Chapter Twelve

The Wisdom of Ages

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Already the dank, salt air was stripping the paintings from the walls. A day ago the frescoes were brilliant, with metallic pigments that seemed impervious to time. In a week they would exist only in Faunos’s memory, while he had once believed they would last longer than time itself.

The paintings were created in the later days of Diomedas, when these sea caves had served as hermitages. Priests and lay brothers and sisters of the temples of Hurucan and Peseden, Helios and Gaya lived here for years, with only the ocean for companionship. They labored over their studies of the ancient texts; they devoted their lives to the pursuit of the Power; and they wrote the great song cycles which recorded the histories of the Zehefti people, back to the Age of the Ice.

Today the sea broke just a few feet below the lowest frescoes, and the brilliant pigments had begun to peel. Shards of enamel, real silver and gold leaf were falling like autumn leaves. Faunos paused to catch his breath and ran his palms over part of one image. It came away as it was barely touched.

The ancient Zehefti were depicted here -- proud people, even arrogant. Faunos could still hear Soran’s voice accusing him of the same pride, and his skin prickled. Even now he could feel Soran’s hands on him, phantom sensations that made his belly quiver in memory. With a soft oath he forced his mind back to the chore.

He had set up three torches. They smoked, reeking of tar and burning in the enclosed space, where no breeze would ever carry out the stink. The only way into the hermitage now was to swim, and even this would be impossible before long.

The roof was unsafe. Faunos was at risk even being here. He had told Galen nothing of the worst dangers, but he knew his only safety was in swiftness. A webwork of great cracks had opened up across the stone ceiling -- it reminded him of nothing so much as a broken eggshell, and part of it had already come down. Rubble was sharp and uneven under his bare feet, a constant reminder that he tarried here at the grace of his forefathers' gods.

A thousand years of wisdom lay stacked on the ledge under the fresco depicting life in Zeheft in the golden days. Peacocks and macaws, long-tusks, jaguars and sickle-toothed cats bordered the work, and in the body was the city as it had been, filled with life. The people walking its streeks had Faunos’s look, his complexion and physique; the cupolas shone in the rising sun -- and he was impressed by the irony of the scene.

When it was painted, the sun was indeed rising on the Old Kingdom. The light of Helios gleamed, living gold, on the splendor of the Peacock Throne, but nothing could save this glory. The Peacock Throne itself was hauled out by Vayal's soldiers, rendered back into molten sunlight and recast into the likenesses of Vayal's gods and kings. It was might never have existed, as these frescoes would soon be gone, and Faunos mourned.

He was breathing easily now, but the cold had begun to strike into his marrow. He must be quick. He had made the dive from the cliff with three goatskins strapped over his back, and they were arranged on the ledge, and carefully opened. They were watertight within, but they were sodden on the outside, and the old books were frighteningly vulnerable.

Everything he must know, all he must still learn before he came of age, was handwritten into these volumes, in metallic inks on thin-stretched vellum. They were tough, designed and manufactured to survive a thousand years -- but the bookmakers at the grand library of Zeheft had never imagined they would be drenched.

With exaggerated care, Faunos dried his hands, opened the goatskins, dried his hands again, and set as many of the books into the bladders as he could. They were heavy and bulky. This was already this third dive, and he would make at least one more to retrieve them all.

The goatskins were drawn shut with thin rawhide strips and over-laced on three layers. He pulled the rawhide as tight as he could, and stood shivering in the torchlight as he held a block of wax to a candle to seal the openings completely.

The scarlet wax dripped over the laces, several layers thick before he was satisfied. It looked like blood in the dim light, and he murmured to Hados and Peseden, pleas to get safely out of this place with his limbs and the wisdom of the ages intact.

Without these books the Power would consume him, and quite rightly he feared it. It was like a fire always smoldering in the back of his mind, the pit of his belly, never quite extinguished and waiting only for a breeze to fetch it back into flames.

He had become aware of it for the first time when he was ten years old -- when manhood began to stir awake. The curse of Diomedas bloomed like a rosebud when a boy reached that time of life, but it would not be controllable until he was a man.

“I am a man, gods damn it,” Faunos muttered to the goatskins as he worked. “If there was anything of the maiden left in me, by gods, it didn’t last out the night -- and now? I’m just a freak.” He glared at the peeling frescoes as he slung the first goatskin carefully over his shoulder.

In the golden days of Zeheft many young men inherited some fraction of the power. Witchboys were numerous, all of them cousins or brothers who traced their lineage back to Diomedas. The Power was known and respected. Men and women alike understood, though no Zehefti woman every inherited the Power. They were honored to be the lover, the consort of a male in whom the so-called Curse of Diomedas was born.

In the east it was different. Among the Keltoi, the Power was born only in women, which was difficult for Faunos to even imagine. He knew the tales of the great Keltoi queen, Bahadb, who lived over five hundred years and, when she died, left no seventh daughter to inherit. She had borne eight, and all were killed on the battlefield. Such was the warrior life of the barbarian Keltoi.

When Bahadb succumbed at last to time, she cast her Power like a shield over the people, for their protection, and the legend swore each of them -- and especially the women -- absorbed a fraction of it. All the Keltoi claimed the Power now, and Faunos believed them.

The story had fascinated him when he was very young; Galen told it with relish. He had never visited the Keltoi shores, but if they got out of the Empire alive this time, Faunos thought grimly, the cold, mist-wreathed lands in the east might easily be their new home.

He swung the second goatskin over his back and adjusted the weight. The books were heavy, and would weigh him down on his struggle back to the surface. The third bag had enough weight to make him think twice about carrying it; but if he left it behind he must make two more dives, not one.

He was cold, tired, and keenly aware of the rising water levels in the hermitage. Two more dives would be dangerous; on the last, Peseden might easily embrace him, and all would have been for naught.

He poised on the lip of the ledge which had once been used as a bench or deep shelf, and breathed to the bottom of his lungs. Eight, ten breaths, and he began to dizzy. Pearl divers swore this was trick of going down far and staying down, long minutes working in cold, dark water at depths Faunos did not even want to think about.

The sunlight was just thirty feet above the cave mouth, and the way out of the hermitage was fifty feet forward from his ledge. Unburdened, it was an easy swim. With the weight of the goatskins on his back, making it for the third time, already cold and tired, was not so easy.

He dove like an otter, and once again thanked the water gods that he was a natural swimmer. He had swum strongly since before he could walk, and had no fear of sea or river. The light levels were low in the murky water within the cave mouth. Faint gray-blue illumination shafted in from outside, and he struck out toward it the moment his eyes had adjusted.

The bags pressed him down with dead weight; it was like trying to swim with a comatose body strapped to him. He kicked hard, used his hands to haul himself along by the carved boulders and cracked, fallen pillars that had been part of the hermitage for ten centuries --

And then he was going up into the ring of sunlight which shimmied and swayed like a temple dancer, far above. He kicked hard again, and just as his lungs began to burn he broke surface. Treading water was a chore, laden as he was. He took several breaths to ease his lungs and turned for the shore.

Turn page to Chapter Twelve conclusion...

Return to Chapter Eleven...

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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