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|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
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IN THE TOMBS OF KURSI sits a man with his back to the sea. For a long time he will sit, his back bowed tight against the sea.
Some tombs of Kursi are caves in the hillside, some are rock piles, old mounds staggering like steps to a sacred altar. The altar is nothing more than a barren hilltop. In this desolate place the man dwells, and sits with his back against the sea. He cannot say why the tombs afford safety, but they do for him, the unliving among the dead.
Someone watches him. Someone he once knew. And though he hates to be watched, hates the relish of the morbidly curious, hates their freedom most of all, humans no longer hold significance for him. If they come to stare, he rages at them for a time, then forgets them. He only knows to keep his back to the sea. He learned it as a child learns about red glowing embers, learns not to touch such fiery wonders.
Across the Sea is important to him because it is important to Them. Across the Sea has dreadful consequence. He looks at the last time he gazed Across the Sea — purple bite marks up and down his arm. He takes what he has closest and smears it over the marks.
The watcher with the old familiar face sat a distance apart from the man with his back bared to the lake. Watching, idling with a weed.
"Who would have believed that one day you'd sit among the dead covered in your own filth?"
The madman never responded. Never showed a sign of who he used to be. Sometimes he sat silent with his eyes half closed, locked in impenetrable trance. More often he was not silent at all, locked, then, in careening frenzies no man could still.
This didn't stop the once-familiar man. If there was a way into madness, logic said there was a way out. Logic said.
"I don't know what to do that I have not already done," he said softly.
If he could have understood the shout of the madman, upon whom not a single word was lost, this is what he would have heard:
Do not leave me to Them!
Do not leave me!
You! I once knew you. ...
The watcher lifted his head. Did he hear words? Or was that his wishful fancy? The madman grunted sometimes, made long garbled nonsense sounds as if he were clearing a throat full of sludge.
Once he spoke with perfect clarity — in a voice the once-familiar man had never heard before. The madman looked right at him, black eyes peering from behind filthy matted hair, and told him a thing no one could have known, a thing he had long pretended never happened, spoken in the ancient windswept tombs in a voice just as ancient and windswept: I know what happened behind the stable when you were fourteen.
The madman's eyes glowed then, and his face changed for a moment into a leering hideousness that made his eyes water and his skin leap — it was a wavering of flesh into a form not his own. For an instant the madman's features became the face of the voice, and then came a flickering of faces, a cacophony of images, people he had never seen, some he thought he knew from old dark memories. In that moment an odor came from the madman, an incarnate foulness, a stench with no match upon the earth. He vomited at once and crawled away, vomiting.
The watcher listened carefully, then sank into himself once more. It was no response, just another grunt.
The madman's head was tilted, his mouth hung open. Saliva ran from his gray tongue into his beard, stiff with spit and filth, with blood from the animals he ate. Sometimes when the madman was sleeping, the once-familiar man would come and cut off as much of the beard as he could. The madman used to be clean shaven and proud of his appearance.
The watcher rose. He had nothing much to record today, not about the madman anyway. He had a new thing to record about himself, something vaguely disturbing. He wondered how to word it, and tried it out in the air. "I am attracted to evil. It fascinates me. I do not know if this makes me a bad man."
He almost wanted the Other to speak again, and it troubled him. Rather, it should trouble him. "Yes, it should," he mused aloud. The encounter had disturbed him deeply, frightened him to his core, but it also evoked a tumult of sensation. It evoked questions so enormous he could not yet frame them.
He strolled away from the man with his back to the lake, hands clasped behind him, as he used to walk in the colonnades. "I am not a bad man, but evil fascinates me. Evil intrigues me — this does not make me a bad man. ..."
You! Do not leave me to Them, you!
Do not leave me.
I once knew you. ...
The watcher stopped. He waited, motionless, hands clasped behind his back.
He heard only the cry of seabirds and the gentle rush of wind come down from the heights, rounding on the hillside tombs, coursing down the slope to the lake. He waited a moment more and then strolled away, trying out the new thing to record before he put it to parchment.
To Callimachus At the Academy of Socrates, West Stoa The Acropolis Athens
From your servant Tallis At a backwater barn of an inn In the dreadful Roman province called Palestine, on the Galilee
I would tell you the details of my journey, but you would only skip them. If this dispatch is late, it is your fault — the ship did not put out from Alexandria on the kalends of the month, as you assured me it would. I am sure you did not mean for me to stay an extra intolerable week with Aristarchus. Yes, that is what happened. Go ahead and laugh, Cal. I was not amused.
Palestine. I will describe it, though I know you will skip it. It is dry, dusty, foreign, dirty, hot — dusty doesn't do it justice, and when I say foreign, I mean barbarian. (Bathhouses? Two miles south! And never mind finding a decent launderer or fish sauce.) I am staying at a place the locals call the Inn-by-the-Lake, and that lake is called the Galilee. I've wedged a tiny writing desk under a tiny window, and I can see the lake from here. It's the only thing to soothe my longing for the Mediterranean, for Athens and all that is familiar. I am miserable for intelligent conversation.
The innkeeper has a fake smile, the locals skirt me like dung, and I miss cheese, for gods' sake, cheese. Though the innkeeper's daughter is an interesting conundrum, the inn itself is dreary, the common room dark, and — no. You are skipping this. I know you too well, dear Callimachus.
The Decaphiloi. Have I now your attention?
Tallis nibbled on the end of his pen. The moving water invited his glance, and he looked long before putting pen to parchment again.
Decaphiloi, League of Ten Friends. An amusing designation in this land called the Decapolis, League of Ten Cities. We thought so long ago, didn't we, when they chose to name themselves so?
He rubbed his brow. This wasn't the letter he was supposed to send. It should have been filled with assurances of the academy's welfare, with anecdotes of the teachers and students. This letter was never meant to be.
Cal, I don't know how to say it, so I'll say it. The League of Ten Friends is no more: the Decaphiloi have vanished, and the Academy of Socrates in Palestine is dissolved. Our little school has ceased to exist. Callimachus — it's as if it never was.
Worst of all, I am not joking. You know I wouldn't joke about this.
How well do I know you? You shook this letter and set it down in your lap. You looked long about the colonnades with those great gray brows plunged in consternation. You read over the last three or four lines, but it hasn't changed anything — Athens has lost one of its most promising satellite schools, it has simply vanished, and attend this: No one will speak with me about it.
Sometimes I laugh, Cal, the whole thing is so preposterous.
My attempts to learn more are constantly frustrated — most deny it even existed! The only place I get information is from the riffraff, at a price I can scarce afford, and now attend this: You received regular reports from the school up until a few months ago. What if I told you the portico they had rented has been empty for three years? (Go ahead and shake the letter. And get some strong drink — it doesn't get any better.)
The fellow in charge of public rental properties told me to my face he'd never heard of the Decaphiloi, or the Academy of Socrates either, and why don't I try Jerusalem. I laughed in his face, Cal, I couldn't help myself and was summarily escorted to the door.
You did not send me to the outermost edge of the earth (that's what Palestine feels like) to be greeted with this kind of time-wasting riddle. I am not smart enough for this — you couldn't send a teacher? Or a student, for that matter? Do you know how often your name has been illused since I've arrived on this scorched puck of a province?
This I know, that the more I investigate, the more I —
Tallis chewed the end of his pen, made himself stop. Most of the styli in his vase back home were chewed up.
— am angry. I am unaccountably uneasy staying at this inn, for there is an oddness in the air (I hope you skipped that). I am vexed at the delay in returning to Athens, furious at the lies and the lack of information, and am now determined beyond pale to learn the truth. (Somewhere Socrates is smiling.) I know the Decaphiloi existed, you know they did, ten teachers know, and great gods and goddesses, the students know — to insist on this to a pie-faced magistrate who well knows the truth is absurd
Did the Romans disband the school for fear of insurgence? You've spoken of the revival of Greek pride to Aristarchus, but the notion that your little school should have a hidden democratic agenda is as ridiculous as it is hilarious. Where is a parchment, I feel a play coming on. ... (I hope you didn't skip that, it was funny.)
Well, I will write again when I have a firmer grasp on what has happened — if I'm still alive. They don't feed you much at this inn, and my purse is getting lamentably light. Of the Decaphiloi, I give this present accounting — accurate or inaccurate as it may be, it is all I have, and that from the riffraff. Six members — whereabouts unknown. One member was murdered in a most horrifying manner; I shall not put it on parchment. One is allegedly a priestess in a temple of Dionysus — you read right, Dionysus. Don't be alarmed: I've forsworn all things Dionysiac, you know that, Cal. Anyway, one member committed suicide.
And one ... one is a madman.
Tallis sat in his chair with his lunch in his lap, eating steadily and watching the fishermen on the lake. He had been at the inn for a week now, and the innkeeper's daughter finally gave him a little variety in his meal. Showing him his whitened toga accounted for nothing in these parts, Tallis ate scorched bread for one week straight, and cheese only because he'd stolen it from the worktable in the kitchen. Today he ate boiled eggs with salt, unscorched and tasty bread, and cheese, for gods' sake, unpilfered and cumin-scented cheese.
He could have easily purchased fresh bread in the city, and did indeed on the first day, after a charred and hungry breakfast. Once he discovered the lack of a certain school of Socrates, he tightened his purse strings. His meager cache of coins would have to go for bribes, not bread; room rental, not a hammock on the next ship out of Caesarea.
One week in this backwater province, and he had no answers to the disappearance of an entire school. Eight years it should have been in operation! According to Lysias, the slave Tallis had questioned a few days ago, the school had operated for five years — three years ago, it vanished.
Tallis watched the fishermen put out their boats and row north, toward the mouth of the Wadi Samakh on the northeast side of the Galilee. The seasonal riverbed emptied into the Galilee during the rainy season, and there at the mouth of the Wadi was the best fishing on the lake. The fishermen caught thousands of the little sardines so popular around here. Not that Tallis had tasted any. Boiled eggs and cheese today gave him hope of smoked sardines in the future.
A rustle drew his attention from the waters. The innkeeper's daughter came up the path from the inn with what was surely an amphora of wine on her hip. She offered it to Tallis.
He brushed the crumbs from his front and accepted the amphora with a nod. He drank long and wiped his mouth and handed back the amphora as naturally as if this occurred daily — as if he did not have to water himself with a ladle from the well, no wine about it. Any wine he had, he purchased in the common room of the inn.
The girl rested the jug on her hip and looked under her hand at the fishermen. "Are you going to Hippos again?" she asked, eyes on a boat.
"Can you deliver a package for me?"
Ah — the reason for the tasty meal. "Of course."
She hesitated. "He may not be there anymore. Leave the package on his doorstep if he's not."
She turned to go back to the inn, and Tallis caught a glimpse of her face. It was clear and hopeful, a freshened look Tallis had not yet seen from her. It was the look a young woman should have, and her returning step to the inn was light and quick. She'd also just spoken more words to him in a minute than she had in an entire week.
Are you going to Hippos again?
"Yes, I am going to Hippos again," Tallis muttered, and ended his meal by tossing the remnants to a waiting dog.
He stood and shook out his toga, which was growing more dingy by the day. He would have to find a decent launderer, and Kursi did not have a launderer who cleaned togas. Surely he would find one in Hippos. He'd have to ask one of the occasional Roman soldiers he saw. If he had known this journey was to last so long, he'd have taken his entire wardrobe — which meant his other toga.
Tallis scowled at the lake. Yes, I'm going to Hippos again. To find a school that has been defunct for three years, a school no one will talk about. To find out who stole the money Callimachus has been sending for the past three years, money to pay salaries and rent — money from his own pocket, and from Tallis's pocket when funds were low. Cal, of course, didn't know that.
Callimachus of Athens was the sole patron of the school in Palestine, and Tallis was his servant, the one who saw him worry and fret if he didn't send the money on time. The teachers have families, Tallis, they risked everything, they left their jobs for our school, and they trust us. What can we do this month? Can we take on another boarder?
Callimachus was never good at managing his money. If he had it, he gave it, and forgot monthly commitments in favor of serving immediate needs. If it weren't for the money, Tallis would be on his way back to Athens — desperately strange, the disappearance of the school, yes, but all he cared about was making someone pay for stealing from Cal.
He smiled grimly. With interest, they would pay, and interest on the outskirts of the Roman Empire was high indeed. He had already made the calculations — to debtors' prison they would go, roaringly cheered by Tallis, a thought nearly as satisfying as his Tiberius fancy: Callimachus was a great and revered Greek philosopher, in favor with the Roman emperor Tiberius. The thieves could be remanded to the emperor himself, where they would meet justice in its most unpleasant possibilities.
When Tallis thought of Cal's sacrifice, and his worry, and his depleted state of affairs, only to find someone had stolen from him — the fury made his eyes glow.
"Never mind — if he's not there, you can have it yourself." The girl stood before him, holding a bundle. Her freshened look faltered when she saw his face. Instantly he smiled, smoothing away thoughts of dripping murder. He took the bundle, and by its fragrance knew it was one of the loaves he'd seen on the table that morning.
He held it to his nose. "I hope he's not there."
The girl smiled, the first real smile he'd seen in a week, and she skipped down the path to the inn.
Tallis set out on the two-mile walk to Hippos. He was to deliver the bundle to a fellow named Demas, who lived on the other side of the city in the amphitheater housing, a building with a double tar smear on the side. The errand would take him away from his task, but no matter. Despite certain misgivings at losing the loaf, he hoped to find the fellow. He was curious about whoever rated a fragrant loaf from the enigmatic young mistress of the inn. That smile was the first real conversation he'd had since Egypt.
Excerpted from "Madman"
Copyright © 2017 Tracy Groot.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
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