In which a goat makes the ultimate sacrifice to help a time-traveller marooned in ancient Babylon find his way home.
Chapter 78, The Ritual
The white-haired goat gave a strangled bleat, kicked against its bonds and lay still. Assisted by Ishkun, Asklepios hung the animal by its back legs from a hook set into a roof beam. The animal struggled briefly then hung still. Asklepios placed a deep bowl under the goat, took Ishkun’s proffered knife, and cut the creature’s throat.
Asklepios looked at the dying animal with some regret. He knew he did not need all this paraphernalia and that simpler was better, but couldn’t bring himself to give up on the ornate ritual. Not yet. For now it helped at least as much as it hindered. Experiment could come later, today was not the time for change.
While he collected the goat’s blood Banipal cleared away the rushes and gouged a shallow trench all around the table in the packed earth of the floor. He cleared the debris from the trench and swept the waste outside.
‘I shall send a simple message to my master,’ Asklepios said. ‘If he wishes to respond in person he will come. If not, his answer will reveal itself in a secondary divination.’
Banipal noted Asklepios had been careful not to mention his master’s name.
Now the incense was smouldering, the lamps were lit and the correct herbs placed in the seven equidistant positions around the table. Using the table was a joy, Asklepios’ insight had been vindicated and he felt his confidence grow. Already he could see how improvements could be made by adding division marks of thirds and fifths for simpler rituals, and sevenths for the more complex like the one he attempted now.
Banipal and Ishkun stood to one side. The priest held a flask of wine, the hunter his bloody dagger.
Asklepios went outside, changed into a short-sleeved knee-length shirt of clean white linen and re-entered the room. He took up the bowl of blood and carried it slowly and carefully to Banipal, who poured in a measure of wine. The he turned to Ishkun, who stirred the mix with his knife.
He poured the mix of blood and wine into the channel, put the bowl aside, went to his allotted place, raised his hands palms upwards and began to chant.
Time passed. Banipal’s feelings of awed anticipation gradually changed to the bored tension he often felt during the longer rituals in the temples at Esagila. Beside him Ishkun shifted his feet and Banipal knew his friend was itching to move.
Asklepios finished his chant and knelt on the spot he had marked on the ground, intermittently prostrating himself. As he repeated the move for the umpteenth time one of the lamps went out.
Ishkun sighed in exasperation and walked from the room.
To be continued…