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The Call of Astarte
The Myths of the
Divine Astarte 3
On the next day I rose early. I went to the fountain outside my room. Tiya gave me a goblet filled with wine. The people of the house were busy, preparing a feast of celebration.
I rose, and walked into the central hall. The women of the house were spreading mats. People were standing in groups, talking with Sarya and the other men. Sarya was the centre of attention and admiration.
When Sarya saw me, he called out, he called out:
He greeted me with a quick embrace and smiled. A number of the other men grasped my shoulder.
At the corner of the room a girl began to play a lyre. The tune began softly. It slowly grew louder. The girl began to sing, her voice filling the hall. The people grew quiet, and conversation ceased.
The women began to bring in bowls of rice and other food. I poured a cup of wine. Maritra sat down beside me. She filled a plate with food from the platters, and began to offer me morsels.
I practiced the names of the food as I ate. I was able to exchange a few words with the other men.
Sarya explained to me that the wine was special. That it was from the coast.
One of the serving girls came to the center of the room. She began to dance, using cymbals as she swayed to the music being made by the girl with the lyre.
Sarya rose, and left the hall. He was followed by the other men from the hunt. They returned with the skins taken in the hunt, and the weapons used.
They spread out the skins, displaying them before the people. Sarya and the others began a low chant. At the end of the chant, the people of the clan came forward to examine the pelts and the weapons of the hunters. The spears and other weapons were admired by all.
Sarya walked to the front door. He gestured for me to follow him. He walked to the gates of the compound, followed by the other men from the hunt. They were followed by the rest of the people.
Sarya carried one of the pelts we had taken in the hills. The people in the streets parted in respect, to allow us to pass, and to see the pelt displayed by Sarya. The pelt was from a gazen of great size. It was the creature that had attacked me, and had taken my spear thrust.
Sarya walked thru the streets to the royal compound and temple. We climbed the steps leading to the portico of the temple. The people were led into the temple by Sarya. Inside they stationed themselves along the walls in the rear. The people were solemn, and the great temple was filled with silence.
I walked with Sarya to the front of the temple. I stopped at the base of the altar platform. Sarya and the elders of the clan mounted the steps of the platform.
The altar was a broad table of stone, with gold ornament. Behind the altar was a life size statue of a goddess wearing armor, holding a spear.
Sarya bore one of the hides taken in the hills to the altar, and spread the hide out upon the altar. He stepped back, and drew his sword. He lifted the hilt to eye level in salute. All the men of the compound joined in the salute with their own blades.
The women began a low chant. The word "Astarte" was repeated. When the chant ended, Sarya lowered his sword and walked back to the entrance of the temple. The people followed him out. The women turned and bowed low in homage to the goddess.
Our return to our compound was another quiet procession. The ladies chanted softly as the people parted to allow our passage.
* * * * * * * * *
For the next few weeks I continued to learn the language of the city. Much of my time was spent by the fountain, learning new words from Chan and Tiya.
Maritra also enjoyed giving me lessons. She spent many hours with me. There were always new words, or new sentences to practice.
One corner of the garden was covered by sand. She drew a map in the sand for me. The city was in a broad plain. To the east was the sea, with a number of large towns and cities. To the west was a chain of mountains, and a wasteland with few inhabitants.
The evening meals were a time for conversation and music for the people. The women had many different dishes, and were artists in the kitchens.
Sarya would rise to his feet during the evening meal, and say a few words to the people. He might speak of news from the palace, or the birth of a new child in the compound, or the illness of an elder.
There would be songs and dances. Music came from the flutes of the slave girls. The people of the house would in turn sing or recite lines to the music.
I would often be carried to the fore by the women of the house. I would sing songs I knew, or recite poems I could recall. I became a favorite of the people - my songs were new.
One of my songs, from the movie Caberet, became a favorite of the people -
"The leaf of the linden is leafy and green,
The stag in the forest runs free,
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen,
Tomorrow belongs to me..."
The people never tired of the new amusement. I was able to master the use of one of the small harps. I used it when I recited poems. I had written poetry at home, and I was able to recall some of my work. I wrote some of it down on parchment, and recited it to the people. It was in English, but the people enjoyed the sound. Some of the women had learned a few words of English. They enjoyed the verse, and began to understand some of my words.
* * * * * * * * *
A few weeks after the procession to the temple, an official from the court came to the compound. He carried a scroll from the palace. He was greeted by Sarya and the elders in the main hall of the villa.
He was given a goblet of wine by one of the ladies in greeting.
There was an exchange between the man from the palace and Sarya. The official gave the scroll to Sarya, and exchanged salutes. He then turned, and left to return to his chariot waiting in the street.
Sarya looked at the paper, and informed me, as best that he could, that I was being summoned by the Queen of the city. I was to go to the palace. We would leave early on the morn of the coming day.
During the day I was treated with new respect by the people of the clan. I waited for the coming day without raising questions. My skill with the new speech was such that I did not expect much information to be conveyed, even if I did ask.
On the morn of the next day, I prepared myself for the visit to the palace. Sarya greeted me warmly, and we left together for the palace.
We walked thru the milling streets to the Royal Complex. We gave a salute to the commander of the guard at the entrance to the Royal Square. We followed him inside the circuit wall of the complex, and into the gardens inside.
We made our way to the steps leading to the palace portico, and into the entrance way of the palace.
The officer led us pass an entrance, and into a long hall. The central walk way was flanked by great towering columns. Guards with spears were stationed along the way. At the far end of the hall was a woman seated at a great convex chair.
She wore a long robe of sky blue. She was crowned with a tiara of gold, bearing large rubies. We walked forward, and halted at the steps leading to the dais bearing the throne. She held a magnificent short sword, resting in her lap.
I noted a tall, bald man standing at the foot of the stairs. He wore a gleaming coat of mail, and wore a short sword. The hilt of the sword was encrusted with diamonds.
The officer who had guided us to the throne made a short statement. The Queen then said a few words. The officer then addressed us. I could make out a few of the words. There was another reference to Astarte.
Sarya then spoke a few words in response. The Queen raised her sword, and said a few more words, in a tone of command. She rose, and said a few words in her language, and turned. She walked thru an entrance to a room at the rear of the throne.
The official indicated that we were to follow him. We walked around the royal dais, and into the room entered by the queen. We were followed by the tall man.
The Queen was seated on a large chair at a table. The officer indicated that we were to be seated. We all sat along the table. The tall man sat at the opposite end of the table from me.
The Queen was a woman of middle years. Her skin was very dark, a gift from her mother. The King her father had favored a concubine of the lands of the South.
The Queen made a brief statement. The tall man replied. He then turned to me.
"Warrior, how come thee to this city?" He spoke in English.
"I was pursued by my enemies. I sought refuge here. I am Clayton Grey."
"I am here to call thee to serve Astarte, the Immortal. The Goddess wants you to come to her city, in the Empty Quarter. You must make all haste."
I was unsure if the name Astarte was the name of a goddess, or was also used as the name of a queen. However, I could not refuse.
"I will gladly give service. The wars of my own nation are far from me."
"You will be sent by Sassamon with the Royal Guard into the Empty Quarter. The Immortal One will tell you her pleasure."
"But how is it that you speak in my tongue, honored sir?"
"I speak many tongues, warrior. I have devoted many years to study."
The Queen smiled and stepped forward. She wore a robe of blue silk. She spoke in her language. Then, she embraced me, kissing me on the cheek.
She removed a chain of gold from her neck, and placed over my head and around my neck. She stepped back, and said a few more words. I turned and joined Sarya at the foot of the platform. He looked at me with surprised amusement.
The links of the chain were heavy. A diadem bore the image of the face of a woman in profile, with a tiara on her brow.
We saluted once more, and turned and walked out. Sarya motioned for me to lead the way. We walked out of the royal plaza, and followed the road leading back to the compound.
The people in the street began to point at me. "The gold chain" I said to myself.. They stepped aside, and watched as we walked past and made our way to the gate of our compound.
We made our way to the entrance of the main hall. The people we passed stared at the gold chain I wore.
The some of the people of the clan gathered inside the door, and gave us a formal greeting. I was treated with new respect. I was given a goblet filled with wine. I sipped from the cup, and bowed to the people.
Many of the people of the house came to see the gold chain. I was given new respect and deference. My favor by the Queen, and my call to the city of Astarte, was a mark of honor.
* * * * * * * * *
I questioned Chan about Astarte. She informed me that Astarte ruled a city deep in the Western Desert. She lived in an arid waste called the Empty Quarter. She was immortal, and was always young and beautiful.
Chan explained to me that Astarte was the goddess at the temple. The gods had created the world, and given rise to the race of men. After death, those who died bravely in battle would be carried by the ladies of the goddess to live in the hall of warriors. They would do battle against the forces of evil till the end of the age, and the Twilight of the Gods.
There were traditions of visits by the gods to the cities of men. There were also tales of visits by favored men to the halls of the gods. There were also stories that gods sometimes took the daughters of men as lovers, and that goddesses sometimes bore children sired by mortal men.
Demigods had walked the halls of men, and had built empires by the sword. They had warred against foemen, monsters, and hordes of gazen.
The traditions seemed to be memories of events, much like the tales of wars, and the deeds of kings.
Chan and the other people now seemed to view me a man of destiny. Never in living memory had anyone been called by Astarte.
I decided to await events, and to visit Astarte, if such was my fate. I could see no reason for the words of the Queen and the others, unless Astarte, or someone else, did not have need for my sword. The face of Astarte, or of the person sending me the call, would be revealed.
* * * * * * * * *