A retelling of a historic/biblical event.
|Two middle-aged men stood by the dying king’s bedside. One wore a dark blue silk cloak and a small round hat to match, and the other had the same outfit, only it was light gray. They were Mattri, the Messenger of the Rain, and Kraatr, the Messenger of the Moon, and they were the king’s Antushes, his Divine Servants. They were there to give him the support of the Rain God and the Moon God.
King Darviush the Sun Messenger was laying on top golden-brown silk sheets, supported by eleven burgundy pillows. The warm tones of the Royal private chamber magnificently reflected the crimson glow of sunset that filled it through the many tall windows, as well as from the open doors to the terrace-balcony that went around the outer walls of the chamber. A late evening desert breeze caressed the plenitude of marble and ivory statues, and glided around the expertly carved massive oak furniture, a tribute from a king in northern Italy. Yet nothing in this entire chamber, or perhaps in the entire kingdom came close to the value and significance of a single piece of garment that hung on a beautifully carved ivory stand. It was placed opposite to the Royal bed, so that the king could see it at all times. It was a red shirt with a large yellow sun symbol in the middle, and it was exclusively woven from human hair. Wearing it underneath his robe or armour, King Darviush the Sun Messenger was the most revered ruler in the world, and he owed much of his power to it. It was the Shirt of the Sun.
“Help me to my feet.” The king’s old tired voice still conveyed intelligence and command. “I know I will die tonight. My medicine men assure me I am immortal, but that is only because they are afraid I will put them to death. It came to me in a dream for three consecutive nights, and this means that tonight I will join my fathers on the night sky.” After all, he knew he spoke the truth. He would die tonight, be it one way or another.
The Antushes slightly bowed their heads in solemn appreciation of his words, and helped the old King to his feet.
“Come, take me to the balcony. I wish to see my Babel tonight before I return my eyesight to the Sun.”
They put his thin arms around their necks, and led the frail king through the balcony doors, and onto the artificial terrace. They brought him to the chest-high rim of the balcony, and let him lean on it. The sun was still casting its last crimson rays on Darviush’s dark weathered face, but the great city below was already under the cover of darkness, its gates securely locked for the night. A clear hexagonal formation of torches defined the citadel, the center of which was Darviush’s Sun Tower, and a myriad of shimming lights stretched for miles and miles away from the palace. It was a strange and somewhat divine mix of light and darkness, yet Darviush was accustomed to it. The Sun Tower rose above the city to a staggering height of a hundred and ninety arm’s-lengths, and it was rumored that at the time of night when the sun only touched the tip of the tower and not the land below, Darviush would come out to the balcony, and converse with the almighty Sun God. For about twelve minutes each night and every morning, the Sun Tower was a glowing beacon to the inhabitants of Babel before sunrise and after sunset.
“It is that time of day when the Sun God is supposed to pass his will onto me, and you know what he speaks now?” He became silent. “He tells me, that tomorrow morning the Sun Kingdom will remain without its Sun Messenger.” The Antushes dared not breathe. Darviush held the pause for about a minute. “Who will then deliver his will in the absence of a messenger?”
Mattri moved a slightly shaking hand, and scratched his right elbow. A moment later, Kraatr put his hand on his left hip. Those were the agreed signs. Tonight was the time to act. If the old childless king fails to pass onto them the rule over the Sun Kingdom, then he must die on their terms, or else who knows what surprises he still holds for them. They had many people in the palace now, and many loyal commanders in the army too. In the morning, they would pronounce it the Rain and Moon Kingdom. Darviush’s gaze was directed westwards, towards the horizon. There, the sun finally disappeared behind the mountains of Lebanon, and he didn’t seem to take notice of his Antushes.
“Before a great king goes, he is to sum up his life and the life of his ancestors, so hear me now. My great-great grandfather, Shaalecher, came out of the eastern desert, and established Babel, the city that lies between two rivers. He made it plentiful and great. It was to my grandfather, King Antioch, that the Sun God came in a dream, and told him that from that point onward, he and his sons and their sons will forever be Messengers of the Sun and rule Babel. The Sun God wanted my father, King Navuchadim, to build him the Sun Palace, and a chamber inside for him to dwell. He also wanted him to conquer many lands and peoples in his name and glory, so that they too can know him and bow to him.”
Darviush raised his gaze above the city, to the darkening blue sky, where some stars were already visible. He spoke slowly, heavily, and deliberately. He prepared this speech a long time ago, and recited it in his mind every time before he fell asleep. Tonight was the time. Their treachery has gone too far, and they could act any day now. He could have had them put to death, but first he needed to know if they were aware of his plan. If all goes well tonight, Darviush the last Sun Messenger will be remembered forever!
“But to me the Sun God was most generous. In his generosity, he bestowed me with the Shirt of the Sun. When I wear it, its power makes the hair on my entire body stand, and everybody knows I possess the Touch of the Sun. Because of it, I am the most revered ruler from China to Gaul, from Libya to Germania, and all the kings send me gifts and tribute.
“To express my gratitude to the Sun God, I decided to erect the Sun Tower on top of the palace my father built. This tower was to be the tallest tower in the whole world, and the Sun God would shine on it at a time when the rest of the world is covered with darkness, and at that time he would pass his word unto me.” Darviush returned his gaze to the city. Only a few lights remained on the streets of Babel now, and they were slowly moving. Those were the torches of the night patrolmen.
“I sent out messengers to the different kingdoms, and demanded a dozen dozens slaves from each of them to arrive at Babel at such and such a date. And one morning, at the date that was set by me, I came out onto the balcony, and I beheld many caravans arriving and erecting great colorful tents outside the city walls. Those were the slaves I asked for. Nine years later, the tower was completed, and as a sign of gratitude I pardoned all the slaves and allowed them to stay in my kingdom and bow to the Sun God.” He took a long, deep breath. He was approaching the most critical part.
“After it was completed, the Sun God came in a dream to me, and told me that the Rain God and the Moon God were so impressed by my deeds, that they decided to send Antushes to stand by me at all times. Just like the Moon and the Rain are slaves to the Sun, those messengers were to be picked from my slaves, and in that dream, it was your names that were pronounced.” He held a small pause, and suddenly raised his voice to a crescendo: “Hear me now, former slaves: this is the Sun Kingdom, and not the Moon Kingdom, or the Rain Kingdom! Here, the Messenger of the Sun God presides!”
He suddenly turned his head to the right, where Mattri was standing. Mattri was standing much closer to the old king now, his hands were deep in the folds of his garment, and the look in his eyes was most intense. Darviush’s unexpected action startled him, his eyes gave out a spark and he stepped forward. He exposed his right hand, which was clutching a small transparent horn and a dark liquid in it. Suddenly, Darviush felt the strong hands of Kraatr gripping his head and torso from behind.
“Wait!” He roared, “There is one last thing I need to tell you, there is one secret I was keeping from you!”
Darviush’s words have produced the effect he hoped for, and both Mattri and Kraatr stepped back and left the king leaning on the high rim of the terrace with his back against it. Their eyes were those of hyenas staring at a bleeding antelope. Darviush took a deep breath. He was shaking.
“When I was still in my youth, I found out I will remain childless. From then on, I lived with the knowledge that I would be the last Messenger of the Sun. After I will join my fathers on the night sky, the Sun Kingdom will remain without a Sun Messenger, and it cannot be so. It would not be so!” He made a small pause. “The Sun Kingdom cannot exist without the Sun Messenger!" The three of them stood motionless for a long minute, paralyzed yet determined to carry on with their plans. Finally, Darviush continued.
"A long time ago, I vowed that the Sun Kingdom would die with me." He watched their every movement. "I secretly ordered a water tunnel dug under this palace, and a gate at the end of it. If the gate is to be opened, then water would flood the sand underneath this palace, turning it into mud. The Sun Tower will then sink and collapse on top of the palace, thus obliterating the heart of the Sun Kingdom.” He gasped for air. The Antushes were completely focused on him.
“Before I die, I will destroy the Sun Tower!”
Mattri and Kraatr were taken by surprise, and they just stood motionless, looking at the old king with wide bewildered eyes. It was the effect Darviush had been praying for. They knew nothing and therefore, they did not sabotage his plan! His eyes flared up, as they did every time before battle, and he threw both arms high up in the air. Two arrows were almost simultaneously shot from the roof of his chamber, piercing the Antushes’ necks. The conspirators gave a stifled shriek, and collapsed on the tiled balcony floor.
Two deaf slaves climbed down from the roof onto the balcony. They unsheathed their blades and made sure the conspirators were dead. Only then did they help Darviush walk back to his private chamber. He sat down on the edge of his bed and took several trembling breaths. This was probably the closest attempt on his life in all his years as ruler. The look in his eyes was old and shaken, and it was full of tired emptiness. He raised his head and examined the two deaf slaves who were solemnly standing in front of him, waiting for his orders. They were promised their families would not be put to death if they fulfilled the king's orders, and then they were deafened using a few droplets of molten lead. Summoning them closer with his finger, he pointed to a heavy oak closet that was standing close to a wall, and indicated he wishes it were moved. The slaves obeyed, and with some effort they moved the closet to reveal a large bronze ring in the wall. Darviush signalled them that he wanted the ring pulled out. They grabbed it, and started pulling with all their strength, yet it didn’t yield. Their dark bodies vibrated with physical effort, and suddenly there was a distant grating sound. The bronze ring gave way, and slowly started to come out. On the other end, a thick rope was tied to it, and as the two slaves pulled, it kept coming out from a hole in the wall.
Slowly but surely, the two slaves pulled the rope out from the wall, until it was about six arm’s-lengths. Darviush then pointed out to an elephant’s tusk that protruded from the same wall. The slaves mounted the ring on it, and surprisingly the ivory tusk held the strain. Sighing with apparent relief, Darviush signalled the exhausted slaves out of his chamber with a negligent wave. They closed the door behind them, and the old king was left alone in the Royal Chamber. Nothing to worry about now, as the conspirators lay dead on the balcony, and the two clueless slaves were sitting outside his chamber doors, awaiting instructions. If only they knew what they’ve done! The old man lay down on his bed and slowly closed his wrinkled eyelids. That night he was restless and could not sleep, as people always are when they realize they are merely human.
Such was the story of King Darviush, the last of the Sun Messengers, and of the Sun Tower, which was also know as the Tower of Babel to people ignorant of the Sun God.