Today I have the wonderful opportunity to post a Short Story, The Far Side of Villainy By J. Manfred Weichsel. I hope everyone enjoys! I appreciate being able to post this. Thank You Jonathan for the opportunity to post this amazing story!
A while back I posted a open call for Sword and Sorcery type people to get in touch and share their love of S&S. That post Calling all Sword and Sorcery fans! , Led to me being able to share this story.
Would you like to be a part of my Sword and Sorcery series? Please contact me! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Now without further adieu here is Jonathan’s awesome short story.
J. Manfred Weichsel is a science fiction and fantasy writer. His short story Going Native will appear in Cirsova #8 May/June 2018. To learn more about what he has coming up, follow J. Manfred Weichsel on twitter at @JonWeichsel
J. Manfred Weichsel is an author and an avid reader of science fiction. He does not discriminate when it comes to reading. He loves pulp authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.L. Moore, Robert E. Howard, Leigh Brackett, A. Merritt, and Andre Norton, as well as golden age science fiction authors such as Robert A. Heinlein, Jack Vance, Clifford D. Simak, A. E. Van Vogt, Henry Kuttner, and Robert Silverberg. He believes that broad reading is the most rewarding, and hopes that his writing will reflect his eclectic tastes.
The Far Side of Villainy
By J. Manfred Weichsel
Evdacsa, Dama of the harem of Aliala, the powerful Merchant Prince of the Byzal Oasis, the wealthiest state in all the desert lands, stood beneath an intricately carved marble arch and surveyed the hundreds of harem slaves who were in her charge.
It was an ugly business she was about, but it didn’t show in her finely chiseled face as she looked the women over. Some frolicked merrily in the perfume scented, crystal clear water of the large oval pool that was carved into the marble floor. These women were either nude or dressed in the most transparent of silks that clung wetly to their bodies like lovers’ embracing arms. More women dressed in silk lounged around the pool with their feet dangling in the water. Farther back other women sunned themselves beneath the skylight while having essential oils massaged ever so hard into their supple flesh by heavy-bosomed black slaves with large, masculine hands.
Aliala was planning a trip to Ala’Mu-Rop and Evdacsa was tasked with finding a woman to sacrifice to Sleen, the God of the Byzal Oasis. The purpose of the trip, as was the purpose of everything Aliala did, was commerce, so in order to ensure that the trip be profitable, the sacrifice must be of high value.
The harem slaves came from all over the world, and each one represented the beauty ideal of her race. Evdacsa looked out upon a sea of brown, yellow, and red flesh, eyes round, oval, and slanted, bodies of all shapes to fit all tastes. Finally Evdacsa pointed to a young brown beauty named Mosha, and the two Damini who were with her went out across the marble floor to fetch her.
Mosha went willingly with Evdacsa and the two Damini. She did not know the purpose for which she had been chosen, and it would have been a break with protocol for her to ask. Perhaps a prince or other notable was staying in the palace and had requested a woman to keep his bed warm.
As they walked down the marble halls of the palace, Evdacsa began to have second thoughts. Yes, Mosha was valuable, but was that why Evdacsa had chosen her? If it were not, Sleen would know, and that frightened Evdacsa greatly.
The other day Evdacsa had secretly overheard Mosha refer to her as the white one, an epithet she detested. Evdacsa came from the frozen hill country and was the only one of her kind in the desert lands. She had skin as white as snow, or ivory if you are unfamiliar with what snow is, as everybody in the desert lands was.
It was her beauty, as well as her intelligence, that allowed her to rise to the level of Dama. It was also her beauty that made her hated by her fellow slaves who were in her charge. While each woman in the harem was among the most beautiful in the world, none were as beautiful as Evdacsa herself, and in all the world beautiful women are always jealous of even more beautiful women.
They turned a corner into the hall that leads to the palace temple, and Mosha’s eyes widened with fear. There could be only one place they were headed. She turned to run and the two Damini grabbed her by each arm and dragged her the rest of the way, kicking and screaming, into the temple. Evdacsa pushed her doubts from her mind. There was no turning back now.
Aliala was already seated on his throne. Around him were monks in brown hooded robes that covered their faces, with lambskin drums in front of them. In the center of the temple was carved a deep pit, and in this pit slept Sleen.
The two Damini ripped the silks from Mosha’s body, leaving her nude. Mosha screamed and screamed. The monks began to rhythmically pound on their drums. The rhythm reverberated throughout the temple, and Sleen awakened from his slumber. The two Damini pushed the terrified Mosha closer and closer to the pit, as Mosha resisted as best she could.
Mosha’s feet were at the edge of the pit, and she looked down at Sleen with horror etched on her face. Sleen looked up at her and yawned, and Mosha screamed with even more terror as the wide, gaping, toothless pink orifice of Sleen’s mouth stared up at her. The two Damini gave Mosha a push and she slid down the smooth marble walls of the pit.
Sleen uncoiled all thirty feet of his body and slithered towards Mosha as she futilely tried to climb up the smooth side of the pit. Sleen rose his head above Mosha, and with one swoop brought his mouth over her head up to her shoulders.
Aliala watched with the most subtle cruel smile on his face. Evdacsa watched in reverent silence. She was a true believer and as ugly as the death of a slave was to her, she had nothing but respect for the ritual.
Sleen quickly gobbled Mosha up to her waist, and then her kicking feet disappeared into the mouth of the giant snake, and all that could be seen of her was an indentation in green, scaly skin as she traveled through Sleen’s digestive tract. Satisfied with his meal, Sleen curled up again and went back to sleep.
Later that night, the two Damini met in secret with some other slaves from the harem. “The white one was as cruel as could be imagined. She laughed and mocked the poor Mosha as she personally threw her into the pit of that false God, that you and I know is nothing but Aliala’s pet. It is his right to gain amusement from watching us die, but is it her right to be amused as well?”
“So what can we do? Shall we kill her?”
“Not yet. We will wait for an opportunity to present itself, and then formulate a plan. These trips are never organized as well as they should be. Perhaps that opportunity will present itself in Ala’Mu-Rop. It is a city of laws, but it is law without order.”
Nijinxp, his mind sick and addled from years of isolation, was alone among a crowd. It was early Saturday afternoon, and as was his habit, he spent it in the bustling central market surrounded by languages he didn’t speak, stands that sold foods he didn’t eat, and stores that sold clothes he wouldn’t ever wear.
Over there a group of grinning men with slanting foreheads, squinty eyes, and teeth that ended in sharp needle points sat eating a kind of chicken-sized lizard that their race roasted on spits. And over there, short squat women with double chins and long, elegant fingers, from an interbred caste of garment makers, compared strips of cloth that were for sale. Nijinxp couldn’t blame them for sticking together. Everybody likes to be among their own kind. But, Nijinxp was the only one of his kind in the entire city, and his mouth was pursed shut, as it always was when surrounded by the mouths of thousands of men, women and children gabbing loudly in many various tongues.
Today was a special day. A few days earlier Nijinxp had seen a bill advertising an auction of harem slaves. Of course, Nijinxp didn’t have enough money to buy a harem slave, let alone care for one. He was a day laborer. One day he might take a job at the docks loading or unloading cargo from one of the big merchant vessels that always came and went, and when the coin from that job was spent, he might take another job packing mud into the one room houses that make up the slums outside the city walls.
But these auctions were as much for the entertainment of the poor as they were for the gratification of the rich, and the bill for the harem advertised the most beautiful women in the world. So instead of lingering, as was his habit, Nijinxp made his way through the crowds, a stranger in the city he called home, until he reached the auction blocks.
An enormous crowd had already gathered. Nijinxp had suspected that this would be the case. If only he had gotten up earlier, but he had bought a bottle the night before and it had caused him to sleep in. Nijinxp pushed his way towards the front of the crowd, ignoring the protests as they came in various languages from all around him, until he was as near to the front as he cared to be.
Nijinxp waited patiently until the auctioneer came on stage and warmed the crowd up with a few jokes told in the high tongue of the city. Nijinxp, like everybody else, knew enough of the high tongue to follow directions given to him in it, to ask simple questions, and to have basic interactions such as buying something at a store, but the jokes were beyond him, as were they beyond the rest of the crowd. Some ways up however, in a roped off section, the silk-dressed High Born of the city were chuckling approvingly. They were the ones who had come not to watch, but to buy.
The harem came out and sat on the ground near the back of the stage, out of view. A giant black eunuch in a loin cloth led the foremost girl to the front of the stage. She was nude except for a golden collar around her neck. Attached to this collar was a golden chain, which the eunuch held in a muscular hand.
The Eunuch held the chain above the harem slave’s head and she slowly turned three hundred and sixty degrees, to the loud whooping and hollering of the crowd, and the silent contemplation of those in the buyers section. She had light reddish copper skin, and a high, proud bosom. Her hair was pitch black, and was worn up. She flashed a toothy smile at the buyers. She clearly wanted to be bought, but Nijinxp felt that perhaps she was trying a little too hard.
She went to an older, frail gentleman on the first bid and the eunuch brought out the next slave, a young woman barely out of girlhood. The crowd showed less interest in her than they did the first, but the wealthy buyers section murmured with interest. She was nude like the first slave, and like the first she wore a golden collar and a chain. But when the Eunuch held the chain above this slave’s head she quivered with embarrassment, while the wealthy buyers section quivered with anticipation. The Eunuch gave the chain a slight tug and the slave reluctantly turned three hundred and sixty degrees, her body visibly fighting the urge to shrink from the watching eyes. She had yellow skin and small perky breasts. There was a lengthy, energetic bidding session during which Nijinxp’s eyes trailed to the back of the stage.
That was when Nijinxp saw her. Unlike the other women on the stage, she was dressed. She wore long, flowing regal silks embroidered with gold, and she seemed to be managing the harem, giving them orders, perhaps running the show. Everything else disappeared for Nijinxp. He no longer heard the crowd, no longer saw the other women or even the stage. You see, this woman looked like him. Nijinxp came from the snowy, ice crusted hill country, and like everybody from that land, his skin was as white as snow. Looking at the crowd from above, he would have appeared to be a small white dot in a sea that reflected all the darker colors. She was as white as snow, just like him. Like him, her skin was so fair that the outlines of blue veins could be seen through it on her arms and face. Her hair was the same light shade of blonde as his, so light it almost seemed white. She was from his country. She was of his race.
She momentarily brought him home. He was among the beautiful snows of his youth, the comfortable cold, the small blue sky. For a brief moment his mind wasn’t tortured by sick and twisted thoughts. For a brief moment he was at peace.
As quickly as that moment came it was over. Nijinxp was back in the mad crowd, surrounded by loud blabbering in tongues he didn’t understand, and big hand gestures that were meaningless to him. He quickly scanned the crowd for somebody he knew, somebody with money, anybody, and his eyes landed on a foreman that he often worked for.
He pushed his way through the crowd and the foreman greeted him with a wide, patronizing grin. “Hey! It’s the stupid guy,” the foreman exclaimed in the high tongue.
The others had nicknamed Nijinxp the stupid guy, because they couldn’t pronounce his name. Nijinxp, being accustomed to this kind of treatment, answered the burly brown man without taking notice of the insult. “I need to borrow some money,” he exclaimed breathlessly.
The foreman’s patronizing grin grew even wider. “Now, why would you need to borrow money, stupid guy? You wanna buy one of these women? You know, a slave costs more than the price of purchase. You have to feed her, and provide her with a bed. You will need a bigger place to live.”
“I know that. I know. Lend me money.”
“These women are expensive, and some are more expensive than others. Tell me, which one has captured your eye?”
Nijinxp pointed to the snow white woman in the regal dress. The foreman gave out a bellowing laugh. “You can’t buy her, stupid guy. She is the harem’s Dama.”
Nijinxp gave the foreman an uncomprehending look. The foreman sighed and explained to Nijinxp as if he were a child, “She is technically a slave, like the others, but she is the highest kind of slave. She runs the harem. Her education alone makes her priceless to Aliala, the Merchant Prince who owns all these women. She knows what foods the women need to eat so that they remain young, and what exercises they need to perform in order to keep their figures. She also performs religious duties, in order to keep the harem in the graces of whatever God Aliala worships. Even if he were willing to sell her, which I doubt, she would be outside the price range of all but two or three men in the entire city.”
Not being fluent in the high tongue, Nijinxp didn’t understand everything the foreman had said to him, but he caught the gist of it, and left the auction early to buy a bottle.
The next morning Nijinxp went to one of the posts where day laborers are hired. Foremen who he worked for regularly occasionally approached him with work, but he turned them all down with a downward glance and a shake of the head. The others were familiar with Nijinxp’s eccentricity, so nobody gave such behavior from him much thought.
Then, an unfamiliar foreman rode up to the post. He announced that he was looking for men who knew how to ride, to transport goods and slaves. Nijinxp saw from his insignia that he was with the Merchant Prince who owned the harem, and was first in line to sign up.
The caravan from the Byzal Oasis was camped outside the city. It was a large camp, because the Merchant Prince had come to sell more than just slaves. Everywhere large quantities of spices, silks, metals, and jewels were being loaded into carts and sent out to the city, and carts full of coin were already being received. Everything was kept carefully recorded on legers, as the clerks knew that the slightest discrepancy in numbers would result in death, possibly in the death of the clerk.
Nijinxp was given a horse at the camp’s makeshift stable. While performing his duties, he quickly grew to like the horse. When Nijinxp first arrived at Ala’Mu-Rop, the horses did something that the serious, workmanlike horses of the frozen hill country never did. They made jokes.
Nijinxp was younger and more thoughtful then, and it was in working with these horses that he learned what a joke was. A joke is when you are expected to do one thing, but do something else instead. He even learned to laugh with the horses as they subverted his orders.
But, as Nijinxp grew older and more bitter, he grew to resent and then to outright hate the humor of these city horses. When he worked a job, his one goal was to get that job done, and he had no patience for an intransigent horse.
This was a good, serious horse. Nijinxp soon realized that he didn’t have to keep an eye on the large cart at his back to make sure the horse didn’t tilt the cart to make something fall out, which allowed him to keep two searching eyes on his surroundings. Then, later in the day, he saw her. She was standing, talking to two other women, her two Damini, who were dressed regally like she was, and to eunuchs.
Nijinxp’s heart raced in his breast. She was even more beautiful close up. He inhaled deeply, and could practically smell the scent of snow in his nostrils. Could taste the snowflakes on his tongue.
He realized that he was afraid. After all, he was the stupid guy. What if when she saw him, she sensed how sick and twisted his mind was? But no! He wasn’t sick and twisted. He was just different. They were the sick and twisted ones, and she was different just like he was. She would understand the loneliness that comes when you are the only one of your race in a foreign land.
Nijinxp dismounted his horse and bravely strode up to the woman of his dreams. She turned from the people she was talking to and gave Nijinxp an expressionless look. He cleared his throat and asked her in his native tongue, a tongue he hadn’t spoken in so very long, “Are you from the Caucs?”
She answered back in the same language, “Yes. I am.”
Nijinxp froze. What should he say next? He didn’t have a clue. He had begun this endeavor without a plan of action, and a lifetime without proper social interaction had left him a poor improviser. Her look was so dispassionate. Like the interaction meant nothing to her. Wouldn’t she at least be surprised to see another person from the Caucs, so far away from home?
He realized that she was waiting for him to say something. He cleared his throat. “So am I. I… I have been so alone here in this city. Then I saw you, up on that stage.” Tears came to his eyes and his throat bunched up. He was surprised by how hard it was to speak, surprised by the intensity of his emotions. The words that came next rose from his gut and hung in his throat like a baby in a birth canal, rising slowly and painfully towards his mouth, until, his face red and twisted in pain, they were, as was inevitable, born unto the earth through unwilling lips. “I love you,” he cried.
She stepped back, shocked, and the deep purple of humiliation shone from beneath the white of Nijinxp’s cheeks. She turned and ordered something in the language of the desert lands. The two Damini stepped forward and Nijinxp took his first notice of them. They were both very beautiful. Even among the women Nijinxp had seen on the stage, they would have stood out. But they were yellow skinned and dark haired, and Nijinxp didn’t have the same kind of interest in them that he did the Dama. Nijinxp pushed past them and put a hand on the back of the Dama’s shoulder. “Leave here. Come with me!”
The Dama spoke again and the eunuchs stepped forward. One punched Nijinxp in the gut, winding him. They then grabbed Nijinxp by both his arms, dragged him limply through the camp, and unceremoniously dumped him over the border of the camp to make his way back home on foot.
That night in his mud hut in the slums outside the city walls, Nijinxp couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about the woman who looked like him and the people he grew up with, and who spoke his language, a language he hadn’t heard in so long.
As a child Nijinxp had been inspired by the songs of the bards. The bards in the snow swept hills where he grew up sang songs of heroism and adventure, and Nijinxp wanted the life of the hero for himself, so upon reaching manhood he set out alone from his small village to carve his place in the world.
Nijinxp wandered aimlessly across the world, letting the wind blow him whichever way it pleased, and as many drifters do, ended up in the city of Ala’Mu-Rop, where out of desperation he took an odd job, and then another one, and then another, the flames of his dreams slowly extinguishing until even the smoke of them was gone.
Where was the boy who dreamed of becoming a hero now? Where was that boy in the pathetic man who tossed and turned in his bed, consumed by waking dreams of a woman when a real hero, the heroes of the songs he had grown up with, would be taking action to win her?
A knock came from outside. Nijinxp climbed out of bed wearily, wondering who it could be, and opened the door. Standing in the doorway were the two Damini. Nijinxp recognized them immediately. But what could they be doing here? The Damini, without waiting to be invited, stepped into the one room house. They were accustomed to being able to get away with whatever they wanted due to their great beauty. Nijinxp of course didn’t have eyes for them. He had eyes for one woman only.
One of the Damini turned to Nijinxp and spoke in the high tongue of the city. “We don’t know what you said to the Dama this afternoon, but we recognized the look in your eyes. We want to help.”
Nijinxp listened intently, sketchy as his understanding of the high tongue was. “What look is that?”
“The look of desire. You love the Dama.”
“Why would you help me?”
“Because we are creatures of love, and hate to see desire unfulfilled.”
“I don’t believe you.”
The other Damini stepped into the conversation. “The truth is, we want to get rid of the Dama. She is not one of us. We come from all across the world. We are of the brown, yellow, red and black races. She is ivory-white, as are you. We are Damini. That means we are Dama in training. With her out of the way, one of us will become Dama, and the harem slaves will be much better cared for, because they will be cared for by one of their own. Oh, I guess we could just kill her, but this way is more humane, don’t you think?”
Nijinxp contemplated what the Damini had said. He didn’t understand all of it, but what he did understand made sense. In all the jobs he worked, at the docks and packing mud into houses, it was always made clear to him by one person or another that nobody else wanted him there. “What do you want me to do?” He asked.
The damini who had first spoken handed Nijinxp a small brown pouch. “Tonight when the moon is at its highest point, sneak into the camp at the northernmost end. We have bribed the guards at the northernmost and southernmost ends with the only currency nature gave us. Go to the stables and steal a horse. We have also bribed the stable guard. Bring the horse to the Dama’s tent. It is the small white tent adjacent to the large red one where the rest of the harem sleeps. Inside this pouch is a powder. She won’t go with you willingly, but if you blow the powder into her face, she will fall into a deep sleep. Place her on the back of the horse and leave camp through the southernmost end. From there you should be able to make it to the woods and safety.”
Nijinxp wanted to ask a few questions for the sake of clarification due to the language barrier, but the two Damini left before he could say a word.
The moon hung high in the sky as Nijinxp made his way stealthily down the deserted roads towards the camp, which was on the opposite side of the city that the slums were on. Where was the young boy who dreamed of becoming a hero? Heroes take action, and after all this time it was action he was taking, but if heroism and villainy can be said to lie on opposite ends of the same spectrum, it was an action on the far side of villainy.
But, while one might expect the mind of a deranged criminal stealing through the night to kidnap a woman to be consumed with dark thoughts of ravishing her helpless body, his mind was full of happy, sunny thoughts. He imagined holding her hand and talking with her. He imagined them running through grassy fields of gold, laughter on both of their faces. He imagined them living together, loving together, and growing old together.
Nijinxp entered the camp without trouble, just as the two Damini had said. He went into the stables and was able to find the horse from that afternoon, the good, serious horse that wasn’t plagued with a sense of humor. He rode the noble beast to where the Damini had said the Dama’s tent would be, and dismounted. He didn’t tie the horse, because he knew it wouldn’t wander off. It was a good horse. It didn’t make jokes.
Nijinxp entered the tent and there she was, sleeping soundly in a bed of silk and down, the snow white beauty of his dreams. The transparent silk canopy above her bed swayed lightly in the breeze as he approached her. He knelt by her bed and gently shook her shoulders. “Psst. Psst. Wake up.”
The snow white woman gently opened her eyes, and the moment she became aware of the man standing over her she let out a horrible scream. He put out his hands to calm her. “Shhh. Quiet. Don’t you remember me? From this afternoon? I know you couldn’t speak freely then because we were in public but…”
She continued to scream and afraid she would be heard, Nijinxp took the pouch from his belt and blew the powder into her face. She went back to sleep immediately.
Nijinxp slumped the woman over his shoulder, carried her out of the tent, and tied her to his horse in front of him. There was nobody around to see him as he made his way through the camp on horseback at a slow pace. Then, from somewhere he couldn’t see, the sound of a ram’s horn blared out into the night, and then another one, and another. Nijinxp knew what it meant. He broke into a gallop as the camp burst alive with activity.
As he galloped out of the camp, Nijinxp glanced back and got glimpses of blurs of guards jumping on horseback and readying their weapons.
Outside the camp, Nijinxp continued at a gallop, with what seemed like the entire camp on his tail. Because he had lived in and around the city for so long, Nijinxp knew the terrain better than the visitors who hunted him, and was able to lose them by turning into hidden and obscured passages. Just when he thought he would make it to the woods and freedom without any more trouble, he heard the galloping of two horses behind him, and he turned his head to see two hooded figures on horseback fast approaching.
Nijinxp turned back and redoubled his speed. There was distance between him and the two horses, but it was closing fast. He had been traveling through a narrow ravine, but he quickly swerved out of it and climbed the steep side of the ravine onto a large field.
Making it across the field would be risky, but he knew that at the other end of the field was a ditch, and at the other side of the ditch was the beginnings of the massive woods. The ditch was only a few feet wide. It would be an easy jump. And if he could just make it to the woods, he could lose himself in them, and not even the most expert tracker would be able to find him.
Nijinxp drove his horse faster and faster across the field, but his pursuers still gained on him. Nijinxp put all his focus on the approaching ditch and the jump he knew would bring him to freedom. All his dreams and desires raced through his mind as the distance between himself and the jump closed. He imagined himself holding hands with the white skinned beauty slumped in front of him on his horse. He imagined them talking, kissing, making love.
He pictured freedom. Freedom from loneliness, freedom from the city, freedom from his pursuers. Everything, everything he had ever wanted was in the upcoming jump, and the jump was approaching fast. The horse raced on. In five more gallops it would be time to jump… four… three… two… Nijinxp’s horse brought its hind legs up in order to push down off the ground, and it was at that moment, out of all possible moments, that Nijinxp’s horse decided to make a joke.
Instead of jumping, Nijinxp’s horse skidded to a halt on its forelegs and turned to face their pursuers. Nijinxp cried out in agony and hit the grinning horse over the head with his fist. “You stupid horse. You stupid, stupid horse.”
The horse just panted in reply, panting that could have been a result of the exercise he had just endured, or could have been the horse laughing at his own joke.
Nijinxp leapt from the back of the horse in order to face his pursuers, who had also leapt from the backs of their horses. Nijinxp had expected them at this point to draw weapons, but instead, they approached him unarmed. Nijinxp crouched for hand to hand combat, but one of the hooded figures took from its belt a pouch much like the one that Nijinxp had carried, and blew white powder into his face.
The two Damini removed their hoods and looked over their two passed out captives. “Should we slit his throat?”
“No. Let’s give the same fate to this white one as the other.”
“OK. But let’s hurry. The camp is deserted because everybody is out searching for these two. It won’t be long before they think to send somebody back.”
Nijinxp slowly came to consciousness. Everything around him was a blur. The first thing he realized was that he was on his feet, hoisted up by two women who held him by his arms beneath his elbows. They were dressed in the silks of harem slaves. As his vision cleared he saw that off to one side, the Dama was already awake. The two Damini held her at bay at the points of swords, and three other harem slaves roughly stripped her of all her clothes until she was completely nude.
They were in a large tent, and in the center of the tent was a large metal cage. One of the Damini rapped on the bars of the cage with the flat edge of her sword. “Wake up Sleen. Wake up!”
Nijinxp’s eyes widened with horror when inside the cage a giant snake uncoiled itself and looked hungrily around at all the feminine flesh. The three slaves who had stripped the Dama pulled her towards the cage, while the Dama struggled against them, her face a blazing inferno of terror.
The Damini who had rapped on the bars of the cage with her sword opened the door slightly, just enough to be able to fit the Dama through, but not enough to let out the snake out. The three harem slaves shoved the Dama inside and the Damini slammed the door shut.
The snake’s tongue hungrily tasted the air. It rose its head into the air above the Dama’s head and opened its mouth wide, revealing the large pink orifice inside.
Nijinxp muttered weakly to himself, “No… No…”
Where was the hero inside of him? Was it even there? In moments of peril, heroes are at their strongest, but Nijinxp was the weakest he had ever been in his life. His body was limp, and the two harem slaves sweated as they struggled to keep him on his feet while simultaneously keeping their eyes on the Dama and Sleen in order to gain amusement from the spectacle.
The snake brought its toothless mouth down over the head of the terrified Dama, and gobbled her up to her shoulders. Nijinxp muttered, “No… No…”
The faces of the two Damini and the harem slaves lit up with cruel enjoyment as the Dama’s body was gobbled up further, so that the snake’s mouth was around her waist, and then her kicking feet disappeared into the snake’s mouth.
Nijinxp’s body went completely limp. Everything was over. Any resistance would be useless. He might as well just let the harem slaves give him the same fate they gave to his love and let his worthless life be over with.
But then he felt a burning heat in his gut. What was it? It was an unfamiliar feeling. The heat in his gut quickly expanded like a nova until he could feel it in the extremities of his limbs. Then it became too much for his body to contain. It was the heat of rage, the rage good men feel at witnessing injustice, the rage good men feel at the suffering of the innocent, the rage good men feel when kings, when the powerful, when a corrupt society puts its boot on your neck. It was the rage of the hero.
Nijinxp’s white face had turned crimson. The veins popped out of his neck and a slinky blue vein throbbed on his forehead. His brow was creased, and the skin around his mouth was stretched back, exposing a strong set of clenched teeth. The harem slaves and the two Damini were so enthralled by the spectacle of the snake and the indentation of their former taskmaster in its green flesh that they didn’t notice this change come over Nijinxp.
Nijinxp didn’t think as he pulled his arms from the grips of the two harem slaves, grabbed them both by their heads, and smashed their heads together, sending brains flying everywhere.
The two Damini raised their swords and approached Nijinxp circumspectly as the three remaining harem slaves held back. Nininxp rushed them in a blind rage, grabbed their two sword hands, and bent their wrists back, simultaneously breaking them with a loud crack. He grabbed their swords in his two fists and quickly hacked the two Damini to pieces.
The remaining harem slaves ran to the door of the tent, but Nijinxp reached them with two quick bounds and cut them down before they could reach freedom. He then turned his attention to the giant snake in the cage. It’s head was raised in the air, and it hissed angrily. Without thinking, Nijinxp grabbed the key to the cage from one of the mutilated Damini and opened the door.
The giant snake immediately shot its outstretched head towards Nijinxp and tried to swallow him in its wide gaping mouth, but Nijinxp brought one of his swords up and pierced the snake through its jaw, pinioning its mouth shut. The snake writhed around angrily in pain. Nijinxp got on top of it and with his other sword sawed through its green flesh and pulled its flesh aside, exposing the pink of its digestive tract. Even as it was being skinned alive, the snake writhed around angrily. Nijinxp cut and pulled at green flesh until the part of its digestive tract that held the Dama was fully exposed. The Dama was moving! She was still alive! Her arms and legs pushed weakly against the inside of the digestive tract. Carefully, so as not to cut her, Nijinxp cut through the pink intestine and pulled the yellow-slime covered Dama from the belly of the beast.
It took a few moments for the Dama to recover her senses. She rose to her feet, looked at the mutilated body of Sleen, turned on Nijinxp in a rage and shouted, “You killed my God!”
Nijinxp calmly pointed to the snake and said, “That is not a God. It is a snake. It isn’t even intelligent. If it were, it wouldn’t be kept in a cage. Your God is Nikai, the God of the frozen hills. The same as mine.”
The Dama thought for moment and then said, “You are right. Let’s go.”
Nijinxp and the beautiful snow-white woman who looked like him and the people he grew up with had been walking for hours as the moon made its way through the sky. Dawn was approaching and they decided to stop in a cave to rest until the next evening brought the cover of darkness once again. Nijinxp asked, “What is your name?”
“Evdacsa. That is a beautiful name. Like the names of the people from when I was a kid.”
“What will we do now? Where shall we go?”
“I don’t know. I guess we should return to the Caucs and start a life there.”
“Why did you leave in the first place?”
Nijinxp smiled grimly. “I was in love with the songs of the heroes, and wanted to be a hero myself. But now I know that there are no heroes. The songs were lies.”
Evdacsa thought for a moment and then said, “I too left the Caucs to become a hero, but I was captured by slavers and instead spent my time working my way up the ranks of slavery. I don’t think we should return home. I have a better idea.”
“What is it?”
“The songs aren’t lies. There are heroes. You proved that in the tent, when you rescued me from Sleen. The stuff that heroes are made of was inside you all the time, but the circumstances of your life had not molded that stuff into the form of the hero. The stuff heroes are made of is inside me too. I have always known it. Let’s wander the earth together, and let us both be heroes. A team of heroes. A team of two.”
Nijinxp thought a moment. “But can I really be a hero? I have done so many terrible deeds.”
“As they say in the scripture, ‘No soul is irredeemable in the eyes of Nikai.’ I too have done terrible deeds. Now we will do only good deeds, and each good deed we do will cancel out a terrible one from our pasts.”
Nijinxp took her hands in his and looked her in the eyes. “I like that idea. I like it very much.”
Evdacsa had learned a lot during her years at the harem. That morning in the cave, as they waited for sleep to come to them, she taught him some of it.