Shamat held the flame to the censer with no tremble to her hand. The incense lit upon the first attempt, which was a sign that what was in her heart was true. Better to have stopped then if it had not lit. But such had not happened and did not bear dwelling on.
Amid the blue smoke of cedar, lavender and opium, she prayed that she might be the one blessed by Inanna this night. Hers was not the only window open to the Star of Evening on this the first night of autumn. Hers was not the only window with a lamp shining forth and hers were not the only prayers sending smoke to the heavens.
But on this night, hers was the window to which Inanna alighted. Inanna put aside her a-an-kara weapon on the pillow that Shamat had laid out in hope.
Shamat bowed before the goddess and exhaled a sigh as the goddess lifted her chin that the light that shone from Inanna's eyes might be cast upon her face. Shamat could not know what was in the Queen of Heaven's mind, and yet the smile that graced her lips was a curve not unknown to Shamat. It was a curve that Inanna had created. With one hand, Inanna framed Shamat's face and with the other she withdrew the pins that held up Shamat's robes one by one until Shamat was bare before her.
Inanna's own garments were of starlight and dispersed at a flick of the goddesses' strong wings. Warm air with the first chill of autumn moved in the room to those soft beats. Incense and the sweet perfume that was Inanna. Shamat felt enfolded in that breeze.
With no thought to doing so, Shamat's eyes closed as a butterfly's wings might.
It was then that Inanna stooped to take her mouth in a kiss. They stood there simply kissing. Air moving. The sound of the beat of Inanna's wings. The curve of Inanna's breasts brushing the top curve of Shamat's. The soft press of Inanna's knee between her own.
As they pulled apart, Shamat sighed. Her eyes opened to gaze upon the Queen of Heaven. Starlight moved lazily about the room until there was no surface of the dull red clay walls that did not gleam. Inanna moved in the same lazy rhythm to the waiting bed where the richest coverlet that Shamat owned was pulled back in invitation.
Inanna accepted that invitation. She spread wide her wings and lay down upon the bed until the bed was covered in feathers. From afar, Inanna's wings had always appeared as if from purest gold. This close Shamat could finally that each feather was of a complicated pattern of deep brown and gold. She could see the muscles of Inanna's golden body at rest.
Shamat knelt beside the bed and began her worship. She poured a small stream of almond oil into the shallow lake of Inanna's hips and with practiced fingers made to spread forth this richness. Inanna sighed and moved against Shamat's hands. She traced idle patterns of her own on Shamat's skin. It was not given to Shamat to know what Mes the goddess was tracing into her skin. She could only know that they glowed with warmth deep within her until she felt herself almost floating as a gossamer strand upon the breeze.
Shamat slid slick fingers into the place between Inanna's thighs where Inanna gave forth rich perfume and sought the pearl of the Queen of Heaven. Inanna's eagle cry was her reward. Inanna lifted her hips and widened her legs. Shamat laid her kiss then upon that spot. As her offering was not rejected, she tasted of the rich flavour there. She was no novice at this act. She had practiced it many times. That had been the practice. This was the act itself.
She applied all her craft and was further rewarded as Inanna pulled Shamat up into Inanna's embrace and went to sweet labor upon her.
There was no part of Shamat that Inanna did not make her own and remake in accordance with sweet desire's strings. No place to which her lips were not applied. No place where she did not apply her hands of divine understanding that required no oils to imbue Shamat's skin with enrichment.
Shamat was remade as she lay surrounded by Inanna's body and wings. Soft strong flesh that moved against her in ever increasing fervor. Sweet pinions that held Shamat tightly.
For a time, it seemed to Shamat as if even the bed with the richest coverlet that she owned had fallen away. She lay now upon the warm spill of stars that twisted softly under her back and slid against her buttocks.
The smoke of the incense was transformed into blue clouds across the soft black night. They resisted the push of her heels as she pressed her hips up into Inanna's touch between her thighs.
Around them the clouds roiled in answer to the beating of Inanna's wings. The crackle of lightning raked the bed of stars beneath them, as Inanna's nails scratched Shamat's back in passion. Shamat could barely hear her own cries over the roll of thunder that was the beat of their desire. Ever spiralling higher, until finally, crashed the storm in a soft sweet rain, and Shamat could bear no more.
Her eyes closed once more, this time into the embrace of sleep.
Shamat awoke sore and naked in a sere field stripped of harvest. The remains of wheat were bent as they had been broken under a hard rain. But the soil upon which Shamat lay was dry as if it had been sunbaked without a drop all the long summer. Above her, the Morning Star winked once and faded from view.
There was the down of a feather in Shamat's mouth. She carefully removed it and examined it in the palm of her hand as if it were a great treasure. It gleamed with gold light and faint flecks of black, shining with starlight even now with Dawn's blush giving way to blue as her husband, the Sun, climbed from her bed. Of course it was a great treasure, the down of the Queen of Heaven's wings.
Shamat limped slowly back to the wide gates of Uruk. The people waited there in silence until she entered the gate holding up the down cupped in her hands.
She did nothing to hide her nakedness for there was no shame in it. The marks of passion that she bore on her body were like badges of honor gained in loving battle. They were written in the Mes of the gods and would shape her life always for the rest of her days.
As she walked through the gate, she was greeted with cheers. The people rained down upon her the last grain gleaned from the fields in autumn. They celebrated that the Queen of Heaven had been pleased with her offering of their joy and would bless them once more through the dark of the year.
Shamat went to the temple at the centre of Uruk followed by her people. As hers had been the honor, hers was the honor of laying the down from the feather in the small golden cup that was for this purpose.
Had she returned with any of the other signs from the goddess: the shaft of a feather from her hair, dust from a star upon her member had she been a man, or vanes from feathers from between her own thighs, these would have been placed upon their special receptacles. Each would have provided a different meaning. The shaft was for victory in a winter attack. The stardust meant word of Uruk's glory to all under the stars and they would be sent unasked tribute. The vanes would have meant that the hot limbed of the city would lie down together in the winter and by summer's end there would be sons and daughters of it.
The down meant that this winter would be easy and the storms that watered the fields gentle ones. The winter crops would be free to grow in plenty. There would be no attacks upon the city walls. All would be as well as if laid down upon a cloud of down.
There also could have been no blessing, but that would have been shameful. It would have meant that Shamat had not given all of herself over to the goddess for remaking. It would have meant that Shamat would have had to walk away from her City with only the scratches on her back for marks of failure. But such had not occurred and did not bear thinking on.
Instead, she took the taper that the high priestess gave to her and set fire to the down on the first touch. It would burn all the easy winter long. The high priestess sang the words of blessing in the silent hour.
Then when the blessing was done, the beautiful men and the hot limbed women of the City danced in the streets until their dust was like a cloud. Shamat was pressed with cup after cup of beer and wine until she could hardly remember her spinning.
Still there was much joy in it. So that when she finally pressed her heels once more upon her own bed, still sweet with the smell of passion, she laughed. She fell asleep. In the distant Heavens, the Star of Evening gleamed through her open window and gleamed on what was written.