Chapter Eleven - continued

A Bargain by the Jackal Throne part two

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The thought that he was making a fool of himself brought Soran no comfort. There could be no answer, he knew, until he had hunted the Zehefti, found him, confronted him. Once he could look into the eyes that shifted from blue-green to green-gold, once he had heard the truth from Faunos’s own mouth, he could order his thoughts, fetch his wits to heel.

And then? He would offer Faunos a prince’s ransom. No freeman could afford to turn down an incredible fortune -- the most beautiful boys, girls and eunuchs in the Empire were bought and sold in marriage for sums that would make Faunos of Zeheft dizzy; and he was worth no less, though he might not know it yet.

Anger had subsided into grim determination when he took the horse back into the palace grounds. The sun was well up, the city was busy when he handed the tired animal to a lad from the stable. For himself, Soran wanted only to eat a little, drink a cup of pure rainwater, lay down his head and sleep till afternoon. No more than this was on his mind as he strode along the western portico.

The path ran along the terrace, with a peerless view over the grand harbor of Vayalm but he did not spare it so much as a glance. A hundred galleys lay docked along the circular quays, the cliff-high statues of Hurucan and Peseden guarded the headland, the white and gold rooftops of villas and minor palaces stretched away to the waterfront -- he had seen all this every day since he was old enough to walk

His eyes were on the sandstone tiles before his feet as he walked, until he heard a voice he knew calling his name. It was Baobo, not a character Soran cared to see at this hour of the morning, and yet oddly enough the man he most needed to see.

The captain of the palace guard was breakfasting, sitting on the low white wall above the orchards which throve on the next terrace lower on the hillside. He had been stuffing figs and cheese into his mouth until Soran appeared, and then hastily wiped his hands on his tunic and dropped to his knees in Soran’s feet.

He was burly, shaven skulled, with a craggy face and perennially suspicious eyes nested in deep creases common to the most devout followers of Helios. Like thousands of others, he stared into the face of the noonday sun when he prayed. One day Baobo would be blind, but he seemed not to care. The spiraling red tattoos of his creed coiled around his limbs before disappearing into the folds of the tunic, and Soran knew they would continue over every span of him, to the tip of his root

He belonged to the Itzulcoatl sect, and the extremes of their faith disturbed Soran. Many soldiers, and almost all legionary officers, hailed from households which honored the Itzulcoatl sect; it was they who had wanted to erase the Zehefti from the face of the Empire, either by driving them out or destroying them as a people.

Soran did not bid him rise. He disliked the man intensely, for he was another like Druyus, cruel, ambitious, stupid. But Baobo knew the sound of an order when he heard it, and he would follow it to the letter. He had his uses. Soran cleared his throat and said raspingly,

“There’s a young man out there, and I want you to find him, quickly. He calls himself Faunos, but this might not be his true name. He has the look and sound of the Zeheftimen or the Keltoi. He’s my height, or just under it; only twenty years old, with magnificent red hair, and blue-green eyes that look green-gold in torchlight. He moves like a dancer, and he wears the sleeper rings you’d expect of a dancer in his lobes and breast. He’s very beautiful, intelligent, and I believe he’s been educated. He was in the water gypsies’ camp last night, and I don’t want him getting out on a ship, so you’ll move fast. You understand?”

“I understand.” Baobo snickered, though he did not look up. “I assume you want this paragon of manly virtue alive? What’s his crime – treason, blasphemy, heresy?”

“I want him alive and unharmed,” Soran snarled. “If I find one bruise on him that’s your doing, Baobo, or the work of your men, I’ll take it out of your hide.”

“He might fight,” Baobo warned. All trace of humor had fled in an instant as he heard the dangerous edge in Soran’s voice.

“You can expect him to. So you'll net him, as you’d net a wild bird, fragile, gorgeous and priceless -- and don't say it can't be done, because it can. I've done it many times.” Soran stepped back from the soldier. “Harm him, and it’ll be the heavy rod for you and your men, until you can no longer stand. Do I make myself clear?”

“My lord.” Baobo swallowed several times and kept his head down. “We’ll do the best that can be done, my lord.”

Without another word, Soran marched away. Anger stalked him like a jaguar as he took the dim, silent passages to his apartment, and the door slammed hard behind him. The morning sun was bright on the easy side of the palace; the windows were open and gauze drapes billed like sails. The air was light, cool, with the scent of fruit and blossom. The apartment was fitted in white marble and onyx, lapis lazuli and gold. He had always liked it, if only because it was the one place in Vayal where he could be his own master, but today it had the aspect of a cage.

His bodyslave was waiting for him, prostrated by the door as usual. Soran rasped a sigh of exasperation over the thin little gelded youth and tried to banish the snarl from his voice. “Get up, Lydias, for the gods' sakes. Run me a bath, send for food.”

Lydias scrambled up, kissed his hand, and hurried to do as he was told. He was probably wondering what he had done wrong, but Soran was in no mood to explain himself to an indentured bondsman.

Only as he sank into the scented water did he realize bathing would wash away every trace of Faunos that lingered on his skin. He might have mourned for this, but Lydias was already scrubbing his back and he told himself grimly, none of it mattered. Faunos would be here in this chamber before long, clad in silk and gold, pearls and emeralds that matched his eyes.

He was out of the sunken pool of the bath and wrapped in a drying sheet while Lydias teased an ivory comb through his hair when the bell at his door jangled. The eunuch opened, and a servant knelt there, eyes downcast, hands crossed over his breast. He was waiting for permission to speak, and not for the first time Soran was annoyed, frustrated by the ridiculous subservience required by palace and temple.

Envy tore a path through his chest and belly then – envy for Faunos, who was free as a bird, to come and go as he pleased, speak as he would, do what he liked, when he liked. Soran had never known such freedom, and was commanded by a regimen that had begun to abrade his nerves like a sanding block. It had become tiresome while he was still a child; lately it had begun to goad him to ire.

“What is it?” he demanded tartly of the servant as Lydias knelt to clasp the heavy gold bracelets of rank around his wrists and ankles.

“My lord, your great father requires your presence,” the servant lisped in the affected, artificial accent of the palatine.

Lydias was scattering perfume across Soran’s shoulders and back now. “Tell Azhtoc I shall attend upon him in due course,” Soran said in terse tones. Perhaps the time had come to face Azhtoc’s wrath -- and the price for a night of pleasure could be high. Not that Soran would be physically punished; there were many other ways for Azhtoc to task him.

Yet the merest thought of Faunos of Zeheft excited Soran, and he had to believe the price would be worth it, no matter what Azhtoc required of him. Baobo would hunt down the Zehefti soon enough. Even now, his men should be boarding every ship in both harbor and bay, searching them for red-headed fugitives before the vessels would be permitted to hoist canvas or put an oar in the water.

The servant withdrew and Soran glared at his reflection in the long, polished obsidian glass. He was lean, fit, with long muscles and almost perfect skin. Only his scars marred him. He traced the line on his belly where a witchboy had knifed him, three years ago, the sickle-shaped mark on his shoulder where a leopard had mauled him on the hunting trail, the pale, star-shaped place on his left calf where an arrow had bitten him.

He was proud of his physique and worked hard at it; and he had not forgotten the feverish desire in Faunos’s eyes. The Zehefti had taken a great deal of coaxing, but any virgin -- male, female or eunuch -- should be courted according to the rules of first engagement. The Book of Aphrataya was most specific.

He had first read it when he was eleven years old, in the months before he was allowed to actually touch the first temple courtesans made available to him. Aphrataya protected any maiden, anywhere, and the goddess had a reputation for being vengeful, unforgiving. Not even Druyus would dare abuse a virgin, for the wrath of Aphrataya was terrible. Stories were told of a man’s jewels shriveling, rotting where they hung, like fruit left too long on the vine.

And then, Soran remembered with a deep, aching satisfaction, Aphrataya’s own lore swore that the virgin belonged forever to the lover who first possessed him, or her. “So you belong to me, Faunos of Zeheft,” he growled to his reflection in the obsidian as Lydias set out a selection of wraps and sandals.

“Faunos of Zeheft, my lord?” Lydias echoed. "Not a name I know."

“Someone I met last night.” He chose the green silk, and as the eunuch tied it on he said, “Can you serve a second in this apartment, or will I fetch you an assistant?”

Lydias’s brows rose. “I can serve a second and a third, my lord price … you cause me little toil! Are you wedding at last, is it time for many tall sons? Do I know the lady -- or is it several ladies at once? I heard the royal marriage brokers from Aegyptos and the Vanir mountains have sent offers, gold, diamonds and treaties. Your great father will be delighted.”

Turn page to Chapter Eleven part three...

Return to Chapter Ten...

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.

Soon you'll be able to order prints, treeshirts, mugs, mousepads and a lot more, featuring this artwork and manufactured in the US by

The portfolio is still growing, and a gallery is online. Return to this page now and then to see new addition...

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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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