Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 38 – The Woman at the Foot of the Mountain
The way Inanna spoke was soft and sweet. It was the kind of voice that Amon had never heard before, with a unique graceful quality, like singing a song. Amon felt so comfortable, with an unnameable itching in the heart that made it palpitate. He nodded and replied, “Don’t worry. If it didn’t go far, we can always find it. Where did you lose the lamb?”
Inanna pointed at the direction that Amon came from, “There.”
It was a hill at the bank of the Euphrate River, next to it was the thick and wild forest. Amon frowned and sank into his thoughts. It was not easy to find a lamb in such a dense wood, not to mention the wild animals that might frequent there. The lamb was probably already inside the stomach of some beast. But after a quick thinking, he still decided to help. He nodded and said, “You wait here. I am going in there to have a look.”
Following his words, Amon turned around and walked towards the hill, decisive as he always was. Inanna called him from his back, “My handsome hunter!… Please wait. I am going with you. You don’t know my lamb.” She gathered up her skirts and trotted after him.
Amon had to slow down and together they walked into the woods at the foot of the hill. It was going to be difficult to find the lamb in the woods. Amon agreed to help her because he had mastered the Detection Eyes, which was a magic that he could cast in front of commoners without being noticed.
Amon walked through the trees and shrubs silently, the young woman following behind. Stealthily casting the Detection Eyes, he did find some animals, including two goats. However, scanning with Detection Eyes repetitively used his magic power heavily. Hardly any advanced mage could endure a long time of such intensive searching. As time went on, Amon felt tired as well.
Pretending to looking for her lamb, Inanna lay her beautiful eyes on nothing but Amon. Although she appeared to be shy, every one of her expressions and movements was like inviting the young man ahead to do something with her. Amon had already looked all over the valley and the hill. Across the hill would be the vast forested mountain. Suddenly, he heard a scream from behind, along with a cloth-ripping noise.
He looked back and found that Inanna’s robe were hooked at the shoulder by thorns and had torn apart, exposing her voluptuous shoulders.
Amon had seen women’s chests himself when he was in the caveman’s tribe. Some cavewomen were half-naked. But at this moment, he found that a covered seduction was much more intense than that of a total exposure.
“Amon, help me!” Inanna cried in her delicate voice, as if her clothes were being bitten by a savage beast instead of hooked with just a few thorns.
Amon felt strangely hot when he marched towards her, his heart drumming. The weird feeling he felt after bathing in the cold spring arose once again. Amon was about sixteen years old now, but his body was more developed than his peers, just like a grownup man, with the same response to desires.
Amon had passed Desire’s Awakening long ago. But it didn’t mean that he had become a piece of desireless rock. The test was about finding inner peace and balance facing desires, which allowed the practitioners to continue meditating and going further. The desires were not extinguished or distorted in the least.
The shepherdess looked timid, weeping for her lost lamb and frightened by a few thorns on the shrubs. But from another perspective, she was very bold, since she dared to go into the woods with a strange robust young man. If something unexpected happened to her, she could seek help from no one.
Flushed and heart racing, Amon didn’t have such thoughts in mind. To be honest, he wasn’t aware of what he should have in mind in this kind of situation. What he was thinking about was that he shouldn’t let this young lady see his awkwardness. So he turned his face aside, trying not to look at her while unhooking her clothes from the thorns. He murmured diffidently, “Don’t be afraid. It’s just some thorns.”
The young woman thanked him for his kindness, grabbing ahold of her collar. But the ripped cloth could hardly hide the view behind it. Gasping in hurry, she turned her head, watching Amon with a flushed face and asked gently, “Amon, are you a good man, or a bad man?”
All of her body movements, her stance, her expression and her manner of speaking was intensely suggestive. It was as though the temperature in the thick woods rose suddenly and the air flow slowed down. A man with even a tiny spark of wicked thought would have exploded with desires, rushing and clinging to her, doing whatever he could do.
Amon’s heart beat even faster. Does she think I’m a bad man? Because I look at her too much and think too much? He took off his leather robe and handed it to her, “Oh, I forget that your robe’s broken. Put this on… We’ve been looking for your lamb all over the place. Your lamb is not here. Ahead of us is a deep ravine. We can’t go any further. Perhaps your lamb has already been caught by some beasts.”
The young woman threw a glance at him in surprise. She loosened her grip, took the leather robe and put it on. Then she sniffled and leaned on Amon’s shoulder, sobbing again, “My poor naughty little thing! What have you got yourself in? Can’t you see the tragic fate, whose coming will not be late? The sharp teeth are biting, the hard lash is falling. Ah! What can I do, for both our sakes?”
She was singing rather than sobbing! Her voice was like the the twittering of a nightingale. Amon could feel some of her hair brushing his ear, and a sweet, tempting scent flowing in his nose. He couldn’t help putting a hand on her waist. So smooth! He mumbled guiltily, “What kind of lamb have you lost? Is there somewhere we can buy one? If you can show me to the nearest town, I can buy one for you.”
Amon didn’t spend a coin in the caveman’s tribe. He didn’t need to. Hence he was carrying more money with him when he left, since he had collected nine parangons in the cave he had found Bair. Back in the old days, when the merchants arrived at Duc, they would have brought some sheep with them, selling three to five silver coins for each, depending on their sizes. Sometimes, a lamb would have been given as a bonus when buying a barrel of good wine.
The coarse grass near Duc could only nourish a small amount of bony sheep. Thus people had to process the meat to jerky. Crazy’Ole knew the best about how to make good jerky. His jerky was always delicious and well preservable. Amon learned this skill as well when he was learning the technique of Duc.
But it was only after he began to learn magic when he realized why his jerky had never been as great as Crazy’Ole’s. The latter made jerky with magic. The meat was dried by water and fire magic, and compressed by spatial magic, which vanished when heated and turn the jerky back to flesh. The same could even be applied to beans and vegetables.
Amon asked Inanna to bring him to the next town. In return, he would buy her a lamb. As soon as they talked about buying a lamb, Amon felt hungry. He had been walking in the forest all night, then scanning the whole hill using the Detection Eyes. It was about noon. He was exhausted both in the physical and the magical aspect.
But as a responsible man, he decided to handle the affair first. He couldn’t stand to see Inanna crying any more. She was the first person he had met since he went down from the mountains. And somehow he felt a sense of kinship with the woman. Maybe it was why she looked familiar to him.
Inanna turned her head up from Amon’s shoulder, with tears on her face and surprise in her eyes. She panted and said, “Really? You are buying me a lamb?!… My lamb is white, with some black spots and stripes…. The town is far from here, we have to walk for a long time.”
Amon smiled, “Then we have to hurry up. Can we get there before sunset?”
Inanna smiled too, “It’s not even noon yet. We can arrive before dusk.”
The two went out of the woods. This time Inanna was showing the way. They walked southwest, crossing patches of grassland, heading for the nearest town. The grass was knee-high, tickling their shins. Watched afar, they could see flowers of all kinds of colors undulating in the greenery.
The sun was shiny. Amon could sense a subtle fragrance in the brisk air, probably from the young lady beside him, whose smile was as bright as the sun, and whose deportment was just as tender as the grass. Amon wanted to move fast, but he was not sure if Inanna could catch up. Inanna considerately leaned towards him, so Amon just slipped his arm around her waist, so the both of them could walk faster.
Amon didn’t think much of it. He found it comfortable to hold a young lady’s waist and stroll across the soft meadows, which was something refreshing that he had never experienced. Just being in her company, Amon felt that it was more than worth buying a sheep.
Before he realized it, they had walked a long way. Noon had already past. Inanna’s pace slowed down. Amon stopped and asked, “Are you tired?”
Inanna replied in a sweet voice, “Are you hungry? Should we take a break and eat something?”
She was indeed considerate. Amon nodded, “Great. Let’s have something to eat.”
Before he could pull out his pot and jerky, the young woman took out two pancakes, “I only have two pancakes. Is it enough for you?”
Amon waved his hands, “I’ve brought my own food. I don’t need to eat your pancake.”
Inanna seemed to feel wronged and was about to cry, “I have nothing but these two pancakes to reward you. This is my food for today. Why are you refusing my favor?”
Amon had to quickly answer, “I appreciate your kindness, but you should be hungry too… Let’s share them, one pancake for each of us. I can make a pot of soup too… There’s water over there, let’s bring some water and make some soup.”
Amon accepted her pancake and invited her to have his meat soup. The two went ahead and found a rivulet between the meadows. Inanna was surprised, “How do you know that there’s water here, my Amon? Have you been here before?”
Amon tried to explain, “No, it’s my first time visiting here. But I have good ears. I’ve heard the water from afar.”
He took out the pot from the big bag and tried to get some water. Schrodinger crouched at the bottom of the bag, seemingly asleep. It hadn’t made a noise today, but since it was not its mealtime, Amon didn’t bother to wake it up.
Since he didn’t want to perform magic in front of Inanna, he didn’t drag the water directly from the air using magic, but chose to find a stream instead. However, when he filled up the pot with water, he performed some minor water magic to filter out the sand and weeds.
After they found some nice twigs, they set up a bonfire and cooked a pot of wonderful soup. The jerky was in the bone and the bone was in the bag. So Amon just put his hands into the bag and pulled out the jerky from the bone, looking like he was pulling out jerky from the bag. He didn’t forget that he had to hide his identity of a sorcerer, even in front of a shepherdess.
Looking at the steaming pot, Inanna gave Amon a glance and licked her lips, which was very cute. She should have been hungry as well. The two waited a little for the soup to cool down, then took turns to use their only spoon to drink soup from the pot.
Inanna enjoyed the soup very much. It was at this moment that Amon had the chance to study her beauty. She behaved with grace, even the way she drank the soup made him feel elegant. One with enough worldly wisdom would have already concluded that she was by no means an enslaved shepherdess, as she had claimed to be. Her skin was so fine and smooth, there was not even a trace of hardship. But Amon wasn’t quite sensitive about this sort of things. Raised by his father, he didn’t have much contact with women. Even when he was in the caveman’s tribe, he dealt with Metatro, Lynk and other men most of the time.
In fact, not mentioning the caveman’s tribe, in Duc, almost everyone was familiar with heavy labor. It was impossible to find one with no calluses on his or her hands. Amon was even the only boy who had no mud in his nails and no dust on his hair.
Amon had memory of only two women from the “outside world” — Gabriel and Icho Maria. Gabriel was beautiful, but the first impression she gave was her majesty as a great warrior. As for Maria, she was Amon’s dream.
Therefore, when he saw Inanna, Amon wasn’t surprised at her beauty. Maybe he believed that it was common in the outside world. Inanna’s beauty was different from that of Gabriel’s and Maria’s. There was an amazing bashful tenderness in her eyes and smiles which could be read as an enticement through refusal. Unfortunately, Amon didn’t read the message behind. He felt comfortable looking at her, but apart from that, he didn’t have any other intentions.
In the eyes of Amon, it was not a question to compare this woman with Icho. Ever since he mastered the message magic, he had been reading the two messages left in the Terroculus that wouldn’t disappear. One was about him kneeling before Crazy’Ole, the other was the line of words carved on a wall but then erased, “Amon, my name is Icho”.
He read these two messages over and over again whenever loneliness occupied his heart. Seeing the image arise then disappearing, he realized that Maria would never use this name again. She would only be allowed to be called Lord Maria, the Adoratrice.
As a consequence, the name “Icho” seemed to become something that only belonged to Amon, like a buried secret, a small drop of rain hidden in the clouds under the summer sunshine. This feeling was so subtle that even Amon himself didn’t understand it quite so well. Sitting beside her, he could fully appreciate Inanna’s radiant looks while having peace of mind. Perhaps it was because she wasn’t Icho.
Inanna really enjoyed the food, but Amon seemed to enjoyed it more. Or to be more exact, he had never had such delicious food in his whole life!
The grey pancake was as tough as a flat rock. However, once dipped and it softened in the hot soup, a wonderfully simple yet solid sweet taste came out. It was the taste of wheat, pure and satisfying. Amon started with a modest bite, then he almost chewed his own tongue while devouring.
What added to the wonderful taste of wheat was the luscious flavor from the meat soup. Amon would have sighed if his mouth hadn’t been full of food, how could there be such great food in the world! Maybe it was because he had been starving after the long walk, but he could swear that he had never eaten any pancake that was even close to this one. He couldn’t help deplore that he couldn’t find the right words to describe it.
Amon’s pot was not very big. He could finished three pots of soup if he wished. But since he was sharing it with Inanna, he wasn’t expecting to eat his fill. Neither had he expected such a piece of wonderful pancake, of which Amon would welcome as many as possible. He licked his lips after the last morsel, stopping a little while recollecting the stunning flavor, then continued to drink the soup in turn with Inanna.
Without the pancake, the nice soup lost its pleasant flavor.
Amon finished the pancake so fast that Inanna had just finished a few sips of soup. The pancake in her hand was still intact. Seeing that Amon had eaten his pancake, she gave the one in her hand to Amon, “You must be hungry. Please have this one as well.”
“No, thank you.” embarrassed, Amon shook his hand, “You should eat something too. The soup won’t be enough for you. I ate it too fast, because I found it too tasty! I have never eaten something so good!”
“I made them this morning. I’m glad that you liked them! Your soup is tasty too… I don’t think I can finish the whole piece of cake alone. Please have a half of it. I’m happy to see you enjoy it.”
Of course would Amon enjoy it. Half a pot of soup and half a piece of pancake seemed to be enough for a young woman like her. He felt sorry taking the cake from her, tore down a smaller half, then handed the rest back to Inanna, “That’ll be enough for me. So did you make them yourself? You are amazing!”
Amon slowed down when eating the second piece. He took small bites so as to savour every succulent morsel. The taste was so great, that he felt his tongue was melting. Sadly, however slow he ate, there still came the last bite. He licked his lips again, trying to memorize the stunning flavor. Looking at the intoxicated young man, Inanna smiled surreptitiously behind her hand, but in her eyes revealed a trace of surprise.
It was not Amon’s fault to like good food. Who wouldn’t like nice food? Eating is the most wonderful thing for mankind. From the humblest slave to the paramount monarch, food was indispensable. The difference was that it could be the first survival need for the former while a final pursuit of sensations for the latter.
Fortunately, Amon didn’t have an obsession about nice food. Whenever there was something good to eat, he would let his father have it first. It was not a learned manner but a natural instinct. His father was a miner who needed his full strength to make a living, and a drunkard who need good food to go with his wine. When he was in the caveman’s tribe, the priority passed on to Schrodinger.
And the arrogant cat took it for granted. As days went by, Amon got used to it too.
After the meal, the two went on their way. Little by little, they started to see crops, cottages and scattered hamlets. They finally reached a populated area. After they got on a carriageable country road, they found other travellers start to gradually appear, who looked at the couple with curious eyes. Inanna, of course, attracted most of the attention.
Amon was curious about the people he met as well. He couldn’t help studying the passengers when they stared at him. Their clothes are clean, but not very sturdy, thought Amon.
After a while, he could no longer hold his curiosity, and whispered to Inanna, “Why are these people all staring at us? Do I look too different and they have never seen people like me?”
“What we are wearing is considered strange.” giggled Inanna, “I’m wearing a leather robe in the hot summer days, with a broken underskirt.”
She was wearing Amon’s robe. The lower part of her skirt was broken too. Her thighs exposed from time to time when walking.
It was summer. As Amon went from the high mountains to the riverside, the temperature changed too. But Amon was not aware of it. After he became an advanced warrior and sorcerer, he was less sensitive to surrounding environments. So he was still wearing a leather robe.
It was not until Inanna reminded him that he started to realize it. He casually answered, “Is there someone selling clothes in town? We can buy you some clothes. And I need something new too.”
Inanna was surprised, “You are buying me a lamb and some new clothes?”
“Since I’m already buying you a lamb, adding some new clothes won’t be a big deal.” smiled Amon, “You can’t wear broken clothes or leather robes in the hot summer. You gave me those delicious pancakes, the clothes are nothing compared to them.”
Amon’s experience was based on a funny fact: everything in Duc was expensive, except the clothes. Most of the time, clothes were just common giveaways when the merchants sold other goods to the Ducians. In Amon’s memory, his family had never paid anything for their clothes. His father could always get enough cloth when buying alcohols from the merchants. Then the neighboring women would help make the clothes for them to wear.
The reason behind it was simple. Cloth didn’t occupy much weight and could store for a long time, convenient for long transportation in any season. There were several popular kinds of textile. The most common one was flax, cotton is lighter and more comfortable, but more expensive as well. However, flax could be processed to linen, which was even more delicate and costly.
The next grade would be sheep’s wool and cashmere, which protected you well from the cold. Apart from sheep, many animals’ fur and feathers could be processed into garments. But only the rich high lords could afford them. A commoner would be more than satisfied with a solid cotton coat. A sheepwool coat would be the god’s blessing. Woollen gowns made from animal fur, which could only be acquired from the deep mountains, were luxuries beyond ordinary people’s life.
Dealing with furnaces and minerals all the time, the Ducians wore worksuits. They seldom pursued elegance, since no clothes could stay clean in the dusty air for even one day. The Ducians prefered the clothes that could withstand some wear and tear. So the most popular textile in Duc was closely woven flax. Since its cost was negligeable compared to the other goods traded in town, clothes became the usual giveaways in Duc.
When Amon was still recalling the memories of Duc, a town came into view. Inanna pointed at it and said, “We are at Som now. It’s the biggest town around here.”