Chapter Thirteen


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Sweat rolled off Soran and the breath burned in his throat. He was on top of the game, but the physical effort was taxing him more than he would have expected. Last night had taken a great deal out of him, much than he had realized. The Zehefti youth would have a lot to answer for, if victory slithered through Soran’s fingers today.

And all the more reason, Soran decided, for Faunos to never been within sight of the palace. A royal defeat before every noble on the palatine would embarrass Azhtoc. His vengeance would be subtle of necessity, but he could cost Faunos dearly, in ways that were impossible to mend with apologies, wealth, even love.

So it would be a villa on the cliff beyond Lakutat, Soran thought as he dove for a loose ball. He swung tight around the knee that was aimed for his belly, and went down with a grunt. He rolled in the packed sand which had been laid down on the court, and let sheer momentum carry him back to his feet.

The two men playing for the palace closed in around him. They were Epeus and Shurut, both champions from the legion -- he had known them for years. They were big men, but not quick enough on their feet to score. Their purpose was to guard his back, keep the others off him and win him the space to score.

The three men from the fleet were sinuous, faster, not so thickly muscled. All six were near-naked, with a leather loincloth not for modesty, but for protection. The players from the fleet wore green sashes about brow and middle; the three from the legion, which today included Soran, wore gold.

No player had given a hand’s span of quarter, and Soran was wrenched, bruised. His knees and elbows were gashed, his left hip would be blue in the morning, and his right arm was tested to its limits. The only rules to this game were those that forbade the gouging of eyes, the ripping of ears. The winning team was simply the first to get the leather ball through the hoop five times -- and it was far more difficult than it sounded.

Both teams were even, at four hoops each; the next score would decide the game, and Soran could feel his father’s eyes drilling into his back. The priest-king’s litter stood on the plinth at the side of the court. Two concubines were passing wine and sweets through the shrouds of gauze, and Azhtoc was intent on the play. Soran did not need to see him to know he was nursing a fury.

The game was too even. Doubtlessly Azhtoc believed that with Soran on the court, the palace should enjoy had an easy victory. In this moment any kind of victory at all was in doubt; the game could go either way. The three men from the fleet were tall, long-limbed, agile as acrobats. Soran would never have chosen the two thick-muscled apes from the legion to guard his back, but the team was not his to decide.

He had made the best of his chances for almost and hour, and had scored four times. Three times since, he had had the ball almost in the hoop only to have it snatched away, when one of the fleet monkeys barreled into him, dumped him into the sand. Each time the ball was declared ‘dead’ the players drank, and took a moment to rest and regroup while the court was reset.

Soran had the ball again now, and was stretching for the last hoop, testing every sinew he possessed. He wanted it with a ferocious desire, and swore fluently in several languages when the tallest monkey from fleet scissored his legs, dumping him yet again.

The ball bounced off the hoop, and the pad of white sand came up fast and hit Soran’s cheek. He spat it out of his mouth and rolled back to his feet with a smile, but the expression was thin. He had begun to feel the threadbare, frayed edge of frustration -- had they all.

The waterboy ran on with the jugs, and all six players drank deeply. Sweat rolled off Soran in a constant cascade. The afternoon sun pooled in the well of the court, and the last serious humidity of the storm seemed to linger over Vayal like a shroud. The heat was oppressive, without a breeze to stir air which had begun to feel like the draft from an open hearth.

On three sides of the court, the crowd sat under wide, gaudy parasols, where punkah boys fanned them constantly. They enjoyed the waft of peacock feathers and palm fronds, but the players had been in the full sun for over an hour. Soran’s hair was braided in a thick rope down his back; the band about his head kept the sweat out of his eyes, but his breathing had begun to rasp and his throat was sore. He drank all his belly would comfortably hold, and as he passed back the jug he was studying the opposition -- their gashes and bruises, their sharp eyes and gestures.

A single point lay between the palace and victory, and everyone around the court knew the big legionaries were never going to score it. For some time, spectators and players alike had been looking at Soran with growing anticipation.

The legionaries were obviously praying he knew some trick, because it was short rations and double duty for them, if they lost while Azhtoc watched. The priest-king of Vayal did not come to the ball court to preside over a defeat.

On the edge of the court, in the grudging shade of an awning, Soran caught his breath in a lull in the play. The game stewards were busy -- the sand must be raked back to perfection and the quadrant rings drawn back into it with long, pointed sticks. The ball had already been passed up to the court master, who perched on the wall above the hoop, ready to drop it when play resumed.

The fleet men were huddled, pointing, whispering, discussing strategy, but Soran had little to say to his own teammates. They had a single function -- to keep the fleet men off him -- and they were not doing it. They knew they were failing badly, and both hung their heads as if they fully expected retribution to be meted out when the conch shell blew to mark the end of the game.

“My lord prince?”

The voice was whining -- it could only be Druyus. Soran choked off a curse. The priest was the last man he wanted to see. Druyus was tiresome, had always been tiresome, and lately he got under Soran’s skin like a burrowing bug. He contrived to be close, too often, when Soran was in the palace, always watching, listening, seizing any opportunity to talk, though there was never anything to talk about.

If he had the courage of a decent man, he would send a gift and an invitation. It might be a hand-ground obsidian orchid, or a silk-bound copy of some pillow book, or an amphora of rare wine. Soran knew exactly what Druyus wanted, but the priest would never come out and say it. Perhaps he knew how Soran would respond, and dreaded the witchfinder’s ire. If this were the cause of his reticence, he was wise, but Soran longed for the invitation to sensuality, so he could throw the torn pieces of it into Druyus’s unpleasant face.

His eyes were hot, ravenous on Soran’s body as he shuffled closer in the shade of the parasols carried by his attendants. His shaven scalp gleamed with sweat. The sand was too hot for him to prostrate, but he bowed deeply and clasped his hands. “Do you have a moment for your loyal servant, my lord?”

“What it it? Be brief,” Soran snapped. “I’m busy.”

“My lord, I was told you desire to know the whereabouts of a certain Zeheftiman,” Druyus began.

Soran whirled on him. “You found him?”

“Not yet,” Druyus said silkily, “but Baobo begged me to bring you news. No ships have put from these shores since dawn without being searched, and there is a soldier on every wharf. The Zeheftimen has not escaped. He is here, and he is very likely close. The old city has begun to reek. There’s talk of burning it, to stay the contagion, before it can begin. Your Zeheftiman won’t be in the environs of the old city, my lord, and there are only so many places he can be. Baobo assures you, you shall have him soon enough.”

“All right. Thank Baobo for his thoughtfulness and diligence,” Soran said acidly before he turned his back on Druyus, and ignored the weight of the priest’s eyes on him. “I’ve no time to chat,” he said curtly, “I have a game to win.”

Turn page to Chapter Thirteen part two...

Return to Chapter Twelve...

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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