There was a lot of speculation, the most common one being the young man had run away with a beautiful slave girl of a noble clan and fled from Hittite to Bablon. Some began to think that if they had been the young man, they would probably dress her up too, but perhaps privately. They were secretly more interested in undressing her.
Amon continued to drink while the people in the room continued daydreaming. Finally, a high, drunken voice arose, “Foreigner! You abducted this girl, didn’t you?”
Amon turned up his head and answered, “No, I didn’t. She led me to this town to look for her lost lamb.”
Inanna smiled sweetly, “I’m not abducted, I showed him the way here. He’s a good man, trying to help me.”
The shopkeeper hurried over to mollify them, “He’s drunk, please don’t mind his rudeness.” Then he ran to the other side to ease the drunk, hoping that no fight would occur in the tavern.
Amon felt that the atmosphere of the room was off. He noticed hostile glances from shadowed corners, yet he could not explain it. He lost the desire to spend time in this place. Besides, the cheapest wine wasn’t that good either. The wine in the caveman’s tribe was much better. He finished the rest of the jug quickly, having Inanna pour for him every few seconds. When the jug was empty, he asked the shopkeeper again, “What is the most expensive wine you have here?”
The shopkeeper was shocked again. He brought out an exquisite brass bottle and came to Amon, “This is the finest wine we have. We have only two bottles. One silver coin each.”
Amon searched his larger bag and found that the three silver coins he put there had already been spent, only leaving twenty copper coins. So he took out his smaller bag from his waist, opened it and pulled out two silver coins, “I’ll take both bottles. And how much should I pay for this jug of wine?”
It was indeed cheap! Amon recognized that bottle of wine. It was the same as the one his father had given him when he left Duc. In his hometown, it cost fifteen silver coins, and here he could buy it with just one. Amon wasn’t buying these two bottles of wine for himself, he didn’t have much interest in wine. They were for Schrodinger.
The shopkeeper’s mind was struck. He touched his forehead as if wiping away the sweat. He nodded, “If you are buying these two bottles, I can give you the jug for free.”
There had been a lot of giveaways for Amon today, ever since he had entered the town. He received two pairs of shoes while buying clothes, a lash for the lamb, and a jug of wine for two bottles of wine. He didn’t like this town very much though. All he wanted to do now was to send Inanna back to her home as quickly as possible, then find a place to cross the Euphrate River. He learned one thing at least in Som, that the outside world was indeed different from Duc in many ways.
Amon stuck the two bottles in the bigger bag where Schrodinger was still sleeping like a lump of rock, then left the tavern with Inanna.
The two foreigners left but the shopkeeper was still rooted with his mouth agape. After a good while, someone shouted, “What’s wrong with you, Shute? The slave girl stole your spirit? Why don’t you ask the boy to sell her to you? I really want to know how much a beauty like her can cost!”
Another voice arose, “That boy drank the cheapest wine, and took away two fine bottles of Nafka. What’s in his head? Did he buy that for his slave? That’s quite a nice master. If I owned a slave like her, I can feed her all night…”
Shute, the shopkeeper, finally woke up and shouted, “Buy her? You can’t imagine what I just saw! Parangons! In that boy’s pocket!”
Amon did not intend to show off. He just opened a bit of his smaller bag. Nobody in the room could see what was inside except the shopkeeper. He caught a glimpse of the parangons’ lustre. It was unreal. Parangons are the symbol of nobility. How could a man with a bag of parangons came to a small tavern and drink the cheapest wine?
The atmosphere in the room heated up. People stood up with excitement and fierce debates began. The foreign couple’s story evolved into a much more sensational version. The boy must be the servant of a high noble clan. He stole his lord’s treasures and ran away with the most beautiful slave girl in the clan. The girl must have been a pampered maid, enjoying the best food and clothes all the time, so the young man had to do his best to satisfy her needs while he became parsimonious to other things. Perhaps he just didn’t want to attract too much attention, or he was so poor he has no financial sensibility.
Some started to count with their drunken heads. A parangon was worth twenty gold parans. A gold paran was worth twenty silver coins. A silver coin was worth a hundred copper coins. The boy spent sixty copper coins on the dress. How many dresses like that could a parangon buy?
The correct answer was six hundred and sixty-six, with forty copper coins as change, which was beyond the capacity of these simple minds. But anyway, the short answer was “a lot”. So the people started to think that Amon was spending too little for his girl now. With a handful of parangons in his pocket, he was only willing to buy her a dress worth sixty copper coins. The boy must have obtained this treasure by dishonesty!
In the bustle, nobody had noticed that two people sitting by the nicest, biggest and cleanest table at a corner paid the bill shortly afterwards and left hastily.
When the two walked out of town again, Amon asked, “Where do you live, Inanna? Where shall I escort you to?”
“Please take me to the place where we met each other. My cote is not far from there. I can walk back home from there.”
Amon thought for a second, “All right. I’ll take you there. You can walk home with your little lamb.”
The day darkened before they could make it halfway back. A crescent moon arose near the horizon. The grass swayed softly all over the small hills in the restful, tranquil moonlight, appeasing all sorts of night travellers.
Any displeasure with their earlier time in Som would have already been chased away by the entrancing and peaceful evening. They couldn’t walk too fast in the dimness, nor did they want to. The two walked side by side as if they were clinging to each other, Inanna leading the lamb.
Before they went much further in the moonlight, Amon’s face grew grave and stopped. Inanna asked curiously, “What’s wrong? Are you tired?”
Amon shook his head, “No. Some people are watching us.”
Inanna became fear-stricken. “How can anyone be here at night? Where are they? Why can’t I see any of them?”
“Some are in front of us, others behind. They are coming for us… Don’t worry, Inanna. I can drive them away. I promise I’ll get you home safely.”
Having said that, Amon removed his hand from her waist, raised up his staff and shouted, “Why are you people hiding? I don’t know any of you, nor do I owe you any money. Why do you come for us with weapons?”
A cold smile appeared from ahead of them, two people appearing, one holding a sword, the other a staff. The latter suddenly shouted, “Foreigner! you think you can steal your lords’ gems, abduct their slave and show off in Som like this?”
The other then bellowed, “Let’s cut the crap. Leave the money and the girl to us, and you can leave.”
Before he finished speaking, three men came out from the hill behind Amon and Inanna. They were holding axes and clubs. Inanna was frightened. She shrank beside Amon and whispered, “Don’t listen to them! They want more than your money and me. They will definitely kill you. They will not let a witness go!”
Amon was calm. He thought of Maqi, his neighbour, the night he tried to killed Amon in the Charcoal Forest but was in turn murdered by Crazy’Ole. He then remembered the three things Crazy’Ole had told him. The first of the three was to not kill people by his own hand and to use minimal power when he could.
He asked out of curiosity, “You, with the staff in your hand. Are you a mage? Why would a mage need to commit this kind of crime?”
An alarmed voice arose, “Lord Venut, he recognizes you. Don’t let him go!”
The swordsman shouted angrily, “Shut up, Hansem!” He turned to Amon angrily, “Now that you know there’s an esteemed mage in your presence, why do you refuse to surrender? Give us your purse and your slave and beg for a pardon!”
These people clearly had no experience as bandits. It was their first time murdering for money. The two men in front of Amon were sons of the mayor of Som. The elder one, called Guy, was a second-level warrior and Venut was a first-level mage and the younger. Unlike Duc, which was the production area of strategic materials, Som was just a normal town. Therefore, its mayor didn’t enjoy a high status but was instead merely a noble of the lowest rank in Bablon.
The mayor of Som had spent more than half of his fortune to send his younger son to a nearby city to learn magic. To his comfort, Venut became a first-level mage. He returned home recently to persuade his father to give him more money, in order to bribe the priests in the city and get a position of priest himself.
Unfortunately, his father was not easily persuaded, for the family already had financial difficulty. Instead, he tried to persuade his son to be content with the position of a local priest, which costs far less money. The father and son could not reach an agreement, so Venut decided to go to the tavern to seek solace in drink, pulling his elder brother with him.
In the tavern, they saw Amon and Inanna and learned that the foreign boy carried a huge sum of money with him. Cultivated by the alcohol, greed and lust had dominated the two brothers’ minds. In their evil plan, the younger brother would get the money, while the elder brother would get the pretty slave.
Once the decision was made, the two brothers called out for three robust servants, got them sufficiently armed and ventured out of town. They went much faster through a shortcut, so they succeeded in intercepting Amon and Inanna halfway on the grassland.
Not as drunk as their masters, the servants were possessed by anxiety. When Amon mentioned a mage, the servant Hansem immediately believed that he recognized Venut, since the latter was the only mage in Som. But Guy, the elder brother, was optimistic. Since they had already encircled the couple, the boy recognising them was not a problem. Reproaching the panicky servant, he was waiting for the boy to kneel down under his threats.
“Leave with your weapons. I will pardon you,” announced Amon suddenly. Everyone was shocked. In his voice was indescribable majesty, as if he was a high priest or even a deity.
Young as he was, Amon could be very serious if he wanted to. But even he himself didn’t realise the majesty in his voice, which would have formed during his days as a ‘god’ in the mountains with Lynk’s tribe. It was not a habit of his to put on airs, but he had a companion who mastered that skill.
Guy and Venut were so astonished that for one second, they thought Amon was a high noble lord performing an incognito visit. Then they realised how ridiculous this illusion was — not any high lord would possibly run with a slave girl at night wearing a pair of straw sandals.
Guy laughed as if he needed the laughter to raise his courage. He stepped forward with his sword, “Foreigner, you don’t know what awaits you. According to Article Eighteen of the Code, a commoner who steals or abducts the slave of others should be executed. Let me implement the Code right now!”
Amon chose to advance as well. He wanted to start the fight with these men before they got too close to Inanna. He stepped forward and raised his staff, swinging it at the swordsman’s shoulder. Amon’s staff looked like a common rod, and he waved it as if it was as light as a real one.
Guy couldn’t help but jeer at this boy. His sword was made of refined iron, though not as solid as the Damasc iron, costing him fifty silver coins. The foreign boy wanted to strike with a rod! Perhaps driven by the desire to flaunt his strength in front of his brother, Guy cried furiously and slashed at the coming rod, intending to cut Amon into two along with the rod.
His strength was indeed impressive; this slash could cut a tree in half. However, as his sword made contact with the rod, a sharp clank pierced the air with a series of dazzling sparks. The iron sword shattered.
The deformed blade swung away, whilst the hilt fell on the ground. Guy felt his purlicue break. Amon’s ‘rod’ hit the sword delicately, but it resulted in a huge impact in the form of a shockwave that travelled up Guy’s body via his arm. He couldn’t feel half of his body and wasn’t even able to cry.
Impacting the sword didn’t change the trajectory of Amon’s staff. It went on pointing at the fovea of Guy’s right shoulder. With a slight splat, Guy crumpled and fell to the ground. There was no flesh and blood. Even as a second-level warrior, he couldn’t understand the skill behind Amon’s strike. It was the technique of Duc. Amon used it with a staff instead of a hammer.
Amon finished Guy with but a sole strike, which was a perfect combination of speed, strength, dexterity and forcefulness skills. Amon didn’t learn much martial arts, for no one had ever taught him. He went hunting from time to time while in the mountains. Fighting beasts didn’t require much technique. Most of the fights ended with just one or two efficient strikes. Amon always captured the animals live. He never killed a beast by his own hand, which demanded much more than simple killings.
Amon did this for two reasons. Slaughtering the prey in the tribe would ensure the freshness of the meat. Lynk was also interested in raising animals so as to reduce the number of risky hunts. Amon didn’t care if his prey could be raised, he left the cavemen to do the experiments.
As a result, when Amon participated in a hunt, the cavemen would follow him quietly. A small part of them would make noise from time to time to scare the beasts, driving them towards Amon. They would simply tie them up after Amon had beaten them into a coma. Every time Amon went hunting with the cavemen, it would be a festival.
Sometimes, Amon even practised martial arts with El Mar, the king Ironback, in order to test his dexterity and skills. Guy’s slash seemed fierce, but it was weaker than even El Mar’s playful sweeps.
Satisfied with the first strike, Amon marched past Guy, his staff pointed at the same part of his target’s left shoulder. He accelerated and rushed forward like a beast, swinging out with his staff, smashing a ball of fire in the air.
As a mage, Venut should have cast magic to provide cover or to assist his elder brother. But he couldn’t have imagined that his brother, a second-level warrior would be defeated within the blink of an eye. It was too late to join the fight, so he could only summon a ball of fire in a hurry to throw at Amon.
Most first-level mages could only perform one type of basic primary magic. Fire magic was relatively powerful and had dazzling effects so most mages would begin with it to make themselves look impressive. Venut was one of them. The Fireball was powerful to commoners; even a primary warrior would have some trouble with it. It could be a good symbol of the mysterious magic power, convenient to deter and make damage.
Nevertheless, the foreign boy reacted with incredible dexterity and accuracy. He showed no trace of fear, putting out the fireball as if it had been a candle. The magic hadn’t even stopped him for a second. Venut let out a scream. There was no time for him to cast more magic. Amon’s staff swung towards his face and the tip of the staff grazed his cheek with a swift blow of wind. He felt a stabbing pain as if his cheek was cut by a knife. The staff was one inch away from smashing his head.
In fact, it was not his head but his staff that bore the smash. With a sharp crack, Venut’s staff broke into small pieces. In Amon’s eyes, there wasn’t a big difference, since the staff was nothing but a standard parangon on a walnut rod. A wooden rod as thick as an arm could by no means resist Amon’s iron staff. Even the parangon atop it crumbled. Venut retched, spat out a mouthful of blood, then promptly fell on the ground.
Venut was injured. It was not because Amon hit him. If a mage’s staff is destroyed while casting magic, he amplified running magic power would rush back to the nearest carrier, which was the mage himself, and explode inside his body. Venut felt his body burn from inside. The parangon’s explosion was also one of the consequences of interrupted magic casting. Amon didn’t mean to break a precious parangon. He wouldn’t have made such a waste.
“Come here, Inanna… You, you, and you. Drop your weapons!” Amon pointed the staff at the ground, stepped on Venut’s face and shouted coldly at the servants.
Inanna gathered up her skirts and trotted to Amon. The servants had just realized that their masters were defeated. Lord Venut’s head was now under the foreign boy’s foot. They threw away the axes and clubs, fell to their knees with trepidation and cried, “Forei… dear warrior, please forgive our masters. We’ll be killed if they are dead!”
Amon looked at them with strange eyes and asked, “You are funny. How can you demand me to forgive your masters? Why does it matter to me if you are killed or not? Don’t forget that it was you who first came at me with weapons, trying to kill me. How can you ask me to forgive? I haven’t decided to let you go alive yet.”
The servants cried, “Dear warrior! We were forced to come here. We tried to tell our masters not to do this. None of us wanted to commit a crime. We didn’t have a choice!”
Inanna whispered to Amon, “Don’t let them go! Any of them! Amon, you truly surprise me. You are so strong! If you didn’t have such power, they would have shown no mercy. You would lose your money and your life. I would face a miserable fate. They wouldn’t have given you the same treatment. They deserve death! ”
Amon pointed his staff at the servants and exclaimed, “As servants, you failed to admonish your masters and stop them from doing evil things. I know what punishment you shall receive. I will not be the one to punish you because I don’t need to. You’ll bear the consequences.” He then pointed at Guy said, “Without a righteous mind, your strength will only bring misery and trouble to others.” Finally, he pointed at Venut under his foot, “You don’t deserve a staff.”
He kicked the mage down the slope, beside his elder brother, then shouted at the servants, “Carry them home. Now!”
“Thank you for your mercy, dear warrior!” The servants prostrated to thank Amon, ran down the slope, picked up their masters and other items, and staggered away into the darkness.
They had no idea how badly their masters were injured. Venut suffered a backfire when he was casting magic, his staff breaking into pieces. This would leave severe trauma for the rest of his life. Guy wasn’t as badly hurt. Amon just cracked the cartilage in the foveas of his shoulders. However, it was an injury that was very difficult to fully recover from. It meant that he could no longer wield his sword at full strength.
As for the servants, they were not in Amon’s interests. Amon knew that they would suffer far more than their masters did when they return home. Amon remembered that when he was in Duc, Moses, the son of Mayor Dusti, had made some mistakes when he went playing out of town. He was punished with a day’s diet and the copying of the sacred codes, while the two servants who were attending to their young master were beaten half to death. Now that their masters were so badly injured under their escort, the best choice for these three servants might be to directly run away.
As the attackers vanished into the darkness, Amon turned around and held Inanna by her waist, “I hope that didn’t scare you too much. Don’t worry, let’s keep going.”
[List of Characters]
Shute : the shopkeeper of a tavern in Som
Guy : the elder son of the mayor of Som.
Venut : the younger son of the mayor of Som.
Hansem : a servant in Guy and Venut’s family.
Moses : Mayor Dusti’s son.