The Dread that Visited Zurinia

Robert Lee Frazier

In the land of the great desert there was once a mighty River called Ashru, and it flowed down from the high mountains and into the sea. Three thousand years ago there stood on its banks the great city of Zurinia, yet that city is no more.

It is said that in the ancient days, when the world was new, before the building of Zurinia, on that very spot was the strange mud hut village of Ilibnos. This village was inhabited by beings that men feared to look upon. They were crude and simplistic forms. It is recorded in the Kushite Book of Life, that these beings were not human at all. That they had bulging eyes and misshapen limbs with great siren voices. These ugly things were pre-men formed by Jehovah as an experiment prior to creating Adam. It was for pity that he allowed them to live on after his great creation. Whatever the truth of their origin, it is certain that these things worshipped a foul god they called Cha-Talon; a great serpent that they claimed dwelt under the sand. Not much more is remembered of these beings because, like today, man was constantly rushing from glory to glory; he had no time for ancient things.

After many centuries men came into the land of the river Ashru. Foreign men from Cush, Lybia, and Kor, and settled near the banks of the river. Certain champions among them banded together and pushed south to the edge of the village, Ilibnos. Here they laid the foundations for the city Zurinia, at a place where precious things were dug out of the ground. To the descendants of the pre-adamites of Ilibnos, this was no cause for alarm. They simply went on as their forefathers did, making beautiful things from the stuff of the earth. Yet for men, hate grew in their hearts for the creatures of Ilibnos. They questioned themselves, “Why should these horrid things with their great voices walk on our land?” These early men both loved and feared the bizarre makings from that village. They looked upon these perfect forms made by imperfect hands in wonder.

Once this hate had overtaken the hearts of men, the sons of Zurinia rose-up in legion and attacked. They overwhelmed the inhabitants of Ilibnos slaying all in their path. After the thing had been done, they pushed the dead carcasses into a great hole in the sand and covered it over to make a mound of death. They named the mound Ilibnos in memory of their cruel deed. Yet, even close to the river where pleasant grasses and palms grew, this hill remained barren.

This is how the ancient scroll speaks of the end of Ilibnos and its master sculptures. Yet one thing remains as a reminder of the once prosperous village; a great, sculpted image of their terrible god, Cha-Talon. This the sons of Zurinia placed on top of the mound. They were a superstitious race and not wanting to offend any god, added the serpent to their own collection of deities, not knowing the price that must be paid to serve a jealous god like Cha-Talon. On the night it was set up, a terrible thing happened; a great shifting and blowing of sand that lasted all night. And in the morning, the Priest-King, Cole Ranin, was found dying. He was clutching onto the sculpture of Cha-Talon. As he was lifted up he uttered, what some claimed was prophesy. “From the sand this city came, and some day it shall return!” He then died.

After Cole Ranin there were many Priest-Kings in Zurinia, and many years came and went. Zurinia prospered and its reputation spread as a great maker of metal-workings and many other precious things. So much so that only priests and old hags remembered the last words of Cole Ranin. Zurinia became a caravan stop and increased in importance throughout the land. Precious metal, rare cloths, slaves and tools came into and out of that city and the people who dwelt by the river Ashru knew all things of beauty and luxury.

The event of the death of Cole Ranin was first dismissed as a myth; later, his words became the stuff of legends to scare wayward children found outside their homes at night. So Zurinia grew mighty and beautiful, and she soon sent out her armies to conquer the neighboring cities. And in time, all of the surrounding lands were subjected to the will and command of Zurinia.

The great walls of Zurinia gleamed across the land like a beacon to all men. Great artist and craftsmen gathered there to find employment. The city teemed with life and art. The old inner city built around the barren hill of Ilibnos and now topped by the sculpture of the god Cha-Talon, was the pride of the people. Many old families, some who could claim kinship to the original champions who laid the very foundations of the great city, lived there. The cobblestone streets and stone pathways glittered. The two storied homes were constructed of the best stones quarried from distant lands. Even the less fortunate families had stonewalled gardens with water fountains

The surrounding city or “New city” as it was referred to, had been made from glazed bricks and had wide avenues for caravan traffic. Foreign travelers came to admire the architecture of the fine dwellings and public buildings. Holy men came to live in the large public parks from where they would preach and teach their acolytes. The great domed shrines to Zurinia’s many gods were a familiar destination for pilgrims.

More amazing still were the palaces and private homes of the Priest-Kings of Zurinia. These lavish residences were set out on geometrically precise angles to give the inhabitants a splendid view of the river on the west side of their home and the open desert to the east. Each residence seemed more grand then the last. With great pillars and large formal gardens, these mansions even included separate quarters for their slaves and servants. Spread throughout the entire city was the greatest collection of carved statues and sculptures. They lined the avenues holding great vats of pitch[2] that were lighted each evening and refilled each morning. The parks and private gardens held great collections of these beautiful things.

Yet the most marvelous things in Zurinia were the great towers. Zurinia was sometimes called the city of towers. Every Priest-King during his reign had built a tall tower to commemorate his time on the earth. Made from the most expensive quarried stone and reaching hundreds of feet in the sky, these great pillars were built as examples of the power and majesty of Zurinia. They were said to resemble spikes stabbing into the air.

Each year on the eve of the anniversary of the foundation of the city Zurinia, a solemn precession would leave from the Priest-King’s palace and wind its way through the old streets and byways of the old city to the hill of Ilibnos were the reigning Priest-King would lead an ancient ritual in remembrance of their forbearers. Mounting scaffolding erected for the event, he would solemnly place his foot on the head of the image of the god Cha-Talon. And while sprinkling water out onto the hill he would say in a loud voice: “No enemy may defeat this city as long as we have water!” At the close of the ceremony, a great shouting and merriment could be heard, as this was the official start of the holiday for the city. A great three-day celebration would ensue with feasting and dances, singing and much drinking of wine. Zurinia was drunk on her own glory. For a thousand years the city was the wonder of the world, yet, she could not conceive of her own fate.

Sumptuous beyond belief was this festival to commemorate establishing the city, more so because the present Priest-King, Soljak Fa, had, the month before, finished building his tower. For weeks the people of the vast kingdom of Zurinia had been arriving and the city was preparing itself for the grand celebration. Everything was cleaned and polished. New clothes were ordered.

Soljak was in an unusually gracious mood and spent gold lavishly. All of the local artisans were busy in the service of the noble families. The city was a mad cacophony of events and preparations. The day before the event, great tents and pavilions were erected in the parks for foreign princes and dignitaries.

After the solemn procession and the traditional service, the Priest-King Soljak Fa gathered all of the noblest families and foreign Princes to him in his great hall and served them the greatest meal any had ever consumed. It started out with a rare Abyssinia soup made from the Alcho flower that only blooms once every ten years. Then blazers were brought out and large plates of thinly sliced, choice meats that were cooked to order at the guests’ tables. After this was cleared away, a group of musicians came and sang sweet songs as a dessert of assorted delicacies was being served. There were beautifully formed candies and sweets as lovely as they were delicious. Then the king ordered his steward, Arcnas, to bring out the ancient Ilibnos wine. This superb stuff had been handed down from generation to generation, usually served in a small cup slightly larger than a thimble. It was reserved for dinners of state and to impress foreign dignitaries. Sojak reasoned that this was his greatest moment, and the greatest moment for his city, and that here it should be completely consumed. Sojak never understood that he too had the gift of prophesy.

At midnight, with the city still celebrating, a great wind began to blow. Still the people drank and danced and showed no sign of concern. They had their strong walls to protect them.
Toward one o’clock, the wine steward looked out a window to see the great river drying up from the sand storm. He tried to warn Soljak, but rather than heeding his words of warning, Soljak simply instructed him to bring more wine.

At three o’clock in the morning, the eastern gates burst and the walls began to crumble. The Captain of the guard tried to warn Soljak, but the palace doors were locked and as he crossed the avenue in front of the palace, he was struck dead by flying debris.

At four o’clock, the king called for more wine and when no answer came, he staggered towards the door of his cellar. Glancing out the window, he stopped and stared. In the place of his beautiful urban vista he looked out onto a scene of total desolation, the desert rolling in over his once magnificent city.

Just as his window shattered, he looked up and saw his great tower toppling to the ground. The desert had claimed the wide river, and that which all men had dreaded, came to Zurinia.

Those late-comers who were not planning to go into the city until the day after the ceremony, wandered down from the plans to see an incredible sight. Where once a proud city stood and a fair river flowed, now stood a shifting, flowing desert. The first Priest-King, Cole Ranin’s prophesy, had come to pass, “From the sand this city came, and some day it shall return!” All that remained of the city was a beautifully sculpted statue of the serpent Cha-Talon, the god of the shifting desert. They took the statue and placed it in a shrine in their own city, and worshipped that terrible god as their own.

[1] Water held a place of great importance to the people of Zurinia as they believed in a powerful water spirit they claimed dwelt in the river Ashru.

[2] A tar-like substance that is highly flammable.

© 2010 Robert Lee Frazier. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Robert Lee Frazier is a Cartographer by trade. He enjoys playing tennis, watching movies and collecting books. His work has appeared in Six Sentences and the Happy Magazine and his poetry has been included in Marymark Press, The Haight-Ashbury Review and The Freefall Review. He received an Honorable Mention in the recent, I am the Next Mark Twain, fiction contest, sponsored by Harper studio. He lives in Maryland with his wife, four children, two in-laws, and a lazy pug.
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