This is the first time I’ve posted any fiction here at Hot Cup of Joe, but I thought I’d share this short, short story. It’s only a few paragraphs and lends itself well to a blog post. I was tasked once during a class to come up with a bit of creative writing that gave a sense of what it was like for someone living in a one of the periods that were studied. The class was on prehistoric societies and covered Australopithecines to just before writing and cities. My focus for the assignment was the early Levant and what life would have been like for an adolescent in a time when agriculture was beginning to take off as a method of food production. What would he have seen? What would he have done? I drew some inspiration from a real Mesopotamian story of Aqhat, and anyone who has read it in Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts, will recognize a few things.
Perhaps I’ll continue writing about Arqhat someday…
Read the short story below the fold.
Sunrise in the valley of Shapsh, in the region that will one day become known as the Fertile Crescent, was always one to behold for Aqhat. As the first son of Danel the Rapha-man, it was Aqhat the Youth’s responsibility to see to the affairs at hand. But those affairs could wait the few moments it took for Shapsh to bath the valley in golden light and early morning warmth. The plots of grain Aqhat’s family and others grew in the valley gave the sun-goddess for whom it was named its divine beauty, especially at sunrise.
A goat from the flock tried to nibble at the flat bread in Aqhat’s hand, pulling him back in from the divine scene before him and reminding him of his morning’s task. When Paghat gave him the two loaves, she tucked one in his robes and the other in his hand, “for the goat” she said with a knowing smile. Aqhat’s sister always seemed to know the future.
“Then it is yours!” Aqhat told the goat, laughing out loud. It was a fine morning and perhaps it would please Baal to show generosity to the goat. Aqhat gathered the rest of the flock and continued about his task of taking them to Ghazir at the village. Ghazir would then be charged to deliver the 5 goats to his master along with the sealed tokens. In exchange, Aqhat would receive one ass for his father’s farm. In addition to farming wheat, they also raised goats and these five were hand-picked by Danel to go to Ghazir’s master. Danel had many who were indebted to him and Danel was, himself, indebted to others. But because so many seemed to revere his father and seek his counsel on a great many things, Aqhat was sure more were indebt to Danel than he was to others. Aqhat chose, however, not to worry about such things and was happy to do his father’s bidding as it gave reason to visit the village.
Entering the village, Aqhat saw women grinding wheat or barley in querns for flour to make morning bread. Aqhat met Ghazir near the potter’s home at the village. It was here that most trading in the village was done and near the potter’s oven was also a baker’s since they shared the same wood for burning. The fire in the bread oven having already burnt offerings to first El then Baal, the baker was going about her task of plucking finished bread from the ashes and sticking replacements to the inside wall of the oven. Ghazir was busy chewing down the last bite of fresh bread when Aqhat spotted him.
Aqhat did not particularly like Ghazir nor did he trust him, but Danel was wise in giving his son the sealed tokens with the goats. Should Ghazir try to cheat his master by trading one of the goats before delivering them, Ghazir’s master would know once the seal was broken and the tokens counted. At some point, a middle-man such as Ghazir must have made an enemy and delivered his goods not knowing that the tokens inside were too many since the custom now included representing each token on the outside of the clay ball which sealed them. This way, Ghazir would know that the five goat symbols on the ball’s exterior would match the five tokens inside.
As Aqhat neared Ghazir, who still had crumbs of bread on his lips and in his beard, he held the ball and shook it so the tokens rattled.
“Where is my ass, Ghazir?”
“Aqhat the Youth! Come my friend, I’ll take you to him.”
Tied to a stake behind the potter’s house on the edge of the village was, indeed, Aqhat’s newly acquired ass. He traded Ghazir the ball of tokens and the stick he used to mildly threaten the goats for the rope securing the ass. “Keep a hold on this one and the rest will follow,” he told Ghazir. “If you have any more of that bread, offer him a piece and he will follow you anywhere.”
“Have you visited the skillful one that honors Khasis of late? He has a new bow that would be the envy of even Anath and he wants only nine sheqels of silver for it,” Ghazir informed.
“Since I have not even a single sheqel of dung, the Warrior Goddess can have it. For now, I must take my ass home. May your journey be safe, Ghazir.”
“And yours, Aqhat.”
Out of the village and back to his father’s home Aqhat led the ass, pausing only to allow it to drink from the water of the nearby brook. Looking back at the village, Aqhat wondered how many lived there now. Many of those that farmed the nearby lands had taken residence there and shared granaries and threshing floors as well as labor. Others who didn’t even farm were able to prosper there such as the potter and the skillful one who made things with his hands like bows and darts. Even the women who made bread seemed to find that task filled their day. The village was full of people to talk with, learn from, share stories with and sing with at happy times. Traders passed through from the places where the black cutting stones grew in the mountains, telling tales of adventures that Aqhat dared only dream of in private. Perhaps some day, Danel would move his family to the village as his business dealings seem to require more and more trips there anyway. Such a day Aqhat surely looked forward to.
Aqhat turned from the village on the horizon and toward his family’s farm and took his ass home.