[ Master Post ]
Title: The Birth of the Sea of Salt
Characters: Gabriel (as Labashi) ♂, Hizkiel (as Harsu) ♂, Kafziel (as Kurigalzu) ♂, Lot ♂ & his family ♀
Rating: G- (L1 N0 S0 V1 D1)
Warnings: Objectification of angels, threats of violence, really oblique threats of rape, violent nationalist sentiment, non-explicit mass destruction
Notes: A telling of the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah, from the perspective of the angels. I apologise for the names. Lot’s supposed to be Chaldean, and Chaldean names are a pain in my ass to find, but he spent enough time in the Jordan River valley that I can mangle some names for his family. And then I had the bloody stupid idea the angels should be posing as Chaldean merchants… I give up. Also, I like Lot’s daughters as self-determined hellraisers, able to make their own decisions and enforce their intent. I think canon supports that. And Gabriel loathing its shell is always hilarious — so, yes, this is really substantially before the fall of Jerusalem. (~2018 BC, maybe?) And if you’ve got any problems with my geology or geography, keep in mind that historical fiction is still fiction. (And I’m using a trope that’s been argued by biblical scholars, which doesn’t make it true, but does make it sufficiently popular to base a fictional work upon.)
Three men in white linen, strangely untouched by the desert’s clinging dust, arrived at the gate of the city, the last of five across the rich and fertile plain, in the valley carved out by this river. Four days they had spent touring these towns, after their father had heard how wicked they had become. In three, whether they appeared as beggars or merchants, they had been cheated, assaulted, robbed, and turned out of inns and shops. The fourth had been smaller and less horrifying, but still worse than the average city of its size. The situation wasn’t as bad as they had heard. It was worse.
After this last city, assuming it was just as bad as the others, they were all to be destroyed. Destruction wasn’t Labashi’s preference, but after four days of this, he was beginning to be swayed by the appeal. Maybe this one would be different, but he wasn’t expecting a pleasant surprise.
The broad-shouldered mountain of a man, who called himself Kurigalzu, spoke to some children, playing in the street. "We’re merchants from Bet-Adini. Do you know where we can stay the night, stable our donkeys, and get food?"
While the children distracted them with nonsense answers, young men from the surrounding streets lightened the load on their carts. It was a scene to which they had become accustomed, these last few days, and all three of them were completely aware of it, now, but they didn’t interrupt. The goods would turn to dust in the night, anyway.
Again and again, they asked, and each time they were disrespected, robbed, or just turned away. The slender one with the pretty face, Labashi, seemed to evoke the most abuse. Mountainous Kurigalzu was most often presumed a fool. Harsu, handsome, but otherwise average, was most frequently simply sneered at or ignored.
At last, they came upon a man walking with his daughter.
"We are merchants from Bet-Adini. Do you know where we can stay the night?" Harsu asked.
"Come," said the man, "stay with me and my family. This is not a safe place."
"We had heard stories," Kurigalzu admitted. "You don’t sound local. Is that Bethel I hear?"
"Trust a merchant to know accents!" The man laughed. "Yes, my uncle and I lived in Bethel, for a time, before I came here. My name is Lot, and this is my daughter, Hurriya."
Hurriya smiled and bowed to the merchants, her eyes lingering on Labashi, who was young and very handsome. He kept his eyes on Lot.
"We don’t know you," Labashi offered, apologetically. "How can we be certain you are not like the people we have already met, in this city?"
"Do I speak like they do? Are your donkeys any lighter than when you began this conversation?" Lot looked almost offended at the idea.
"Father." Hurriya put her hand on her father’s arm, and addressed Labashi. "You don’t know. But, we do not know even your names, and we have invited you to eat our food and rest in our home. How many others have offered you that?"
Kurigalzu laughed, and his humour seemed to shake the ground beneath their feet. "She’s right, Labashi. It’s the best offer we’ve had, all day."
"Your daughter speaks well," Harsu complimented Lot. "You must have found an excellent tutor for her."
"She is like this with no tutor, at all," Lot admitted. "If I could afford it, I would get a tutor to make her stop."
"Why would you do that? She says what she wants, and she knows when she’s right." Harsu shrugged. "She reminds me of my mother."
"Very well, Miss Hurriya." Using the honorific when speaking to a person of little or unknown status was nothing if not flattering, and Labashi knew it. "We will accept your offer. Call me Labashi. These are my brothers, Kurigalzu and Harsu. We have come from Bet-Adini, to trade, but it seems honest traders are difficult to find in this place. Perhaps you or your father will have some advice for us."
"And now that we know each other, you’ll come and eat with us." Hurriya hooked her arm around Labashi’s and started down the road. "My mother knows all the good merchants. She’ll be happy to show you the best places to sell, if you let her have the first look at what you’ve brought."
Labashi looked pleadingly back at Harsu and Lot. He looked just as uncomfortable as ever. "I look forward to meeting her," he managed, weakly.
"I’ve got two bottles of fine date wine for your daughter, if she keeps that look on my brother’s face all night," Kurigalzu joked, leading the donkeys after them.
"What’s wrong with your brother?" Lot asked. "He seems sick. Too much sun? New robes?"
"He always looks like that." Harsu opened a bag of almond paste-stuffed dates and offered them to Lot. "Like his skin’s going to crawl off his body if he stops paying attention to it."
"Don’t worry; he’s just weird." Kurigalzu reached across Harsu to help himself to the dates. "We love him anyway."
They came up to a house, on the edge of town, where three women worked in the courtyard, joking and laughing together, as they worked wool.
"Donatiya! Paltith! Look what I found in the market! They were so pretty I had to bring them home for you!" Hurriya called out to her sisters.
"I would pay a tutor," Lot insisted, quietly, "to make her stop."
"She will be the very best kind of woman. A queen, even if she never has a kingdom." Kurigalzu watched her in amused admiration, as she half-dragged Labashi — so awkward he nearly fell over his own feet — into the courtyard.
"We’re never letting him live this down, are we?" Harsu asked.
"Absolutely not." Kurigalzu handed the donkey leads to Harsu. "Ladies! We are most grateful that you have permitted us to impose upon your hospitality, this evening! Let us offer you wine and sweets for your kindness!"
"Do I need to be concerned about your brother and my daughters?" Lot asked Harsu, as they led the donkeys into the courtyard.
"He just likes to pretend we’re rich and famous. We haven’t come looking for pretty girls, and however beautiful your daughters are, we have no interest in marrying or defiling them."
"You prefer men?" Lot seemed mildly curious, asking in the same way he might have asked if the merchants were trading wool goods.
"We prefer honest profit, the honour of our father, and the river roads." Harsu unpacked the donkeys, with Lot’s help. "That case should be wine from Egypt. Open it up and take a couple of bottles. We’ll have them with dinner."
"You’ve been robbed in this town, and still you offer your wine?" Lot seemed surprised.
"We still have wine. Wine goes with dinner. We have every intention of sharing our goods in exchange for your hospitality. Had you asked payment, we would not have denied you."
Across the courtyard, Kurigalzu incited the sisters in their flirtations with Labashi, who looked like he might run screaming into the desert at any moment.
"Yes, ma’am. We trade in primarily exotic foods, in this leg of the route." Labashi explained to Hurriya’s mother. "Your daughter tells me you know all the best merchants in town, and might be able to suggest someone with an interest in our goods."
Behind him, the sisters whispered loudly with each other and Kurigalzu.
"I’ll trade you something that fits him tighter, if you’ll get him to wear it for us."
"Just look at those curves!"
"He’s so good looking! Such a girlish face!"
"I bet he would fit in your clothes, Paltith. And every man in town would pay whatever he asked, dressed like that!"
Objectifying an archangel hadn’t been on Kurigalzu’s list of things to do, for the week, but after the last four cities, he’d take a laugh anywhere he could get one. Besides, the messenger looked good as Labashi. All three of them were handsome men, but Labashi was actually pretty. The men of Admah had mistaken Labashi for their extremely marriageable younger sister, just two days ago. It wasn’t every day one’s boss, a genderless being of enormous cosmic power, got mistaken for a single teenager in search of a wedding.
"So, why are you helping us with your brother, instead of trying for us, yourself?"
"Because I like to watch him squirm. You’ve noticed how much fun that is." Laughing, Kurigalzu clapped Labashi on the back, rescuing him, at last. "Come on, we can’t let Harsu unpack alone."
"I can’t wait to get out of this mud-suit and go home," Labashi muttered under his breath, as Kurigalzu led him away.
While the merchants cared for the donkeys, Lot and his wife prepared an extravagant meal, and the three sisters ran back and forth between the house and the merchants, asking questions and offering bits of food. When the meal was cooked, the merchants joined the family inside the house, sharing food and jokes, as if they had known each other for years.
Perhaps they would find enough people to spare this city. Five were at the table with them. Surely five more could be found.
It was the most fun they’d had all week, until the knock at the door.
"Where are the men who came to this house, tonight?" a voice called from outside, and the encouragement of a crowd could be heard. "Bring them out, that we may know them!"
Lot sighed and rose from the table. "I’ll take care of this," he said, stepping outside and closing the door after himself.
Argument could be heard through the door, but no violence, yet. The voices grew louder, until the words could again be heard through the door.
"I beg you, my brothers, abandon this wickedness! Two of my daughters have never known men. Let me bring them out to you, instead. You have met my daughters!" He expected his daughters to exact serious damage upon the men outside his house, and no liability would come upon the family, for no men would admit being struck down by young women. "But, bring no harm upon these men, guests of my home, who have come under the shelter of my roof. Think of this! They are guests in this city!"
An angry voice from the back of the crowd answered him. "Step aside, old man!"
"You came here as a stranger, and you think to act as a judge?" another voice called out.
"Yeah, what’s that about? We’ll do worse to you than we’ll do to your foreign friends!"
As the angry men in the courtyard reached out to seize Lot, hands from behind pulled him back into the house. Harsu lashed out, with one hand, and from outside came the screams of the men, as they fell blind.
"We have not been entirely honest about our intent," Labashi admitted. "We are messengers of the Holy Father."
"Have you any other family, here?" asked Kurigalzu. "Fetch them to you. We are about to destroy this city, along with the others on this plain, because the outcry to our father about the wickedness in this place has become so great, it can no longer be ignored."
"We hoped to find it was exaggeration," Harsu admitted, "but it is even worse than we could have imagined."
"Go quickly," Labashi commanded. "Take Kurigalzu with you, to keep you and your family safe. We will wait for your return."
Lot and Kurigalzu went out to gather the men who were to marry Lot’s daughters, but at each house, they were met with ridicule and dismissal.
"Have you drunk too much, father? Maybe if you lie down, things will seem better in the morning."
"We are amid a grand celebration, father! There is no fire in the sky! Why would we leave?"
"We are protected by the gods of the river and the plain! We have no need to fear!"
In the end, Lot and his escort returned alone. "They will not come."
"Gather your family. Your wife and daughters have already loaded the important things onto our carts. Take with you as much as you wish of what we have brought, as well. You have done right by us, and by the Holy Father. Take these things as gifts, to help you settle in a new home," Labashi urged Lot.
"Where will we go?" Lot asked. "The plain is broad, and if you mean to destroy it all, we will not be off it soon!"
"Go into the hills," Harsu suggested.
"We’ll never get the donkeys up the hills in time, with this load," Lot protested. "There is a small town, on the edge of the plain. Zoar. If you spare it, I am certain the destruction of the rest of the plain will convince them to change their ways."
"I kind of liked Zoar, actually," Kurigalzu remarked.
"They weren’t as bad as Admah," Harsu agreed.
"Oh, shut up about Admah," Labashi grumbled. "Fine. We will spare the city of Zoar. Flee to it. Make haste. We mean to strike when the sun has risen over the hills."
Lot went out to meet his family by the carts and to set off across the plain. The angels saw them out the gate.
"Once the destruction starts," Kurigalzu warned, "don’t look back. Turn your eyes toward the hills."
"I hear you, holy messenger. Thank you."
As Lot set off across the plain, Harsu turned to Labashi. "Tell me you held on to a bag of those dates. I have the worst case of the munchies."
"It’s the smiting," Kurigalzu reminded him. "You blind a bunch of guys, you have to eat something sweet."
"Let’s go back to the house and eat. We have the night, before they cross the plain." Labashi clapped them both on the back and turned to head back to Lot’s house.
The next morning, they finished the last of the dates and almond paste, drank another bottle of wine, and set out. Halfway across the plain, they shed their shells, the dust spreading with the breeze, as they cast it off. Rising over the river, they glowed like the light of the sun, itself, brilliant, but multicoloured, casting sharp shadows across the plain, but no heat.
"Protect them," the archangel commanded, and the other two split off, to shield Zoar.
It sang to the earth beneath the river and the small pool in the midst of the plain, calling fountains of sulphurous fire and molten stone, as the ground tore apart in the vibrations. The fountains of flaming lava burst through the four cities, washing them clean and melting them into the ground. The centre of the plain collapsed, after a few hours, carving a long bowl, along the valley, as the water bubbled up from underneath, cooling the stone. The hills were full of salt-mines, and the caverns beneath the plain had been full of more of the same, now washed up into the small sea that occupied the deepened valley.
A small peninsula jutted into the sea, on the western edge, and on it sat the city of Zoar.
The archangel ceased its song, after some time, and the angels returned.
"She looked back, achai. We lost the wife."
The archangel could not be surprised. "Adam’s children are fools, or we wouldn’t be needed to remind them. Let us be away from this place of mud and madness."
The three ascended, leaving the steaming wreckage of four cities to cool, at the bottom of a new sea, and a man with three daughters to mourn his wife.