And if you’re reading my story, you probably shouldn’t be reading it.
Here’s how it happened.
He was sitting, writing intently by lamplight, in the richly furnished tent. There came a discreet clicking from beyond the tent flap. He called out, “Yes?”
One of the huge red creatures, his captors, slid silently in from the darkness, its polished carapace gleaming, its claws politely crossed upon its chest. It spoke, in its strange clatter of rasps and booms. “The King requests your presence.”
“Um—may I finish this thought? I have but two sentences to write.”
“I will wait. But the King, too, is waiting.”
He turned back to his page, but the words had evaporated. The King? He had wondered these four days who had been responsible for his dramatic abduction, had even hoped to meet him once the comfortable terms of his imprisonment had become clear, but a King?
He set down his pen. “Never mind. Let us go.”
He rose from the chair, straightening to his full height, though that brought him barely above the guard’s waist. He took his over-robe, a defence against the chill desert night, from the arm of the divan where he had left it, and put it on. He crossed the carpet and stepped into the night, his captor silent at his heels.
On the makeshift street of oiled sand between the two looming rows of tents, he turned right towards the largest of them, which glowed ornately across the end of the road. But the guard clicked politely and gestured in the opposite direction. He reversed himself, and they walked side by side between walls of shadowed fabric that shifted fitfully in the breeze. He saw no sentries, but he knew they were there.
Past four or five immense tents they came to a side-street onto which they turned. It shortly reached a lip and tilted downwards. A cacophony of flickering light and drumming sound seemed to erupt upon them as they headed into the bowl in the stony plateau: a confusion of darkness and flame, of shrieking and rhythm. It was a moment before the eye and mind adjusted to the scene.
He stopped, astonished.
The depression was large and deep enough to hold five thousand men in quiet concealment. What it now held was a vast roaring bonfire, circled by the nightmare forms of the enemy soldiers, some of them reclining immobile, some of them sitting and drinking, some of them fallen in tangled heaps while they drummed upon each other’s resonant bodies. And through the fire—in the fire—there were dancers, their huge shining forms whirling through the flames, drawing the smoke and fire into ephemeral shapes and shifting forms, crackling and flickering and laughing in the blazing heat.
His guard turned to him, his rigid, immobile face seeming to grin in the unsteady glare. “A good party tonight.” It stood for a moment, then moved to the side, skirting the revelry. The heat was intense, almost frightening, on his right side; the cold of the desert night sucked at him from his left.
On the far side of the bonfire they came to an area strewn with ornate rugs. On the central rug there was a huge, dark, chair, carved all over with dancing demonic figures. And in the chair there was a huge figure, taller sitting than the tallest human stood, blood red, gleaming, with spines and serrations along its limbs, its shoulders, its head. Another spiky form stepped from the shadows bearing a tray, placed it on a side table, and scraped quietly in what passed for a whisper among this kind.
The King looked up, turning huge shining golden eyes upon him.
“Ah! My friend! Be welcome!”