A Dance for the Fallen

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In the old times, when what was needful had been fulfilled. When bread had been consumed in the sanctuaries of the realm. When the ovens of the realm had been fired up with bellows. When the Firmament had been split apart from the Earth. When the Earth had been split apart from the Firmament. When the name of Mankind had been settled. Then did Anu, Lord of the Gods, claim the Heavens for himself. And then did the Great God Enlil claim the Earth for himself. Whereupon did Anu bestow upon the Goddess Ereshkigal dominion over the Netherworld. And then did Ea, God of Wisdom, embark in his boat. Ea embarked in his boat on a journey unto the Netherworld.

--The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet XII


I lived a long life. Longer than one of my wives, Sarpanit--she died before our youngest were ten, taken by a fever that came without warning. After her passing, I became paranoid of preserving myself and the lives of Erua and Gamsu, wasting a great deal of time on fruitless quests to find Ramuel and the secrets of Heaven’s healing that had vanished with him. More than anything though, I never let my handicap speak for me. I still bested any man who challenged me, so none could say Gilgamesh was half the man he had been before Assur.

But in the end, all my posturing, all my daring quests, amounted to naught. I would die, the same as any man. One day, in my sleep, as Gamsu nestled by her old husband’s side. My heart decided it had had enough.

Then, I awoke.

Around me was darkness, thin wisps of light following my vision. I reached into it, seeing the wisps following my hand--my right hand, lost to me for decades.

A voice, piercing and warm, like sunset in the desert.


Searching, trying to find the source. His gentle laughter was low, like Father’s, yet held me like Mother’s love.

Your parents call me Father. To you, I suppose, I am Grandfather. And you are my precious grandson.

I quaked with fear. I tried to bow, but the wisps held me upright, soothing my pounding heart.

“Why am I here?” I asked. “I was unkind to you, in life.”

You were a child. Children can throw as many tantrums as they like, it does not change a parent’s love for them. This may be more true, for grandchildren--they are a miracle created by miracles. Indeed, my love for you is profound.

“I killed so many, I did not raise all of my children, I am undeserving of your love.”

You lived. Mistakes are part of living. As for why you are here, you are an angel, and all angels have a purpose. It is time you knew yours.

Before me appeared a common scale, set atop an anvil. As I touched it, it began to shine like gold.

One day, I wish for the souls of mankind to find passage to Heaven. However, it takes a soul of a certain temperament to be content in unchanging paradise. Even your mother and father have refused it, for now. With this scale, I wish you to judge the souls of mankind: all their virtues, all their pains. See the life they have finished living, and prepare for them a life that will balance it. See that one person is in turns rich, poor, mighty, small, male, and female. Allow them to live it all, turning them like stones in the river, until they are as perfect as they might be. Then, they will be ready to change no longer.

“What makes you think I can do this?” I asked, afraid of failure.

You were a noble king, and are my only grandchild. The scales are your birthright. Unless, of course, you wish to refuse them.

I lifted the scale, feeling its weight. It was heavy, heavier than my crown. Yet, I felt it was mine.

“I had hoped to see my parents again,” I said.

You may, from afar. You can watch over them, in their many lives. But you can never be reborn with them.

“My wives? Children?”

You will judge them as they pass through. Soon, they will not remember who you are.

If he wanted to convince me, Grandfather wasn’t trying very hard. I might have set the scale down--yet I didn’t. I had spent a lifetime being a curse upon the soil, haunted at every turn by the story of my birth. To hear now that I had a purpose, that I was meant to be the very person I was, brought me relief life could never offer.

Will you accept this role?

The scale whispered of the names it would give me: Nanna, Anubis, Minos, Sin. I knew this was the choice I would always make.


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