Amaterasu
By: Umair Mirxa

Amaterasu slammed the flagon of mead she had accepted from Freyr down onto the table and glared around at those in the room with her.

"They are late," she snarled at Sól, who occupied the rocking chair to her left. "It is nearly dark outside."

"There is time yet," said Athena, reclining on the divan to her right. "Privileged as he has been all his life, my brother is just shy of being spoilt. He cares not for punctuality. Nor is he polite. Still, I feel certain Artemis will see him right, and here as expected."

"I wish there was someone who could so influence Thor," said Sól morosely, draining her own flagon dry. "Mind you, if your brother encountered him on the road, we might still be waiting here when the leaves begin to fall."

"They will be here," said Athena reassuringly, as Sekhmet growled from the far corner. "You do not know Artemis. I would not be surprised if she dragged Thor in by the ear."

Her little jest helped lighten the mood, as she had hoped. It would not do to have tempers flaring, not when half a dozen solar deities were in attendance, with more joining them soon. Especially not since they had chosen to gather in an ancient wooden temple surrounded by a dry forest which hadn't experienced rainfall for nearly three months. Not one of those present or expected were famed for their patience.

"I am disappointed in Bastet," said Sekhmet. "She is usually more responsible."

"There aren't many who can say no to Apollo," said Athena with a smile. "Not when he decides to turn on the charm."

"I wonder," said Amaterasu in sullen, mocking tones. "if I wasn't mistaken summoning all of you here. Shall we sit around, waiting idly on your errant siblings as summer passes us by, and all of Japan crumbles from the heat?"

They had come to Japan, deities from across the world, in response to invitations sent by Amaterasu. She had given no reason yet urged them to make such haste as they could. They were all, however, keenly aware of the terrible summer of drought Japan was suffering and had thus heeded her words.

Sól had arrived first, from Iceland, and brought with her Päivätär from Finland and Áine from Ireland. Sekhmet and Bastet had come next from Egypt, followed by the Greeks - Athena and her twin siblings, Apollo and Artemis. The last to arrive, from Sweden, were Freyr and Thor. They had been delayed while the Lord of Thunder nursed a hangover in the Himalayas.

"Why were you and Thor delayed?" asked Áine of Freyr, hoping the tale would help curb Amaterasu's agitation, and pass the time.

"Oh, this should be interesting," said Päivätär, well aware of Thor's many adventures. "I shall break open another cask of mead."

They had been afforded a night's rest by their hostess, once all gathered, so they could recover from their journeys. The next morning, half of them had turned up missing. It transpired the twins had left at dawn to go hunting as they were wont to do and taken Bastet with them. Thor had wandered off only he knew where, and Ame-no-Uzume had followed soon after, refusing to sit around and mope all day as they waited. Athena had sent owls after each of them, asking them to return no later than dusk. None were back yet.

"Well," said Freyr, as Päivätär went around the room, serving mead. "We made haste, as I feel certain you all did, in response to Amaterasu's invitation. It was my idea to stop, eat, and rest for the night. I had only hoped to arrive here in good spirits, ready to render such help as I could offer."

"How did that go for you?" said Amaterasu with a scowl, refilling her flagon from Päivätär's cask.

"I should have known it was folly to trust Thor would, or could, behave," said Freyr, as apologetic as it was possible to be for a deity. "We had stopped, in northern Pakistan, at one of those little dhabas you find all over the place there. I was quite looking forward to a good chicken karahi too. Well before it was served though, Thor took fancy to a young maiden - the owner's daughter, no less."

"Sounds like Thor, alright," said Päivätär with a snort, and exchanged knowing nods with Sól and Freyr.

"Quite so. It is beautiful country though, especially during the height of summer. Tall mountains and thick forests, lakes, rivers, and bubbling streams, and this girl with her radiant, olive skin, the most gorgeous of them all. Had circumstances been different, even I might have pursued her."

"Long has my brother been captivated by the women of Pakistan," said Athena. "So too are Ares, Heracles, and even Aphrodite ever since Alexander invaded the country. I rather prefer their food myself."

"Yes, you would. I can see, too, why your siblings are so taken. Still, they are a shy lot those women, and protected something fierce by their men," continued Freyr. "The young maiden refused Thor's drunken advances, and looked to be quite disgusted by him, now I think on it. We were thrown out rather unceremoniously not five minutes later. So, of course, Thor threw a tantrum, brewed some thunder and lightning atop Mount Everest to scare the locals, and drank half the mead we were bringing as a present to Amaterasu in the process. Took me a day getting him sober enough to complete our journey."

The doors to the temple banged open, and the absent deities trooped inside, one behind the other, just as Freyr finished his tale to raucous laughter from Sól, Áine, and Päivätär. Even Amaterasu had afforded him a reluctant smile.

"Finally!" she exclaimed, as the returning gods and goddesses slowly arranged themselves around the room. "Uzume-chan, of you, at least, I expected better. I would hardly have called all of you here if it wasn't of the utmost importance."

"Oh, pfft!" said Ame-no-Uzume, graciously accepting a cup of sake from Áine. "Please do not pretend you care what happens to life on Earth. I would prefer an eternity in Yomi over a day spent with you."

"You cannot still be angry with me after all these centuries."

"I had to dance, Amaterasu-san, on an overturned bathing tub and strip naked in front of eight hundred Kami. I did it so you would stop throwing a silly tantrum. I shall never not be angry with you."

Amaterasu's retort was lost amidst Thor's gagging and spluttering as he spilled sake all over his front.

"You danced naked?" he said, grinning at Ame-no-Uzume.

"Thor, please don't be bawdy," said Sól.

"Sól! I did not see you there," said Thor, turning abruptly and spilling even more drink on himself as he offered the bottle of sake to her. "You must try this, er … what did she call it? Uh, it matters not. You really must try it."

"Enough!" roared Sekhmet. "If I hear one more jest or another ridiculous tale, I shall tear someone's throat out."

"Thank you, Sekhmet-san," said Amaterasu.

"I do not wish to scorn your hospitality, Lady Amaterasu," said Sekhmet. "Yet Japan now burns hotter than my homeland, and I find myself craving a swim in the cool waters of the Nile. Speak now and let us part before there is murder."

"Yes, but first," said Apollo. "Dinner."

***

They feasted, the twelve deities together, on sika deer and green pheasant Apollo and Artemis had brought back from their hunt. The meat was served with miso soup, steamed white rice, and pickled vegetables, and dinner lasted until well after midnight. Mead and saké flowed in abundance, with wine from Lesbos introduced by Apollo, and even Sekhmet appeared ready to grow as riotous as Thor himself.

Servings of gyokuro green tea prepared by Ame-no-Uzume helped to sober and settle them in the aftermath, and by the time Áine passed around tobacco and pipes, the eastern sky had begun to threaten the approach of dawn. A contented quiet slowly settled on the company gathered, and at long last, everyone present was prepared to lend an ear to their hostess.

"Honoured guests, fellow gods and goddesses," said Amaterasu. "Thank you for such prompt responses to my invitation. I know it must have been difficult to drop everything in your own lives and domains at a moment's notice, and travel thousands of miles to be here. Please know, I shall be eternally grateful to each and every single one of you."

"I called you here to discuss a matter of grave import. Now, I have taken the liberty to assume your discretion, for if word spreads of what I am about to say, there will be widespread panic in the country. We can ill afford it now, given the heat and drought. Few of Japan's own Kami are aware of this dire circumstance, and those who do know, including my brother Tsukuyomi-san, are searching for a solution even as we speak."

"What dire circumstance, and why was I not made aware of it before tonight?" Ame-no-Uzume stood hands on hips, glaring down indignantly at Amaterasu. "Wait. Does my husband already know?"

"You are here now, aren't you?" Amaterasu made a visible attempt at controlling her temper, and then continued in softer tones. "Sarutahiko Ōkami accompanies my brother. I asked him not to say anything to you. I swore him to secrecy. I wished to tell you of it myself, in person."

"Tell me what, exactly?"

"Listen to me, Uzume-chan. I beg of you. All of you must listen. If you do not help me now, if you … cannot help me now, then all of Japan is doomed."

"What are you talking about?" asked Ame-no-Uzume with a snort of derision.

"Oh, can't you see?" said Athena, clearly annoyed with Ame-no-Uzume now. "Amaterasu is dying. She is the reason you have experienced such a terrible summer. It is the final flare-song of the sun before it is extinguished forever."

The silence which followed her pronouncement was absolute. Every god and goddess in the room seemed shaken, and even Thor looked mortified. They looked from Athena to Amaterasu, searching her face for any signs of denial, and back again, desperately hoping they had misheard the Greek goddess. Stunned and speechless, they exchanged empty glances with each other or fiddled with their fingers or stared at the walls. Slowly then, murmurs of 'Is it true?' and 'How is this possible?' went around the room.

First moved to action was Artemis. She stepped forward, knelt at Amaterasu's side, and took both her hands into her own.

"I am terribly sorry, Amaterasu-san," she said, looking up at the Japanese goddess of the sun. "We have, all of us, acted in a reprehensible manner today. Please forgive us our transgressions. We knew not what you were going through. You shall have all the help you need, whatever form or manner it takes."

"Thank you, Artemis," said Amaterasu. "You are most kind. None of you could have known. Of course, Athena somehow did, even before she left Greece, though she did not hear it from me."

"I began to suspect your condition not long after I received your invitation," said Athena. "Once I arrived here, and you told me none of the Japanese Kami had been able to alleviate either the heat or the drought, my suspicions were confirmed."

"You are wise indeed, Athena-san," said Amaterasu with a smile. "It is why I reached out to you. I had hoped you could devise a solution to our little predicament here and help save my country. All the gods and goddesses you named in your letter are now here present."

Amaterasu stood, and leaving Athena to take council with the rest of the company, moved to stand before Ame-no-Uzume.

The goddess of dawn and mirth hadn't moved nor said a word since Athena's grim revelation. She had remained, rooted where she stood and still as a statue, her unblinking eyes not once leaving Amaterasu's face. Tears flowed unchecked down her cheeks, and she began to tremble at her old friend's approach.

"Tell me it's not true," she said.

"I'm afraid I can't, Uzume-chan," said Amaterasu. "I do not even know what ails me but that it should … it will prove fatal soon. Everyone else in this room was called here so they might help our country and our people. You, I called, so I could beg your forgiveness ere I run out of time."

"There is nothing to forgive between us, and you will not run out of time. We will find a cure, a spell. Something!"

"Such is my hope of our guests but of you, I would beg a different favour."

"Ask, and it is yours."

***

Amaterasu walked down the forest path and into the clearing with a wide smile spread across her face, holding tightly onto Ame-no-Uzume's hand with one of her own. It was a beautiful dawn in Japan as the two friends joined the rest of the gods and goddesses.

Warm hugs and bright smiles were exchanged all around, and the twelve deities settled down to a picnic breakfast, even as the sun broke cloud cover and shone upon them in all its glory. The aroma of grilled fish served with steamed rice, miso soup, pickles, and fermented soybeans mixed pleasantly with the scent of fresh strawberries, grapes, apples, and oranges.

"If it's all the same to you, dear friends," said Amaterasu, taking her place at the spread between Athena and Ame-no-Uzume. "I would like to say a few words before we begin. You have all, each and every single one of you, helped save my life this past fortnight. More importantly, you have cared for my people and my beloved country."

She held up a hand to stem the barrage of 'Oh, it was nothing' and 'It was the least we could do', and then nodded in turn to each of her guests as she thanked them individually.

"I wish to express my gratitude to Artemis for hunting day and night to stave off starvation, to Thor for providing cloud cover against the heat, and to Freyr for bringing rain to end the drought. To Sól, Áine, Bastet, and Päivätär who have kept the sun shining on Japan in my absence, and to Apollo and Sekhmet who healed me and brought me back from the brink of death. To Athena, most wise, who conceived of a solution where I thought none existed, and last but certainly not the least, to my dearest friend, Ame-no-Uzume, my constant source of joy and comfort."

Thor, overcome with emotion, interrupted her then with a loud howl as he burst into tears, before disappearing behind a gigantic flagon of mead as his fellow gods and goddesses burst into laughter.

"I owe you all an eternal debt," continued Amaterasu, once everyone had settled down again. "If ever I or mine can do anything at all for you and yours, whenever and wherever, please do not hesitate to send word. Now, before I bore you all into slumber or Thor drinks us dry, let us have breakfast and revels."

"You never did ask me the favour you mentioned," said Ame-no-Uzume quietly, as the other deities began filling their plates.

"Oh, it was a silly thing," said Amaterasu, with a surprising blush to her cheeks. "The passing whim and fancy of a dying goddess. Barely worth mentioning now."

"You may whisper of it to me tonight, if you wish."

The goddess of the sun blushed even more furiously than before and turned away with a smile.

A light drizzle had begun to fall, heralding the approach of autumn. She thought of the summer about to end. It had been a season of pain and sickness, of thirst and fear and doubt. So, it had begun. She looked around now at the green forest, at the birds and animals hastily seeking refuge from the rain beneath it, at her friends, and most of all, she looked at Ame-no-Uzume.

Amaterasu slammed the flagon of mead she had accepted from Thor down onto the table and smiled widely at those around her. It had been a summer of health and happiness, of food and bounty, and of the joys of friendship. So, it would end.

– THE END –

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