“I should go to bed,” said Telemakos.
“I shouldn’t,” said Goewin. “I should sit here drinking coffee and let the gentlewomen of Adulis fuss over my hair.”
“You should see to these scratches, though, my love,” his mother said softly. “I don’t want you dying of a dog bite gone septic.”
“I wasn’t bitten,” Telemakos said. “I’ll go in a minute. I’m still so cold.” He pressed his side against his mother, and his back deeper into the cushions.
“I’ll find someone to fill a bath for you,” said Goewin. “I want to hear all about it.”
ABRAHAM AND ISAAC
“Pour me barley in well-stitched leather bags, twenty measures of meal, your stone-ground best. But no one else must know.”
IT TOOK TELEMAKOS TWO hours and a succession of hot baths before he was able to stop shivering. In the deep of night his mother, his father, and Goewin all crowded into his small bedroom as Medraut at last began to tend the slashes left by the thorns. Telemakos leaned against his mother’s waist while she clasped his hands in hers, holding them back when he flinched and pressing them tightly when she thought he needed sympathy.
Medraut worked with a shapeless bar of salt in one hand and a bottle of some choking volatile spirit in the other. He scrubbed these alternately into Telemakos’s torn arms and legs. There was no tenderness, no kindness in his work. He bent over Telemakos’s ribboned hands with narrowed eyes, his lips pressed together in a tight, thin line. His whole body radiated anger.
Goewin helped her brother, silent as he. She was angry, too. Neither of them was angry at Telemakos; they were angry at each other.
When Medraut raised the bar of salt to begin work on his son’s face, Telemakos sobbed and hid in his mother’s shoulder.
He could not help it. He did not mean to. He was so tired. Medraut hesitated a single second, then took hold of Telemakos’s hair and pulled his head around to face him.
Goewin said stonily, “Go to bed, Medraut son of Morgause.”
Medraut let go of Telemakos’s hair. Slowly, he laid aside the salt.
“Who—?” Telemakos dared.
“Morgause? His mother. Your grandmother. Queen of cruelty. Queen of evil.”
Turunesh hugged Telemakos against her as Goewin and Medraut waged a strange, lopsided battle.
Goewin threw down the cloths she held and snatched hold of Medraut’s left hand. The back of it was badly scarred; the last two fingers were stiff with arthritis. “Remember?” Goewin said. “Remember how she punished you? Don’t do this to Telemakos.” She turned Medraut’s hand over and pointed to the blue serpent printed on his palm. “You are a doctor,” Goewin said coldly. “Telemakos needs healing. He does not need punishment.”
Medraut stabbed the air with a vicious finger, pointing at Goewin.
“Oh, you are punishing me already,” Goewin snarled at him. “I will be sick if you make me watch this any longer. His wounds are clean. Go to bed!”
Telemakos slept in his mother’s room, cradled in Turunesh’s arms like a toddler, until he was warm again.
They would not let him out of the house until the scratches began to heal. After two weeks Telemakos grew bored. He sat on the floor at his mother’s feet while Helena chattered about her grandchildren. Telemakos should meet them, Helena said; it would keep him out of trouble to have companions his own age. Telemakos sat on the floor at Goewin’s feet, poring over the maps they had made together. He asked his father to show him how to use a crossbow.
He wondered about the Lazarus. He did not think it was any more real a name than the Authority, although both clearly referred to real people. The men in the mint had spoken the words as if they were titles in a special language.
“What is a Lazarus?” he asked Goewin.
“Someone who has escaped death. Lazarus is a man who dies and comes to life again, even from the grave.”
“Not a ghost. A man alive. Christ restores him to life. It’s in the Book of John, I think. I’ll find it for you. Would you rather read Greek or Ethiopic?”
“Oh, Ethiopic, please.”
Once Telemakos knew the story he could not get it out of his head. He was struck by how dearly the biblical Lazarus was loved, how his sisters and neighbors wept for him, how his friend Jesus went back to his aid even though it put his own life in danger.
“What on earth are you doing?” Goewin asked Telemakos, coming into the cartographer’s office late at night. “We put you to bed two hours ago.”
“I wanted to see if the Salt Road is mapped.”
It was the third time in the week that he had started from sleep in terror. He had had his fill of lying in the dark, wide awake and quaking.
“It’s nearly midnight, Telemakos.”
“I keep dreaming about Lazarus, about the dead man when he comes out of the tomb. I hate that part. ‘His hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth.’”
He drew in a sharp breath, hearing his own voice speak aloud the words that were haunting him. “I cannot stop thinking about it.”
Telemakos almost could feel his aunt’s sharp, intelligent eyes boring into the top of his head as he bent over the unrevealing sketch of the Salt Desert. The page showed little more than a line of ink struck across fanciful lumps that might be mountains.
“But that is a moment of joy and wonder,” Goewin said quietly, “not horror. That is the moment when his friend saves his life. Remember what Jesus tells them? ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”
Telemakos said, “I have an idea how to find him.”
Goewin said nothing for a long moment. Then she murmured, “Your father will not like this, will he?”
She slid the projection of Afar from beneath his hand. “Save it for morning, Telemakos.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “There is a better map than this, but I will have to ask for it. It gives the landmarks and their alignment with the stars.”
The monsoon was coming to an end. The winds were about to change. One day when the morning haze smelled of the sea, Medraut and Goewin stood near Telemakos in the archon’s practice yard as he wrestled with his father’s crossbow.
Goewin said in a low voice, “I want to send Telemakos to Afar.”
It had taken Goewin a week to draw up the courage to speak to Medraut, Telemakos knew. But the winds would change any day, and then there would be no time.
“There is one man who is the key, the link in the illegal salt market. The smugglers call him the Lazarus. The only thing we know about him is that he’s going to inspect the mines in Afar in the coming season. I want to send Telemakos to Afar to find him out.”
Medraut gestured for her to continue. There were three hundred miles of desert between Adulis and Afar’s distant borders. It was so impossible a journey that Medraut listened politely, incredulous at the suggestion of sending Telemakos across that barren country.
“He’ll travel with a caravan, for his own safety, but not with their knowledge. He’ll shadow them. They’ll help him set a pace and find water, and show him the way. He’ll have to carry his own water and any food he might need beyond what he can hunt.”
Medraut stared at her as though she were insane.
“He’ll have to wait at the quarry until this smuggler arrives, then return with another caravan.”
Medraut stood as a statue, his brows lowered. He looked as though he might kill something if he moved. Telemakos had never seen him so tense.
“We won’t do this without your permission, Medraut,” Goewin said.
Medraut touched Telemakos’s shoulder to make him put down the bow and stand still. Then Medraut held up his left hand to Goewin, so that she must look at the stiff, arthritic fingers and the scars across the back of his hand.
She shook her head in bewilderment, but said nothing, as though infected by his silence.
Medraut held his hand out to her, palm down.
“What do you mean?”
He pointed to the ruined fingers with his other hand.
“Morgause did that,” Goewin said. “I reminded you, not long ago.”
Medraut nodded assent, his eyes blazing, and turned away from Goewin a little, and pulled his shamma down over his shoulder to lay bare four ragged, pale scars like claw marks across his back.
“And that. I know!”
And then Medraut pulled the hair back from his neck to show her another set of claw marks, and he pointed to a tiny flaw in his cheek where the skin was shiny and smooth and his beard did not grow, and then he laid bare a terrible place along his inner forearm where his flesh had long ago been slashed and stitched and badly burned.
Goewin cried out, “I know what she did to you! I know what she did to Lleu! I know how inhuman she was! What has it to do with anything, today, here in quarantined Adulis at the Aksumite new year; what has it to do with Telemakos?”
Medraut took one of Goewin’s hands, roughly and angrily, and laid it over the appalling scars on his arm. Then he took her other hand and laid it on Telemakos’s head.
“Oh, I would not!” Goewin whispered. “I would not—I would not use him as my minion, I did that once, wrongly, and I swore I never would again. Not to coerce him, not without his willing consent—not for myself! Not to gain power for myself, as Morgause did Lleu! As you did Lleu!”
Medraut threw off her hands and turned away in a gale of fury. He pressed one fist against his forehead as if he were trying to stop his head from exploding.
“How can I make you understand, Medraut?” Goewin said fiercely. “I know how dear Telemakos is to you. God knows. He is dear to me as well. But we are battling plague. Telemakos may save all Aksum, if we let him.”
Telemakos said in a small voice, “Ras Meder, I want to do it. I thought of it myself.”
He touched his father’s arm.
“I need you to take me into the wilderness,” Telemakos said. “I need you to show me what to do, how to live. When you are sure of me, I’ll go ahead on my own.”
Telemakos picked his way to the window in his bedroom. The floor was piled with satchels, quivers, water bags that Medraut had specially made and tailored to fit a child, sandals, and shammas of varying thicknesses; three different bows were lined along the wall beneath the window. Telemakos knew which one he was going to take, but his father disagreed and had yet to approve his choice. On the windowsill lay flint and tinder, needle and thread, an assortment of small hunting knives.
“I’m not taking the flint,” said Telemakos. “I won’t be able to build a fire when I’m with the caravan.”
“You take the flint,” Goewin said firmly. She was sitting on the floor, weighing and testing the shammas. “I know you won’t make a cooking fire, but if you get lost or hurt, fire may be your only way to call for help. Take it. It won’t add much to your pack.”
Telemakos moved the flint to one side, adding it to the list in his head. “Do you know what the smugglers call me? Well, not me, it’s what they call the one who discovered the false sentries at Gabaza. They don’t know it’s me. They call me Harrier. I love that! And they have another name for me, do you know what they call me among the docks—”