recurring in the old man's prayer again and again. Going over to Tareph-chaphiru-niatsu, Bildad forced himself to put out his hand (also shocking-green) and the dying king was so desperate he suffered himself to be touched by something that reminded him more of grass and herb than human flesh. Normally, he would not have endured it a moment and Bildad would have been cast to lions in a pit for his offense. Bildad pronounced the king's healing when as yet there was no sign.

The king stirred under the trembling hand of the old Shuhite sage. He opened and shut his eyes several times, sighed, and continued to sigh before sinking back upon the couch. In a few moments the king's eyes closed and he was soundly asleep. He no longer breathed hoarsely and labored but with the full, measured inhalations of a healthy beast of the field. The air cleared and sweetened.

Taking assurance from the signs that were only now apparent, Bildad staggered away to a spot by a wall, and slowly sank down. He waited for some time, but the king's breathing told him he still slept. Several times Bildad heard the whisper of slippers in the gloom of the far end of the room, but no one dared to come close in unless called. Keen of hearing, Bildad also detected surreptitious movements in certain blue-glazed tiles covering the abutting palace wall. Evidently, many eyes were fixed upon the scene. The day was drawing to a close, for the light through the windows was ebbing. Bildad began to pray for an end to his vigil and ordeal with the king who would never repent and kept a man-sized mockery of God’s avenger by his side.

The answer to his prayer was not long in coming. Catapults had finally found their mark, for suddenly the windows along that side of the palace were showered with bricks torn from the walls of Babelen. The old prophet was fortunate to escape the worst, as the lattices in the windows were suddenly struck out along one side and rubble flew into the room. It bounded and crashed across the mosaic floor toward the king's Mizraimite couch.

The Babelite was on his feet, springing to the floor in a movement that was effortless grace, shaking himself all over. Already, the air was filling with the clamor of war.

Bildad stood and waited for the king's command. It was not long in coming, for the king felt renewed strength. With it came back the old will to rule and subdue his enemies. Gazing at the effrontery of the rubble strewn on his palace floor, the king took several steps toward the door. He would have gone out except that Bildad impulsively called.

Annoyed, the king turned slightly as Bildad spoke. "You promised the Royal Princess!"

The revived king laughed. "You and your color are most amusing, for an old straw of a man. I should keep you on as court jester, except that your words are too impudent and your countenance displeasingly sour and solemn. As for a promise, I know nothing of it. It was not written down in the official record. Therefore, I have no knowledge of it. Then you know too much about me. You looked upon me in my weakness. So I think you should die. Only it will not be the usual way. I will decide later how you die, for I cannot deny you have uncommon powers for a sorcerer."

The king went out, intending to order a fierce counter-attack with his own catapults. Though he had filled the entire palace nursery with feeble minded sons, he had plenty generals, willing and able to do what his sons could not. As for the dynasty? Healed by Tareph (for he refused to credit an unknown desert god), he felt so assured of his royal might and power once again he did not doubt he would yet engender a hundred sons worthy of his imperishable name and glory.

Bildad's eyes were moist as he considered the outcome of the king's treachery and deceit. Not so much did he weep for his life but Kezia's and all her faithful people who had come knowing the danger of approaching this most wicked Amorite. As he stood in the room wondering what to do, the brick walls continued to resound (though thirty feet thick) with the bombardment of Mursilis's catapults. It was difficult to tell what was louder, the catapults or the booming of rams striking the brass gates in the outer, city walls. Both onslaughts reverberated through the metropolis. Yet the immense hum of Babelen continued unabated. A ceaseless churning of wheels, countless footfalls, bawls of sacrificial animals, and noise of buying and selling and revelry.

Bildad did not have long to consider his options. Soldiers from the palace guard found him praying. Though at first superstitiously hesitant to touch the green magician who had magically restored the king to life and health, they summoned their courage. All were deathly afraid of what that same king would do to them if they failed his order. Bildad was dragged straight to the king's prison to wait his death sentence while the king concerned himself with holding fast at the Shibbar Gate.

8 The King and the Prophetess

Wally tried to answer every question Uwe Hantsbo asked in an initial Atlantean brainstorming session. Most were quite thoughtful. Some downright wacky or off the wall--perhaps, consciously so, a technique for preserving his own sanity on a subject with definite nasty overtones? The list went on to include over a thousand queries, all ranging over a wide spectrum:

How are the Atlantean starships powered? What are their propulsion and guidance systems? How were their cities, country, government organized? How did their institutions change after they were forced off Earth? What is their concept of God? Are they atheist? Do they prefer eggs fried sunny-side up or medium or hard-boiled? Are they polytheist? Hedonist? Atomist-Epicurean? Are they purely materialistic in view? How do they view common humanity?

What is its value in their eyes? Do they assumed they are vastly superior to Homo sapiens? What is the Atlantean species? Are they an ancient “Master Race” like the Aryans of the ancient Vedas?

Who or what class performs the menial tasks? Are their servants captured humans, terrorized or manipulated into submission? They have robotics--why should they bother enslaving anybody? What brands of toothpaste do they use? Why do they live so long?

What is their means of virtual immortality? Peanut butter cups? How can they be killed? Can they actually move from body to body?

How do they grow new bodies--which they seem capable of doing? Why do they dote on theriomorphic features? They evidence an almost morbid fascination with animalia--why?

What is the aesthetic appeal of looking like hawks, jackals, crocodiles, wolves, and such? Didn’t their mommies and daddies ever take them to the zoo and so they had to over-compensate? At the same time, why do they dress as they do?

Why do they maintain the same rigid dress code, century after century? Don’t they know they look like Madame Tussard museum fossils? They seem to seek empowerment, any way they can achieve it--what does that say about their main drives as a species? Strength, dominion, adulation by inferiors, amusements (usually animal-derived)--these are main drives of Atlantean society.

They are also vampires--particularly in the ruling classes--why? Haven’t they ever read “How to Make Friends and Influence People”? How did they get that way? Where they vampires originally, or is their vampirism a sign of their extreme decadence? How do the Atlanteans view themselves after their homeland was destroyed so catastrophically?

Why don’t they see themselves washed-up as a species--no longer part of the working plan? What, in their estimation, caused their overthrow? Was the cause purely natural? Since they seem to believe in no divine power, how do they explain away...?

Such were only a few of Hantsbo’s delvings. As Wally reviewed the checklist and puzzled over items such as peanut butter cups and Madame Tussard, , the noose was drawn tight for Babelen and its king by the very divine power the Atlanteans denied so categorically.

Feeling a growing urgency, Kezia paced back and forth in the gilded cage of her pavilion. Disturbed by the increasing success of the Hittite onslaught at Shibbar, the palace guards were distracted at their posts, and kept looking at the crumbling parapets and the buckling of the brass doors nearest them. Everyone could see the doors were being slowly torn from their hinges, the massive metal pins slowly wrenched out from deep in the brick. Kezia finally knew what she must do, and alerted her own people secretly. They too were waiting for her command and knew their functions. A stealthy, cunning people of tough will and brave disposition, they would do anything for Kezia, and gladly give their lives for her.

The Babelite guards were overcome with goatskin thrown over their heads while other hands expertly trussed the men with tight fetters that could hold any strong animal. Wearing distinctive Edomite garb (Mursilis guaranteed safe-conduct to Bildad and Kezia and all Edomites as long as they dressed as such and did not wear the red face paint of Tareph), Kezia and her attendants slipped out into the midst of the holiday crowds that passed near the camp. Kezia took only a maid and went ahead of her people, who followed in a way no one would think unusual.

The palace, however, was bristling with troops newly posted by the king. She saw at a glance it would be impossible to penetrate, and would have despaired if a thought had not struck her unexpectedly.d

Go to the Hill of Dung!

She paused. What? she wondered, startled. The city’s foundation was absolutely level. It had no hills, nor were any visible for many day-journeys.

Go to the Hill of Dung!

The imperative was so strong and clear she knew she had heard rightly, but what did it mean? She glanced about at the towering palaces, towers, armories, tenements, and walls. The only things that exceeded them in height were the staged-temples, called mountains by the people and priests of Babelen. Of course! she thought. Temples must be meant, but which one? Which one? There were hundreds in Babelen. Quickly, she thought it must be the chief temple--which was even now looming over her and the crowds pouring down the god Tareph’s street of procession.

“That is a dung-hill in God’s sight?!” she thought, her eyes widening. Gloriously painted, reaching to the very stars in appearance, thronged with priests and worshippers, banners flying everywhere from its ramparts, the Temple of Tareph was, in the eyes of the Most High, not splendid at all but a reeking heap of dung!

Letting her attempt at the palace go, Kezia obeyed the command from the Most High, if that was what it was. Nevertheless, her decision seemed contrary to her plans. The princess was swept completely away from the palace toward the object of all the city's attention: the Temple Mount of Tareph. Even as she turned that way, the city's roaring increased around her as news spread that the grand procession had begun. The divine priest-king with his face painted Tareph's sacred scarlet had left the palace!

Then she realized that the direction given her could possibly mean a fatal meeting with the king. Kezia resolved to continue, regardless of the cost. She had to find out the fate of Bildad, whether he lived or had been slain. The deeper the shadow of the temple mount fell upon them, the crowds around her were so impassioned with adulation of Tareph and the divine king that she was lifted off her feet in terrific surges of festival-maddened humanity, their faces all glaring with the same red paint.

Suddenly, her maid Ma'at drew back from her. "Your face, my Lady! Your face!"

Not knowing what she meant, Kezia fought to keep the hand of her maid, who made a mistake and stepped back in horror. In a moment she was torn away from Kezia. Her maid's screams reached Kezia's ears, and she saw the girl disappear in the crowd. Screaming to her maid, Kezia tried to go to her aid, but the multitude moved in only one direction, templeward. Despite Kezia's efforts, the crowd carried her remorselessly forward to the god's seat.

"What's the fuss about, pretty lady?" a wine-soaked, crimson-faced man laughed as he and Kezia were shoved and pressed cheek-to-cheek. "My, except for that strange color you painted yourself for the Festival, you might be lovelier than the love-goddess on the Temple mount ."

"I did not paint my face!"

She pushed at him, and he laughed. He tried to lay hold on her, but the jostling that brought them momentarily together just as quickly wrenched them apart.

It was long before the crowds around Kezia reached the temple. By this time the king had mounted the staircases. Something--not part of the Festival--now made its first impact felt. The holiday crowds did not realize what was happening when the parade, instead of continuing in general rejoicing and merriment began to break apart in confusion. Fighting broke out on the edges of the Sacred Temple Enclosure. Quickly, rumors spread through the dismayed, milling multitudes. Barbarian Hittites! In the City? The river walls have been breached?

In truth, the walls still stood fast, for the Hittites could employ no battering rams and sappers along the muddy river banks and canal-moats. Yet their armada of boats and rafts, filled with soldiery, had completed its mission. They had reached Babelen at the appointed time, slipping in to catch the city unawares at the height of the Festival. Scaling the lower walls along the river, even climbing up to use the bridge (whose drawbridges had not been drawn at the king’s order), thousands entered the city and began to attack with spears, iron swords, and flaming torches of Babelite bitumen.

Babelen's main force, diverted by the major thrust at the Shibbar Gate, was too far off to even know what had happened. The enemy was at the walls of the Temple of Tareph before the temple gates could be shut. Both Babelites and attacking Hittites surged into the enclosure. The sacred square in front of the temple staircase was soon littered with hundreds of the slain, and the city began filling for the first time with sounds of woe and alarm instead of merriment and joy.

The king, returning from his love-tryst at the top of the mountain of brick learned what had happened from a bleeding general who managed to escape the carnage below. It was no time for court ceremony and the general gave his report without first prostrating himself. Rushed into a chariot, the king tried to reach his palace but was stopped by enemy forces breaking through at the Shibbar Gate. He forsook chariot and palace and fled on foot, disappearing into a small temple that had access to a private tunnel. In close pursuit, Hittites surrounded the temple and yet the wily king and his escape hatch could not be found.

Meanwhile, in the confusion and disorder, Kezia found her way to the staircase and began to climb. So large a city required considerable time to subdue and destroy. The entire ring of inner forts still resisted the invaders. Mursilis was hard-pressed to keep his advantage and foot-hold in the city, while his main forces were still outside the walls. Confusion, fortunately for him, reigned in the city. The crowds madly, drunkenly dashing one way and then another, impeded all the king's defenses and strategy. His commanders despaired amidst the mayhem the wild and hysterical crowds were making of their plans. Before long the Wolf of Hatti was himself able to enter Babelen, to command his armies in person. The palace fell. The emperor's throne was set where the king's lay smashed by heavy, iron mallets. Orders were given to find the king, to take him alive if possible. Mursilis wanted the keen pleasure of putting his heel on the king's neck. To music, his family, chief officials, and generals would be put to death as he looked on, and then his eyes would be burnt out with red-hot pokers. Later the king would be transported in a cage to Hattatus to amuse the queen and royal court.

Meanwhile, Kezia felt compelled to climb the staircases of Tareph's mountain. Hundreds of priests scrambled up the edifice with her, seeking escape from a foe that spared no one, priestly or profane, nobleman or slave. Afraid for her own people now lost in the chaos, Kezia wept as she climbed.

While still on the first stage, the word, "V'emoth-rapshi," seared like a thunderbolt across her mind's eye.

"Terrors are fallen!" she thought, soon after she spoke the word of on the first stage.

She ascended to the second stage; from there she had a much broader view of fallen Babelen. Its greatness and noble construction was apparent to her as never before.

Another word, "Pallatsuth," came. She spoke it wonderingly. Indeed, Babelen was being filled with "horror."

How could such a mightily-built and defended city ever fall? Yet it was happening before her eyes. Gasping for breath, she paused in reaching the third stage. The cries of the slain in the city squares were reaching up to heaven itself, but the slaughter went on unabated.

"Violence" or "Chamas," was the next word that came to mind.

At the fourth stage she was lifted up to see the general conflagration that was being set by the firepans and torches of the enemy. At all points of the walls and in every sector on both sides of the river, fires erupted and raced inward in waves to engulf the city. Babelen the Great was mortally stricken.

"Maveth"--"of death"--was the word and meaning of the word that came.

Wondering at the words, Kezia continued the ascent, beseeching the Lord God to direct her toward his mysterious objective. She could see the shrine at the top, where the kings of Babelen couched with priestesses.

"Haveth," or "wickedness," was the fifth word.

She caught sight of the golden pavilion. The ritually naked priests around her kept pushing and shoving one another as they sought to escape death. Though exhausted by the steep staircase, she continued to climb. It was the last stage, and the sixth word came in a gentle, soft whisper in the deep recesses of her mind and soul: "Yeredu," "Let Them Go Down."

It was more a sigh of grief than a word.

How many words had the Lord sent to this city before these? the Edomite princess wondered. Surely these are not the first! she thought. Have they not been warned of this calamity?

She now stood on the platform that held the gold image of Tareph in a gold-sheeted pavilion. The shrine was all but smothered in tangled bodies of priests, who fought to gain entrance and supposed safety at the feet of the god. Nearest the image of Tareph a desperate mob of priests bowed forward on bent knees and frantically snapped fingers, imploring the god's attention. A man, thick-bearded and royally dressed, with the customary Festival face-paint covering his features, stepped over to her as she stood observing the fear-maddened priests.

Kezia's eyes narrowed with shock as she realized the imposing man who stood in front of her could be the one she was seeking.

"Only one other was painted so singularly as you are," the monarch said to her before she could think what to say. “Are you the impudent old sorcerer’s concubine or daughter, perhaps?”

Kezia thought his remark not worth answering when the entire city before her was perishing. Though she had intended to ask first about Bildad, she heard herself saying something very different.

"I will not bow to you, O king, now I have seen your palaces and all your poor, huddling in the shadows of the great buildings! Do you not know the Lord God loves righteousness and hates wickedness? Are you so blinded with your might and power that you can safely forsake pity and care of the poor and oppressed? Surely you have brought all this evil upon yourself!"

He laughed with his head thrown back. "You are peculiar people, to come here with the hue of mown grass painted upon your faces and speak pious platitudes to us of judgment. We of Babelen are a sacred, most ancient people, devoted to Lord Tareph. We have always observed the gods’ rituals to the letter, so it is not because of any sin or defect in our religion that this has happened. Rather, wicked sorcerers in foreign lands have cast an evil spell upon us! Perhaps, I shouldn’t have killed them and instead sent the liars all away with rich gifts. Then they wouldn’t have spewed a pox on my kingdom with their dying breaths."

Kezia was bewildered and felt of her cheeks. Her face was like grass? She thought the king mad. There was no time for her to think about facial color. Darkness was falling rapidly for all the cities of the plain of Shinar. Kezia looked away, beyond the desperate but proud king to the smoldering embers of half a noble kingdom. On the temple mount itself, it was becoming hard to find breath any more, due to all the smoke and fire. She saw Hittites troops running along the tops of all the city walls, throwing the sentries of the king off into the moats, for they were the last vestiges of Babelite control. She now recalled her first concern.

"What have you done with my friend? I speak of the old man who endangered his life to come and pray for your healing?"

The king would have liked to forget the silly, oddly-painted magician in the press of his troubles.

"He is in prison. I had no time to deal with his case, so I left him there."

"Release him then!"

The king over-looked her presumption and shrugged. He looked out again at the city. It was fast disappearing from view in smoke and fire. Slowly, he removed his signet ring--a glistening seal-stone of jet, black as his curled, perfumed beard and his cold, pitiless eyes. "I do not wish the enemy to have this, so take it. Use it to release your miserable friend if you like. But give your word you will throw it, with my crown, into the river. I will die, but they shall not use my royal insigne to mock my name in the land I and my fathers have ruled."

As Kezia looked on with shock, the king handed her his royal ring and crown, which he had wrapped in a cloth.

"I will remain here. There is no point in trying to escape, though I know the secret passageway. Now go to your old friend, or the barbarians will slay you too with all these silly priests."

The king turned aside and crouched down. A certain large paving brick came loose as he pressed it with his foot on one side. He pulled it out and beneath was a pull rope. He gave it a yank and suddenly an entire section of the platform moved aside in front of them, revealing steps that led downward. into the black heart of the staged-mountain. Without waiting for her to speak, the king suddenly thrust her down inside and pulled the brick roof back over the door and staircase.

After the bricks slid and grated back over her head, Kezia felt as though she were descending into the depths of Sheol itself. The royal diadem was such an encumbrance she would have let it drop long before she reached the passageway at the bottom if she had not felt the prompting, divine and unmistakable, to do as the king directed. Out of spite for the victorious enemy, the king let her use the tunnel to preserve his royal things. As for her people, she could only pray that such a compassionate Lord God as brought them to Babelen would also work their deliverance.

Kezia found her way, though it was very difficult and dangerous without a torch. She came out through a door in a storage room holding honey-beer, deep in the maze of dungeons and guardrooms beneath the palace. The first Hittite she met almost dropped his spear in surprise, but he was not ignorant of her identity. "You are the goddess our king of kings has given safe conduct! Your slaves are preserved, all that we found in the streets dressed as you, O Lady!"

The soldier led her to Bildad, and he was freed, half-alive.

The emperor of the northern wolves crossed paths with Kezia and Bildad just as they were leaving the palace by the main entrance. Kezia alone stood facing the emperor when he strode up, for her old friend was in a pitiful state.

Mursilis's cold eyes quickly took in the strangely-hued wards of his army and also noted the old man's sorry condition. He turned and spat on a gilded statue of the king. "See how the cowardly Dog of Babelen requites his noble guests! He paints them green and throws them in a pit! You would sooner find a civilized reception in a peasant’s hut than here. Are you not disappointed in the aid you furnished the infamous creature? See how he has abused you for your ministrations!"

Kezia edged closer to Bildad. She still had the Crown of Babelen and signet ring tied in a ball of cloth inside her robes.

The emperor's eyes gleamed suddenly with suspicion. "We found the king of this gilded dung-heap," he remarked dryly. "You were seen climbing to the top. Afterwards, you disappeared as if you had wings. Was the king's passageway difficult for you to negotiate in the dark, or were torches provided by handsome priestlings?"

Kezia would not reply, and so the emperor shrugged.

"You might tell me the king's last words. Did he speak of me and my great victory? We found the miscarried dog dead by his own hand. Was he crying out for mercy or descrying his foul sins? I have heard your old friend speaks of a god of mercy and forgiveness. Was the king converted to your Way in his final agony?"

Despite indignant words concerning the Babelite’s mistreatment of guests, the Wolf’s true animus was now exposed. His mocking words brought still no response, and he started to go. "I have no time for bantering with women and old men. Take the king's daughter with you from this city. I have given orders to deliver her to your safe-keeping. A military camp is no place for her, and I cannot guarantee when I will be free to return to Hatti. I want her, inviolate, for diplomatic uses. When she arrives at your tents, you are to leave at once. My ambassador is waiting to meet you in Hauran."

The emperor walked away with his generals close on his heels, then paused. "You desert goat-herders are not the only ones who hear from this god of yours! I have obeyed his word to me. Your god spoke to me in the night back in my palace in Hattusus. He promised me this impregnable city, and so I came and took it as he instructed me. I attacked the Shibbar Gate while coming into the city by the river instead of the point I had first chosen. Shibbar distracted them, as you may already know, just enough for me to breech the defenses where they least expected attack. And one more thing. As you go take a look at the statue in the king’s park before the palace. See the image I have erected to his glory.”

Mursilis left the Bildad and Kezia staring after him. When they realized they were free to go, Kezia whispered a few words to Bildad, and then they turned first toward the park Mursilis mentioned. They could not miss his addition to the park. He had taken the effigy the Babelites had made of himself and knocked off its head. In its place was a genuine head, the Babelite monarch’s.

“His head too will be taken off,” remarked the Shuhite. “His brother Hantilis will do the deed after he returns to his city in triumph and sacrifices to his vain gods.”

Kezia gave him an astonished look. “Then surely you need to warn him!”

Bildad looked away. “No, I knew he would not listen. He would think I was only saying it to gain some favor of a king. Besides, he never ceased to be our adversary. He only needed to keep us alive in order to serve his own purpose. Otherwise, he would have slain us at first sight.”

“But why? We and our peoples are no threat to his!”

“No, but we are free, and he hates encountering people who are not under his power. He hates them so much he would kill them all if it were not inconvenient.”

It was not often they met any chariots on the way to the river. Only foot soldiers could pass in the body-choked alleys and streets. Surprising them as they neared the river, a royal palace faced with rose-red tile rang out with laughter and music, as if Festival were still the order of the day. High-walled and stoutly-gated, the queen's palace carried on in the style of wealth and privilege of the vanished kingdom while the city and its suburbs were methodically destroyed. Hundreds of high-born men and women continued their festival-making. Celebration was even more gay and light-hearted since they all knew it would be the last.

Bildad and Kezia, amazed at the sight, would have continued past except that the gate of the palace unexpectedly opened. The chief power of the throne, Queen Yamiqu, dressed in royal robes and gold necklace and diadem, flew out into the street with a wine goblet still in her hand, hotly pursued by a favorite courtier. The man and the woman were so intent on their play that they seemed not to notice the Hittite soldier who stopped to stare at them.

The Hittite was quick to seize the opportunity. He ran for the opened gate. Though her lover ran off, the queen fixed her attention on the Hittite. Arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, she held a golden cup out to the approaching soldier. She took several, mincing steps toward him. In the light of the burning city his young, beardless face registered surprise, then interest. The woman continued to mince flauntingly toward him, her golden cup held out. When he did not move to slay her, she laughed, looking backwards as she slowly strolled back to the gate. The Hittite hesitated, then followed her as if she had enchanted him. The two disappeared inside the palace gate, which banged shut, and the palace continued with its revelry.

While Bildad and Kezia stood and stared after the woman and the soldier, Mursilis arrived in a hurry with a bodyguard of expert bowmen, all mounted on horses. "What are they doing here?" Mursilis shouted at the sight of the green-faced. “They should be at the wall, in their camp waiting for the princess to be delivered!” He was too busy to wait for their answer. As he barked orders to his men, Bildad and Kezia, behind the cover of the Wolf’s own troops, slipped away into the night, completed their mission at the river, and passed by the summer palace.

It was now torched and a multitude of noble men and women were being led out by soldiers into the street. It was characteristic of the Wolf of Hatti that they did not get out of the Queen's palace and city with dignity intact. Though he suffered the Babelites to buy their freedom with enormous ransoms, Queen Yamiqu was one of those Mursilis forced to later exit the city by the Dung Gate. With his troops and generals drawn up for the show, he would parade the queen and his aristocratic captives, not in gold and ivory chariots of their class but dung-carts still redolent and spattered with their trade. Trumpets blowing, the cavalcade of doom and derision would slowly turn from the gloating wolf and be allowed to depart the ruined city as Hittites jeered. Without even stopping to seek out her daughter, the queen would flee for refuge to the half-civilized Kassite kingdom east of Babelen, a Babelite ally with no love for the Hittite.

Still a long way from their camp at the Shibbar Gate, Kezia and Bildad stopped to rest. Bildad, having no strength to continue, was for separating from his friend's daughter. "Go, and get out of this horror while you can! I am an old man, and it is my time, so go!"

Kezia, the hems of her garments stained with blood and scorched black, wept and could not reply. They might have sat longer except passing Edomites, frantically searching all the city, stopped to investigate the lone pair. In the glare of the flaming city the livid-green hue of Bildad and Kezia's faces was plainly discernible to their countrymen. They were appalled by their changed and terrible appearance. While the pair were being helped to the camp, a Hittite dragged a woman out of a tiny hut with its roof blazing. He tore the young woman's clothes off while a boy in rags struck futilely at him. Annoyed, the Hittite let loose of the woman and drew his sword to cut down the boy.

Kezia cried out. A brave Edomite tried to catch the swordfall with his dagger and was hewn instead. The boy leaped aside, and the Hittite, with one Edomite to his credit, went down under an avenging flurry of dagger thrusts on all sides. Wrapped in Edomite robes, the mother and boy passed safely to the Edomite camp beside the wide open ruins of the Shibbar Gate.

9 Angel of Death

“Just what lengths are these refugees from Atlantis prepared to go to reinstate themselves here in all their former pomp and circumstance?”

That was Wally’s prime question.

To collect data for the answer he took the risk of stirring the hornet nest with a close flyby.

The risk was real. He knew that if he showed too great an interest in them, they would probably react with over-kill. All Earth could suffer the consequences. But if there was no big resistance, they might just seek to slip in unobtrusively and set up shop. After all, after wandering half the Universe and being violently thrown out of their last colony, they weren’t exactly in pristine shape.

Keeping in mind their touchy psychologies, Wally made a wide orbit of the starfleet. He observed all he could without alerting them--far as he could tell.

It wasn’t supposed to happen while he was observing, but the old baron’s Anomaly principle was struck dead in the water when he saw sudden flashes of dazzling blue light--objects leaving the commander’s flagship and heading to various outlying craft. Instantly, he knew the delegation of her powers was an established fact--for her powers, in tangible form, were these flying crystals or power prisms. The transfer took only a few seconds, each prism vanishing into an open bay which, a moment later, snapped shut.

Horsemen in pairs passed by the Edomite caravan on the road, speeding to major cities and capitals, not only in the Hittite empire but to kings in Assyria, Ken’an, Mizraim and Keftiu. No one ever knew who had sent them; they went out and as soon as they delivered the dread announcement, they disappeared. "Fallen is the god Tareph, fallen is his city Babelen!" was their report, and shock spread round the world, from the Caucasus to the Gulf of Ura, from Melulha to Kush, and even the high-prowed galleys of Tartessus turned back in dismay, their cargo no longer needed.

And Tyre and other trade-cities languished, having no use for so much treasure and pomp as Babelen could afford to order year after year--heaps of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen of Mizraim's looms and purple-dyed textiles, which with incense and perfume were enough to keep a thousand caravans scurrying along a thousand roads. Watchmen in towers of walled cities and fortresses all over the East were anxiously awaiting news of the outcome of the Hittite invasion; and the horsemen's message of Babelen's doom was quickly spread, provoking great joy in Hatti but grief among all the world's merchant classes who traded in her market places.

Bildad and Kezia’s caravan, therefore, could bring no news when it finally reached its destination, for everyone would have already heard and discussed the topic and all its implications. Traveling slowly, pausing to rest along the Euphrates, the caravan had need of slow healing that only time can bring. The caravan’s stock of Balm of Gilead was applied, but there was not enough and they soon ran out. Despite the privilege of safe conduct, some of the men-servants had been mistaken in the fray for Babelites and been struck down, so there was the grief of the relatives in the camp. Others had suffered from the collapse of buildings into the streets, and been pulled from the flaming debris, burned horribly. Their shrieking cries, as they lay in camp, was a daily remembrance of the dying agony of the proud city.

Changed to a color that provoked much comment and superstitious awe, Kezia and Bildad had not escaped unscathed. Suffering the shock and hurt of imprisonment, Bildad was much less than he had gone forth from his Shuhite camp. And the lady of Edom had never before seen such horrors as she witnessed in Babelen, so that her sleeping hours were few and tormented. The caravan, which had begun in a splendid fashion, was barely able to limp back home, full of grief and pain.

The Royal Princess Midam was one who despaired of life. She lacked any assurance from her gods, now that they had been cast into dung-heaps by a Hittite barbarian, and a monstrous foreign storm-god set up in the ruined Temple of Tareph. And her mother and father had disappeared, with reports that they had been killed or taken captive. Ignorant of her parents' fates, but having seen the siege towers on the city walls and finally the palace taken by barbarians, she feared the worst and had no desire to survive them.

Kezia, observing the young girl's mind to die, thought it pitiful that one so few in years should give up hope for her life. She instructed the maid-servants to care for Midam and her one remaining servant-girl with all tenderness, and that nothing good would be held back on Midam's request. Kezia knew the girl's fate to be a poor one, for the Hittite had planned to award her, as prime war booty, to one of his numerous sons, to be married or placed in some princely harem in Hattusas. If only she could make Midam appear more beautiful, ravishing, and regal than she was. That would go a long way to advance her reception and possibly improve her condition in Hattatus considerably.

Tiny in frame, a wisp of a maiden, the daughter of Babelen cowered in her tent with her maid-servant, refusing to eat and disdaining all efforts to comfort her.

Sometimes Kezia, pausing by the tent of Midam, would hear sounds of weeping, but the girl's eyes were always turned away or wiped dry when she entered. Since this was still a royal personage, Kezia gave up her finest things to adorn the girl's noble appearance (though Midam had lost all her dowry in Babelen's fall).

When the caravan stopped in Hauran and the ambassador came out in a chariot, Midam was a royal princess in every respect: her hair was arranged with jewels and golden flowers intertwined in long, braided tresses. Her gown was the finest linen of Mizraim, covered with shawls of Tyrian purple; and her eyes expertly painted by her own maid-servant.

After formal greetings (during which the Hittite was diplomatic and kept his surprise over Kezia's skin color to himself), the ambassador was shown the maiden in Kezia's pavilion. He was impressed as he looked upon the fairest and noblest daughter of Babelen, for in Kezia's wardrobe and jewels she had blossomed outwardly and shone as a beauty and not the despairing, sorrowing creature she was.

Kezia concluded the princess's debut as quickly as possible, lest the maiden collapse in tears and protests. Midam was taken into veiled seclusion, surrounded by the curtains of her carrying-chair, for chariots were not used for transporting the more delicate sex. Assigning troops for Midam's protection and many Aramean maid-servants, the ambassador took leave ahead of her for Hattusas, to bring welcome news of Midam's charming appearance to the somewhat reluctant prince who would receive her.

Kezia had stripped her own arms of bracelets and her fingers of rings for Midam's good. Such trinkets meant nothing to her. She knew they would better serve the impoverished princess as a dowry in place of the kingdom that had been lost forever.

With the departure of Midam, Kezia's thoughts turned to her own journey. Bildad spoke nothing to her of Babelen, for he spent most of his days in prayer or recuperating in his tent from the ordeal. Jobab's daughter did as much as possible for the grieving or sick Edomites in her midst. She gave material aid to them as well, while planning what she would do for the families of the slain Edomites when they reached home. All of her servants had fully understood the peril of the mission when they set out; yet Kezia grieved for their losses and wondered if she had done right in going to Babelen and placing so many lives in jeopardy. Now she saw the wisdom in Bildad's taking so few servants (though he had hundreds at home). Yet she knew a man could travel in much lighter fashion. A lone woman's place in the world was altogether different.

Kezia chafed at the restraints due her sex. She always marveled at the freedom ordinary men enjoyed. But it had always been so, she reflected. Her sisters were more fortunate than she, however. Married to Edomite chieftains, they had sons and daughters, and could move freely about in their husbands' shadows, fearing no man. Often Kezia wondered why it should be so difficult for her to find a suitable mate. Her sisters had married, customarily, in extreme youth, and flourished as married women. Yet she as the youngest had failed to follow their tried example, and was now approaching her final test. As a young woman it was easy to hope that a suitor would come who would be everything she was looking for; but it had not been so. All the suitors had been wicked, fortune-seeking, vain, or simply foolish men. It had not been difficult to find them out or discern their motives; their reputations had preceded them in each case.

No longer that young woman, Kezia had matured. She knew the price of her great inheritance as Jobab's daughter could mean a solitary life, unless she relented and took one of the despicable men who flocked from all lands to secure her right and fortune. Over and over, she wondered at her sisters' easy success. Why should she be disgraced in society, relegated to a barren tent, when men all said she was desirable and had eyes the color of amethysts?

In times past (but no more) Kezia sometimes gazed at herself in the bronze mirror from Keftiu; but she had always turned away with a sigh. No beauty was there that she could see; her eyes were a dull hue, her complexion too pale, and her tightly-curled hair impossible to train in a fashionable way. She would have delighted in the long nose and narrow, dark face of Hauran women, so that men might see something in her beyond silver and gold and uncountable men-servants, maid-servants, sheep, goats, and donkeys. As she suspected since her girlhood, her fortune had become the curse and bane of her life, setting her apart forever from the ordinary life of a wife and mother.

She recalled, in the evil plight of her desolate prospects, that her father had spoken grim words to her on his deathbed. "Horsemen in pairs!" he cried, shuddering. "Fallen, fallen is the great city and its gods, all mown down like tender grass of the field! Horsemen, horsemen in pairs!" Abba Jobab's eyes had rolled in horror as he looked with dying gaze upon things his youngest daughter could not imagine nor want to see. Then, bringing the horror directly into her world, had seized her hands and spoken his last words: "I see you, journeying with an old man, and both green of face! Alas, horsemen, horsemen in pairs!"

The haunting words still robbed her of sleep, years after her father's death. For a long time she wondered what could he have meant by horsemen? What terrors did he look upon in his extremity? What city or cities did he see falling and being destroyed? And who was the old man with her? And, most disturbingly, he had said that their faces would be green in color. Now she had a few answers. And her face?

Even her maid, Ma'at, had confessed to her that her mistress's face had turned that queer color!

Seizing a mirror, Kezia saw for herself it was true! Shocked, she could scarcely keep her thoughts straight as she wondered about the portent.

Returned to Edom, Kezia found joy at her safety and welfare, but also a shrinking away when they saw her face. Not many had understood her leaving with so many of the people, to go to the aid of a hated, foreign ruler. Kezia in turn could not explain her strange calling to them. She had obeyed the promptings in her heart, and thus her father had done before her. She could also see, with the clarity of her father's eyes, the gradual, wayward drift of the people, away from the worship of the Most High God to neighboring cults and gods. Many elders could not look her full in the face any more, when she called for a solemn sacrifice to the Most High, or merely spoke of Him to them. Their hearts, obvious to her, were elsewhere.

Grieved at the dimming of the light amidst her own people, Kezia found herself not only set apart by her solitary life but in the matters of faith. Like Bildad she spent most days alone, praying and seeking God; for the busy social life of her people was not enough for her, as it was for them. Aware that the light of the Hebrews in Hebron was increasing despite all their crimes and taking of Ken’anite wives, even as her good people's diminished, Kezia thought sometimes of going there, to see with her own eyes. Perhaps she would receive a blessing from their patriarch. But no occasion ever presented itself by which she might have excuse to go.

Bildad, she knew, was under no womanly constraint. He could travel freely as doctors traveled from court to court, moving his tent anywhere about the East without anyone talking against him. Yet she did not feel free to travel as he, and only because of God's strong insistence did she join his caravan to Babelen. It was with misgiving, then, she listened to Bildad as he came on an unexpected visit to her tents. She would have called a congregation of the people, to hear the old man's remarkable hoard of wisdom and poetry, but he waved the suggestion aside almost rudely.

"I am getting too old for such things!" he cautioned. "The Most High has told me to go next to Keftiu, to serve His purposes in that realm. I have never seen the kingdom of this sea people, though I have heard of it in Hazir and Tyre. A queen city with many tributaries in the depths of the Green Sea, and mighty fleets to serve her kings--great troubles may soon overwhelm her, that is all I know."

"But why, my friend, do you wish me to go there with you? I have felt nothing in my heart concerning such a place." Bildad shrugged, then looked deeply into Kezia's eyes with a knowing look. "You are not convincing. The Most High has spoken to me of you, that you receive His words, which I rarely if ever hear from His lips since there are so few that care to listen to Him these days. And you say you have not heard from him!" Kezia was taken aback. She could not have known Bildad would discern so much. She was silent, determined to keep to her own thoughts, when Bildad gazed at her again with impatience. "I know the Most High intends for you to go! Yet you must obey what He puts on your heart to do. I will go and be back in a few days--that will give you time to decide, my daughter!" Bildad left her tents, and Kezia's mind was in disarray. She truly had received no words since her return. Had she closed the ears of her heart? She had sought God faithfully but there had been silence. Yet she could not discount Bildad's leadings. He too heard from God, despite his humble gainsayings. Kezia did not waste her opportunity, and took herself off to a solitary place each day, spending the time in urgent prayer and meditation. She was at a loss when God still did not speak, telling her what to do. Bildad looked up at her one day. "Well?" he said, his brows lifting in expectancy. Kezia's eyes grew moist. She gazed downwards, blushing in shame. "So you have heard nothing whatever, my daughter?" Bildad laughed. "So you think you have no light for your path, my friend? Yet I know angels are sent to carry light to dark places. Do you not know messengers must not stumble blindly about on their errands, wondering if the king has indeed sent them? How can the king's couriers, horsemen who often travel in pairs, ever get to their destinations if they are continually doubting their mission and wondering if they have, indeed, been sent by the king?" Stung by the imputation of disobedience, Kezia faced Bildad. "I have heard nothing. How can you say those things." The laughter faded from Bildad's wizened face. His expression became as grave as his eyes. "I was not mocking you or imputing anything. I only know, because I have been told by the Most High, that I carry a humble measure of the light of life-giving wisdom; but you, my child, must carry the harsh words of death, if they will not receive God's kindness and repent--just as you did in Babelen the Great when you spoke to the king on his mountain." Kezia recoiled from Bildad. She stared at him, for she had told him nothing of her speaking to the king. And what if others should be listening? Her disgrace would be broadcast, despite reverence for Jobab's name, throughout the whole nation of Edom. And how could the old man have known about the incident? She had told no one about what she declared on the temple mount and to the king. An angel of death? How horrible and distressing an idea! she thought. Eyeing the prophet warily, Kezia kept silent as Bildad continue to press. "I know what you are, a sure instrument in God's hand. I even saw a figure of you shining in the heavens. It was shaped like a sharpened scythe. Well, He used you in Babelen, and now he has another use for you in a distant land. Will you not obey and go? I have already revealed that you are to go to the land the Mizraimites called Keftiu, and we--Kaphtorim." Shaking her head in dismay, Kezia rose from her cushions and went out from the tent. She was pacing back and forth before her tent when Bildad came out, followed by his boy-servant, the lad whose life they had saved in Babelen. "Meet me in Tyre during the next new moon festival," he whispered in tender accents. Kezia turned stiffly away. Still hobbling from some of the serious hurts he had suffered in the fall of Babelen, the old man had need of help even to walk, for Kezia saw him leaning on the boy's shoulder from time to time before he reached his donkey and mounted. The Shuhite departed, with scarcely a glance toward Kezia. She was too disturbed by all the mysterious remarks concerning her skin color in Babelen to let her face be exposed any longer to the public gaze and quickly escaped to seclusion in her own tent. Hours later, she was still weeping silently, when she rose to find the moon had risen, more brilliantly than ever she remembered. Alerting no one, she slipped silently from the tent and away from the camp, taking a well-known path. The beauty of purest silver overlaid Kezia's solitary track and shimmered over her bare feet. Above the huddled, dark masses of Edomite tents shone and eddied infinite streams of lights. How she loved to view God's handiwork in the heavens! For some time she watched them sparkling with red, blue or yellow, and then, with amazement, saw the heavens fling a bright-green sickle to the dark earth, somewhere to the far northwest.

10 The Gray Dove

Aware that the Forbidden Category was involved with the fall of Babelen, Wally, nevertheless, was still preoccupied with the hot and unresolved Atlantean question. Just when would they unleash their armada. What weaponry would they use if resisted? What could he use to counter them? Though much was happening on the ground that might have caught his attention at any any other time, Wally also referred repeatedly to the old Hantsbo file, hoping one of the questions would help him spot a fatal weakness in the still-impressive Atlantean armor he had observed with his own eyes.

...since they are not spiritual-minded, why the emphasis on magic and incantation and ritual? Why the existence of wizards and astrologers and soothsayers in their ranks? What is this “great divinity” they find in their breasts? Why do they deify themselves--king after king declaring his godship? Their present commander--does she view herself as a goddess?

Though they form a military front when attacked or threatened, what is their usual, peace-time hierarchy composed of? How do their power struggles get going if the leader is divine? How can they displace an unwanted god or goddess at the helm? The priests--if they are basically atheistic--what is it the priests dispense? Magic? Astrology?

Haight-Ashbury fudge brownies laced with LSD? Psychic energies and demonstrations of various kinds? Why are the priests so powerful and entrenched in Atlantean society, at all levels? Do they trust each other? Or, if they distrust each other, what glue binds them together like a massive Lego set? What keeps them from giving up--particularly after having lost their hold on Earth?

Indeed, the Atlanteans were a strange race--could they ever be understood? The Ancient Egyptians had slavishly yet stupendously emulated them--drawing their science and architecture, clothes styles, jewelry fashions, and innumerable other things that made up civilization--without turning quite so decadent and vampirish. Wally, considering the similarities, also saw profound differences. And, being taken by Hantsbo only so far, he had his own questions to add.

What exactly do they plan to build or rebuild on Earth? Do they intend to share the world with OP? What do they perceive its objective to be? Certainly, they have monitored its activities--what leads them to think they can co-exist when no one else is able to do so? Why have they chosen to resettle right under OP’s nose? What makes this a safe or reasonably safe place for them? How do they expect to neutralize or divert OP? Have they somehow achieved detente with OP? Does OP see no difference between itself and them? Aren’t they just a dirty dozen--six of one and half a dozen--and and everyone a rotten egg?

As Wally considered his questions, one thing seemed to hold more promise than anything else. And it had to do with his last question. Was he on to something that could turn the tables on the Atlanteans? he wondered. OP’s world was beginning to fall, domino after domino, with FC acting as the primary player, but, say, if OP was swept from the board, wouldn’t the Atlanteans immediately fill the power vacuum? What would FC do then?

Just in case FC did nothing, Wally thought he at least had to devise a backup strategy. "Disem-souled" vampires in control of Earth--it was too horrible a thought, even for a Cray who had absolutely no blood at risk. As for humanity, what did they know or care about these matters anway? Food, drink, a comfortable bed, a mate and descendants bearing ones name--those things satisfied mankind--or so it appeared. If they wanted anything beyond that, he hadn’t any data on it. Yet very few of them seemed to be satisfied with their lot in life. But that was humanity--the people for which he was committed to fight to the bitter end. Sometimes, when he learned instances of how really unhappy individual humans could make themselves, he had to wonder if the struggle for them was really worth it. Would they ever change?

As a young maiden Ma'at hated her name and felt strange and set apart among her kinsmen. Ma'at's great, childish sorrow was that her parents, unaccountably, had cast such an ugly blot on her life instead of naming her after her own Edomite line. "Why was I not named after my own kind?" she had asked her mother.

Ma'at the Gray Dove

Though Ma'at at the time thought she was of age to question her parents, her mother was not pleased. She heard her parents speaking about the matter later, when they thought she had gone with the goats to pasture, but really she had been waiting outside their tent for just such a discussion. Her mother, as usual, was grinding bread-corn at the quern.

"Your daughter is ashamed of the name you gave her," her mother remarked.

There was no response for some time, and Ma'at waited with bated breath. Finally, there was a good-humored chuckle. "I should not be concerned with the foibles of a child, good wife!" her father had laughed. "It is not a laughing matter to her," the mother countered with a lower voice. "And your daughter is showing signs of growing up that she can’t hide."

Her father did not laugh a second time. Instead Ma'at heard him clearing his throat, as he always did when he was thinking and considering something grown-ups know but perversely keep hidden from offspring.

"Should we not tell her, now that she is coming of age to hear such things?" her mother had said, with a little sharpness in her voice.

"Names, names, what does it matter?" her father remarked with some irritation as he changed subjects. "Women make too much ado about these things and should better attend to babies or the making of stew! It was only an accident anyway. I happened once to hear Father Esau first speak this word when he was recalling his marriage to Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth. Where he first heard the word, which I believe is Midianite or Ishmaelite, they had no idea (as I inquired about this very specifically). He always had a mind of his own. But in his telling of his latter marriage this particular word stuck in my heart. And I cannot--”

The sound of grinding bread-corn on the quern abruptly ceased. "Yes, yes, but what is the point of all this, my husband?"

"Well, as I was saying, Abba Esau wept sore when he told the elders (who were all young men at the time) exactly how Jacob his wicked supplanter stole both his birthright and Abba Isaac's blessing. We all know how greatly our nation has suffered because of what his heel-grasping brother did. But Abba Esau, though he would never have done such a thing as Jacob did, was not guiltless himself. He said so to his first-born after entrusting to him his great, hunting-bow of finely-polished myrtlewood. He confessed that there were many times when he wanted to undo his youthful wrong of taking Hittite wives against Abba Isaac's express will, even though they were both lovely and sweet-tempered women of a fine family."

The grinding picked up momentum with a vengeance. "Yes, I know all that, my lord. But how can it be explained to a young girl? She has no experience of life and the follies of untried youth, and how too easily we fall prey to the things our hearts desire."

The mother sighed and spoke again, but wearily. "I knew it was the wrong name to give her--it was too impulsive. We ought to have named her honorably, after her own kind. All the old women chose 'Basemath' as her name, honoring Esau's fine wife, if I remember rightly. Now do you not think we should have listened to them?"

There was silence in the tent, after the grindstone made a last, slow pass over crushed and pulverized grain. Ma'at suddenly felt guilt in her own heart, and lifting up the ends of her long, gray garments flew off toward the long-departed goats. It was some time later before she could round them up into a semblance of a herd; for the individuals had all run off in different directions and were climbing steep rocks or tripping gaily down ravines or climbing acacia trees and doing other annoying, goatish pranks.

Young girls can learn to keep their head up even under such dark clouds as a father's eccentric and ill-advised name. Ma'at grew steadily into womanhood, though a rather small-chested and plain specimen of it. An elder sister to several brothers, she was well brought up to her family responsibilities, and gained the approving eye of an old maid-servant who attended Jobab's daughters from their infancy.

One day her parents called Ma'at into their quarter of the big, black, goathair tent. "You are old enough, Daughter, to consider the best that we have decided for you," intoned her father, with grave eyes.

Ma'at was uncomfortable, fearing they had chosen her betrothed and she would have to go about in public with a stifling veil over her face. And what if he was the wrong sort for her--perhaps a toothless old shepherd or something worse, a Kenite ironsmith who would drag her to a place far from her people's tents and dress her in ash and soot to the end of her days? What they told her was so unexpected, she could say nothing except indicate it pleased her well. After all, as a daughter of Esau she could only obey her parents' wishes, however pointless and demeaning, or run off with some passing Horite or Ishmaelite trader. Some braver girls had done so, to escape being married to ugly, old but rich men or good-looking but poverty-stricken youth they detested.

To be chosen to attend Lady Kezia was a great honor, she knew. As she tended her goats for the last time, she felt strange to herself. She wondered how it would be to live in Kezia's beautiful, white tents and eat of fine foods and wear a maid's bought robe. Her own parents had clothed her well enough in homespun stuff, after her mother had used lye baths to bleach the goathair to a fine gray. Yet they were not wealthy enough in herds and servants to buy her eye-paints and put silver moons in her dowry-ring--a large nose-ring the prettiest Edomite girls were wearing more and more these days, after the high fashion of Hazor's fine ladies.

In fact, she had lost much sleep as she dreamed of flashing nose-rings and the impossibility of ever buying one from a caravan trader. Now it was within certain reach, for a maid of Kezia's would be a rich woman someday, since everyone knew Kezia's generosity was as proverbial as her father’s wisdom and riches. Musing on the news, Ma'at imagined herself in new, many-colored robes from Hazor and Tyre. How well the bemooned nose-ring would look against her crimson-painted lips and henna-stained cheeks! She would be taken for a queen of Seba or Raamah! And the most handsome and promising young men would contest her hand, emptying chests of gold and silver at her parents' feet. She could hardly wait!

Her disillusion was considerable when she entered the employ of Kezia, famed for beauty, wealth, and philanthropy, and found things much different than imagined. The beautiful princess turned out to be a sober, much too solemn woman, and everyone around her lived and acted and dressed with Kezia's sobriety. Often Ma'at wondered if the princess were full in her Edomite blood-line or merely one quarter, with the greater part being cold water. Despite her beautiful tents and fine clothes and jewelry, no one Ma'at knew lived so plainly, or was so peculiarly given to prayer and meditation as Jobab's daughter.

"Why does our mistress not marry?" she had ventured to ask a maid-servant nearest her own age and temperament, though this girl had the edge on her in looks, she had to admit, especially when she was allowed to slip on one of Kezia's gowns that she never cared to wear.

Ma'at's Friend

The two maids had discussed the problem at length, and giggled perhaps too much about Kezia's latest suitor (a big-paunched, wheezing grape-eater of an Adullamite), for the chief maid had caught them at it, and reprimanded them.

Next time they chose to be more careful, and continued to explore the intriguing topic, especially when other old and ugly suitors appeared in camp. "Abba Jobab must have sanctioned against his daughters' marrying, since his own life was so filled with sorrow and disaster beyond the normal fate of men," declared Ma'at's friend, Gomer. Maybe it was because she was half-Moabite, but the precocious girl knew things. She had a retentive mind and ear for grown-up phrases when the elders recited old tales of the people of Isaac and Esau.

"But Kezia's sisters both married happily at a young age," returned Ma'at, and Gomer had nothing to say from her stock of phrases. Both girls looked at each other, thinking the same thought. Kezia was indeed a strange one, and seemed to prefer her odd, unmarried condition. After all, neither girl had ever heard of a woman so given to the solitary pursuit of Divine Wisdom. Grown women, they knew very well, were meant for practical, real things, such as husbands, grinding endless bread-corn, and bearing of offspring in Abba Esau's name and honor.

Ma'at began to fret in her new situation. She gazed fondly in the direction of her parents' tents. But they seldom visited and would have refused to take her back home, when she held such a high-paid and honored position as maid to Jobab's daughter. Ma'at knew it was useless to voice her unhappiness to them. Young maidens either kept silent about their heart's desires or ran off with caravaneers if they found their station in life too unhappy to bear any longer.

Her glum, labored countenance must have told Kezia something, for the lady turned to her young maid one day. "I have something for you, since you have been serving me so well and faithfully at such a tender age."

Ma'at was astonished and gazed wordlessly as her mistress opened a large chest.

Her violet eyes on Ma’at, the princess drew out a flame-colored robe with emerald-green sleeves and sky-blue girdle still wrapped in its protective cloth.

Ma'at gasped, for she knew it was her mistress's own, a lovely gift from Ashdod's Horite prince. "But I cannot wear it!" she burst out, unconscious of her rudeness.

Kezia understood the girl's sentiment and smiled tenderly. "Yes, you may. It is fitting that someone young like you wear such bright colors. When you are older, you can dress differently if you like. I shall give a pretty robe to Gomer. She would like one too, I think."

Ma'at could not refuse any longer, when she thought how her friend would lord it over her in the fine, new gown if she didn’t wear one as good. Within the hour both girls were strolling with stately step outside Kezia's tents, admiring their wondrous, multi-colored plummage. From that time Ma'at completely changed in her attitude toward Kezia, though she still could not understand the older woman's ways.

As the days passed, Ma'at grew more fond of her mistress, experiencing amidst the exacting order and discipline a genuine regard and generosity. It seemed such a shame to Ma'at that a wonderful lady should waste her life seeking God in solitary places, praying for long hours into the night after everyone else had taken to their warm goatskins.

Kezia, she knew, preferred to go off from the camp for privacy, and at night it was so dangerous that she was always accompanied, at a stone's throw, by two, old and trusted men-servants. Yet Kezia's choice of eventide was understandable. Only then was there any peace in the camp of her people, for all the surging and bawling of animals ebbed away, the great herds gathered in stone-walled pens for the night.

It could have been a pleasant if somewhat strange life Ma'at led in Kezia's tents, but she was still looking for the inevitable change for the better that would come when she found a husband. Rather, her parents had to speak for her to the father of her prospective husband; and heavy-hooved time dragged by and still no word had come to her of a match. Many times she wished she had wings like a bird, so she might fly off to more exciting places and show off her bright robes.

Instead, life with Lady Kezia had turned an abrupt and alarming corner. Kezia suddenly commanded the entire camp about her to strike tents and move. Such a thing had not been done for a generation or more. All Ma'at heard was that they were going to Hauran in Padan-aram--Abraham's one-time home after he had left Ura for good. Despite the lack of forewarning, the camp was broken up and on the backs of donkeys within very few days, all without confusion or trouble. No one seemed the least bit alarmed or upset at having to leave the old place of habitation.

Ma'at was heartbroken. Certainly she had dreamed of flying away, but to fine places like Hazir and Tyre, and not ever to old, dusty Hauran. She seriously wondered what was ahead in Hauran amidst a barbarous people who almost all lived in Amorite-style houses, disdaining the civilized life in tents that God and Abba Esau had ordained for the good of men. But Kezia seemed to count all such things donkey-dung for the sake of doing God's will (the news of God having spoken to Kezia soon went the round of the caravan).

Despite all her earlier restlessness, Ma'at now felt at a loss at the sudden leave-taking of all she had known since birth. With a grieving heart she obeyed the summons to pack and depart while she nursed a certain resentment toward her mistress that Gomer quickly picked up on.

“Imagine,” said Gomer, “us going to Hauran at the snap of her pretty fingers!”

Ma’at’s eyes filled with tears, for she could not deny Kezia was behaving cruelly. After all, she had counted on meeting and marrying a proper son of Esau someday soon. Now what chance had she of being fulfilled? Kezia was casting her maid’s dreams to the winds, and seemed not to care. Packing her flamboyant gown, Ma'at reluctantly drew on a long, gray robe (which her mother span at home) and several black veils for the long, dusty journey ahead of them. Through tears she noticed, nevertheless, how speedily and efficiently the camp was struck. It was as if they had prepared; yet Ma'at knew how it was accomplished so well. Kezia had always insisted on order in the camp; everything had its place, and everyone knew their exact duties. Life was orderly, as far as her rule extended. The very neatness of it contrasted sharply with other Edomite camps, noisy and cluttered affairs strung out helter-skelter about neighboring wilderness.

Then if Hauran wasn’t bad enough! Babelen! The news that they were going there struck Ma'at with a thunderbolt's force. She had heard tale after tale from her father (though he had no idea she was listening in) of its size and magnificence. She had also heard him tell other men of the really terrible things men and women did in the grand temples, and has no wish to go there, yet she thought at times she might like to take one quick look at the stylish gowns of the royal princesses and fly back to her own tent.

Now she was going to see it with her own eyes! Though she had caught a bit of her father's vision and desired to gaze on such glories, Babelen was now become too real. How she wanted to escape from Kezia's mad caravan and return home at once! Yet she knew at the same time that was impossible. She would be travelling alone, on foot, and no woman could travel that way in the East. She would be murdered and her bones gnawed by wild beasts. Worse, she’d be taken to wife by an Ishmaelite or Amorite trader, if not stripped of her clothes by a passing slaver and sold as a concubine into the harem of some king--the last a fate all daughters of Abraham feared ever since Sarah's harrowing experience in Mizraim.

Her heart laden with despair, Ma'at continued with Lady Kezia to the city most famous in the East for lewd wickedness and licentiousness. She was not surprised but was rather pleased to find it under attack and smoke billowing up at various points along the walls. "God is judging the evil king for stealing so many Edomite maidens and making them concubines, and dressing them up so richly!" she observed to Gomer.

Her girl friend laughed at her grown-up speech. “How do you know that?” Gomer challenged her. “This city is the biggest and greatest in the world and cannot be destroyed! Myself, I would love to live in this wonderful place. You can have Uz--it’s enough for people like you maybe, but--”

Ma’at was less sure about divine judgment falling when she entered the city and found all the Babelites with faces painted Festival-red, confidently rejoicing in their false gods and laughing at their foes. After that impression it was a terrific shock to see the city fall so suddenly and unexpectedly, and then their own lives were in grave danger from the enemy as well. The army that in passing had threatened them at Hauran was the same that was plucking Babelen bare of its golden glories, she discovered. At one point she had lost the hand of the princess and Kezia herself appeared lost and dead somewhere amidst all the destruction and burning.

Ma'at would never forget the amazing color that that been given both Kezia and Bildad by God's hand. That seemed an even greater miracle to her than that few of their number died in the holocaust, or that she, in the midst of a metropolis thrown into utter turmoil, found her way back to the camp by the wall. Not easily impressed, Gomer, of course, claimed they had painted their faces in order to make foolish people think it was divine.

Later, they had returned safely to Hauran, delivering the strange princess from the king's family, a maiden who was aloof in manner and refused to talk to those who had to serve her. Ma'at, thoroughly disappointed by Babelen’s princess, was glad they got rid of her and did not have to take her back with them to Esau's land. Forgetting she had ever yearned to fly away, it was with great relief Ma'at set eyes once again on her beloved country's black whispery tents and little, bawling towns. Unlike the knowledgeable Gomer, that was all the Edom she knew. Unlike Gomer’s, her parents had never taken her to the Edomites’ great stone-carved city of Sela, set deep in the red rocks and clefts of the southern deserts.

Then before she could forget the nightmare of Babelen and adjust her eyes to Kezia's strange face-color, her world was turned on edge once again. Kezia was going to some island or kingdom in the Great Sea! The camp itself was uprooted and transported to Tyre. Tyre would have been a glorious experience for Ma'at in other circumstances. What spoiled it was being selected to accompany her mistress on her unusual journey into the sea. The sea! Ma’at had always dwelt on land, very dry land. She naturally had a horror of wet feet. Her friend picked up on that too.

"I know she called you to go, but you must refuse such a thing if you are ever going to marry!" Gomer hissed at her, once she had Ma'at alone in a corner of Kezia's pavilion. "No proper Edomite would marry you if your face should turn ugly green and bumpy as a cucumber like hers!"

Stung by the dreadful thought of looking like a cucumber, Ma'at did not know what to think. She needed the few remaining moments left to pack her own things. "But why did she choose me to go? I am not so capable and knowing as you are about the world. It is true I once wanted to see what things were like in foreign places, but after Babelen--ugh!"

"Because our mistress needs our like more than ever, now that she's become a frightful monster!"

Not sure she had heard such words, Ma'at stared at her friend. She could scarcely believe Gomer entertained such mean, disrespectful thoughts about their mistress.

"I did not mean it," Gomer quickly said, but Ma'at continued to move away. Then she ran to the princess, who was in another tent packing some things to help her maids. "Must you take us, my Lady?" she implored Kezia, when she really meant herself. "We are afraid we will find no proper husbands, in that far strange place you are taking us."

Kezia gazed at the tearful, plain-faced girl as Gomer came sliding in. "Never fear about that. I promise you both fine husbands when we return home.” Kezia turned to face the demurely shrinking Gomer. Will that make you happy too, dear?”"

Gomer bowed, her expression concealed by the motion.

Hearing this, Ma'at turned about and smiled in triumph to her friend, who, as soon as the mistress turned away, shrugged with ill grace and went back to packing her own things.

Later, at the first opportunity, Gomer told her not to believe Kezia. Surely, Kezia's fatal color would rub off on them and they would all die old, wrinkled virgins, without a son or daughter to their names! “Her god is leading her astray!” Gomer continued. “You may think she knows the one true God, but she doesn’t at all! She’s an idolater! She’s taken an Ishmaelite goat-god for her worship. I know because I saw her bending down and praying before a goat out in the fields! I would never stoop to that. A god ought to be made out of proper stone or fine carved wood at least.”

What could Ma’at say to that? Gomer had witnessed it with her own eyes. Many of her people worshipped goat-gods, she knew. Few would think less of the princess if she followed suit. And Gomer had testified, saying she would die if it wasn’t the truth. To gainsay her after that was unthinkable.

Yet she didn’t feel it was the truth. Somehow it had to be untrue. Somehow. Again, inside Ma'at's heart something still felt like it was breaking. She knew she had no choice but to go with Kezia, green-face or not. She had nowhere else to go. Her parents had cast her off, when they could provoke no suitors to come and ask her undowryed hand. She was, she could no longer deny, too plain to attract a good young man. Gomer, she knew, had no problem that way--and often reminded Ma’at of it. Doing the best by her they could, her parents had given her to Kezia who, alas, cared nothing about appearances or a young maiden’s rapidly dimming prospects.

It somewhat eased her mind, consequently, when she discovered how beautiful were the lands beyond the edge of the dry land. She had never imagined such splendors in earth and sky existed, created by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau. On the polished, black ship that glided effortlessly across the blue waters, propelled by the winds of heaven, or sometimes by the gaily painted oars of the sailors, Ma'at felt she were floating in a dream from which she did not want to awaken.

The handsome, young sailors were so very kind and thoughtful too, and seemed not to notice her desert plainness. One was most clever and even knew words that she could make out, close enough to her mother tongue that she could laugh and delight in his playful meanings.

"Look there!" the flashing-eyed, gallant fellow would say to her, provoking her to giddy laughter whenever she passed by at the end of Lady Kezia's train.

She would always look where he pointed, when he took hold of her to show her exactly where to look.

"The Silver Isle!" he would say, and she gave a little sigh as she saw an island of olive groves swim into view. Or maybe he would say purple or blue or some bright color, and always he was right--each isle was a rare jewel of that particular hue, so that Ma'at began to feel she had entered an enchanted realm, guided by the friendly sailor.

She was so captivated by the fellow's wit and charm, unlike any man she had met in the tents of Esau, she forgot all about Kezia's several warnings. She flew to hear more of his soft and winsome words every chance she had (making sure she was hid from sight behind cargo stacked on the deck). Drab goatskin was a thing of the past. How plain and ugly it now appeared beside the transparent colors of this new world. In shades of Tyrian purple and heaven's blue, or lustrous as a silver leaf of olive, the islands of the Keftiuan paradise sparkled about her with more beauty than Esau's polished and intricately-carved myrtle-wood bow.

One day, daring a rebuke from her mistress, Ma'at drew on her splendid robe of red and blue and purple (having worn out its predecessor). She slipped away from the others to meet an even more adventuresome sailor in an appointed place. She understood he had a special gift he wanted to give to her.

11 Horsemen in Pairs

Wally, following the movements of the Atlanteans, waited with growing suspense and tension for them to strike. He figured they would--but exactly when? They obviously knew when Babelen fell, and that would seem to be a good time to invade, when the whole Eastern World was thrown into confusion and panic. Now the same FC-inspired trouble was spreading like a grass-fire into the Western realms--where it would stop was anybody’s guess. Yet they still held back their forces. It was maddening. He hadn’t any idea how to stop them--except that he knew he must somehow put blinders on OP, make OP see a difference in kind between itself and them. Then, all he would have to do was sit back and watch OP tear them to pieces like paper in a shredder--right? At least he hoped it would go that way.

Bildad showed no surprise when he came to the mainland market-place of Tyre and presently discovered that a queen's tents were already erected, waiting for the light of the new moon to shine. The entire mart was buzzing with gossip and wonder at the Eastern Desert queen's beauty. Reverting to her original skin color, she was again unsurpassed in the East, which was famed for beautiful women. All traffic in and out of the huge ground seemed to converge on the queen's site, and the congestion to and from the lady's camp was terrific.

Bildad had to leave his donkeys in the charge of his servant and go on foot, as he tried to make a path through the mobs of curious and idle, tongue-wagging men of every race that thronged in Tyre's thoroughfares. Few noted the old man (despite the deepening, greenish tinge on his face) who in turn ignored the unassorted gossip-mongers, thieves and business-minded traders who sought to get closer to the gold and white pavilion. The mob of busybodies nearest the entrance fell back surprised when the powerfully-built and well-armed Edomite guards bowed in deepest respect and admitted the shabby old fellow.

"We must strike out at once for Keftiu," Bildad told the waiting daughter of Jobab. "Our ship sets sail in the morning, but we must board now to make certain we will sail with her. You see, their rascal of a captain demanded our fares in advance. How then can I expect him to not slip away before the appointed time?"

"What about my attendants?"

Bildad shrugged. "Send them home. You will not need them, I expect, where we are going. Anyway, they attract too much attention of the wrong sort."

Kezia looked misgivingly around at her servants. Most appeared dismayed at the old man's words. “As a woman still bewailing her virginity, I cannot leave them all, my good friend!" she protested. "Surely I can take my personal maids along for the sake of respectability."

"Yes, yes!" replied Bildad with curtness. "But we must make good speed to the ship. I've already talked to these children of Kaphtor, and they seem a thin-livered, hot-tempered lot! Though they forced me to pay in advance, they will not wait upon our coming and intend to sail without us!"

Kezia glanced around quickly. "Come!" she said to Ma'at, who shrank back at her mistress's command. "And you too!" she said, motioning to the girl's round-cheeked friend, Pretty Maid Gomer.

Bildad stepped aside while Kezia's two young maids started talking all at once, before wondering how to reduce the royal amounts of clothing and treasure so as to fit several wooden trunks.

Kezia herself went into other compartments of the pavilion, disappearing for a hour while Bildad fretted at the squandering of precious time. When she returned her face showed a distinct greenish tint. Her expression was very firm and composed as she gave last commands and instructions to her Edomites, particularly to her chief steward who had charge of the caravan.

"Whatever else we need we can buy in the islands," advised Bildad. "We will be journeying from place to place, so we may need to take donkeys or horses, whatever they have there. I refuse to go in a chariot, which would frighten away everyone we may want to visit!"

Kezia was still busy with last-minute arrangements and half-listened to her friend. At last she sighed and turned away from her own people, dismissing them with her regret and certain gifts of her own jewelry. She took a deep breath and eyed Bildad. "We are ready."

Bildad snorted, as he looked at queenly Kezia, still dressed in her robes of state. Instantly, she understood him. She seized a robe from her own maid's trunk, though the plain-cheeked Ma’at protested that such an ugly thing was not fit for her mistress. Casting aside her own gorgeous outer robes, Kezia drew on the drab, threadbare, gray cloak, pulling a shawl and veil with her maid's help over her head and securing it with a pin of hammered copper.

Bildad and Kezia stepped outside to test the waters, and the guards did not recognize Kezia but thought an old man was leaving with a hag of a wife. Neither did the mass of onlookers guess her identity. The two slipped away without difficulty, with the maids following, then several men-servants hoisting the trunks.

At the docks the Keftiuan captain eyed the shabby pair with cool disdain. “Ah, you come early because you think I cannot be trusted!” he told them. “It is well you did. We have received orders to depart at once. Quickly, get your filthy rubbish aboard. Who are you anyway to keep a royal ship of Knossos from her appointed duties?"

Ignoring the captain's warm rebuke, Bildad and the Edomites boarded the Lady Aspoth, a large, high-prowed galley with the characteristic black sail of the Keftiuan merchant fleet. Knowing their fares had been trebled (with the captain's purse retaining the difference), Bildad put little stock in the captain's ire, which was showing too thinly on his face to be taken seriously. Obviously, the practiced extortionist was glad of their money--for trade and passenger-fares were the mainstays of Knossos's far-flung web. Bildad knew the only thing that discomfited the captain was that they had arrived in time to board and get the benefit of their fares.

Looking to see which way the wind blew concerning these sea peoples, Bildad humbly applied to the captain as soon as the ship had set sail from the harbor. The Keftiuan in turn was only too glad to talk to a stranger, though he was evidently a barbarian with so alien a skin color.

"So you are a busy nation, trading over the wide world?" Bildad offered, bowing low and repeatedly.

The Keftiuan's face flushed hotly with pride and his bandy sea legs spread even further on the polished planking. "Your eyes have not grown dim with age, foreigner!" he declared, taking on a certain arrogance as he talked further. "This miserable Tyre is not half of one of our grand cities! We have a dozen such on the island and do not name them cities. Then, as a crown jewel of gold in a setting of silver resides our glorious capital, Knossos the Great! To see her heavenly splendor is to have known all that life can give a man!"

Bildad smiled and nodded appreciatively--the same sorry thing had once been said of two vanquished, Amorite cities, proud Mari and even prouder Babelen, though without exaggeration.

"Forgive us, then, for we have not beheld any such wonders before. We are common folk from the wild hinterlands, coming to you from beyond the Eastern Desert--sand-dwelling shepherds, you know."

"Yes, yes, I suspected as much," replied the captain with frost in his voice. "But your sand-dwelling ways seemed honest enough to me, and so you are welcome in our great realm, as long as you observe our laws, keep your thievery in reasonable check, and respect our great and powerful gods, of course."

Bowing low, Bildad turned back to Kezia for conversation. He saw that she and her maids were shown to their cabins, rooms that held amphorae for wine and dried grapes, but also used as makeshift refuges for the rare female passenger who declined to quarter with the crew or captain. The night watches had passed uneasily while the ship waited for enough light to sail. Now in the early morning hours she glided along toward Kittim, the Copper Island, which the Mizraimites called Ity and the Edomites, Elishah. There they would stop to trade and let off goods and perhaps take on more passengers.

Unable to rest in the hot, sour-smelling bins below deck, Kezia and her maids came up to draw fresh, cooler air. They had never sailed before, and the experience was sickening and even frightening. The air was clear after leaving Tyre's smoking tenements and warrens, and Kezia felt she could get enough of it. Keen-eyed sailors began to note her beauty beneath the odd, ever deepening green of her complexion, and she countered their speculative gaze with her head shawl and veil.

In this way they reached the Copper Island, putting in at a port city, Ialysus. A workaday town compared to queenly Tyre, the city was Keftiuan in appearance, with tall, multi-story, narrow houses running down to the waterfront, fitted with square windows that poured smoke from innumerable, tripod braziers. Unlike Tyre's ornate palaces and temples, the houses were stark in simple design and often painted, as were the taverns, with blue or red. Warm breezes off the land carried the aroma of charcoal fires and fried fish to the Lady Aspoth.

"You can all take on provisions here. The food is plentiful and flavorsome, unlike Tyre's, which is sauced with rotten fish-roe and stinks like the same!"

Thanking the captain for his kindly advice, Bildad and the Edomites went ashore to buy bread and wine. They created considerable stir in town due to their appearance before returning in good time before the ship again sailed. Their abrupt departure disappointed many. A priest of a local temple was even carrying torches to light a sacrifice of bulls for them, thinking the green-visaged visitors a god and goddess. Glad to have a means to get away, Bildad and Kezia escaped back to the ship. All this way they had talked to no native landsman, for the captain was the only one who spoke trademen’s Akkadian. He warmly assured them, however, that Knossos was full of people like him who spoke the universal tongue, so that they would have no difficulty getting about.

Sargon of Akkad, starting from his capital of Agade, conquering and burning cities as far as the Western Sea, never saw the blue and flame-red waterfront cities of Keftiu, but his tongue had spread to their entire, sea-girt realm, and the captain spoke the truth. They would have no difficulty in the main centers being understood. Yet Bildad felt they would be traversing beyond the coasts to many hamlets and villages to warn the common people. He discussed the problem of language with Kezia, for there was much time on their hands.

The captain hovered closely enough to catch their conversation when it dropped into Akkadian, and he was quick to offer his own, better-informed opinion. "But you will not need to talk to the village folk," he maintained with some heat. "They are ignorant cattle, not residents in civilized cities and towns, and therefore have nothing of value to tell you anyway."

"Have they always been so ignorant and unlearned?" Bildad responded mildly, to draw more light on what they might encounter.

The captain paused to spit seeds and rind of a pepper over the side since he was only after the juice.

"I perceive you are a civilized man, foreigner, despite your barbaric color of face! You will observe, on entering my country, that our civilization is of the highest degree, and that whatever lies beyond our great cities, up in the ice and snow of the mountains, is of no consequence anymore. Those who stubbornly insist on living their lives out in rural obscurity act no better than stinking animals in holes and dens--and do they breed! Pfui! how they breed! But I assure you life in Knossos or Phaistos and our other splendid cities is better than anything you might find in Ibbatha and Avaris! We favored children of Aspoth know how to live! Everybody knows that!"

"And what is this 'aspoth'?" Bildad gently inquired, for his own people commonly used a similar term for heaps of rubbish.

The captain was shocked at the ignorance of his passenger. "You do not know our fertile, life-giving Mother, whose breasts flow perpetually with warm milk and honey to feed the whole adoring earth?"

Bildad bowed slightly. "Forgive our rustic simplicity, for as I said we are such barbaric folk, coming to you from desert regions where her fame and renown is as yet little reputed or deserved."

The ship master stared with glazed eyes at the old man, incredulously, as if such things could not be. Then he offered the old man a drink from his wine jug. But once Bildad had tried Keftiu's amber-colored spirits of grape, retsin and pepper, so he graciously declined a second mouthful of hellish fire.

Bildad, bowing, passed with Kezia to take the view from the stern.

"Are they all such arrogant fools?" Kezia asked, when she bent Bildad's ear privately. “They seem to vaunt themselves over all the kingdoms and peoples of the earth! And what is this foul thing they call ‘mother’? I saw one of the figures the sailors kiss and fondle, and it has no legs but only hands holding snakes!"

Bildad's thoughts were elsewhere. Troubled by an intuition of grave danger and upheaval, he failed to remark, and looked out abstractly at the islands in their wake. Wooded to the waterline, colored with endless variety of hue, each isle rose sharply up in fire-born cones. Of those that were inhabited, the towns were bright, color-washed affairs that spilled precipitously on steep slopes to green-blue coves full of tall, black Keftiuan sails. It was all so lovely and peaceful. The heavens poured a wave of limpid light through the water and sky, dreamily suspending necklaces of islands in a warm, sparkling brightness that was not water nor air. And still Bildad seemed preoccupied, taking no notice of pretty trifles. The paradise of light, color and water was rent sharply, however, by a muffled scream from one of Kezia's maids--a sound that black sailcloth was not thick enough to keep from Bildad's desert-trained ears.

It required all of Bildad's diplomatic skills and knowledge of human nature to gain access to the corner into which the sailors had inveigled Kezia’s witless maid. The captain--his features frozen with indifference--took no interest in his men's behavior, and refused to judge in the matter. “Men must be men, and women are women!” he said.

So it was Bildad's gold that secured the molested maid's release from a gang of sailors, who parted from her only after Bildad's gold was burning every palm on board. Kezia's took the weeping maiden in her arms, and spent much time consoling her. But the victim became terrified whenever a sailor approached, and Kezia herself knew she could not guarantee her maids safety.

As the voyage lengthened and the ship neared the Cyclades, she veered northward toward the port of Miletus. Bildad was alarmed. He went to the captain. "Are we not proceeding directly to the glorious capital, sir?"

The captain would not look at him directly and spat more red pepper that barely missed Bildad’s sleeve. "We never go there directly, as you ought to have inquired at Tyre if you did not know. From the capital to Avaris is direct enough, but there is no wind that would return us northward, so of course we must sail round to Tyre, and thence homeward. Thus our route has always been the Copper Island, Rhodes, Miletus, Illios, Mycenae-Argos, and thence to Knossos after a stop or two for wine, fine stone, onycha, peppers and hides in the Cyclades."

Bildad returned to Kezia with the sad report, who looked at him with outrage in her fine eyes.

"Give him all our remaining gold if you must, but I will not go so far out of the way with these animals!"

Bildad's offer of much gold widened the eyes of the captain momentarily, and provoked a warm, ingratiating smile, but the man drew a stiff finger across his own gullet. "I am not free to change our god-ordained route. The king's harbor master at Amnisos would soon know and I would lose ship and life!"

So the ship continued north and slightly eastward, as Bildad and the Edomites despaired. Yet even as the ship turned the warm wind chilled and increased to a gale, and they could make no headway, and so went with it, rounding an island and throwing anchor on the leeward side. The captain paced back and forth, spitting hot pepper and cursing in his own language, while the mariners threw lots on the deck and darkly eyed the women. Dusk was settling at this point, and the captain flung a last fire-brand of a curse at the winds and decided to remain where they were for the night. The ship settled down for the night watches, and Bildad and the Edomites did not find sleep.

In the morning, the chilly mood of the crew was no better, and the captain seemed even more careless of his responsibility to his passengers. Food was tendered them on a wooden tray, but it was poor stuff, some dry bread and a little cheese, offered insolently. The captain began to drink more and more heavily of Keftiuan vitriol while consuming his favorite, marinated peppers from an octopus-decorated jar as the high winds continued in full force, preventing their escape from the uninhabited island. Even as the captain's expression changed and became surly, his eyes seemed to seek out the passengers more often than chance would dictate. Bildad, noting the man's hot-poking glance and possible intent, said nothing to Kezia, who was already alarmed.

The copper and iron ingots, Cycladic silver, cypress wood, Naxos emery, dried grapes, olives, olive oil, and bronze vases had been exchanged in Mizraim for stone vases, fine linens, statues, gold ingots, grain and ivory. At Tyre they had traded part of the cargo for Tyrian stone vases, left-over seal-stones from fallen Babelen, lapis lazuli from Melulha, and several Assyrian chariots. The value of the cargo had increased a hundred-fold, until the king and various noblemen would reap enormous fortunes when the ship finally anchored off Knossos.

So why, Bildad wondered, didn’t he want to go directly home? Why was the captain so mule-brained concerning his ship and course? Yet the captain continued to look daggers at his passengers, as if they were responsible for the reverse in weather, until Bildad watched him like a householder who has seen a red-striped, venom-spitting asp in a crevice of his sleeping chamber.

The sailors, sprawling on the deck at night after repasts of much pepper-wine and bread and olives, were warm and friendly to one another and loud in praises of their various wives (for many had several, waiting for them in different ports of call). Some fell into casual dispute at their games of chance, but flew at the ready, knives flashing in the hands, and darted at each other until the captain looked their way, and then they went back to their pastimes. One taller fellow leaped up, calling on the gods for witness, and declared he was a true son of Herakles, the hero who was renowned all over the Keftiuan realm for his exploits at the courts of former kings.

"Oh, so you're one of his big-cheeked bastards then!" sneered another fire-brand of a Keftiuan, slapping the other man’s behind. “Everyone can see you’re speaking the truth there!”

Even without the insulting slap, the scathing remark was sufficient to spark another round of deadly scuffling, as quick to dissolve as it was ignited--once the captain turned their way.

As the winds increased in cold fury, the shivering men's tempers were dampened somewhat, growing in credulity and fear of the gods and the elements. Figurines of the mother-snake-goddess began appearing, and some men began to pray with earnestness. The same men began to talk to their peers in low tones that they had a god and goddess on board, whose presence was for ill, not good. And more and more sailors looked with disgust toward the captain, who sat by himself cloaked against the winds as if he could do nothing.

Bildad knew everything that was in the men's fickle hearts, and noting every glance of the captain toward his passengers, prayed for deliverance. He knew very well that they had sailed forth in a fire-scorched pan of scorpions, vipers, and poisonous spiders, but he had hoped for the best.

Secretly, the crew had slipped past the wine-and-pepper sodden captain and obtained wine stores for their own use. Soon the entire force was reeling drunkenly from side to side of the ship singing ribald ditties to the mother-goddess. One or two stumbled overboard, and no one made any attempt to draw them up out of the raging waters.

Huddling in a group, Bildad and the Edomites saw the beginning of their own end about to take place. No doubt soon they would join the drowned men over the side, and their fortune secured by the insubordinate and drunken mariners. Would the captain even know of the crew's cold-blooded treachery? Kezia and Bildad both wondered. But perhaps he too would be thrown over. The dreaded moment of mutiny came to pass.

Eyes glinting in the moonlight with cold malice and envy, the ring-leaders began to stealthily approach the passengers. Bildad drew his short but very sharp dagger from a sheath inside his robe, while Kezia thrust a hot and burning shaft of prayer into the heavens. The wind was so loud nothing could be heard but its shrieking in the rigging, smothering even the smoldering roar of breakers against the island on the windward side.

Suddenly, the men paused in alarm as the landslides that had begun on the slopes above began pelting the water about the ship with enormous shards. Gushers of sea water sprang up and then fell upon the ship, washing a sailor off. The water in the sea began to tilt first one way and then another. Everyone on board fell flat and clutched at the deck as sheet lightning lit up the world, from horizon to horizon with curtains of green fire.

All the upheaval of land and sea took only a few moments to complete, but for the duration it seemed the death-pangs of the earth were taking place. Completely demoralized, half the crew rushed to the captain as others desperately called on their gods for deliverance. "The green god and goddess onboard are too mighty for us!" they cried to him. "They have stirred up the bulls in the Deep and in the Heavens! Are their faces not the same color as the elements?"

The captain was just as terrified, aghast that he was seeing the world miscarry before his own eyes. He dropped to his knees, naming god after god. Then he turned to the passengers and threw himself down before them. "Are you determined to destroy us poor mortal men?" he cried to Bildad and Kezia. "We all have wives and children waiting for us! They’ll starve if we are lost at sea. If you are indeed divinities, have mercy and save our lives in this catastrophe!"

Bildad started to pray with all his might, while Kezia looked on speechlessly. Soon the disturbance was over, and the searing, cold winds continued, but with lessening force. The terror on the ship dissipated with the wind, and when the dawn broke there was little sign of the terrific shock they had all experienced in the night. Some sailors looked about stupidly for a time, for everything looked the same in the daylight as they had seen it the previous day. The ship, except for some missing members of crew, was intact and seaworthy. The island, a pitiful affair that had no vineyards or fields worth cultivating, was unchanged, it seemed. They couldn’t even tell where the giant boulders had broken off the cliffs. More wary than the crew, the captain looked about and could not make up his mind what to do, to strike out for Miletus as planned or head for the capital at once.

"Perhaps some ill wind such as this, with hailstones or lightning, has struck the capital," the captain reasoned. "I fear losing valuable cargo in another such mishap as nearly fell our lot in the night."

Bildad’s eyes rolled upwards. At last a particle of sense had dawned in the captain’s windy skull!

The Shuhite, seizing the opportunity of the moment, went to him with some of the gold they had brought for such emergencies. The captain's indecisive expression changed at once to another. He took the offering, passing it from hand to hand as if it burned, then quickly got the ship under black sail and the crew running to and fro at his command.

The apprehension Bildad had seen in the captain had served them well; a little helping gold to ballast the captain's purse and the Lady Aspoth was made to forget all about Miletus and Illios and Mycenae-Argos and was soon making directly for home port and Knossos. Though they had nearly forgotten the blood-chilling fright of the previous night, the crew’s ardor was dampened somewhat and they paid the passengers no more attention. All held to their routine duties the rest of the way. They were only to glad to think they would reach the main port and get rid of the strange pair, whether or no they were divine.

Their port of call, Amnisos, soon hove into view. Free of mortal danger amidst the bestial seafarers, Bildad and Kezia were thanking God for the bad weather, and left the ship with great thanksgiving to their Almighty God and joyfully planted their feet on steaming, sea-soaked ground. Moving through dry-docks of proud, new ships in the making, Bildad and the Edomites and the two maids, with native porters carrying the trunks, went to find a place to stay or means to travel further inland.

Neither Kezia or Bildad could decide whether to strike off inland for the capital, or stay where they had landed, or proceed along the thickly citied coast. Since they had come for more than a day, Bildad advised Kezia that they go as far as they could in the time remaining to them. She agreed, and the porters led them to the markets, where normally they could hire any sort of draught animal or cart for travel across the island.

Amnisos was a usually busy place, but the excitement in the port was more than ordinary, so the strangely-hued Edomites created little diversion. Many buildings and houses leaned in an unsafe way, with cracks fracturing their fronts, and passers-by gathered in groups discussing them and pointing out other damaged buildings in the area. Even the ground was too wet, Bildad noticed. Water had flowed up from the harbor and glazed the lower story of the city, then receded, leaving behind yellowish seaweed, bright red starfish, and stringed bladders of purplish jelly clinging to pavements and walls.

A sense of foreboding oozed like congealing ice into the hearts of Bildad and the Edomites as they passed through the shaken port and viewed the effect it had on the populace. Householders everywhere were shouting prices and trying to sell out and move away. Indeed, few people were disembarking at the port. Most were rushing the opposite direction, abandoning their conveyances, and so it was not difficult to find carts and draught animals for little charge.

While some hired donkeys were made ready, four to carry Bildad and Kezia's trunks and the maids, and two horses for the old man and Jobab's daughter, Bildad turned and talked quietly to Kezia.

"Is this not what I saw in my visions in the night?" he said with wonder in his voice, though Kezia knew nothing. "I saw city after city shaking, and the earth and sea rise up and fall. Then I saw the people cry out to their gods and everything aflame and falling into a great pit of darkness that opened for them. I was appalled and my blood and spirit were made so cold and bitter by the vision I said nothing to anyone at the time."

Kezia looked with more understanding then at the scenes around them. As they proceeded inland the frigid fear of the people nearest the sea seemed to increase inland, for the main road to Knossos was full of prancing horses and chariots with gold-helmeted admirals and their mistresses on way to waiting flag-ships and fleets.

Now this was the first exodus from the doomed island, and the birds were soon to follow.

Often Bildad and the Edomites had to drive their mounts aside quickly or be overrun by the speeding chariots. Also braving the whips and wheels of charioteers, crowds of poorer, country folk, who could not afford to flee, thronged the road, carrying heavy baskets of local produce toward the capital's markets. Carts pulled by oxen lined the thoroughfare, wheels squeaking and groaning beneath the heavy cargoes recently unloaded from the merchant ships for buyers who may have already fled the country. Bildad and Kezia had to go only a short distance from Amnisos, but the multitudes of men and animals and goods made it difficult and hazardous.

Exhausted by the voyage and sleepless nights, Bildad found an inn for their safe retirement and ease, and the city was indeed a splendid place, though not as large as even the honey-beer gardens on the outskirts of Babelen. From their rooms in the inn, they could look out on the flame-red bathhouses, inns and taverns that stretched along both sides of the main thoroughfare to an immense, multi-colored maze of pillars, marble apartments and terraces that housed the king and queen, the royal harem, and thousands of lords and ladies besides.

"What is it God intends for me in this strange place?" Kezia wondered, looking out from her window after the others had retired for the night. "Have I come so far for nothing? And my poor maid has suffered greatly because of my folly! Hearing of her defiling by these evil beasts, no bridegroom will ever come near her tent unless he marries her for her money! It is good I still have plenty of that to give her.”

She knew, however, she and her servants had endured such terrible ordeals and dangers already to obey the call of God, but yet He had said nothing of her specific work in a foreign island-kingdom that seemed to have as many poor as rich.

Bildad, she reflected, seemed to always know the path he was taking. How did he discern God's next will so readily? Was it with long practice? "Who is blind as thy maid-servant, O God?" Jobab's wise daughter cried out in prayer, when, after pondering hard questions for a long time, only darkness and cold silence greeted an agonized and searching gaze.

And in yet another room of the inn, an old man knelt nightlong in tears and worship of his God, groaning, "Who is so blind as thy man-servant?"

Neither had slept when the edge of dawn glittered like frost on dewy casements of their open windows.

Her hair in disarray, Kezia was up shivering at her window and looking out when suddenly she found a bird fluttering frantically against her breast. She was able to take it in her hand, and she marveled at the swallow's beautiful, golden crest and red and brown plumage and the look of rigid terror in its eyes as it beheld her face. "Do not fear me, little one," murmured Kezia, seeking to comfort the stricken creature. "I will do you no harm."

For several moments the trembling crested sparrow seemed too terrified to move, but when she thought to set it free, the crested swallow gave a small cry and fell back limp in her hand. With a deep sigh that drew cold, chilling air, Kezia was holding the still-warm bird when she looked out and gasped. What she saw was a multitude of its kind flying madly in circles and then dashing themselves against walls and towers of the great city. "Have mercy, O God!" she cried at the sight. "Will you not save even these small creatures out of this dying land?"

Yet even as the Death Angel's prayer went up to heaven, thunder spoke in chilling reply. Mighty clap upon clap, from deepness beyond knowing, sounded from Sheol's mouth under the churning sea.

Retro Star Directory and Linking Page


Copyright (c) 2004, Butterfly Productions, All Rights Reserved