I’m just borrowing them for my own amusement. Highlander and Buffy belong to the respective owners. A/N:
I made up the ritual used in this chapter.
I’m looking for a consultant, if anyone has a bit of spare time. I need someone who is familiar with the Highlander universe and has a decent grasp on characters and timelines. Thanks.
--Carthage, 811 B.C.
Dido watched as Emrys lit the pyre. It was an impressive sight, dominating the paved courtyard on the shores of the harbor. Twice the size of a grown man, the cost of the exotic woods alone represented a sacrifice that would be sufficient to allay the spirit of even the most jealous husband. Dido knew Sychaeus was hardly jealous, even dead, but her goal was to make an exhibit of herself.
If her people were going to remember her, she wanted it to be for her virtue and strength and courage. She would leave Carthage with a legacy.
Emrys had already set aside a stash of their personal possessions, including what gold of hers remained separate from the city’s coffers. Most of Sychaeus’s gold would stay here and foster the growth of her young city. Once this affair was over, Emrys would take her body to a tomb and proceed to stand guard until she woke up, at which point they would leave together.
Dido was thinking about heading into the desert or into Egypt. Emrys had suggested Greece, but she had not yet made her decision. She was a creature of sun and sand, though she tolerated other climates well enough. Africa was her home. And yet, she had a feeling that she would allow herself to be convinced by her brother.
Dido turned her attention back to the now blazing sacrificial pyre. It was time to begin the ceremony. She stepped forward.
Emrys stepped back from the pyre as he watched the flames catch and spread. Outwardly, he knew, he was as serene and expressionless as he normally was during significant rituals. Inside, however, his gut was churning. This was a Bad Idea. All sorts of things could go wrong, and even if they didn’t…
Burning to death took a long time to recover from, even for them.
Emrys did not like the idea of Dido going through all of this pain and suffering. Of course, he saw the future as clearly as she did.
If Dido married Iarbus, Carthage would either come under Mauritani control or it would die from the lack of strong leadership. Dido would be gone, Baalhanno would never be accepted, and Emrys himself intended to follow his queen.
If Dido refused to marry Iarbus, she would not only be undermining her own rule, she would be offering the king grave insult. If it came to war, Carthage had no hope. They were a city of adventurers and merchants. They were no Sparta.
And if Dido simply died quietly during the night, as Emrys had half-heartedly suggested, then the city would fall just as it would if she married Iarbus – although there would likely be suspicion and much civil unrest first, that could spell ruin for Carthage. Everyone would assume that one among them had killed their beloved queen. The city might tear itself apart without any help at all.
No, this was a good plan, or as good a plan as was possible in such a situation.
Already Dido was a legend within the Phoenician Empire: the Wandering Queen who followed the traditions and the proper way of things, who respected the gods and showed compassion and mercy to her followers. Her legend was furthered by her clever reasoning to gain the land for Carthage using the ox hide. Yesterday’s court had only added to this growing legend: the Queen-Citizen, beautiful and sacrificial, ready to do anything for the sake of her people.
And tonight she would become legend in truth.
Emrys had no doubt that Dido’s actions tonight would be long remembered. The beloved queen of Carthage: she would be remembered, and she would be the spirit of the city long after this death. In memory of her, the city would pull together. Leadership would be found. The Mauritani would lay no hand on the city. And Carthage would prosper.
But first Emrys had to watch his sister die in flames.
The pyre was ready. His mask of calm remained. He turned and joined the other priests as they all three began chanting the words. The solemn crowd stood still, watching the ritual in silence.
The ritual began with a slave, a man bought from a northern trader for just this purpose. Dido had selected him herself, for his similarity in looks to her despised brother. This ritual was to tell a story, her story. She would appeal to the gods for aid, and appeal to the spirit of Sychaeus to listen. If he accepted her sacrifice and the story of her journey to a second marriage, then it was believed that her union with Iarbus would be blessed.
As the priests behind her chanted a litany of the gods, Dido began to speak.
“My Lord Sychaeus,” she said, voice clear above the roar of the fire. “My husband. This is my story. Hear me.”
The slave was dragged forward and dropped on his knees before Dido. His eyes were glazed with the drugs he had been fed. He was half dead already, the poor man, and Dido felt a small surge of gratitude that she was not forced to listen to his pleas or his screams. She ran her fingers through his yellow hair.
“For your murder,” she said calmly, “I cried.”
Her fingers tightened in his hair and she forced his head back. The knife cut from ear to ear cleanly. She tossed the bleeding, jerking body onto the pyre. The crowd murmured.
A second man was brought forward. This man was a sailor by trade, caught preying on the young people of her city. He had been sentenced to death, and Dido felt no pity or remorse as he was forced to his knees beside her. This man had not been given the mercy of drugs. His eyes rolled about in fear, but his mouth had been bound shut to keep him from ruining the ceremony with distasteful screams. Her hand in his hair was not gentle.
“You came to me in a dream, My Lord Sychaeus. You told me where your gold was and set my course for safe harbor.”
She drew the knife across his throat. His body joined the first on the pyre. The sickly sweet stench of burning flesh was rising from the pyre, and she breathed in deeply.
A third man was brought forward. He was dark skinned like the tribesmen of the area, though he came from far to the south and west. He had been given the option of drugs, but had refused, meeting his fate with bravery and honor. Dido did not force this man to kneel before her, but looked into his eyes with respect.
“You blessed us with friendship here,” she said. She drew the knife across the throat of the brave man. “My husband, I thank you.”
It was an ox that was led forward next, as a symbol of the founding of Carthage. Dido thought it more appropriate, though an animal sacrifice was generally considered a lesser offering. It was an ox hide, after all, that had caused this entire problem.
Two more men and one woman were brought forward as symbols of the three years that had passed since the founding of Carthage. And then it was the traitor’s turn.
Baalhanno had been given no drugs. His wrists were bound tightly behind his back, but his mouth was free to wail and scream, and he took advantage of this. Pleading loudly, he tried to drown out the words that fell from the lips of a woman he had once followed. He struggled against her hand in his hair, sobbing in terror.
Dido leaned down to whisper in his ear, for his benefit alone. “I will join you in this death, Baalhanno.” She drew the knife across his throat before he could so much as wonder at the meaning of her words.
And then it was time.
Emrys wondered if there was anyone out there who received these sacrifices. He had been a priest for so long… He remembered a time when he believed with all of his heart, but over the years his faith had flagged. That there was a power out there he could not help but believe, and yet… And yet he had watched gods shift and change. He had seen a single entity split and grow and become something else entirely. What was true? Who listened to his prayers? Who received this sacrifice?
Dido stood beside the fire, bare arms upraised. In one hand she still held the knife she had used to grant the others swift death. The other hand was open, upturned in supplication to the gods. Her face was tilted up, and he could see that her eyes her closed and a little smile played over her lips. The purple of her silks hid the blood he knew must soak the front of her dress. Her headdress glowed in the orange light of the fire. Over her shoulder, the sunset flared red and gold in the sky.
Dido stepped forward, arms still raised, eyes still closed.
“My Lord Sychaeus,” she cried. “I love you. I am faithful to you. Always.”
And she leapt into the heart of the fire.