I wrestled with the question of whether or not to post this. While it does not give away the fates of any of the characters, it does reveal a major plot point. If you don’t wish to read it, stop now.
Then here we go…
Unudigir Emyni the Snake Charmer, Chosen Redeemer of Erishkigal, stood atop the Tower of Babil and looked to the north. King Ludubgara the Hunter of Ea, Mighty in the Earth, stood to her right. High Priestess Rubati, First Dumusmah of Erishkigal, to her left. Behind and around them were generals, guards, and Emyni’s armed escorts.
The city of Babil spread out before them. To the left, the west, the outskirts hid behind the low outer wall across the Buranuna River. Outskirts which were largely empty. Most of the people fled through the Shamash Gate to the south and Ishkur Gate to the west. Looking for sanctuary in Adummatu, Nun-Ki, or the outlying farmlands between. The Kumar Bridge, the sole crossing of the Buranuna within the city walls, lay in ruins – destroyed by Ludubgara’s men not long after the first tendrils of smoke appeared to the north. Soldiers in conical leather helms, akar armor, and armed with long bronze spears, stood watch on the eastern bank of the river and along the river wall.
Thick, oily smoke from sacrifices of animals and acrid incense rose from the two temples below them – the temples of Inanna and Ea – signifying to all who remained that the priests and priestesses had not abandoned the city, and that they sought the Gods’ intervention. The Procession Street, normally filled with men and woman in gaily-colored clothing shopping and communing, was instead dark and drab. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of men in armor moved along it as it passed to the south of the palace and turned north towards the Inanna Gate and the encroaching threat.
The inner wall was empty of all but a few sentries. The bulk of Ludubgara’s forces were committed to the lower outer wall, along the eastern and northern borders of the city. The remaining soldiers would garrison the Great North Fortress, twin towers protecting the path to the Inanna Gate. The men on the Procession Street were their reinforcements.
The city, although teeming with life, seemed to have accepted death. Smoke filled the air from the once lush fields and gardens outside the north and east walls. Fields burned by the retreating army of Babil – burned to deny the horde their fruits. And, even though the farms were abandoned, smoke rose from their chimneys as well. Not the smoke of unchecked fires. The Ebru occupied those homes. And between them, covering the ground like leaves at the end of the growing season, countless tents and cooking fires filled the landscape.
At such a distance, Emyni couldn’t see the men of the Ebru army. She could see movement, and she could feel them, but they were too small for her eyes. But she could see the poles. Dotted, at even intervals, along the canals extending from the river like a spider’s web, and along the main north road, stood the poles. Driven into the earth by the sadistic men of Ebru, the poles announced the fervor they possessed for their God, El. On each one, she knew, was impaled what the priests of El and Mualan called, “heathens”. To be a heathen, for them, simply meant you worshiped any God or Goddess that was not El. Ludubgara’s men reported, with horror, that the soldiers of Ebru did not care if the heathen was man, woman, or child.
“King Khadmon has grown mad with age,” Ludubgara said, softly. “He throws away riches for war.”
“He is jealous of your lands, my King,” Polassar stated. “The Ebru valley is small – and they have grown too big for it.”
“But why come so far south? He took Ninev. There is plenty there, and few live there.”
“Because they knew you would come for him, my King. No true King of Babil would suffer such a thing on his borders.”
“This is foolish. No army has breeched the walls of Babil. Not since they were built. His men will break on the walls and be crushed like barley under the stone. There will be nothing but chaff and husks left. We could do this without the Kin of Urnamu, but they will come. In a month they will be here. Thousands more to wash their sapparas and spears in the pale blood of the Ebru. By the next harvest, the Ebru will be a memory, and King Khadmon a lesson in foolishness and greed.”
“Yes, my King. But until Ubaru arrives, we must hold. This is why I say we do nothing rash. We have the food and water to stay behind the walls for a month. Let Khadmon come to us. We will smash them from atop the walls and drive them between the towers like lions to a spike pit.”
“I have heard your counsel, Polassar. I will consider it.”
“He will not. Ludubgara is as vain and jealous as Khadmon. He wants the victory for himself.”
Emyni didn’t understand. Why would the King risk anything, if they knew they would win if he but waited behind the walls. The Gage said he was jealous, and vain, but surely that wasn’t worth risking his life and kingdom?
“It is the nature of men, my child. They are not thoughtful creatures. They are ruled by emotions and irrational behavior. These are the men who worship our sister. This is what the guidance of those who turned against me has brought.”
“When will they attack?” Emyni asked out loud, more to the Gage than the others.
“Tomorrow, I guess. Or maybe the next. They will start slow, small. Testing our defenses. They will want to see if the legendary walls of Babil are as strong as the stories say.” Rabizigatum Polassar answered.
“They are,” the King added.