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The Tenth Muse 14

Sam staggered to the door of his bedchamber.

“Sam!” Ashtinamas called, struggling in the arms of the man in bronze armor who had just entered Pihas’s courtyard. “Samparpar!”

Another Achaian warrior had scooped up Tuwatis and cupped his hand over her mouth.

Dammit, I was right. Why did I have to be right?

The armored man, perhaps in his early forties, was saying something to the warrior who had just finished manhandling Sam. He was obviously someone important. His helmet sported an impressive horsehair crest and his armor was ornately decorated with gold and silver fittings. At nearly six feet tall, he was one of the tallest men Sam had seen since his adventure began.

Okay, Sam, think. You’ve taught courses in ancient Greek. This shouldn’t be too hard. Just pay attention. The guy in the armor is the king. I definitely heard “wanax.” So, what’s going on?

The king was thanking Sam’s captor for a gift. It wasn’t that hard to read the man’s body language and figure out it wasn’t a gift he had given freely. Next the king spread his arm to indicate the courtyard and said something else.

Say that again! I almost had it!

Sam was terrified at what was happening but also thrilled to hear a language spoken he could somewhat understand-even if it was ancient Greek! But he had to know what was being said. His life depended on it.

Suddenly, someone was yanking Sam by the arm. A warrior threw him down in front of the two men who had been talking. He asked a question of some sort. Sam didn’t catch much more than houtos: “this one.” He guessed what the question was, however.

Ashtinamas screamed Sam’s name again as the king dragged her from the villa.

My God, what are they going to do to her? And where is Pihas?

He couldn’t leave her. He moved to follow her, but his captor was holding him by the strap of his satchel. Only then did he remember he had put it on when he first heard the commotion in the village.

The man opened the leather bag to find Sam’s wax tablets. He had stayed up into the night taking notes on the bits and snatches of the Luwian language he had managed to acquire. They were the closest things to valuables Sam currently had. The man puzzled over the writing, then barked a question at Sam.

“Wait, I didn’t catch that. Ou katalambanô.” I don’t understand. They’re talking too fast, and the dialect is-

Sam froze. His captor’s dialect was archaic-maybe even older than Homer. It hadn’t registered when he had called the king wanax instead of the later form anax. Now Sam could hear all the hallmarks of a very ancient form of Greek-the uncontracted vowels, the aspirations, the “w” sounds that would eventually be eliminated, everything.

Sam realized his captor was still talking to him, and getting angry. He had to follow Ashtinamas. He couldn’t let anything happen to her if he could help it.

Eleêson, kyrie,” he said, bowing as contritely as he could manage. “Have mercy, my lord.” He hoped the man could follow what must surely have been an atrocious pronunciation.

Ho pistos doulos sou esomai. I will be your faithful slave. Eleêson.”

The man grunted and shoved Sam toward the door.

Sam caught a glimpse of Ashtinamas on the beach as Achaian warriors herded a dozen or more captives on board their ships, along with sheep and goats, a few cattle, and bags of stolen treasure. She went onto the king’s ship; he the ship of his captor. He, Tuwatis, and some young men he hadn’t seen before huddled on the deck.

Tuwatis pleaded with him in her native language. Sam wished he had the words to comfort her. All he could do was hold her close against the cool sea breeze and pray they would all be okay.

Sam tried to catch as much of the sailors’ speech as he could. It was definitely some kind of Mycenaean-era dialect, but he thought he could fake it if he could keep his Homeric forms straight. Grammar might not be as much a problem as pronunciation, however. Sam had adopted the native Greek custom of pronouncing Greek from every era according to modern rules of pronunciation. His captors’ vowels and consonants sometimes conformed to the scholarly reconstructions of what early Greek sounded like, sometimes they were surprisingly modern, and sometimes they defied every pronunciation scheme Sam had ever heard of.

On either side of the ship, twenty-five men pulled at the oars while a piper kept them in proper rhythm. At the stern, a pilot guided the ship by a single steering oar. Sam’s captor was apparently in command. Wiphitos was his name. He shouted orders to the men. Someone at the prow had caught sight of their encampment.

Sam strained his neck to see past the bird’s beak carved on the stem post of the prow.

The camp was more like a small, rustic city of tents and makeshift huts. Perhaps as many as three hundred other black ships dotted the beach, and beyond the sprawling camp was a palisade of wood and stone. As they drew closer, Sam could make out the shapes of both humans and animals.

Beyond the palisade was a large cleared area at the foot of a hill, and at the top was a walled city. When he saw it, Sam’s jaw dropped open.

“My God,” he whispered. “it’s true.”

He had seen that hill before. He had, in fact, stood at the top of it six years ago and listened as an archeologist told him and his students some of the theories behind the demise of the city that once rose above the plain of the Scamander River. When Sam was last there, there were nothing but ruins on the hill of Hissarlik. The massive walls had crumbled and been overgrown with three millennia of grass and weeds.

Now, there stood a city of maybe as many as ten thousand people hiding behind those legendary walls. Actually, there were two walls: an outer perimeter over fifty feet tall, made of mud-brick on a stone foundation; and an inner citadel to which defenders could retreat. Beyond the outer wall was a trench, eight feet deep and ten or eleven feet wide, if Sam remembered correctly.

Sam lurched forward as the ship’s hull scraped the beach. The sailors prodded him and the other prisoners into the water and shoved them toward the shore. He helped Tuwatis find her way to dry land, craning his neck to see whatever became of Ashtinamas. At last he spied her struggling in the arms of the Achaian king, whose name he now knew beyond any doubt. Then he fell to his knees on the beach and gazed again at well-walled Troy.

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