Inshul had been served by a troop of large desert apes; I’d kept a few on, and they, along with the afrit cook, had made a pleasant dinner (If you’ve been wondering, the mere fact that one is the lord of the drought is not incompatible with an appreciation for a good glass of wine). Chubu put down his axe and his carpet bag and ate with us, and I learned that my pantheon was undergoing changes.
The odd thing was that our worshippers had won; they’d invaded and conquered quite a nice kingdom on the other side of the mountains. Now there was the problem of getting all those new subjects used to being subjects, which meant that places had to be found for at least a few of the gods of the defeated.
“You were their war god?” Merhut asked gently.
“Yes. I suppose all the weapons gave me away. But Marduk …!”
I knew my brother Marduk, though I’m not fond of him. “He beat you bare-handed, didn’t he?”
“Barehanded, with his eyes closed and while composing and reciting a poem about the battle. The thing scanned beautifully, too!”
As I said, some of the defeated folk’s gods had to be folded into the victor’s pantheon. It made things go easier, and smoothed the way towards two peoples becoming – more or less – one. However, Marduk wasn’t the sort to welcome a second war god into the family. Why not stick Chubu somewhere inconspicuous? Cities were all the rage then; and who, really, would care if the drought god was a young beweaponed fellow with a wondrous beard, rather than a well-polished skeleton?
“I believe all my weapons are supposed to symbolize the power of the drought. Something like that. It sounds very boring.”
“You’ll get used to it. The apes are good servants; I’ll miss them. If you’re fortunate, someone may remember that the drought god used to patronize lascivious nuns. That beard will go over well with them, if they’re anything like the nuns I knew.”
“You’re being very decent about being replaced.”
“No sense fighting it, and I’ve had a long run. Don’t be too hard on the priests; they’re an irritating lot, but they can’t help it.”
Merhut could have stayed, but she came away with me. “You’re too helpless a set of bones to be let out alone,” was how she put it, but I was grateful.
And how have we lived since? Well enough, all things considered. The Christians exorcised poor Chubu years ago, but he went down fighting, surrounded by the bones of scattered saints. How I look never changes; I’m not sure what mortals see, but probably not a skeleton since I don’t startle most of them. Merhut’s hair has grey in it. There’s a pension I get; there’s savings and we sell amulets at craft fairs sometimes. (Can I interest you in one? Keep you safe from drought, I promise).
And yes, I will accept a drink. All this talking has made me dry.