KeYnNamM ~ English Version

Chapter One: The Ladder to Heaven

KeYnNamM squinted up into the bright sky. The high clay wall in front of him was jet black where it touched the blazing sky. He needed to know if the end of the ladder was anchored to the top of the wall, if it was firmly anchored or just resting loosely against it.
The city wall of Tinghir must have been fifteen men high at this point. This was also the height of the ladder to heaven, as it was called by the prisoners in the penal camp and the inhabitants of the town. Down here at the foot of the ladder, its spars were almost as thick as a thigh, but up there, where it leaned against the top of the wall, they seemed as thin as straws. At the lower end of the ladder, the spacing of the stiles allowed two, even three men to stand side by side on the lowest rung. But the spars ran toward each other. The farther they were from the ground, the shorter the distance between them became. Where the sky ladder rested on the crown of the city wall, the distance between the spars seemed to measure only a hand's breadth. In reality, it was probably a foot wide up there, perhaps less. The distance between the rungs down here, where the spar ends bored into the sand, was certainly two feet. But up there? He puzzled. He couldn't make it out.
KeYnNamM turned his head to the right and eyed his opponent standing next to him beside the other spar. He hardly knew the young man. He and Azrur the Fair had been prisoners in the same penal camp, the damned crystal mine in the foothills of the Celestial Mountains, but they were not friends. However, there was no enmity between them either. Like him, the young man wore a worn shirt on his body, with the emperor's mark on the back. This emblem, a green pentagram in an isosceles triangle of red bars, made them the property of the Emperor.
Now they stood there waiting for the sign to begin the contest that meant freedom for one of them, but definitely death for the other. KeYnNamM had volunteered for this contest, because victory in the fight on the ladder to heaven was the only way for him to escape the penal camp. He had to escape the camp to fulfill his duty as KeYnNamM, as king of the No-One's-Land. He had to free the people of the Wadi Draa from the rule of the Emperor. However, the fight on the ladder to heaven was not only a fight between him and the other convict, no, it was also a fight between him and the Emperor's guards, whose task was to shake the contestants off the ladder as they climbed up.


What about Azrur? Azrur had not volunteered. The head capo of the penal camp, Udad, had turned him over to the executioners. Udad, the Kapo's chief, who tightly ruled the other convicts in the name of the commander of the camp, oppressing and exploiting them, wanted to get rid of his former favorite. He had grown tired of Azrur.
Udad, a lanky man with a shrill voice, owed his position not to his physical strength or pleasant nature, but to his cunning nature, his nefariousness, and the multitude of crimes he had committed in freedom and continued to commit in the penalty camp. He, Udad, had bought the right from the camp commander to use the rest of the prisoners as suited him, in return he had to make sure that they would dig out the maximum amount of crystals from the mountain, crystals that were worth as much as gold to the emperor.
Udad's privileges also included the right to publicly rape the young prisoners he liked on their first night after their arrival in the penal camp. After that, he made one or the other his favorite, at least until another milksop came along that he liked better. This is what had happened to handsome Azrur, first a favorite of the head capo and then cast out for the next pretty milksop.
Azrur's star was setting as his beard began to sprout. With each new hair on his chin, Udad's interest in him waned. Now Udad had cast him out and not only that, he had left him at the mercy of death, the competition on the ladder of heaven. The young man now stood just like KeYnNamM at the foot of the ladder. He was shaking. With his eyes closed, he held on to the rail, his black hair dull and sweaty, his milky beard full of white bubbles as saliva ran from his half-open mouth in fear. Every fiber of his body showed his fear. KeYnNamM felt pity for the boy. But he could not afford to feel pity if he wanted to win freedom. He had to reach the crown of the city wall first so that he could continue his task as king of No-One's-Land.



When the man without a name was admitted to the penal camp, the guards brought him before the Kapo, before Udad, who was holding court among his followers. "Hey, what's your name?" When KeYnNamM remained silent and ignored the question, Udad tried again, "They announced you as King of No-One's-Land! As the King Without a Name, as KeYnNamM! They announced you as KeYnNamM, protector of Wadi Draa." But the man continued to be silent, "I, Udad, whom everyone calls Udad the Ram, I know everything! You are condemned as a rebel! You have disputed the tribute payments to the emperor! You hid the women and children of No-One's-Land from the Emperor's tribute collectors! You hid the cattle and fruits from them. The emperor will never forgive you for that, and certainly not Gwasila, the governor of Tinghir!" When KeYnNamM did not answer, Udad tried to flatter him, "I admire anyone who fights the Empire, who harms it! You in your way, I in mine! Let's be friends!" KeYnNamM stayed silent, being disgusted by Udad and his feuding entourage.

Udad, however, did not let up. "They call you KeYnNamM, everyone calls you KeYnNamM! So, you don't have a name! Didn't your mother give you a name? What did your father call you? Why don't you say your real name? Are you afraid to say it? Do you think with your real name others will gain power over you?" When KeYnNamM looked over Udad into the distance, the latter yelled at him, "You Man Without a Name and without a future, don't avoid my gaze! Look here! You can choose one of my joy boys! Anyone you want. You need warmth at night and friends during the day. That's all that matters in a concentration camp!" As KeYnNamM turned away, Udad screeched angrily, "Get lost, King Without a Name! Get lost, but don't count on my help."


KeYnNamM turned and pushed his way through the gawkers surrounding him and Udad on his throne of stone. Once at the edge of the group, he began looking around for a place to sleep. Suddenly, an unfamiliar voice called out, "KeYnNamM! KeYnNamM! Don't you recognize me? Look carefully! It's me, Idir, the young farmer from the Long Island in the Draa. You warned my sisters about the Emperor's men! They escaped from them! Thanks to you! Come with me! Don't worry about Udad and his Kapo. He is not all that powerful! Come with me, my friends are your friends too. Come with me to our shelter."

Idir's shelter was built very close to the rock wall in the back of the camp. As he walked through the darkness, he gushed, "KeYnNamM! KeYnNamM, when the henchmen didn't find my sisters, they robbed our cows. I went after the governor's servants! At night, when they were asleep, I took back the cattle. The next day they were back again! This time they took not only the cows, no they took me also! They put me in the penal camp without trial! Forever! Now I'm digging crystals or the Emperor! But I want to get out of here! My friends want to get out! With you, we can do it!"

When they arrived at the shelter, Idir introduced him to his friends. "This is our KeYnNamM, the one I've told you about so many times, the King of the No-One's-Land who led the resistance against the Emperor. Without him, we lack courage! And this," he pointed to a scrawny man of indeterminate age, "the one with the slit eyes is from Tamashek. It is Amaynu, a goldsmith from the court of Amenokal, king of the Kel Tamashek, the desert sons. He is accused of stealing crystals from the Emperor!"

The other, a man black as night, introduced himself. "I am Ochuko! You hear correctly! I am Ochuko the merchant from the south who once could get you anything!"

"Ochuko, you a trader?" scoffed Amaynu, "Smuggler is what he'd better call himself. In freedom, he was smuggling everything, gold, incense, little girls, and qat! Qat is forbidden by the emperor! He doesn't allow the poor to relax! Because the crook supplied them with narcotics, he is now a prisoner like us, and so far he couldn't smuggle us out either!"


KeYnNamM glanced again at his opponent. Azrur had closed his eyes. Trembling, he clung to the stiles of the ladder. He felt sorry for the young man! He felt sorry for him and at the same time, he cursed Udad, not only Udad, no, the penal camp, the Empire, its laws, the Emperor himself. What had made Udad such a monster that he left his former favorite to die, no, even condemned him to die! Sure, Azrur had waylaid his rival and punched him in the nose. Sure, that was rash of the boy, thoughtless and stupid! But to send someone to death for a stupidity! Inhumane! KeYnNamM shook his head.

Someone snapped him out of his thoughts. "Here drink this, man! It'll help!" It was the lieutenant of the guards. He held a cup with a brownish liquid under his nose. It smelled aromatic and acrid at the same time. Carefully he took a small sip! The mucous membrane of his mouth contracted and burned. He coughed! He spat! KeYnNamM pushed back the cup! "If you don't, you don't!" The lieutenant, shrugged his shoulders and took the cup to Azrur.

KeYnNamM let his eyes wander. A company of guards surrounded the ladder to heaven, pushing between the delinquents at its foot and the crowd awaiting a spectacle on the wide field outside the city. Half the city was on its feet! Everyone wanted to see the spectacle, the duel up the ladder to heaven, up to the saving crown of the city wall. They wanted to see blood, especially blood, the blood of at least one of the delinquents, better of both. She wanted to hear their screams as their bodies were impaled by the lance tips of the guards at the foot of the ladder, after they had lost their grip and fell down. The crowd wanted to see the blood as it stained the sand.

In the square between the city wall and the passing street, the crowd stood head to head. A hum above the crowd betrayed the tension of the onlookers. The guards leaned on their lances, lances with long slender tips that glinted dully in the sun. The older guards chatted with each other, the younger ones tried to flirt with girls in the crowd. They wanted to prove to them how strong and hardened they were. But nervousness was written on the faces of the young guards, after all, one of the delinquents was about to die, impaled by their lances.

In the meantime, the lieutenant had offered the potion to Azrur. He swallowed the liquid without hesitation. Only when it ran down his gullet, burning, did he begin to cough. His stomach immediately rebelled against the potion! He began to vomit. He spat yellow mucus. But it was too late. The potion was already beginning its work!

The lieutenant threw the empty cup to a guard. This was the signal for a drum roll. This led to twelve beats on a gong that could be heard throughout the city. With the drum roll, the buzzing of the crowd died away, to be replaced by shouts of encouragement as the gong beats began: Go! Gooo! Gooo!

The lieutenant commanded, "At the last stroke of the gong, we go! That's the signal to go up!" While poking KeYnNamM in the back, he hissed, "KeYnNamM, I cross my fingers for you! I'm from the Draa too!"

KeYnNamM glanced at Azrur. He let him start first and then began to climb the sky ladder himself. Carefully he grasped rung after rung, always trying to find a secure hold with one hand and two feet or two hands and one foot.

Azrur was different. The last sound of the gong had roused the young prisoner from his lethargy. Like mad he began to take one rung after the other. Mostly he supported himself with only one hand and one foot, sometimes he even held on to the rung with one hand only. Soon he had gained a lead over KeYnNamM, first two, then three, and as he approached the middle of the ladder, even of four rungs.

KeYnNamM watched Azrur closely. His competitive instinct said "Go, Go! Go ahead, catch up with him! Catch up with him or you'll lose!" But his experience told him "Keep steady, keep steady!"

With each rung, the distance between the spars shrank and with each rung, the spars got a little thinner. KeYnNamM looked down. The guards had moved close to the ladder. The skyward points of their lances resembled a forest, a forest of iron, a forest of sharp teeth waiting for their victims. Between them, he perceived the excited faces of the young guards and the hardened ones of the old guards. Each of them followed the ascent of the two opponents closely.

Suddenly, the ladder began to swing. Two strong guards set the ladder swinging. Those closest to the ladder joined in and the deflections of the ladder became larger and larger. KeYnNamM had been waiting for this, but he had not imagined the swinging out of the ladder to be this bad. In the prison camp, others had warned him about this additional test, saying, "They will try to shake you off the tree like a ripe fruit. Watch out! Always hold on tight." KeYnNamM had therefore prepared himself in his mind for the swinging, but in reality, it was far worse. He clung tightly to the ladder, trying to compensate for movements by moving in opposite directions. As he did so, he tried to climb on, but he was able to advance only slowly.

Azrur had been surprised by the violence of the vibrations. But he reacted differently, he reacted like a frightened child. He clung to the wood, literally stuck to the rungs, and stopped climbing. KeYnNamM quickly reached him. When the young convict saw KeYnNamM coming closer to him, he frantically began to climb again.

The poisoned potion, the exertions of the climb, and the swaying of the ladder had visibly taken a toll on Azrur. He looked ghastly. His normally tanned face was pale, sweat ran down his cheeks, and his loose shirt clung to his body. With each passing moment, his condition worsened. He already smelled like a dead man. When he saw KeYnNamM approaching, he mobilized all the strength he still had, climbed on quickly, and gained a small lead.

When both opponents had made it two-thirds of the way up the ladder, the distance between the spars had shrunk to the point where there was only room for one of them. Here, where the spars were already quite thin, KeYnNamM felt the vibrations of the ladder more acutely than ever before. The deflections were so violent that he almost could not hold on. He pressed his body against the ladder, hugged it, and caught his breath for a moment. Only now did he notice the cheers of the bloodthirsty crowd "And hop, uuand hop, uuuand hop!" These shouts, however, were not directed at them, but at the executioner's servants and soldiers who were shaking the ladder to heaven.

Reaching for the next rung, KeYnNamM touched Azrur's bare heel. The touch was not intentional. It was accidental, but had a fatal consequence. Azrur thought KeYnNamM wanted to pull him off the ladder and tried to hit his head with his leg. Due to the abrupt, hasty movement and the vibrations of the ladder, he also lost his grip with the other foot on the rung and hung only with both hands on the ladder.

The crowd noticed this immediately and increased their cheers, "And hop, uand hop, uuund hop!" they cheered the guards at the foot of the ladder. The deflections of the ladder became stronger and at the same time more irregular. Azrur slipped off the rung with his sweaty right hand and could only hold on with his left, his weaker one. The next time the ladder swung out, he lost his grip completely. With a terrible yell, he slid past KeYnNamM into the depths. He spun once in the air, hit his head on a spar, and then his body hit the forest of spearheads. There was silence for a moment, then came his death cry, but it was drowned out by the triumphant shouts of the crowd. Their jeers increased when they were presented with the blood-soaked, still writhing body on the lance tips. The guards held up the unfortunate man's body and waved it above their heads like a trophy.

KeYnNamM no longer realized these proceedings. He only noticed that the vibrations of the ladder had stopped and climbed up the last third of the ladder as fast as he could. His heart was racing. It was beating "Won! Won! Free! Free! Free!" When the vibrations started again, he had already placed one hand on the top rung and the next moment he threw both arms over the crown of the city wall and tried to pull himself over the parapet. His fingers, however, found no grip on the smooth wall crest. But just as he was about to slip, hands grabbed him and pulled him over the edge of the wall with a jerk. There he fell into the sand. Before he left conscious, his heartbeat: "Free! Free! Free at last! I have won, the Empire must set me free!" Then he was no longer aware of anything, neither the disappointed jeering of the crowd at the foot of the city wall, nor the encouraging words of the two city guards who had pulled him over the crown of the wall.

KeYnNamM woke up as a torrent of water was poured over his head and chest. He tried to sit up, but could not get to his feet. The city guards dragged him up, then took him in the middle and dragged him across a sunlit square to a narrow gate in a wall.

He remembered this place darkly. The gate was the entrance to the city's well house at the square in front of the townhouse, where the governor resided and which also served as the courthouse. From here it was not far to the governor's residence in a side alley. In the well house, the guards dragged him along a cold, dark corridor to a junction. There they pushed him up some steps to the door into a low chamber, the spring chamber. Inside, they threw him onto the slippery floor, left the room, and locked the entrance.


Comments are encouraged and appreciated. Just use the email address listed at the top of the page.