There's No Trace of Numund Anymore
By: Michael A. Arnold

There is, somewhere in the Sahara Desert, a small lake that is never fed and never disappears. Ancient stories say that the first great city, called Numund, once stood there but something strange and terrible happened.

Every version of the Numund story is different, since they survive in oral traditions – stories around campfires always change. After comparing all the different versions, and what papyri fragments might be related, I have found a basic story and will flesh it out here.

The tribe that made Numund's original population were migrating, following the wide river 'Nehilios' – probably what is now called the Nile. They had heard of a large, and largely unknown land in the north (possibly Europe) which was said to be very fertile and under populated. One night, while camped on the banks of the great Nehilios river, their tribal leader had a dream in which strange gods appeared to her. They said that her people were to settle a land nearby that would eventually meet their every imaginable need, and they would know it because of a small, white stone hill there which was sacred to those gods. The only request those gods made, that the people would not use stone from that hill in any way. In the morning she told her people about the dream, and yes they thought it must be a sign from the divines. Trusting those gods, they stopped their migration.

After half a day their scouts found a shallow valley with a thin stream running through it, and a small uncovered hill standing over it made of a stone so white it almost glowed in the sunlight. Even though they were some distance from the Nehilios River, and only a small stream ran through the valley, it was very fertile – wild grasses and fruit trees were scattered everywhere. They thought surely this must be the land their new gods had referred to, and when the people were gathered they started building a new home for themselves, calling their town Numund. Because Numund was in a valley, and because it was so far away from the great river, it was thought they would be both harder for raiders to find, and easier to defend; attacks from raiders were a constant worry in those early days.

Years passed, and the people of Numund began to feel settled. So, they thought, it was true, their new gods had blessed them, and they would be happy there. But tribes of wildmen eventually found Numund, and began raiding it for food and supplies. There was an especially savage tribe of wildmen who haunted Numund, and would even fight off other tribes for the right to raid — they appeared to enjoy killing. What they called themselves has been lost to the decay of history, but the Numundians called them 'eh therikai' (which sounds a lot like the later Greek word for 'enemy'). It was better for Numund to give in, and let the raiders do as they pleased — these were not people to be kind if resisted. While Numund had tools they did not have weapons, rocks and bronze tools were no defence against bronze swords and wooden shields. Instead the people of Numund prayed to their gods for help, but those gods who loved Numund's sacred hill were silent, and would remain silent.

Eventually one of the other wild tribes came to Numund, asking to talk in dignified and peaceful terms. I can only try to imagine the tension, the stone–faced anxiety on the people's faces as they watched a line of armed men walk through their town. An agreement was made after a long discussion with the town elders: these men would be given food if they stayed inside Numund and guarded it from others. While knowing all the risks, this sounded fair to all; in the celebration that followed this tribe of warriors officially became Numund's army.

So Numund made war with her great enemy, 'eh therikai', and drove them back to their camps in distant hills. However the soldiers of Numund followed them, and as night fell the screams of defeated wildmen rattled against the cooling sky. Numund's army came back victorious, and a holiday was declared to celebrate the battle. After that, other settlers starting coming to Numund as word of their victory spread, and the town grew quickly.

Numund became a thriving and proud city. War was soon made with its neighbours, and her army became feared and well respected in battle. Through war Numund became so rich, large halls had to be built to house all the spoils. In the land now called Ethiopia Numund soldiers attacked and overran a now unknown city, and seized a giant statue of the ancient water god Dagon. It was carried it back to Numund as a symbol of the victory, and the message was clear: Numund was now so powerful it could even face the gods themselves.

Because these first gods had gave no comfort to Numund, its people began to worship Dagon instead. They also began using the strangely white stone from the old gods' sacred hill to build huge, ambitious works, to show off their skill and wealth. Numund was soon building huge walls around itself, much like the high walls of Troy that would be built much later. Huge theatres were built where re–enactments of battles were staged for the people's enjoyment. Lavish bathing complexes, temples, and villas were also built, and even (which was unique in those days) paved roads with hanging flowers and lines of olive trees along all the major streets. The people became naturally proud of the city they had worked so hard to perfect and, with that strangely perfect–white stone, it was beautiful. From a distance Numund seemed to glow against the dark earth when night fell.

Then one day an old man came to Numund. He appeared to be a traveller, but strangely taller and more angular than was normal, and he moved with a great focus and strength while having all the folds and trenches of a man in the winter of life. The city guards were at first unsure, but seeing the man's advanced age and weathered appearance they thought they did not need to bother with any questions and let him into the city. The only thing they said to him was that Numund had laws, and one made sleeping on the streets forbidden. Those found doing so would be removed from the city, so he had to find a room at an inn by nightfall or leave the city.

Inside the city people mostly let him walk alone, but they watched him intently. They had grown too proud, and to dislike all who did not call Numund their home or did not look like a rich merchant. The old man did not talk with anyone, but found a small tavern he bought a cup of ale from, using strange coins made of a brilliantly white gold. Ale had recently became a delicacy in Numund, newly imported from the young city of Aegipton much further up the Nehilios River. This made people take notice; they watched him from the corners of their eyes as he sat, drinking and watching a street play nearby.

Later he went to find a room for the night. He walked alone through Numund's market places, under huge sheet towels that protected the Numundians from the burning sun, watching everyone move around him. He seemed to be conscious in his difference from them all. When he asked the people for advice soldiers nearby would laugh at him and taunt him, and none of the innkeepers seemed to want him staying because he looked poor. However the man never seemed to ever be put off by this, and kept trying to find a room for the night.

As the sun sank low, spreading an amber fire in the distance. He found a friendly innkeeper who was willing to take him in for a few pieces of gold. This was lucky, because word of the old man had been passed around the city soldiers, and they were looking out for him — knowing he had been told about the city laws and that he had to find a room for the night or be removed from the city. The innkeeper was poor, and accepted the man's strangely white gold without any questions – and even showed kindness to the old man with a supper of bread and olive oil, and a large jar of water. This was the first time the old man smiled.

The moon was nearly full in the heavens after a long and friendly conversation, and the old man thanked the innkeeper as he retired for the night. A great sense of peace fell over the room that the kind innkeeper felt but could not explain. It was something that almost seemed to radiate from the earth itself. Later, when the moon was starting to climb back toward the earth, two burglars snuck into the inn. They had been following the old man for most of the day, interested in his strange whitely golden coins.

As they crept through the rooms, lit dimly by the high moon above, they listened for any kind of movement from the old man. But when they slid back the cloth partition to the old man's room they found his bed empty. It did not look like it had even been disturbed. In that moment the thieves were overcome with an unending fear. A grim evil seemed to come from everything around them, as intense as it was inexplicable. They ran, but it was then already too late. That night the wells of the city quickly began to fill unnaturally, and a torrent of water burst from them like a volcanic eruption. The ground also started to gave way all over the city.

Only a few lucky ones managed to escape. The night–lit desert saw a small cloud of people fleeing, all moving in the direction of the great Nehilios River. When they looked back they saw what was happening in clear moonlight, the city was disappearing beneath the earth – water flying high into the air. The pace of destruction was far so swift for the people to properly understand it, and soon Numund had been eaten by the desert. All that remained was the lake that is still there today, that is not fed and does not disappear.

There's no trace of Numund anymore.


THE END

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