The Secret of the Queen

Excerpts from Said Akl’s “If Lebanon were to speak”

“May the gods preserve us on this evil day!”
“What? Another dream?”
“Whenever have my dreams not been realized?”
Thus spoke two guards at the walls of Carthage at the cold crack of dawn.
Before long, one of them looked shocked. The other turned, and next thing he knew he was facing the Queen.
“Elissa?”
“Tell me your dream.”
The soldier had once before seen the Queen of Carthage from a distance, in her cavalcade robed in her black cloak, heading to the Temple of Aphrodite. Never before had he been blessed to have her voice address him.
Words failed him.
“Speak. Don’t hold anything back.”
“But…”
She shouted:
“Speak!”
But he didn’t hear her. He closed his eyes and broke down.
Elissa then approached the second guard, hoping to compensate with her kindness for what her solemnity had done to his friend.
“Don’t be afraid my friend; I am a queen, but I am flesh and blood, a human being burdened with the worries of the world. Sit you down and let us talk.”

The soldier was comforted, but his eyes turned to his friend.
The Queen said:
“Your efforts are in vain; he is dead.”
She sat on the floor and reached her hand over the dead body’s brow and started stroking and ruffling its hair.
“And you, do you want to enjoy listening to the story of Elissa? Queen Dido? Time seems to run out and forbids me from recounting it.
“How sweet it must be to hear it from my lips. You are one of my soldiers, whose name I do not know, and this senseless corpse is getting its share of the listening too.”
“Ah! You are greater than the great!”
She hushed for a moment and then continued:
“My father the King of Tyre died when I was nineteen years of age. The people chose Pygmalion, my younger brother, to succeed him.
“‘Men are more fit to rule,’ said Tyre.
“But she did not provide justice.
“A throne? What is a throne? I would not have cared for it had they not disgraced the woman in me.
“I spoke nothing, and married Achrippas, the priest of Melkart. But Pygmalion was soon eaten up with greed and he coveted Achrippas’ money. So he killed him.
“Such are people.
“I resolved to run away.
“From people, not from life.
“We the Tyrians and the Sidonians take refuge in prayer,
fortunetelling, and the call of the Great Sea,
“Thus my dream was born.
“But Pygmalion is fearsome. So I humored him not out of fear but out of a firm belief in forgiveness.
“Alas, he did not understand.
“One morning, my dream pressed upon me and I answered its call.
“I told Pygmalion I would move into his castle in the island of Tyre.
So he was elated.
“While he was expecting my valuables to be moved into his castle, my slaves were moving my luggage to a fleet of ships that awaited me at the harbor with a gathering of my most loyal partisans.
“We sailed.
“Some people contemplated treason; but when they saw my slaves throwing sacks of gold into the sea, they reckoned that returning to Pygmalion without the gold would endanger their lives. So they carried on with the journey.
“In Cyprus we sighted on the beach hundreds of maidens displaying their gold -in keeping faithful with their tradition -which they accumulate in order to lure a suitor. My men numbered eighty four, and so I ordered the kidnapping of 84 maidens, who later became the free citizens of Carthage and the mothers of the heroes of the world.
“When the splendid beach of Carthage appeared, one which I had already visited, we dropped anchor. I, despite my people’s laughter, insisted on buying a piece of land and spread out on it an ox skin. Yes, just an ox skin. But it seemed that the skin covered a wide area, as large as Tyrian cunning could make it
by cutting the skin into long strips.
“Carthage was founded.
“The city that will be known as the most beautiful kingdom.
“But Hyarpas does not understand the meaning of great dreams.
“King Hyarpas, our neighbor who sold us the land.
“He requested that I take off my widow’s weeds as if my husband had never been, and as though loyalty was not in my character.
“He also wants me as queen on his throne.”
The soldier interrupted the Queen shouting: “We refuse!”
But she continued,
“If we refuse, Hyarpes will burn Carthage, and our city is not yet
strong enough.
“Carthage will one day impose its supremacy beyond Numidia. But, today…
“But do no trouble yourself. Do not trouble yourself. Elissa’s cunning knows no limit.
“Life? She has been wearied by the sparkle of her wit, as she shall make death weary too.
“Death is more often than not the path to life.”
The soldier shouted, “What are you saying, Your Majesty?”
She answered, “I go away in the morning for Carthage to endure.”
“Stop those tears. Be a soldier.

“Go to the Carthaginians and tell them that their queen is awaiting them at the city walls, at this altar, where she has sacrificial offerings for her husband.

“If you know your fellow soldier’s family, tell them Elissa, who was bereaved of a brother’s tenderness, has stroked the brow of your boy’s dead body.”

The guard went on his way having realized the nature of his fellow soldier’s dream: the queen was to light a fire with her Own hand, and amid the flames she would pierce her Own breast with a sword.
Thus loyalty to Elissa’s husband and a long history for Carthage were ensured.

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