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I, Rakhamet, Architect-Priest of Great Muran-Ket the Ocean-jewel, make this testimony in my own hand. I tell this tale that you may know of my world, now gone, and weep with me at the loss of a wonder never before seen upon the earth.

It is the tale of that nation, and the tale of a girl.

The seamen were too busy as we left to stare, or to weep, or to curse Iktorsos Sea-king. They scrambled about the decks, hoisting sails, clambering up rigging, and strapping down what little cargo they could salvage.

I swear I saw Timulet at the docks.

I knew it could not be her; I hadnít seen her in many seasons, since we were youths. Why should Diaeus Sky-king show her to me at that moment?

She was still beautiful, if it were her. Though it was sixty years since we last spoke, her breasts had only begun to fall, her eyes barely creasing at the edges. We are a long-lived people.

She was standing there--not screaming or rioting like the others--staring at me. Her eyes accused me. That I left at all was my curse--the responsibility placed on me by our king.

ďGo, you four--spread the seed of our culture. Sow it among the savages, that our light may not be quenched.Ē He may as well have spat in my face and sent me to live among the apemen of the Far North.

Four ships sped forth with our cargo: codices, plants, beasts, to the four corners of the world. Kalutet and the Tiger, to the West, Aramet and the Eagle to the North, and Solomet and myself to the East, through the Pillars. He would sail across the Middle Sea in the Bear and then trek across the Steppe, while the Gull and I would land at the mighty river the inhabitants called Iteru. There we would build, and teach, and rule.

Sacrilege though it may be, I would trade it all, defy the King Himself, for one more night with my Timulet.

I had seen few summers when we first met--I was seventeen. I was destined for the priesthood, and had only a few months before entering the College of the Spirit Names to learn the ways of The Thousandfold Presence. It was exciting, standing on the precipice of all that knowledge, and becoming a priest brought honor to my father, and to my mothers.

I was at the market with some friends one day, sampling the meats that hunters and traders brought back from their trips. Ox, swine, mammoth, great elk--all of these I washed down with fine heathered ale.

The savor turned to ash on my tongue when I first saw her.

Her skin was a deep mahogany, as is mine. She wore her silk scarves over her glossy dark hair, to protect her from the sun. Her eyes were green, where mine are blue, a fortuitious combination. When she smiled at me,that first time, I simultaneously shrank and expanded, a butterfly and a Titan in one body. She laughed at me; I was covered in mammoth grease up to my elbows.

I looked a fool and she didnít care.

She came to me, and we made the talk that young people make. She was training to be a bull-dancer, to delight the crowd and to honor the gods. We ate and talked for a little while, and at last, she drew me to her. We kissed, and she smelled like cloves and cinnamon.

I must push the memory from me. My tutors would give me a beating if they knew how disjointed my testimony is.

I do not care. They are at peace, with Iktorsos-Dagan in his palace under the waves, and I still live.

On the Gullís second night out, once the sea had calmed from the tumult of Muran-ketís sinking, the sailors began drinking wine, to drown their sorrows as their land had drowned. I joined them, not bothering to adulterate it with water, not caring about propriety. I drank until my tears became sullen anger.

I thought of ordering one of the Gullís crew over the side. Each man and woman on the ship would obey without hesitation. I would send one--maybe the beautiful boy who fetched water--to drown with their land and maybe appease Iktorsos Sea-king.

Maybe appease him enough to bring it all back.

I drank more, and, in a rage, ran to the bow of the ship, tearing asunder my frayed silk robes. I screamed at the gods. I renounced them. I called Aksara Earth-queen a dogfucker. The men seized me, covering my nakedness and quieting me. ďDo not tempt fate, Architect-priest! We live, and we do not want the gods angry with us!Ē

I sobbed, and the men and women, the other refugees from Paradise, sobbed with me.

Was Timulet still down there, at the dock? Was she being gnawed at by fish?

I dreamt of her that night, of the first night we laid together.

It was the day of her first bulldancing match. She had invited me to sit with her patron, a sea trader whose name is as dead as he is.

She took the field, wrapped in the traditional red cape. She strode out to the center, and with a flourish, whirled out of her cape. She was clad only in a leather apron to protect her groin from the bullís slashing horns. Bull-dancers wore a sheen of olive oil on the skin, to seek the godsí blessing, and she shone in the sun like amber. Her breasts were fine and high, and the delicate musculature of the athlete ran down the front of her abdomen.

He raised her fists to the crowd and screamed. We all screamed with her.

Suddenly--thunder. The great brown bull, Emman-kohn, The Breaker, was let loose, bearing down on her. She pivoted on her foot, whipping the great red cape over its head. The entire stadium shook from the ovation.

Emman-kohn stopped, shook its great head, turned, and made for her again.

Then, she did a wonder. She vaulted over the thing, landing on its hindquarters. A novice bull-dancer had performed The Heron! She saluted the crowd and leapt off. Two bravoes dispatched The Breaker with their sickleswords; Emman-kohnís sacrifice would please the gods for years to come.

I went to her in the preparing area. She kissed me so hard I thought she was going to break my jaw. We were ravenous for one another. She took my hand and led me to her apartment upstairs from the bulldancersí baths.

I dreamt of her leading me--gods, dragging me--to her bed, strewn with silks and down pillows and skins. I remarked how slippery the oil made her, and we laughed until we coughed, and tears streamed from our eyes. That first time, our bodies clashed like the waves clashed on the rocks. She cried my name at the end.

She tasted of the sea.

I thrashed in my nest of skins belowdecks. I pounded the timbers and screamed. My grief for the long-ago girl was a fever.

On and on we sailed, drinking the last of the water that had bubbled up from Oracle Spring. We ate the fish we caught. Nobody knew if there were mammoth in this new wilderness, though there were travelerís tales of enormous, hairless mammoth with great ears like palm leaves.

That summer with Timulet was the great time of my life. We ate and drank like kings. We made love with the vigorous greed of youth. We thought summer would last forever, as young summers seem to.

Then it was time for me to enter the priestís school. We wept even as we coupled that night, and that was the last night I slept with a girl in my arms. There were girls, of course, and boys, all through my tenure at the temple, but sometimes I called them Timulet, and none would gainsay me due to my rank. I dismissed them if they drowsed.

I never saw her again. I was ensconced in the Temple, and she toured the island-nation with the bulls. I followed her career, which lasted thirty years. After that? Perhaps she met a man, or a woman. Perhaps she had babies--dozens of beautiful babies, brown like nuts in their cribs. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

That last night, though. As the very earth rumbled, like wooden wheels on a bridge of hewn timbers, as we Architect-Priests fled to the Four Winds, I saw her. I saw my Timulet, and even as I reached for her, and called her name, even as I was borne onto the ship fighting and scratching like a dire wolf, she just stared, ashes in her hair.

It is her stare that will haunt me. I will always remember how magnificent she was in the bull-ring, how she wrapped herself around me, how she talked with her mouth full, but the stare of my first woman as she was left at the dock kills me a little bit more each day.

Never again the pyramids and ziggurats. Never again the statue of Himmerel, the longtooth cat that protected the city.

Never again my Timulet.

I, Rakhamet, First Priest-King of the River Dynasty and Architect of the Lion, here end my testimony.

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