Enkidu’s Harlot

Moulded ceramic plaque of embracing couple, ca. 2000–1700 B.C., Southern Mesopotamia.

Enkidu’s Harlot
by Patience Mackarness

Back then I was a legend, at the top of my profession. They called me queen of harlots. When rumours of Enkidu first reached the city of Uruk, I was planning my retirement. I had servants, gardens, a house overlooking the Great River with terraces and fruit trees.

News spreads fast in Uruk. We all heard of the wild man in the mountains, tangle-haired and hulking, companion of beasts. He would tear apart the traps of hunters, fill in their pits, scare off their quarry. It was rumoured he was stronger even than the King, than Gilgamesh himself.

At the palace, Royal officials told me, Only you can bring the Wild Man low. When he has lain with you for seven days, his animals will desert him, he will be as weak as other men.

I said, I’m retired.

They said, You will be rewarded.

I said, I have enough gold.

The King said, The Wild Man is my image, the diviners say his fate and mine are bound together. Then, softly, I need him, Shamhat. Do this for me. Please.

I had lived in the city all my life, I had never seen or imagined trees that tall, nor mountains that wild, their heads still in cloud. Steep rocky plunges where white-water tumbled, where twisted pines clung above rainbow spray.

They left me waiting, by a high lake like a piece of sky. Enkidu came at duskfall with his people, his beasts, jostling down through the reeds. The hair on his head and body was long, and streaked with mud.

I stripped and lay down at the lake’s edge, as I’d been instructed. I saw the Wild Man’s head lift, his nostrils quiver, his eyes kindle. He came to me, wading thigh-deep through the water.

Everyone knows what happened that day, and in the days that followed. They still sing of it. I had trained all my life for it. The songs say I taught Enkidu my art. They say nothing of my own lesson. Of my shock on learning, after all those years, that I too could be consumed.

As I’d promised the King, I told Enkidu of the delights of Uruk, of all he could taste and see and enjoy as a man. It worked; soon he was gone. To his king and his love, to murderous and magnificent deeds, to his death-in-song. He did not look back.

And I could not go back, since I had been as utterly changed as the Wild Man himself.

I stayed in the mountains. I let my hair grow, clothed myself in mud when my fine garments wore out. I waited for a day when the birds and beasts would let me move among them, be one of them. I foresaw the ends that might await me, but without fear, since I had known them all already: hunger on a mountainside, a plummet into the bottomless abyss, a hunter’s bolt sunk in my heart.

Patience Mackarness lives and writes in Brittany, France. Her stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, Lunch Ticket, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Spelk, Brilliant Flash Fiction and elsewhere. Her published work can be found at patiencemackarness.wordpress.com.

Molded ceramic plaque, ca. 2000–1700 B.C., Southern Mesopotamia. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974.347.1.