Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Dog Days in Bedlam:
Many milleniums ago on a scorching summer day during the midday sun, a horseman wearing a purple cloak with gold tassels galloped through the dusty narrow road through Bedlam. Bedlam was a poor village of huts made out of crude mud bricks. The walls and roofs of most of the huts were cracked and crumbling. A few of the huts were mere rubble and were abandoned. When the rider reached the village square, he pulled hard on the reins making his sweating horse neigh in protest. The horseman pointed to the first Bedlamite he saw, and barked:
"You there, hold my horse! And give it some water."
The villager was a lean, wiry youth, perhaps 18 years old, dressed in a ragged tunic, and tanned from long days of toil. His famished body suggested that the young man lived a hard and hungry life, but his twinkling dark eyes reflected a lively gentleness. The lad dutifully picked up a heavy wooden bucket, and filled it with muddy water from the stone well at the center of the village square. He tenderly took hold of the horse's bridle, and held up the bucket so the horse could drink. Seeing the rider and the purple cloak and gold tassels made the youth tremble. Those gold tassels could only mean one thing. The horseman was the herald to the king!
In one smooth motion the herald dismounted. He tossed the lad the leather reins, and surveyed the decrepit huts and dirty, tired villagers who milled around him. He asked curtly, "Where is your elder? I must speak to your elder immediately."
"Caineb is out in the pasture. I just left him," said someone from the crowd.
"Get him," ordered the herald. "I must speak to him about matters of the greatest urgency."
This was the first visit in many years for a king's herald to the poor little village. Bedlam was the most remote village in the entire kingdom of Aipotu. It lay in the foothills of the foul smelling Valley of the Maggots, and it was a bitter and harsh land. The river Xu which followed a crooked path through the valley floor often went dry in the summer, the rocky soil was too poor for anything but the barest of crops, and the dry, eastern winds from the surrounding Cauca mountains brought only dust. And this year even much of the putrid swamp at the lowest end of the valley dried up. Bedlam once enjoyed a modest prosperity because it traded with the merchants who traveled along the great caravan route that crossed the valley, but the terrible earthquake of six years ago wrecked the mountain pass. The caravans found a new route and rarely came anymore. Bedlam grew poorer with each passing moon.
A growing murmur swept through the gathering throng, a hum of whispers uttering hopeful rumors and dreaded fears. Yet all were too timid to cry out distinctly and be heard. After all, this was the herald from the king of Aipotu!
Off in the distance a shriveled old woman, Tigrisa, squatted next to the embers of a small fire. She was alone. Scattered around her was the rubble of a collapsed wall, a legacy of the terrible earthquake. The woman struggled to her feet, but stayed by her fire. Her crippled left foot was wrapped in bloodstained rags, and a dirty wool blanket draped across her shoulders. Her face and hands were blotched with white, scaly sores. Tigrisa was the village leper. A few Bedlamites saw her rise and started to hiss at her. One young man picked up a rock and threatened to throw it at her. The old woman pleaded desperately to the herald, "Oh mercy! Mercy! It's been so dry. We need rain. Have you heard of any rain?"
Some among the crowd suddenly found courage and pleaded, "Rain? Yes, yes! Is there any news of rain? It's been many moons since we've had a drop. Anything? It's been so long."
One little girl whimpered, "Our sheep and goats are dying!"
The herald, a short man with a beak shaped nose and a long flowing black mustache that drooped below his chin, drew back, and stepped on a wooden bench so all could see him. He cried out in a thunderous voice:
"Your king approaches today, and he will soon bring you rain for your crops! Yes, the king! No longer must you weep over your failed wheat and lentils. The dust from the ground shall no longer choke your thirsting throats. Your king has heard your cries. He will provide rain for you!"
"Yes, King Orion will be here today! He is coming! You, the people of Bedlam, must prepare a feast of welcome! Where is your elder?"
"King Orion himself!"
"Yes, Bedlam, your beloved king is coming to you," repeated the herald with a flourish. "Prepare the fatted calf, dress in your finest cloaks, break out the fruit of the vine. King Orion comes today, perhaps this very hour, and he'll soon give you rain!"