Mary’s shaking hand could barely hold her pen, and every few moments she had to hold a cloth up to catch the bloody residue of her coughs. “Have you ever known someone who was dying? Who knew they were dying and had only the last few bitter drops of wax left to their candle?”

“More than you can ever know,” said Neith. “It’s the one experience that, along with birth, unites everyone from commoners to queens.”

“Last I checked, neither of those situations see people at their best,” said Mary, her laugh rapidly turning into a ragged sputtering. “Screaming and crying on the way in as on the way out.”

“It’s true,” said Neith with a smile.

“Let me ask you something, then,” said Mary. “I’m indifferent to any notion of the hereafter. If it is, it is, and if it isn’t it isn’t. No way to know until you’re on the other side of it.”

“That’s not a question.”

“Ha! I’m getting there,” Mary said. “Fair enough. But the only kind of immortality I’ve seen is memory. You live on if people remember you, or your works. I’ve been told that my books…some of them, the earliest ones, maybe…might stand the test of time. But I’ve seen enough forgotten stories in the garbage to wonder if that’s not true. What do you say, Neith? Can I rely on the stories that angry little girl wrote to keep me around in some form or other?”

Neith thought for a moment, listening to Mary’s labored breathing. Then, softly, she spoke:

“There was once a king—a great king, perhaps the greatest of his age—who once grappled with the same problem. He was wise, he was kind, and he was just, and yet he would die all the same. ‘Why should this be so?’ he asked, and decided to put all his power into a search for immortality. He had many great adventures in doing so, and met and impressed many—even, some say, the gods themselves, if one believes such things.”

“What happened?” Mary said, a flutter of knowing in her voice matched by a clear desire to see Neith tell the story to its conclusion.

“He never found the secret to eternal life, and his story ultimately ended. But in the seeking, he lived a life that made a terrific epic all its own. It is a story that, a thousand generations later, still resonates across time. So much so, in fact, that the king’s name is among the few that are known from those far-off days, and one of the earliest names that yet survives.”

“Gilgamesh,” Mary said with a smile. “I’m not so full of myself to think my writing will last that long.”

“Neither was he,” Neith said quietly. “Neither was he.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!
Advertisements