Soldier of the Mist


Page 23




I shook my head.
"He might be best, since you're under their protection, or ought to be. I'll talk to Eutaktos about it. I'll also compound a charm for you, calling upon certain powers with whom I have influence. Health isn't one of their concerns, usually - still, they may be able to do something."
When the ugly woman left, Io wanted to stay with me; but I would rather have her where she can discover what's taking place and return to tell me. Before she left I had her bring me a stool, so I might write this in comfort. Eutaktos has put two shieldmen at the door, but they permit it to stand open, and I am sitting so the light falls upon the papyrus.
Io has returned to say that the slaves of the Rope Makers are building an altar to the Healing God the ugly woman spoke of. She says Basias has been to this god's great temple on Redface Island, and that when Eutaktos has sacrificed for me I will have to sleep beside the altar. In her absence, I had been reading this scroll, and thus I know I slept in the temple of the Grain Goddess once in much the same way.
Io says Eutaktos intends to leave this place and go to Advent tomorrow, whether the god appears or not. From Advent there is a good road to Redface Island.
I asked her about the ugly woman who promised to make me a charm; she says there is no such woman, that it was Eurykles of Miletos, who wears a purple cloak but is a man. That seems stranger to me than any of the strange things I have read in this scroll.
The innkeeper brought my supper, and I asked for a lamp. He said he had lost a bet on me, but it was worth it to see the man he bet with knocked down. He asked a great many questions about who I was and where I came from, none of which I could answer. He says he sees many foreigners in his trade, but he could not tell me where my country lies.
I asked him to tell me the nations I was not from. Here is what he said: Not a Hellene. (Which I knew already, of course.) Not of Persepolis. (I asked him about this place; it is the Great King's city.) Not of Riverland. (This I knew, because I recalled thinking we should not have gone there. Plainly I have been there, and though it is not my home, it may be that someone there knows me.) Not of Horseland, the Tall Cap Country, or the Archers' Country. Not a Carian.
I am more determined to find my friends and my home than ever now, because of the things I have read here. I feel that though I may forget everything else, I will not forget that. The Queen of the Dead promised I will soon see my friends again, and I wonder if they too are not prisoners of the Rope Makers. I would try to sleep, but when I shut my eyes I see the wall of spears, the wicker shields trampled down, the bodies of the dead, and the white walls of the temple.
Chapter 25 I, Eurykles, Write
As requested by your slave, Io, I shall describe the events of the past night and day, turning her words into such as may properly be set down. She asks this because Eutaktos the Spartiate has forbidden you should have this book, thinking that writing in it as you do has disordered your mind. She wishes a record to be kept that she may read it to you when this book is restored to you, and I form the letters better than she, and smaller.
But before I write as she has directed me, permit me to say somewhat of myself. For though it may be, Latro, that the august regent wishes you ill, it may also be that he wishes you well - as, indeed, it is my fond hope he does. How then will you recollect your friend and companion on this journey to the dour isle of Pelops, if I do not here record some outline of my person as a corrective to your errant memory? So shall I now do, after placating little Io (fiery as the gadfly), who nibbles her lips with impatience.
Very well then, and briefly: I was born in Miletos, in the lesser Asia, my father having been, as Mother always assured me, a distinguished citizen of that, my native city. When I was but eleven years of age, the Triple Goddess appeared to me in a dream, pointing out the leaves of a certain plant and urging me by their aid to escape another boy, at whose hands I had suffered many injustices. After several errors, I discovered the correct plant in the waking world and contrived to slip a young and tender leaf into a confection I feigned to eat until he took it from me. He was ill for several days preceding his death, which a wise priest summoned by his parents ascribed quite correctly to the darts of the Far-Shooting Delian.
Following this boy's demise, I made - as you, my dear friend, may imagine - many, many sacrifices; and though they were but sparrows, frogs, and suchlike boyish things, I am bold (or rather say, I have such impudence) enough to suppose that they were accepted in the spirit in which a willing heart offered them, however young. In a year or less, I heard of the great Carian temple to her, at no great distance inland from my city. Thither I journeyed, walking most of the way. There I made a prayer to that sly messenger who lends to thieves his winged heels and managed to procure a most suitable sacrifice in the form of a large black rabbit with a crescent moon of white upon its forehead. (For this animal I was complimented by a priest, a kindness I have not - O subtle reeds, bear witness - forgotten to this day.) Upon returning to Miletos, I discovered that Mother had seized the occasion of my absence to remove herself from the city; some said to Samos, others to Chios. Here was the hand of the goddess clearly, and I resolved that she alone would be my mother henceforth. I attached myself as firmly as I could to all who were in her good graces, and offered my services to those who, like prudent Agamemnon, called King of Men, sought her favor.
To me, at least, it has been granted in full. I do not scruple to say in any company that there is neither man nor woman more skilled in her mysteries than I, or more adept at the weaving of curses, the compounding of poisons, or the raising of ghosts. You yourself were present at my greatest triumph, Latro, and I pray that divine Trioditis, who sees the past as well as the present and the future, may someday restore what you have lost, that you may give witness to it.
In my person I am a true son of Ion, far taller than the ruck of men and blessed with a dancer's frame, hardy and graceful rather than muscular. My eyes are prominent, as are the bones of my cheeks. My nose and mouth are delicate, my lofty forehead half-concealed by abundant hair. If the stamping Io soon reads you this, you may know me by my chlamys, which has been dyed a pleasing color with the juice of mulberries.
As a frequent visitor to her city, I gained the friendship of your mistress, Kalleos, a happy event made twice happy for me by the triumph I have already mentioned. Suffice it to say that you and I, in company with certain others, among whom Io of the burning eye was not included, made our way from your mistress's house to a certain place of burial, and there discovered One whom I restored - for a brief time at least - to the Lands of the Living. It was the wonder of all beholders, and should you find it difficult to credit what I say, I urge you to return to the city we have left, where you will find the matter talked of by all.
For your sake, then, I have compounded a charm calculated to calm and restore your mind - this at your own request and Eutaktos's as well. And indeed I would have acted had either of you asked alone.
For the Moon, a single white stone. For the Huntress, one of the minute arrowheads made before the time of the gods, which the initiate may sometimes discover. For the Dark, a single black hair plucked from the head of one who has dedicated himself wholly - that is to say, from my own head. With a thorn of the white-flowered briar dipped in my own blood, I wrote upon a scrap of cypress bark my plea for you to the goddess. All these I bound in a circle of deerskin and with mighty invocations hung about your neck on a thong.
The sophists would say that all these things - stone, dart, hair, prayer, and hide - count for nothing; or at most that they serve only to turn the minds of priest and supplicant to the gods. Yet I have observed that those who believe so win no favor, and thus I myself believe that they are something more. With the charm in place (as Io urgently bids me write), Eutaktos and I, with Io and some others, escorted you to the altar I had ordered the slaves to build. There the holy fire was kindled, there Eutaktos himself offered a sacrifice for you, and there you remained, circled at some distance by sentries. I regret I was not present when you reported to Eutaktos in the morning; but Io was, having secreted herself nearby with that stealth and cunning so well suited to the cattle-raising half barbarians from whom she proceeds. Her description of the conversation is prolix indeed, but I shall abstract from it.
In your dream, you seemed to wake at the cracking of a stick (or so Io says you told Eutaktos) to see an elderly man, bent and swan-white of beard, approaching from the wood. You rose and asked if he was the god Aesculapius. He denied it. When you pressed him, he maintained that he was indeed Aesculapius, but no god - merely a poor mortal forced to serve them. You asked then if he would not heal you. Again he shook his head, saying that he had been sent by the murderess of his mother, whose slave he is from her temple on Euboea to the island temple of Anadyomene, but that he could do nothing; at which point he vanished.
Io says that at this Eutaktos grew angry, shouting that Aesculapius would not have employed such words to describe the goddess. This moment you chose (surely, friend Latro, you might have chosen more wisely) to ask that Eutaktos return you to your comrades, saying that you had read in this book of your visit to the Queen Below, and that Eutaktos should not take it upon himself to thwart the will of one to whom all must come at last.
At that Eutaktos grew more wrathful still. He ordered that this book be taken from you (as it was, by Basias), and we broke camp. These events you have already forgotten, or so Io and I fear. We now proceed to more recent things, which you at present know as well as we - or so we hope - but which will perhaps have escaped you when Io reads my words to you.
First as to the goddess. Aesculapius, as I have explained to you, was the son of her brother and twin, borne by a mortal woman named Coronis. While she carried his child, Coronis proved unfaithful to him; and upon learning of the disgrace, the goddess slew her. The god, however, recalling that the child she carried was his own as well as hers, saved him from her funeral pyre, snatching him both from his mother's womb and from the flames, and giving him over to the tutelage of one from whom he learned so much of the healing art as to exceed his teacher and every other mortal.
I cannot believe that he would call his rescuer's (and his father's) twin a murderess, since the right of the gods to slay mortals even as we slay beasts is everywhere unquestioned, and the woman was far from blameless. I am happy to learn, however, that Aesculapius is subject to the goddess in this part of the world. So high is she already in the eyes of her devoted Eurykles that nothing could raise her higher; and yet it may be useful to me.
Now as to recent events. You will wish to know how it is that Io and I have your book, though you do not. The answer is that Basias the Spartiate has permitted it from the good feeling he has for Io and yourself, saying that so long as you are granted no sight of it, Eutaktos will not object. Thus we now keep it from you, but write as we do.
We are halted this night upon the road to Megara, having passed through Eleusis without a halt.
About Megara (or so the gossip of the soldiers has it) the regent is camped with his army. Megara is not ruled by his city in name, but it is a member of its league, and no doubt at least some of his troops are Megarians. When we reach Megara tomorrow, we may thus expect to be delivered to the regent. I have exerted myself to discover all I can concerning him, and Io agrees that I should pass my knowledge to you by this means.
He is said to be a man in his twenties, somewhat over the average height, handsome but scarred, and muscular as all these strange islanders are. He is said also to be more persuasive than most in speech, but as short and sharp of tongue as any. He is a scion of the elder of his nation's royal houses, an Agid, and thus only remotely related to that great Lycurgus, whose code of laws has set his nation apart from all others. Specifically, he is the son of Cleombrotos, who was himself the younger son of King Anaxandridas. By this connection is he the uncle of King Pleistarchos, who ascended to his father's throne only last year, and he stands regent for him. He has a wife awaiting his return to his city, and a young son, Pleistoanax.
As to his skill in battle - the thing these people value so far above all else that all else is naught to them - his victory over the Sons of Perseus, whose army was so much greater than his own, stands witness to it; it needs no other. As to the favor of the gods, what soldier can gain the victory without it?
I speak of him now with more than ordinary interest, for a runner with a message all say was his arrived not long ago and hastened to Eutaktos's tent. Soon leaving it in search of refreshment, he encountered Io and asked of you. She brought him to you, and together you three talked at some length.
Then he, having satisfied himself (so Io says) that you indeed recalled nothing, wished to examine this book, and she brought him to me.
His name is Pasicrates, and he is a most comely youth, tall and well-featured as all these people are, but as stiff and sullen as the rest. At his request, I showed him your book, and I watched him discover (as others have) that he could not read it. He opened it to the end, however, and examined the flower, then replaced it carefully and rolled the book up again. He asked whether I had been present when Eutaktos found it, and I confirmed that I had and described the scene to him. He asked why Eutaktos has seen fit to bring me with you, to which I replied that he must ask Eutaktos. He wished to know what my city was, and then why I had deserted fair Ionia's shore to come across the Water. At his urging, I described my life to the best of my ability, and somewhat more fully than I have written of it here. He is himself a servant of the Triple Goddess - as he proved, turning his back to show me the scars he received when he was beaten before her altar at Orthia.
Perhaps I should explain here a custom of these people of which you are very likely unaware. Each year, when the boys of that year are about to pass from the care of their teachers into that of their officers, the best and strongest are chosen to run a gauntlet to the honor of the goddess. Much blood is spilled, and I have heard that they generally continue until one or two of the boys are dead.
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