Telemakos scrambled to his feet and ran to meet Goewin.
He put one foot down the forecourt stairs and stopped, frozen in place as if he had been suddenly stung by a scorpion. For several seconds Telemakos had no idea what was wrong with him. Something had made him recoil in hopeless terror; he found himself crouched trembling against the stair wall, his head up like a hunted gazelle, sniffing the air. He could smell nothing unusual: frankincense from the plantation on the hill, and the horses in the stable. But again, there was something else, faint. He caught it and broke out in gooseflesh. It was a rank stench like baboon. It was the stench of the Lazarus.
Only it was not baboon. The strange smell came to him once more, a little stronger. It was like baboon, but it was something else. Telemakos turned his head this way and that, trying to catch the scent. Every time it came to him he clutched his arms tighter around his knees and hugged himself closer to the wall, cold with fear and evil memory. It was the Lazarus, without a doubt, but it was not baboon—
It was caracal.
His mind had known all along, without being able to piece it together. All the while as he had stood before the Lazarus in Afar, his mind had offered him the image of the caracal, and he had not known why until this moment.
Goewin led her guest out of the stable yard and across the forecourt. There at her right hand was Anako, Deire’s conniving archon. The black caracal and familiar, sullen, moustached boy followed at their heels. Anako: he looked like any official, his hair running to gray, his body running to flesh. His heavy hands were bright with gold rings.
How can it be Anako? Telemakos wondered. I thought Anako was dead of plague.
But he isn’t. That’s why he’s called the Lazarus.
They came up the stairs to the house, and there was Telemakos cowering underfoot, his white hair shining in the afternoon sunlight, the broad gold band glinting at his throat.
Anako gazed down at him with bright, contemptuous eyes. Telemakos hid his face in his arms.
“Please, go in and I will follow,” Goewin said to her guest. “Kidane will be waiting for you in the reception hall.”
“Thank you, lady,” said Anako in that hated, disdainful voice, and he continued up the stairs. Telemakos huddled on the steps without looking up while they passed.
Goewin crouched by his side. “What’s wrong?” she hissed. “What is it?”
Telemakos whispered, “It is he. It is he.”
“How do you know?”
Telemakos raised his head and gnawed at his knuckles, staring into the distance.
“He is unpleasant, I’ll grant you that,” Goewin whispered fiercely. “I have detested traveling with him. But Telemakos, you can’t accuse a man of treachery because you don’t like the way he smells!”
Telemakos shook his head. He chewed at his fist. Then he whispered through his teeth, “Let me wait on them. When he has supper with Grandfather, let me wait on them. I’ll do something stupid, drop a jug or spill something, and Grandfather can go out to get Ferem to help clean up. Leave me alone with—with him—for half a minute.”
“He’ll try to kill me. Then you can accuse him of treachery.”
This time Goewin hissed through her teeth without speaking.
“Half a minute, no longer!” Telemakos said.
“All right,” she whispered. “I must go.” She squeezed his hand tightly.
Telemakos still stared into the distance. “He thinks I can’t speak, or hear. Tell Grandfather.”
Goewin stood up, gathered her skirts, and ran into the house. Telemakos sank his face into his arms again and sat shivering in the sun for another minute. Then he forced himself stiffly to his feet and followed the others inside.
His body slipped easily into the habit of dumb stupidity. He did not have to pretend to be clumsy, waiting at Grandfather’s table. Telemakos kept his eyes fixed on Kidane so that he would not have to look at the other man who ate there also.
“How did you come to escape the destruction of Deire?” Grandfather asked Anako.
“I was on my way back when it began. The cordon was in place before I arrived, and I was not allowed in, so I returned to my estate at Tekondo. I reside there now. But most of my business is in Adulis or Aksum; I still do trade in salt.” Anako paused, as Telemakos opened the mesob basket to take out the injera and lay it before them.
“Do you know, I am still named Deire’s archon,” Anako added. “I am a governor without a city.”
Grandfather was wonderful. He never said a word to Telemakos; indeed, he scarcely looked at him, but pointed and gestured to the things he wanted Telemakos to fetch, as if there had been a deaf-mute servant in his household since the beginning of time.
Telemakos spooned wat over the injera.
“I should like to salt this meat, if I may,” said Anako, and Grandfather pointed Telemakos to the salt.
I’ll give you salt, thought Telemakos.
He cut a tablet from the bar on the wall shelf. I expect it thinks it should be eating salt, like a millionaire, not cutting it. Telemakos knelt, to work with the black granite grindstone between his knees, holding it so tightly his wrists began to ache.
I’ll. Give. You. Salt, Telemakos thought, pounding the tablet to splinters, and then to dust.
You called me a thing. You called me “it” as though I am not human. You said to slice my nails off. You wanted to sew my eyes shut.
The powdered salt spilled over the floor like ash. Anako stared at him. Telemakos drove the grindstone into place once more, and the salt mill came apart in his shaking hands.
THE HARRIER STRICKEN
Now there was an ambush that would have overpowered us all—overpowering, true, the awful reek …!
TELEMAKOS STOOD UP AND set the chipped grindstone on the basket table before Anako, and also the split halves of the granite bowl. He knelt again and tried to sweep the spilled salt together with his hands.
Grandfather rose quietly. “Please forgive the child. He was very sick earlier this season, and it has made him awkward. Do you excuse me; I’ll get my butler to sweep that up.” He left the room, and pulled the door shut behind him.
Telemakos knelt fixedly brushing the salt about on the floor, not daring to look up.
Anako remained quite still, as though lost in a dream. Then he picked up the grindstone with one hand, and a broken piece of the mortar with the other. He weighed and stared at them as if they held some kind of secret meaning that he was trying to conjure.
Come on then, Telemakos willed him. Give yourself away. You know who I am.
Anako got to his feet. He bent over Telemakos, and without any warning brought the heavy pieces of stone crashing down over the boy’s temples.
Telemakos heard the blows as great, deep gongs ringing inside his head, and he fell like a bird shot through the heart. He felt nothing. His world went black for half a second, but then he was wide awake again, his mind clear and alert; only he lay flat on his back and could not move.
Anako spoke to himself, or perhaps to Telemakos, in a low, monotonous stream of nervous self-justification.
“This creature shall not know me. True enough it never saw me, but it was there at the salt mines in Afar, and it is here in the house of a councilor of the bala heg, and I do not like it. Maybe it can’t hear, and maybe it can’t speak, but it shall not know me—”
Anako held a tiny knife, a knife for peeling fruit, with a curved, pointed tip. He knelt by Telemakos’s head, and bent over his face.
“Ugh, what a freak it is, it has the eyes of a dead thing! I should have insisted that idiot Scorpion let Dagale put its eyes out. But he would not spare me, not if he were offered the creature’s weight in gold; so I must rid myself of it now, lest it denounce me—”
Telemakos lay watching the gold light struck off Anako’s rings as the little dagger came closer to his eyes, and he could not lift one finger to protect himself.
He strained to move with all the force of his will. Anako hesitated, still chattering to himself, and Telemakos saw that Anako was frightened. Anako did not like to touch things. He had made Hara hurt Telemakos while he looked on. Suddenly Telemakos became so filled with hatred and disdain that there was no room in him for fear anymore.
“Lazarus!” Telemakos spat through his teeth. “I know you!”
Anako froze. The knife hesitated alongside Telemakos’s cheekbone. Telemakos saw that he had bought himself an inch of space, a second of time.
“I know you,” he spat again. “How could I mistake you, Anako, governor of Deire? You smell like a baboon! Denounce you? I will lead you to the emperor myself! Lazarus! If you dare hurt me again, if you only dare touch me, my father will carve your living heart from your chest and eat it while it beats in his hands!”
Anako whispered, with both conviction and incredulity, “Harrier.”
“Lazarus, call yourself Lazarus!” Telemakos blazed at him. “When have you ever had your face wound up in grave cloths? How long did you suffer your arms to be strapped fast as a corpse even while you lived? Who risked death to save your life? Jesus wept!”
Anako in desperation went for his throat. Telemakos in desperation managed to twist his head aside, and Goewin’s band of gold turned away the dagger. The little curved blade sank into his shoulder, and Telemakos shrieked as Anako wrenched it free.
Goewin was on top of them, battering Anako about the face with her fists and snatching for the knife. She cut her own hands on the blade, trying to get it away from him. Grandfather and the butler pulled them apart.
“Half a minute!” Goewin cried out. “Half a minute, he said! For God’s sake, how long have you left them here alone? It is a trap, not a meeting of old friends, the child has offered himself up as a lure!”
There were others in the room as well, holding Anako back now. Turunesh lifted Telemakos’s head and shoulders into her lap. Anako gasped, “Your serving thing attacked me—”
“Liar! Liar!” cried Telemakos. “Liar! I did nothing, I did not move or touch him, he was going to cut my throat! Liar!”
“Your serving thing—”
“Lij Telemakos is my grandson,” said Grandfather dryly, “not my servant.”
Then there was silence, but for the sound of Anako’s quickening breaths as Ferem wrested the fruit knife from his hand, and Anako began to realize that he was caught.
Telemakos fought to find his limbs again. To move anything was like trying to swim through honey. Still his head did not hurt, but his shoulder throbbed and stabbed as his mother and aunt freed him from the folds of his shamma. Goewin hissed when they discovered the wound.
“The murderous viper, look what he’s done to the child! Medraut will never forgive me—” She shuddered. “Send for the court jeweler. He’ll need to bring a small saw or something. I want this collar off. It’s pressing against the wound when the child turns his head.”
Telemakos gasped, “Oh, why can’t I move!”
“Get this assassin out of my house,” said Grandfather. “Take him to the stable yard and send to the New Palace for an escort of the imperial guard.”