The Rise of Nazil – Book I
Pentanimir pressed himself close to the ground and tried to be invisible below the overhanging porch of the outer temple. It was late in the afternoon. He hoped the shadow cast by the marble structure would provide enough cover to keep him hidden behind the short cedar shrubs. He could feel his heart pounding and could hardly breathe from fear as he watched the Chosen guard surround the savage.
At least, Pentanimir was sure that it had to be a savage. This man was shorter than most of the Nazilian men that he knew, although at his young age nearly all mature men appeared to be very tall. The savage had a darker complexion. His surprisingly light eyes darted from one guard to another. On his head was a thick mop of long black hair that reached the middle of his back. He was the very picture of what every Nazilian child was taught to fear and loathe. He was too young to understand where the savage came from, but old enough to recognize this one’s strange appearance as tales and warning from his earliest infancy crowded his memory.
Even though the savage was surrounded by the closing circle of the Chosen guard, he still moved with a liquid grace that fascinated him. In contrast, the Chosen moved in the stiff, rigidly choreographed pattern that their training and elite position required. In fact, to Pentanimir, the savage was the opposite, the negative, of the formal, stylized beauty of the Nazilian culture that his young mind had already learned to value. His crude clothing seemed almost obscene against the pearl and gold lacquered breastplates and helms that were part of the livery of the Zaxson.
Pentanimir became aware that the hands of the savage were open and empty, while each of the Chosen was brandishing their Xtabyren, the long curved swords that could only be carried by the Chosen of Nazil.
He did not realize, but he was witnessing something rarely seen in the city of Nazil: the ritual killing dance of the Chosen. The high white walls of the city, coupled with the cold ferocity of the Chosen guards, had insulated the city from the strange inhabitants of the lands. The very appearance of the intruder was enough to raise an alarm, which always brought a regiment of the guard. Through years, the discipline of the highly trained Chosen coalesced into a ritual torture of the intruders culminating in death. Pentanimir could see the excited, almost feverish cast in the eyes of the guards as they reveled in the blood lust that their wordless approach excited in them.
By now, the circle was almost drawn around the prey. Pentanimir had unconsciously held his breath—out of a mixture of fear and the admiration for the heroic soldiers—for so long that he was becoming light-headed. The young Nazilian was not supposed to be here. He had started to walk from his home toward the temple in anticipation of meeting his father, who was the First Chosen and who expected to be off duty soon. He almost never ventured into the city center near the Kadul, at least not without his parents. His boyish curiosity had gotten the better of him this afternoon as he approached without seeing his father, until he found himself trapped under the outer porch. Pentanimir breathed deeply and as quietly as he could. He could smell the aromatic cedar of his cover, mixed with the stench of fear and sweat.
The ritual dance had come to a pause, right before the guards would start to torture the savage with the sharp tips of their Xtabyren. Pentanimir did not know it, but by this time, the victim is almost too terror-stricken to move or think if indeed these inferior beings had the capacity for thought.
The guards were looking forward to his futile attempts to break past their circled ranks, which with every rush would result in a slash to an eye or ear or one of his extremities. Just as they tightened their grips on their swords with anticipation, this savage suddenly rose up to his full height, which Pentanimir could see was much taller than that of the guard. With a start, he recognized the guard in front of the savage was his father, Manifir. The savage and Manifir stood less than an arm’s span apart, with Manifir’s Xtabyren drooping from the formal attack posture. In the motionless silence, he could see both faces. He could see an expression of peace and completion in the eyes of the savage, while his father’s visage was full of confusion that seemed capable of yielding to uncontrollable rage. Pentanimir was frightened by his father—he could not understand the emotions that played across Manifir’s face.
The death dance is a silent affirmation of the natural preeminence of the Nazilians over all others in the lands. But now the unthinkable was playing out. The savage’s discipline and peace seemed to be fighting its own battle against the savage blood lust of the guards. Although he was outnumbered, he seemed to be winning. As Pentanimir looked on incredulously, almost all of the tips of the Xtabyrens were dropping lower. Manifir appeared entranced by the kind expression now so clearly visible on the face of the intruder. His eyes looked over him with an almost familiarity.
Pentanimir had never seen him so open, so not in control. The savage lowered his hands to his sides and smiled earnestly into Manifir’s face. Slowly, he tilted his head in a gesture of respect, all the while looking into the other man’s icy eyes.
“AvHotther,” the savage whispered in a tongue he did not understand. “Father.”
Pentanimir saw his father’s appearance change in one terrifying instant. The killing dance was forgotten, as were the ritual slashes and jabs with the Xtabyren that preceded the death strokes. Even the other guards drew back in unconscious fear from the First Chosen. His Xtabyren swept up and back down in a flash of silver that tore through the savage’s left side and shoulder. The man rocked for a moment, then fell straight backward into the patch of cedar where Pentanimir was hiding. The boy looked down into the savages’ eyes, which were still open. His mouth gaped as he saw the eyes of Nazil staring back at him. Still, he projected an expression of peace and rest, as if a purpose had been fulfilled. He looked into Pentanimir’s face, with a look of recognition and whispered, “Brother,” with his last gasp.
Pentanimir struggled to tear his eyes away from the dead face next to him and to see his father. Manifir was kneeling on one knee, with his arms crossed over the other, and his face buried in his arms.
“Crissu,” Manifir said, stifling the surge of his emotion. He lifted his head and looked directly at Pentanimir, who saw a mixture of anguish, confusion, and self-hate more disturbing than anything he had ever dreamed in his young life.
“Father, no!” Pentanimir sprung from his bed. He was soaked with sweat, and he gazed about the room, his mind clawing out of disorientation. As his breathing became normal, his vision cleared. He was no longer the frightened little boy hiding beneath the cedar bush, but in his chamber, and a man grown.
He turned to a small shelf against the wall. He stared at the figurines upon it for many moments before he reached out and held one in his hand. The wood was smooth and dark as he ran his fingertips over the carved surface. “The god of power,” he said aloud. Pentanimir’s eyes closed before replacing the small figurine upon the shelf. His thoughts were on the day his father had given the figurines of the Nazil gods to him and Danimore. The same father who slew his son.
He shook his head in disbelief at the painful and confusing memory. Pentanimir walked to the basin and splashed cool water on his face. “Crissu,” he said, never wanting the name to leave his thoughts.