Hepu interrupted, “Master, don’t listen to his quibbling. Please give him what he deserves! Otherwise, he will become an unruly example to others. More and more —”
“Shut up!” Amon shouted him down, “Let him finish his story.” There was a magical, majestic power in his voice. Hepu felt his consciousness waver, and he nearly fainted. He naturally stopped talking. And thus Aesop began his story about Pythagoras —
Pythagoras was seen as a mysterious savant even by those who lived with him. Born in a high noble clan, he enjoyed a wealthy life in his early years, but he later chose to distance himself from it. He and his disciples formed a sect and led an ascetic life. He was an excellent healer as well as a supreme mage. Some even said that he had contact with the gods and knew their secrets.
On one occasion, Pythagoras went out with one of his slaves to buy food. He accidentally dropped a parangon while paying, and his slave picked it up for him. The shopkeeper noticed it and shouted, “Look at your slave, Pythagoras! His hand touched the parangon. For this, one of his fingers should be cut off! Let me lend you my knife!”
Pythagoras simply took the parangon from the slave and said to him, “How can you be so careless yet again? Just how many fingers do you owe me now?”
The slave answered, “My dear lord, I owe you thirteen fingers.”
Pythagoras told his servant, “Note this down. He owes me a total of thirteen fingers.”
The shopkeeper was surprised, “Pythagoras, why aren’t you cutting his finger off?”
Pythagoras answered, “As my property, I decide when and how he will be punished. I’ve already noted it down. Don’t you see?”
The shopkeeper shouted, “But nobody has thirteen fingers! He only has ten! And you say he owes thirteen? It’s absurd!”
Pythagoras replied with a cold smile, “You ruthless and ignorant person. You want to take pleasure from the misery of others, right? The greed for violence dulls your reason. If a man who has ten coins can owe thirteen coins, then why can’t a man who has ten fingers owe thirteen fingers?”
Amon smiled. Sihathor thought for a while before he realized the point of the story, “Note this down! Aesop owes me ten fingers and I’ll decide when to cut them off later.”
It was just a simple trick to bypass the law. The first to come up with it was a genius, the second who followed it was merely Sihathor. Aesop bowed to his master, “Thank you, my kind master. A finger on my hand is surely more beneficial to you.”
The manager became the embarrassed one. But he couldn’t find any way to retort. Amon received his reward. Sihathor also finished dealing with the aftermath of the attack. They parted in the shop. Before he left, Amon saw Aesop harnessing the horses. He walked up to him to say goodbye and thank him for his company in the last two days’ trip around the city. He asked, “You said that you saw Pythagoras when you were younger. Was that true?”
Aesop nodded respectfully, “Yes, I saw him when I was just a child. I was not Master Sihathor’s slave back then.”
“You said that Pythagoras had contact with the gods and knows their secrets. Was that true as well?”
“That’s just what I heard from others. He was a mysterious savant, with many disciples and followers. There were even rumours that he was the son of a god! But rumours are only rumours.”
“Oh.” Amon became more interested, “So, where is this son of god now? Do you have any idea?”
Aesop pointed north, “From this city, proceeding northward, you will see the sea. If you take a ship and cross the sea, you will find another land and numerous islands. Amid them is a peninsula, where many city-states are united and the people call themselves the Hellenes. The last time I heard news of Pythagoras, he was building an estate outside the city of Croton with his disciples. I think it was called Pythagoras Manor.”
Amon engraved the name in his heart. If he had the chance to cross the sea, he would certainly pay a visit to this place. He remembered that Aristotle, the gentleman who had helped him in Duc, was also from the land of Hellen. It was indeed a place that was worth visiting.
He thanked Aesop. The latter asked, “I wasn’t telling you anything special. Why are you thanking me?”
“Because what you told me might be very useful to me.”
Aesop continued with curiosity, “Are you keen on the secrets of the gods? If so, I have some advice for you.”
“Oh? What advice?” Amon was surprised.
Aesop pointed at the high dome of the shrine in the city, “Rumours are rumours, legends are just legends. They aren’t reliable. Legends about the gods are hearsay as well. If you want to learn more about the gods, why not go ask them directly? If they exist, they will be among us… In some legends, gods appear in the world now and then. They might even stand before you and speak with you.”
Amon smiled. He thought of the shepherdess he had met at the riverside grassland. He replied, “I have to thank you again for your advice. I will consider it.”
Aesop bowed low, “You once saved my live. You also gave me the chance to speak for myself. I should be the one who says thank you.”
“Don’t you remember? The first time we met, you shouted to me from the coach, telling me to hide from the sandmen. You were trying to save my life. You cared about a bypasser even when your own life was at stake. I thank you for your courage and compassion… Aesop, may I ask you another question? What is the dearest wish deep in your heart?”
Aesop answered earnestly, “Freedom.”
“Freedom? Are you wishing to be a freeman?”
“Not exactly. Although I am a slave, when I watch the stars at night, I almost feel as if I am flying freely among them… If only my spirit could no longer be bound by the shell of my body and could travel in and out of the world. That! That is the true freedom I yearn for.
Amon was shocked. He didn’t expect such a profound ambition from a slave. He smiled and said, “Perhaps only the deities can enjoy the kind of freedom you are longing for. I think I have to thank you again, Aesop… Take good care of yourself. I hope you can experience that kind of freedom someday.”
Amon had been thinking of buying him or helping him become a freeman. But Sihathor needed Aesop. And deep in his heart, Amon prefered to travel alone for what he was going to do. So he gave up on this idea.
Amon went back to the hotel, packed up, and walked to the east of the city, where Lord Rod Drick’s mansion was located. He came to the splendid building and spoke to the gatekeepers who proudly stood in front of it, “Good afternoon. I’ve come from a faraway place. I have something important to tell Lord Rod Drick.”
There were four gatekeepers and six armored soldiers. Amon didn’t know whom to talk to, so he just asked the one closest to him. The gatekeeper squinted at him, “You must submit an application at the Shrine or go to the Court. The Great Lord is busy. He shouldn’t be bothered with miscellaneous personal affairs.”
Honestly speaking, this was an impersonal yet official answer. If a commoner wanted to see the governor of the sepat, he had to submit an application and wait. If he wanted the governor to give a verdict on an affair that concerned him, he had to go to the court of justice in the city. Amon explained politely, “What I need to tell Lord Drick involves official business as well as a personal affair. The clerks in the shrine and the court might not be able to deal with it. It is better for Lord Drick to hear it himself and decide. Would you please convey this message to Lord Drick?”
The other gatekeepers approached him. One of them said, “Foreigner, you don’t know the rules here. You think the Great Lord is someone you can call for? The Great Lord is not here. And even if he is, you have to wait just like everyone else. If your information is indeed urgent, you should speak it out clearly. Tell us what it is, and we will decide if it is so important that the Great Lord has to hear it.”
Another gatekeeper reminded him in a low voice, “You can wait here till the Great Lord returns. Then the butler will accept your message. If the Great Lord wants to see you, you will be called… But if you make the Great Lord angry, not only you but all of us will be punished. So you know, we need some compensation first.”
Amon didn’t have the experience to pay a visit to a high lord like Rod Drick. It was clearly different from visiting a neighbor. Even if Amon was also nobility, he would only be invited to a meeting room and still have to wait for Lord Drick. Common strangers didn’t usually have any chance to meet with a high lord. Nor would many nobles want to meet a commoner in the first place. Most would blame their gatekeepers if they were disturbed. Now the gatekeeper was even indicating that Amon had to bribe them in order to see Lord Drick.
But before he stretched out his palm, he found to his embarrassment that Amon had turned around and walked away. The disappointed gatekeeper muttered, “What a stupid kid! It’s a waste of time talking to these idiots.”
It wasn’t that Amon was too stingy to bribe the gatekeepers. He had simply changed his mind after seeing the gatekeepers’ attitude. What if the people inside the mansion had the same attitude? He was going to present an extremely precious staff to Lord Drick. What if the Great Lord decided to retain him along with the staff? That would be serious trouble!
He had run into this kind of situation several times in the past. Fortunately, he had been strong enough to resolve those problems on his own. But if it came down to it, he wasn’t confident that he would be able to safely escape from the mansion of the Lord of Cape by using force.
Amon went to the Horus Shrine that was situated in the center of the city. He had ascertained that, as the Oracle of Cape, Lord Rod Drick would publicly host a sacrifice ceremony nearly every month at the shrine. And today was the day the ceremony of the festival of Khoiak was taking place. So if Rod Drick wasn’t at home, he had to be at the shrine. After hearing the gatekeeper’s words, he had originally planned to wait for Rod Drick to return home. But then he decided to go to the shrine and take out Nero’s staff in view of the public.
When Amon arrived at the square in front of the shrine, the sacrifice ceremony had just recently concluded. Several priests were still standing on the steps to the shrine. People were walking out between the high pillars of the gate of the shrine. Rod Drick was surrounded by his bodyguards, walking to a carriage. The crowd parted to give way to the Great Lord.
Suddenly, a voice arose, “Lord Rod Drick! I come with the last words of Lord Nero Ramose, former Oracle of Cape, to return his staff to the Shrine!”
The voice was so loud that even the priests on the steps heard it. Everyone was surprised and began to look for the source of the voice. Some even asked the people beside them, “Who is Lord Nero Ramose?”
The explanation came immediately, “The Ramose clan! Lord Nero Ramose was the Oracle of the sepat thirty years ago. He was a supreme mage. It is said that he died for the Empire… ”
“What a surprise! After so many years, his staff has been brought back!”
“I didn’t even know that Lord Nero’s staff had been lost!”
The crowd parted, but a young man stood still. He held a staff over his head with both hands. He was the source of the previous voice. The bodyguards quickly took out their weapons and shielded the carriage. If Amon hadn’t shouted out, he would have already been arrested for carrying a staff near the governor of Cape.
Rod Drick halted in front of the carriage. Two men behind him walked up to his side. Amon recognized both of them. They were Fayol the clerk and Aristotle, Rod Drick’s adviser. Amon dropped to his knees when he saw Rod Drick and continued holding the staff over his head. It was the standard gesture to offer a tribute. The bodyguards relaxed and turned their staffs and khopeshes away from him.
The onlookers automatically cleared out a space for Lord Drick’s men and Amon. The priests on the steps and in the shrine came forward as well.
Aristotle found Amon familiar at first sight, but he couldn’t quite remember where and when he had seen this young man. It was not that this young savant was forgettable, but rather because Amon had changed a lot in the last two years. Some of his facial features remained, but he was a grown man now.
Rod Drick was about to approach and question the young tributary when Judah Fayol suddenly stopped him, “Please be careful, my lord. He could still be an assassin.”
Aristotle gathered his robe, walked through the bodyguards and came to Amon. “What are you here for, young man?” He asked gently.
Amon replied loudly, “As I’ve just said, I am here to return Lord Nero Ramose’s staff. According to his last words, this staff contains his final message. He hoped that this staff would be presented to Lord Drick, the governor of Cape.”
Aristotle took the staff and asked, “What is your name? How did you obtain Lord Nero Ramose’s staff?”
“My name is Amon. I come from the mountains at the other side of the desert. I found some writings and some items in a cave while chasing prey. According to what was written, they were left by Lord Nero Ramose, the Oracle of Cape. He wished for his staff and other belongings to be found and returned to Cape. The staff should be returned to the new Oracle of Cape and his belongings should be returned to his family. And he promised that the ones who receive them will reward the finder. I traveled a long way here, across the mountains and the desert, in order to fulfill his wish.”
“Amon?” Aristotle was startled. He seemed to remember something, but he said nothing. He turned around and went back to Lord Drick with the staff.
The priests were standing beside the Oracle of Cape now. An old priest looked at the staff in Aristotle’s hand and cried out with excitement, “It is the staff of the Oracle of Cape! Lord Nero was carrying it when he left the city thirty years ago, and he never came back! I didn’t expect to see it again in my life!”
The staff was made of a kind of yellow-brown wood. It was a solid and durable material, having not the slightest sign of rot even after thirty years. At its top was a precious Terroculus, which was inlaid in a unique way as if the wood had naturally grown and wrapped around it, with only a few of its vertices still exposed.
The surrounding people could see it clearly. Everyone who had ever seen it could tell that it was the very staff that Nero had used. Rod Drick, the current Oracle of Cape, could also tell. The young foreigner was telling the truth. This staff had belonged to the Horus Shrine of Cape for centuries, and only the Oracle and chief priest could possess it.
It had been lost along with Nero. His successor was Rod Drick’s father, the then governor of Cape. Several years ago, Rod Drick inherited his father’s title as the potentate of Cape, and later became the Oracle of the Horus Shrine of Cape as well as the chief priest of Cape. The Drick clan had asked a great artificer to make another staff, but the substitute was not as powerful or meaningful as this one. Was the original a gift from the gods?
Carried by a foreigner across the mountains and the desert, the old staff was returned to the shrine at the beginning of the Khoiak festival. It could signify many things.
As a canny bureaucrat, Lord Drick quickly grasped the chance. He took the staff and held it high. Then he turned to the shrine and kneeled down, “Thank the almighty Horus! Thank the mercy of Isis the great! Thank Your Majesty for guiding the staff of the Oracle of Cape back to its owner’s hand!”
Following the Lord, the surrounding onlookers dropped to their knees as well. Everyone fervently prayed to the gods. The voices from thousands of people converged, forming a marvelous chorus. Seeing this heart-shaking scene, Amon knew that he had made the right choice.
But he found it funny that everyone was praising the almighty God Horus. Two years ago, the parangon he had found was taken, and the ones who took it thanked Goddess Isis. Now, the staff he had found was taken, and the ones who took it once again thanked the gods. Both times, he was ignored.
 sepat : An Ejyptian territorial division with a relatively independant governor. Equivalent to a state in other kingdoms.
 Khoiak festival : An Ejyptian festival commemorating the fall of Osiris and the rise of Horus with the help of Isis. It took place in winter and often last for about a month.
[List of Characters]
Pythagoras : A mysterious savant in Hellen.
Rod Drick : Governor and Oracle of Cape.
Nero Ramose: Former Oracle of Cape who had been ordered to pursue Bair thirty-two years ago. Amon had found his effects along with Bair’s and decided to bring his staff and other belongings to Cape.
Aristotle : Rod Drick’s adviser.
Judah Fayol : Rod Drick’s clerk.