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Authors: David; Stella Gemmell

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BOOK: Fall of Kings
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“Do I frighten you?” the girl asked him.

“Go and find someone else to annoy,” he told her, walking on. The girl ran
after him. Gershom felt his irritation rise.

“I saw you in the sea,” she said. “Great waves crashing over you. You were
very strong.”

Gershom paused again, his curiosity aroused. “All right, you know who I am.
Who sent you, child, and for what purpose?”

“Xidoros sent me.” Suddenly her head cocked. “Yes, yes,” she said, talking to
the darkness, “but that is just pedantic.” She frowned and seemed to be
listening. Then she threw up her arm. “Oh, go away!” she hissed.

Turning back to Gershom, she said: “He says he didn’t send me, that he merely
said we should speak.”

Gershom swore softly. Back in Thebes there was a house with high walls where
the moon-touched were kept for four years. In that time diviners and healers,
astrologers and magicians, would be called on to heal them or drive out the
demons that had robbed them of sanity. Surgeons would drill holes into their
skulls; healers would feed them strange herbs and potions. If at the end of four
years they still were not cured, it was taken as a sign that the gods were
calling for them. They then were strangled. Gershom had heard of no such houses
of caring in barbarous Troy. That was why sad lunatics like this child were
allowed to wander the streets.

“Where do you live?” he asked the girl. “I will see you safely home.”

She looked up at him, and her face was suddenly sad. “There is a mist inside
your head,” she told him. “It is swirling and thick, and it stops you from
seeing. You stumble around like a blind man.” She shrugged. “But then there are
times when I long to be blind myself. Just to listen to people and hear only the
words they speak and not the sly whisperings inside their heads.”

She smiled again. “Come, I will walk
you
home.”

“You know where I am going?”

“Yes, I know. You are going to the Beautiful Isle with me, and then you will
be called to the desert, and there will be voices in the fire and fire in the
heavens, and the fire will melt away the mist in your head, and you will know
all that I know and see more than I will ever see.”

“Very intriguing,” Gershom said, “but I meant do you know where I am going
now
?”

“Oh! Yes, I do. The House of Stone Horses.”

“Well, that is true enough. Now, where do
you
live?”

She gave a soft laugh. “My guards are looking for me, so I must go. But I
will see you tomorrow at Hektor’s palace.” With that she hitched up her white
tunic and darted away.

Gershom thought of chasing her and handing her over to the city watch. Some
of the areas of the lower town were known to be dangerous, and a moonstruck
child like this one could find herself in peril. But even as the thought
occurred, he saw her vanish into a dark alley and out of his sight.

With a shake of his head the big Egypteian walked on toward the palace of
Helikaon.

 

 
CHAPTER THREE
THE AMBER GODDESS

 

 

Early-morning sunshine bathed the streets of Troy as Helikaon left the House
of Stone Horses and strolled through the town. The business of the day was
beginning: Merchants were setting up their stalls in the marketplaces, and
servants and slaves were carrying bundles of cloth or produce wrapped in dry
reeds. The varied sounds of the city washed over Helikaon as he walked: hammers
beating on metal from the Street of Armorers, the braying of donkeys, the
clucking of hens, the yelping of dogs, and the cries of the gather-men competing
to draw crowds to their stalls.

It felt strange to be back in Troy. The war seemed far away now, the death of
Halysia a dark nightmare, unreal and bizarre.

He had awakened that morning to a soft, warm body beside him. In the instant
before full consciousness asserted itself he had thought to open his eyes and
gaze down at Halysia. Instead it had been Dex, his thumb in his mouth, his head
resting on his father’s shoulder. Helikaon had stroked the fair hair back from
the boy’s brow. Dex’s eyes had opened, and then the child had fallen asleep
again.

Easing himself from the bed, Helikaon rose and dressed. He chose a white
tunic embroidered with gold thread and a wide belt embossed with gold leaf. He
felt uncomfortable in such finery, but it was fitting for his meeting with
Priam. Lastly he took a scabbarded dagger and tucked it into his belt. It was
unlikely that assassins would be on the streets of Troy but not impossible.

In happier days Helikaon had walked those streets in the company of Hektor or
his brothers Antiphones and Agathon. Those had been the days of innocence, when
the future had promised wonders. It was here on these streets, ten years
earlier, where he and Hektor had argued about the merits and drawbacks of
marrying for love alone.

“Why would you want to?” Hektor had asked. “All the actions of a prince must
strengthen the realm. Therefore, a wife should bring a handsome dowry, land, or
promises of alliance with her father’s kingdom. A prince can find love wherever
he wishes thereafter.”

“I do not agree,” Helikaon had replied on that far-off day. “Odysseus loves
his wife and is happy. You should see them together, Hektor. You would change
your views in a heartbeat. Odysseus says that life without Penelope would be
like a land without sunshine. I want a wife who brings me happiness like that.”

“I hope you find her, my friend,” Hektor had said.

And he had. He had found the woman of his dreams.

How ironic, then, he thought, that it should have been Hektor who had married
her.

He paused to examine some Egypteian jewelry on display and immediately was
accosted by an elderly merchant, a slender dark-skinned man with henna-dyed hair
and beard.

“You won’t find better, sir. Not anywhere in the city.” The man lifted a
heavy brooch of amber decorated with gold wire. “Sixteen silver rings, sir. A
real bargain.”

“In Egypte last season,” Helikaon commented, “sixteen silver rings would buy
a sack of these baubles.”

“Perhaps, sir,” the man replied, his dark eyes narrowing. “But since there is
now no trade with Egypte, who knows what price amber is fetching?”

“Wise words,” Helikaon agreed, casting his gaze around the marketplace.
“There are fewer stalls than I recall from my last visit.”

“A few have left,” the merchant agreed. “More will follow, I think. My
brother packed up his wares as soon as the fortification ditch was dug. Too
early, I said. But he always was timid. Now they say there’s going to be a wall
to protect the lower town. If that’s true, I’ll follow my brother.”

“An interesting point,” Helikaon observed with a smile. “You will stay only
as long as the lower town is
badly
defended?”

The merchant chuckled. “Priam is a good king. Has to be said, though, that
he’s careful with his wealth. If he has now agreed to the expense of a wall
around the lower town, it will only be because he cannot stop the Mykene coming
to this land. Well, I have walked through the ruins of towns plundered by the
Mykene. I’ll not wait to see such sights again.”

Helikaon nodded. “I see the logic in your words, but surely still more
merchants will quit the city if Priam builds
no
wall to defend them?”

“Yes. Who’d be a king, eh?”

On the stall Helikaon’s eye was taken by an amber pendant on which an artist
had incised the figure of the goddess Artemis, her bow extended, the string
drawn back. It reminded him of Andromache and the way she had stood on the
balcony of Priam’s
megaron,
calmly shooting arrows down into the Mykene
attackers. Lifting the pendant, he examined it more closely. It was finely
carved.

“You are a wonderful judge of jewelry, sir,” said the merchant, immediately
slipping back into his sales patter, “for you have chosen the pride of my
collection.” He was about to go on when Helikaon interrupted him.

“Before you speak, let me say I am in no mood to haggle today. So this is
what we will do. You will name one price. If I like the price, I will pay it
instantly. If not, I will drop this bauble back onto the stall and walk on. Now,
name the price.”

The old merchant licked his lips, then rubbed his chin. As he did so, he
stepped out from behind the stall, appearing deep in thought. Helikaon stood
quietly as the merchant observed him. “Twenty silver rings,” the man said at
last.

“I agree,” Helikaon told him with a smile. “You are a clever man. What is
your name?”

“Tobios.”

“A Hittite?”

The merchant shrugged. “I suppose that would depend on who asked. The land in
which I was born is fiercely contested. The pharaohs would say I am a
foul-hearted
Hittite
desert dweller, but the land is currently ruled by
Emperor Hattusilis of the Hittites. Therefore, I am now considered to be a
foul-hearted
Egypteian
desert dweller. Life for my people is always
complicated.”

Helikaon smiled. “Such complications help sharpen the wits,” he said. As he
spoke, he counted out the twenty silver rings and laid them on the stall. “If
you choose to remain in the city, Tobios, come and see me at the House of Stone
Horses. I am Helikaon of Dardania, and I always have need for men of good
judgment.”

Tobios bowed his head and touched his heart in the Hittite manner.

Helikaon walked on, the amber pendant in his hand. The price had been high.
The merchant had looked at his clothing, appraising through its quality the
wealth of the wearer. The white tunic was of Egypteian design, woven from the
finest thread. The engravings on his belt were filled with gold leaf. His
sandals were fashioned from crocodile skin, brushed with gold. If he had not
been dressed for a meeting with King Priam, he would have worn old comfortable
clothes and bought the pendant for two-thirds of the price.

Moving on through narrow streets and open squares, he reached the mighty
Scaean Gate with its six guardians of stone, passing through to the upper city
with its palaces and gardens and avenues. Indications of wealth lay everywhere.
Women wore heavy necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, and the men sported
expensive toques or wristbands.

At the palace Helikaon was ushered through to the gardens, where nobles
hoping to see the king were allowed to wait in comfort rather than stand in the
crowded
megaron.
There was a chill in the air, and several braziers
filled with burning charcoal had been set up.

Helikaon looked around, nodding greetings to those he knew. Then he turned,
and his stomach tightened. Just paces away, a rust-colored cloak around her
shoulders, stood Andromache, sunlight glinting upon the red gold of her hair.
She was wearing a long yellow gown that sparkled like summer sunshine.
Helikaon’s mouth was dry, and he felt nervous and awkward. Andromache stepped
toward him.

“I was so sorry to hear of Halysia’s death,” she told him, “though my heart
was lifted by the manner of it. The gods will cherish her, I think.”

“Perhaps. But in life she deserved better,” he replied. “From life, from me.
The people loved her greatly, though, and they will not forget her, I think.”

“And how is the boy?”

“Dex is brave but scarred now. Last night he had nightmares and ran to my
room. I slept with him curled up against me. A child should not have to see his
mother die.”

“But when he grows,” she told him softly, “he will know she loved him so much
that she was willing to give her life for him. It will sustain him.”

 

Andromache saw his handsome face soften, and he gave a sad smile. She wanted
to reach out and hug him in that moment, remembering that he, too, had watched
his mother die. Instead, she forced herself to stand still and said politely: “I
hope you will bring your son to visit us while you are in Troy.”

“I would like that, Andromache.”

She reddened as he spoke her name. “I am here to see the king,” she told him
suddenly, the comment both redundant and ridiculous, since the only reason
anyone
was in the garden was to see the king.

Angry with herself, she went on. “I meant to say I have been
called
here to see the king. A ship arrived yesterday from Thera with a message from
the High Priestess. It probably concerns Kassandra. As you know, she is to
become a priestess at the Temple of the Horse. You did know that?”

Sweet Artemis! Help me stop babbling!

“Yes, I did. I am to take her on the
Xanthos
next spring. Are you
well?” he asked suddenly, concern in his eyes. “You seem flushed.”

“I am well. Just a little warm.”

“I shall fetch you some water,” he said, and moved away.

There were many people in the garden waiting to see the king. As Helikaon
walked away, the crowd parted for him. Andromache could see he was oblivious to
the effect he had on the people around him. He did not seem to notice the
envious glances from the men or the openly admiring stares from the women.

A shadow fell across her. She looked up to see her husband, Hektor. He, too,
was looking across at Helikaon, his face expressionless. Andromache thought she
saw sadness in his eyes.

“What is wrong, husband?” she asked, taking his arm.

He shrugged and drew her close. “What could be wrong when I have you beside
me? Did I miss any interesting conversation with Helikaon?”

“No, not really. I asked him to bring his son to see us.”

Hektor’s brow furrowed, and she felt him tense. “Why did you do that?” he
asked.

“Why would I not?” she responded, suddenly uncertain.

When he answered her, the anguish in his voice was so great that the words
slid through her defenses like daggers. “How many of his sons do I need in my
house, Andromache?”

The shock was so great, she felt sick. Hektor had promised to raise the boy
Astyanax and love him as he would his own child. He had been true to his word,
and Andromache never before had heard him express such feelings. Rarely at a
loss for words, Andromache had no response. She merely stood and looked at her
husband, seeing yet again the resemblance to his father. Until this moment he
had reflected everything that could have been great in Priam—courage,
compassion, kindness—but now she wondered how many of his father’s weaknesses he
also had inherited.

BOOK: Fall of Kings
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