By Josepha Sherman
Now, here is a tale long hidden by the gods themselves so that humankind might not know how close they, and all creation, once come to utter horror, utter loss...
Enlil, God of Air and keeper of the Tablets of Destiny, those magical tablets of Power on which was written all that was, all that is, all that would be, stood in the gateway of his palace, its inlaid bricks gleaming blue and gold in the mountain sunlight. Today, Enlil had the seeming of a mortal man of middle years, one in the utter peak of life and contentment, and his robes glittered with cloth of gold, the fringes rippling gently in the morning breeze.
Right now, he thought, at peace with himself and his lot, all life, mortal and Other, was surely splendid, everything perfect and in its place.
Was it though? Enlil straightened in sudden surprise, frowning slightly. Here came his children, climbing up the mountainside, his four fine young sons and daughters, but with them came... what? What had they found? Something living, yes, but like nothing else he had seen. Laughing and chattering with excitement, the youngsters were bringing the... being up here for their divine father to examine.
"See what we have found!"
"What is it?"
"Where can it be from?"
The creature had, at first glance, looked only newly hatched, but it had already grown, as was the way with magical beings. And if it had not been huddling in such seeming submission, Enlil thought, it would have towered over them all. Both wild and terrible to see, it was great eagle and lion mixed madly together, with a beak that looked strong enough and sharp enough to bite through twelve coats of mail at once, and talons like so many cruel knives. Its eyes were hot yellow, savage as the desert sun but they were not, for all that, for all else, the eyes of na unreasoning beast.
"Who are you?" Enlil demanded of it.
"I am Anzu," the creature replied. Its voice was fierce as na eagle´s cry, but its head was bowed politely. "I am here to serve you. Pray command me."
"Wait," Enlil told it.
Trying not to show unseemly haste, the god strode off into the great chamber that held the Tablets of Destiny. As he reverently unwrapped them from their fine wooden sheathing, the chamber blazed with sudden golden light, but Enlil, used to such splendor, never even blinked. Quickly, he searched in the Tablets for any trace of Anzu.
Nothing! Not even the slightest of hints!
Enlil hesitated thoughtfully, then wrapped the Tablets neatly up again. This Anzu must be a newly created creature, at a guess something spontaneously spawned from the wild magic of the mountain rivers and rushing winds. Such beings sometimes did spring into existence. And they could, indeed, prove quite useful always presuming, of course, that they were tamable.
Yes. Ah, yes. Best to put this creature´s undeniable strength to work in the cause of Good right away!
Rejoining the others, Enlil told Anzu, "I have decided. You shall indeed serve as you wished. In fact, you shall be a Guardian. You shall help guard the Tablets of Destiny."
He told himself that what he saw was a look of pleasure crossing that savage face. But just in case, Enlil bound Anzu to truth and honesty with words that would mean death to the being if broken.
"Well and good," Anzu said, and swore the vows without a word of complaint, then purred like a great cat. "I am content."
So it seemed. And in the days that followed, Enlil told himself that he had made a wise choice. For all his size and strength, Anzu did make a docile, utterly obedient servant. He crouched, strong and steady, just outside the chamber of the Tablets, letting no one pass save Enlil. Bit by bit, Enlil´s suspicions faded and his trust began to grow.
And all the while Anzu seemed most utterly content.
Content! Anzu thought with a silent snarl. Oh, I act most charmingly content, yes. But all the while, all the while, he, that Enlil, that so proud god Enlil, parades about before me in all his godly splendor. All the while he lets me see the golden splendor of the Tablets but never, ever lets me touch them with the smallest of my talons.
And Anzu brooded and Anzu dreamed. Once he risked asking. "Great One, why is it only you who dare to touch the Tablets of Destiny?"
Enlil smiled, a patronizing smile, Anzu thought.
"They are my rightful charge, good Anzu. Therefore, they do not harm me."
"Yes, Anzu, even the gods could be harmed by such Powerful artifacts! Indeed, madness lies within their strength for too much clear sight of the past and future is madness". Enlil paused, shaking his head. "They would destroy you, Anzu."
"They are not for such as me," Anzu agreed softly.
But when Enlil had left, Anzu looked after him and thought, Are they not? Was all that not just words to keep the inferior being safely in his place? Patronize me while you may, Enlil. I will have the Tablets, yes, and with them, the power of the gods.
He waited with the slow, cautious patience of the lion stalking its prey, knowing that Enlil had grown complacent as only one can be who has never been crossed. And... yes! Enlil entered the ritual Bath of Purification and off guard, leaving Anzu by himself before the chamber of the Tablets of Destiny, sure that he need not watch over his trusted Guardian.
Anzu snatched up the Tablets of Destiny, spread his mighty wings and soared away.
"Mine! he shrilled, and his shriek echoed and re-echoed throughout the mountains. "The powers of the gods are mine!"
Behind him, below him, he heard Enli´s cry of despair. And Anzu laughed.
There on Enlil´s mountaintop, in a flat open circle of plain, white stone, the gods held a frantic council. Many voices, much noise.
"Enough of this!" Enlil cried. "Who will go after Anzu?"
Sudden silence, awkward silence. Enlil glanced about, but not one of the others would meet his gaze. He frowned at Enki, the Lord of Sweet Waters, Magic and Wisdom*. "Enki, I beseech you. Who should go?"
Enki sighed. "Who would dare? We all know that by now, Anzu has mastered the Tablets. Whoever he commands must obey and whoever he curses is turned instantly to clay."
"But we can´t do nothing! Anzu won´t be content to merely keep the Tablets. We don´t know what he might try he could very well destroy the worlds below and above!"
"Patience, Enlil. Patience and reason conquer all."
Enlil threw up his hands. " We have no time for platitudes."
No, Ninurta agreed from his hiding place. We have not.
In all that godly chaos, no one knew he was watching. Ninurta was young as the gods reckoned such things, the youngest son of the Mother Goddess Ninhursag-Ki, and as yet unproved.
That, he thought with a touch of wry humor, is because no one will give me the chance to prove anything!
Granted, his powers were only now beginning to come to him; he could master fog and the first edge of storm-calling. But he wasn´t helpless! He was strong and lithe, and no mere seeming about it, dark or hair and stormgray of eyes. Ninurta was a splendid archer as well drawn to the arrow as he would someday be drawn to lightning.
But the others say I am too young to be part of their councils. And yet, look! They are afraid, all of them! Don´t they realize what will happen if Anzu keeps the Tablets? He´s a creature of chaos Enlil´s right. He will destroy the world!
Let the others talk. If no one else would act, Ninurta decided, then he would. Taking up his bow and quiver of arrows, refusing to let himself think of the peril, Ninurta set out alone into the mountains where Anzu was said to have his lair.
As he went, Ninurta caused his as-yet unfocused powers. And slowly, slowly, the air swirled and condensed slowly about him, slowly as he cast a fog about himself. Let it be enough! Let Anzu not sense him till he was within bowshot!
But then a savage gust of wind tore the fog from about Ninurta. With a suddenness that made him gasp, he was staring straight at the monster. Anzu´s wide wings were spread, each feather sharp-edged as a blade. His fierce yellow eyes were blazing with rage.
And madness. Aie, yes, the Tablets of Destinies have destroyed his mind.
That made Anzu all the more terrible. "I have swept aside all rites, all rituals! he shouted at Ninurta. "There is nothing left to worship, only Me! I control the very gods! Who are you, small thing, not dare challenge Me?"
I dare not give my true name, not to a mad thing wielding Power. "I am the avenger come to trample you!"
Anzu´s laugh became a roar so loud and long that Ninurta clapped his hands over his ears in pain. All about them, the mountains shook, and great dark clouds came rushing in, turning the sunlit day sky black. "Do you see what powers I command?" Anzu shrieked. "And do you dare to challenge Me?"
Ninurta´s heart was racing. But he thought, Shriek away, monster. You´re giving me just enough time!
In one swift motion, he put arrow to bow, drew and fired
And the arrows turned back in its flight. Ninurta twisted aside as it whizzed past him, and Anzu gave a mocking laugh.
"You see, oh, would-be-hero? You cannot harm Me!"
Ninurta dropped to one knee, notched na arrow and fired again
"Turn back!" Anzu commanded.
The arrow whizzed back at Ninurta, grazing his arm. He looked down at the thin line of blood, barely believing, then turned and fled for the safety of the rocks, Anzu´s laughter roaring in his ears.
Of course not. He is so contemptuous of me that he doesn´t even see me as a threat. And why should he? So far, I am not!
Hidden there, among the rocks, the young god caught his breath and tried to plan. As long as Anzu held full Power, arrows were useless; he would just bat away any rocks thrown at him, and even a storm´s fury wouldn´t touch him.
Did I say Anzu was mad? Here is the madness, to think that I could win. He can simply keep tossing my arrows back at me till I run out of strength, or he...
Ninurta straightened with a sudden sharp jolt of na idea. Or he runs out of strength! Yes! No matter how much power he wields, Anzu is still a solid, tangible being. He must tire!
Patience and reason, Adad had counseled. Adad might just be right.
He´d better be right. I´m risking my life on this!
Ninurta raced back up the mountain to where Anzu stood, poised, waiting.
"Ah, the little avenger wants to play with Me!"
"I do, indeed," Ninurta said, and loosed na arrow.
Ninurta ducked the arrow´s return, dodged behind a rock and loosed another arrow. Another. Another.
"Turn back!" Anzu shrieked. "Turn back!"
Ninurta´s quiver was nearly empty, but he couldn´t stop now, he must keep the monster busy yes, here was a fallen arrow, and another, loose and fire, loose and fire
Yes! Anzu wasn´t made to wield so much Power, mind or body: he was growing weary! The Power was feeding on him, tearing the life-force from his great wings. Anzu staggered, exhausted, his mad eyes raging.
"Now, little one, you shall die!"
I´m out of arrows!
No. One was left, but to Ninurta´s horror, he saw that it was damaged, its fletching torn. It would not fly true.
I don´t have a choice.
"Here I am!" Ninurta cried, springing from behind his rock. "Here! Come to me, Anzu! And Light be with me!"
With a wordless roar, Anzu leaped, wings spread wide, and Ninurta fired the last arrow straight up at him
And he pierced Anzu to the heart.
In the next instant, the creature came crashing down on Ninurta, and for a terrible, breathess moment, he thought that he was dead as well
No, Anzu lay lifeless and Ninurta wriggled his way free, scratched and bleeding from the edges of those feathers, and staggered to his feet. Overhead, the great dark clouds still loomed, their power unfulfilled, and Ninurta, not even thinking about what he did, raised a weary hand to them and said, "Rain."
As simply as that, the clouds tore open and rain stormed down about him. For a moment, Ninurta stood in wonder, realizing the Powers that now were his.
Ah, but the Tablets must not be left here! Ninurta quickly gathered them up, wrapping them safely in cloth torn from his tunic, feeling the wild forces surging in them even so. And for a moment more, he was fiercely tempted.
I am not Anzu, I could use them.... only for good...
Use them? Or, in time, be used?
"No," Ninurta said to them. " I am not that foolish. Or that vain! You belong back where you were safely locked away."
Snatching up his bow, Ninurta left. And behind him, only the rain mourned Anzu.
* Note: In the original by Josepha Sherman, she says that it is Adad Enlil turns to, and she adds that he is the God of Wisdom. But in fact it is Enki the God of Wisdom, so I decided to alter the name chosen by the author to be faithful to the original version of the myth itself too.
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