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The Tenth Muse 2

“Father, why has the stranger come to us? He seems so strange. I’m not afraid of him, but I’ve never seen anyone like him. Could he…could he be a messenger from heaven?”

Pihas regarded his daughter. “I don’t know, Ashtinamas.” He turned back to his herb garden. The dressing he had placed on the stranger’s head wound seemed to be working, but it would soon be time to change it. He needed to gather the necessary herbs and roots. “Perhaps he is a test.”

“A test?”

Pihas chuckled. “You know as much about him as I do, daughter. The young men have been scanning the sea for invaders ever since the raid on Larnassas. When he washed up on our shore, they brought him to me. Later I’ll meet with the other leading men of the village and tell them what little I know. He is wounded-whether in a fight or by some mishap I don’t know-but he is getting better, praise be.

“Perhaps he was sent to us so that someone could take care of him: to dress his wound and offer him a place to sleep and bread to eat. They say that men have hosted divine messengers in just such a way, never knowing who it was beneath their roof. In any case, the laws of hospitality are the same, whether this man is from the world above or is as mortal as you or I.”

Ashtinamas frowned. “I don’t believe he is divine. A divine man couldn’t be injured, could he? And he certainly would know how to speak!”

“Oh, I’m sure he knows how to speak-if only we could understand him!” Pihas handed his daughter the basket of herbs and roots he had collected. “Now, daughter, can you mix a poultice like I showed you earlier? It’s nearly midday and I must be off. You’ve heated the water as I asked? Good. Take care of our guest. If you need anything, the servants are here to help you.”

“Yes, Father. I’ll take care of him-divine or not!”

Ashtinamas brought her father’s herbs into the kitchen and took down the mortar and pestle from their place on the shelf, added a bit of oil, and soon had produced an aromatic paste she spread liberally on a clean strip of homespun cloth. The pot of water she had set by the fire was warm to the touch. It was time to change the stranger’s bandages. She gathered up her supplies and left the kitchen.

At the door to the guest room were Taras and his little sister Tuwatis. They hid behind the wall and poked as little of their heads as possible into the doorway to spy on the strange man sleeping on the bed. Whenever he moved or made a sound they started, gasped, and looked at each other in wonder.

“Move, you two! You act like you’ve never seen a sleeping man before.”

“None like him,” said. Then he added, “We were just returning with his clothes. Tuwatis washed them, just as your father told her.”

The girl, a dark-eyed twelve-year-old, held up the stranger’s clothes for Ashtinamas to inspect. If anything, the man’s clothes were even more foreign than his speech. She took the stack of folded laundry from Tuwatis and pondered what sort of people would dress in such an odd costume. The leggings were some kind of stiff blue cotton she had never seen before, and the short-sleeved tunic was barely long enough to reach to the man’s hips. Stranger still was the undergarment, the likes of which confounded her imagination.

Strangest of all was his breastplate. It was made of some sort of slick fabric, but this only served to cover plates (for lack of a better word) of soft, lightweight material. She couldn’t imagine it standing up to much punishment in a fight. And for heaven’s sake, why did he make it bright orange? Perhaps the garment was ceremonial in nature. Could the stranger be some kind of priest?

“Thank you, Tuwatis. When the stranger wakes up, he’ll appreciate clean, dry clothing that doesn’t smell of the sea.”

She brushed passed the two servants and laid the clothing on a settee at the foot of the bed. Taras and Tuwatis stood watch at the door as Ashtinamas began to unwrap the stranger’s bandages, wash his wound, and then replace his yellow, bloodied bandage with a fresh one. The cut on his head didn’t look nearly so frightful as it did that morning, although the bump was big and bruised. She stared at him as he slept. She watched his chest rise and fall and found herself blushing to be so fascinated by him. It’s a good thing Taras’ tunic fit him, and that he and Tuwatis are spying on us at the door! she thought. No one would question her honor if her duties to the stranger meant she had to sit at his bedside and bathe his wounds, but she even so she was happy she wasn’t alone-and that he wasn’t naked!

He groaned in his sleep. Was he starting to awake again. It had been over an hour since he last stirred.

“Hello,” she whispered. “My father says your name is Sam, is that right? Sam?”

The stranger grunted a question. Did he recognize his name? He opened his eyes. Behind her she heard Taras and Tuwatis giggling, whether in joy or nervousness she couldn’t say.

She had nearly finished applying the clean bandage. He smiled and said something to her in his outlandish tongue. He repeated the name, “Sam” and then said something that sounded like another question.

“I am Ashtinamas,” she said. “I’m Pihas’s daughter. You remember Pihas, the old man?” She stroked at her chin to suggest her father’s beard.

“Pihas,” he repeated, followed by more gibberish. Then, “Ashti… Ashtinamas?”

“Yes,” she answered, “very good. I so wish you could speak our language. Where are you from? How did you get hear?”

Sam waved his hand as if remind her he couldn’t understand.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m talking too fast.” She pointed to her mouth and then made fluttering gestures with her hands. Sam grinned with comprehension and said something she hoped was “I don’t mind.”

He sighed, then let loose another short volley of syllables. A question of some sort? Or a request?

“What do you want? Are you hurting?”

He rubbed his stomach. Somewhere in the stranger’s sentence she thought she heard the word “bread.”

“Bread?” she asked. “Are you hungry?”

“Bread,” he repeated.

Ashtinamas smiled. “Tuwatis,” she called, “the stranger is hungry. Would you please bring him something from the kitchen? Some bread, cheese, whatever you can find-and some wine to drink.”

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