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In her royal suite, three stories above the Temple of Astarte in Hazor, Sisera’s mother, Betheena, peered through the palm wood lattice screening the solarium window. She longed for her son’s return, with a lover’s longing. And once again the pangs of that deep emotion bothered her. Such feelings from a mother for her son were not seemly. She had never acted on them; never even hinted at them. But ever since Sisera’s father had been killed by the Haibrus seven years ago, and Sisera had accepted the role of protector of the house, Betheena, had felt a new, deeper, almost sexual (she blushed at the admission) feeling for her valiant son.
When, two years ago, Sisera, then twenty eight had been elevated by King Jabin to command first the palace guard and then the corps of chariots, Betheena had felt her longing become tinged with worry and concern that sometimes bordered on pain. Sisera’s duties required him to be away from Hazor often, and though she was forty-four, with a comely body and the vigor of youth, Betheena kept to herself and was lonely without her son.
It need not have been that way, for Betheena was a princess of royal blood, being Jabin’s half sister, they had the same mother, also of royal blood. Perhaps the longing was in her blood, a thing passed down through the generations. Something she must simply learn to bear, a dull ache that was always present, sometimes stronger than others. Yet it did seem as if there had been a time, when she was twelve, before she’d spent her first month in the Temple of Astarte, when the ache had not been with her.
Even royal maidens offered themselves as sacred prostitutes, though they lived and served in the Temple’s inner-most courtyard, the one reserved for the great leaders of the nation.
Betheena saw a cloud of dust on the horizon, between the city’s twin guardian peaks. Sisera! Her heart leapt. Gently, she said to herself, it may not be he. Yes, gently. She studied the cloud for a moment. Her vantage point on the third floor gave her a good view. It was not a large cloud; probably not chariots, perhaps one or two riders on horseback or a small column of men on foot.
The sounds of the city drifted up to her and Betheena looked down. Across the street immediately below her were the King’s granaries. A small group of functionaries were talking over a donkey laden with sacks of grain. Tomorrow, when the grain was distributed the noise would be deafening. Behind the granaries, was the slave market, with its stalls, and pens and platforms for showings. Some few merchants were walking their human property around the stalls, exercising them. Once a week, in two days time, the market overflowed with the color, noise and spectacle of the very rich in their finest regalia, buying the very poor in rags. To the left were the public wells from which most of the noise came.
Betheena looked up. The dust cloud was dissipating. She could not see the great gate from her position, but if it were Sisera, she would hear his horse’s hooves on the street stones in a moment.