tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Sighs of the Priestess Ch. 06

The Sighs of the Priestess Ch. 06

byTaLtos6©

**Even Lugalbanda's patience has limits and he shows that in this. He comes off looking a little imperious here, but it's because he knows what has to happen and he's got an agenda. I chose to break this off a little suddenly because I wanted to be able to post a chapter this week. I'll put up the rest shortly. With all of this nation-building and king-crushing going on, I've decided to toss in a little comedy as well. :)

So ya got yer high drama, yer romance, some thrills and danger, and out of the bed, there's even a little adventure and a few laughs.

And then there's the mystery girl in this. Along with her lover, she's got a role to play too.

Well, other than screwing each other's brains out. 0_o


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Lugalbanda stood in the shade of a palm in the garden of his king's small secluded palace by the Euphrates River listening while the latest round of threats and counter-threats between the two kings were read and noted by the dignitaries. This palace had been chosen since he now refused to meet the king in any large palace.

He looked out over the low hills at the units of the king's guards waiting in the sun for the king to get this settled so that they could move on to other duties instead of baking in the sun for the benefit of impressing an ambassador who would likely never even see them or care if he did.

Hurry up and wait. It had always been the lot of the soldier, he thought, and it likely always would be.

The soldiers stared across the hundred yards to the two warriors who sat in the shade and guarded his large mount for him. The woman held her bow across her knees with an arrow already nocked and waiting while her large blonde companion used the time to drag a sharpening stone along the blade of his heavy iron sword. He spun it over without effort to sharpen one edge for a number of strokes and then spun it back to repeat the process on the opposite side of the cruel edge. Now and then, he used a palm leaf to judge the keenness of the blade.

This was beyond stupid in Lugalbanda's view. He'd been present at three of these things now. He supposed that he was there to be shown as a threat to the dignitaries representing the other side in this, but the issue never moved and time was being wasted.

The ambassador for King Hadanish waxed long over the tribute that his monarch expected of King Enmerkar over the taking of the city of Uruk. The list went on and on, covering just how many thousand head of cattle and bushels of grain and pieces of gold it would take to assuage the feelings of one self-proclaimed son of the gods who felt that he'd been hard done by at the hands of another while both claimed to be enjoying the carnal embrace of the same goddess nightly.

Each time that they met, the list grew longer. Enmerkar would refuse, and then begin his own longer list. The emissary would go back to Khamazi along with Enmerkar's diplomats and the scene would be repeated there, only to be brought back here again with a longer list.

He inspected a slight cut in the leather of one of his bracers and thought of his friend and beautiful wife. It was at times such as this that he ached to be with her the most. They wanted children now.

Just as the ambassador was winding down and the fighter was thinking that it might be over, his own king began to dictate to the scribes what he wanted. Lugalbanda pursed his lips and blew softly out of boredom. Surely one king or the other would die of old age before anything was settled.

His eyes bulged when Enmerkar looked to be getting ready to call a halt in the middle of his own list for the mid-day meal. But instead, the king called Lugalbanda to stand before them.

"This is General Lugalbanda, ambassador. He is the one who took Uruk away from your king's council in a day."

The diplomat barely nodded as Enmerkar continued. "How many did you bring to force the city to its knees, General?"

"I needed only seven score and three, my king," Lugalbanda said in a flat tone, "including myself and the cook. The only ones who died were of the city's army and one councilor."

The emissary's eyes almost widened at another chance to delay the proceedings, but he forced himself to maintain a somber face. Only Lugalbanda noted it with disgust as the old man began. "There will need to be more tribute paid then to cover the loss of the city's troops and the life of the esteemed and learned councilor," he said.

In spite of the fear that he had of the large general in the hall, he managed a dismissive look and said with only a small amount of contempt, "It would take many thousands of troops to even begin a siege at Khamazi," the ambassador said, "for the goddess herself protects the city."

He sniffed, "She would surely kill them all."

He began to draw up with obvious pride so that he might begin the next round of nonsense, but he found himself on his ear a dozen feet away after the general decided to cut this round short by backhanding the droning fool before he really got started again.

"Then let the goddess herself come and strike me down for my insolence at assaulting the esteemed emissary of her favorite – in his own eyes and no one else's," Lugalbanda said with a smirk. "I have seen too much of the murder done in her name to believe much anymore. I cannot imagine that this goddess of love lies with such killers."

He ignored his king's hot glare and bent down to look at the shocked dignitary.

"If I am correct," Lugalbanda said over his shoulder as he picked the ambassador up by the throat of his garment, "this old crow is under some protection while you both talk and waste time."

"Yes," Enmerkar said, a little appalled, "if you kill him it would start a war."

"Though that is what is needed here, this one's death would start nothing but the slow plod of another of his kind to your door with even more demands, my king. Hadanish wants no war yet. He wants these crows to talk you into the ground so that he has longer to prepare."

The fighter grinned at the frightened face of the diplomat before him. "These talks have lasted almost a year. The way that I see this, the talks will go on as they have for almost another year, and no one will send any tribute to anyone. After much talk, there will be war anyway, and once the city is won, you will get anything that they have not been able to hide."

"You-you will not win the city," the ambassador whined almost shrilly, "King Hadanish has a sorcerer!"

The fighter shrugged, "I have no fear of sorcerers, old crow. I am the warrior priest of the eresh-dingir, and husband to the High Priestess. Of the host at my command, I hold other high priestesses also." He let go of the diplomat and left him hanging suspended in air as he held up a finger and the ambassador's eyes opened wide to see the little tongue of flame burning at the end of it. Lugalbanda smiled a little as he lit the sleeve of the man's robe.

He waited as the man shrieked and flopped in the air before extinguishing the flames with a wave. Aside from his pride and his dignity, the diplomat was unharmed, but his beard was singed and his fine robe was burned and the man still hung in the air, very upset and covering his sooty nakedness with his hands. The air reeked for a moment of burned hair.

Enmerkar sat ashen-faced. "I will now have to answer for the way that Hadanish's emissary was treated at the hands of one of my generals."

Lugalbanda shook his head, "No. If Hadanish finds that he has issue with how this fool was treated by me, then let him come to me and face me for it and I will not bargain over his outrage. Alone, or by strength of arms, I will kill him, as must happen anyway, and you win this in any case."

Enmerkar decided to play the fool, so he asked why Hadanish had to die. He was taken aback at the answer that he heard.

"Because when two kings war over things that are of no consequence, they forget that both of their lands and the people in them suffer, and for what? In such a case, Enmerkar, at least one of them must die for it, if for nothing else than to prevent one fool from waging war so lightly again."

"What is this about here? If Hadanish cared so much about the loss of the city of Uruk, then he would have already brought forth his host to engage yours. But he has done nothing of the kind. He sits in his palace and demands riches to be paid to him while he plays with himself and proclaims that a goddess ruts with him. The people of Uruk themselves care not, for they are happy with your rule over them, and anyway, to them it makes little difference from one ruler to the next as long as neither oppresses them too much."

Lugalbanda's face showed his conviction for a moment as he continued, "If I go to war, Enmerkar, it is for a purpose which cannot be arrived at by any other means. I do not spend fighter's lives lightly, for I know who does most of the dying. I try to choose my battlefields to my advantage so that innocents are not caught in the middle, for I know who always suffers the most in war. I go to war to finish something so that something else might happen."

"You desire to be king over all of Sumer. It is what must happen so that the people might grow together and move as a nation. Now, they move as they are commanded by many little kings, one group at odds with the other, while other nations look on and choose their moment to take everything. Even the Martu see this. To them, it is better that Sumer has one king. It is why they seek to help you."

What he didn't say was that the Martu had no love of Enmerkar, but would follow Lugalbanda until he chose to rule Sumer himself.

Seeking to change the subject and take it away from the next obvious truth, Enmerkar bumbled straight into another, different truth. "You said that you hold more than one high priestess. There can be but one High Priestess, general," he said, "I know enough about the cult to say this."

"Aye," the general replied, growing tired of the game, "and that one you tried and failed to kill, Enmerkar. She lives still and has taken up her tasks. There can be only one living High Priestess, it is true. She and I have the favor and the help of the spirits of the nine before her. They are part of the ones who gave you Uruk and who will give you Khamazi as well – if you can but stop demanding what will be refused and bring yourself at last to the deed."

"I have no fear of sorcerers," he repeated as he turned back to the emissary, "but I fear the way that this useless fool wastes the lives of everyone around him as he talks on and on about nothing that affects anyone while his king has already gained a year to prepare for the war that he knows will come to him regardless. All that it does is make the conquest longer and the lives of both peoples harder. War will come since you hold Uruk, and you knew this before you bade me to begin there. Each minute that this talking crow wastes may easily cost you the life of one of your fighters. Since I was one of them once, it chafes me to listen to how lightly you would trade for them."

He turned to regard his king, "For long years I stood in awe of you and your abilities as a soldier. I did all that was commanded of me. I did whatever I could to learn of each situation and how you acted so that I might gain a little knowledge from it. When did you become what this one is? Is there something new here or can I begin what needs to be done? If I start now, the people of Khamazi will be able to plant one more crop of barley to help them get through the winter as they grow accustomed to your rule, my king. At the least, the amazing goddess will need to be in one bed less each night, since the king of Aratta makes the same boast as the rest of you." He raised his hand in what looked to be a beckoning gesture.

Enmerkar glowered at his general for the jibe over the goddess, but felt the tightening in his chest from the witch's curse.

The ambassador sputtered, "We have many storehouses full of grain, enough to tide the people over through at least five winters. You cannot lay a siege for that long. You act as though the outcome is already known. You do not know what you are talking about. You-"

He stopped in mid-sentence as he stared along with the king and everyone else present at the sounds of horse's hooves coming toward them slowly along the paving stones, for there was nothing visible. The confused guards at the other end still stood at the doors and nothing had gotten past them. Lugalbanda released the emissary with a nod, and he fell to his knees on the floor. He pulled the man's beard to force him to look at what now approached them all.

"The outcome is certain, crow. The city will fall. You have many storehouses now," the fighter said, "but once I begin this, they will all be burned before I touch the hovel of one farmer. The king's storehouses will burn first of all and then my fighters will help the people to keep their own grain out of the greedy hands of their grasping – and starving - king. The amazing goddess will do nothing. Please decide now what you wish, my lord king. I will lay no siege."

The king stared at the general, "I do not have the troops in place to begin now. It will take-"

Lugalbanda smiled coldy, "Then you should have begun when we first spoke of it as I advised. While you talked of who sleeps with the goddess, I have been busy preparing for your war, for I knew that it would have to happen before you go to war with Aratta – which must also happen if you wish to proclaim yourself as king over all of Sumer as you said to me."

"You had better prepare as soon as you can and march your troops under the banner of another general, but when he arrives he will do as I tell him or you lose those troops just as this fool here loses his fine home in Khamazi in a few days. You are not the only lord here, my King. I have my own troops, and as at Uruk, you will have help that you have not thought to look for. The Martu tribes will stand by your banner and do most of the hard work of this unless one thing happens."

He glared at the king in warning. "If your general seeks to harm even one Martu, the tribes will change sides faster than you can draw breath, and I with them, so tell whatever old fool general you wish to send how close he stands to the lion's den. All that I need from you is whether you still wish for the city to be standing when you arrive. I am long past tired of waiting. I will wait no longer for your leave to begin now."

He bowed in the direction of the sounds as they stopped before him.

The horse and rider became a barely visible apparition before them all and many of the people scattered. After a snort from the horse, they became quite solid, and the king stared at the smiling face of the woman who had offered herself to help find the temple's treasures at Ninab.

"So good to see you again," she said politely, "I am one of the nine. Your general's patience is at an end, "she smiled, "Take only a little longer to act, and I foresee that he will take the cities arrayed against you for himself and you will wonder what you are the king of."

Lugalbanda smiled and gave the specter a short request in the Martu language and she turned away with a warm smile for him and rode off. Before she reached the doors at the end of the hall, she was gone. The guards posted at the doors began to relax slowly as they looked around for the rider.

The general turned back to them, "I have begun it just now with my command. There is no point in talking with this idiot any longer, for there soon will be no King Hadanish, or even a city for you to conquer if you cannot rise out of your chair shortly. The sorcerer, I will deal with if I find him. If you cannot bring yourself to act, the city will be destroyed and you lose all that you have wasted a year of my time over while you haggled. Sumer needs a king. In me, you hold a mighty sword, but I am not yours to own. Think on this before you call to me again."

"Do not wait to send your army, Enmerkar, and do not think to attack me. If you are too long in coming, I will raze Khamazi to the ground when I grow tired of waiting. After that, you will find yourself fighting a war within your own country that you cannot afford. If that comes to pass, the king of Aratta will show himself to be the wiser and will attack your long open flank while you try to put out the flames in your own house. He would do this only to prove the lie that he sleeps with the same goddess every night that you lie about. If you had been paying attention, you would know that he has already crowned himself once more in her name and now builds a great temple to her."

He bowed and walked off. The guards at the end of the hall hesitated and then reached for their daggers. Lugalbanda drew his sword and left them both dead in his wake. A few moments later, he was on his horse, riding hard in the company of the Fox and the Wolf toward the horizon at the head of a huge cloud of dust.

Enmerkar called to his guards who came running up the slope. He pointed to the ambassador and all of the dignitaries who had heard everything. He included the ones who worked for him.

"Kill them," he said quietly.

He stood up and strode away for his meal, furious now at his general.

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There were about a thousand people in the little communities of hovels scattered here and there on the plain near to Khamazi. They were the farmers whose sweat fed the city's inhabitants. Over the next week, these people had visitors as they sat by their fires in the night. Things were told to them plainly – that there was war coming to the area and why – that only the city was wanted, but that soldiers from the city would soon be sent to force them to give up their stocks of grain. This grain was the mouse's share after most of what they'd grown had already been given over to the king's granaries.

They were told also that they would be protected as much as was possible, by another people who wanted to kill the soldiers and not the peasants, for it would weaken the king. They were told that once it was begun, their own king would lock the city gates against them – his own subjects, but that the gates would be unlocked again afterward and the farmers could have the city for themselves if they wished for a while. What it would cost them was whatever was growing in the fields at the time, so they were told to harvest as early as possible since at least some would be burned. Here and there, an overseer thought to make for the city to warn the soldiers, but no warnings were ever passed since the overseers never reached the gates.

It began as a field on fire. The smoke from the blaze was noted from the city wall and soon after, a dozen crying women appeared at the gates, saying that their men had been killed by some attackers who had burned their fields. A patrol of troops was sent to investigate. The women were let into the gate, but disappeared into the normal crowds in the streets soon after.

The troops never returned.

That night, ten of the king's granaries were set ablaze. While three of the fires were put out, seven were consumed and even out of the three, much of the grain was ruined due to the water that had been slung on it to keep it from igniting. The next night there were guards posted to watch the remaining granaries. The guards were killed and ten more granaries burned.

More armed guards were posted the next day, but that evening, strange riders were seen entering the city. No one believed the reports since the riders were said to have entered through the city wall itself in different places. Tales began to circulate about ghosts on horseback, and even these were not given much credence until the granary guards came running to tell of the riders near to the granaries. The sky over the city was lit by the many fires as over forty storehouses blazed.

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