Part II. Ninsun & Lugalbanda
And Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and taught them about metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of precious stones, and all coloring and dyes. ... and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways.
Semjaza taught the casting of spells, and root-cuttings, Armaros taught counter-spells (release from spells), Baraqijal taught astrology, Kokabel taught the constellations (portents), Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiel the signs of the earth, Shamsiel the signs of the sun, and Sariel the course of the moon. And as men perished, they cried, and their cry went up to heaven.
--1 Enoch 8:1-3
The humans called me Goddess, and I no longer corrected them. I hadn’t the strength to--they believed it so desperately, while my own belief in Father’s plan had failed me, after our defeat. Following the war in Heaven, my energy waned. Hope was in short supply among the angels stranded on Earth for taking my side in that battle, and though I never regretted fighting for mankind’s liberation, it was too difficult not to feel remorse. I robbed a third of my brothers of the light of Heaven. No matter what happened from that point, its weight fell squarely on my shoulders.
I was called Ninhursag, Gula, Baba, and Aruru in turns: mother of all, the midwife of creation, protector of children. All indeed flattering to a woman who would have no child of her own. Even as my guilt led me to craft new bodies for my two-hundred fallen comrades, I would make none of them female. If they wanted children, they could seek them from human women. I would not make our loss an excuse to fill the world with angels, endangering the humans we were once charged with protecting. I considered destroying my own womb to ensure that, but whether by selfishness or some lingering hope, I couldn’t bring myself to do so.
I could no longer escape the burden of leadership. Humans quickly became more numerous, their battles among each other ever bloodier, forcing me to organize them in ever greater cities to minimize their own senseless violence. Those cities eventually became a nation of principalities managed by those angels I trusted most, and at its center was Uruk. As ruler of Uruk, I gave myself a new name, Enmerker, both remembering and distorting those days when I called myself Enme. But the name I became most fond of was Ninsun--it meant ‘goddess of cows,’ which brought a smile to my face. I believe they interpreted drawings of me and my horned beast as me taming wild cattle. The name became a way to honor him, the one being in the ancient world I truly cherished.
I restored the bodies of all who had fallen around me. Asasel, Semyaza, Ramuel, Jephat, Thausael in the tower, and the other generals in bloody heaps all around it. (I’m not much of a healer, in truth. It’s normally too painful for me to restore a body while a soul is still inside it, as I only know how to build, not mend--I imagine their bodily deaths were a blessing in that regard.) Many of them chose to stay around me, in Uruk. Asasel, mourning Anatu and their unborn child, buried himself in the task of building cities alongside me. Semyaza, asking to be called Semes in the new world, became my most trusted advisor. Tamael took a more human name as well, Tammuz, and became my guard-captain. Many others I made rulers of their own cities, sending annual reports to me by hawk and caravan so that distance wouldn’t make us enemies, as seemed to happen to humans in similar circumstances. Under this reign, there was indeed peace.
Unfortunately, peace begets children, as I should have anticipated. Many of my brothers had never had bodies of flesh, and were only too eager to indulge in the unique pleasures offered by such vessels. Soon there were women birthing pale, startlingly large babies that came to be called the nephilim--that is, giants, half-breeds of Heaven and mankind. It was dangerous to birth a nephilim, and many women died in the process; I tried my hardest to discourage my brothers from doing this, for their women’s sakes, but neither they nor their lovers paid me any attention.
Kasbel, Bel, was a good general of mine, and the first to father a live nephilim. I was grateful when he became willing to teach what he knew about delivering nephil children to our brothers, so at least they would be able to help their wives. Of course, it encouraged more carelessness, and finally I gave up trying to regulate them. It became common to have at least three nephilim in a village, and as many as fifty or sixty in a city.
I worried at first what these children would be like. I feared my brothers had been too changed by the war we had fought, that they were now vicious and their children would take after this change in them. Thankfully, they proved to be nearly ordinary, aside from their height. The boys grew up strong and hearty, but no more cruel than their peers, while the girls were cunning and beautiful--had their fathers’ brothers not taken a mutual oath not to lay hands on a nephil daughter, surely they all would have become mothers to a new breed of angelic offspring.
Asasel chose not to take a new bride, proving as monogamous as I had thought him to be. Semes, however, was soon father to a string of accidents throughout Uruk and beyond. I wondered how he hadn’t had any in Eridu, but considering that the first of his bastards came about after Bel shared his knowledge about aiding childbirth, I dare to think he had been restraining himself. And once he knew the process was “mostly” safe, my dear advisor had himself a ball. Unclaimed nephil bastards came to be called “Children of Anu,” a title that made Semes chuckle and shrug.
To everyone’s surprise, Semes’ unattached lifestyle came to an abrupt end. Na’amah the dancer had perished many years before, as humans did; no one was more unnerved than I to see a woman of her likeness march straight up to the palace of Uruk, a baby boy on her hip, demanding to see my advisor. Her name was Aya, and her soul was the same as that dancer, reborn with the same fire in her eyes. A bewildered guard brought her to the room where Semes and I poured over plans for an extension to the wall around our city. There, she gave me her son, grabbed a chair, and began to beat my advisor within an inch of his life. He proposed. They’ve been together ever since.
It was the morning that Aya was giving birth to her daughter, Erua, that Asasel approached me in the hall. He had a harried appearance, his dark skin still dusty from travel--I cringed to realize I had forgotten his absence for nearly a month while he had been on an expedition, exploring unclaimed territory. I had no sense of days anymore, lost in the fog of responsibility and leadership.
“I’ve found her,” he said, tears in his eyes.
“Found who?” I asked. I wanted to give him my full attention, but I could hear Aya’s moans from the room I guarded, and my concern for her absorbed me. She had become something of a friend since her arrival, a rare human that showed me no reverence, yet still smiled with respect. I had learned to love her like a sister, and as such, I was protective.
“Anatu,” he said, “She’s been reborn a nephilim in a human village, Arrata, in the unclaimed territory. They call her Inanna. She’s only seven years of age, but I knew her face. I was so glad...”
I startled, standing upright from the wall.
“Whose child?” I asked.
“She’s unclaimed, her mother may have migrated to the village after coupling with one of our brothers in Uruk. Another Child of Anu.”
Congratulations, Semes. I held my temples with one hand, feeling my daily headache coming on.
“I assume there’s some reason you didn’t bring her back with you.”
Asasel hesitated, never liking to bring me bad news. It wasn’t that I reacted poorly, I was always able to find some way of dealing with whatever life sprung on us, but being the considerate sort of man he didn’t like to add to my troubles. That’s why I trusted him with so much; he preferred to handle as much as he could on his own, and I liked it that way.
“Inanna’s mother died in childbirth, which meant she passed into the care of the village elders, who showed no fondness for her. But her beauty has drawn the eye of the human warlord that controls the village. He has claimed her as a wife, and will consummate the union after her first blood. He refused to surrender her and I could not risk a show of force in a village that might soon be integrated into our empire.”
He knelt into a deep bow, a sign of the utmost respect in our empire. I winced, not wanting to endure such a thing from him.
“I have no right to ask of this favor, but I must do so. My queen, if you would take pity on your faithful servant, I ask that you please send some negotiator into Arrata to gain Inanna’s release to me. I would like to bring her here, where I know she might be happy. I failed her in the last life; I could not bear to fail her again.”
I didn’t want to deny him this, but I feared what it would look like to outsiders if I delivered a young girl into the custody of my advisor, after previously taken such a hard stance against sexual advances towards children.
“You realize you won’t be allowed to marry her,” I said. “Even if you wait for her to reach an appropriate age, she’s still nephilim. We’ve all promised never to breed with our brothers’ children.”
“I know,” he promised. “She will be a daughter to me. I only seek to raise her well, and see that she’s married to a fellow nephilim worthy of her.”
I smiled. Asasel, ever principled. Despite my reservations, I knew I couldn’t deny his request.
“I will have Ningishzida sent to Arrata.” Ningishzida was Penemue’s name in this lifetime, because naturally he would choose the most ridiculous name he could find and make the rest of us pronounce it. “He will speak to the warlord on your behalf. If anyone can talk a madman out of a child-bride, it’s him. But he will have to bring a band of soldiers with him, I won’t have him alone if negotiations go south. Perhaps he can gather them from Kulaba, if that’s the nearest city loyal to us.”
“Thank you, Ninsun. You can’t know what this means to me.”
“It’s fine. Now please, stand and hug me like I’m common.”
He laughed, doing as I asked. His worries calmed, I shooed him off, wanting to focus my attention again on Aya and her birth. I wouldn’t let myself see her pain, unable to stomach it, but I wanted to be there the moment the child was born. Bel himself was helping her, and Semes had promised to hold her while she labored. For that, my worries about her safety were lessened, though my breath still caught when her moans turned to screams. My own womb tensed, imagining what she was going through. I felt useless.
At last, I heard a baby’s cry. I released a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, and eased back against the wall. Soon the door opened beside me, Semes standing there with a proud grin and hands stained with blood.
“Girl,” he declared, anticipating my question.
I blushed with joy, knowing it was a strange reaction, unable to help it.
“How does she compare to your others?” I teased.
“What others?” Semes chuckled. “Legitimately, I have only two children. Ohya and Erua, the most delightful children in all of Uruk.”
“I don’t know how Aya endures your stupidity.”
“The same way you do: one day at a time.”
He stepped aside, allowing me to go and see the child for myself. I found Bel washing his hands and arms in a basin, Aya sitting on the bed in a silk robe, letting her baby girl suckle at her breast. The second-time mother was still glowing with delight, rubbing her nose against the thin wisps of dark hair upon the child’s head, which was still misshapen from the difficult journey. Even so, the baby was beautiful. Big--arms and legs plump, even a bit of fat folding at her neck--but still quite attractive, with round doe-eyes and her mother’s pert nose, little fingers waving about as she tried to explore the air and have her meal at the same time.
“Pleasure, my lady,” Bel greeted, and I nodded in acknowledgement. We had a professional relationship, but as with most of my former generals, I kept him at a distance.
Aya looked up, realizing I watched her. She smiled, proudly displaying her child, not caring that doing so exposed her naked breasts.
“Erua, I’ve decided,” she said. “Doesn’t it suit her?”
“Semes told me,” I laughed. “It does. She’s lovely.”
Aya smiled, pleased. She offered the infant to me. I hesitated, having spent little time holding children since the war; still, I couldn’t refuse her. I cradled Erua, looking into her curious eyes, strangely proud of how much her face resembled the one I had shaped for Semes.
“Hurry up and have a son,” Aya said, “so she can marry him and be queen.”
I shook my head, letting Erua play with my hand. She was quite strong, I noticed. I wondered if all nephil children had such a grip so soon after birth.
“With what man?” I sighed.
“Any man, you’re the queen.” Aya gave me a look that said she couldn’t understand how I had asked such a question.
“It’s not that simple.”
“Don’t you get lonely?” she asked. “I’ve never even seen Asasel visit your room. What about Asasel?”
“He’s...fine. Who knows?”
I knew it was time to start considering succession. If reign wasn’t to be decided by my own blood, then I at least owed it to my people to name someone who would take my place. Still, after all these years, I remained a coward, petrified of decision. As I returned Erua to her mother’s arms, I thought again how much simpler my life would be if I could be like Aya: powerful, determined, overcoming one challenge and already rearing for another. I had no doubt Erua would be the next queen, if Aya didn’t somehow take that mantle for herself.
That night, I ended up looking after little Erua while her mother rested. I grew more fond of her all the time. Her head was already easing into roundness, and though she was sleepy, she still tried to keep her eyes open to see as much as she could of my bedchambers. I imagined how strange life must seem to her, who yesterday had known only the sound of Aya’s heartbeat, yet now was bombarded with all the ruckus of a palace and its people. I stroked her tuft of hair, watching her blue eyes wander this way and that, until at last they started to close.
“If I wait to get married, that means you’ll get to stay free for that much longer,” I murmured to her.
She gave a gummy yawn, then curled into my breast. I cradled her, feeling that empty longing in my heart. I did want a child. Maybe Aya was right, and I should just use some human man I could endure the sight of. It seemed so easy for my brothers to find a pair. Why was it I was still alone, after all this time?
Maybe it was just what I deserved. I who had fractured Heaven’s host for a cause we all could hardly remember, so distracted were my brothers with the task of raising their children that teaching the masses of mankind was a distant priority at best. These nephilim were my legacy. It should have been enough to me that they were alive, proof that angel and man weren’t so different. I wondered if Michael cared.
For the briefest of moments, I remembered resting my head in Saraquel’s fur at the end of a long day. I remembered him licking my neck, and how that made me blush, and smile. Seeing Erua sleeping happily in my arms, I was almost as happy as I was then.