Cedar’s Morrighan Cow
Once upon Sidon’s murex filled shores there lived an unjust king called Ahab who kept several murders of crows to torment his people. He had black crows which he used to execute and terrorize rebels and brown crows to live among his people and spread dismay and helplessness amongst them. One day, Ahab attended the soap festival in Sidon and saw Elan the beautiful maiden present her offerings to Tanit goddess of purity in Eshmun’s temple. Dazzled with her beauty, he sent his high priest Batnoam to inquire about her family and whereabouts. After some asking around, he informed the king that she was the daughter of high priestess Elishat servant of Melqart’s temple in Tyre. Pleased with the high priest’s findings he asked him to arrange for a visit to her family. Suddenly, Batnoam’s face turned ash color and said: “Sire, Elan is betrothed to Danel son of Tyre’s king, King Ahiram. You cannot take away his bride or else war would break. We have a treaty with Tyre and trade relations. Now Ahab who was determined that Elan belonged to him was also a firm believer in the stars and the gods so he couldn’t question his high priest’s wisdom. But Batnoam wasn’t the only person in Sidon’s Sea Castle for in that very same castle lived Arishat the soothsayer, who spent most of her time with Elissa Ahab’s mother. Arishat had tried before to sway Ahab to her side but Batnoam had always been in the way and saw Elan a means to gain Ahab’s favor. One evening while reading Elissa’s hibiscus tea leaves, Arishat paused and gazed into the heavens. Excited to know what her soothsayer saw, Elissa demanded: “What is it woman, tell me my fortune. Don’t lie to me”. “Queen mother, the cup does not speak of you but rather of Ahab’s stars. Ahab will have a love child who will be the greatest king Sidon has seen” said Arishat. “Go on, and? Tell me everything now!” shouted Elissa. “But I am afraid, unless an offering is made, this union shall not happen and this child won’t be born and if this child isn’t born, Sidon shall burn to the ground” said Arishat with her irises hidden under her eyelids as her eyes rolled up. “Woman, what offering? Tell me what the stars demand. I live to serve the fates. My son is all I have” pleaded Elissa. “Ahab son of Urumilki must bring forth the grey murder of Morrighan first to protect his reign. The maiden must not marry Ahiram’s son or Sidon will perish. Sidon’s fate rests on Ahab spilling Melqart’s servant’s blood” said Arishat as she faked her collapse. “Paltibaal! Paltibaal, I need your help Arishat has collapsed again. Please hurry” pleaded the Queen. As usual, Paltibaal, pretended to revive Arishat with some incense and sprinkling her with damask noisette extracts and she sat up. “You rest now Arishat. Paltibaal will attend to all your needs. I must see Ahab at once” ordered the queen. Elissa opened the doors to Ahab’s chambers and saw her son gazing at the stars. She gestured to the guards and servants to leave the room. She told her son about Arishat’s vision and demands. He didn’t object to the vision of Arishat regarding Elan, but he wasn’t sure how he would summon the grey Morrighan murder. Elissa told him that she will ask Arishat when she felt better as she is recovering in the nearby ladies’ in waiting chamber. But Ahab was not in the mood to wait and ordered for Arishat to present herself. “My King, the stars have shown me the way to solidify your legacy and ensure your kingdom grows. You must wed Melqart’s servant’s daughter for she will bear you a son who will glorify your name in these lands. But only the grey Morrighan murder can show you the way to release her from her covenant with Ahiram’s progeny. You must cross the finest of the black and brown murders to obtain the grey murder. Only they will show you what we must do to break the covenant without causing war” said Arishat “How can a murder of crows break a covenant of marriage without breaking a treaty with an ally? Have you gone mad woman? It’s a bird. I can fool the people into thinking these birds have powers, but I am not fooled by my own ruse. Batnoam was right, you will be my ruin. I should’ve sent you away a long time ago” said Ahab. “My lord, the stars give us paths to follow if we believe in them, but they only give answers when we shed blood for them. Everything has a price. Only the finest of the grey murder clan has the purest blood worth being shed on the temple of Melqart to give you the answers you seek” said Arishat. “Now, you are making sense Arishat. It will take me 3 full moons before a grey murder is produced. Let’s hope my bride doesn’t end up deflowered or married to Ahiram’s son” said Ahab. “My Lord, it is still Tanit’s festival and every year, a maiden must be chosen to be honored with the chastity covenant for one full year and serve her in her temple. Bestow the honor of Tanit’s order on the maiden and she shall remain safe from Ahiram’s son’s covenant” said Arishat. Satisfied with Arishat’s suggestion, Batnoam informed the people of Sidon who were still celebrating at Tanit’s temple that the King will join them to bestow Tanit’s honor on the most beautiful maiden in the festival. That night, Ahab, ordered that a special chamber be prepared in Tanit’s temple to house the maiden of honor. Ahab stood on the podium and bestowed a wreath of chamomile and violets on Elan’s head making her Tanit’s honorable maiden. Pleased with their king’s selection, the people lifted Elan off the ground, washed her feet and applied oil to her hair and henna to her hands and feet. As maiden of honor, Elan was to remain in her chambers by night and in the temple to lead prayers for the rest of the year without contact with any male. By morning news had reached Danel who was too drunk that night and fell asleep about his betrothed being chosen as Tanit’s maid of honor. Unlike Elan, Danel knew something was not right and he never approved of the treaty signed between his father and Ahab. Immediately, the young prince rode his horse heading to Sidon’s Sea Castle to defy Ahab. Halfway through the path to the castle, Kanmi, Ahiram’s bravest knight intercepted the prince’s horse forcing him to make a complete stop. The prince’s horse jolted and almost threw him on the ground but Kanmi held the horse’s reign steadying him. As the prince began to shout angrily another foot soldier covered the mouth and nose of the prince with a cloth dosed in valerian root. The prince’s eyes rolled, and he fell on his saddle asleep. Kanmi took the young prince to Ahiram’s palace in Tyre and informed him of Ahab’s scheme. Ahiram was wise and told Kanmi to take the prince to Byblos on a scholarly journey to prepare for attacking Ahab’s city. At the king’s orders Kanmi took Danel in a palanquin to Byblos and locked him in one of the towers of Baalat’s temple. Kanmi entrusted Danel to Sikarbaal, a wise scholar and war strategist who had lived in the temple away from Ahab’s eyes. Sikarbaal had defected from Ahab’s father’s military council and took refuge in Byblos. Days and nights went by and soon Ahab had bred the first batch of grey crows as Arishat had suggested. By the third full moon, Arishat had offered the first three young crows to the stars seeking guidance from Morrighan the crow god who spoke to the stars. She informed the king that the young prince must be forced into breaking Tanit’s honor by offering a marriage of naheb (a marriage under threat of the groom being killed if the bride refused) to dispose of Danel and secure that the maiden becomes Ahab’s rightful bride. “But how do we get Danel to do that? We don’t know where he is and no one has heard of him since Tanit’s festival and Elan’s honoring as Tanit’s maiden of purity. You have offered three crows, and these are the answers you have for me witch?” remarked the king with disgust. “Sire, this answer is from the blood of the first crow. The second crow suggests that the blood of Danel shall be used to bathe the remaining crows who will become human by day and walk among men to serve you as the greatest warriors. The third crow’s blood showed me that you must use the grey murder members to collect the dreams of the people in a jar and seal them shut to keep your legacy. This is all they will tell me for now” said Arishat. And just as the soothsayer thought she had Ahab in her pocket, Betnoam knelt before Ahab and said:” My lord, I have located Sikarbaal in Byblos. He is the one keeping Danel locked in Baalat’s tower. I have a bartender who is ready to bring Sikarbaal to your doorstep with Danel if you allow me Sire. “Well done priest. But you forget I cannot take another King’s son hostage by breaking into another kingdom’s temple. I have a better idea. Send one of our brown crows with a letter in its feet to the window of Danel’s room and let the bartender arrange a horse for him to come to me” said Ahab. “But Sire, why would he come to you? Don’t you want to get Sikarbaal he is proof that Ahiram betrayed your father before and is pretending to be an ally” questioned Batnoam. “Batnoam! I have his woman locked away in a temple. My spies tell me he was coming to my gates the night Kanmi took him to Baalat. Sikarbaal, will be dealt with by Ahiram once Danel comes to us. I want the letter to say that I will be taking Elan as a concubine and deflowering her as a punishment for speaking to a man in Tanit’s temple in the next full moon in public” said Ahab. “As you wish my lord, I will do that right away” said Batnoam. “Batnoam, once we capture Danel, I want you to use valerian tea to put him to sleep. I heard it works wonders on him. Then place him shirtless at the doorstep of Elan’s chambers just before early hours of morning. I want you to open the temple early and let the people inside to see him that way. Let the people make him choose between his or her life. I want him to ask for naheb from Elan. She will be forced to choose to cover her personal shame or disgrace her mother servant of Melqart and Tanit’s ally” said the cunning king. Young and in love, the prince sat by his window thinking of Elan’s skin reflecting in the flickering night fire. He was missing his love severely when a brown crow cawed at his window and began turning around itself. The prince was raised to be kind to animals, so he came to the bird and checked it. He saw a letter attached to his foot and opened it. He read it quickly and did as it instructed him. He put out the fires and candles in his room then lit one candle and set it on his window. With the lights out as seen from under the door of Danel’s room, Sikarbaal thought it was time for his nightcap and decided to visit his bartender. To his surprise, the bartender came to him carrying a wineskin filled with the finest honey mead he’d ever seen to sparkle under candlelight. He let Sikarbaal drink his fill as they played backgammon and fell off his seat. By morning, Danel had reached Sidon and was taken by Ahab’s men who held him as Batnoam sedated him with valerian tea blossoms. The next morning, Elan, woke up and opened her chamber’s door and saw Danel on her doorstep. She held his head and kissed his forehead. He woke up and kissed his loved one on her lips and for their luck Batnoam was just entering with a group of pilgrims for a tour. The pilgrims shouted “blasphemy! Sacrilege in Tanit’s temple. We shall all be punished and destroyed. Shame! Shame! Hurry toll the bells now!” Within minutes, the temple deacon tolled the bells as if there was a fire in Sidon and all the people gathered and Ahab and his guards came. “What’s this ruckus about Batnoam? There is no fire! Why is this shirtless young man in Tanit’s Temple at this hour?” wondered the King. “My King, this young man is Ahiram’s son, King of Tyre. He was found kissing the lips of Tanit’s maiden of honor in Tanit’s temple. This is sacrilege. He has insulted the Gods. Unless we punish him, we shall all suffer the consequences” said Batnoam. “Liar, I didn’t come here to kiss her. I came here to rescue her from marrying a greedy lying old man. You were going to deflower her and take her as your concubine” shouted the insulted Danel. “How dare you call me a liar? I should put you to death for this insult, but I have a treaty with your father. I shall send you to him with a letter announcing that our treaty is over. As for Elan, why would I punish her for no reason. Elan was safe until you showed up and tarnished her. My city has been taking care of Elan for the period of her service. She is not a prisoner. I can have any woman I want. Why would I insult the gods by tarnishing their selected maiden? I am a good king who respects the ways of the gods” said Ahab. “My Lord, what do we do with Danel son of Ahiram?” asked the foxy priest. “Take him to the dungeon and her to the deacon’s bell tower chain her there. I will arrange for his father to take him back to Tyre with a letter detailing his disgrace and will send a letter to your mother Elan letting her know of your failure and sacrilege” said the vindictive Ahab. The King winked at Batnoam to cook Danel with the naheb scheme as Arishat waited in the deacon’s tower to make Elan refuse Danel’s naheb scheme if she wanted to spare her mom from being stoned to death. By sundown, news had reached Ahiram in Tyre and so he rode off with Kanmi to Sidon’s Sea Castle hoping to save his son from Ahab’s scheme. Halfway to the castle of Ahab, an arrow pierced Ahiram’s shoulder and another his stomach. Kanmi carried the king back to his castle for treatment. Meanwhile, Batnoam set a heavy casket filled with sharp daggers from its bottom to hang by ropes above Melqart’s marble offering’s altar. Arishat on the other hand sent word to Elishat that Elan must burn on the stake for breaking her chastity oath to Tanit in Tanit’s temple by kissing a man. Elishat sent back a letter offering her readiness to die instead of Elan as penance for this sacrilege. By noon, the bells tolled and Elishat was buried halfway in the sand of the Melqart’s square, Elan was tied to a stake, and Danel was tied on the altar of Melqart. Elishat’s mouth was gagged. Ahab read the charges of Elan and Danel and Elishat’s disgrace when he was done, Danel shouted: “Wait, please. Hear me out. I know I have disgraced Tanit. But she is a merciful god. She forgives those who marry naheb way. “Elan, my love please only you can save us. Will you marry me Elan? If you say yes, we are both saved. If you refuse, I pay for both our sins with these daggers” pleaded Danel. Elan’s tears rolled as the drums of the altar rolled waiting for his response. She looked at her mom and looked at Danel. She couldn’t choose between her mom burning at the stake and her lover being stabbed to death and just before she could say anything, the daggered casket fell on Danel killing him instantly. The people cheered and gathered around Danel and demanded that the priestess whose daughter angered Tanit and failed Melqart pay for her bad fruit. They stoned Elishat in front of Elan’s eyes who screamed in pain. Batnoam then branded Elan on her left arm with the coat of arms of Ahab to mark her as a slave. Her screams filled the air as her tears burned her cheeks. She lost both her mother and lover. She collapsed from pain in her heart and body. The people carried her to the carriage jail to take her back to Sidon while Arishat collected Danel’s blood. That day, all of Ahab’s crows were bathed in Danel’s blood whose body was then burnt and ashes were scattered between the sea, mountain, and land. As Arishat promised, the crows turned into men by day spying on the people spreading corruption and dismay. They changed faces everyday taking the faces of people who knew each other. They turned neighbors against other neighbors, brothers against each other, sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, and families against their tribes. Pretty soon, both Sidon and Tyre sank in Ahab’s darkness. Shortly, after his son’s death, Ahiram lost his sight and passed away as well. Elan was so desperate to be free, agreed to Arishat’s terms and bore Ahab a son. Her plan was to give birth and leave. She hated the man very much, but she knew she needed to live another day to make him pay. Years went by and she raised Azmelqart to be wise, brave, honest, and sharp. She knew Ahab was weakening and was favoring his grey human crows over the brown and black crows. She knew, without the crows growing dismay in people harvesting their essence and dreams to fill Ahab’s enchanted jar of corruption, she, her son, and their people did not stand a chance. Arishat had explained to Ahab that every essence and every dream collected by the grey crows from souls they crushed and pushed to kill another innocent soul to corrupt its loved ones to commit revenge; must be stored in the jar. Should any soul or dream escape, it would take only one dream, one pure essence to find forgiveness to free the rest and his legacy would be gone. Arishat told Ahab that the jar’s lid kept the tree of unity a dwarf with nothing to feed on to grow real leaves. As long as the lid was shot, the tree would dry up and shrivel leaving dreams to condense like mist and clouds that would be blown into nothing with time. As time went by, Ahab reduced the food and shelter he gave to the brown crows and the cadavers for the black crows because he was busy grooming and protecting the grey crows. One day a black crow was swapped away from the feeding room with a broom so hard it fell and broke its wing. Elan picked up the crow and hid it in one of the pleats of her dress and mended its wing. In the evening, Azmelqart arriving with a fresh kill and decided to give his mother a feast to celebrate his father’s absence. His father had gone to Palmyra to celebrate Adonis’s festival with new maidens. He was surprised to see his mother tending to a black crow and was about to throw it out when Elan shouted: “Stop! Can’t you see he is hurt? Don’t hurt him. Give him a chance. I taught you better. I taught you mercy!”. Feeling ashamed from himself, he offered the crow some meat. To his surprise the crow cawed so loud and pretty soon all the black crows came and began feasting on the kill. Soon only scraps were left for the boy and his mother. Azmelqart was dismayed and went to his room frowning. Unaware that one of the grey crows had seen his mother tend to the wounded black crow and him allowing the black murder to feast on his kill; the young man voiced his concerns: “….she thinks that she can turn them against him…It won’t be long before they gain their strength and go back to serve their master…. Crows will always be bad news…” The crow captured Azmelqart’s image and words in a memory and flew to Ahab to deliver his report. Elan waited for the black crow and his murder to fly out of the castle and report to Ahab but they never left her chambers. The crows cawed and one brown crow appeared. Suddenly all the black crows merged into one big black crow and fused with the brown crow. The birds surrounded Elan and engulfed her trapping her inside this now huge grey crow with red eyes. Elan was terrified as she felt her mortal body shiver and wither as she began to fade as a substance and watched her essence leave her body. The large crow consumed her body as her soul stretched to fill the entire body of the new large grey crow. Stunned by the perfect fusion she experienced by becoming one with the crow, she thought to herself; why not try and walk. Immediately, the crow took two steps forward and was now facing the mirror. At first she felt like she was peering through two peep holes for eyes. She walked two steps further and faced a life size mirror to see the reflection of the crow, at once a third eye appeared in the forehead of the crow as big and as green as one of her eyes. She felt as if her forehead was being perforated and opening as her vision seem to grow more expansive than she had ever experienced. One of the crows spoke to her in her mind so clear she thought at first it was shouting in her ear;: “Elan, you are the Morrighan’s priestess. As a reward for helping us even when we were nothing but bad to you and your people we shall grant you the power to lead your people into a revolution against Ahab’s corruption and tyranny. You are safe with us. You are immortal. Your heart’s purity and kindness shall right what Ahab has done. Morrighan promised Arishat an heir whose legacy shall unite the kingdom’s of Phoenicia from Ugarit till Carthage if he brings forth the grey crows but this promise is only valid if the sacrifice is done for a noble cause. Ahab’s greed for power, money, and control is not noble. What began with the reign of blood will end in blood and blood shall cleanse blood. The innocent shall replenish this land and raise it from the ashes like a phoenix to be reborn as a free nation. Fear not for Azmelqart, he shall sleep in his chambers until the revolution has cleansed this land. You shall see with justice, conquer with hope, and win the people with a dignified life”. With that, the Morrighan Grey Crow, took off and uncapped the dreams’ jar letting hope’s cloud escape into the air spreading dreams of love, good fortune, and happiness disperse into the sky. For the first time, truth’s sun shone drying corruption’s stench and lifting injustice’s illusive fog. With the first rays of truth’s sun touching the people’s houses in Sidon, Tyre, and Byblos, the people came out from their houses and shouted in one voice: “The reign of terror is over. We the people have hope. We the people will dream. We the people will build. Long live the people of the cedar land!” The people raced through the land toppling Ahab’s soldiers from their horses, taking back all that the guards and treasurers had kept from the people. They no longer feared them. Not far behind the rebels, the grey murder’s regiments began descended on the rebels grabbing a few pecking them to death. As their blood filled the land beneath the rebels’ feet, the rebels lit torches and used them to light arrows that they fired at the crows. They say that day was as long as a year, as quick as a smile, but as sweet as a fading memory. In the end, Ahab had no choice but to run to the Kadisha river banks where a boar plunged its snout and tusks in his belly leaving it open to expose his innards. With the sight of the blood gushing from Ahab’s belly, and the strong stench of his stinking old foul blood, replete with the smell of iron; the grey crows lost their minds and descended to feast on him. Shortly after their feast, they began to shake. Their feathers fell and they began to unravel like a decaying cocoon faltering into ashes blown by the wind. That day the sky cried with joy tears of cleansing rain and hail. Pleased with the end of Ahab Elan thanked the Morrighan grey crow for his help and wondered if she can join her people. For a moment, Elan felt the crows swallow their saliva gasping for air. She felt sorrow go down their airways. Then in one voice like the chorus of the naheb marriage singers they said: “Elan daughter of Elishat, your name shall live with your people as the spirit of revolution who sacrificed her flesh to bring forth a just king and her soul to liberate her people. We shall give you one moonless night to kiss Azmelqart goodbye and give him strength and wisdom to lead his people”. Elan was sad to realize she wouldn’t be there to watch her son grow into the king she raised him but as a mother and citizen of Phoenicia she was proud to have given her people freedom and justice. Today, Phoenicians remember Ahab’s blood when Kadisha turns red and Elan’s kiss when the clouds form the silver lining around the sun eclipsing the moon. Years have gone since Azmelqart first ruled this land, but the Phoenicians are still waiting for Elan’s kiss to wake up another Azmelqart when dream’s jar lid is lifted again. Long live Lebanon, the land of the Cedars and the great Phoenicians!
Author’s Notes: Lebanon is the heart of the Phoenician Kingdom and the apple of conquest of the old world. This story of the land of the Cedars is a tribute to all of Lebanon’s Freedom Fighters, Martyrs, and just causes. Long live Lebanon. #creativewriting #patriotism #freedom #causes #martyrdom #sacrifice #loveofcountry #outlook #justice #socialsolidarity #dignity #لبنان_ينتفض #ثورة_لبنان #كلن_يعني_كلن
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