‘Have you ever met the King?’ Jeremiah asked Baruch as the latter helped his new master gather all that was needed for their journey. Baruch didn’t reply, as he stood holding a beautiful goddess made of exquisitely cut faience and was unsure what to do with it. Jeremiah turned to him and took the half-naked figurine from his hands. ‘I journeyed to Tyre some years ago,’ he explained softly as he lay the goddess in cupped palms. She was just short of three inches in height, and the single shaft of afternoon sunlight coming through the narrow window in the third-storey room seemed to find her with purpose, bouncing off her serene face and drawing attention to the ample breasts she covered with her hands. ‘When I hold this Asherah, I remember my mother. She had always dreamed of praying to a beauty like this, but…’


Baruch registered the sadness on the Prophet’s face and remained silent. Jeremiah eventually looked at him: ‘You think I risk our lives by carrying it?’


‘I do,’ the Scribe replied. ‘I’m…sorry, but…’


‘I understand,’ said Jeremiah, holding Baruch’s empathic but cautious gaze before putting the figurine in his bag. ‘But my mother will be joining us, nonetheless.’


‘There are still places where the old ways survive,’ Baruch commented, with a slight grin. ‘Perhaps your mother would like to visit them.’


Jeremiah smiled gratefully, a hint of moisture in his eyes. ‘I believe she would,’ he said. ‘And it just so happens that our work calls for such visits.’


‘Are we to teach the people new laws?’


The Prophet took a long breath as he took up a coin from a wooden bowl. It bore an image of a tree on one side and a lion on the other. Around the lion were the words “The King Has Given”, in an old Hebrew script which both men knew was gradually being left behind. Below the tree, the coin read “The Gods Have Blessed”. Jeremiah handed the coin to Baruch as he said sadly, ‘I have never denied Yahweh. I have never denied any of our ancestral gods.’


‘Some philosophers are convincing,’ Baruch noted. ‘Although even the Greeks seem a little confused on the matter of one god over many.’


‘It’s not the Greeks who hold sway, Baruch. Did you know that Lawmakers from Nineveh arrived here on the last Full Moon? Three men whose wisdom borders legend. They’re working with the King to bring us in line with their perception of what is right and wrong.’


Baruch nodded suspiciously, saying, ‘I’ve seen copies of an ancient Law Code once used by the Chaldeans.’


‘And there you have it. In his attempt to appear submissive, the King is turning our society on its head. Laws are usually reactive, but in this case, many are symbolic of our compliance…with either these Overlords or the next.’


‘To appear submissive?’


Jeremiah grinned broadly. ‘He may be a tyrant,’ the Prophet joked, ‘but he is our tyrant! Assyria is being carved up and their end is fast approaching. The dynasties are fighting amongst themselves, but whoever remains will be knocking on our door and we need to prepare ourselves. I believe that even the support of Egypt will not be enough when the time comes.’


‘I…don’t understand,’ Baruch admitted as they resumed packing. ‘Both the Assyrians and Chaldeans have long worshipped many gods. What the King is doing doesn’t conform to their worldview.’


‘No, it doesn’t,’ Jeremiah agreed, tying up one bag. ‘But the Israelites have made a deal. Compliance for Reform. They know that they’ll emerge stronger once the Assyrians and even the Egyptians are gone. The writing is on the wall, Baruch.’


‘Then it’s lucky most can’t read,’ the Scribe quipped, tying up another bag. ‘But there is another thing that has been bothering me.’


‘I imagine, for a man like you,’ said Jeremiah, ‘that many things keep you awake at night.’


‘Certainly, but…’ Baruch looked around cautiously, and Jeremiah laid a hand on his arm, saying, ‘You may speak your mind in here, Baruch, but…quietly.’


Baruch nodded, and his eyes lit up with the passion of conspiracy as he said, ‘It’s not only the Assyrians and Chaldeans who have long worshipped many gods, Jeremiah.’


For a moment, Jeremiah held his impassioned stare, before looking around as if he, too, did not trust their environment. ‘You know,’ he said eventually, ‘I’m looking forward to travelling the length and breadth of our fine land. And there is so much to talk about that only the land would wish to hear.’ He pointed to a flask lying on a stone ledge behind Baruch. ‘Would you please fill that with the strongest wine you can find? We will no doubt say things we might wish to forget.’

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