The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

Darius I

(Context: Ezra 6:1)

I am empty of words. All the words that a life might be allotted left me long ago, many spent in a swift torrent of decisions, decrees, and regulations, others set in stone on that cliff in Behistun, where few travel and few read the words that I once had thought immortal.

Now almost as many years of my life have passed since I had had those words inscribed as had passed before I wrote them, and I have ruled for more than four times as many years as I had by then.

Those words spoke of so many victories. By grace of my god, I was invincible then, and all who rose up against me were vanquished. I brought order and righteousness to all the nations that surrounded me and came under my control. I wrote of those who surrendered to me and of those who would not, who I kept barely alive and displayed at the gates of my cities.

But now the future does not seem so bright, nor victory so sure. When I close my eyes I am frightened by the faces of those that we tortured, staring out at me without ears, noses, tongues, each with his one remaining eye, as if offering rebuke, as if laughing without sound at what has become of this land.

And the whispers returning to me from Marathon, where our ships had sailed to vanquish the Athenians, speak of failure and destruction. Our mainland is intact, and our borders have held, but too few ships will return. Our runners tell us that theirs claim victory. Let them claim it. Let them have their joy, since someone must. We will return, and we will have our victory again. For now, I am tired, and have seen too much of war to fear collapse or yearn to celebrate. I know that none of us is victorious forever. Even that which is set in stone must someday crumble and decay.

I am tired. I am old. I must die sometime, and pray to my god that I have a death that is proper, while we still have our claim to power. Let me not find myself staring out from a face like those that haunt my fears. Let history record that I died in a moment of peace, and remember me as a good and righteous ruler, one who brought order to this once-chaotic land.

Let at least some speak favorably of me: the odd historian, those who discuss and admire well-crafted systems of law and of commerce, and perhaps those people in that city of Jerusalem who thrive on dreams and tell their stories so well. Their temple, built, destroyed, and, by my order, built again, now thrives (though my nightmares show that temple, like so many others standing proudly now, being destroyed again and perhaps, in visions far less clear, recovered yet again, and my mind’s ear rings with future echoes of glass continually broken, of shards that glisten, obscuring joy, and drawing hearts and blood away to memories of tears); let the systems that they too have built continue, and let their memory of me be kind.

Maybe, as many nights from now as there have been since my god created our world, someone may see an echo of my inscription cast in words written in light. Let them say that King Darius increased the amount of order in the world. That will be enough.

(Next: Hezekiah.)

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June 1, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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