Soldier of the Mist


Page 4




The child shook her head sadly.
"Alas, his wife Teleia learned of it. Some say, by the by, that Teleia is also the Earth Mother and the Great Mother; though I believe that to be an error. Whether I am correct or not, Teleia disguised herself also, putting on the form of a certain old woman who had been the princess's nurse. 'Your lover is of a state more than earthly,' she told Princess Semele. 'Make him promise to reveal - ;' "
A handsome man somewhat younger than the priest had joined us, bringing with him a woman whose hair was dark like other women's, but whose eyes were like two violets. The man said, "I don't suppose you remember me, do you, Latro?"
"No," I said.
"I was afraid you wouldn't. I'm Pindaros, and your friend. This girl" - he nodded to the child - "is your slave, Io. And this is ... ah ... ?"
"Hilaeira," she said. By then my eyes had left her own, and I saw that she sought to conceal her breasts without appearing to do so. "It's not customary to exchange names during the bacchanalia. Now it's all right. You remember me, don't you?"
I said, "I know I slept beside you and covered you when I woke."
Pindaros explained, "He was struck down by the Great Mother. He forgets everything very quickly."
"How terrible for you!" Hilaeira said, and yet I could see she was glad to learn I had forgotten what we must have done the night before.
The priest had continued to instruct Io while we three spoke among ourselves. Now he said, " - gave to the child god the form of a kid."
Io must have been listening to us; she turned aside to whisper, "He writes things down to remember.
Master, yesterday you sat by yourself and wrote for a long time. Then this woman came to you, and you rolled up your book again."
"Teleia, Queen of the Gods, was not deceived. With sweet herbs and clotted honey, she lured the kid away, coming at last to the isle of Naxos, where her bodyguard waited under the command of her daughter, the Lady of Thought."
The last of the worshipers were rising now, many appearing so exhausted and ill that I wondered whether a beaten army could have looked worse. I felt I had seen such an army once; but when I tried to recall it, there was only a dead man lying beside the road and another man, with a curling beard, putting the horse-cloth on his mount.
The black man, who must soon have grown bored with what he could understand of the priest's story, had gone to the lake to drink. Now he returned and gestured for me to rise.
Indicating Pindaros, Hilaeira whispered, "He said the child was your slave. Are you this man's?"
When I did not answer she added, "A slave can't own a slave; any slave he buys belongs to his master."
"I don't know," I told her. "But I feel he's my friend."
Pindaros said, "It would be discourteous for us to leave while your young slave is being taught.
Afterward we can go looking for the first meal."
I motioned for the black man to sit with me, and he did.
Hilaeira asked, "You really don't remember anything, or know whether you're slave or free? How is that possible?"
I tried to tell her. "There is a mist behind me. Here, at the back of my head. I stepped from it when I woke beside you and went to the lake to drink and wash. Still, I think I'm a free man."
"But the Lady of Thought," continued the priest, "is not called so for nothing. She's a true sophist, and like her city follows her own interests alone, counting promises and honor as nothing. Though she had helped her mother, she saved the heart of the kid from the pot and carried it to the Descender."
He continued so for some time, his voice (like the wind)vtoying with the fresh grass, while his followers gathered about us; but I will not give the whole of his story. We must go soon, and I do not think it important.
At last he said, "So you see, we have a particular claim upon the Kid. His mother was a princess of our seven-gated city, and it was through the blue waters of our lake - right over there - that he entered the underworld to rescue her. Yesterday you helped celebrate that rescue." Then silence fell.
Pindaros asked, "Are you finished?"
The priest nodded, smiling. "There is a great deal more I could say. But little heads are like little cups, soon so full they can hold no more."
"Then let's go." Pindaros stood up. "There should be some peasants around here who'll be happy enough to sell us a bite."
"I will lead the worshipers back to the city," the priest told him. "If you wish to wait for us, I'll point out the farmhouses that feed us each year."
Pindaros shook his head. "We're on our way to Lebadeia, and we must put a good many stades behind us today if we're to reach the sacred cavern tomorrow."
Hilaeira's violet eyes flashed. "You're on a pilgrimage?"
"Yes, we've been ordered to go by the oracle of the Poet God. Or rather," Pindaros added, "Latro has, and a committee of our citizens has chosen me to guide him."
"May I go with you? I don't know what's happened - you certainly don't want to hear about my personal life - but I've been feeling very religious lately, much closer to the gods and everything than I ever did before. That's why I attended the bacchanal."
"Certainly," Pindaros told her. "Why, it would be the worst sort of beginning if we were to deny a devotee our protection on the road."
"Wonderful!" She sprang erect and brushed his lips with hers. "I'll get my things."
I put on this chiton and these back and breast plates, and took up the crooked sword and the bronze belt I found with them. Io says the sword is Falcata, and that name is indeed written on the blade. There is a painted mask too; Io says the priest gave it to me yesterday, when I was a satyr. I have hung it about my neck by the cord.
We have stopped at this house to eat cakes, salt olives, and cheese, and to drink wine. There is a seat here where I can spread this scroll across my knee in the proper way, and I am making use of it to write all these things down. But Pindaros said a moment ago that we must soon go.
Now there are swarthy men with javelins and long knives coming over the hill.
Chapter 5 Among the Slaves of the Rope Makers
It is the custom to beat and abuse captives. Pindaros says this is because the Rope Makers despise their slaves but count us as equals, or at least as near to equals as anyone who is not a Rope Maker can be.
Me they beat more than Pindaros or the black man until we found the old man sleeping. Now they do not beat me. They do not beat Hilaeira or her child much, either; but both weep, and they have done something to the child's legs so that she can scarcely walk. When my hands were freed, I carried her until we halted here.
A moment ago a sentry took this scroll from me. I watched him, and when he left the camp to relieve himself I spoke to the serpent woman. She followed him and soon returned with my scroll in her mouth.
Her teeth are long and hollow. She says she draws life through them, and she has drunk her fill. Now I must write of the earliest things I remember from this day, before they too are lost in the mist: the brightness of the sun and the billows of soft dust that lifted with each step to gray my feet and my legs too, as far as my knees. The black man walked before me. Once I turned to look back and saw Pindaros behind me, and my shadow, black as the black man's, stretched upon the road. I was beaten with a javelin shaft for that. The black man called out, I think telling them not to strike me, and they beat him also. Our hands were bound behind us. I feared they would strike my head because I could not protect it, but they did not.
When the beating was over and we had walked a few steps more, I saw an old black man asleep near the road, and I asked Pindaros (for I knew his name) if they would bind him like the black man with us. Pindaros asked what man I meant. I pointed with my chin as the black man does, but Pindaros could not see him, because he lay half-concealed in the purple shade of a vineyard.
One of the slaves of the Rope Makers asked me what man it was I spoke of. I told him, but he said,
"No, that is only the shadow of the vines." I said I would show him the sleeping man if he would allow me to leave the road. I spoke as I did because I thought that if the old black man awakened he would wish to aid the black man with us and might tell someone of our capture.
"Go ahead," the slave who had spoken to me said. "You show me, but if you run, you'll join our friends. And if there's nobody there, you'll pay for them again."
I left the road and knelt beside the sleeping man. "Father," I whispered. "Father, wake up and help us." Because my hands were tied, I could not shake him, but I dropped to one knee and nudged him with the other as I spoke.
He opened his eyes and sat up. He was bald, and the curling beard that hung to his belly was as white as frost.
"By all the twelve, he's right!" the slave who had come with me called to the rest.
"What is it, my boy?" the old man asked thickly. "What's the trouble here?"
"I don't know," I told him. "I'm afraid they're going to kill us."
"Oh, no." He was looking at the mask that hung about my neck. "Why, you're a friend of my pupil's.
They can't do that." He rose, swaying, and I could see that he had fallen asleep beside the vineyard because he had drunk as much as he could hold. The black man gleams with sweat, but this fat old man shone more, so that it seemed there was a light behind him.
To the slave who had come with me, he said, "I lost a flute and my cup. Find them for me, will you, my son? I've no desire to bend down at the moment."
The flute was a plain one of polished wood, the cup of wood also; it lay upon its side in the grass not far from the flute.
Several of the slaves of the Rope Makers crowded around staring. I believe the black man was the first such they had ever seen, and now they had seen two. One said, "If you want to keep your flute and cup, old man, you'd better tell us who you are."
"Why, I do." The old man belched softly. "I do very much indeed. I am the King of Nysa."
At that the little girl piped, "Are you the Kid? This morning a priest said the Kid was the King of Nysa."
"No, no, no!" The old man shook his head and sipped twilight-hued wine from his cup. "I'm sure he did not, child. You must learn" - he belched again - "to listen more carefully. Otherwise you will never acquire wisdom. I'm sure he said my pupil was the King from Nysa. King of Nysa, King from Nysa.
You see, he was put into my hands when he was yet very young. I tutored him myself, and he has rewarded me" - he belched a third time - "as you behold."
One of the slaves laughed. "By giving you all the wine you wanted. Good enough! I wish my own master would reward me like that."
"Exactly!" the old man exclaimed. "Precisely so! You're a most penetrating young fellow, I must say."
It was then I noticed that Pindaros stood with head bowed. The oldest slave said, "That's a nice flute you have, old man. Now hear my judgment, for I command here. You must play for us. If you do it well, you can keep it, for it offends the gods to take a good musician's instrument. If you don't play well, you'll lose it, and get a drubbing besides. And if you won't play at all, you've had your last carouse." Several of the others shouted their agreement.
"Gladly, my son. Most gladly. But I won't flute without someone to sing to my music. What about this poor boy with the broken head? Since he found me, may he sing to my fluting?"
The leader of the slaves nodded. "With the same laws. He'd better sing well, or he'll screech a lively tune when we thwack him."
The old man smiled at me, his teeth whiter even than his beard. "Your throat will be clogged with the dust of the road, my boy. You'll need a swallow of this to clear it." He held his cup to my lips, and I filled my mouth with the wine. There is no describing how it tasted - as earth, rain, and sun must taste to the vine, I think. Or perhaps as the vine to them.
Then the old man began to flute.
And I to sing. I cannot write the words here, because they were in no tongue I know. Yet I understood as I sang them, and they told of the morning of the world, when the slaves of the Rope Makers had been free men serving their own king and the Earth Mother.
They told too of the King from Nysa and his majesty, and how he had given the King of Nysa to the Earth Mother to be her foster son, and to the Boundary Stone.
The slaves of the Rope Makers danced as I sang, waving their weapons and skipping and hopping like lambs in the field, and the black man and Pindaros, and the woman and the child danced with them, because the knots that had bound them had been only such as little children tie, knots that loosen at a shaking.
At last the song died at my lips. There was no more music.
Pindaros sat with me for a time beside this fire, while the rest slept. He said, "Two of the lines of the prophecy were fulfilled today. Did you remember?"
I could only shake my head.
" 'Sing then! And make the hills resound! King, nymph, and priest shall gather round!' The god - he was a god, you realize that, don't you, Latro? The god was a king, the King of Nysa. Hilaeira was a nymph last night when we danced to the honor of the Twice-Born God. I'm a priest of the Shining God, because I'm a poet. The Shining God was telling you that you should sing when the King of Nysa called upon you. You did, and he took away the cords that bound us. So that part's all right."
I asked him what part was not all right.
"I don't know," he admitted. "Perhaps everything's all right. But - " He stirred the coals, I suppose to give himself time to think, and I saw his hand shake. "It's just that I've never actually seen an immortal before. You have, I know. You were talking of seeing the River God, back in our shining city."
I said, "I don't remember."
"No, you wouldn't, I suppose. But you may have written about it in that book. You ought to read it."
"I will, when I've written everything I still remember from today."
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