Content Warning: Discusion of brutality
Satisfied with her work, she turned away again and disappeared up the street and into another alley. Another few turns brought her to her next stop, where she painted the same symbol under the window of a small bakery, with the triangle pointing toward the door of the establishment. Then she disappeared once more into the adjacent alley.
She darted through the streets and byways of Eridu, taking a circuitous path home. Occasionally she stopped to place the same mark upon a nearby house or business, and by the time she reached the king’s residence, she had nearly exhausted her supply of paint. As she passed in through the gate again, nodding a silent greeting to the guard who admitted her, she allowed a smirk of satisfaction to pass over her lips before she reached the end of the courtyard and entered the house.
On her way back to her room, she passed by the king’s own bedchamber, and she saw that he was sitting at the window with only a single lamp burning, gazing out into the night sky. He turned as her footfalls sounded within, and called out to her.
“You’re awake! Come, come inside. I too am watchful.”
Setting her mortar and brush outside the door, she joined him at the window, and he smiled up at her from his seat.
“Don’t you feel overwhelmed sometimes by the night?” he asked. “It’s a vast, pressing mystery, full of secrets.”
“Like much of our existence,” she answered.
“Hmm,” said the king, turning again to look out of the window. After a moment, he said, “You don’t usually wear those clothes inside the city; have you been spying on someone?”
“I was laying traps for the unwary,” she said, letting her body relax and leaning against the edge of the window as she looked out.
“You have done well,” said the king. “You have shown that our word and our law must be obeyed. I expect that order will be restored soon; what would you do next to ensure that it continues?”
“The prisons are over-crowded,” she said. “Keeping so many people locked up will breed more bitterness among their families and friends, and even many who trade with them. Besides, we need their labor. They are producing no good for society sitting in prison cells, and we are already suffering from a shortage of food.”
“So you would release them after only a short time of punishment? This counsel sounds much like your advice of a few days past.”
“Yes, release them,” she said. “But have them flogged first, only a few stripes—enough to show our determination and authority, but not so many that they will be unable to return to their labors.”
The king looked up at her again, quiet satisfaction creasing the corners of his mouth. “Yes, this is good counsel. We will give the order at first light.”