Authors: Nicholas Guild
Tags: #'romance, #assyria'
And now Esarhaddon was here, surrounded by
his nobles and the glory of kingship, blazing like the sacred sun
in his robes of gold, holding the golden sword, his symbol of
office. He stood apart, waiting, his face set and lifeless.
When I entered, all fell silent, turning
their eyes to the king. I put my hand over my heart and bowed, for
he was the king. I could not change it, and so I must bow to
He raised his arm, pointing the sword at my
“This prince is my enemy,” he said, his voice
filling the hall. “In his heart he honors no king—even in my father
the Lord Sennacherib’s time he was rebellious. He would hide his
rebellion, and yet from me he cannot. For I alone know the
twistings of his mind, I, who have been his brother.”
He lowered the sword and. with his eyes only,
looked about him, judging for himself how men heard his words.
Yet they were not his words, as I understood
now, but Naq’ia’s. It was her voice I heard, and her wisdom. She
had said how it would be—she had made all things between us plain.
And thus I could pity Esarhaddon, for he seemed to know it not.
“Thus I banish him.”
There was a murmur of voices, many voices,
speaking different words to mean the same thing. And while they
buzzed like flies over carrion, my brother—he who had been my
brother, who had pronounced himself no more my brother—he and I
exchanged a silent glance that said all that was needed.
“Let him be gone from this city,” he went on,
his eyes holding mine. “And let him pass forever out of the Land of
Ashur, and all the lands where the might of Ashur’s king is felt.
In five days I will send out horsemen, that my judgment may be
proclaimed. After that, if he is found, let him perish. I will
reward the man who brings me his head.”
Thus was I given those five days of grace,
five days in which to stay ahead of my pursuers. Five days in which
to find safety for my life.
“Let him hide himself in the dark lands
beyond the sun. Let him fear to return, for his king hates him. Let
him be taken from my sight! Go!”
I was led away. I hardly knew where, for my
mind was full. Five days. Five days in which to quit the land of my
birth. To wander in exile until death. Never would I see. . .
Esarhaddon, pointing with his sword, pointing
to a wasteland where no man walked, speaking the one word:
In his own time, the god had made all
Thus began my days of wandering. I saw them
stretching before me, filled with sorrow. I thought my life was
over. The god, at last, was finished with me. Since the hour of my
birth, on the night of the blood star, I had not lived yet five and
My youngest grandson has a daughter named
Deianira. She is four years old and has a great curiosity about
writing, so now she sits on the bench beside me, watching as I
scratch my narrative onto the goatskin parchment—I have grown rich
in my exile and can afford this extravagance.
Since it is more cumbersome and, in any case,
none hereabouts could read it, I have not used the daggerlike
script in fifty years. I have not spoken my native Akkadian in
nearly as long. I seem to have become almost wholly Greek, so as I
form the letters I name them to little Deianira. Sometimes she
climbs down from the bench, takes a stick, and draws them in the
dust. She will have them all soon.
She is a clever child and a great pleasure to
me. I like to think that she may live to be an old woman and will
read this story to her own great grandchildren, and that she will
remember with some small affection the old man who wrote it, will
remember this moment when we sat together and I filled the
parchment with letters, and that thus I will not wholly die. In
such vanities do old men comfort themselves.
A man in his first youth asks everything of
the gods—wealth, immortal glory, pleasure, love—demands them as a
right. Growing old is a process of learning that the gods give but
little heed to these petitions. The voice that answers in the wind
speaks of other matters, of wisdom and patience, which come of
their own with time. Wealth, immortal glory, pleasure—these things
are empty. Only love is real. To be happy is to know this, and it
is the gods’ one gift. When they wish to blind a man, or damn him,
they give him the others. In their mercy, sometimes they take them
away. They have left me in the shade of my vines teaching the
alphabet to my grandson’s daughter, and I am not empty of
Curious are the destinies of men. A child
born in that bitter hour of my banishment would be old now,
withered, as I am, ready for death. And I still live. They are all
dead—Esarhaddon, Naq’ia, Esharhamat, all the rest. They are ghosts
whom I have brought back to live once more in the pages of this my
story, my story which is not ended yet. For I was in error—the god
was still not finished with me.
I would know exile and obscurity, happiness
and sorrow, and something of the hearts of men. And one day I would
return to the Land of Ashur. I would learn the secrets which then
were hidden, and the will of heaven would stand revealed. My life,
which I thought over, was just beginning.
But an old man’s strength has its limits, and
that story must wait for another day.
About the Author
NICHOLAS GUILD was born in 1944 in Belmont,
California. He received a B.A. degree in English from Occidental
College in Los Angeles and an M.A. in Comparative Literature and a
Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Berkeley.
Since then he has divided his time between teaching and writing. He
is the author of critical articles on 17th Century poetry and 20th
Century fiction, along with twelve novels, several of which have
been international best sellers and which have been translated into
German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Greek and Czech.
Presently he lives in Frederick, MD
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