It was an unusually cool evening; even for the wet season. Doubtless, there would soon be a storm raining down upon the guests' heads, but even so, Aziru had been stubborn in his plans to have them all dine on his rooftop. Being a royal, he had his whims, but there would be other nobles invited, and they surely wouldn't put up with sodden robes and food dripping water instead of savory juices. Perhaps she could get the slaves to erect some sort of canopy...

Half of Rahab's mind was swept up in the gust of all these mundane details; even as the growing winds stirred the dust at her feet. The other half was somewhere not far beyond her gaze, as she looked out at the plains of Jericho from a housetop near its walls. They were out there, somewhere--a people some feared earnestly, while they were laughed off by others as an invention of storytellers. She knew better though--she remembered, while playing in her father's vineyard as a child--

A light touch on her unclad shoulder started the woman out of her thoughts. "Rahab, you'd best come inside. The other guests will be here soon; I'd like you to meet them." She turned, composing her face until its expression resembled the warmly charming, yet mysteriously seductive ideal so favored by men like Aziru. Of course, the rest of her appearance already matched this unfelt expression of emotion--clothed in an black, Egyptian-style tunic belted with a bold, bronze circlet of engraved lilys, her hair dyed to the color of sunset, and eyes shadowed beneath night-dark smudges of kohl, she was like an image of Asherah herself--undeniably beautiful, and brimming with insinuations of both life and death.

"Aziru, I am not your wife. I'm not sure that it's my place to act as a proper hostess when you're paying for my company with gold. I'd much rather stay up here. Oh, and you'd better tell Haberaath to put up some sort of tent; I'm nearly sure it'll rain before the banquet's over." Rahab sat down on of the prepared hassocks; the look in her eyes clearly promising indifference to any further proposals by the prince.

Aziru laughed; his black eyes crinkling beneath their own heavy layer of black paint. "Don't feign that with me dear; I know from past experience how professionally courteous you are in other events--and besides, you've played such a domestic role before; why do you care now?"

"I simply don't wish to speak to anyone; to have them give me those smarmy smiles and overly-elaborate introductions. I know what men really think of my type; even the temple priestesses are joked about vilely. Let them look, and you may even boast a bit, if you wish, but I'll not subject myself to insults. Besides, the sun is laying down to its rest; it's a beautiful sight. You should stay and see. Either that, or fetch yourself a wife, so she can play the proper hostesses."

"Marriage is for fools--in the long run, I think I'll actually save myself gold with the companionship of--your 'type'. But nevermind, Rahab, you can join all of the other expensive, silent, immobile adornments at my table if that's what you truly desire." Aziru bent to kiss her dyed locks with exagerrated care. Rahab tossed her head, annoyed, while he walked swiftly away to the stairs. Aziru wasn't a bad sort, really, she'd known far worse--some that she wouldn't allow herself to remember. He paid well, was nearer her age than most, didn't beat her as some did, and was really rather the physical sense. And useful--as were his friends, some of which had also been her clients...but gold wasn't her only price.

Years ago, she'd been less apathetic, and far more conniving--political intrigue was inevitable, given the circles she moved in. But that had all changed--no, it wasn't apathy, but a debilitating illness she'd contracted, and the realization that something which had haunted her since childhood was moving closer now--consuming her consciousness with a vague, unasked question: what is it all for? She tried to calm her fears of death and the even more frightening thought that perhaps her life was dedicated to something worth less than nothing by a sudden resurge of devotion to Asherah, but the little stone goddess left her with no answers and more doubts.

Aziru and his sort couldn't help her with these problems directly, but they were all most knowledgeable of people, places, things--and one subject, which she couldn't help but feel was somehow linked to the doubts that pressed on her spirit like heavy stone. It was silly, perhaps--she never spoke of her obsession with the Israelites outright; but it was nearly that--an obsession, one that replaced her fixation on gossip in times past.

They'd been the talk of both commoners and nobility for the past forty years--or so Rahab had heard; herself only thirty. Some of it seemed mythical, nearly--swarms of frogs and locusts, literal rivers of blood, days without sunlight and every firstborn dead--the great Pharoah of Egypt brought to his knees by his own slaves. No, not by those slaves, but by their nameless, image-less God--a God who now led his army of former slaves through the desert in the form of a fiery cloud, vanquishing all--both within and without their congregation--who would deny him, or try to usurp the position of his prophet.

Moses--once a prince, now a man who, it was said, had seen the face of God. Word had come recently that he had died; this Rahab had gotten from Aziru's friend Dalrem, a kindly young man who had never paid for her for her time. He, too, respected the Israelites, though he often said, with a condescending shake of his head, that the claims of their God's superiority was archaic, at best.

"Rahab, I think that men can get along without gods altogether--nature is, and will be, without any of that, and really, that's why Baal is closer to the truth than any of those cults. All of that fertility worship is really just an exaggerated affirmation of what really goes on, with or without us."

It was an empty philsophy, from which Rahab instantly recoiled. She didn't doubt the existence of the Israelite's God--Egypt was indeed a broken land. It had relied entirely on slaves--would they have been let go for a simple, strictly human revolt? For that matter, thousands of Israelites had been wandering the desert with little food, and even less water, for a longer time than she'd been alive--they could not have possibily survived without the help of a God...?

'Yes, and this is the famous Rahab, of whom you've all heard." Startled, again, out of her puzzlings, Rahab lifted her head to see Aziru, now with twelve other men behind him. Her dazzling smile by way of reply was not forced; it came from the knowledge that she'd turn the subject of whatever conversation arose to one serving her quest--her quest for truth and meaning, beyond this harlot's life.