A Dance for the Fallen

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Whereupon did Gilgamesh and Enkidu clasp their hands, each to the other, and go together unto the Temple Sublime to stand in the presence of Ninsun, the Great Wild Cow Goddess. Into the Temple Sublime did Gilgamesh enter first and stand before Ninsun, the Great Queen.

Gilgamesh spoke these words unto Ninsun, “I travel, O Ninsun, my mother, upon a distant road to the place wherein Humbaba abides. Unknown to me is the path I must take. Unknown to me is the outcome of the battle. Of you I beseech your blessing that I may behold your face once again upon my safe return.”

--The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet III


I didn’t recognize the angel who freed me. Yet, his manner, his voice, all had a pattern about them that I thought I remembered. Delirious, I almost thought him my beloved. That made me all the guiltier when I fled, unable to think of his fate after what had been done to me. Even then, I might have gone back, had I not desperately wanted to find my son.

The veil was a dark, disorienting realm. I had not navigated it since I was by Father’s side--without his guidance, I found myself drifting, lost in it. It is a place where many layers exist simultaneously, an image that changes according to ones’ focus with little reason behind it. The rules of neither Heaven nor Earth have any sway, there. One moment I found myself in an uninhabited desert; the next, I was in a forest surrounded by oblivious animal spirits, bounding through my body as though I were air. Whispers bombarded my senses in languages I had never known. I could feel myself fading away, all sense of myself dissipating into shadow.

There came the child’s voice again, soft, yet louder than anything else.

“They call you Ninsun,” it said. “Hear them?”

My former name, the kind blessing. Whether this voice was a hallucination of my own inner self, or if it was Father’s long-missed kindness, I couldn’t say. All I could do was close off my senses, focusing only on the whispers. Finally, I heard it.

Ninsun, O Ninsun.

Whispers. Prayers. A chorus of people speaking the language like that of Sumer, the energy of their fervor wrapping me like a cloak. It held me, guided me. I followed it through the changing landscape, through darkness and auroras, until I suddenly found myself in the land between two rivers. I followed the beautiful Euphrates, its blue waters unable to reflect my form. I found great walls, of a great city that felt like Uruk, but grander. Children played in the streets; men haggled with coin, coin made just how Asasel had taught them. Elaborate tapestries sheltered the market from the harsh sun. All around, there was the sound of music, and laughter.

The voices drew me towards a temple, almost as large as the one built for our Father in Heaven. It was held up by fine columns, smooth stone polished to a gleam. I reached out to touch one, only to find that I couldn’t feel it, my hand passing through it until I felt its energetic core, that was not the stone I should have felt. I mourned my body, the one I could no longer remember how to make.

“Praise Ninsun, you’ve returned in one piece!”

An unidentified voice, a woman’s voice, jerked me from the column to somewhere else. I was now before the palace, larger than the palace I had known, where a chariot had drawn up to a large welcome party. Little blonde children flocked the sides, a teenager pestering the horses, while the guest of honor dismounted. He was tall, his golden mane wild, rivaling that of the lion skin draped around his shoulders; bearded, grinning, strong and powerful, was my son Gilgamesh.

“One piece indeed,” he laughed, stooping down to scoop up one of his littlest, a boy who immediately began to play with the lion’s limp jaws. “I am glad to know one of my wives still cares enough to feign relief at my return.”

The dark-skinned woman he spoke to smiled, sheepish, younger than I thought she might be. Two other women were there to meet him: one was dark as well, older, her hair braided elaborately, a child in her arms; the other was tall, pale, elegant and familiar. Erua--I was beside myself with relief. Gilgamesh kissed each of them in turns, though he betrayed favor to the human wives over Erua. When I noticed both their bellies were rounding with child, I forgave him.

I wanted more than anything to be reunited with him, then. I wanted to ask the names of all his children, his wives; I wanted to know how he had rebuilt the kingdom so beautifully, and how it had come to be called Babylon, the name whispered on the winds. I reached for him, hoping by some miracle he might feel me--but he could not. My hand passed through him, as it had the stone, unable to even touch the energy within him. Helpless, I could only watch him converse curtly with Erua before coddling his young daughter, the only one I could see. My son was right beside me, too far to reach.

Eventually, my frustration forced me to leave his side. I wanted to weep, devastated by it, yet that seemed pointless without the muscles to do so. I was forced to endure my unshed sadness, like a cloud laden with water still too light to fall. Wandering the halls of the palace he had made, I came to the courtyard. Here was the garden, seeded differently than before. The flowers were fewer, but I recognized herbs, and vegetables. Gilgamesh was tending resources for his family, in case farmland couldn’t provide. He surprised me, even now.

A small, green snake slithered along the dark earth, giving me a start. Although I loved all creatures in an abstract sense, serpents were one of Earth’s creatures that I never had much fondness for. They were simplistic, ruled by their survival instinct, and killed in the most disturbing of ways. Yet I had a strange thought, then. Lacking mammalian complexity, their brains were operated by electric impulses not unlike the machines of Heaven. Perhaps I could manipulate this creature like one of those machines, to bridge the veil and the physical.

I concentrated. I found threads of air tethered to the serpent, crafting my intention for him, seeing my power sink into his lithe form. The green thing only twitched, at first. Then, it slithered where I wished.

Practicing, I guided it out of the courtyard, along the dark corners of the halls where none would observe it. I led the little creature all the way back to the temple columns, because that was where my soul was being drawn. I felt young with delight. Now I knew why Semyaza had never feared dabbling in the veil, being without a body, because he could touch the world without one.

The inside of the temple was more overwhelming than I could have imagined. Within, there were two great statues: a likeness of myself, seated beside a likeness of my love. Before these was a stone altar, decorated with fresh flowers and beautiful gems, as well as three bowls that held a sweet, burning aroma.

I finally saw why I had been drawn here. My son knelt on the steps before the statues, before the altar. His lion pelt was shed, all adornment left behind after the journey--except the ring on his finger, its ruby bright as the day he left. Freshly shaved, hair drawn back, he wore clothes as simple as he had for his exile. Great hands clasped tight, he prayed.

“Ninsun, Goddess of Prosperity, of the wild cow and lush harvest, my beloved mother: I come before you, lost.”

My heart was overwhelmed by guilt, and love. I was not all these things. Yet to him, I wanted to be. Guiding the serpent along, it slithered into the darkness behind my statue, where I leaned and listened.

“They say I am a good king,” he said. “They speak stories of me that would make Father smile; my bards go so far as to carve tablets in my honor, boasting that my name will stand the test of time. I am father to many children, twelve by my wives and countless others by loyal women of my kingdom. The shame I feel for not knowing all their names, I attempt to atone for by providing for the whole of my people, so that as long as my children reside within the bounds of Babylon they know no hunger, no undue strife, and have the freedom to achieve as much as they dream. I am celebrated, and through me, you are worshipped. In this way, I have tried to answer the injustice of your demise.”

The serpent slithered up the statue, wrapping in a necklace around the stone throat. The king did not see it, focused only on his own hands.

“Mother, you are fair and just, your reign was a time of peace. I remember it well, I was by your side, I learned all you could teach me--yet I cannot recreate that peace now. Try as I may, it is bloodshed that marks my time here. Perhaps there is too much of my father in me. I wished for an empire where none had to suffer, yet I could not found it without attacking others, who should have been just as deserving of my protection. None will listen to words of peace. My fist is the only sound that carries. Still, I thought I might have sated my conscience by finally battering my opponents into submission--but here I am now, suffering an illness none can define, declining while a new foe poises to strike down all I have built.

“I do not know what must be done. I am afraid again, like a child, only now I do not have the luxury of that weakness. My children look to me as a god, but I was reared in a world of men, I know only what men would do. Mother, more than ever, I beg for the kindness of your voice. Help me now. Give me some sign of what I must do.”

At last, Gilgamesh raised his eyes up to see the statue; he startled to see the snake there, staring down at him. I hoped that would be enough sign that I was there. Seeing him stand, overcome, staring at the little snake--in the strangest way, I was elated. He saw me. I was real to him, again.

The snake slithered down, coming to rest in the statue’s outstretched hands. Emotion welled as he reached up, allowing the snake to stretch into the palm of his hand, and around his arm. When he touched it, I felt my power touch his energy in a way it hadn’t before. I heard his thoughts.

Is it you, Mother?

I responded in earnest.

You brought me home.

I knew that he heard me. He touched the snake’s small head, blinking, but in the end he was unable to stop himself from weeping. It was a sight to see that great king with tears staining his face, kneeling with a garden snake cradled to his broad chest. He looked so much like his father.

“Your voice is the same,” he said.

I know.

“There’s so much I want to say.”

Warm, sentimental, I wrapped him in my presence, hoping he might feel my love for him. I would be there, as long as he needed me.

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