Chapter Seven

The Prophecy

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From Vayal, the old highroad ran more or less due east, but Soran did not stay on it for more than a mile. It bisected the island, following the high ground, and if he followed it, eventually it would deliver him into what was once the bosom of Zeheft. He mourned for the city.

A week ago, it was vibrant, filled with the antique charm of the Old Kingdom. He liked the rich accents of Zeheft and Nefti, and the sweet-sad, wailing songs of other centuries, other peoples, lured him into the marketplace after dark, when a hooded cloak would conceal who he was, and he could pass like a gypsy.

The Zeheftimen were related to the Keltoi -- red-haired, with green eyes, or gold, or hazel, rather than the brown eyes of the west. In Vayal, only the line of kings ever produced blue eyes like Soran’s own, and like Azhtoc’s. Blue eyes were strange, wyrd, and Soran was never sure he liked to meet his own gaze in the handglass.

Among the people of Zeheft there were blue eyes on occasion, but they meant only that some boy or girl had a Keltoi grandparent, which was nothing to be proud of. The Keltoi were savages who lived in caves, hunted the boar and the sickle-tooth with little more than their bare hands. They painted their faces blue, spiked their hair with lime, and their shamans howled like wolves at the full moon.

But there was such magic in the Keltoi as made Soran shiver. Even the priests of Helios respected the shamans. Soran had heard tales of Keltoi sorcerers who could call the stars down to dance in the palms of their hands, and summon the herds to the sound of a drum made from caribou skin, beaten with caribou antlers.

The Zeheftimen were their cousins – their civilized, quaint, antique, bookish and delicately mannered cousins, whom the people of Vayal hard learned to scorn. And to fear, Soran allowed. The dread was always close to the surface when Vayal’s priests and philosophers whispered of Zeheft. They murmured the name of Diomedas as if they did not dare speak it aloud.

Yet that line was extinct, Soran was sure. He had hunted the witchboys for five years now, and not one of the scores he had brought it was the real quarry Vayal wanted. Azhtoc, Druyus and the rest lusted for a very particular witchboy, but lately Soran had become convinced this descendent of Diomedas was no more than legend.

He had hunted through Zeheft several times -- slinking through the twisting avenues of the old city like a thief, listening in the marketplace and in waterfront taverns, paying for favors, buying secrets, in the hopes that one day, one night, the right witchboy would fall into his hands, and it would be over – all of it. The threat to the Empire, the paranoid fear of the temple, the impatience and dangerous anger that were beginning to simmer in the palace.

And now Zeheft was gone. There would be no more midnight hunting where the Zehefti youths danced naked in the moonlight, their sleek, lithe bodies painted in the spiraling designs of their Keltoi cousins. No more warm nights when Soran would toss a goldpiece at the feet of one of the dancers, and follow the young man into a courtyard where nodding palms and murmuring fountains made a tranquil backdrop for coupling in the moonshadows.

Zeheft was a dead, festering field of rubble that would soon be as miserable with rot and contagion as Ilios, for the ruins were full of the dead, and Helios would find them by tomorrow noon.

Such thoughts were the last thing Soran wanted on this of all nights, and he set them aside with an effort of will.

It was warmth he wanted – a bright fire, the wild music of the water gypsies, too much wine buzzing his head, and the limbs of a supple, gorgeous young freeman twined around him the way the vines embraced the pillars on the dark, east side of the palace. He wanted a freeman’s voice whispering free words in his ear tonight; a freeman’s lips raising the prickle of desire along his own limbs. Just for one night, he wanted to laugh like a common man when the wine made his thoughts unravel, and writhe in lust, filled with pure, powerful, honest feelings, without a thought in his head.

The water gypsies might not be as gorgeous as the concubines and courtesans who lounged in the palace with gilded eyes and painted nails. Nor were they schooled in the arts and wiles of love. They were quite unlike the temple houris who lived only to serve the god whose desire rose, hot and hard, in the flesh of mortal men. But for the first time in his life Soran would be sure the body in his arms was there out of desire, not duty, nor some ecstasy of faith; and every moan of pleasure was genuine.

He had taken one of the best horses from Azhtoc’s stable, a racer with long white legs and a gleaming black hide under the scarlet saddle. The young stallion was fast, and until Soran left the lights of Vayal well behind, he made good time. The moon was up, full and baleful, and the sky was clear now, as if the storm had never been. The air was still heavy, laden with moisture, and the creeks ran fast and deep. It would have been safer to hold to the highroad, but Soran turned left at the old watermill and urged the horse up the crooked trail to the Whispering Well.

The forest clung to the hillside, and between the roadside villages the night was very dark. Azhtoc would have been appalled, but Soran grinned brashly. No bodyguards, no courtesans, no chaperons. No one to trace his path and record his actions. No way for Azhtoc to know where he had been, who he had been with, what he had done.

Freedom had a sweet aroma, and Soran liked it as much as he had begun to find the palace and the temple cloying, suffocating, claustrophobic. Once, he had chafed at the decades he would wait before he could perch his buttocks on the Jackal Throne, but lately he had begun to pray differently.

Let Azhtoc live long, he thought now. Let him outlive his forefathers, and keep the double crown on his head until Soran’s youth had ebbed away, and the young man – being no longer young -- was ready to be confined.

The horse was breathing hard as he came up to the top of the trail. Pebbles scattered from his hooves and he snorted in protest at the work asked of him. The well – ancient and crumbling, older than the foundations of Vayal – was at Soran's right hand, and on the hillock beside it he drew rein to let the horse rest and drink. A deep stone trough was kept brimming for the drays who hauled the water wagons. The racer thrust his nose into it at once.

From this vantage point Soran could see half of the island, which extended far into the east and west, and he had a clear view of both the north and south coasts. The long, dolphin-shaped land mass had once been much bigger, and if the old folk who dared to murmur on the fishermen’s wharves were right, it would soon be a great deal smaller.

The oldest of them remembered the golden days of Zeheft, and although their words were treason, Soran paused in the shadows to listen. The elders of the Atlantan had seen eight times the few years Soran had yet lived. They were a long-lived people, like the Keltoi. Their memories stretched back to the time of fighting, when this hill, where the Whispering Well perched like a troll on the spine of the island, had been filthy with the blood of soldiers from both cities.

One night, late in that summer, mercenaries from Kush and Ilios gathered here and called their oracle to cast the bones, the the elkhorn runes, to decide which side they would take.

If the gods had tumbled the elkbone runes into different patterns, those mercenaries would have taken the part of the Zeheftimen, and it would have been Soran’s ancestors in manacles, himself who was born a slave, of an enslaved people.

Turn page to Chapter Seven part two...

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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!

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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