Aphelion Issue 273, Volume 26
June 2022
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The Lost City of the Neanderthals

by Julio Toro San Martin

I reclined leisurely on a soft adorned couch in the city of Uruk, the greatest of all the cities of the Sumerians. Beside me on his purple couch sat Gilgamesh, the king who had brought the city to its pre-eminent glory.

Outside and below in the courtyard I heard the gently titillating laughter of the court's noblewomen--or concubines--what they were at any given time depended solely on the king's whims, for he did as he pleased and no man dared to stop him since to stand against the savage king was foolishness. It was because of this also that no guardsmen kept watch over us or were posted outside the room's doors.

I myself had seen him fight and defeat eleven powerful men in sport, with his hands purposely tied behind his back and with his eyes blindfolded.

This day, his black beard, cut square and braided, hung elegantly on a face frozen in perpetual gloom. With one gigantic hand he held a goblet of ale and with the other he played restlessly with the blazing jewels filling his treasure chest.

"What foolishness for a man's work to be done," he all of a sudden said. "The cities fear me, my enemies stay far from me, and there are no more monsters to slay. What I wouldn't give for the taste of danger again, Enkidu."

That he called me by my proper name and not his customary 'brother' warned me that his restlessness was growing ever stronger. This boded trouble for the kingdom, for the restless and wild lion is a danger to both friend and foe alike.

I got up and looked out the window, over the city, at the great temples of the gods. I clutched tightly the medallion hanging by my chest--the medallion I had sworn never to part with.

As I did so I said, "Great king, your people build mighty temples for the gods. They do this to honor them, both as masters and as creators, and it is good that they do this, but as for me, I know that they had no hand in creating my people. I need not honor them as creators."

I saw a fire flash in his eyes and just as quickly subside. Luckily I was his friend or even now I would be feeling his fury. Gilgamesh was two-thirds god and did not like to hear his parentage insulted.

The one-third of him that was human gave him flesh and the man's voice, which answered sarcastically, "Are they not? Is that so? If you know such a thing, tell me then, just who are your creators?"

"There is a city, great king, to the east, known as the City of the Neanderthals. It lies deep under the Zagros Mountains and was already old when your people were young.

"In time to them was born a great warrior who made himself king by force, and who yearning for ever greater glory, led his people on an expedition deep into the nether regions of the earth.

"There, it is whispered, he found terrible tablets fashioned by gods ancient and unknown. It is said just reading the tablets drove him mad. He grew darker in countenance, learned blasphemous secrets and magic, while becoming long-lived.

"Through epochs of ice and of fire he ruled on his throne--ageless and eternal.

"During this time a malevolent though came to him. He decided he would create slaves as powerful as Neanderthals, yet weak of mind, to lord over and do with as he pleased.

"And so, as men breed dogs, and with sorceries learned from the eldritch tablets, his heinous experiments began. He bred, or tried to, Neanderthal with Voormis and Gnophkehs, with Denisovan and Antecessor and others. He did this since in those days Neanderthals weren't the only near-men on the earth.

"Eventually, after many failed attempts and abominations were made, my people were born. We were men, though hairy like the rest of the beasts. He had failed though in one respect. Our intelligence was just as great or greater than the intelligence of the Neanderthals.

"In time, we rebelled against the hard yoke of slavery and fought a war against our rulers but were defeated. Our yoke after became doubly hard, my dread king. Under Atlu's harsh rule our backs and will were broken.

"To this brood of slaves in time I was born, but fortunately, I managed to escape. The only one who had ever done so. Tearfully, I left my family behind.

"Like a wild beast I roamed with all the other wild beasts in the wilderness far from civilization, content in my new-found freedom, until I was caught and shaved and brought to you, brought to civilization, my lord, to be your subject and your comrade.

"This, then, is where my people came from, my dread king--from Atlu's dark forges."

Immediately, upon finishing my story, Gilgamesh got up and asked, "Is Atlu still alive?"

"He is," I answered. "And still rules."

He called his servants, and gave them orders. When they returned they brought his battle armour. Since my king was a giant it took two men to just carry his bronze shield.

When he was finished dressing and held his sickle-sword in one hand and his battle-axe in the other, he said to me, "By Ninsun, you will take me to Atlu, brother. I will kill this savage man and stake his head upon my battlements. We will have glory again and bards shall sing of our deeds."

"And we shall liberate my people," I added, as I knelt before his towering form in front of me and as I also clutched tightly and anxiously the medallion I always wore around my neck.

* * *

When we went past the soaring city gates bastioned with towers that very afternoon, the whole populace of Uruk came out to cheer us from high on the parapets. We ran, since Gilgamesh considered the use of donkeys a useless thing when his own legs could carry him just as ably.

At first we followed the marshlands and swamps running parallel with the Euphrates River and after veered off the rivers course and headed into the hot deserted wilderness, where patches of dry bushes and scarcely fronded trees were scattered everywhere we looked.

Eventually, the tall sprawling Zagros Mountains appeared before us, with tops lonely in their majesty and touching the azure sky.

"This is the secret entrance," I whispered to Gilgamesh after we had swerved through rugged inclines up the side of a mountain and at a craggy ledge had come to a hidden hole. Like wriggling worms we crawled through it to a rocky cavern, inside of which was situated one of the gateways to the city. Fluorescent dull green stones illumed the place.

Climbing down from the hole we cautiously made our way to the slightly open door. Before we had a chance to hide, however, we noticed a man appear silently from out of the shadows.

We stood still, watching him alertly.

Beside me I could feel Gilgamesh's muscles tense; he was like a coiled snake with a fatally-venomed bite, ready to strike.

The stranger moved sluggishly towards us. He was dressed in a wrapped grey garment, a dirty skirt and was jewelled in gold and lapis lazuli. Around his wrists he wore silver bracelets and from his ears hung elegant silver earrings.

When I finally got a clear view of his face I noticed it was thin, long, with bloodless cracked lips and deeply sunken eyes. He resembled more a wraith or a lich than a living man. My right hand tensed strongly on the hilt of my sickle-sword.

"Help me," he said in a low, hoarse, drawn out voice as he kept moving towards us from the shadows. "Friends, I am a merchant of Shuruppak. I set out to explore for riches when my caravan was ambushed. I alone survived."

His eyes were glazed over and as he spoke his outstretched hand touched his head, then his other hand followed suit. In the egg white of his right eye I thought I caught a quick glimpse of a tiny, segmented appendage, which only flashed for a moment.

The mummy-like man relaxed like one dead, his head sagged to one side and he said monotonously and sadly, "My head is full of spiders."

Then he fell, and as he did so, from his mouth a vibrantly yellow ball appeared and began to bulge outwards, his dry mouth widening until its sides ripped violently and a score of spider legs flailed out like grasping fingers and jumped towards Gilgamesh.

In an instant, with his axe, Gilgamesh swiped, giving a great smack to the ball with legs and as the creature fell with a thud to the ground he cleaved it. With a second motion, as the man lay on the floor moaning, he cracked the man's skull open also. Out of his broken crimson head a plethora of little yellow spiders streamed out.

Abruptly then the gate's doors creaked and a wall of yellow spiders broke through them. They were gigantic, with long prehensile legs that kicked a cloud of heavy choking dust into the air.

Seeing them, Gilgamesh and I jumped to the high roof. We held on with all our might to its veined crevices. Beneath us the creatures swarmed and scuttled and in no time had enlarged the hole on the side of the mountain until they burst out on the other side like a gushing cataract.

When we saw they were gone we jumped down.

If we'd been normal men, our quest, undoubtedly, would have been already over.

* * *

We continued walking cautiously down the passageway, our nerves on daggers' edges.

We crossed through shafts which led to yawning caverns of dangling stalactites and soaring stalagmites.

Eventually, our worries lessened. We began to run again, our way lit only by the faint phosphorescence of the green stones.

When we came to a crossway, we stopped and hid. We were sure that we had heard the sound of something creaking slowly in the distance. Our hearts beat loudly to our ears. A terrible moment gripped us. We hid ever deeper in the shadows.

As we waited, with the stones overhead now giving a reddish glare, we saw a monstrosity emerge.

The ebon thing was bloated and possessed the mottled slimy flesh of a toad. Six insectoid legs sprouted from its sides, culminating in feet that ended in damaged and bruised human heads. On its front, two stalks emerged from where its eyes should have been, and these extremities also ended in human heads. All the gruesome heads looked dumbly before them, their open mouths making a blathering and a moaning sound. From a wide mouth on the creature's front a dangling saliva-dripping tongue caressed the ground.

We were in no doubt that this was one of Atlu's evil experiments.

This creature towed a wagon, on which was seated regally a gigantic baboon.

This proud, aloof character was dressed in bronze amour, carrying a ponderous sword in one arm. With the other arm, it carried a buckler-shield. Tied around its neck and falling over its massive shoulders hung a spotted leopard cloak studded with metal disks. It looked ahead with a cruel smirking grimace, obviously taking pleasure in the other creature's distress.

As the wagon passed, the baboon screeched suddenly and jumped off the wagon. It moved its massive body with facile agility and when it stood straight, we noticed its height was equal with ours.

It bounded erratically, then, close to us, it suddenly stretched out a muscled arm with lightning-speed and grabbed Gilgamesh by the neck, pulling him out forcefully from the rocky formation that he had been hiding behind.

Not wasting any time Gilgamesh punched the hulking beast hard in the middle of its plated chest, catching it off guard, causing it to drop him as it strived to catch great mouthfuls of air into its pained lungs.

Gilgamesh was quickly on his feet again when I reached him. I stood firmly planted beside him as he unsheathed his sword.

The baboon bared its sharp teeth at us from its dog-like muzzle. Its close-set red eyes furrowed and burned with rage. Its brown mane and cape bristled with potent energy.

The primate growled menacingly as it steadily made its way towards us, with sword unsheathed.

"It's mine," Gilgamesh said.

The two champions then rushed headlong against each other, like wild horses, their nostrils chortling rutilant air. Their two swords swung down madly against their protective shields, bursting into a thousand pieces, as the shields, receiving the full impact of the brunt force, also likewise burst.

Now without their swords the baboon and Gilgamesh jumped back and threw away what was left of their shields. Gilgamesh did the same with his battle-axe and spear.

Viciously they now engaged in hand-to-hand combat, testing to the utmost their naked strength. As they fought, punching, wrestling, and grating clenched teeth, black-scarlet blood began to cover their formidable bodies.

Eventually Gilgamesh, from behind the giant creature's back, locked its ponderous arms. It raged but Gilgamesh would not let it go.

"My lord is wrong about you!' it yelled with hatred and gore spitting from its mouth. " Never have I met a champion like you! Kill me if you want to survive, for I'll never stop until you're dead!"

Gilgamesh complied with the request by savagely breaking the sapient baboon's neck.

We both stood over the creature, wondering who he was. No doubt, he had been a great champion in his world.

The other creature, seeing its tormentor dead, without a word continued its sorrowful trek alone, in the direction we had come.

* * *

Gilgamesh didn't say a word as I continued to lead him downwards into the shades. Abruptly, at a turn, he accosted me suddenly with his sweaty and bloody hands.

I was surprised.

He made me face him, as he proceeded to look with a cunning, burning gaze into my eyes.

"Atlu obviously sent that baboon and knows we are here," he growled at me. "If this is a trap you're leading me into, be aware that I'll kill you, even if you are my friend."

Before I could protest my innocence he had taken his heavy hands from off my broad arms and was disappearing down the dark tunnel.

As he went I could hear him snarling.

I'd formerly been a shaggy beast, being still considered a beast by some, but now, at this moment, I wondered truly, who the man was and who the beast.

* * *

Eventually, the caverns became smoother.

At what appeared to be a hole some way above us I decided to climb up, to look through it. The hole turned out to be a window that showed a stone-paved sandy road on the other side. When I looked straight up I saw high above us, where the sky should have been, the vast rocky expanse of the earthen firmament.

"We're inside the city," I said. "We inadvertently took a tunnel that led directly into it. I must have made a mistake somewhere. It has been so long since I left this city. Ah, Gilgamesh, how I wish I could have shown you the city's splendor from the open terraces of the roof of this world."

We continued and I was surprised to see nobody.

Gilgamesh only glared at me suspiciously.

After a while we entered a huge room made of colorful sandstone, its walls decorated with sculpted hieroglyphs and painted fading frescoes.

One of the ancient panels told the story of Atlu. It showed him conquering the city and lording over temple priests and elders and taking what he wanted of maid and wealth. Other scenes showed him indulging in great contests of strength and going on dangerous adventures. He was also shown initiating stupendous building projects.

Gilgamesh studied these closely.

On another wall we saw murals with impressions of an earlier time, showing a hirsute Neanderthal battling monsters and hefting great titanic rocks over his head, which he hurled from a hill onto a lush tropical world below. No doubt he had been a forgotten hero from earth's murky past.

On another wall we saw the histories of the Neanderthal's gods and maps of their temples.

* * *

When we exited the complex, we found ourselves high up looking down on a scene of astonishing magnitude.

The vast metropolis sported tiered terraces, plazas, domed buildings and gigantic up thrusting towers. All were crumbling. Irrigation arches, which were still functioning, watered the sparse trees and vegetation. Far away we saw fields still yielding their plenty.

We followed a well-worn road, now familiar to me, seeing nothing but destroyed cupolas and empty sandblasted streets. Lichen and encroaching moss covered obscenely the ancient houses and buildings.

As we walked whispering winds originating from we knew not where brushed by us suggestively, as if with the malign intention of protective ghosts. From dark windows, these ghosts seemed to watch us from behind the ebon veil of long-gone misty time.

Sometimes here and there we caught the grimy sight of osseous cadavers that looked human and others that were less than human. By these dead bodies, lay armor and weapons layered with green-black rust.

After a while, Gilgamesh and I came to a massively ornate palace canopied with great spires and gated by thick, red sandstone columns. The entrance was reached by climbing stupendously high paved stairs to a portico, at which were flung open cyclopean doors.

In front of them rested a chiseled throne.

This was no doubt the high-built citadel of Atlu himself, built in dark time from carven bedrock and mud-baked brick by sore-laden workers and terrifying demons summoned out of musty books.

On the imposing white marble throne, which was encrusted with glittering gems and diamonds and situated between two columns, sat ensorcelled Atlu, leering down cunningly at the world.

Long flowing white hair hung over his massive shoulders, and trailed over the seat of his regal throne. His hands tensed tightly on the tips of his armrests.

On his lap, I saw a turquoise cloth.

His heavy wrinkled brows shadowed his clean-shaven protruding jowls and wide-flaring nostrils.

He was a man, with much of the ape in him, possessed of the truncated lower half of such a beast and a large, stocky upper body, and though the heavily stooping posture and senescent body was in its decline, there was the power of immortality, like the power of an ancient monument defying time, written in every inch of his frame.

His venerable nearly hairless body was not covered with any cloth or saffron robe, but with just a bulkily wrapped loincloth.

Disgustingly behind him rose a tall wooden pole with a rotting head staked on it.

It was neither man nor Neanderthal but more reptilian in appearance, of a verdigris color, with scaly skin dangling off the serrated neck. There was a man-like quality to the face that made it seem more hideous.

To each side of Atlu stood amassed an army of ferocious Neanderthals, arrayed in leather shoulder-guards and armor of bronze. Like mad things these apish warriors hollered and jumped threateningly, flinging gibbering words at the red-lit sky.

I could not help but be transfixed by the sight.

My imagination carried me back through dim uncounted ages, to when this city was still populous and in the prime of its glory. People of all classes I pictured surrounding the colossal palace as far as I could see, with cohorts of soldiers in pageantry flying banners in celebration of their young monarch.

Atlu I saw at the top of the stairs, on his throne, proud and strong, loud blaring trumpets reaching his satisfied ears. The festive atmosphere and colorful gleaming city was quickly subsumed, however, by the lonely and grey present, as the shining past was dispersed by Atlu's loud bestial voice.

"Come out from your hiding places, intruders," he said. "Why have you come to destroy the peace that we finally enjoy? Go back to that outer world of restless change."

Haughtily Gilgamesh stepped out from behind a crumbled wall and yelled defiantly, "I have come for no other reason than to kill you and to gain glory thereby!"

Angered at being threatened Atlu's eyes lit up like fulgurous flames, while his face darkened like when the moon quenches the light of the sun in an eclipse, and said, "Avaunt, slaves! My people have been sore aggrieved these many years in endless battle with the loathsome serpent-men of red-lit Yoth deep below, but now with our victory be sure that your cities above will someday too fall beneath the victorious march of our thirsty blades.

"I bid you leave, Sumerian, to better prepare for that day, when we soak knee-deep in your blood."

Gilgamesh laughed a booming laugh that cast frightening echoes throughout the hollow air and answered grimly and hotly, "Those are the words of a coward. I stand firm in my resolve. Stand and fight, coward, or meekly lay your head upon the ground that I may chop it."

Gilgamesh then stood squarely and straight, feet firmly planted on the ground, as he held his battle-axe at the ready.

Atlu gave a loud yelp, thumped his arms, and grunted repeatedly as his face went from contorted expressions of preposterousness to anger in an apish manner. When his thumping arms finally rested, he lifted one arm from an armrest and merely pointed at us nonchalantly.

At the signal, the savoring Neanderthals at his sides jumped and gibbered ferociously, and began to rush down in two disorderly rows of oncoming doom.

"You take the ones on the right," Gilgamesh said, with his spear and battle-axe at the ready. "I'll take the ones on the left."

They came savagely those slouching forms, crashing into us with the force of an unstoppable tidal wave. For our part, we hurled ourselves like two mad swimmers into the fray, heedless of the charge.

The monsters attacked furiously.

Long hairy arms, swords, clubs, maces, and thrashing teeth, overwhelming our senses.

When I hacked one down with my battle-axe another one quickly rose to take his place. With my shield, I had to circle constantly to stop the blows that were coming down at me from all directions.

Blow upon blow fell, like raindrops in a tempest.

The beast-men were stocky and well-built. Though their hairy receding foreheads and protruding jaws gave them a brutish appearance, I knew a high intelligence lurked behind those beastly, deceptive eyes.

They howled mercilessly as they attacked severely, hair streaming, swords and shields gleaming under the red glow of that subterranean world.

Beside me, I could see Gilgamesh in the grips of his berserker rage.

Loping prodigious forms fell before him by the score as his ponderous battle-axe swung ceaselessly in death-dealing arcs. Spittle and blood flailed everywhere.

Hundreds must have fallen to our fury.

When we finished fighting blood pooled at our feet and littered bodies were piled haphazardly one atop the other. I was red with blood that dripped in wads from me and from my axe.

I checked quickly to make sure the medallion I always carried was still safely tied around my neck.

Beside me, Gilgamesh rested fatigued on the hilt of his battle-axe, staring coldly and tauntingly, like a smoldering flame, at Atlu.

Atlu stared down at us from his stone throne, one hand softly stroking his lower face in a pensive stance, his eyes lowly burning with a cold fire. There was not a hint of fear or apprehension in his being.

Eventually he smiled and sat up straight, a strange cunning glint in his eyes.

"Below I see one like myself," he said to Gilgamesh, in a pleased manner. "A warrior made to conquer all before him. The gleaming cities of Eridu, Ur, Sippar, and Tsath would be easy-pickings if we joined together.

"No, don't deny it. Ages of life have given me the ability to read a man and to see into his heart. I know the thought of conquest has crossed your heart.

"An animal does what he does out of necessity, only a man and a Neanderthal and those of their like do what they do out of evil mischief.

"Join with me, barbarian. Take charge of my armies. See the cities trampled below your feet. Let me see it all before I die and then be sole ruler of the earth."

"I will serve no beast, especially no ape," Gilgamesh retorted madly and spat blood on the ground.

Atlu laughed.

"Typical human, who thinks he is neither ape nor beast. Let it be. Now listen closely, King of Uruk. In my lap, I hold the power of the gods. Behold and see!"

Atlu moved his hairy hands, picking up from his lap the turquoise cloth and unwound it. Inside of it were blue-glowing fractured tablets, which cast their eerie light all over his squat trunk.

"These are a portion of the fabled ancient Tablets of the Gods, which I found eons ago in my quest into the nethermost regions of the earth. Great was that journey and fraught with perils that I am even now loathe to remember.

"Reading them, I learned that before life was the gods were, and they came from dark stars traversing unimaginable distances, carrying their black knowledge with them. Some of that knowledge is contained in these tablets, knowledge which allowed me to become the semi-deity that I am, Gilgamesh, and which I will give to you, to read for yourself, as a gift of our alliance.

"You, too, I have learned are semi-divine, the son of a goddess and a mortal man, but your gods have promised you only a short-lived life. When you die of old age, soon enough, you will go to the land of the dead, a place without glory. I have seen its adamantine gates; from Irkalla there is no escape.

"Live for eons instead, drinking strong drink, eating good food, and embracing the beautiful daughters of men. Come, read but a few lines. See if you will not join me."

I watched as a strange white pallor came over my lord. He shook, and then uncomprehendingly to me, began to walk up the stairs, weaponed with the spear on his back and his battle-axe in one hand.

He moved slowly, like one fighting a great battle within himself.

I saw a demonic glee spread over Atlu's face. It glowed with newfound strength.

"You will not be disappointed. The gods of your Mesopotamian people are weak, foolish and of no account. This very hour the remnants of my people are celebrating festivities to the hidden elder gods still on this earth, who dwell in lightless subterranean temples and crags deep below the mountains. So enamored are my people of the wisdom of the gods."

I yelled to Gilgamesh not to go, that it was a trap, but he did not heed me.

Once he had reached the throne Atlu stretched out reverently the tablets to Gilgamesh.

Then I remembered how legend said that just reading the tablets had driven Atlu insane. Perhaps he also wanted my lord to join him in his madness?

Before I had time to warn Gilgamesh I heard a foul laugh, such as I have never heard before and hope to never hear again, it filled the spaces of the city with loathsomeness. The more I heard it the more distressed I was to see from whence it came.

Atlu also noticed, his demeanor changing to one of high perplexity. From the laugh came a voice like a savage animal, like a savage god. My king was letting his numinous divine side show through into our world.

"For the goddess, Ninsun, my mother, whom you have insulted, beast, I strike this blow!"

Then with inhuman speed he grabbed the spear on his back, striking at Atlu with quick ferocity.

Atlu screeched and also with damnable ensorcelled speed moved out of the thrusts way, managing to hit Gilgamesh with a rock-solid kick square in his jaw.

Gilgamesh tumbled back onto the stairs, his battle-axe flying clean out of his hands, the spear falling from the throne, as Atlu, dropping the tablets, leapt with a monkeyish bound onto the tumbling giant.

Gilgamesh hit the steps back first as Atlu smashed into him with the force of a colliding meteor. The ancient muscles then began to impact rapidly on Gilgamesh, as Atlu hit him repeatedly with the joy of unhinged restraint, saliva flying freely from his crooked mouth.

Meanwhile, as I was running up the stairs, I saw the dangerous predicament my king was in, so I grasped tightly the medallion at my neck, swore an oath and flung my shield with panic at the ape-man.

It hit him with such potency on the head, that he stopped stunned for a second to look at me.

It was all the time my king needed.

With the strength of desperation and the virility of a demi-god Gilgamesh punched Atlu on the side of his head, causing a great cracking sound as his skull caved in.

The Neanderthal hefted himself up, wildly flailing with his taloned hands in excruciating pain.

With a bound, Gilgamesh hurled himself against his interlocutor and sent him stumbling back sprawling onto his throne.

The beast on the throne roared until composure began to enter that crunched brain of his.

He had stood strong for over a thousand years, had fought monstrous battles before even Sumer had risen from the dust, had felt the agony and afflictions of a thousand battles, the torture of a thousand noxious wounds, and now that ancient strength, that ancient stamina, was coming back, and now the beast knew his enemies, knew not to underestimate them, knew with cunning and experience what to do to win.

And he would have won too, perhaps, if Gilgamesh had not, at that moment, taken that wooden pole, which carried the serpent-man's head, and from behind the throne had not run rapidly to the side, striking quickly and deeply the blunt edge of the pole downward into Atlu's chest--while Atlu was wiping his eyes, straining to see through gouts of blood blurrily everything in his way--plunging it with super-human strength and speed, so that Atlu had no time to react, into the resisting slewing flesh.

As the spear went through, Atlu's wild red eyes rolled back into his head and from his open mouth a small-winded noise came out, as his body jerked and his head flapped back.

Before Atlu's hands had time to fall to his sides he was already dead, pinned to his throne, the stake having crossed through his chest, the dull point exiting cleanly on the other side.

Thus passed Atlu, the grand champion and last King of the Neanderthals.

"He was getting old," Gilgamesh growled as I came to him. "He had lost much of his mental sharpness and power. He deserved to die."

Quickly I grunted at my lord, "Now let us free my people. Let us bring more glory upon us."

Pleased with the idea, he condescended that I lead him deeper into the catacombs.

On the way, he stopped at a chasm that thundered below with the might of a red-hot fiery river and crushing between his hands the tablets, dropped the pieces of it into the furnace.

"Thus I deal with all gods not my own," I overheard him say.

* * *

Later, in unfettered abandon, we ran like wild bulls back to Uruk.

Those of my people that we freed, along with the other prisoners of the Neanderthals, also followed us back in celebration.

We were also joined by my former companions, who'd been my friends long ago when I'd been a hairy man in the wilderness and who had left me when I'd shaved my hair and become tainted with the civilization of men. I speak of the birds of the air and of the beasts of the wild country.

It was a grand chorus of joy as we all together bounded and trampled through the alluvial plains. It was a great time of exultation for me.

As we neared Uruk my companions left me, as did my people also, leaving only Gilgamesh and I to enter the city's main gate.

Under the festive banners of the ramparts Gilgamesh said to me, "I am sorry my good friend and brother for accosting you, for doubting your friendship earlier, for thinking you would play me in an underhanded way."

He hugged me and then we both together entered the city. Our friendship never bore dissension again.

That night, while the court celebrated and after we had consecrated our exploits to the gods in the Temple of An and after Gilgamesh had staked the gruesome head of Atlu behind his throne, I went alone onto a balcony overlooking a magnificent pool.

Silently, under the stars, I threw far the metal medallion I had always carried with me tied around my neck, which my long deceased father and mother had given me, on which I had promised them, on pain of death, to one day return to free my people.


2016 Julio Toro San Martin

Bio: Julio Toro San Martin is a Canadian writer and who has been published by Innsmouth Free Press, The Lovecraft Ezine, NonBinary Review, and others.

E-mail: Julio Toro San Martin

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