There are fates worse than death…
Hello, this is the fifth chapter of my serialisation of Accidental Immortal, on my blog, while for the first week it will be published every day, after the first seven posts they will be published four times a week so that the serialisation will be completed at the same time as on Wattpad, if not a little sooner!
If you would like to start from the beginning, please head over to chapter one. There is also a contents list at the bottom of each post.
Chapter 5 – Scorpion
Lynsey woke to the sound of the bustle of tents being dismantled and the acrid smell of fire. Her nose wrinkled, what on Earth were they burning? Then she grinned at the ridiculous thought. They weren’t on Earth!
The cushions on the far side of the tent were empty. The cloth was still rumpled so Illyara can’t have been up long. Lynsey scrabbled up pulling her clothes on with haste, discarding the crimson nightgown she’d borrowed onto the pillows she’d slept on. She lifted the tent flap over her head cautiously. She didn’t know what she expected to find but it looked like any campsite she had visited during school. Instead of a small campfire to the side though there was a blazing pyre in the centre with what looked like dung being shovelled on by a young boy. So that was the smell! There were large vats filled with a bubbling beige mixture stood on a structure over the fire. Beside them, an older woman was ladling out the food into bowls offered by each person in a straggling queue. Children and women with babies were first and there were clumps of men hanging back talking in low voices.
The smell of the mixture was earthy with a hint of unidentifiable spices which drew Lynsey from the threshold of the tent to the back of the queue. As if from nowhere she felt someone tap her shoulder from behind.
“Here, these are yours. You must carry it with you on our journey.”
“Thank you.” Lynsey took the round bowl. It already held the steaming mixture from the pots and the small cup was rim high with a light coloured tea. Both were without handles and the clay was decorated with crude pictures of flowers. They were basic but beautiful in their own way. Lynsey tentatively placed her hand into the mixture in the bowl and brought it up to her mouth as she saw others around her do. The temperature was perfect but best of all it tasted great. “Much better than the porridge packets back home,” she joked.
Illyara looked blank. Lynsey just smiled back. “It’s delicious.” Illyara nodded and turned to walk away. The tea was very sweet but as Lynsey always drank her coffee with three sweeteners, it was drinkable. A splash of milk would have elevated it to another level but she shouldn’t be picky she chided herself.
Suddenly she remembered the cart that she had left behind at the Oasis. She looked for Illyara but she was already at the far end of the camp. Lynsey rushed over.
“My things! I left them over by the water.”
Illyara smiled sadly. “Jov brought them back here last night. They are behind the tents. You should leave them behind they are cursed.”
“I can’t do that. I might need to trade some of that stuff.”
“It is true that some people will buy those in the big cities and it is not my place to say anything but I would strongly advise you to leave them behind.”
“If I carry them?”
“You would have to, No Bardoon would go near artefacts from that terrible place.”
“I was going to offer you some jewellery for helping me out.”
Illyara smiled at that. Stray curls in her hair fell forward, covering her hazel eyes as she bent her head imperceptibly. “No, Lynsey Walker. We would not take anything from that place or anything else for an act of kindness. You will learn our ways soon enough.” She brushed her hair back into place as she went to re-join the woman she was helping to bring down a tent. As more and more people finished their breakfasts, they helped the others to pack. They were like a well-oiled machine each member of the tribe knew what they had to do and Lynsey could only admire how efficiently the camp was dismantled.
It was nearly another hour before the oasis was returned to its natural state. Lynsey tried to help but found she was more of a hindrance. Their small smiles hid their frustration at the delay of explaining what needed to be done but they must have been itching to go. Lynsey gave up and packed up her own cart, hiding its contents with a white cloth. Illyara smiled with approval as she passed on her way with a pile of cushions in her arms.
“Why do they hate these things so much?” Whispered Lynsey as the girl turned away.
“The priests used to put curses on the pyramids to stop looters. Who knows? They may have been heeded in this world.”
With the caravan packed away, Lynsey could see that the tribe had about fifty people with a herd of what looked like camels with antlers. The camels stood side by side, making no sound except for the shuffling of feet on the hard packed ground. Their heads were constantly moving, looking this way and that, bearing their teeth seemingly at random. The animals were piled high with possessions and those that weren’t carried heavily pregnant women and babies in embroidered seats swinging like hammocks off the camel’s humps. As they started to move out. Lynsey joined them in the back, trailing behind the children.
“I wonder how long it will take to get to the city.”
“A week.” Came a voice behind her. Illyara fell in step with Lynsey.
“How do you keep doing that?”
“You must learn to not walk like a pregnant camel with a limp. If you walk like this…” Illyara walked ahead a pace and exaggerated her movements, her skirt swishing like a whisper against her legs. “You will not only be quieter but you won’t get tired so quickly. Move with the sand, not against it.”
Lynsey copied her but it was harder than it looked. Move your hips this way, your leg that. She felt like she was walking like a pregnant goat never mind the camel which had more finesse and dignity in this place.
“It will take a week.” Illyara reiterated. “We must rest at midday during the hottest part of the day, otherwise we would lose some of the animals and our people would suffer unnecessarily.”
“Are there more places for water on the way?” Asked Lynsey grunting under the weight of the cart while copying Illyara’s gait. The trees were getting scarcer here and the sand was getting harder to walk on.
“Wait!” Called Illyara to the front of the caravan and everyone halted. Illyara scurried to a tree which had fallen. She called for a knife. A boy probably no more than a couple of years younger than the girl brought her a vicious looking curved blade which she took carefully before hacking at a couple of large branches. There were murmurs of approval from the people watching.
Illyara with the help of the boy, brought over two pieces of wood about the length of the cart. She placed one on each side of the small wagon and another boy held it up while she fixed it to the underside of the wheel. They did it to the other side.
“You’ve made a sledge!”
Illyara gave that now familiar smile. “Would you like to try it now?”
Lynsey pulled the straps over her head so they lay over her shoulders and pulled. The cart glided over the sand easily. The relief! She grinned at the three who had helped her and they bowed. The caravan set off again, this time Lynsey found it easy to keep up.
As the hours rolled by, Illyara opened up more and more to Lynsey’s questions.
“Who were those people that you spoke with when we met?”
“Mother and father, they look after our tribe. I will replace them one day,” Illyara turned away to look into the distance. “If I can find the right husband.”
“Oh, will your husband be the leader then?”
Illyara burst into a peal of laughter. “Oh no, but you cannot be a leader unless you are married. There needs to be balance in all things. I must find a suitable mate to have someone with another viewpoint who would always be loyal to me.” The swish of the girl’s skirts was soothing in the momentary silence.
“What’s a suitable mate?” asked Lynsey.
“One that will complement me. Someone that will give me another point of view but won’t be confrontational. He will have the same status as me AND I want someone who won’t annoy me.”
Lynsey snorted. “I wasn’t expecting you to say that!”
“I have years yet. There is no hurry. It took father thirty six moons to find mother when he decided to look. He says love can come in surprising places.”
“Is there anyone here you like?” Lynsey asked looking at the men surrounding them. They were tall, lanky, with grizzled features from the sun. Every now and again one of the men would lift his scarf from his head and mop the back of his neck with a cloth revealing close-cut hair. Everyone wore the same loose robes and had the same gentle eyes.
“Oh no, I couldn’t marry anyone here. We’re all family. We’re going to the city to meet up with other families. Maybe there will be someone for me there.”
“I hope so.” Lynsey had only known the girl less than a day but she hoped that she would get what she wanted.
Just before midday they broke camp to have their meal. After watching how the tents were taken down in the morning, Lynsey was able to help to erect the huge tent where everyone gathered. Brightly coloured embroidered cushions were brought in and scattered on the floor for people to relax and chat in low voices.
As with breakfast, bowls were brought out but this time they were placed down beside their feet. Young women with babies queued up at the far side and were served quickly by the older women. As they were eating, children moved around the tent filling bowls after gulping down their own. Illyara pulled Lynsey to sit beside her.
“I thought the men would eat first.”
“Why? If those that take smaller amounts eat first then the rest can be divided between the men with nought worrying that anyone will go hungry.”
“What if you take more than you need?”
“Why would you do that?” Illyara turned to face her. “You only need enough to feel full. Is that what they do where you are from?”
“Some do, I suppose.”
Illyara shook her head in despair at ‘some’ people.
“I heard that in the cities that people grow large doing that but I have never seen them. There has never been a need to go inside the walls but I may have the excuse to visit now.” Her eyes sparkled at the thought.
“You want an adventure don’t you?” Lynsey made her voice low.
“I-I-I think so.”
Lynsey turned to look at the pot. “That looks a lot like breakfast.”
“Oh no. That was cornmeal porridge. This is cornmeal polenta.”
There was a pause. “I can see why you might need to have an adventure.”
Illyara gave off another peal of laughter.
A couple of hours later when everyone was rested they set off again. Lynsey pulled her wagon and Illyara helped with the straggling children.
The sand dunes were enormous. They were miniature hills which had to be climbed one by one. At the apex of each one Lynsey saw rolling curves of sand into the distance. She had no idea how they knew what direction they were going in but Pico informed her they were going east.
“How do you know?”
“Magnetic poles,” came the quieter than usual reply. Pico seemed distracted. Or maybe he was giving her space. Who knew? Still, she appreciated the time alone with her thoughts. She enjoyed the company of Illyara and was fascinated with the nomadic life around her.
Every night was like the previous, she shared a tent with Illyara. The only difference was there was yoghurt with dinner. She loved sweet things but these guys almost worshipped it. She was surprised they still had teeth.
The next few days followed the same pattern. They walked until lunchtime, slept for a couple of hours then walked again until the darkness made it impossible.
“What?” She rolled over and buried her head under the pillow. Surely it couldn’t be time to get up already!”
“Lynsey, we have to pack up the camp, there is a storm coming.”
That caught her attention. Not another one, she supposed that storms would dog her for the rest of her life. She jumped up and shoved her feet into her boots while throwing bedding into chests in the corner of the tent. Illyara worked beside her. “We are lucky that we camped in the open. Wear this.” She offered her a dress from her casket. Lynsey nodded and quickly donned the garment over her nightdress noticing that Illyara put hers on with practiced speed. With the dress on, all she could see of her friend were her eyes peeking through the voluminous brown material. They continued to pack away as the sound of the storm outside grew, blowing the tent flap open with a burst of sand. Lynsey turned and tripped over the hem of her outfit and fell heavily against the sturdy chest she was packing. She pushed her arm out to save herself but knocked against the chest, scratching her arm as she fell. Winded, she rolled over and began to pull herself up and paused. At eye level, behind the box was a creature with a curved tail.
Lynsey froze, half kneeling on the floor. “Illyara?” She barely whispered her name.
“Are you alright?”
Illyara wouldn’t be able to see the creature from where she was. “There is something here, Illyara.”
She felt Illyara move to stand next to her and she heard a gasp. “It is not moving, did it touch you?”
“No, I don’t think so, is it poisonous?”
“Come back slowly, it is either dead or playing dead. You must hope that it is playing dead.”
Lynsey slowly backed away into a crouch but the scorpion wasn’t moving. Illyara pulled Lynsey beside her and threw a cushion at the insect. It didn’t move but toppled over.
“It is dead. Are you sure that it did not touch you with its tail?”
“No I would have noticed that, its tail is huge!”
Illyara let a deep breath out. “There should be no problems then. There could be any number of reasons why the scorpion is dead, the one we would have had to worry about is if it stung you. The tip would have been ripped from its body and it would have died. You would already be feeling its effects by now if you had been stung.” She looked Lynsey up and down. “You seem alright we have a more pressing matter.” Illyara turned her attention back to the clothing as the entrance of the tent flapped open with another blast of sand. “The clothes will help protect you from the sand storm. We must go into the storm tent until it passes.” Lynsey nodded and followed her, carrying the last of the tent’s contents out to waiting hands.
The sand was whirling in the air as they moved outside. Men rushed up wearing the same robes, protecting their skin from the bite of the sand. They emptied the tent and pulled the tent poles down while Lynsey and Illyara helped to fold the tent material into a roll.
The visibility was getting worse and Lynsey was losing her sense of direction. The wind whipped past her, needles of sand driving into every part of her body. Through the pain she worked, following Illyara’s example until she tucked the end of the roll neatly into itself. The nearest man nodded his head with approval. He pointed to where she had to go and she pulled Illyara in the direction he pointed. They saw nothing for a moment but then dim shapes could be made out. All the camels were sitting in a wide circle, their weight holding down the cloth of a tent. As she watched, people were going under the cloth through a gap in the camels. The wind increased, it was becoming increasingly difficult to see the light brown material against the terrain. Illyara and Lynsey struggled through the wind and sand. The white grains lashed Lynsey’s hands with force as the storm’s power increased. She gritted her teeth while she grasped the tent to lift it to go inside. She pushed Illyara in ahead of her and let the material drop behind her.
The sounds of the storm muted, replaced by the sounds of low conversation. It was warm in the tent and Lynsey’s nose wrinkled at the acerbic scent of so many people in close proximity. A few lamps were lit dotted around them. Men, women and children sat cross-legged with bowls between them and a space in the middle. Inside, a young girl with an all-encompassing sapphire dress, similar in style to the one all the men and women wore, was sitting quietly. The circle of bowls had become an impromptu barrier and a focus for all eyes.
There was an air of anticipation. Lynsey turned to Illyara but before she could ask, her new friend put her finger to the front of her face to tell her to be quiet.
Lynsey dropped easily into a crouch, crossing her legs underneath her as the others did. Behind her, the last member of the tribe entered and the doorway was sealed. The atmosphere changed as the tribe relaxed. Voices fell away and everyone turned to watch the woman in blue. The sound of the sand battering the tent around them filled the silence for a moment, then the girl in sapphire began to sing.
Nobody made a sound, even the babies were suckling quietly as their mothers rocked them in the semi-darkness. With so many people in an enclosed space, the heat was making Lynsey drowsy. The beautiful voice of the girl lowered, then swooped into new highs that tingled her nerves. Her voice was sweet, yet had mature depths. It conjured images of the desert in her mind until it stopped leaving her wanting more. Then another tune started as glorious as the first.
A woman in front of her offered her one of the bowls she had spotted earlier. It was filled with cubes dusted with sugar. Lynsey pulled off her veil and reached for one of the sweets hesitantly. The tent was really warm now and a few had already taken their outer dress off. The woman with the bowl smiled and tilted the bowl slightly towards Lynsey. Illyara already had one from a different dish. Lynsey picked it up and brought it to her lips and popped the cube into her mouth. There was nothing for a moment, just sugary goodness then Lynsey’s eyes began to water. She coughed as the sweet sugar dissolved leaving a sour taste in her mouth. She choked back the noise at Illyara’s glare and grabbed a flagon of water as it passed by. Gulping down the liquid, she refused the next sweet.
The singer began another song and people began to doze around her until Lynsey fell asleep as well.
Lynsey woke, clawing at the fabric covering her, why did she have to wear it in this tent? It was too damned hot! She felt cool hands lift the dress of her but it didn’t help. She heard voices but she couldn’t understand what they were saying. A louder voice kept talking to her but it was no use. Why didn’t they speak English! Her body ached, then she was cold then hot again. She had the thought that it was the worst case of the flu she’d ever had then she fell unconscious again.
When Lynsey woke up she felt as weak as a kitten. A delicious breeze played across her features which felt good. She was rocking gently cocooned in a hammock. Through a gap in the material she saw the tan fur of the camel. She pulled back the cloth and looked out. Illyara was walking beside her with a concerned look.
“You are awake. We were worried.”
“As was I.” Came a familiar voice that only Lynsey could hear. This time Lynsey didn’t feel annoyed.
“What happened?” She croaked. Illyara handed her a leather flask of water.
“The scorpion did indeed sting you. We were not expecting you to survive but I am glad you did. You must rest now.”
“If you had been anyone else you wouldn’t have. Every time a cell died, another was replicated to take its place. The manner of you arriving in this world has changed you. The Egyptians sent perfect copies to this world that could get ill, aged and died. This has shown that the manner of your arrival has created a copy that cannot change. I do believe you may never age. You could be immortal Lynsey.”
Lynsey blinked in surprise. “That’s impossible.” She thought back to Pico.
“The last few days have proved otherwise.“
Another two days and Lynsey was allowed to join the others in walking. While she had been unconscious, Illyara had tied the cart to the back of the camel that carried her by the straps that she’d used to pull the cart. Knowing how much the Bardoon hated the cart, Lynsey went to untie it but Illyara touched her arm to stop her.
“It is alright Lynsey Walker. We performed a ceremony to purify the cart and contents. While we will do everything to minimise contact with it, it is fitting for the camel to take its weight while you fully recover.”
The monotony of the next few days gave her time to think about what Pico had said. Immortality was impossible but if you didn’t age then maybe you could be?
She didn’t notice the terrain change until the ground below her stopped shifting and became packed dirt rather than sand. In surprise, she looked up and saw a brick wall in the distance. It seemed the same height as the pyramids had been.
“Ghinari.” Said Illyara quietly. “The place of dreams they say. You can buy anything or anyone. It is ruled by the brotherhood of the dragon as well as a King and they are powerful. You must be cautious with these people. It is why we never enter within those walls.”
“You said there was someone I should see?”
“There is. The High Priest may know how to remove the bracelet. I will take you to him, but I cannot set foot in his temple. He is the sworn enemy of our people”
“Do you still want to get rid of me?” Pico’s voice interjected. “Without me you would not be able to speak to or understand these people.”
“Don’t get me wrong.” Lynsey thought back, “but this is my body. You are just a parasite.”
“I may be a symbiont but I’m not a parasite. What I can do for you benefits you. I don’t benefit without giving. I can help you survive here. That is why I was created. It is my sole purpose. I don’t know what else I can say to convince you. You need me in this world!”
“You were not created for me. Your creators didn’t send me here. I’m here by accident. I don’t owe you anything.”