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The Tenth Muse 11

Sam could have kicked himself for forgetting that books as he knew them hadn’t been invented until the early centuries of the Common Era. Before that, writing was mostly found on clay tablets, or inscriptions of various kinds. Depending on when he was, even papyrus or parchment might be unknown. He apologized for the confusion-as if anyone could understand him-and reverentially handed Pihas back his scepter.

At least now Pihas understood when he gestured as if to read words written on his hand. He pointed to his hand and, as respectfully as he could, uttered the name “Alaksandus.”

Pihas said something to the four men facing them. The big guy next to Zarpiyas seemed a little dense. No doubt Pihas was explaining to him that Sam had read something about King Alaksandus of Wilusa. In another month or two, maybe he could explain to them all about books and libraries and doctoral programs.

Zarpiyas spoke again. “Samparpar,” he began, and then went off on some topic or another. Sam winced at the way they mangled his full name, but took it as a kind of formal address. At least outwardly, they were trying to be respectful. Then Pihas tried again.

Handawatis Wilusiyaasi,” he said, making the crowning gesture Sam had used. “Pariyamuwas asti.”

Pariyamuwas? What’s that? An adjective describing what the king is like? A personal name?

“Alaksandus?” Pihas frowned and shook his head.

Okay, they apparently don’t agree with me about Alaksandus being king. Then again, he’s probably not, as far as they’re concerned. I mean, what are the chances that I’ve dropped into his era of history as opposed to any other?

I can’t believe I’m even entertaining the possibility that any of this is real! he thought, rolling his eyes.

“I don’t suppose any of you have a calendar handy, do you? No? Didn’t think so. So here’s the way it is, scholars: there is no such thing as time travel. I know, I know: It happens all the time on Star Trek, but it’s true. My friends in the physics department say so, and they know about wormholes and string theory and all that stuff.”

Pihas was saying something to the other chief men. Sam imagined it was something along the lines of, “He gets this way sometimes. It will pass.”

“But here’s the thing: my friends in the physics department aren’t here; I am. And wherever this place is-whenever this place is-I’m an anachronism. A time traveler, if you will.

“The problem is, I’ve misplaced my time machine, so I’m not sure exactly when I am. So maybe Alaksandus hasn’t been born yet, or maybe he’s been dead for a hundred years. All I know for sure is that-dear God, I can’t believe I’m saying this-I’m from the future…at least I am in a suffering-a-massive-head-wound, going-to-be-a-vegetable-the-rest-of-his-life sort of way.”

Pihas spoke gently to Sam. He realized he must really sound like a lunatic, babbling on and on in an incomprehensible language. He took a few deep breaths.

Okay, Sam. Settle down.

He took another deep breath. “I’m from the future. I won’t be planning any trips to the island of Thera. I know who Oedipus’s mother is. I know who wins the Trojan War. Maybe I’ll go out tomorrow and, I don’t know, invent the alphabet or something.”

He realized he was talking to himself. Pihas was talking with the others. Sam caught the word Hiawa, their word for “Achaia,” but little else. He imagined they were trying to decide who or what Sam was. That’s what he would do if he were asked to take part in this sort of meeting-on the other side, of course.

Pihas turned back to him and made the “reading” gesture again, along with a string of words: Achaia, Wilusa, Alaksandus, and one or two others Sam didn’t catch. Then he asked a question. Sam was proud of himself for catching “Kuit,” “What?”

Almost like Latin, Sam thought.

“What do I know about Achaia, Wilusa, and Alaksandus?” How do I explain that I teach the language, history, and culture of a country that makes you nervous? How do I explain that I only know little bits about your country, and then only in relation to the history and culture of Greece?

This would be easier if I knew when I was, Sam thought.

Before alphabetic writing, apparently. The marks on Pihas’s scepter don’t look familiar at all. Certainly after the arrival of the first proto-Greeks on the Greek peninsula. So some time between 2000 and 1000 BC, give or take. Some time when the thought of Greeks makes the people of western Anatolia nervous. The Dark Age migrations? Either that or-

“Oh, no.”

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