Content Warning: Brutality
They flogged the men one at a time, so that a scream of pain broke through the hum and tumult of the city every few seconds for the better part of the morning, while she sheltered within her counting room and tried to concentrate on the tallies and records the scribes kept holding in front of her face. Occasionally, when she did manage to scrape some sense from the tablets and begin to consider its implications, another cry would burst in on her afresh, and she would wince, her hands rising involuntarily upward as if to cover her face. After only a short time of this erratic behavior, she had thoroughly unnerved her scribes. They appeared as relieved as she when Melem presented himself and she dismissed them to work that would not require her unimpeded faculties.
“All is in readiness,” said Melem when the door had shut behind the retreating scribes. “Our supplies are gathered in one place, as near as may be to the port. Upon your order, they can be loaded onto our waiting ships within a single watch. Our people, likewise, have made themselves and their households ready to depart at nearly a moment’s notice. We wait only at your pleasure.”
“Good,” she said. “We leave in two days’ time; instruct everyone to gather at the place you have appointed after the moon has risen on the night following this one.”
Melem smiled and bowed. “With pleasure, Lady.”
He turned and left the room, and she followed him into the hallway. Beckoning to Ishu, who had lingered outside, she waited until Melem had disappeared around the corner, then instructed him in a low voice, “Have some of the guards follow him to his co-conspirators. Arrest them all for treason, and make sure to find out where they have hidden the supplies. Put a watch on the place so we can round up any we don’t find today.”
Nodding, Ishu hustled away, and she slammed the door of the counting room shut behind him as another shriek of agony echoed up from the streets beyond.
When evening fell, she took with her a large contingent of the guards and set out across the city. Marching their way through the still-crowded streets, they thrust aside any who blocked their way, knocking over merchants’ stalls as their owners scrambled in vain to clear a path and sending others scurrying back into their homes or down nearby alleyways that offered their protection. After a few blocks, she cast a glance over her shoulder. While a few of the braver folk had returned to the streets once her entourage had passed, most seemed to prefer concealment. This pattern continued even as they reached the outskirts of Eridu and drew to a halt outside the first building she had marked the previous night.
Shouldering her way through the waiting guards, she told their commander, “I will enter first; wait for my signal.”
He nodded, and she stole down the alley, vigilant for any sound or sign of the conspirators she had enticed to gather there.