CITY of the MIRAGE
The Myths of the
Divine Astarte 1
The mirage appeared very close. I could see the white towers of the city, as they shimmered on the horizon. I wiped the sweat from my brow with my sleeve, and took a sip of water from my canteen.
I looked over my shoulder. I could no longer see the enemy chase cars. They had been in pursuit since last night, when my plane went down. I had parachuted from my wounded craft, and landed in the desert. After I landed, I fled into the empty waste, hoping that my beacon would be heard by rescue.
I resumed walking. Perhaps I had come all this way only to die of thirst in this wasteland. I checked my canteen. Almost empty.
I tried my radio once more. Nothing - not even static.
I continued walking in the light breeze. I soon came to a boulder field. I walked among the rocks for a few minutes, until I came to the edge of a ravine. I glanced over the edge, and saw a fast moving stream below.
I climbed down the steep slope to the floor of the ravine. I filled my canteen, and pulled off my flight suit. I plunged into the water, and rinsed off the dust.
I sat upon a rock near the edge of the stream, to rest for a time. After a time, I pulled on my suit, and began to follow the stream.
I came to a large bolder jutting out into the stream. I walked around it, and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned, and saw a woman of middle years stepping out of the stream.
"Hello," She said with a smile. There was a slight accent to her English.
"Hello," I replied, and smiled. She had black hair, and dark, olive skin. She did not seem to mind that she was nude, in the strong breeze.
"Are you lost, warrior?"
"Well, yes. I am heading west."
She pointed down the ravine. "Follow the stream. It leads to the plain. If you see any one else, they may help you."
"I must leave you now. But you will see me soon, when you are ready." She came up to me, and wrapped her arms around me. She kissed, and gently bit my neck.
I put my hand on her hip, and stroked her smooth skin. She was very cool to my touch, from the water of the stream.
"My name is Clayton - Clayton Grey."
"I must go now, warrior." She turned, and slowly walked behind the bolder. I watched her go, and decided not to call out to her
I continued to follow the stream. After an hour of this, the stream passed out into a barren plain.
I continued to follow the stream for a time. I stopped to rest for a time, sitting upon another rock.
I scanned the horizon, hoping to see some sign of human life. As I searched the horizon, I saw movement.
Soon, I could make out dim figures, moving in my direction. At first, I assumed that they were men on foot. Then, I realized that they were mounted. I could count eight figures.
I checked my revolver, and continued to move forward. As the men approached, I began to see them more clearly. The men were riding horses, and wore long, white robes, with hoods.
The riders had seen me, and headed in my direction. As they drew closer, they formed a semicircle, and stopped, about thirty feet from me.
One of the men dismounted, and walked toward me. He was young, with a short beard. His hair was dark, and his skin a light brown. He wore a long white robe. He stopped a few paces from me, and spoke a few words. I did not recognize the language.
He went back to his horse, and returned with a water skin. He gave it to me. I took a drink, and returned it to the man.
"Do you speak English?"
The man smiled, and looked puzzled.
He pointed to the north, and said a few words in his language. Perhaps he wanted me to come with him. That would be better than more of evading the enemy. I nodded.
One on the men dismounted, and helped me onto the horse he was riding. The party was leading a horse, without a rider. The man who helped me climbed onto the spare horse.
I was able to keep in the saddle as we moved off. My horse followed the others. I experimented with the reins as we went.
I noticed that the men wore short swords about their waists. Water skins were tied to their saddles, along with other bags.
We rode north for an hour. We rode up a large dune, and stopped at the summit. In the distance I could still see the mirage. I looked more closely. I could make out high city walls. White towers rose behind them.
The image did not shimmer. "The real thing," I said to myself. Perhaps the mirage was produced by the city we were now approaching. In time I learned the city was called Saental Cor. The name meant "City of the Mirage."
We continued to ride towards the city. We came to a dusty road, and began to follow it. We passed a number of carts on the road, drawn by donkeys. The carts had only two large wheels, not four. They were stacked with goods and produce.
We soon neared the gates of the city. They were open, with carts rolling thru. Men with spears stood on each side of the gate. They wore helmets of gleaming metal, and wore coasts of mail. We rode thru the entrance, and into a large square.
The street was surfaced with cobble stones. On the sides of the square were rows of stalls and booths, selling food and goods of various types. Some stalls were selling meat on skewers. The odor was enticing. Other stalls carried loaves of bread, bags of rice, or bolts of cloth.
People on foot filled the streets and square. There were also men pulling hand carts, bearing food and various types of goods.
The people stared at me, in my flight suit, with my light blond hair. The people all had dark hair and eyes. We rode down the street, and stopped at the gate of a large compound. We dismounted, and led our horses into a large courtyard. We gave them to some men dressed in brown tunics, who came to our assistance.
The men walked up to a large fountain. They removed their boots, and white outer robes. They wore short tunics underneath. They washed their feet, faces and hands. I followed their example. There were sandals lined up at the side of the fountain. We placed them on our feet.
We walked up to a large open door of a three story house. The house was lined with verandas. The structure was made of bricks, the lower level covered with white plaster. There were square towers at each corner. Broad platforms lined the walls. I later learned that the people sometimes slept outside on the veranda, to escape the heat.
The men filed inside. I followed them thru the doors. The room inside was large, with low platforms along the walls.
The room we entered was full of people, all dressed in tunics. The people in the room exchanged greetings with the riders. The men pulled off their sandals, and put on others they found near the door. The men gave their packs to girls standing by the door. I took off my belt and pack, and gave them to the girls.
Two new girls with long dark hair came into the room. One of them gave me a cup with water, and smiled. She wore a short tunic, tied at the waist. The girls had dark, short hair, and brown eyes. Some of them had eyes that were almost black.
A man with a white beard entered the room. I later learned that he was the eldest of four brothers, and that most of the men of the villa were sons of one or another of the brothers. His name was Hantars. He looked at me with surprise, and had an exchange with the men from the desert.
Hantars walked up to me, bowed, and smiled. He pointed to the girls, and said a few words to them. One of the girls took my hand, and led me to a door. The other girl followed.
I followed the girl out another door, and into a garden surrounded by a long wall. The garden was filled with fruit trees, and vines bearing grapes. I followed her along a portico, running along the side of the structure.
She stopped at an open entry way opening into a large room. There was a small pool near the entrance, with a fountain. The water cascaded down from a spout into the pool below.
One of the girls had brought my gear with us. She placed it inside the room, near the entrance.
The girls began to pull at my jacket. They seemed to be puzzled by zippers. I took off my jacket, and shirt. She tugged at my pants. I took them off, and she led me to the pool. She took a basin and dipped it into the water. She poured it over my head.
The girls began to scrub my body with a rough soap powder. They poured more water over me with pails. They then pushed me into the pool.
The girls removed their tunics and joined me in the pool. They chattered, and splashed me with water, giggling. Then, they began to rub my shoulders and arms. Their hands were strong, and they used pressure to ease soreness.
After the bath, they gave me a cloth to dry with, then a robe to wear. They put their tunics back on, and led me into the room. The girls gestured to a mat in one corner, with smiles.
One of the girls pointed at herself, and said "Chan." She pointed at the other girl and said "Tiya."
I found my gear and revolver by the door, where the girls had placed them. I placed them by the mat. I turned off my radio. It would be of no use here, no one would hear. Anyone looking for me would only chase mirages in the desert.
The girls began to fan me, and gave me a bowl of wine. The wine had a sweet taste. The room began to grow dark with fall of night. A strong breeze came thru the open door. The trees swayed in the breeze.
I stepped unto the veranda and looked at the sky. The sky was clear, and filled with stars. There were two moons in the strange sky. Later I would see two more, smaller moons. One of the small moons was oblong, rather than round.
The moons were all present in the sky at times. Two were large, the other two smaller. There were also two narrow rings, halos in the sky. The sky was a finer show than the one of home.
The girls took off their tunics once more, and helped me out of my robe. One of the girls touched my hair and smiled. She held her dark arm against mine, and giggled. She lay back against the cushions, and placed my hand on her dark triangle.
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