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Home: The Toast

Ennigaldi lived in the 6th century BCE. She had 3 careers. One was as a school administrator, running a school for priestesses that was already over eight centuries old when she took over. Another was as a museum curator. And still another was as a high priestess (the en-priestess). Archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley notes in his work that her father king Nabonidus called her Belshalti-Nannar when she became the High Priestess of Nannar at Ur. Ennigaldi became high priestess in 547 BCE.

“Princess Ennigaldi-Nanna, daughter of Nabonidus, where are you going at this early hour? Even the snow-breasted eagles beloved of Zu have not yet stirred from their nests in the swamp. What business have you abroad?”

An exasperated sigh came from the darkened corner as the sacred incense of Ninlil tumbled to the ground. “By the seven gods who decree, Barossus! You scared me, as even Thoth of Diltat was scared unto death by the white-headed snake of the Snakelands.”

“Sorry, Princess. I — you’re not going out like that, are you?”

A pair of long, brown hands flew to her face. “Going out like what?”

Barossus gestured toward the mirror. “Speaking of the white-headed snakes of the Snakelands…”

The princess groaned. “Oh, Lords. My hair.” She sat down in front of the mirror.

“Why do you steal forth from your chambers in practically the dead of night, hair all in disarray? You should be asleep, dreaming the dreams that Zaqar breathes into your ear.”

“I know,” Ennigaldi said, exchanging her pinstriped tunic for a slightly less showy version in navy blue before pinning her locs over her right ear. “It’s just that there’s been so much extra work going on at the school now that we’re trying to open before the rainy season, and all of my docents still don’t understand what a museum is yet or what “no flash photography” means — Goddess of the plains, I still have to invent flash photography — and I’m not even ready to think about how many cattle I have to slay at the steps of the temple of Lahar for the cattle-slaying festival this afternoon. Did you get my cattle scythe sharpened this week like I asked?”

Uncomfortable silence.

“Another thing to do myself, then,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder if you have any idea, the pressure I’m under. Do you realize that none of my professors know how to write cuneiform? They’ve all been teaching with pictographs. Pictographs! Like a bunch…like a bunch of Chaldeans. So now I have to teach everyone cuneiform, on top of all of my other many duties. And there are only about fifty pieces of papyrus in the whole kingdom. So I have about twenty-five chances to teach nine Hittite idiots how to write, and then get them to write down everything meaningful in our entire culture in another twenty-five pages.”

“I’m so sorry, princess,” Barossus said, although it didn’t quite feel like enough.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I’ll be near the scythe-sharpener anyhow. I’m chairing the PTA meeting next door.”

“PTA?” Barossus asked.

“The Phrygian-Thrace Assault. We’re conquering the armies of Thrace and Phrygia next week. Expanding our borders to the west and to the east, even unto the gates of the dawn.”

“That’s great news.”

Another sigh. “How I’m supposed to govern the lands east and west even unto the gates of the dawn, I have no idea. You know what they do in the lands of the west, Barossus?”

“I fear I don’t, Majesty.”

“Yeah, well. Neither do I. So that makes two of us equally qualified to rule the peoples of the lands of the west. By Hendursaga, I hope they have some papyrus. Or at least astronomy. I’ve been meaning to invent astronomy, you know. It’s been on my to-do list since forever.” A pause. “At least I invented to-do lists.”

“You seem unhappy, Princess.”

“I am unhappy, Barossus. I don’t know what made me think I could be high priestess and invent and run the first museum and open a school for women and expand the borders of my father’s empire. Maybe I was just trying to have it all.” She stood at the window and looked out at the first bleary fingers of the sunrise as they combed through the barley fields.

“But you do have it all, Princess. You literally own everything that the eye can see. The sheep and the goats that graze in the hills are yours. The temples and the ziggurats and the flesh-houses of the city are yours. The looms and the weavers and the silks and the spice-masters are yours. The people are yours. The roads are yours. The fields and the irrigation systems and the bathhouses are yours. Everything belongs to you, and to you alone. What is it that you lack?”

She waved him aside. “You know what I mean.” Another silence. “Maybe you really do need a man to have it all,” she said, more to herself than anyone else.

“Princess — please — do rip this head from its unworthy body and feed it to the razor-beaked hawks of Thoth if I have failed to understand you, but you have many men. Just outside the door to this chamber sleep seventeen of the choicest laborers of the field, any one of whom would gladly give their life for you. Many of them are raising your twelve children.”

Princess Ennigaldi shook her head. “I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

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