Chapter Nineteen

The Tomb of Knowledge

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High above the terraces of the palatine, the palace and the temple stood a little way apart, separated by gardens where statues of the gods made obeisance before Helios, the great god. There, Aphrataya and Mayat, Apollonos and Hurucan, Volcos and Peseden, cast in bronze and plated in gold, acknowledged their subservience to the deity who presided over the City of the Sun.

And below the garden, cut into the mountainside, were vaults few common people even knew existed. They were accessed from a recess between the feet of Helios, where a gate opened and steps led down -- steep, chill, dark. A single lamp always burned at the bottom of the stepway, and a passage led to the right and down again. The long, steep ramp ended at a great brass-bound door which might have been the gate of Hados.

Soran’s hackles were up as he made his way from shadow to shadow, passing through the gardens unseen in the late afternoon heat. Priests, acolytes, guards, courtesans and concubines came here to meditate and pray, but no eyes must see him now. Luck was with him, and in the simmering heat the gardens were deserted as he threaded between oleanders and cypress, and a dozen flowering creepers and climbers.

The air was so heavy with perfume, his lungs protested. And then he was in the shade of the bronze likeness of Helios -- and in through the iron-barred gate. He stopped to let his vision adjust enough to feel his way on down the steps, while his eyes and brain struggled to accommodate the sudden suffocation of darkness and rock.

Priests and scribes worked in this vault, but never more than one or two at a time. Still, Soran was utterly alert, like a stalking cat, as he slithered along the dressed stone wall toward the great door at the end of the passage.

It stood slightly ajar, and from within came a dusty, musky smell. It was the scent of old leather, ancient parchment, vellum that had survived a millennium. More. Soran’s skin crawled as he swung the door open on its oiled, silent hinges, and peered through.

Inside was the library, just as he remembered it -- a vastness of shelves and cabinets containing untold books and scrolls, all of which vanished into the dimness beyond the ring of a single reading light.

The walls were lined with shelves; books were piled hip-high beside the writing desks where scribes would labor; newly written scrolls were hung up to dry, fresh ones were hung, wet and weighted to stretch after they had been scraped and cured. Books, scrolls, parchments, vellums, were everywhere, in every alcove, on every surface.

Several pots of colored inks stood open on the writing desk, but the scribe was absent. The uncovered pots told Soran clearly, the man had stepped out only momentarily. Perhaps he had gone to eat, or take a gulp of blessed fresh air before he must return to this crypt.

But he might also be deeper in the maze of the library itself, looking for a particular book. Soran should not be here, and -- witchfinder or no -- the scribe would have every right to raise the alarm. What Soran was doing was extremely dangerous.

The oldest volumes in the library were bound in brown leather into which were stamped gold leafed characters. These books were printed on paper-thin leather sheets, each page rimmed with more gold leaf, and the pigments in the inks were both impervious to time and poisonous as snake venom. All this, Soran had learned from a priest scribe many years ago, when Azhtoc brought him here, just once.

The oldest books were hand-written, and the scribe who dusted and shelved them swore they were more than a thousand years old, made a short time before the advent of woodblock printing. Soran believed it. He also knew from memory, he could not read those books. They were written in a language of symbols, signs, which Faunos might have learned; but Soran’s education extended only to the modern alphabets of Vayal, Ilios and Nefti.

He also knew -- again, the wisdom of a priest-scribe who gave the visiting child the only lesson on the library he would ever receive -- that the books had been translated. The old, original volumes fascinated him. He shivered as he touched them, knowing that the hands of the alchemists, shamans and enchanters of Diomedas’s day had also touched them. But he swiftly passed by, looking for something he could actually read.

It was history he needed, and he knew where to look for it, for the cabinets were marked. The chronicles of Vayal were displayed proudly, closer to the light, but he passed by these too, and moved on into the shadows where the much older chronicles were kept.

And there, standing beneath a bronze statuette of Hados, was a massive blue-bound volume, surely not more than a century old, and possibly newer. His hands shook a little as he stooped to retrieve it from a shelf level with his knees. A tang of cold sweat broke across his palms as he took it back to the light.

With great care not to disturb the scribe’s materials -- even now hoping to leave this place without a trace of his presence -- he opened the book and read its title. Being a literal translation of the Annals of Old High Zeheft, without omission or alteration.

Little wonder this tome was hidden away. Whatever the common man in Vayal was permitted to know, and taught to believe, the bald truth had been recorded here. Soran wondered for a moment, that it was allowed to exist at all -- but with a single glance inside the book he knew why.

The translation was poor, rough, frequently clumsy; and the material in translation was not merely a history, but a record of deeds of sorcery, feats of high magic, including the incantations, chants and rituals through which miracles of alchemy were wrought.

In the century since this raw translation had been done, Vayal’s high priests, philosophers and sorcerers must have labored over these texts, studying, dissecting, correcting. They did not dare destroy the original -- even though it might be the single book that exposed the foundations of the Empire of Vayal as a lie -- for it was the only source, against which every effort they made would be measured.

Angry, bemused, fascinated, Soran leafed through the massive book. As his eyes expanded to see properly in the dimness, he began to actually read, and his mouth dried. The Annals told the story of the rise of the Old Kingdom, from the night when the half-blind old shaman, Elak, went out to see the mysteries which had fallen from the sky. Great deeds and events were recorded in the form of a journal; the speeches of kings, the spells of enchanters, the rare achievements of alchemists and the great victories of the Zehefti people, were all recorded as they happened, in the meticulous handwriting of generations of scribes.

And everything Faunos had said was true. Soran read the names of Aeson and Diomedas; he learned the names of the three foci -- the Eyes of Helios, of Hados and of Mayat. He read of how the great cities were raised, even Vayal itself, in the golden age. And then the struggle for power began, and the Annals became bitter, dark with entries about battles lost, and cherished scions of the House of Diomedas who were captured and tortured until they betrayed their kinsmen.

The war was bloody indeed, and the armies of Vayal were only victories because two of the three foci had already been lost. The Old Kingdom had grown complacent; Zeheft was already declining when the forefathers of Azhtoc and Soran himself rose up in the shadows -- ambitious, ruthless, coveting the wealth, the power, the magic, they perceived about Zeheft. If Zeheft had been at its zenith, if the three foci had still been in the possession of the Old Kingdom’s master enchanters, history would have been very different.

The lore which every child in Vayal learned on his mother’s knee was that evil had walked the streets of Zeheft. Terrible demons crouched in the dark places there; men were turned to stone where they stood, and lovers’ souls were devoured by the incubi while they dreamed of their loved ones. The Zehefti demons were not horrible in aspect; they were of such beauty as blinded men’s eyes -- they masqueraded as angels, and the most evil of them were the witchboys, descended from the loins of Diomedas himself.

Soran thought of Faunos, and shivered. How easy would it have been for Faunos to suck the life, the soul, right out of him, along with his seed? If Faunos were the demon, the incubus, the sleep that came after the age-old ritual of mating would have been the last, long sleep of Soran’s life -- or his death.

Turn page to Chapter Nineteen continued...

Return to Chapter Eighteen...

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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