After much pushing, Lewik's baby finally emerged. First came the head,
dangling between her ankles like the fruit of a tree--that was why the word for
HEAD and was the same as the word for FRUIT in the language of the Derku
people. Then as the newborn's head touched the bound reeds of the
dragonboat, Lewik rolled her eyes in pain and waddled slowly backward, so that
the baby flopped out of her body stretched along the length of the boat. He
did not fall into the water, because his mother had made sure of it.
"Little man!" cried all the women as soon as they saw the sex of the
Lewik grunted out her firstborn's baby-name. "Glogmeriss," she said.
GLOG meant "thorn" and MERISS meant "trouble"; together, they made the
term that the Derku used for annoyances that turned out all right in the end,
but which were quite painful at the time. There were some who thought that
she wasn't naming the baby at all, but simply commenting on the situation, but
it was the first thing she said and so it would be his name until he left the
company of women and joined the men.
As soon as the afterbirth dropped onto the dragonboat, all the other
women paddled nearer--like a swarm of gnats, thought Twerk, still watching.
Some helped Lewik pry her hands loose from the tree branch and lie down on
her dragonboat. Others took the baby and passed it from hand to hand, each
one washing a bit of the blood from the baby. The afterbirth got passed with
the baby at first, often dropping into the floodwater, until at last it reached the
cutting woman, who severed the umbilical cord with a flint blade. Twerk,
seeing this for the first time, realized that this might be how he got his name,
which meant "cutting" or "breaking." Had his father seen this remarkable
thing, too, the women cutting a baby off from this strange belly-tail? No
wonder he named him for it.
But the thing that Twerk could not get out of his mind was the fact that
his Lewik had taken off her napron in full view of the clan, and all the men
had seen her nakedness, despite their efforts to pretend that they had not.
Twerk knew that this would become a joke among the men, a story talked
about whenever he was not with them, and this would weaken him and mean
that he would never be the clan leader, for one can never give such respect to a
man that one laughs about behind his back.
Twerk could think of only one way to keep this from having the power
to hurt him, and that was to confront it openly so that no one would laugh
behind his back. "His name is Naog!" cried Twerk decisively, almost as soon as
the baby was fully washed in river water and the placenta set loose to float
away on the flood.
"You are such a stupid man!" cried Lewik from her dragonboat. Everyone
laughed, but in this case it was all right. Everyone knew Lewik was a bold
woman who said whatever she liked to any man. That was why it was such a
mark of honor that Twerk had chosen to take her as wife and she had taken
him for husband--it took a strong man to laugh when his wife said disrespectful
things to him. "Of course he's naog," she said. "All babies are born naked."
"I call him Naog because YOU were naked in front of all the clan,"
answered Twerk. "Yes, I know you all looked when you thought I couldn't see,"
he chided the men. "I don't mind a bit. You all saw my Lewik naked when
the baby came out of her--but what matters is that only I saw her naked when I
put the baby in!"
That made them all laugh, even Lewik, and the story was often repeated.
Even before he became a man and gave up the baby-name Glogmeriss, Naog
had often heard the tale of why he would have such a silly name--so often, in
fact, that he determined that one day he would do such great deeds that when
the people heard the word NAOG they would think first of him and his
accomplishments, before they remembered that the name was also the word for
the tabu condition of taking the napron off one's secret parts in public.
As he grew up, he knew that the water of derkuwed on him as a baby
had touched him with greatness. It seemed he was always taller than the other
boys, and he reached puberty first, his young body powerfully muscled by the
labor of dredging the canals right among the slaves of the dragon during
mudwater season. He wasn't much more than twelve floodwaters old when the
grown men began clamoring for him to be given his manhood journey early so
that he could join them in slave raids--his sheer size would dishearten many an
enemy, making them despair and throw down his club or his spear. But Twerk
was adamant. He would not tempt Great Derku to devour his son by letting
the boy get ahead of himself. Naog might be large of body, but that didn't
mean that he could get away with taking a man's role before he had learned all
the skills and lore that a man had to acquire in order to survive.
This was all fine with Naog. He knew that he would have his place in
the clan in due time. He worked hard to learn all the skills of manhood--how
to fight with any weapon; how to paddle his dragonboat straight on course, yet
silently; how to recognize the signs of the seasons and the directions of the stars
at different hours of the night and times of the year; which wild herbs were
good to eat, and which deadly; how to kill an animal and dress it so it would
keep long enough to bring home for a wife to eat. Twerk often said that his
son was as quick to learn things requiring wit and memory as to learn skills that
depended only on size and strength and quickness.
What Twerk did not know, what no one even guessed, was that these
tasks barely occupied Naog's mind. What he dreamed of, what he thought of
constantly, was how to become a great man so that his name could be spoken
with solemn honor instead of a smile or laughter.
One of Naog's strongest memories was a visit to the Great Derku in the
holy pond at the very center of the great circular canals that linked all the
Derku people together. Every year during the mud season, the first dredging
was the holy pond, and no slaves were used for THAT. No, the Derku men
and women, the great and the obscure, dredged the mud out of the holy pond,
carried it away in baskets, and heap it up in piles that formed a round lumpen
wall around the pond. As the dry season came, crocodiles a-wandering in
search of water would smell the pond and come through the gaps in the wall to
drink it and bathe in it. The crocodiles knew nothing of danger from coming
within walls. Why would they have learned to fear the works of humans?
What other people in all the world had ever built such a thing? So the
crocodiles came and wallowed in the water, heedless of the men watching from
trees. At the first full moon of the dry season, as the crocodiles lay stupidly in
the water during the cool of night, the men dropped from the trees and quietly
filled the gaps in the walls with earth. At dawn, the largest crocodile in the
pond was hailed as Great Derku for the year. The rest were killed with spears
in the bloodiest most wonderful festival of the year.
The year that Naog turned six, the Great Derku was the largest crocodile
that anyone could remember ever seeing. It was a dragon indeed, and after the
men of raiding age came home from the blood moon festival full of stories
about this extraordinary Great Derku, all the families in all the clans began
bringing their children to see it.
"They say it's a crocodile who was Great Derku many years ago," said
Naog's mother. "He has returned to our pond in hopes of the offerings of
manfruit that we used to give to the dragon. But some say he's the very one
who was Great Derku the year of the forbidding, when he refused to eat any of
the captives we offered him."
"And how would they know?" said Twerk, ridiculing the idea. "Is there
anyone alive now who was alive then, to recognize him? And how could a
crocodile live so long?"
"The Great Derku lives forever," said Lewik.
"Yes, but the true dragon is the derkuwed, the water in flood," said
Twerk, "and the crocodiles are only its children."
To the child, Naog, these words had another meaning, for he had heard
the word DERKUWED far more often in reference to himself, as his nickname,
than in reference to the great annual flood. So to him it sounded as though his
father was saying that HE was the true dragon, and the crocodiles were his
children. Almost at once he realized what was actually meant, but the
impression lingered in the back of his mind.
"And couldn't the derkuwed preserve one of its children to come back to
us to be our god a second time?" said Lewik. "Or are you suddenly a holy man
who knows what the dragon is saying?"
"All this talk about this Great Derku being one of the ancient ones
brought back to us is dangerous," said Twerk. "Do you want us to return to the
terrible days when we fed manfruit to the Great Derku? When our captives
were all torn to pieces by the god, while WE, men and women alike, had to dig
out all the canals without slaves?"
"There weren't so many canals then," said Lewik. "Father said."
"Then it must be true," said Twerk, "if your old father said it. So think
about it. Why are there so many canals now, and why are they so long and
deep? Because we put our captives to work dredging our canals and making our
boats. What if the Great Derku had never refused to eat manfruit? We would
not have such a great city here, and other tribes would not bring us gifts and
even their own children as slaves. They can come and visit our captives, and
even buy them back from us. That's why we're not hated and feared, but rather
LOVED and feared in all the lands from the Nile to the Salty Sea."
Naog knew that his father's manhood journey had been from the Salty
Sea all the way up the mountains and across endless grasslands to the great
river of the west. It was a legendary journey, fitting for such a large man. So
Naog knew that he would have to undertake an even greater journey. But of
that he said nothing.
"But these people talking stupidly about this being that same Great Derku
returned to us again--don't you realize that they will want to put it to the test
again, and offer it manfruit? And what if the Great Derku EATS it this time?
What do we do then, go back to doing all the dredging ourselves? Or let the
canals fill in so we can't float the seedboats from village to village during the
dry season, and so we have no defense from our enemies and no way to ride our
dragonboats all year?"
Others in the clan were listening to this argument, since there was little
enough privacy under normal circumstances, and none at all when you spoke
with a raised voice. So it was no surprise when they chimed in. One offered
the opinion that the reason no manfruit should be offered to this Great Derku
was because the eating of manfruit would give the Great Derku knowledge of all
the thoughts of the people they ate. Another was afraid that the sight of a
powerful creature eating the flesh of men would lead some of the young people
to want to commit the unpardonable sin of eating that forbidden fruit
themselves, and in that case all the Derku people would be destroyed.
What no one pointed out was that in the old days, when they fed
manfruit to the Great Derku, it wasn't JUST captives that were offered. During
years of little rain or too much rain, the leader of each clan always offered his
own eldest son as the first fruit, or, if he could not bear to see his son devoured,
he would offer himself in his son's place--though some said that in the earliest
times it was always the leader himself who was eaten, and they only started
offering their sons as a cowardly substitute. By now everyone expected Twerk
to be the next clan leader, and everyone knew that he doted on his Glogmeriss,
his Naog-to-be, his Derkuwed, and that he would never throw his son to the
crocodile god. Nor did any of them wish him to do so. A few people in the
other clans might urge the test of offering manfruit to the Great Derku, but
most of the people in all of the tribes, and all of the people in Engu clan, would
oppose it, and so it would not happen.
So it was with an assurance of personal safety that Twerk brought his
firstborn son with him to see the Great Derku in the holy pond. But six-year-
old Glogmeriss, oblivious to the personal danger that would come from the
return of human sacrifice, was terrified at the sight of the holy pond itself. It
was surrounded by a low wall of dried mud, for once the crocodile had found its
way to the water inside, the gaps in the wall were closed. But what kept the
Great Derku inside was not just the mud wall. It was the row on row of
sharpened horizontal stakes pointing straight inward, set into the mud and
lashed to sharp vertical stakes about a hand's-breadth back from the point. The
captive dragon could neither push the stakes out of the way nor break them off.
Only when the floodwater came and the river spilled over the top of the mud
wall and swept it away, stakes and all, would that year's Great Derku be set free.
Only rarely did the Great Derku get caught on the stakes and die, and when it
happened it was regarded as a very bad omen.
This year, though, the wall of stakes was not widely regarded as enough
assurance that the dragon could not force his way out, he was so huge and
clever and strong. So men stood guard constantly, spears in hand, ready to prod
the Great Derku and herd it back into place, should it come dangerously close
The sight of spikes and spears was alarming enough, for it looked like war
to young Glogmeriss. But he soon forgot those puny sticks when he caught
sight of the Great Derku himself, as he shambled up on the muddy, grassy shore
of the pond. Of course Glogmeriss had seen crocodiles all his life; one of the
first skills any child, male or female, had to learn was how to use a spear to
poke a crocodile so it would leave one's dragonboat--and therefore one's arms
and legs--in peace. This crocodile, though, this dragon, this god, was so huge
that Glogmeriss could easily imagine it swallowing him whole without having to
bite him in half or even chew. Glogmeriss gasped and clung to his father's
"A giant indeed," said his father. "Look at those legs, that powerful tail.
But remember that the Great Derku is but a weak child compared to the power
of the flood."
Perhaps because human sacrifice was still on his mind, Twerk then told
his son how it had been in the old days. "When it was a captive we offered as
manfruit, there was always a chance that the god would let him live. Of course,
if he clung to the stakes and refused to go into the pond, we would never let
him out alive--we poked him with our spears. But if he went boldly into the
water so far that it covered his head completely, and then came back out alive
and made it back to the stakes without the Great Derku taking him and eating
him, well, then, we brought him out in great honor. We said that his old life
ended in that water, that the man we had captured had been buried in the holy
pond, and now he was born again out of the flood. He was a full member of
the tribe then, of the same clan as the man who had captured him. But of
course the Great Derku almost never let anyone out alive, because we always
kept him hungry."
"YOU poked him with your spear?" asked Glogmeriss.
"Well, not me personally. When I said that WE did it, I meant of course
the men of the Derku. But it was long before I was born. It was in my
grandfather's time, when he was a young man, that there came a Great Derku
who wouldn't eat any of the captives who were offered to him. No one knew
what it meant, of course, but all the captives were coming out and expecting to
be adopted into the tribe. But if THAT had happened, the captives would
have been the largest clan of all, and where would we have found wives for
them all? So the holy men and the clan leaders realized that the old way was
over, that the god no longer wanted manfruit, and therefore those who survived
after being buried in the water of the holy pond were NOT adopted into the
Derku people. But we did keep them alive and set them to work on the canals.
That year, with the captives working alongside us, we dredged the canals deeper
than ever, and we were able to draw twice the water from the canals into the
fields of grain during the dry season, and when we had a bigger harvest than
ever before, we had hands enough to weave more seedboats to contain it. Then
we realized what the god had meant by refusing to eat the manfruit. Instead of
swallowing our captives into the belly of the water where the god lives, the god
was giving them all back to us, to make us rich and strong. So from that day
on we have fed no captives to the Great Derku. Instead we hunt for meat and
bring it back, while the women and old men make the captives do the labor of
the city. In those days we had one large canal. Now we have three great
canals encircling each other, and several other canals cutting across them, so
that even in the dryest season a Derku man can glide on his dragonboat like a
crocodile from any part of our land to any other, and never have to drag it
across dry earth. This is the greatest gift of the dragon to us, that we can have
the labor of our captives instead of the Great Derku devouring them himself."
"It's not a bad gift to the captives, either," said Glogmeriss. "Not to die."
Twerk laughed and rubbed his son's hair. "Not a bad gift at that," he
"Of course, if the Great Derku really loved the captives he would let
them go home to their families."
Twerk laughed even louder. "They have no families, foolish boy," he
said. "When a man is captured, he is dead as far as his family is concerned.
His woman marries someone else, his children forget him and call another man
father. He has no more home to return to."
"Don't some of the ugly-noise people buy captives back?"
"The weak and foolish ones do. The gold ring on my arm was the price
of a captive. The father-of-all priest wears a cape of bright feathers that was
the ransom of a boy not much older than you, not long after you were born.
But most captives know better than to hope for ransom. What does THEIR
tribe have that we want?"
"I would hate to be a captive, then," said Glogmeriss. "Or would YOU be
weak and foolish enough to ransom me?"
"You?" Twerk laughed out loud. "You're a Derku man, or will be. We
take captives wherever we want, but where is the tribe so bold that it dares to
take one of US? No, we are never captives. And the captives we take are
lucky to be brought out of their poor, miserable tribes of wandering hunters or
berry-pickers and allowed to live here among wall-building men, among canal-
digging people, where they don't have to wander in search of food every day,
where they get plenty to eat all year long, twice as much as they ever ate
"I would still hate to be one of them," said Glogmeriss. "Because how
could you ever do great things that everyone will talk about and tell stories
about and remember, if you're a captive?"
All this time that they stood on the wall and talked, Glogmeriss never
took his eyes off the Great Derku. It was a terrible creature, and when it
yawned it seemed its mouth was large enough to swallow a tree. Ten grown
men could ride on its back like a dragonboat. Worst of all were the eyes,
which seemed to stare into a man's heart. It was probably the eyes of the
dragon that gave it its name, for DERKU could easily have originated as a
shortened form of DERK-UNT, which meant "one who sees." When the
ancient ancestors of the Derku people first came to this floodplain, the
crocodiles floating like logs on the water must have fooled them. They must
have learned to look for eyes on the logs. "Look!" the watcher would cry.
"There's one with eyes! Derk-unt!" They said that if you looked in the
dragon's eyes, he would draw you toward him, within reach of his huge jaws,
within reach of his curling tail, and you would never even notice your danger,
because his eyes held you. Even when the jaws opened to show the pink
mouth, the teeth like rows of bright flame ready to burn you, you would look at
that steady, all-knowing, wise, amused, and coolly angry eye.
That was the fear that filled Glogmeriss the whole time he stood on the
wall beside his father. For a moment, though, just after he spoke of doing great
things, a curious change came over him. For a moment Glogmeriss stopped
fearing the Great Derku, and instead imagined that he WAS the giant
crocodile. Didn't a man paddle his dragonboat by lying on his belly straddling
the bundled reeds, paddling with his hands and kicking with his feet just as a
crocodile did under the water? So all men became dragons, in a way. And
Glogmeriss would grow up to be a large man, everyone said so. Among men he
would be as extraordinary as the Great Derku was among crocodiles. Like the
god, he would seem dangerous and strike fear into the hearts of smaller people.
And, again like the god, he would actually be kind, and not destroy them, but
instead help them and do good for them.
Like the river in flood. A frightening thing, to have the water rise so
high, sweeping away the mud hills on which they had built the seedboats,
smearing the outsides of them with sun-heated tar so they would be watertight
when the flood came. Like the Great Derku, the flood seemed to be a
destroyer. And yet when the water receded, the land was wet and rich, ready
to receive the seed and give back huge harvests. The land farther up the slopesof the mountains was salty and stony and all that could grow on it was grass. It
was here in the flatlands where the flood tore through like a mad dragon that
the soil was rich and trees could grow.
I will BE the Derkuwed. Not as a destroyer, but as a lifebringer. The
real Derku, the true dragon, could never be trapped in a cage as this poor
crocodile has been. The true dragon comes like the flood and tears away the
walls and sets the Great Derku crocodile free and makes the soil wet and black
and rich. Like the river, I will be another tool of the god, another
manifestation of the power of the god in the world. If that was not what the
dragon of the deep heaven of the sea intended, why would he have make
Glogmeriss so tall and strong?
This was still the belief in his heart when Glogmeriss set out on his
manhood journey at the age of fourteen. He was already the tallest man in his
clan and one of the tallest among all the Derku people. He was a giant, and
yet well-liked because he never used his strength and size to frighten other
people into doing what he wanted; on the contrary, he seemed always to
protect the weaker boys. Many people felt that it was a shame that when he
returned from his manhood journey, the name he would be given was a silly
one like Naog. But when they said as much in Glogmeriss's hearing, he only
laughed at them and said, "The name will only be silly if it is borne by a silly
man. I hope not to be a silly man."
Glogmeriss's father had made his fame by taking his manhood journey
from the Salty Sea to the Nile. Glogmeriss's journey therefore had to be even
more challenging and more glorious. He would go south and east, along the
crest of the plateau until he reached the legendary place called the Heaving
Sea, where the gods that dwelt in its deep heaven were so restless that the
water splashed onto the shore in great waves all the time, even when there was
no wind. If there was such a sea, Glogmeriss would find it. When he came
back as a man with such a tale, they would call him Naog and none of them
Kemal Akyazi knew that Atlantis had to be there under the waters of the
Red Sea; but why hadn't Pastwatch found it? The answer was simple enough.
The past was huge, and while the TruSite I had been used to collect
climatalogical information, the new machines that were precise enough that
could track individual human beings would never have been used to look at
oceans where nobody lived. Yes, the Tempoview had explored the Bering
Strait and the English Channel, but that was to track long-known-of
migrations. There was no such migration in the Red Sea. Pastwatch had
simply never looked through their precise new machines to see what was under
the water of the Red Sea in the waning centuries of the last Ice Age. And they
never WOULD look, either, unless someone gave them a compelling reason.
Kemal understood bureaucracy enough to know that he, a student
meteorologist, would hardly be taken seriously if he brought an Atlantis theory
to Pastwatch--particularly a theory that put Atlantis in the Red Sea of all
places, and fourteen thousand years ago, no less, long before civilizations arose
in Sumeria or Egypt, let alone China or the Indus Valley or among the swamps
Yet Kemal also knew that the setting would have been right for a
civilization to grow in the marshy land of the Mits'iwa Channel. Though there
weren't enough rivers flowing into the Red Sea to fill it at the same rate as the
world ocean, there were still rivers. For instance, the Zula, which still had
enough water to flow even today, watered the whole length of the Mits'iwa
Plain and flowed down into the rump of the Red Sea near Mersa Mubarek.
And, because of the different rainfall patterns of that time, there was a large
and dependable river flowing out of the Assahara basin. Assahara was now a
dry valley below sea level, but then would have been a freshwater lake fed by
many rivers and spilling over the lowest point into the Mits'iwa Channel. The
river meandered along the nearly level Mits'iwa Plain, with some branches of it
joining the Zula River, and some wandering east and north to form several
mouths in the Red Sea.
Thus dependable sources of fresh water fed the area, and in rainy season
the Zula, at least, would have brought new silt to freshen the soil, and in allseasons the wandering flatwater rivers would have provided a means of
transportation through the marshes. The climate was also dependably warm,
with plenty of sunlight and a long growing season. There was no early
civilization that did not grow up in such a setting. There was no reason such a
civilization might not have grown up then.
Yes, it was six or seven thousand years too early. But couldn't it be that
it was the very destruction of Atlantis that convinced the survivors that the
gods did not want human beings to gather together in cities? Weren't there
hints of that anti-civilization bias lingering in many of the ancient religions of
the Middle East? What was the story of Cain and Abel, if not a metaphorical
expression of the evil of the city-dweller, the farmer, the brother-killer who is
judged unworthy by the gods because he does not wander with his sheep?
Couldn't such stories have circulated widely in those ancient times? That
would explain why the survivors of Atlantis hadn't immediately begun to
rebuild their civilization at another site: They knew that the gods forbade it,
that if they built again their city would be destroyed again. So they
remembered the stories of their glorious past, and at the same time condemned
their ancestors and warned everyone they met against people gathering together
to build a city, making people yearn for such a place and fear it, both at once.
Not until a Nimrod came, a tower-builder, a Babel-maker who defied the
old religion, would the ancient proscription be overcome at last and another
city rise up, in another river valley far in time and space from Atlantis, but
remembering the old ways that had been memorialized in the stories of warning
and, as far as possible, replicating them. We will build a tower so high that it
CAN'T be immersed. Didn't Genesis link the flood with Babel in just that
way, complete with the nomad's stern disapproval of the city? This was the
story that survived in Mesopotamia--the tale of the beginning of city life there,
but with clear memories of a more ancient civilization that had been destroyed
in a flood.
A more ancient civilization. The golden age. The giants who once
walked the earth. Why couldn't all these stories be remembering the first
human civilization, the place where the city was invented? Atlantis, the city of
the Mits'iwa plain.
But how could he prove it without using the Tempoview? And how
could he get access to one of those machines without first convincing Pastwatch
that Atlantis was really in the Red Sea? It was circular, with no way out.
Until he thought: Why do large cities form in the first place? Because
there are public works to do that require more than a few people to accomplish
them. Kemal wasn't sure what form the public works might take, but surely
they would have been something that would change the face of the land
obviously enough that the old TruSite I recordings would show it, though it
wouldn't be noticeable unless someone was looking for it.
So, putting his degree at risk, Kemal set aside the work he was assigned to
do and began poring over the old TruSite I recordings. He concentrated on the
last few centuries before the Red Sea flood--there was no reason to suppose that
the civilization had lasted very long before it was destroyed. And within a few
months he had collected data that was irrefutable. There were no dikes and
dams to prevent flooding--that kind of structure would have been large enough
that no one would have missed it. Instead there were seemingly random heaps
of mud and earth that grew between rainy seasons, especially in the drier years
when the rivers were lower than usual. To people looking only for weather
patterns, these unstructured, random piles would mean nothing. But to Kemal
they were obvious: In the shallowing water, the Atlanteans were dredging
channels so that their boats could continue to traffic from place to place. The
piles of earth were simply the dumping-places for the muck they dredged from
the water. None of the boats showed up on the TruSite I, but now that Kemal
knew where to look, he began to catch fleeting glimpses of houses. Every year
when the floods came, the houses disappeared, so they were only visible for a
moment or two in the Trusite I: flimsy mud-and-reed structures that must have
been swept away in every flood season and rebuilt again when the waters
receded. But they were there, close by the hillocks that marked the channels.
Plato was right again--Atlantis grew up around its canals. But Atlantis was the
people and their boats; the buildings were washed away and built again every
When Kemal presented his findings to Pastwatch he was not yet twenty
years old, but his evidence was impressive enough that Pastwatch immediately
turned, not one of the Tempoviews, but the still-newer TruSite II machine to
look under the waters of the Red Sea in the Massawa Channel during the
hundred years before the Red Sea flood. They found that Kemal was gloriously,
spectacularly right. In an era when other humans were still following game
animals and gathering berries, the Atlanteans were planting amaranth and
ryegrass, melons and beans in the rich wet silt of the receding rivers, and
carrying food in baskets and on reed boats from place to place. The only thing
that Kemal had missed was that the reed buildings weren't houses at all. They
were silos for the storage of grain, built watertight so that they would float
during the flood season. The Atlanteans slept under the open air during the
dry season, and in the flood season they slept on their tiny reed boats.
Kemal was brought into Pastwatch and made head of the vast new
Atlantis project. This was the seminal culture of all cultures in the old world,
and a hundred researchers examined every stage of its development. This
methodical work, however, was not for Kemal. As always, it was the grand
legend that drew him. He spent every moment he could spare away from the
management of the project and devoted it to the search for Noah, for
Gilgamesh, for the great man who rode out the flood and whose story lived in
memory for thousands of years. There had to be a real original, and Kemal
would find him.
The flood season was almost due when Glogmeriss took his journey that
would make him into a man named Naog. It was a little early for him, since he
was born during the peak of the flood, but everyone in the clan agreed with
Twerk that it was better for a manling so well-favored to be early than late, and
if he wasn't already up and out of the flood plain before the rains came, then
he'd have to wait months before he could safely go. And besides, as Twerk
pointed out, why have a big eater like Glogmeriss waiting out the flood season,
eating huge handfuls of grain. People listened happily to Twerk's argument,
because he was known to be a generous, wise, good-humored man, and everyone
expected him to be named clan leader when sweet old ailing Dheub finally
Getting above the flood meant walking up the series of slight inclines
leading to the last sandy shoulder, where the land began to rise more steeply.
Glogmeriss had no intention of climbing any higher than that. His father's
journey had taken him over those ridges and on to the great river Nile, but
there was no reason for Glogmeriss to clamber through rocks when he could
follow the edge of the smooth, grassy savannah. He was high enough to see the
vast plain of the Derku lands stretching out before him, and the land was open
enough that no cat or pack of dogs could creep up on him unnoticed, let alone
some hunter of another tribe.
How far to the Heaving Sea? Far enough that no one of the Derku tribe
had ever seen it. But they knew it existed, because when they brought home
captives from tribes to the south, they heard tales of such a place, and the
farther south the captives came from, the more vivid and convincing the tales
became. Still, none of them had ever seen it with their own eyes. So it would
be a long journey, Glogmeriss knew that. And all the longer because it would
be on foot, and not on his dragonboat. Not that Derku men were any weaker
or slower afoot than men who lived above the flood--on the contrary, they had
to be fleet indeed, as well as stealthy, to bring home either captives or meat.
So the boys' games included footracing, and while Glogmeriss was not the
fastest sprinter, no one could match his long-legged stride for sheer endurance,
for covering ground quickly, on and on, hour after hour.
What set the bodies of the Derku people apart from other tribes, what
made them recognizable in an instant, was the massive development of their
upper bodies from paddling dragonboats hour after hour along the canals or
through the floods. It wasn't just paddling, either. It was the heavy armwork
of cutting reeds and binding them into great sheaves to be floated home for
making boats and ropes and baskets. And in older times, they would also have
developed strong arms and backs from dredging the canals that surrounded and
connected all the villages of the great Derku city. Slaves did most of that now,
but the Derku took great pride in never letting their slaves be stronger than
they were. Their shoulders and chests and arms and backs were almost
monstrous compared to those of the men and women of other tribes. And
since the Derku ate better all year round than people of other tribes, they
tended to be taller, too. Many tribes called them giants, and others called them
the sons and daughters of the gods, they looked so healthy and strong. And of
all the young Derku men, there was none so tall and strong and healthy as
Glogmeriss, the boy they called Derkuwed, the man who would be Naog.
So as Glogmeriss loped along the grassy rim of the great plain, he knew
he was in little danger from human enemies. Anyone who saw him would
think: There is one of the giants, one of the sons of the crocodile god. Hide,
for he might be with a party of raiders. Don't let him see you, or he'll take a
report back to his people. Perhaps one man in a pack of hunters might say,
"He's alone, we can kill him," but the other hunters would jeer at the one who
spoke so rashly. "Look, fool, he a javelin in his hands and three tied to his
back. Look at his arms, his shoulders--do you think he can't put his javelin
through your heart before you got close enough to throw a rock at him? Let
him be. Pray for a great cat to find him in the night."
That was Glogmeriss's only real danger. He was too high into the dry
lands for crocodiles, and he could run fast enough to climb a tree before any
pack of dogs or wolves could bring him down. But there was no tree that
would give a moment's pause to one of the big cats. No, if one of THEM took
after him, it would be a fight. But Glogmeriss had fought cats before, on guard
duty. Not the giants that could knock a man's head off with one blow of its
paw, or take his whole belly with one bite of its jaws, but still, they were big
enough, prowling around the outside of the clan lands, and Glogmeriss had
fought them with a hand javelin and brought them down alone. He knew
something of the way they moved and thought, and he had no doubt that in a
contest with one of the big cats, he would at least cause it grave injury before it
Better not to meet one of them, though. Which meant staying well clear
of any of the herds of bison or oxen, antelope or horses that the big cats
stalked. Those cats would never have got so big waiting around for lone
humans--it was herds they needed, and so it was herds that Glogmeriss did
To his annoyance, though, one came to HIM. He had climbed a tree to
sleep the night, tying himself to the trunk so he wouldn't fall out in his sleep.
He awoke to the sound of nervous lowing and a few higher-pitched, anxious
moos. Below him, milling around in the first grey light of the coming dawn, hecould make out the shadowy shapes of oxen. He knew at once what had
happened. They caught scent of a cat and began to move away in the darkness,
shambling in fear and confusion in the near darkness. They had not run
because the cat wasn't close enough to cause a panic in the herd. With luck it
would be one of the smaller cats, and when it saw that they knew it was there,
it would give up and go away.
But the cat had not given up and gone away, or they wouldn't still be so
frightened. Soon the herd would have enough light to see the cat that must be
stalking them, and then they WOULD run, leaving Glogmeriss behind in a
tree. Maybe the cat would go in full pursuit of the running oxen, or maybe it
would notice the lone man trapped in a tree and decide to go for the easier,
I wish I were part of this herd, thought Glogmeriss. Then there'd be a
chance. I would be one of many, and even if the cat brought one of us down,
it might not be me. As a man alone, it's me or the cat. Kill or die. I will
fight bravely, but in this light I might not get a clear sight of the cat, might not
be able to see in the rippling of its muscles where it will move next. And what
if it isn't alone? What if the reason these oxen are so frightened yet unwilling
to move is that they know there's more than one cat and they have no idea in
which direction safety can be found?
Again he thought, I wish I were part of this herd. And then he thought,
Why should I think such a foolish thought twice, unless the god is telling me
what to do? Isn't that what this journey is for, to find out if there is a god who
will lead me, who will protect me, who will make me great? There's no
greatness in having a cat eviscerate you in one bite. Only if you live do you
become a man of stories. Like Gweia--if she had mounted the crocodile and it
had thrown her off and devoured her, who would ever have heard her name?
There was no time to form a plan, except the plan that formed so quickly
that it might have been the god putting it there. He would ride one of these
oxen as Gweia rode the crocodile. It would be easy enough to drop out of the
tree onto an ox's back--hadn't he played with the other boys, year after year,
jumping from higher and higher branches to land on a dragonboat that was
drifting under the tree? An ox was scarcely less predictable than a dragonboat
on a current. The only difference was that when he landed on the ox's back, it
would not bear him as willingly as a dragonboat. Glogmeriss had to hope that,
like Gweia's crocodile frightened of the flood, the ox he landed on would be
more frightened of the cat than of the sudden burden on his back.
He tried to pick well among the oxen within reach of the branches of the
tree. He didn't want a cow with a calf running alongside--that would be like
begging the cats to come after him, since such cows were already the most
tempting targets. But he didn't want a bull, either, for he doubted it would
have the patience to bear him.
And there was his target, a fullsized cow but with no calf leaning against
it, under a fairly sturdy branch. Slowly, methodically, Glogmeriss untied
himself from the tree, cinched the bindings of his javelins and his flintsack and
his grainsack, and drew his loincloth up to hold his genitals tight against his
body, and then crept out along the branch until he was as nearly over the back
of the cow he had chosen as possible. The cow was stamping and snorting
now--they all were, and in a moment they would bolt, he knew it--but it held
still as well as a bobbing dragonboat, and so Glogmeriss took aim and jumped,
spreading his legs to embrace the animal's back, but not SO wide that he would
slam his crotch against the bony ridge of its spine.
He landed with a grunt and immediately lunged forward to get his arms
around the ox's neck, just like gripping the stem of the dragonboat. The beast
immediately snorted and bucked, but its bobbing was no worse than the
dragonboat ducking under the water at the impact of a boy on its back. Of
course, the dragonboat stopped bobbing after a moment, while this ox would no
doubt keep trying to be rid of him until he was gone, bucking and turning,
bashing its sides into other oxen.
But the other animals were already so nervous that the sudden panic of
Glogmeriss's mount was the trigger that set off the stampede. Almost at once
the herd mentality took over, and the oxen set out in a headlong rush all in
the same direction. Glogmeriss's cow didn't forget the burden on her back, but
now she responded to her fear by staying with the herd. It came as a great
relief to Glogmeriss when she leapt out and ran among the other oxen, in part
because it meant that she was no longer trying to get him off her back, and in
part because she was a good runner and he knew that unless she swerved to the
edge of the herd where a cat could pick her off, both she and he would be safe.
Until the panic stopped, of course, and then Glogmeriss would have to
figure out a way to get OFF the cow and move away without being gored or
trampled to death. Well, one danger at a time. And as they ran, he couldn't
help but feel the sensations of the moment: The prickly hair of the ox's back
against his belly and legs, the way her muscles rippled between his legs and
within the embrace of his arms, and above all the sheer exhilaration of moving
through the air at such a speed. Has any man ever moved as fast over the
ground as I am moving now? he wondered. No dragonboat has ever found a
current so swift.
It seemed that they ran for hours and hours, though when they finally
came to a stop the sun was still only a palm's height above the mountains far
across the plain to the east. As the running slowed to a jolting jog, and then
to a walk, Glogmeriss kept waiting for his mount to remember that he was on
her back and to start trying to get him off. But if she remembered, she must
have decided she didn't mind, because when she finally came to a stop, still in
the midst of the herd, she simply dropped her head and began to graze, making
no effort to get Glogmeriss off her back.
She was so calm--or perhaps like the others was simply so exhausted--that
Glogmeriss decided that as long as he moved slowly and calmly he might be
able to walk on out of the herd, or at least climb a tree and wait for them to
move on. He knew from the roaring and screaming sounds he had heard near
the beginning of the stampede that the cats--more than one--had found their
meal, so the survivors were safe enough for now.
Glogmeriss carefully let one leg slide down until he touched the ground.
Then, smoothly as possible, he slipped off the cow's back until he was crouched
beside her. She turned her head slightly, chewing a mouthful of grass. Her
great brown eye regarded him calmly.
"Thank you for carrying me," said Glogmeriss softly.
She moved her head away, as if to deny that she had done anything
special for him.
"You carried me like a dragonboat through the flood," he said, and he
realized that this was exactly right, for hadn't the stampede of oxen been as
dangerous and powerful as any flood of water? And she had borne him up,
smooth and safe, carrying him safely to the far shore. "The best of
She lowed softly, and for a moment Glogmeriss began to think of her as
being somehow the embodiment of the god--though it could not be the
crocodile god that took this form, could it? But all thoughts of the animal's
godhood were shattered when it started to urinate. The thick stream of ropey
piss splashed into the grass not a span away from Glogmeriss's shoulder, and as
the urine spattered him he could not help but jump away. Other nearby oxen
mooed complainingly about his sudden movement, but his own cow seemed not
to notice. The urine stank hotly, and Glogmeriss was annoyed that the stink
would stay with him for days, probably.
Then he realized that no COW could put a stream of urine between her
forelegs. This animal was a bull after all. Yet it was scarcely larger than the
normal cow, not bull-like at all. Squatting down, he looked closely, and
realized that the animal had lost its testicles somehow. Was it a freak, born
without them? No, there was a scar, a ragged sign of old injury. While still a
calf, this animal had had its bullhood torn away. Then it grew to adulthood,
neither cow nor bull. What purpose was there in life for such a creature as
that? And yet if it had not lived, it could not have carried him through the
stampede. A cow would have had a calf to slow it down; a bull would have
flung him off easily. The god had prepared this creature to save him. It was
not itself a god, of course, for such an imperfect animal could hardly be divine.
But it was a god's tool.
"Thank you," said Glogmeriss, to whatever god it was. "I hope to know
you and serve you," he said. Whoever the god was must have known him for a
long time, must have planned this moment for years. There was a plan, a
destiny for him. Glogmeriss felt himself thrill inside with the certainty of this.
I could turn back now, he thought, and I would have had the greatest
manhood journey of anyone in the tribe for generations. They would regard me
as a holy man, when they learned that a god had prepared such a beast as this
to be my dragonboat on dry land. No one would say I was unworthy to be
Naog, and no more Glogmeriss.
But even as he thought this, Glogmeriss knew that it would be wrong to
go back. The god had prepared this animal, not to make his manhood journey
easy and short, but to make his long journey possible. Hadn't the ox carried
him southeast, the direction he was already heading? Hadn't it brought him
right along the very shelf of smooth grassland that he had already been running
on? No, the god meant to speed him on his way, not to end his journey.
When he came back, the story of the unmanned ox that carried him like a boat
would be merely the first part of his story. They would laugh when he told
them about the beast peeing on him. They would nod and murmur in awe as
he told them that he realized that the god was helping him to go on, that the
god had chosen him years before in order to prepare the calf that would be his
mount. Yet this would all be the opening, leading to the main point of the
story, the climax. And what that climax would be, what he would accomplish
that would let him take on his manly name, Glogmeriss could hardly bear to
wait to find out.
Unless, of course, the god was preparing him to be a sacrifice. But the
god could have killed him at any time. It could have killed him when he was
born, dropping him into the water as everyone said his father had feared might
happen. It could have let him die there at the tree, taken by a cat or trampled
under the feet of the oxen. No, the god was keeping him alive for a purpose,
for a great task. His triumph lay ahead, and whatever it was, it would be
greater than his ride on the back of an ox.
The rains came the next day, but Glogmeriss pressed on. The rain made
it hard to see far ahead, but most of the animals stopped moving in the rain
and so there wasn't as much danger to look out for. Sometimes the rain came
down so thick and hard that Glogmeriss could hardly see a dozen steps ahead.
But he ran on, unhindered. The shelf of land that he ran along was perfectly
flat, neither uphill nor downhill, as level as water, and so he could lope along
without wearying. Even when the thunder roared in the sky and lightning
seemed to flash all around him, Glogmeriss did not stop, for he knew that the
god that watched over him was powerful indeed. He had nothing to fear. And
since he passed two burning trees, he knew that lightning could have struck
him at any time, and yet did not, and so it was a second sign that a great god
was with him.
During the rains he cross many swollen streams, just by walking. Only
once did he have to cross a river that was far too wide and deep and swift in
flood for him to cross. But he plunged right in, for the god was with him.
Almost at once he was swept off his feet, but he swam strongly across the
current. Yet even a strong Derku man cannot swim forever, and it began to
seem to Glogmeriss that he would never reach the other side, but rather would
be swept down to the salt sea, where one day his body would wash to shore
near a party of Derku raiders who would recognize from the size of his body that
it was him. So, this is what happened to Twerk's son Glogmeriss. The flood
took him after all.
Then he bumped against a log that was also floating on the current, and
took hold of it, and rolled up onto the top of it like a dragonboat. Now he
could use all his strength for paddling, and soon he was across the current. He
drew the log from the water and embraced it like a brother, lying beside it,
holding it in the wet grass until the rising water began to lick at his feet again.
Then he dragged the log with him to higher ground and placed it up in the
notch of a tree where no flood would dislodge it. One does not abandon a
brother to the flood.
Three times the god has saved me, he thought as he climbed back up to
the level shelf that was his path. From the tooth of the cat, from the fire of
heaven, from the water of the flood. Each time a tree was part of it: The tree
around which the herd of oxen gathered and from which I dropped onto the
ox's back; the trees that died in flames from taking to themselves the bolts of
lightning meant for me; and finally this log of a fallen tree that died in its
home far up in the mountains in order to be my brother in the water of the
flood. Is it a god of trees, then, that leads me on? But how can a god of trees
be more powerful than the god of lightning or the god of the floods or even the
god of sharp-toothed cats? No, trees are simply tools the god has used. The
god flings trees about as easily as I fling a javelin.
Gradually, over many days, the rains eased a bit, falling in steady showers
instead of sheets. Off to his left, he could see that the plain was rising upcloser and closer to the smooth shelf along which he ran. On the first clear
morning he saw that there was no more distant shining on the still waters of
the Salty Sea--the plain was now higher than the level of that water; he had
behind the only sea that the Derku people had ever seen. The Heaving Sea lay
yet ahead, and so he ran on.
The plain was quite high, but he was still far enough above it that he
could see the shining when it came again on a clear morning. He had left one
sea behind, and now, with the ground much higher, there was another sea.
Could this be it, the Heaving Sea?
He left the shelf and headed across the savannah toward the water. He
did not reach it that day, but on the next afternoon he stood on the shore and
knew that this was not the place he had been looking for. The water was far
smaller than the Salty Sea, smaller even than the Sweetwater Sea up in the
mountains from which the Selud River flowed. And yet when he dipped his
finger into the water and tasted it, it WAS a little salty. Almost sweet, but
salty nonetheless. Not good for drinking. That was obvious from the lack of
animal tracks around the water. It must usually be saltier than this, thought
Glogmeriss. It must have been freshened somewhat by the rains.
Instead of returning to his path along the shelf by the route he had
followed to get to this small sea, Glogmeriss struck out due south. He could see
the shelf in the distance, and could see that by running south he would rejoin
the level path a good way farther along.
As he crossed a small stream, he saw animal prints again, and among
them the prints of human feet. Many feet, and they were fresher than any of
the animal prints. So fresh, in fact, that for all Glogmeriss knew they could be
watching him right now. If he stumbled on them suddenly, they might panic,
seeing a man as large as he was. And in this place what would they know of
the Derku people? No raiders had ever come this far in search of captives, he
was sure. That meant that they wouldn't necessarily hate him--but they
wouldn't fear retribution from his tribe, either. No, the best course was for him
to turn back and avoid them.
But a god was protecting him, and besides, he had been without the
sound of a human voice for so many days. If he did not carry any of his
javelins, but left them all slung on his back, they would know he meant no
harm and they would not fear him. So there at the stream, he bent over,
slipped off the rope holding his javelins, and untied them to bind them all
As he was working, he heard a sound and knew without looking that he
had been found. Perhaps they HAD been watching him all along. His first
thought was to pick up his javelins and prepare for battle. But he did not know
how many they were, or whether they were all around him, and in the dense
brush near the river he might be surrounded by so many that they could
overwhelm him easily, even if he killed one or two. For a moment he thought,
The god protects me, I could kill them all. But then he rejected that idea. He
had killed nothing on this journey, not even for meat, eating only the grain he
carried with him and such berries and fruits and roots and greens and
mushrooms as he found along the way. Should he begin now, killing when he
knew nothing about these people? Perhaps meeting them was what the god had
brought him here to do.
So a slowly, carefully finished binding the javelins and then slung them
up onto his shoulder, being careful never to hold the javelins in a way that
might make his watcher or watchers think that he was making them ready for
battle. Then, his hands empty and his weapons bound to his back, he splashed
through the stream and followed the many footprints on the far side.
He could hear feet padding along behind him--more than one person,
too, from the sound. They might be coming up behind him to kill him, but it
didn't sound as if they were trying to overtake him, or to be stealthy, either.
They must know that he could hear them. But perhaps they thought he was
very stupid. He had to show them that he did not turn to fight them because
he did not want to fight, and not because he was stupid or afraid.
To show them he was not afraid, he began to sing the song of the dog
who danced with a man, which was funny and had a jaunty tune. And to show
them he knew they were there, he bent over as he walked, scooped up a
handful of damp soil, and flung it lightly over his shoulder.
The sound of sputtering outrage told him that the god had guided his
lump of mud right to its target. He stopped and turned to find four men
following him, one of whom was brushing dirt out of his face, cursing loudly.
The others looked uncertain whether to be angry at Glogmeriss for flinging dirt
at them or afraid of him because he was so large and strange and unafraid.
Glogmeriss didn't want them to be either afraid or angry. So he let a
slow smile come to his face, not a smile of derision, but rather a friendly smile
that said, I mean no harm. To reinforce this idea, he held his hands out wide,
palms facing the strangers.
They understood him, and perhaps because of his smile began to see the
humor in the situation. They smiled, too, and then, because the one who was
hit with dirt was still complaining and trying to get it out of his eyes, they
began to laugh at him. Glogmeriss laughed with them, but then walked slowly
toward his victim and, carefully letting them all see what he was doing, took his
waterbag from his waist and untied it a little, showing them that water dropped
from it. They uttered something in an ugly-sounding language and the one
with dirt in his eyes stopped, leaned his head back, and stoically allowed
Glogmeriss to bathe his eyes with water.
When at last, dripping and chagrined, the man could see again,
Glogmeriss flung an arm across his shoulder like a comrade, and then reached
out for the man who seemed to be the leader. After a moment's hesitation, the
man allowed Glogmeriss the easy embrace, and together they walked toward the
main body of the tribe, the other two walking as closely as possible, behind and
ahead, talking to Glogmeriss even though he made it plain that he did not
When they reached the others they were busy building a cookfire. All
who could, left their tasks and came to gawk at the giant stranger. While the
men who had found him recounted the tale, others came and touched
Glogmeriss, especially his strong arms and chest, and his loincloth as well, since
none of the men wore any kind of clothing. Glogmeriss viewed this with
disgust. It was one thing for little boys to run around naked, but he knew that
men should keep their privates covered so they wouldn't get dirty. What
woman would let her husband couple with her, if he let any kind of filth get on
Of course, these men were all so ugly that no woman would want them
anyway, and the women were so ugly that the only men who would want them
would be these. Perhaps ugly people don't care about keeping themselves clean,
thought Glogmeriss. But the women wore naprons made of woven grass, which
looked softer than the beaten reeds that the Derku wove. So it wasn't that
these people didn't know how to make cloth, or that the idea of wearing
clothing had never occurred to them. The men were simply filthy and stupid,
Glogmeriss decided. And the women, while not as filthy, must be just as stupid
or they wouldn't let the men come near them.
Glogmeriss tried to explain to them that he was looking for the Heaving
Sea, and ask them where it was. But they couldn't understand any of the
gestures and handsigns he tried, and his best efforts merely left them laughing to
the point of helplessness. He gave up and made as if to leave, which
immediately brought protests and an obvious invitation to dinner.
It was a welcome thought, and their chief seemed quite anxious for him
to stay. A meal would only make him stronger for the rest of his journey.
He stayed for the meal, which was strange but good. And then, wooed
by more pleas from the chief and many others, he agreed to sleep the night
with them, though he halfway feared that in his sleep they planned to kill him
or at least rob him. In the event, it turned out that they DID have plans for
him, but it had nothing to do with killing. By morning the chief's prettiest
daughter was Glogmeriss's bride, and even though she was as ugly as any of the
others, she had done a good enough job of initiating him into the pleasures of
men and women that he could overlook her thin lips and beakish nose.
This was not supposed to happen on a manhood journey. He was
expected to come home and marry one of the pretty girls from one of the other
clans of the Derku people. Many a father had already been negotiating with
Twerk or old Dheub with an eye toward getting Glogmeriss as a son-in-law.
But what harm would it do if Glogmeriss had a bride for a few days with these
people, and then slipped away and went home? No one among the Derku
would ever meet any of these ugly people, and even if they did, who would
care? You could do what you wanted with strangers. It wasn't as if they were
people, like the Derku.
But the days came and went, and Glogmeriss could not bring himself to
leave. He was still enjoying his nights with Zawada--as near as he could come
to pronouncing her name, which had a strange click in the middle of it. And
as he began to learn to understand something of their language, he harbored a
hope that they could tell him about the Heaving Sea and, in the long run, save
Days became weeks, and weeks became months, and Zawada's blood-days
didn't come and so they knew she was pregnant, and then Glogmeriss didn't
want to leave, because he had to see the child he had put into her. So he
stayed, and learned to help with the work of this tribe. They found his size and
prodigious strength very helpful, and Zawada was comically boastful about her
husband's prowess--marrying him had brought her great prestige, even more
than being the chief's daughter. And it gradually came to Glogmeriss's mind
that if he stayed he would probably be chief of these people himself someday.
At times when he thought of that, he felt a strange sadness, for what did it
mean to be chief of these miserable ugly people, compared to the honor of
being the most ordinary of the Derku people? How could being chief of these
grub-eaters and gatherers compare to eating the common bread of the Derku
and riding on a dragonboat through the flood or on raids? He enjoyed Zawada,
he enjoyed the people of this tribe, but they were not his people, and he knew
that he would leave. Eventually.
Zawada's belly was beginning to swell when the tribe suddenly gathered
their tools and baskets and formed up to begin another trek. They didn't move
back north, however, the direction they had come from when Glogmeriss found
them. Rather their migration was due south, and soon, to his surprise, he found
that they were hiking along the very shelf of land that had been his path in
coming to this place.
It occurred to him that perhaps the god had spoken to the chief in the
night, warning him to get Glogmeriss back on his abandoned journey. But no,
the chief denied any dream. Rather he pointed to the sky and said it was time
to go get--something. A word Glogmeriss had never heard before. But it was
clearly some kind of food, because the adults nearby began laughing with
anticipatory delight and pantomiming eating copious amounts of--something.
Off to the northeast, they passed along the shores of another small sea.
Glogmeriss asked if the water was sweet and if it had fish in it, but Zawada told
him, sadly, that the sea was spoiled. "It used to be good," she said. "The
people drank from it and swam in it and trapped fish in it, but it got poisoned."
"How?" asked Glogmeriss.
"The god vomited into it."
"What god did that?"
"The great god," she said, looking mysterious and amused.
"How do you know he did?" asked Glogmeriss.
"We saw," she said. "There was a terrible storm, with winds so strong
they tore babies from their mothers' arms and carried them away and they were
never seen again. My own mother and father held me between them and I
wasn't carried off--I was scarcely more than a baby then, and I remember how
scared I was, to have my parents crushing me between them while the wind
screamed through the trees."
"But a rainstorm would sweeten the water," said Glogmeriss. "Not make
"I told you," said Zawada. "The god vomited into it."
"But if you don't mean the rain, then what do you mean?"
To which her only answer was a mysterious smile and a giggle. "You'll
see," she said.
And in the end, he did. Two days after leaving this second small sea
behind, they rounded a bend and some of the men began to shinny up trees,
looking off to the east as if they knew exactly what they'd see. "There it is!"
they cried. "We can see it!"
Glogmeriss lost no time in climbing up after them, but it took a while for
him to know what it was they had seen. It wasn't till he climbed another tree
the next morning, when they were closer and when the sun was shining in the
east, that he realized that the vast plain opening out before them to the east
wasn't a plain at all. It was water, shimmering strangely in the sunlight of
morning. More water than Glogmeriss had ever imagined. And the reason the
light shimmered that way was because the water was moving. It was the
He came down from tree in awe, only to find the whole tribe watching
him. When they saw his face, they burst into hysterical laughter, including
even Zawada. Only now did it occur to him that they had understood him
perfectly well on his first day with them, when he described the Heaving Sea.
They had known where he was headed, but they hadn't told him.
"There's the joke back on you!" cried the man in whose face Glogmeriss
had thrown dirt on that first day. And now it seemed like perfect justice to
Glogmeriss. He had played a joke, and they had played one back, an elaborate
jest that required even his wife to keep the secret of the Heaving Sea from him.
Zawada's father, the chief, now explained that it was more than a joke.
"Waiting to show you the Heaving Sea meant that you would stay and marry
Zawada and give her giant babies. A dozen giants like you!"
Zawada grinned cheerfully. "If they don't kill me coming out, it'll be fine
to have sons like yours will be!"
Next day's journey took them far enough that they didn't have to climb
trees to see the Heaving Sea, and it was larger than Glogmeriss had ever
imagined. He couldn't see the end of it. And it moved all the time. There
were more surprises when they got to the shore that night, however. For the
sea was noisy, a great roaring, and it kept throwing itself at the shore and then
retreating, heaving up and down. Yet the children were fearless--they ran right
into the water and let the waves chase them to shore. The men and women
soon joined them, for a little while, and Glogmeriss himself finally worked up
the courage to let the water touch him, let the waves chase him. He tasted the
water, and while it was saltier than the small seas to the northwest, it was
nowhere near as salty as the Salt Sea.
"This is the god that poisoned the little seas," Zawada explained to him.
"This is the god that vomited into them."
But Glogmeriss looked at how far the waves came onto the shore and
laughed at her. "How could these heavings of the sea reach all the way to
those small seas? It took days to get here from there."
She grimaced at him. "What do you know, giant man? These waves are
not the reason why this is called the Heaving Sea by those who call it that.
These are like little butterfly flutters compared to the true heaving of the sea."
Glogmeriss didn't understand until later in the day, as he realized that the
waves weren't reaching as high as they had earlier. The beach sand was wet
much higher up the shore than the waves could get to now. Zawada was
delighted to explain the tides to him, how the sea heaved upward and
downward, twice a day or so. "The sea is calling to the moon," she said, but
could not explain what that meant, except that the tides were linked to the
passages of the moon rather than the passages of the sun.
As the tide ebbed, the tribe stopped playing and ran out onto the sand.
With digging stones they began scooping madly at the sand. Now and then
one of them would shout in triumph and hold up some ugly, stony, dripping
object for admiration before dropping it into a basket. Glogmeriss examined
them and knew at once that these things could not be stones--they were too
regular, too symmetrical. It wasn't till one of the men showed him the knack
of prying them open by hammering on a sharp wedgestone that he really
understood, for inside the hard stony surface there was a soft, pliable animal
that could draw its shell closed around it.
"That's how it lives under the water," explained the man. "It's watertight
as a mud-covered basket, only all the way around. Tight all the way around.
So it keeps the water out!"
Like the perfect seedboat, thought Glogmeriss. Only no boat of reeds
could ever be made THAT watertight, not so it could be plunged underwater
and stay dry inside.
That night they built a fire and roasted the clams and mussels and oysters
on the ends of sticks. They were tough and rubbery and they tasted salty--but
Glogmeriss soon discovered that the very saltiness was the reason this was such
a treat, that and the juices they released when you first chewed on them.
Zawada laughed at him for chewing his first bite so long. "Cut it off in smaller
bits," she said, "and then chew it till it stops tasting good and then swallow it
whole." The first time he tried, it took a bit of doing to swallow it without
gagging, but he soon got used to it and it WAS delicious.
"Don't drink so much of your water," said Zawada.
"I'm thirsty," said Glogmeriss.
"Of course you are," she said. "But when we run out of fresh water, we
have to leave. There's nothing to drink in this place. So drink only a little at
a time, so we can stay another day."
The next morning he helped with the clam-digging, and his powerful
shoulders and arms allowed him to excel at this task, just as with so many
others. But he didn't have the appetite for roasting them, and wandered off
alone while the others feasted on the shore. They did their digging in a narrow
inlet of the sea, where a long thin finger of water surged inward at high tide
and then retreated almost completely at low tide. The finger of the sea seemed
to point straight toward the land of the Derku, and it made Glogmeriss think of
Why did I come here? Why did the god go to so much trouble to bring
me? Why was I saved from the cats and the lightning and the flood? Was it
just to see this great water and taste the salty meat of the clams? These are
marvels, it's true, but no greater than the marvel of the castrated bull-ox that I
rode, or the lightning fires, or the log that was my brother in the flood. Why
would it please the god to bring me here?
He heard footsteps and knew at once that it was Zawada. He did not
look up. Soon he felt her arms come around him from behind, her swelling
breasts pressed against his back.
"Why do you look toward your home?" she asked softly. "Haven't I made
"You've made me happy," he said.
"But you look sad."
"The gods trouble you," she said. "I know that look on your face. You
never speak of it, but I know at such times you are thinking of the god who
brought you here and wondering if she loved you or hated you."
He laughed aloud. "Do you see inside my skin, Zawada?"
"Not your skin," she said. "But I could see inside your loincloth when
you first arrived, which is why I told my father to let me be the one to marry
you. I had to beat up my sister before she would let me be the one to share
your sleeping mat that night. She has never forgiven me. But I wanted your
Glogmeriss grunted. He had known about the sister's jealousy, but since
she was ugly and he had never slept with her, her jealousy was never important
"Maybe the god brought you here to see where she vomited."
"It was in a terrible storm."
"You told me about the storm," said Glogmeriss, not wanting to hear it
"When the storms are strong, the sea rises higher than usual. It heaved
its way far up this channel. Much farther than this tongue of the sea reaches
now. It flowed so far that it reached the first of the small seas and made it flow
over and then it reached the second one and that, too, flowed over. But then
the storm ceased and the water flowed back to where it was before, only so
much salt water had gone into the small seas that they were poisoned."
"So long ago, and yet the salt remains?"
"Oh, I think the sea has vomited into them a couple more times since then. Never as strongly as that first time, though. You can see this channel--so
much of the seawater flowed through here that it cut a channel in the sand.
This finger of the sea is all that's left of it, but you can see the banks of it--like
a dried-up river, you see? That was cut then, the ground used to be at the level
of the rest of the valley there. The sea still reaches into that new channel, as if
it remembered. Before, the shore used to be clear out there, where the waves
are high. It's much better for clam-digging now, though, because this whole
channel gets filled with clams and we can get them easily."
Glogmeriss felt something stirring inside him. Something in what she
had just said was very, very important, but he didn't know what it was.
He cast his gaze off to the left, to the shelf of land that he had walked
along all the way on his manhood journey, that this tribe had followed in
coming here. The absolutely level path.
Absolutely level. And yet the path was not more than three or four
man-heights above the level of the Heaving Sea, while back in the lands of the
Derku, the shelf was so far above the level of the Salt Sea that it felt as though
you were looking down from a mountain. The whole plain was enormously
wide, and yet it went so deep before reaching the water of the Salt Sea that you
could see for miles and miles, all the way across. It was deep, that plain, a
valley, really. A deep gouge cut into the earth. And if this shelf of land was
truly level, the Heaving Sea was far, far higher.
He thought of the floods. Thought of the powerful current of the
flooding river that had snagged him and swept him downward. And then he
thought of a storm that lifted the water of the Heaving Sea and sent it crashing
along this valley floor, cutting a new channel until it reached those smaller
seas, filling them with saltwater, causing THEM to flood and spill over. Spill
over where? Where did their water flow? He already knew--they emptied down
into the Salt Sea. Down and down and down.
It will happen again, thought Glogmeriss. There will be another storm,
and this time the channel will be cut deeper, and when the storm subsides the
water will still flow, because now the channel will be below the level of the
Heaving Sea at high tide. And at each high tide, more water will flow and the
channel will get deeper and deeper, till it's deep enough that even at low tide
the water will still flow through it, cutting the channel more and more, and the
water will come faster and faster, and then the Heaving Sea will spill over into
the great valley, faster and faster and faster.
All this water then will spill out of the Heaving Sea and go down into
the plain until the two seas are the same level. And once that happens, it will
never go back.
The lands of the Derku are far below the level of the new sea, even if it's
only half as high as the waters of the Heaving Sea are now. Our city will be
covered. The whole land. And it won't be a trickle. It will be a great bursting
of water, a huge wave of water, like the first gush of the floodwater down the
Selud River from the Sweetwater Sea. Just like that, only the Heaving Sea is
far larger than the Sweetwater Sea, and its water is angry and poisonous.
"Yes," said Glogmeriss. "I see what you brought me here to show me."
"Don't be silly," said Zawada. "I brought you here to have you eat
"I wasn't talking to you," said Glogmeriss. He stood up and left her,
walking down the finger of the sea, where the tide was rising again, bringing
the water lunging back up the channel, pointing like a javelin toward the heart
of the Derku people. Zawada followed behind him. He didn't mind.
Glogmeriss reached the waves of the rising tide and plunged in. He knelt
down in the water and let a wave crash over him. The force of the water
toppled him, twisted him until he couldn't tell which way was up and he
thought he would drown under the water. But then the wave retreated again,leaving him in the shallow water on the shore. He crawled back out stayed
there, the taste of salt on his lips, gasping for air, and then cried out, "Why are
you doing this! Why are you doing this to my people!"
Zawada stood watching him, and others of the tribe came to join her, to
find out what the strange giant man was doing in the sea.
Angry, thought Glogmeriss. The god is angry with my people. And I
have been brought here to see just what terrible punishment the god has
prepared for them. "Why?" he cried again. "Why not just break through this
channel and send the flood and bury the Derku people in poisonous water?
Why must I be shown this first? So I can save myself by staying high out of the
flood's way? Why should I be saved alive, and all my family, all my friends be
destroyed? What is their crime that I am not also guilty of? If you brought me
here to save me, then you failed, God, because I refuse to stay, I will go back to
my people and warn them all, I'll tell them what you're planning. You can't
save me alone. When the flood comes I'll be right there with the rest of them.
So to save me, you must save them all. If you don't like THAT, then you
should have drowned me just now when you had the chance!"
Glogmeriss rose dripping from the beach and began to walk, past the
people, up toward the shelf of land that made the level highway back home to
the Derku people. The tribe understood at once that he was leaving, and they
began calling out to him, begging him to stay.
"I can't," he said. "Don't try to stop me. Even the god can't stop me."
They didn't try to stop him, not by force. But the chief ran after him,
walked beside him--ran beside him, really, for that was the only way he could
keep up with Glogmeriss's long-legged stride. "Friend, Son," said the chief.
"Don't you know that you will be king of these people after me?"
"A people should have a king who is one of their own."
"But you ARE one of us now," said the chief. "The mightiest of us. You
will make us a great people! The god has chosen you, do you think we can't
see that? This is why the god brought you here, to lead us and make us great!"
"No," said Glogmeriss. "I'm a man of the Derku people."
"Where are they? Far from here. And there is my daughter with your
first child in her womb. What do they have in Derku lands that can compare
"They have the womb where I was formed," said Glogmeriss. "They have
the man who put me there. They have the others who came from that woman
and that man. They are my people."
"Then go back, but not today! Wait till you see your child born. Decide
Glogmeriss stopped so abruptly that the chief almost fell over, trying to
stop running and stay with him. "Listen to me, father of my wife. If you were
up in the mountain hunting, and you looked down and saw a dozen huge cats
heading toward the place where your people were living, would say to yourself,
Oh, I suppose the god brought me here to save me? Or would you run down
the mountain and warn them, and do all you could to fight off the cats and
save your people?"
"What is this story?" asked the chief. "There are no cats. You've seen no
"I've seen the god heaving in his anger," said Glogmeriss. "I've seen how
he looms over my people, ready to destroy them all. A flood that will tear their
flimsy reed boats to pieces. A flood that will come in a single great wave and
then will never go away. Do you think I shouldn't warn my mother and father,
my brothers and sisters, the friends of my childhood?"
"I think you have new brothers and sisters, a new father and mother.
The god isn't angry with US. The god isn't angry with you. We should stay
together. Don't you WANT to stay with us and live and rule over us? You
can be our king now, today. You can be king over me, I give you my place!"
"Keep your place," said Glogmeriss. "Yes, a part of me wants to stay. A
part of me is afraid. But that is the part of me that is Glogmeriss, and still a
boy. If I don't go home and warn my people and show them how to save
themselves from the god, then I will always be a boy, nothing but a boy, call
me a king if you want, but I will be a boy-king, a coward, a child until the day
I die. So I tell you now, it is the child who dies in this place, not the man. It
was the child Glogmeriss who married Zawada. Tell her that a strange man
named Naog killed her husband. Let her marry someone else, someone of her
own tribe, and never think of Glogmeriss again." Glogmeriss kissed his father-
in-law and embraced him. Then he turned away, and with his first step along
the path leading back to the Derku people, he knew that he was truly Naog
now, the man who would save the Derku people from the fury of the god.
Kemal watched the lone man of the Engu clan as he walked away from
the beach, as he conversed with his father-in-law, as he turned his face again
away from the Gulf of Aden, toward the land of the doomed crocodile-worshippers whose god was no match for the forces about to be unleashed on
them. This was the one, Kemal knew, for he had seen the wooden boat--more
of a watertight cabin on a raft, actually, with none of this nonsense about
taking animals two by two. This was the man of legends, but seeing his face,
hearing his voice, Kemal was no closer to understanding him than he had been
before. What can we see, using the TruSite II? Only what is visible. We may
be able to range through time, to see the most intimate, the most terrible, the
most horrifying, the most inspiring moments of human history, but we only see
them, we only hear them, we are witnesses but we know nothing of the thing
that matters most: motive.
Why didn't you stay with your new tribe, Naog? They heeded your
warning, and camped always on higher ground during the monsoon season.
They lived through the flood, all of them. And when you went home and no
one listened to your warnings, why did you stay? What was it that made you
remain among them, enduring their ridicule as you built your watertight
seedboat? You could have left at any time--there were others who cut
themselves loose from their birth tribe and wandered through the world until
they found a new home. The Nile was waiting for you. The grasslands of
Arabia. They were already there, calling to you, even as your own homeland
became poisonous to you. Yet you remained among the Engu, and by doing so,
you not only gave the world an unforgettable story, you also changed the course
of history. What kind of being is it who can change the course of history, just
because he follows his own unbending will?
It was on his third morning that Naog realized that he was not alone on
his return journey. He awoke in his tree because he heard shuffling footsteps
through the grass nearby. Or perhaps it was something else that woke
him--some unhearable yearning that he nevertheless heard. He looked, and saw
in the faint light of the thinnest crescent moon that a lone baboon was
shambling along, lazy, staggering. No doubt an old male, thought Naog, who
will soon be meat for some predator.
Then his eyes adjusted and he realized that this lone baboon was not as
close as he had thought, that in fact it was much bigger, much TALLER than
he had thought. It was not male, either, but female, and far from being a
baboon, it was a human, a pregnant woman, and he knew her now and
shuddered at his own thought of her becoming the meal for some cat, some
crocodile, some pack of dogs.
Silently he unfastened himself from his sleeping tree and dropped to the
ground. In moments he was beside her.
"Zawada," he said.
She didn't turn to look at him.
"Zawada, what are you doing?"
Now she stopped. "Walking," she said.
"You're asleep," he said. "You're in a dream."
"No, YOU'RE asleep," she said, giggling madly in her weariness.
"Why have you come? I left you."
"I know," she said.
"I'm returning to my own people. You have to stay with yours." But he
knew even as he said it that she could not go back there, not unless he went
with her. Physically she was unable to go on by herself--clearly she had eaten
nothing and slept little in three days. Why she had not died already, taken by
some beast, he could not guess. But if she was to return to her people, he
would have to take her, and he did not want to go back there. It made him
very angry, and so his voice burned when he spoke to her.
"I wanted to," she said. "I wanted to weep for a year and then make an
image of you out of sticks and burn it."
"You should have," he said.
"Your son wouldn't let me." As she spoke, she touched her belly.
"Son? Has some god told you who he is?"
"He came to me himself in a dream, and he said, 'Don't let my father go
without me.' So I brought him to you."
"I don't want him, son OR daughter." But he knew even as he said it
that it wasn't true.
She didn't know it, though. Her eyes welled with tears and she sank
down into the grass. "Good, then," she said. "Go on with your journey. I'm
sorry the god led me near you, so you had to be bothered." She sank back in
the grass. Seeing the faint gleam of light reflected from her skin awoke feelings
that Naog was now ashamed of, memories of how she had taught him the
easing of a man's passion.
"I can't walk off and leave you."
"You already did," she said. "So do it again. I need to sleep now."
"You'll be torn by animals and eaten."
"Let them," she said. "You never chose me, Derku man, I chose YOU. I
invited this baby into my body. Now if we die here in the grass, what is that to
you? All you care about is not having to watch. So don't watch. Go. The
sky is getting light. Run on ahead. If we die, we die. We're nothing to you
Her words made him ashamed. "I left you knowing you and the baby
would be safe, at home. Now you're here and you aren't safe, and I can't walk
away from you."
"So run," she said. "I was your wife, and this was your son, but in your
heart we're already dead anyway."
"I didn't bring you because you'd have to learn the Derku language. It's
much harder than your language."
"I would have had to learn it anyway, you fool," she said. "The baby
inside me is a Derku man like you. How would I get him to understand me, if I
didn't learn Derku talk?"
Naog wanted to laugh aloud at her hopeless ignorance. But then, how
would she know? Naog had seen the children of captives and knew that in
Derku lands they grew up speaking the Derku language, even when both parents
were from another tribe that had not one word of Derku language in it. But
Zawada had never seen the babies of strangers; her tribe captured no one, went
on no raids, but rather lived at peace, moving from place to place, gathering
whatever the earth or the sea had to offer them. How could she match even a
small part of the great knowledge of the Derku, who brought the whole world
within their city?
He wanted to laugh, but he did not laugh. Instead he watched over her
as she slept, as the day waxed and waned. As the sun rose he carried her to the
tree to sleep in the shade. Keeping his eye open for animals prowling near her,
he gathered such leaves and seeds and roots as the ground offered the traveler
at this time of year. Twice he came back and found her breath rasping and
noisy; then he made her wake enough to drink a little of his water, but she was
soon asleep, water glistening on her chin.
At last in the late afternoon, with the air was hot and still, he squatted
down in the grass beside her and woke her for good, showing her the food. She
ate ravenously, and when she was done, she embraced him and called him the
best of the gods because he didn't leave her to die after all.
"I'm not a god," he said, baffled.
"All my people know you are a god, from a land of gods. So large, so
powerful, so good. You came to us so you could have a human baby. But this
baby is only half human. How will he ever be happy, living among US, never
knowing the gods?"
"You've seen the Heaving Sea, and you call ME a god?"
"Take me with you to the land of the Derku. Let me give birth to your
baby there. I will leave it with your mother and your sisters, and I will go
home. I know I don't belong among the gods, but my baby does."
In his heart, Naog wanted to say yes, you'll stay only till the baby is born,
and then you'll go home. But he remembered her patience as he learned the
language of her people. He remembered the sweet language of the night, and
the way he had to laugh at how she tried to act like a grown woman when she
was only a child, and yet she couldn't act like a child because she was, after all,
now a woman. Because of me she is a woman, thought Naog, and because of
her and her people I will come home a man. Do I tell her she must go away,
even though I know that the others will think she's ugly as I thought she was
And she IS ugly, thought Naog. Our son, if he IS a son, will be ugly like
her people, too. I will be ashamed of him. I will be ashamed of her.
Is a man ashamed of his firstborn son?
"Come home with me to the land of the Derku," said Naog. "We will
tell them together about the Heaving Sea, and how one day soon it will leap
over the low walls of sand and pour into this great plain in a flood that will
cover the Derku lands forever. There will be a great migration. We will move,
all of us, to the land my father found. The crocodiles live there also, along the
banks of the Nile."
"Then you will truly be the greatest among the gods," she said, and the
worship in her eyes made him proud and ill-at-ease, both at once. Yet how
could he deny that the Derku were gods? Compared to her poor tribe, they
would seem so. Thousands of people living in the midst of their own canals;
the great fields of planted grain stretching far in every direction; the great wall
of earth surrounding the Great Derku; the seedboats scattered like strange soft
boulders; the children riding their dragonboats through the canals; a land of
miracles to her. Where else in all the world had so many people learned to live
together, making great wealth where once there had been only savannah and
We live like gods, compared to other people. We come like gods out of
nowhere, to carry off captives the way death carries people off. Perhaps that is
what the life after death is like--the REAL gods using us to dredge their canals.
Perhaps that is what all of human life is for, to create slaves for the gods. And
what if the gods themselves are also raided by some greater beings yet, carrying
THEM off to raise grain in some unimaginable garden? Is there no end to the
There are many strange and ugly captives in Derku, thought Naog. Who
will doubt me if I say that this woman is my captive? She doesn't speak the
language, and soon enough she would be used to the life. I would be kind to
her, and would treat her son well--I would hardly be the first man to father a
child on a captive woman.
The thought made him blush with shame.
"Zawada, when you come to the Derku lands, you will come as my wife,"
he said. "And you will not have to leave. Our son will know his mother as
well as his father."
Her eyes glowed. "You are the greatest and kindest of the gods."
"No," he said, angry now, because he knew very well just exactly how far
from "great" and "kind" he really was, having just imagined bringing this sweet,
stubborn, brave girl into captivity. "You must never call me a god again. Ever. There is only one god, do you understand me? And it is that god that lives
inside the Heaving Sea, the one that brought me to see him and sent me back
here to warn my people. Call no one else a god, or you can't stay with me."
Her eyes went wide. "Is there room in the world for only one god?"
"When did a crocodile ever bury a whole land under water forever?"
Naog laughed scornfully. "All my life I have thought of the Great Derku as a
terrible god, worthy of the worship of brave and terrible men. But the Great
Derku is just a crocodile. It can be killed with a spear. Imagine stabbing the
Heaving Sea. We can't even touch it. And yet the god can lift up that whole
sea and pour it over the wall into this plain. THAT isn't just a god. That is
She looked at him in awe; he wondered whether she understood. And
then realized that she could not possibly have understood, because half of what
he said was in the Derku language, since he didn't even know enough words in
HER language to think of these thoughts, let alone say them.
Her body was young and strong, even with a baby inside it, and the next
morning she was ready to travel. He did not run now, but even so they
covered ground quickly, for she was a sturdy walker. He began teaching her the
Derku language as they walked, and she learned well, though she made the
words sound funny, as so many captives did, never able to let go of the sounds
of their native tongue, never able to pronounce the new ones.
Finally he saw the mountains that separated the Derku lands from the
Salty Sea, rising from the plain. "Those will be islands," said Naog, realizing it
for the first time. "The highest ones. See? They're higher than the shelf of
land we're walking on."
Zawada nodded wisely, but he knew that she didn't really understand
what he was talking about.
"Those are the Derku lands," said Naog. "See the canals and the fields?"
She looked, but seemed to see nothing unusual at all. "Forgive me," she
said, "but all I see are streams and grassland."
"But that's what I meant," said Naog. "Except that the grasses grow
where we plant them, and all we plant is the grass whose seed we grind into
meal. And the streams you see--they go where we want them to go. Vast
circles surrounding the heart of the Derku lands. And there in the middle, do
you see that hill?"
"I think so," she said.
"We build that hill every year, after the floodwater."
She laughed. "You tell me that you aren't gods, and yet you make hills
and streams and meadows wherever you want them!"
Naog set his face toward the Engu portion of the great city. "Come home
with me," he said.
Since Zawada's people were so small, Naog had not realized that he had
grown even taller during his manhood journey, but now as he led his ugly wife
through the outskirts of the city, he realized that he was taller than everyone.
It took him by surprise, and at first he was disturbed because it seemed to him
that everyone had grown smaller. He even said as much to Zawada--"They're
all so small"--but she laughed as if it were a joke. Nothing about the place or
the people seemed small to HER.
At the edge of the Engu lands, Naog hailed the boys who were on watch.
"Hai!" they called back.
"I've come back from my journey!" he called.
It took a moment for them to answer. "What journey was this, tall
"My manhood journey. Don't you know me? Can't you see that I'm
The boys hooted at that. "How can you be naked when you have your
"Naog is my manhood name," said Naog, quite annoyed now, for he had
not expected to be treated with such disrespect on his return. "You probably
know of me by my baby name. They called me Glogmeriss."
They hooted again. "You used to be trouble, and now you're naked!"
cried the bold one. "And your wife is ugly, too!"
But now Naog was close enough that the boys could see how very tall he
was. Their faces grew solemn.
"My father is Twerk," said Naog. "I return from my manhood journey
with the greatest tale ever told. But more important than that, I have a
message from the god who lives in the Heaving Sea. When I have given my
message, people will include you in my story. They will say, 'Who were the five
fools who joked about Naog's name, when he came to save us from the angry
"Twerk is dead," said one of the boys.
"The Dragon took him," said another.
"He was head of the clan, and then the Great Derku began eating human
flesh again, and your father gave himself to the Dragon for the clan's sake."
"Are you truly his son?"
Naog felt a gnawing pain that he did not recognize. He would soon learn
to call it grief, but it was not too different from rage. "Is this another jest of
yours? I'll break your heads if it is."
"By the blood of your father in the mouth of the beast, I swear that it's
true!" said the boy who had earlier been the boldest in his teasing. "If you're
his son, then you're the son of a great man!"
The emotion welled up inside him. "What does this mean?" cried Naog.
"The Great Derku does not eat the flesh of men! Someone has murdered my
father! He would never allow such a thing!" Whether he meant his father or
the Great Derku who would never allow it even Naog did not know.
The boys ran off then, before he could strike out at them for being the
tellers of such an unbearable tale. Zawada was the only one left, to pat at him,
embrace him, try to soothe him with her voice. She abandoned the language of
the Derku and spoke to him soothingly in her own language. But all Naog
could hear was the news that his father had been fed to the Great Derku as a
sacrifice for the clan. The old days were back again, and they had killed his
father. His father, and not even a captive!
Others of the Engu, hearing what the boys were shouting about, brought
him to his mother. Then he began to calm down, hearing her voice, the gentle
reassurance of the old sound. She, at least, was unchanged. Except that she
looked older, yes, and tired. "It was your father's own choice," she explained to
him. "After floodwater this year the Great Derku came into the pen with a
human baby in its jaws. It was a two-year-old boy of the Ko clan, and it
happened he was the firstborn of his parents."
"This means only that Ko clan wasn't watchful enough," said Naog.
"Perhaps," said his mother. "But the holy men saw it as a sign from the
god. Just as we stopped giving human flesh to the Great Derku when he
refused it, so now when he claimed a human victim, what else were we to
"Captives, then. Why not captives?"
"It was your own father who said that if the Great Derku had taken a
child from the families of the captives, then we would sacrifice captives. But he
took a child from one of our clans. What kind of sacrifice is it, to offer
strangers when the Great Derku demanded the meat of the Derku people?"
"Don't you see, Mother? Father was trying to keep them from sacrificing
anybody at all, by making them choose something so painful that no one would
She shook her head. "How do you know what my Twerk was trying to
do? He was trying to save YOU."
"Your father was clan leader by then. The holy men said, 'Let each clan
give the firstborn son of the clan leader.'"
"But I was gone."
"Your father insisted on the ancient privilege, that a father may go in
place of his son."
"So he died in my place, because I was gone."
"If you had been here, Glogmeriss, he would have done the same."
He thought about this for a few moments, and then answered only, "My
name is Naog now."
"We thought you were dead, Naked One, Stirrer of Troubles," said
"I found a wife."
"I saw her. Ugly."
"Brave and strong and smart," said Naog.
"Born to be a captive. I chose a different wife for you."
"Zawada is my wife."
Even though Naog had returned from his journey as a man and not a
boy, he soon learned that even a man can be bent by the pressure of others.
This far he did NOT bend: Zawada remained his wife. But he also took the
wife his mother had chosen for him, a beautiful girl named Kormo. Naog was
not sure what was worse about the new arrangement--that everyone else treated
Kormo as Naog's real wife and Zawada as barely a wife at all, or that when
Naog was hungry with passion, it was always Kormo he thought of. But he
remembered Zawada at such times, how she bore him his first child, the boy
Moiro; how she followed him with such fierce courage; how good she was to
him when he was a stranger. And when he remembered, he followed his duty
to her rather than his natural desire. This happened so often that Kormo
complained about it. This made Naog feel somehow righteous, for the truth
was that his first inclination had been right. Zawada should have stayed with
her own tribe. She was unhappy most of the time, and kept to herself and her
baby, and as years passed, her babies. She was never accepted by the other
women of the Derku. Only the captive women became friends with her, which
caused even more talk and criticism.
Years passed, yes, and where was Naog's great message, the one the god
had gone to such great trouble to give him? He tried to tell it. First to the
leaders of the Engu clan, the whole story of his journey, and how the Heaving
Sea was far higher than the Salty Sea and would soon break through and cover
all the land with water. They listened to him gravely, and then one by one
they counseled with him that when the gods wish to speak to the Derku people,
they will do as they did when the Great Derku ate a human baby. "Why would
a god who wished to send a message to the Derku people choose a mere BOY as
"Because I was the one who was taking the journey," he said.
"What will you have us do? Abandon our lands? Leave our canals
behind, and our boats?"
"The Nile has fresh water and a flood season, my father saw it."
"But the Nile also has strong tribes living up and down its shores. Here
we are masters of the world. No, we're not leaving on the word of a boy."
They insisted that he tell no one else, but he didn't obey them. In fact
he told anyone who would listen, but the result was the same. For his father's
memory or for his mother's sake, or perhaps just because he was so tall and
strong, people listened politely--but Naog knew at the end of each telling of his
tale that nothing had changed. No one believed him. And when he wasn't
there, they repeated his stories as if they were jokes, laughing about riding a
castrated bull ox, about calling a tree branch his brother, and most of all about
the idea of a great flood that would never go away. Poor Naog, they said. He
clearly lost his mind on his manhood journey, coming home with impossible
stories that he obviously believes and an ugly woman that he dotes on.
Zawada urged him to leave. "You know that the flood is coming," she
said. "Why not take your family up and out of here? Go to the Nile ourselves,
or return to my father's tribe."
But he wouldn't hear of it. "I would go if I could bring my people with
me. But what kind of man am I, to leave behind my mother and my brothers
and sisters, my clan and all my kin?"
"You would have left me behind," she said once. He didn't answer her.
He also didn't go.
In the third year after his return, when he had three sons to take riding
on his dragonboat, he began the strangest project anyone had ever seen. No
one was surprised, though, that crazy Naog would do something like this. He
began to take several captives with him upriver to a place where tall, heavy
trees grew. There they would wear out stone axes cutting down trees, then
shape them into logs and ride them down the river. Some people complained
that the captives belonged to everybody and it was wrong for Naog to have
their exclusive use for so many days, but Naog was such a large and strange man
that no one wanted to push the matter.
One or two at a time, they came to see what Naog was doing with the
logs. They found that he had taught his captives to notch them and lash them
together into a huge square platform, a dozen strides on a side. Then they
made a second platform crossways to the first and on top of it, lashing every log
to every other log, or so it seemed. Between the two layers he smeared pitch,
and then on the top of the raft he built a dozen reed structures like the tops of
seedboats. Before floodwater he urged his neighbors to bring him their grain,
and he would keep it all dry. A few of them did, and when the rivers rose
during floodwater, everyone saw that his huge seedboat floated, and no water
seeped up from below into the seedhouses. More to the point, Naog's wives
and children also lived on the raft, dry all the time, sleeping easily through the
night instead of having to remain constantly wakeful, watching to make sure
the children didn't fall into the water.
The next year, Engu clan built several more platforms following Naog's
pattern. They didn't always lash them as well as he had, and during the next
flood several of their rafts came apart--but gradually, so they had time to move
the seeds. Engu clan had far more seed make it through to planting season
than any of the other tribes, and soon the men had to range farther and farther
upriver, because all the nearer trees of suitable size had been harvested.
Naog himself, though, wasn't satisfied. It was Zawada who pointed out
that when the great flood came, the water wouldn't rise gradually as it did in
the river floods. "It'll be like the waves against the shore, crashing with such
force ... and these reed shelters will never hold against such a wave."
For several years Naog experimented with logs until at last he had the
largest movable structure ever built by human hands. The raft was as long as
ever, but somewhat narrower. Rising from notches between logs in the upper
platform were sturdy vertical posts, and these were bridged and roofed with
wood. But instead of using logs for the planking and the roofing, Naog and the
captives who served him split the logs carefully into planks, and these were
smeared inside and out with pitch, and then another wall and ceiling were built
inside, sandwiching the tar between them. People were amused to see Naog's
captives hoisting dripping baskets of water to the roof of this giant seedboat and
pouring them out onto it. "What, does he think that if he waters these trees,
they'll grow like grass?" Naog heard them, but he cared not at all, for when
they spoke he was inside his boat, seeing that not a drop of water made it
The doorway was the hardest part, because it, too, had to be able to be
sealed against the flood. Many nights Naog lay awake worrying about it before
building this last and largest and tightest seedboat. The answer came to him in
a dream. It was a memory of the little crabs that lived in the sand on the shore
of the Heaving Sea. They dug holes in the sand and then when the water
washed over them, their holes filled in above their heads, keeping out the
water. Naog awoke knowing that he must put the door in the roof of his
seedboat, and arrange a way to lash it from the inside.
"How will you see to lash it?" said Zawada. "There's no light inside."
So Naog and his three captives learned to lash the door in place in utter
When they tested it, water leaked through the edges of the door. The
solution was to smear more pitch, fresh pitch, around the edges of the opening
and lay the door into it so that when they lashed it the seal was tight. It was
very hard to open the door again after that, but they got it open from the
inside--and when they could see again they found that not a drop of water had
got inside. "No more trials," said Naog.
Their work then was to gather seeds--and more than seeds this time.
Water, too. The seeds went into baskets with lids that were lashed down, and
the water went into many, many flasks. Naog and his captives and their wives
worked hard during every moment of daylight to make the waterbags and
seedbaskets and fill them. The Engu didn't mind at all storing more and more
of their grain in Naog's boat--after all, it was ludicrously watertight, so that it
was sure to make it through the flood season in fine form. They didn't have to
believe in his nonsense about a god in the Heaving Sea that was angry with the
Derku people in order to recognize a good seedboat when they saw it.
His boat was nearly full when word spread that a group of new captives
from the southeast were telling tales of a new river of saltwater that had flowed
into the Salty Sea from the direction of the Heaving Sea. When Naog heard
the news, he immediately climbed a tree so he could look toward the southeast.
"Don't be silly," they said to him. "You can't see the Salty Shore from here,
even if you climb the tallest tree."
"I was looking for the flood," said Naog. "Don't you see that the Heaving
Sea must have broken through again, when a storm whipped the water into
madness. Then the storm subsided, and the sea stopped flowing over the top.
But the channel must be wider and longer and deeper now. Next time it won't
end when the storm ends. Next time it will be the great flood."
"How do you know these things, Naog? You're a man like the rest of us.
Just because you're taller doesn't mean you can see the future."
"The god is angry," said Naog. "The true god, not this silly crocodile god
that you feed on human flesh." And now, in the urgency of knowing the
imminence of the flood, he said what he had said to no one but Zawada. "Why
do you think the true god is so angry with us? Because of the crocodile!
Because we feed human flesh to the Dragon! The true god doesn't want
offerings of human flesh. It's an abomination. It's as forbidden as the forbidden
fruit. The crocodile god is not a god at all, it's just a wild animal, one that
crawls on its belly, and yet we bow down to it. We bow down to the enemy of
the true god!"
Hearing him say this made the people angry. Some were so furious they
wanted to feed him to the Great Derku at once, but Naog only laughed at
them. "If the Great Derku is such a wonderful god, let HIM come and get me,
instead of you taking me! But no, you don't believe for a moment that he
CAN do it. Yet the TRUE god had the power to send me a castrated bull to
ride, and a log to save me from a flood, and trees to catch the lightning so it
wouldn't strike me. When has the Dragon ever had the power to do THAT?"
His ridicule of the Great Derku infuriated them, and violence might have
resulted, had Naog not had such physical presence, and had his father not been
a noble sacrifice to the Dragon. Over the next weeks, though, it became clear
that Naog was now regarded by all as something between an enemy and a
stranger. No one came to speak to him, or to Zawada, either. Only Kormo
continued to have contact with the rest of the Derku people.
"They want me to leave you," she told him. "They want me to come
back to my family, because you are the enemy of the god."
"And will you go?" he said.
She fixed her sternest gaze on him. "You are my family now," she said.
"Even when you prefer this ugly woman to me, you are still my husband."
Naog's mother came to him once, to warn him. "They have decided to
kill you. They're simply biding their time, waiting for the right moment."
"Waiting for the courage to fight me, you mean," said Naog.
"Tell them that a madness came upon you, but it's over," she said. "Tell
them that it was the influence of this ugly foreign wife of yours, and then
they'll kill her and not you."
Naog didn't bother to answer her.
His mother burst into tears. "Was this what I bore you for? I named you
very well, Glogmeriss, my son of trouble and anguish!"
"Listen to me, Mother. The flood is coming. We may have very little
warning when it actually comes, very little time to get into my seedboat. Stay
near, and when you hear us calling--"
"I'm glad your father is dead rather than to see his firstborn son so gone
"Tell all the others, too, Mother. I'll take as many into my seedboat as
will fit. But once the door in the roof is closed, I can't open it again. Anyone
who isn't inside when we close it will never get inside, and they will die."
She burst into tears and left.
Not far from the seedboat was a high hill. As the rainy season neared,
Naog took to sending one of his servants to the top of the hill several times a
day, to watch toward the southeast. "What should we look for?" they asked. "I
don't know," he answered. "A new river. A wall of water. A dark streak in
the distance. It will be something that you've never seen before."
The sky filled with clouds, dark and threatening. The heart of the storm
was to the south and east. Naog made sure that his wives and children and the
wives and children of his servants didn't stray far from the seedboat. They
freshened the water in the waterbags, to stay busy. A few raindrops fell, and
then the rain stopped, and then a few more raindrops. But far to the south and
east it was raining heavily. And the wind--the wind kept rising higher and
higher, and it was out of the east. Naog could imagine it whipping the waves
higher and farther into the deep channel that the last storm had opened. He
imagined the water spilling over into the salty riverbed. He imagined it tearing
deeper and deeper into the sand, more and more of it tearing away under the
force of the torrent. Until finally it was no longer the force of the storm
driving the water through the channel, but the weight of the whole sea, because
at last it had been cut down below the level of low tide. And then the sea
tearing deeper and deeper.
"Naog." It was the head of the Engu clan, and a dozen men with him.
"The god is ready for you."
Naog looked at them as if they were foolish children. "This is the
storm," he said. "Go home and bring your families to my seedboat, so they can
come through the flood alive."
"This is no storm," said the head of the clan. "Hardly any rain has
The servant who was on watch came running, out of breath, his arms
bleeding where he had skidded on the ground as he fell more than once in his
haste. "Naog, master!" he cried. "It's plain to see--the Salty Shore is nearer.
The Salty Sea is rising, and fast."
What a torrent of water it would take, to make the Salty Sea rise in its
bed. Naog covered his face with his hands. "You're right," said Naog. "The
god is ready for me. The true god. It was for this hour that I was born. As for
YOUR god--the true god will drown him as surely as he will drown anyone who
doesn't come to my seedboat."
"Come with us now," said the head of the clan. But his voice was not so
To his servants and his wives, Naog said, "Inside the seedboat. When all
are in, smear on the pitch, leaving only one side where I can slide down."
"You come too, husband," said Zawada.
"I can't," he said. "I have to give warning one last time."
"Too late!" cried the servant with the bleeding arms. "Come now."
"You go now," said Naog. "I'll be back soon. But if I'm not back, seal
the door and open it for no man, not even me."
"When will I know to do that?" he asked in anguish.
"Zawada will tell you," said Naog. "She'll know." Then he turned to the
head of the clan. "Come with me," he said. "Let's give the warning." Then
Naog strode off toward the bank of the canal where his mother and brothers
and sisters kept their dragonboats. The men who had come to capture him
followed him, unsure who had captured whom.
It was raining again, a steady rainfall whipped by an ever-stronger wind.
Naog stood on the bank of the canal and shouted against the wind, crying out
for his family to join him. "There's not much time!" he cried. "Hurry, come to
"Don't listen to the enemy of the god!" cried the head of the clan.
Naog looked down into the water of the canal. "Look, you fools! Can't
you see that the canal is rising?"
"The canal always rises in a storm."
Naog knelt down and dipped his hand into the canal and tasted the
water. "Salt," he said. "Salt!" he shouted. "This isn't rising because of rain in
the mountains! The water is rising because the Salty Sea is filling with the
water of the Heaving Sea. It's rising to cover us! Come with me now, or not
at all! When the door of my seedboat closes, we'll open it for no one." Then
he turned and loped off toward the seedboat.
By the time he got there, the water was spilling over the banks of the
canals, and he had to splash through several shallow streams where there had
been no streams before. Zawada was standing on top of the roof, and screamed
at him to hurry as he clambered onto the top of it. He looked in the direction
she had been watching, and saw what she had seen. In the distance, but not so
very far away, a dark wall rushing toward them. A plug of earth must have
broken loose, and a fist of the sea hundreds of feet high was slamming through
the gap. It spread at once, of course, and as it spread the wave dropped until it
was only fifteen or twenty feet high. But that was high enough. It would do.
"You fool!" cried Zawada. "Do you want to watch it or be saved from it?"
Naog followed Zawada down into the boat. Two of the servants smeared
on a thick swatch of tar on the fourth side of the doorway. Then Naog, who
was the only one tall enough to reach outside the hole, drew the door into
place, snugging it down tight. At once it became perfectly dark inside the
seedboat, and silent, too, except for the breathing. "This time for real," said
Naog softly. He could hear the other men working at the lashings. They could
feel the floor moving under them--the canals had spilled over so far now that
the raft was rising and floating.
Suddenly they heard a noise. Someone was pounding on the wall of the
seedboat. And there was shouting. They couldn't hear the words, the walls
were too thick. But they knew what was being said all the same. Save us. Let
us in. Save us.
Kormo's voice was filled with anguish. "Naog, can't we--"
"If we open it now we'll never close it again in time. We'd all die. They
had every chance and every warning. My lashing is done."
"Mine too," answered one of the servants.
The silence of the others said they were still working hard.
"Everyone hold onto the side posts," said Naog. "There's so much room
here. We could have taken on so many more."
The pounding outside was in earnest now. They were using axes to hack
at the wood. Or at the lashings. And someone was on top of the seedboat
now, many someones, trying to pry at the door.
"Now, O God, if you mean to save us at all, send the water now."
"Done," said another of the servants. So three of the four corners were
Suddenly the boat lurched and rocked upward, then spun crazily in every
direction at once. Everyone screamed, and few were able to keep their
handhold, such was the force of the flood. They plunged to one side of the
seedboat, a jumble of humans and spilling baskets and water bottles. Then they
struck something--a tree? The side of a mountain?--and lurched in another
direction entirely, and in the darkness it was impossible to tell anymore whether
they were on the floor or the roof or one of the walls.
Did it go on for days, or merely hours? Finally the awful turbulence gave
way to a spinning all in one plane. The flood was still rising; they were still
caught in the twisting currents; but they were no longer caught in that wall of
water, in the great wave that the god had sent. They were on top of the flood.
Gradually they sorted themselves out. Mothers found their children,
husbands found their wives. Many were crying, but as the fear subsided they
were able to find the ones who were genuinely in pain. But what could they do
in the darkness to deal with bleeding injuries, or possible broken bones? They
could only plead with the god to be merciful and let them know when it was
safe to open the door.
After a while, though, it became plain that it wasn't safe NOT to open
it. The air was musty and hot and they were beginning to pant. "I can't
breathe," said Zawada. "Open the door," said Kormo.
Naog spoke aloud to the god. "We have no air in here," he said. "I have
to open the door. Make it safe. Let no other wave wash over us with the door
But when he went to open the door, he couldn't find it in the darkness.
For a sickening moment he thought: What if we turned completely upside
down, and the door is now under us? I never thought of that. We'll die in
Then he found it, and began fussing with the lashings. But it was hard
in the darkness. They had tied so hurriedly, and he wasn't thinking all that
well. But soon he heard the servants also at work, muttering softly, and one by
one they got their lashings loose and Naog shoved upward on the door.
It took forever before the door budged, or so it seemed, but when at last
it rocked upward, a bit of faint light and a rush of air came into the boat and
everyone cried out at once in relief and gratitude. Naog pushed the door
upward and then maneuvered it to lie across the opening at an angle, so that
the heavy rain outside wouldn't inundate them. He stood there holding the
door in place, even though the wind wanted to pick it up and blow it away--a
slab of wood as heavy as that one was!--while in twos and threes they came to
the opening and breathed, or lifted children to catch a breath of air. There was
enough light to bind up some bleeding injuries, and to realize that no bones
were broken after all.
The rain went on forever, or so it seemed, the rain and the wind. And
then it stopped, and they were able to come out onto the roof of the seedboat
and look at the sunlight and stare at the distant horizon. There was no land at
all, just water. "The whole earth is gone," said Kormo. "Just as you said.
"The Heaving Sea has taken over this place," said Naog. "But we'll come
to dry land. The current will take us there."
There was much debris floating on the water--torn-up trees and bushes,
for the flood had scraped the whole face of the land. A few rotting bodies of
animals. If anyone saw a human body floating by, they said nothing about it.
After days, a week, perhaps longer of floating without sight of land, they
finally began skirting a shoreline. Once they saw the smoke of someone's
fire--people who lived high above the great valley of the Salty Sea had been
untouched by the flood. But there was no way to steer the boat toward shore.
Like a true seedboat, it drifted unless something drew it another way. Naog
cursed himself for his foolishness in not including dragonboats in the cargo of
the boat. He and the other men and women might have tied lines to the
seedboat and to themselves and paddled the boat to shore. As it was, they
would last only as long as their water lasted.
It was long enough. The boat fetched up against a grassy shore. Naog
sent several of the servants ashore and they used a rope to tie the boat to a
tree. But it was useless--the current was still too strong, and the boat tore free.
They almost lost the servants, stranding them on the shore, forever separated
from their families, but they had the presence of mind to swim for the end of
The next day they did better--more lines, all the men on shore, drawing
the boat further into a cove that protected it from the current. They lost no
time in unloading the precious cargo of seeds, and searching for a source of
fresh water. Then they began the unaccustomed task of hauling all the baskets
of grain by hand. There were no canals to ease the labor.
"Perhaps we can find a place to dig canals again," said Kormo.
"No!" said Zawada vehemently. "We will never build such a place again.
Do you want the god to send another flood?"
"There will be no other flood," said Naog. "The Heaving Sea has had its
victory. But we will also build no canals. We will keep no crocodile, or any
other animal as our god. We will never sacrifice forbidden fruit to any god,
because the true god hates those who do that. And we will tell our story to
anyone who will listen to it, so that others will learn how to avoid the wrath of
the true god, the god of power."
Kemal watched as Naog and his people came to shore not far from Gibeil
and set up farming in the El Qa' Valley in the shadows of the mountains of
Sinai. The fact of the flood was well known, and many travelers came to see
this vast new sea where once there had been dry land. More and more of them
also came to the new village that Naog and his people built, and word of his
story also spread.
Kemal's work was done. He had found Atlantis. He had found Noah,
and Gilgamesh. Many of the stories that had collected around those names
came from other cultures and other times, but the core was true, and Kemal had
found them and brought them back to the knowledge of humankind.
But what did it mean? Naog gave warning, but no one listened. His
story remained in people's minds, but what difference did it make?
As far as Kemal was concerned, all old-world civilizations after Atlantis
were dependent on that first civilization. The IDEA of the city was already
with the Egyptians and the Sumerians and the people of the Indus and even the
Chinese, because the story of the Derku people, under one name or another,
had spread far and wide--the Golden Age. People remembered well that once
there was a great land that was blessed by the gods until the sea rose up and
swallowed their land. People who lived in different landscapes tried to make
sense of the story. To the island-hopping Greeks Atlantis became an island
that sank into the sea. To the plains-dwelling Sumerians the flood was caused
by rain, not by the sea leaping out of its bed to swallow the earth. Someone
wondered how, if all the land was covered, the animals survived, and thus the
account of animals two by two was added to the story of Naog. At some point,
when people still remembered that the name meant "naked," a story was added
about his sons covering his nakedness as he lay in a drunken stupor. All of this
was decoration, however. People remembered both the Derku people and the
one man who led his family through the flood.
But they would have remembered Atlantis with or without Naog, Kemal
knew that. What difference did his saga make, to anyone but himself and his
household? As others studied the culture of the Derku, Kemal remained
focused on Naog himself. If anything, Naog's life was proof that one person
makes no difference at all in history. He saw the flood coming, he warned his
people about it when there was plenty of time, he showed them how to save
themselves, and yet nothing changed outside his own immediate family group.
That was the way history worked. Great forces sweep people along, and now
and then somebody floats to the surface and becomes famous but it means
nothing, it amounts to nothing.
Yet Kemal could not believe it. Naog may not have accomplished what
he THOUGHT his goal was--to save his people--but he did accomplish
something. He never lived to see the result of it, but because of his survival
the Atlantis stories were tinged with something else. It was not just a golden
age, not just a time of greatness and wealth and leisure and city life, a land of
giants and gods. Naog's version of the story also penetrated the public
consciousness and remained. The people were destroyed because the greatest of
gods was offended by their sins. The list of sins shifted and changed over time,
but certain ideas remained: That it was wrong to live in a city, where people
get lifted up in the pride of their hearts and think that they are too powerful for
the gods to destroy. That the one who seems to be crazy may in fact be the
only one who sees the truth. That the greatest of gods is the one you can't see,
the one who has power over the earth and the sea and the sky, all at once.
And, above all, this: That it was wrong to sacrifice human beings to the gods.
It took thousands of years, and there were places where Naog's passionate
doctrine did not penetrate until modern times, but the root of it was there in
the day he came home and found that his father had been fed to the Dragon.
Those who thought that it was right to offer human beings to the Dragon were
all dead, and the one who had long proclaimed that it was wrong was still alive.
The god had preserved him and killed all of them. Wherever the idea of
Atlantis spread, some version of this story came with it, and in the end all the
great civilizations that were descended from Atlantis learned not to offer the
forbidden fruit to the gods.
In the Americas, though, no society grew up that owed a debt to
Atlantis, for the same rising of the world ocean that closed the land bridge
between Yemen and Djibouti also broke the land bridge between America and
the old world. The story of Naog did not touch there, and it seemed to Kemal
absolutely clear what the cost of that was. Because they had no memory of
Atlantis, it took the people of the Americas thousands of years longer to
develop civilization--the city. Egypt was already ancient when the Olmecs first
built amid the swampy land of the bay of Campeche. And because they had no
story of Naog, warning that the most powerful of gods rejected killing human
beings, the old ethos of human sacrifice remained in full force, virtually
unquestioned. The carnage of the Mexica--the Aztecs--took it to the extreme,
but it was there already, throughout the Caribbean basin, a tradition of human
blood being shed to feed the hunger of the gods.
Kemal could hardly say that the bloody warfare of the old world was
much of an improvement over this. But it was different, and in his mind, at
least, it was different specifically because of Naog. If he had not ridden out the
flood to tell his story of the true God who forbade sacrifice, the old world
would not have been the same. New civilizations might have risen more
quickly, with no stories warning of the danger of city life. And those new
civilizations might all have worshiped the same Dragon, or some other, as
hungry for human flesh as the gods of the new world were hungry for human
On the day that Kemal became sure that his Noah had actually changed
the world, he was satisfied. He said little and wrote nothing about his
conclusion. This surprised even him, for in all the months and years that he
had searched hungrily for Atlantis, and then for Noah, and then for the
meaning of Noah's saga, Kemal had assumed that, like Schliemann, he would
publish everything, he would tell the world the great truth that he had found.
But to his surprise he discovered that he must not have searched so far for the
sake of science, or for fame, or for any other motive than simply to know, for
himself, that one person's life amounted to something. Naog changed the
world, but then so did Zawada, and so did Kormo, and so did the servant who
skinned his elbows running down the hill, and so did Naog's father and mother,
and ... and in the end, so did they all. The great forces of history were real,
after a fashion. But when you examined them closely, those great forces always
came down to the dreams and hungers and judgments of individuals. The
choices they made were real. They mattered.
Apparently that was all that Kemal had needed to know. The next day
he could think of no reason to go to work. He resigned from his position at
the head of the Atlantis project. Let others do the detail work. Kemal was
well over thirty now, and he had found the answer to his great question, and it
was time to get down to the business of living.