Chapter Fourteen - continued

Fear part two

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“So would I be, if I had any sense.” The man was Incari -- fair haired, but the shade was the red-blond of lime while his roots were raven black. He was not more than a decade Faunos’s elder, clad in a wide, white linen apron that was spattered and stained with fruit juice. And he was anxious, constantly watching for something. “They’ll be here soon enough,” he muttered.

“Who will be?” Faunos finished the juice and licked his fingers.

“The plague dogs,” the merchant told him sourly. “It happens every time there’s been a storm in the earth. Volcos rattles the teeth out of your head, and the city tumbles, the dead fester where the crows and vultures can’t get at them, and then the sickness starts. I was in Kush a year ago. It was a mercy when the sea came up and drowned the ruins, and they tell me it’s the same in Ilios.” He studied Faunos from head to foot. “You look healthy enough. You sound like a foreigner. You just arrived? You’ve come to the wrong place, friend. Will you take a word to the wise? Get back on your boat and leave, while you can.”

“We intend to,” Faunos told him. “But first, we need a physician. One of us is -- hurt.”

“Sick?” The merchant almost flinched.

“No, he’s injured,” Faunos lied. “It was an accident -- on the boat. We only came here to find a physician. You have one, a good one? I’ve money, I can pay.”

The Incari pointed to the last house on the lane beside the deserted marketplace. “Just there. I don’t know how good he is, but he’s doctored my kith and kin for most of my life, and never maimed any of them. Well, not yet. His name is Erean.” He peered at Faunos. “You’re Zehefti, aren’t you? Or is it Keltoi? You’re not from the old city, then?”

“Not lately.” Faunos stepped away. “I’ve been ... traveling.” He gave the man a nod of gratitude and turned his attention to the house.

It stood at the corner, where the road passed directly by the marketplace. As befitted the home of one of the physician’s respected trade, it was wide, white-walled, with three levels, broad verandas, a palm-fronded garden on the roof and a shingle-roofed stable at the side.

An elderly woman sat on the doorstep, husking corn into a basket. As Faunos approached he dropped a courteous bow. She seemed very old, with skin more like a walnut than a woman, and her face was clamped with suspicion. She dropped the corn and stood, smoothing her wide, striped skirt with the palms of both gnarled hands. She was thin, with stringy muscles and wire-like strength.

“The drink seller told me I’d find the physician here,” Faunos began. He lifted his purse on its thong. “I can pay.”

“Zehefti?” She cocked her head at him with a tumble of hair the color of snow. “You haven’t been poking about in the ruins, have you? If you have, Erean won’t lay one finger on you. In fact, you’re not welcome here, if you’ve come straight from the rubble.”

“I haven’t,” Faunos said quickly. “My friend is sick, but we just came in on a boat.”

“From Ilios?” the woman demanded. “If you’ve just landed from Ilios, you’re even less welcome! They’re dying by droves over there. You haven’t heard? Volcos shook them a week or ten days ago, and the witless bastards don’t have the sense to pour oil into the ruins and set fire to them!” She nodded in the general direction of Zeheft. “That’s what’s happening here.”

“Burning?” Faunos should have known.

“The soldiers’ll be here by tonight,” the woman told him. “It’s going to stink to high heaven no matter what’s done, but if they burn the ruins today, we can come back to this dung-heap of a village next year.” She studied him rudely. “So where’s this friend of yours?”

He pointed into the west. “A few miles closer to the city, in a shepherd’s hut on the cliff. Not actually in the ruins, but … close enough to smell them,” he admitted. “I can’t move my friend. He’s too sick to walk and I don’t have the strength to carry him out, not over the hill, anyway. Would the physician come with me?”

“Maybe.” She stooped for the corn basket, sat it on her hip and called raucously over her shoulder into the house, “Husband? Husband!”

Faunos unthonged his purse and was pulling the laces when an old man stepped into the doorway behind the woman. He was tall, a little stooped, with the shaven head of the priest and the direct eyes of the merchant. A whipcord, rawboned body was clad in a linen tunic, and his feet were bare. Bushy eyebrows knitted as he saw Faunos.

“Will you come over the hill with me?” Faunos asked hopefully. “It’s just a few miles, and I’ll gladly pay more for your trouble.”

“By gods, you will,” Ereas said darkly. “I swore I’d stay well away from the ruins. I’ll not cross he hill for copper. It’ll be silver, you scalawag, though if you don’t have silver, I’d gladly take gold.”

Little silver jingled in the purse, and even less gold. “Two pieces?” Faunos wondered.

“Six,” Ereas said promptly.

“I have three, and that’s all I have. Will you come with me for three?” The physician’s bald head shook emphatically. Faunos took a long breath and closed his eyes for a moment to think. “Do you have a mule, or an ass?”

The physician’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve an ass. What of it?”

“Would copper hire the animal for a few hours?” Fauos tipped the contents of the purse into his palm and counted out the six brightest coins. “I can take the quick way, straight over the hill, and bring my friend back here. Then, two pieces of silver would pay for his cure?”

“The price will be three.” But the physician took the coppers from Faunos and slapped them into his wife’s waiting hand. “Be sure to get back here before midnight. The soldiers will be at work by that time, burning the ruins. The air won’t be fit to be breathed, you could choke on the hill.”

“I’ll be quick,” Faunos promised. “Where’s the animal stabled? Let me fetch him out.”

He had stepped out into the lane behind the physician and was so intent on the stable, he never saw or heard the wagon coming. It seemed to race up out of nowhere -- even the physician was so shocked, he yelped and cursed aloud as he sprang out of its way.

It was traveling too fast through too small a space, and though the driver tried to swerve there was nowhere to go. Pain jolted through Faunos’s body as the leading corner of the vehicle clipped him. Swift agony exploded along his spine and jerked at the roots of his mind.

He could not even remember the last time this had happened, but he knew the feeling -- the sudden shock, sudden pain, both snatching control out of his hands. The wheel hit him solidly as the driver tried to take the wagon around him. It teetered, rolled hard into the corner of the physician’s stable building, where the hub chewed a great wedge of plaster away from the timber slats, and the wheel sheared right off the axle.

With one wheel off, the vehicle collapsed. Both horses screamed in fright as the wreck took them down onto the cobbles, but neither was hurt. Faunos heard the physician and his wife shouting a warning, but it was too late by seconds. The wagon was crumpling, tilting toward him, and his shoulders were already pressed tight against the stable wall.

He fell sideways, felt the solid mass of wood and iron hit his shoulder and ribcage, and then the shock tore through him. He was going to be crushed, and he knew it.

Shock, pain, dread -- any one of these was the trigger which ignited the Power, and he groaned as it frothed like ocean waves breaking inside him. The greater the shock and pain, the more the Power of Diomedas surged along his nerves, like music he felt rather than hearing any sound.

And then the Power broke free again, full-blown, as if had when he was little more than a child. The air was sweet with the heady fragrances of jasmine and bergamot, and he was sure his flesh shimmered, grew light as air, and insubstantial. The cart ceased to fall, seemed to float free, and he pushed it away easily with his hands.

Any man could see that it was five times too massive to be manhandled by one of Faunos’s slender frame. As it tipped back over its own broken axle and tumbled into the road, the physician and the driver stepped back, appalled by what they had seen.

The driver hid his eyes with both hands and whispered in a thick Vayalish accent, “Witchboy.” His voice was thin-edged with terror. “Witchboy.”

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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.

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