Saturday 27 February 2021


Artwork from Legend of Monsters


It's surprisingly hard to find decent artwork of long-dead ancient Akkadian kings, so this'll do. 

Well... things are happening. I've just hit 70k on Akkad, after removing the prologue and renaming the entire manuscript after Sargon rather than Enheduanna. 

This is me accepting that it will definitely be two books.

At the moment, Sargon's just turned twenty, already King of Kish and married to Lugal Zage-Si's niece. He's on his way north to assist the Eblites against the Mari, after they helped him gain his throne. He's not yet the wizened old one-eyed bust below, but a young man making a name for himself in the world, driven by grief and rage.


So, things are going well.

I wasn't that into Sargon when I started out, he was only supposed to be the first couple of chapters, but I've really fallen for him since. There's no way I could have written him and his daughter in the same book whilst doing them both justice. I'm looking forward to Enheduanna, but I'm not in a rush. I want to finish what I've started here.

My friend Leif at the University of Göttingen has been utterly invaluable. I'm so lucky to have someone who is completely immersed in the history of ancient Sumer to help me out, offer up resources and check my mistakes. It's very hard to piece together that time period because so few records remain intact. I've taken a massive dose of artistic license, but the bits that are known need to remain so, and there needs to be a thread of authenticity throughout this adventure. 

It's tough. Sargon was larger than life. The first man ever to found an empire. Although, the more I read, the more I kind of feel like his predecessor, Zage-Si, probably should hold that title. He started out a lowly orphan - if you believe his version - to become ruler of the known world, and father to the first known author in history. 

There's a lot to get in there.  

Meanwhile, here's an entertaining musical interlude based on The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first great work of literature, from the same region and close to the same era.

Friday 26 February 2021


For some reason, you can only watch this video directly on YouTube.


I said I'd make a separate post on Polari after reading Elton John's biography. I find secret languages fascinating, such as Nushu, which is a Chinese language only for women. Polari is a language for gay men. You can find more information here and there's even an app to help you learn it.

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Blood on Satan's Claw


Picked this up as I liked the cover.

Gold Winner for Best Drama Special at the 2018 New York Festivals® International Radio Awards.

Seventeenth-century England, and a plough uncovers a grisly skull in the furrows of a farmer's field. The skull disappears, but its malefic influence begins to work in insidious ways upon the nearby village of Hexbridge. First, the cows stop milking and the fruit turns rotten on the trees. Then, an insolent ungodliness takes hold of the local children, mysterious fur patches appear on limbs and people start disappearing....

Something evil is stirring in the woods. Something that is corrupting the village youth, who retreat to the woodland deeps to play their pernicious games. Hysteria spreads as it becomes clear that the devil has come to Hexbridge, to incarnate himself on earth. Can the villagers, led by the Squire Middleton and Reverend Fallowfield, prevent the devil gaining human form?


Not that much to say about this one.

Apparently, it was originally a British horror film from 1971. Linda Hayden played Angel in the original cast, and also has a part in this version. You can find the full film online here.

As an audio adaptation, it started out well, but kind of ended up as a load of people trudging through the woods screaming. There was a lot of screaming. It kind of took the suspense out of it. What you'd expect a 1970s horror film to sound like if it was an audiobook. 

So, yeah. 

Very nice cover, though.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Happy Birthday To Me


I had a lovely day yesterday. 

Turned 40.

My mum colluded with my friends in Kigali to arrange a special treat. I was only planning to have a quiet day with my friend Jo, sitting in her garden, drinking wine. She said she'd pick me up at 11 a.m. to go to hers, and grab lunch on the way. Only, we ended up at a beauty parlor for manis and pedis instead, joined by close friends, all drinking coffee and eating cupcakes.

Lovely friends, Chantal, Solvejg, Jo & Zuba
Also organised by Maia, who is in Spain at the moment.

Then it was home to Jo's place for lots of bubbly and a yummy take-out from one of my favourite restaurants.

It was such a lovely day.

Friday 19 February 2021



The last read of my 30s. Going out in style:

In his first and only official autobiography, music icon Elton John reveals the truth about his extraordinary life, from his rollercoaster lifestyle as shown in the film Rocketman, to becoming a living legend.

Christened Reginald Dwight, he was a shy boy with Buddy Holly glasses who grew up in the London suburb of Pinner and dreamed of becoming a pop star. By the age of twenty-three he was performing his first gig in America, facing an astonished audience in his bright yellow dungarees, a star-spangled T-shirt, and boots with wings. Elton John had arrived and the music world would never be the same again.

His life has been full of drama, from the early rejection of his work with song-writing partner Bernie Taupin to spinning out of control as a chart-topping superstar; from half-heartedly trying to drown himself in his LA swimming pool to disco-dancing with Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth; from friendships with John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, and George Michael to setting up his AIDS Foundation to conquering Broadway with Aida, The Lion King, and Billy Elliot the Musical. All the while Elton was hiding a drug addiction that would grip him for over a decade.

In Me, Elton also writes powerfully about getting clean and changing his life, about finding love with David Furnish and becoming a father. In a voice that is warm, humble, and open, this is Elton on his music and his relationships, his passions and his mistakes. This is a story that will stay with you by a living legend.

This was just brilliant. Loved it.

I recently watched Rocketman. It was directed by Dexter Fletcher (anyone who knows my love of Press Gang will appreciate that one), and starred Taron Egerton, who I loved in Eddie the Eagle (also directed by Dexter Fletcher). I thought it was good. Taron was amazing as Elton, and it's always nice to see Richard Madden. I think it's probably one of those films that's better seen on a big screen. The flamboyance didn't really transfer to Netflix and my little laptop. 

But this biography managed to be far larger than life and kind of down-to-earth all at the same time. It managed to fit in everything the film couldn't, all the people you were curious about (Lennon, Diana, David), as well as a history lesson in music. I always go and look up things I don't know about in books, and I managed to Google:  Lady Samantha, Plastic Penny, Delaney & Bonnie, Leon Russell, The Band, Honey Bee, I'll Always Love My Mama, and Slattery's Mounted Fut (the Queen Mother's favourite song!). I also went to look up Polari, which fascinated me so much I'll do a separate post on that. 

Taron Egerton also reads the audiobook, with Elton John reading the beginning and the end. They do it really well.

There was a lot of humour in there:

While plenty of musicians will tell you that Buddy Holly had a massive impact on their lives, I am probably the only musician who can say that he inadvertently stopped me wanking. 


I couldn't imagine why Dick thought this was a good idea, unless he'd secretly taken out a life insurance policy on Bernie and was hoping to make a swift financial return by getting him killed on stage. American rock audiences in the early seventies were many things, but prepared to listen to a man read poems about his Lincolnshire boyhood for forty-five minutes wasn't one of them, however wonderful said poems were. 

And plenty of poignancy:

Sometimes you have to look at the hand you've been dealt and throw in the cards.


I go from nought to nuclear in seconds, and then always calm down just as quickly. My temper was obviously inherited from my mum and dad, but I honestly think that somewhere within them, every creative artist, whether they're a painter, a theatre director, an actor or musician, has the ability to behave in a completely unreasonable way. It's like the dark side of being creative. Certainly, virtually every other artist I had become friends with seemed to have that aspect to their character, too.


Even so, I still think a world in which artists are coached not to say anything that might upset anyone and are presented as perfect figures is boring. Furthermore, it's a lie. Artists aren't perfect. No one is perfect. That's why I hate whitewashed documentaries about rock stars where everyone's telling you what a wonderful person they are. Most rock stars can be horrible sometimes.

I admired his way of thinking about trying to build bridges with people he disagrees with rather than cut them off. I'm not sure I could be quite as generous. He played for Rush Limbaugh's wedding in 2010 and received a lot of criticism. But, he went on to say, 'I can assure you, as a wedding singer, I don't come cheap,' and handed all of the money over to his charity, thus turning a right-wing wedding into a fundraiser for HIV/AIDs. 

I couldn't help wondering what would happen if you put Elton John's mum and Alan Cumming's dad in a room together. I have a horrible feeling they would have got on.

It was just a really good book. 

I'm off to watch Rocketman again. I think it will mean more after reading his autobiography.

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Gypsy Boy on the Run


I bought this immediately after finishing his first autobiography, Gypsy Boy

GYPSY BOY: ON THE RUN picks up from where GYPSY BOY left off, and tells the gripping, page-turning story of Mikey's battle to escape the Romany gypsy camp he grew up on.

After centuries of persecution Gypsies are wary of outsiders and if you choose to leave, you can never come back. Torn between his family and his heart, Mikey struggles to come to terms with his ancient inheritance and dreams of finding a place where he can really belong.

He eventually finds the courage to run away from the camp and from all he knows, and quickly discovers life on the outside world isn't all he expected. After learning his father had put a contract out on his life and that he was now being hunted down by gangs of gypsy thugs determined to claim their reward, Mikey realises that his life will never be the same again.

ON THE RUN is a coming-of-age story that sees Mikey come to terms with his sexuality and his past and start to build a new life for himself and find a place to finally call home.

The first book was absolutely brilliant, which is why I picked this up straight after.

It wasn't bad, but there was a huge amount of repetition from the first book. At times it felt like it was just the first book but watered down. There were sections that were new, going into more depth about his relationship with the guy he ran away with, and getting into drama school. I can see why a follow-up was necessary, because none of that fitted into the first book, but having to recap previous stories for anyone who hadn't read the first book slowed it down a lot. 

There was one particular scene at a department store in Leeds where he was horrendously treated by both the department store and the police - falsely accused of shoplifting. He described the feeling and I wholly felt for him as I was falsely accused of shoplifting once, too. I was backpacking with a friend around Australia. We'd been into Target the day before and I'd bought a hat. I went back the next day to look at the clothes again but decided there wasn't anything I liked enough to buy. Not thinking about it at all, I went to leave the shop and they stopped me because I was wearing the hat from yesterday. I hadn't got the receipt on me but I told them to check their CCTV - I hadn't touched anything in the shop. I'd been a foot away from everything, just looking. I think they heard my English accent and decided it wasn't worth arguing, but told me not to come back to the store! No worries - I did not, and never will, spend another penny in Target as long as I live. I was only about 23 at the time, with no idea of my rights or what to do. It was humiliating and uncalled for. So, I knew exactly how he felt. But the way they treated him - strip searched, held even when they found nothing - it was disgusting.   

Still, there's a little humour in there:

Around once an hour, you heard the tumble of pins, confirmation that there was actually someone in the building doing something. In the diner, we had a few mocked-up 50s-style booths and a wide open space of ripped carpet where a play centre for toddlers used to stand before it became more of a danger zone than a play area.

Glad I read the sequel, but if you haven't read the first one, definitely start there.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

The Dark


I was so in the mood for this:

A blackness leaves its lair, and begins slowly to spread.

It came like a malignant shadow with seductive promises of power. Somewhere in the night, a small girl smiled as her mother burned, asylum inmates slaughtered their attendants, and in slimy tunnels once-human creatures gathered. Madness raged as the lights began to fade, and humanity was attacked by an ancient, unstoppable evil.

Every now an then, some old school 80s horror is exactly what you crave.

When I was in my teens, I used to travel from Northants to London every other weekend to go see my dad. It involved an underground change between Euston and Victoria. There was a magazine shop at Euston where I'd pick up a copy of Fortean Times, and I'd always have a book with me. 

I first tried to read It when I was visiting mum's friend in Germany as a kid, but it was a bit lost on me and I never made it far beyond the first chapter. In high school, me and all my female friends were into Point Horror, which we swapped between us each week. By my early teens I'd worked my way back up to adult horror, and me and dad bonded over gruesome classics. We used to go to Blockbuster and he'd let me choose. I think Pet Sematary was the first book-to-film adaptation I ever saw. 

The only book I think I never finished was Nemesis by Shaun Hutson. I got to the part where someone electrocutes themselves on the central rail of the underground - whilst I was standing in Euston Station underground, staring at the central rail. I think I pressed on, but not much further. 

My parents knew author Ian Watson  through the Labour party, and at a BBQ at his place one day he told us how he'd been at a writer's conference with Sean Hutson once and how, instead of hitting the booze, he'd ordered a weak cup of tea. Sort of amusing for a legend of horror.

Anyway, I developed a bit of an obsession with James Herbert's Haunted. I just absolutely loved that book so much. One of the best haunted house stories ever. 

They made a film out of it in 1995 with Kate Beckinsale as Christina and Aidan Quinn playing David Ash. It felt like an interminable wait for it to come out on VHS. Aiden Quinn did a good job, and Kate Beckinsale is great in everything she does (especially Shooting Fish), but the book just didn't really translate to the screen very well. 

It's very hard to please horror fans. Netflix keeps trying and falling flat. It's really hard to spook people out more than their own imaginations can. I remember watching Midnight Meat Train with dad and both just sitting there with appreciative nods as that commuter's eye pops out of his head. Very decent blend of special effects and CGI. But mostly it's hard to get that psychological thrill from film. Every now and then it works, but not often. 

I hadn't read proper old school horror in a really long time and I just fancied it. 

Herbert just has a lovely mixture of poignant and humour:

"Okay, I shouldn't be flippant. I agree, a man cutting his sleeping wife's throat with an electric hedge trimmer, then cutting the legs off his dog, isn't a joke. Running out of cable before he could attack the two policemen outside is mildly funny, though."


That's one of the nice things about old age. You have less of a future to worry about.


He had discovered his own original sin and decided it wasn't as evil as the Church had always taught him. Satan has now become a source of ridicule, or entertainment, even, a comical myth, a bogeyman, and evil came from man alone. 


[He] was an astonishing man, you see. His very wickedness made him attractive. Do you understand that, Chris? How a malignant thing can be attractive?... I found him fascinating. At first I didn't see the deepness of his corruption, the depravity that was not just part of him, but was him. His very being.

As with most of the best horror, this plays on a really simple, primal concept: fear of the dark. That sense that the dark is alive, sentient and malevolent.

The genius of this is, Herbert simply hops from house to house, describing every conceivable manor of gruesome execution. The context is simply: everyone's gone mad. There is an absolute bloodbath of a mass suicide at the beginning. I think the most graphic image is one of a woman straddling a shotgun that goes off. Then there's Animal, who manages to electrocute 600 people at a football stadium, and the obligatory scene in a mental hospital where all the inmates escape and the place burns down.

It is so old school. Every trope in the book.

I loved it.

And I also lamented, as I was listening, that horror like that has maybe seen its day?

Accepting the masters: King, Hutson, Herbert... could a newcomer find a publisher for that nowadays? 

The thing that struck me was that it doesn't work in today's world - not the same as it did when I was a kid. I was checking my phone during the story, I put it down to answer a text message, I took a break to play online scrabble. 

Horror works best when you're alone. When it's just you and a book. These kind of stories held such clout back in the pre-internet, pre-mobile phone age. They feel less scary now that we're never alone. Now that there's always a distraction. How can darkness compete with the blue glow of a phone screen?

Or maybe it's just that I'm older, and very little scares me anymore, because I've watched it all, and read it all, before?

I definitely felt like I was reading it in the wrong time period. Almost like a classic work feels as though it's transporting you to the time in which it should have been read.

I don't know. I wonder what the future of horror will be.

Anyway, it was a lovely, nostalgic experience.

Sunday 14 February 2021

The Strong and the Dead


Rita Willaert  

This post is a continuation of my earlier post Origins of Imigongo, which explores whether there's a connection between the above art in Burkina Faso, imigongo art in Rwanda, and the cone temple at ancient Uruk. You can follow that post link to catch up.



Last night, my friend, poet Audrey Haney, sent me a link to this article: Photographers Gain Entry into Traditional African Village Where Every House Is a Work of Art

Some incredible pictures, and the striking thing is that the colour scheme of red, white and black matches that of both Uruk and Rwanda. 


 Burkina Faso

Uruk (The MET)

Rwanda (AFAR)

All of the patterns at the cone temple are found, fairly identically, in Rwanda, though there are more patterns in Rwanda than appear in the pictures of Uruk. There is also a greater difference between Rwanda and Burkina Faso, both in the types of pattern and the exactness of their appearance. Rwanda and Uruk are both extremely exact in their symmetry, whereas the patterns found in Burkina appear more freehand. They have more of a feel of Ubaid art about them, which comes from a much earlier period in Mesopotamian history. The cone temple was built over an existing Ubaid temple, and a torch left burning there for the previous gods.


Ubaid Pottery


I thought this maybe backed up the idea of an earlier Ubaid art migration over the lip of Egypt to West Africa. Meanwhile, in Uruk, the Sumerians maybe developed those patterns into something more exact which migrated across the shorter Yemeni route to Ethiopia, along with the Semitic language variant, and down to Rwanda. 

The article says that the photographed village, Tiébélé, was settled in the 1400s by the Kassena people. 

Falling down that rabbit hole on Wiki:

The Kassena people are part of the greater Gurunsi group and were separated from the Gurunsi ethnic group at the beginning of the 20th century...

And, when you look up Gurunsi, you discover:

The Gurunsi, or Grunshi, are a set of related ethnic groups inhabiting northern Ghana and south and central Burkina Faso... Oral traditions of the Gurunsi hold that they originated from the western Sudan passing through the Sahel. While it is unknown when the migration occurred, it is believed that the Gurunsi were present in their current location by 1100 AD. 

If you Google Image 'Gurunsi people,' you find lots more of this type of art.

So, if we cling to the migration theory, perhaps an earlier migration of art out of Uruk, heading west through Sudan to West Africa, and a later one down through Ethiopia to Rwanda?

That seems a likely link.

However, as I mentioned in the last post, Uruk was completely abandoned, and the temple most likely destroyed or buried, by 700 AD. If the similarities between Burkina Faso and Ubaid art are true, then that first migration may have been as far back as 3,800 BC or earlier, as the Ubaid period lasted from around 6,500-3,800 BC.

The cone temple, that more closely resembled imigongo, was built over the Ubaid temple around 3800–3400 BC, which is when the second migration may have occurred.  

I mentioned before that it would help to find more evidence of this style of art along those two routes, but tribal migration was very fluid in Africa even as recently as 200 years ago, and many of those countries, such as Sudan and Chad, have undergone massive upheaval and instability over the years, so it's likely that nothing much would remain of a tribe that was passing through.

I still strongly believe that the comparison between Uruk, imigongo and Kassena/Gurunsi art is just too close to be coincidence, and there's plenty of migratory potential there to connect them. 

It's just really interesting.

And I'll leave you with another mind-bender.

In the article about Tiébélé, there's a line:

Stavrakis recounts their experience, explaining how before they arrived they were even given a dress code: “We were told in advance that we must not wear anything red and we may not carry an umbrella. Only the chiefly noble family is permitted that privilege and to do so would constitute a great affront to our hosts.”

On the very first page of my notebook whilst researching Akkad, I copied down an ancient Mesopotamian saying that I stumbled across:

When walking with the strong or the dead, do not wear clothes of purple or red.

Considering that Tiébélé is a city of kings and mausoleums, that seems hauntingly reminiscent of the ancient past.


Sunday 7 February 2021

Akkad at 65k - Bring on the Battle


Oooh, this took a while to get to.

So much free time with COVID, and I seem to waste most of it or spend it fussing over pernickety things that don't matter much. 

Part of it has been a lack of confidence.

I reached this part where the lead character had been building up to take revenge on someone who destroyed his life. Only, that someone was king of a city state. Military strategy has never been my strongest point, and how to bring down the city kind of stumped me. There are no historical records to help.

Sometimes, when I'm stuck for a way forward, I'll just walk around the room, recording anything that comes out of my head, and usually I end up talking my way out of a corner. But this was just a bit too technical. My brain froze whenever I thought about it, so I  stopped writing completely.

I mean, the period was complex. There were a whole load of city states, all run by different lugal and ensi, and all at war over trade routes and resources. Makes for fascinating history, but trying to pick that apart takes time. 

And, because it's a revenge scene, it needs to be good. It has to be thought through. You can't just leap in there all d'Artagnan and swish your sword about. Revenge is a dish best served calculated, and I've always been mathematically challenged. 

You're not just in charge of an army, you're in charge of everybody's armies. 


So, I got nowhere fast. I'd been spewing out words whilst writing a love story, and I'm usually well up for a bit of confrontation, but an entire war... I don't think I've ever written that before. Nope, fairly certain I haven't. The closest I've probably come was the Anglo-Ashanti war in Secure the Shadow, but that was easy to write because it was entirely taken from records of the time. I just added a bit of detail. I've alluded to wars in The Children of Lir and Rosy Hours, but always as a side story, never the main meal. So, overcooking that food analogy, I felt like I'd bitten off more than I could chew.

Because of my inability to figure it out, the manuscript hovered around 58k for an eternity. I was so disheartened, because it had been going so well until that point. But the problem was, I was trying to plot it. I'd sit there with a pen and paper and try to draw up a battle plan.

Completely forgot - I'm a total pantser. I never really plan things out. What I needed to do was start writing and trust that it would resolve itself. I just had to get over that horrible habit of avoidance.

So, yesterday I managed an acceptable 3,730 words. I've just now finished up that chapter that was causing me so much angst. I think it's worked out okay. Now I can get on with the rest of it. Hoping to hit around 65k this afternoon.

Feeling much better about things. The rest of the story is fairly clear from hereon in. Now that it's unavoidably going to be two novels, I'm no longer worried about the word count. Although, I'm slightly worried about this first book as it was never meant to be the main event. I think it's going well, but you never know until the end.

Anyway, to give you a taste of what I've been dealing with, here's a couple of rough-not-ready excerpts.

The rise of Akkad, the political edition:

“Oh, Apsu,” she said, placing her hand against his cheek. “A storm is rising in the south. A storm as we have never seen before. There is a man there called Lugalzagesi. His father, Ukush, was the military commander of Umma. When he died, his son took control of the city. He ruled as ensi for seven years, but now he has turned his attention to Lagash–”

“That is nothing to be afraid of,” Apsu interrupted, placing his hand over hers. “Umma and Lagash have been fighting over borders since before we were born. One has the land, the other the wealth. They will settle again soon enough.”

“No, they will not. Lugalzagesi has taken Lagash.”

Apsu stared into her eyes as the enormity of her words sank in. Umma was a large city on the plains to the south, and Lagash was an agricultural settlement by the banks of the Tigris. Lagash was an important trading post, a gateway to Susa, and, from there, safe passage through the Zagros Mountains to a hundred destinations beyond. All his life, Umma had been attempting to encroach on Lagash, to take over the fertile plain of Gu’edina and provide more food for their people. But Lagash had a strong army, and so they leased this land to Umma. Farmers would move onto the plain and grow crops, but then refuse to pay rent once those crops were harvested. Each time, Lagash reclaimed the land by force, pushing back the border until it returned to where it had once been. In retribution, and to pay for the men needed to retake the land, Lagash increased the price of goods to Umma and taxed them double to access the Susa pass. Umma would eventually refuse to pay these inflated rates and try to negotiate another deal to lease land. It was a continuous cycle. Most people living outside those two cities simply rolled their eyes and paid little attention. The thought that Umma had overpowered the superior might of Lagash, and lain claim to it, was disturbing.

“The rulers of Lagash should take their complaint to the Temple at Nippur,” Apsu said. “If the gods of these cities are warring, their father, Enlil, will resolve it. It is one thing for Ningirsu and Shara to squabble as siblings, but one cannot murder the other.”

“It is worse than that,” Masarru replied. “Now they are calling him lugal. They have given him the title of king. On his way to take Lagash, he took Uruk and Ur also. He commands the entirety of the south, from the Euphrates to the Tigris, and now they say he is looking north.”

“You cannot mean Kish?”

“He has installed ensi in each of the cities he has taken, to administer in his name. He has already written to Puzur-Suen, offering a deal. If Puzur-Suen agrees to rule in Lugalzagesi’s name, he says he may keep his throne. Puzur-Suen refused, but everyone knows he is in poor health. Ur-Zababa has replied without his father’s knowledge. He said that if Lugalzagesi will sheath his blade until his father’s peaceful passing, he will kiss Lugalzagesi’s feet and swear fealty to him.”

“Ur-Zababa will give up his right to rule as King of Kish, and become subordinate to this southern sarraqum? I doubt it.”

“He has no choice. This Lugalzagesi is like the great flood rolling in. He drowns everything in his path. There is no way to turn him back or to calm his tempest. If my husband does not agree to rule on Lugalzagesi’s terms, he will not rule at all. My husband is arrogant, he’s cruel, but he is not stupid.”



Sippar was the last true Sumerian city. Beyond it lay a wide plain of sun-bleached grass. Somewhere in that desolation stood the austere bastion of Akkad, a solemn sentinel, guarding the boundary of order and chaos. The remnants of a past glory, her people scattered throughout the world. Once you passed the northern gates of Akkad, lawlessness reigned. Two mighty kingdoms, Ebla and Mari, raged like brawling bulls. It was said to be a fight to the death.

Ebla had once been a great seat of learning, where scribes and scholars gathered as ants to an open pot of honey. Even Nur-ili, the oneiromancer of Kish, had once trained there. The kingdom crested the shores of the upper sea. Boats sailed from her harbour as large as whales. They left port for months on end and returned with fragrant oils, spices, fabrics and wine. Villages along the coast harvested pearls as fat as figs, placing them before the alters of strange gods, unheard of in any other land.

In order to get these goods to the affluent markets of Sumer, they had to sail them down the Euphrates. The problem was that Mari controlled the northern Euphrates. Having been chased out of Sumer by Queen Kubaba generations ago, the Mariotes struck north and secured the river all the way from the tar pits of Hit to the throne of bountiful Dagan at Tuttul. They controlled the trade route with a cut-throat army, hardened by centuries of war with Sumer and its city states. Without the cooperation of Mari, Ebla could not get her lucrative wears to market, and Mari would rather steal than barter. Many other kingdoms had been drawn into the argument over the years, including Nagar and Elam, providing soldiers and weapons in much the same way a fat man feeds kindling to the fire so that he can continue to eat.