Actually, I was the one who received some seasonal kindness. Virginia Marybury shooed me away from Facebook when I should have been writing. I’m afraid I went back a little later – but only briefly! The mood of impotently stewing over the world’s injustices that marks the Facebook experience had been broken.
As proof that I did get back to work, here’s an excerpt of the night’s output.
Finush dropped the plate and backed away, eyes wide from Ennat’s shout. “I’m … I’m sorry, Bel! He—”
“He just left?”
“I don’t know! I’m sorry, Bel. I told you!”
Ennat held up his hand, to stop Finush retreating from the dining table, and took a calming breath. “Okay, just let me get this straight. Imduk-Gesh arrived, and you offered him a place to rest.”
“And then you offered refreshments.”
“Yas, great Bel.”
Ennat stabbed his hand at the serving tray in the center of the table. “And you gave him the lamb? My special lamb!”
“Yas, Bel, I’m sorry Bel!”
“It’s what he asked for, generous Bel. I couldn’t refuse Bel-Imduk-Gesh.”
“Give him some other lamb!”
“He asked specifically for this one, Bel.”
Ennat threw his hands wide. “How did he even know about it?”
Finush moved back another step. “I’m sorry, merciful Bel. He saw it marinating.”
“He saw it?” Ennat shook his head. “What was he doing in the kitchen?”
Finush felt the wall at his back. He’d been hoping it was the doorway … “It’s where he asked to rest, Bel.”
“The kitchen? Why did you let him rest in the kitchen?”
“It’s what he asked for, Bel. I couldn’t re—” Seeing Ennat’s features twist, Finush shut up.
Ennat concentrated on his breathing. He knew he shouldn’t let it bother him … but he’d really been looking forward to that lamb. Worst of all, he’d been at Imduk-Gesh’s private stores. He hated it when Imduk-Gesh preemptively got revenge. It was a terrible habit in a friend.
But the lamb didn’t explain why he’d left. It wasn’t the significant thing, the strange thing …
“All right,” sighed Ennat. “Forget the lamb. Forget how much wheedling I had to do, with that insane priestess, to get it. Forget what a long day I’ve already had, and how much I was looking forward to it. All right?”
“Yas, Bel.” Finush sighed, but silently. The Bel wasn’t going to let him forget it.
Ennat pointed to the table again. “What I want to know is, what’s going on with the beer and wine?”
Finush frowned. “I don’t know Bel. Is it a new trick? Should I bring in the whole family, so they can see, too?”
“No it’s not a—” Ennat stopped. Finush was grinning. “Very funny. No, look … look at this!” Ennat lifted first the beer server, then the amphora of wine, setting each back down on the table with a thud, demonstrating their full-laden weights. “Imduk-Gesh barely drank anything.”
“Those are the second pot and amphora, Bel-Ennat.”
“I can see that! The empties are right there! But only one container of each?”
Finush nodded. “Yas. That’s unusual, isn’t it Bel?”
“It’s a miracle is what it is. Was the Lugal here, personally saving his most pious priest from a life of dissolute drunkenness?”
“I didn’t think so. So why did he leave? Did a messenger come?”
“No, Bel … He spit out some wine, Bel, and left right after.”
Ennat frowned sourly. “Did the Mistress appear behind him?”
“Never mind. People spit out their wine sometimes. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
The hair on the back of Ennat’s neck stood up.
Ennat stared straight ahead. He wasn’t going to turn around. She wasn’t there.
Ennat’s eyes focused on Finush. “What?”
Finush’s mouth fell open. “Um …”
“Right. Imduk-Gesh. Spitting. It does mean something, sometimes. What happened when he spit it out?”
“I said, ‘That’s all right, Bel, I didn’t like that tablecloth anyway.’ ”
“No, I mean, what happened just before his little accident. What caused it?”
“We were talking.”
Ennat looked at Finush expectantly, waiting, then said. “All right, yes. I can understand his position. But what were you talking about?”
“Ah …” Finush tapped at his lower lip with one ham-roll of a finger, thinking. “Oh! Bel, he was asking how you were, how the household was, how—”
“He was spying, yes, go on.”
“Yas, Bel. It was … he asked about visitors, and I told him that Gilmun-Enmet had been here this morning.”
Ennat’s eyes narrowed. “And he spat out his wine.”
“He left right after that?”
“Well … he asked for a carry-box, first. For the lamb.”