People say that Zalahar, the Forgotten amidst the dunes, Shahir Empire last embers, forgot for some time Yalaud´s cult, favouring a new kinder-faced god.
Thus, Mnibo´s acolytes entered Zalahar through the Merchant´s Gate, among oxcarts loaded with the ice of the Oruma mountains, hawkers and healers, when the South road still existed, in the stormy season, water going through Oldulla and Betella´s sandy courses, the uadi which encircled the town and hardly vanished three miles beyond, into the Thorny Desert.
Aldor the ceroferarius went in the temple, heading his doubtful paces towards the black obsidian altar and the tall lean figure, which wearing the holy mitre always gave the impression of being talking with the god Yalaud, in an ominous silence for whoever present. Despite the trained cautiousness of his feet, whose lack was the reason for many novice applicant´s expulsion, and his padded dromedaryskin sandals, Arunt the priest had noticed him; without turning back, he descended the worn down flight of steps bowing down before the crude stone idol which symbolized Zalahar´s god. Only then he faced his intimidated disciple. His grey pupils sheltered below ignorant of storm desert-coloured dense eyebrows looked at him with grim expectancy, and Aldor found it easier strangely to say what he had to say:
“The heretics have taken away the virgins to their new dwelling in the Slave´s Stable, by people´s consent. There —there will be no sacrifice to Yalaud the next waning moon, oh Yalaud´s high servant.”
Arun´s face didn´t betray his thoughts, as an old roving fighter taking a punch before his spectators. The fibrous sinews of his lean neck and his masticatory muscles stood in an iron calm. He said nothing. Only the corner of his mouth seemed to shape an imperceptible grimace of fox-like smile briefly. He knew the fennec god whom he served well; and knew what his answer was going to be.
The rainy season died as abruptly as it was born, and the scarce gardens to the East were not flooded this time with Oldulla and Betella´s accustomed overflowing. The greens withered, and the date palms denied its opulent fruit, without, Aldor noticed, that seeming to disturb too much Zalahar´s denizens.
“My sweet Yoruna is the most beautiful of all. I tell you she will be chosen by Mnibo as one of his priestesses. You ought to have seen her last night in Prodigies´ Temple, Aldor, my boy. She was weaving purest gold threaded fine brocades, as ever she made with the coarse wool of my herd. Thanks to Mnibo´s efforts, undoubtedly,” Melbos concluded, while he was gnawing the waste core of a clingstone fruit enthusiastically.
The young Aldor concealed his surprise by keeping silent before answering his uncle. He was fond of his cousin the same as he recognized both the sparingness of her charms and her scanty handiness. She wouldn´t be able to open an ostrich egg without breaking the yolk, her neighbours said in an undertone as slyly as rightly.
“Each new moon we are going to honour Mnibo´s advent to Zalahar with a feast in the large garden of the temple. You can come as well, their priest are magnanimous.”
Aldor nodded unenthusiastically and left Melbo´s home upset, the not framed question tasting bitter his tongue as a poisoned wine. The usual odour of smoked meat pervading all the abode had disappeared, together with good part of the content of the veined glassy jars, of which his uncle was proud, which presided the room.
At sunset, Aldor stopped his prayers and went out of his novice cubicle, scratched in the very stone of Yalaud´s temple by dim prehuman hands and set out for the Slave´s Stable, in the recondite Zalahar the Desert Pearl´s inside, through twisted alleys a crucified highwayman wide, wherein perpetual shadows´ manure begat patient killers and perverse secret meetings. He was grappling strongly between both his hands his worship dun biretta, staving off any encounter, ready for showing it. No normal thief would disturb a Yalaud´s disciple´s plots, but those were weird times. Times of paganism and conflict. An he wasn´t a youth particularly hefty.