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Lady of the Floods

by DeAnna Knippling

Praise Be to Those Who Steal Not

The picture on the cover was made by Cathy Miller Burgoyne, who records the weird and wonderful at her Arctic Fire website.  Check it out.  I was just enthralled.

 

The gods can build in a single night a tower that would require the toil of many men over many seasons.  Balathu, chief of scribes, brings the King’s offerings.  Balathu is a virtuous man, but the tools of the gods are lovely in his sight, and in the sight of the King.

Truly, weak men are always seized by fate.

I am not the man who has seen everything, and I know even less. I am Balathu, scribe of Ubaratutu of Shuruppak. Ubaratutu is a king over merchants and scribes, of which I am his chief. Our wisdom is the wisdom of planting fields and avoiding gossip. I preserve the sayings of our people in the name of the King and inspect the tallies of our grain stores.

When the Ilumesh built their tower near the city in a single night of fire, the king sent me to present his gifts and see what they wished of the children of men. The black tower rose higher than the city walls, higher than the palace, higher than the bluffs, and seemed made of obsidian tears from faraway lands.

The land at the top of the bluff bears no fruit and is fit only for goats, but the wind cooled my hair and took me from the stench of the city. The hooves of my horse broke through the crust of ash before the tower, stirring dust into all our eyes.

When we reached the tower, I prostrated myself on the ash and begged for the Ilumesh to show their will.

Truly the Ilumesh are not like men. They accepted our gifts of olives and spice but refused the gold. Also slaves and horses they took. They spoke not directly with me, but sent forth demons to accept our gifts, with backward-turned claws, many limbs, and faces which writhed with long, white eyes. The horns of a powerful bull graced each of their heads. Their skin was gray, and their chests shone black.

Each of the demons bore a measuring stick with which they measured each gift. They measured me by laying the stick on the inner part of my thigh, which stung like bees at the hive. After I was measured, they anointed me with fire, after which they deemed me worthy to hear some small part of their councils.

They wished for us to bring sacrifice, one of each kind of animal, or plant, or men, even of the races of slaves, to them, so that they might be measured in the sight of heaven, and from this I knew them to be messengers of Enlil.

Upon hearing the wish of the Ilumesh, Ubaratutu commanded it to be fulfilled.

I tallied all gifts that were brought. Types of flax, six. Types of fish, forty-seven. Types of water birds, sixty, although more would have been brought as they passed in their season. Types of beetles, one hundred and three. Types of winged insects, seventy-two. Types of ants, six. Types of worms, fifteen, although Warassuni claims to have found more in other seasons. Types of spiders, fourteen. Types of other creeping things, thirty-five. Types of goat, four, although others could be traded for, from the herders. Types of sheep, eight. Types of horses, eight. Types of ass, nine. Types of date palm, four. Types of leeks, three. Types of onion, seventeen, although two of them may be considered the same type, in spring and then mature. Types of lentil, twelve. Types of wheat, two. Types of barley, seven. Types of spices, in the names of the Gods, two hundred and twelve. Types of healing herbs, in the names of the Gods, two hundred and sixty-seven. Types of grapes, fifteen. Types of olives, eight. Types of plants bearing flowers, in season and out, over three hundred. And so on.

The list of men was as long and varied as the list of animals and plants.

The demons kept a few choice sacrifices but measured all. Truly they loved honey more than gold, and we brought almost every hive in the city to them, which they accepted with great leaps into the air.

I am not a man who knows everything. After accepting the bees in the names of the Ilumesh, one of the demons left its measuring stick behind, and I stole it, I, who has recorded so much in the name of the King, decrying thieves.