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Warrior of the MIRAGE
The Myths of the
Divine Astarte 2
Warrior of the Mirage
I woke early the next morning. The girls were still there. One of them poured me a cup of the wine, mixed with water. It had a sweet taste.
The girls helped me with another bath. They also gave me a fresh tunic to don.
The tunic was of cotton, of a light brown shade. The weave was rough. It was the product of a hand loom. The neck was deeply cut. There were no sleeves.
The girls walked to the door, and pulled back the covering curtain. They gestured for me to go with them. I followed them thru two rooms, and back out into the main hall. Mats had been placed over the stone floor. There were many dishes of food on the mats. Many of the people of the house were seated around the mats.
I sat down, and was handed a bowl by the man next to me. It contained rice, covered by a stew of some sort. I began to eat. The food was highly flavored with spices, and after a bite I sat the bowl down. I was able to eat some of the rice. I found a pitcher filled with milk, and drank a bowl of it. The milk was heavy, with a layer of cream on top.
One of the serving girls sat down beside me. She offered me food from the dishes on the mats. Some of the dishes were mild. She rolled the rice into balls with bits of lamb, and gave them to me.
The people talked softly during the meal in their language. The men were dressed in brown tunics. There were many women, also dressed in tunics, sitting with the men. All the people had dark hair, and olive skin.
When the meal was over, Hantars, the elder of the clan, approached me. He gave me a bowl containing a small loaf of bread. A handsome older woman stood at his side. I picked up the loaf. The man smiled, and sprinkled it with salt. I took a bite of the bread. The man then gave me a strong embrace.
I bowed, and they walked out of the room. I later learned the woman was his wife, Faytana. Chan had waited for me in a corner of the room. She took my hand, and led me back to my room.
Back at the room, Chan and Tiya sat down on the mat and began to teach me words of their language. We drank cups of wine, mixed with water. Later in the night, they led me to the sleeping mat and both lay down beside me. The room was lit only by the light of the moon, coming in from the terrace.
Tiya and Chan were both very young. They were both slender. Their features were delicate. Their hair was very curly, and cut short.
We continued the lesson at night, as we lay in the dark. I slowly learned the words. I fell asleep later, repeating the words for arm, hand, and ear.
* * * * * * * * *
I woke early next day. After my bath, I put on a new tunic and loincloth.
After I had dressed, a visitor appeared by the pool in the garden. It was the leader of the horseman from the desert. He walked in, and nodded. He pointed at his chest, and said "Sarya."
I smiled, and said, "Clayton, Clayton Grey."
He smiled. "Clay," He repeated.
He carried a short sword with a leather belt in one hand. He presented it to me. I drew the blade. It was short, and could be used as a thrusting weapon, like the Roman gladius.
Sarya drew his own blade, and raised it in salute. I raised my own sword to eye level for a moment, to return the salute.
I later learned that a sword was a mark of status. A man without a sword was a peasant. Most of them only carried staves.
We walked to the main hall, and sat at a large mat spread on the floor. Serving women brought us trays filled with bread and cheese. I ate some of the bread, and had a cup of milk.
The walls of the room were covered with frescos. The frescos were of hunting scenes, showing lions, and a large striped beast I had not seen before, with a vicious looking beak.
* * *
I spent the next few days at rest, learning more of the new language. I was able to learn enough words to communicate a little with the people of the compound.
My days were filled with language practice with Chan and Tiya. The two girls were, I concluded, dependants or slaves of some sort. The slave girls did not wear the gold chains of the other women, and were charged with cleaning and domestic chores. They found the language practice amusing, and I began to make progress.
Over the coming weeks I continued with the lessons. I joined the people for meals in the central hall each day. I began to make progress, and was able to exchange a few words with the people of the house.
I was able to explain my presence in the desert in simple terms. I was attacked by enemies of my king. I fled in the desert to escape them. My home was far distant from their city, in the direction of the setting sun.
* * * * * * * * *
A few weeks later I was seated at a mat at the morning meal. As I was sipping wine from a cup, the dowager Faytana sat down at my side. She was with a young girl. I was to learn that she was a niece of the dowager.
The women asked about my health, and how I liked the food and wines served me. I smiled and expressed my pleasure at my new life.
At the end of the meal Faytana and the girl rose, and the older woman beckoned for me to follow her. We left the hall, and entered a small room containing a small table, and benches along the walls.
Faytana sat at one of the tables. I joined her. The matriarch of the house drew the younger girl to her.
She said a few words to me, I could make out a few of the words about a child, and the name "Maritra."
Faytana put her hand on my head, touching my blond hair. She smiled. The younger girl held her dark arm next to mine, and giggled.
"Maritra," The matriarch said, pushing the girl forward.
The girl came to me, and bowed deeply. She looked at me and smiled. I took the hand of the girl, and bowed to Faytana. I kissed the girl on her check. She smiled, and covered her face with her hands.
I decided that I was expected to take the girl, and to give her a child - both for her and the other women of the household. The women of the city must want a child with blue eyes.
I bowed once more, and led the girl to my room.
We entered the room. Chan and Tiya were waiting. They helped the girl to disrobe, and to bathe. The girls splashed in the water, a game. The three enjoyed being the subject of my attention.
* * *
At the evening meal of the next day Maritra sat at my side. She helped me with the food, giving me balls of rice with pieces of pork and sweetmeats.
"You are very pretty, darling girl," I told her. She smiled, thanking me. She took a small loaf of bread from the table, tearing it in half. She gave me one of the pieces.
One of the slave girls went to the centre of the room, and began to sing, tossing her hair. The people at the mats smiled, and looked at Maritra. Maritra cast down her eyes.
* * *
On a night a few days after my first meeting with Maritra, we sat by the fountain at my room. A light rain fell outside. We were protected by a multicolored awning over the entrance. We were able to exchange a few words.
"Stars - bright," I said, pulling the girl close. Maritra giggled and rubbed her cheek into my shoulder.
I pulled the girl close, and kissed her on the check. The women of the city did not kiss on the lips. She placed her face close to my neck. She kissed my throat, and drew me close.
I reached down, and pulled her tunic over her head. The girl smiled, and tried to cover her beasts and her triangle with her hands. I stepped back to admire her form.
I touched her hair, and murmured endearments. The girl rose, and led me to the bed.
* * * * * * * * *
Sarya often made trips into the city. Sometimes he asked me to come along. I began to learn the city and its streets. Much of the city was filled with small homes and shops for the common people. One of the sectors was reserved for the large compounds of the clans with wealth, the aristocrats.
At the city center was a large hill, surrounded by a massive stone wall, the stronghold. The main gate of this acropolis was reached by a broad set of steps. Men with spears paced back and forth along the circuit walls. At the foot of the steps was a large square. The sides of the square were lined with stalls and small shops.
There were a number other large squares, filled with stalls of merchants, and carts of vendors. Many of the stalls and shops sold all sorts of bread, cakes and other food. Sarya liked to sample the food on our trips, and to taste the wines and fruit drinks. Some of the drinks were cooled by ice kept in large ice houses. The winters in the city were very cold.
On one occasion we mounted horses, and rode into the fields outside the city. We headed thru the fields, and soon came to a herd of sheep. The shepherds came to us, and bowed. They spoke briefly to Sarya. He pointed to the hills, and told them to drive the sheep to the higher pasture. We rode back to the city gates after our visit, and into the compound.
* * *
On the next day we walked into the central city. We stopped when we came to a large square. Platforms had been placed at one side of the square. A number of men stood on the platforms. A crowd of people had gathered in front of the platforms.
A naked man in chains stood at the center of the platform. A man in a striped robe was calling out to the people. One of the men in the throng called out, lifting a coin into the air. The slaver pointed at the man, and beckoned him forward.
The man from the crowd climbed onto the platform. He gave the slaver a bag of coins, and grasped the chains of the slave. A naked girl was then brought forward. She was young, and had a pretty face. The men in the crowd nodded at one another, and smiled. A number of men called out bids from the crowd.
Sarya lifted a bag of coins, and called out a bid. The crowd fell silent. The slaver pointed at Sarya, and we made our way to the platform.
Sarya took the hand of the girl, and led her into the square, and towards the street. The girl smiled at me shyly, and placed her hand on my arm. Sarya smiled, and told me that the girl liked me.
We made our way thru the streets to our compound. The girl looked at the shops with great interest, perhaps a stranger in the city. She was plump, rare in the city.
Sarya stopped at one of the stalls, and brought cakes and wine for us. I gave one of the sweets to the girl. She ate it with pleasure, and also took the wine that I offered. Sarya smiled, and told me that she would like m, because of the kindness I had shown.
While we were eating, the sound of drums began to fill the air. I looked down the streets and saw a line of people moving toward us.
The drums grew louder. A long line of men and women dressed in loud colors filled the street. Many of them wore large masks. Some of the masks were adorned with feathers, many were richly gilt.
One of the men in the procession had a bronze pen in his cheek, passing thru to the other side. He seemed to feel no pain.
The sound of the drums grew louder. The drums were carried on a frame borne by two men. The drummer followed, keeping up a steady drumbeat.
We continued to the compound after the people passed us, and walked to the fountain. Some of the slave women came forward, and helped the new girl to bathe. We were joined by a number of the ladies of the clan. They spoke to the girl, and there was a brief exchange.
The women were curious, and each inspected the girl. They asked her a few questions, and she gave them brief answers.
Sarya spoke to the women, and pointed to me. The women smiled, and giggled among themselves. They nodded, and spoke to the naked girl, and led her away.
Later that night Chan brought the girl to my room.
"Parray," She said, pointing at the new girl.
I gave her a cup of wine. She took the cup shyly, and drank. She was still in her teens.
She drank the wine, and smiled.
Chan led the girl to the pool, and helped her with her bath. I sat on a platform near the door. The girls giggled, amused by my presence. I handed the girl a towel at the end of her bath, and helped her to dry off.
After her bath, Chan gave her a tunic and a pair of sandals. She dressed, and came to my arms. I kissed the girl on the neck.
"Master," She said to me, bowing deeply.
I took her hand, and drew her close once more.
"Pretty - very pretty," I told her. The girl smiled, and drew me close. I placed my hand on her flank, and pressed her warm flesh.
I pulled open her robe. I stepped back to study her form. She hid her face with her hands, with a smile. I led her to the bed. We were joined by Chan and Tiya.
* * * * * * * * *
For the next few weeks I continued to learn the language of the city. Much of my time was spent by the fountain, learning new words with Chan and Tiya.
Maritra also enjoyed giving me lessons. She gathered her possessions, and moved them into the large room after a few weeks of visits. She seemed to have little interest in the slave women. The men of the city often had multiple wives and concubines.
One corner of the garden was covered by sand. She drew a map in the sand for me. The city was in a broad plain. To the east was the sea, with a number of large towns and cities. To the west was a chain of mountains, and a wasteland with few inhabitants.
My days were passed with language practice over the next few weeks. The people were pleased by my interest in their speech.
A few weeks after the slave auction, Sarya and the others began to talk quietly among themselves after the morning meal. I could make out the words for weapons and the hills. The word "gazen" was repeated.
Sarya came up to me at the end of the discussion. He smiled, and touched my arm. I followed him out of the room.
We entered a set of large double doors. The door led to a room filled with bows, spears, and other arms.
Sarya gave me a coat of mail, a bow, and helmet. I was also given a small round shield, a spear, and other gear.
He smiled at me, and said the word, "Warrior."
* * *
I woke early the next morning. The girls helped me to arm myself. They led me to the courtyard. It was filled with horses and armed men, preparing their horses and packs.
We mounted our horses, and rode out of the city. We made our way toward the range of hills in the distance.
Sarya was accompanied by six of the men of the compound. There were two additional horses, with packs, led by two of the men. The riders were cheerful, and at ease.
As we rode, the hills became steep, with deep ravines. We followed a trail into a broad valley. The sun was setting, and we made camp. We ate dried dates and cakes of bread - travel rations - and drank wine mixed with water.
The air was cool at night. The elevation gave a chill to the air. I wrapped myself in a rough blanket, and used a saddle for a pillow.
In the morning, we ate a handful of dried fruit and drank wine mixed with water. After our meal, we began to ride towards tall cliffs at one end of the valley. We dismounted as the way became steeper, and led our horses. We reached the base of the cliffs before noon. We left the horses with one of our party.
Sarya grew silent as we reached the top of the ravine. I heard a rock slide loose from above, and fall down the side of the ravine. The men began to spread out.
A sharp cry, like that of a bird, rang out. A dark shape darted out from among the stunted trees in the ravine. Sarya jumped into the path of the creature, and thrust with his short spear. Two more men moved forward with their spears to his aid.
Another cry sounded, this time from the rear. I turned, and saw a dark shape coming thru the trees toward me. I jabbed at it with my spear. The creature reared up, and swatted at the spear. It was much larger than a bear, with an evil beak, ending in a sharp curve. I remembered the painting back in the city.
Sarya appeared at my side. He jabbed at the creature with his spear. Another man cast his spear at the beast.
I heard a cry from one of our party. I turned, and saw yet another of the creatures.
I pulled my sword, and rushed to the side of the animal. I thrust my sword deep into its side. The creature reared up, and turned to me. The beast gave a loud cry. The creature was large, even for its kind. Suddenly, an arrow appeared in its throat. Another arrow hit the animal in its chest.
The animal reared up, and roared. Sarya leaped forward, and drove his sword into its abdomen. I cut into its side once more with my blade. The animal roared its pain, and reared up into the air. It gave a final roar, and fell backwards.
"Gazen," Sarya pointed at the still form with his bloody sword. The other two creatures had also been killed.
We spent the next hour skinning the creatures, and building a fire to roast the meat. The meat had a salty flavor. We also had loaves of bread Sarya had saved for the feast.
After the meal, Sarya pointed up the ravine. We walked a short distance, and came to the entrance of a cave. We carefully entered. The cave was large, with the floor covered with dried leaves and grass.
A large stack of boulders covered part of one side. Bones, fragments of cloth, and a discolored sword rested among the stones. The creatures had collected trophies.
We dug a trench in the ravine, and buried the bones and sword. We placed a stone cairn over the trench. Sarya tossed a burning firebrand into the dried grass. Smoke began to pour from the cave mouth. The odor of smoke followed us down the ravine.
We returned the next day to the City of the Mirage. The skins of the animals were cleaned and dried. Later they were displayed on frames. One of the heads was placed on a post, by the entrance of courtyard. The fangs of the great beast looked ominous.
The people passing in the street would stop, and comment on the trophy. Men coming from the household would be drawn into conversation, and relate the details of the hunt,
I walked out one day with Sarya to find a small crowd gathered by the gate. We were greeted by a cheer from the people, with staves raised high in the air. One of them pointed to the pelt of one of the creatures, on display on a frame near the main gate.
Sarya smiled and spoke a few words to the people. He touched my shoulder, and said a few words. I could make out the word "Warrior!"
* * * * * * * * *