October 15, 2013

Death of Enlil

Death of Enlil
by Dawn Albright

The soldiers had cut off the satrap's head and were trying to find a way to mount it on the city gate. They jammed the bloody neck onto a short spike and wedged the spike into a weak spot in the clay, but the weight of the head pulled it out.

Amat cried out when the head fell into the dust. The temple girls cried out too and pushed closer to the window.

"What is it, Mother Amat?" the ones too far away to see said. "What are they doing to him, what's happening?"

She drew back from the window with a shudder and let them press forward to see for themselves.

"Careful," she said, and reached into the group to pull out one of the smaller girls, who looked like she might faint. I should think of some work for them to do, she thought. I shouldn't let them stand around and scream like this. Before she could think of anything, the Entu, the wife of the God, came down the stairs from the upper level. Amat jumped to intercept her before the girls besieged her with questions.

"What does Lord Enlil have to say?" she said in a whisper, motioning her behind the stairway, out of sight of the girls. Lamari stared at the floor. Amat looked at her face and then dragged her further behind the staircase. Normally, she wouldn't have touched Lord Enlil's wife like that, but seeing the girl's white face reminded her of the time when she had been the God's wife and Lamari had been a scared child deposited at the temple for teaching. When she was sure the girls couldn't see, she slapped the priestess hard on the cheek.

"No tears," she hissed. "We're depending on you. What did the God have to say?"

The young priestess still stared ahead, making noises in her throat.

"I know they killed your brother," Amat said in a kinder voice. "That's our loss as well as yours. He was a good satrap. But there's no time to mourn him yet, not when Naram-Sin's soldiers are all over the city. They'll be here soon, and they'll want to talk to you. Are we going to surrender or will the God help us?"

"I can't tell you," the younger priestess said.

"They're coming," one of the girls at the window shrieked. "They're coming this way, Naram-Sin and his soldiers."

Amat looked back for a second and then turned back to the Entu. "Don't tell the others, but tell me. What did Lord Enlil say to you?"

"He said nothing."

"Don't tell me such obvious lies, child. I saw you go up to the blue-tiled room and I know you were there all night. What did he say to you?"

"He said nothing, Mother Amat, nothing. Leave it at that. I know we need guidance, but we don't have it. Make up something to tell the temple staff, anything you think wise."

A crash shook the temple. The temple girls and the Entu both cried out. Amat pushed her way back to the window. "They're trying to break down the doors," she said. "They're impatient." She considered the women around her. Damgala looked the calmest of them, but she was dressed in a rough woolen kilt for the messy job of tending wounded soldiers. They couldn't afford to insult Naram-Sin by sending a priestess who looked like a servant. Nitidam wore the blue robes of the ceremonies of Ishtar, but her tears had smeared her kohl down her cheeks. Amat grabbed one of the other girl's sleeves and used it to wipe Nitidam's face.

"Can you be in control of yourself by the time you get to the door?" she asked.

"If I have to be, Mother Amat."

"You do. You and Damgala go down and let them in. If you can stall them, do so, but bring them here before they get impatient."

Nitidam nodded. Amat turned to Damgala. "Can you take care of that?"

"Yes, Mother Amat." Damgala took Nitidam's arm and led her down the stairs. They heard another crash.

"And hurry!" Amat called after them. "You girls keep watch at the window. Someone make sure we have food and wine to offer our guests." The girls milled uncertainly. She sighed. "You three stay at the window," she said, pointing. "You others make sure the kitchen is ready." Without looking to see if they obeyed her, she hurried to where the Entu waited under the staircase. "Now, tell me what he said."

"Don't ask me that."

"I was the Entu once myself. I'll do what Enlil wants, don't worry about that. I can't make up a story to tell Naram-Sin unless I know the truth. Forget about your brother, and tell me what happened last night."

"But he's dying, Mother Amat."

Amat resisted the urge to shake her. "Your brother is already dead. I suggest you don't look out the window. What did you see last night?"

"Not my brother. Enlil. Enlil is dying."

Amat grabbed the girl's shoulders. She would have run up the stairs to the blue-tiled room herself, forgetting that she was no longer the Entu and no longer permitted on the highest level, but screams stopped her.

"We don't have time to discuss this," she said in Lamari's ear. "Naram-Sin is here. Are you telling me the truth?"

The girl nodded. Amat's eyes closed. "Then help me, Lamari." They stepped out to where Naram-Sin and his soldiers were waiting. One of the soldiers held Nitidam by the elbow. What had remained of the kohl on her eyelids ran down her cheeks again. Damgala was nowhere to be seen.

Naram-Sin looked much like he had five years ago, when he had come to Enlil's city to be crowned King of the Four Regions. He had let his hair grow past his shoulders so he resembled the statue of the winged bull that guarded the doorway of the temple. His hair had been curled and oiled. Amat didn't think he had seen any of the fighting himself, with his hair arranged so carefully.

"Greetings, Naram-Sin," she said, surprising herself with how calm she sounded. "I am the priestess Amat, and this is Lord Enlil's wife, Lamari. We remember you from when you were crowned King of Sumer and Akkad."

"I remember you as well, priestess. How soon can you get your people out of the temple?"

"How soon... I don't know. Where do you want me to take them?"

The Entu whimpered.

"I don't care. But clear the temple."

"I will have to ask the Entu for Enlil's permission. What shall I have her say?"

Naram-Sin laughed. "It hardly matters, does it, priestess? I know that Enlil won't answer. Do as I tell you or I'll burn the temple around your ears."

"I won't be frightened with silly threats."

"He means it, Mother Amat," Lamari said. "I saw it last night. He means to kill Enlil now that he's ill, kill Enlil and destroy the city completely. If he destroys the temple here, then the worshippers will go to his patron Ishtar in Akkad."

Amat opened her mouth to say that no one could kill a god, but the words dried in her throat when she looked at Naram-Sin. Already, people said that he was a god himself.

"Priestess, I am allowing you until sundown to have your people out of the temple. Your priestesses can enter the service of Ishtar. You can stay dedicated to Enlil if you choose. I don't begrudge him one worshipper. But get your people out of the city."

He turned to his soldiers. "Search the temple and bring what you can find." He bowed to Lamari and Amat. "I'll see you both outside the city in a short time. Entu, I look forward to our next meeting." He left the hall alone, his soldiers running ahead to search for temple treasures. Shrieks followed them. Both women shuddered.

"You clear the temple," Amat said. "People and food first, relics if you have time. Forget the tablets, a fire will only bake them. Can you handle it, Lamari?"

Lamari nodded.

"Find Damgala if you can. I've got other work to do. I should meet you outside the city by sundown."

"Where are you going, Mother Amat?"

"Never mind that. Just get everybody out and take care of yourself. And leave by the garden," she added, remembering the satrap's body outside the front gate.

"Yes, Mother Amat."

Amat waited for her to disappear towards the kitchen in the back building, then headed up the stairs, towards the highest level. She wasn't going to stay away from Enlil now. It had only been five years ago that she had been deposed from her position, and then only because Naram-Sin had wanted a younger, prettier priestess to serve in his coronation and the satrap wanted his sister to have the power of being the God's wife.

She ran up the stairs, past the foreigner's shrines with war-pitted statues of strange gods taken from other cities, past the levels where the temple whores celebrated the rites of Ishtar, past the libraries where schoolchildren learned to scribe in the fresh smell of unbaked clay. Finally, she came to the blue-tiled room, the flat top of the ziggurat with the sky for the ceiling.

She closed her eyes as she pushed the tapestry aside and climbed the last few steps. She had climbed it so often in the past that she knew when she reached the top step, and her eyes opened. The room hadn't changed. She walked around the edge, checking the sights that she had enjoyed five years ago. Fires burned in spots, but the damage looked slight from that distance. The sun lowered towards the horizon. She wondered if Lamari had time to get the temple staff out.

She walked towards the couch in the center of the platform and sat at the floor next to it. "Lord Enlil?" she said softly, wondering if he would be angry she had come. When she had been removed as the Entu, she hadn't been allowed back up to say goodbye to him. She had asked Lamari if he had anything to say to her, but he never gave Lamari a message.

At first, she saw nothing and thought she would have to use an invocation. She knew invocations to speak to the winged bulls, to speak to the captive foreign gods of the hall below, to speak to the demons. But the Lord of the Earth and his family came when they wanted, not when they were called. She had decided to try a more respectful version of the winged bulls' invocation when she noticed a mist on the couch.

Enlil had always appeared a little transparent to her, and so she wondered at first if maybe this new cloudiness was a result of her lessened status. She looked up at his face and cried out -- even if she saw a solid man with that face she would have known at once that he neared the Underworld.

"Lord Enlil, what's happened to you?" She forgot that he was a god and she was no longer his wife and threw her arms around his neck. He didn't seem to be in pain, didn't seem to even notice her presence. He looked tired, like an old man. She tried to examine him as she would have examined any sick man brought to her, but he wasn't a man. She knew all the common demons that plagued man. They all obeyed her when her divinations convinced her to put forth her full effort to exorcise them. She didn't know the demon that besieged Lord Enlil.

"Lord Enlil, tell me what to do for you," she whispered. "Tell me how to help."

"Leave me alone."

Did he speak? She could hear the words, but his face remained motionless. Nonetheless, she answered.

"I can't leave you alone like this." She heard nothing else. "Your daughter Ishtar has sent armies against us. She wants you killed, so she can keep your worship and be King of Heaven." Amat stared at empty space for a moment before she realized that the God was gone. She backed away and stared at the couch, until she remembered that she didn't have much time. She ran down the stairs like a schoolboy who forgot he was in the temple, down to the large chamber where she and the priests gave the blessings of Enlil to the city people. There stood the body that Enlil wore when he led the armies or gave blessings, the great wood and clay monument that the greatest artisans of the city's earliest days had carved out for him, to show his strength and majesty to those he couldn't show himself to directly. She touched the statue's chest and felt the warmth that meant Enlil was there. She didn't think he had the strength to travel up to his home in the sky.

She bit her lip. The monument was mounted on wheels, a precaution that the dead satrap had commanded in order to bring Enlil out to bless the army, but she knew she couldn't drag him alone. They usually used twenty slaves for the job, although two large men would suffice for a short distance.

Naram-Sin's soldiers found her after sundown, when the shadows were bluing. A dead soldier lay twenty feet before her with a bronze knife in his throat. She had moved the statue five feet. She strained at the harness and wept when she saw the men enter the room. She pulled another knife from her girdle and tried to throw it at them, but her arm was so tired that the knife fell far short.

A soldier pulled her away from Enlil and she let him drag her out of the temple. The others followed with the statue.

Outside, Naram-Sin sat on a large couch that had obviously been pulled from one of the large manor houses, with several urns of wine from the same source. His soldiers fought for the drinking tubes from the urns, passing the straws around, sloshing wine on each other. Naram-Sin had his own uncontested urn. His curls drooped.

He held Lamari next to him by a tight grip around her waist. Tears streaked her face. He looked at Amat with no sign of surprise and smiled at the soldiers who had brought Enlil out of the temple.

"Torch it first," he said, with no sign of drunkenness in his voice.

Lamari and Amat both screamed. The soldier who dragged Amat out of the temple grabbed her arms and pulled her back from the statue before she could plunge one of her remaining knives into the back of the man striking the flint. He wrestled the knives away from her and by the time she had given up on her weapons, the aged wooden parts of the statue were burning.

Amat tore herself away from the soldier and threw herself on the statue, struggling to get past the flames to touch the heart, to see if Enlil was still in it. The soldier pulled her back and slapped the cinders on her linen wrap with his hand. Then he encircled her with his arms and dragged her further away from the blaze.

"Mother Priestess, you could have hurt yourself," he said reproachfully, his mouth near her ear. Amat laughed, and her laughter and tears both lasted until the fire burned out and the other soldiers kicked the brittle clay that was left into dust.

* * *

* * *

"My quarrel wasn't with the people of Nippur, but they have suffered for the pretensions of their priests and their God," Naram-Sin said when it was over. "Many of them died today. Those who are left need blessings from their God to start their life over. They need to lay their dead to rest and be comforted."

Lamari said nothing. Amat drew herself straight and forced herself to speak. Wisps of singed hair fell from her hair net.

"You have so generously made them citizens of Akkad, sir. Your priests and priestesses will teach them the ways of Ishtar soon. I'm sure the lady will comfort them in their losses."

Naram-Sin smiled; if Amat hadn't seen the last few hours, she would have called it a compassionate smile on his broad face. "Ishtar is a strange goddess to them. They want their familiar god. Give them Enlil's blessing."

Amat swayed on her feet. "I can't give them a blessing that doesn't exist. Enlil isn't there to protect their dead. I can't do the ceremony."

"The dead are dead. Don't dismay the living more than needed." Naram-Sin turned and left without further argument, as if he had spent enough of his time on a trivial matter.

"I'm not giving the dead to Enlil," Amat said to Lamari. "The ceremony would be a farce."

But three of Naram-Sin's soldiers stood by. They had heard their emperor say that a blessing ceremony should be held, and they didn't care if the god was in a condition to give blessings or not. Amat crossed her fire-reddened arms across her chest stubbornly.

Lamari touched her shoulder. "He's right, Mother Amat. It will only scare them to hear that Enlil is dead. I'll do the ceremony for them, and I hope that it does comfort them."

Amat spun around. "You mean that you won't tell them? If they don't know, they'll pray to a god that's not there for the rest of their lives. They'll commit themselves to nothing when they die. Their pain now is nothing to that."

Lamari shrugged. "What could Enlil do for the dead when he lived? Didn't you ever hear cynicism in his voice, Mother Amat? Didn't you ever wonder just what he could do for us?"

Amat stared at her for a long time. "I knew Enlil when he was strong, healthy. I know what he was capable of."

"He spoke to me of the past. I don't think there was ever a time when he could touch the dead. All he could do was comfort the living, and he can still do that."

She turned towards the soldiers. "Do you know where I can find what remains of the temple supplies?"

"Certainly. The emperor told us to give you some of the artifacts."

Amat left them. Lamari didn't need her to perform the ceremony. The girls were busy tending the wounded or performing the rites of Ishtar with Naram-Sin's soldiers. No one needed her at the moment.

She wandered through the camp of refugees, seeing the injured and the healthy trying to set up camp with whatever necessities or trivialities they had been able to carry away from the city with them. To her left, she could see the city. The walls had been smashed down, as well as the temple and the largest of the manor houses, the grass roofs of the smaller houses burnt along with most of the contents. Other than that, the city wasn't destroyed as thoroughly as Naram-Sin had boasted. The clay walls of the houses stood where they hadn't been battered down by hand. As soon as the army left, many of the inhabitants would straggle back in to replace the roofs and whitewash the soot away. Others would leave with the army and go to Akkad, others would probably wander south to Shuruppak or Erech. Refugees, recognizing her as a priestess, tugged on her arms and tried to ask her for blessings or medical help, but she only suggested that they find someone else.

One tug became insistent, wouldn't let her go. "Mother Amat, the ceremony is starting. Come listen to it with us."

Finally, she heard the voice, heard the horns blowing to tell the worshippers to come. She turned and saw Damgala.

"I was worried about you," she said, surprised, remembering the girls in her charge.

"We were worried about you too, Mother Amat," Damgala said, smiling through a bruise on the side of her face. "The Entu said that you stayed in the temple, and we thought you intended to burn in it. Then she said you were injured, hurt in the head." Damgala's fingers stroked her temples. "Did something fall on you? Where does it hurt?"

"I don't remember anything falling on my head." Gently, she pushed Damgala aside and held her hand out to the other girls, greeting them all.

"If you're all right, then come along to the ceremony. We need a blessing."

"I'm not going to the ceremony. Enlil's dead. There's no one to bless us."

Damgala frowned at the girls. "You'll feel better soon, Mother Amat." Gently, the group of girls pushed her along, with the growing crowd of refugees moving towards the sound of the horn. "It's been so long since you watched the blessings instead of conducted them, I'm sure you'll enjoy it."

Amat let herself be pushed towards the ceremony and let the girls guide her to a dry seat on the ground. Around them sat a crowd who looked much like the city -- scorched in places, but more alive than Naram-Sin had led them to expect.

The horn stopped and Amat saw Lamari and Nitidam standing on a platform with some of the other priestesses. They began to sing, a tuneless drone that reached to everyone in the crowd, and lit incense in front of the one of the lesser statues of Enlil that had been saved from the city square. Amat could feel its emptiness and coldness from where she sat. She thought everyone would know the truth, that their God was dead, when they saw that statue's empty-eyed stare.

The choir of priestesses went from the invocation to the song giving the dead to Enlil. Beside Amat, Damgala lifted her arms over her head, swaying and moaning a soft descant. The other priestesses raised their arms, and then others in the crowd. Soon, Amat was the only one with her hands in her lap. She could hear scattered weeping.

Then the song changed. Nitidam picked up a tambourine and the other priestesses raised little drums and the song became a wordless tone that rose over the beat. Lamari beat her hands together, and the crowd started to move, dancing to thank Enlil that they had survived the destruction, thanking Enlil for saving all that they had saved. Amat sat still on the ground where all around her people danced and laughed through their tears. Soon, she knew, the sacred whores of Ishtar, the temple boys and the girls who didn't have the patience to be priestesses, would melt into the crowd and direct the dancing for a while before going off to lie with those who wanted to feel the comfort of Enlil more directly. The rest of the crowd would probably sleep wherever they stopped dancing, with their grief and worries danced out of them for a night.

"Oh, Enlil, Enlil, watch my son." she heard a woman pant, near enough to be heard over the singing and the drums. It was an old woman who looked like she couldn't possibly move as gracefully as she did. Her eyes were closed and she didn't realize when she stepped on Amat. Her face was serene.

The old woman danced further and further away, her face happy in spite of the tears streaming down it. Amat looked intently at the crowd, and couldn't see anyone who felt that the God was dead. The ceremony was as effective as all the ones she had performed in her years at the temple.

Amat looked up at the platform with the empty statue, and at Lamari shaking a tambourine with the other priestesses in front of it. She could tell by the beats Lamari missed that one other person felt Enlil's absence.

* * *

Dawn Albright is a statistician who lives outside of Boston. She is married with two children, and several cats, rabbits, and lizards. She is the editor of the arts and poetry webzine Polu Texni, which can be found at www.polutexni.com. She thinks historical fiction is like fantasy in building a different world from the one we live in, but one with a connection to our own lives.