The gods of the desert were cruel and hard, like the land itself. They required what life required – constant battle. Susa Ottal hated them with all his heart. The battles they demanded, the blood they required, had taken his family. His father was killed in battle, defending the well that was the village’s only source of water. His mother was sacrificed upon the altar of the gods. He became a slave, a child of only ten, carrying his dying infant sister on the long march back to the invader’s homeland.
They were also men of the desert. Men with brown skin and dark eyes like his. They could have been kin for all the differences in appearance they displayed. Even their clothing was the same. All Susa could think of was their similarities during the long, hard march across the desert. They were his people, and yet they insisted on battling other desert dwellers, raping and enslaving them. All for what? Because the Gods decreed that only the strongest could survive? Because the Gods required blood on their alters.
Susa kept his eyes down that long, dusty march, staring at the orange sand to hide the hate in his eyes. When he buried his sister in a shallow grave on the eighth, he cut his forearm with a sharp stone.
“I promise you this, Denna,” he whispered as the blood soaked into the sand at his feet. “I will make them pay, the gods and their followers alike. I will play their game, and I will win. I will choke the life from them. You will see.”
For the first few years of his enslavement, Susa worked the dry sand for his master, trying to glean a harvest year after year. If there was no yield, all the slaves were whipped. His master was fond of the lash, almost as fond of that cruel tool as he was of young boys. Susa, being handsome and strong, attracted his master’s attention more often than not. He bore the raping well, letting it cement his hatred and his resolve.
When he turned fifteen, Susa snuck in the head of a hoe to his master’s bedroom and with it, he beat the man to death. Before the light left the man’s eyes, Susa looked down at him with a sneer. “You are the first,” he said. “The first in a long line of deaths that I will rain upon this desert, to cleanse it of kin-killers and the gods who desire it. Do not worry. Your death, all those deaths that I shall bring, will serve a purpose. The desert will be united, as it should have been if not for the bastard gods.”
Susa Ottal did not run. He walked from his mater’s house, still covered in the gore of his first kill. He walked through the village and presented himself before the village enforcers.
“I killed my master,” he said to them.
For his crime, Susa was sentenced to the fighting arena for however long he should survive. There, he fought other slaves for his evening meal. Susa had never held a weapon before. His family were goat-herders. Even so, he was swift like a black snake and for five years he fought. In the time he spent in the dungeons of the arena, he forged an army of the slaves there and, the day before he turned twenty, he lead the slave revolt.
No slave had ever challenged the authority of the masters before. Perhaps that was the reason for the victory. Whatever the reason, Susa and his army of slaves were victorious. They not only won the arena, but attacked and won the village. All the slaves were freed and the masters became the slaves. The new slaves were made to build the fortifications around the village, the very first of their kind.
Tall walls of fired yellow clay, thick enough that three men could walk abreast surrounded the village. Many of the bricks came from the arena, which was frenetically torn down upon victory by the slaves who had lived there. In the centre of the village, a fort was built, so strong no besieging army has ever managed to take it.
All the altars and sanctuaries of the gods were destroyed, their idols smashed into dust. Susa, leader of the slave revolt forbade the worship of gods of any kind and deemed each man’s fate the property of each man alone. Susa was proclaimed king by his followers.
Word spread, and it was not long until the name Susa was whispered in the ears of every slave, filling them with the fire of hope as they have never been filled before. Other revolts began to occur. Some were successful, others not. Those slaves that revolted or escaped, fled to Susa’s free city and there they joined the cause.
Susa’s hundred-strong army swept through the desert like a sandstorm. They rode from village to village, freeing the slaves taking the masters as slaves, and destroying the altars and idols of the Gods.
“I am the king of the desert!” Susa Ottal proclaimed.
“King of the desert!” his followers cried in exultation.
In a campaign that lasted twenty long years, Susa led his armies against master and priest and god alike. When at last he had rode the entire length and breadth of the desert and subjugated all the people therein, he held for himself a festival, where he was crowned king of the desert, true king at last. At the festival, he pronounced all the gods dead, and forbade their worship in the desert. A hundred slaves who had once been masters were beheaded before him, a sacrifice for the king.
Susa then also declared that no man of the desert would ever again be slaves, and proclaimed a law that to take a man of the desert and make him a slave was punishable by death.
Every year, on the anniversary of Susa’s final victory over the desert, a festival in his honour was held, and every year, the desert affirmed it’s devotion to Susa, the freer of slaves.
He forced many a master’s wife to his bed until one at last gave him a son. The moment of the child’s birth, he had the mother executed. The child was fed on the milk of goats and raised a warrior, filled with the hatred for the dead gods as his father was.
In the year after Susa’s death, he was proclaimed a god by his son. For who else but a god could have battled the other gods and won? Susa, God of the Yellow City, bringer of law.
It was unfortunate that Susa’s law against slavery did not extend to all peoples, for before Susa Ottal’s proclamation against enslaving the men of the desert, none in the west had ever heard of the Ottals.
- On the Histories of Tribal Movements in the North West. H.B.B. Grenn.