A troubled mind makes you sick.
Siduri scratched her neck with a scowl and took a sip of her honeywine from the night before, though it had long since grown stale. The candles were burning low in her private quarters, and the world outside her dramatically curtained windows was dark and quiet, save for a distant storm front. She was exhausted and beyond impatient. He was to have come to her at the darkest hour of night, which it most certainly was. If he laid anything but complete success at her feet, she might just have him kill himself, or she might be compelled to see it done by her own hand. Either way, his failure meant his death.
He had let her down once already, allowing that guileless slave girl to escape, and she was not in a mood to forgive anyone twice. That miserable man’s reputation was already well known around the palace. Every last soul within and without its walls would understand that she had no choice, that she was defending herself, that she had always trusted him, that she held herself in regretful contempt for putting her faith in a traitor.
Ziusudra could do anything he could do, she figured, though he yet possessed an irritating innocence and persistence of character. She sighed. Perhaps the boy was better suited to public affairs, and not clandestine work. Why should it be so hard to find a worthwhile assassin?
She made a mental note of every object in the room in case she needed to catch him by surprise. Siduri had no doubt he would fight back, unlike many of the others who had been too terrified to raise a hand against her, even to save their own lives. She thought of Bareshba’s pathetic face, of her spineless sobbing husband, and laughed out loud.
As if on cue, four evenly spaced knocks came from her chamber door. She waited. Four more followed it at the same pace, and she smiled.
She walked to the door and opened it, waving him inside. He held a thick, dark red wool bag containing some awkward cargo.
“I trust you have not disappointed me.”
He smiled a grim and humorless smile that even Siduri found repulsive, and offered the bag to the queen mother with respect. She received it with the character of a child accepting an unexpected gift. She carefully set the bag down on her bed, pulled a wicked knife from her waist and cut the rope seal.
Eight human feet, hewn roughly from their hosts at various lengths of the shin, lie bloody and ragged before her. The half-lit moonlight from the open roof cast a ghastly pale on the gore. Perhaps it had not been the bag that was dark red. She gasped in horror or delight, dropping the knife and covering her mouth with her hands.
“You are absolutely sure?” She crept forward with extreme care, as if afraid to break the dream.
The thin-faced man nodded, smiling again, pleased with himself. He looked on his work and laughed low.
“This is… you have done a great thing for your queen, and your king as well. Four traitors now roam Arali on their bellies, naked and starved, the betrayed eternally hunting them as lions!”
Siduri sighed happily and fell to her knees, looking with great love on her morbid trophy. Something like thunder began to rumble through the cool night air.
“Justice… This is only the beginning.” She took it all in with a glint of madness in her eyes, then sprung back up and clapped her hands together.
“I have another task for you, and this one will pay twice as much. Speaking of which…” She leaned behind a table and grabbed a large bag, this one sparkling white and sealed with a golden cinch.
“I hope you’ve washed your hands. Forty minas of silver, the agreed upon sum. Congratulations, Ezerudu. You are now among Urim’s wealthiest citizens. Now, you will travel to Unug. For eighty minas of silver, a queen’s ransom, if you will.” She chuckled at her own humor. “Bring me the ears of that pretender slut, Bareshba. Hah, and ten extra if her tacky jewelry is still attached.”
She turned and paced the room, her eyes ever on the bag.
“Hmm, I suppose I may as well keep her alive for now. Her child might come in handy later. Just the ears, don’t let her bleed out. But kill her husband if he tries to stop you, though I doubt he will. He’s a sniveling coward. Obviously you will have to kill any guards who suspect you. Who knows, it might even be fun. Now leave me.”
Ezerudu bowed low. “Yes, my queen,” he whispered, grinning as he hefted his spectacular new wealth over his shoulder.
“Oh, one more thing. If you do happen to kill Aradlugal, bring me some part of him to prove it, would you? I’ll let you decide which bits would be the most entertaining to acquire.”
He nodded and shut the door behind him.
Siduri turned back to her newest prize, the penance of the treacherous made manifest at her unwavering command. She dropped again to her knees in front of the bag, and smiled as she ran a finger gently over the dried blood. Such butchery held a visceral intensity as to make her swoon, almost like a girl again.
Justice, revenge, retribution, all names for the same wonderful feeling.
“The gods are smiling again, Urnamma, I can feel it… Shulgi is going to endure. I won’t let anything happen to him, I promise. He will rule for a hundred years.”
Outside, the thunderous sound was growing.