Zarpiyas and the other chief men studied Sam as he stood before them. Pihas stood by his side, carrying now a gold-covered wooden scepter of exquisite workmanship: the symbol of his office as a priest of Apaliunas. He prayed to his patron for wisdom as he attempted as best he could to mediate between the stranger and the other leading men of the village.
“My lords, I present to you the stranger who washed up on our shores early yesterday morning. His proper name, as best I can discern it, is ‘Samparpar,’ although he is happy to answer to ‘Sam.’ He has managed to pick up a few words of our language through interaction with me, my daughter, and my slaves. He knows a word or two of Hittite, but no more. He seems to have a knack for languages and knows some few basic facts about Wilusa and surrounding lands, but he is from nowhere around here. He says his country is called Amerika-which I have never heard of. It is far to the west-how far I cannot say, but many days’ voyage, certainly.”
Kunawas glared at Sam as he spoke to Pihas. “So this land he says he’s from-this Amerika-is in the west? What is the nature of his people’s relations with the Achaians?”
“Me no Achaian!” Sam protested. Whatever he knew of Wilusa, he obviously knew the last thing he wanted to be mistaken for was an Achaian. Pihas put his hand on Sam’s shoulder and gave him a smile.
“My lord Kunawas,” Pihas began, “I can’t say for sure that Amerikans have any relations whatever with the Achaians. Samparpar has named to me at least four or five countries between his and Achaia.
“But you must admit, lord priest,” Tarkumuwas took up the conversation, “that it doesn’t look good that he has arrived here from the west. How did his ship manage to get past the Achaian fleet?”
“It seems obvious it did not, my lord. Fishermen found him on the beach, wounded and unconscious. Of his ship, we have seen no evidence whatever. Perhaps it was even sunk by an Achaian raider.”
Now it was Zarpiyas’s turn. “You say he knows something about our land?”
“Yes, my lord. He recognized the names of Wilusa and Achaia, and I believe he is familiar with great Apaliunas. Although I don’t know if his people worship the same gods we do.” Pihas hesitated before offering the next bit of information.
“I also heard him mention the name Alaksandus.”
“Alaksandus?” Zarpiyas sighed. “Has the tale of our woes reached even to the ends of the earth?” He turned to address Sam directly. “You, Samparpar, what do you know of Alaksandus?”
Pihas could see Sam was struggling to remain calm. It must be bewildering to face such a suspicious crowd with only the barest rudiments of language available to defend oneself.
“My lord Zarpiyas,” he began, then fell silent. He turned to Pihas and said something in his own language.
“What is that? What is he saying,” Padi asked. Pihas shushed him, a bit more rudely than he should have, and gave his full attention to Sam.
“Alaksandu,” Sam said, then remembered to add the nominative ending. “Alaksandus.” Then he pantomimed setting a crown on his head.
“Alaksandus is king?” Zarpiyas asked. “He’s saying Alaksandus is destined to be king-ahead of the crown prince? Or that he designs to be king? What am I hearing, Pihas? I don’t like this. A foreigner from a place none of us has ever heard of should learn not to spread libels about the royal family-especially in times of war!”
Pihas eyed Sam. His guest must know something he said had caused offense, but the priest held out hope it was an innocent mistake of some kind. The priest spoke slowly and deliberately. “Sam, please try to understand. It is troubling that you call prince Alaksandus a king. What do you mean by that?”
He was getting nowhere. He sighed, scratched his beard, and tried again.
“Sam, you know of Alaksandus.” He tapped the side of his head and repeated the sentence, emphasizing the word “know.” He remembered how Sam and explained about Amerika. He made the same expansive gesture he had used the day before and asked, “Where do you know Alaksandus?”
Sam held his palms together, then opened them up like the wings of a butterfly. Then with the index finger of his right hand, he traced lines across the fingers of his left hand.
“By Tarhunt, what is he doing now?” Kunawas asked.
Pihas paused. “I’m not sure, my lord. But I believe he understands the question I’ve asked him.” Turning again to Sam, he continued: “I’m afraid I don’t understand. What does this mean?” He imitated Sam’s gestures, at least as closely as he could follow them. “This, what?”
Sam stopped, then realization dawned on his face. He let loose another barrage of his native language, this time in a more conciliatory tone. He scanned Zarpiyas’s courtyard and its occupants.
“Aha!” he said, and pointed to the tip of Pihas’s scepter. Sam gestured for the priest to let him hold it. Then he saw what Sam saw.
“Ah!” Pihas said.
“What is it?” Kunawas asked, perturbed.
Sam held the scepter gently. He seemed to appreciate that a man didn’t easily hand over the symbol of his rank to a stranger. But with the scepter in his hand, he ran his index finger along the tiny hieroglyphic inscription on the band around its tip, looking first at the writing, then at Pihas.