The ruler of Ur-Kasdim, beloved of the gods, whose reign covers all he surveys, Lord of the Chaldees, of the warrior line of Arphaxad, looked upon the enemy besieging his city. The balcony of the palace was thankfully beyond the range of the enemy’s weapons. Negotiations with the Achaemenids had failed a month ago. Now the Persians are here. Their rise to Empire looked unstoppable. He would have preferred peace. Even to the extent of being a vassal state. But the terms were too onerous. Gold, levies, and land he could forego. But to abandon, their gods…
As he watched, a wave of new attackers assaulted the walls and were beaten back again. Parts of the city were already destroyed, some buildings were burning. He could see the dead bodies of his people on the streets. But the besiegers were too many. And now, his spies have told him about massive reinforcements coming to the enemy’s aid. They were a day away. Ur-Kasdim is good as fallen.
“My Lord, my King? A soft voice called for his attention.
“Yes, Nabu-Ikbi?” He looked upon the wizened visage of his Chief Astronomer. A competent man, his field was more about magic than the stars. Though the two fields do mesh nicely. The man provided a covert alternative to the High Priest-Mage of the Temple of Anu, the father of the gods. True to his misgivings, the traitorous priest conveniently defected to the Persians at the first opportunity.
“My King, we have been given a choice of life or death by the gods.”
“Really? Tell me more.”
“I had a vision last night. But not of the divine Anu. But of the deity Ereskigal.”
“The goddess of the underworld? That seems to be dark tidings for us. What does Irkalla, the underworld, have to do with us?”
“The goddess deigned to inform me that she acts for Great Anu in giving us a choice. Die here under the Persians or go to a new land.”
“And how do we go to such a land? We are surrounded! More enemies will be arriving!”
“I have been shown the way, O my Lord King. Through the temple of Anu. A portal shall emerge between the two columns behind his altar but…”
“Why the hesitancy, Naku-Ikbi?”
“A rite has been revealed to me to manifest the portal. And for it to appear, we need to sacrifice mortal lives.”
“How many?” asked the King, now grasping at an unexpected lifeline.
“For the city’s inhabitants, we need the equivalent of three sattu of sacrificed lives.”
“Three years, huh? 1,080 sacrifices. Get them from the prisoners. If those are not enough, select from the most worthless of the slaves. Where does the portal lead?”
“My Lord King, a new land prepared by the gods. But we may need four sattu as we cannot evacuate all the people and the remaining slaves at the same time. One sattu to activate the portal and the rest to keep it open for the time needed.”
“I don’t care how many lives it takes! JUST PREPARE THE RITE! Order the head of the Palace to prepare everything we need to bring with us! I want us through the portal by mid-morning tomorrow. Tell my general to come and confer with me!”
“As you wish, O Exalted King.”