Inanna didn’t sweat if she didn’t want to. Though she considered perspiration for a moment as means of cooling the mortal form she wore. She thought better of it. Utu, her brother, sun god of the Sumerians was tempting her. The sand was crisp and abrasive against her toes. It burned at her earthly skin. She liked the pain. It felt like condensed passion. Hurt, heat and dehydration were exotic.
Inanna compounded her energy where an earthly being would have involuntarily expelled it into the desert winds. Traversing the scalding dunes, she bore the harassment. She was the goddess of sex. There were ways of getting even.
Eridu was close anyway. She wouldn’t have to travel far.
Inanna smiled as she and her servant approached the city walls. A small contingent of militiamen huddled in the entrance, against the wall, where the sand had accumulated in tiny mounds. They dropped their triangular dice and jumped to their feet as the pair of women approached.
The sentries’ lips were dry and their tongues scrapped around in their mouths as they tried to find a proper way to address the princess. That is what they thought she must be at least. Impossibly white robes hung loosely around her neck, exposing her chiseled collarbone. Her dress was laced with gold, bearing a myriad of lapis lazuli stones. Dark hair hung, part of it braided, past her shoulders. Gold, blue and orange shone from her headdress and carnelian earrings.
The guards bowed, marveling as much at her presence, as the fact that she had apparently come alone, with her handmaiden, out of the desert. But they did not question her. They kept their eyes down, resisting the urge to look up, or over at the board game they were playing.
Inanna left them standing there, bowing, like perfect statues. She imagined having a scene like that sculpted for her. Maybe she would have a new temple built with a colonnade of kneeling guards. The mortals in Uruk would do it gladly after she finished what she set out to accomplish. But first, in the place Abzu, there was a party to attend.
In mortal skin, Inanna had no trouble seducing her father in law. She let her skin sweat a little, releasing pheromones along with it. Her skin had a shine, uncommon in arid Sumer. And he drank like the god that he was. The wine was sweet. Incense burned around them. Laughter boomed through the hallways of Abzu. She pressed once more and expressed her lips.
“Your wisdom is great Father.”
Enki blushed, and hiccupped.
“But I,” she taunted, “own cunning.”
Enki bellowed. “Such a fine daughter.” He raised his earthen bottle and his servants cheered. “I Enki, who knows all things, who,” hiccup, “the holy laws of heaven and earth,” hiccup, “heart of the gods,” hiccup, “who knows all things,” he repeated. “In my name, and my power I give my daughter the Me!”
“I receive them!”
In his drunken stupor, the fool listed them one by one, “truth, the art of the hero, the art of power, the art of lovemaking,” as if that wasn’t hers already. “The enduring crown, the dagger and sword, smithing, animal husbandry…” Every Me, every aspect of culture and knowledge had been in his custody. Now they were in hers. She repeated them, adding each one he had forgotten and naming them only once.
The servants of Enki fearfully obeyed their master. They gathered the Me, inscribed on tablets, in jars and manifest by statuettes. All that night the effigies of human culture were brought to the quay and loaded, for the goddess onto the ship Heaven.
Inanna, with her servant, left their host babbling in his stupid sleep, mumbling praise to his daughter as they moved out onto the Euphrates.
The palace Abzu reeked of debauchery and excess. The dull stink of sand, spilled alcohol and lethargic guests eddied around the quiet hall. Enki woke, cursed the mortality he still donned and moved to take upon his godly visage. Enki felt diminished somehow, weak, like he was out of the mortal breath that he did not need. He searched for his crown, but could not find it. His head pounded. He didn’t bear pain as Inanna did.
His call still echoed the place when his servant was just at his side.
“Sukkal,” Enki strained. “Isimud, good, you. Where is Inanna?”
“She,” Isimud’s voice broke. “The goddess of war has-”
“Where is she?” Enki roared.
“On the river Euphrates my lord, aboard the vessel Heaven. Not far, sailing upstream, only to the next pier.”
“Where are the Me?” Enki lowered his voice as he sat near an altar.
“With her, my lord.”
“Go.” Enki sounded terrible, like a beast of the world below. He growled with the growing wrath of an angry god. “Take the enkum!”
Isimud hurriedly obeyed and he rode through the city on the coarse backs of the horrible creatures. With bestial vigor, they howled as they overtook the boat of heaven.
“Return the Me,” Ismud ordered in the name of his god. “And you may go back to your city Uruk in peace.”
“Enki is a liar!” Inanna cried. “He has betrayed me! Enki is not a god who knows all things.”
The wet hair of the enkum beasts reeked as they clutched the plies of the Heaven. They scratched at its bow and rocked it from side to side. They pushed it backward toward Eridu and Enki.
“My sukkal, Ninshuber, faithful to me, my champion,” holding one of the stolen Me, Inanna roused her servant. “Save the Boat of Heaven.”
New power surged through Ninshuber. Her mind enlightened and her body augmented with divinity, she slashed the air above the beasts and screamed with the motion. Hot streaks of power hung in the air. The force of them together rent through the thick enkum flesh. Her hands arced toward the sky above her, and the servant heaved the beasts from the water and flung them, with Isimud, back to Abzu.
“My-” Isimud said.
“Go, again!” Enki seethed, “With the Eru!”
A legion of giants, air-bound churned the river with their beating wings as they caught up to the Boat of Heaven. They reached for the sails and mast of the ship seeking to turn or sink it. Inanna bestowed a second Me on Ninshuber and she battled the giants. The sukkal, with colossal strength and speed tore off the arms of the nearest giant. She plucked out the wings of another and dropped him over the side. Ninshuber grappled as the piled on her, ripping them apart. The water-space of Dulma churned with bobbing and bloody appendages as the rest of the giants fled.
Enki raged in Eridu as his sukkal reported back. Enki sent his servant again, with an army of Lahama. Isimud torpedoed through the water with a phalanx of sea serpents, in pursuit of the Boat of Heaven. The swarm dove beneath the ship and shot upward, bearing it out of the water. They writhed and squirmed over each other, and began carrying the ship back toward Eridu. Ninshuber set herself upon the monsters. Her slashing arms stopped on the thousands of scales. Again Inanna gifted her consort the power of a Me and Ninshuber flew through the air. Twisting and dancing around the nest of sea-snakes, she sheared the scales from the Lahama then severed off their heads and tails. Unscathed and un-bloodied she landed, dry, on the Boat of Heaven. Inanna let Isimud flee back to Abzu.
Isimud returned by command with the kugalgal, the shrieking dragon. It opened its mouth and sent a wave of force to rip the skin from their bones. Ninshuber received the Me to withstand it and the blast passed over them like a calm breeze. The dragon circled in the air, yelling, calling forth waves from the river to drown them. The dragon’s roars ripped the rocks from the shore and catapulted them at the ship. But the boat remained protected. Furious, the kugalgal dove at Ninshuber. She tore out its tongue and cast it into the water. The beast flailed and writhed in agony. Ninshuber pulled its jaw in two and with its dying breath it leaped from the ship and flew off to die.
Enki’s fifth trial was the enunun and the Boat of Heaven survived. Throughout the night Ninshuber and Inanna battled demons and beasts. They sliced through flesh with blue light. They ripped away claws and horns. They shocked, burned and froze every foe Enki sent. And they were almost to Uruk.
A gang of men, Enki’s greatest assassins, the watchmen of the Iturungal Canal sat quietly and waited for the goddess and her warrior. Her brother Utu was gone, leaving night in his place. With the power of the stolen Me and the Me Inanna already possessed the goddess and her sukkal had kept themselves unspotted from the gore of the day. And they were alert.
Against the current the Boat of Heaven passed through the Iturungal Canal. Shadows slipped into the cracks and corners of their boat. The first assassin stabbed at Inanna but Ninshuber was there. She twisted his arms and sank the dagger into his heart. His body dispersed into shadow. Assassins leapt at their targets all at once, daggers aimed perfectly. Inanna began to shine. Silver light radiated from her skin and robes. No blade so much as pricked either of the women. Instead they turned, sticking another assassin or evaporating into dark mist. Inannas light burned away at them and soon the night was clear.
“Queen,” Ninshuber spoke, “Let thy glory shine in Uruk. Let thy power brighten the night of man and let the people rejoice when the Boat of Heaven enters the gate of Uruk.”
Inanna smiled and put her arms around Ninshuber and hugged her.
When the Boat of Heaven came into the white harbor the people of Uruk gathered. They flocked toward the ship and marveled as Inanna presented to them the Me. Her people unloaded them astonished as the knowledge of the gods filled them. Through the city they passed around the tablets, opened the jars and esteemed the statues. And more Me that Inanna had stolen appeared. The people sang and danced in the streets and praised their goddess as all the aspects of culture were imparted to the mortals.
Then Enki appeared. The crowds halted and silence drew over them like the mists of the assassins. The god gazed at Inanna. Then he turned and looked out over the city. He turned and looked at the people as they cowered.
“In the name of Enki, god of wisdom and in my power!” Enki bawled. “In the name of Azbu,” He paused breathing deeply. “Let the Me you have taken from me, be kept in the holy shrine of Uruk. Let Uruk prosper as allies of Eridu. Let mankind and Uruk be great!”