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The Tenth Muse 4

The midday sun seemed oppressive, although it was not quite spring. Pihas realized he was sweating more out of concern for what he would tell the elders gathered in the courtyard of Zarpiyas. More to the point, he was concerned at how little he could tell them about the stranger who had washed up on the beach before daybreak that morning.

“You say he speaks no Luwian at all?” An elderly man in luxuriant robes leaned forward on his bench.

“None, Lord Zarpiyas,” Pihas answered. “Nor Hittite. Nor Akkadian-as best I can tell; I speak but a few words of that language.”

“Surely he is merely feigning ignorance, Pihas. Or else-”

“…Or else he is from Achaia. I’ve considered that possibility, Lord Zarpiyas, but I don’t think it likely. His clothing is nothing like theirs, and his speech sounds nothing like the little bit of their language I have learned.”

“It’s all a ruse!” thundered a tall black-haired man to the right of Zarpiyas. Kunawas was the son of the village chieftain. His eyes blazed as he also leaned forward. “The Achaians have sent a confederate to spy out our defenses. It matters not if he is one of them or from some other tribe of barbarians from across the sea, by Tarhunt he is working for them!

Pihas kept his peace. He couldn’t genuinely defend the stranger as he had no way of knowing who he was or how he came to their shore. The storm of the previous night had been unsettling. He hadn’t seen such lightning in all his days! Some of the more excitable folk were convinced the storm god Tarhunt had been angered by some failing or another of theirs. Pihas wasn’t convinced they didn’t have a point.

He scanned the courtyard. In addition to Zarpiyas and his son were two other elders and himself. Padi would most likely take Zarpiyas’s part, whatever he decided. Tarkumuwas would err on the side of caution; which also suggested the village chieftain’s anxieties would carry the day.

“My lords,” Pihas began. “The young men brought this stranger to me as a priest of Apaliunas, that I might use my healing arts and perhaps move the god to be merciful to a shipwrecked soul. Is he Achaian? I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it. What I know is that he didn’t choose to come to our village. He drifted in on the tide and didn’t regain consciousness for several hours. In that time, anyone could have killed him, robbed him, or bound him up and handed him over to men who would not have given a moment’s thought of his wounds. He is not here on purpose, my lords. Tarhunt has sent him with the storm, for what reason I could not begin to tell.”

Tarkumuwas, a skinny man only a few years older than Pihas, was next to speak.

“Surely, though, you see the need for caution, Pihas.”

Like the rising and setting of the sun, Pihas thought.

“The Achaians have been growing bolder lately, even so far as to sail their galleys upriver to campaign against Larnassas-a city far larger than our own little village.”

“You need not remind me, Tarku. I’ve heard the stories of what they did to the men-and how they carried off the young women, who even now are no doubt made to suffer dishonor in some vile Achaian’s tent. I also have a daughter, mind you.”

Pihas’s outburst startled even himself. Tarkumuwas caught his breath.

“Forgive me, Lord Priest. I meant no offense. I merely want to know what we intend to do with this man?”

“I wish I knew, Tarkumuwas,” Pihas said. “Perhaps we should send him to Hattusa, or at least to Apasa or Milawatta to the south. He would be no threat to us there, and no help to the Achaians so far from their encampment. Perhaps when he is fully recovered he be able to speak to us in a language we understand, and we can interrogate him. We might find out more from him than he would ever have the chance to tell the Achaians, assuming he is in their employ.”

“You believe he will recover?” Zarpiyas asked.

“I do. His head wound was superficial and there isn’t yet any sign of infection. By this time tomorrow, he should be fit enough to come here for an audience.”

“Then let him come,” the chieftain said. “And we shall see what sort of man this stranger truly is.”

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