Chapter Fourteen


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Death hovered over the shepherd’s hut with black wings and the icy breath of another world. Faunos could see it, feel it. His arms prickled with gooseflesh as he tried to warm himself, but he could not. The sun was angling down and the afternoon was hot enough to dry his cloak, but nothing would instill warmth back into his bones, and his chill had nothing to do with the last dive he had made. It was not the cold of the world of the living, he was sure.

The books were safe -- all of them -- dry and secure. Galen had watched the last of them unwrapped and set out before him; he had handled them like lost children, assured himself that the wisdom of Zeheft’s golden age had been preserved.

And then he slithered down into the nest of furs and skins, closed his eyes, and had not moved since. He spoke softly, once. “I’ll rest now,” he murmured, and Faunos was close enough to make out the words.

Since then he had been silent, sometimes awake, most often asleep, and as the afternoon wore on Faunos was growing afraid. Sick people and animals preferred at die in the night. There was something comforting, close and familiar, about the dark hours. They offered rest from the tumult of the day, and such respite was only a small margin separated from eternal rest. Faunos had often heard sleep called ‘the little death,’ but he had never fully appreciated what it meant.

He knelt at Galen’s side now, and shook the old man’s shoulder. “I have a jug of water here. Won’t you drink a little? Tell me what’s wrong.”

The teacher’s eyes did not open but he spoke clearly, though his voice wheezed. “I have a malady of the lungs, just a malady.”

“And you’re weaker, hour by hour,” Faunos added.

“I’m cold,” Galen whispered.

So Faunos heaped the furs onto him, tucked them around him, so they would hold in whatever grudging heat his body could generate. In ten minutes he would be roasting with fever once more, and would throw them off.

“Galen, I’m going to find a physician.” He spoke quietly but insistently, and this time the old man did not argue. He might not even have heard, and Faunos repeated the words, loudly. Still Galen said nothing, and save for the rise and fall of his chest, he might have been gone already.

Fear seized Faunos by the throat. It was time to move, while there was still a chance. He stacked the books and thrust them into the furs by Galen’s feet. They were not really safe there, but this close to the ruins of Zeheft the looters were few, if only because the old city was already smelling high, rank. The threat of contagion also fretted Faunos. He and Galen should not be within five miles of this place, but the teacher was too weak to move, and too heavy to be carried.

He placed his faith in the ancient gods of the Zeheftimen. If looters came hunting here, they would find an old man dying, and in his blankets, a stack of ancient books, dogeared and scuffed, written in a language the young people of Zeheft and Vayal could not read. What interest would looters have in books, anyway? They would be looking for money or jewels, valuables. Not finding them, they should leave a man to die in peace and look elsewhere.

“I’ll return before long,” he promised Galen as he tied on a fresh wrap of blue and white linen, and snatched up his cloak. He knotted the thong of a sheathed dirk around his waist and stooped to lace his sandals. On the thong with his dirk was a pigskin purse, jingling with the coins Galen had set out for this week’s purchases. Still the old eunuch did not stir, nor murmur. He was deeply asleep again, and Faunos was glad. If he must die, then let the passing be easy.

He swung on the cloak as he stepped out of the hut, and was moving at once. The nearest town was three miles over the hill, to the east -- three miles closer to Vayal -- and he knew the people were leaving. From the orchards which straggled along the hilltop, he had seen them streaming out in the direction of Vayal, to get away from the dread of sickness from the ruins. Vayal would embrace them, give them shelter, but there was not enough work for even half of them.

Poverty would descend like a vulture among the fugitives, and would pick off the weakest before the year was out. Deeply in debt, some would soon be indentured labor in the fields; those with the youth and looks would be marked for the palace, the temple, even the taverns, where dancers and houris were always welcome. Anyone with the skills or strength could sign his life away to the legion or the fleet, and a few would make their way into the arena, where the games were demanding of new blood.

The shadows were long as he dropped into a steady lope and took the hill in long strides. From the crest he could see the next three ridge lines, and he knew Vayal itself lay just over the third. He could not quite see the great harbor from this vantage point, but the vast bay stretched away on his right hand, while the sun set at his back -- west, toward the mystery of Jaymaca.

The town sheltered in the valley, below, and he slithered down the trail toward its market square. Gravel scattered away from his sandals, he caught himself on his palms several times where the incline was steepest, but from the slope he had a good view of the whole town, and what he saw boded ill.

Many houses were closed up, with boards nailed across the windows to keep out both looters and the weather. Many other buildings were a flurry of activity as the locals packed up, ready to move out before nightfall. They would camp on the highroad to Vayal, and forget about this town for as long as it took for rats to take care of Zeheft’s woes.

The market square was almost deserted. It should have been a mass of colorful stalls selling goods from fifty islands across the breadth of the empire, but a mere handful of traders had stayed on to serve people while they packed up. Mules and asses, handbarrows and wagons, stood right around the periphery. Every conceivable object was loaded, lashed down and waiting to move out.

Had the physician gone already? Faunos prayed not. Surely, the healer would be among the last to leave, since people would need him -- and need him even more on the road, where accidents were more likely to happen. Faunos slithered to a halt among the olive trees and vines at the foot of the hill and took a moment to catch his breath.

He dragged both hands through his hair to straighten it a little, and drew his forearm over his face, which was sweated, hot, dusty. He weighed the purse in his left palm, tossed it to get a feel for the coins in it.

In the week before the storm Galen had earned several silver pieces, teaching languages, translating documents and writing letters for the people of Zeheft. Faunos had earned a palmful of copper, carrying baskets on the fishermen’s wharf in the early morning, dancing in the late evening.

He could have also taught languages and written letters, but it would have drawn the wrong kind of attention to him. In recent generations, few young Zehefti, boys or girls, could read or write. Among their kind, any kind of education was suspect. Vayali soldiers were common on the street, and Galen was careful.

At the bottom of the slope was the blue and yellow striped awning of a drink seller’s stall. Faunos could smell the sweet tang of fruit, juices, and he coughed on his dry throat. A copper coin the size of the nail on his small finger gleamed in the sun, and the merchant’s eye was already on it. He took it eagerly, and Faunos slaked his thirst with a clay beaker of pineapple juice, a slice of melon.

Clinging to the patch of shade by the man’s stall he said cautiously, “Everyone’s leaving.”

Turn page to Chapter Fourteen part two...

Return to Chapter Thirteen...

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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