Amon fell heavily on the ground before he could react. Despite the impact, he was unhurt, due to the rug placed in front of the door. He stood up, moved to one side and replied, “It was me. I was careless and fell over the rug.”
“I happened to show the power, but I lost control…” Maria said at the same time. There was a tremor in her voice.
What Maria said grabbed Gabriel’s attention. Her gaze sharpened, “My lord, are you able to….?” She stopped and turned to Amon, “Your work is done now. You may leave and close the door.”
After all the hugging, touching, pushing and falling down, Amon still could not figure out what had happened. But he managed to calm down. He should feel lucky. If Maria had said something wrong, he would now be dead. Even if Gabriel let him go, Rod Drick would send someone to finish him.
After Amon had left, Gabriel continued, “My lord, you have not failed the expectations of Mother Isis. It was an accident that you pushed him down to the ground. It is normal for a beginner.”
Maria nodded, “Yes. I reached out my hand and pushed him down from a distance. Was that the power given by our goddess?” Amon was sitting on the floor and Maria’s hand was reaching out when Gabriel came in, so it seemed like Maria pushed Amon down to the ground without touching him.
Maria was lying. On the day Amon had come to this house, she heard that Gabriel told Amon not to touch her, or he would be punished. What would be the punishment like? Would it be cutting his finger, like what the priest of Duc wanted to do with him? But it was not his fault.
Gabriel did not care too much about it. She was attracted by something else. She smiled and said, “That’s right. It is the power given by our goddess. You just learned to use it and are able to control a small part of it. Amon is stronger than you, but you can push him down easily. Everyone can open a door, but you can open it without using your hands. This is the miraculous ability given by Isis.”
“You have to be careful now, Lord Maria. Don’t use it carelessly before you can master it. For a man who has been trained with the body arts like Amon, if he is aware of the principles, he would be able to resist and you wouldn’t be able to budge him. But in the future, you will learn to master the great magic power with the help of the Gods’ Tear.”
Amon stood still in the hall downstairs. He was still trying to remember what had happened in the room. He could still smell her on his hands, a sweet heady scent. He did not understand what had happened. How did he end up holding her like that and got pushed away? Everything was blurred but natural. They had been provoking each other since that day. He had dreamed of almost the same scene, and a moment ago he had put his hand on her breast!
He stood like that and forgot the time. Gabriel went downstairs and passed him. “Amon, what did you see in the room?” she asked.
Amon finally got back on track and bowed, “I did not see anything or hear anything, my lord. I just delivered the washbasin to Lord Maria.”
Gabriel’s gaze was intense enough to penetrate his soul, “That’s it? Even for me?”
“Yes, my lord. You told me that I should say nothing to anybody about what I see and hear here. You are ‘anybody’ too.” Amon was smart. Besides, he would not know how to even begin explaining even if he did want to tell.
A smile crossed Gabriel’s face, “Very good. Remember your words. Your job is finished and your payment has been given to your father. You can go home now.”
Gabriel sent him out more quickly than he thought. It was true that he had finished his job and got his pay. But instead of feeling relaxed and happy, Amon felt a deep loss. He gave the villa a last longing look of sadness as his farewell.
Rod Drick was happy, for Gabriel had just told him that they could move and asked him to get ready in the night in order to set out the next morning. Finally, he would be rid of this dingy place.
Gabriel also explained something to him: They had stayed three extra days in this town not because Maria was sick, but because she had to teach her some special rituals and rules of the Isis Shrine so that she could pass the shrine’s test smoothly and be recognized as the Adoratrice. Now that Maria had learned them well, it was time to leave.
This news made Rod Drick even happier. He would have paid a great deal for this kind of advantage, but Gabriel had taken care of it without a fuss. Obviously, a bribe wouldn’t be looked upon kindly by her, but Rod Drick still gifted a shield of excellent quality to Maria. It was blessed by the divine magic, a weapon for honoured warriors. Rod Drick explained that the shield was a tribute to the shrine and Gabriel accepted it. Rod Drick knew well that there was an art to giving the right gifts.
The next morning, Rod Drick’s enormous convoy set out on the return journey. The merchants that had come to Duc with Rod Drick were waiting impatiently to leave in the last few days. They were not going to leave alone since they could not hire escorts in Duc. News of Lord Drick’s departure improved their spirits and they prepared even faster than his convoy.
After the multitude of chaotic days, Duc returned to peace. The Ducians could relax from their hard work, shut down the furnaces in their houses and enjoyed the fine food and wine they bought from the merchants. Even the mayor did not urge the miners to work. They had handed in a lot of parangons and should be allowed to take a break. On the contrary, Rod Drick was nervous. He was going to journey through a vast desert land of dunes, rocks and hills before he could arrive back in Cape safely with Maria and the Gods’ Tear. Anything could happen in a desert.
He had warned Mayor Dusti in person that the information about the Gods’ Tear should never leave the town. But the night before his departure he’d heard that Shog, the priest of the Horus Shrine of Duc, had sent a delegation to the shrine of Syah to submit the tribute of the season. It was a routine that was set by the shrine of Syah and could not be delayed. However, Rod Drick could feel something wrong in it.
He briefly thought about intercepting the delegation, but ultimately gave it up. The only road from Duc to Syah was the courier route that crossed the Charcoal Forest. There was no shortcut.l, so in order for him to catch up with the delegation, his men had to pass the stations and leave a record. Since they were in Hittite, even Lord Drick himself could not get away once a serious crime such as killing the delegation of the shrines was uncovered.
When the caravan entered the desert, Rod Drick took one last glimpse in the direction of Duc, which had been buried under the horizon. What a strange place! Is it abandoned or blessed by the gods?
In the eyes of Rod Drick, the technique of the miners of Duc was a kind of body arts. The qualified miners in town were as strong as ‘primary warriors’. Some even achieved the second level in the body arts. They had woken up their ‘bloodline strength’ and knew how to use it properly.
Even in the Ejyptian army, a primary warrior who had mastered the body arts was regarded as an elite soldier.
What was more incredible was that the technique of Duc was also a kind of divine magic. Although it was rudimentary, and the miners could not pass the Test of the Gods, it still was a magic. No one knew what it would be like if they used it on the battlefield alongside their body arts since they have ever only used it to extract parangons.
Rod Drick estimated that if he could gather all the miners in town and taught them combat formations and how to use weapons, they could fight an ordinary legion. Even if they knew nothing and fought with their hammers, it would still be a considerable military force. Lord Drick reckoned that if there had been a big riot in Duc while he was still in town, at best, all his escort could do was escape with Maria. They wouldn’t be able to suppress it at all.
Syah was located in the joint area of four kingdoms: Hittite, Assyr, Bablon and Ejypt. It had been ruled by different kingdoms throughout history, but not once was it conquered by force. Rod Drick thought he might have deduced the reason.
Every kingdom that conquered Syah would inform Duc about the change of regime and the will to keep the town unchanged, including the tributary relationship. The new ruler would still send troops to garrison the stations along the courier route, collect taxes and protect passengers. Every ruler knew that the cost of conquering Duc was too high. It was not worth sending a legion to kill or enslave a town of miners. What the ruling kingdom needed from Duc was its constant capacity of iron and parangon production, which could be guaranteed by maintaining minimal control.
The place Duc occupied was unique. To its north was the Syah plateau, the lower part of which were the parangon and iron mines. The rest were high mountains that were impossible to cross. To the east were mountains as well. The indigenous people there still lived in caves and jungles. Beyond the mountains was the great canyon of Euphrates.
To the west was the Charcoal Forest, which held the courier route to the city-state of Syah, the only safe road to other parts of Hittite. To the south was the vast desert separating Hittite from the state of Cape of Ejypt. Travellers between Cape and Syah could pass through the desert directly without making a detour via Duc.
Another unique thing of Duc was that there were no slaves in this town. All the people in Duc were common freemen except two noblemen: Dusti and Shog. The reason was simple: no slave could touch a parangon. If a slave touched a parangon, then he would lose a finger for each parangon he had touched.
But a similar law that was implemented in the surrounding states was neglected in this town: no slave could learn body arts and only nobles could learn the divine magic. Plebeians who learn the divine magic was regarded as offending the gods and would receive severe punishment from the shrines.
However, the divine magic was so hard to learn that most noblemen who were qualified to learn it could not even pass the Test of the Gods. Of course, it was much more difficult to learn without the guidance of the shrine priests. But among the hundreds of millions of people on this continent, there were always geniuses who managed to teach themselves how to utilise this power.
They were called ‘sorcerers’, an evil group of people that were wanted by the shrines. Those who mastered magic with the help and instruction of the priests were called mages.
In other places on this continent, the extraction of parangons from the ores must be done by a mage, because a parangon had to be extracted using some kind of basic magic. It was why the parangons were rare and holy materials. In Duc, the situation was different. Its location was remote and the environment here was so bad that it was impossible to keep a large group of mages here to extract ores like miners, hence the miners took the mage’s job.
Maybe it was approved by the gods who had given Duc the parangons. The high lords in the states turned a blind eye and never talked about it. And the Ducians were not aware of it either. People in other places might admire the fact that the miners could keep one parangon of every ten parangons they extracted. But at the same time, there was another law that forbade any registered miner in Duc leaving the town without the permission of the state. And given the rough surroundings, even if the miners wanted to leave, it would be difficult for them to leave secretly.
Duc produced fine iron as well, but the blacksmiths here were not allowed to build any weapons. They could only produce fine iron ingots in shapes similar to eggs. Rod Drick had purchased a lot of “eggs” this time and was carrying them back to Cape.
Thinking about the particularities of Duc, Rod Drick looked out to the endless dunes, his hand on the sword hanging at the waist. The convoy set out along with the cool breeze before dawn, and now it was noon. The sun was scorching the ground. The heated air was burning their throats. Half a mile ahead of them, there was a rocky hill on the right side of the path, creating a small patch of shadow that could allow the caravan to stop and take a rest during the hottest time of the day. It was the wisdom of travellers in the desert. Rod Drick insisted sitting in the front of the first carriage. Gabriel praised him, “You are so brave, my lord.”
Rod Drick had to keep the highest alert in this kind of environment. It was said that there were “sandmen” who assaulted passengers from time to time, which to his knowledge were probably disguised bandits in nearby towns and cities. Ordinary bandits would not attack caravans like theirs. They would run away when they saw the reflections off the armours and blades. But the ones who are prepared would be another thing. And that was what Rod Drick was worrying about, and the reason he had brought such a large group of escort with him. Lord Rod Drick knew well that no one in the escort had higher achievement in the body arts than he did. He had already reached the sixth level, one step away from the legendary Great Warriors.
The majority of the escort was arranged around the first three carriages. Maria was in the second one, accompanied by Gabriel. Rod Drick was about to order the caravan to slow down and turn to the direction of the hill when Gabriel suddenly shouted out, “Halt!”
Her voice boomed like a thunder striking the empty desert.
Rod Drick had told his men that Lord Gabriel had the highest order. The well-trained drivers in Rod Drick’s caravan stopped the carriages in no time. The riders quickly reined their horses too. The merchants behind them were a bit in disorder. Some wagons hit each other. There were people and goods fell from the camels.
Rod Drick jumped out from the carriage and pulled out his sword, but he could not find the source of danger. A spike of silver light flew over his head towards the two dunes far ahead of him. He turned his head and saw that Gabriel was standing on top of his carriage, with a shield and a sword in her hands.