The fire dancers were preparing for the midsummer feast on the beach. Most were, by now, stripped to their waists in the gathering twilight. Shallow fire pits dug into the fine white sand adorned the beach beyond the reach of the waves. They were arranged in gleaming bands radiating from the centre platform where the dancers were going to dance. If the stars were to look down they would see a second sun burning upon the earth itself, drowning out the fickle light of the ever waxing and waning moon. As the sun set and its fires died upon the waves, the drummers started to beat out a rhythm for the dancers.
Magicians of great power, the dancers were a chosen few who could control the elements. With the control of fire you could lay your enemies waste, but you could also make the heavens cry for the beauty of the fire dance. The five dancers gathered in the centre of the platform started moving to the beat. On the wooden platform they added to the music of the drums. Their feet stamped faster and faster to the beat of the midsummer dance and then, when the music reached its crescendo, the fire joined them in the dance. Flames sprouted from the pits, some high, some low, some burning red, others nearly blue. All in a pattern that mimicked the movements of the fire dancers.
The people standing on the surrounding dunes cheered. Some shuffled their feet, clapping their hands to the tune of the drums, kicking up fine sand to catch the glimmer of the firelight. From where they stood they could only see part of the pattern, but the rain dancers would be able to see the whole sun medallion from the high cliff where they stood ready to call forth the clouds for the midsummer rain.
Inanna stood between the cliff and the dunes. Wind whipped at her hair and when she closed her eyes she imagined that she could feel each strand moving in its own little dance. The light grey smoke of the fires curled high into the sky as the fires burned hotter and faster with each passing minute of the dance. Inanna stretched out her arms. This was her moment to show off her own talent.
She screwed up her eyes and concentrated on the smoke. Gathering it. Twisting it until it was like clay in her hands. The dance stopped, as did the drums. Only now people looked up into the sky. She pulled sparks from the fires and sent them swirling into the smoke, creating the shadowed outline of men and horses. Galloping between them, and then downwards to the platform so that the dancers scattered, came the legendary hero Milkilu on his horse. Slowly the rest faded until only his shadow figure remained. The people were stricken dumb in awe and wonder. The figure of Milkilu threw his arms in the air and a banner unfurled from the spear he was holding. Inanna dragged sparks onto the banner to form a miniature of the sun medallion still burning on the beach.
People gasped with delight and some cheered, looking around to see who it was that was doing the conjuring. But Inanna dispersed the smoke, letting it drift up into the night sky and the accumulating rain clouds. One by one the drums started to beat again; this time sending a signal to the rain dancers to start their dance, calling all the clouds closer. And it started to rain.
But the next year the rain did not come. Neither did it come the year thereafter and the people started to question the magicians’ powers. Too soon the magicians themselves started to doubt. The midsummer and midwinter dances stopped. Soon all the dances stopped. And yet the sun kept on rising and the stars kept shining. And the fickle moon kept on waxing and waning.
Their enemies, on hearing that the magicians no longer held any power and how almost all had been run from the lands, came to take the fertile tracts of land and the great stone cities for themselves. And the people cursed the magicians who had failed them and who had left them when they most needed them as the cities were burnt and laid waste. Inanna went into hiding.
It was five long years before adequate rain started to fall once more. Though some of the elderly who had survived the severe drought remembered the magicians and wished that they would return, most had set all such thoughts behind them through the long years of suffering.
With renewed fervour the people fought their enemies, slowly regained their cities and started to rebuild from the ashes. A kind of normalcy returned to the land. Yet the fairy tales of fire dancers and magicians slowly died out with the elderly and the magicians who, in their new identities as simple citizens, slowly passed on to the next life.
Inanna sat by the fire in the common room. Around her most were drunk, but a few still had their wits about them enough to call for a story from the old woman. She listened to them talking about the great battles and the great victories she remembered quite differently. She listened to the forgotten sorrow replaced with faded memories. And she conjured from the sparks the sun medallion she had seen so many years ago.
“It was midsummer,” she said, moving her hands and the smoke obeyed her, casting shadows and filling all with wonder. “And all the fire dancers were ready to dance just as the sun died upon the waves of the ocean.” From the sparks she conjured the dancers, swirling and stamping their feet, jumping into the sky against a background of smoke rippling like water. “It was the happiest night of my life,” she whispered. Her hands moved slower and the conjuring unravelled as fatigue overtook her. Slowly she fell asleep to the voices of those few elderly patrons who remembered the old festival, the drums, the dancers, and those tiny honey-scented sweetmeats they all use to have as children. Even now she could smell and taste them. Even now the beat of the drums reached her feet and heart. In her dreams the shadows came alive and danced.