Judah Fayol was in a good mood. Truthfully, he was kind of proud of himself. Rod Drick had given him 30 gold parans to award the craftsmen, but those were still in his bag. What he had put on the anvil for the boy was 30 silver coins, which was of the same size as a gold paran but weighed about half as much. The 30 silver coins were worth one and a half gold paran. The rest was his now.
He wasn’t afraid of Rod Drick blaming him for it. It was impossible that Lord Drick would descend to that tiny shabby shed with the smoky furnace. It was an honour for them to have the clerk of Lord Rod Drick visit. He had gotten what Lord Drick had asked him to get, the Gods’ Tear. As such, Lord Drick would be happy and reward him. Judah knew him well. He wouldn’t care about those trifling things.
Even for Judah, it was his first time seeing a Gods’ Tear. He had never even heard of it before. Rod Drick had told him that it was a parangon that looked blonde and near-transparent. He saw one in Amon’s house and he took it.
Judah could not spend one more second in that house because of the awful stench of wine and the choking smoke from the furnace. He took the Gods’ Tear and left. Judah was also extremely curious about this legendary substance, the symbol of God’s mercy. He could hardly hold himself back from closely examining it, or even putting it in his bag. Those sort of fantasies could just stay in his head. He dared not do anything but cradle the golden box carefully in his arms and return to Lord Drick.
A short while after Judah Fayol had left, Amon left the house too. He went to Crazy’Ole’s. Amon was still a boy. He could not tell his grievances to his mostly unconscious drunk father. It might be a relief to listen to some nonsense rambled by the lunatic.
He spent about half an hour at Crazy’Ole’s. Then he slipped around to the west of the town. To the west of Duc was a series of hills full of atroceruleous, strangely-shaped rocks. Nearer to the town were some grasslands that fed small groups of goats. The further one went, the steeper it became. The hills weren’t very high, but they were terribly rugged. It was like a dark rocky forest, full of shrubs that resembled messy, matted hair.
The shrubs reached the height of two men but had rigid branches. They could only be cut down by quality cutters and axes. These could make the best charcoal that was used in smelting iron ores. It was how this place got its name: the Charcoal Forest. It was along the only connection between Duc and Syah, part of the courier routes of the state.
Most visitors to the Charcoal Forest stayed along the well-built road that had state-owned stations of warriors every thirty miles. Few were willing to deviate from the path to the deeper parts. The big rocks and tall shrubs severely limited one’s sight, making the Charcoal Forest a labyrinth full of unknown dangers.
Crazy’Ole had told Amon that deep in the Charcoal Forest, there was a cold spring. The bitter cold of the water could temper and purify one’s body. Bathing regularly in it made one’s body stronger, more sensitive, more agile and defter. However, one must bathe in the special way Crazy’Ole had taught Amon, otherwise, it would do nothing but freeze the organs and leave hidden wounds that could be fatal if they burst open.
Amon was taught the way, but whether he could bear the frigid water and protect himself from it depended entirely on himself. Amon had pondered, what other benefits would arise from bathing in the spring? The answer from smiling Crazy’Ole was simple; it sobers you up.
But when Amon tried to bring his drunk father to the spring, he was stopped by Crazy’Ole. “Do you want to kill him?” He cried. “He can’t bear it. Only you can go there, and don’t you let anybody else know!”
So Amon went alone every time and bathed in the moonlight. In the beginning, he could hardly withstand the biting cold, but when he finished he would sit beside the spring and a warm current would circulate in his blood vessels. It felt heavenly. Amon gradually fell in love with this feeling. Every time he was in a bad mood, he went to the cold spring.
The spring was also special in that it thoroughly washed the body. Not a speck of dust would be left on his skin after he came out from the spring.
Rod Drick was indeed happy. To be more precise, he was in a state of euphoria. He had obtained the Gods’ Tear, as he had planned! Enveloped in the praises about how wise and brilliant and lucky he was from Judah Fayol and other servants, he turned a little dizzy. Rod Drick had not had any dream about Isis giving him guidance. He had made that up. But now, swirling the goblet of wine in his hand, he started to think that he might have been guided by Isis in some indescribable way.
The first thing he did after he retrieved the Gods’ Tear was to kneel down and praise the mighty gods. Then he awarded Judah with three parangons. He also sent a munificent gift to Mayor Dusti, the reason for which the latter would understand.
Fayol did exactly as he had been told. He took the Gods’ Tear right after it had appeared, in the name of Isis. This would save a lot of trouble getting the Gods’ Tear if it had been turned in to Syah through standard procedures. If it came down to that, Rod Drick could exercise his personal influence, but even then it was not a sure thing.
The Gods’ Tear was certainly wanted in Hittite. Even within Ejypt, there was more than one candidate of the Adoratrice. It was a hunting game. But now, the humble miner who had discovered the Gods’ Tear followed the will of Lord Rod Drick and presented it to Mother Isis. No wrongdoing would be found.
As for Mayor Dusti, Rod Drick would make it up to him. There were still chances to deal with him later on. He was a friend that should be kept close. The miner that had discovered the parangon? Who was he? What did he get? Rod Drick did not care. He sent Judah Fayol with 30 gold parans and Fayol did his job. That was all.
Psychology is subtle. Not long ago Rod Drick was drinking and whining that it was better praying to the miners than to the gods. Now that he has the Gods’ Tear, he thought he had the pity of gods and thanked Isis sincerely.
The Gods’ Tear did not stay long in Rod Drick’s hand. He gave it to Gabriel. He knew that it would be coveted by many, so the important thing now was to receive the acknowledgement from the Isis Shrine. He was going to leave Duc the next day to avoid possibilities of trouble, but Gabriel had passed on some bad news. Maria was ill, and she had to take a rest of three days in town before she was ready for the tough and long trek across the desert.
The next morning after smoke began rising from the chimneys of Duc, the bell of the shrine of Mourrin rang. It was the town’s way of requesting everyone to assemble for important affairs or announcements.
The bell broke the good mood Mayor Dusti was in as he enjoyed the breakfast served to him by four servants. Who would dare disturb him when he was enjoying his comfortable morning time? There were only two people qualified to ring the bell in the shrine of Mourrin. One was Dusti himself, the major priest and oracle of the Mourrin Shrine, and the other was the executive priest Shog Macrobe.
Shog was simultaneously the clerk of the town of Duc and of the Mourrin Shrine. He was in charge of all the writing and registering works, like recording the tax paid by the people in town and their tribute to the shrine. The status of a clerk was higher than the commoners. It could be counted as the lowest rank of nobles. At the same time, Shog was the priest of the shrine, which only elevated his status further. He was the second chief of the town.
A clerk wasn’t a nobody, because one had to know how to read and write to be a clerk. Only the nobles had the conditions to learn to write, no matter in Hittite or in Ejypt. As the first clerk of Rod Drick, Judah Fayol could have almost the same social status as Mayor Dusti who was noble of Hittite, even if he was just an aide.
Duc was merely a town. It had no need and no room for many noble officials. Mayor Dusti did not want too many of them here to share his power anyway, so simplicity was best for him. According to the laws of the state, a clerk was necessary, as well as an executive priest to handle the shrine. Thus, Shog took both. Dusti knew well that the Lord of Syah liked Shog, or more precisely his bribe.
What was funnier was that after the shrine of Horus had been built, Dusti had also become its primary priest in order to save manpower and to centralize efforts. Shog followed to become the executive priest and clerk.
Mayor Dusti changed to his luxurious coat and arrived at the square in front of the shrine of Mourrin with his servants. A crowd had gathered, and amongst the people stood Amon and his father before the crowd, heads bowed. Shog stood on the steps to the shrine, facing the crowd.
People made way for Dusti. He walked in and complained, “What are you gathering us for, Shog? Lord Drick is still in town, don’t you know that you may disturb our dear guests?”
Shog rushed down the footsteps and bowed to Dusti, “My dear chief priest, my dear lord, someone has profaned our patron, Mourrin the great!” He lowered his voice and continued, “My lord, there’s something you might still not know. Someone in our town discovered a Gods’ Tear. But he did not turn it in. Instead, he presented it to Lord Rod Drick. You know that even if it has to be presented, it should’ve been done by you or me…”
Dusti interrupted him. “Stop raising this issue, Shog. Lord Drick wanted that Gods’ Tear. He waited right here in the town. We cannot stop him. Besides, who is to take the responsibility if the state asks us why we didn’t turn it in by law? Now a miner has discovered it and tributed it to Isis with Lord Drick bearing witness. That will save us the trouble! Relax. The gift from Lord Drick will be in your hands tonight. It won’t disappoint you..! Anything else?”
Shog froze for a second, then replied courteously, “I understand. I will do what you say. But there is still one thing. Somebody has violated the majesty of our patron…”
The crowd could not hear the conversation between the two. They watched them whisper a little, then Shog turned his head to the crowd and announced, “Amon, the son of a miner, has violated the oracle from the old time of Duc. Last night, he opened an ore and extracted a parangon without the approval and blessing from our goddess Mourrin. I confirmed this last night from his father. Now, under the eyes of dear Lord Dusti, people of Duc, please tell me your opinion. What should we do about him?”
Dusti frowned, but he kept quiet. Instead, he chose to stand solemnly. He was upset with Shog’s timing, but he couldn’t stop him. Care was always required when it came to the gods. He could not let Shog have him on this issue. Besides, the rule was the rule, it was about the dignity of the goddess Mourrin, the patron of Duc. He could not help but think — What does he want, this Shog? Would it be about me?
Shog looked at Amon when he spoke, like a ruthless eagle at a quaking rabbit, although Amon stood rooted and seemingly unfazed. Shog had disliked the boy for a long time. Duc had been producing an unending amount of parangons, which would typically mean endless wealth. But only four people in this town knew how to write: Dusti, Shog, Crazy’Ole Nietzsche and Amon.
Dusti only knew the wedge writing used in Hittite, Bablon and Assyr. Wedge writing was cut on the mud plates by knives. Shog knew wedge writing and another, the pen writing used in Ejypt written on the papyrus. Both had been taught by Crazy’Ole. But then Crazy’Ole had also taught the two ways of writings to Amon.
No one knew how Crazy’Ole had learned these writings. He was the oldest person in this town. He had been living here long before all the current inhabitants of Duc were born. It was said that he had travelled through many faraway places across the continent. No one knew his age, but he was certainly over a hundred. In a time where people could die very young, longevity itself was an admirable feat, a gift from the gods.
After Shog became the priest, he had the chance to learn another method of writing, which was called the hieroglyph, or the sacred writing. It could only be used to praise the gods. No one other than the nobles and the priests was allowed to learn it. The hieroglyphs were almost the same as the common method of writing, but had strict and unique rules concerning the forms and orders it should be written in. It was difficult to understand for those hadn’t learned it. Rumor said that it had the mysterious power to communicate with deities.
In the eyes of the plebeians and slaves, all writings were mysterious, awe-inspiring symbols. Duc had a clerk appointment, as did the shrine. Presently, Shog filled both positions. But two years ago, the situation changed when Crazy’Ole had started to teach Amon the two forms of writing. He had even drunkenly told the mayor, “We have three clerk positions, but unfortunately we don’t have enough literate men. At least the clerk of Mourrin Shrine and that of Horus Shrine should not be the same person. It is even more inappropriate when this person is the clerk of Duc. Amon is beloved by the gods. He’s been learning how to write too. He writes well both by knife and by pen. I’m sure that he’ll be a very good clerk, and a very good priest too.”
What upset Shog the most was that Mayor Dusti did not oppose. Instead he laughed and said, “Oh, then he really is beloved by the gods. When he grows up, he should be a good clerk.”
To Shog, this was like a poisonous snake bite. He could barely sleep every time he realized that he would one day lose his power and wealth to the son of a dirty drunkard. But there was one more far more painful and important reason why he decided to punish Amon in front of everyone.
The legend of the Gods’ Tear did not only exist in Ejypt. A high lord in a faraway state had told him to look for a very special parangon since long ago. If he could get it, there would be a great gift for him. Shog was in charge of the registration of all the parangons produced in Duc, which gave him all the advantage he needed.
However, the Gods’ Tear had appeared and he was a step too late. Even if he wanted to, there was no way he could get it from Rod Drick. His highness was resourceful enough to wait at the right place at the right time, and beat all his rivals.
Shog felt the wave when the Gods’ Tear entered the world. When he arrived at Amon’s house, he saw two armed soldiers at the door. Then the clerk of Lord Drick walked out carrying a golden box in his hand with two other soldiers. When Shog was able to enter the house, Amon had left the house through the backdoor. There was only a drunken man, and when threatened, he told Shog everything.
Shog did not dare ask Rod Drick. But he had found a chance to deal with Amon. So he rang the bell in the shrine of Mourrin early this morning. Though Mayor Dusti had stopped him from talking about the Gods’ Tear, he raised another issue, one which could be a disaster for Amon.
The people of Duc were shocked, then they started to whisper. Amon had violated the ancient oracle, this had never happened in Duc. The technique passed from generation to generation required great strength, making it nearly impossible for underaged children to master it. Even if this had happened before, no one would have mentioned it to the public. Mining and extracting parangons was hard work. What was bad in a young, qualified craftsman? If the family kept silent about it, who else would care about it?
But now, in front of the shrine of Mourrin, announced by the priest under the eyes of the goddess, it became a serious problem. Nobody could say anything for Amon, or he would be judged as blasphemous. Oracles were laws.
Since nobody broke the silence, Shog coughed and said again in a loud voice, “Tolerance is virtue, but so is integrity and obedience to the goddess. Amon, are you ready to receive punishment from the goddess? …… In the name of Mourrin, our patron, how should this boy be punished, with maximal tolerance of course?” He said the last phrase to all the people on the square.
Dusti frowned again. He was displeased. Shog obviously had made arrangements for this situation. A voice rose in the crowd, “According to the oracle, he owes the goddess a finger, your kindness should decide the one he must give.”
Amon shuddered. His face turned pale and his lips twitched. He held back from saying anything but his father kneeled down and begged with a trembling voice, “Please forgive him, he is just a child. He didn’t know what he was doing. I taught him everything. I violated the oracle. Please just punish me.”
Many people in the crowd seemed to agree, “Lord Macrobe, forgive the innocent child. He can work hard and pay more tributes to the goddess.”
Shog pretended that he heard nothing. He lifted his hands and pressed them down, gesturing for silence. He turned to Amon and said in a calm and indifferent tone, “Amon, do you know the oracle when you began to learn the technique? Although you are a child, you should have known it as one who lives in this town.”
When he talked, he was thinking — which finger should I cut?
Dusti coughed. He felt that he should say something in this situation. At the same time, a voice rose loudly behind the crowd, “Whose ignorance is this? Priest, you forget the meaning of the oracle. This lucky child did not violate it at all!”
The voice shocked everyone. Shog turned his eyes to the source of the voice. A young man walked through the crowd and stopped before him. He was about 20 years old, wearing a clean white robe and a headring made of fresh twigs. Shog knew this man. He was not an inhabitant of Duc. He had came to the town several days ago with Rod Drick and was one of his valued staff. It was said that he had travelled from a faraway land. His name was Aristotle.
Mayor Dusti asked, “Mister Aristotle, why are you here? Does Lord Drick have something to say?”
Aristotle nodded with smile, “I came here for some other business of my lord. I happened to hear the argument with this boy. My dear mayor, may I ask some questions to this priest?”
Dusti nodded politely, “Please go ahead, Mister Aristotle.”
Shog was confused. He was not sure what this young man wanted with him, nor why or how he defended this boy. Aristotle greeted the mayor, then asked Shog in a peaceful tone, “My dear priest, please answer me seriously in the name of the goddess in your shrine. Is it true that according to the ancient oracles, only the ones who have had the approval and blessing from the goddess can master the unique technique of Duc?”
Shog answered solemnly, “Yes my lord. In the name of my goddess, that is true.”
Aristotle nodded and continued his questions, “Is it true that this boy has mastered that technique?”
“Yes, but —”
Aristotle interrupted loudly, “Then this boy has had the approval and blessing from the goddess, hasn’t he?”
Shog was stunned. He refuted in a high voice, “No! He violated the oracle, that’s why he should be punished!”
Aristotle humphed and argued, “No, it is you, my priest, that forgot the meaning of the oracle! It says that only the ones who have had the approval and blessing from the goddess can master the unique technique. Without the approval and blessing from the goddess, one cannot. Since this boy can master the technique, it proves that he has had the approval and blessing from the goddess……If you deny it, you deny your goddess’ oracle!”
Now everyone but Aristotle was confused. Most of them were just miners that dealt with hammers and fire, not the sophistry of the philosophers from exotic lands.
Shog was stuck. It was said that the shrines were places that repelled reason because the oracles were the laws to obey, not to be argued with. Nevertheless, under the eyes of the gods, they were indeed the places that needed reason the most. Every word should be said with caution to show the due trust and respect to the gods.
Aristotle felt the confusion around him. He smiled, pointed his hand to the shrine and said, “Only the gods can give oracles. Mourrin can give you oracles. Thus Mourrin is one of the gods. Clear, isn’t it?”
Then he pointed to Amon and said, “Only with the approval and blessing from the goddess can one master the technique. This boy can master the technique. Thus he has the approval and blessing from the goddess! What can be wrong with this conclusion? ……. Do you understand now?”
Things became clear with analogies. Many people seemed to be enlightened and began to nod. Some became more confused and still thought there must be something wrong with Aristotle’s logic. But they failed to find the fallacy. Shog’s face turned purple. Mayor Dusti seemed to be trying to restrain himself from laughing, which made his face look funny too.
“But he has not gone through the ceremony. It’s against the rules!” Shog finally shouted out angrily, but there was a sense of weakness in his voice.
“No. Amon has had the the approval and blessing from Mourrin, our goddess. It is you, my dear priest, who was abandoned and warned by our goddess!” Along with the voice came Crazy’Ole Nietzsche. He separated the crowd with his stick and came to the front.
Crazy’Ole was old, with his greyish white hair and beard tangled. He wobbled on his feet rather like a toddling child than like an old man. His stick was dark brown with jumbled golden lines on the surface. He waved the stick violently, forcing people near him to quickly dodge.
Nietzsche passed Aristotle and threw a mixed look at him over his shoulder, a look that contained appreciation, examination and interrogation. He stood in front of Shog, by the side of Amon, pointed at Shog with his stick and said, “Three years ago, I got the order from goddess Mourrin in my dream. Amon was approved and blessed to learn the technique of Duc. He did not learn it from his father, but from me.”
Shog took a step back and asked, “How can you prove that?”
Crazy’Ole smiled. He pointed the stick to Shog’s nose, “What blinds your soul to not see the proof, my dear priest? Pray to the goddess and repent! Did you not hear the words of this sir? Our goddess has already showed you the proof!”
[List of Characters]
Shog Macrobe: Clerk of Duc, the executive priest and clerk of the Horus Shrine and the Mourrin Shrine of Duc.
Aristotle: Rod Drick’s staff, travelled from a faraway country.