Chapter Eighteen

Zeheft is Burning

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The air was thick with smoke, and it stank of death. Soran staggered out of the cottage, leaned on the wall and massaged his temples, trying to clear his mind -- struggling to get the cloying residue of honey and cinders out of his skull. It felt as if someone had pushed him into a barrel of the stuff and held him under until it invaded nostrils, ears, even eyes.

He could almost be hung over, as if he had indulged in far too much to drink and now must sleep it off or suffer; but sleep was the last luxury he would afford. At the east corner of the house, the rainwater barrel was still full. He thrust his head into it and gasped at the sudden chill as he shook back his hair.

Fifty witchboys had he hunted down and delivered to Vayal, in the five years since the amulet was first placed around his neck. None had ever slipped through his fingers. None had ever overcome him, though many had tried, and he wore the scars to prove it. None, he admitted, had ever seduced him --

And then he stopped himself, mocked himself, as he recalled the night in the gypsy camp. He had chosen Faunos and insisted … the seduction was his own. The witchboy had wanted only to get and vanish into the dark.

Angry -- more with himself than with Faunos -- he strode to the clifftop in search of clean air, but the fires were well alight now. Zeheft was thickly blanketed by the pall, and smelt disgusting. The sun was up, but dawn was a strange, charcoal twilight, with none of the pink and gold one looked for. The sky was gray-green, the color of suppuration, contagion, disease. Waves of heat issued from the ruins, driving Soran back.

His lungs had already begun to irritate. He was coughing as he untethered the horse, passed the long reins over his ears, and set foot to stirrup. The animal was skittish, ears cocked -- as eager to get out of the region as Soran.

“How in the name of Hados,” he muttered as he settled in the saddle, “do I explain this to Azhtoc and Druyus?” His father would be furious beyond all sanity. It was far from impossible for him to order Soran a flogging; and if he did, it would be Druyus swinging the lash while seven blindfolded priests chanted prayers to Helios. Azhtoc would not punish his own son with the steel-tailed lash, but Druyus would let blood aplenty, and revel in it no less than he would have rejoiced in Faunos’s blood.

Yet sooner or later every witchfinder failed, when some young Zeheftiman had the brains to be elusive, slippery as a trout. Azhtoc himself would have failed more than once, though he chose not to remember.

Soran let the horse choose his own path back up the hill to the olive groves. From there, he saw the field of burning in the west, and tied a silk scarf across his face to keep out a little of the smoke. The horse was also breathing badly, and he did not ask for speed as they turned onto the cliff trail and put Zeheft behind them. They were heading into the wind, and every stiff gust brought relief.

If he were Faunos, Soran thought, he would want to get away, put as many miles as he could between himself and Vayal, as fast as was humanly possible. Also, knowing that his arrest had been ordered, Faunos must stay out of the City of the Sun. Nowhere on the island was safe. The risks of going to the harbor were dire, though it was an outbound ship he needed, and quickly.

Such reasoning took Soran back to the water gypsies’ camp, and in the bright, new daylight his eyes were everywhere, searching for Faunos while a sliver of hope endured. It was still possible the Zeheftiman was waiting for a ship. The gypsies moved with the tide, but perhaps not every tide. If no vessel had departed this morning, Faunos should be here.

Soran had always known better, but stubborn hope lingered until he saw the great carved-out place in the beach where a ship had rested. It was gone now. Not even a sail showed on the horizon, and he swore lividly as he surveyed the empty sea.

A dozen gypsies shouldered for space, offering him wine, food, trinkets, whetstones. He took the wine and stood in the cool sand to slake the smoke-thirst, while the horse was watered. He had drunk the cup to the dregs when he looked down and recognized a face.

What was the man’s name? The camp master who had taken a silver piece for the use of his pavilion. “It is you good servant, Keffek, my lord prince,” the man said, groveling. “Have you come back looking for your young beauty, the Zehefti siren whose field you plowed and sowed, but two nights back?”

Surprise caught Soran. “You’ve seen him?”

The camp master was on his knees, hands clasped, eyes downcast. “Not two hours ago, my lord. He went aboard a ship, just as the tide turned.”

“Hados,” Soran breathed, and resisted the urge to deal Keffek a swift kick. “Which ship? One of the gypsy ships?”

“No, no, my lord, not a galley of the water gypsies. It was a bigger vessel, heavy with cargo, a trading galley of the grand kind you would see in the great harbor of Vayal, not on our lowly beaches. She came up in the night to repair the steering oar -- the ropes had broken. This is all I know. We watched the crew take to the oars and drive her up on our beach, for she could no longer steer under sail.”

The information was thin, but it might be enough. Soran flicked the man a copper coin but did not wait to watch him scramble in the sand for it. Imbued with a sense of urgency now, he swung into the saddle and cast about for his bearings.

Five roads divided the island, north to south, from the sandy bays on the southern shores to the cliffs in the north. He took the horse directly up a rabbit trail that wound through the dunes, and from the top he glimpsed the highroad, white and arrow-straight in the distance. The horse knew where he was. Home, to him, was the stable by a tavern not ten miles east of here. He needed no urging to make for the road.

In half an hour the air cleared, and as Soran climbed up the slight embankment onto the highroad, he pushed the pace. He had no desire to confront priests and soldiers, but time was his enemy now. Faunos was already gone; the only question was, where?

He breathed clear air with gratitude, stopped often to change horses, and it was still not quite noon when he ate at a tavern where the food was fair and the company congenial. The same boys and girls waited tables at midday and danced in the late evening -- all were bondsmen, but they were well fed, healthy, enjoying a life of simple work and easy pleasures.

He brooded over a platter of smoked abalone and avocado, wild rice and shrimp, and not even the lad straddling his lap, or the fulsome girl hovering over the table could much divert his thoughts. His thinking was grim, bleak as a winter’s day -- and Soran was certain of only one thing.

Faunos Phinneas Aeson, is it? A fine name for the last scion of a line of great kings -- and you believe you can outrun me, outthink me? I’ll have you, Prince of Zeheft … and Druyus won’t.

A few copper coins settled for the meal and amusement. While he ate, a boy had been saddling his own horse -- the original white stallion from the palace stable. The animal was too furious to stand still. He was snatching at the bit, snorting with anger, stamping his feet. He gave Soran a glare that might have withered him where he stood, and the moment Soran had foot to stirrup, he caught the bit firmly between his teeth and took off for home so fast, Soran had to fight him back to a canter.

The miles back to Vayal were a blur, and before he saw the white walls and gold cupolas, Soran’s anger had cemented into granite resolve. The early afternoon was hot, the sun bright enough to scorch his eyes as he handed the horse to a lad from the stable and marched directly away from the palace before Baobo, Druyus or any of them could stop him.

Turn page to Chapter Eighteen continued...

Return to Chapter Seventeen...

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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