I went with her and stood outside. If I were a more pernickety sort, I’d have had acolytes and prophets and spearwomen and row upon row of servants for a visitor to negotiate before he got within distance of me, but I’d never seen much point to it. There was a dot far off on the horizon, which slowly grew nearer. Night had come before the dot turned into a burly god at our door; Merhut and I had had time to eat and freshen up and we had put on our full regalia. Merhut looked lovely in a well-cut gown which kept changing color and a chain of stars burning around her waist (some of her madmen had a nice sense of fashion). I looked like a skeleton on which someone had plonked bits of armor and a tall hat.
Our visitor was an impressive sort. He stood there for a moment or two, slightly glowing, so that I could drink him in. About 3 cubits and a half tall, I’d say, and quite wide. He looked young, but he had a long and magnificent beard, which he had curled and oiled. There was a dangerous looking battle-axe in his right hand, two swords in their scabbards slung over his back, and any number of daggers and throwing knives strapped about him. The effect was slightly spoiled – but only slightly – by the fact that his left hand was clutching the handles of a bulging carpet bag which looked sturdy but worn.
I would have been content to stand there admiring him, but Merhut came from a mannerly pantheon. “Welcome, stranger!” she said. “Long must have been the road which has led you here and gladly would we heard the stories you have learned along the way. But you must be tired and hungry; will you not eat with us, and bide the night?”
The stranger drew himself up. “I am Chubu! You have been expecting me!”
The correct answer, of course, was “Noble Lord and Lady of the castle, I am Chubu, a poor wayfarer, and right willing would I be to accept your gracious offer and rest here in the shadow of your hospitality.” Then everything would have gone as usual; we’d have eaten and drunk together for three days; I’d have heard what poor mortal was Ishtar’s lover at the moment, what Enki had invented lately and other bits and pieces of news from the greater world. Then – I didn’t take it personally, since it was protocol – my visitor would try to kill me.
Men like their bits of theatre, and the death of the drought god is a crowd-pleaser. No one seemed bothered by the fact that no matter how many vegetation or rain or fertility gods killed me, drought always returned. Not that I was killed all that often; I don’t bleed, I’m fast, and Enlil himself taught me to use a sword. It’s preposterous to feel guilty about killing a fertility god, and I never did. They grew like weeds.
If this stranger wasn’t going to follow the script I knew, I’d have to improvise. “Chubu – would that be Great Chubu, Puissant Chubu or just Chubu?”
“Chubu of the Many Blades. Look, just call me Chubu.”
“Chubu, then. We haven’t been expecting you. I don’t know who you are or why you’re here.”
“Not that we aren’t glad to see you,” Merhut put in. “We don’t get a lot of visitors.”
“Typical,” Chubu said, “just typical. Can I come in?”
(To Be Concluded Monday)