There was a god, and his people forgot him, wrote Mister Ibis, in a book he kept just for this story alone. But that isn't the tale of any one god, it is the tale of all gods, sooner or later. This god had a worse run than many, being among the first to arrive here in godless America, and the longest to survive, with not enough belief and too much anger because of it. The members of his pantheon walked away, or ate their guns, or faded, dropped out of living memory, but his name was too well known to be forgotten so easily, and so he hung on, grimly.
Gods are made by men, and they are made to be eternal because men are transient. But because men are transient and gods eternal, as men live and die they leave a trail of forgotten gods behind them, always moving on, and the gods remain where they're left, unable to move, unable to grow, unable to seek better prospects, like lonely immortal dogs tied up in empty yards.
It is a hollow joke, the legend that the gods made men from clay. Men mould their gods into fantastical shapes, but then they bake them hard and brittle. We do the things we are tasked to do. Gods of wisdom are wise without learning. Gods of strength are strong without effort. Gods of love are manipulative, gods of wine are merry, gods of the dead are solemn.
Humans gets what they ask for, with gods. This is not always the same as what they want.
Wednesday was made to know all, to fight and kill, to see the future, and to win. In hindsight, Mister Ibis wrote carefully, what he did is not so surprising.
Mister Ibis keeps a book of definitions, which he illustrates with tales.
Demigod: The son of a god and a mortal woman.
A demigod has less power, and yet more power, than his father, for a demigod is human in all the ways that count, and of god-stock where it counts as well. A demigod may be worshipped, or he may be admired, or he may be vilified, but he can live and die like a human as well as walking amongst the gods.
A god can command his worshippers, as long as he has them, but a god cannot do a thing about the behaviour of his children, who are often wayward and unbiddable.
I am reminded of the demigod Shadow, who was born Baldur Moon, and who was the last child of the god known as Wednesday. He was a convicted criminal, his love for his wife landing him in a situation far out of his control, and he was a personal trainer, because he found it easy and rewarding to be thought of as nothing more than dumb muscle. His hobby was coin tricks, the banal movement of metal from one hand to the other. He had no talent for prestidigitation, none of that ability to tell stories or lies that his father had, but the solid craft of it he had mastered.
Shadow held the sun and moon in his hands like coins, and if there were still bards like there used to be, to sing the truth of things, he might have realised it. As it was, he fought for the sun but gave it away, and he was given the moon, but used it just for tricks, because he thought all he held were coins, tokens, as if the symbol is not by its very nature the thing itself.
By the time the father realised he had a son, he was making his living on pure misdirection - grifting, cons, give them what name you will. He picked up Shadow, who knew nothing of his ancestry, and that very act was enough to draw attention from the hand with the coin in it, at least until Shadow himself saw the trick of it.
It really wasn't much of a trick, in Shadow's terms; there was little in the way of palming and vanishing and producing. In truth it wasn't so much a trick as a con, relying on the mark's own desperate desire to believe what the con-man tells them. We felt threatened, we wanted to believe there was something behind it, something stealing from us and plotting against us, that threatened our livelihood looking to leech its own, so we listened to Wednesday when he said, they are coming for us. They don't care. They'll kill us, all in the name of progress.
Wednesday died to seal the deal, to prove what the opposition were capable of, and we forgot about sacrifices, and what they symbolise. Misdirection - it was always his talent.
What can I say? Mister Ibis wrote, and he shrugged a little before dipping his pen once more, We were desperate. We didn't want to see the hand he'd hidden the coin in. But Shadow did, once he realised he was Wednesday's son and a sacrifice in his own right.
It was a rigged game, after all, and Shadow knew exactly how to cheat a toss.
Rigged games are the easiest to beat. Wednesday said that, and the words of a god, even one washed up on unfriendly shores, have power.
Some of Mister Ibis's tales are memoirs.
Shadow came to work for us in Cairo, Mister Ibis wrote in his measured script and sepia ink, authority in every line of it at his father's behest. It was in the months before the storm, before the war, when we were so weary, and so afraid, and so tired, oh, so tired, that we weren't as on our guard as perhaps we should have been.
We owed his father favours. And with Horus mad and Set gone and Bast not in much shape to help out, Jacquel and I needed a strong hand around the place.
He drove our hearse and he carried our corpses for a couple of days. We would have been glad to keep him longer. So many demigods are trouble; rebels or tricksters or wrong in the head somehow, but not Shadow. Of course, we didn't know he was a demigod at the time. No-one did.
His father took him away again soon enough, anyway. And the next time I saw him, he was dead. This is not as much of a shock as you might have expected it to be. I often see people who are dead. I am, after all, by way of being a psychopomp, and I cohabit with a god of the dead in my more mundane life.
In these days, a man's soul is not bound to his body. If he dies, it will fly away like a bird. Shadow perched on the bole of the world-tree, and waded in the river of the underworld, and his heart was weighed and measured, and he died, his soul flying like the metaphorical sparrow out into the dark beyond the warm, lit room of life.
My people used to think death was only a beginning. Death was something you could wake up from into a new life. Death was something to celebrate, a journey, a renewal. The dead are blessed - it is they who truly live, in the beautiful afterlife. And death has a power to all peoples, even now.
Gods can die, if there is no belief for them to sup on. But succumbing to violence is not the same as death. Die for the right reasons, as any religion will tell you, and resurrection is assured. Die on a tree, die on a stone table, die in a sarcophagus; die by stoning, or being cut up, or hung; die for someone else's sins, die willing and die fervent, and be rewarded, in this life or the next. Wednesday died to stiffen our sinews and summon up our blood, but he did it knowing he would not stay dead.
Death had power for Wednesday. He was a god of death, violent death. He went to his own slaughter knowing that it would afford him enough power that he could come back. He sent his son to his death to wring every drop he could from the ritual and the sacrifice both.
But demigods are defiers, particularly of their fathers. Shadow did what his father said - until he knew Wednesday was his father. Wednesday sacrificed Shadow on the great tree for nine days. Wednesday needed Shadow to die.
Shadow did not stay dead.