Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Before and After (05/14/09)
TITLE: Day of the Storm God
By Carol Slider
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This is the day of the Storm God.
When the chief prophet comes to me at first light, I am ready, robed in the purple silk of my people—the royal Sidonians. The great priest performs his humble obeisance, his forehead touching the polished tile at my feet.
“Rise,” I say. “Today, we are all servants of the same lord.”
I let him stand before me, face to face. He is tall and well-favored, worthy of the trust I have placed in him. Before the day is done, he will have his reward: my coffers and my bedchamber.
“I will not fail you, O Queen, nor will the great god we serve,” he says.
Gratified, I reply:
“Today, all Israel will know that Ba’al commands the storms. And this sorcerer, this slave-prophet, who calls himself a servant of the impotent Yahweh...”
“He will die by my sword, O Queen, when Ba’al’s fire consumes his altar and Ba’al’s rain laves our parched lands.”
When the prophet has gone, I send all others away and enter the sacred chamber behind the scarlet veil. In the cloud of incense that smolders before the image of my lord, I dance for him, slow and sinuous. Often he has come to me as a lover, and I long for his embrace. But I sense his absence, and I know he journeys now toward Kishon. I hold out my hands, bidding him go, and conquer.
“And then come back to me,” I whisper, bending low before the image. “I will be waiting.”
The time of the evening sacrifice has long passed. I do not doubt, I do not doubt... but why so long? My lord must have a purpose, else he should have vanquished the slave-god long ago. What power does this Elijah possess?
And then I hear a rumble of thunder, and know Ba’al has triumphed. I go to the balcony and revel in the heavy air and the dark, gathering clouds. The chief prophet will come to me now, bearing the head of the false priest. I watch the road, until I see him...
Yes, he is riding—but who runs before him like the tempest, crying in a loud voice as he comes? Is that not Elijah? My fingers curl, nails digging deep into the palms. Slay him, slay him now! Why have you let him escape?
But it is not the priest who rides. It is the King, the Hebrew I enslaved with my eyes. My lip curls. He bids to give me the news first, then; and as the first drops of rain fall at my feet, I find I am not displeased. He has played the weak fool too often, yet he is my husband; and if he slays Elijah before my eyes and gives me the news I seek, I will reward him.
They reach the gates of the city. The Hebrew prophet is shouting, and the people are around him, echoing his words...
It cannot be.
I withdraw into my chamber, my heart burning, anger tearing at my throat.
Ahab comes to me. Does he mourn or does he gloat? For he says,
“Ba’al’s altar is consumed by Jehovah’s fire; Ba’al’s priests and prophets are dead by the word of Elijah. I would send no courier to bring you these tidings, for I knew that any other would die for it.”
I send him away like a slave, and call for the messenger at the door. The fire is in my veins now; nothing but vengeance can quench it.
“Find Elijah, and give him this message...”
My messenger flees to pronounce the death sentence upon the Hebrew sorcerer. I go into the sacred chamber and fall on my face before Ba’al.
Do you not feel my rage, my lord? Do you not burn as I burn, hate as I hate?
I reach out my hands and touch him—but the image is cold and dead, my lover absent.
And over the sounds of wind and rain, over the mournful howls of the dogs in the courtyard, I hear the hateful cry of this fickle people:
The Lord, he is God! The Lord Jehovah commands the storm!
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