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The Tanith Cycle

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All through the banquet El went on and on about the palace he was building for his youngest son, Mot. El said, "I will make my best beloved son the god of death, and all will bow before him." El served honeyed yogurt to Mot with his own hands.

Anat seethed when El said, "Ba'al, my eldest son, give Mot the bread from your plate. He will have a great palace and will rule over you."

El laughed when Mot refused Ba'al's bread demanding meat instead.

Anat almost decapitated her brother-in-law then and there. They would see if Mot’s dead tongue could taste honeyed yogurt then, but her Ba'al stopped her. He put his hand on her wrist and breathed a wet wind into her neck. She melted into his desire to wait.

He said, "All I must do is woo my father with honeyed words and wait. El will build me a palace and I will be respected."

What he wanted would never happen. Tanith was a goddess of storms and could not see the future, but she knew that.

But she waited and she waited. She watched El give Mot a throne and made everyone bow before him. She ground her sharp teeth with waiting.

She was flinging storms at a mountain top when she heard the prayer of the Princess of Tyre. In those days, Dido's name was Elissa. Elissa said, "My brother, King Pygmalion, he squeezes the people as if gold will spill from their veins. He killed my husband, Sychaeus, who was the high priest of Melquart before Melquart's very altar."

Anat had put her hand on her sword. "Have you prayed to me because Melquart is too lazy to kill your brother?"

"No!" said Elissa. She put her hand to a beryl pendant that she wore around her neck. Anat recognized it as the pendant worn by the high priest of Melquart. "Melquart sent my husband to me in a dream. He told me how to use his necklace to find a great buried treasure. He warned me that my little sister, Anna, who lives in my brother's palace, is in danger there."

Anat nodded. "You want me to kill your brother to protect your sister."

"No!" said Elissa. She still held the beryl necklace. "We are not going to kill anyone. I want to spend the treasure on ships and leave the place of my birth with anyone I can get to follow me. I will bury the name Elissa here and change my name to Dido, which means wanderer, for my new life. That way my heart will not be divided between two lands and my old name will have no call on me. I want you to come with us to bless my people in our new land with rain. If you do, the first thing we will do is build you a palace above all the rest."

No one respected a god without a palace. Anat was not respected. Ba'al was not respected. People talked of wanting rain, but when it came they cursed it and begged for the burning sun. They wanted rain up in the mountains. They wanted the rain to fall somewhere else and then reap the benefit in their fields along the rivers.

Anat looked with far seeing eyes across the land where she was not respected. She said, "Dido, I will change my name from Anat to Tanith. My heart will not be divided between two lands. I will go with you and help you in all the ways that I can."

Tanith, who had been Anat, went to Ba'al and told him of Dido's promise. He said, "I am going to a banquet that my father, El, is throwing. I am sure he will offer me a palace. I cannot change my name and go to a new land."

Tanith kissed him and said, "I will come back for you." She was determined that when their palace was done, she would bring her beloved back with her. She would tell him about their palace and he would have to come. But she was done sitting at the edge of his father's table waiting for respect.

Tanith meant to be of use to Dido so she would build a massive palace. She said, "You do not need to spend your wealth on ships. I'll slaughter your brother's men in the shipyard and you can take their ships."

Dido looked as if she was in pain. She put her hand to her beryl necklace. She said, "No, we may need to come back for help someday. We cannot leave an army behind us that wants revenge."

Tanith sneered and privately thought Dido's brother, Pygmalion, was the sort to want revenge for a poke in the shoulder. But she kept her sword in its sheath. Tanith held Anna and told her stories of great storms while Dido directed the people into the ships.

They sailed away from Tyre in the dead of night and went to Cyprus to purchase supplies. There on the beach, they saw eighty women, who were set aside to be sacrificed to Astarte.

Tanith asked Dido, "Why do you think they are sacrificing these women? Astarte is a goddess of love and war. She doesn't need help killing." Tanith was genuinely curious.

Anna, who was sitting at Tanith's feet, began to cry. "I don't want anyone else to die. Please, Dido, you have to save them."

Dido looked at Tanith, who said, "If they are promised to Astarte, she will come for them." Tanith put her hand on her sword to let Dido know that she shouldn't take that to mean Tanith would not fight Astarte if Dido wanted her to do so.

Dido said, "We will purchase these women to bring with us to our new town. We will have these women burn sweet herbs and sing Astarte's praises that she is more than capable of killing whoever she wants dead. They will sing that Astarte doesn't need men to kill for her. They will become sacred warriors and prostitutes of Astarte, and help bring up a new generation."

Tanith was impressed. "That will please her."

Anna asked Tanith, "Don't you want sacred warriors and prostitutes?"

Dido looked frightened. Probably because she had no money to purchase more slaves.

Tanith laughed great strikes of lightning at the idea. Tanith picked up Anna and held her in her arms. "I don't need sacred warriors or prostitutes." Tanith also didn't particularly think they needed more people on their boats and mouths to feed.

She thought it would honor Astarte more if the women slaughtered the priests. Astarte rode lions into battle. If women who were dedicated to her did the killing, she would be pleased to have her priests die in this way.

Dido looked pained. She put her hand on her beryl necklace and said, "Astarte may be pleased, but the people of Cyprus won't be." She purchased the women with the last of her money and even talked the High Priest into coming with them to their new town.

When they finally arrived in the north of Africa, they had no money left.

Tanith suggested that she could simply kill King Iobas, the king of that land, and they could take all his land. Dido had looked pained and said, "No, we should trade with him. His people will be our neighbors."

Dido begged King Iobas to have just as much land as an ox hide would enclose. He looked at her like a lion looks at a piece of meat. Tanith gripped her sword while he agreed.

Dido had winked at her little sister Anna and said, "Watch this." Dido cut the hide into a fine long strip and enclosed an entire hill.

Anna clapped her hands.

The people of Carthage, which meant new town, did as Dido had promised. Before they built homes or walls, they worked on a palace for Tanith on the top of the hill. They slapped mud mixed with straw into small wooden frames. Each mud brick was marked with the name of the family that made it. As they built Tanith's palace, their names were embedded in the walls and she would protect them. No one made more bricks than Dido. She was a princess. She had given more than any to make Carthage.

The palace was almost done when a great dry wind began to blow out of the south from the desert.

The dry crackle of that wind made Tanith's skin itch. It was the sort of wind that made good friends irritable and come to blows. It made the fine hairs on the back of her neck twitch and her fingers curl around her sword. This wind was as hungry as a lion in the desert.. She bared her teeth at this wind, which was nothing like the longed-for embrace of her Ba'al's wind from the sea.

She kept her hand wrapped around the hilt of her sword and gritted her teeth as the wind whistled through the yellow desert. Tanith walked along the outside of the ox hide and resolved to be the walls of Carthage until walls could be built.

She needed to cast lightning. She needed to rain down torrents. She needed Ba'al in her arms. She needed to lose herself in him as she brought the storm from the sea. But he hadn't come with her, when she'd left Tyre and come to this new dry land.

She was pacing when Dido's emissaries to King Iobas returned. They were wrapped in rich purple robes. They had not spent all they had to reach Carthage. The oldest and oiliest of them, Beribas, said, "King Iobas was impressed by how you enclosed the hill. He will remain at peace with us if we send an emissary to live among his people and teach them our sciences. But of course, any of our people would rather die than live among barbarians."

Tanith stopped pacing. She stood very still and quiet. She kept her shadow low on the ground as she came to stand behind Anna, who was playing with her dolls. She saw Dido's face set. She saw the drying mud on her hands crack as her fists curled. "Then I'd condemn any of us who refused to do everything they could for our people. After all we've given up to start new lives, any of us should be willing to die for our people."

Beribas smiled with even dull teeth. "Actually, my Lady, his terms were that you, and you alone, marry him, or he'd wage war on our people."

Dido stepped back. Her hand found the beryl necklace that she always wore. "I see. So, you trap me with my own words." She looked Tanith in the eyes. She embraced her sister, who didn't want to be embraced. She wanted to keep playing. Dido said, "I would be willing to die for my people. Tell King Iobas that I need to build a pyre and sacrifice to the shade of my husband so he does not haunt our bed. I will need at least three days. Now come, Anna, let's make bricks with your name on them for Tanith's palace."

Anna went away with her, laughing. She liked making mud bricks. She thought it was a good thing that her sister was going to remarry and give her nieces and nephews to play with.

Tanith growled. She could see in Dido's eyes that she meant to kill herself. She could see that Dido wanted Tanith to protect her sister and see that she became queen. Anna did not need to make mud bricks for that to happen. Tanith loved Dido and she loved Anna.

Dido was clever, but Tanith was a goddess. She was not a dog on a leash.

Tanith waited. She could be patient.

The wind blew North from the desert and she watched Anna lay her own bricks in Tanith's palace. She watched Dido build her pyre. When it was high enough to block the view, Tanith went to the place where King Iobas had twin cities perching on hilltops like goats. She stood below both of them in the valley and she slapped her sword on her shield. She opened her mouth and she roared like lightning that leaps from cloud to cloud.

She yelled, "I am here to make war on King Iobas. I am here to wade in the blood of his people and make the heads and hands of his people my trophies. I will make his head a trophy on my belt."

The men in the twin cities laughed at her like goats. They knew she did not yet have a palace. They rode down the hills on swift horses to fight her.

She was laughing and attaching their heads and hands to her belt when her husband's messengers found her. There were tear tracks on their faces. Their eyes were red. They said, "Your husband's brother, Mot, became angry with your husband when you no longer sat next to him at the feast. He declared that Ba'al insulted him by inviting him to dinner for bread and fruit. He said that he was the god of death and was hungry for meat like a lion in the desert. Their Father, El, would not give Ba'al permission to defend himself. Your husband hid from Mot's anger, but Mot found him. He… My Lady, your husband is dead. Death has killed him."

It was then that Tanith understood the wind from the desert. It was the wind that drove away the rains. It was the wind that dried out the land and kept the crops from growing. It was the opposite of her Ba'al. It was the wind that came from his death.

She said, "Follow me." They followed her as she climbed over the piles of bodies below the twin cities like goats on a hill. She went back to the new town to where Dido was standing on her burning pyre while Anna wept for her to climb down.

Tanith grabbed the sword out of Dido's hands and threw her over her shoulder. She climbed down off the burning pyre. "I do not have time for this. I will need your help if I am to defeat death."

Dido swayed as Anna struck her with her embrace. "If I could defeat death, I'd bring my husband back."

Tanith glared at her. "The difference between us is that you could be satisfied with a new town in place of your husband, while I do not care about a palace if Ba'al is gone. If you love your Carthage, you must care about my grief more than your own. Ba'al helps me to blow the storms that rain down on the land. Without him, the wind will howl out of the desert and I will not be able to bring the rain."

Dido sighed as she looked at the blood staining Tanith's boots and legs. "Any of us must be willing to face death to help our people." She held out her hand. "Please give me my husband's sword back."

Tanith gave it back. She went to a trireme and waited while Dido filled it with sailors for all three decks. They sailed back to where they had come from. Tanith helped Anna off of the ship. She asked Dido, "What should I do? How do I get Ba'al back?"

"You'll need to get permission from El to fight Mot," said Dido. "Not that you waited for permission from me before fighting King Iobas.”

"Since you would have told me not to kill everyone, I did not bother." Tanith said with some anger. "You would rather kill yourself than depend on me for help."

"No, that's not so," protested Dido, but Tanith held her gaze until Dido looked down. "I prayed for you to come with us, but then didn't call on you when the moment came. I am sorry."

Tanith nodded her forgiveness. She set Anna down on the ground, so Anna could take her sister's hand. Tanith would need both hands free.

They went to the palace of El. The servants at the gate said, "El will not see you, Anat. He's locked himself away behind eight mighty doors."

"My name is now Tanith," said Tanith. At the first door, Tanith stamped her foot, and the door fell in a great earthquake. At the second door, she punched it, and it swung free off its hinges. At the third door, she grabbed a torch and set it on fire. At the fourth door, Dido said, "Maybe, I should handle this. By the time we reach El, the palace will be rubble."

Dido opened the locks to the doors in front of Tanith. She'd learned how to open locks when she went to her brother's palace to save Anna. She explained to Anna what was she was doing as she opened the locks, in case Anna ever needed to escape from a locked room.

They opened the final door. Behind it, they found El hiding behind his throne.

Dido said, "Great El, who rules the sun and moon and stars. With the blessings of your mighty hand, let Tanith go into the realm of the dead and bring back your son, Ba'al."

El said, from behind his throne, "Mot have I loved and Ba'al have I hated. I will not give permission to bring him back from the dead. I will not weep a single tear for him."

Dido tried many other words, until all words failed her.

Tanith looked at Dido and said, "We have tried your way. Now we will try mine." She marched up to the throne and said, "Father of my beloved, give me the right to kill Mot, and bring your son, Ba'al, back from the dead, or I will dismember you with my bare hands."

"I have made him death and you cannot defeat death. His hunger is the hunger of a lion in the desert," said El from behind his throne, "but you may try if you wish."

"Then we have your permission," said Dido. She said to Tanith, "We can go."

Tanith sneered at the throne and they left the palace. They went into the desert where Mot was.

He roared at Tanith. "I am the endless hunger of the desert."

"Here comes the rain," said Tanith slapping her sword against her shield. "Prepare to be quenched."

They fought on the hillside and they fought in the valley. They fought in the desert. They fought on the shore.

He laughed at her, so she cleaved him in half with her sword. She built a great a sieve and she winnowed him with it. She said to Dido, "Do you think that's enough?"

"Better burn him," said Dido.

Tanith burned the body of death. She said, "And now?"

Dido said, "Grind him and we'll sown him in the ground of home."

They ground up the ashes of death with mill stones and went back to the ship.

The soldiers of King Pygmalion were waiting with King Pygmalion leading them. Dido said, "Tanith, please, help us."

"It has been done," said Tanith. She stepped forward and pointed with her sword. "Do not stand in our way. I have just killed death. If I dismember you, you will lie on the ground undying."

The soldiers stood aside. King Pygmalion tried to get them to go back, but they all said, "If you want to stand in front of them, you should be the one to do it." He didn't block their way either. They got in the ship without trouble.

The wind from the desert had stopped. There was no wind. They had to row the entire way back to Carthage. When they got there, they found that the palace was done. They found that those who survived from King Iobas’ twin cities had come to join their people. They were simple herders and farmers. The fields were ready to be planted with seeds.

Tanith planted death's ashes in the soil and had the people plant their crops.

They waited.

Tanith did not like waiting, but she waited in her palace. She sat on her throne and looked at the empty throne next to her. She paced the palace and she paced the town below it. She killed some jackals that attacked the people's herds. She kept the coastal road open. She waited.

She felt it as it happened and threw herself into the arms of the wind. The fresh wet wind off the sea blew her rain down onto the ground. She dashed down thunderous rain and joyous lightning. She felt the wind’s hard gusts at her clouds. She moaned and the wind moaned back. She settled with a satisfied sigh into her Ba'al's arms.

He said, "You saved me. You brought me back."

She kissed any thought of death off his lips. "I will always bring you back. I will always come for you."

There were two thrones in their palace, but they curled together in one of them so they could kiss. They were still kissing when Mot dragged his ashen self out of the earth. He said, "You cannot defeat death."

Tanith did not look away from Ba'al. She looked into Ba'al's eyes and smiled. "I can and have and will again if you do not acknowledge Ba'al as your king. Now," here she turned to look at Mot and she smiled with sharp teeth at him, "you are going to bring me someone."

Mot dropped his head like a whipped dog and went to get Dido's husband from where he was among the dead. He brought him and asked, "Anything else mistress?"

She was still kissing Ba'al. "No. Go away."

She left it for Sychaeus to find his own wife, and was not there when they were reunited. She was too busy with her own husband to bother any more with Dido's.

They were all together seven years later when the weary refugees from Troy came ashore to the bustling port of Carthage.

Dido, always diplomatic, offered them food and shelter. Tanith watched the goddess, Astarte, standing behind her son, Aeneas.

Astarte saw the walls and high towered temples that rose above them. She saw the work that had been done to deepen the port and the foundations that had been laid for a theatre. She beheld the eighty women who had sworn to serve Astarte as sacred warriors and prostitutes. She looked at the growing city of Carthage with the hunger of a lion in the desert and wanted it for her son.

Astarte drew back her bow to strike Dido's heart with love, but Tanith plucked that arrow from the air as it flew. Sychaeus stood by all the while and never noticed.

Tanith said to Astarte, "I killed death once."

"Which you did for love," said Astarte.

"That is why I am not now asking Dido's forgiveness for killing you when you tried to fill her with love for your son," said Tanith.

Astarte held out her hand to show that there was no weapon in it. Astarte said, "My son will sail north when the dry winds from the desert next blow in that direction and will not settle here." She held out her hand. Tanith took it and agreed not to fight with Astarte.

Tanith was a goddess of storms, while Astarte was a goddess of love and war. She held out one hand, while gesturing with the other for her son, Eros, the god of desire, to appear to Anna in the shape of Aeneas' son, Ascanius, and woo her into passionate love.

Eros more than succeeded, and Anna swore to Dido that when the Trojans left, she would go with them.

Tanith snarled at Astarte, who asked, "Will you destroy the ships that hold one, who is dear to you? Or will you give the Trojans every aid and all the provisions that they need?"

Dido looked pained. "We will provision Aeneas for his journey."

As they readied to set sail, Tanith told Anna, "If you need me, if you find that love turns you aside, call my name. If your children or your children's children have need of me, call me and I will come."

Anna laughed, certain that she would have no need to call Tanith. As the ships sailed across the horizon, Dido said, "I worry for my sister and I worry for my city."

"Why?" asked Tanith.

"Because your heart has been divided," said Dido. "When I left Tyre, I took a new name for a reason, but Anna has not changed her name. She holds a place in your heart." She wouldn't say any more and Tanith didn't have the patience for fears.

She sent Mot to blow the Trojans across the sea to a fair land full of olive trees and rivers.

In the turning of the year, she and Ba'al drenched the land with summer rain until their mud brick palace melted at the storms.

Dido said, "Your palace is gone. But don't worry, we'll make a new one made of stone. We'll carve the people's names into the blocks."

Tanith laughed lightning and swept in the rain from the sea. She wrapped Ba'al in her arms. She said, "What do I care for palaces anyway."

Still Dido built her one saying, "A goddess cannot be respected if she does not have a palace, and Carthage is your home. Here we respect and love you."

Laughing, Tanith brought the rain.