Crispus came to me and spread his argument before the throne, saying, “There cannot be more than five hundred people. We must attack at first dawn.” This was to fulfill what the mistress Diaphanous had said regarding the war: “There shall be five hundred in women and men—no greater and no fewer.”

So we attacked when the day crowed from the crevice of the mountains; and with arms held wide, we defeated them—slaughtered them unnumbered, sending them down to the dust.

Crispus, who was a captain of the guard, came to me thereafter and confessed, “My Lord, there are some who escaped us on the field. They have disappeared, and I fear they will bring others back with them.”

But I did not send my armies after the few who had survived. Instead, I set a camp in the middle of the field and built a statue of stone in its midst. “May this be a reminder to all who hail from this country, and all who return to its ashes,” I proclaimed in the company of the elders, the guard, and the watchmen. “That none will be forgiven the trespass of treachery against their king and their lord.”

When the night had fallen, I instructed the leaders and their soldiers to assemble all their goods and return to the land from whence we came. I stayed behind from them, holding a captive still in bonds. Her name was Amina. Now when the soliders had departed from us, I took Amina to the stone statue. There, I made her swear by oath that should her people return, she would rail against them, instructing them never again to charge against me. In return for this, I would give her back her life. She agreed, nodding and saying in a strange tongue, “Ken Ben Rama’im,” as tears mopped her face. When she had made agreement, I loosed her of her bonds and threw her at the foot of the statue.

Now at the peak of the noonday sun, I set out back to the land from whence I came. And as it was said in years to come, Amina remained at the stone statue and there died for lack of food and water. Her people did not return to save her, and she did not leave to seek them out. In the dust of her family, she laid herself down.

In the days after I had reigned, it was said amongst the people that Amina set a curse about the stone in that place, that whenever anyone should pass it by, they would be consumed by the dust. This is why the statue is known to us now as Bethsheba, or, plainly, Daughter of the Oath. I have not been back to that place since the days of the great war, but I am yet haunted by visions of Amina wailing in death at the foot of the stone. For it is a saying among my people, “Those who witness falsely against another will stumble over stone and fall.”

It has been 23 years since I convened that war, and I testify to you now: I am an old man, and soon to die. But before the spirit leaves me, know that I have come upon a truth hidden from me in the days of my youth. It is known to you I was born of a foreign mother: a woman so meek and gentle, we all have revered her greatly. I spoke of her often in kindness, and had statues of stone built of her likeness as it was told to me.

But dear friend, I have heaped ignominy upon my head. Forgive me now my haste in judgment, for I was the one who set my mother at the foot of Bethsheba’s stone and left her bound by the dust to perish in the winds of that hideous place. I was the son who destroyed her, though I loved her without failing. And now her words ring forever in my ears like the clanging bells of a dirge: “Ken Ben Rama’im.” Now I know these words to mean: “Yes, my Son the Wicked One.”