Soldier of the Mist


Page 13




When I had put the disks in the room Kalleos had given me, I returned to the courtyard, where she had greeted her guests and was making them comfortable on the couches she bought this afternoon.
"Hypereides," she said, pouring his wine herself, "I've a proposal to make to you."
He smiled. "No one can say he found Hypereides unready for business."
"I told you there'd be nobody here tonight but you and your guests. If you'll look around, you'll see I've kept my word."
"You've cheated me already," Hypereides told her. "The stars are coming. But never mind, I won't ask for my slave back. Only for the black one, whom you took without a by-your-leave."
"Certainly," Kalleos said. "I thought he was a free sailor when I borrowed him. He can return with you in the morning. But Hypereides, a friend of mine dropped in today when he heard I was back in the city. He's as merry a fellow as you'll ever meet, full of jokes and stories, I promise you. If you don't want him to join your party, just say so and I swear you'll never see him. But if you've no objection, I'll be forever grateful. And of course there'll be no charge to him or you. His name's Eurykles of Miletos."
At that moment, one of the women came to tell me the food had arrived, and I went to the rear entrance to help the cookshop owner and the black man unload.
Kalleos came just as we were finishing. "Good, good! They're all hungry. Do you know anything about food, Latro?"
"I don't remember," I told her.
"I suppose not." She looked at the trays I was making up. "At least you're doing well enough so far.
The girls will carry them in, understand? You don't go in again unless there's trouble. I don't expect any tonight, but you never can tell. Try to stay awake and don't drink, and everything will be fine. Sometimes a girl screams and sometimes she screams. You know what I mean?"
"I think so."
"Well, don't go in unless one screams. Got it? If all of them start screaming, come fast. Don't draw that sword unless you have to, and don't use it no matter what. Where'd you get it, anyway?"
"From the Swift God," I said, and only when I had spoken realized I did not know what I meant by what I had said.
"You poor boy." Kalleos kissed me lightly on the cheek. "Phye, dear, get some of those lazy sluts in here to take these trays so the man has room to work. Tune your lyre if you haven't already, and tell the flute girls to fetch their whistles. But wait till the trays have been brought in before you start."
"I know," Phye said. "I know."
Turning back to me, Kalleos shook her head. " 'Wine, music, and women - what else does a man need?' That's what your friend the poet asked me. And do you know, I nearly told him. Meat, for one thing; veal and lamb, and they cost me - I won't say, it isn't polite, but a lot. Not to mention some nice fish, three kinds of cheese, bread, figs, grapes, and honey. And tomorrow you'll sweep half of it off the floor. You didn't come free, Latro, let me tell you." She paused, studying me. "You know, I used to be a slave myself. From up north."
I said, "I wondered, because of your coloring. Very few people here have red hair or blue eyes."
"I'm a Budini, or I was. I don't even remember their words any more. Somebody stole me, I think, when I was just a little girl." She paused again. "Do you want to be free, Latro?"
"I am free," I told her. "It's only that I don't remember."
She sighed. "Well, as long as you don't, you're going to have to have somebody around who does and will tell you what to do. I suppose it might as well be me."
When all the food was ready, I went to the courtyard arch to listen to the flutes; but in a few moments Pindaros came out and drew me back into the kitchen. "Hypereides has sold you to Kalleos," he said.
"Yes, I've been working for her."
"That puts me in serious difficulties, as I hope you understand."
I told him that until I found my home and friends I would be as happy in this place as in any.
"Your happiness - permit me to speak frankly - doesn't much concern me now. The pledge I made in the temple of the Shining God does. I promised to take you to the shrine of the Great Mother. I've done my best so far, and I must say the Shining God's rewarded me handsomely: I've heard the playing of a god and your singing. That's a privilege given few, and it's improved my own poetry almost beyond belief. But if I return to my city without fulfilling my vow ... "
"Yes?" I asked.
"He may take it away - that's what I'm afraid of. And even if he doesn't, someone's bound to ask about our visit to the shrine. What am I to say? That I've left you here a slave while I raise the money to buy your freedom? What will they think of me? We've got to work out something."
"I'll try," I told him.
He patted my back. "I know you will, and so will I. And if I can get you to the shrine, perhaps you'll be cured. Then we'll worry about your happiness, both of us. Probably you'll want to return to your homeland, as you say, and I'll arrange passage for you on some trading ship. The war's nearly over now, and the merchants will be sailing again."
"I'd like that," I said. "To return home and find people I won't forget."
Over Pindaros's shoulder, I saw the rear door swing back very quietly. For an instant, the black man looked in. When he saw us, he held a finger to his lips, then gestured for me to join him and shut the door again.
"You'd better go back in there," I told Pindaros. "Before you're missed. I'll remember."
"It doesn't matter," he said. "They think I'm relieving myself."
"Pindaros, is your Shining God a very great god?"
"One of the greatest. He's the god of music and poetry, of light, sudden death, herds and flocks, healing, and much more."
"Then if he wishes me to visit this shrine, I will do so. He trusted you to guide me; I think you should trust him to guide us."
Pindaros shook his head as if in wonder. "Is it because you can't remember the past that you're so wise, Latro?"
We chatted for a few moments more, he telling me about the refitting of Hypereides's ships and I telling him of the work the black man and I had done for Kalleos.
"You've accomplished wonders," Pindaros told me. "It's almost as though I were at some dinner in our own city. Do you think they'll ask me to recite?"
"I imagine so," I said.
He shook his head again. "That's the trouble with being a poet: your friends all think you're a public entertainer. Worse luck, I don't have anything suitable. I'll dodge it if I can - propose singing or games."
"I'm sure you'll think of something."
Turning away, he muttered, "I'd a hundred times sooner think of a way to get you to the shrine."
As soon as he had left, I hurried to the rear door. The black man grinned at me from the darkness outside and held up a sleeping child. "Io."
I nodded, for I recalled her from this morning when we were still on Hypereides's ship.
He stepped into the kitchen, where there was more light, and walked his fingers through the air, holding her cradled in one arm.
I said, "All that way? No wonder she's tired. I suppose she followed Pindaros and the rest, staying far enough behind to keep out of sight."
The black man motioned for me to come, and carried her to one of the roofless sleeping rooms.
There he laid her on some discarded gowns and put his finger to his lips.
"No," I told him. "If she wakes without knowing how she got here, she'll be frightened." I do not know how I knew that. I knew it as I know many other things. I shook her gently, saying, "Io, why did you come so far?"
She opened her eyes. "Oh, master!"
"You should have stayed with the woman," I told her.
She whispered, "I don't belong to her. I belong to you."
"Something bad might have happened to you on the road, and in the morning we'll have to send you back to the ships."
"I belong to you. The Shining God sent me to take care of you."
"The Shining God sent Pindaros," I told her, "or so he says."
Sleepily, she rolled her head from side to side. "The oracle sent Pindaros. The god sent me."
It seemed futile to argue. I said, "Io, you must be quiet and stay in this room. See, I'm covering you with some of these so you won't get cold. If Kalleos or her women see you, they may make you leave. If they do, go to the back of the house and wait for me."
She was sleeping again before I finished. The black man laid a wooden doll beside her and stretched himself beside the doll.
"Yes," I said. "It's better that she have a protector."
He nodded - and fell asleep himself, I think, before I had left the room.
Now I sit on a broken chair near the courtyard door, where I can hear Phye's songs. There is a lamp here with a good wick and a fine, bright flame, so here I watch the stars and the waning moon; and write everything that has happened today, so I will not sleep. If Kalleos were to beat me, I might kill her; I do not wish that, and I too might die. It is better to write, though my eyes water and burn.
It is later, and Phye no longer sings. Pindaros suggested they play kottabos, and I, not knowing how it was played, stood under the lintel for a time to watch. Pindaros drew a circle on the floor and a line at some distance from it.
Everyone stood behind this line; and as each drained his cup, he threw the lees at the circle.
When several rounds had been played, Eurykles proposed that the loser of the next tell a tale, and Pindaros seconded him. Hypereides lost, and I sit listening to him (though I do not think I shall trouble to record his tale here) while I write.
Chapter 15 The Woman Who Went Out
Phye's tale had not yet begun when a shout of laughter woke me. No doubt she had missed the circle purposely, or perhaps one of the men had pinched her as she threw, or jostled her arm. I give here as much of it as I recall:
Once there was a woman whose husband was very rich but would never give her any money. They had an estate outside the city and a fine house in it, with many slaves and so on, but her gowns were still the gowns she had brought from her father's house, and her husband would not buy her so much as a comb.
One day when she lay weeping on her bed, her maid discovered her there. Now her maid was a Babylonian and as clever as all the people of that city are, and so she said, "My lady, I can guess easily enough why you weep. It's because all the other ladies hereabout have lovers to entertain them, and buy them silver bracelets and curios from Riverland, and talking birds that tell them how beautiful they are even when their lovers aren't around to do it. While you, poor thing, have only that ugly old fool your husband, a skinflint who never gives you so much as a sparrow."
"No," said her mistress, "it's because he never gives me any money."
"That's what I said," said her maid. "For we women, men and money are the same thing, after all.
Have I ever told you how we girls get our dowries in Babylon?"
"No," said the mistress again. "But please do, even if it isn't a very good story. Because hearing even a poor story would be better than lying on this barren bed crying away my life."
"Why, it's no story at all," said her maid, "but the plain truth. When a girl in my city approaches the age of marriage, she sells herself to whatever men she likes for as much as they'll pay. In that way the best looking soon accumulate a great deal of money and so get a handsome husband, and soon after, many comely children. By the same token, homely girls get none, and thus it is that we Babylonians are the best-looking people in the whole world." (Here Phye, whom I was watching by this time through the doorway, patted her hair to considerable laughter and applause.) "Though you, my lady, would be thought lovely anywhere, I must say."
"That's extremely interesting," said her mistress, "and I certainly never knew it. But it doesn't do me the least good; I'm married already, so I don't need another dowry."
"True," said her maid. "But suppose you were to go out at night and make whatever handsome men you meet the same sort of offer our Babylonian girls do? You'd have a handsome lover for the night, and very quickly a great deal of money."
"It's certainly a most attractive idea," her mistress admitted, "but it seems to me that it's out of the question. My husband sleeps with me every night. If he were to wake and find me gone ... Now that you mention it, I suppose it might be possible to administer some sort of mild and harmless medication that would assure him of a good night's sleep. Do you happen to know of a dealer in such preparations?"
Her maid shook her head sadly. "Most of them are ineffective, my lady, and even the worst cost a great deal. But I know a trick worth a dozen of them, if you can tell me where to find the last resting place of an amorous woman."
"Really?" said her mistress. "Magic? How fascinating! You know, my cousin Phyllis's grave is only a short walk from here. Would that do, do you think?"
"I don't know," said the maid. "Was she fond of men?"
"Extremely," said her mistress. "And when she died, one of my uncle's he-goats wouldn't eat for a month."
"Then she'd be perfect," said the maid. "Here's all we have to do. At dinner tonight, you must slip something into your husband's food that will make him ill - "
"Night soil, you mean?" her mistress suggested.
The maid shook her head. "Too obvious ... I have it! He's accustomed to rancid oil - it's the only sort he'll let us buy for the kitchen. Give me that old pin to take to the market, and I'll trade it for the freshest, purest oil I can find. That should make him sick, and he'll sleep overnight in the temple of the Healing God in the hope of a cure. When he's gone, you and I will dig some earth from the garden and take it to your cousin's grave. There you'll moisten it with a certain fluid I'll indicate to you - you have a plentiful supply - and we'll make a doll of clay, kneading a lock of your hair into it."
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