© 2009, Patrick Hester. All Rights Reserved
Tales from The New Universe: The Legend of Aoudjila
Zohhāk fled from the great city early in the summer, making his way across the blistering desert where he intended to die. His lover had rejected him, taking another as husband after many nights where she whispered through the wall to him, promising that he alone would win her heart and her hand. He left without knowing that her father had arranged the marriage against her will and that she, too, was heartbroken and distraught.
He ran for a day and a night without pause, deep into the desert where none return. He ran until his eyes began to swell, his skin to blister, and his feet to bleed. When he collapsed, the desert rejoiced, for it knew that soon, it would consume this trespasser as it had done a thousand times before and would do a thousand times again.
But Dahae, the great Ezhdehā, saw the little man and his flight into the desert, and she watched him, watched as he ran and ran until his tiny legs could no longer hold his weight and he fell into the greedy desert sands. She came to him, pushing away the sands with her cool breath, cradling him in her arms and lifting him away, deeper into the desert where she knew of an oasis.
There, beneath the shade of a fruit tree, she held the little man, so curious to her mind, and dribbled the precious water of the Aoudjila into his dry and cracked mouth. When she held him, she sang softly the songs of her home and realized that she wanted to know more of this man.
But that was forbidden, for she was Ezhdehā, and he merely human. Still, there were ways around this, so she called on the Daēuua and asked for a boon, and the Daēuua were glad to help her, for they saw that only chaos and pain would come from her request, which they thrived upon. They used their mainyu to transform Dahae into the image of a beautiful human woman, and this was the first thing that Zohhāk saw when he was able to open his swollen eyes again, and he fell hopelessly, endlessly in love.
They spent that night cradled together.
Zohhāk decided to build a home at Aoudjila for his love, a home they could share and live together in as husband and wife. The home became a grand design, growing and growing in size and complexity as his mind tried to design something worthy of her beauty and grace. His brothers came to help him in the desert, and they brought their own families and tools and construction materials.
Zohhāk devoted all of his time to the building of the greatest home ever conceived, and then it became clear to him that a mere home was not enough – his lady deserved a city full of people to worship her as a goddess. So focused was he on building a home worthy of his lady love, that he left Dahae alone most of the time, and she could be seen resting beneath the shade of the fruit tree, her stomach swelling as the months went on but her spirit falling deeper and deeper into despair. She stayed only because of the child growing inside her.
Aoudjila grew from the desert like a tree spurting from the fertile ground near the great rivers of the frigid North. Zohhāk pushed to make every detail perfect for his love, from the smallest petal design in the lattice work walls of the garden to the towers rising higher than any other in all the land, each tipped and trimmed in gold that caught the sun and glowed like stars throughout the day. The walls were of gleaming white stone, matched in the streets and kept clean and swept every hour. This meant that Aoudjila could be seen from far and wide – a gleaming white oasis deep in the heart of the desert.
When he felt it was finished, when he felt that it was at last worthy of his great love, Zohhāk sought her under the fruit tree where he first saw her and fell in love, only she was not there. Concerned, he called for a search of the city. It took hours, for he had built a sprawling city with thousands of people living within its mighty walls. In the end, she was nowhere to be found. It was then that his brothers, chagrined, told him that she had left long ago, years ago, while he was obsessed with building the city and had ignored her altogether. They brought forth his son and told him that he must be a father now, but Zohhāk could only scream for the child had his mothers eyes.
Zohhāk cried for days and the Daēuua rejoiced, for at last, they had their due. They reveled in the misery they had caused, for they had known he would ignore Dahae and knew that she would never remain with a human for long – child or no child.
Zohhāk left in the night, distraught and grieving, and the desert was not kind. This trespasser had survived for too long, had even had the audacity to build a great city where none had ever stood before. Angry and hungry, the Daēuua whipped the sands into a fury that night and took Zohhāk into their gritty embrace. But it did not end there, for their anger was great.
A storm like no other was called, the winds carrying the sand higher and higher, swirling and howling while the Daēuua laughed in the night. They pushed against the shining walls of Aoudjila, splashing over them like water, filling the streets, burying the houses and the gardens so as to consume it altogether.
The desert reclaimed the great city of Aoudjila that night, and no trace of it has ever been found.
Yet still, on quiet nights, when the sands are still and the air is clean, a soft weeping can be heard. Some say it is Dahae, mourning the loss of her husband, Zohhāk, and the child they made together…