Issud is a spectacular maze of dark, narrow paths directly carved into the mountain rock. Many corridors are so claustrophobically low that tall people need to duck. Sometimes you walk a few steps down only to stand at the end of a long flight of stairs leading up. Every now and then, other corridors branch out, fading into black.
We moved at such an astounding speed that I quickly lost sight of which way we were heading. Were we going up? Or was this path leading us deeper inside? The guard at the helm of the group tugged on my leash so aggressively, I blindly stumbled along through the darkness. The torches they carried with them illuminated only the nearest surroundings, revealing nothing but massive blue-grayish rock.
Eventually, the paths became more expansive, with ornate pillars adorning the way. Circular holes cut out in various sizes brought natural sunlight into the cave. I recall being blinded the moment I dared to peer right into one of the windows. Averting my gaze, I stumbled over my own feet to the ground. The guards laughed at me, linking it to my late magical growth and supposed lack of intelligence. Angrily, I tried to get back on my feet, but the one holding my leash intentionally pulled it so hard, I stumbled again. My knees and elbows turned blood red as I had nothing to protect me from the rock-solid floor. Oh, how I wished I could just fling them away by mere thought! Their voices rang in my head and were as ugly as their thoughts. It was such an awful feeling, just as if thousands of tiny hands continued to touch me everywhere. No matter how much I tried to slap those feeling fingers away, it seemed as if more came out of nowhere. Overwhelmed, that what was left from my breakfast landed at the feet of the guards. Naturally, they were grossed out and started throwing curses at me until an older guard suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I remember his face seemed hard and full of furrows as if he had become part of the mountain over the years. The moment the others took note of him, they immediately fell silent.
“Stop overdoing it, or must I remind you that your place is not far off from these creatures?” The guards looked away, their faces full of guilt. But even though they looked pitiful, I felt the rage burn in them. It was so strong, my nausea turned into dizziness. I even barely noticed him grabbing my leash and sending them away. Just as the guard before, the man tugged harshly, but soon loosened his grip when I began stumbling behind him. His pace was more comfortable to catch up to. As soon as the others were out of sight, the air around him changed drastically. Without exchanging words, he guided me to a bathing hall. It was a noisy place, full of naked men of different ages. Some were soaking in pools of hot water. Others were merrily scrubbing themselves clean, talking about the most trivial of things. The moment we entered, all attention shifted to us. Chatters became mere whispers, but their thoughts still entered my head, as if the noise had never subsided. The old guard led me to a free spot, pointing first at an empty bucket, then at the aqueduct behind it, from which water was transported from one end of the room to the other. What surprised me, even more, was that he correctly signed the word “Clean”, expecting me not to be able to hear him. I nodded and grabbed the bucket, filling it with warm water and dousing myself completely in it. When he saw me, he chuckled slightly, before asking one of the bystanders to get me a fresh set of rags to wear. In an almost fatherly way, he squatted before me and took off my dirty and wet robes. Then he filled the bucket again, took a sponge and soap from the guy washing himself next to us, and gave me a proper scrub. He was calm and peaceful, which helped me relax. I didn’t notice until somebody returned with new rags that he had completely let go of my leash. But unlike before, I didn’t feel the urge to run away at all. This feeling of being treated like a human for the first time will always be etched into my memory.
When we were done, he beckoned me to follow him. Grabbing the ends of my own leash, I followed him, curious where he would take me next. We passed more corridors, but the layout was more straightforward. Many people in everyday clothes and guards walked past us, most of them keeping a good distance. Finally, we arrived before a wooden door. A middle-aged man in an embroidered tunic opened it from the inside. “We will speak of this another day, old man”, he threateningly said, shoving his way past us without giving us so much as a glance. An entourage of collared slaves silently followed him. “Bah, get your powdered ass out of my office! Naragach le’tau!” It was an old voice croaking from within the room. Let me tell you, that last sentence is a rather colorful insult, one too colorful for my young ears back then. Even the snob turned around, sneering. “Lan’ob’an!” He exclaimed, before shaking his fist angrily and disappearing from sight. My friend, this was an insult I unfortunately have heard before on several occasions, and can be translated to something akin of “Fuck you!”. Yes, my people love to insult each other.
After that particular exchange, the old guard carefully knocked on the door, even though it was open. The old voice from inside hesitated for a moment, sighing heavily. “Come in.”
Behind the door lay a bright room with tomes and scrolls. The shelves were so bursting full with them that many had to be stacked and piled on the floor. It was the first time I noticed a carpet; the soft and warm feeling beneath my feet intrigued me, and so I bent down to inspect it more closely, exploring it thoroughly with my hands. The old guard didn’t seem to care about this, for I heard him say, “E’Thach, how nice to find you in good health.” “Oh, if it isn’t E’Nun! How rare of you to bring in a new one these days.” I looked back up to see a very old man sitting at a desk. I hadn’t noticed him earlier since he had been hiding behind a large tome. What little hair remained hung depressingly from the left side of his skull. His dark eyes scrutinized me closely. “Looks quite old already, you know his age?” “No, I just picked him off a group of harassing guards. I guess he probably has seen six summers.” “Hm, hm.” The old man set his tome aside and began looking for a specific scroll. When he finally found it, he dipped an overused brush in ink and began writing. “How is he called?”
The guard looked at me and was about to sign the question to me when I already signed my response. He looked both surprised and amused. “Baby?” “Hee, hee, hee,” the old man chuckled. “His mother probably always just signed it, and he never got a proper name.” Again, he looked at me more closely. “That white tuft of hair,” he began. “Nothing out of the ordinary for the mage breed. Most with magical aptitude possess a bleached spot of hair around their forehead. The same counts for their blue eyes”, E’Nun stated in a matter-of-factly tone. “True, true,” E’Thach retorted. “But his hair seems particularly bleached. I’m somehow reminded of the pretty May Bushes, down at Hesatset-Ushah, oh, how I’d love to travel there again and enjoy the lush green forests and not be stuck here in this cold and damp-” “Just get to the point, old man, I’m sure our goddess is already waiting.” “Ah-ah, you’re right, you’re right. I guess I’ll stick with May Bush then.” He began writing. “So it will be E’Rion? Not very typical for a boy to be named after flowers.” “By Ra’s holy beard, who cares? Not even our holy lady does! Do you care, boy?” E’Thach looked at me, and even though I quickly shook my head, he didn’t even bother to wait for me to respond. “See, not even he cares!”
E’Nun sighed heavily. Of course, I wouldn’t care. I had neither seen a May Bush, nor had I come across many names before in my life. I was happy to receive a name in the first place. These elderly men, while engrossed in their banter, didn’t spill out their emotions as much as other people around me, which was such a pleasant feeling. I began repeating my new name like a magic charm. “E’Rion. E’Rion. E’Rion!”
Both of them halted their bickering to chuckle softly. “It seems like you really like it. Very well, E’Rion. It’s time to meet your master. Our beloved goddess Isis.” And with these words, he led me out of the small office and back onto the bustling streets of Issud.