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Hanno hated his uncle Hasdrubal. From his hiding place among the tall dark cedars, the fig trees, the oleanders, and the flower-strewn shrubs that created a border between the temple courtyard and the surrounding walls, Hanno watched sullenly as Hasdrubal paced back and forth on the temple portico. Small for his eleven years, Hanno felt confident that his uncle would not see him squatting in the bushes.

In fact, Hanno was quite familiar with the bushes. They had been a source of security since the day when, at the age of four, he had been left at the priestly school. He had wanted his mother. That day, scrunched down behind a flower-covered bush, he had listened to the young priests scurrying around, searching for him, calling his name. When a shadow had fallen across him, he had looked up, straight into the unamused, night-gray eyes of his uncle. Hasdrubal was high priest of the goddess Tanit. Hanno still remembered the terror of that confrontation, though nothing drastic had happened. His uncle had given him warm, fragrant, dripping, sticky honey cakes which he had stuffed into his mouth until his mother came to get him.

Today, he had positioned himself carefully. He wanted an unobstructed view of the square sandstone temple across the paved courtyard and the triple mazelike walled entrance on his left. Why he watched, he couldn’t say. He had been dismissed early from school to go to his sister’s house. Instead of leaving, he had stalled until the courtyard was empty then rushed from the long, spread-out school building, flown across the front of the temple, casting a wild glance at the door of the high priest’s house, and jumped into the bushes. If discovered, he would be punished, but he continued to vent his rage by glaring at the figure of the high priest.

His uncle was cruel, cruel, to members of his own family.

Plenty of others were available. Gisgo didn’t have to be chosen. Besides, Hanno fumed, why was Uncle Hasdrubal still wearing the sheer, unbelted linen robe and the high cone-shaped hat that he had worn all day instead of his formal ritual robes?

The high priest swerved from the portico and started toward the great bronze statue of the goddess. Hanno slid the conical cap from his head, at the same time shoving the thick, unruly black curls from his forehead. He crouched lower. That Tanit faced the temple and was closer to the maze than to the large sacrificial animal altar in the center was probably his salvation. His uncle wouldn’t walk around behind the statue. Hanno shuddered. His uncle’s turned-down mouth meant trouble for somebody. To Hanno’s relief, the cold, hooded eyes that recorded every movement within the temple were fixed on the marbled pavement and not sweeping around, spying into corners.

The high priest squatted in front of the statue with one graceful motion of his thin, agile body. What was he doing? Hanno popped his head from behind the sheltering tree trunk and as rapidly withdrew it after he cast a terrified glance at the entrance.

Anyone could walk in at any moment, and Hanno knew it. The Temple of Tanit had been built on the main road through Carthage. The road ran from the oblong commercial port with its string of crammed dockside warehouses, past the two-story blank wall of the military port and the equally unperforated walls of multistoried apartment houses. Further along, this empty sameness was relieved by an arcade of trading shops, eating stalls, fragrant spice closets, and open vistas of the forum.

To international travelers, the Carthaginian forum lacked the symmetry of the Roman or Athenian forums, but was pleasingly unified by the magnificent sandstone building at the far end that housed the senate.

After the crowds and the business of the day, the forum rested, silent and empty in the bright, silvery light of the heavens. Carthage was not a night city.

From the forum, the road continued along the enclosure of the Temple of Tanit on the left, the Byrsa hill, solid with buildings, on the right, then between more apartment houses until it reached the massive defense wall that surrounded the city. It ran out through the gate toward Megara, an area of palatial homes set among deep green cypresses, flowering bushes, and riotously colored gardens. These homes gave way to elegant houses attached to orchards and fair land where the rich and fertile fields supplied the tables of the city. As they passed along this road, sailors, finding no god of their own in times of stress, sought the great statue of Tanit; women with problems known only to them came to the temple to pray; men who were financially strapped by losses at sea laid their worries before her. All kinds of people with all kinds of difficulties found their way to the Temple of Tanit at all times of day. Hanno had reason to be wary.

Seeing no one, he peered around the tree. Another glance at the entrance assured him that no shadow approached. He stood up. Clasping the cedar, he leaned sideways, twisting his neck this way and that until he had a clear view. Ugh! His uncle was rearranging the kindling laid by one of the lesser priests. Fighting the urge to vomit, the boy dropped onto his belly. He pressed his face into the dirt. When those kindlings flamed up, they would—

The sound of creaking bones made him look up. With long, barefooted strides, the high priest headed toward his living quarters. His home, a two-story stone building on one side of the temple, had originally mirrored the school building on the other side in perfect symmetry. Part way, he stopped. He stood, his chin raised, his head slightly tilted.

Hanno fidgeted. There’s nothing to hear, he thought. Go on! Any second, the priest who nightly lit the lamps would start round with the amphora of oil. Hanno didn’t want to be caught in the temple precinct.

The moment Hasdrubal reached his door and disappeared, the boy scrambled up, yanked his long brown robe to hip level, jumped over the shrubs, and dashed out, clapping his hat on his head.

Despite his nervousness, he shivered in delight as the warmth of the late afternoon sun struck him. The breeze was soft against his skin. The air smelled like moist earth. Again, he shivered. Before long, the vines that coiled their long tendrils around each dark green cedar would be covered with purple blossoms. The walls of the temple and the private houses would be covered with pink, white, and purple flowers. Their sweet fregrance permeated the whole city. The air even smelled good mixed with the pungent odors of vegetables cooking in oil, spiced eggs, chickens roasting on spits, the stink of uncured animal hides. He hesitated when he reached the forum.

The one pleasure of his life was to wander along the wharfs of the commercial harbor. Ships from Rome and Athens and Tyre and Sidon and Rhodes and Alexandria and Hispania were tied to the docks. Near-naked, sweating slaves and dockhands, bent double with the loads on their backs, labored up the slanting boards that stretched from the dock to the decks. On the decks and on the wharf, overseers yelled instructions or swore when part of a load plunged into the water.

Russet or mud-colored warehouses, jammed close together, stored the skins, copper ingots, amber, gold and ivory, heavy wool carpets, and bolts of fine wool cloth. Traders, sailors, and slaves from all over the Mare Internum passed through the doors.

At intervals along the dock, proprietors of food stalls sold hot bread and lentils. Men in litters called greetings to passersby. The occasional horseman tightly reined in his animal or hurt someone in the crowd.

Usually, Hanno walked across the swinging bridge between the commercial harbor and the round military harbor to the docks and warehouses opposite. He gazed in agony at the ships. He wanted to be on one.

Walking back, he peered into the military harbor. The round island in the middle was completely covered by roofed slips for warships. The harbor side of the surrounding wall was also lined with slips. He never saw any of the warships or the slips, but he heard the hum of moving tackle, hammers, and oars slapping water. High above the central building, the admiral sat in a small room. From there, he directed traffic. A trumpeter sounded his orders.

Hanno’s glance lingered on the road to the harbors before turning to the forum. Near him, a portico sheltered tiny shops, selling gold jewelry and alabaster lamps from Egypt, purple cloth from Tyre, pottery from Athens, swords and bronze helmets from the eastern edge of the Mare Internum, and spices from as far away as India.

Luxuriantly bearded Carthaginian men in dark woolen capes and conical hats conducted business. Slaves in earth-colored work garments hurried to do their owner’s bidding. Sailors gawked at the buildings and the people. Women hovered around the shops. Friends stopped to greet friends. Men gathered in groups of two and three to talk quietly while others swirled around them.

Hanno’s hesitation was momentary. He was already late. Thought of the coming ritual made him grind his teeth and curse his uncle. He started to run again, dodging through the crowd. As he veered from behind an old man with a cane, he cut too close in front of a dark-skinned slave shopping for her mistress. The woman yelled after him to watch where he was going. Hanno barely heard her. He crossed in front of the senate building where two young lions, chained at either end of the broad steps, growled at each other. He slowed, out of breath, at the foot of a steep and curving street. The great temples of Melkart and Eshmoun dominated the top. Just under them, nestled against the hill to catch the sunlight, and crowned by a cistern, stood his sister’s five-story pink row house. He started up the hill at a dog trot, swerved to avoid colliding with a boy racing down and did a jig behind two sauntering men in noisy argument. The minute an old veteran on crutches passed him, he dashed around the men. He cleared each set of three steps in one leap as he came to it and, out of breath, arrived at his sister’s door. Planning to casually make his presence known from the security of his bedroom, Hanno slipped into the vestibule. He faced his mother. Her unsmiling black eyes met his without rancor, but he knew he had offended her. By Tanit, he said to himself, I don’t care. I don’t want to go. He shifted his feet guiltily.

Without raising her voice, Saphonisba said, “You are late, Hanno. You barely have time to bathe and change. We have already eaten supper.”

Hanno opened his mouth to protest that he was hungry. Her gentle, luminous eyes met the defiance in his squarely. Under their steady gaze, his faltered, then dropped to the floor. Closing his mouth, he banged through the vestibule. He turned into the main part of the house, and scowling, disappeared up the stairs. Slowly, Saphonisba followed her son. She understood how upset he was. They all were. However, they knew their duty, and they would do it. She would see to that. Loyalty was paramount and had to be upheld. Hasdrubal had spoken.

Walking toward his private quarters, Hasdrubal increased his pace with the rapidity of his thinking. If that nephew of mine thinks I did not see him, he is mistaken. He should be severely disciplined, but under the circumstances, I will say nothing.

Hanno was a thorn in the flesh of every instructor. He assimilated what was taught without paying attention and was uninterested in what he learned. Yet, he was slated to become high priest of Tanit, an inherited position of great honor. As the only direct-line male in the family, he was obligated. He must be high priest, at least until another male was produced and reached maturity. Hasdrubal was adamant; only to himself did he admit that Hanno was ill-suited for the priesthood. This disturbed him. The succession was important to the family, yes, but in his view having a capable man run the temple was also important.

What caused the high priest even more worry was that Hanno knew what his father had done in a similar situation. True, Bimilcar had been two years older and had had a purpose in running away. He wanted to be a soldier. If Hanno ran away, his only reason—as far as Hasdrubal could tell—was to escape school.

Hasdrubal shook his head. With all the talk of a war with the Roman Republic, Hanno might attempt to follow his father to Hispania.

Thus preoccupied, the high priest reached his door. As he crossed the threshold, thoughts that had preyed on his mind all day returned to haunt him.

“Have the barber come to me immediately.” Hasdrubal passed his prostrate Numidian slave without looking at him, but felt a rush of air as the wiry, athletic man sprang up and ran out.

In the bathroom, Hasdrubal removed his bronze, silver-inlaid razor from its case, laid it on the washbasin, fetched the chair he kept in the bedroom, positioned it the way the barber liked, and sat down. Only then did he remove his conical cap. He felt the top of his naked head and chin for stubble. Not bad. He had last been shaved at sunrise, but for a ceremony of this significance, he wanted to be perfect.

The barber, a young temple slave, was checking his scalp for invisible growth with sensitive, barely moving fingertips when the Numidian dropped to one knee in the doorway. “The potter is here with the vase you ordered.”

“Bring him in.” Hasdrubal gestured for the barber to stop.

With bowed head, the heavily bearded potter knelt. His scanty clothing were splattered with clay. With both hands, he raised a vase the height of a man’s finger spread. It was round and plump of body. Delicately fashioned of thin clay, the vase was painted with a red ocher crescent and disk—symbols of the goddess Tanit— on a polished cream slip.

Humbly, he said, “The work I did myself, sire, according to your instructions.”

He mentioned neither the great pains he had taken nor the many hours spent while his apprentices tended the narrow, dingy shop, molded the utilitarian pottery, packed and fired the kilns.

Hasdrubal examined the vase, turning it round and round, upside down and right side up. He ran his finger along the surface and felt the slender handles that curved from the lip onto the body. Satisfied, he handed the vase to his slave. “Pay the fellow his price plus half."

“Thank you, sire. Thank you/’ On elbows and knees, the potter wiggled backwards from the bathroom.

“Abdmelkart,” Hasdrubal called out to his Numidian slave, “when my niece comes with her child, bring the boy to me and leave us.”

The high priest leaned back and submitted to the barber’s finishing touches.

Dressed in heavy, immaculate white linen, Hasdrubal adjusted the wide embroidered band that fell from his shoulders to the hem of the robe. Sandals, and the ever-present cap completed his formal dress. He selected a silver drinking cup from a wall niche and set it beside a pitcher of pomegranate juice on a small, portable, table. He looked around the room: two ebony chairs and a table imported from Euboea; more furniture than most Carthaginian homes contained.

The chair where he sat to eat his solitary meals would do. Cautiously picking up the table so as not to unseat the pitcher, he placed it next to the chair. Then, he emptied a thumbnail-sized packet of white powder into the silver cup. He filled it slowly with pomegranate juice, stopping repeatedly to rotate the liquid until the powder grains were taken up and dissolved.

The door opened partway. A child of four ducked in, ran to the high priest, and flung his arms around the man’s legs. Hasdrubal caressed the boy’s black curly hair and golden skin, the color of ambered honey. He picked the child up and kissed him.

“I’m going to a ritual,” Gisgo said. “I can stay up late.” His dark eyes sparkled.

“Yes!” Hasdrubal tried to match the child’s joy. He put Gisgo down and passed a trembling hand over his own eyes.

“Oh, pom-pom juice!” Gisgo pounced on the cup.

Hasdrubal’s glance sought the cream urn and returned to the boy. “Drink slowly, darling. Do not gulp.”

“I love pom-pom juice.” The small, rosy mouth was stained purply red around the edges.

“And Uncle Hasdrubal loves you.” He settled himself in the chair and watched the child.

“I’m sleepy.” Gisgo crawled into Hasdrubal’s lap and nestled against him. After a few moments, the boy’s eyes closed and his body relaxed. Hasdrubal rose, holding the child. He laid his face against the soft ringlets, remained still, then kissed the baby mouth. A movement of his arms shifted Gisgo’s face into the fullness of the linen. The high priest left the room.

“Everything is ready, sire,” the Numidian said from where he crouched by the door.

“Did you ask the priestesses of the orchestra to play with particular vigor?”

“Yes, sire.”

Rigidly, resolute purpose in each step, the high priest crossed to the temple. As he left the seclusion of the main portico, he pinched Gisgo. The child slumbered, motionless. The second pinch was hard, twisting the flesh. Again, no objection from the boy. He drew himself to his full height, tall for a Carthaginian, and moved with the assurance and dignity of his office toward the statue.

The courtyard was alive with light, music, and people. On the side by the garden, ten priestesses rattled sistra, plucked lyres, and banged cymbals; all sang, while dancing an attenuated, complicated step. Flares blazed, their smoky flame seeming to sway with the long gowns and high headdresses of the priestesses. Even the dark purple robe on the goddess seemed to sway. A noisy, friendly, expectant crowd walked around. Others sat on carpets or cushions that they had brought, laughing and talking to their neighbors. Still more poured through the entrance, adding to the excitement.

Hasdrubal pressed his lips into a taut, straight line. He hoped to heaven his sister-in-law had given her daughter a sedative so the girl wouldn’t cry out in agony. He did not want his own family to break the law by weeping on this joyous occasion. Without looking directly at them, he observed that all three sat stoically in front of the goddess, Saphonisba in the center, Batbaal and Hanno on either side.

Saphonisba held her spine straight, her shoulders back, her head up. She had pulled one end of her long, gauzy himation from her shoulders to drape it over her head and across the lower part of her face. She is superb, thought Hasdrubal, an intelligent woman who accepts the tragedies in life with the same calm equanimity as she does the joys. Her behavior will be a credit to her position in society.

Batbaal’s back was as straight as her mother’s. How alike they were. His eyes narrowed. She looks as if the slightest puff of wind would blow her over. Drugged. Just as well. The light from the flares blurred the edges of her topaz-colored himation. He noted that the fabric, though wound tightly around her body, was wrapped high to hide her mouth. Dear girl; nobody will know if your lower lip trembles.

Quickly, he looked at Hanno. He was hunched over, his chin resting on one hand. Hasdrubal followed the upward tilt of his head. In deep contemplation, he was gazing at the face of the goddess.

After making obeisance to Tanit, the high priest laid Gisgo in her arms. As he withdrew his hands, using a knife concealed in the statue, he deftly slashed the little boy’s throat then stepped back to see if the blood was dripping properly onto the firewood in the trough at the goddess’ feet. Satisfied, he nodded. A young priest pushed a lighted taper beneath the kindling. A bright orange flame sprang upward, hissing at the bloody trickle. The high priest passed behind the statue as the dancers whirled from the sidelines in wild leaps and turns. Round and round Tanit, they danced to an insidious loud beat.

Hasdrubal took hold of a thread he had rigged to the hands of the goddess. At the moment the fire was the hottest, the dance the wildest, the noise the loudest, he yanked the thread. Gisgo’s lifeless body toppled into the flame.

The new orchestra priestess from Tyre dropped out of the dance as it swirled alongside the plants. She threw up behind an oleander bush. Seeing her, he ground his teeth. She would have to be punished in the morning.

The fire had spent its fury. Following the letter of the law, as he had throughout the sacrifice, he turned the ritual over to his principal subordinate. Holding his head high, his face a mask, he walked sedately to his residence. His slave, squatting in the dark, jumped to open the door.

“Take a bowl,” he said, looking directly ahead, talking into space, “and watch from the portico. When everyone has gone, collect the ashes.”

The door closed soundlessly behind the slave. Turning, Hasdrubal stared, unseeing, at it. By degrees, his ceremonial mask crumpled, around the eyes first then the mouth and chin. He collapsed into a chair and buried his face in his hands. A few drops of water seeped through his fingers. The sensation of moisture made him spring into a tense, upright position. No living being must catch him weeping. He had carried out his part of the ritual to perfection. It was completed. Surely, the goddess would forgive this momentary weakness. He attempted to rise.

“I cannot’ he moaned, sinking back. If only I had died instead of the child. His whole life was before him. Mine is over.