Although none of his administers and priests would admit it, Nebuchadnezzar was fucked out. He was tired and depressed. He was also sick of naked girls and the supposedly provocative games they provided for his satisfaction. A habitual melancholic, a soul who labored perpetually under Saturn, whenever the king entered the harem, the howls of the void could be heard throughout the ziggurat—the gloating “I told you so’s” of the eunuchs along the wall. Without doubt, Nebuchadnezzar’s problems in the harem were symptomatic of the larger agricultural crisis—drought had blighted the land, and the canker worm had devoured the barley reserves. The priests and astrologers referred to his condition as “The Big Slump,” and there was a great deal of beard-wringing and tunic-twisting in the Ministry of Illegitimacy. It was godsdamn depressing.

    As harem scribe, it was Nergal’s job to record the king’s efforts at the Festival of the Golden Bull—a Babylonian, religious orgy designed to secure the fertility of the land for a thousand years. Holy sex rituals, however, bored the eunuch. He would rather be in his room reading about the wheat accounting practices of the cruel and mighty Ashurbanipal than watching a red-faced dendrophile copulate with a hole in a potted orange tree. So Nergal whiled away the hours by cataloging the self-aggrandizing behavior and physical blemishes of the orgy participants. Yet when the king encountered ritual failure, he called upon Nergal’s special talents. This led the eunuch to fall in love with the Bride of the Harvest, a concubine named Siduri who was famous for trampling the grape and culling the vine of men’s hearts. The only problem was that Nebuchadnezzar was in love with her too.