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My name is Asharru. I am six years old, and my knees are sore. I have been kneeling on the steps at the top of the temple for a very long time, while above me my mother recites the words that will dedicate me into the service of the Inanna, Goddess of love and war; daughter of Nanna, God of the moon.
Today, I will begin my education. I will learn my letters, mathematics, and the history of my people and my city. I will learn to read the paths of the stars and planets, and to see how they influence the world of men. Most importantly, I will learn the secrets of the Anunnaki, our divine teachers.
Already I know more about the gods than most of the children in the city. My Mother is High Priestess, the keeper of their word. I was born here, in the temple complex in the city of Ur, the capital city of the Sumerian empire. My city is the greatest city of the greatest empire in all the world. Our King makes his home here, and our temples are the highest in the land. As a girl-child born to the temple, this moment was arranged soon after my birth. I was born to this calling.
Born to the gods.
I am frightened by what is to come, but I am also proud. And right now, a little bored. I stretch and scrunch my toes against the mud-brick, rocking back and forth on the step until I catch my mother’s glance, and stop abruptly. I am not used to having to be so still. Until now I have been allowed to do as I wished, running and playing games with the other temple-born in the narrow streets between the tiled tangle of buildings. We are not allowed to play with the children outside the complex. But sometimes we climb up the walls and watch them, or more often, tease them, threatening them with the anger of the gods if they dare speak back.
I gaze out over the city, daydreaming as my mother and the other priestesses chant invocations. The view from the height of the Ziggurat is breathtaking. I can see all the way to the line of hazy blue mist to the South where the delta meets the sea. Closer in, past the walls and stretching to the river, are acre upon acre of fields, orchards and gardens; the irrigation ditches that feed them shimmering silver in the sunlight. Nearer still are the city gates, the canals, and the city itself: a tangled maze of gardens and houses, markets and people.
Most of the citizens of Ur are gathered at the foot of the temple to witness the ritual. Many of their daughters have been chosen. It is not only the temple-born who may be initiated into the priesthood, any child may be. Many parents give generously to the temple so that the gods might name their children. They are good people, the people of Ur.
I test the words, whispering them to myself in the same way my mother says them, with a certain seriousness. It is the place of the priesthood to give to the people the word of the gods. It is the duty of the people to carry out those commands, but the priests and priestesses are responsible for making every instruction clear. If they do not—if we do not—then the gods would be angered, and the empire would fall.
The heat of the new summer morning beats down upon my shoulders as I squint against the waking sun to look up at my mother. The ceremony seems to go on forever and I wonder how she has memorised all those words, knowing that soon I will be expected to do the same. At last, after what feels to me like an eternity, she stops, and I am led with the other neophytes up the steps to the house of the gods. My mother offers me a proud smile as she lays her hand on my hair and begins to speak again, aiming her voice so the crowds gathered below can hear every word.
I cannot hear her, however, for, at that instant, a sound fills my head, building like music until the very stones seem to ring. Then the light of the rising sun falls into place in the stone archway above, its warm rays hitting me full in the face, bringing tears to my eyes. There is a gasp from the masses gathered below, and I am filled with pure joy. The gods have accepted me. They have blessed me in front of thousands.
I can’t help smiling as my mother speaks the final words of dedication, and I am guided to stand beside another girl in the long row of neophytes. The ceremony moves on, but I keep crying and smiling. The other girls gape at me. Not all of them have been affected the way that I am. But I do not care. I know that I am chosen. With absolute faith, I believe. I am a true servant of the gods, a true daughter of Inanna.
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