Chapter One: We are Nothing
As the caravan drew nearer to the city, Malik became increasingly nervous. He'd never been this far north before, but that wasn't the only thing the blonde found unnerving. This wasn't some out of the way trading post or military fort. This was Alexandria. Founded by the young Macedonian conqueror just over ten years ago, it was one of the biggest port cities in the Mediterranean.
Marik would have hated it.
The thought came to him unbidden. As a general rule, Malik avoided remembering things about his older brother. He didn't like to think of Marik, not since…well that hardly mattered now. The youth had more pressing worries to attend to. Glancing at his fellow slaves, he saw that he wasn't the only one who was frightened. To think, just over half a year ago he had been free. Free to roam on the whim of his heart's desire, to sleep under the stars or in the warmth of some inn or horse barn. During the flood season he would work as a field hand. Then, when the drier months rolled in, Malik could take on some other form of mindless work, as a message carrier or stable hand. Sure, his life hadn't been particularly exciting, but it kept him fed and sheltered, a feet that could be remarkably difficult in the sandy frontiers of Upper Egypt.
Things were infinitely different now. War had brought an abrupt end to the carefree liberty of the boy's nomadic lifestyle. He had been staying in a village on the outskirts of the Kharga oasis at the time, working as cheap labor for the local merchant. There had been rumors of course. It was said that troops of the new Pharaoh had been dispatched to these remote southern provinces, that, half-witted though the ruler was, his generals sought to crush the insurgencies brewing there with an iron fist.
To be honest Malik hadn't thought much of it. If anything he was happy that the Pharaoh had done this. After all, it was because of these infamous rebels that his brother had died. What neither he nor any of the other peasants had reckoned on was the lengths the young ruler's military leaders would go to in order to weed out such insurrection.
The coming of the general, Akunadin, still seemed to him like some kind of horrible nightmare. In the name of the distant Pharaoh the man had stationed his army at the city gates. His message had been clear. "Surrender or die." And what were they supposed to do? Fight back? The idea was laughable at best. Mud brick walls wouldn't stand up long against 2000 of the government's fighting elite.
It was ridiculous really. The people of the oasis were not rebels. They entertained no thoughts of undermining the Pharaoh or installing new regimes. Rather, their lives consisted of crops and livestock, the flood season and whether or not the next drought would be as bad as last year's. They had no mind for politics. Most did not even know that a new ruler had been instated. However, the winds of war were cruel, and in order to discourage possible uprisings, examples must be made.
The terms of surrender had been fierce. Not only were the people of the village forced to supply Akunadin's troops with fresh provisions; they were made to provide manual labor as well. This was all part of the government's plot to increase popularity of the Pharaoh. Under the watchful and often malicious eyes of the soldiers, a work force, composed mostly of children, slaves, and house servants, was forced to erect monuments, great spectacles of stone glorifying the young monarch.
Malik had not been fortunate enough to escape. After two moons in Akunadin's quarries he had longed for death. After three he expected it, yet Malik did not die. He struggled on for another lunar cycle, dragging limestone slabs to the worksite, using pulleys to bring up monoliths of unparalleled stature, watching as those around him wasted to nothing.
Salvation, ironically enough, came in the form of the very rebel troops Akunadin was sent to destroy in the first place. They stole in by starlight, kidnapping the slaves and tearing down the monuments. Malik felt nothing as the fruits of their labors were ruined, as the scaffolding burned and the stones fell back into dust. This apathy frightened him more than the battle itself. It wasn't like him to be so dispassionate. Marik was the remote one. Cool, unmoving…he shrank from human attachment as the shadow did from sunlight.
Malik may have missed his brother, but never in a million years would he have wished to be like him.
And so the Pharaoh's hordes were chased away, only to be replaced by this new form of monster. This was how Malik had ended up in a forced march to Alexandria. The conditions were harsher, the captors fiercer, and his future infinitely more bleak than it had been even at the work camp. He was to be sold into servitude in the conqueror's city, a fate that for the unlucky could be worse than death.
The boy wondered for the hundredth time what his master would be like. He didn't think he could endure another work camp. His body, weak from the long trek across the Sahara, wouldn't be able to keep up. Still, Malik supposed that the situation could be far worse. He should count himself lucky, having so far managed to escape the depravity of the gravest human cruelties.
"Hey blondie! Stop daydreaming and move before they get pissed!" Jerking his thumb in the direction of the guards, the slave chained behind Malik gave him a light shove.
"…fuck off…" Despite his annoyance, the teen began to pick up the pace. The man was right. The walls of Alexandria lay just over the next rise, and their captors were getting impatient. They were horrible, covetous men, and he knew all too well what they were capable of when provoked.
When the city finally came back into view, Malik almost stopped short. The gates of Alexandria towered above them. Hewn from stone and imported timber, it seemed impossible that such an imposing structure had risen by the hands of man.
"Look alive, sweetheart. We're almost there."
Cringing instinctively from the guard's unpleasant leer, the blonde felt bile rising in the back of his throat. How could mere mortals dwell behind such imposing fortifications? No! This was a city of monsters, of devils and specters and spirits so vile that Ammit herself was afraid to devour them. Even the tales of his childhood did not depict creatures as fantastically horrifying as those Malik dreamt up now. A sphinx with the head of Akunadin. It stalked him on limestone paws, gold-plated talons held ready for attack. Isis and Rishid stood silently between its feet. He tried to yell for them, tried to shout out some kind of warning, but they were oblivious. Please Ra, he prayed. Let them hear me! No answer. Even the gods refused to listen. Marik… His last hope. Marik…brother…where are you?
But he wasn't there. Marik had never believed in fairytales. He mocked the deities, saw the Pharaohs' sanctity and scoffed at it. "It's better not to believe in that kind of bullshit," he had told Isis not long after their father's death. "I'd rather think the gods had forsaken us than allowed the world to become so ugly."
His sister's eyes had flashed, angry as Malik had never seen them. "It is your heart that makes things ugly, Mariku!"
At this, the young man laughed. "Maybe…but my heart also tells me things. And it tells me this. The gods left this country long ago. We are nothing to them now."
"What are you? Stupid? Get going!"
Shaken from his memories by the slave's words, Malik lurched forward dumbly. Those monstrous gates were finally creaking open. Never in his life had he seen so many people. They clogged the streets, peered out of windows and doorways, scuttling about like termites in the sand.
And in the midst of this countless, unwashed mob, Malik realized something. He had never in his life been so completely and utterly alone.
He shivered as they passed beneath the shadow of the gate's archway. It was a gargantuan maw, threatening to swallow him up, cast him into this sea of faces until he became so lost that he forgot himself. Until his own name became a mystery. He could feel the heat, the stink of the people's bodies as they pressed in around him. The street on which they were herded was filthy. It smelled of mud and shit, and Malik grimaced as it squelched beneath his toes.
Disgusting. He could almost see Marik's face of revulsion, that haughty and disdainful look that made him appear more like royalty than the son of an archaic and inbred priesthood. Oh, how he would have loathed this place. Marik with his derisive laugh, with his wild hair and his mocking eyes that had made the youth's otherwise beautiful face so hard to look at. And indeed, his brother had been beautiful. Cruel, perhaps. Unpredictable, insensitive, obsessive to the point of madness. Marik had been all of these things, but there was still that beauty…and Malik, irresistibly drawn to it, had truly loved him.
Up ahead, the boy could see what appeared to be a massive stock yard. It stood at the end of a bustling market, dark and foreboding in contrast to the more brightly swathed stalls of the gold and cloth sellers. The trading ground. Malik tried to find the strength to be outraged, but he was too exhausted.
By this time the guards were becoming increasingly nervous. Technically, Alexandria was under control of the Pharaoh. If it was discovered that they were the insurgents who had attacked Akunadin…but what did it matter if the bastards were caught? Either way, Malik's fate would be the same.
"This way! This way!" A short, toad-like man was motioning to the guards from an alley near the slave yards. Every so often he would cast his eyes anxiously up and down the street, on the lookout for the Pharaoh's men. "You idiots! Marching them up the main road like that! Your mothers must have fornicated with rocks to create such fucking geniuses! Now get over here!"
The men grumbled angrily for a moment, but after a withering glare from their leader, a stocky man who appeared older than he probably was, they began herding their human cargo towards the indignant stranger.
"We brought you another bunch of 'em, Miso"
Eyes roving shamelessly over the bodies of the captives, the man grinned. "I can see that. You're lucky their in better shape than last time, or I wouldn't have taken them!"
The little toad man must have held at least some sway in the slave business, for the rebel leader gulped down his anger in favor of cold civility. "Where do you want them?"
"This way! This way! We mustn't let too many people see them."
Two hours and several more unpleasant dealings later, Malik found himself no longer in chains but in a sort of heavily guarded holding pen. He had been separated from his desert companions. The unfortunates he was with now were young, more boys than men, yet there was a resignation to their youthful faces. Their eyes were dead like those of an old man.
"What happened to your back?"
He had blond hair, dark eyes, and a pale complexion that suggested he was not originally from Egypt. He couldn't have been a year older, yet Malik was strangely taken aback. He was alarmed by the boy's frankness and more than a little ashamed. "They will see your scars," Marik had told him once, "and they will stare. Not because these scars are beautiful, but because they are different. When this happens you must watch out for yourself, little brother, for it is true. You are different, and in this world different scares people."
"What's written on my back doesn't concern you."
The paler youth raised his eyebrows and laughed. "Defensive, aren't you? Fine then. Don't tell me." He continued to grin in a way that could have been deemed stupid if not for the unanticipated intelligence glinting in his eyes. "What's your name, anyway?"
…silence for a moment…
"Well aren't you gonna ask me mine?"
"Oh…um…" Despite himself, Malik flushed under the foreigner's laughingly perplexed gaze. "W-what's your name, then?"
"Jounouchi. Call me Jou if you like. Everyone else does."
Nodding wordlessly, Malik turned from his new companion to stare at a group of guards chatting near the pen's entrance. He didn't mean to be so cold. He had always been social, even as a child, but he had seen a lot in the past two years. During that forced march through the desert his mind had been filled, not with thoughts of survival, but with memories. Memories of Father, of Rishid and Isis, of the mother he had never known, and of course Mariku. Always his arrogance. His cynicism. His callousness that could so gracefully slide into rage or, just as easily, into desperate, maddening happiness.
And so Malik shied away from companionship, preferring the comfort of his own memories. They were safe. He understood them, and, perhaps most importantly, he could elaborate upon them. In his head Rishid was kinder, Isis always more beautiful. His father, austere and quick to anger, had never been so cruel. And Mariku…he was untouchable. Perfect. No. That wasn't true. Even under the influence of the most magnificent flourishes of the boy's imagination, his beloved and malevolent brother had never been perfect.
It's the scars, Malik decided. The scars alone that had marked Marik as anything less than godlike.
"Why are you staring at me?" It was the first time in a long time that his brother's voice had sounded so hysterical. It was after Rishid's death, and he'd been talking in his sleep. "Get the fuck away! Don't look at me!"
"I wonder what they're planning." Seemingly oblivious to Malik's apathy, Jounouchi glared suspiciously at the slave merchant's guards. "I'll bet someone real high up is coming today. They even brought us water to wash up."
Malik glanced over at the buckets of murky water. Earlier, he had wasted no time in scrubbing himself raw. He had been ecstatic to be rid of the desert sand which, for months it seemed, had thoroughly clung to his body. Jounouchi was another story. His new companion, it was clear, had declined the offer. His face and arms were filthy, as were his hair and smock. If possible he was even dirtier than Malik had been.
"Ah!" Jounouchi grinned, a smile, the Egyptian was discovering with dismay, that was rather infectious. "You're wondering why I didn't bathe. Well, I'll tell you. When the rich ones come…you know, the nobles and lords and what have you…well, when they journey down here to old Miso's selling booth they're not usually searching out specimens for manual labor."
Malik blinked. "Huh?"
"They have their subordinates take care of petty things like that, but when someone of the aristocracy comes to take a look for themselves, they're usually looking for someone to put to a more…personal use."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Jounouchi scratched the back of his neck and yawned. "It's all about what you want, I suppose. As slaves, we lack a great deal of choice, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways of influencing our destinies. For example, I like working in the fields. It's difficult, brutal if your master is cruel, but it reminds me of my childhood. It's comforting, and I know what I'm getting myself into. That's why I didn't scrub myself earlier. If I'm dirty, it's less likely that I'll attract the…wrong sort of attention."
…wrong sort of attention. Slowly, the realization of what was being said began to dawn on Malik. Horrified, he remembered every seedy bar he had ever been in, the shameful discomfort of old men staring at him like piece of meat. This is what Jounouchi had been hinting at. A bed slave? He would rather be dead.
"…of course, it probably wouldn't be as bad as it sounds. I've heard of some palace servants living quite comfortably with their masters, but to tell you the truth I find ladies much more…"
The blonde's rambling was cut off by a commotion from the other end of the enclosure. The slaves were being forced back into their shackles.
"You two! Get over here!"
Seeing no choice but to heed the beefy guard's command, Malik followed Jounouchi after the other boys.
"My, aren't you pretty."
Ignoring the man's unpleasant sneer, he stared with dread at the by now familiar chains embracing his wrists and ankles. He could feel the tension like a subtle drug poisoning the air. Fear had never seemed so potent.
"Stand up straight! Look alive! Don't speak if you know what's good for you, and do everything I say!"
"What did I tell you?" Jounouchi murmured from the corner of his mouth. "They'd never make such a fuss if someone high up wasn't on their way."
Malik swallowed dryly. Something about the other's words made him unduly nervous. He didn't know why. It wasn't like whether his master was rich or poor made any difference, was it? He would still be a slave…yet there was a part of Malik, somewhere deep down where the irrational still held sway, that felt this day was the beginning of something new and very dangerous.
The guards had just finished getting the slaves in order when the first buyers were led in by the man called Miso. None of them seemed too out of the ordinary. Most looked like wealthy planters, with the occasional merchant mixed in for good measure. No one, it seemed, fit Jounouchi's description of…
He came in behind the rest, surrounded by guards who were much too disciplined to be likened to Miso's swine. Adorned with silver and clothed in blue linen, he could not have been much older than the slave boys in front of him. He was short, slight of build, with pale, immaculate skin and hair that was quite literally white.
White, Malik thought to himself. A trait belonging only to the ancient and divine.
This youth, for indeed he was very young, seemed neither revolted nor frightened by this place. His countenance was one kindness, tranquility…pity. He truly felt sorry for these creatures of bondage, but if so, why was he here? There was a weariness to his frail, luminous body. He seemed tired yet, in a strange way, determined.
"So that's our little prince, is it?" Jounouchi muttered. "Looks a bit out of place, eh?"
Malik didn't reply. Instead, he continued to study the white-haired boy. He was incontestably good looking, not handsome necessarily, but almost feminine in nature. His nose was thin and straight, his large, chestnut colored eyes expressive, if a bit melancholy. A small mouth, delicate chin, limbs graceful like those of a dancer. Malik hardly knew what to make of him other than that he was…pretty?
Until now everything had been quiet. The buyers appraised their options from outside the enclosure, and the slaves, equally curious, assessed the multitude of possible masters. No one spoke. The only noise was that of the surrounding city, the whinnying of horses and distant trumpets. Then…
"L-Lord Bakura! I didn't know you'd be coming so soon! I was misinformed of your arrival time and these i-idiots...they…they, uh…" Unable to continue due to lack of breath, Miso stopped speaking and flopped flat on the ground in front of the young lord.
"Please, I don't want to make a fuss." This Bakura boy was the definition of elegance. "Just disregard my status and go about your…business…as usual."
It was clear that, in the throes of his excitement, the little trader had heard none of this. He wasted no time in having the more common buyers ushered out, leaving the uncomfortable looking lord and his cluster of bodyguards alone with the merchandise.
"Now come, your excellence! Take a good look at them. Are they not in spectacular condition? What manner of servant are you looking for? I assure you…"
Ignoring Miso's ramblings, the pale haired boy drew a bit closer. For the first time Malik saw a look of consternation cross his face. He wasn't used to this, this purchasing of the flesh. It was alien, barbaric…but certainly he had slaves at home! Probably never thought of where they came from. The rich bastard. Yet, even as he thought this, the blonde knew it couldn't be true. The young lord was no bastard. He was simply a sheltered, benevolent boy.
"I'm looking for someone unique," the silver haired creature whispered almost to himself. "…someone who could replace..."
His eyes stopped on Malik. They became wide, comically so, round and bright and faceted in a most fetching and unnerving way. The youth felt an irrepressible ache. How he wished he could hold that gaze forever. How he longed to pull himself into this innocent's lord's warm and supple arms. After so many days of violence, of cruelty and coarse words and unspeakable anguish, Malik wanted nothing more than the softness of a human being's embrace.
The pale faced boy, in turn, seemed nearly as enthralled as Malik. Face still frozen in astonishment, he looked for a moment as if he would stumble forward. However, he managed to regain his composure at the last minute and turned to Miso.
"Who is he? What is his name?"
The little slave merchant remained stationary for a moment, mouth parted foolishly. Then, with an undignified squawk, he struck Malik across the cheek with the butt of his whip.
"What are you waiting for, slave? Tell his Lordship your name!"
For a moment the youth said nothing. Bakura, he thought. I have heard that surname somewhere before. They must be foreigners, perhaps from across the sea. He does have a funny accent.
"Did you hear not hear me?" This time the other side of his face was struck. It stung like snakebite. "Give him your name!"
"Namu." Malik allowed his gaze to fall from that of the horrified and bewildered noble. "They call me Namu, my lord."
"Where do you come from?"
"I was born nearby, my lord, on my family's farm."
Malik didn't understand why he was being asked all these questions, nor could he identify his reasoning for answering all of them falsely. What difference did it make? Unless he believed that somehow by lying he could…but he must stay his thoughts for now. The Lord Bakura was speaking.
"What about your family? Where are they now?"
Malik felt a catch in his throat, and for once he forgot to lie. "They are dead," he murmured. "I've been alone for over a year now."
"I see." Something like disappointment tainted the compassion of the paler youth's words. "I…I'm very…sorry…"
Miso, unable to comprehend anything so fine as human goodness, rubbed his palms together nervously. "Would you…err…like to buy him, my lord? Or would you rather inspect the boy further?"
"No." The bejeweled foreigner shook his head. "That won't be necessary. I think I'll take him. If…if you'll have the costs sent to my treasurer, I'm sure…"
Malik heard little else of what was said that day. He could recall only moments. Bakura's guards muttering to each other in Greek. Being released from chains only to have them replaced with ropes. Exchanging a final glance with the slave, Jounouchi, who had given him the briefest and most quizzical of smiles.
After once more braving the crowded streets of Alexandria, they had reached an inn. It was a nice, high-end place, and he would remember being pleasantly surprised upon being granted a small bed in the corner. Then there was the bath, the new clothing, the food. Malik hadn't realized just how ravenous he had been until a bowl of vegetable stew was set before him. Later that night, as he huddled with a full stomach on his straw-stuffed mattress, he had felt both lucky and extremely frightened. What madness was he in for this time?
"Excuse me?" Hesitating for a moment, the young lord gave the blonde a light shake. "I'm sorry to wake you, Namu, but…"
The slave stirred for a moment. Then, with a fearful jolt, he opened his eyes.
Said youth gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "It's time we get moving. The boat leaves in less than an hour."
What have I done wrong? He looks terrified…almost as if he's expecting some kind of punishment. The lord stared helplessly into the other's eyes, still beautiful despite their fear. Was this boy really so unused to kindness? Well that was to be expected. How anyone could bear the horrible cruelties of capture by the insurgent troops was beyond him. He had been present during his brother's dealings with the men who followed the Rebel King, Anubis. They were every bit as vindictive as their master.
"Don't worry. I'm not angry. It's just that we should really be going."
The blonde continued to stare at him for a moment, then, at last, gave a weak nod and stood up.
"Yes, Master Bakura. Of course."
Ryou smiled as he led the slave called Namu down onto the street. "Please, call me Ryou."
-TOT (This is the first chapter of Enchantment. It seems a bit slow-paced at first, but I promise the next few chapters will be much more exciting. It takes place during the turbulent years after the death of Alexander the Great when his halfbrother, Philip Arrhidaeus, was in control of Egypt. Throughout this story, I'll try to stick to historical facts as much as artistic license and my limited knowledge of this time period will allow. Thanks so much for reading this first chapter. I hope you enjoyed it!)