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Authors: David; Stella Gemmell

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BOOK: Fall of Kings
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Tobios the jewel merchant hitched his heavy wool cloak up around his neck and
stamped his feet against the cold. The early-morning crowd had thinned as people
headed off to the eating houses and their midday meals. It had been a good day
so far, he thought. The pendant Helikaon had purchased had ensured that, but
Tobios also had sold three brooches and an amber bracelet. He was tempted to
summon his servants, pack away his stall, and head for home and a warm fire.
However, thoughts of the many years he had spent on the borders of ruin and
starvation prevented such extravagant behavior. Chilled to the bone, Tobios
remained where he was, huddled against the canvas windbreak behind his stall.

There would be time enough for such idle behavior, he told himself, when the
winter had set in fully. Then he could spend more time in the workshops,
supervising the crafting of brooches and bangles, rings and ornaments. Amber had
been popular for several seasons. It would not last. Trojans were fickle when it
came to fashion. Five years back it had been rubies, coral, and cloaks and
tunics of crimson. Red had been the color. Then, for a short while, black had
gained the ascendancy. An Egypteian merchant named Cthosis had perfected a dye
that allowed black garments to be washed without the color leaching out. Ebony
and obsidian bangles and earrings had been the fashion then among the women of
Troy.

Now it was amber. What next? Tobios wondered. Blue was a strong possibility.
Lapis lazuli never went entirely out of fashion, and it could be very pricey.
The bluer the lapis, the more expensive the stone. Many women—and men, for that
matter—had been seduced by being told their eyes were the color of lapis lazuli.

As he was thinking, Tobios caught sight of the Mykene merchant Plouteus and
his sons entering the square. He waved a greeting, but immersed in a deep and
obviously serious conversation, they did not see him. Perhaps even the
notoriously lucky Plouteus was feeling the pressures of this senseless war. So
far his ships had escaped either seizure or sinking. That was galling. Not that
Tobios wanted to see honest sailors killed on the Great Green, but Plouteus’
luck meant that his trade goods could be sold more cheaply. That kept prices
down, cutting margins and lowering profits.

Others of the merchant group were growing envious of the man, but Tobios had
no time to waste on such destructive emotions. Plouteus was, it was said, a
religious man, paying homage to many gods. In return, perhaps, they were
favoring him. Tobios dearly would have liked to bribe the gods of this land, but
if he did, there was no doubt the Prophet would hear of it. If that happened,
death surely would follow—or worse. Some years back, it was said, the Prophet
had cursed a man and given him leprosy. And one of Tobios’ servants told the
story of a man who annoyed the Prophet and woke up the following morning blind
in both eyes.

Better to risk the wrath of anonymous gods who might or might not exist than
to anger the Prophet, who certainly did.

The Scythe was blowing hard now, hissing around and beneath the windbreak.
Tobios retrieved his old woolen cap from the shelf below his stall and tugged it
over his dyed red hair.

As he straightened, he saw the king’s son Paris heading toward him. The boy
was wearing armor and carrying a dented helm. Tobios cast his gaze around the
marketplace, seeking the plump Helen, who usually walked with him. They were a
sweet couple, and Tobios liked them. Helen was a plain, matronly woman with
mousy hair and a sweet smile. Her husband obviously adored her. Whenever he
shopped alone, he would buy the most extravagant pieces for her: jewels that
only a beautiful woman would dare to wear. The following day she would return
and exchange them quietly. Helen’s taste was for the simple. She chose brooches
for the shape of the stone or the beauty of the grain, preferring works in
silver to those in gold.

Tobios smiled at the young man as he approached the stall. “A chill morning,
lord, to be sure,” he said.

“I envy you your cloak, Tobios,” Paris responded. “Armor does not keep out
the cold.”

“So I have been told, lord. Are you expecting a battle today?”

Paris gave a boyish grin. “If there were one, Tobios, I would be as much use
as feathers on a fish.”

“Skill at fighting is much overrated,” Tobios confided. “In my long life I
have discovered that to be fleet of foot is infinitely superior to having skill
with weapons. Though better than both is to be quick-witted.”

“Have you been in many wars?” Paris asked as he examined a bangle of
cunningly sliced amber.

“Too many, sir.” Tobios shivered as dark memories assailed him. Changing the
subject, he said: “That piece you hold was crafted by my grandson. It is the
first competent example of the skills to come.”

Out of the corner of his eye Tobios saw Helikaon moving through the crowd. He
frowned. He hoped that Helikaon had not come to return the pendant he had
bought. Returning his attention to Paris, he waited patiently as the young man
examined another bracelet more closely. It was fashioned of braided silver wire
wrapped around and through seven small fire opals. Young Aaron was becoming a
fine craftsman.

“If I may make so bold, lord, the lovely Helen would find this piece
especially appealing.”

Before Paris could answer, the air was rent with a piercing shout. “Father!
No! It is not him!”

Tobios peered around and saw the portly Plouteus fighting with Helikaon. For
a heartbeat it looked comical: a fat middle-aged merchant in a crimson,
ankle-length tunic grappling next to a pie stall with a slender white-garbed
warrior.

As Tobios looked more closely, he saw that the warrior was not Helikaon. It
was Prince Deiphobos, one of Priam’s bastard sons, known as Dios. Tobios
wondered why a placid man like Plouteus would risk insulting a king’s son, but
then a spray of red spattered across Dios’ tunic. Sunlight glittered on the
bright blade in Plouteus’ hand. Dios reached out to grab Plouteus’ wrist, but
the merchant wrenched his hand loose of the grip and plunged the blade again
into Dios’ chest. The victim’s clothes were blood-drenched now, and rivulets of
red streamed down his legs. Yet still he fought on. Plouteus’ sons rushed in.
Tobios thought they had come to pull their father clear. Instead they, too, drew
knives and began to hack at the injured prince.

“Paris! Paris!” Dios shouted, and Tobios saw him reach out to his brother.
Then another blade slammed into his body, and he doubled over, blood spewing
from his mouth.

Tobios glanced at Paris. The young prince was standing statue-still, frozen
in shock and fear. Tobios snatched Paris’ sword from its scabbard and ran at the
killers, shouting at the top of his voice, “Murderers! Assassins!”

Plouteus’ youngest son swung toward Tobios. There were blood splashes across
his face, and the skinning knife he held dripped gore. He looked at the jewel
merchant, then dropped his blade and ran. The oldest son grabbed his father and
was pulling him away when the redheaded merchant arrived. Tobios lashed out with
the sword blade. It caught the young man high on the temple, slashing the skin
and sending blood spraying. He fell sideways, then staggered several steps.

“Assassins!” Tobios shouted again. “Hold them!” Another stall holder ran up
behind the injured assailant and hit him with a club. He pitched forward
unconscious.

Standing alongside the body of Dios, his face stricken, the merchant Plouteus
looked into the eyes of Tobios. He was shaking his head.

“Never wanted this,” he cried. “I swear by all the gods, Tobios, I had no
choice.”

“You worm!” an angry man in the crowd shouted. Tobios recognized him as the
trader Actonion. Running forward, he plunged his dagger into Plouteus’ neck,
forcing it deep. Blood spouted from the wound, and Plouteus pitched to his face
on the stones.

Tobios knelt beside Dios. The man’s eyes were open, but they could see
nothing. The stab wounds to his face and neck no longer were bleeding.

The man who had killed Plouteus also knelt beside the body. Tobios looked up
into the dark eyes of Actonion.

“I would have thought such a famed fighter would be bigger,” Actonion
commented, staring down at the corpse.

“Famed fighter?” Tobios queried.

“Did someone not say this was the dread Helikaon?”

“They were wrong. This is Deiphobos, son of Priam.”

Pushing himself to his feet, Tobios turned back toward his stall. Paris still
was standing there, slack-jawed, his eyes full of tears. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
he whispered.

“A man stabbed that many times usually is,” Tobios told him.

Paris groaned. “He called out for me, and I didn’t go to him. I couldn’t
move, Tobios.”

“Then go to him now,” Tobios said softly. “It is not right for the son of a
king to lie alone in the dust of a marketplace.”

But Paris seemed rooted to the spot. “Oh, Tobios, I failed him. My greatest
friend, and when he needed me, I did nothing.”

Tobios held his tongue and sought to hide his contempt. Paris was spineless,
but he was a good customer. Merchants did not stay in business long if they
drove away good customers. Then he saw that the young man was staring at him,
his expression imploring. Tobios sighed. He knew what the prince needed, what
all cowards needed. “You could have done nothing, lord,” he said, putting as
much sincerity into the lie as he could muster. “The first blows would have been
fatal. By rushing in you would have risked being killed yourself for nothing.
You acted wisely.”

Paris shook his head but said nothing.

A troop of soldiers arrived too late in the marketplace. They lifted the body
of Dios, carrying him back toward the Scaean Gate. Tobios looked around for
Actonion, but the man had gone.

How strange, he thought. Priam surely would reward the man who had killed the
assassin of one of his sons.

 

Leaving Priam and Helikaon deep in conversation in the Amber Room, Andromache
made her way down to the
megaron,
where she spotted Antiphones among the
crowd. He was hard to miss, for he was still the largest man in Troy, though
much of his weight was now muscle. Where once he had enjoyed bouts of almost
Heraklean eating, he now was famed for his ferocious training regimen.
Andromache liked him greatly but was in no mood for idle conversation.

“Have you seen Hektor?” she asked him swiftly.

“A few moments ago. He left the palace.” He leaned toward her and whispered,
“You seem troubled, dear one.”

“This has been a difficult day,” she told him.

“There are many difficult days now. Hektor also seemed downcast. Is all well
between you?”

Andromache paused before answering, and when she did, the words sounded
hollow in her ears. “There is love between us, Antiphones. Ultimately,
therefore, all will be well. I have to believe that.”

“He adores you, so I hope you are right,” Antiphones said. Andromache looked
into the big man’s eyes and knew he wanted to say more.

But the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the king’s son and
chancellor, Polites. Stooping and balding, Polites seemed to age a year for
every season that passed. His face was pale, his eyes dark-ringed, his mouth
permanently downturned. “We need to speak, Antiphones,” he said.

“You forget your manners, Brother,” Antiphones admonished him. Only then did
Polites notice Andromache. His tired face reddened with embarrassment.

“I am sorry, Sister,” he told her. “Please forgive me.”

“No need to apologize, Polites. You are obviously more in need of Antiphones’
fellowship than I am. Therefore, I will leave you both to talk.”

Andromache left the
megaron
and, trailed by two bodyguards, made her
way back toward the palace of Hektor. Once she was outside, her problems
returned to haunt her. She understood Hektor’s fears. There had been honesty
between them from the first, so he knew she loved Helikaon. Now the thought of
his wife sailing across the Great Green with Helikaon must be burrowing into his
mind like a maggot into an apple.

Her heart in turmoil, Andromache paused by a well. One of her guards,
thinking she was thirsty, drew up a bucket. Andromache thanked him and sipped a
little water from a wooden ladle. Thoughts of Kalliope suddenly filled her mind.
Sweet, damaged, brave Kalliope. And she remembered the vile killers, the blazing
farm, and Kalliope, standing tall on the hillside shooting arrows down at the
assassins. Tears formed as she struggled to hold to that heroic image. But she
could not, and cold reality made her see again the black shaft ripping into
Kalliope. Now all that remained of her lover was the few bones Andromache had
gathered from the ashes of the funeral pyre. They were contained in an ebony and
silver chest beneath a window in her bedchamber.

Andromache had dreamed of returning the bones to the Blessed Isle and burying
them in the tamarisk grove beside the temple of Artemis. Now the High Priestess
planned to hurl Kalliope’s bones into the pit and chain her spirit to serve the
Minotaur forever.

“Are you well, lady?” asked Ethenos, the youngest of her guards. “You are
looking very pale.” He was a serious young man and a cousin to the murdered
Cheon, who had died along with Kalliope on the day of the assassins.

“I am fine,” she told the fair-haired soldier. It was a lie.

Kalliope had adored the goddess Artemis, had prayed to her many times a day.
Had that adoration been repaid in any way? Raped as a child, betrayed by her
family, and then murdered by assassins. Not twenty years old when she died. Now,
even after death, she was to be brutalized.

For a moment only Andromache thought of praying to the goddess, but the voice
of her anguish screamed out then.
You think Artemis or any of the gods cares
a whit about your life or Kalliope’s? Think on it! Have any of your prayers ever
been answered?

BOOK: Fall of Kings
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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