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Gabriel approached each one of the the guests around the table again with wine. When che drew near to Michael and Lilith che dared to speak to them, but hez speech was slightly awkward, as it was with Lamassu, since Gabriel did not have an internal talent for tongues as did Jash- en. First che had to register his intention with Binah, internally, and Binah would give hem the proper words for hem to repeat, just as Binah would translate for hem any reply.

Gabriel said, "My Lady and my Lord, I am the herald of Binah, and I crave audience with you in a more private setting, as I was commanded that my words must be for your ears only."

Gabriel spoke to them simultaneously by voice and mind-to-mind, through Dory, that they both would know he was B'nei Elohim even as they were. The effect was that he speech was strangely doubled, yet only Michael, Lilith, and Leliel heard it seem so. Ithuriel was too young to be considered fully B'nei Elohim.

Michael weighed Gabriel's words. Here was a mystery. Hy could not deny that Gabriel was, indeed, a B'nei Elohim, but why had not Binah spoken to Chokhmah, directly, daughter to parent? Michael said, "We will receive you in our chambers later tonight after the evening meal."

Gabriel bowed and said, "I thank thee, Lord." He resumed his task as Barachiel's wine server.

When Lamassu served a kingly plate of roast beef to Uriel Antero che ventured to sing to hem: "Born to rule Jelaket as king, yet queen-gen- tle hez words do ring, Valiant like the yeng of old, fair like a bust of purest gold."

King Uriel was shocked to silence at first, but then che laughed with self-recognition at Lamassu's impromptu verse.

Queen Aurra Firegem was less amused and growled Lamassu's name. But this only served as the trigger for a couplet directed at her from the playful servant: "Who rules the city of my birth? Aurra Firegem, Queen of mirth!"

This elicited laughter from everyone at the table except Aurra, who pointed directly at Lamassu. "Tonight. Twelve lashes!"

Suddenly Gabriel burst into tears for hez friend. Luzea was shocked to silence.

Indeed, an embarrassed silence settled all around the council table. Surely the Queen must be joking, they thought. The whipping tree for such a small thing? Michael caught the queen's eye and slowly shook hyz head, letting her know as politely as possible hy absolutely for- bade it.

In hyz mind King Metatron weighed the wisdom of publicly countermand- ing the queen's command. Hy would brook no dungeon-style cruelty by hyz guests. But the Queen's face remained stern and inscrutable. Lamassu and Gabriel returned to the high niche overlooking the cham- ber.

Queen Aurra's surviving son Balthazar had been under a sort of punish- ment-by-exile that brought him to Rumbek. He had not taken a meal with his mother for all that time, so hy was not acquainted with Lamassu and hez "talent", although he certainly noted her sex, and her common- er statusnaturally set the clockwork of Balthazar's mind in motion to find a way to be alone with her. He suddenly saw a clear path to res- cue his mother from her self-inflicted dilemma, and if by chance it also helped himself, well, that couldn't be helped.

He said, "My mother the Queen may not know it was a diversion of mine in Belen to contrive certain unusual forms of chastisement. Now a flogging is without doubt a terrible thing, especially with a whipping tree, but I fear it is doled out far too frequently in Heaven. I feel that a flogging no longer has the desired lasting effect that it un- doubtedly did in the days of yore. So by your leave, Mother, turn this slave girl over to me for correction. I can assure you in all truth- fulness that she will never forget the experience."

The queen knew exactly what Balthazar was up to and hid a smile behind her hand. It wasn't like he was going to come right out and ask her, before all the royals assembled there, 'Mother may I be excused from this meal so I can go have sexual relations with your servant?' Never- theless, Queen Aurra realized her son was on to something. She was not blind. The entire Sala delegation had noticed how love-smitten Lamassu had grown over Metatron's jen servant, the magician who served wine. What Balthazar had in mind would amount to a severe punishment of mind and body indeed.

She said, "Then I turn the girl over to you tonight, son. But let me caution you, if she is fit to return to work in less than a week I will deem your punishment far too lenient."

"You are very gracious to me, mother."

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Strangers In Paradise