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BABYLONIAN TALES #2

23 February 2008

I will be away to Turkey on vacation for about a fortnight, until somewhere March 6th. I've therefore prepared a couple of Augusts to keep you entertained and bestow upon you now that rarest of treasures; a book that has been opened only once before, but will now bless us again with... Babylonian Tales.

BABYLONIAN TALES: DESERT BARBECUE

Marduk, that great hero-god of gods, went through the roaring campfire with his bare hand, searing the dead rat on both sides so that it was good and firm. Little Janah looked on with eyes as big as saucers from across the flames at how her uncle sinked his mighty teeth into the critter and rat blood splurted out of its charcoal skin. Marduk ate the meal with rigorous nonchalance, as if this were his everyday course. But this was far from the truth. He remembered all too well the days that had brought dead snakes, mauled boars and roadkill armadillos to his palate.

'Uncle!' Little Janah said with feverish intensity. 'Mother says those things are bad for your health! You should at least cook the rat somewhat longer!'

Marduk looked at his niece bereft of the knowledge chunks of rat had nestled into his tapestry beard. The flexible columns of woollen hair had acquired a rather handsome collection of leftovers over the years of their bundled existence. Yes, it would be written later on clay tablets that the entirety of man's cuisine was contained in that single piece of facial growth. This was also the basis of a myth that was later gravely misunderstood. People would speak of a coffer containing all the evils of the world, whereas in actuality it was a different object altogether that founded the tale of the ominous stink of existence. So they ought not to speak of Pandora's Box, but of Marduk's Beard. But such is the way with myths. They are twisted and turned until their original meaning is lost to the sands of time.

Marduk had no awareness of this at present. He just looked at his little niece -barely out of the toddler's rawhide diapers- and thought to himself that he wasn't about to share his unstewed meal with the kid. If she wanted something to eat, she'd have to catch it herself. He didn't expect anyone to gift him food and to that standard he held all others. But he also smiled. Those beady eyes of Janah had a way of charming those around her.

'Well,' Marduk finally gave as sort of an answer. 'Tell your mother that the normal rules of cookery don't apply to a hero-god. My stomach is coated with iron. Except for yesterday when I ate that bad scarab.'

'Yes, I'm glad I didn't get any of them in my tummy.' She sympathized. Of course, she hadn't been fast enough to catch them, so her uncle's principles saw to it she wasn't poisoned as well. 'Still, your table manners wouldn't make mother happy.'

'I long since gave up on trying to figure out what would make my half-sister pleased. Just be glad I took you out into the desert with me. You were getting spoiled in that palace. This is real life.'

'I think this an absolutely wonderful adventure. Thanks, uncle.'

Marduk knew, of course, what the dangers were of this part of the sandlands. The decision to take this sojourn with his darling little niece had been partly political, partly parental and partly opportunist. Political, because he was being pressured by his body of counsellors to invest in something called his 'image' and apparently being spotted with some random infant was the way to go. Parental, because even an inherent hermit/bachelor like Marduk could not stand the patronizing way his niece was being raised by that impossible half-sister of his, waking even in this alpha-male of males some rudimentary inkling of fatherly feelings. And opportunistic because...

All around them the sand began to quake. Little swirling puddles of dirt sank into the ground here and there, as if they stood on but a thin coating of desert on top of an underground temple with shabby roofing on the verge of collapse. Janah rose with a face betraying her dislike of this event. Marduk watched her carefully, ominously, through the raging campfire flames licking the sky. What rough beast, its hour come 'round at last, slouches towards Marduk tonight... to be smitten?

Roderick.