Sarah

Read Online Sarah by Marek Halter - Free Book Online

Book: Sarah by Marek Halter Read Free Book Online
Authors: Marek Halter
Tags: Fiction
that still hung from it. Aware that she was doing something she could not reverse, she threw them away among the bricks.
    Sarai quickly turned the tunic inside out so that the coarser part of the material was on the outside, then wrapped herself in it and covered her head. She hoped the guards would think she was just a handmaid, noble, but not noble enough to attract their attention. With a newfound confidence, and even a touch of excitement, she climbed back out through the wall, walked back to the canal, and reached the north gate.
    But a moment later, that newfound confidence wavered.
    The outer wall of Ur, more than a thousand years old, was as thick as fifty men and as high as a hundred. In all the kingdom of Shu-Sin, son of Shlugi, only Nippur had such formidable ramparts. There were gates at the four cardinal points, gates reinforced with bronze, so heavy they needed fifty men with oxen to move them. Now that Sarai was quite near, she could see the guards walking up and down, keeping a watchful eye on everyone entering or leaving. They wore helmets and leather-lined capes and carried lances.
    But the gods decided to make things easier for her. A noisy procession approached, on its way back to the lower city from one of the great temples, the temple of Sin or of Ea. There were musicians at the head of the procession, followed by men bearing flower-bedecked litters on which statuettes of their ancestors sat enthroned, and young priestesses, dressed in the simple toga of the lesser temples, without belts and without jewelry in their hair, carrying perfume burners from which arose the acid smoke of reeds and
bidurhu
gum. Bringing up the rear, a crowd of people pushed and shoved. Sarai slipped easily into the crowd, unobserved except by a young girl her own age, who looked somewhat surprised to see Sarai fall into step beside her.
    The procession crossed the wooden bridge over the canal. The guards were at their places on either side of the gate. Sarai held her breath as she plunged into the cool darkness. It was so thick, they seemed to be walking through a tunnel. Nobody shouted, nobody called out after her.
    There were gardens on the other side, and an old wall with zigzagging steps cut into it. Suddenly, the vast lower city came into view. Hundreds of tangled streets stretched for dozens of
ùs
into the distance. The whole bend in the river was covered with roofs.
    Once outside the walls of the royal city, the procession was less orderly. Young boys left the line, squabbling among themselves. On either side, bystanders song, danced, and clapped their hands in time to the music. Some gathered around the litters and flung petals and bowls of perfume or beer at the statuettes. Shouts and laughter drowned the chanting. Sarai took advantage of the confusion to turn into the first street she came to.

    SHE kept on walking, recognizing nothing around her. The houses here were nothing but overlapping cubes, with single-leaf wooden doors or sometimes just curtains over the entrance, and walls covered with white cob.
    There were many people on the streets, common people wearing tunics or loincloths, with wicker sandals on their feet, their calves gray with dust. They chatted, laughed, called to one another. Some carried baskets or sacks, goaded asses, pushed carts loaded with rushes or watermelons. A few people, both women and men, looked at Sarai in surprise, but with no real curiosity. For her, everything was strange and astonishing.
    In the whole of her young life, she had left the royal city a mere half dozen times, crossing the river in a boat with her father, heading west to the great temples of Eridu. But the lower city, the northern city, was somewhere the lords never went. They felt nothing but contempt and distrust toward it. The handmaids told stories about how at night the streets swarmed with black-skinned demons, animals with more than one body, fierce jaws, and claws, and other horrors straight out of the caves

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