Chapter Five - conclusion

The Priest-King of Vayal part two

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“Yes,” Azhtoc admitted. “I’ve a gift for you. The woman you were interested in.”

“Maya,” Soran said softly, but in fact he had lost interest in the courtesan the moment he realized she had been chosen for him, picked out of the host by his father. She was young, taut, sinuous as a jaguar, but she was Azhtoc’s choice, and for a long time now Soran would rather have chosen for himself. Until this night he had owned no right to choose, but this had changed at sundown. He drank the wine to the gritty dregs, set down the cup, and said levelly, “I’ll go out tonight.”

The gilded eyelids opened. Azhtoc’s blue eyes widened in something very like disbelief. “A banquet is being tabled in your honor.”

“Then, in my honor -- enjoy it,” Soran said with deceptive mildness. “The night is mine. It’s the first evening in my whole life when I can decide what I’ll do, and where, and with whom ... and I shall decide, my lord.”

The tiny, veiled warning found its mark. Azhtoc’s eyes widened again, but the law was the law. Soran was of age; he was well within his rights. Soran smiled, but the expression was a mask concealing the old anger, which welled up fast as he waited for his father to speak.

“You”ll dishonor me,” Azhtoc said tersely. “I’ll be shamed, when guests who have come in from as far as Ilios and Incaria raise their cups to you in salute and you are not there to drink to your future and my name.”

He made a reasonable argument, and Soran took a long deep breath to quell the anger. “I can stay a little while,” he allowed. “Long enough to drink to your name, my lord, my father.”

“And thereafter you will be gone,” Azhtoc observed. “Where?”

“I’m not sure.” Soran watched the eunuchs, who worked around the pool with careful, cautious movements, keenly aware of Azhtoc’s rising temper. It which sharpened his voice with a brittle quality, like shards of ice. It might be Soran who was kindling the fury, but they could pay for it in pain and anguish if the priest-king’s wrath turned upon them for any fancied sin.

The older man muttered beneath his breath, the kind of language he would have heard when he was on the road, doing Soran’s job, but never since he ascended the Jackal Throne of Vayal. “Give me that mirror, Soran.” He snatched the handglass out of Soran’s fingers and glared at his own reflection.

He was vain, always looking for wrinkles. He knew he was handsome -- he was not yet fifty years old. His own father had been killed in a storm surge, when the first parts of Kush vanished into the sea, and Azhtoc took the title of priest-king many years before he should have. His offspring came fast, with five legal wives to bear them; his seventh son was born when he was still just twenty-five years old, much younger than some of the priests of Helios who were born to the vocation, committed to it, gelded and initiated when they were still only children.

Yet Azhtoc had grown soft, flaccid. Soran frowned as he watched his father rise up out of the water and step into the embrace of a drying sheet. His life was one of idleness and indulgence, while the witchfinder’s work was hard, sharp with the edge of danger. Soran might easily die. It was very possible that the double crown would pass not to him but to Azhtoc’s next-born son. More than a few pretenders lurked in the outer courtyards, coveting Soran’s rank. Only the eunuched priests could not aspire to the crown, since no heirs would issue from their loins. But Soran’s many half-bothers who had become soldiers watched him with dark, jealous eyes.

Helios was supposed to keep safe the heir to his empire, and since childhood Soran had worn the marks of high magick. A necklace of power signs was tattooed was around his neck, another at his waist, bracelets inscribed around his wrists. Helios was invoked at the hour of his birth and again when the amulet of rank was set on his breast.

Azhtoc never cared to notice the danger into which Soran rode each time he went out hunting. His faith in Helios was as complete, as blind, as that of the penitent young lay brothers over whom Soran had trodden on his way into the palace tonight. But Soran shared none of this faith, and viewed the power signs imprinted into his own skin with healthy skepticism.

He was far from secure in the service of Helios and Vayal, and he knew it. Too many times, he had stood on the knife’s edge with death a cat’s whisker away. He wore too many scars, had broken too many bones, fought too many times against young Zeheftimen who were determined to stay out of the vaults beneath this city -- stay alive and pass the heritage of Diomedas on to another generation which they blessed and cursed with their seed.

“Where will you be?” Azhtoc insisted. “You should ride with a bodygyard.”

“No -- thank you, but no,” Soran said stubbornly. “The whole of the night belongs to me, beginning as I drink to your name at the tables. I’ll probably go down to the wanderers’ camps and take my pick of the houris there.”

“The wanderers?” Azhtoc echoed, and glared at him as if Soran had gone mad. “The water people are worthless. Gypsy houris are --”

“Are freemen, and free women,” Soran said deliberately. “The courtesans in your service are all bonded to the palace, my lord, with only one thought in their minds: to please. There’s not one thing I could ask of our houris, no vileness or corruption, that would be refused, supposing it killed them, because I’m Soranchele Izamal-xiu Ulkan. My father stands in the left hand of the god, his blood is in my veins and the god will one day take me also into his divine hand.” He shook his head. “This isn’t what I want. Not tonight.” He actually chuckled, and the humor was genuine. “It’s as if I’m a freeman myself, tonight, for the first time. Don’t you remember the eve of your own coming of age, my lord, my father?”

“I do, though there’s blasphemy in the question,” Azhtoc growled. “Any other man who asked it would spend the night writhing in anguish and tomorrow panting under the tender ministrations of the surgeons. But my seventh son asks this of me, and ... yes, I recall the night of my manhood.” His mouth hardened. “I recall an evening of politeness, duty, and later, a doe-eyed houri from Aegyptos who surrendered himself in ways he had never even heard of before he came to me, and was silent and smiling, no matter what I did to him.”

“Yet I am free,” Soran said, once again masking fury with brittle humor, “and I choose ... to choose. I’ll go out, father, and I’ve no need of a bodyguard. By gods, I'm Vayal's witchfinder! I’ll return at dawn and be the dutiful son ... and I think,” he added carefully, “the priest should be punished.”

“Druyus is the interrogator of Helios,” Azhtoc said dismissively. “If he were kind, we would know nothing of the other creatures still loose on the roads of Zeheft and Ilios and Incaria -- creatures such as these were, before they were brought to us.” He slapped the ripe peach buttock of the nearest eunuch, which sent the young man stumbling into the arms of his fellows. “If Druyus were too kind, it would be doom for all of Vayal, when the blood and power of Diomedas is born again in the limbs and heart and mind of even a single witchboy, and permitted to flourish there.”

“I know ... I know the prophecy. I’ve always known it, we all recited it when we were whelps.” Soran sighed. “It’s why I do what I do, why these hands of mine are steeped in the blood of Zeheft and Ilios and even Incaria, for which my good friend Priolas somehow forgives me daily, though I couldn't ask it of him.” He stepped back, toward the door. “Will you give me leave? I also must bathe. I’m still caked with the salt of the sea.”

Azhtoc waved him away with a flick of one gold-taloned hand. “Go, but take the bodyguard, since you’re determined to go whoring.”

“Perhaps.” Soran forced a smile and bowed low as he backed out of the chamber, between the two monstrous sentries.

Outside, beyond the spill of lamplight, steam and joss, he straightened his spine and looked up into the eyes of the guards. They had heard every word, of course. They knew what night this was -- and where he was going, and what he would be doing. They should not have permitted themselves to smile, but they did, without fear or rebuke. Soran only chuckled, a wicked sound, before he winked up at them and paced swiftly toward his own apartment.

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About Legends...

This story has its roots in the 1980s. About the time I signed with GMP, I was kicking around the idea for a massive novel -- the problem being, I had no time to develop it. At the time, one of my "literary friends" was Lane Ingram, who passed away some years ago. When Lane volunteered to develop the narrative from my storyline, I was surprised and very agreeable; and a version of it was circulated on a small scale, to a very appreciative audience!

Lane had no aspirations to be a professional novelist, which meant writing was fun, and remained fun, while I did battle with "style" and "technique." And then one day Lane was gone, without leaving much of anything to mark the place in the world which had once bee occupied by an individual who was large in every sense of the word.

Let's change that. I'm bringing LEGENDS "to the screen" in a form which preserves as much of Lane's input as I possibly can, while at the same time properly developing it, bringing it up to full professional standard ... cutting and trimming, correcting the errant, though enthusiastic, amateur ... polishing it to the professional sparkle you've come to expect from Mel Keegan.

LEGENDS will be Lane's memorial. Here's to you, kiddo, wherever you are: enjoy.

Ebook screenreaders:

Downloading LEGENDS and reading from the computer screen? Join the club! Most people are stuck in the same situation ... and it's a right-royal pain. At this time, MK also is still trying to make the transition to one of the ebook screenreaders. The price of most of them is still high, but in the course of shopping around, Mel has found two that are coming under extremely close scrutiny. The Bebook and the Sony look like being the best deals at this time. In due course, we'll be reviewing them right here. Mel Keegan has decided it's going to be one of these two -- but they're very comparable, so ... take your pick. Either one would be perfect for reading LEGENDS, or other digital novels.

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Research Tales

A great deal of research for this novel was done, and subjects Atlantean most often begun with a study of the Trojan wars.

Why? Because the iLiad is one of the very oldest bodies of writing which is also extensive enough to be useful. The problem with the iLiad is -- unless you're fluent in Ancient Green (and who is?) you'll be working from the translations ... and the "disagreement" between them is counfounding for one who's not a Homerian scholar!

The solution? Track down a book that translates the translations -- gets them out of the rich, ripe, flowery language of poetry and into a solid historical context. And in this, MK lucked out. Such a book exists: The Trojan War by Barry Strauss. It reads like a novel, and if you wanted something to get your teeth into ... perhaps after watching the movie, Troy, or after reading Legends -- this is the book you've been looking for.

There's another very scholarly work, The Flood From Heaven by Eberhard Zanger, which "deciphers the evidence" and places Atlantis at Troy! Now, Legends is about five thousand miles from Zanger's work (literally -- due west!) but having said that, Zanger is to Plato what Strauss is to Homer, and the work was extremely helpful.

Now, working even further back through time, you want a "scholar" (and note the quotation marks on that word) who spent a lifetime researching (ouch!) Atlantis. And again, MK lucked out, because there is such a man. A very brilliant man by the name of Ignatius Donnelly, whose "pop-science" book, dating from 1882, is still in print today, in several editions! It's thorough, it's astonishing, and it makes ... quite a case for Atlantis. Not that anyone believes in such things. Right?

There are also some good documentaries on DVD, if this is altogether far too much reading!

And of course, if you want to get into the spirit of the thing (!) you can always put on Troy and let Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana and company provide the inspiration! Speaking of which, have you seen the director's cut? Highly recommended.

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION: Legends is copyright 2009 by Mel Keegan. Please do download the whole novel, which is in HTML format, compatible with your screenreader, PC or Mac. However ... please don't gift it to your friends. Instead, give them the url of this page and recommend that they download it for themselves. The reason is simple: author's income is earned via the adverting on these pages. If they're not loaded, nothing is earned. MK has bills to pay too, and for your cooperation ... thank you kindly!

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