SOPHIA OF WISDOM III - GOD ENKI
LIBRARY OF SOPHIA OF WISDOM III
SOPHIAOF ALL SOPHIA OF WISDOMS
NOV 1, 2006
James W. Bell's
"In the Days when Gods Walked
Upon the Face of the Earth"
Thief of Uruk
A story about Ancient Sumer
by James W. Bell © 2001
I knew him. His name was really
But everybody called him the Thief of Uruk. In all Sumer, there was no criminal more daring - or more
I know. I’m a watcher at the marketplace for the traders’ association called the Karum. My name
is Denisha-Ishtar. As you can tell by my name, my mother was Amurru. Amorite. She was raised on the desert in a tent. One
day she rode into Uruk with a donkey train, met my father, married him and stayed. Then she had me.
Uruk verges on
the desert. They call it Rainbow City because of half-breeds like me who live there. We’re not popular. So I grew up
on the waterfront, hanging around the quay, meeting sailors and traders plying the Euphrates. Most belonged to the Karum.
I learned from them and was damned lucky I didn’t get pregnant. What the hell. When I could stand it no longer and decided
to get a decent job, I went down to the Karum to sign up.
“You’re but a girl,” one of the examiners
informed me. “This is a man’s world. What can you do for us?”
I was prepared for him. I knew I would
have to have some special talent to be accepted. So I had developed one. “Observation,” I told him. “With
my keen eye, I’d be a good watcher. I know the Uruk Market. I’d make you a great undercover watcher in the marketplace.”
“By the gods!” that examiner exclaimed. “She’s got a point! Who’d suspect a girl of
being our watcher in the market?” He enthused the others so they signed me up on the spot. Yata. Like that, I became
a member of the Karum and a watcher. Once in a while, being a girl has its advantages.
mother heard I’d joined the Karum and intended to walk the streets of the marketplace, she thought I’d taken up
prostitution. “I am not a whore,” I said. “But I’m not going to argue about it.” So I left home
and that was that.
Like most Sumerian women, I dress comfortably: sandals, a necklace with my personal seal and a
single-strapped wool shift that leaves my right breast uncovered. My breast is well-shaped and attracts a lot of attention.
It distracts men, especially the young ones, and that gives me the chance to be a better watcher.
Like I mentioned,
Shugat-Nergal was a master thief. I knew his favorite territory was the Uruk market. The first time I saw him operate, I couldn’t
believe my eyes. He was walking down the street when he stumbled and brushed against a table of necklaces in a jewelry stall.
“Sorry,” he apologized to the vendor. But I had my eye on his hand and saw three necklaces disappear into his
kilt. I charged over to accuse him, but he disappeared before I could reach him. He had vanished, leaving me confused.
next time, I caught sight of him as he entered the market gate. I was headed towards him when he pulled his stumble trick
again and fell against another merchant’s table. He lifted another handful of necklaces and stuck them in his kilt.
I took out after him. He saw me coming and hardly had time to apologize to the merchant before he took off. As he ran, I saw
him pull off his kilt and toss it under a table in an empty stall.
I was amazed to see all the stuff he was wearing
underneath his outer kilt, one of those gaudy colored kilts the Amurru love so much. He went into what seemed to be an act.
He slumped his shoulders, ruffled his hair and changed his brisk gait to an awkward shuffle. By the gods! Before my eyes,
he remade himself into what looked like a drunk Amurru driver from one of the donkey trains.
I easily caught up with
him and tapped him on the arm. “I saw those necklaces you took from that merchant’s table back in the market,”
I told him.
He turned around and looked at me with unfocused eyes. “Wha’ I did back there?” His
body weaved in the air and I thought for a moment he was going to fall. “Miss, if I bumped you, I am shorry. Shorry.
Deeply shorry. Miss, I apologize all over the place,” he said and knelt down in front of me.
put on a show with me!” I told him.
He looked up at me with the most distressed eyes I’d ever seen on
a man. I must say he was one hell of a good actor. “Wha’ show?” he asked throwing out his arms. Immediately,
he lost his balance and toppled over on the brick pavement.
Several passersby stopped. “Is he drunk?”
one in a robe of bleached wool asked. “Should I call a watchman?”
“By all means,” I replied.
“This man is a thief. He’s stolen necklaces from a merchant’s table.”
The man started shouting
“Watchman! Watchman!” while I stared at the face of the master thief lying on his side in the street. He was looking
up, gurgling and rolling his eyes at me.
A watchman arrived. “All right, all right, what’s going on here?
What seems to be the matter? A domestic quarrel, eh?”
The watchman’s remark infuriated me. “I don’t
even know the damned man!” I informed the officer. “Besides, he’s a thief. I watched him steal necklaces
off a merchant’s table here in the marketplace.”
“Is that so?” The watchman turned to Shugat-Nergal
lying on the street in his gaudy kilt. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I think I had too mush
to drink,” the thief gurgled.
“Well, get up,” the watchman said. “You look disgusting lolling
around down there.”
“Yes, shir.” Shugat-Nergal clambered to his feet with no little difficulty and
then stood stiff before us, his body weaving. He accidentally bumped the watchman. “Shorry.”
woman says you took necklaces from a merchant’s table in the marketplace. What have you to say about that?”
held up his hands and rolled his eyes again. “I haven’t anything on me,” he said. “Shee for yourself.”
By the gods, I had to admit, he was a fascinating actor.
The watchman felt around the thief’s kilt. “Where’s
your moneybag, man?”
“Drank it. Drank it all up.” He put his face in the watchman’s face.
“Can’tcha tell?” he asked.
The watchman flinched but stood his ground. “I didna take anything.
I am not a thief,” Shugat-Nergal went on. “Thish woman — she owes me an apology, a great big one.”
The watchman turned back to me. “You said you saw this man take necklaces from a table in the marketplace, ma’am?”
“I did. He took them and stuffed them into his kilt.”
The watchman turned back to the accused
again. The thief undid his colored kilt and whipped it off, standing stark naked in the marketplace like some slave. He flapped
his kilt in the air. “Nothin’s in it,” he said and offered it to the officer.
The watchman took
the gaudy kilt and carefully examined it. He turned back to me. “I find nothing in his kilt, ma’am.”
was more than I could stand. “For god’s sake, give him the damned thing back and tell him to put it on. I tell
you, officer, I saw him take necklaces from a merchant’s table. If you’ll come with me into the marketplace, I’ll
The watchman told Shugat-Nergal, “You come along with us.” They accompanied me back inside
I marched them up to the table where I had seen him take the necklaces. The merchant behind the table
looked up hopefully as we approached, but his face turned grim as soon as he noticed the watchman’s harness. “Sir,”
the officer asked the merchant, “are you missing some necklaces?”
The merchant nodded. “Unfortunately,
yes. Three, I think ... a carnelian and two very expensive lapis.”
“This woman claims she saw this man
take necklaces from your table.”
The merchant stared at Shugat-Nergal, shook his head and sighed. “I wish
it were so, officer,” he said, “but I have to tell you, I’ve never seen this man before.”
can you say that?” I asked. “I saw this very man stumble and fall against your table less than a quarter hour
The merchant nodded. “Ma’am, someone did stumble and brush against my table, but it wasn’t
him. Look at that god-awful kilt he’s wearing. I wouldn’t let anyone in a kilt like that get close to my goods.”
He leaned forward. “You know, ma’am,” he whispered to me, “I think he’s Amurru.” I felt
my face burn.
Shugat-Nergal chose this moment to come alive. “Shee!” he exclaimed. “She owes me
a great big apology!”
“No!” I cried. “Look at his face,” I urged the merchant. “When
he left the market, he pulled off an outer kilt he was wearing and threw it under an empty table. That gaudy kilt he’s
in now is a disguise that he was wearing under his kilt. Pay attention to his face.”
The merchant took a close-up
look at Shugat while he continued to weave. I’d swear Shugat was suppressing a smile. “Looks drunk as hell to
me,” the merchant said. “I smell beer on his breath.”
“By Nin!” I exclaimed. “Come
with me. I’ll show you!”
The merchant shook his head. “Can’t leave my table.”
all right, sir,” the watchman put in, “the accused and I will accompany this woman.”
I led them
back the way Shugat had run out of the marketplace, passing two or three empty stalls on the way, including the one with the
table I thought he had pitched the kilt under. I looked under it. There was nothing there. To be sure, I got down on hands
and knees to search, figuring the kilt might have slid further back.
When I got back up, I conceded defeat. “There
seems to be nothing here now.”
The watchman raised his eyebrows and turned to Shugat-Nergal. “It seems
this woman was mistaken. Do you wish to make a charge, sir? Perhaps a charge of slander?”
up and looked me straight in the eye. He seemed to have made a rapid recovery from his drunken stupor. I held steady and didn’t
flinch. “Not if she’ll retract those nasty things she said about me. And apologize. Nicely … like a lady.”
GRRR. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I gritted my teeth. “I cannot produce the missing necklaces,”
I said. I turned to Shugat-Nergal. “I must have dreamed the whole thing. I apologize to you, ... sir.”
smiled and turned to the watchman. “She’s apologized, officer,” he said. “We all make a mistake now
and then, but it’s over. There’s no longer any problem.”
“So it seems,” the officer
said and turned to go back to his post at the market gate.
As soon as the watchman left, Shugat turned his attention
back to me and his face broke into the grin I’d been watching him suppress. “You’re quite the woman,”
he told me.
“And you’re quite the thief,” I replied. “This is the second time I’ve watched
“The second time - ?”
“I’m an undercover watcher for the Karum
here at the market,” I said.
Shugat nodded. “Ah,” he said, “then you know who I am?”
“Indeed!” I said. “You are the notorious Shugat-Nergal! Better known as the Thief of Uruk.”
“Ah, yes,” he said and bowed slightly. He smiled, as if he were very pleased to meet me. “And may
I ask your name?”
“Denisha-Ishtar,” I answered.
“Denisha,” he said and eyed
me from head to toe. “Nice,” he said and I blushed. “Well, you are young but quite a woman.” He hummed.
“I could use someone like you. We could do well together if you joined me in my ventures.”
I asked. “I’m already self-supporting and lack for nothing. If I continue to do well here in the marketplace,
then I may gain a chance to travel the waterways ... perhaps go overseas to places like Meluhha or Ægypt.”
yes,” he said and bowed again, “if you do well here.”
“I will have my eye out for you.”
“I understand. I wouldn’t want to hinder your career.”
“And you, Shugat-Nergal?”
I asked. “You seem like a decent man in a way. Why not give up your thieving?”
He grinned. “My dear
Denisha-Ishtar, for the same reason you won’t want to give up your watching. I’m good at it.”
admit that,” I said. “You’ve learned to control yourself very well. You’d make a wonderful actor.
You have a kingly appearance. You could handle the lugal’s part in the New Year’s Festival. You’d get to
go to bed with Inanna, sleep with the goddess.”
“I’m flattered you think that. But I hardly believe
they’d choose me to play the role of one as important as the lugal.”
I shrugged. “In festivities,
it’s appearance that counts. Whatever else, you have the appearance. Or you can fake it. Besides, you might become one
of Inanna’s favorites.”
“Ah,” he said, “I hear that’s a dangerous thing to do.
But, really, I haven’t time to tarry. I must be going.”
“If you don’t quit this life of thievery,
Shugat-Nergal,” I warned him, “I’ll eventually catch you with the goods.”
He laughed. “I
don’t think so,” he replied. “But we’ll see, Denisha, won’t we?”
Then before I
realized what was happening, he grabbed me by the arms and held me to him while he kissed me on the mouth. Pushing me away,
he turned, waved goodbye and quickly disappeared into the crowd that filled the marketplace.
I felt embarrassed and
put my hand to my throat. Damn! It was gone! That phony son of a bitch. He had snitched my necklace with my personal seal.
For a moment, I thought about chasing him so I could scratch his eyes out when I caught him.
But then I thought better
of it. My time will come.
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