“Stop, wait!” Telemakos managed to get himself up on one knee. “Wait. Don’t take him anywhere. I haven’t finished; I haven’t finished. Goewin, help me to stand.”
He struggled up on her outstretched arms. His head was beginning to thump, now, which made him still more angry: Oh, the hardship I endured while this man grew rich, and the blinding fear and pain he dealt me! Telemakos held Goewin’s elbow for support and advanced on his enemy.
Anako stood with his arms pinioned by the steward and the footman, not struggling, but hunching his head between his shoulders as though he could hide himself that way.
“Do you look at me, Anako,” Telemakos commanded.
Anako looked down at the thin boy leaning on his aunt’s arm, his clothes blood-soaked, bruises the size of doves’ eggs rising over one eyebrow and aside the other. Anako looked, and looked away.
“I know my eyes scare you,” Telemakos said coldly. “But the foreign blood that makes me seem such a freak to you also makes me a prince. I arrest you. I arrest you in the name of the emperor Gebre Meskal, king of Aksum and of all the tribes, the Beja, the Noba, the Kasu, and the Siyamo, Servant of the Cross. You stand accused of high treason against the Aksumite nation. The citizens of your ruined city anxiously await your arrival in the afterlife; I wish you joy of them.”
Telemakos turned away from the one called the Lazarus, and said with satisfaction, “I have finished now.”
He refused to be put to bed. He made Goewin and his mother help him out to the garden to wait for the jeweler, and for Medraut to see to his shoulder.
Turunesh stripped him of his stained shirt and shamma. “Good, the bleeding’s stopped,” she said calmly. “I’ll get you clean clothes, love, and we’ll wash that cut before your father gets here.”
She went back inside. “Tell her to bring my book, too,” Telemakos said to Goewin.
They made the mistake of leaving him alone for half a minute. Telemakos managed to drag himself over to the fish pond, so he could dabble in the water, and fell in up to his elbows.
“Telemakos!” His mother dropped the clothes she carried and ran to him. “You are your own worst enemy! You will drown yourself, or poison that wound! For pity’s sake, stop trying to move!”
She settled him again. Goewin came back with his book.
“You are too excited to pay attention to this, I know,” Turunesh said. “What can we do to distract you?”
Telemakos caught the animal scent again, the faint, sour smell that had betrayed Anako to him. He said suddenly, “I want to see the caracal.”
“What a good idea.”
Goewin went for the caracal. The tall boy that Telemakos had met by the well in the grove brought in the big black cat. Goewin paced at his side, apprehensive. They stopped before Telemakos.
The moustached boy held the creature’s lead in both hands; but he let go one hand to scratch the cat between its ears. “Eh, Chariclea,” the boy said fondly, and offered the lead to Telemakos. He glanced up at Goewin, and added quickly, “She won’t pull.”
“Thank you,” Telemakos said. “What’s your name?”
“Lij Telemakos, she told me,” the boy said, with another sidelong glance at Goewin.
“Well, yes. But no one bothers, usually, least of all my aunt. She’s trying to scare you. Last time we met you thought I was someone’s servant.”
Yesaka said in a low voice, “That wasn’t the last time we met.”
The caracal sat down between them placidly and began to wash itself.
“What do you mean?”
“I saw you in Afar. When you were a prisoner there, when you were brought before my master. I was there with him.”
Goewin turned suddenly to Telemakos with narrowed eyes, vigilant and wary. Telemakos said cautiously, “Did you know who I was?”
“I guessed what you were. I knew the archon was looking for a spy, and I knew you were not what they took you for. I knew you were out of Gebre Meskal’s court; I knew you could talk and hear, and that you must be blinding them to something.”
“Did you say anything? Of course not, of course you didn’t say anything, or I would no longer be alive.” Telemakos was torn between wanting to know more about Anako’s quietly rebellious animal keeper and the urgency of not allowing Goewin to know what had happened to him in Afar.
Curiosity won out over caution. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Yesaka suddenly knelt before Telemakos as he spoke. “If I kept silent, it meant I was an agent for the emperor as well. We were comrades, even if you did not know it. If I held silent, I was your conspirator, and neither one of us was alone.”
“You were my comrade,” Telemakos said quietly. “I did know it. I heard you weeping. It meant more to me than I can say.”
The tall boy snatched at one of Telemakos’s thin hands. He bent his head against it, and kissed it.
“I am your servant.”
After Yesaka had been guided out of the garden court again, Goewin knelt by Telemakos and pounded her fists together. “Now tell me truly, boy. Why couldn’t you see anything?”
“I was blindfolded. Anako was afraid I would recognize him, and so I should have.”
That did not sound so dreadful.
Goewin screwed up her mouth. “You are equivocating, I know it. Why was the caracal keeper weeping?”
That was nearly impossible to answer, but Telemakos plunged ahead anyway. “He couldn’t keep it still, and they had to send him out. It scratched him, I think.”
Telemakos bit his lip, and prayed that Goewin had not noticed the caracal’s clawless feet.
ODYSSEUS BENDS HIS BOW
“No, I am your father—the Odysseus you wept for all your days, you bore a world of pain, the cruel abuse of men.”
TELEMAKOS LAY ALONG THE edge of the big fountain in the Golden Court, trailing his fingers in the water. The sound of the fountains was making him sleepy. The air smelled moist and warm, of palm and aloe. He was watching the fish.
“Your shamma’s getting wet,” Sofya said.
She sat down on the floor by the fountain’s marble lip. “What are you doing in here? I thought you were at the trial.”
“They’re in recess. It is the sentencing next.”
“I wish they might let me in,” Sofya said. “But well we know it is no place for an owlish little girl.”
“No one thinks you’re stupid.”
“Gebre Meskal doesn’t. Nor does my aunt. Nobody else matters.” Telemakos spoke to the fish. “You’re right, though: there is no place in this trial for little girls. I wish there was no place for me, either. I hate it. I feel so sorry for Karkara; I know what he’s done, but still I pity him. I do not like to see him led about in chains. And Anako—”
Anako never said anything, but he oozed hatred at Telemakos. He stared and sneered as though Telemakos were a leper.
“I wish I had played I was still sick, so Gebre Meskal would not make me sit through it.” Telemakos sat up, and tried to wring out the damp end of his shamma. “It makes me tired.”
“Everything makes you tired,” Sofya said.
“I have to go back now.” Telemakos picked up the linen head cloth that lay at his feet and carefully unfolded it.
“What is that?”
“You’ve never seen me dressed in anything but rags, or pondweed, have you? Your mother gave me this to wear, this mantle.” He had folded it inside the head cloth; it was a collar of filigreed gold and emerald that lay over the shoulders of his shamma. It was splendid to look on and weighed on him more heavily than had the ring of gold he no longer wore. It rubbed brutally at the stitches in his upper arm.
Telemakos carefully lifted the mantle over his shoulders and banded the head cloth in place. It did not hide the matching black bruises on either side of his forehead, where Anako had struck him.
“You would look quite grown up, if you were taller,” said Sofya.
“I look like a pirate.”
“You look like a prince who has been to battle.”
This was undoubtedly the most complimentary thing she had ever said to him, and it gave Telemakos again that strange feeling of faint sadness, such as he had felt watching Sofya adorn Esato as a bride.
“The last person to wear this necklet was your brother Hector,” Telemakos said. “It was your father’s.”
“I don’t remember Hector. He died when we were very little, Esato and I. I remember my brother Priamos weeping for Hector, though, after the war in Himyar. My brothers and sisters are all so old, except Esato. I am alone, now.”
“Well,” said Telemakos, “I have always been alone, and it is not so terrible. You can share my new sister, when she comes, if you like.”
“It might be a brother.”
“She will be a sister. But you can share her anyway.” Telemakos stood up. “I have to go. I might come back another time.”
“I might be here,” said Sofya.
Telemakos took his place again in the courtroom, between his father and his aunt. Goewin was the only woman of the company, a thing that must be usual to her. What could it feel like, to be so alien all the time?
She reached across to clasp Telemakos’s hand. All through the tedious opening formalities she sat staring down at his torn fingernails, one of them yellowed and peeling, the other growing in new and crooked over soft raw skin. Telemakos sat upright and formal, weighted by his adult finery. He gazed directly ahead of him, frowning as Karkara bowed to him politely and made him feel a Judas. Then Anako came past Telemakos, and spat in his face.
Telemakos winced involuntarily, as though Anako’s venom were real, and burned.
The emperor’s guards held Medraut down in his seat. There was no other sound in the hall, but for this wordless struggle. Gebre Meskal broke into the silence, speaking low and level. “Lij Telemakos, perhaps you would like to pass sentence on this man Anako yourself?”
“I, Your Majesty?”
“If you wish.”
Telemakos stood in his place and freed his hand from Goewin’s clasp. “I would like to wash my face first,” he said.
A page of his own age brought him a tray and a bowl, and Telemakos carefully dipped his hand in the water and wiped his fingers back across his cheek.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“I pray you, Lij Telemakos, pass your sentence now.”
“I do not know how it should be spoken.”
“Never mind the formula. Simply tell me how you would punish this man, if he were in your hands. Tell me anything you wish. You have earned this right.”
Telemakos trailed his fingers in the bowl of water at his side. He said at last, “Send him to Afar.”
“To toil in the salt he loves so dearly?” the emperor prompted. “Yes. Go on.”
“Send him to Afar,” Telemakos repeated slowly. “Let him be blindfolded, and bound with his hands at his sides so he can’t take off the blindfold, and let his eyes be rubbed with grease mixed with gravel to glue them shut. Then let him spend his days bearing water to the salt cutters. Let him start each day carrying half his weight in water, always bound and blinded; and feed him nothing but stale injera; and though he brings water to all the other men there, let him be given no more than the twentieth part of a single skin in a day. And if he stumbles in his work let his hands be strapped behind him and have him lashed. But if he complains or weeps aloud or makes any kind of noise, ever, if he so much as voices a sigh or a cough, ever, then for each word or groan, take off one of his fingernails with a knife—”