9 Feast at Poleg Palace
Poleg Palace, famous through out the Empire, tonight, had become the center of the universe in the Northern provinces. Many a noble and wealthy merchant had taken pilgrimage to see this wondrous construction, and seek the famed hospitality of King Zimrilim of Mari and his gracious Queen Shibtu. All were welcomed on this night of feast.
Home now to the largest library in the Empire, the palace had started as a modest khanate (hotel), owned by Zimrilim's father, Poleg. Zimrilim had been dismissed from the Academy of Business in Ebla. He had come home, in shame for some long forgotten scandal, leading a group of caravan masters and mercenary guard units. Together, they had gone into business in direct competition with the city of Ebla. Not forgotten was his promise, to one day raise Mari to supplant Ebla in influence in the north.
Through Zimrilim's business acumen, the khanate had grown into a small walled city. As his wealth and influence expanded, he had caused to be built an outer city for his people. He had moved every citizen into this city, at no cost to them. Thus, he had given over the inner city to his hareem. Much loved by his people, as he was wont to allow them to prosper rather than saddle them with onerous taxes. Mari had grown into the wealthiest city in the north. Coming to rival cities such as Ur, Pearl of the South Sea and Samarkand the Jewel of the East.
The palace proper was arranged around two major courtyards: the forecourt or the Courtyard of the Palms and the inner court, the Royal Courtyard. The Palm Court was entered by the ornate northern gate, the northeastern portion of the palace was given over to the new Royal Khanate or hostel. The northwestern, the Palm Court was designed to host large delegations, and feasts. It could accommodate up to four hundred people. The inner courtyard acted like a circulatorium for the Royal Residencies and the Temple of Sinn (the moon goddess). The whole Palace and Temple complex were built of the famous pink marble and glazed bricks of Susa...
The Palm Court was packed to over flowing, as it was every year at this time. Zimrilim, much given to aggrandizement, threw a feast to mark the gathering in Mari of much of the Northern Provinces’ tribute to the Padishah. Here they would gather for protection and the ease of finding transportation on the Ufratu River. Each year, during this week, an invitation to the Courtyard of the Palms was a most sought after and favorable connection. The networking that went on at this party could make or break a merchant for the whole next year.
Laden, crowded tables were lined under towering palms. A never ending procession of servants came and went. The crowd was huge, easily exceeding the four hundred the court was originally designed to hold, spilling through the northern gate into the outer portico. Near the gate to the Royal Courtyard, a platform had been built. Perched upon it was the King's Table, seating but thirty of the party goers. Year after year people strove to be included in the group seated at this table, convinced that once there a deal arranged with these men would all but guarantee their future. At the moment it was only two thirds occupied.
Sebu ibn Ham, Vizier of Babel had been afforded a seat at the table this year. Scattered about him were several of the most prominent local merchants, aimlessly chatting about the impressive show Terah had put on this year with his arrival. Also seated at this table were several Northern Monarchs, to his right separated by a couple empty seats, King Yahmad and his Queen Geshura, and across from him, King Megum of Ebla, founder of the far famed School of Business. Every year Megum, competitor and sworn enemy of Zimrilim, showed, accompanied by a copious amount of his famous brews.
"I noticed this is your first attendance at Zimrilim’s annual feast. I would make introduction." The sour faced King addressed the saffron robed giant. "I am King Megum of Ebla, and that mug you seem intent on ignoring would be of my private stock."
"The brew, Excellency, is truly fine, but I would have my wits about me when King Zimrilim and his crony Terah am Shem deign to join us," Sebu purred. "I am remiss though. I, Sebu, Vizier of Babel and heir to the throne of Shinar, am most pleased to make your acquaintance, your Grace."
Megum waved his hand dismissively. "Yes, each year I suffer this ill treatment, at the hands of the still absent bandit king, for the opportunity to advertise and move my product and no other reason. Yet it would seem, I am not the only one with grievances."
Sebu leaned forward conspiratorially. "My issue resides more with Terah than with our missing, portly king. My treatment at the river yesterday was deplorable and I have been shown the barest of hospitality since."
Suddenly trumpets blared a fanfare across the courtyard, causing all eyes to move to a gaudily dressed and arrogantly strutting herald, as he emerged from the gate to the Royal Courtyard.
His clear baritone rang out to all present, carrying even to those milling about in the portico outside. "A good evening to all is wished by my master! Your presence here does him great honor. He would that all enjoy that which is provided this fine night. It is my great honor to present to you the Regents of Mari, your honorable hosts, King Zimrilim am Japhet and his beautiful Queen Shibtu ibn Yahmad."
Again the trumpets blew.
"I also have the distinct honor of announcing his Grace Terah am Shem, cousin to the Padishah, and his noble sons Nahore, Haran, and Abram."
The party issued from the Royal Courtyard, Terah and Zimrilim in companionable conversation, Nahore and Haran hanging on every word. Queen Shibtu followed escorted on Abram's arm, whispering in his ear. After guiding Abram to his place at the table, Shibtu quietly circled the table whispering pleasantries and welcoming each guest to her table. Finally she took her place to the right of the King, at the head of the table.
"I would like to personally welcome you all, and thank you for attending. You do my wife and I great honor." The King smiled, including all at the table.
Formalities over, King Zimrilim sat, signaling the servants to once again approach.
King Yahmad, seated directly to Zimrilim's left, hoisted a frothing mug and looked diagonally down the table. "King Megum, your private stock is superb this year, I would have private discourse with you after this evenings festivities."
Lifting his tankard, he acknowledged Yahmad with a nod.
He then turned to Terah seated to his left. "I hear you have out done yourself this year. What with your grand entrance yesterday and your most generous gift to this event. Twenty five of your famous Kree goats, no doubt to grace our table tonight, and one hundred Vicuna, though not so tender, will surely provide hardy repast through out the coming year. A most generous gift indeed."
Sipping from the silver flagon before him, Terah smiled. "Twenty hogshead of your private stock and two hundred casks of your myriad other brews, say you recognize the significance of this event as well, your Excellency. All know our astute host has multiple reasons to sponsor this fine evening. Wise entrepreneurs, such as ourselves, know well the value of providing the finest of our goods to such an auspicious event."
Sebu sat quietly, his hooded eyes sliding back and forth over the wealthy magnates seated across from him.
Zimrilim waved a speared slab of chevon in Megum's general direction. "Yes, your casks of olive oil and crocks of olive paste, fresh from your presses, will also be on display here this evening, my honored neighbor. As well as the countless other products provided by my friend, Terah."
King Zimrilim smiled widely. "His chandlers and weavers have provided crates of tallow candles, also bolts of cashmere and mohair textiles as well..."
Sebu interrupted. "One must wonder at such generosity, though laudable, not equally shared. No such honors as these are provided King Nimrod of Babel, nor in such magnitude, while passing through."
"Perhaps your brother too should consider a feast, festival, or some such service, in return for all the taxes levied on the river traffic passing through his fine city? Surely the return would be most gratifying." Nasreen bit Dulakai, The High Priestess of Sinn, seated next to Queen Shibtu, responded dryly.
Laughing, Zimrilim looked to change the subject. "Sin-Tabshunni, how fares your nephew, Khammu-Rabi? He is a ward of Terah's cousin, our fine Padishah, I hear?"
With a sideways glance at Sebu, Sin-Tabshunni, the fat silken robed merchant to Sebu's right, responded proudly. "He fares very well, Excellency, we expect he will attend King Megum's fine Academy next year."
He turned to Sebu, eyes burning. "I understand you have taken my brother's place in Babel. How does Kindatu feel about this, and your treatment of his brother in Ellesar?"
As he smirked past the servant refilling his mug. "Perhaps if your brother had taken the management of the city seriously, he would not have met his doom in Susa, and would still sit his throne today. As for Ellesar, my brother and I, had nothing to do with Kudur-Maybug's fate. We merely filled the vacuum left by his death, providing stability in the region."
With a meaningful look to King Zimrilim and King Megum, Yahmad mused, "Yes, a lesson we should all take to heart. It wouldn't do at all, to one morning wake finding you had been deposed in the night, by sneak thieves from the desert."
"We merely filled a deficiency in the area, and Kindatu through his silence, has given his tacit approval. You would do well to mind your own borders, and leave us to ours, Excellency." Sebu's skin visibly reddened with anger.
Again trumpets interrupted their meal. All conversation stopped, as every eye fell upon the towering figure that entered through the northern gate.
The monstrous Anak'im began to move toward the Royal Table...