They found it. I thought that it had been hidden so well by the sands of time that such an event was impossible. You would think that by now I would have learned that the impossible is not only possible, but a guaranteed, eventuality.
I had been dreaming about my childhood. Of days when I played in the sun, running through scorching sands and dancing along sparkling rivers. I had been born beautiful. Or so I was told. Because everyone told me it was true I never questioned it. And because I was beautiful nothing else was required of me. When I was three, the king came for me. I was to be his wife. Not his only wife, the twenty-seventh, to be exact. But my family did not care what number I was. As for me, well, I was never asked.
The sound of their digging woke me from my sleep, thousands of miles away.
The sands of my homeland were being disturbed. The parts of me that resided there still cried out. The call cleared the cobwebs from my sleep fogged brain and demanded that I wake. And because I had nothing else of note to distract me, I went.
I flew to the other side of the globe where an excavation site had been constructed. A grid pattern had been plotted making neat squares of the dig. Laborers dressed in flowing robes dug through layers of sediment that had seen Romans and Mongols alike come and go. I watched, curious and more excited than I would have thought possible. Had they really found it? And if so, how much of it was left?
I had become adept at watching mankind. Humans, content in their place on the food chain, never look up. I discovered long ago all I had to do was move above their line of sight and I could watch. Undisturbed and unnoticed.
The grating of metal on stone sounded in the stillness. They worked during the coolness of night. The desert sun baked the life out of anything that dared to brave it’s scorching rays. Dawn was still a few hours off and yet the huge flood lights illuminating the dig created a false day.
I was watching closely now. Focusing my eyes upon the shovel that found what had been lost to legend. They said it was a tower. But such descriptions conjured images of a drunken structure in Pisa. This was never a tower. It was a ziggurat, stair stepping itself towards the heavens. But not just a ziggurat, a temple.
A temple to a king that thought he needed twenty seven wives. A king that, like most men, wanted something bigger and better than others had.
The blood of thousands was shed to build it. Slaves who were not given the luxury of working at night, toiled endlessly. They worked until they dropped. When life left them, they were thrown into a pile. If their family came for them, fine. If not, the fires would receive them.
I remember watching the construction throughout my childhood. “When it is complete we will be married,” he told me. And because it was what I was raised for, I smiled and nodded. But deep inside me, the part that hated the fat king and his greasy hands, hated that temple just as much. I prayed daily that it would never be completed. Which just goes to show you, be careful what you ask for. Or at least have a care for how you word your requests.
On the day the last brick was laid, the day the golden doors were hung in the temple that sat at the highest part, I was pulled from my bed and prepared for my wedding. I was fourteen. A woman grown by the standards of the day. And yet I cried a child’s tears. Deep gut wrenching sobs for all that had been lost and all that would never be, though my eyes were dry. It would not do for me to show anything but a smile. And so I smiled my false smile to the attendants that dressed me. But that didn’t make my tears any less real.
I prayed once more that I would not have to be married to the king. I wanted to have a life. A life like no one had ever had. An interesting life. As I ended my prayer a mighty storm arose. I can’t recall what happened. I know only that I found myself wandering in the dessert, scorched, bruised and unmarried.
I spoke to everyone I saw as the days went on. Not one of them understood me. Nor I them. Even the ones that looked familiar, the ones that wore the colors of my homeland spoke in a language that I could not name. Giving each other confused glances we went on our separate ways. Eventually, I stumbled upon a cave. In the darkness sat an old crone. She was staring at me expectantly, as if she had been waiting for me. She was not well pleased. Apparently, I was late.
She offered me a drink. I took it. Silly girl that I was. As the last drop of liquid slid down my throat she smiled. Then she stood up and walked out into the sunrise. When the first fingers of dawn touched her skin she cried out. And then, like a fire well stoked, she ignited. Orange flames danced around her, but she made no effort to extinguish them. I screamed and tried to put out the flames but my skin began to blister as the light hit me. In terror I ran back into the cave. I watched as she was reduced to ash. An ash so fine the dessert winds carried it away, along with my old life.
No more would I play in the sun. I had given up light for life. A life I have lived well. Nearly 12,000 years if my estimation is correct. The uncovering of the temple seemed like a fitting end to such a life. And so for the last time I watched as the sun rose, painting the sky crimson and then blush before blue settled in.
I stood in the shadows and stretched my fingers out expecting to feel pain. But none came. I took a cautious step forward. As the sun bathed me in golden light I waited for the flames. Nothing happened.
“Well, this is interesting.”