A Dance for the Fallen

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Nephilim

Enoch, you scribe of righteousness, go, tell the Watchers of heaven who have left the high heaven, the holy eternal place, and have defiled themselves with women, and have done as the children of earth do, and have taken to themselves wives:

“You have done great destruction on the earth: And you shall have no peace nor forgiveness of sin:

Since they delight themselves in their children, They shall see the murder of their beloved ones, and the destruction of their children, and they shall lament, and shall make supplication forever, you will receive neither mercy or peace.”

--1 Enoch 12:4-6


Ninsun

Lugalbanda and I didn’t have as much time for one another after Gilgamesh was born; I’m certain that’s common. Between raising our son and our respective duties, there wasn’t time to think of each other much at all, except for when we collapsed into sleep together at nightfall. It was a blessing in disguise really, as defending just one child from Heaven’s constant attack was a torturous exercise of mental and physical effort. To split resources between Gilgamesh and a sibling was simply out of the question.

I assume now that that was Heaven’s game all along, as they could have killed Gilgamesh easily had they concentrated the whole of their power on it. No, their halfhearted attempts now and again were enough to keep us on edge, all along spreading their unseen tendrils across Sumer, coyly positioning their pieces while my husband and I batted at pawns. I saw how alone my poor child was, suffering an environment that hated him without cause, but we were doing all we could do to keep him upright. And no one did more for him than Lugalbanda. Hard as it was to let him beat our son into a soldier, he was right that Gilgamesh couldn’t afford to be weak. Our immortality was no longer guaranteed; though king and queen, we were still but fugitives of paradise--and with no eyes but Semes’ on the battlefield we left behind, we were blind to the intentions of our bondholders.

The dog was a good idea, as much as Lugalbanda resisted it. I imagine keeping any animal as a servant gave him an understandable chill. Even so, Enkidu was an effective warning system whenever something unnatural approached, allowing my husband or I to dismantle the problem before it could further taint Gilgamesh’s sense of the world. I know that a psyche can only experience so much before it shuts down. If he had to experience such trauma, let it be in adulthood, when his mind was fully formed and could survive the scars. We just had to get him to adulthood.

That’s not to say we let the distance divide us, Lugal and I. Still very much in love, it seemed enough to sit in silence together when we could, letting him hold me and kiss me as he liked, savoring stillness after the constant pressure of our days. In all truth, I would have given him another child gladly--I would have given him twenty--but he was restrained. I doubt he wanted to be distracted from Gilgamesh, and another pregnancy was apt to do that, at the very least.

We coupled fully only one day of the month, on the full moon, after I had spent five days drinking an herb potion Semes prescribed to postpone ovulation. (Naturally I could have just stopped my cycle, but I prefer not to change the natural order of things.) I worried Lugalbanda would grow bored with the routine of it, but he always found new ways to surprise me. I think he liked the challenge. He had me on the balcony, in the gardens, once in the servants’ closets because no one would dare disturb us nor speak of the incident after the fact, which he found hilarious. He kept his strange sense of humor, despite it all. Above all else, I admired that in him.

Needless to say, he never missed his chance during a full moon. Every month for more than fifteen years we had come together--until one night, when we met in the baths beneath the palace. I was anxious for him already when he waded into the water behind me, gently sliding his hand around my abdomen to turn me to him. I felt he was still wearing his pants. I turned to find him strangely pensive, indeed only half nude, unable to look at me. I cupped his face, forcing him to meet my gaze.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It’s nothing.”

He lifted my hands away by my wrists, kissing me, not with lust but with apology. I felt my heart sink.

“It might be time we...talk. Again,” he said at last.

I didn’t like the sound of that. I swallowed my unease, reassembling my queenly rationality. It was all right, I told myself. We had to miss a day eventually.

“You don’t usually like to talk.”

“I don’t,” he admitted. “I just don’t think we...I can, tonight.”

“Did something happen?”

“No,” he said, perhaps too quickly.

“Is it something I did? Something wrong with the way I look?”

“No, never,” he said, pulling my bare hips against his wet garments, resting his forehead against mine. He held my cheek; I leaned into his touch, consoled against my will. “By Heaven, I would have you now, if I could just...”

His jaw tightened. I caught his sights shifting back towards the stairway, though I could see nothing. I brushed his long hair from his face, and he was calmed once more.

“Finish your bath,” he urged, kind. “Might as well get something out of tonight. I’ll see you in our chambers. By the time you’re there, my head will be clear enough to converse.”

“If I must.”

We parted ways, leaving me anxious and unfulfilled. As worried as I was about what preoccupied his mind, I confess that as I dried myself, I was plotting ways I might tempt him into bed regardless. I half realized how spoiled I was, seeing as I had once gone millennia without copulating and now denied a single night I was ready to start baying at the moon. Trying to recall my dignity, I finally dressed myself, breathing to cool my passions before ascending the stairs. Calm, I told myself.

My husband was in our bedchambers, as promised. He sat at the small table by the window, where he poured two cups of tea. A fire smoldered in the fireplace, becoming more necessary as autumn came to an end. Our winters were brisk, though the climate was kind enough to spare us ice. The climate was kind in general--one of the many reasons the region had once been chosen for the Watchers’ experiment.

“Sit,” he said, always curt. “Fruit tea. It’ll take your mind off it.”

He didn’t help matters by wearing nothing but linen drawers, his movements showing off the flexing of each tight muscle in his back. I counted my breaths, sat across from him, and promptly burned my tongue with a sip. He chuckled, noting my pained irritation.

“Here.”

He dipped the back of a spoon into the honey jar, then leaned over the table and pressed it between my lips. I let him slip it inside, press my tongue down with the cool, sweet metal. Slowly, I sucked the nectar away, hating him, loving him.

To his credit, he kissed me when the spoon returned to the saucer. Whatever prevented him from touching me that night, it must have been grave. I sighed, allowing us to part.

“Alright,” I said. “Talk.”

Lugalbanda smiled, a gentle smile he only ever gave in my company, before his gaze shifted to the window beside us. He drew back the curtain, revealing the stunning moon that seemed so near us.

“In Kulaba, no one knew that the moon changed in phases,” he mused. “I found it strange to have to explain it--it’s a fact I’ve always taken for granted. I spent so many nights alone in Eridu, staring up at the sky through the bars on my window, I came to understand the pattern of it. I counted my days by the shape of the moon against the stars. For no reason, at first. Then I met you, and the changing moon became the measure of time by which I had last seen you.”

Embarrassed, even after all these years, I averted my eyes from him and stared where he did. The sky was indeed beautiful, that night.

“Heaven’s moons are lovely as well,” I murmured.

He shook his head.

“I found they made the sky too bright. I prefer this.”

Distracted, he let the curtain fall somewhat back into place.

“I had to teach the humans of Kulaba to look at their own moon. I know that they are not like me, that they had neither reason nor time to notice it as I did, yet still a part of me was frustrated by how little they cared. Few believed me either, even when I proved that it would change exactly as I said it would night to night--even when a handful did stop mocking the ‘dipshit guard boy’ and consider my teachings, it was isolating to know that they could not truly appreciate the phenomenon as I could. I can stare at the moon for hours and never grow tired of its beauty. Tell me, love: is that a behavior of angels, or a strangeness of my own?”

His question was earnest. I folded my arms, closing my eyes as I gave it the contemplation it deserved. I did gaze at the moon now and then; I knew in the back of my mind its patterns, the way I knew the color red from brown or how long it took seeds to sprout. Personally, I had never considered it important enough to teach, although it was wise of him to use it as a time-keeping tool. Yet I knew Asasel had referred often to the moon when he was in the fields with men, and Semes had a particular kinship with its phases. It made sense. We angels were specialized, after all. There was much in the world to know, making it natural to focus on what aspects resonated most strongly with our essence.

“It is both,” I replied. “You are likely unique in your sort of attention to it, as it is not like Asasel’s or Semes’. But that is because Father shaped each of us to be unlike our brothers. For whatever reason, He wanted you to love the moon.”

“It is because I am an angel I am unlike all others.”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe it is inherent to angels, then, to be lonely?”

“Not necessarily,” I said, regarding him again. “Our brothers found mates among mankind. We found each other.”

“Do you really think it is the same to love a human, as it is to love another of us? Could you ever love a human?”

“I...”

It was difficult to answer that question. Considering how much I didn’t want to question my brothers’ actions, I almost couldn’t answer.

“...to be honest...I don’t find it a fair love,” I admitted, despite myself. “We know so much, and they so little. To love a human is to always be a teacher, having every advantage while your partner can only support you with praise. I couldn’t stand it. It seems...hollow.”

“I can't speak for the love our brothers bear their wives,” he said. “I can desire none other than you. We are different from one another, but our cores are the same. I am an inferno, you a candle’s flame. If I am white rapids, you are the gentle stream. We can understand the others’ attributes because we are two sides of the same coin. No human could ever be the part of me I am lacking--they could not be wise for my folly, not calm while I rage. I remember the all-consuming loneliness of the world before I met you, and I would not return to it. That said...”

He allowed the curtain to fall shut.

“Gilgamesh is lonely. And I fear it is our doing.”

“That’s what has you so distraught?” I asked, startled. “He is young, struggling with one’s place is part of that.”

“That’s true, but this is different. You must sense it.”

As much as it pained me to think of it, I had noticed Gilgamesh becoming more withdrawn in recent months, his smile rarer than it had been. Even when I glimpsed him in Ohya’s company, he appeared distant. He was growing so quickly into manhood, yet it was becoming clear that we had not fully considered what sort of life awaited him there.

“He has Erua,” I said. “Perhaps she can be the anchor for him that I am for you.”

“Erua is concerned primarily with her own survival. That is a trait of mankind passed to all the nephilim I’ve encountered, and one that does not lend well to the selfless union that he seeks. That I sought. I know you would never put yourself before me; that is why I am secure in placing you before myself. Humans are not capable of that, for their own good. Life on Earth is too harsh to risk such a thing. They love, but never more than they must love themselves.”

“They’ll sacrifice themselves for their children,” I protested.

“Their children are their immortality. It is an extension of the love they bear themselves.”

“So you say...”

For a long moment, I studied him. I saw the stubble lining his jaw, the shadows beneath his eyes developed after years of waking at Gilgamesh’s call, fretting over his existence. His rough hand wrapped around the table’s edge, knuckles tight as he stared off, shouldering some terrible truth I wasn’t brave enough to hear. At last, I sighed.

“What is it you suggest?” I asked. “If he can find no solace in mankind, nor in his cousins, and there are no female angels for him to court, then...”

He watched me, waiting for me to understand.

“You ask a sister for him,” I said.

“I must.”

“To marry?”

“All species begin under similar circumstances. We can ask Semes’ counsel to verify its safety, but I can imagine no alternative. Gilgamesh need not perish as the only elohim.”

A secret part of me had hoped that he might ask. Yet now that the day had arrived, I was hesitant, more than hesitant. The danger would only increase now, if we pressed forward. We were lucky, that was the only reason we had survived this long. But I was too in love with him.

“Give me time,” I said, after a long silence. “Let me speak to my advisors, and Gilgamesh. It isn’t a decision we should make alone.” Besides, the herbs would have to leave my system.

“Your advisors, yes,” he said. “But not Gilgamesh.”

“This concerns him, why would I not speak to him?”

“I don’t want him to see his sister as his future wife. We should tell them both when they reach an appropriate age to decide for themselves.”

Reluctant as I was to withhold from my son, I saw his point.

“...very well,” I conceded.

With just a twitch of his finger, I was compelled to leave my seat and join him in his. Comfortable in his lap, I slid my hands up his bare back, while his strong arms encircled me. He kissed me like he needed me, increasing my disappointment with the somber tone for the evening. Still, it was enough to be close to him again.

“On the bright side...” He chuckled. “I won’t have to restrain myself, anymore.”

I wanted to slide my hands lower, freeing him to be as unrestrained as he liked, but his eyes told me no. I knew he didn’t want to elaborate. As much as he denied it, his pride was a delicate fortress. Despite myself, I pressed.

“Why is it thoughts of Gilgamesh have you so...unequipped?” I asked.

His shoulders tightened. He avoided my sights, until finally he managed a reply.

“...I caught him pleasuring himself to some carving on the wall. It made me lose my appetite.”

I burst into laughter. I couldn’t help it. I nearly fell out of Lugal’s lap imagining it, unable to stop my laughter even for his irritation.

“Well...he’s a growing boy,” I said.

“Oh, shut up.”

“Which carving?”

“Does it matter? I don’t want to talk about it.”

My husband endured my laughter; I delighted in his discomfort and my own relief that the truth had not been worse. Soon he hushed me with his lips, and I was comforted, at last willing to postpone my lust.

“Let us go to the balcony and watch the stars,” he said. “It’s still a beautiful night.”

I pressed gently into his neck, savoring his warmth.

“If you carry me,” I murmured.

Effortless, he lifted me in his arms. We would spend the evening out there, a blanket beneath us so we could lay upon the stone, observing the galaxy from Father’s favorite planet. Hands entwined between us, my knuckles often touched to his lips, we were united in the simplest of ways. It was not the night I had expected, yet it was joyous all the same. I was made to forget how anxious I should have been, this arrangement for Gilgamesh’s future a strange one, hanging in the air with a presence all its own. For now though, we were content. Since becoming a mother, I had learned to think no further than the day ahead.


To my surprise, Semes had no reservations.

“Go for it,” he laughed. “I’m more surprised he doesn’t have siblings already.”

He dismissed my worries about genetic abnormalities, saying that the bodies I had built were perfect on a cellular level; if anything, there was more risk of abnormal grandchildren from human or nephilim mothers than if Gilgamesh impregnated his sister. Asasel echoed this blasé sentiment, though at the time he was distracted by his own infant grandson, left in his charge while Inanna was wherever she had gone.

“Heaven has been beating their fists on their chest for the better part of fifteen years,” he said, letting the red-faced child suck on his finger. “If they were going to do something substantial, they’d have done it already. We’ll train more guards if we must. If this is what’s best for your family, we’ll stand behind you.”

Although I had no professional need for it, I even sought support from Aya, perhaps hoping she might stray my mind from wanting this so deeply. It would decide the future of the angelic race, a true continuation of Father’s very first creations. Angels would always walk among man, if I was allowed this.

“What are you scared of, people in Heaven?” she asked me.

“It’s dangerous to provoke them,” I explained. “With how they reacted to Gilgamesh, having another baby could make things worse for everyone.”

Aya scoffed, hardly looking up at me from the tiny design she etched on a vase. The work was admirable.

“You’re the all-powerful Queen of Sumer. Enlil’s tits, you can bend metal with your mind, what can they possibly do to you?” I didn’t want to ponder it, so I let her continue. “They kept on saying Gilgamesh was going to be a nasty vermin baby, and look, he turned out fine. Clever, good with a spear, handsome to boot. So forget Heaven or whatever cult in the hills you’re worried about upsetting. Do what you want. Be a queen.”

With the consent of those dear to me, we had no further reason to delay. Lugalbanda and I abandoned all restriction on our affections: he was again the beast I remembered, snatching me away the moment my duties ended to fill me from every end. Of course, I knew at once when I was pregnant--unlike with Gilgamesh, whose conception I had allowed to happen by all the random workings of our systems, I knew this time it had to be a girl. With focus, I ensured that of the seed Lugal provided, only ones of female stock would survive within me. When I felt the spark of life take, I could be as relaxed as he when we made love.

It was strange to be with child again. I almost didn’t notice it, at first. Life continued on as it had before: reading reports of livestock, meeting representatives from outlying villages, determining with Semes how to ration grain stores to struggling villages. I was nauseous some mornings, strange aches returning, nothing that couldn’t be ignored. The only change that concerned me was how Gilgamesh had begun to avoid me. I worried he might have guessed my condition and felt betrayed in some way, but he couldn’t have known. No one would for weeks yet.

At last, I cornered him one day. I found my son in the kitchens, sitting on a table as he polished off the ribs of a gazelle. He tossed a finished bone to Enkidu on the floor, who looked to be having a grand time trying to decide which end he wanted to chew first. I tried to catch his gaze even as I approached him, but he turned away even then, sucking on the bone he had in hand.

“What?” he mumbled around it. “Did Erua complain about me?”

“What would she complain about?” I asked, now suspicious.

His face flushed even as he shrugged; he tried to be as nonchalant as his father, but with my coloring, he had a much harder time of it. He set the bone back on the plate. Enkidu whined, begging for it, but Gilgamesh pressed him away with his bare foot. For a child raised in the luxuries of a palace, Gilgamesh always had a touch of the wild about him.

“Just tell me what you’re here for, Mother.”

I knelt down to comfort Enkidu, stroking his neck with a small smile. Distracted, he licked at my arm, only slightly disappointed it wasn’t gazelle. After this moment to gather my courage, I spoke gently.

“I want to give you some news. Good news, I hope.”

He finally looked at me, easing into my presence.

“I’m listening,” he said.

“I’m having a baby. You’ll have a little sister, come summer.”

I don’t know what would have constituted a normal reaction to this. He was just quiet, struck hard by the words. Violet eyes set on me, lips opening soundless, closing, grasping at words that wouldn’t come. When he did manage to respond, he surprised me:

“Is this what you want?” he asked. “Or were you worried I was too alone?”

His perceptiveness caught me off guard. I know shouldn’t have been so surprised--he was an angel, after all. I stood, reaching to gently turn his face to mine. He refused still to meet my eyes, but he leaned into my palm. My thumb passed softly along the roughness of his cheek, my heart aching to recall when his cheeks had been so smooth and plump, his tiny fingers tangled in my hair.

“I want it very much,” I said. “I’m thrilled, I can hardly contain it.”

Hearing this, he softened to me.

“What are you going to call her?”

“Peshkur.”

It meant beauty. No matter how she looked, she would be beautiful to me. And hearing this, at long last, Gilgamesh smiled.

“...I can’t wait to meet her,” he said.

He struggled only at first when I embraced him, tired of resisting the impulse. I kissed his cheek and nuzzled his blond hair, remembering when he was small enough that I could sit him in a basin to rinse it. His hair had been lighter then, sometimes white. It grew so fast.

“Hey, hey, that’s enough,” he complained.

“Hush, let me hug my baby.”

“Mother, please, I’m too old for this.”

I finally released him, letting him snatch up the ribs again. I caught him smiling still against the meat, as he crossed his legs on the table, turning from me. Above all, I was happy to see his smile again.

“Let me know if you need anything, ok?” he asked, when he saw me leaving.

“I’ll be fine,” I promised.

Just like that, all was well. Enkidu gave me parting lick before bounding back to Gilgamesh, whining for a handout.

When I passed Erua in the hall, amused to think she might be looking for my son, I stopped her. She really was a charming girl, statuesque, with full lips always drawn into a pout. Although she protested painting her face as Inanna did, she had features fortunate enough that she already seemed to have shadowed lids and thick lashes; the way she moved, it was like dancing. Some part of me did hope Gilgamesh would fall for her, proving Lugal and I wrong.

“Don’t let him give you a hard time,” I said. “He’s soft, beneath the grumbling.”

Erua huffed.

“He’s lucky I like him.”

“What did he do?”

She turned as red as he had, folding her arms tight.

“None of your business, your majesty,” she said, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Fine. Go on, then. He’s in the kitchen.”

I watched her storm down the hall, reminding me of Aya on the prowl for Semes after an unannounced trip outside the palace. Erua, Ohya, and Inanna, the nephilim I had watched grow into fine young citizens, far from the monsters Heaven had declared them to be. Perhaps they were a small sample to draw from--but they were a world unto themselves. Feisty Erua, mischievous Ohya, and the stunning Inanna: flawed, remarkable, and so very human.


The letter came five months after I conceived, as it had when I carried Gilgamesh.

False Goddess, Servant of Darkness:

You have ignored the word of Heaven. Now, you have gone so far as to mold a bride for your abomination, so that your curse may be perpetuated upon the Lord’s planet forevermore.

You have one chance to divert the destruction you have wrought. Kill your husband and your son. If this is done, the Lord’s wrath will spare you and your corruption. If it is not, the rains will come, and all will be purged.

So decrees Michael, Most Holy Messenger of Heaven.

I wept. For days, I could do nothing but weep. I had no response to this, no plan, nothing that could make this warning any less. I knew in my heart that this was not like it had been before, that this was not something we could subvert. The rains that plagued my dreams were invoked in those words, weaving the spell that would end us.

Unable to face it, I locked myself in my chambers, refusing to see anyone. I couldn’t bear the sight of the world, my husband, my son. When I saw them, I saw only the death I had witnessed in Heaven--the broken bodies strewn across the battlefield, disembodied souls sucked into the atmosphere, the screams. I couldn’t see them. Locked away, all I had was my shaking and the squirming tiny life within me, unaware of what her existence had wrought. She couldn’t be blamed; the fault was mine. All of it, again, in ruin.

I don’t know how Lugalbanda broke the lock. I only remember waking to find his hand on my shoulder, squeezing tight. When I lifted myself from the sheets where I had made my home, he kissed me, a strong kiss that said there was nothing he couldn’t fix.

“Semes has a plan,” he said, as my tears spilled again. “Come out of your room, love. Let me wash you, dress you, hold you. Then we’ll tell you how this gets solved.”

I didn’t have the strength to resist him. I saw him through a watery haze, half realizing I hadn’t eaten or slept. I thought I could face anything for the sake of my people--I had, for centuries. But when the crisis hit this close to my heart, it turned out my power was forged from ice, not stone. It shattered.

“It’s all my fault,” I whispered, the mantra that had replaced food and dreams. “It’s all my fault...all my fault...”

He got me upright. He picked a dress from my wardrobe, tossing it over his shoulder before he took my hand, making me walk all the way down to the baths. As always, he did as he promised. He washed me, dried me, dressed me in my favorite gown. Lugalbanda led his half-dead wife to the kitchens, where he presented plates of fruits, patient while I slowly remembered how to chew. Only when I was full, feeling almost like a person, did his arms encircle me. He cradled my swollen middle, leaving kisses along my neck. Slowly, I could feel my own heart beat once more.

“It’s not your fault,” he said.

“...I don’t believe you.”

“Believe me, for our daughter’s sake. This isn’t your doing. This is Michael’s out of control ego, and I’m not going to let him do this to you again.”

“We can’t win.”

“We can. We will.”

Hand in hand, like children, he brought me to Semes’ chamber of glass. Within, there was my advisor, Asasel, Tammuz, Ningishzida, and Gilgamesh. With our arrival, all of the angels residing within Uruk were present. Ningishzida, usually so aloof, regarded me with the deepest sympathy; Tammuz, who I regarded very rarely, appeared uncomfortably calm.

“It is good to see you again, my queen,” Semes greeted, seated already at the center of the room. I noticed his crystals were arranged in stranger shapes than they had been.

Gilgamesh was seated across from him, somber. There were certainly no merry spirits present, but my son’s heartbreak hurt me most of all. I knelt beside him, no longer hesitant to pull him close. He leaned his head against my breast, silent, letting me caress his shoulders in comfort I wished could be sincere. My husband took a place beside me, his hand on my back.

“The plan is simple, but it will not be easy for any of you,” Semes began, once more my commander. “Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh have agreed to see it through, should you agree to it.”

“Just say it.” I had no alternative with which to argue.

“Heaven is not omnipotent. Gilgamesh and his father can be warded from its gaze; that done, Ningishzida need only make the announcement that the two of them have perished, and that you will rule alone until Peshkur is of age to take your place. However, the followers of Yahweh serve as Heaven’s eyes on earth, and we have no way of knowing which of humankind might be among their numbers. The only way this will work is if the two of them leave the palace, permanently. They must be sent as far away as possible, where no one will know their names.”

My heart seized. I clutched to Gilgamesh, who could only nod, silent. I was losing them.

“Is exile the only option?” I begged.

“If Michael has learned to control the climate, he will decimate your empire,” Lugalbanda said, remorse in his touch. “We can’t ask you to sacrifice multitudes for the sake of two men. This is what’s right.”

“This way, we get to live,” Gilgamesh managed. “It’s still selfish, but we can’t make you to kill us, either.”

“Unless you wish it,” said my husband.

“Never say that again.”

“So exile it must be,” Semes sighed. “I have already made arrangements for them to meet an honorable general unassigned to any major responsibilities. Ramuel has been acting as a healer in the remote regions of the north. I believe they should regroup with him and take passage through the mountains to the unpopulated regions beyond. Once Heaven has shifted its attentions, perhaps they can reintegrate among some village elsewhere, under new names.”

I would never see them again. I would never cut Gilgamesh’s hair again; Lugalbanda would never wake me with petals on my lips. That time was gone. I was staring into a cold future without them, their smiles, their fights. Even though they were with me then, it seemed already they were too far for me to reach.

“Tammuz has agreed to resume his role as guard-captain,” Asasel said, with a calming tone. “I will stay near as well, to see that you and the child remain safe. You will not have to go through this alone.”

I gave a nod, though my head felt too heavy. Like before, Asasel and Semes looked at me, waiting for me to be their leader. Gilgamesh in my arms, Lugalbanda around me, this scene was no different than that day in the tower.

“For the empire,” I said--the queen said, the frightened angel behind her was lost to grief, disappearing into an icy black shadow. “Let them be warded. Someday, perhaps, we will all meet again.”

The warding was an elaborate design of sigils, tattooed across the whole of their backs. Lugalbanda was silent as he endured Semes’ knife, staring at a fixed point on the wall for all the hours it took. Gilgamesh tried to be just as quiet, but I saw tears in his eyes, and I held his hand. He had never been subjected to such pain, I knew, not even from his father’s beatings. I held his hand tight, afraid that this was going to be the first of worse pains, and that they would one day make him into a man I could no longer recognize.

The day that they were healed, they were dressed in servants’ clothes and given enough food for the caravans’ journey. Asasel asked to meet the three of us before departure, to provide a parting gift.

“I’ve made earrings of amethyst for you and your king,” he said, presenting a single pair of beautiful design. “They were forged from a single gem, split in twain. Amethyst in its natural state enhances psychic connection; with Semes’ blessing, these should now allow a subtle bond between you. May Lugalbanda wear his on the right ear, and you on the left. As long as they’re worn, you’ll be able to feel the others’ presence.”

No words could express my gratitude for such a gift. We each took the earring, securing them as he suggested. At once, I could feel Lugalbanda’s strength as though it were a part of the air I breathed. I looked at him, and knew at once that he wanted to kiss me, that he always wanted to kiss me, but was holding himself back.

“For the prince, I have a ring. Its ruby is from that same mother gem set in the queen’s crown. Ruby offers protection and prosperity, its glow reminiscent of the inextinguishable fires burning deep within the earth. With Semes’ blessing, it will warn you of impending danger. May you see it and remember your rightful place.”

The ring fit well on Gilgamesh’s hand. He curled his fingers in, hiding its gleam with his other hand, as if afraid already that it would be stolen from him. How strange a sight it was to see him in plain, ill-fitting garments, shadows starting beneath his eyes. When he managed a smile, noticing my gaze, it was all I could do not to sob.

“I always wanted an adventure,” he said. “Like Father’s stories.”

“His stories are lies,” I choked.

“Not always,” Lugalbanda replied.

At last, my husband let himself kiss me. I gave in, clinging tight, feeling the baby protest when squeezed against his taut abdomen. His taste, his scent, his touch, I would memorize it all.

“I’ll find you in your dreams, if I must,” he whispered. “Sing to Peshkur, for me.”

They were loaded onto the caravan, like livestock. I stood in the center of the road, watching it go, hearing the human driver hollering at his horses and the wheeling bouncing over cobblestone. I would have traded every brick of gold, every jewel, every village, for the right to stop them.

I wondered if Gilgamesh would miss Enkidu, who was to be given to a nearby farmer and his wife. I wondered if Enkidu would miss him.

“It looks like rain, your highness,” Asasel said, his hand on my shoulder.

I nodded. Together, we would return to the palace.


The day Methuselah arrived, I was in the throne room. Ningishzida’s twins, four-year-old Mageshgetil and Bauninsheg--the boy was Mageshgetil and the girl was Bauninsheg, and to spare myself the headache, I called them Mages and Bau--were playing at my feet. Asasel stood by my side, Tammuz with two of his men nearby. It was the one day when we allowed the citizens of Uruk to have audience with me, if they arrived at the appropriate time. It was a day of presentation. I wore my crown, a fine dress, my jewels, my earring. I was grateful the throne was padded, as my child’s weight had begun to wear on me. Two months gone, since I lost my family. As long as I didn’t think of them, misery couldn’t hold me.

An armored guard escorted the man into the chamber. He was ordinary, as far as I could tell, yet he was older than any human I had ever seen: dark skin folded with wrinkles, his beard long and gray. I found it strange that he wore long black robes, when black dye was a rarity in this part of the empire.

“Methuselah, Son of Enoch,” the guard introduced.

“He may speak,” I said.

The little girl, Bau, tugged gently on my skirt. I lifted her onto my knee, wondering why she seemed so afraid. Her brother Mages had fled to Asasel, hiding behind his armor, barely braving a glimpse of the strange, wrinkled man.

“I have been sent by Heaven above to bring your sentence,” said Methuselah. “Because you have defied your betters, you must witness as the Lord purges the world of the evil you have unleashed upon it. As my father Enoch ascended to Heaven as reward for his purity, you shall be drowned with your filth and all vestige of your corruption.”

I stood with Bau in my arms, anger rising, horror mounting in me.

“Remove him,” I commanded--but my guards did not move.

“All who saw my father’s ascension know the reward for our belief. The righteous pillage Uruk in preparation for the coming flood. My grandson builds an ark that will save only the best of us, for we have been promised this land when it is cleansed. Only one angel of flesh has proven themselves worthy of salvation--he will assert his loyalty here, now.”

Asasel had drawn his sword, realizing the guards had turned against us, knowing there wasn’t time for questions. He hadn’t left the platform when Tammuz slit his throat. My guard-captain rose covered in my friend’s blood, expressing nothing on the face I had shaped for him.

Then, I couldn’t hear Bau screaming, or feel Mages rush to my skirt in fear. Tammuz, the whiskered general I felt nothing for, had made me pay for my indifference.

“The abominations called nephilim will be seized before the reckoning. The sons will kill each other, and the daughters will be subjugated by the worthy.”

“Why?” I demanded, hysterical. “Why any of this?!”

I could only still stand because Bau was screaming, because Mages was crying into my skirt.

“It is the will of Heaven,” Methuselah declared, indifferent to shrieks and sorrow.

Tammuz wrenched Bau from my grasp, another of his guards prying Mages away. Flames leapt from my hands when other guards grabbed me, but their skin wouldn’t burn, warded against me. Heaven had warded their followers against all of us. Somewhere in the palace Aya cried as Erua was taken, Semes powerless to defend Ohya. Asasel was nothing more than a bloody heap, Inanna and Cara left without a protector, as the men my husband trained turned one by one.

“Just kill me now,” I begged no one, clutching at the sleeve Bau had stained with her tears, at the mercy of the wrinkled man and his belief. “Spare my people--it’s my life you want.”

The stranger’s final revelation came down on me like iron, merciless as their God.

“Michael decrees that you will be locked in the tower as the rain falls. You will be the last to drown.”

“By the power of the most holy,” my guard hollered, sword to my throat.

“Heaven be sated,” Methuselah declared.

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