Comments: Part of the Thousand Years universe, but not a direct sequel or prequel to anything.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be. No harm, no foul, no offence.
Many thanks to Athena for her comments and input - your help's been invaluable :o)
Feedback: Yes please! Rachel.Trench@blueyonder.co.uk
The Road to Uruk
The sun blazed down on the hard-baked landscape, unobscured by clouds or anything that might have provided a modicum of shade. Not for the first time, Idiyan wondered about the wisdom of making this journey.
Perhaps I should have remained in Kemet, he mused. But he didn't seriously entertain that prospect - he had been forced to leave the Nile delta, thanks, in large measure, to his former student.
Would that it had not worked out as it has.
Stoically, Idiyan continued along the road, heading in the direction of the great city Uruk. This was not the first time he had travelled East, but it had been more than three hundred years since he had last been in the area and he occupied his mind with thoughts of how Uruk might have changed, and what other cities might have sprung up near by. At least if he was thinking about that then he wasn't wondering where he had gone wrong with Viendra.
The sun climbed higher in the sky, and on Idiyan trudged. Farther down the road, and travelling in the opposite direction to the one Idiyan was taking, was another traveller. As they neared one another, Idiyan felt the warning of another of his kind. As the distance closed, he assessed what he could tell from the other's quickening and decided that the approaching Immortal was a hunter. The quickening sense was powerful, but not old - a fight would be undesirable to say the least. The distance between them narrowed further and Idiyan gave the other Immortal a visual assessment. A large, bear-like man with skin as dark as night - definitely not one that Idiyan wished to fight. But even as he made his visual inspection, he was conscious of the other man doing the same and a sneer formed on the other Immortal's face. It was a look Idiyan had seen times without number.
"Good day, traveller," he called, hoping against hope to keep this a peaceful meeting.
"My name is N'Kala of Uruk," the other Immortal spat, "and I call challenge."
The words Idiyan had hoped not to hear. "Surely we do not have to do this - it is a hot day and we both have destinations we must reach..."
"Challenge is made, young one," hissed N'Kala, "and now we must fight."
Idiyan smiled faintly. "We do not have to fight - we could both walk away from here."
"I am no coward who would run - draw your weapon and fight!"
Idiyan sighed. He had known that sooner or later his luck would run out and he would have to face someone in challenge. It wasn't that he couldn't fight - in point of fact, Ahymee had made sure he could do just that and he had ensured that his skills didn't atrophy once he had left her care - it was that he didn't like fighting. He would sooner buy an opponent a drink in a local tavern than take their head. But if this fool thought he was just going to roll over and die...
Reluctantly, Idiyan drew his weapon. N'Kala did the same. For a long moment, they were frozen, facing each other, waiting for the first move to be made. Then with a wild yell, N'Kala surged forward, swinging his sword in a reckless blow. Idiyan almost laughed aloud - this was too easy. He parried the blow and then essayed an attack of his own.
N'Kala's expression changed from cockiness to puzzlement to pain as Idiyan's attack drew first blood.
"Walk away now," Idiyan insisted. "Walk away now and we can both live."
N'Kala's only response was an angry howl and another hacking swing. Idiyan swiftly avoided the blow and took a few steps back, inviting the charge. N'Kala obliged. Idiyan stepped aside and tripped N'Kala as he went past.
"I say again, walk away now."
"Never!" hissed N'Kala as he regained his feet. "You will pay for that!"
Idiyan sighed. "On your head be it."
N'Kala charged again. This time, Idiyan met the charge with a clever parry and thrust combination that neatly eviscerated his opponent. As N'Kala dropped to his knees, Idiyan placed his blade at N'Kala's throat.
"Don't waste your words," N'Kala wheezed, trying futilely to hold himself together. "Get it over with."
With regret in his eyes, Idiyan made the final cut.
The silence that followed the sound of the head landing on the ground was absolute. Then the air seemed to fill with all the promise of a storm - and Idiyan knew that he would be at the heart of it. Ahymee had told him of the quickening but until now he had never experienced one and as the white mist started to seep from N'Kala's dead body, Idiyan was afraid.
The first bold of lightning that struck him was a shock. He screamed in pain and then went on screaming as more lightning hit him. The storm came crashing down and the winds came with it, whipping up a frenetic storm of dust and dirt that lashed him even as the lightning continued to pour into him.
And somewhere in the maelstrom, Idiyan felt himself losing himself. The essence of everything that N'Kala had been and everything that N'Kala's victims had been poured into him, and he found himself floundering in the depths of it all. There was too much information and too much pain, and Idiyan felt himself floating away from it all. He screamed again, but this time there was no sound. The blackness of temporary death was swimming up to meet him and Idiyan fought to avoid it but it was inevitable.
On the road to Uruk, Idiyan died for the last time.
There were voices, all around him. None of them talking to him, or about him, just the clatter of a gathering. His first thought was where was he, but his second - and more terrifying - was *who* was he?
For long and frantic moments he wracked his brain for any kind of self-knowledge and came away with nothing. He knew the language the people around him were speaking. There was a hazy memory that he wasn't quite like other men - although the rest of that recollection floated away from him before he could grasp it. But about himself, his name, where he had come from - that was gone. Then there was a buzzing in the back of his mind as one of the voices drifted nearer.
"So, you're awake," stated the voice. "Good."
Hands seized his shoulders and hauled him upright. He opened his eyes to find himself staring into the face of a middle-aged and portly man, who proceeded to conduct a thorough examination.
"Good body - well muscled; bit on the thin side but passable. Pretty face. Interesting eye colour...you'll fetch a good price at market, you will." The man nodded to the two people holding him up and the trio moved on, leaving him standing there with more questions.
He watched as the man and his helpers continued round the enclosure, conducting the same examination on every other person there. A new memory surfaced - this was a slave pen. He was a slave waiting to be sold. He knew what it was like to be a slave, and didn't like the idea one bit, but it was strangely comforting to know what he was. The portly man must be the slave master.
Another thing clicked into place - the slave master was Immortal. He frowned - how did he know that? The buzzing in his head as the slave master approached. The hazy memory cleared - he was Immortal too. As that memory cleared, so too did the knowledge of the rules of Immortality - about Holy Ground and fighting to the death; about taking heads and the quickening. He frowned again - had he ever taken a head? The idea made his insides clench up in revulsion, and yet there was another faint memory of doing just that. Whose head? When?
For every clear fact he remembered and question answered, another ten questions sprung up.
The slave master and his two helpers started to herd the waiting slaves out of the pen and into the market. He found himself staked between two women - he hadn't even noticed the chains about his wrists until then, so absorbed in his mental struggles had he been. And then came the customers.
The rich merchants, the brothel owners, the trusted servants of the aristocracy - he wasn't sure how he knew these were who the customers were, but he knew it with certainty. They walked along the line of waiting slaves, poking and prodding; examining the merchandise, almost without any regard to the detail that the merchandise was a living and breathing human being too. He seemed to attract more attention than most because of his unusual colouring and features, but no-one seemed in the mood to buy him until one of the trusted servants stopped before him.
"So what can you do?" the servant asked. "Can you write?"
Could he write? A memory flashed of him inscribing characters on a clay tablet. "Yes."
The servant gave him a scrutinising stare. "You look strong and healthy... Effra! This one!"
He found himself being unchained and pulled out of line. "You've picked a good one there, Ranjar," the slave master - Effra - said.
Ranjar merely glared Effra. "I know. Come," he added. "Let's go."
Ranjar led him through the streets of the city. "Please, master, where is this?" he ventured.
Ranjar gave a half smile. "This is Uruk."
Uruk. He tested the word out in his mind and decided he did know it.
Ranjar reached a nondescript doorway mid-way down one of the streets and led him through it into a courtyard. "This is your new home. I'll show you round and give you your duties. Failure in your duties results in punishment, but do your duties well and you will be rewarded. You now belong to Armaki. I am his steward, Ranjar. What do they call you?"
He frantically searched through his memories and came up with nothing.
"Well? You must have a name," Ranjar stated. "Give me it, or I shall name you myself."
He gave his memories another desperate trawl and a word finally floated free of the haze and confusion. "Methos."