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Authors: David; Stella Gemmell

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BOOK: Fall of Kings
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Hektor flicked at the reins, and the two white geldings leaned into the
traces. The chariot pulled smoothly away, the Royal Eagles loping alongside.

Back in the courtyard the men were talking excitedly about the visit of the
king and how he had spoken of his pride in them. Xander, saddened by Priam’s
deceit, spoke of it to Zeotos later that night.

“He seemed so… so genuinely interested in them, so warm, so compassionate. In
truth, though, he cared nothing for them.”

The surgeon chuckled. “You heard him tell the men he was proud of them and
tell Hektor he was a king, not a nursemaid?”

“Yes.”

“And you assume he was lying to the men and telling the truth to Hektor?”

Xander nodded. “Am I wrong, sir?”

“Perhaps, Xander. Priam is a complex man. It is possible that his words to
the injured and the dying were heartfelt and that his callous comments to Hektor
were made to disguise his emotions.”

“You think so?” Xander asked, his heart lifting.

“No. Priam is a cold and wretched creature. Although,” Zeotos added with a
wink, “now it might be I who am lying. The point is, Xander, that it is unwise
to form judgments on such little evidence.”

“Now I am completely confused,” the young man admitted.

“Which was my intention. You are a fine lad, Xander, honest, direct, and
without guile. Priam is a man so drenched in deceit, even he would no longer
know which—if any—of his statements was genuine. In the end it doesn’t matter.
The men who heard him praise them had their spirits lifted. Indeed, some of them
may even recover now, and it would then be fair to say that Priam healed them.
So do not be downcast by a few callous words from a drunken king.”

 

Andromache climbed the long hill toward the palace, moonlight glinting on the
golden, gem-encrusted gown she wore. Her long flame-red hair was decorated with
emeralds in a braid of gold. She was weary as she walked, not physically tired,
for she was young and strong, but drained by a day of jostling crowds and
cloying conversation rich with insincerity. Andromache still could hear music
and laughter from the square. There was no joy in the sound. The atmosphere at
the feast had been tense, the laughter forced and strident.

The men had talked of victory, but Andromache had heard the fear in their
voices, seen it shining in their eyes. Priam had lifted the crowd with a
powerful speech in which he had extolled the heroic virtues of Hektor and the
Trojan Horse. But the effect had been ephemeral. All at the feast knew the
reality.

Many merchant families already had left the city, and most of the warehouses
stood empty. The wealth that had flowed like a golden river into the city was
slowing. Soon it would be merely a trickle. How long, then, before the enemy
forces were camped outside the walls, readying their ladders and their battering
rams, sharpening their swords, and preparing for slaughter and plunder?

That was why, Andromache knew, everyone wanted to be close to her husband,
Hektor, talking to him, clapping him on the back, telling him how they had
prayed for his safe homecoming. The last part was probably true. More than the
huge walls, more than the power of its soldiers and the wealth of its king,
Hektor represented the greatest hope for staving off defeat. Everywhere else the
news was grim: trade routes cut off, allies overcome or suborned, enemy armies
rampaging beyond the Ida mountains and across the straits in Thraki.

Andromache walked on, two soldiers alongside her holding burning brands to
light the way. Two others, of Priam’s elite Eagles, followed, hands on sword
hilts. Ever since the attack on her by Mykene assassins, Andromache had been
shadowed by armed men. It was galling, and she never had become used to it.

She thought back to the night long before on Blue Owl Bay when, disguised,
she had walked among the sailors and the whores and had listened to Odysseus
telling tall tales. That was the night she had met Helikaon, a night of violence
and death, a night of prophecy.

There would be no such anonymous nights now. Her face was too well known in
Troy. Otherwise she might have returned to the palace, slipped into a servant’s
tunic, and made her way down to the lower town, where she could dance and sing
among honest people.

As they climbed toward the palace, she saw several drunken men asleep on the
street. The soldiers with her eyed them warily. One of the drunks awoke as they
passed. He stared at her, then rubbed his eyes. His expression was one of
wonder. He struggled to his feet and staggered toward her. Instantly the swords
of the Eagles rasped from their scabbards.

“It is all right,” Andromache called out. “Do not harm him.”

The drunk halted before her, staring at the golden gown she wore, the
torchlight glittering on the gems woven into its strands. “I thought… I thought
you were a goddess from Olympos,” he said.

“I am Andromache. You should go home.”

“Andromache,” he repeated.

“Be off with you,” one of the soldiers ordered.

The drunk tried to stand tall but then staggered. He glared at the soldier.
“I was at Kadesh,” he said, raising his right hand.

In the flickering light Andromache saw that it was maimed, the first three
fingers cut away.

“Trojan Horse,” he went on. “No parades for me, boy. Now I piss in a pot for
the dye makers, and I sleep on the street. But I could still piss on you, you
arrogant turd!”

Andromache swiftly stepped between the man and the angry soldier. Unpinning a
golden brooch encrusted with gems from the shoulder of her gown, she pressed it
into the man’s ruined hand. “Accept this gift, soldier, from Hektor’s wife,” she
said, “in tribute to your courage.”

He stared down at the glowing gold, and she saw there were tears in his eyes.
“I am Pardones,” he said. “Remember me to your husband.”

Then he turned away and stumbled into the darkness.

 

The sun was blazing low on the horizon as the
Xanthos
sailed into the
great Bay of Troy. Not a breath of wind blew across the waters, and only the
sound of the oars dipping and rising broke the sunset silence.

In the distance the city gleamed as if cast from burning gold. The last of
the sunlight shone upon its gilded rooftops and bannered towers, casting
glittering reflected shards of light from the spear points and helms of the
sentries on the battlements.

Gershom the Egypteian smiled as he gazed again upon the city. It was indeed
impressive, but as he looked at the awestruck expressions of the crewmen nearest
to him, he wondered how they would react if they ever saw the wonders of Thebes,
the city of a hundred gates, or the towering white pyramids, or the Great Lion.
Troy was breathtaking, but it mirrored the people who had built it. The city had
not been constructed with thoughts of beauty or aligned with the stars to please
the gods who dwelled there. It was first and foremost a fortress, solid and
strong, with high walls and gates of oak and bronze. The majesty of Troy was
almost accidental, Gershom thought, a blending of impressive masonry and
brilliant sunsets.

There were few other ships in the bay. Four fishing boats had spread their
nets, and three new war galleys were being put through maneuvers close to the
southern shore. Gershom watched them for a while. The rowers were inexperienced,
oars clashing at times, as the galleys were halted, spun, or urged to ramming
speed. So many ships had been sunk these last few seasons, and hundreds of
experienced sailors drowned or killed in sea battles. Now novices would take to
the sea and die in the hundreds.

The
Xanthos
sailed on, reaching the King’s Beach just as the sun
dipped below the horizon. Oniacus called out orders to the rowers. Immediately
the two banks of oars on the port side lifted clear of the water while those on
the starboard side dipped and pulled. The stern of the
Xanthos
swung
smoothly toward the beach. “And… NOW!” Oniacus yelled. All the oars struck the
water simultaneously. The hull of the
Xanthos
ground into the sand, then
came to rest. Oars were shipped swiftly.

Then the deck hatches were opened. Gershom walked over and helped the crew
unload the cargo. More than a thousand cuirasses were passed up and dropped over
the side to the sand. The armor worn by the Trojan Horse was well crafted, disks
of bronze overlaid like fish scales on breastplates of leather, and, unlike the
bodies of the proud men who had worn them, far too valuable to be left behind on
the battlefields of Thraki.

The armor was loaded onto carts, then carried up through the lower town and
into the city. Finally the deck hatches were closed. Oniacus moved past Gershom,
heading to the prow. The men of the skeleton crew settled down on the raised aft
deck, blankets over their shoulders against the chill of the evening, while
their comrades made their way up to the town, beneath the walls of the golden
city.

Gershom saw Helikaon, who was cradling in his arms his sleeping son, Dex, as
he was greeted by the huge Trojan prince Antiphones. Gershom turned away and
strolled to the prow.

Oniacus was leaning against the rail and staring out across the bay at the
new war galleys. His handsome young face was set and angry, and there was
violence in his eyes.

“Is there anything I can have sent down to you?” Gershom asked. “Wine,
perhaps?”

Oniacus shook his head. “Wine helps you forget, they say. I don’t want to
forget. And I don’t want to talk, either.”

“Then don’t talk,” Gershom said softly. “Two friends should be able to stand
together in silence without awkwardness.”

The silence did not last long, nor had Gershom expected it to. It was not
that Oniacus was a gregarious man, but the grief welling up in him could not be
restrained. He began by talking of his two sons, what fine boys they had been.
Gershom said nothing; it was not necessary. Oniacus was not really talking to
him but instead speaking to the night, to the shades of his boys, to the gods
who had not been there to protect them and their mother when the Mykene had
fallen upon Dardanos with bright swords. Sadness was followed by rage, and rage
by tears. Finally there was silence again. Gershom put his arm around Oniacus’
shoulder.

Oniacus sighed. “I am not ashamed of tears,” he said.

“Nor should you be, my friend. It is said that the gates of paradise can only
be opened by the tears of those left behind. I do not know whether that be true.
It should be, I think.”

Oniacus looked at him closely. “You do believe we live on and that
there… there will be some reward for those innocents whose lives were… were stolen
from them?”

“Of course,” Gershom lied. “How could it be otherwise?”

Oniacus nodded. “I believe that. A place of happiness. No terrors or fears,
no cowards or killers. I believe that,” he said again.

They stood together for a while, watching the galleys on the still waters.
“The balance is wrong,” Gershom said, pointing to the nearest vessel. “See it
veer?”

“Too much strength on the port-side oars. They need to switch some of the
rowers,” Oniacus told him. The anguish still could be seen in his eyes, but now
he was focused on the galley. “Pushing the oarsmen too hard,” he said. “All
they’ll get is sprained shoulders and shattered confidence.”

He looked at Gershom and forced a smile. “Time for you to get ashore. The
many delights of Troy are waiting, and you do not want to be standing here
discussing the training of sailors. Do not concern yourself about me. I shall
not slash open my throat, I promise you.”

“I know that,” Gershom replied. “I will see you tomorrow.” With that he swung
away. Oniacus called out to him, and Gershom turned.

“Thank you, my friend,” Oniacus said.

Gershom walked to the aft deck, gathered his cloak, and swung it to his
shoulders. Then he climbed over the deck rail and lowered himself to the sand.

Strolling across the beach, he climbed the path to the lower town. At the
wide wooden bridge spanning the fortification ditch he saw two sentries in armor
of burnished bronze, long spears in their hands. Across the bridge a crowd had
gathered around some of the sailors from the
Xanthos.
One of the sentries
smiled at Gershom. He was a young man, but his face and arms bore the scars of
combat.

“News of your victories reached us two days ago,” the sentry said. “It was as
welcome as sunshine after snow.” People clustered around the crew, patting them
on the back and calling out praises and blessings.

Gershom eased himself around the edge of the crowd. A man suddenly clapped
his hand on Gershom’s shoulder. “Here is another one of them!” he shouted
happily.

As more men turned toward Gershom, he shook his head. “No, no,” he told them,
raising his hands. “I am merely a traveler.”

Losing interest immediately, they turned their attention once more to the
other sailors. Gershom pushed on. A dark-haired girl stepped from the shadows
into the moonlight and linked her arm in his. Gershom glanced down into her
face. She was pretty, her eyes pale, either blue or gray. It was too dark to
tell. He could see that the girl was young though. Her white ankle-length tunic
was close-fitting, her small breasts barely stretching the fabric.

Taking her hand, he lifted it from his arm. “I am in no mood for sport,” he
told her gruffly. “And if I was, it would be with a woman, not a child.”

The girl laughed. “If you
were
in the mood, you could not afford
me—not even as a prince of Egypte.”

Gershom paused then, his eyes raking her slim form, seeking any sign of a
hidden weapon. His identity had been kept secret, or so he had thought. If this
young whore knew of him, how many more had heard? Men who would seek the reward
still on his head. He glanced around nervously, half expecting to see Egypteian
assassins dart from the shadows.

BOOK: Fall of Kings
2.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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