Sacred Dance: Chapter 3

When Awab stirred from his torpor he was in a different place.  He was being carried along, wrapped in a canvas blanket, but he could tell from the air that they were in the Misre territory.  He called out and someone struck him hard enough to knock the breath out of him and send him into darkness again.

He woke again near the end of the day, when the giants made camp for the night and they let him out of his confinement so he could walk around a little bit.  There was one other captive from the Gorob forest, a young woman from another band.  He wanted to speak to her, but every time one of them said something in their own language, a giant struck them both with a rod that burned Awab’s skin until blisters rose.

Their journey eastward continued, with Awab unable to see from within his blanket.  He could tell something from the smell of the air, but they had long passed outside territory that he knew.  Day followed day and he did not count them.  The better part of his being had been stolen from him: he was torn from Gorob and from his family and tribe.  What was left?  Only a child without a name.

The forest ended; the world ended.  The sky met the ground naked; Awab stared, both his eyes and nose lost in the emptiness.  There were more patches of forest here and there, but the giants avoided these, preferring the open spaces.  When the sky was clear, Awab saw that the land rose up in pillars ahead of them.  A fitting place for the home of giants.

On one occasion an old famished lion came close to their camp in the evening, but the giants had another rod that blazed with blue fire and drove him off.  At times the giants spoke, but it was in a language Awab did not know, though it sounded something like Misre.  He didn’t try very hard to understand them.  The food they gave him was vile, unidentifiable cakes and dried flavorless meat, but when he was reluctant to eat, they forced it down his throat.

They came to a river that flowed in the shadow of the mountains, fed by streams descending from the skies above.  After a time Awab was aware that they were in a boat, and then he was dragged onto land and his blanket unwrapped.  He was pulled to his feet.  Before his eyes was a field of rock that rose in the center into a shape like an enormous termite nest, dotted around with holes each of which could contain a village of his people.  A tent for a god, maybe.  Now he began to wake again, the wonder of the sight stirring his mind from its slumber.  He inhaled deeply, but the scents were strange to him, especially the cold scent that came from the great rock.

Something was walking towards them, something that Awab thought at first was another giant.  But it moved differently, swaying from side to side.  Though it was roughly in the shape of a man, he saw as it approached, it was naked, lacked genitals, and its skin was light like clay.  Its face looked as if it had been smashed in and rubbed clean of any features, even eyes.  A red symbol had been carved into its chest, but it was the red of rocks rather than blood.  One of Awab’s captors examined the symbol, then turned back and said, “Kúsah ni’ seah tònc.

The thing that was not a man shambled away, and the giants led Awab and his fellow prisoner towards the great rock.  At its base was the entrance to a broad tunnel lit by honeygem lamps, but not well enough to drive the darkness away completely.  Awab felt as if he were being swallowed by some vast beast.  After they had walked for some time in the dim light, the tunnel curved around and began to ascend.  Then there was sunlight ahead, as the tunnel opened into a ledge and Awab saw that they were in one of the holes he had seen from below.  The ledge was filled with triangular huts and pools of water, and the giants took Awab to one of these pools and pushed him in.  The water was cool and fresh, and welcome to Awab after the days of marching through mud and heat.  But the pool had been made for a giant to stand in, forcing Awab to tread water as the giants laughed at him.  Then they pulled him out again and took him to the nearest hut.  “Sleep here,” he was told.  “In the morning the Lord of Sa Ruh will command us concerning you.”

Awab curled up inside the hut, which was made from dried mud and covered with red symbols like those on the creature’s chest.  He fell asleep easily, preferring unconsciousness to the fear and doubt that filled his waking day.  But all too soon he was prodded awake by the giants and pulled out of the hut.  Reunited with the woman, he was led to the side of the ledge and into another tunnel.

This passage brought them back towards the center of the nest and towards a tall door whose surface was covered with symbols.  One of them went through the door while the others stayed behind.  It was some time before he returned, and when he did his, the blood had drained from his face.  But he spoke firmly.  “Òàlkicáhr co ta peal gí ncea’scanáhalà.  He has found a place for Awab and Nylyvad in his service.  Awab will go to the divine chambers and Nylyvad to the cauldron.”

This meant nothing to Awab, of course, though it was good to learn Nylyvad’s name.  The giants took them down by way of a vertical tunnel with stairs carved in its sides, down to a vast dark chamber where there were no lamps at all, and the light from the tunnel illuminated only a patch of ground.  There were things moving in the darkness, things that smelled like the man-creature that had met them outside.  The smell grew stronger and stronger, until his head swam and he collapsed, and shadows moved over his body.


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