Chapter Five

The Priest-King of Vayal

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The scent of cedar and frankincense, jasmine and sandalwood wafted out of the chamber. Gold lamplight spilled from within, dancing on onyx and alabaster, and steam swirled in evening air that was uncharacteristically cool. Soran could not recall the last time Vayal had been so chill.

His limbs prickled as he made his way to his father’s apartments, and if not for the priest on his heels, he would have gone directly to his own rooms, to bathe the sea salt from his skin and put on a cloak. He was as nearly naked as most of the palace’s slaves and concubines, and the evening was not well suited to it. When the Incari put out of the port of Ilios in the morning the sun had been hot, though the air was already heavy, sullen with the humidity that always crept before a storm.

He flicked a glance over his shoulder and glared at Druyus. The priest had the grace to be anxious, and as he followed Soran to the great arched doorway leading into Mahanmec Azhtoc’s apartment, he went to his knees and crawled forward with his forehead on the onyx tiles. This much was expected of him.

If Soran had been any less than the priest-king’s seventh son, he would also have been on his knees. Druyus crawled into the chamber between the two enormous guards, the Keltoi and the the Nubiya who had fought and killed their way to immortality in the arena. They would always be slaves, but their rank was the highest, and they were as wealthy as nobility. They stood facing the dim passages, and decided who would pass, who would not.

Inside the bath chamber, only the slaves were not prostrate, and they were blindfolded. Other generations of priest-kings had insisted on blindness, and the eyes of their slaves were darkened with the bitter herbs of the embalmer, the sorcerer. Only recently had compassion begun to soften the Vayali ways, and these slaves knew they were fortunate.

Three gorgeous young eunuchs, tall and slender, not net twenty years old, worked around the deep alabaster pool in which Azhtoc reclined. They were naked save for the blindfolds and the jewelry which marked them by rank. Slaves in the service of Vayal were ranked by charm, education, loyalty, skill, years of service, and trustworthiness.
These were Zeheftimen. A year ago they would have been students or young scholars in the old city, perhaps mastering a trade and making plans to raise families. In palace service they could grow wealthy enough to have slaves and concubines of their own, but they would belong to Azhtoc as long as he lived, and then to Soran.

And all of these beautiful gelded youths were descended, however distantly, from Diomedas. The heritage was their blessing and their curse. Some of them, Soran would have fetched back to Vayal himself, and in the days that followed they had the good sense to speak freely to Druyus. They lived. The price of their lives was their liberty and their testicles, but they would live long and well in the palace and temple.

Did they realize they would be the last of their kind? Soran often wondered how much they knew of what they were. The blood and the power of the line of Diomedas ran in their veins, but who feared a eunuch?

He thought he recognized one of them, though it was difficult to be certain of any feature, with the black velvet blindfolds covering half their faces. And most Zeheftimen had the red-gold hair, like the Keltoi who were their cousins; most were fair and lean. Soran frowned for a moment over the young man he thought he knew, and then passed on.

Reclining in one end of the pool Uxmal Mahanmec Azhtoc looked up drowsily at his son, from beneath gilded eyelids. Talon-like fingernails tapped sharply on the alabaster, signaling his impatience. He was the sovereign of Vayal, the high priest of Helios, King of the Inner and Outer Realms, Emperor of the Atlantan, and he was unaccustomed to being kept waiting.

The pool was waist-deep and recessed into the floor. A fountain of cold water played at one end, a fountain of steaming water at the other, and the eunuchs plied between the two with scented oil. Even now, even here, Azhtoc lay in the arms of a concubine. Soran knew her -- and even she was blindfolded. It was Ayunzetep, with the long, slender neck, the full mouth and fuller breasts, who had not yet borne Azhtoc a child. She was born in Aegyptos, where the houris were sultry, bronze skinned and incomparable.

Ayunzetep’s dark head was cocked to the sound of footsteps, and as Soran spoke, she smiled. She made no secret of her desire for him, and when she was released from the service of Azhtoc -- after she had given the priest-king a son -- he knew she would place herself deliberately in his path and lift dark, doe eyes to him. Where did desire end and ambition begin?

One day, Soran would wear the double crown, and the concubines in his service would live like godlings, deciding who lived and who died within their own walls. Power was for the seizing, and Ayunzetep was ambitious.

“Father.” Soran knelt at the side of the pool, bowed his head and crossed both arms over his breast. “I come to you from the sea. I was spared, but Zeheft is gone, destroyed. And I come to you with dire news. This worthless priest has killed another. He has made an end of the witchboy I brought in not long ago, another son of Diomedas, across the generations.”

Azhtoc’s eyes were the same shade of blue as Soran’s own. His skin had grown pale through the years of spending his days hidden from the sun, while Soran’s work took him out under the raw gaze of Helios. Where Soran was tanned bronze, Azhtoc seemed little darker than the alabaster on which he lay, and while Soran’s raven-black hair fell almost to his hips and was roped back with fine gold chains, the priest-king’s head was shaved, as befitted his rank.

The similarities between father and son were few, and not for the first time, Soran thanked the gods that he favored his mother. Azhtoc’s face was cold, filled with hauteur, bereft of compassion. Soran could not recall ever seeing an emotion in those blue eyes, nor a smile on the face that remained strikingly handsome, though Azhtoc was no longer young. He had the soft hands of the nobility; even his muscles were soft with indulgence and inactivity, though he was as tall as any of his sons.
Soran’s own hands were hard as those of low-born laborers, and sinews roped under his skin like cables. His work was rough, often dangerous; not the trade of the soldier but of the hunter. The young men of Zeheft -- the witchboys of Diomedas’s lineage -- seldom surrendered themselves, and some fought like wildcats.

The priest-king’s gilded eyelids drooped as he looked at Druyus, who had prostrated by the side of the pool. “You were negligent, priest.” His voice was deep, resonant.

Not for an instant did Druyus lift his head. No muscle moved as he said, “I failed you, my lord. I believed the man was stronger. He was alive when I left him, though he slept at last, under the weight of the lash and the iron. I left him to rest, and --”

“Don’t whine,” Soran growled.

“My lord.” Druyus said no more.

“Such things happen.” Azhtoc turned his face to the courtesan’s breast and closed his eyes. “The gods are known to reach out their hands and take to them the souls of those whom they favor. It should be little surprise that a witchboy descended out of the loins of Diomedas himself should enjoy their favor.”

Anger tightened Soran’s insides, and his fists clenched. Yet again, Druyus would be forgiven his sins, when the punishment he deserved was severe. A flick of Azhtoc’s jeweled hand, a murmur from his rouged lips, gave the priest leave to go. Soran glared at Druyus, watching him crawl out, backwards, on hands and knees until he had passed by the guards at the great arch. Only then did he scramble to his feet and vanish into the shadows.

“You may rise,” Azhtoc murmured in Soran’s direction. “The wine is sweet.”

Soran helped himself. Rich red liquid poured from an painted urn, and he sipped without tasting it. He longed to challenge his father over the matter of Druyus, but it would have been a mistake to pick the argument, even for himself. Azhtoc had spoken; no man could question a syllable he had uttered.

The total power which rested in those soft, lax hands frightened Soran more than the fight put up by any of the Zehefti witchboys he had ever hunted, fought, captured and fetched back to Vayal in manacles. He frowned at the eunuchs again, wondering which of them he had caught, and when, and how. They knew his voice, but they made no gesture of recognition. Did they fear him? Likely, they did. Knowing it made Soran mourn.

“You were to wait in the port of Ilios for a warship,” Azhtoc said drowsily.

“If I had waited, my lord, my father, I would still be in Ilios on the eve of my coming of age,” Soran said reasonably. “The storm had not risen when the trading galley put out ... and even so, the gods smiled on me. I’m here, and safe. You wanted me here on this of all nights, yes?”

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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The art appearing on this site, illustrating elements of this novel, is by Jade, my cover artist from DreamCraft.

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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!

Note that Legends is NOT covered by the "Creative Commons." This work is the intellectual property of Mel Keegan. If you would like to use parts of it elsewhere, please contact MK via this blog.

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