“Look,” said the guard in a deep, rich voice. “Do you know what that is?”

The captain peered at the brand. Telemakos waited still, his joints so strained by confinement that he could hardly bear to contemplate stretching them.

“That is the najashi’s seal,” the captain answered in a low voice. “God help me. If I’d known—”

“You know now,” said the guard. “Get him out of here, and bring him something to make a decent meal before we sail. I’ll see to it he brings no harm to any of your crew.”

The guard lifted him out gently. Telemakos tried to sit up but found he could not straighten his legs, and that his neck was so stiff he could not lift his head. Panic seized him, and he struggled.

“Stay calm,” the young soldier said quietly, working his hands over the cramped muscles of Telemakos’s legs. “There—stretch—now the other.”

The captain helped, silent and guilty. Telemakos rubbed at the back of his neck as the two men set the sluggish blood moving through his body again. The brand was no longer sore. For the first time since Abreha had marked him, Telemakos tried to trace the outline of the najashi’s seal. He could make out the points of the star, but the lion’s head within the border was too fine for him to feel.

He looked up at the guard. The young man was a giant. Telemakos did not recognize his face, but he made a shrewd guess as to his name.


The other stared at him in surprise, and Telemakos laughed, feeling obscurely pleased with himself. It was the young man on whose behalf he had asked Abreha to grant a recommendation.

“Iskinder of the al-Muza city guard! You of all men are commanded to be my watchman on this journey?”

Iskinder answered slowly, “I know you.” He blinked in affirmation. “So I do. We met in the leatherworkers’ suq, two years ago, and you had just stepped off an Aksumite ship. You were there with your sister and a lion. You gave your blessing to a crucified spy.” Iskinder drew a breath. “You swore you would rather—” He stopped.

“—take such punishment myself than have to deal it out,” Telemakos finished for him, gritting his teeth. He pushed himself up on one knee, getting ready for the effort it would take to stand. “So I said.”

“You were right. It’s a hateful task.”

Telemakos shivered involuntarily beneath Iskinder’s steely hands. Iskinder suddenly let go of him and drew back by a pace’s length, leaving Telemakos a clear space in which to get to his feet himself.

Telemakos stood stiffly. The captain gave him his satchel.

“You’re to answer to me,” said the captain. “Iskinder is your guardian, but he has no right of command over you. It’s a good thing you understand each other.”



THE VOYAGE TO THE disputed Hanish Archipelago was swift but rough, and Telemakos was so wretchedly seasick throughout the day it took to get there that he thought his impending execution would bring nothing but relief in comparison. But soon enough they reached the looming volcanic peaks. In the shadow of Hanish al-Kabir the captain told him, “There’s no landing place for a ship other than at the prison, on the western side of the island. We’ll approach from the north, so they don’t see us, and your guard can take you ashore over the reef. We’ll follow you down the coast. There’s not much tide here.”

A thin mist of dull green scrub covered the lower slopes of lava. Below that, the coral sands shone white as bone dust. Iskinder paddled Telemakos to shore in a narrow hawri canoe and left him on the beach with a day’s water and a box of wax tablets. In the afternoon Iskinder picked him up three miles to the south. The next day Telemakos spent shipboard, while the captain took soundings and Telemakos plotted them, so that they were charting the water as well as the land. They slowly made their way around the island.

To Telemakos, Hanish al-Kabir meant prison and plague, thirst and breathless heat, exile and war. And it was true that the island was nearly as dry as the Salt Desert. But it was so beautiful. On shore, alone, Telemakos would come around the curve of an inlet and find himself faced with a cliffside of flawless black rock, as sheer and smooth as silk, shot with veins of green like a dark emerald. The rock pools were seething with life: fish more bright than jungle birds, fish like needles of iridescent glass, fish disguised as underwater flowers. Flamingos and spoonbills stalked among the coral in clear pale green water. Dolphins leaped beyond the breakers, where the volcanic slopes dropped steeply beneath the sea.

The beauty of it went to his head. Alone on the beach, Telemakos felt he owned it. Hanish al-Kabir did not belong to Abreha, or Gebre Meskal; neither one of them had ever set foot on it. It belonged to him, now, for every second of his limited life span that he stood as an illegal intruder on the shore with his ankles in the purling combers; the empty kingdom of sea and sky and sloping rock did not belong to him by right of deed or title, but by right of his being there when no one else was, by right of his astonishment at its unacknowledged beauty, and by right of his being the first to capture it truthfully in a map.

Each evening Telemakos transferred his day’s notes to parchment in diligent detail. He took over the space at the bottom of the stepladder to the rowers’ benches, out of the wind but still in the reach of daylight. He usually had some room to himself here, because the oarsmen preferred to sit above, in the full light and air, when they were not on duty. Telemakos spread his equipment on the floor and over the benches, working frantically in the scant minutes before dark fell; this final hour of the day was the most demanding for him, when his most precise work had to be done at top speed. Telemakos held the parchment in place with knees and toes, trimmed and cleaned his brush with his teeth, and deciphered his notes in the wax with his fingertips when he could no longer see them plainly. When he delivered the finished work to the captain and sat down on the deck to eat supper with Iskinder, he always felt exhausted and triumphant, as though the race against darkness actually pitted him against a physical opponent. Iskinder laughed at his ink-stained mouth.

“You are supposed to be inconspicuous!”

Telemakos finished his circumnavigation of al-Kabir and moved on to Zuqar Island. Quietly skirting the traders’ outpost there, Telemakos considered what might happen if he did not meet Iskinder at the next inlet. Would they search for me? he wondered. If they missed me, could I then marry a fishergirl and spend the rest of my days diving for pearls?

He narrowed his eyes and kept going. One-armed pearl diver: it was stupid even to think about it, and anyway, he was branded with the najashi’s mark. He could not hide that. If a hunt was made for him, no one would dare to give him harbor against the najashi.

In something more than a month the project was finished. They sailed back to the prison harbor on al-Kabir and anchored anonymously off the beach alongside a half dozen other sleek turquoise warships from Himyar, opposite a squadron of larger, seagoing Aksumite vessels. Iskinder in his hawri canoe took Telemakos and the completed maps to Abreha’s flagship, which waited among its fellows.

The najashi’s ship was larger than the warship Telemakos had grown used to, with a fully covered lower level for its oarsmen. Abreha had his own cabin, scarcely bigger than a cupboard, fitted with a worktable that folded down over most of the floor; Telemakos had to stand at the najashi’s shoulder, there being no room to kneel, as Abreha paged through his new maps. He checked them immediately, even before he allowed Telemakos to ask about Athena.

“Tell me about this harbor.”

“You can’t see it from the water. You have to row around that headland to get in.”

“Sheltered and hidden? And deep enough for a ship?”

“If you steer clear of the reef.”

The najashi turned pages in silence.

“Fresh water here?”

“A rain pool.”


“There are two springs on Zuqar. You must know that. There’s a deep pool up the mountain on al-Kabir just here—I plumbed it. But you can’t get there overland, and you wouldn’t get a ship near the coast there.”

Abreha said seriously, “These maps are remarkable, Morningstar. You’ve paid your sister’s ransom and more.”

Telemakos hesitated, then dared to ask at last, “Where is she now?”

“I left her in the port at Adulis, with your father, in the governor’s mansion, your great-uncle Abbas’s house. Abbas had sent a message to your mother to meet them there, but she had not yet arrived when I left. Athena is content enough, and safe. You may trust that, Morningstar. But it will be easier for you if you do not press me to talk about her over and over.” Abreha prowled through the pages of maps again, handling them carefully. He said, “I wish I had given you more time.”

Three days went by, and still they did not leave the prison harbor. Abreha went ashore each morning; the oarsmen were idle. Telemakos was not allowed on deck by daylight. Iskinder hovered near him, usually with his back turned apologetically, alert and wary.

Abreha asked Telemakos to eat with him, each night when he came on board his ship. “Why are we still here?” Telemakos asked on the third evening. The waiting made him want to weep and scream. It had not been so bad while he had work to occupy him, but in idleness his mind was left with nothing to do but construct his own execution a thousand times over. “Why not return to Himyar now? What are we waiting for?”

“I have a negotiation to complete with Gebre Meskal’s representative and the warden on al-Kabir,” Abreha told him. “You remember I had asked for release of certain prisoners there.”

Telemakos drew a sharp breath. He said evenly, “Anako called Lazarus, former governor of Deire.”

“Nothing escapes your attention, Morningstar.”

The injustice of it so overwhelmed Telemakos that for several seconds he did not think he could breathe, let alone speak or put food in his mouth.

“I owe it to him,” Abreha said sadly. “Surely you understand that.”

“If you’re securing his release,” Telemakos said, “does that mean he will be aboard this ship when it sails back to al-Muza?”

“And if he is? How is he anything to do with you anymore?” Abreha asked. Telemakos pressed his lips together; he could make no answer.

“How, boy? Can he hurt you? Instruct you? Beg a favor of you? Can he send you to prison? Condemn you to death?” Abreha paused, waiting for an answer, while Telemakos, in polite and silent hatred, stared fast at a splintered place in the deck between himself and the najashi.

“He cannot touch you, Morningstar,” Abreha said. “I understand why you should detest him; I do not like him, either, but to fear him, when you are utterly beyond his government? You manage your fear of me with grace and strength. What effort wasted, that you should spend your life in fear of such a one as Anako!”

He picked a comb of fine bones from his smoked fish and tested their sharpness with his fingertips. He looked directly at Telemakos from beneath his forbidding eyebrows. The najashi said, “Your fantastic title makes you his superior. I will require him to treat you with consideration, or suffer for it.”

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