Anzud stretched on her bed of sleeping until her back popped and cracked at the new moon that she made of her body. She let out a breath of sandalwood and cedar through her mouth so she could taste the perfume that she had sprinkled on her bed of sleeping. They tasted bitter. She did not know why. Her dream was lost to her as she exhaled.
"No matter." She swung her feet to the ground and winced at the cool that she felt there. "The day won't make itself."
She dressed in her green dress with the blue bands. She unbound her hair from sleep and oiled the spiraled curls that this made. She put on a bronze pin with a stone of lapis lazuli. She pricked herself with it, but still she did not remember her dream. She went into the open kitchen between her room and the tavern before. She put flat bread in the great oven. She ground up roasted dandelion roots. She boiled water in a great bronze urn stamped with Ishtar’s eight sided star with the watching inner eye. She did not add the roots immediately. She let the water boil white and steam rise up to brush her face. Only then did she add the roots as she took the urn from the flame. She was ready as Shamash, the sun, putting the first caress to the breast of his most beloved bride, Aya, the dawn. She was ready as the workers of the morning meeting the workers of the evening and coming to the tavern door for their cups and bread to sustain them.
She laughed with the men and women as they came inside. She laughed as she poured them their cups, and they told their stories that were not true.
It was then that Gilgamesh, the great king, came into her place. He tossed his long locks as he came through the low door. He walked in like a lion. His robes were all over embroidered with proud lions. He walked in the door like a great king. His gaze like a hand, like he owned everything here and all was his to touch as he wished. The eyes of the great king came upon Anzud and he smiled with wide white teeth. Anzud stood frozen, brew of dandelion roots hot in her hand.
"Crap." It was then that she remembered her dream. She spilled the dark liquid on her hand. This was not an accident. This was the choice that came of her dream. She ran to the open kitchen to put her hand in an urn of cool water. Her heart beat fast like the wings of the bird in the halub tree. Perhaps, he would not follow her. Perhaps this day would unfold like a day should.
She reflected that Mammetun, the mother of destinies, had the heart of a cat and scratched with fetid claws that carried disease.
For Giglamesh, the great king, was a hunter. He followed her there as she knelt with her hand in an urn of cool water. He took her hand from the water and he blew upon it, like the desert wind that curls the crops and makes leaves crackle and fall. He said, "I have heard of you, Anzud. I have heard of your beauty, and I have come to you. Even though you are not a duckling, you will shriek like one as I put my seed inside of you, and I forge upon you like a blacksmith at an anvil. I will give you a chariot fast as if pulled by the demons of the storm. I will give you perfume of cedar and a goat." He pulled her to her feet and pointed to her room. "Is this your bed of night?"
It was very flattering in a not-at-all sort of way. Just three days ago, he'd made cries between the thighs of Kalla of Nippur as she came to her wedding bed in Uruk. Three nights before that Ensughir, a warrior's daughter, had died in the birthing of the great king's child, begotten on the floor during a banquet in her father's honor. A stilled chariot was not fast at all.
Anzud really wished that she had remembered her dream and stayed in bed that day.
She had a choice then. A choice not given to Kalla of Nippur or Ensughir, warrior's daughter. She could go with Gilgamesh, and her bed would not be for sleep but a bed of night. But she had a burn on her hand that she had put there herself and her heart beat fast like the wide wings of a bird in a halub tree.
So she said, "Great king, I, of course, look forward to your placing your seed in my body and making me shriek like a duckling, but just before you came, your mother, the goddess of the wild cow in the enclosure, sent a servant and requested that I bring her an urn of dandelion's brew." She could not free her hand but held up the urn as best she could.
Gilgamesh's brow creased. He said, "My mother requested dandelion brew?" Then he smiled with his wide white teeth, for Gilgamesh was known to be a great hunter. "I will go with you."
Anzud sighed and felt the sting where she had pricked herself. Felt the fire where she had burned herself. This too was her dream. She left her fires burning. They would burn out. She did take the water off the boil. She walked as if she had been summoned up the wide red streets of Uruk to the great palace, to Egalmah, which rose at the heart of the city.
Circle of Thread
It was the morning, so Ninsun, goddess of the wild cow in the enclosure, did not expect her beloved son, Gilgamesh, to come to her in Egalmah, but there he was with his long locks perfumed.
Beside him was a small woman with eyes that pleaded as one woman to another. The woman said, "Oh, great goddess. Ninsun of wise choices. It is I, Anzud, who you have summoned." She held up a bronze urn stamped with the eight sided star of Ishtar. "Here is the brew that you requested."
Anzud gave Ninsun the look that women may give to each other while a hunter watches. From down the hall, a baby gave a thin cry for her mother, who would not come.
Ninsun nodded and waved her hand at the table before her. Anzud put the urn down carefully. Gilgamesh would have pulled Anzud from the room then, but Ninsun said, "My beloved son, I have need of Anzud. I have decided this day to hold a gathering where women sew and speak what is on their minds." She raised her eyebrows that were shaped like the new moon and said, "You can go now." Her look said to him that it was through her that his father, Lugalbanda, had come to the throne after Enmerkar fell on the field of battle. Her look said that it was through her that he was two-thirds god and blessed by Enki and Shamash.
Gilgamesh pouted like a boy. He said, "I will come back for her when you are done with her." He left, tossing his long locks over his shoulder as he had done when he was just a stripling youth.
Anzud said, "Thank you, great Ninsun. I am sorry that I have come unsummoned, but I had a dream that a bird flew down from the sun and carried with it a halub tree into Unug, Ishtar's garden. The bird flew to your window and brought you the bones that grew from the tree."
Ninsun looked at the door still. She said, "My beloved son has taken to playing the tocsin bell for his amusement alone." The sound threaded through the sound of a baby girl crying for her mother, who could not come.
She bent down and kissed Anzud's forehead. The woman smelled like sandalwood and cedar and dandelion brew. Ninsun smiled as she breathed in the smell of dreaming and morning, knew what she needed to do. She said, "Summon the women of the city and tell them to bring what scraps of fabric that they have. Tell them to bring their pins of bone."
At a second kiss to Anzud's lips, Anzud was a great bird with wide brown wings and a mighty voice. She flew from the window. Ninsun watched her fly over the halub tree in Ishtar‘s garden. Watched her wings beat at the light of Shamash as she went from window to window. Then Ninsun went to make ready.
She lit a cone of perfume and sent a prayer to her grandmother, Aruru, the goddess of creation. She said, "Listen to Gilgamesh play the toscin that you gave him. He plays it only for his amusement. He's terrible. He takes the men of the city to climb the highest mountains and cross the farthest seas. He sends them to Irkalla before their time and their names are forgotten. He should be a shepherd to his people. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, nor the wife to her husband; yet this is the shepherd of the city. This is my beloved son."
The sweet wind blew through the window and she knew that her grandmother had heard her prayer.
The women of the city came. Old women with their faces worn with grooves of charioting years. They came with scraps of soft wool from the tunics of warrior sons that had died before their mothers. Young women with round faces. They came with soft linen from their marriage beds. There was blood there. Spilled seed. Girls, who would be women yet, with three-ply scraps from the winding shrouds of mothers and fathers who had gone to Irkalla before their children had grown. There were sixty scraps of fabric in all and sixty pins of bone too.
What they made that day was not a garment.
Silili, a Harimatu fresh from her bed of night where she rode the men of Uruk as a woman rides the stallion, laughed and said, "We are making a man." She plied her needle with its red thread as she made the part of a man that she knew best and pushed in her pin of bone. "A strong man."
Hursag, the oldest woman there but for Ninsun, sniffed. "That part of a man is his weakest part. Squeeze them too hard, and he falls over." She shaped cattails grown by the river's edge into bones with weathered hands spotted with the summer months of many years. "Want to make him strong, give him a woman's hidden part."
They all laughed then. The women as they sewed with no men around but for the one that they were making.
As their laughter died, Ninsun said, "We are making a companion for my son." She smoothed her hands along the pieces of fabric. She felt the rough wool with its scratches and the fine weave with its smooth. "Stormy heart for stormy heart."
Outside, Gilgamesh sounded the toscin for his own amusement. It echoed down the hall, but there was no answering child's cry. Saba, who had but that day risen from her empty childbed, suckled the motherless baby at her breast. She did not speak. Her mouth was full of pins of bone. She could not know if her child, who had given no cry, was the child of Gilgamesh or that of her husband. So she filled her mouth with pins of bone and suckled the baby at her breast. Suckled and sewed a woman's hidden part.
They cut locks of hair too and sewed them into the seams. Black hair of the women of the city. Silili pulled off her wig of long curled locks. She laughed and said, "This is all the hair I have to give." They put it on the head of the man that they had made.
When they were done, Ninsun dipped her hands in water. She pinched off clay from the city of Uruk and made his mouth, which she kissed and breathed out the gift of her grandmother, Aruru. She ran her wet clay slick hands over the man that they had made. She smiled for when the people praised her, their mouths lingered over the enclosure and forgot that the wild cow of the enclosure was first wild. His hair, their hair, grew rough and matted as a wild cow’s. She held his face in her hands. "Enkidu." She spoke his name. He opened his eyes innocent of cultivated lands and he smiled with the lips that she had made for him.
She petted the soft and the rough of him until he leaned into her hand so that even a moment old, he would understand the pleasure of touch. To the wild would come the enclosure. She said to Anzud, "Fly him to the river. Watch over him."
Anzud called out, “I will,” with a ringing voice and did as Ninsun asked of her.
Bed of Dreams
Enkidu was a fish. He knew this because he was in the river and the river was full of fish. Also, he swam. Fish swam. This meant that he was a fish. The Anzud bird on the rock said, "You are not a fish, Enkidu."
Enkidu got out of the river and shook the water from his hair. He was covered in hair and fish had scales. That meant he wasn't a fish. It also meant that he wasn't a bird, although he had flown to the river. She said, "You are not a bird, Enkidu."
"I know that. I have no feathers." He looked at the gazelle and the wild ass drinking water at the watering hole. At the lions on the far side. They were covered in hair. He said, "I am an animal."
Anzud cocked her head to one side and was silent. So it must be true. Enkidu was an animal. He ate dandelion leaves and flowers and roots, and they were bitter, and they were sweet. He drank water with the animals, and he ran so fast that the long grass that grows new each year whipped at his legs. He yelled up to the sun for the joy of yelling.
He fell in a pit. There was a gazelle there with him. She trembled with fear. She spoke to him with her eyes. He helped her out of the pit. He climbed out. He filled in the pit with deep red earth so that no one would fall in it.
Anzud said, "That was a trap built by men, Enkidu."
Enkidu breathed in the smell of sweet grass. He felt the red earth under his fingernails. "And I have filled it in."
He went down to the wells and the watering places. He tore up the traps that he found. He did this with his hands until they grew calloused. He laughed as he did it. It felt good to do. He fought with lions. He kept the gazelles safe. The old and the weak had nothing to fear while he was with them. He lay back on the grass and moved his arms to made a shape there, as if he were flying. He remembered he had once flown. He breathed in the smell of the grass in the hot sun, and it was sweet to him. The grass was soft at his back. He could not think that he would ever wish for more than his bed of sunshine grass.
Anzud flew over him. She said, "A Harimatu is coming to you. She will make a bed of night with you beside the watering hole."
Enkidu did not understand.
Anzud laughed. "You will." She flew away then on wings so wide that they could block the sun when she beat them. He sat up. He watched as she left him. But he was not alone. There were gazelle. There were wild asses. He raced them to the watering hole.
There was a woman there swimming in the water. She was not a fish. She came out of the water as he approached. He saw her breasts and her smooth secret place. He fell to the ground coughing. There was a pain in his heart. The woman held him to her breasts as he lay on the ground. He spat out a pin of bone.
The woman said, "I shouldn't have put a pin there anyway." She kissed him over his eyes. She said, "Your name is Enkidu."
He sighed up into her touch. "I know."
She lay him down on the ground and sat beside him. She combed her fingers through the hair on his chest. She poured oil on him and worked it through the hair until it lay smooth. "We will make this watering hole our bed of night."
He sighed up into her touch and as he did, he thought that the bend of his body looked like a new moon in the sky. He said, "I don't understand."
She laughed and lay upon him. Her hands guided him until he cried out his understanding. "You will. I will show you." She showed him for six days and seven nights.
On the seventh day, when Shamash rose from the bed of his bride, Aya, the dawn, Enkidu laughed. "I am a man, not a gazelle."
Silili, the Harimatu, laughed and took his lips to hers. She said, "You are a strong man. But there is a man who is stronger in wide Uruk. The great king Gilgamesh rules there. He lords it over men and takes all the women to his bed of night. Even the brides on their wedding day. Even the daughters of warriors."
Enkidu grinned then. "I will challenge this great king. I will go up to him and say, 'I am the strongest here. I have come to change things. I am the one who was born to the hills. I am he who is strongest of all. I will be a shepherd and I will protect the flocks from the lions. The old and the sick will be safe while I watch.’ "
Silili laughed and for the first time in seven days, she put on half of her robes. She put on her wide necklace of lapis lazuli. "Enkidu, you love life and you will love it in Uruk. There is no place better. In Uruk, there are people who dress up every day as if it is a holiday. There are young women and men, who smell sweet all the time from perfume. It is possible to go down the street and buy hearty bread dipped in honey like sunlight and drink wine that tastes like flowers falling from the sky on a festival day. I will take you there, and you will meet Gilgamesh in his moods. He never rests, and he is stronger than you for the gods have favored him. Even now, he is dreaming of you, who will be his companion. His mother made you for him." Silili gave him half of her robes. For the first time, Enkidu put on clothing. They felt soft on his skin. He felt each brush of hair as he moved. He put the pin of bone through them to hold them together. He laughed as he walked beside Silili on their way to Uruk.
Silili said to him, "Gilgamesh has dreamed that he walked through the night, and a meteor fell to make its bed on the earth. The attraction that he felt to the meteor was like that of a man for a woman." She squeezed his hand. Her hand was smooth. He felt each callus on his own as she touched him. "Ninsun, his mother made a goad and a spur from the meteor and called it Gilgamesh's companion."
"Am I the meteor?" asked Enkidu.
Silili brushed his hair back from his face. "Yes, you are."
They walked further along the road.
Silili said, "Gilgamesh has dreamed that he found a double headed axe with a curved blade in the streets of Uruk. He picked it up and wore it at his side always. His attraction to it was the attraction of a man to a woman." She squeezed his hand.
"Am I the axe?" asked Enkidu.
Silili kissed his cheek. "Yes, you are."
They came to the wide gates of Uruk as night fell. A woman stood at the gate with an oil lamp in her hand. She called out to Silili. “It took you long enough.”
Silili laughed and spread her arms wide. “It takes at least seven days to make a man.”
The woman raised her oil lamp higher. "Too long. Gilgamesh has decided to go to the marriage house where Nili, the weaver, has gone to be wed. Gilgamesh demands to make a bed of night with her before her husband can lie down with her in their bed of dreams."
Enkidu coughed then, but he did not fall. He coughed and in his mouth was a pin of bone. He pushed away Silili's hand. He pushed the pin through the robes that Silili had given him.
He said, "I will stand between Gilgamesh and the marriage house. I have come to change the old order. I will be the strongest here."
He walked ahead of Silili. He did know how he knew the way, but he knew. He went across the market. People talked about him, but he did not listen. He was there to stand in front of the marriage house.
When Gilgamesh came, he did not need anyone to tell him who he was. He knew him in his heart. They grappled like gazelles that fight in the mating season. Like bulls. Like rams. They broke the door posts of the marriage house. They threw each other against walls, which cracked with the blows. They snorted and beat each other with callused hands. Finally, Gilgamesh bent his leg and flipped Enkidu to the ground. He put his foot on Enkidu's chest. Enkidu lay on the red bricks and looked up at mighty Gilgamesh and felt a pain in his heart as if from a pin of bone. He said, "There is not another like you in the world. I have not traveled to the high distant mountains as your mother created you to do, but I know it is so. Your strength is greater than the strength of men. You have dreamed of me." He held up his hand. "Here I am."
Gilgamesh took his hand and pulled Enkidu to his feet. They embraced in the wide thronged streets of Uruk. They held hands as they walked through the street. Gilgamesh took Enkidu back to his great-palace, Egalmah. He led Enkidu through the wide corridors to the highest place. To the room where Gilgamesh slept in summer with its wide columns that looked out at the night sky. Gilgamesh commanded that a bed be placed beside his own. He commanded that the servants bring wine, and they drank until their faces grew warm.
Below in the wide city of Uruk, in the garden dedicated to Ishtar, he heard Anzud sing out to the stars from the branches of a halub tree with a mighty voice.
When it came time to sleep, Gilgamesh would not let go of Enkidu's hand. Enkidu smiled and whispered blessings upon Silili. He kissed the hand of Gilgamesh and said, "This is the hand that I will never let go of." He pulled Gilgamesh down to the bed that he had commanded be placed beside his own. Enkidu said, "I am the companion who will always stand with you in times of greatest need." He kissed the wide brow of Gilgamesh. "I am the companion who was made for you." He let loose then the pins of bone that held his robes to his body.
There under the stars of night, Enkidu pulled down Gilgamesh to a bed of dreams and promised to stay with him always.
Gilgamesh spread his hand wide on Enkidu’s chest matted with hair like that of a wild cow and felt his companion’s heart beat with his fingers and with his palm.
Enkidu sighed and Gilgamesh thought, "He longs for the wide fields of grass. He wants to return to the wide open spaces and run with the gazelle." A king could not ask. A king could not be mastered so. He asked, "Why do you sigh, Enkidu?"
Enkidu shrugged. He said, "I am sick of idleness." He smiled at Gilgamesh, and it was a smile that made Gilgamesh desire to grant whatever request would follow. "Sky-Father Anu has given you great gifts. You should not abuse this power. You should deal justly with your servants. You have the power to bind and to loosen. To be the light and darkness of mankind. We should not sit here eating bread. We should not spend our days in idle pursuits. We should go and face the things that trouble the world. We should protect the old and the sick. You are a shepherd to your people and should keep them safe."
Gilgamesh thought then of the giant Humbaba, who threatened travelers in the forests of great cedar. He said, "I know what we should do, we should go to face the giant Humbaba."
Enkidu coughed then. His shoulders shook with the force. It felt as if he were coming loose under the hands of Gilgamesh, but Gilgamesh was three parts god and he gripped tighter. Enkidu spat out a pin of bone and stared at it in his hand. He said, "I have seen the giant Humbaba. His breath is a firestorm, and his teeth are sharp. To face him is to die."
But the idea was a fire in Gilgamesh then. Gilgamesh looked at Enkidu, and he could see in his mind what armor Enkidu should wear. It should be stamped the symbol with the wild gazelle. Gilgamesh's symbol was the lion on the hunt.
He swung off the bed and paced the wide width of the room. He looked down at wide ways of Uruk under the bright hot sun of Shamash. The open kitchens and the closed smithies all streamed with smoke. The rooftop weavers bent to their looms. The bright clothed Harimatu walked hand in hand under the wide branches of the halub tree that grew in the garden of Ishtar. It may as well have been empty. He wanted forest. He wanted Enkidu wanting to be at his side. He looked to Enkidu. "I will have the blacksmiths make armor for us. I will have them make me an axe, which we will call might of heroes and you will have a bow of Anshan."
Enkidu whispered, "I am the meteor. I am the axe." He whispered, but Gilgamesh heard him for he whispered for Gilgamesh's ear. Enkidu sat up straight. "We should ask your mother what road we should take." He spun the pin of bone in his fingers. Gilgamesh took Enkidu's hand and it was warm and dry in his. The calluses on Enkidu's hand met and matched the calluses on Gilgamesh's hand. They went hand in hand to see Gilgamesh's mother.
While she prayed for him, as she always did when he asked about a journey, they waited in the great palace, Egalmah. Enkidu spun the pin of bone in his fingers. He smiled such a smile at Gilgamesh that Gilgamesh longed to grant Enkidu's request before it had been asked. Enkidu said, "I would like to put my mark on you here." He put his hand upon Gilgamesh's chest over his heart. "So that all will know that I am your companion." On hearing, Gilgamesh wanted it, too. Until Gilgamesh heard Enkidu speak it, he hadn't known the longing in his own stormy heart.
Gilgamesh summoned the hierophants, and they showed Enkidu what to do. With the pin of bone, Enkidu made a black mark for a wild gazelle brought down by the hunter over the heart of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh welcomed the pain of it. He felt it as they put on their armor, which weighed thirty pounds. His armor was stamped with his symbol, the lion on the hunt. It covered the mark, but he felt it.
He felt it as he and Enkidu went down the road that Gilgamesh's mother told them to go. He felt it as they lay next to each other on the trail. He felt it as they dug the wells and shelters for the travelers who would follow.
He felt it as Enkidu gave him the words of courage that his stormy heart needed as they faced the fierce giant Humbaba and felled him. As they cut the cedars down and sailed back to Uruk with the head of Humbaba.
After that, they went often into the high passes. They killed the lions that troubled travelers. They protected the city as a shepherd should. Enkidu coughed out pins of bone before they went. Always, Gilgamesh held him tight. Always Gilgamesh would take Enkidu's hand in his. Always the calluses on Enkidu's hand met and matched the calluses on Gilgamesh's hand.
They went to the wide forest and they felled cedars for the people. They emptied the forests and the roads of dangers. They protected the people as a king should. Enkidu coughed on pins of bone before they went. But afterwards, Gilgamesh put his hand on Enkidu's chest and felt the beat of his heart under the hair that was rough and matted as a wild cow. Gilgamesh worked to ensure that Enkidu wanted for nothing. He combed and oiled his hair so that it was smooth when he touched it. Gilgamesh put his hand over Enkidu’s heart and saw to it that Enkidu had no reason to long for the fields of wide open grass.
Then came the bluster of winter over the cultivated fields. On that day, they went to the tavern to plan their next journey. The cold wind called at the door, but the door was closed against the wind. Inside, they warmed themselves with hot drink in their hands.
As they drank, Enkidu coughed out a pin of bone. Enkidu smiled at Gilgamesh with red lips and Gilgamesh forgot what he had been thinking. As he forgot, the great goddess, Ishtar, came into the tavern.
She flung open the door, and the wind rushed inside. She walked in like a blazing star. Her dress was all over decorated with the stars of the sky. She walked in the door like a great goddess. Her gaze like a hand, like she owned everything here and all was hers to touch as she wished. Her gaze fell upon Gilgamesh, as he sat at the table, the hand of Enkidu in his. She smiled at Gilgamesh with wide white teeth. She said, "There is a halub tree growing in Unug, my beautiful garden. I want the tree cut down so I can have a chair made for me to sit in it. I want a wide bed made for me to sleep in. I want to sleep in Uruk again as I have not since I took Enmerkar to my bed and made him my king."
The halub tree was the only tree in wide Uruk, but Gilgamesh was drunk on felling cedars. He said, "I will cut down the tree."
Enkidu said, "This is a very bad idea. I am the axe." But Gilgamesh wanted to make an ellag flute from its roots. In his mind, he could see himself blowing a melody for Enkidu. He could see the smile that Enkidu would give him. He walked quickly through the streets until he came to the garden dedicated to Ishtar. Until he came to Unug. He swung his axe. He cut down the tree. He even killed the serpent that lived in it and drove off the Anzud bird, who made its nest in its branches. He gave the wood to Ishtar to make a chair and a bed, and he carved an ellag from its roots for himself. The winter wind called at the garden walls. He sat down in the beautiful garden of Unug, and he played the ellag for Enkidu. He forgot that Ishtar was also listening.
Her wide wings rustled, and a cold breeze was in the garden. She said, "Gilgamesh, you are beautiful. Come, you should be my new bridegroom. When you give me the seed of your body, you shall be my great king. I will give you a chariot of lapis lazuli and of gold pulled by mighty demons of the storm. When you enter our house in the fragrance of cedar-wood, you will play the ellag for me. Kings, rulers, and princes will bow down before you when you have come to my bed."
It was not entirely flattering. Gilgamesh dropped his ellag then. He put his hand to the mark on his chest. He said the first words that came to his mouth, "I am a king already. I am the son of Ninsun of the wild cow in the enclosure. I do not need you to make me a king."
Ishtar beat her wide wings and the wind of winter was in the garden. She smiled. "I am the Queen of Heaven. My dress is made of stars. I am no goddess of wild cows in the enclosure. My lovers become great kings and all bow to them."
Gilgamesh stared at her for he knew how Enmerkar had boasted of her until she led him to his final battle. He knew how Ishtar had led Tammuz until he was left to hang a hook in the house of Irkalla like a forgotten cloak.
He said, "You are not a companion whose hand will never leave mine. In battle, you will abandon me at the moment of greatest need. You are a door that lets in the storm. You are a water skin that keeps no water and leaves only bruises on the one who carries it. You are a sandal that trips the wearer." He listed then some of her lovers. The ones that she had cursed with her love.
He felt Enkidu's tug on his sleeve and heard him say, "You should fall silent now as if your mouth was full of pins of bone." Gilgamesh did not want to be silent. He took the hand of Enkidu in his. He held it firmly, Enkidu's calluses matched to his own, and he would not let it go. He said, "If you were my bride, you would turn on me as you have all others and I would be struck down by the demons of the storm. The kings and rulers and princes would bend their legs and throw me to the ground and then where would I be?"
Ishtar wept through all of this and her wings beat the air like a flock of Anzud and there was a winter storm in the garden. She said, "If you will not first take my love, you can begin with my hate." She flew out of the garden and away from Uruk.
Gilgamesh smiled at Enkidu. He kissed Enkidu's cheek. "All will be well." That night he made Enkidu promise that he would remain forever at his side. He summoned the hierophants, and they showed Enkidu how to mark his promises in black lines on the skin of Gilgamesh with the pins of bone. For Gilgamesh was a king and he knew the power of written promises. They lay in their bed of dreaming, but the sleep of Gilgamesh was troubled.
The pain of the marks had not yet faded when the morning came that Ishtar led the Great Bull of Heaven to the city gates of Uruk. The bull went to the river, and he cracked the earth with a blow of his hoof. A hundred men fell dead in the city. The bull struck the earth again, and two hundred more fell dead. He struck the earth again, and Enkidu fell over. He knelt on all fours before Gilgamesh, but it was not for pleasure. Ten pins of bone fell from his lips and clattered on the clay bricks.
Gilgamesh went to him, but Enkidu said, "I am well." He picked up the pins of bone and put them through his robes with the others. They lay like a necklace around his neck. Fifty-eight pins of bone. Enkidu smiled at Gilgamesh as he wove them through the cloth. It was a troubled smile. It put a cold wind in Gilgamesh’s heart.
Enkidu ran to the river and grabbed the bull by his horns. Gilgamesh felt his heart beat like a lion in his chest. Enkidu smiled as he held the bull. He said, "I will hold it in place. You put your sword through its neck." Gilgamesh grabbed the bull by its tail, and they flipped the Great Bull of Heaven. Gilgamesh killed it with his sword.
As Gilgamesh killed it, Enkidu sighed. He said, "We should have brought your axe."
Gilgamesh took Enkidu's hand in his. Callous to callous. "You are the axe."
Ishtar flew down to the walls of the great city of Uruk. She perched there and commanded that the Harimatu and the dancing girls come to weep with her over the Great Bull of Heaven. "Who is the most beautiful, who is the most powerful among women? Ishtar is the most beautiful, the most powerful among women. I am Love and I am War. See what Gilgamesh has done and weep."
Gilgamesh stood over the Great Bull of Heaven and commanded that the blacksmiths and armorers come to admire what they had killed. He called out loudly so that Ishtar would hear him. "Who is most glorious of the heroes, who is most eminent among men? Gilgamesh is the most glorious of heroes, Gilgamesh is most eminent among men. See what I have killed."
Enkidu put his hand on Gilgamesh's heart, but a storm raged there.
Ishtar called out, "A curse on Gilgamesh for he has spurned me, and he has killed the Great Bull of Heaven. Now I will open the doors to the realm of the dead and let them loose to walk again on the skin of the world. They will eat on the flesh of the living, and it will be impossible to tell the living from the dead."
An Anzud bird circled in the sky. She perched on the gate of cedar from the forest of the gods. She called out.
Enkidu took his hand from Gilgamesh.
He ripped off the haunch of the Great Bull of Heaven and threw it at Ishtar. "If I could lay my hands on you, I would lash you with the entrails of the Great Bull of Heaven. Can you not hear the cries of the women of the city? They search for those that died as the Great Bull of Heaven cracked the earth. Sky-Father Anu has given you great gifts. You should not abuse this power. You should deal justly with your servants. Why have you requested that the halub tree be felled? It was the home of the serpent and Anzud. A maiden lived inside it. Could neither of you see her? Why have you demanded Gilgamesh to be your lover? You should not ask these things."
Ishtar's gaze fell then on Enkidu and she cursed him. "You have killed Humbaba, who guarded the cedar forests from the axes of men. You have killed the Great Bull of Heaven. One of you must die." She smiled at Gilgamesh and it was a smile that drenched cold through the storm of his heart. "The companion who will never leave you must sit down on the threshold of the dead and go down to Irkalla. It is his time." As she spoke, Enkidu felt to the ground. He coughed out a pin of bone.
A Harimatu caught him as he fell. She brushed back his hair as he lay on the earth, but Gilgamesh did not need her. He took up Enkidu himself. He carried him to the palace. He put Enkidu in the bed that Gilgamesh prepared for him. He wept and said, "Mother, save Enkidu."
His mother brushed her hands over Enkidu and said, "Immortality was not given to him. Only life."
He went to Unug. He called out to Ishtar. "Take back the fate that you have laid upon Enkidu, my companion. I look forward to placing my seed in your body and I will shriek like a duckling in your bed. I will gladly take you as my bride." Ishtar did not answer. She had flown out of the wide city of Uruk. The Anzud bird that perched on the garden walls called out, but he did not understand the language of birds.
He returned to the sick bed that he had made for Enkidu. He sat with him and gave him water when he was thirsty. Enkidu called out for him. "I am the axe." He coughed. "I am the meteor." Gilgamesh took Enkidu's hand in his and held him as he spat out a pin of bone. Enkidu lay still then. Gilgamesh put his hand on Enkidu's chest, but his heart did not beat. His rhythm had gone silent.
Gilgamesh laid a thin piece of fabric, as one veils the bride, over his friend. He commanded that Enkidu be bathed in fragrant oils. He sat with him for seven days. He would neither let them take his body for burial nor for burning. He said, "Perhaps the gods will hear my weeping and bring my companion back to me." But for all the tears that Gilgamesh shed, Enkidu did not open his eyes.
On the seventh day, the worms began their feast upon him and fear came to Gilgamesh's heart. He commanded that all the city come out to mourn when they set light Enkidu's funeral fire.
Gilgamesh raged like a lion over the embers. He took off his splendid robes and put on skins held together with sixty pins of bone. He put ash into his long hair. He scratched at the marks on his body that Enkidu had put there. With his fingers, he broke the lines of Enkidu's promises.
His mother came to him and said, "My beloved son, cease with your raging. You should be a shepherd to your people. The young men that you led on journeys went to Irkalla as Enkidu has now done. The women who have died in childbed and the children that they bore, they have also gone ahead. You wear their bones as pins. Put aside your tears."
Gilgamesh could not cease weeping. He wanted no end to tears. He went into the wilderness that had raised Enkidu. He sought out the gazelle and the wild ass. He stood in the yellow grass. He said, "How can I rest when my companion who was to never leave my hand has left me?" He walked swiftly. He said, "I will find Utnapishtim, who is immortal, and find out his secret. The worms will not feed on me then." The gazelle and the wild ass did not answer him.
He left them behind as he walked to the mountain passes. He came to Mashu, the great mountains that guard the rising and setting sun. He came to where the Scorpion-dragons guarded the gate.
The Scorpion-dragons saw the tracks of his tears and where his nails had scratched at the marks Enkidu had made on his body. They let him go by through the gates that they guarded with their blessing. The one called out, "Good luck."
The other called out, "Keep walking in a straight line. It is easy to get lost in the dark."
He walked through the darkness. He could not tell if it was a straight line, but he came to the gardens of the gods where the bushes bent low with jeweled fruit. He came to the place where Shamash lay on a burning couch with his bride, Aya.
Shamash said, "What are doing in my garden? You will not find eternal life here."
Aya pulled up the smoldering blankets and said, "I have seen you, Gilgamesh. I have seen your disrespect for brides. The way you turned beds of dreaming into beds of night." Aya, the dawn, did not smile at him.
Gilgamesh wept and scratched at his chest. He said, "Let me see the light of the sun, I have walked so long in darkness."
But Shamash shook his head and the hair on his head crackled. "Go to Siduri, the vintner. Perhaps she will take pity on you." Aya pulled up the blanket that covered them.
Gilgamesh went from the garden. He did not know what else to do. He came to an enclosure. Siduri stood behind the gate, but would not open it. She handed him a beaker of wine through the gate. She said, "Take joy in the light of Shamash and all that it brings. Take the hands of your children and teach them the stars of night. Eventually, even wine loses its sweetness. Bread grows hard if you do not eat it."
Gilgamesh scratched at his chest. He said, "I have despair in my heart. The companion who should have never left his hand from mine has fed the worms, and I am afraid. I seek Utnapishtim so that I may learn to never die."
Siduri sighed. She gave him wine and directed him on his journey.
He went to the boatman, Urshanabi, and in his despair, he destroyed the boat's tackle. Urshanabi said, "How can I take you across the sea if you have destroyed the way that I sail?" Gilgamesh shook his head and wept. Urshanabi sighed and helped him across the sea.
Gilgamesh found Utnapishtim on a couch made of woven cat tails surrounded by fragrant flowers on the shores of the lapping sea, but Utnapishtim had no immortality to give. He said, "There is no permanence. The waves wash the shore and change its contours. These flowers give way to cold winter and new flowers in their spring. I and my wife are immortal out of the guilt of the gods. The loud sounds of the people kept the god Enlil from sleeping. So, he brought down a flood on all humanity. Only I and my wife survived, and the gods in their pity gave us this life. Would you ask for another flood? Do you think you could survive it?"
Gilgamesh lowered his head. He could not answer yes. Enkidu had asked him to be a shepherd to his people, and here he was far from home. He could only go back across the lapping sea. He heard its waves on the shore. The light of the sun danced on the water.
He went back to the vineyard of Siduri, and he gathered grapes for her in the sun baked vineyards.
He came to the garden of the gods where the bushes bent low with jeweled fruit. He came to the place where Shamash lay on his couch of dreaming with his bride, Aya. Shamash said, "Now you are ready to see the sun." He kissed his bride and said, "I must leave you for my journey of the day."
Aya gave Shamash travel cakes wet with honey. Shamash shared them with Gilgamesh as they traveled across the leagues of darkness, which were now light. The food of the gods was sweet and the taste of it lingered in Gilgamesh's mouth. As they came to the mountains, Shamash climbed up into the sky. Gilgamesh watched him go. It was a fast journey over a well worn trail.
Gilgamesh thanked the Scorpion-dragons for letting him through their gate. He gave them wine from the vineyard of Siduri. They drank it together for it tasted of the earth and sunlight, and the day was pleasant. One called out, "Thank you."
The other said, "Come again soon."
Gilgamesh waved at them and ran across the wide plains. The tall grass that grows green every year whipped at his legs. He ran faster.
Finally, he saw the wide walled city of Uruk over the horizon. He saw the Anzud bird circling high over the city walls. He went faster then. He went straight to the great palace, to Egalmah, where his mother waited for him. She took him in her arms and held him as if he were a boy. He was not a boy. He was a man grown. He breathed in the smell of sandalwood and cedar. He breathed out through his mouth, and the taste was sweet in his mouth.
He said, "Mother, I want to see my children. I want to take their hands in mine and teach them the stars."
She smiled at him and said, "My beloved son, there are too many for you to take all their hands at once. But there are stars enough for them to learn."
Gilgamesh found, as with all things, his mother was correct. He ordered couches be made ready for his sons and daughters, and he sat with them in his rooms and pointed out the stars. When they went to their sleep, he lay down on his bed and dreamed of the green grass that grows in the spring.
It was only the morning, as the taste of hot dandelion brew filled his senses with waking, that it occurred to him that Ishtar had spoken of ripping off the gates to the realm of the dead. He could almost hear Enkidu tell him that it was a bad idea. This was why he didn't go there with his axe for at least three days.