The Sighs of the Priestess Ch. 04byTaLtos6©
**Ok, we continue with the tale. It's a little tough scratching around for proper names for this area and the groups of people at the time.
Just so you know and don't get confused, to the Amorites (Martu), the title "Ba'al" hearkened back to an old god for them, and it was a word in common usage all over to denote a great man, or a lord, or even the head of a household or family. So it's a natural that some of these folks would address Lugalbanda as "Ba'al". For that matter, to Sumerians of the time, "lugal" meant much the same thing. It's not really too important. I just didn't want to lose anyone when somebody calls him "Ba'al". The Sumerians and the Amorites are all dead anyhow.
Hehe, I try to learn something new every day. O_o
There's a tiny bit of girl-girl in this, but nothing really graphic if that bothers anyone. I think it comes across more as affection than anything else. Then again, it might bother some that it's NOT graphic. Dang, what to do?
The line of helpers from the shopkeepers in the market looked to be never-ending, he thought, as clothing lay piled in the main chamber and two sleeping pallets arrived. The priestess smiled at him, "I did not go to spend all of your money. I only bought what was needed." She shrugged, "and anyway, it is the lord general's gold that was spent."
She had Adad smiling at his new anvil, and once the material for the building was stacked in the fighting area, Dagon and Anat swept out the storage room and placed one of the pallets on the floor. The other sleeping pallet went into the chamber that Timna would sleep in and work out of as she helped with the clothing. When everything had arrived and the main door was closed, the place took on another look completely.
Timna went to the tents to ask for help bringing the clothing and she stopped, seeing the other fighters there in one tent, some looking at her and the rest playing at backgammon to pass the time. Timna asked for their help with the clothing that was bought for them. Since she'd said the magic word, in another minute, she was back with her volunteers and the women fell on the clothing, each looking for something for herself so that she might finally get out of her armor.
Four of them did not have blue eyes and these were given more of the clothing, since they would be spending more time away than the others learning what they could in the city. The ones who had found something which fit them began to drift over to the stables and the smith found that the strange day was beginning to look better to him every minute.
"So now that you have seen how you might think between you," the priestess smirked at the builder and the captain, "do I need to ask my master for the gold to repay you, Anat?"
"Nay," she smiled, "I think that we have enough between us here to exchange ideas. Dagon smiles more even now, and it makes me happier for it. Thank you, Nisi-ini-su."
"Psh," her friend blew between her teeth, "I only wish to see that you get the worth of your money. You might go and help him a little and bring others too as he begins to think of how he might build the place for the weapons that are to come soon to train the men with," the priestess grinned.
"But I heard your mother say that there would be no school," the captain said.
"We are not to look as though we know that," her friend smiled, "and the space there can be used to hold fighters out of the rain and cold as well as weapons if your handsome new boy thinks about it."
Two of the "spies" in the group went out into the city to learn of the streets, but they were back within the hour. "There have been poisonings here in the palace," they said, "the people everywhere talk of this. Important people are dead, they say."
"The food has not arrived yet from the palace kitchens," the priestess said, "and now I will make sure that no one will eat it. Go back out. I will tell Timna and see what may be done to help her prepare for us to eat our own. What they will bring to us here may feed the crows." When the food did arrive, it was placed outside and watched.
In less than an hour, there were three poisoned crows and seven dead rats near to where the food had been placed.
The warrior looked a little sad at what he saw. "I am sorry, my love," the priestess said to him softly, "there is no trusting your general. You see how he rewards your service to him."
"Twelve years, I have served," he said. "I still cannot lay the blame at his door but I will trust no one anymore but you."
The evening was well into dusk when there was a knock on the door. The warrior opened it and the lord general swept in with two of his guards. They were already into the room before any of them noticed the two guards there behind the door wearing armor and helmets.
"What is this?" he demanded.
"Nothing much, lord general," the warrior replied with a smile, "Wherever I go in this palace, I seem to find myself making enemies of jailers and gate guards. I wish to wake up in the morning after I go to sleep, nothing more. I keep some guards myself here who cannot be bought."
The general recoiled slightly when he saw the priestess step from behind him. She looked to have eyes only for the warrior and almost ignored the one who'd had her thrown into the jail months before.
"The witch!" he gasped, "and her hands are free!"
"Please calm yourself, lord," the fighter smiled, "I cannot have her live her life with her hands bound, can I? I know of her powers and she has not harmed me. Please, sit down."
The general looked nervously at the young woman, but she only looked at the fighter and cooed softly into his ears as she kept her body against him and kissed him softly often.
The older man stared, "What have you done to her? All that I heard was that she killed any who tried to --"
"Kill her," Lugalbanda said, "I have heard what happened. Any day that you wish, I ask only that the jailers who survived be brought to me along with their toothless leader so that I might finish what the priestess here has begun for as jailers they do you no credit. I learned something a long while ago about how one treats defeated ones. If you treat a man like a man, you might one day make a cautious friend, but if you treat a man like a dog, he will only wait for his chance to rip your throat out."
He nodded to the general, "If you treat a defeated nation like dogs, then every single one will need to be hunted down if they are proud like these ones. It costs you many men and much time and gold. These ones cannot be crushed so easily as many nations might. They only spring back up as soon as you lift your foot."
The priestess hissed softly at the older man, "He did nothing to me but give me back my dignity. You gave me to one who is man enough for me, that is all. You should have thought of it sooner. He keeps me pleased, and now I try to be a good slave-girl for him. Look," she held up her hands, "I have not killed even one with my hands free. It is more than you could do with your fat jailers and my hands were bound then." She went back to her whispers and the softly moaned sighs that she breathed into the warrior's ears.
The general shook his head and sat down across from the warrior.
"I begin now to prepare the school, lord," Lugalbanda said, "give me a fortnight and all will be ready. Give me only a week, if it is all that you have and I can even begin then."
The older man shook his head again, "The school will have to wait, Lugalbanda. I know that you are not from near here, but my father, Mesh-ki-ang-gasher will die soon and leaves only me as his heir. I am named as one of several for the priests to choose from and it seems likely that I will be named king."
The warrior smiled, but said nothing, knowing that most - if not all of the other choices and many of the priests - would be dead very soon.
"When you hear that it is announced," the general said, removing all doubt from Lugalbanda's mind, "I will leave Eridu here soon after and march on Uruk to set up there as my kingdom. I know that you will always do what I set you to, so get you there as soon as you hear and see what may be done to ease the fight for us. The city is growing and stands now at thirty-five thousand. There is no wall and they have but a small army. I will bring five thousand. See that I do not need them all and since there are no fortifications, I do not expect to have to lay a siege to the place. Do this for me, and you will be a leader in my army."
"Then it shall be done, lord general," the fighter bowed low. Straightening up, he asked, "Would you care for something to eat from what I have here? You could always ask one of these guards of yours to taste the food first."
The general smiled, "I would eat a little, but only if one of your guards there tries it first."
"As you wish," Lugalbanda smiled, motioning one of the two guards to eat," Say only what you would like to have a little of, and it will be tested."
"Everything," the general smiled, but after the guard had tried a little of everything there, he told the fighter that he'd changed his mind. "I see now that your guards here are Amorites. I will not eat after one of them has touched any food here."
The warrior shrugged with a smile, knowing the lie when he heard it and purposely took up a leg of fowl that the guard had set down last to make a point, "They are here so that they might feel better about the priestess. It keeps all of them calm. I feel better because as I have said, they cannot be bought."
The general grinned coldly, "It is your choice, Lugalbanda, what you do and who you rut with. You know that if anything happens to your witch here, these guards will turn on you first," he said as he got up to leave.
Nisi-ini-su's fingers were a blur then and she plucked out one of her hairs and then sprang to pull out one of the older man's whiskers from his beard as well. Before anyone could even move, she sat back down and laughed as her little fingers flew. The general's guards reached for their daggers, but found the blades of the priestess' guards against their throats.
As they'd discussed it, Lugalbanda stood up holding one palm up and moving his fingers as he'd learned. He was surprised when the faces of the general's guards suddenly held blank expressions and they relaxed, lowering their hands to their sides, mesmerized by the motions. He stopped, still holding his palm facing them.
The lord general gasped and clutched at his chest while her fingers wove through the air in front of her. "If anything happens to me or to my fine lover here," she smiled, "your heart will be squeezed until it bursts. You feel this already and I only tie the knots."
She stopped, grinning as she held up the knotted hair, woven in intricate patterns. "So. It is done, grasping lord general of vultures. There will be none of your treachery against the Martu here at Eridu either or you writhe in agony as soon as the words pass your lips. Do you doubt me, the one whose hands you had bound though it killed many men? Go and try," she glared, "and we will see what is what."
She grinned at him coldy, "You will feel the pain of the women and the children who were slain at Ninab before you pass yourself. Once it is done, you will be among them for eternity in the dust of the soon-dead city of the Martu."
"What do you mean 'soon-dead', witch?"
She chuckled, "We will outlast the Sumerians as we have outlasted others before you by our will and our magic. Have you heard anything from the garrison commander at Ninab? No? Go and send someone, but tell them not to stay after nightfall, lord, ... general, if you wish to hear their news. The city is empty, the lands are bare. What Martu remained there after your conquest have gone. The only ones who stayed were not Martu and most of them have gone out of fear. The soldiers cannot leave, they die of they try."
She laughed at him, "They die of they stay, and it is not healthy to walk the streets after dark. How much did your conquest cost you? You have won the chalice, but there is nothing but dust in it to drink, and while you look elsewhere, the cup itself crumbles."
And this," she snarled as she held up the hair knot, "this here today is so that you might know that you are not all-powerful. This is so that you know that what you do lasts and echoes. You threaten this fighter? After his years of loyal service to you, you try to poison him? You should have seen his face when he realized what it has bought him. If you were here then I would have fed you your own bollocks over it. This here is for that also, though he will do what you want and have Martu help for it. Remember my face when your heart hurts you. Any treachery against us - anything, and you become the one of the very things which wail and kill the living at Ninab. You will be hunted by thousands of them forever." The priestess nodded, "Now you live on my string, general. Try hard not to remind me why I do not like you."
The fighter clapped his hands together, and the guards looked as they'd been before, nervous and hostile.
He smiled at the general only slightly, "I am still loyal to you, lord Enmerkar. I am only more careful these days, that is all. The food that I offered was prepared here. I think that I know the reason that you would not eat. It did not come from your kitchens but you thought that it did. What came from the kitchens is outside killing rats and crows."
"But do not worry. None but us here know of your ... pains. When you succeed to the crown, I will go to Uruk and prepare it for you. If I can, I will do more than that and hand the city to you, but for this, I want to fill the general's place in your army when you leave your title and take up the one of king."
The stricken lord felt the tension in his chest ease a little as he heard the priestess chuckle. "Go and let your physicians or anyone else try to find what is wrong with you, and the knots will grow only tighter each time and remain tight. I will see now how you like it to be bound by another."
The general reached for the door and was gone.
They were left alone for the next two days, and during that time, the priestess and the warrior tried to prepare as much as they could against what might be asked of him. Timna began to find some of her long-lost self-confidence returning as she warmed to the job that she'd been given. It was a busy life, but she enjoyed it and the way that everyone seemed to include her in the problem-solving of how to prepare.
She found that Anat and Nisi-ini-su were such close friends, and yet they were happy to include her often in their talk. She was happiest when Anat gave her a dagger and taught her a little of how to use it and when the priestess fussed over her, trying an endless line of new ways to tie her hair, or suggest small new things when they were in the market together. Timna was almost without words when the priestess told her that they were going to look for only one thing that day at the market -- a new dress for Timna.
The other fighters often talked and joked with her, making sure that she knew how thankful they were for the clothing that she'd made just so for each one. Mostly, they began as simple robes or dresses, but they were far from that when she handed them back. It was far better than the life that she'd had in Ninab. She'd never had so many friends in her life.
The second morning was something of a shock to Timna when she found herself alone with Lugalbanda while everyone else still slept. "I am here to help with whatever you need of me," he said, "I see the way that this goes here, and it is time that I offer to work for the one who is the center of my household. Nisi-ini-su is the brain, Timna, but you are the keeper of the hands here. I think only of the road that lies ahead of me and so I have the time for this now."
Timna looked to see if there was sarcasm in his face, but all that she found was well-meant mirth. She set him to work chopping vegetables and he amazed her by finishing far faster than she'd have thought. He bowed, "I need more to do, Timna. Give me another task."
The faster she gave him jobs, the quicker she found that he worked. She had almost no time to decide on what she would do herself. She was giving him whatever she could think of. Finally, she had him slice some meat thinly and then she began to cook eggs as the morning bread cooled. She shook her head in wonder when he held out a chair for her. "Sit, Timna, and I will cook while I cut the meat."
"What will happen when the king dies, as they say that he will?" she asked, her eyes looking at his chest.
He shrugged, "We will leave for the city of Uruk to get there before the new king arrives."
She had another question that had been on her mind for almost a day now. "What will become of me then?"
"You can remain here, though I would not recommend it, or you could come with us. We would all like that far better, Timna."
"And you, Ba'al," she said, "what would you like, that I stay or that I go too?"
"If you stay," he said with a grin, "you would have the bath all to yourself, but for my part, I would like it if you come with us."
Timna had to wonder about his answer a little. She noticed that he had obviously meant it very much.
"I still learn," he said, "and though I can lead the prayers now, there is even more for me to do, and I must think and plan what I will do when we reach Uruk. I will need much help from everyone then. If you are there, it would go easier, and the trouble of where the large pot is packed and who sleeps where is in your hands," he smiled. "These are only small things while we stand here and joke, but when it happens and we are beset with many things, that is when the solution of these small things is more important than anything."
He grinned to himself for a moment, "And besides, I like to watch you as you tell us all what we are to do."
"Thank you," she said. "I have sometimes felt as though it made no difference to anyone if I was with them or not. In my family's work, I would be shouted at if I was too slow, or if I was not too slow. If I was even faster with my work, I was shouted at for that."
She shook her head a little, remembering, "I used to wonder what would have happened if I was not there at all. I wondered if any of them would even notice or if my being gone would bring the whole thing to a halt, only because they wouldn't know what to do if I was not there to shout at."
She felt his hand on her shoulder and she looked up. His face showed concern. "And here, Timna? What is it like for you here? I have heard no one shout, but is it too much for you?"
She didn't know how to respond at first. It took a second for her to come up with her answer because of his touch. "Here I am happy, Ba'al. Everyone seems to need me, and yet they are all friendly and are thankful for whatever I do for them."
She looked at him and then she stepped a little closer and he heard her voice as a whisper, "Are you here with me because your woman asked you to be?"
He nodded, "We spoke and even fought a little -- which is a hard thing to do with Nisi-ini-su and win. She told me that I should get to know you, and I agreed but I was busy with other things then. The time of it here is my choice, and it is the right thing to do. I can usually not get near to you at any other time."
He smiled, "You are always needed somewhere. That is why I decided to come to you now when we might talk. I grow to like you even more than I did before."
She nodded, and he kept working at everyone's breakfast.
That evening, she walked to one of the tents carrying some dresses with the priestess. As she began to step inside, she froze and Nisi-ini-su almost walked into her. "What?" the priestess asked her.