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The Tenth Muse 18

Agamemnôn eyed the foreigner. A grin began to make its way across his face when the man to his right spoke.

“Be careful, my lord. He may be trying to gain your good will through flattery.”

The Great King of Achaia frowned. He hadn’t thought of that, and would prefer to believe his name struck fear in the hearts of men and women for miles around. And still he wondered what sort of man this was who stood before him.

“You know I am a powerful man. Good. You know, then, that I will kill you if you don’t tell me the truth.” The girl held him tighter. She may not have understood the words, but she knew her barbarian friend was close to incurring the wrath of Agamemnôn.

“I understand,” he said in his atrocious accent. He hesitated. Whether he was struggling to find the words in Agamemnôn’s language or simply stalling until he could come up with a plausible story remained to be seen. He began again.

“I am a foreigner here.” He pointed to himself. “Sam Barbour.”

That much is obvious.

“This girl’s father….” He stopped and closed his eyes, apparently frustrated he couldn’t make himself understood. He pointed to the bandage around his head. “He helped me. Welcomed me. That is all.”

Agamemnôn turned to the girl and addressed her in her language. “Is this true, Astynomê?” She nodded yes. At the same time, the foreigner’s jaw dropped open.

“Ashtinamas…” he said. “Astynomê?” Then there was more muttering in his own language. The Great King once again turned to the man at his right.

“You’re sure you don’t recognize his words, Odysseus?”

The broad-shouldered man removed his pilos long enough to scratch his head.

“No. It’s clearly not Illyrian-nor any of the languages of travelers and merchants  I’ve heard spoken in Ithakê. The writing on the tablet evades me as well.” He gestured toward the tablets on Agamemnôn’s table. “My best guess is the marks are Phoenician, but that is only a guess.”

Agamemnôn grumbled. The foreigner was still talking to himself and making small gestures with his hands, as if regaling the guests at a feast with some fantastic tale.

“Dammit, foreigner, be quiet!”

He stopped, wide-eyed, and said something to the Great King. Then in Achaian added: “Please forgive.”

“If I may, lord Agamemnôn,” the old man interrupted. “The man has already told us he is a barbarian. I’ll wager no one in this camp can speak his language, but he does have some halting proficiency in ours. Nor do we know the location of his homeland, although surely it is nowhere near here.”

All this Agamemnôn already knew, but deemed it easier to let the old man continue than to remind him of this fact. Instead, he trained his gaze upon the foreigner. He seemed intelligent enough, and apparently could even read and write. Even though he had stopped his silly muttering, his mind was still racing. That much Agamemnôn could see in the way his eyes darted around the room. He glanced at Astynomê, then at the men around the table, then back to the girl as if he were trying to solve some sort of puzzle in his head.

He was clearly no warrior, however. He seemed to be in good health, but not hardened and muscular like a fighter would be; and only a few years older than his brother, Menelawos. But he would wager even his young son Orestês could have bested him in single combat.

“…Don’t you agree, O King?” the old man said.

“As you say, Nestôr. Quite so.”

“So if he is clearly neither Ethiopian, nor Scythian, nor of any other race known to us, nor-obviously-a god in human form, then only he himself can answer the question of his origin….”

The Great King turned his attention to the girl at the foreigner’s side. Suddenly the urgency of the tribunal began to fade. He licked his lips.

We’ll solve the mystery of this barbarian-but not tonight.

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