There are fates worse than death…
Hello, this is the sixth 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 6 – The Dragon Temple
It was mid-morning before Illyara and Lynsey approached the city gates. This was it! Butterflies swarmed in Lynsey’s stomach. What was she going to find? The rest of the tribe stayed behind. They would not go any closer than they needed to, but although Illyara hadn’t shown it, Lynsey knew she was itching to go in and see what city life was like.
“Father spent a year in Merg when he was younger. He said it was scary, but whenever Mother left the tent he said it was also exciting!” When Lynsey asked what he did in the city, Illyara smiled, the lights in her eyes seemed to dance. “We have to spend a year away to see how other people live so we know how good life is with the family. We always come back.”
From the camp, the road had been barely a mud path, but the closer they walked to the city gates the more defined it became. Their desert shoes were still silent on the ground but without the shifting sand, progress was easier and quicker. Whatever Illyara had said about her pregnant gait, Lynsey soon found that their shoes had a lot to do with how easily they walked. Illyara found that hilarious, Lynsey thought sourly. It had taken her a couple of hours before she relented and gave her a spare pair of desert sandals.
The enormous wooden doors cast a long shadow in the dirt road leading to it. It was deceptive quite how big they were from a distance. The nearer they got, more and more travellers joined them. Each wore a style which gave away their profession or status. There were merchants in coloured cloaks, farmers in cheaper home-made clothes and even a traveller troupe who breathed fire from a cart while a man shouted out what to expect later that night. The pungent flower smell that had accompanied them for hours in the desert was now being swamped by a sweeter smell from the troupe’s carts.
“They are advertising the food they will be selling with their performance.” Illyara said answering Lynsey’s unspoken question. “We sometimes meet up in the desert and they give us a free show in exchange for our hospitality and aid in getting to less travelled routes. Their popping corn is to die for!”
They fell in step behind the troupe and soon they were sandwiched between dozens of people all showing signs of tiredness but happy to be reaching the ends of their journey. As they walked, Lynsey could tell Illyara was getting nervous. Normally serene, and prone to giggle, she jumped at the slightest sound and her eyes darted everywhere but in comparison a burst of happiness effused Lynsey’s body. She was happier than she had been in all the time she had been in Duat. This was a city! She was used to city life. The quiet of the desert unnerved her. It couldn’t be more different to her life in London. Surely Ghinari wouldn’t, couldn’t be like home but probably more like Marrakesh or some Eastern city. She had never been but she imagined it would be very like this.
The cool shadow of the city walls against the hot desert sand marked the change to a narrow paved road which widened once they passed underneath the brick structure to go through a grove of trees. Were those olives? Lynsey wondered. She couldn’t quite make out the fruit and the only time she’d seen olives before was prepacked in plastic wrapping with a barcode on the front. Before she could ask Illyara, the fruits changed to the familiar lemons and then a few minutes later, orange trees surrounded them. The smell mixed with sweet spices from the cart which was still in front was heady. As they moved through the end of the tree line, another wall, this time made of sound assaulted their ears. It was filled with cries, shouts, crying, laughter, the full gamut of human emotion and then some. This was more like it!
Instead of pulling the cart into the city, before they left, Lynsey opted to put as many jewels as she could fit inside the bag she brought with her as well as in some concealed pockets that Illyara had sewn in to her clothes for her while she was ill. She couldn’t help but think that pickpockets were probably just as rife in this world as her own so she carried her bag in front of her. It was the only thing that would mark her as alien.
Lynsey wore the dress gifted to her the day before by Illyara’s parents. Similar to the outfit Illyara was wearing, rather than the drab brown outfits of the desert walk, she now wore a beautiful muted green dress, while Illyara’s was a delicate blue. They were long, just scraping the ground with narrow sleeves, which tapered to their forearms then grew into huge cuffs which dropped to their waist. The light cloth was cinched to their waists with a silver coloured braid. They didn’t have mirrors at the camp but the admiring looks from the men told Lynsey that the dress suited her. When asked, Illyara had said the tribe made them to sell during festival season along with spices and other items they collected along the caravan route.
At the entrance a gaggle of children rushed up to them offering them fruit. Their small hands tugged at their clothes. Illyara smiled but shook her head while taking Lynsey’s arm and increasing her pace. The children gave up and turned to the merchants behind them.
At a cross-roads Illyara led Lynsey away from the route everyone else was going and they walked down street after street. They all looked similar. Low one-storied houses stood crowded together constructed of mud punctuated by larger wooden structures spaced out amongst them. She assumed it was to lower the risk of fire spreading. After a half hour Illyara paused in the wide road. No one had passed them for some time and it was eerily quiet after the crowds at the gates. Their only company was a stray dog snuffling in some bushes.
“I do not know where to go from here, we must have taken a wrong turn.”
“I thought you knew where to go?”
“No one in my tribe has been to this city before. We know the Dragon Temple is near the entrance from travellers who share knowledge but, all these streets look the same!”
“We could ask someone?” It was such an obvious thing to do Lynsey expected Illyara to agree.
Illyara looked horrified. “That would mark us as lost and who knows where someone might send us. This city is full of criminals and evil doers. It would be too dangerous to ask for help in this place.” Illyara’s jaw set and Lynsey knew that she would not be able to change her mind. This was so stupid but she didn’t want to offend her friend. Let them walk for half an hour more, if they didn’t find anything then she would insist on asking someone!
They walked on for a few minutes not talking. Lynsey was getting more annoyed with every step. Soon, the streets began to narrow and fill with people selling their wares in stalls lining the street. It was soon evident that they had found a market and the further they went in, the denser the market stalls were set up. It stank. Lynsey smiled as she felt Pico recoil in her mind at the offensive smells that seemed to ooze from everywhere. It was not difficult to see why. Pig’s heads hung from hooks on market stalls, flies buzzed around the nearly rotting meat next to stalls selling cooked pies. Birds squawked beside howling wolves baring their teeth in too-small cages creating narrowing corridors by the haphazard placement of stalls. The stall owners called out their wares barely audible over the sound of their merchandise and crowds.
Lynsey feet were getting sore and it was getting hot, she wiped the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. It may not be lady-like but stuff it, it wasn’t like mum was here to tell her off. She was tired of avoiding dung on the ground and she was hungry. They hadn’t brought any food or drink with them which seemed strange considering how much water Illyara had made her drink during their journey. Then again, Illyara had said it would take less than half a morning and they would be back before they needed to buy anything from the city. Her friend was great, Lynsey thought, but not hot on planning. What she would give for a cold pint right now!
Illyara had that vacant expression again, she looked just as lost as she had when they had stopped in the empty street earlier. Lynsey grabbed her hand. “Have you got any money?”
“A little, why?”
“We need to stop for a moment and get a drink.”
Her friend, fumbled with the edge of her shawl which had tangled with the cord belonging to a small drawstring purse which hung from her silver belt. “Here, this should be enough Remember to get back change.”
Lynsey took the coin. It was small, possible bronze, but then what did she know about metals?
“Butt out Pico!” She thought sharply in her mind knowing he would pick it up. Pico went silent again and Lynsey hid the coin in her palm before moving towards a vendor she’d seen with vats of amber liquid. A picture of an apple hung from a hook above the counter. The woman was short and rotund. Her long black hair was slicked back in a rainbow scarf which looked out of place against the dark brown dress and creased leather apron.
“Two of those full please.” Lynsey asked pointing to a tankard.
The woman nodded and filled the vessels to the top, placing them carefully on the edge of the stall without spilling a drop in front of Lynsey and held out her hand beside the drinks. Lynsey dropped the coin that Illyara had given her into her palm and the woman brought the coin up to her mouth and bit the coin before slipping it into an apron in one quick movement.
Illyara opened her mouth to ask for change but Lynsey kicked her in the shins. The front of the stall hid the action from the owner.
“We have been told to report to the Dragon Temple when we arrived here but we appear to have taken a wrong turn.”
The grizzled features of the woman emitted slight interest but she replied. “At the end of the market, turn left on to Butchers walk, then go straight on and turn right on to Temple road.”
“Thank you.” Lynsey took the cider and drained the cup quickly, urging Illyara to do the same. Illyara looked at the tankard with distaste. The rim looked grimy but she followed her friend’s lead. They put the flagons back down at the same time and walked on in the direction the woman had pointed.
“You were lucky.” Illyara said quietly.
“Only if we weren’t poisoned by those disgusting cups.” Lynsey whispered back.
Illyara grinned, slightly tipsy from the drink. “I do not think evil humours would have survived that much alcohol.”
It took another ten minutes to reach the end of the market but the stall owner’s directions were true. They found Temple road where she said it was. The houses changed to two and three storied buildings the closer they got and they knew when they reached a grand stone building that it was the place they were looking for. It was old, possibly hundreds of years old. Built like a fairy tale castle, it was constructed of sandstone with long thin unglazed windows on the top floor and wide windows glazed with a glass which gave off a blue sheen on the lower floors.
Lynsey looked at Illyara.
“This is it.” Illyara confirmed.
“We just walk in?”
“No, bring out one of the necklaces you found at the cursed place. One of the smaller ones. It will make a good bribe for the doorkeeper that will get you inside.”
Lynsey opened the front pocket of her bag and looked inside. If she gave away a whole necklace just at the door she wouldn’t have much left by the end of the day. The Bardoon people may not think the jewels carried much worth but Lynsey suspected that the people of Ghinari would be more appreciative of the craftsmanship of Ancient Egypt. She reached down and picked up a small elephant figurine encrusted with sapphires. She almost hesitated to take it out but if she ever wanted her body to be completely hers once again she would have to part with it.
She strode up to the gate and knocked on the door. There was no answer immediately but after a second a little panel she hadn’t noticed suddenly opened with a sharp bang.
“What do you want?”
“Hello, I would like an audience with the High Priest.” Remembering what Illyara had told her to say. She heard muffled laughter and then silence. She knocked again.
“He is busy.” The panel opened and shut so quickly she missed it. She rapped again. This time, she put her hand in where the panel shut. The door snapped against her hand. The pain was sharp but she didn’t let go. She could make out an old face with a sour expression looking out.
“Look, I have this elephant you might like?” There was a pause as the man considered. Suddenly she heard bolts open one by one from the bottom to the top and it opened slightly. Lynsey beckoned Illyara to join her but her friend shook her head. Fair enough, there was some places Illyara would not go.
Lynsey plucked up her courage remembering that she wasn’t actually alone and stepped through.
“The elephant?” Lynsey heard from behind her. She reached over and handed over the animal figurine over her shoulder without looking. This place could give any church or cathedral a run for its money. The inside was incredible. The outside facade was almost drab in comparison to this. Whoever had designed the interior was a master of light and dark. What had appeared to be a stingy use of windows on the outside created a pattern inside that made the building look spacious and grand but also strangely cosy with the use of alcoves. The man behind stayed silent for a moment enjoying her reaction.
The hall was huge. Columns reached to the ceiling, punctuating the otherwise empty square space in the centre. Great golden paintings were revealed by the light from the windows. From the floor to the ceilings the pictures dominated the room vying for attention with each other. As she looked closer she realised they were telling a story. The one in front of her was of a dragon breathing fire in a desert landscape. The painting to the right showed men in burnished red armour like she’d never seen before, leaving a city.
As she turned her head she admired the optical illusion. The edge of the alcoves were painted as was the spaces in them so whichever direction you looked you could see the complete picture. Lynsey craned her neck behind her, the painting above the door showed men travelling the desert and the last painting on her left showed the dragon doubled over with a spear poking out from his middle. Turning to the floor, she saw it was tiled with large terracotta slabs with a walkway indicated by lighter, gold tiles which pointed towards the direction of the far wall.
“Follow the gold walkway to the Solar. He is working in there this morning.” The old man went back to his post. So a jewelled elephant only bought directions here. Maybe she did have an over inflated idea of its worth after all.
“Be careful Lynsey. We don’t know what to expect but Illyara must be afraid for a reason.”
“Oh shut up. You just don’t want me to get rid of you.”
“You do realise that even if you get rid of the bracelet, I will still be here? It will just mean that you will have to learn to speak the languages by learning them. Although I can’t see how these people would have the technology to get rid of me anyway looking at what we’ve seen since we arrived in this city.”
“You would say that though, wouldn’t you!”
Pico’s thoughts turned dark in her mind, deep purples swirled with black. Good! He was feeling as frustrated as she felt. Stick to the plan. Get rid of the bracelet, get rid of Pico and then get home! She could feel her face screwing up in annoyance.
She followed the coloured tiles until she came to a door with a gold sun emblazoned on an indented panel. It had been concealed before from the main doorway by the columns. She was about to knock but held her hand back before it hid the wood. Thinking that this would require another bribe she was about to open her bag when the door opened in front of her. A young man stood there. Covered head to toe in close-fitted black velvet, his athletic form filled the doorway. Dark brown curls shied just before hitting his eyes. His eyes, brown pools of melted chocolate, pierced through her as if her soul was bare.
“What do you want?”
Unnerved, she grabbed the end of her hair and twisted it between her fingers. She took refuge in extreme politeness. “I’m sorry to bother you but I’m here to see the High Priest.” She could have kicked herself. She wasn’t going to get anywhere if she carried on like this!
The man looked her up and down, noting her quality festival dress and unusual bag. There was something about this girl. His nose wrinkled slightly. He glanced behind him and seemed to make a decision.
“He has finished his audience for today. You will have to come back tomorrow.”
“Oh look, I know how this plays. I keep coming, I bribe the doorman until I have nothing left and I still don’t get to see the priest. Am I right?”
The man’s lips twitched for a second, making him look even younger as he assessed her again.
“Indeed, it is highly unlikely that a woman will see the High Priest straight off the street. Why do you think he would deign to see such a person?”
“This!” Lynsey pulled back her jumper and revealed the bracelet. He seemed unimpressed.
“That trinket? Why would he be interested in that?”
“I can’t get it off!” Lynsey’s voice went higher in her frustration.
He gently took her arm and pulled down the sleeve, “There are better places to try and take that off. A priest from the Order of the Dragon is not one of them. Have you tried the Mages? A Healer or even a Jeweller!”
Lynsey looked at him ruefully. “Well no…”
“Come, This is not the place. Have you anywhere to stay?”
“Not really, I came with the Bardoon and I have a friend waiting outside.”
“Great, if you have such baubles to bribe with then I know of somewhere safe for you to stay.”