The heat of the midday sun diminished as the silken canopy over his head created a cool bit of shade. The luxurious silken cushions upon which he reclined were easily as soft as the breasts of Ishtar herself. The fabrics were all dyed that luxurious purple that looked nearly black when motionless but revealed every color from violet to lavender with a mere shift in position. This color was his alone, the indisputable mark of royalty.

He lazily turned onto his side, his eyes blind to the treasure that was in his litter, a priceless work of art lightly gilded with gold and decorated with precious gems, for the true luxury was the wood, lumber from the Cedar Forest, the realm of the gods themselves. Precious though it was, he did not care for it: what was one more valuable when he had long since lost track of everything that lay within his treasure rooms?

Gilgamesh torpidly reached for the wine jug, a golden vessel filled to its brim with ambrosia, the drink of the gods themselves. He drank a deep draught right from the jug, indifferent to the fine cups forged by a master goldsmith. Only the best was suitable for him.

Even so, that wasn't enough. Gilgamesh suffered from ennui so heavy that Anu himself would collapse under its weight. His earnest wish was for something to truly entertain him. Unfortunately, he had already obtained all. The world was one and his kingdom was the world. There was nothing he could not collect, and he lacked nothing. Everything in this world belonged to him.

It was the boredom of having everything that eventually led him to something he could only have once. It was a treasure that vanished forever and could only be taken once. Even if it came from a mediocrity, if it was something that could never return, it was valuable.

After all, was not a woman's virginity an irreplaceable treasure of this world that only one could own?

He was the king. It was his right to own that treasure.

That was where he headed now. Another girl had been married today. He was going to exercise his right as king and take her first on the day of her wedding, before even her husband. Of course, he did not only take. That was not the way. He gave pleasure equally.

Unfortunately, even this game had lost its appeal. It was all the same in the end. Perhaps this time his toy would be more amusing? It was not so much a hope as denial. No, hope lay only in the strange dream he had had. He had dreamed of a meteorite that had fallen from Anu's domain, a stone so great he could not turn it, and he two-thirds god! He had dreamed that the bottom of the rock would be kissed like the feet of a baby. Then he had dreamed of an axe that lay across the gate of the marital chamber.

He had asked his mother, the wise, all-knowing goddess Ninsun, what the dream meant. Gilgamesh disliked the gods, but his mother, he did love. She, in her wisdom, had told him something that had sparked optimism in his heart for the first time in many years.

"There will come to you a mighty man, a comrade who saves his friend. It is he who will repeatedly save you. Your dream is good and propitious!"

His litter stopped. He sighed as he set down his precious wine. Oh, how he would cherish a friend! A true friend, someone who could stand up to him. But he was convinced none such existed. It was only his respect for his mother that did not make him openly disbelieve her.

Gilgamesh stepped out of his litter, his eyes disinterestedly observing the great walls of Uruk that reached up into the skies themselves. He had built those walls, walls that shone like copper, that were perfect in every way. Only the gods themselves could hope to destroy them. The gods and Gilgamesh himself.

He turned toward the sun-baked brick house where the prize awaited him. He stopped and frowned at the most peculiar of sights.

Before the door to the house, a bare-chested youth with fine long green hair stood. His frame was slender, but Gilgamesh's eyes clearly perceived the great strength contained in that wiry body. The youth's face was beautiful enough to belong to one of Ishtar's handmaidens. The strangest thing of all was the sight of his subjects on their knees, kissing the stranger's feet with great esteem and delicacy.

It was an oddity, but not enough of one for him to bother to ask what was going on. Gilgamesh walked toward the door of the house. He felt the faint stirrings of surprise and great irritation when the youth did not move out of his way. Clear gray eyes dared meet his in defiance.

"Mongrel. Out of my way."

"I refuse."

The voice was clear, strong, and determined. That only increased Gilgamesh's irritation. He curled his right hand into a fist and brought it over his left shoulder. To disobey the king was to break the law. The only punishment was death. This blow would end the life of this mongrel instantly. Gilgamesh lashed out, his attack aimed right at the long-haired youth's head.

Perhaps no one there was as shocked as he when the block was blocked.

There was no one as strong as he. He was two-thirds a god, strong enough to challenge the gods themselves. Yet the thin forearm of this youth had blocked his fist. The limb had not flown off into the sky before his skull was shattered to a pulp. This mongrel dared...!

With a snarl, Gilgamesh extended both his hands, prepared to throw this mongrel out of the way, but the youth countered. Gilgamesh found himself grappling hand to hand. His rage eclipsed his reason. This mongrel dared to lay hands upon him? He was the king! He, whose place was in the heavens, was being defied by a speck of dirt?

Gilgamesh gathered all of his strength and tugged with all of his might. The power of a demigod closer to the divine than mortal should have been enough to throw this mongrel through the earth itself.

To his shock, the one who dared touch him merely grunted as an equal strength countered his own. He had used enough force to punch through the great walls of Uruk! Who was he? Who?

They grappled with each other in the streets. Every move Gilgamesh used to throw the stranger was countered; all of the might Gilgamesh mustered was met with equal power. Waifish though he was, the stranger was strong, as strong as Gilgamesh himself. The doorposts of the houses around them trembled as they battled; the very walls of Uruk shook with the force of their exertions. Gilgamesh's wrath towered as high as the heavens above as they fought, thus he gave no thought to using his treasures to annihilate the wretch. How could this stranger defy the strength of the King? How could he more steadfast than any rock and not be turned?

A false step caused Gilgamesh to bend his knees for a heartbeat, a weakness that would allow this stranger to throw him. His anger vanished. He had lost, defeated by one whose strength equaled his own. A defeated man could not be a king; within a heartbeat, he would be vanquished and king no more.

But the stranger did not do as he expected. He allowed Gilgamesh to recover his footing before he shouted in a loud, strong voice, "Your mother Ninsun bore you ever unique! Your head is elevated over all other men! Enlil has destined for you the kingship over the people!"

Surprise slackened his grip. The stranger broke their grapple, those keen gray eyes filled with... could it be compassion? Compassion for him, the king who surpassed all others? Gilgamesh found his voice. "Who are you?"

"I am called Enkidu, Gilgamesh, King of Kings. I am the one of whom you have dreamed."

"The meteorite that fell from the sky, the rock that could not be turned," Gilgamesh said slowly, realization dawning as he finally recognized the fulfillment of his dream. Joy filled him. "It is you who is to be my friend!"

"Your friend? I? But you-"

Gilgamesh heard not a word the startled Enkidu said as he slung his arm over the slender man's shoulder. "Come, come! Long have I waited for such as you, one who could stand with me equally! Come, come! I will introduce you to my mother!"

"But I have come to change the order of things!" Enkidu protested.

"What of it, what of it?" Gilgamesh asked dismissively, eager to know more of his friend. "If you wish something changed, it will be changed! For do not friends do such favors for each other?"

"You would cease to take the maidenhead of virgin brides merely because your friend asks it of you?" Enkidu asked incredulously.

"Ah, such a trifle is easily done! In fact, consider it done!"

Enkidu shook his head in disbelief, as if he could not believe Gilgamesh would so easily change something he had done for so long. Finally, he said, "Truly?"

"Truly! For you are the first friend I have ever chosen!"

Gilgamesh's good cheer and genuine happiness seemed to make an impression on the waifish stranger. He stood unmoving for a time, his eyes thoughtful as he considered the puzzle.

"Friend," Enkidu said slowly, contemplatively. "You would be the first such I have made in all my life." A slow smile appeared on Enkidu's beautiful face, a smile of innocence and happiness. "Then I chose to call you friend."

"Splendid!" Gilgamesh said with good cheer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a girl, beautiful young woman with long blonde hair and green eyes, a rarity of rarities in this land of the black-headed people. It seemed she was the bride of this day, but he could not bother to care that such a rare flower had been plucked out of his reach. He, who had once been incomparable, who been made to awesome perfection and unrivaled strength, he who stood above all others in this world, finally had someone who could stand on the same level with him! He finally had a friend!