A WAR QUEEN’S PROPHECY
Written by Edward Peple and originally published in 1907
Once more the priests and the chiefs of war foregathered at the mandate of the Queen; and now they waited not on the palace steps, but assembled in the council hall, that spacious chamber where, in days of old King Ninus was wont to issue his commands. There, through its open end, could be seen the Tigris, chanting a wordless song as it ran to a chanting sea; there hung proud trophies of the battle and the chase; there, on the walls, were the carven steles of Ninus, each telling a tale of a monarch’s mighty deeds.
And to those who waited there, Semiramis came at last; no longer clothed in the splendor of her gem-sewn robes, or the glory of her battle-gear. She wore a garb of mourning, and on the flame-hued locks was set no diadem save a crown of withered leaves. In silence she came into the hall, and in silence took her seat upon the throne. In silence she looked on the men before her—men who had followed through the desert’s fire and the storm of many a war; then the Queen arose and spoke:
“My brothers,” she began, “brothers in battle and the pleasant ways of peace, your sister Shammuramat is sad. The King is dead; yet I grieve not for the King. The king of my heart is dead, and I grieve for him.”
She paused. Her warrior brothers bowed their heads, and each man hid his eyes in the hollow of his hand; then the Queen spoke on:
“And now will I reign alone! Alone, till it pleaseth Ishtar to call me unto one who will wait and listen for my footsteps coming in the night. And so will I reign alone! Yet harken, ye children of Assyria, and ye who write on tablets and the graven stele! In after-days the sons of men will say of me that Shammuramat was one of an evil heart!—that her heart was for war, for blood, for pillage, and the conquering of all the earth! They will say that she slew the King—slew him in brutish lust for a lesser man! They will say that she ruled with a rod of might, and set ambition on a higher altar than the altar of her gods! All this, and more, will run from the babbling tongues of men—and Shammuramat will strive to make it true!”
Once more she paused and looked upon her wondering warriors.
“Heed, then, my brothers who will marvel at my wrathful days to come! Heed ye and remember one who hath wrought this evil in my soul! The King! who hath crucified a woman’s love! The King! who hath torn a woman’s heart from out her breast and set a raging devil as the master of her blood! So harken, ye children of Assyria, and ye who write on tablets and the graven stele! Remember! And now make ready for a war!”
“A war?” cried Nakir-Kish, who knew that the nations rested on their arms and were at peace. “What war?”
Semiramis turned upon him with a cry of consuming rage, and with the scepter of an hundred lands she smote him across his mouth. The High Priest Nakir-Kish went down before her throne, and she raised her eyes on high and called aloud:
“Dear Ishtar, hear the fool who asketh me what war!”
She turned to her brother warriors, her children of the sword, grim, battle-scarred, and faithful unto death; and to them she stretched her empty arms and opened her empty heart.
“War! War!” she cried. “I care not where nor how, so be it that we war! Rise Babylon—and sink Assyria!”