The Egyptian

by McCamy Taylor

"As for him who knows this spell, he will be a worthy spirit and he will not die again in the realm of the dead." From THE EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD

Those of you who wish to cheat death would do well to consider this tale.

In a middle land, a place of no importance in a time when nothing significant was done, a plague of black boils and bloody sweat struck overnight, taking one in four. All the village carts could not contain the corpses. The grave digger dropped dead from exhaustion. In desperation, the village priest consecrated the lime pits where paupers were buried. Rich and poor were interred together. Christians and heathens received the same blessing.

In the dark days of grief which followed, a single ray of hope appeared. A bearded stranger dressed in gray arrived in the village early one morning, when the mist still clung to the ground. His back was stooped. He walked slowly with the aid of a wooden staff.

He said his name was Marlin and that he came from the north. Tied to the back of his mule was a leather sack bulging with books, candles, crystals and herbs.

"I'm a healer," he declared.

"You're too late," said the grieving relatives.

"A healer of death." From his sack, he drew out a leather bound book. He opened it and began to read. "Allhalla, allalla, allum., allorn. One who has died will now be reborn."

The villagers assumed that he was a mad man. Or worse, a thief come to steal their gold with promises that no man could keep but which no grieving mother could resist. Imagine their surprise when a child two days dead climbed down from a cart of corpses and began crying for its mother.

The stranger would accept no money. "All I need is in my bag. If you can find a vacant house for me, I will stay awhile in this village, and help all those I can."

One of the dead was an old miser who had lived alone in a big stone house on the outskirts of town. The building had a tower, where the miser liked to sit and count his money. The house was widely held to be cursed or haunted or both. When it was offered to Marlin, he accepted it readily.

"I will need a night to prepare myself. In the morning, every parent may bring one dead child twelve years old or less. "

Those who had heard his instructions, hurried home to gather up the bodies of their dead children. A few grieving parents tried to retrieve corpses from the lime pit. However, these bodies were so decayed as to be unrecognizable. The other villagers offered their condolences, though secretly, they were relieved. Imagine a child with no face playing with another who lacked limbs?

The sun had barely set when the first anxious parents arrived carrying their lifeless children in their arms. By dawn, the line stretched from the miser's home to the churchyard. A few had brought two or even three dead children, though the healer had specifically said that each parent would be allowed to bring one. This lead to arguments and several fist fights. However, when the massive wooden door of the miser's house was thrown open, and the elderly healer shuffled forward, silence descended upon the crowd.

"Don't push," he said. "I've healing power enough for all."

That morning, he resurrected forty children. Forty one if you count the child who was brought back to life and then fell down a well, drowned and had to be resurrected again.

The magic which he performed that morning took a terrible toll on the healer, who seemed to age ten years. "Tomorrow," Marlin wheezed "You may bring all those children who were not saved today, plus any youths between the ages of twelve and twenty. Now I must rest and regain my strength." With these words, he retired to his borrowed home.

That evening, the villagers celebrated their good fortune. They ate roasted boar and toasted the healer with the best local wine. The priest, who had been jealous at first of all the attention the stranger was getting, declared the man a saint and prepared a letter to be sent to Rome.

In the midst of the festivities, a knight dressed in black appeared. "I am looking for a healer," he said. "A man with a long gray beard, who goes by the name of Marlin."

Afterwards, those who saw and spoke to the knight had difficulty describing him. Some said he was tall, thin and fair. Others insisted he was short and dark. One thing everyone agreed upon was the fact that his sword was black as pitch and whatever it touched--grass, shrubs, tree roots---immediately shriveled and died.

He was directed to the miser's home. "He won't start healing again until morning, so you've plenty of time to fetch your children and get in line," said the villager blacksmith.

The knight ignored this advise and began to walk purposefully in the direction of the healer's home. Alarmed that the dark swordsman might have been sent by a great lord to take away their savior, the villagers followed, though they were careful to keep a good distance between themselves and that deadly black blade.

At the door of the miser's house, the black knight paused. He knocked three times upon the door, before it opened.

"Come inside," said the ancient healer, smiling. "I've been expecting you."

The black knight entered and did not emerge again. In the morning, when Marlin appeared, he was alone. Despite his gray hair, he looked vigorous and young. Rubbing his hands together, he asked "Who's first?"

That day, he resurrected sixty. By the time he was done, he looked a little tired, but not so tired as the day before. "I will rest, now. Tomorrow, you may bring anyone else you want to see brought back to life."

The villagers celebrated again that night. This time, they dined on a roasted ox and drank black ale. The young people who had returned from the dead now numbered one hundred and one. Many were asleep in their beds, but some of the older children and many of the youths were at the party. Though they ate and drank and laughed with the others, from time to time they would suddenly stop whatever it was they were doing. A dull, glazed look would appear in their eyes. A few cried out in terror during these spells and had to be comforted by family members.

"It's no small thing to be brought back from the dead," someone said.

"It is very dangerous indeed, and cruel to make the dead die twice," said a voice from the shadows. Another black knight, dressed exactly like the first, stepped into the light of the fire. "I am looking for a healer," she said. For this knight was a woman, though she wore a man's trousers, shirt and armor and carried a long, black sword. "He may go by the name of Marlin."

A dog went to investigate the black knight. It sniffed her boots then began to growl and back away, in the process bumping up against the tip of that pitch black sword. The hound stiffened and rolled over, dead.

Once again, the villagers directed the black knight to the miser's house. Once again the knight knocked on the door, which was opened by the healer. Smiling broadly, he said "Come in. Come in." The female knight was never seen again.

The third day was much like the two before, except the evening's celebration was a strangely somber affair. People were on edge. They were waiting for something, but they did not know what it was---

Until the two black knights appeared. They were identical twins, though once again, no one could agree on what the pair looked like. Some said they were Viking warriors. Others insisted they were a pair of Turks. One of them started to say, "We are looking for a healer..."

"...who may go by the name of Marlin," the baker finished for him. "He's staying in that big stone house down the road, the one with the tower."

Marlin seemed delighted to see the pair of knights. "How wonderful!" he exclaimed as he opened the door. "There are two of you!" His beard had gone from gray to black. The wrinkles on his face had vanished. His back, which was stooped when he arrived, was now straight as an arrow.

"Should we warn the two knights?" someone asked in a whisper.

Before anyone could offer an opinion, the twin black knights entered the miser's house. They were never seen again.

Weeks passed. People began to notice strange, unsettling things about those who had been resurrected. They seldom slept, and when they did, they had to be watched, because they tended to stop breathing. When shaken awake, they would cry or scream and beg to be allowed to "go back", though when asked, they could not say where it was that they wanted to go.

At mealtime, they played with their food. When forced to eat, they often vomited it back up or passed the food, undigested, from their bowels. Oddly, they could not get enough water. Infants drank gallons of the stuff without ever once wetting their diapers. Older children, when told to piss, would produce a little moisture, but not enough to account for all the liquid they drank.

The bigger children could often be found in the cemetery. Instead of balls and toys, they played with fire, spiders and knives. Rather than frightening them, the sound of wolves howling in the night seemed to draw them outdoors. The girls began to decorate their hair and faces with soot and ashes, rather than rouge and flowers.

"It is no small thing to be brought back from the dead," the villagers repeated over and over again. No one dared repeat, but people often recalled the words of the second black knight. It is very dangerous indeed, and cruel, to make the dead die twice.

Though the plague was over, the healer stayed. From time to time, a villager would die from illness or accident or old age. Each time, the healer brought the dead person back to life, his wounds healed, all trace of sickness gone. Only age seemed to defy him. The elderly who were resurrected in the morning tended to slip away at night again.

"Too bad he doesn't share the secret of eternal youth with us," the miller said. For the healer, who had arrived in the village an old man, was now a mere youth, his face smooth, his black hair thick, his stride confident.

One month to the day after the healer arrived in the village, the Egyptian appeared. He was a dark man, of slender build and medium height--everyone agreed on this. He wore a black cape which completely covered his garments. His expression was sour. When one of the barmaids tried to flirt with him, he said "Do you know why womb rhymes with tomb? Because to love a woman is to wed yourself to suffering."

Thinking the dark stranger was one of those moors who prefer their own sex, the stable boy tried his luck. He fared no better. However, he did notice that the Egyptian was wearing several rings, all made of gold, all encrusted with precious gems. He told his boyfriend, who told his sister who told her lover, Wyllen who possessed an uncanny ability to win at cards whenever the stakes got high enough.

That night, the Egyptian emerged from his room at the inn and came downstairs to the tavern. He choose the table furthest from the door. When the barmaid got up the courage to take his order, he said "I'm not drinking."

"You have to order something," she insisted, with a nervous glance at the inn keeper.

"Then, I'll have an empty cup."

"An empty cup?"

"You heard me!"

The barmaid hurried away to fetch his cup.

Wyllen, who had been waiting for the Egyptian to appear, stood up and strolled across the room. "Mind if I join you?"

"Yes," snapped the dark man. "I do mind. But don't let that stop you."

Wyllen was taken aback, but only for a moment. He started a conversation. It was one sided, since the Egyptian said nothing. Eventually, he brought the subject around to cards. "Do you play Castles? I play a little, myself."

The Egyptian's eyes narrowed. He bared his teeth in a grin that was particularly nasty, even for him. "Why yes, I play Castles. Do you have a deck?"

Wyllen whipped out his deck. He pretended to fumble with the cards as he shuffled them. "What stakes shall we play for?"

The Egyptian deposited a handful of copper coins on the table.

Wyllen frowned. He was after gold, not copper. Since the initial stakes were so small, he let the dark stranger win the first two hands. As he shuffled the cards a third time, he said "Maybe we should up the stakes."

"Maybe we should." The Egyptian tugged off one of his rings, a heavy piece of gold mounted with an emerald the size of a quail's egg.

Wyllen's eyes widened. "I possess nothing to match that."

"Then I'll make it easy for you. If you win, you get the ring. If I win, you fill my cup with the beverage of my choice. Agreed?"

Wyllen could not believe his luck. He had assumed that he would have to wager his horse, at the very least, if not his farm. "Agreed." He began to deal the cards, but the Egyptian's hand closed over his wrist. The dark man, though slightly built, was incredibly strong. The cards dropped from Wyllen's almost lifeless fingers.

"I'll deal." The dark man reshuffled the deck. He dealt his opponent a hand, then himself.

Wyllen could barely contain his disappointment. The cards which he had been dealt were among the worst. He was going to lose that lovely ring.

Sure enough, the Egyptian had a Ringed Castle while Wyllen had a Double Guarded Gate. Forcing a laugh, he said "I guess you win. What drink shall I buy you?"

"Save your money," his opponent replied. His dark eyes glittered . "I want you to fill this cup with your blood."

"My blood? You're joking."

"I never joke. Your wrist, please." When Wyllen did not move, the Egyptian grabbed him by the arm. With his free hand, he extracted a dagger with a curved blade and jeweled handle from his belt. "Relax, you won't die. Not from the loss of a cup of blood."

Wyllen's face went pale as he watched the red liquid ooze from his arm into the cup. When it was full to the brim, the Egyptian released him. "You'd better put pressure on that," he advised. "Or you'll bleed to death after all." He picked up the cup and drained it in one long gulp.

The tavern was so silent that you could have heard a pin drop. Then, simultaneously, three men who were friends of Wyllen pulled their knives and moved towards the stranger.

"You don't want to do that." he warned lightly.

The three continued to creep forward.

"I said 'You don't want to do that' " he repeated, loudly this time. One moment he was holding the empty cup. The next moment, he had his sword in his hands, with the blade pointed straight at the heart of the closest of the three friends. He threw back his cloak to free his sword arm, revealing black armor. His sword was also pitch black from the hilt to the tip of the blade.

Wyllen and his three friends made a rapid retreat.

The Egyptian sheathed his blade. "Sorry about that," he said to the inn keeper. "I'm not usually this touchy. Someone close to me has...but that's none of your business. I'm looking for a healer. He may go by the name of Marlin."

The villagers breathed a collective sigh of relief, all except the inn keeper who hated to lose a paying customer. "He lives down the street in a big stone house with a tower." He lowered his voice. "Take my advise and stay away from him. Four knights wearing black armor like yours, carrying blades like yours, went looking for him. None of them came back."

"I know," the Egyptian replied. "That's why they sent me." He slipped the gold and emerald ring into the inn keeper's hand. "But thank you for being so honest. "

A sizable crowd followed him--at a distance--as he marched towards the miser's home. At the door he stopped and knocked three times. Marlin opened the door. A smile split his smooth, young face. "I was wondering if you had forgotten me. Come in. Come in."

Outside, the villagers waited.

The tailor broke the silence. "We might as well go home. He isn't coming back out."

"Good riddance," said his brother. "How young do you think Marlin will be this time?"

"If they keep sending black knights, he'll end up a baby."

People chuckled. A few turned and started back towards the inn.Silence descended upon the group, only to be shattered moments later by the sound of a shout, followed by a shriek, and finally a dull thud. The noise came from inside the miser's house. As one, the villagers held their breath and waited.

The door opened. The Egyptian emerged. In one hand, he held his black sword. Bright red blood trickled from the blade, forming a puddle on the ground. In the other hand, he held the healer's severed head by its thick, black hair. Marlin's face was contorted in an expression of surprise. Blood oozed from the neck. The eyelids blinked several times. The lips moved, but he had no breath with which to speak.

"My God!" someone exclaimed. "He's still alive."

"And he'll stay that way," the Egyptian said. "There is no place in the Realm of the Dead for one such as him. Only a monster would make the dead die a second time." Seeing the horror on the faces that surrounded him, he added "It's the sorcerer's own fault. He used forbidden magic to make himself immortal as well as eternally young. On him, the Black Sword of Death was just another blade. Those of you who have children who were resurrected by the sorcerer had better hurry home . The spell that kept their corpses animated is broken. You have an hour, maybe less, in which to say your good-byes."

There was a wail of despair from the crowd. "You've killed them!" a woman shouted.

"No," the Egyptian replied quietly. "Their bodies died of natural causes, and their souls moved on as nature intended. This man who called himself a healer used his magic to pluck their souls from the Realm of the Dead---Heaven, you call it----and bring them back to earth. They didn't want to come back. Haven't you noticed how sad they are? How they shun anything associated with life? The ironic part is that the sorcerer didn't do this out of kindness. He didn't do it in hopes of getting money from you. Your children were bait in his trap. He knew that when we in the Realm of the Dead noticed that souls were being snatched, we would send our Knights to investigate. The wizard had discovered a powerful spell that allowed him to trap and control the spirits of the dead. Your dead children's souls he forced back into their bodies. The more powerful souls of the Knights of Death, he devoured, restoring his youth and giving himself eternal life."

It was the inn keeper who spoke. The rest were too afraid. "If you are a Knight of the Realm of the Dead, like the others, and if Marlin knew how to control the dead, why didn't he trap and devour you?"

The Egyptian bared his teeth, which were still stained red with Wyllen's blood. "I'm not dead. To tell the truth, I'm not alive either. I am member of the un-dead, also known as the vampyres." With a flourish he bowed. Then he wrapped his black cloak around him and vanished into the night.

© 2000 McCamy Taylor

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