User:Michael Bard/Marduk's Gift

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Marduk's Gift

Author: Michael Bard

Jonpeadag, sometimes known as John, was hot. Hot, covered in sweat. And, also sunk almost up to his thighs in the rich, black, Mesopotamian mud. In the distance he could see a pair of men lifting skins of water and pouring their contents into the irrigation troughs.

Ever since he'd grown up, he'd worked in the mud and the water. But then, everybody did. Or, almost everybody. The king didn't. And his servants. And those in the city-- But somebody had to grow the grain, had to harvest the bounty of the Tigris.

He didn't even look up as the earth grumbled. It hadn't before, but then the acts of the Gods were everywhere. He didn't look up at the clatter of ass hooves clomping down the dirt road, sending clumps of mud and dirty water into the fields at either side. He didn't look up as the sound grew louder, and he didn't look up when unspoked wheels clattered by, splashing him with mud and gravel.

Summerian king on saddlecart
(Artist: Johnny Shumate)

Even when there was a scream, curses, the gurgling call of dying donkeys, he just kept working.

It was only when he heard the schmack of a copper-bladed sword into flesh that he stopped weeding and turned to see what was going on. He stared, mouth hanging open as dirty water dribbled down his back. The gaily painted saddlecart was stopped, one wheel still in the water and mud filled crack that had appeared in the roadway, its yoke cracked, dirt splattered against its solid wooden wheels and the cloth-covered saddlehorse which his king had been straddled upon. The dull tan asses were both lying on the ground, legs snapped. One was dead, its head nearly severed from its neck, blood staining the mud. The other screamed, as his king, Enmebaragisi, swung his sword through the second ass's neck with another wet schmack.

Both asses had tripped over the crack in the road, both had broken their legs. They had snapped the chariot yoke. Now they were lying there. Dead. Their blood staining the ground.

So much for getting any meat--

The King let the bloody copper blade of his sword sink to the ground, his body coated in dust and sweat and dirt, his only clothing a formerly white linen skirt.

He saw Jonpeadag, even as Jonpeadag saw his king and averted his eyes, pretending he'd been working the whole time.

The king wasn't fooled. "You!" he boomed. "Why is this-- this-- hole not fixed?" He waved his sword at the jagged crack in the roadway that had killed his asses.

Jonpeadag answered as his king glared down at him in the mud. "But-- sire-- I have to work in the fields--"

"I don't care!" the king roared. "My asses are dead, and I have to deal with an interloper!"


"You-- out, now."

Jonpeadag scrambled out of the mud, a little splashing the dusty legs of his King as he prostrated himself on the road in front of him. Thick goo caked his body, and oozed between his toes as the sun pounded on his muddy back. A back that wasn't scared, for he was not a slave, but a freeman.

That seemed likely to change.

The King's face was red, red as the setting sun, and he was going to take out his frustrations on somebody. Raising his sword--


The King stopped, the glistening copper sword falling from his hand and splunking into the dirt and mud. Like Jonpeadag, he prostrated himself and faced the fields. He knew the voice, even though he'd never heard it before. Knew it as well as Jonpeadag, even though he had never spoken to the freeman either.

Mighty King Enmebaragisi, the fault belongs not to him, nor to yourself. You fell to a trap created by my brother. But, as my brother has intervened, so am I allowed to intervene.

None of the mortals dared to look upon the form of Marduk, the God of the earth, of the grain, and of the water saturated mud that fed them all. None of them saw that he was a graceful, beautiful human, clean and shining, unlike the dirt covered mortals.

King Enmebaragisi spoke, as only he dared to speak in the presence of divinity. "Lord, but what can be done? Even now the interloper approaches to slay me and take away all that is mine--" He swallowed, and then added, "and yours."

Fear not, for I have been watching. Though I may not create, I may change. And that which I need is here.

Jonpeadag hardly dared speak, terrified to move the slightest bit, barely breathing as the mud oozed from his body. He heard a sigh of wind, a shush of gentle rain, and then felt a touch upon his back. It wasn't a human touch, it wasn't the touch of an animal, or of a stone, or of a breath of wind. It was a touch that he'd never forget.

King, for you, for your destiny, let me change him. Let me infuse him with the spirits of your slain beasts, with the soul and speed of the wild horse. Let me prepare him to serve you in your hour of need.

Without wishing it, Jonpeadag pushed himself onto his hands and knees as hot energies pulsed through him. He felt his body change, grow--


His arms grew longer, and he stood on the toes of his feet as his arms lengthened to match.


His middle fingers grew hard and tough, his other fingers shrunk, the same thing happening to his corresponding toes.


His ears slid to the top of his head, growing long and pointed, his neck lengthened until he could look upon the divinity that stood above him. He turned his head away, not daring to look, staring instead at his king.


His body rippled as muscle grew, and bones changed. His chest grew rounder, his neck larger, as his hands and arms changed into forelegs, and his legs and feet changed into hindlegs.


His chin stretched outward, bursting from his face as his head stretched into the muzzle of an ass. A tail budded at the base of his spine, and burst out behind him.


Hair burst across his naked flesh, the caked mud and dirt crackling and falling beside his hooves as his vision blurred and changed, and he became the mule the God had made of him.


The last energies flowed through him, his nostrils widened and grew in sensitivity. The hair flowed down his neck in a mane and the black line of hair continued down his spine and to his tail. New scents flooded in: the richness of the mud, the unwashed stench of the king, the last wisps of musk of the asses as their bodies faded, feeding the change, the fresh carved wood of the saddlecart, and the cracked yoke as it healed and changed from a design for two to a design for one, the salty tang of the blood-coated copper blade dropped onto the roadway, the cold greasy oil of the polished reins and harness, the soft warm sweetness of the dyed and patterned wool blanket on the saddlecart.

Go, my son. Go and be victorious!

And, with that, Marduk was gone. And the two mortals knew it.

King Enmebaragisi looked at the massive mule, far bigger than any horse he'd ever seen, a mighty beast once a human often known as John. The beast looked up at his king, and at the other free men labouring in the fields.

The king leaned down and picked up the bridle lying on the ground. Shaking off the dirt, he walked over and offered it to Jonpeadag who took the copper into his mouth. The metal was cold and bitter, yet worn and loved. Leather reins stretched back and the King grabbed them near the former human's muzzle and pulled the mule around. The pull at the reins yanked the rough-formed metal against his sensitive lips.

Even before he knew he'd spoken, Jonpeadag burst out. "Hey! Careful! That hurts--"

Each stared at the other. King Enmebaragisi at the miracle, and Jonpeadag at the king to which he'd so freely spoken.

And he realized, he knew, that they were equals now.

"King," he said. "I've changed, but then you know that."

The king couldn't help but smile as the tension, the fear at the presence of Marduk, fell from him.

"You're my king, and I respect you. But, I've been touched by the divine. I'll serve you. But I'm your companion, not your servant." He chewed on his bit thoughtfully.

The king scratched his forehead, his long black hair bouncing in the braids that fell down his back, and nodded. "Who am I to argue with the gift of a God?" Looking at the whisk on the ground near the saddlecart, he kicked it into the muddy field. "So be it."

With that, King Enmebaragisi settled the chariot yoke on the mule's back, and strapped the harness around the mule's chest, asking to make sure the straps weren't too tight. He clambered back onto the saddle, seating his royal posterior on the decorated blanket.

Jonpeadag asked: "Sire, whom are we going to fight?"

"Just some young interloper. No kingdom."

Feeling his king flick the reins, the mule started walking at a brisk trot, easily pulling the weight of the saddlecart and its passenger. He knew how to walk, and knew that he'd be able to trot and gallop when asked.

The king continued: "I've heard his name is Gilgamesh--"