“Death just came and made love to me.”
One night in Alasaht, the very first civilization begun on the land of Nodistinc since the creation of the universe. King Lak-nubi was listening to his queen Crosia’s confession.
“What did you just say?”
“He… the god of death visited me. I saw him in the dark while waiting for you in my bed, my lord. On his head grew horns like a water buffalo and from his pale feet rose black mist. He approached slowly and stared down at me with his blue eyes. ”
Tears ran down on Crosia’s brown cheeks.
“Then he lay beside me and later he vanished into thin air.”
Lak-nubi felt muddled. He, the god of death and darkness, was here? That could bode ill. He looked down at his love. Her shoulders were quivering with fear from the sudden touch of destiny. He offered his arm, tenderly, to hold her hands.
“What shall I do?” she asked.
His chest heaved, but to feign calm, he caressed his wife’s black hair.
“Let us not come to a rash conclusion,” he said.
“I hope this doesn’t mean anything….”
Crosia stepped back, her face glittering with tears.
“Since the sun and the moon emerged in the sky,” she mumbled, “we have been blessed for almost a thousand years. But what if I just brought misfortune to break all the bliss?”
“No need to worry,” he said, to soothe her and himself. “Let us hear from gods. I was just about to change and leave to the temple for an oracle.”
They spoke no more as Lak-nubi prepared himself. While Crosia rubbing aromatic oil onto his brown skin, he found her hands were trembling and kissed them briefly. He loved her so much that he wished tragedy to come to him rather than her if possible.
It was late in the night—even bugs had stopped crying—when the king arrived at the temple. Leaving his retinues to wait in the colonnaded courtyard, he headed to the sanctuary and entered the room alone. It was filled with bluish light, and through the glow, he could just make out a priest sitting beside The Brazier of Prophecy. He walked through a stone bridge over a lake, and when he descended from it, the priest kneeled down on the white stone floor. At her back were statues of the gods, rising, colossal to the high ceiling. Torchlight made their faces look distorted and scary.
“You may stand up,” he said.
The priest stood up, her face wrinkled with fear. As their eyes met, she proffered a pipe to him.
“Sire, you should see it for yourself,” she said.
Lak-nubi raised a hand but hesitated.
‘My lord of the universe, my queen of all gods.’
He took the pipe, inwardly praying.
‘Lucileos, my goddess of life and lives…. Please keep Crosia safe. I came to ask you for a child… but now what only matters is her safety.’
He took one draw from the pipe. In a few moments, white smoke escaped his full lips, and his vision began to waver. He felt dizzy. Rubbing his face, he saw the fire in The Brazier of Prophecy changing color from yellow to white. White sparks continually flew out of the brazier, and suddenly something enormous soared toward the ceiling.
It was the face of a man, pale was the moon and as large as the entire ceiling. As it slowly descended to the ground, its blue eyes gleamed, and its open mouth was filled with the darkness of the universe. The dark grew larger and larger until it engulfed the face that held it. Soon, all light died in the room.
Lak-nubi blankly stood, unaware of where he was; whether heaven, ground, or underworld. Then he heard a baby cry from somewhere; the crying grew and shrank and then finally faded away. Another noise, of a rolling object on the floor, began. It ended when the thing hit the king’s feet. As he picked it up, his sense of touch revealed a sharp metal ornament in a shape of an eagle. He noticed that in his hands was his crown; it must never touch the ground, to avoid damage to its sanctity.
Suddenly, an intense light appeared. Lak-nubi squinted. It was fire; furiously blazing all around him. From the flames came yells and screams. That was followed by the sounds of shell trumpets and chariot wheels, announcing the start of a war. Terrified, Lak-nubi turned around and saw his palace ablaze.
He tried to scream, but as his voice reached the root of his tongue, the building began to collapse, and he remained mute in shock. Thousands of pillars and columns fell, and pylons crashed down. Gray dust rose and concealed everything…. Gradually, the flames and lights disappeared, and darkness emerged again.
Shaking hands awakened Lak-nubi gently. He found himself lying on the floor, wet with perspiration. He stood up and breathed deeply.
“What did you see?” the old lady asked.
The king told her everything he had seen and related the vision of death. During his story, she held her lips tightly pursed and remained silent, a terrified expression on her face.
“Speak,” the king commanded.
The blue veil, covering her from head to waist, trembled as she sighed.
“A prince will be born─” she whispered, “─and he is a son of death. He shall destroy this kingdom in the future, and cut off the head…. The head of you, his own father.”
* * *
It was nine months after the visit of the god; deepest night. The king of Alasaht and his vassals were awake, gathered in a great hall filled with silence. Lak-nubi sat on his throne, his mouth firmly shut. His courtiers wandered within a circle of constellations drawn on the floor. It seemed as if years were changing, and past and future were crossing. Then they started to implore their Lord.
“There’s not much time.”
“If it’s a princess, it will be the mercy of destiny, but….”
“If it’s a prince, we’ll need your decision.”
Lak-nubi said nothing but forcefully gripped his armrests. He had no answer to give to his men. Whether a prince or a princess, it was Crosia and his one and only precious child…. Then suddenly, a commotion sounded from outside. All the people, even the king, looked at the entrance.
‘A girl or a boy?’ all speculated.
A moment later, the vassals were disappointed by the entrance of an imposing man. He walked fearlessly toward the throne, flapping a red mantle around his shoulders, and spoke loudly.
“Have we found out yet?”
Lak-nubi shook his head at his brother. Barail sighed, his breath escaping his wrinkled face. The creased lines betrayed his age, the man who had been praised in his youth as the most beautiful man in the kingdom. The man who had been so admired that everyone had expected would be the next king. Nevertheless, his body was still firm and true, like a heroic statue.
The royal officials began shouting to the only sibling of the king.
“His Majesty has not given his decision!”
The younger brother gazed at his older sibling, the one who took the crown after their father’s death.
Barail smiled crookedly. Lak-nubi stayed mute.
“Forgive me for asking, but do we not remember our father’s lesson? The lesson that taught all of us the limitlessness of the gods’ desires.”
Fear overcame every one of the vassals as they heard mention of the previous king. Some even took steps backward.
“It’s only you, Barail,” Lak-nubi said, narrowing his eyes, with a faint smile, “who can make mention of our father’s lesson.”
The brothers retained a vivid memory of the time when the former king had harassed a priest of Terusideos, the god of the earth, and the whole kingdom had been cursed. The vassals could remember it just as well, but it was nearly impossible for them to discuss it. Especially not around the current king. However, Barail could.
“Do you remember, my lord?” he asked again.
“Yes, I do,” Lak-nubi replied.
“It’s hard to forget, isn’t it?” Barail went on. “It was when the flooded river swept hundreds of our people away, and raiders from Tence invaded over the border…”
Lak-nubi glared down at his brother. That was usually enough to make anyone mute, but it did not work for Barail, the man who had lifted the curse of the gods alone.
“…and rebellions erupted in the south.”
“It’s hard to forget, as you just said.”
“Then why do you seem as if you intend to repeat it? A greater tragedy is promised this time, and you don't seem to mind the urgency of it. Not only is the fall of this kingdom predicted, but also your death at the hands of your own son.”
“The gods often give us a second chance. With one hand they whip, but with the other, they help us to our feet. Didn't they reach their hands out to us in our father’s time?”
“I sacrificed my daughter!”
The vassals closed their eyes tight in fright. Barail took a step forward. It was a defiant move, clear to everyone.
“So why can’t you do so?” he whispered.
Lak-nubi quietly observed his brother’s rage. Barail unconsciously glanced at the crown and hurriedly turned his head. Lak-nubi knew this behavior’s meaning. He knew how desperately his brother had wanted the crown. And he knew how severely Barail had been outraged when the gods had chosen another man as their proxy.
While a heavy silence fell, since the king had not come to a decision, the vassals hesitated between the desire to persuade him again and the defensive urge to stay quiet. Then abruptly, a guard wearing a plain kerchief ran into the room and caused everyone to flinch. The vassals made an aisle for him, in haste. He kneeled down at the center of the circle of constellations and loudly announced to his lord.
“A prince is born!”
Lak-nubi shut his black eyes tight. His vassals clamored.
“All right!” he eventually shouted, opening his eyes and clenching his fists. “He is a son of death, thus let death take him!”
The jaw of Lak-nubi moved as he gritted his teeth.
“Now you shall go─” the king ordered to the guard, “─and tell Salave to send the child back to where he belongs.”
The guard shuddered in shock.
“I will,” he replied and left the room at full speed.
* * *
Crosia lay in her chamber, a child in her arms, sobbing incessantly. Every lady in waiting was crying as well. Soon, they heard noises from outside. The presences caused the queen to cry even louder.
Terohinut, the second queen of Alasaht, stood up and approached the bed. Although courtiers often regarded her as cold and remote, even her heart was bursting with grief since she had always liked Crosia for her sweet nature and kindness.
Unceasingly weeping, Crosia reluctantly held her child out. Terohinut took him and left the chamber. Behind her, weeping continued. She bit her lip. Disgust rose in her face. How could Lak-nubi, no, how could anyone do this?
Outside the privy chamber were two men: one wore a mask of an executioner, and the other held the feather fan of a sage; he was Salave, an old friend of the king. They were almost brothers, but their race was different; in fact, Salave’s foreign appearance, yellow-beige skin, and exotic facial features marked him as entirely different from the natives of the kingdom.
The second wife of the king stopped at the head of the stairs and looked down at the two men. The desperate crying of the queen touched all of their hearts. The sage sighed, staring into thin air, and muttered.
“May Lucileos, the mother of all lives, forgive us.”
As Terohinut called his name, Salave shook his head in sorrow.
“It’s the king’s order,” he explained, avoiding her eyes.
Terohinut snorted coldly. Salave patiently tried to reassure her.
“How can a mere mortal defy the immortals? It’s destiny that rules our universe.”
“Then do it by yourself!” Terohinut snapped. “Since you’re the closest friend of the king, only you shall do it; the most base and sickening act; killing an innocent newborn child. Send the executioner away. No one else should be involved.”
“I give my consent only for you to carry out the execution.”
Terohinut’s disposition was well-known to the court. Her obduracy – which even the king could not have broken, was impossible for a mere vassal to withstand. He quietly gave the order to the executioner.
“You may leave.”
The executioner handed the dagger over to the sage and left. A moment of silence passed. Salave held the knife but didn’t do anything with it. He only fiddled with the hilt, his head bowed. Terohinut addressed him in a softer tone.
“Will you harm this child?”
“It’s what our king wants,” he answered, fidgeting.
“Is a desire of a king above one of the gods?”
Salave raised his head, his eyes wide in astonishment. She lifted her chin and continued.
“Just as you said. Ag. Salave, destiny is what rules this universe. The visit of death and the birth of this child were all arranged by the gods, so isn’t the fall of this kingdom, as the prophecy revealed, also a part of destiny? Then how can this brutal decision, harming a newborn baby, be justified?”
The philosopher couldn’t speak any refutation. In silence, he only continued fidgeting with the handle of the dagger, his black beard shivering and his lips voicelessly moving.
“Ag. Salave…” Terohinut entreated again. “For nothing else but your own conscience, show mercy to this boy.”
“I…” groaned Salave.
“Recollect when you were brought here. When destiny threw you in the middle of an ocean and enslaved you. Thanks to the last king’s mercy, you were freed and have become the sage of the current king. Now it’s your turn. Show your mercy to this child.”
Salave clicked his tongue. Even he hadn’t believed his capability of murdering a baby when he had first heard the king’s order. After a long silence, he finally nodded.
“This must be between only you and me,” he said.
Terohinut closed her eyes and sighed. A faint smile troubled her red lips. She reopened her eyes and nodded. Salave ascended the stairs and took the baby from her. She returned to the privy chamber to console her friend. Salave wrapped the infant in a linen cloth he had brought for the blood, to keep him hidden and safe from the cold night winds. Then, he stared down at the boy and mumbled.
“Now I see how to call you.”
The baby was still asleep, closing his little fists.
“Destiny decreed it…. Your name is Moragiery.”
Salave embraced Moragiery and softly patted his back.
“My dear,” he whispered. “Your fate had been shown to us, but I believe a fraction of your life cannot define who you are, or who you will ever be. I have faith in you. Someday, prove for us that a man is more than his destiny and that hopes are his dearest friends.”
The sage began walking. He knew Lak-nubi well and knew how he would react. A young goat’s heart and blood sent instead would leave him in great torment and he would hurriedly order the guards to bury them without a single glance. Salave could rely on his intuition. He was not afraid yet. Not yet. His lips quietly began a song.
Sci deshur-na, solis”ac tal’ar et selis
Under desert, the sun is buried and sleeping
Detus exep’i hom’ac hust’dop vissis’lis
The first man had returned to dust
Sci deos’-et-leos”ac mo’a lucs
Gods and goddesses are my lights
Avina fatus’dop varah
Hail to destiny
Sci bet al’ia”c voli unc
The lord of all is only one
Avina fatus’dop varah
Hail to destiny