Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 40 – On the Grassland, in the Curtain of Night
Some even speculated that the young man ran 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 just in bed… in fact, it was even better to undress her rather than to dress her up.
Amon continued to drink, and the people in the room continued their day dreams. 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 guy, trying to help me out.”
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 which could cost a lot and leave nothing but a mess.
Amon sensed something wrong in the room. He received some hostile glances from the other shadowed corners and yet he didn’t know the reason. He didn’t want to spend time in this place anymore. Besides, the cheapest wine wasn’t that good either. The wine in the caveman’s tribe was much better than this. He finished the rest of the jug quickly, making 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. There’s only two bottles. One silver coin a bottle.”
Amon searched in his larger bag and found that the three silver coins he put there had been used up today, only leaving twenty copper coins. So he took out his smaller bag from his bosom, 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 of 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 town. He got two pairs of shoes while buying clothes, a lash while buying the lamb, and a jug of wine while buying two bottles of wine. He didn’t like this town very much though. All he was planning to do now was to send Inanna back to her home as quickly as possible, then to 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 standing there like a statue. 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 bottles of Nafka. What’s in his head? He bought that for his slave? That’s quite a nice master. If I can buy 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 didn’t have the intention 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 so unreal. The 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 to 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 became parsimonious to other things. Perhaps he just didn’t want to attract too much attention, or he had been so poor that he didn’t know how to spend money.
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 sixty-six, with forty copper coins as change, which was beyond the capacity of these simple minds. But anyway, the 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 just willing to buy a sixty-copper-coin dress for his loved one. The boy must have obtained this treasure by dishonesty!
In the bustle, nobody had noticed that two persons sitting by the nicest, biggest and cleanest table at a corner paid the bill after a short whisper, and went out hastily.
When the two walked out of town again, Amon asked, “Where do you live, Inanna? Where should I escort you to?”
“Please take me to the place where we met each other this morning. My cote was not far from there. I can walk back home myself from there.”
Amon thought for a second, “All right. I’ll take you there. And 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 waved softly all over the small hills in the restful, tranquil moonlight, appeasing the travellers at night.
Had they experienced any displeasure with their earlier time in Som, the entrancing nice and peaceful evening would have already chased it away. 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.
But before they went far in the moonlight, Amon’s face grew grave and stopped. Inanna ask curiously, “What happened to you? Are you tired again?”
Amon shook his head, “No. Some people are watching us.”
Inanna was scared, “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.”
After saying that, Amon took his hand away 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 are you coming for us with weapons?”
A cold smile appeared from ahead of them, two people showed up, one holding a sword, the other holding a staff. The one with the staff shouted, “Foreigner! you think you can steal your lords’ gems, abduct their slave, and show off in Som like this?”
The one with the sword bellowed, “Let’s cut the crap. Leave the money and the girl to us, and you can get away.”
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 shrinked beside Amon and whispered, “Don’t listen to them! They want more than your money and me. They will definitely kill you. They cannot let a witness go!”
Amon was not panicked at all. The first thought occurring to his mind was Maqi, his neighbor, the night he tried to killed Amon in the Charcoal Forest but got killed by Crazy’Ole. The second thought was the three things Crazy’Ole had told him. The first one of the three was not to kill people by his own hand, and to use the minimal power when he had to.
He asked out of curiosity, “You, with the staff in your hand. Are you a mage? Why does a mage need to commit this kind of crime?”
Right after the question, a slightly alarmed voice arose, “Lord Venut, he recognizes you. Don’t let him go!”
The one with a sword shouted angrily, “Shut up, Hansem!” then spoke to Amon, “Now that you know that there’s an esteemed mage in your presence, why are you still refusing to surrender? Give out your purse and your slave, and beg for a pardon!”
These people apparently had no experience as bandits. It was the first time for them to murder 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, the younger one called Venut was a first-level mage. 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 merely a noble of the lowest rank in Bablon.
The mayor of Som had cost more than a 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 that easy to be persuaded, for the family was already in a financial difficulty. Instead, he tried to persuade his son to be content with the position of a local priest, which cost far less money. The father and son didn’t reach an agreement, and Venut decided to go to the tavern to seek solace in drink, pulling his elder brother with him.
Then 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’s minds. In their evil plan, the younger brother would get the money, and 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 and 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 about 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, thought optimistically. Since they had already encircled the couple, whether the boy recognized 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.” suddenly spoke Amon. 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 realize the majesty in his voice, which should 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 was so astonished that for one second, they thought that Amon was a high noble lord in an incognito visit. Then they realized how ridiculous this illusion was — not any high lord would possibly run with a slave girl at night on 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 is waiting for 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!”
On the other side, Amon chose to go ahead as well, for he want to start the fight with these men before they got too close to Inanna. He stepped forward and raised his staff, swinging it towards 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 to 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 attack him with a rod! Perhaps driven by the desire to flaunt his strength in front of his brother, Guy gave out a cry and slashed at the coming rod, trying to cut Amon into two pieces along with the rod.
His strength was indeed impressive, this slash could have cut a tree in two parts. However, when his sword hit the rod, a sharp clank came up with a series of dazzling sparks. It was the iron sword that broke into two pieces.
The deformed blade swung away, the other part with the handle was dropped on the ground. Guy felt his tiger’s mouth broke. Amon’s “rod” hit the sword delicately, while creating a huge impact in the form of a shockwave that tremored up into Guy’s body via his arm. He couldn’t feel half of his body and wasn’t even able to cry.
Breaking the iron 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 flying in the air. Even as a second-level warrior, he couldn’t have understood 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 a sole strike, which was the perfect combination of speed, strength, dexterity and force-sending skills. Amon didn’t learn much martial arts, for no one had ever taught him by hand. But he went hunting from time to time while in the mountains. Fighting with beasts didn’t require much technique. Most of the fights finished with one or two efficient strikes. And Amon only caught the animals alive. He never killed a beast by his own hand, which demanded much more than simple killings.
Amon did this for two reasons. On one hand, slaughtering the prey in the tribe made the meat more fresh and tasty. On the other hand, Lynk was interested in raising animals so as to reduce the amount 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 some noise from time to time to scare up the beasts and drive them towards Amon, then simply tied them up after Amon beat them into a coma. Every time Amon went hunting with the cavemen, it would be the tribe’s festival.
Sometimes, Amon even practiced martial arts with El Mar, the king Ironback, in order to test his dexterity and skills. Guy’s slash seemed fierce, but to Amon, it was even weaker than El Mar’s playful sweeps.
Satisfied with the first strike, Amon marched past Guy, his staff pointed at the same position at his left shoulder. Then 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 give cover to or assist his elder brother. But he couldn’t have imagined that his brother, a second-level warrior would be defeated within a blink of an eye. It was too late to join the fight, so he could only summon a ball of fire in a hurry and threw it 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 many mage would begin with it to make themselves look impressive. Venut was one of them. The Fire Ball 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 didn’t show a trace of fear, putting out the fire ball as if it had been a firefly. The magic hadn’t even stopped him for a second. Venut let out a scream. There was no time for him to cast another magic. Amon’s staff swung towards his face, the end of the staff streaked beside 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 the arm could by no means resist Amon’s iron staff. Even the parangon on top of it exploded to powder. Venut made a barfing sound, spat out a mouthful of blood, then fell on the ground.
Venut was injured. It was not because Amon hit him with the staff. If a mage’s staff was destroyed when he was casting off a magic, then the amplified running magic power would rush back to the nearest carrier, which was the mage himself, and exploded inside his body. Venut felt that his body was burning 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 to 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 beaten down on the ground. Lord Venut’s head was even under the foreign boy’s foot, seeming like that the latter could kill him at any moment. 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 came at me with weapons, trying to kill me. How can you want me to forgive someone else? 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 gave me a big surprise! You are so strong!… If you didn’t have such power, they wouldn’t have had any mercy on us. You would lose your money and life. I would face a miserable fate… They won’t give you a chance! They deserve death! ”
Amon pointed his staff to the servants and said, “As servants, you failed to admonish your masters and stop them from doing evil things. I know what punishment you are going to have. I won’t be the one to punish you because I don’t need to. You’ll bear the consequences.” He then pointed to Guy at the foot of the slope and said, “Without a righteous mind, your strength will only bring misery and trouble to others.” Finally, he pointed to Venut under his foot, “You don’t deserve a staff.”
He kicked the mage down the slope, beside his elder brother, then spoke to the servants, “Carry them home. Now!”
“Thank you for your mercy, dear warrior!” The servants prostrated to thank Amon, then 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 a severe trauma for the rest of his life. Guy wasn’t badly hurt. Amon just cracked the cartilage in the foveas of his shoulders. But 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 when they got back 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, meanwhile the two servants who were attending 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.
When the attackers completely disappeared into the darkness, Amon turned around and held Inanna by her waist, “I hope it didn’t scare you too much. Don’t worry, let’s keep going.”
 tiger’s mouth : the part of the hand between the thumb and the index finger, especially the skin.
[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.