By Emma Edling Müller
Beneath the River Euphrates walks the queen of Babylon.
Her hearing has been dulled. Always this vaguely unpleasant pressure settles in her ears, down here. The walls that enclose her are of her own making. She has built this city, perilously, painfully, the thickness of its walls and the mirth of its people belongs to her and her alone. The air tastes damp, a reminder of the water pressing against her from all directions.
The city of Babylon is cloven in two by the river. A lesser ruler might have settled for a bridge, but the queen has parted the water. Beneath the ships of trade and the bridges of Babylon runs her tunnels, the link twixt two palaces on opposite sides of the river, her son in one, she in another. An open secret. The tunnel is a relic of another time, a time of peaceful power: today she would never seek connection between her residence and that of her son, but tunnels remain even as a mother’s love turns sour.
Her torch flickers: the light licks the dark walls embracing her. Her campaigns to west and east unsuccessful, to return to Babylon, beloved, boisterous, was to be a thing of peace. But that which used to be a whisper is repeated now with more confidence: her son means to usurp her. By force or by trickery, the reports disagree. Those trusted few who remain loyal – and they are jarringly few – speak of refuge or riots, to flee or to fight. The queen has built an unconquerable city, walls so impenetrable they are emulated in lands near and far. A tunnel she has also built, a doorway through rivers broad, and it is this, this connection, this invitation, that might be her undoing.
To her son’s palace she has been summoned now. They have warned her not to go, from the moment the summon came as she ate to her passing through the glimmering gate, adorned to the best of the city’s abilities. She was very proud of the gates to the tunnel, when first they were built. A gate is a marvellous thing: an end, and a beginning.
Unarmed and alone the queen of Babylon walks her tunnel, a rat sprinting by towards the edge of the torchlight. Her son cannot mean to kill her like this. It would be foul, and it would be foolish. He is a man grown since many years now, but all sons remain boys before their mothers. Alone she will go to him, and she will return.
For the first time in many years, the queen feels a tinge of fear as she reaches the deepest part of the tunnel, furthest from either shore. She has seen this tunnel built: she has faith in its eternity. Still an apprehension has hatched in her stomach.
If her son could turn on her, why should this other creation of hers not do the same? For her son it would be difficult to kill her. For the River Euphrates it would not. It would need only a crack in the wall, a gap in which to enter with force, violently claiming her, or to seep in slowly, ruthlessly, unflinchingly, and make her wait. At any moment, the tunnel might fill with water. She takes pride in the fact that it has not yet done so.
The walls are strong. They are of her making.
”The True Story of Semiramis, Legendary Queen of Babylon”, National Geographic, 12 September 2017.
”A tunnel in Babylon under the River Euphrates”, Antiquitatem, 17 August 2015.