Author: EarthDaughter PM
Set in the time before the Common Era, this is a short story about a young woman living in Mesopotamia and her ritualistic but enthralling death. Read and review.Rated: Fiction T - English - Tragedy/Romance - Words: 1,249 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 2 - Published: 12-03-04 - id: 1773949
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As we solemnly proceed down to the burial chamber, our candles throwing long shadows on the walls, I think tearfully back to my wedding day. Six months ago, on the day I was married to my handsome prince, the whole of Ur appeared to watch the royal ceremony. I was dressed in a lavish cotton gown imported from Harappa and dyed a vibrant scarlet, brighter even than the sun god's crown. My dark hair was neatly braided and coiled on top of my head, as was the traditional hairstyle for a princess. My jewelry was the finest in all of Sumer; sapphire drops adorned my ears, gold bangles clicked melodically at my wrist, and a carefully crafted necklace settled perfectly into the hollow of my tanned neck. As a final accent, black kohl outlined my expressive eyes. My prince was dressed even better than I in a cobalt tunic with crimson trim. He wore the traditional crown and face markings for a prince, soon to be king.
The wedding was held at the start of the monsoon season, and as the guests gathered to feast afterwards, dark thunderclouds tumbled on the horizon, carrying the sweet scent of needed rain. The celebrating went long into the night, despite the impending storm. A constant stream of people presented us with their gifts and blessings, each hoping that I would bear many sons. One woman, however, gave us an odd message. She was a gnarled old woman, her back bent as though she carried a heavy burden. She approached us empty handed and laid a knobby hand on my smooth, slender one.
"Such sorrow pursues you. I mourn," she whispered in a gravelly voice, gazing up at us with cloudy eyes. Then she seemed to disappear, receding into the colorful crowds. My prince, Amir Hadiya, put a comforting arm around my shoulder, murmuring, "She's obviously not quite right in the mind." I nodded, but was unconvinced.
Our parents arranged the marriage, so Amir and I had only met briefly before the wedding. Once we were living together, however, our love blossomed, bringing joy into my life. Many girls are not so lucky and end up with abusive husbands who cheat and lie. But my Amir was sweet and gentle, allowing me more freedom than I could ever have dreamed of.
A mere two months after the wedding, more happiness was brought into our lives. I was with child! I prayed regularly that it should be a boy, for a male would be the heir to the throne and ensure continuation of the royal bloodline. Unfortunately, I lost the baby to a miscarriage and was beside myself with grief. Amir was not angry and reassured me that we would have a child soon enough.
As the winds turned cold in the winter, disaster struck. The Assyrians raided our city, burning and plundering. Aggressive and blood thirsty, they slain woman and children openly in the streets. Amir volunteered to help the armies battle the Assyrians. I begged him not to, trying to help him see through my eyes. I remember following him out to the stables, where he was retrieving his sturdy warhorse.
"Amir," I said, "Please don't go. Stay here with me." He looked at me sadly, slowing shaking his head. "It's my duty to fight." Stubborn, I refused to let him go that easily. "Can't I come with you? You know I can wield a sword fairly well." Once again, he refused, swinging gracefully onto the stamping horse. I held tightly to the reins, my knuckles quickly turning white.
"Don't be killed," I commanded, trying to maintain my crumbling composure.
"I plan to stay alive," he replied, gently prying my hands from their grip on the reins. As we walked out to the courtyard, he softly reminded me that death, if it did come, would be no ending. "Don't be afraid of dying," he said, nudging his horse into an easy canter. I merely stood there, the wind blowing back the hair that had escaped from my messy braid. Turning back, I hoped those wouldn't be his final words to me.
In the end, they were. One week later, messengers arrived at the palace gates, faces solemn and grave. Immediately, I felt nauseous; someone of the royal family had been killed. As was custom, the head messenger approached the wife of the deceased man first to show respect for her lost husband. Pressing my eyes shut, I reluctantly opened them to see the messenger kneeling at my feet.
"Prince Amir has been killed in battle," he said simply, presenting me with Amir's sharp, glinting sword. I said nothing in response because inside, I was trying desperately not to loose control of my emotions. Later that day, it was announced that the Assyrians were defeated, but I didn't care. I wept for hours, sobs racking my body like minor tremors. My grief was overflowing, too much to hold inside.
As my family prepared me for the funeral the next day, I felt empty and strangely detached from life. I could no longer cry; my eyes were dry. They rubbed special spices into my skin—fennel, cumin, and ginger—to make it glow a healthy golden color. Then they dressed me in all white, the colour of mourning. I looked serene, ornamented in all my jewelry and my hair elegant. For a moment, as I watched the sun rise, bathing the land in its watery light, I wanted to live. But then I thought of Amir and knew it was time to join him.
The ceremony took place all day, and once again, all of Ur was present, but they were not the laughing, colorful mass of people who had attended my wedding. They were quiet, somber, and respectful. We completed the traditional customs, and as the sun sank towards the western horizon, his friends, family, and servants filed down to his burial chamber, where I am now.
Snapping out of my reverie, I hear the entrance to the chamber being sealed shut. The sound has a clear air of finality about it. Each of us dips our clay bowl into a large pot of liquid the colour of dried blood. I see my prince in the center of the room, his arms at his sides. Assuming my position beside him, I fix my shining hairpiece with a henna decorated hand. Everyone is in their place, forming tidy rows across the mud brick room. On a silent count, we bring the bowls to our lips and drink. The poison is bitter, and I swallow it quickly before placing the bowl beside me. Soon the toxin will be coursing through my bloodstream, a silent, beautiful assassin. Amir's words echo faintly in my mind. "Don't be afraid of dying."
Lying down beside Amir, I clasp his cold hand in mine, waiting for death to draw near. It is time to accompany my love into the afterlife; we will see one another soon. He will have his wife, as well as his friends and servants, for the rest of eternity. And I shall have him.
Author's Note: The custom described in this story is completely true. In Mesopotamia, friends and family would commit mass suicide in order to accompany royalty into the afterlife. When I first learned about this, I was both stunned and fascinated by such a dramatic ritual.