The travelers gathered early for supper, full of guarded praise for Anenki’s little city. “A bit too communal for my tastes,” Captain Decker summed up the consensus of the freedom loving Americans.
“Of necessity,” Anenki responded. “Before we began it was anarchy. I mean, most people were nice and helped their neighbors when they could, but ultimately it was every man for himself. Now, in order to make the kind of division of labor a city needs, it has to be communal. You want a man to spend his days working in clay, not soil. But he is thinking he has to grow crops and hunt and fish and tend to his goats and oxen to feed his family and have some to trade. That way very little time can be spent on the clay. So we guarantee, as well as we can, that he will receive the food he needs for his family, and the cloth or clothing and whatever else may be necessary so he can concentrate on the clay. We have to be communal to do that. You might call it excessively high taxes.”
“I understand,” Katie Harper spoke up. “It makes sense to me, at least. Sumer was marked with a more communal kind of living than later civilizations.”
“Remember, we are transitioning,” Anenki added. “To be honest, I think Marx got it completely backwards. Communism was really the first step, not the last. Capitalism only developed with a money economy, but that won’t happen for, what, three thousand and some years.”
Several women interrupted by placing trays of fruit and vegetables on all of the tables. Some of the people began to come into the banquet hall as well, talking and laughing in their own little groups.
“So tell me about our guest, if you don’t mind.” Lockhart finally asked the question everyone had been avoiding. Anenki glanced at Bashte who encouraged him without a word.
“Alright,” he said, and set himself to hold nothing back. “About twelve years ago when we were first starting out, some of the motivation to build a city where people could live safe and secure was because of one man. Nogao had convinced a number of people it was easier to take the labor of others than do the work themselves.”
“Thief,” Lockhart said quietly. Anenki nodded.
“Well, we just got things going and he showed up with more than a hundred followers to try and take over the whole work.”
“Don’t tell me, egged on by Gagrena,” Alexis said.
“Sweetheart,” Lincoln reached for her hand. He imagined she was wrong accusing the woman.
“Sorry, she just reminds me of the type of personality that I despise in women.”
“You have very good insights,” Bashte said to confirm that the accusation was accurate.
“Yeah, they give all women a bad name,” Boston added.
Anenki nodded the whole time, but then they all paused again as two men carried in half a bull for the main table. There were roasts brought in for the other tables as well and the room was filling up.
“Where is Gagrena?” Bashte asked.
“Fashionably late?” Alexis suggested.
“Wanting to make a grand entrance,” Anenki nodded again.
“Anyway,” Lockhart wanted back to the story.
“Anyway, Nogao was killed. I killed him, and his people were left leaderless. It was my brother Agur who took them with some well trained experts in the various disciplines and went north, back to the Tigris where we found him. He started a second city, One that Enlil named after our baby, Nippur.”
“We chiefly worship Enki in Eridu,” Bashte said.
Anenki cut off the questions with a simple word. “I flipped a coin. Besides, Agur had met Enlil and the god was always associated more with the Tigris and Enki with the Euphrates so it all worked out.”
“Except for Gagrena,” Katie pointed out. “I take it she did not follow your brother.”
“No,” Anenki said the word with an underline. “She was not about to have any man rule over her. Not even Enlil. She took about a third of the group and broke away to build her own place. She calls it Uruk. It is on the Euphrates, but up river approaching half-way between Eridu and Nippur.” Anenki’s voice trailed off and there was silence only interrupted by Lincoln tapping his knife gently on the table.
“Where is that woman?” Lincoln asked.
“That beef smells great.”
“Why not cut yourself a steak?” Captain Decker offered.
“Wait,” Anenki held up his hand. “It is polite to wait. Though maybe I should eat before she gets here. She will just give me indigestion.”
“You don’t like her much,” Boston understated the case.
Anenki countered. “Actually, I feel sorry for her. She has been at me all afternoon about how she misses me and we really had a good thing and she foolishly let me get away. I would say she is trying to put the moves on me, and she is still rather nice to look at. But you know, now that I am not a teenager with hormones ruining my brain I can see that she does not lie very well at all.”
“Father,” Lili spoke up. “Maybe I should fetch Mother.”
Anenki did not have time to answer because his sister Dantu came in with Risah in her arms. “Anenki!” She shouted. “Don’t eat the roast!” Risah collapsed to the ground.
Everyone moved, but it was Alexis who got there first. She laid her hands over Risah and that familiar glow appeared for those who could see it. “She has been poisoned,” Alexis announced in the sudden silence of that big room.
“Keep back, give them room.” Captain Decker and Lockhart had to play policemen.
“Maybe I can draw it out of her,” Alexis suggested. She began to work with her hands. No one saw Gagrena come into the room, but when she realized what was going on, they all heard her.
“You are trying to kill me!”
Bashte jumped. “You are not stupid. If we wanted to harm you we would not test it out on Anenki’s sister first.”
There was a sudden flash of darkness and Alexis got knocked back on her rump. “Magically protected,” she managed to say as she rushed her hand to her head to fight the dizzy feeling.
“Nanna!” Anenki immediately called for his daughter, the daughter of the goddess Innan.
“You can do it. I’m right here, but right now you are the only one who can do it.”
“Hurry, please,” Dantu pleaded.
Anenki brought Nanna to Risah and had her kneel. When he let go, Nanna closed her eyes and put her hands out like Alexis. Nanna’s glow was much richer, much fuller and more golden in color. They saw the darkness come up and push against her hands. Nanna shrieked, but Anenki laid a hand on her shoulder and encouraged her.
“You can do this. You are stronger than any darkness. Get angry.”
Nanna got angry and the darkness cracked and broke and blew away on the wind.
“Son, your hand,” Mingus said, and Roland gave it. “Concentrate,” Mingus added as he reached down and snatched Alexis’ bone wand. He waved it slowly in the air, twice and then gave it a sharp jerk. There was a pale blue light that popped from the wand, like a globe. It began to float around the room, slowly at first before it got up a good head of steam. It went from table to table, separated twice and came back together before it finally lighted on the roast at the head table. The whole roast fairly glowed soft blue before the darkness came out of the roast and swallowed the light.
“Only our roast is poisoned,” Roland said as Mingus paused to catch his breath.
By then, Alexis was up and coaching Nanna. “There it is,” Alexis said. “All gathered in one place. Now raise your hands, slowly.” Nanna did, and a small drop of something came right out of Risah’s body. It followed Nanna’s hands into the air. Nanna squealed.
“I did it. I did it.”
Anenki handed Alexis a cup in which she caught the drop while Bashte hugged Nanna.
“Mama, I did it!” Nanna hugged her back.
“I’m so proud of you,” Bashte added.
As Risah began to come around, Lili, who had knelt beside Dantu and held Dantu’s hand, looked up at Bashte. Bashte put her other arm around Lili and kissed her cheek as well. “I’m proud of all my children,” she said before she apologized to Dantu. “I’m sorry I don’t have another arm for you.” Dantu looked up and nodded, but her eyes were full of tears and she had no words.
“And you too,” Bashte let go of Nanna and Lili to give Niudim a big hug. The young man understood enough to know he almost lost his aunt Risah and he was near tears as well. Nanna and Lili also went to him and joined in a kind of group hug.
“Ah, the power of love,” Anenki said and turned to face Gagrena. “True love conquers all.” Anenki paused. “Did I just say that?”
“Yes you did,” Lockhart responded from the table where he and Captain Decker were lifting the roast on its tray. Lincoln and several of the men were there to help. They intended to bury the beast somewhere out of town.
“But I hate clichés,” Anenki finished.
“But father,” Roland turned to Mingus. “Who would do such a thing?” In answer they heard an angry moan come from beneath their feet. Lockhart and Decker had to shuffle their hands to keep from dropping the roast. It sounded like someone was very frustrated.