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ZENAK: The End of the Beginning
George S. Pappas
My name is Sylvan Anders. I’m an archeologist. My co-worker Mark Jacobson and I have proof that man existedas we know him todaybefore dinosaurs.
Our discovery came about in this way. Two years ago Mark and I, responding to a request by the Turkish government, went to Eastern Turkey to dig for the remains of the great extinct reptiles. It seemed that several farmers in the area had come across the fossils of the massive lizards. We dug in the area for eight months but no fossils were found. We were about to give up hope when one of our crew, a small wiry Turk from a village near our dig came across the fossilized skeleton of a man. Needless to say Mark and I were very excited because upon first inspection of the geological levels of the earth the skeleton was thought to be 200,000 years old. A find such as this would further the proof of the migration of man from the east to the west. But Mark, having a PhD in geology, realized later, to his surprise, that the levels we had dug to and where our skeleton had been found were some two billion years old! How did this skeleton get there? The only possible answer was that there was a great earthquake and the ancient man had been swallowed by a great fissure. Then we decided, for the sake of records, to have the remains of the early man carbon dated. We were stunned at the results. The carbon dating suggested that the age of the remains of this man were between 1.5 and 2.5 billion years old! Our astonishment was multiplied when, upon closer inspection of the skeleton, we found him not to be like our supposed anthropoid ancestors, but like upright man of today. Needless to say we realized we must further research our find.
Upon receiving a grant from the Smithsonian, Mark and I, with the help of many students, archeologists and a multitude of locals, began with fervor to dig in the area. Two weeks after our second dig began, we found that we were unearthing a city. We became even more excited and for two years the excavation proceeded feverishly from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. When we were finished we gazed upon the ruins of a city larger than ancient Athens, ancient Rome, or Carthage. The city had obviously been destroyed by a natural phenomenon, perhaps a great earthquake.
In the center of the city were the remains of the palace. Two of its columns still stood. The columns were square and had intricate carvings of animals and people with writing beneath each figure. The writing, script we had never seen before, was at the time impossible to translate because we did not have a link language to translate it with. The rest of the city proceeded in concentric circles out from the center. The market area surrounded the palace and the housing spread out with the poorer sections on the outside. After the houses a wall surrounded the entire city.
Every house, including the peasant hovels, had richly engraved carvings on the floor. The apparent love these pre-ancients had for art amazed us. We wondered what the walls of the houses looked like, but could only speculate since none were standing.
A week after the entire excavation was finished and we were going over every stone, utensil, weapon, and many more fossils of human beings, our greatest and most frustrating find was discovered. It was a cave on the west perimeter of the city and in the cave we found 1500 scrolls and the remains of a man. Upon carbon dating, the scrolls and the skeleton were also found to be between 1.5 and 2.5 billion years old, like our first skeleton. The scrolls, however, were in excellent condition (What they are made of is still baffling scientists to this date.)
Mark and I glowed at such a find. We felt that the history of this pre-history city was written on these scrolls. Then the realization struck that we would probably never translate the scrolls. We had no link language. However, we consoled ourselves with the fact that we had discovered probably the greatest find ever and that should satisfy any man’s desires. Inside, both of us knew we were not satisfied.
For a few months I worked on cataloguing everything we found. But two months ago, my curiosity desiring to take me elsewhere, I left the tedious work of classifying to Mark and I headed for the Himalayas. Because the U.S. was now on somewhat friendly relations with China, I managed to get permission to go into the Himalayas with some distinguished Chinese scientists and make an all-out effort to determine if the existence of the abominable snowman, “the missing link,” is a legend or fact.
We were led by an old man who lived in the mountains and claimed he knew where an entire village of the snowmen existed. Skeptically we followed him to a mountain whose sheer cliffs invited only a few hardy mountaineers. After three days of arduous climbing and hardships from the wind and snow, we reached the top of the mountain. From the top we looked down upon a white valley and right in the middle a small village could be discerned.
It took us two more days to reach the village, but when we arrived, we were greeted warmly by the inhabitants. The people, I call them that rather loosely, looked like apes, except that their faces were distinctly human and they seemed highly intelligent. Even though we could not communicate verbally because they spoke a language we had never heard, we got along quite well.
When we had first arrived, we were taken to the huts of the Mukes, as they called themselves, fed and allowed to rest for the night. While I was being led to Tamuck’s hut, my host, I saw from the distance of about 75 yards the village square. In the middle of the square stood a statue of a mannot a Muke.
The statue of this man depicted him with thick locks flowing gracefully to massive shoulders. His arms were mighty and around his small waist hung a large broadsword. The statue was quite a piece of art. I knew I was going to inspect that object d’art first thing in the morning.
Upon entering the hut, a simple one-room abode, I noticed the floor. Carved into the cold stone that made up the floor were intricate and delicate carvings of animals and men like menot Mukes. I became intensely interes-ted in these carvings and got down on my knees to examine them more closely.
Tamuck, noting my interest, smiled and bade me to follow him to the western corner of the room. It was dark in that corner and Tamuck brought the torch, the only light in the room, to light that corner up. When the light fell on that part of the room, I noted an eight-inch version of the statue that was in the square.
Tamuck lit the incense holder in front of the statue, went down on his knees, and said only one word: Zenak. Then he bowed five times, his great hairy shoulders touching the ground. He then got up and led me to my bed, a straw mat near the door, and bade me good night as he put out the torch.
I slept at least sixteen hours and when I awoke Tamuck was gone, so I bounded out of the hut and went to the village square. It seemed I wasn’t the only one whose interest in the statue had been kindled. My Chinese companions were studying it intently when I arrived.
“It appears, quipped the oldest of our team, “that this is a script the likes of which I have never seen. Sylvan come over here and take a look.”
I was about ready to examine the base when I noticed a Muke, obviously very aged because of his gray hair, walking slowly toward us. The other Mukes in the street moved out of his way and went on their knees and bowed.
“Welcome” the old Muke said in perfect Mandarin.
“You speak our language?” one of our scientists asked quizzically.
I also speak Mandarin, therefore I understood him. “Yes, yes, for many years now I have been coming out of our stronghold into your towns and studying in the night by candlelight. When I was young, I hid in your sewers and under your houses so I could learn your language. I was the one you called the abominable snowman. Yes, I speak your language” the old man replied.
“Well then, tell us who you are and what your culture is,” I said rather abruptly.
“My culture,” the old man sighed. “My culture is what you see.” He then looked sadly around the village square. “We have been this way for millions of years. My memory is hazy and I may be wrong, but I believe that only I am the only survivor of the end of the beginning.”
“The end of the beginning?” quizzed one of our anthropologists.
“I know nothing of the end of the beginning because we only have a few documents from those times and as I said my memory is hazy. Our race was a lowly class in those times. All we have is our God.” And then the old man raised his hands to the mighty statue.
The team member who had originally asked me to look at the script then asked the old Muke if he could translate the writing at the base of the statue. The old Muke replied, “Oh, yes, I’m the only one who can for I am the only one who can read and write my language.” He smiled at me as he answered. “It says Zenak, King of Kings.”
I looked at the script closer this time as he read it and suddenly I felt a lump in my throat and my heart started beating wildly. The script at the base of the statue was the same as the writing on the scrolls that Mark and I had found in Turkey. I had found my translator!
When I told Solok, the elder Muke who was to be my translator, about the scrolls he started weeping. He told me that for years he felt that somewhere he would find the answer to his past and now all he had wished had come true. I told him we would fly him to Turkey and he could translate and study the scrolls, but the old Muke, too old to travel, could not leave the village. So I had copies of the scrolls flown in. It took two weeks for the copies to come in.
Tears welled in Solok’s old eyes when he perused the scrolls. “The Scrolls,” he said “begin by explaining the end of the beginning. They speak of my God, Zenak.”
This is what the first set of scrolls contained when they were translated.
I have so much to write and I have so little time. But as I look around, I see that I am fortunate. I have brought enough food and water to last me for three years, and the cave in which I am stranded is the cave where our empty scrolls are kept. I plan to use them to their fullest.
My name is Thurnak. I am a scribe, the head scribe, in the service of King Zenak. I believe that Zenak, a Muke, and I are the only ones to have escaped the great destruction that began many months ago. It was a destruction that began subtly but swelled quickly to the point of the destruction of all life. To put a date on the “end of the beginning” would be rather difficult. But, if one were forced to, the day of the prince’s baptism would be as an appropriate day as any.
Balbania, the capital city of Deparne, was uproarious, as was the rest of the kingdom, with joy and celebration. The baptism day of the prince was declared a holiday. The streets were filled with throngs of people roaring drunkenly about the city. Taverns were doing an incredible amount of business as tankards of ale were being filled at the same speed they were emptied. All work had ceased and men and women indiscriminately chased each other lovingly throughout the streets. Couples making love on the tables in the taverns or on the porches of the houses was not an unusual sight for this day. On the day of a baptism, a family will invite their friends and a great love-making orgy will take place in the house of the parents of the child being baptized. This signifies the love that brought the child to the parents. The prince was considered the child of the kingdom, so everyone in the kingdom wanted to celebrate the love that brought the prince into being.
At the palace, situated in the middle of the city, the revelry was at the same pitch as in the city. The only room in the palace that was, for the moment, solemn was the main throne room where the rites of the baptism were just being readied.
The throne room was a large, austere room. Its rectangular columns flanked both sides of the room; steps led up to the thrones themselves. On this day the throne room was crowded by the many dignitaries that came from the other cities in Deparne, the 500 priests required to attend, and as many other people as could be squeezed into the vast room. The prince, a baby of two months, lay on top of the altar at the base of the steps to the throne. The high priest stood behind the altar his eyes fixed fiercely upon the king.
“You realize this is sacrilege,” the priest bitterly told the king.
“I don’t consider it sacrilege at all,” King Zenak said, with his eyes fixed unerringly upon the priest’s eyes.
“For centuries, whenever a prince was baptized, 1000 male infants from the kingdom were sacrificed to the gods and now you deny the gods their favor,” the priest said.
“Vokar,” the king addressed the priest, “I do not know your gods well for I came to the throne from the humble origin of another land. But I do know one thing they cannot be much if they demand 1000 babies for one baby.” Vokar glared at Zenak. “Furthermore if I have any more insolence from you I will do away with you, your priests, and your murderous religion completely.”
The queen, sitting at King Zenak’s side, turned her head toward the king and then stared at Vokar. Hate contorted her beautiful face.
“King Zenak speaks blasphemy.” Vokar’s voice quivered.
“King Zenak speaks the truth,” Zenak replied as a crooked smile crossed his lips. “Now on with the ceremony; the only reason I’m going through with it is to please my queen.” Zenak looked at his wife lovingly and forced a smile on her countenance.
Zenak was a tall, powerfully built man. His black eyes contrasted sharply with the flowing blond hair that rested upon his massive shoulders. He was the fiercest warrior on all of the Island, and at the age of thirty-three sat upon the throne of the greatest kingdom on the Island, [Note: this reference to the Island apparently means that the continental drift had not yet separated the great landmass that once was.]
Zenak’s queen, Mara, was beautiful. She had jet-black hair that reached the bottom of her back. Her clear blue eyes could enchant any man who was lucky enough to gaze upon them and her petite, lithe body was strong and smooth. She was undoubtedly the most beautiful and seductive woman in all Deparne.
Vokar raised his arms and the 500 priests lined up on either side of him and began to chant. The baptism had begun and bells tolled throughout the kingdom to announce its beginning. The kingdom went into a frenzy. The baptism was to take about one hour. During that time all the taverns had orders from Zenak that the ale was to flow without charge. King Zenak also pardoned most of his prisoners, leaving only the murderers and traitors to the state imprisoned. As the priests chanted their monotonous chant, Vokar circled the baby and poured rose water over him. Sometimes Vokar’s black flowing robes would cover the child causing the baby to cry out in grief. After an hour of chanting and calling on the gods, Vokar stopped. The priest turned abruptly to Zenak and stared viciously at him. Zenak felt a cold chill go up his back but he kept his position as coolly as if he felt nothing.
“It is time for the sacrifice,” said Vokar with his eyes fixed on Zenak.
Zenak answered quietly, “There will be none.”
“Then the baptism is over,” growled Vokar.
“Very good,” Zenak said happily. “Let the bells ring once again and let our own party begin.”
Mara rushed down the steps to the altar and took the baby up in her arms. She looked at Vokar expressionlessly and he scowled at her. Zenak did not notice.
“Bring on the ale and the women. This will be a party we will never forget,” said Zenak as he walked down the steps of the throne to be with his friends.
“If it pleases the king, my priests and I will take our leave,” said Vokar.
Zenak, irritated with Vokar, answered, “It pleases me immensely.” Vokar and his priests filed out of the throne room.
Mara was also leaving and Zenak called to her “Mara, hurry and put the child to sleep. The party cannot begin without you.”
“Yes, hurry, Mara,” called Tenen, Zenak’s right-hand man and best friend.
“I am tired. I will not return to the party,” Mara answered quietly as she turned and left the room.
“I imagine it has been a hard day for her,” Tenen remarked to Zenak.
“It’s unusual, my friend,” remarked Zenak. “Ever since I announced that there were to be no sacrifices, Mara has acted strange. She is highly religious but I cannot believe she is against me.”
“It’s just the excitement,” said Tenen.
“Yes, that’s it,” Zenak said. “Bring on the women. I need a wench for tonight, and I need a belly full of ale.
The guests laughed at this for it was well-known that Zenak had two weaknessesale and women. Mara also understood this, but it did not bother her for she knew she was the queen and Zenak’s number one woman. In Deparne as well as with the rest of the Island men did not give their lives to just one woman, for it was thought that to do this would be unjust to the wife. Unjust because the man would lose his style and grace when he made love. Making love was considered an art on the Island and it was studied seriously in the schools. Zenak was a great lover. Many women were known to have pleaded with him to stop because they realized their frail bodies could not endure the power of his mighty body and soul.
“I’m worried,” mused Zenak to Tenen. Tenen turned his attention to the king, “I’m worried that Vokar will do something to harm Mara and the baby.”
“Behead him,” Tenen said matter-of-factly.
“My dear, Tenen, it would be so if I could, but I am not just a warrior anymore. I am a king and I must look at all angles. It would not be good for me or the kingdom if I were to behead Vokar. How I envy you, my dear friend,” answered Zenak sadly.
Just then a young, buxom girl with a round, sensuous, body danced seductively up to Zenak. “Take me tonight, My King,” she taunted. “I will tire you.” She emphasized the “I.”
Zenak guffawed and pulled her toward him. Her eyes blazed with anticipation and fright. “Dance well for my friends,” whispered Zenak, “and I shall reward you well.” He winked his eye at her and she smiled shyly back. “Bring more ale,” yelled Zenak as he pushed the girl back on the floor with a slap on her behind. Zenak’s face was filled with laughter but his eyes revealed his worried, true feelings. Tenen sat back in the chair he had taken next to Zenak; he was pensive.
Drops of moisture rolled down the dark stones of the great chamber hundreds of feet below the palace. A kanon ran across the chamber floor, the small furry animal did not like the flickering light from the torches that illuminated the chamber. At one end of the chamber was a door that led to a long tunnel ending in a staircase that went up to the altar of the temple. The temple was part of the palace. At the other end of the chamber stood Vokar and Mara with the child, the prince, and before them stood a gray stone altar. Lined in a row before the altar stood 500 priests dressed in plain black silk, hooded robes. Each priest held two baby boys. One thousand mothers of the kingdom were destined to cry with anguish on the night of the prince’s baptism.
Hundreds of feet above this dimly lit chamber of death, Zenak laughed and played with his young wench. He held a tankard of ale in one hand and his lady for the night in the other arm. He was sure his queen was in bed by now. She was tired when she left, but Zenak longed for her arms and only toyed with this girl for lack of anything better to do.
“Put the prince on the altar,” Vokar directed Mara. “My child’s baptism will finally be completed,” said Mara as she placed her child on the cold stone altar.
The child began to cry. He knew, as anything of innocence knows, that the chamber reeked in foul play. Death hung throughout the chamber making the torches fight for their lives in this windless hole. The baby knew.
“How did you obtain the children?” Mara asked Vokar.
“I hired many thieves to take the children today while their foolish parents played. By now anguished mothers are wringing their hands in dismay,” answered Vokar.
“Oh, little do they know that their children die for the gods,” Mara remarked as she looked toward the heavens. Vokar smiled slyly.
“Let us begin the ending of the ceremony that the barbarian stopped,” Vokar said referring to Zenak.
The priests placed the babies, babies destined never to see childhood or manhood, on the damp, cold, stone floor.
The babies cried out. They were never again to feel warm beds or their mothers’ warm bosoms. The priests threw their heads back and began a slow monotonous chant. They swayed back and forth, chanting in unison. Vokar danced around the prince, his black robe flowing over the child. The fervor of the chant built to a chilling pitch and the priests were in such a frenzy that they foamed at the mouth, their eyes wide open in a crazed stare. Mara, standing next to the altar, felt her chest heaving to the chants and she also threw her head back and began chanting. Then the chants stopped and the priests threw themselves to their knees. They began screaming and pulling at their hair. Mara had also thrown herself to her knees. She was screaming and ripping at her long, silk gown. The gown fell from her and her body lay exposed. She scratched at her skin and tore at her bosom. Vokar stopped dancing and stood quietly behind the altar. His deep black eyes stared at the priests. Many of the priests had torn out handfuls of their hair and some writhed on the floor in front of the crying babies. Mara, her eyes wild, also had lain down on the cold floor; her hips were leaping up and down. Vokar stood motionless; his thin lips had a whisper of a smile upon them.
“The hearts,” Vokar screamed from his motionless position. “The gods need the hearts to give the prince strength.”
The priests immediately became silent. The ones on the floor rose to their knees; their eyes were still wild. Mara rose to her knees; her chin rested on her chest and she breathed heavily. She was tired. The priests then pulled short, jeweled daggers from beneath their robes.
“The hearts,” repeated Vokar. At that instant 500 babies died. The blood ran freely on the floor as their tiny innocent hearts, still beating, were torn from their bodies.
“The hearts,” cried out Vokar. His voice boomed and echoed off the walls of the dank, despicable chamber.
The daggers leaped again and found their innocent targets.
The blood fell from the daggers and the priests wallowed in the blood.
The chamber was now quiet except for the lone cry of the prince. Mara rose to her feet and put her gown back on. Her body bled from the scratches of her own nails. The priests also arose. The blood dripped from their hands and their robes stank of death.
“The child has been baptized as it should be,” said Vokar. “Take the bodies and drop them into the abyss.” The abyss was a bottomless pit situated in this underground chamber of death. In the past kings would throw their political enemies into this hole, but Zenak had banned its use and planned to cover its opening.
The 500 priests each picked up two of the dead babies and threw them in the pit. And after the babies were rid of, the priests filed out of the chamber in a solemn procession.
Above the chamber in the palace, King Zenak rested on the furs in his bedchamber, a pretty young girl lay satisfied by his side. Zenak, however, was sad; he had wanted his queen by his side at the festivities and in his bedchamber, but she had been tired.
Back in the grim room hundreds of feet below the palace, Vokar, Mara, and the child lingered.
“This time next week I will be king and you shall be my queen.” Vokar said to a startled Mara.
“You plan to assassinate Zenak?” Mara questioned.
“No,” laughed Vokar, “I have hired Tabilo and his mercenary army. Right now 100,000 men are massing outside the borders of Deparne. Zenak will be struck completely unprepared.
Mara smiled. “He thought I loved him, the fool, but his weakness for women will destroy him,” Mara said referring to Zenak.
Vokar, speaking sincerely said, “Mara, I have loved you for years. When your father was king and my religion flourished, I knew that someday you would be mine. Your father would have given you to me because he was easily mesmerized, but this swine, Zenak, took over and I have found my eyes cannot control him as they do everyone else.”
“Oh, Vokar,” pleaded Mara, “take me now because I have always loved you. As a child my body ached for you.”
Vokar’s thin lips smiled slightly, “Later, when I have brought Zenak’s head to you.”
Mara smiled sardonically and said, “I hate him. I had to act as if I loved him or I would have been made a house slave. I want his head. When do the mercenaries march?”
“In two days,” replied Vokar.
END OF SAMPLE
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