“You are full of difficult questions tonight, little Tena,” Telemakos said.

“Menelik is like my brother,” she said.

“I know,” Telemakos whispered, thinking of the silent bones. “He is like my brother, too.”

Athena slept pressed tight against his side that night, and every night after that. A semblance of peace fell on the Ghumdan palaces.



NOW TELEMAKOS HAD A secret that he took delight in. He was learning to move without making any noise. He practiced when he was alone or when he was working with the lion; nobody ever noticed whether his charm bracelet was ringing, if the lion was there to hold everyone’s attention. He could not throw a spear without rattling the charms, but before long he could walk and run in silence. He could move as quietly as Menelik if he wanted to. And this challenge, more than anything else, finally restored his sense of balance.

He could not get enough of being outside. He knew he was watched like a goat; he was always minded at a distance by a herdsman, or two or three. He did not pass the city gates without an escort of the najashi’s soldiers. They kept their distance, and if any of the Scions were with him, Telemakos did not see his more formal escort at all, but Telemakos knew he was watched carefully, all the time. People knew who he was. In San’a’s suq markets he once let Athena choose a set of ivory hairpins for their mother, and experimentally tried to send them off with a note dictated through an itinerant letter writer. The old man would not take his message.

“The Ghumdan palace children should use the Ghumdan palace servants,” the scribe grumbled. “You can have no need of a street writer.”

“I bought this gift in the street,” Telemakos said. “Why can’t I also send it in the street?”

“No paid scribe will risk his hands and livelihood in forwarding unapproved messages for foreign princes.”

“Your pardon, sir,” Telemakos apologized. “I would not compromise anyone’s livelihood.”

“You may send the gift without a message,” said the writer.

Telemakos did not care that he was watched. He could go where he liked. The semblance of freedom was even better than his other recent joy: that of running or riding in the chase with the royal saluki hounds, gripping one spear for balance and with two more strapped to his back should he spend the first, and the najashi allowing him to lead the hunt with Menelik at his side.

Street children and beggars still stared and cringed at his white hair and strange eyes, but the Scions rallied to his defense.

“Your majesty of Qataban!” the almond pickers called out in greeting to Shadi as they passed through the groves beyond the city gates when Telemakos went hawking with the more senior of Abreha’s collection of royal orphans. “What are you doing in the company of that half-breed Aksumite? Don’t you know those blue eyes can curse you?”

Another boy in the same tree added, “Aye, and are the najashi’s Royal Scions now set to playing nursemaid, that the Aksumite comes hunting with a baby tied to his back like a woman?”

Shadi, who was slight of build and cautious of temper, raised the sparrowhawk on his wrist a fraction and stood gazing up at the boys in the tree.

“I had not judged you such fools, Hujir and Yazid,” he said at last. There was rustling among the leaves as the young workers within earshot stopped to listen. One dropped out of the branches so he could better see the confrontation.

“The najashi himself is Aksumite, and his Socotran queen is blue eyed,” Shadi said amiably, “so have a care with your insults. As to the Morningstar, he is our guide and a captain among us, and since he has no falcon to fly, he may carry his sister with him if he likes.”

Shadi turned to Telemakos.

“Why don’t you make a pledge not to curse anyone with those evil eyes of yours? Swear by your remaining hand.”

“By this hand,” Telemakos swore solemnly. He had not realized Shadi could be such a performer. He bit his lip and covered his evil eyes, so the local boys would not have to look at them while he swore.

“You may pass the word along the treetops,” Shadi said.” The Morningstar is one of us. Our guide and captain.” He flung a silver coin into the basket of almond fruits that stood beneath the tree, and added, as a parting shot, “The Morningstar does not have a hawk, but he does not need one. He has his sister, and she is better than a hawk.”

Athena was, indeed, the bloodiest hunter among them.

“Bird in the grass,” she would whisper, one finger up by her cheek, pointing carefully to a red-legged partridge shuffling through the tall brush of the savannah. “Fat fat fat! You get that one, Boy.” She would call to it alluringly in perfect imitation of its own chuckling cluck, and then she would hand to Telemakos a stone for his sling. Sometimes he did not even notice her retrieving them from the pockets of her saddle; she was always ready with them when he needed them. She was as obsessed with accuracy as her marksman father, and judged Telemakos’s shots critically.

“Too low. That hen is scared now; Shadi can get it with his big bird.”

Once she was so angry with Telemakos for missing that she began to pound him in the face, brutally, with both small fists. Short of hitting back, he could do nothing to stop her, as they were bound together. The other boys had to come to his aid and prise her off him. They got the buckles of the harness undone and lifted Athena away, kicking and screaming, and set her on the ground. Telemakos found himself shaking like an empty wasp’s nest in the wind. His fingers scarcely obeyed him as he wound up his sling and fumbled to hook it back into his belt. It occurred to him for the first time that, for his own protection, Athena’s wild temper might need to be trained. A few drops of water spilled over his feet could transport him back to Afar as a quivering prisoner; being beaten over the head could do the same or worse.

“Shadi will carry you home,” Telemakos told Athena as coolly as he could, and tucked his disheveled hair back behind his ears. “Or you can scamper back yourself. I won’t carry such a monster.”

She wailed in outrage, “Boy! Athena’s boy carry me! No, not Shadi—” She pulled herself up to stand, hugging Telemakos around the legs. But he was still trembling, and it took all his will not to push her away.

“Listen, Athena, these are your choices,” he said levelly. “Shadi carries you, or nobody carries you. What are you going to choose?”

“I choose you, Boy,” she said stubbornly.

“Telemakos,” he snapped in deep and uncontrolled frustration. “Why do you never call me by my name? I am Telemakos.”

Shadi came suddenly to Athena’s defense. “Nobody calls you Telemakos,” he pointed out. “Why should she? The Star Master calls you ‘boy,’ too.”

Telemakos prised himself free of his little sister’s hands. “I’ll carry you tomorrow. Let go. You may not hit me. You choose Shadi, or nobody.”


“Shadi or nobody.”

“Shadi,” she muttered ominously.

“Good choice.”

Telemakos held Athena by the back of an arm to keep her from clutching at him again, and made her sit.

“You wait here while I take Shadi’s hawk. Behave yourself, or this bird may hurt me, for I don’t know how to tell it what to do.” Telemakos was inspired with a threat that she would take seriously. “If you hit Shadi or pull his hair, I will tell the najashi not to let you play with his salukis for a week. No dogs if you hurt Shadi, do you understand? Mother of God! It’s bad enough my father and Tharan clouting me over the head for my poor aim, without my baby sister doing it as well.”

“Which way back?” Jibril asked him.

Telemakos did not know what he had done to deserve the Scions calling him their captain, but it was true that he was their guide. As trackers they were witless. Beyond the cultivated orchards and olive groves, wild grasslands ran north and east and west to the barren al-Surat Mountains, and not one of Abreha’s Scions ever came here unescorted. Indeed, some of them never went out of the palace unescorted. Telemakos, who had roamed the streets of Aksum freely from the moment he had been big enough to climb over his grandfather’s garden wall, sometimes found it hard not to laugh at Jibril’s complete lack of any sense of direction. Jibril had once managed to get himself locked outside the city gates after curfew.

“We follow this irrigation ditch back to where the three stone culverts meet, and the city road is just beyond.”

“You seem to hold all the world in your head.”

“It is hammered into me daily.”

Shadi’s sparrowhawk was, thankfully, more cooperative than Athena, who sniffled and sulked as Shadi fixed her to his side in Telemakos’s harness. Jibril stroked the hawk’s downy barred belly with a fingertip to help Telemakos settle it on his wrist. Telemakos walked carefully as they started back toward the road, as though he were carrying a basket on his head. Jibril stayed close by him.

“I can make you a map of the roads around the city,” Telemakos offered. “And the hunting grounds.”

“Thank you,” Jibril said without any enthusiasm, as though that was not really what he wanted. Telemakos glanced sideways at him. Jibril did not look so much lost as obdurate.

“Well then, what? I would like to help.”

“You have the najashi’s favor,” Jibril said, his voice low.

“I don’t have the najashi’s favor,” Telemakos protested, speaking low as well, mindful of the unfamiliar hawk perched on his forearm. “I have his attention. Most of the time I am branded as a sneak and an eavesdropper. You’ve seen! I am only ever allowed to tie up these cursed charms when I go hunting, and I may not hunt alone. The najashi binds them himself, in his study, before I leave the palace, and the sentries at the gate have orders to unwrap the bells before I am allowed back in. I have lost the najashi’s trust.”

Jibril laughed. “Oh, of a surety, you have lost his trust. And so he names you beloved cupbearer, and trains you to hunt and to ride and to fight, and gives you opium whenever you need it, and indulges you when you bring your baby sister to his feasts or his councils or wherever you like, and follows your advice when you tell him which of his principalities to marry together!”

“Follows my advice!” Telemakos echoed, taken aback. “Is that true? Shadi, king of Qataban!” he called out, glancing behind him. “Has the najashi changed his mind about who is to marry Malika?”

“So she boasts,” said Shadi gruffly, hurrying to catch up with them. He had hold of Athena’s feet, one in each hand, to stop her kicking him. “Ah-la-la,” he hummed tunelessly at her ear. Telemakos began to understand how the Scions’ puzzling loyalty had taken root.

“I heard it, too,” Jibril said. “When last the najashi came hawking with us himself, I heard his lieutenant talking about it. And I wondered …”

Jibril hesitated yet again.

“… I wondered if you might find out what he plans for my future, now that I have come of age and have pledged him my service. I dread the day I must return to my father’s brother in Kinda, who neglects the tithe he owes to the najashi, and sends out raids against my mother’s tribe. How can I unite them for the Federation, I who have no skill with words or weapons?”

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