Soldier of the Mist

Page 20

Eutaktos looked sourly from her to me. "How many men here?"
"Right now? Three. Why do you want to know?"
"Get the rest."
Kalleos shrugged and told Phye, "Bring in Lalos and Leon."
"You there." Eutaktos pointed to me with his sword. "Quick! Name the man who sold you."
I shook my head.
Io said, "Hypereides, sir. Please don't hurt Latro - he can't remember."
The shieldmen, who had been nudging one another and winking while they stared at the women, fell silent as though someone had given a command. Eutaktos lowered his sword and sent it rasping back into the scabbard. "You say he doesn't remember, little girl?"
Suddenly abashed, Io nodded.
"We can settle this quickly," Eutaktos told Kalleos. "Do you have any books?"
Kalleos shook her head. "None. I keep all my records on wax tablets."
"None at all? Want us to search? You won't like it."
"There's a book Latro has to write in. He does forget, as Io says."
"Ah." Eutaktos glanced at one of the other Rope Makers, and both smiled. "Fetch it, woman."
"I don't know where he keeps it."
Phye said, "You won't be able to read it, Lochagos. I've tried, but he writes in some barbaric tongue."
Our two cooks, who had banged the pans that morning and talked loudly, looked very small beside her.
The man I had hit got to his feet rubbing his neck.
"But he can read it to me," Eutaktos said. "Latro, bring me your book."
Io said, "He's afraid you'll take it, sir. You won't, will you?"
Eutaktos shook his head. "Do you know where it is?"
Io nodded. "I know more about Latro than anybody."
"Then get it. We won't hurt him or you."
Io ran to my room and was soon back carrying this scroll.
"Good!" Eutaktos said. "And now - "
There was a tap at the door. Eutaktos told one of the shieldmen to see who it was and send him away. To me he said, "A fine book, must have cost a couple of owls. Too long for you to unroll it all between your hands?"
I nodded.
"Then do it on the floor, so I can see it. Little girl, hold down the end."
The shieldman who had been sent to the door announced, "Urgent message, Lochagos. A Milesian."
Eutaktos nodded, and the soldier ushered in a tall and very lean man with hair like a black haystack; he wore a purple cloak and many rings. This man darted a glance at me, another at Kalleos, and said to Eutaktos, "Many blessings upon you, noble warrior! I have words that are for your heroic ears alone."
Kalleos came forward smiling. "I can show you to a comfortable room, Lochagos, where you two can talk in private. We haven't tidied up yet from last night, but - "
"No matter," Eutaktos snapped. "Take us there - we won't be long. You, Latro, close your book again and keep it so. Basias, see that he does."
They were back almost at once, the Rope Maker looking pleased and the Milesian chagrined. To his shieldmen, Eutaktos said, "This fellow's come to tell us what we were about to see for ourselves." He turned to me. "Unroll your book."
I did as he had ordered, and when I reached the final sheet found a dried flower there.
Eutaktos crouched beside me. "You men, look here! Did everyone see this?"
The shieldmen nodded, and several said, "Yes, sir."
"Remember it. You may have to tell Pausanias. You heard me ask the question. You heard he couldn't answer. You saw him unroll this book, you saw the flower. Don't forget those things." He stood up. "These are high matters. It won't go well with anyone who makes a mistake."
The Milesian began, "Noble Rope Maker, if you would care - "
"I wouldn't. You Ionians are mad for gold. We win your battles for you, so you think we've got it.
There isn't a man here who's any richer than the poorest slave in this house, myself included."
"In that case ... " The Milesian shrugged and turned to go.
"Not so fast!"
Two shieldmen blocked the door.
"You'll leave when I say, not before. Obey orders or suffer for it. Latro, you're coming with us; so's the child. What's her name?"
"Io!" Io piped.
"Woman." Eutaktos turned to Kalleos. "Apply to Pausanias or either of our kings and you'll be compensated. Shut up! You talk too much - all of you do up here."
"Sir," I said, "I've got a cloak and some clean chitons. May I get them?"
He nodded. "Whatever you want, as long as that book's part of it. Basias, go with him."
Kalleos said, "Eurykles, you're not going with them too, are you?"
"Of course not," the Milesian told her.
Eutaktos turned on him. "Of course, you mean. You're from Miletos, Miletos is in the Empire, the Empire's our enemy, you're our prisoner. Curses and witchery will get your throat cut before you finish them."
I left with Basias then, and so I did not hear what else was said. When we returned, Io had a little bundle at her feet and a wooden doll under her arm. Basias looked inquiringly at Eutaktos and pointed to my sword.
Kalleos explained, "He was my watchman, Lochagos. Latro, I'll keep that for you, if you like."
"No," Eutaktos told her, "Basias will keep it. Pausanias may return it to him."
The street was hot after the shade of Kalleos's courtyard. I held my belongings at my shoulder with one hand and held Io's hand with the other; she held mine and did the same. Eutaktos marched in front of us, staring every man he saw out of countenance and spitting every time some new city stink offended his nostrils. The Milesian stumped sour-faced after us, muttering to himself.
Basias was on my right, and on my left and behind us tramped the rest of the shieldmen, all with long spears, red cloaks, and big hoplons painted with the wedge-shaped letter that the Crimson Men call the Stylus, which seems to me a most fit insignia for their Silent Country. They might have been the vanguard of an army of occupation, and the archers posted where the road left the city looked relieved when we marched past.
Among the Rope Makers each shieldman has several slaves to carry his belongings, pitch his tent, and prepare his food. These slaves had bought wine in the city, so we had a little to stir into our water (for the shieldmen had not yet eaten the first meal), as well as raw onions, boiled barley, salt olives, and cheese.
Io says I forget, and I know I do; but I remembered then how much wine there had been on Kalleos's table when we left, and her melons and figs.
Before we ate, Eutaktos sent slaves into Thought to recall the other enomotia of his lochos. When the meal was over (which it soon was) he ordered the rest to break camp. I asked Basias where we were going.
"Back to Redface Island," he told me, "if that's where the prince is. He wants to see you."
I asked why, but he only shook his head.
Io said, "You don't remember, but we sailed around Redface Island with Hypereides. It looked wild - just a few little villages along the shore."
Basias nodded. "Too many pirates. Tower Hill trades for us."
The Milesian had come over to listen. He remarked, "And gets rich from it."
"That's their problem." Basias turned and stalked away.
"Odd people, aren't they?" the Milesian said. "I know you don't recognize me, Latro, but I'm Eurykles the Necromancer. You held a light for me not long ago, when I performed one of my greatest wonders."
Io said, "You came to Kalleos's and joined Hypereides's party. Rhoda told me."
Eurykles nodded. "That's right, and from it you must know I'm a good friend of Kalleos's; and Kalleos is Latro's rightful owner."
"She is not!"
He looked at her askance. He is one of those people who can raise one eyebrow a great deal higher than the other.
"Latro's a free man, and I'm his slave. Kalleos said I was hers, but she didn't even have a bill for me."
"Nor does Latro, I imagine. Not that it matters now. Don't talk of buying and selling to these Rope Makers, by the way. Among every other people in the world, trading's honorable and stealing dishonorable; but among the Rope Makers it's just the reverse. Stealing's glorious if you don't get caught, but trading blackens a man's name as much as keeping a stall in the market."
I said, "You don't like them."
"Nobody does. Some people admire them, and some people nearly worship them; but nobody likes them, and from what I've seen of them today, they don't even like each other."
Io asked whether he had been to Redface Island.
He shook his head. "There's no money past Tower Hill on the isthmus, not a scrap. Nothing but barley, blood, and beans. You saw how Eutaktos treated me when I came to him with valuable information, didn't you? Made me a prisoner! An officer from any decent city would have filled my mouth with silver."
I said, "You came to tell the Rope Makers about me."
"Yes, I did. It was quite clever of me, I think. You see, I had heard the Rope Makers were going through the city asking all sorts of foolish questions and paying no attention to the answers. They'd ask someone where he'd eaten dinner, and most would say in their own houses, and a few at some friend's house, and one or two at an inn or a cookshop; but it didn't seem to matter, no matter what they said.
And after I'd listened to half a dozen stories like that, it dawned on me that they were looking for a man who didn't know. That had to be you."
Io asked, "What's my master ever done to you, fellow?"
Eurykles grinned. "Why, nothing. But I didn't think they were going to harm him, and I still don't.
Judging from what Eutaktos says, Pausanias is just as apt to honor him. Besides, they would have found him sooner or later anyway - I was too late, actually - and I may still get something out of it."
"I thought you didn't want to be their prisoner."
"Yes, but it's their ingratitude that rankles. Anytime I really want to leave, I'll just render my person invisible and stroll away."
Then the last of the Rope Makers came out of the city and we left, each shieldman with his slaves marching behind him and carrying his hoplon, helmet, and spear, as well as the other things, and Io, Eurykles, and I behind Eutaktos as before. Now we are camped by a spring, and Io has reminded me that before I sleep I should write down what happened today. A woman with two torches and two hounds is beckoning from the crossroads, and when I have finished writing this I will go to see what it is she wants.
Chapter 22 The Woman at the Crossroads
The Dark Mother frightened me. She is gone, but I am still afraid. I would not have thought I could be frightened by a woman even if she held a knife to my throat; but the Dark Mother is no common woman.
When I left the fire and went to speak to her, she seemed nothing more, a woman such as anyone might see in any village. Her eyes were dark, her hair black and bound with a fillet. The top of her head came only to my shoulder. She held a torch in each hand, torches that smoked, sending up black columns to the night sky.
Her dogs were black too, and very large - I think of the kind kings use to hunt lions, though I cannot remember ever having seen such a hunt. Their muzzles came to her elbows, and sometimes their ears stood erect like the ears of wolves. Their spittle was white and shone, even when it had dropped from their flews to the ground.
"You do not know me," the Dark Mother said, "though you have seen me each night."
When I heard her voice I knew she was a queen, and I bowed.
"These dogs of mine could tear you to bits, do you know that? Do you think you could resist them?"
"No, great mistress," I said. "Because they are yours."
She laughed, and at the sound of her laughter, things stirred among the trees. "That is a good answer.
But do not call me mistress [The word Latro used was probably despoina (Gk. aÝoooieia). - G. W]; that word means an owner of the earth, and she is my enemy. I am Enodia, the Dark Mother."
"Yes, Dark Mother."
"Will you forget me, when you see me no longer?"
"I will strive not to forget, Dark Mother."
She laughed again, and the stirring told me the things waiting among the trees were so near they could almost be seen.
"I am the woman of poisons, Latro. Of murder, ghosts, and the spells that bring death. I am the Queen of the Neurians; and I am three. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Dark Mother," I said. "No, Dark Mother."
"Today you passed many farms. There you must have seen my image, cut in wood or stone - three women, standing back to back."
"Yes, Dark Mother, I saw the image. I did not know what it meant." My teeth warred in my mouth, the teeth above against the teeth below.
"You do not remember, yet you have looked often at the moon and seen me, as I have seen you.
Once when I heard a certain one called the God in the Tree, I came while you stood in water. I sought him but found he was not He whom I sought. Do you recall me as I was then?"
I could not speak; I shook my head.
As the darkness vanishes when the moon steps from behind a cloud, so she vanished. In her place stood the lovely virgin I had seen beside the lake after I had slept with Hilaeira.
"You remember now," the virgin said, and smiled. "Earth's power is great, but I am here and she is not." She held a bow, just as I remembered, and there were seven arrows in the cestus at her waist. The Dark Mother's hounds fawned on her.
"Yes," I said. "I remember. Oh, thank you!" and I knelt and would have kissed her feet but that the hounds bared their teeth at me.
"I am no friend of yours, save as you are the enemy of my enemy; and when I am gone, you will forget me once more."
"Then never go!" I begged her. "Or take me with you."
"I cannot stay, and you cannot go where I go. But I have come to tell you of the place to which you will go soon. It is my country - do you understand? Call me Huntress now, for that is what they call me there, and Auge."
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