Chapter Nine

The Hand of Fate

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He came to rest under the high, beaked prow of a galley, a ship far older than the Incari, much mended and smelling of a curious blend of spice, joss and tar. Faces looked down from the deck; he heard whispers as here and there someone recognized him, and the word spread like wildfire through the gypsy company.

So they knew him. Soran put on a smile, inclined his head before them, and when two of the water gypsies began to prostrate in the sand he beckoned them swiftly to their feet. The Incari and the Neftish bowed deeply, but the Zeftimen stood straight-backed before him. They were a broken people but their pride was undiminished, and it was a dangerous quality. They could never quite forget they had been a warrior race -- and why should they forget? Their ballad singers and bards kept the stories alive, and the lore of their forefathers made them stiff necked with arrogance.

If Druyus had been present, or Baobo -- the swarthy, hulking captain of the palace guard, who loved nothing better than beating respect into lesser men -- there would have been flogged backs tonight, and these Zehefti merchants would have learned the price of pride. Soran had seen it before, and had been powerless to stop it; the law was the law, and the people of Zeheft seemed to relish breaking it.

They came into Vayal to trade and promptly seemed to forget how to kneel, much less how to prostrate. A high priest of Helios strode by, and they had the audacity to stand up and look him in the face. The witchfinder stalked among them, and they met his eyes as if he were a common man. Druyus was merciless. He liked to ply the whip himself, and his rage was slow to quell.

Tonight Soran smiled and threw a handful of silver coins into the sand. Children scrambled for them with shrill laughter, and he called for another cup of wine. The harpers and pipers had lapsed into silence as he approached, and he called out to them to play. They were Incari, Iliosian, Zehefti. Their style was wild, a blend of the melodies and rhythms of other lands, other times. Soran admired their spirit, and the music was infectious.

The wine was rich, heady. It kindled a heat in his belly, a throb in his loins. As the gypsies began to relax he walked among them, looking at faces, limbs, peacock-hued silk, shimmering jewelry. Searching.

No one would touch him, to rob or assault him -- they were too busy peering in the shadows beyond the firelight, wondering where the guards were concealed. They expected to see polished helmets and streaming banners, and any other reaction would have astonished Soran.

But not tonight. He indulged himself in a soft chuckle as he came up on a low table where an old woman was selling ale from an ancient black keg. He had drunk one cup at his father’s table -- and that, only with care. He had wondered if Azhtoc might have drugged the wine to keep him in the palace. But Azhtoc must have known Soran would be suspicious. The wine was stronger than anything in this gypsy camp, but it was untainted. The two cups he had swallowed since joining the wanderers were already buzzing in his head, and he wanted something lighter now, lest the night go to ruin.

The old woman tapped a deep mug of amber liquid and refused payment for it. As he set his lips to the bronze cup he surveyed the dancers with rich satisfaction.

Every one of them was waiting to be chosen, and he felt their eyes on him, appraising him, appreciating the lines and planes of his body. A tall girl with copper skin and hip-length hair caught his eye; she was Aegyptian, with high young breasts, rouged nipples, long legs, and a great weight of gold bangles on wrists and ankles. A young man vied for his attention -- half Keltoi, from his looks, with a mane of fiery red hair, fine muscles, a sleek, thick root, and blue-green tattoos over every span of his body. Soran smiled at them both, remembered them and looked further.

The Incari ale was light and sweet. This, he could drink all night and keep a clear head. A girl began to sing, and he turned toward the sound. She was little more than a child, dressed in the Incari way, in swathes of sky blue gauze and chains of tiny silver bells that tinkled as she moved. She was singing to a young man who sat on a barrel in the lee of the ship, an old song with the lilt and harmony of Zeheft.

The young man was tall and lean, half-wrapped in a raw silk cloak woven in the colors of chestnuts and emeralds. He was otherwise bare, save for a little yellow wrap about his hips, and a pair of sandals thronged to his knees. Soran feasted his eyes on skin like brown velvet, long muscles and fine bones. His hair shone in the firelight, red as the Keltoi locks, like a cape across his back and shifting about his face in the restless sea wind.

Was he eighteen or twenty? Soran was entranced. This was what he had come here for -- all day, he had known he would find the one freeman who stood out from the mass of his fellows, and this one was without peer. He had the unmistakable look of the Zeheftimen, and as if Soran could have harbored any doubts, his face was painted in the old ritual symbols.

Once, those marks would have been seen as the signature of the House of Diomedas, but in these latter years the same geometric symbols were being used simply for decoration in Incaria, Ilios, and even Vayal. Soran saw only that they seemed to caress the young man’s features, outlining and enhancing them.

And he had realized he was being watched. He came to his feet, lithe and graceful as any of the dancers, lifted his chin and surveyed the encampment as if it fascinated him. The wind caught his hair, tossed it into his face. He raked it back with long-fingered hands, and Soran saw the thin gold rings in his earlobes, his nipples. They were surely sleepers, Soran guessed, and he wondered what gorgeous jewelry this one would wear, when he did not have to worry about thieves.

He was beautiful, with a look Soran almost recognized. Part of him wanted to demand, ‘Have I seen you before?’ Was this one of the young dancers to whom he had tossed a coin in the marketplace in Zeheft, and allowed himself to be led into a courtyard of nodding palms and whispering fountains, where the moonlight pooled on alabaster, and the shadows embraced lovers who met for a single hour?

“Turn your head, boy,” he murmured, “look this way.” And then he caught his breath and smiled as the sea wind picked up the cloak and tossed it back, displaying the lean, perfect body. He was beautiful down to the curve of buttock, the turn of wrist and ankle. Desire made Soran’s fingers itch to touch and he said audibly, “Look this way, Zeheftiman.”

Did the young man hear him? He turned, raked back his hair, and the firelight danced in his eyes, making them gold. Soran’s wayward heart gave a heavy double thud, and he smiled again at the lush pout of lips, the spirit of youth that made the boy lift his chin almost defiantly.

His voice was deep enough, despite his youth. The accent was rich with the Old Kingdom. “What do you want of me?”

Turn page to Chaper Nine continued...

Return to Chapter Eight...

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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