The sound of breaking
glass greeted Munduk as he entered the dark porch of Stivens home.
Pausing at the door, he sniffed at a lingering, subtle odor which intensified
as he approached the darkened, oak door. A feeling of unreasoning apprehension
gripped him as his eyes fell upon the wreath twined about the doorway,
causing him to hesitate before pulling the latch.
He counseled himself
fiercely: "you have no reason to fear this priest," he chided himself.
"When he decides to take your life, you will know it, and he will be betrayed."
Despite his own machinations and deceptions, Munduk despised politics,
and said as much openly to his chiefs. He doubted, however, that he was
ever believed. He tugged at the greasy talon of leather hanging on the
door, and pulled it to.
"The curse of
Hera upon you, Zanthras!" the priests shriek rose and assaulted
Munduks ears from a smoky cloud at the far end of the house. Before
him cowered a thin apprentice, amid a splash of foul liquid and broken
glass. Breaking off, he turned. "Munduk!" he greeted the king sunnily.
"What brings you to my den?"
Time for a prognostication. A Greek physician from Bithynia is arriving
to attend the sons of Saher."
"You lie, Ugar
the old man sputtered, his grizzled face growing dark with new rage. "You
mistrust me and you send for your ally to counter me!" he shrieked belligerently.
Munduk drew his
sword, stepped quickly through the broken glass, and laid the edge of
his blade lightly against the grease-spotted collar of the soothsayer.
"Say that twice, Stiven. I long to slay you for defying me." He let a
slow, nasty smile spread across his face as he stared steadily into his
enemys eyes. Stiven, still now as a captured rabbit in a wolfs
jaws, blinked once, then twice.
"Hold," he said.
Munduk did not move. Zanthras gasped, possibly relieved that his master
had been temporarily diverted from beating him. He may have been praying
for Munduk to strike the blow that would free him from the magicians
service and a life of slavery. Munduks gaze shifted momentarily
to the boy huddled below him on the floor.
"Shall I hold,
Zanthras?" he queried him. "Have you suffered enough in the hands of this
"I plead for his
life," the boy whispered, mouthing the formula of his oath of apprenticeship.
"Then your plea
is heard," Munduks grip shifted, and he withdrew the blade. "I advise
you in future, Stiven, to reward your servants for defending your life
and not otherwise. They may not remain so generous with your life in future.
I may have to avenge them."
"What is this
game?" the priest blustered, insolent once again now that Munduks
sword was once again quiescent.
"This? This game?
Saher writes to say he sends his Therapeutus to instruct his sons further
while they prepare for war. They are of age, why respond as you do?"
will taste my boys food!" Stiven roared. He knelt then, gathering
thick shards of red glass in his spindly fingers, picking pieces from
the soup of dark liquid.
"Your boy? Your
boys?" Munduk asked, his voice an echo. "What boys are these?
know they are
or he is
" he began to mutter.
"You speak rather
possessively about my allys heirs. Perhaps you could explain that."
on Munduk with a cold glare, and spoke deliberately, unlike his previous
muttering and stammering. "You know they are not Sahers sons. They
are both bastard children, fathered upon his mad daughter by some unknown
king and held in ignorance of their own inheritance. This much is known!"
"No, this much
is not known, Stiven. We have never asked the children their parentage."
He hesitated for a moment. "Nor shall we. Shall we?" He placed his hand
deliberately upon the hilt of his recently-drawn weapon. "Shall we?" he
repeated in the same tone.
"You are a stupid
fool " the priest blustered
"Shall we?" he
repeated once again, insistent. "It is not too late for death to pay a
visit to your home today, Stiven. I tire of you mightily." He turned his
back on the priest and stalked away then, leaving him muttering in the
At length he cried
"And you will die by your stupidity!" but Munduk had slammed the door,
dislodging the magical wreath and casting it onto the ground.
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