Mylitta’s Question (II/IV)

Posted on September 4, 2004 by Jenna

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This is a truth that must be remembered.

The people remember.

The struggle of Mylitta was not in vain. The monster was strong, and much was lost. But much was bought in turn.

The people remember.

They began to come to her and ask her aid.

The people remember.

With blood on their brow they came. And blood on their hands. And pain in their eyes. The people came to her.

The people remember.

And to lighten the pain of the monster’s thrall, the gods of Babylon came to her.

The people remember.

And in the name of the people and the gods, she made argument with him, and often he bent. His heart bent to her. So he said. So he believed.

The people remember.

He held her in thrall to every person’s hopes.

We begged her to buy from him
what he could have freely given.

And the question Mylitta asked of him
remains unanswered still.

The people remember.
The people mourn.

It is 550 years before the common era.

The temple at Harran holds no one prisoner, and many of Nabonidus’ victims have fled. Many others have chosen to stay. They are as caged tigers, who, freed into the wild, still pace out the length of their prison cages. There is a bond between monster and victim that is difficult to break.

In the sacred precinct of Babylon, the monster keeps Mylitta, behind gates of solid brass.

The center of the precinct is a tower two hundred feet in height, and the path of its ascent winds all around. There is a place, halfway up, where one may stop and rest, and stare out over all of Babylon. People who seek her are prone to stopping there, and sitting for a time, and resting.

At the top of the tower, there is a temple. Inside the temple, there is a great couch, richly adorned, with a golden table beside it. And there Mylitta sits.

A woman climbs the stairs. It takes her a full hour. She reaches Mylitta’s door and stops, looking inwards. When Mylitta stands, the woman genuflects.

“Please,” she says. “My husband is dying of his wounds.”

Mylitta takes the woman’s head between her hands, and kisses the woman’s forehead. “I will speak to the gods,” she says.

The woman goes down the stairs.

On another day, there is a man. He is young. He is strong. He is pretty, though not so pretty as Nabonidus. He reaches the door and stares uncertainly at Mylitta.

“Come in,” she says.

“I need strength,” he says. “I am not strong.”

She studies him for a long time. He shifts from foot to foot.

“Why?” she asks him.

“I work hard,” he says. “Every day. But the animals are sick. And the rain leaks in. And the taxes are harsh, and I have not pleased the officials of this realm. Nothing I do seems to work.”

She nods to him, and he enters the room, and when he leaves, he is stronger.

“I will speak to Nabonidus,” she says, to his fading shadow. “About the taxes.”

Nabonidus comes to the temple one day. He brings with him six priests and a sacrifice. At the midpoint of the path, the sacrifice is cut to pieces. In the temple, Mylitta hears his screams, and winces softly. The flesh is boiled, and cut into pieces, and lain out on the tower’s stairs. The sound of prayers and hymns rises to her ears. Then comes a priest.

“Mylitta,” he says. “Give me your grace.”

She shakes her head. She stares at him.

“Mylitta,” he says. “King Istumegu has marched against Kuras, to meet him in battle; but his army turned against him and has delivered him to Kuras in chains. Ah! Kuras rises. He will not stop with Istumegu’s kingdom; he will claim our own.”

“You are a murderer,” she says. “Why do you come to me?”

“Goddess,” he says. “Please. You must help the people of Babylon.”

She stands. She goes to the door and looks out on the city.

“Why?” she says. “Why do you ask me?”

“Because if you do not, Kuras will come to Babylon, and he will kill our men, and our women will know sorrow, and the gate of Nitocris will fall, and all our joys come tumbling down.”

“I will speak to the gods,” she says, blankly.

The priest leaves, and Nabonidus comes in the door, and she hugs him tightly and leans against him for support.

“This is a hard thing,” she says.

“It is,” he says.

She sits on the couch, and he sits beside her.

“What have you done, since last we met?” he asks.

She shrugs, and begins to cry. He holds her. After a moment, she composes herself, and says, “Life for one man. Strength for another. And others, in similar fashion. I said that I would speak to you about the taxes.”

“It’s part of the process of governance,” he says.

“There is nothing that you can do?”

He shrugs. “If taxes are high, people starve. If taxes are low, people starve.”

“I see.”

She looks at him. “There are no gods you have that can defeat Kuras.”

“I know,” he says.

“That is why the sacrifice,” she says, “isn’t it? To make this hurt me more.”

“If we do this thing,” he says, “you will envy that man.”

“And if we do not?”

He shrugs.

“Nabonidus,” she asks, “we could leave. We could abandon this place. You could be Elli. We could go to a place far away and have babies, and I could end the monster’s line and replace it with my own.”

He smiles at her. “But I like who I am,” he says.

“Why can’t I fix you?” she asks.

He takes her hand. “In two days,” he says. “We shall ride a chimera to the temple of Sin, and there I will show you the why of the world.”

“I hear my people screaming,” she says, “sometimes. From far away. And I ask, why can’t I fix you?”

“Aren’t there questions without answers?” he says.

And there is much of the monster in Nabonidus’ eyes.