Read Fall of Kings Online

Authors: David; Stella Gemmell

Fall of Kings

BOOK: Fall of Kings
4.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 
Fall of Kings

 

Troy - 03
David & Stella Gemmell
(v1.5)

 

 

“Beware the wooden horse, Agamemnon King,
Battle King, Conqueror, for it will roar to the skies on wings
of thunder and herald the death of nations.”

 

“A pox on riddles, priest!” replied the king.
“Tell me of Troy and of victory.”

 

“The last king of the Golden City will be Mykene.
The gods have spoken.”

 

—THE ORACLE OF THE CAVE OF WINGS

 

 
PROLOGUE

 

 

A bright moon shone low in the sky above the isle of Imbros, its silver light
bathing the rocky shoreline and the Mykene war fleet beached there. The curve of
the bay was filled with ships: some fifty war galleys and more than a hundred
barges drawn up so tightly that there was not a handbreadth between them. On the
beach the Mykene army sat around scores of cookfires, eight thousand soldiers,
some preparing their weapons, sharpening swords, or burnishing shields and
others playing dice or dozing by the flickering fires. The beach was so crowded,
many of the sailors had remained on their ships rather than jostle for a strip
of rocky ground on which to lay their blankets.

Agamemnon, king of the Mykene and warlord of the western armies, stood
outside his canopied tent, his gaunt frame wrapped in a long black cloak, his
cold eyes staring out to sea toward the east, where the sky glowed red.

The fortress of Dardanos was burning.

With luck and the blessing of the war god Ares, the mission had been totally
successful. Helikaon’s wife and son would be lying dead in the blazing fortress,
and Helikaon himself would know the full horror of despair.

A cold wind blew across the beach. Agamemnon drew his cloak around his
angular shoulders and turned his gaze to the men laboring to build an altar some
distance away. They had been gathering large stones for most of the day. The
round-shouldered priest Atheos was directing them, his thin, reedy voice
sounding as shrill as that of a petulant seagull. “No, no, that stone is too
small for the outside. Wedge it closer to the center!”

Agamemnon stared at the priest. The man had no talent for prophecy, and that
suited the king. He could be relied on to say whatever Agamemnon wished him to
say. The problem with most seers, Agamemnon knew, was that their prophecies
became self-fulfilling. Tell an army that the portents were dark and gloomy, and
men would go into battle ready to break and run at the first reverse. Tell them
victory was assured and that Zeus himself had blessed them, and they would fight
like lions.

On occasions, of course, a battle would be lost. It was unavoidable. All that
was needed then was someone to blame. That was where idiots like Atheos were so
useful. Talentless and flawed, Atheos had secrets. At least he thought he had.
He liked to torment and kill children. Should any of his “prophecies” fail,
Agamemnon would expose him to the army and have him put to death, saying the
gods had cursed the battle because of the man’s evil.

Agamemnon shivered. If only all seers were as talentless and malleable as
Atheos. Kings should not be subject to the whims of prophecy. Their destinies
should be chained entirely to their will and their abilities. What glory was
there in a victory ordained by capricious gods? Agamemnon’s mood darkened as he
recalled his last visit to the Cave of Wings.

Damn the priests and their noxious narcotics! Damn them and their riddles!
One day he would have them all killed and replaced with men he could trust—fools
like Atheos. But not yet. The priests of the cave were highly regarded by the
Mykene nobility and by the people, and in the middle of a great war it would be
foolish to risk wiping them out. And he only had to endure the Time of Prophecy
once every four years.

The last time had been just before they had sailed to Imbros. Agamemnon and
his chosen Followers had gathered at the Cave of Wings on the hills outside the
Lion City. Then, as two centuries of ritual demanded, the king of the Mykene had
entered the torchlit cave. The air had been thick with smoke from the opiate
fire, and Agamemnon had kept his breathing shallow. Even so bright colors had
swirled before his eyes, and he had grown dizzy.

The dying priest had drifted in and out of consciousness, and when he had
spoken, the sentences had been broken and confused. Then his eyes had opened,
his bony fingers circling the king’s wrist. “Beware the wooden horse, Agamemnon
King, Battle King, Conqueror, for it will roar to the skies on wings of thunder
and herald the death of nations.”

“A pox on riddles, priest!” the king had replied. “Tell me of Troy and of
victory.”

“The last king of the Golden City will be Mykene. The gods have spoken.”

And there it was. The fulfillment of dreams, the promise of destiny. Though
the priest had yet to succumb to the hemlock and was struggling to say more,
Agamemnon pulled back from him and fled from the cave. He had heard all he
wanted.

Troy would fall, and with it all the riches of Priam’s treasury. The relief
had been colossal. Though few were aware of it, the Mykene empire was bleeding
to death, its wealth leached away to finance armies of conquest. Each successful
invasion had only exacerbated the problem, for with greater lands to occupy and
hold, greater amounts of gold were needed to train fresh soldiers. Mykene gold
mines, for so long the bedrock of military expansion, had failed. Agamemnon had
been left with only two options: to reduce the size of the army, which
inevitably would lead to insurrections, revolts, and civil war, or to expand
Mykene influence into the rich lands of the east.

For such a campaign to succeed, Troy had to fall. With its limitless treasury
under his control, Mykene domination could be guaranteed for generations.

It was rare for Agamemnon to feel content, but at that moment, under the
bright stars of Imbros, he luxuriated in the feeling. Gold looted from Thraki
had paid for the invasion fleets, the fortress of Dardanos had been taken, and
Troy would follow.

Even the defeat at Carpea could be used to advantage. Hektor and his Trojan
Horse had killed his ally, the idiot Peleus, and that had left the young warrior
Achilles king of Thessaly. Inexperienced and impressionable, he would be easy to
manipulate.

A brief moment of irritation cut through Agamemnon’s thoughts. Achilles was
with Odysseus somewhere to the southwest. Had he heard yet of his father’s
death? I should have kept him with me, Agamemnon thought. But no matter, he
assured himself. When he does hear, his heart will burn with the need for
vengeance, and he will return.

Hearing movement to his right, Agamemnon turned. Three soldiers in black
cloaks and breastplates of burnished bronze disks approached him. One was
dragging a skinny black-haired child of around ten years old. The soldiers
halted before the king.

“As you ordered, Agamemnon King,” said the first, hurling the child to the
stones.

“As I ordered?” Agamemnon responded, his voice low, his tone icy.

“You… you said to bring a virgin for the sacrifice, lord.”

“To sacrifice a virgin to the god Poseidon, for safe crossing and our
victory,” Agamemnon said. “To send him an unsoiled young woman to please his
nights. Would this little wretch please your nights?”

The soldier, a tall wide-shouldered man with a thick black beard, scratched
at his chin. “No, lord, but the villagers had mostly taken to the hills. There
was only old women and children. This one was the oldest child.”

Agamemnon called out to the priest. Atheos hitched up his long white robes
and scurried across the sand. Pausing before Agamemnon, he held both hands over
his heart and then bowed his head.

“Will this scrawny creature suffice?” the king asked. He knew the answer
before he asked the question. The priest tried to hide his delight as he looked
at the frightened child, but Agamemnon saw the lust shining in his eyes.

“She will, great lord. Yes, indeed.” Atheos licked his thin lips.

“Take her, then, and prepare her.”

The child began to cry once more, but Atheos slapped her soundly across the
face.

The distant glow to the east was fading, hidden by a sea mist that had sprung
up along the shoreline. The bright moon vanished behind a screen of clouds. The
now-naked child was hauled across the sacrificial altar. Agamemnon walked down
to watch the ceremony. If it was done expertly, the child would be split open
and her heart ripped from her body while she still lived. Then the priest would
read her entrails for portents of victory.

The soldiers began to gather, standing silently, waiting for the blood to
spurt. While two soldiers held the girl, Atheos took out a long curved knife and
began to chant the name of Poseidon. The cry was taken up by the army, thousands
of men, their voices rumbling like thunder.

Atheos turned toward the girl, knife raised.

Then came a moment so unexpected and risible that laughter broke out. A clay
pot flew over the crowd, cracked against the head of a soldier, then went on to
shatter against the priest, drenching him in a foul-smelling liquid. Shocked
into immobility, Atheos stood very still, his knife arm still raised. Then he
gazed down at his dripping robes.

Agamemnon was furious. He scanned the crowd, seeking the culprit, determined
to have him flayed alive. Then a second clay pot shattered in the crowd.
Movement in the air caught Agamemnon’s eye, and he saw several small dark
objects falling from the sky. They were being hurled from out of the mist beyond
the beached ships. One of the missiles struck a cookfire. What followed was
horrifying.

The clay ball exploded, spraying flames into the crowd, setting fire to
clothing and skin. The massed men panicked and fled toward the high hills. One,
his tunic burning, blundered into the priest Atheos. There was a great
whoosh,
and the priest’s robes ignited in blue and yellow flame.

Atheos dropped his knife and began to beat at the flames with his hands, but
then his fingers caught fire, and he screamed and began to run toward the
shoreline, seeking the sanctuary of the cold sea. Flames danced over his body,
setting fire to his hair. Agamemnon saw the priest stagger and fall. His robes
were burned away now, his skin blackened. Yet still the flames clung to him,
devouring his flesh.

Another campfire exploded close by. Agamemnon ran to higher ground,
clambering over jagged rocks. He turned and gazed back. Only then, as the wind
picked up, dispersing the mist, did he see the huge ship out in the bay with its
twin banks of oars and a billowing white sail emblazoned with a rearing black
horse. Rage and frustration ripped through the Mykene king. Though he had never
seen the vessel, he knew its name. All who sailed the Great Green knew the name
of
that
ship. It was the
Xanthos,
the flagship of Helikaon the
Burner.

Down at the shore sailors had scrambled from the decks of their ships and
were trying to launch them. It was no easy task, for they were closely packed.
One galley almost made it. But as the crew climbed aboard, two missiles struck
it. Fire arrows lit the sky, curving up from the
Xanthos
and then down
onto decks slick with
nephthar.
The galley began to burn. Crewmen, their
clothes ablaze, leaped into the sea.

Agamemnon watched in impotent fury as more fireballs rained down on his
fleet, fierce flames flowing over dry timbers and seeping down into the holds.
The easterly wind fanned the fires, which leaped from ship to ship. Terrified of
the inferno, the Mykene sailors fled back toward the hills.

The
Xanthos
moved slowly across the bay, clay balls of
nephthar
striking vessel after vessel, fire arrows slicing through the air behind them. A
score of Mykene ships and some forty of the barges were on fire now, the flames
rising high into the air.

Out on the bay the moon emerged from behind the clouds, shining upon the
Death Ship. A warrior in armor of bronze climbed to the prow and stood gazing at
the devastation he had caused. Then he raised his arm. Banks of oars dipped into
the water, and the
Xanthos
swung away toward the open sea.

A white figure scurried past Agamemnon. The skinny girl had crawled from the
altar and was running away into the hills. No one tried to stop her.

 

 
CHAPTER ONE
FAREWELL TO THE QUEEN

 

 

Helikaon stood at the stern of the
Xanthos,
staring back at the
burning fleet. He felt no satisfaction as the flames lit the night sky. Removing
his helm of bronze, he leaned against the stern rail and turned his gaze toward
the east. Fires also were burning in the distant fortress of Dardanos, and the
Xanthos
headed slowly back toward them.

BOOK: Fall of Kings
4.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Lady of Lincoln by Ann Barker
Acting Out by Paulette Oakes
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
djinn wars 01 - chosen by pope, christine
Grub by Blackwell, Elise
Succubus Tear (Triune promise) by Andreas Wiesemann
Strangeways to Oldham by Andrea Frazer