The Empress was not expecting the fractious multitude that filled her audience chamber. Scant weeks after she had finally unified all the neighboring lands, from the frozen north to the edge of the great dark desert in the south where the length of the days never varied, she had expected gratitude, not complaints.
“We are tired of long, cold winters without the sun. Our children wither. Our teeth fall out if we do not catch enough seafood,” griped the northerners.
“We suffer droughts that bake the soil and dry up the lakes. Our crops wither. Our houses fall into the cracks in the ground,” said the southerners.
The Empress reflected. This opportunity to occupy the empire was just what she needed.
“We will capture the sun,” she declared. “Then we can move it at our will.”
“Your children will be warm and strong,” she said to the northerners.
To the southerners: “Your crops will prosper and the lakes will teem with fish.”
After many months of searching, the perfect location was found. Along the coastal mountain range, on the tops of two peaks flanking a deep gorge that ran east out to the sea they erected two tall towers. Between them they strung a net. To weave this net out of light-capturing glass and gold took a year. Three weeks were needed for teams of men and oxen to carry it from one tower to the other through the gorge and erect it. Afterwards the oxen were slaughtered, and a celebration was held on the beach in the reticulated shadow of the net, the people knowing that the next morning when it rose the sun would be ensnared and they would never again be at its mercy.
But the people overindulged, and the sun rose unobserved by the camp. It fell to a young girl traveling from her home up the beach to collect mussels to first notice that rather than the sun, a figure was trapped in the net. However, her parents had warned her to avoid the commotion at the camp, so she continued on without waking anyone.
Eventually the slumbering camp woke. The foreman trained his spyglass on the net, where instead of the sun he was horrified to see a man struggling in the glimmering threads of the net. The sun itself had continued on. They had failed. As news spread, lamentations were heard throughout camp. Maybe the sun had dodged the net to avoid burning the man. At least that’s what the foreman planned to tell the Empress.
Imagine, then, his surprise when, a few hours after midday, his men hauled a very disgruntled Ra to be interrogated by the Empress.
“Are you not Ra, the sun god?” she asked.
“I am. And I do not appreciate being caught in your net. I have half a mind to smite you.”
“If you are Ra the sun god, why then does the sun even now dip away to the west?”
Ra, however, had grown so incensed that he refused to answer. With a wave of her hand the Empress ordered him imprisoned. Perhaps the sun had just continued on its own, like a riderless chariot. Tomorrow they would capture it when it rose unguided.
A large crowd gathered the next morning to watch the sun approach the net. As the sun touched the crest, the dew on the millions of glass threads shone brightly enough to blind the crowd. When their sight recovered, they saw with dismay that the sun was still moving in its accustomed path to the west. Truly they had failed. Perhaps the net needed to be made taller, one person suggested. Maybe the sun could flow through the net like water, another speculated. A third shouted that a figure was caught in the net. When the foreman again had his men free the figure and bring him to camp, they returned with a grumpy Helios.
The next day the outcome was the same: the sun passed the net and a god was collected, interrogated, and imprisoned.
For twelve more days the same process was repeated, with only the gods differing. Ra and Aten fought over whether they were the same person before they forgot their animosity in a frenzy of amorousness with Shamash and Shapash, respectively, that fused the sand of their prison into glass. In between naps, Helios grumbled to Apu Inti about how little respect he got from young Apollo, who in response did sarcastic impressions of the older Greek deity to make Churi Inti laugh. Huitzilopochtli was immediately attacked by Amaterasu upon his arrival, the battle keeping everyone awake for three nights before Amaterasu realized that she had mistaken Huitzilopochtli for Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, whose darts had shattered Amaterasu’s favorite mirror.
Still the days dawned and the gods accumulated. Xihe, Wi, Malakbêl, and Tiwaz joined Dažbog, Pugu, Koyash and Sol Invictus in prison. The sun still set every night, the gods grew increasingly unruly, the workers grew tired, and the ministers began to fear for their lives.
“Six smitings, four fires, it appears that a guard and two gods are pregnant, and Pugu started a horse racing racket. Yet the sun still travels. How much longer can this go on?” one asked.
“We have assembled the texts from the length and breadth of the empire. Within a week we will have collected the last of the solar gods,” another asserted.
“Is this a problem? We have twenty-seven solar gods. Why don’t we simply move them around the empire?” suggested the youngest.
“But the sun still travels. My home still bakes,” replied a southerner. “We should capture some ice gods.”
“We’ll wait out the week,” the most senior decided, “then we can advise an alternative approach.”
On the seventh morning the Empress assembled the ministers, along with the morning’s divine catch. However, when he gave his name, no one recognized it.
“Where are you from?” the Empress asked.
“Here,” the god replied.
“Explain,” the Empress demanded (whether this command was addressed to the ministers, the god, or the universe at large wasn’t clear).
“I am the god of the sun to the people who live on this shore and fish its waters. I was born this week.”
The Empress ordered that a local be brought before her. Coincidentally, the local the guards found was the young girl who saw Ra the first morning.
When questioned, she had a simple answer. It was known that the Empire was capturing sun gods. But the sun still had to rise and set. So a god must control it; one they hadn’t caught yet.
Realizing the futility of the enterprise, the Empress ordered that camp be struck that afternoon, the gods be released, and plans be made to conquer the nearest continent. Remains of the net can still be seen in the gorge, where the story is told by locals that a giant used it to try to capture a monstrous sea serpent, but the beast escaped and ate him. The sun rises as it always has, cascading its light on the beachside village and occasionally glinting off the scaled back of a colossal sinuous form far out at sea.