A curse on the Gods of Assur! Our journey along the Tigris paralleled my journey towards the otherworld. Illness and plague had fallen upon me, demons attacked my very being. Goliath revealed himself as a true son of a God since he showed no sign of the curse that led to my aches, my fever, my chills and my visions. We stopped in any village we came to, but the doctors were of no value and so we carried on towards the capital of the decadent Assyrian Empire. I knew that their medicine was childish compared to the advanced Egyptian knowledge, but I was in dire need of help. My own herbs and wooden Gods were failing me. On one night I even threw my half-carved statue of Marduk into the river, just in case his presence was anathema to the local Gods. By the time we approached Assur itself I was dehydrated, I could not keep any food down and demons clouded my sight. We arrived at the city gates as the sun was setting and I swear I saw the full moon pass in front of the spires in the centre of the city.
The gates were about to close for the night but we managed to make it through, passing by the stone guardians of Assur. The winged bulls and lions stared at me, baleful eyes offering no protection to a foreigner such as me. I passed out, darkness taking me as quickly as the night hag steals a child. I awoke coughing during the night. Goliath had found us a place to stay, a small room with fresh straw on the cot I was lying on. There was a jar of water by my side and a fire burning at the far end of the room. Goliath was there talking to several robed men. I wondered if they were the Asu, the only healers worth anything in this Gods forsaken land. I strained to hear what they were discussing. I overheard a few words – “prophecy”, “stars are right”, “your arrival is no coincidence”. Had I not already lost my senses I would probably have barged in to stop Goliath getting himself into any trouble. Instead I found the best thing to do was to collapse unconscious again.
Days must have passed as I swam in and out of the dream worlds. An old woman was tending to me, I remember her and someone else holding me down as I thrashed in the middle of a fight with demons. I did not see Goliath, indeed the only people I saw were the woman and a one-armed man who sat next to the door and rocked backwards and forwards. Eventually the Gods must have grown tired of tormenting me and their fickleness led to an improvement in my condition. I was able to drink and eat and listen to my hosts. They spoke rarely, and when they did it was in Aramaic rather than Assyrian. I did not know if this boded well, the Assyrian Empire was infested by the wandering Arameans and clashes between them and the locals were common. As I regained my strength I stayed silent hoping to learn as much as possible before revealing how well I was recovering. Eventually, when I figured I was well enough to leave, I spoke to my benefactors.
“Thank you my friends, you have been most kind to me. My name is Senbi, and I am at your service.”
A grunt was the only reply from the one-armed man. The woman ignored me.
“I wonder if you could tell me where my friend Goliath is. I imagine he will want to know that I am beginning to feel better.”
This garnered only a shake of the head.
“Perhaps I should go looking for him, he gets very worried about me, violently so on occasions, and it wouldn’t do to keep him so concerned…”
This at last brought a response.
“You must stay here. You can’t leave. Orders of the King.”
“What? That makes no sense, I am a poor traveller, what trouble could I cause to the King?”
No reply. While things had certainly improved for me, the same could probably not be said for Goliath. I knew he would get into trouble without me! There was only one thing to do – I had to escape my captors and find Goliath. He would do the same for me. I waited until both the sun and moon had set, the darkest part of the night. Although stiff and sore from lying in the cot for so long I was still nimble enough to creep silently to the door, step over the one-armed man, and make good my escape onto the streets of Assur. It was then a simple matter to make my way far from my captors and to wait until dawn and the crowds of the market place.
I will spare you the details of asking every merchant, local or foreign, every beggar, every Aramean nomad, every passing priest of the Storm God, every blasted person in the city of Assur to find out what I needed to know. In the end I discovered a man who could help me. The sort of man who can help anyone if they so desired. A Magi.
This Magi was old, an ancient master of his craft. He was shaved bald as a priest would be, wrinkles in his skin showing his age instead of greying hair. His robes were covered in the symbols of his craft – moons, stars, and the sun. Convinced by my entreaties and by giving him some knowledge of the state of affairs in Egypt, he told me of the great alignment of stars that foretold an evil portent. The death of the King! All the Magi had seen the omen, a shooting star many moons ago, and now the great zodiac was aligning. In just a few short days the King would die. Now it made sense that Goliath was missing. Surely the King had seen him and considered him a threat. Or perhaps those robed men were Magi who wanted the King assassinated and convinced Goliath to try. Oh the fool! And curse those Gods for leaving his good sense behind, ill and confined to a cot! One glimmer of hope remained. The King had confined me but not had me killed, presumably so that he could question me when I recovered. It was possible that Goliath too was languishing in prison.
A new plan was in order, one that would take all my daring and cunning, and I only had scant days to prepare. My best bribery was needed, but before long I had an insiders knowledge of the palace, its layout and even the names of some of the guards. I acquired dark clothing and a knife. Nothing would stop me from getting into the heart of Assur and freeing my friend. The moon was still up when I made my move, but I could not wait any longer. I made my way to the palace and with gusto distracted a guard – I called his name and he trustingly came close enough for me to hold my knife to his throat. Shortly after I had his clothes and weapons. With my disguise and striding confidence I made my way into the palace building itself. Mighty statues lined the walls and I walked humbly past these ancient Gods. I was far from the eyes of Seth and needed all the help I could get. Alas, my informant was remarkable with his details of the palace, but he missed one important point about quite how many guards were in the prison area.
My knife skills would stand me in no stead here as I was spotted and revealed as an impostor. Pleading was my best bet and it worked enough to have them only beat me slightly before one of the guards pointed out that all intruders were to be brought to the King. Late as it was I was dragged to the throne room. My head was swimming again – this time from the mortals of Assur rather than their Gods. It took me a moment or two to realise what I was seeing in the centre of the palace. Standing in front of the altar, resplendent in yellow robes was the man who would decide my fate. I was thrown on the floor and the guard barked at me:
“On your knees assassin. Bow to the Beloved of the Gods – Goliath, King of Assyria!”
You see what happens when he doesn’t have his trusted advisor with him? A curse on the Gods of Assur!