A Royal Wedding

Late summer, 2890 BC in the coastal city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia was a prosperous time for the Sumer people. Their economy was driven by their expansive coastal and deep-water fishing fleets while their culture was dominated by religion and the Church of Lugal. Lord Alulim was a man of middle years, and while technically a King, his preference for being away from the city-state of Ur, leading his fishing fleet turned opportunistic pirates for months on end meant he had little time or inclination for burdens of statecraft nor the taste for the opulence of the city’s keep and temple. He left mundane administration to his high priest and counsellor, Demizid. 

Standing on a rocky promontory overlooking the bay below, he smiled at the sight of his precious fleet lying at anchor in the calm waters of an unusually warm summer’s day. At his back, rose the statue to Lugal, their God of land and sea, whose stern countenance gazed out over his dominion of both from this prime location. Alulim’s smiled faded quickly at thought of the God, his Church and worse still, his high priest Demizid, who wielded far too much power in the city-state and who, even now, was busily organizing a state wedding for Alulim to ensure a healthy heir for Demizid to tutor and no doubt control for his own ends. 

Across the city, a woman of advancing years, grey already streaking her once fair hair at the temples, stood behind her seated daughter, running a brush lovingly through flaxen hair so lustrous it was like spun gold. The woman sung softly as she brushed, an old song of both the sea’s bounty and it’s capricious and unforgiving nature. The young woman before her listened with rapt attention as she entertained dreams of a new life that would begin that afternoon as she wed the Lord and King of Ur in a lavish ceremony at the foot of their God. The young woman winced slightly as the brush caught in her hair, caused by a sudden startling of her mother as a heavy fist pounded on their door. Without waiting for permission or a response, the door was pushed open forcefully and both mother and daughter squinted at the bright midday sun as it streamed in through the now open portal. Two heavily armoured guards turned and stood either side of the door as a wiry, balding man stepped into the room with an air of self-importance. 

“High Priest Demizid,” the mother stated flatly, keeping her tone neutral, “what is the meaning of this?”

“I’ve come to check on our Lord’s fiancée,” Demizid answered brusquely, “why don’t you wait outside with my guards.” He finished, making it clear it was not a question.

With a flash of maternal insight, the older woman looked from Demizid to her daughter, now sitting wide eyed in just a loose-fitting robe at the dressing table, and panic began to swell in her chest. She could not disobey the High Priest without punishment for herself and possibly putting her daughter’s wedding in jeopardy, so she reluctantly moved towards the door, trying with desperate eyes to convey the potential danger to her daughter. As she stepped outside, a guard pulled the door closed behind her, although it would not latch properly with one hinge now busted. The last glimpse back into the room did not allay the old woman’s fears as Demizid stepped up behind her daughter, his face twisted into a lascivious smile.

“Well, don’t you look ravishing my dear,” Demizid began, laying one hand on her cheek and running it down to her shoulder where it pushed aside the robe, baring one of her breasts to full view in the mirror opposite her.

“My Lord, you are a man of the Church, this is unseemly,” she responded quietly, trying in vain to cover herself again. 

“Your betrothed spends a lot of time at sea my dear, so I expect I will need to spend a great deal of time assisting you with the many rigors of your new position.” He continued, ignoring her weak protests. “There is no harm in us getting acquainted for an hour or so before the ceremony. Alulim need never know,” he continued, fumbling with a rope belt at his waist with one hand.

There was a flash of movement just as his robe opened at the front and the young woman spun in place and a dagger flashed in her hand as she pressed it against his engorged manhood. Her other hand slapped his face hard and one of her long nails drew a thin line of blood across his cheek.

“Call for your guards and you will bleed out upon the floor before they even get into the room,” she told him calmly, although her eyes were wide with her own terror. Demizid didn’t notice, as his eyes were fixed upon the point of the dagger as it dug slightly into his flesh, evidence of her intent.

Silence hung in the room as Demizid considered his options and his eyes began to narrow dangerously before a commotion outside stole his plans before they had fully formed.

“High Priest Demizid,” he heard one of his guards call out, “is tending to the souls of his flock. He cannot be disturbed during such sensitive religious matters.”

“High Priest Demizid is summoned by his Lord, King Alulim,” another voice rang out with authority. “I expect that supersedes any tending of the… flock.” The guard’s tone made it clear he wasn’t being deterred in his mission. 

With slow and very deliberate movements, Demizid stepped gingerly back away from the young girl, and more importantly, her golden dagger. Gold was a soft metal, and the weapon would not stand against an armoured warrior, but a near-naked high priest was a very different matter entirely and the weapon would have easily achieved her earlier stated purpose. Closing his robe, he quickly tied off the rope belt and stepped to the door, but not before casting one last glance back at the girl. What she saw in that gaze terrified her and sent a deep chill through to her bones.

Later that afternoon, a score of guardsmen in burnished breastplates and tall pikes escorted the young woman along a paved road toward the coastal promontory. Walking beside her, the elderly mother held a piece of shade cloth on a long pole to keep her daughter out of the still biting heat of the afternoon sun. The young woman wore a simple, yet elegant white dress, adorned with sea green tinted mother of pearl beading and a polished seashell waistband. Around her neck, a deep blue sapphire heart stone hung from a thin gold chain to rest at the top of her bosom. Almost thirty minutes later, the procession reached the top of the promontory and the guards parted to take up a position on either side of the tall statue of Lugal. Standing before the statue waited King Alulim and High Priest Demizid as the guards slowly and formally took up their positions.

“What happened to your face Demizid?” Alulim asked absently while he waited for his betrothed to be escorted that last fifty yards by her mother.

“It’s nothing my Lord,” replied Demizid with a slight shake of his head. “A local harlot lashed out at me during a cleansing of her spirit. I fully intend to deal with her quite thoroughly when opportunity permits.”

Alulim raised one eyebrow at his remarks, knowing full well his High Priest’s predilections as did most of the townsfolks. There was much a man of the Gods could get away with when he was the supposed caretaker of your spirits final path to a peaceful afterlife. He would have inquired further but was interrupted by a rush of wind carrying the strong smell of brine as his betrothed finally stepped up beside him.

Alulim was a tall man, strong and tanned from a life spent mostly at sea, but when he gazed at his betrothed, it was to a woman his equal in height, slender, but possessed of a firm resolve and a fire in her eyes. He was momentarily taken aback by her beauty as he gazed at her before, yet another strong gust of wind grabbed at her dress and his own cloak with a surprising strength to it. Looking back over his shoulder and out to sea, he was surprised to see dark clouds churning at some speed as they moved toward the coast and the harbour below. Already, rare white caps were rolling in and the thirty vessels at anchor were starting to rock and strain against their moorings.

Shouts of alarm carried on the winds from the harbour itself and Alulim stepped away from the wedding party and moved toward the edge of the promontory as his brow creased in concern at the approaching storm. At his side moved Demizid, equally worried, but his face also portrayed a more calculating expression. “An unusual looking storm, My Lord,” Demizid probed, seeking the wisdom of his more weather-wise liege. 

After a long pause as he assessed the approaching weather, Alulim let out a long litany of curses, such that even Demizid’s eyes widened in alarm. 

“This is a storm the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime,” Alulim spat, his face turning red with anger and frustration. “Damn the Gods, this could destroy our fleet, which will bring ruin to us all and there is no chance to get them out of its path now.”

Demizid was momentarily stunned by both the dire summation and the fierceness in his Lord’s tone, but he quickly gathered himself as his calculating mind took over and sought some advantage. 

“My Lord,” he began, grasping Alulim’s arm to capture his attention. “We don’t have a lot of time! If indeed this is a God’s wrought storm, then our only course of action is to try and appease them!”

“Appease them?” Alulim roared at him, pointing down at the ships already beginning to flounder. “How can we do that?” 

“A sacrifice is the only way!” Demizid shouted back, the wind tearing his words from his mouth as he uttered them as he pointed back towards Alulim’s betrothed who was huddled at the foot of the God Lugal’s statue with her mother, trying to shelter from the now gale force winds.

Alulim stared at his High Priest in both horror and revulsion at the suggestion, his mouth hanging open, but Demizid pressed on, now determined to use this calamity to his advantage and punish the woman that not only rejected him, but almost killed him in the process.

“Cast her off the promontory Alulim! The sea must claim her, or it will surely claim your fleet instead. Which one can you replace more easily?” He demanded, trying to leverage his liege’s economic and emotional connection to his beloved fleet.

It hung in the air between them for long moments while the storm gathered fury about them, almost knocking them to the ground in the process. Eventually, after another long look down to the fleet in the harbour, where several ships had already succumbed to the relentless wind and waves, Alulim screamed in frustration and stormed back toward the statue and the huddled women.

For the older woman, her mother’s instinct again came to the fore at the approach of Alulim and although she could not intuit his intent, she knew it boded ill and she screamed in terror. 

Ignoring her, Alulim reached down and grabbed the young girl’s arm, momentarily marveling at her brave demeanor in the face of both the storm and his own dark countenance. Pulling her roughly to her feet, he leant into the fierce wind and started dragging her back towards the promontory cliffside. The young woman, realizing that something terrible was occurring began to fight back and scream, trying to dig her feet into the rocky surface, now slick with rain. Dark clouds were racing overhead, and darkness began to gather quickly about them as the titanic storm began beating down upon the promontory with staggering force. 

Out of the looming shadow of the statue cast long upon the promontory stepped Demizid, his face twisted in both glee and vengeance as he grabbed the young girl’s other arm, and between him and Alulim, they quickly moved her to the edge of the promontory’s cliff. Hastily, almost comically so given his true intentions, Demizid exhorted the great God Lugal to accept this virgin offering and spare the city’s fleet from further destruction. 

The young woman’s eyes were wild with anger and fear as realization hit her. She struggled but could not break their grip. A primal scream tore through the noise of the wind as her mother slammed into Demizid, desperate to try and free her child. Scratching and clawing at him, as tears merged with the rain on her face, she succeeded in freeing one of her daughter’s arms and the small success lent her renewed hope.

That hope died as the hilt of Demizid’s own dagger plunged into her breast, turning her already wet dress a crimson red from her life’s blood. Releasing the hilt of the dagger and leaving it embedded in the older woman’s chest, Demizid grabbed the young woman’s arm and violently threw her out over the edge of the promontory cliff. Alulim was frozen in shock at the scene and could only look down at the dying woman at his feet, as even amid the raging tempest, he could clearly hear every word she uttered with her dying breath.

“Nammu, no! Not my Nammu!” she paused, while coughing up a bout of dark blood. “The Gods curse you both and I pray my Nammu will haunt you and every human to ever set sail again,” she finished, the light of life finally fading from her piercing gaze that held Demizid to the last.

A flash of lightening blinded Alulim and the crack of thunder that instantly followed deafened him for days afterwards, such was its intensity. By the time his vision returned, and he sat up from where he had been thrown down, the promontory cliff face was devoid of both Demizid and the body of the older woman. Crawling on his hands and knees, he slowly moved back towards the statue and relative safety to wait out the storm.

The next day dawned clear and sunny and birds took to the skies again, seeking food that had been either washed up by the previous day’s storm or had fled its wrath and not found a new home. Waking from a fitful slumber, still curled up at the base of the statue, Alulim slowly got to his feet, filthy, wet and in shock and made his way carefully to the edge of the promontory. In the harbour below, not a single ship had survived. His entire fleet and the crews that maintained them while in harbour were gone, sunk, and torn to shreds and driftwood. Bowing his head in sorrow and despair, he started the long walk back to the town to check for survivors and begin salvaging what they could from this ruinous event.

Out in the harbour, lying on the seabed floor, Nammu stirred and opened eyes that now blazed with actual fire, a manifestation of her rage from the previous night. Looking around her and seeing far further than a normal human’s limited visibility underwater, Nammu regarded the skeletal remains of the sunken fleet, with indifference for the loss of both life and economic livelihood for the humans that had cast her into the ocean as a sacrifice to the Gods. With a powerful flick of her new tail and without even stopping to ponder how she came to have a tail, Nammu burst forward towards deeper waters. Fifty yards further out, she paused yet again as she came upon another body, this one bloated and clothed in fine robes. This time, Nammu did react, with a small smile of satisfaction as she gazed upon the horrified visage of the dead high priest Demizid.