Tribe of Hell (A story in Lawyers in Hell)

Lawyers in HellTribe of Hell
(A story in Lawyers in Hell)

Be not too hard for my wits and all the tribe of hell
– William Shakespeare, Othello

Kur had been in hell long before the first cast-down gods and their damned worshippers took the fall; he would be here long after the last of them were gone.  Kur was born here in Ki-gal, home of the indigenous tribe of hell.  Golden-green sulphur tickles his nostrils, billowing down sweet and warm from the mountaintop.  He breathes deeper, expanding his mighty chest, rippling the surface of the dark pool where he floats, content.  Beneath his backside, tar bubbles pop, massaging his wide-spread wings, his long spiky tail.  His red skin is gleaming, dusted with quills, warning all comers of his poisonous bite and his rank, highest among the tribe.

Lawyers in HellA sudden flurry of motion sets the tar sloshing:  little black Eshi has arrived.

“Almighty Kur, I need to know something!”  Young Eshi splashed toward him, tail flailing (black tail, black wings, black skin; crimson tongue and sharp white teeth); then clambered atop him, nearly sinking them both.

“You will need to know more than one thing, Eshi, to grow up red and strong.  Which particular thing do you most need to know now?”  Eshi was his eromenos:  his protégé, his beloved, his passion and his joy.  “Look what you’ve done, boy:  I don’t need a tarry front today.  Lick me clean – every quill, every hair.”  Kur stretched his wings wider and the pool’s surface calmed.

The black Kigali boy bent his head and began licking Kur’s red skin.  If Eshi lived to mature, his black skin would turn red as he sprouted quills.  Yesterday, that fate had seemed certain.  Today, little was certain.  Trouble was coming, falling from the heavens.

Young wings, dripping tar, rustled and folded tight.  “I need to know who Erra is and why he’s coming, and about the Seven, and who they are and why they’re coming, and why the tribe is afraid of mere men and gods from the heavens.”

“And this is what you most need to know now?”

“I need to know, great Kur, if the others are right.  Should I be afraid?  You’re not afraid….”  Eshi shifted, slid, and nuzzled Kur’s groin.  “See?  You’re not.”

Kur reached for Eshi and brought the boy up into the curve of his strong right arm and the hammock of his wing.  “Never listen to rumors, Eshi.  Erra … deserves my attention.  I always host his kind when they come.  No one has come to Ki-gal who wields such power in a very long time.  Erra is an ancient god of plague and mayhem, who lays low the mighty and makes politicians weep.  And he brings with him the Seven – the Sibitti – peerless champions, personified weapons, pitiless and terrifying:  sons of heaven and earth.  Hell is under audit from on high, and Erra and the Seven shall deliver punishment summarily, as they see fit, where injustice has been unfairly distributed.  The Seven destroy guilty and innocent alike when they roam the earth, but in hell there are few innocents – only those of us in the tribe.  So the tribe is worried.”

Eshi squirmed and kicked his feet, making tarry spume, scrambling for purchase.  “So they’re right, the tribe, to worry?  There is destruction coming?  Havoc?  Requital?  But I’m innocent….  Aren’t I?”  Glowing eyes implored him.

“Perhaps the tribe is right; perhaps wrong.  The future is unknowable.  You are with me.  You are without quills, having yet to stir your blood with a kill:  in that way, you are innocent.  It is my honor to succor Erra and the Seven and guide them through hell.  I always do so, whenever great powers need lodging and meals and local wisdom.  You will meet Erra, and you will help me in my tasks.  Now, a little more licking, please, just a bit to the left….  We must look our best when we greet Erra and his Seven on the Downward Road.”

In the dung pit, two men met with Lysicles to decide the fate of his soul:  Draco, lawgiver of Athens, tall and lean with a wooden triangle in his lap and a linen robe belted round him that was gray and long and dirty like his hair and beard; Hammurabi, his inky Babylonian coif oiled and jeweled and his beard resting on his ample paunch, with a pile of stone tablets beside him on which his two hundred and eighty-two laws were inscribed.  Facing them sat Lysicles, the supplicant:  still the same muscular, war-braided Athenian commander who’d been executed for rashness after his infantry was routed by Philip and Alexander’s Macedonians.

Begging tastes bitter.  Lysicles was desperate but dared not show it.  These two ‘old dead’ might be his only hope:  Draco had set the precedent for Lysicles’ downfall long before the soldier was born; Hammurabi had set humanity on the path to endless slaughter with a code of laws that made one man right, another man wrong, and allowed punishments to be inflicted by third parties and levied by a state.  These two were the most influential lawmakers in hell:  they had made laws that later, lesser men reinterpreted and misapplied.  Lysicles had done terrible things to secure this meeting:  worse things than had sent him to hell in the first place.  While alive, during battle, he had been as innocent as a general could be:  those he had killed with his own hand, or with his armies, deserved death with honor and got it.  Now he was no longer so innocent.  But no one was asking him what he’d done since he’d gotten to hell:  only why he thought he deserved to get out of here.

“Eye for eye; tooth for tooth,” Hammurabi reminded the other two.  “No presumption of innocence is possible when a thousand died following your orders, Lysicles.”

“Let Lysicles finish making his case,” suggested Draco, who had created the law-code by which the Athenian assembly had duly ruled to execute the general.

“But my commanding officer, Chares, walked away, a free man – exonerated.”  Exasperated, Lysicles stared at Draco until the other soul lowered his gaze.

“And was he innocent, by the law, this Chares?” Hammurabi asked, twirling an oiled curl of beard in stubby fingers.

“Innocence has little to do with this.  Chares had better orators in his pay, making his case,” Lysicles said.  “I followed my orders to the letter:  if I hadn’t, I would have deserved to be put to death.  And if I was guilty, Chares should have died by my side.  If I’m in hell, he should be too.  One commander cannot have been wrong and the other right, when the result to our forces was the same.”

“How do you know this Chares is not in Hades?  In Tartaros?  Alexandros has raised a new army:  they war as they always have, against other Greeks and Asiatics, until the ground runs red with blood and shades of fighters long dead decide the winner of the day….  Go fight it out again:  find your fellows, and go you back to the battlefield.”  Draco was haughty, cold, and always harshly logical.

“That’s not what he wants, you Athenian imbecile.  If justice has miscarried here, it is because your laws were too strict, with no humanity applicable.  He wants a new trial.  The auditors from Above are coming, so it’s said.  He wants to talk his way into those much-vaunted Elysian Fields of yours, see his lovers again, his wives, his sons….  How many eromenoi did you have, Lysicles?  That alone, according to my law code, could bring you here for infidelity or sexual misconduct.”  The Babylonian’s eyes were sharp in their nests of fat; they pierced Lysicles to the heart.

“Irrelevant,” he said, head high.  “I did what men do in my culture.  Are we judging all souls by all standards?  In that case, none would be in heaven, neither men nor gods.  All the gods had eromenoi, and wives as well:  take a man’s son for your lover, send him a fast horse or two; sleep with a man’s wife and beget a bastard demigod, give the child immortality in exchange for the human parents’ forbearance.  And goddesses played the same game with mortal heroes.  I –”

“We’ll take your case,” Draco interrupted, looking past Lysicles and up, where three men were peering at them over the dung pit’s rim.

“Crap,” said Hammurabi under his breath.  “Not them.”  And, louder:  “Yes, Draco and I will appeal your sentence.  It is decided:  we are the best in hell; we shall win your release if the Seven have souls.”

The three newcomers above elbowed each other.  The tall, bony-nosed one said, “You don’t say?  ‘The best in hell?’”  He wore khakis, motorcycle boots, and had bound a scarf around his head.  He looked to be in his late thirties.  He assessed Lysicles with a warrior’s precision … and something more.

The short, even prettier one in flashy Macedonian armor put one hand on his hip and said, “O wise Aristotle, let’s help them.  At the least we can be character witnesses….  I fought against Lysicles.  I know his rage, fierce; his bravery, unquestionable.  And my word still means something.”

Then Lysicles stiffened where he sat, realizing the identity of this handsome youth.  Bastard.  Liar.  Fool.  Alexander, you little fop, you know no such thing.  You fought on the Macedonian left that day, on horseback, behind daddy’s crack hoplites, surrounded by daddy’s best generals, and never risked a hair of your beautiful head.

The balding old man in robes said, “Alexandros, you mustn’t mix in where you’re not wanted.”  But Aristotle slipped and slithered his sandaled way down into the dung pit and the other two followed.  “Shit,” said Aristotle when they reached the bottom, hiking up his skirts.

“Best place to meet, if it’s something like this,” said the tall, pale-eyed man from the legions of the ‘new dead.’  “Offal’s just food and water.”

“We know, T.E.  Gentlemen, as you heard, I am Aristotle, and I fancy myself a bit of a tutor.  This is my student, Alexandros – he tells the truth:  he fought in that battle against Chares and Lysicles.”

“So … who’s the soldier?” Lysicles asked, pointedly ignoring Alexander and looking past him to the man in khaki.

Alexander frowned.  “I’m Alexandros Philippou Macedon, called ‘Alexander the Great’ by history.”

“Not you, Alexandros,” Draco said, tapping his wooden triangle on which the laws of Athens were written.  “You, tall one – who are you?”

“Thomas Edward Lawrence … I fought in the desert for queen and country.”

“Queen?” Hammurabi wanted to know.

“Queen of England.”  The newcomers squatted down in the muck, extolling their curricula vitae, until Lawrence asked, “Lysicles, do you believe in the Card?  Wouldn’t it make sense to send out operatives to try to find it, if you want out of hell so much?  Although I could show you some places and people that might make you decide this place isn’t so bad.”  Lawrence smirked suggestively.

“Ssh,” said Hammurabi with a shake of his curls.  “This place is bad enough.  Don’t tempt the gods.”

“Card?” Lysicles asked.

Before the new-dead officer could answer, Draco told Lysicles:  “It is said there is a Get Out of Hell Free Card somewhere and whoever finds it … gets out of hell free.”  Draco snorted.  “I wouldn’t waste time trying to find it.  No one knows what it looks like, so how could you know if you have the real one?  It’s a cottage industry, buying and selling these so-called cards, along with relics from every age – holy water, shrouds, grails, what have you.  Let’s get back to the matter at hand:  if Lysicles can be saved by anyone, then we’re the men to do it.”

Tribe of Hell, © Janet Morris; Perseid Publishing, 2011
2011© Lawyers in Hell (Janet Morris), 2011, all rights reserved


#1 Larandil 2011-07-25 11:47
That's a somewhat cynical point of view in regard to Hammurabi and his code. As if human beings had got along pretty well with "might makes right" until the old man came up with a limit to the extent of revenge to be exacted ...
#2 Tempus Thales 2011-08-04 17:29
Lysicles is the viewpoint character for the remark about Hammurabi: he was executed for rashness and mismanagement of his part of the BAttle of Chaeronea while his commanding officer, Chares, went on to glory and was eventually named "Best General of Athens." Chares was a gamed political manipulator, and since Lycurgus of Athens was the orator most responisble for Lysicles' conviction, some assume that Lycurgus was in the pay of Chares, a man of vast appetites and low ethics, at the time. So Lysicles, having suffered as Plato warned some might, from the weaknesses of democratic judicial systems, is angry and resentful -- and has a right to be so. I always try to present the story from the viewpoint of the character, and when there is choice between the informed viewpoint of the character and my own, I choose the character's. Janet Morris

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