Intriguingly, Amon found something in common between the strings and the Aquaticores. Certainly, they couldn’t be used as parangons, but Amon guessed that once processed into whips or bowstrings, they could enhance the power of water magics. They could be extremely useful in a naval battle.
Amon decided to study the string in his bag more carefully once he settled down in the capital city. Perhaps it could be processed into his first artefact. Thinking of the monster snake that he had slain in the river, Amon was sure that there must have been four fangs sunk into the river. It was a pity that he failed to pick them up. Though the string and fangs of the monster snake were far less powerful compared to Enkidu’s trophies, they were precious material for an advanced sorcerer like Amon.
Gilgamesh’s display of his marvellous tribute to the god and royalty was indeed a big gift to Amon. By the time the caravan had passed through the gate, Amon had snuck into the city along with the parading crowd.
The crowd slowly wound through the city and came to the big square at the centre of the city. The big square lay right in front of the main shrine to Marduc opposite the king’s palace. It could hold tens of thousands of people. On its left was the Magic Academy, on its right the Commemorial Hall where the statues of the Bablon heroes in history were placed and worshipped.
The crowd gathered at one side of the square. A semi-circular line outside the steps to the shrine stopped them from advancing. On the steps, the king of Bablon, his relatives, ministers and courtiers were awaiting the coming of Gilgamesh.
Normally a governor wouldn’t deserve a king’s welcome, but Gilgamesh’s feat impressed the kingdom. Heroes should have their honour. Gilgamesh knew it, so he put the tribute in the first carriage. The king also took the opportunity to show his kindness. The message had spread so widely that the governors of nearby states also attended the parade. Standing behind the king, they gave complex stares to Gilgamesh.
The members of the royal family were also standing behind the king. They wore a morose face. As Princess Sissila’s fiancé, Gilgamesh was involved in the contention for the throne. Some were already starting to worry about which side to take. On the contrary, Gilgamesh was calm and confident. He was aware of the rumours circulating in the country. What he was doing in the capital was, at the same time, a proclamation and a warning.
On one hand, he paid tribute to the shrine and the kingdom to express his loyalty. By turning in the trophies to the Marduc Shrine, he was making an announcement that Humbaba was dead because he had violated the pact between Marduc and Enlil. If Enlil had anything to say about it, he should say that to Marduc. On the other hand, he was giving a warning to those who spread the rumours. As he had no fear for the Patron of the Euphrate River, he wouldn’t be threatened by slanders and rumours.
He came to the capital with no fear. He took with equanimity the cheers from the people and the king’s welcome. He showed that he had little concern about gossip. His pride didn’t allow him to respond. He came with light packs. Enkidu, the strongest warrior in the continent, his State Guard commander, didn’t follow him to the capital. He didn’t even have any of his armies as an escort. Frankly, it was a relief to many in the capital.
Amon was satisfied to be in the audience. He didn’t care for Enkidu’s absence. He was expecting Inanna to come in with Gilgamesh, but he was wrong. She was not in the welcoming queue behind the king either. When Gilgamesh started to greet and talk with the king and the high priests, entering the shrine with them, the revelry in the square came to its peak. Amon left the square silently. He was going to find Metatro.
The whole city of Bablon turned out today. The small alleys were nearly all empty. Amon went a good way before he had the chance to ask a sleepy old man for the way. After a while, he was standing in front of Metatro’s house. It was a villa that had at least a century’s history. The houses were commodious. Back in the old days, the street used to be full of residences of the noble families. But since King Hammurabi ordered the capital to be extended and built a more splendid shrine, the high lords moved to the newly-built south city. The east Bablon City became an agglomeration of the newly-emerged rich merchant class.
In the surrounding area, there were many shops and inns. It was a bustling district most of the time. Amon walked in the quiet street and observed the villa. Although Metatro’s family had lost its nobility and most of the wealth, he managed to keep that style of life to a minimal extent. There were janitors, grooms, servants and maids. The expenditure forced him to smuggle for a living.
Amon came at the wrong time. The janitor told him that Lord Metatro left the city a few months ago and hadn’t come back. The mistress wasn’t in the house either, she went to the square. Amon was disappointed by the unexpected news. He came a long way to visit Metatro only to find him absent. But he soon found an explanation. It had been two years since Metatro’s last visit to Lynk. He probably went into the mountains again.
Since he was already here, Amon decided to pay a visit to Metatro’s wife to see if there was something he could help with. Amon was not in a hurry. He waited in the janitor’s room. Metatro’s wife, Mirieh didn’t return home with her maid till dusk. Hearing that a friend of Metatro’s was waiting, she came to the janitor’s room to see Amon.
Amon was a bit surprised when he saw Mirieh because he remembered her. He had seen her and her maid in the cheering crowd outside the gate. She was waving her scarf towards Gilgamesh and screaming. Amon had thought her to be a young miss who was enamoured with Gilgamesh.
In Mirieh’s eye, Amon was a stranger in half-worn flax clothes, with mud on his shoes and a twig-like stick. She frowned but still tried to be as polite as she could, and asked why Amon was visiting her home. Amon placed a golden plate on the table and said, “My name is Amon. I’ve told Metatro that I was going to visit him here some day. He must have mentioned me to you, hasn’t he? This is my token. Do you recognise it?”
Mirieh recognised it at first sight. Metatro had told her that if one day a man came with this golden plate, she should welcome him and offer him the best service she could have, because the token represented a life-saving favour to the family and that the man was his dearest mentor.
However, when she saw Amon take out the plate, Mirieh was confused, even upset. This stranger was obviously a young, humble foreigner. How could she harbour him and entertain him as a dearest guest? She knew that the real benefactor of Metatro’s ancestors had died decades ago, so what did a poor young man holding this plate have to do with her? Moreover, from his appearance, he couldn’t be Metatro’s mentor either.
After he came home the last time, Metatro had spent more than a year at home doing nothing. Several months ago, he finally decided to go out to do some business but he was away for months without a single message. Mirieh had to stay alone in the house and now she didn’t have much money left. Now instead of Metatro, she had to serve a creditor coming out of nowhere! How could she not be upset?
Mirieh tried to be polite. She replied coldly, “Dear sir, I’m sorry. I don’t recognise this plate. Since I don’t know you and my husband isn’t at home, I dare not harbour a man. My neighbours will have slanderous words sent to my family. My husband left two and a half months ago. He said that he would be back in at most five months. He might be here soon. Can you visit us in one or two weeks? When my husband’s home, he will give you a warm welcome.”
On saying this, she asked the janitor to see Amon out. She didn’t invite Amon to have dinner.
Amon felt his warm face hit a soft but cold and closed door. Had he still been the boy living in Duc, he would have been astonished and very disappointed. Now that he had gone through a lot along his journey to Bablon City, he started to understand. Why bother haggling with this woman? Nobody would be happy to harbour a poor stranger when her husband was not at home.
He spoke to Mirieh, “I’ll find an inn nearby. I’ll pay you a visit after Metatro returns.” As he stepped out of the door, Amon glanced at his worn flax shoes with mud all over. He couldn’t help but give a bitter sigh.
Mirieh went against her husband’s will and refused to let Amon stay in their house. She felt a little guilty as well. She soon figured out something to explain to her husband. Then she sent Fossah the maid to follow Amon and see where he was going to lodge himself. Amon was, of course, aware of his follower and found it quite amusing.
He came to an inn not far from Metatro’s house and ordered one of the best rooms with a vestibule, which cost two silver coins per day. The maid recorded this and reported to Mirieh, which surprised the latter.
Amon didn’t do this to show off his wealth or to indulge himself in physical comforts. He knew that the one lived more expensively, less trouble would come. If he chose to live in the cheapest common room in the inn along with many other voyagers, he would be one of the first suspects whenever someone in the area had lost something.
On the other hand, Amon needed to meditate every night. He needed a quiet and safe place. There wasn’t any mountain or forest in the city so the best choice would be a luxurious room for rent. As the dearest guest, even the waiters dared not enter without his permission. He would be away from most of the troubles that accompanied a cheaper room.
The next day, Amon went out to a clothing shop nearby to buy some clothes. The flax suits he had bought in Som were worn out after the journey. Besides, it was autumn and the weather was getting cold. Though he didn’t feel cold, he would be stared at on the street if he kept wearing such thin clothes.
He bought two pairs of soft leather boots with twelve silver coins, like the ones Metatro had been wearing when he entered the mountains last time. They were solid and comfortable. He also bought two thin fur coats with fifteen silver coins and forty copper coins. It was against the law for a commoner to wear decorated clothes, but the natural patterns on furs were allowed. This made fur coats wealthy commoners’ favourite choices and in turn, the prices were pushed very high.
Amon was used to wearing fur clothes in the caveman’s tribe. Now in the city, a fur coat made him look like a young master from a wealthy family who was on a sightseeing trip in the capital. Amon was just walking out of the shop when he noticed that Fossah, Mirieh’s maid, was in the shop too. She was here to draw a winter coat that her mistress had ordered a month ago.
The shopkeeper was not content with the message she brought him, “These two sets cost thirty silver coins and you are telling me that you want to purchase them on credit? You know that I need money to do business too. How can I survive if every one of my clients buys on credit?”
Fossah had to explain, “My master will be back in a few days. We are paying you soon and, of course, the interest is counted. Please let me take the suits home, or my mistress will blame me.”
The shopkeeper wore a sullen face, “And what does that have to do with me? If your master will be back in a few days, you can come to collect them in a few days. I can’t do business with you like this.”
Seeing this, Amon sighed inwardly. Metatro struggled to make money, and his wife spent it generously. These two suits were more expensive than all the things he had just bought added up. Amon didn’t want Metatro’s maid to make a scene here, so he stepped forward, took out two gold parans and handed them to Fossah, “You are Metatro’s maid, aren’t you? I will pay for them. Tell your master to visit me when he comes home. He knows who I am and you know where I stay.”
Soon after Amon went back to the inn, he received a guest. It was Metatro’s wife. She came with all the servants and waited outside the inn respectfully. She even prepared a coach.
The moment she saw Amon, Mirieh began her apology, “My dear guest, I feel terribly sorry! You are my master’s mentor but I failed to recognise you yesterday! Please forgive my rudeness! I should have recognized the plate if I had been able to read. I brought out the records of my family after you left and I learned how much it means to our family. You are our dearest saviour.”
Amon smiled and waved his hand, “You don’t need to apologise. Your husband is away from home. It’s sensible that you do not want to harbour a strange man. I’ve nothing to blame.”
“Please never say that!” said Mirieh. “Now that I know who you are, I cannot let you stay in the inn. We have prepared our best room and a good dinner for you… Please follow me. We have a coach for you. My husband will castigate me if he knows that I let you stay outside. Oh, I feel so sorry for letting you leave yesterday. Please pardon me and grant me the chance to amend my mistake.”
She talked and talked and told Amon that it was Metatro’s goodwill. Amon decided to go with her. Living in Metatro’s house was indeed more convenient than living in an inn. What he needed was a quiet place. Amon left the inn and got in the coach with Mirieh.
Amon lived in Metatro’s house ever since. Mirieh did treat him well. The servants respected him too. They all called him ‘Lord Amon’. A week passed, then a month passed. The time frame that Metatro promised had passed too, and he still hadn’t come home. Even Amon started to get nervous. Perhaps Metatro had met some trouble on his way home? He was an advanced warrior, but he was also a smuggler. Trading controlled materials was a risky enterprise that would probably bring him trouble one day.
Meanwhile, what preoccupied Mirieh was Amon’s identity. She tried to figure out who he was whenever there was a chance. She often asked devious questions about his past, beating about the bush. She also wanted to know why Metatro would say he was his mentor. But it was not possible for Amon to tell her the whole story. He simply told her that he knew Metatro from a voyage and had taught him some crafts. His plate was inherited from a senior and it was because of it that he got to know Metatro.
Mirieh was familiar with the history of Metatro’s family. She knew that Metatro’s great-grandfather had been a sixth-level mage and had been a priest in Marduc’s Shrine. However, he lost his life in a foreign land during the wars. Later on, a hunter came from afar with his heritage and saved the family from a crisis. Metatro even told her vaguely that the hunter had inherited his great-grandfather’s knowledge about magic and had become a sorcerer. But all of this was history that happened a century ago.
Metatro was still away from home. Nobody knew what had happened to him. Some new ideas came to Mirieh’s mind. One day she said to Amon, “My dear guest, you’ve been in the capital for a while but you stay indoors all the time. There are many interesting places in this city. Maybe you would be glad to take a tour to see them. I can prepare you a coach. Fossah can be your guide. She knows the city well.”
Indeed, Amon would be glad to explore the city, and a guide was always welcome. He accepted the hostess’ hospitality and went out with Fossah in the coach. Before they left, Mirieh told her maid that she must show as many places to Amon as possible, that they should eat a lot and rest a lot and only return after dusk. They were never to return home in the middle of the day.
Seeing the coach disappear behind the street, Mirieh sent all servants to the front of the house and discreetly went into Amon’s room alone. She carefully checked Amon’s bag and other belongings. Amon was a prudent man. He couldn’t go on the coach with his heavy staff, so he left it beside his bed. But he had taken out all the four special parangons from it and put them into Osiris’ rib.
The bone was not longer than his own ribs. Amon put it into his smaller bag and carried it with him. The bag was hidden under his robes, safe and convenient. He left the bigger bag and other clothes in his room.
He left his money in the bigger bag too. There was a small pocket inside it, where he put all the parangons, gold parans, silver and copper coins. Amon had many precious items. He knew well about their value and hid them well in Osiris’ Rib. But he didn’t care too much about currency. For him, currency was nothing more than an inevitable means to trade when travelling through the continent.
After he entered the capital city, he put all of his currency in the pocket of the bigger bag so it would be easier to take out every time he needed to use them. Taking out things from the rib required spatial magic, which might be detected by the formation around the city. He needed to be careful. After all, he was in the most powerful city in the kingdom.
He carried five parangons when he left Duc. He gathered nine in the cave during the flood and received ten from Gilgamesh after crossing the river. He gave each of Metatro, Qayin and Hevel one parangon. Thus he still had twenty-one parangons with him. He didn’t want to bring them with him on a sightseeing tour so he left them in the pocket along with other currencies.
Mirieh was a bit disappointed when she opened Amon’s bag and saw that there was nothing more than a couple of old clothes. But then she found the small pocket inside the bag. She was stupefied by the glory of the parangons and gold parans in it. It took a good while before she could take a long breath and comprehend what she was looking at. What a fortune! Metatro couldn’t earn it in his whole life!
Although she was the only one in the room, Mirieh’s heart was thumping with nervousness. She tried to put the bag back to where it had been, but her trembling hands didn’t listen to her. After a long time struggling, she put the bag back in order, took a few deep breaths and started to inspect other things in the room. Amon had left nothing but his staff beside the bag in the room.
Mirieh tried to pick up the ‘branch’ and she almost strained her back. It was so heavy that she failed to pull it up with one hand. She used two hands and finally managed to lift it up a few inches from the ground. At that moment, she suddenly understood something.
As Metatro’s wife, she knew very well what ‘business’ Metatro had been doing all these years. She realized that this ‘stick’ was actually made of Damasc iron. It was an iron stick in the disguise of a branch. No wonder Amon never allowed the maids to clean his room.
This young man had so much money. Why did he dress as if he was poor when he entered the city? There must be something he didn’t want others to know. He must be Metatro’s business partner. He was a black market dealer of refined iron! The authorities might close an eye for trade in small amounts, but large scale smuggling would definitely be a grave crime.
He was making good money! Mirieh couldn’t help but sigh inwardly. Now she thought she knew why this young man was looking for Metatro. He must have been waiting on Metatro’s new stock for a long time. And since Metatro hadn’t shown up at the appointed time, he went to Metatro’s house to wait. What Metatro told her before he left about the token and mentor was all a sham.
Mirieh put the room in order in a hurry, then tiptoed downstairs to her bedroom. She found herself panting and sweating. She tried to call Fossah to bring her some water, but she remembered that she had just sent her out with Amon. She paced in the room for a while before she was reported to by a servant that she had a guest in the hall. It was Inoch, her younger brother, a merchant who lived in Bablon City as well.
Inoch was unhappy when he saw his elder sister, “My dear sister, I hear that you are keeping a strange young man in the house. And Kmil just told me that you let him use your coach to go out and play around with Fossah… A week ago, you sent Fossah to our family to borrow money. Are you using the money to entertain that stranger?”
[List of Characters]
Mirieh: Metatro’s wife.
Fossah: Metatro’s maid.
Inoch: Mirieh’s younger brother.
Kmil: the janitor.