Chapter Eleven - continued2

A Bargain by the Jackal Throne part three

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“Wedding? No, not yet,” Soran said shortly, and sighed, though Lydias was right. One day -- and it had to be soon -- he must wed at least one woman and sire at least seven sons to provide for the lineage. But marriage to one wife, or ten, had nothing to do with love, nor even pleasure. It was duty, and Faunos would understand. “I’ll wed when I’m ready.” Soran thrust his feet into the braided leather sandals, and Lydias knelt to lace them. “I’ve a … a paramour coming here in a little while. I want you to serve him like a prince.”

“My lord, I will,” Lydias promised. “I’ll serve him as I would you.”

And he would be as good as his word, Soran was sure. The young eunuch had come to the palace when he was still a shy little boy. He was twenty now, the same age as Faunos. He had a tutor from the temple of Aeolus, and when Soran no longer required or desired him, he would go to be a priest there.

Soran cupped the soft, smooth cheek and looked down into Lydias’s eyes. “Tell me something. The truth, now. Are you happy here, boy?”

The soft brown eyes widened in astonishment. “Happy? I am … working here, my lord. With wealth to my name, and a lover from the kitchens, and a teacher who only praises my studies and has never beaten me. I send money back to my family in Ilios and my brothers respect me for the education I’ve earned here. I’m my lord's bondsman, but I’ve no complaint. Is there more in life?”

“There’s freedom,” Soran mused, and he was thinking of Fauos as he said the word. “You were indentured here before you were ten years old, and when you leave the palace you’ll go into the temple. If you were free to go, would you leave?”

Now the lad’s eyes widened. “Are you sending me away? Tell me my sin, my lord, let me do penance for it. But don’t send me away.”

“Hush, now.” Soran laid one fingertip on the pout of his lips to silence him. “You’ve done nothing wrong, and you’re welcome here until you’re quite ready for the temple. What says your lover, from the kitchens, of your commitment to the god?”

“My lord, he remonstrates … but he has another, the basketmaker’s daughter, and she’s round and ripe with his child, so I take his protests lightly.” Lydias gathered up the wraps and sandals. “Will you go to your great father now, before his fury gathers into the storm?”

“I’d better,” Soran said grimly. “Have you ever seen Azhtoc in a towering fury?”

Lydias’s curly head shook. “My lord, I’ve never seen Mahanmec Azhtoc at all. He was already one with the god when I came to Vayal. I imagine he is radiant with the blinding beauty of Helios, who looks out through his eyes and strides forth with his limbs.”

“Is that what you imagine?” Soran gave the lad a curious look, wondering what Lydias would make of Mahanmec Azhtoc if he were to see the truth in all its glory, sprawled in the bathtub, pale, grown soft, sullen and spoiled. Better that no mortal eye save kin ever saw the priest-king after the coronation. Not even Azhtoc’s thirty assorted consorts, concubines and courtesans had ever seen him, and they never whispered of what they had felt, on pain of forfeiting their wagging tongues.

And Lydias was right. The longer Azhtoc waited, the more his anger would grow. With a sigh, Soran stepped out of the apartment and turned east, toward his father’s environs. At this hour of the morning the Vessel of Helios would be holding court for his ministers, captains and priests. The direct light of the sun would bathe the audience chamber and halo Azhtoc with a vast nimbus. The divine light refracted from the Jackal Throne’s many jewels, so that fire sprites seemed to dance in the air around Azhtoc.

One day it would be Soran there. His head would be shaved and his vows would be spoken aloud in the inner temple, before seven of the most senior priests. He would fast for three days, and on the third he would be ritually flogged -- not heavily but relentlessly, over every part of his body, from the soles of his feet to the tips of his fingers, to drive out the last remnants of the base, the common.

Still raw and smarting, his skin would be gilded all over to welcome Helios into his flesh, and at dawn he would prostrate, spread-eagled on the highest altar in Vayal. Helios would possess him. When he walked down the ninety-one shallow steps from the Dawn Temple to the east courtyard, three blindfolded high priests would crown him with the great headdress of sea eagle feathers and gold; they would kneel and call him Ulkan. His mortal face and form would never be seen again, but he would command the temple and lord it over a lot of sheep-faced priests.

That day had the sound of doom about it, and Soran deliberately thrust away the images. When it happened, Uxmal Mahanmec Azhtoc would already have burned to cinders on his funeral pyre -- and since Azhtoc was not yet fifty years of age, many years of liberty stretched before Soran.

Many of the priests, captains and ministers in the audience chamber were little older than Soran himself. They knelt in the long shafts of dusty sunlight, facing away from the dais on which stood the Jackal Throne itself. The dais and the five columns flanking the throne were plated in gold; the Jackal Throne itself was solid gold.

Gauze drapes billowed in the shifting air and the nimbus of the sunlight, obscuring the view, but Soran glimpsed the figure of his father in silhouette, lounging on the great swaybacked chair. Though unseen, his face would be gilded, like a mask; the high feathered headdress was like the fan of a sea eagle’s wings. Beneath it, the form of the man was obscured by wafting silk the color of sunrise and sunset.

With silent footfalls, Soran approached the dais from the east vestibule, and prostrated at his father’s feet. Now, he must wait for Azhtoc to bid him rise, and as he had speculated, the man’s ire was considerable. Usually, he would be invited to kneel or stand almost at once, but this morning he lay on the cool white marble for a long time.

At last even Azhtoc knew when enough was enough. “You may kneel,” he said from within the drapes, and the anger was taut in his voice. Soran rose as far as his knees, straightened his back, cast his eyes down and crossed both hands over his breast. “You were whoring in the water gypsies’ camp last night,” the priest-king observed.

You had me followed, damn you! “Not whoring, my lord, my father,” Soran corrected softly, masking any suggestion of fury. “Yes, I was there, as was my right. But I was with no whore.”

“You were with a Zeheftiman.” Azhtoc pronounced the word as if it were filth. The great headdress inclined toward Soran, casting a massive smoke-gray shadow on the marble. “You shame all of Vayal with your common lusts and tastes.”

“I was with a beautiful youth whom I chose for my lover,” Soran said, just as quietly. “He was not a whore, my lord … and I’m certain he’s more Keltoi than Zehefti. He gave me the gift of virginity, and Aphrataya herself would insist that he belongs to me now, lifelong. I want him, and I’ve given orders for Baobo to find him.”

“And what Soranchele Izamal-xiu Ulkan wants, he gets. Anything he wants?” Azhtoc rasped. “Including a Zehefti?”

“Keltoi,” Soran murmured. “Let me have him, my lord, my father, and I’ll … accommodate your wishes.”

“Accommodate my --?” Azhtoc echoed, and barked a harsh laugh. “You mean you’ll strike a bargain with me? You’ll deign to choose which princess of the Incari or the Vanir or the Iberye you’ll have to wed and to bed? You’ll spare a moment to choose between the most worthy maidens of Mycenos and Aegyptos, and choose eight or ten, and dally long enough with each to make sons upon them?”

He was furious, and Soran bent his head a little further. “It would be my intention, my lord.”

“And you’ll perform this service for the Empire if I allow you to bring some cursed Zehefti into the palace?” Azhtoc’s ringed right hand beat a tattoo on the arm of the Jackal Throne. “Impudent whelp, you presume upon my generosity.”

“It’s just a single Keltoi youth of twenty years,” Soran purred. “A great beauty who has nothing to do with the Old Kingdom. My lord, my father, you cannot exterminate the people of Zeheft, and even if you did -- the Keltoi are their cousins, so like them, will you turn your hand against the barbarians next? What’s one boy? It’s a mere amusement in the night I crave, nothing more.”

For a long moment Azhtoc seemed about to argue, and then rasped a sigh and sat back. “Have your Keltoi, then. But I’ll take you at your word, Soran, and hold you to it. The princesses of Incaria and Ilios will be in Vayal in one week from this day, and you’ll take at least one to you as your wife, if not both. I’ll see sons in a year, or I’ll have the surgeons take all three of you apart to find out why not!” He was still simmering with anger, but he knew a deal when he saw it. “The games in your honor, for your coming of age, begin at noon. You’ll play.” Not a question.

Soran prostrated once more, flat on the marble. “Of course. It’s my pride and my honor to carry to victory the colors of this house, this city.” Protocol forbade him to look up into his father’s mask-like face, but he listened to the rhythm of his breathing and heard the anger. Azhtoc was filled with resentment, and for the thousandth time Soran wondered, Why does he despise me? What has the Oracle told him of me – or not told him?

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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!

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