They walked the windy grasslands in silence, except for Athena’s occasional self-pitying sniffs. Telemakos kept his attention on the sparrowhawk, thinking.
“You want me to speak to Abreha on your behalf.”
“You helped Malika and Shadi.”
“So you did,” Shadi agreed.
Telemakos turned the names of kingdoms over in his head, as though he were memorizing the names of rivers or stars: Sheba and Qataban, Sheba and Qataban. He could see their outlines spread on the world as they spread on a map, the green terraced hillsides rich with frankincense and grain, the torrid ports beyond the narrow straits that guarded the Red Sea.
I could make a collection, Telemakos thought, of tribute owed me by Himyar’s rising generation. Which is Jibril’s kingdom—Kinda? How will Abreha go on playing God with me when I am able to twist debts of loyalty out of Sheba, Qataban, and Kinda? That’s a quarter of his kingdom.
“Perhaps the najashi might arm you, now that you’ve reached manhood,” Telemakos said slowly. “You could train with the young soldiers, as I do. Then you will have some standing when you return to your tribe.”
“I would be indebted to you.”
“I won’t forget,” Telemakos said, smiling. “I’ll tell him.”
It was well into Himyar’s dry winter months then, the traveling season, and still Telemakos had no letters from his father or his aunt. But his mother wrote to him at last:
A sad thing has happened to our neighbors. Gedar is discovered to have had a large store of salt illegally acquired during the quarantine, and also stands accused of other petty thefts and piracies, so he has been arrested and fined and put to labor. The emperor has been merciful to his family, though. He has taken the children in as pages, and allowed their mother to go away to live with her sister. The villa opposite our house stands empty now. Perhaps Abreha has already told you this sad news, for I know that Gedar used to supply all the najashi’s lamp oil.
Your aunt Goewin sends you greetings, and also your father.
A GAME OF JACOB’S DREAM
“THE BRITISH AMBASSADOR IS back,” said Shadi. “I saw the najashi showing him the falcons, when Jibril and I were down yesterday.”
“It wasn’t the British ambassador.” Quarrelsome Haytham, who was by birth king of Awsan, spoke quickly. “It was a white man, but it wasn’t Gwalchmei. It was an older man, and taller, and Gwalchmei’s hair was red, not moonlight fair.”
“He looked like Gwalchmei,” said Shadi. “Gwalchmei with silver hair. Gwalchmei’s beard was silver-fair, remember? Maybe his hair’s gone white, too. He would be older now.”
“He couldn’t be taller, could he?” Haytham derided.
“Who else has such hair?”
Telemakos caught his breath. He was idly stringing wooden beads with Athena, holding up a leather lace for her to thread them on, but he was listening intently as always to everything the fourteen Scions said. Head bent, watching through his lashes, he could see all of Abreha’s foster children turn to gaze at him as if in obvious answer to Shadi’s idiotic question.
“It’s Ras Meder, Medraut son of Artos, Medraut of Britain,” said Jibril.
Telemakos carefully let out the held breath, too steeled to disappointment to allow himself to believe this news, yet half expecting it. For nearly a year he had been hiding secrets in everything he wrote, and he had immediately seen the double meaning in the cryptic close of his mother’s letter: Your aunt sends greetings, and also your father.
Athena held the leather lace upside down so that all the beads slid off.
“Who is it?” she asked. “Who is coming? Who is Ras Meder?”
Telemakos gazed at her in guilty sorrow. “Ras Meder is our father,” he said. “Yours and mine.” He should have taught her her father’s name by now. She ought to know her father’s name, and her mother’s.
Malika turned on him with accusation in her voice.
“You didn’t tell us your father was on his way here, Morningstar.”
“I didn’t know,” Telemakos answered, and could not stop his heart leaping with excitement and sudden hope. “I’ve had no more than two letters from him since I arrived in San’a. If he’s here, it’s not on my account.”
“That’s so,” said Jibril. “He wants to be the new British ambassador.”
But three days passed, and still Telemakos never saw Medraut, and would not have known he was there if the Scions had not told him so.
On the third morning he saw that his father was sitting with the najashi on one of the upper terraces during the young spearmen’s target practice, watching him. Telemakos’s aim went all to hell after that. Tharan, in disgust, put him to shame by setting him to retrieving spent spears.
Telemakos went to see the lion later that afternoon; lions always consoled him. Telemakos was too tall now to ride on Menelik’s back as he used to with the lion Solomon, but Athena could. Telemakos held her in place and she clung to the short black tufts of Menelik’s new mane. The young lion walked sedately around the dogs’ racetrack with Athena sitting astride his shoulders.
“Lie down,” she commanded in South Arabian, and Menelik obediently crouched with his belly against the sandy floor and let her climb off. No one, not even Telemakos, could command the lion the way Athena did.
“I want to go hunting,” she said.
“You do. You come hawking with Shadi and Jibril.”
“I want to go hunting with Menelik.”
“You are too little.”
“The dogs may go,” she pointed out, as though she ought to enjoy any privilege a saluki enjoyed.
Telemakos slung her carrying saddle over his shoulders and knelt down so she could climb into it. She had learned to fasten the buckles herself, much more efficiently than he could. Telemakos climbed to his feet and together they followed the kennelmen around as the dogs were fed. The newest litter were all nursing, and Telemakos lingered over them covetously, making up the names he would give them if they were his own.
“Argos,” he told Athena. “That’s what Odysseus’s dog was called, and I am named after Odysseus’s son.”
“Shams,” Athena said, the name of the ancient South Arabian goddess of the sun. There was no telling where she had heard it. She was becoming such a Himyarite.
“Selene,” he said. “That’s the old Greek goddess of the moon. You’ll have to learn to speak Greek, soon, or everyone at home will think you are terribly ignorant.”
“Selene,” Athena repeated agreeably, because she liked the sound. “Selene, Selene. Athena’s dog Selene!”
“They’re not our dogs really, little Tena.” They never would be: the salukis were nearly sacred, owned strictly by nobility, so prized and honored they could never be sold, only given as gifts. “You can say Selene so nicely, little Athena,” Telemakos said wistfully. “When are you going to learn to say Telemakos?”
But he knew it was a word she never heard unless he spoke it himself.
On their way back up to the children’s room, they met Abreha in the tiled walkway that connected the kennels with the main courtyard. The sun was setting beyond the mountains, lighting the tops of San’a’s towers, though the city’s streets already lay in shadow. Points of colored light were beginning to gleam in the high windows.
“Najashi! Najashi!” Athena waved wildly. “I was riding on the lion!”
Abreha came to meet them.
“I’ve missed your lion-taming show again, my honey badger,” the najashi said amiably, falling into step with Telemakos. “Your brother must send me warning next time he brings you down here, and I will come and watch.”
“Is Ras Meder a prisoner?” Telemakos asked abruptly.
The najashi laughed. “Assuredly he is not! Why should he be, O distrustful one?”
“You will not let me see him.”
“Your father is an emissary for the emperor. He is the message bearer in a negotiation with my cousin.”
Darkness began to swallow the yard. An owl called, and Athena answered it. The najashi’s look beneath his heavy brow seemed murderous in the dusk, but his voice was mild. “Last year the emperor Gebre Meskal arrested a servant of mine, and through him discovered what you discovered, that secret shipments of salt were made during the plague years between Aksum and Himyar in defiance of Aksum’s quarantine. Gebre Meskal is, as you have assured me, a forgiving despot. He offers to make peace with me, through a compensation. Gebre Meskal will forgive me my coercion if I relinquish my claim on the Hanish Archipelago.”
“And will you?”
“On condition he allows me to map Hanish for myself, and allows me custody of certain men imprisoned there who have served me loyally.”
That meant Anako the Lazarus, the man who had tortured Telemakos in Afar. Telemakos shuddered. Athena pulled at his hair absently, hoo-hooing softly over his shoulder at the owl that called from the hanging gardens.
“If all this comes to pass,” Telemakos said slowly, “the secrets I stole from you will no longer be secret. Will you then destroy the warrant you keep in your sash, and allow me someday to walk free of your kingdom?”
“Free of my stricture, perhaps,” said Abreha. “But do you truly despise my kingdom so?”
“Do you really carry my death warrant in your sash at all times?” Telemakos asked.
The lamplighters were coming through the courtyard now, and shadows sprang dancing to life. Abreha reached into his waistband and drew out the document Telemakos had seen him hide there a year ago. The lock of Telemakos’s hair that sealed it caught the torchlight for half a second, glinting silver.
“Najashi, najashi, that’s the Boy’s hair.” Athena reached for the shining silver.
“Do not touch,” said the najashi sharply, and Athena snatched her hands back into little fists, staring up at him with her clear gray eyes wide. Then she remembered to look away.
“You truly are a tyrant,” Telemakos said bitterly.
“I am no tyrant,” Abreha answered him, and his voice was hard as frost. “I pass no law over my land that is not approved by the majority of tribes in my Federation. I am in Solomon’s palace as their federator only because they nominated me to this reign. I cannot even appoint my own heir without their approval.” The najashi slapped Telemakos lightly across the face with the sealed parchment. “I hold you in jeopardy because you have knowledge that threatens my Federation. You yourself have pointed out you are not sworn to serve me. No man can serve two masters. How can I trust you to visit with your father? What will Medraut of Britain think of me, if I must stop his brave son’s mouth with cloth before they may see each other?”
Abreha folded the parchment back into his belt. He walked on, leaving Telemakos to follow.
“Don’t cry, Boy,” Athena said in the motherly voice she copied from Inas.
Athena was not in the nursery all the next day. No one brought her up to the Globe Room to build towers with the wax tablets, or practice counting on Dawit’s intriguing abacus from Cathay. Anger and abandonment began to wrap choking coils about Telemakos’s throat. He managed to ask polite permission from the Magus to eat supper with the Scions, and stormed down to the children’s room with the silver alarm bells sending crashing echoes up and down the stairwell. Sometimes, when he found himself shaking with pent fury, he made as much noise with them as he could.