The Day Freedom Dies

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

The night was pitch-black and heavy, unlike Nebuchadnezzar’s features which were lit with joy. The Babylonian invader was heading towards the chambers of Baal II, the King ofTyre.
The king’s palace was spacious, with numerous halls. The Babylonian emerged from the western wing, which was exposed to the gentle breezes from the west, a wing with grandiose domes and pillars and graceful, although its walls were cracked here and there.
When Nebuchadnezzar wished to see Baal II he could summon him.
However, on that night, he chose to give him regal treatment. So he personally went to see him, without prior warning.
He was accompanied by a companion who remained on his guard, as though he were apprehensive of an evil act in the vanquished enemy island.
“Open. This is Nebuchadnezzar,” thundered the Babylonian in the face of the guard outside the door to the King’s chambers.

“I am Nebuchadnezzar.”
The noise attracted three guards to the scene, one of whom was elderly and mature, which led him to recognize the gravity of what had occured.
Hold your peace, master, this guard is just obeying orders. He will protect this door with his life. You could have informed our King of your visit beforehand.”
“Your King?! He is my creation!”
The word caused the four guards to freeze in their place; their eyes almost became bloodshot. They exchanged silent looks.
Eventually, the third guard said:
“To no avail, master, are you trying to see the King tonight. Neither are we able to enter and inform him of your presence, nor will you be able to cross this gate.”
“What?”
The youngest guard approached him and with a most amiable expression and said:
“Pardon, master, but before you are four resolute soldiers. This is serious. “
The King admired his courage which was expressed with great courtesy, and so he said:
“What is to be done now?”
“Return to your chambers with your honor unscathed and wait until morning. “
Nebuchadnezzar laughed as he patted the back of the young guard and said:
“Can we talk?”
“This would be a great honor. Why not? I am not on duty at the moment. I am substituting and it is not time for my shift yet.
The King roared with laughter; then he walked, turning to his companion every now and then.
After they moved away from the palace, the king said:
“Do you know that preventing me from crossing the threshold to your master’s chambers will bring disaster on you tomorrow? Are you protecting my own creation from me?”
“From you or anybody else… we are protecting the King of Tyre.”
“Eto Baal II was deposed and Baal II is nothing but my own creation.
My creation, do you hear me?”
“You may think so, but whoever accedes to the throne of Tyre, ascends to the status of the throne as well. Perhaps what you are saying is true, but that must have been before he acceded to the throne. “
“Tell me,” Nebuchadnezzar interrupted, “are the rest of the King’s guards as devoted and astute as you?”
“They are the cream of Tyre’s nobility.”
“I offer them all to guard my palace in Babylon. I guarantee to make them happy down to their great-grandsons.”
“You must be saying this in jest, master. Those guards sacrifice themselves for the service; consequently, relinquishing wealth forever. “
“What about glory?”
“There is no glory above the glory of service.”
The guard became one of Nebuchadnezzar’s friends. Each night the Babylonian king would summon the guard from Baal II’s palace to keep him company.
“Do you think, young man, you could have resisted more than 13 years?”
“Why not? We would have resisted forever had our King been a young man.”
“Why don’t Arwad, Byblos and Sidon think in the same manner as Tyre?”
The young guard shrugged his shoulders and said:
“Our kingdoms are playing a dangerous game. You aspire to have a permanent fleet in the Mediterranean, and so you have to employ whatever means-fire even-to satisfy them. By doing that, you will be the masters of our kingdoms and our ships. But Egypt has the same aspirations. Like you, she knows how to gain our love. Through us, you want to make your way to the Nile Valley. The Egyptians desire to keep this key region under their control. Benefiting from all these circumstances is a pre-requisite for commercial wealth. Therefore, any ‘compromise’ with you, or even ’submissiveness’ at times, provides Egypt with a gold mine. All our kingdoms are playing the dangerous game of money, except for Tyre.
“The Egyptians before you fought us, and then the Assyrians, who incurred the loss of more than one of their heroic conquerors in trying to overcome us. Then you destroyed Assyria and inherited not only her greatness and colonies, but also the Tyrian predicament.
“Our kingdoms, after the fall of Assyria, watched-with an undoubted joy-the transfer of power to Egypt because the Saly era had started, an era of construction. Many of the building tasks were delegated to us. Thus the erection of Egyptian edifices in this renaissance was monopolized by our architects and our craftsmen.
“It’s true that Egypt did not remain in Asia, but some of our kingdoms stayed under the Egyptian sphere of influence. But all of Egypt was a source of wealth for our people.
“Then came the decisive Battle of Qarqamish when Egypt was expelled from Asia, and you came to occupy Jerusalem and exile the Jews to Babylon. Egypt tried, with our help, to reclaim its status, but you marched in decisively this time, generously giving away most of your power as well as the power of others.
“All our kingdoms have fallen into your hands, except for Tyre. Tyre, the city under whose walls you wallowed for thirteen years.
The King replied:
“Yes, thirteen years. And in the end?”
The king fell silent for a while, and then his forehead wrinkled in a tremor. With protruding bloodshot eyes, he cried in the face of the guard:
“In the end, I crushed you to the bone: I massacred you with fire and with the sword, sold whomever I could into slavery. I enforced heavy, backbreaking fines, overthrew your haughty King, and replaced him with my own man and benefactor. Isn’t that all true?”
“True, Your Majesty.”
“And now, for the first time in history, at the hands of this conqueror who is standing before you, Tyre, the island, falls.”
The guard cried:
“Tyre, the island, you say? Who will believe you Nebuchadnezzar?”
“Your eyes do. Rise, rise and have a look outside this window”
“No house remains intact, no ship bearing the Tyrian flag, and no beauty remains whom I haven’t sold into slavery. Look! Look! Do you not see?”
The king awaited a response. But the young man burst out laughing.So Nebuchadnezzar turned to the guard and saw that his face was smeared with blood.
“What? Have you plucked out your eyes?”
The young man answered:
‘And why not? Do you want them to oppose the will of Time? Time,since its onset, has witnessed Tyre only as a free city.”
“Aye, the light dies in the Tyrian’s eyes the day freedom dies.”

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