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The Lioness in her Abdomen

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

If the single remaining mural from her palace is to be believed, the first queen of Umer was born with a metal cage in place of her abdomen. At the bottom of the cage curled a tiny brown kitten.

As Eshi grew from babe to girl, the kitten became a miniature lioness with a long tail and sharp claws. The lioness never outgrew its cage; throughout Eshi’s life, as depicted in the mural, the cage gave it ample space to pace and curl.

The second panel of the mural shows all sorts of people gathered around the girl -- old and young, bearded and bare-breasted, modestly dressed and clean-shaven -- examining the cage and the feline. Their confusion is painted clearly on their faces.

The girl silently bore it.

When she became queen, and the people of Umer gathered at her bare feet in obeisance, she cast those people in the second panel out from the city walls and did not let them return. Words engraved at the base of the mural record her words to them: “The lioness is a part of me, like a heart, and I will not have you prod her like a beast at market.”

Eshi ruled for two decades, and the lioness prowled and purred in her abdomen.

In none of the panels is the lioness shown eating. Perhaps it took scraps of meat from the table like a pet. Perhaps, as one historian has inferred from the way it licks the bars of its cage in three of the eight panels, it gained its sustenance in a more unusual manner. Eshi is shown eating twice: putting flatbread and beans into her mouth like a regular person.

The intricacies of the connection between woman and lioness were never understood, although its importance to their wellbeing was illustrated on the day that Eshi went hunting with some of her relatives and friends, when her drunken sister misfired and her arrow pierced the lioness.

As the lioness’ blood pumped from its body, Eshi clutched her abdomen and moaned in pain. Physicians rushed to her side but found no wound except that in the lioness.

They could only watch as the lioness bled out and their queen died with it.

According to some historians a textual fragment contradicts the mural, saying that Eshi died from an arrow through a vital organ. According to others, the two versions of the tale are in very close agreement.

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