Soldier of the Mist


Page 15




Hypereides shook his head, and I thought he looked frightened.
I whispered to Pindaros, "Isn't it strange to see so many people in this place?"
"All of us, you mean," he said.
"And the rest." With my free hand I indicated the others who stood about us.
"Latro," Pindaros whispered, "when your mistress's friend Eurykles performs his ceremony, you must help him."
I nodded.
"If there's someone standing close by who seems attentive to the ceremony, but who did not come with us from Kalleos's house, you must touch him. Just reach out and touch him. Will you do that?"
Eurykles continued, "None of you, then, have any particular person in mind?"
All three captains shook their heads; so did the kybernetes.
"Then I'll search for a grave that appears to offer a good subject. I shall attempt that subject, and upon the result the whole of our bet depends. Is that understood?"
They murmured their agreement.
"Good. Phye, come with me, I must look at the graves and read the stones. You, boy, whatever your name is. You come too."
For some while we moved from grave to grave, our feet rustling the dry stalks of the grain that had been planted there, Eurykles hesitating a long time over many of the graves, sometimes tracing the letters in the stones with his fingers, sometimes scraping soil from the grave to sniff or taste. A wandering wind brought the odors of cooking and ordure from the city, and the smell too of freshly dug earth.
Phye screamed and dropped her torch, clutching Eurykles for protection. The fowl flew squawking from his cloak, and he slapped Phye, demanding to know what the matter was.
"There!" she said, and pointed with a trembling arm.
Lifting my torch higher, I saw what she had seen and went over to look at it.
A grave had been opened. The grave soil was thrown back in a heap, the withered remains of the funerary wreaths lay upon it, and the coffin had been pulled half out of its place and smashed. The body of a young woman, thus exposed, lay with feet and legs still within what remained of the coffin. The shroud had been torn away, leaving her naked except for her long dark hair. The smell of death was on her; I stepped away from it, feeling I had known it before, though I could not have said where or when.
"Take the reins!" Eurykles ordered Phye. "This is no time for your womb to dance." She only sobbed and buried her face in his cloak.
Acetes said, "Something terrible has happened here. What we see is desecration." His hand was on his sword.
"I quite agree," Eurykles told him. " Something has happened, but what is it? Who did it?"
Acetes could only shake his head.
I stroked Phye's hand and asked whether she was feeling better. When she nodded, I got her torch and relit it for her from my own.
Eurykles told the others, "I'm only a foreigner in your city, but I'm grateful to my hosts, and I see my duty plainly here. We must discover what has occurred and inform the archons. My own talents and training - most of all the favor with which I am regarded by the chthonic gods - lay an obligation upon me. I will raise the spirit of this poor girl, and from it we will learn who has done this, and why it has been done."
"I can't," Phye whispered.
Faintly though she spoke, Eurykles heard her and turned. "What do you mean?"
"I can't watch. I can't stay here while you do - whatever you're going to do. I'm going back." She drew away from him. "Don't try to stop me!"
"I won't," Eurykles told her. "Believe me I quite understand, and if I could be spared I'd take you back to Kalleos's house myself. Unfortunately these other gentlemen - "
"Have entered into a wager they regret," one of the captains said. "I'll go back with you if you want, Phye. As for the bet, I stand with my old master, Hypereides. If he wins, so do I. I lose if he loses."
"No!" Phye glared at him with so much hatred in her eyes that I thought she might fly at his face. "Do you think I want your filthy hands under my gown all the way back to Kalleos's?" She spun on her heel and strode off, her torch zigzagging as she threaded her way among the silent people.
Eurykles shrugged. "I was wrong to allow a woman to come with us," he said. "I can only apologize to the rest of you."
"That's all right," Hypereides told him. "If you're going to do something, let's get on with it." He drew his cloak more tightly about him.
Eurykles nodded and said to me, "See if you can find that bird, will you? It won't have flown far in the dark."
A small cypress grew a few steps away. The fowl was roosting in its branches, where I caught it easily enough.
When I returned to the men waiting beside the opened grave, Eurykles had a knife. As soon as I gave him the fowl, he cut its throat with a quick slash, pronouncing words in a language I did not understand.
Three times he walked around the grave with slow, bobbing strides, scattering the fowl's blood; as he completed each circuit he called softly Thygater, which I suppose must have been the woman's name.
As he made the third circuit, I saw her eyes open to watch him; and remembering what Pindaros had told me to do, I crouched and reached into the grave to touch her.
At once she sat up, pulling her feet from the broken coffin.
I heard the indrawn breath of Hypereides and all the rest, and I confess I was startled too, so that I jerked back my hand. Eurykles himself was staring at her slack-jawed.
Once standing, Thygater remained where she was, looking not at Eurykles or Pindaros or any other.
"You've won," Hypereides whispered, his voice shaking. "Let's go."
Eurykles threw back his head and extended his thin arms to the moon. " I triumph! " he shouted.
"Be still," the kybernetes hissed. "Do you - "
" I triumph! " Eurykles pointed to the ground at his feet. "Here! Stand here, Thygater! Present yourself to your master!"
Obediently, the dead woman climbed from her grave and stood where Eurykles had pointed. Though she walked, there was nothing of life in her; a doll with jointed limbs, moved by a child, might have walked so.
"Answer!" Eurykles ordered her. "Who disturbed your sleep?"
"You," the dead woman said. A coin fell from her mouth as she spoke, and her breath reeked of death. "And this man" - without turning her head to look at me, she pointed - "whom my king says must go as he was sent."
"Yes, I woke you, and this man with his torch. But who dug here and broke the coffin in which you lay?"
"I did not lie there," the dead woman said. "I was very faraway."
"But who dug here?" Eurykles insisted.
"A wolf."
"But a man must have broken your coffin."
"A wolf."
Pindaros said softly, "She speaks as an oracle, I think."
Eurykles nodded, the inclination of his head so slight that I was not certain I had seen it. "What was the wolf's name? Speak!"
"His name was Man."
"How did he break your coffin?"
"With a stone."
"Held in his hands?" Eurykles demanded.
"Yes."
The captain who had offered to escort Phye said, "That girl was right. I'm going back." Everyone except Eurykles and me stepped away from the opened grave.
Eurykles said, "Don't you know she can prophesy for us, you fools? Listen, and you'll hear the veil of the future torn to shreds. Thygater! Who will win the war?"
"Wolves and ravens win all wars."
"Will Khshayarsha, whom your people call the Great King, ever rule this country?"
"The Great King has ruled our country."
"That's what the oracle of Dolphins said," Pindaros told Eurykles.
"Wait not for horse and war,
But quit the land that bore you.
The eastern king shall rule your shore,
And yet give way before you."
I do not think Eurykles heard him. "Thygater! How may I become rich?"
"By becoming poor."
Hypereides announced, "I've seen a wonder tonight, but it was something I'd sooner not have seen, and I can't believe the gods smile on such things. I'm going back to Tieup. Anybody who wants to hear more can do it and take the consequences for all I care. Eurykles, tell Kalleos I lost and went back to my ships; I'll tell her myself the next time I see her."
"I'm coming with you," the kybernetes said, and Acetes and both captains nodded.
"Not so fast," Pindaros put in. "Hypereides, you bet me two owls, and Kalleos isn't holding those stakes."
Hypereides dropped them into Pindaros's outstretched palm. "If you want to come with us, you can share my room in Tieup."
Pindaros shook his head. "Latro and I are going back to Kalleos's. Tomorrow I'll come for Hilaeira and Io."
It was on my tongue to tell him Io was already there, but I bit it back.
Eurykles spat on his hands and rubbed them together. "As you desert us, Thygater and I are going into the city. I've certain patrons there who'll be most gratified to behold my victory. Come, Thygater!"
"Wait," Pindaros told me. "Our way lies with theirs, but we need not walk with the dead woman."
I watched them go, and Hypereides and the other to the west. "Pindaros," I asked, "why am I so afraid?"
"Who wouldn't be? I was terrified myself. So is Eurykles, I think, but ambition overrules it." He laughed nervously. "You saw through his little trick, I hope? I meant you to give Eurykles more than he bargained for, but you came over us both and gave me more than I'd bargained for as well."
"I'm not afraid of the dead woman," I said. "But I'm afraid of something. Pindaros, look at the moon.
What do you see?"
"It's very thin," he said. "And it's setting behind the sacred hill. What about it?"
"Do you see where some columns are still standing? The moon is tangled in them - some are before her, but others are behind her."
"No," Pindaros said. "No, Latro, I don't see that. Shall we go now?"
I agreed. When we had left the burial ground and were about halfway to Kalleos's, Pindaros said,
"No wonder you weren't frightened by the dead girl, Latro. You're more frightening than she. The wonder is that she didn't seem afraid of you. But perhaps she was."
The door was barred, and our knocking brought no one to open it; but it was not difficult to find a place where the wall had been thrown down and not yet rebuilt. "My room has half a roof," Pindaros told me. "Kalleos showed it to me earlier. The best in the house, she said; and except for her own it probably is. You're welcome to share it if you like."
"No," I told him. "I have a place."
"As you wish." He sighed and smiled. "You got a cloak out of our adventures tonight, at least. I got two owls, and I had a woman; I've gone farther and come away with less. Good night, Latro."
I went to this room where the black man and Io are sleeping. Io woke and asked if I was all right.
When I said I was, she told me Phye had come back sometime earlier, and Kalleos had beaten her terribly.
I assured her that no one had beaten me, and we lay down side by side. She was soon asleep, but I was still frightened and could not sleep. Against all reason, the moon that had been setting when Pindaros and I were walking had climbed high in the heavens again, looking like the dead woman's eye when it opened a slit to see Eurykles.
Dawn came through the broken roof, and I sat up and wrote all that has happened since I wrote before. This is the last, and I see that upon the outside of my scroll it is written that I am to read it each day, and so I begin. Perhaps then I will understand what the dead woman meant, and where I am to go.
Chapter 17 On the Way to Advent
There are many inns. Though we arrived by daylight, it was too late to go to the house of the god; Pindaros has taken a room for us in this one only a few stades away. The inn is a hollow square with two stories all the way around. We have a double room - like a man's bent arm, but wider.
The first thing I can remember from this day is eating the first meal with Kalleos and the other women.
I knew her name then from some earlier time, for I called her by it when I brought out the boiled barley meal and fruit, and the wine and water, asking Kalleos whether I could carry food to Io and the black man. Kalleos said to bring them to the courtyard, where the long table stood. (I think the black man and I must have put it there, because when the time came to take it down we knew how to do it.) The women were talking about how happy they were to be in the city again, and of going to the market to buy jewelry and new clothes. Though the sun was at its zenith, I think most had just risen.
Another man came, still yawning and rubbing his teeth with a cloth. I made room for him, and he said,
"I'm Pindaros. Do you remember me, Latro?"
I answered, "Yes. I remember our parting last night, and this morning I read my scroll. Your name is written there often. Pindaros, I must find the healer from Riverland."
When I mentioned Riverland, the women fell quiet to listen. Pindaros said, "Who is that?"
"The man who treated me just after the battle. He told me my name; he'd learned it from the men of my maniple. Do you see how important that is? Those men knew who I was, so they must know where I came from."
"And you want to find out?" Pindaros asked. "You haven't talked about it much before."
"Yes!"
He said to Kalleos, "He's been getting better all the time. This is the best yet. Latro, you must go to the Great Mother. Did you read that in your book too?"
I told him I had read the words of the Shining God: "By the shrine of the Great Mother you fell, to a shrine of hers you must return."
"There you are, then."
One of the women asked, "Who's the Great Mother?" But Pindaros waved her to silence.
"I don't trust the gods of this land," I said.
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