Lauren Haney: Curse of Silence

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Lauren Haney Curse of Silence
  • Название:
    Curse of Silence
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    Исторический детектив / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Lauren Haney


Curse of Silence

Chapter One

“The next one’s yours, my friend.” Sergeant Imsiba ducked around a pair of dressed geese hanging by their feet from the frame of a spindly lean-to. “Less than half the morning gone and already I’ve seen enough men dancing around the truth for one day.”

Lieutenant Bak, officer in charge of the Medjay police at the fortress of Buhen, grinned at the tall, dark, heavy muscled man walking by his side, his stride smooth, leo nine. “You’re much too generous, Sergeant.”

“I doubt that wretch thinks so.” Imsiba pointed toward a short, wiry man being hustled along a sandy path by two spearmen, one on each arm, heading toward the citadel gate. “Did you see the way he added weight to the balance each time he rested his hand on the upright?” The big Med jay shook his head in disbelief. “You’d think we’d have seen everything by this time, but the trick was new to me.”

“Another lesson learned, another triumph for the lady

Maat.” Maat was the goddess of right and order.

Imsiba smiled at the pomposity, a mimicking of a scribe neither man especially liked.

Bak stepped aside, letting two young women pass by.

They giggled, flustered at the small courtesy paid by this man who was slightly taller than average, with broad shoul ders and strong limbs, carrying a baton of office. Running his fingers through his short-cropped dark hair, unaware of the stir he had caused in their breasts, he said, “Comman dant Thuty will see he cheats no one else for many years to come.”

A grim smile played across Imsiba’s face. The comman dant of Buhen was not a man to be toyed with. His judg ments were firm, the punishments he meted out seldom forgotten by those who erred.

The two men strolled on, following a casual path be tween lean-tos set up in irregular rows to shade sellers, buyers, and trade goods offered in the twice-weekly market located on an empty stretch of sand between Buhen’s outer wall and the citadel. They veered around men, women, chil dren, and animals; stepped over discarded garbage and ma nure piles, and tried not to bump the slender posts that supported the frail shelters. All the while, their eyes darted hither and yon, searching for a furtive look or action that hinted at a dishonest trading practice. A nod here, a good humored smile there, a wave and a shout of greeting ac companied them along the way, easing a task thankless but necessary, one they performed periodically.

Though this was the coolest time of the year, the day was unseasonably warm. The sun beat down, wrapping them in heat, sealing them in a thin layer of sweat. A light, sporadic northerly breeze sent dust devils racing along the paths. The smells of commerce rose around them: spices, fish, livestock, fresh-cut wood, braised meat, manure, on ions, unwashed bodies, perfume. Voices ebbed and flowed, donkeys brayed in distant paddocks, and dogs barked con stantly.

“Lieutenant Bak!” Raising his weapon, waving the bronze point above his head to catch the sun and attract attention, a husky spearman wove a hurried path toward them. “Sir!”

Bak and Imsiba quickened their pace to meet him.

“What’s the problem?” Bak demanded. He recognized the man as a member of the ten-man company of soldiers as signed to maintain peace in the market.

“A rumor, sir. At least I hope that’s all it is.” They were probably of a like age-twenty-five years-but the spear man responded to the officer with the respect he would show an older, senior man. “A tale sweeping through the market even now. One I pray you can put to rest.”

Rumors flew up and down the river faster than the swiftest wind, growing in detail as a sandstorm builds while sweeping across the desert. Bak would have smiled, but the worry he saw on the soldier’s face warned him not to take this tale too lightly. “Tell me what you’ve heard.”

“They say the army is going to be torn from Buhen, from all the fortresses along the southern frontier. They say we’ll have to return to Kemet. That those who wish to stay in this land of Wawat-and there are many of us-will be men alone, abandoned by our sovereign and our home land.” The spearman’s voice shook with emotion. “Sir, I took as my wife a woman of this land. How can I tear her and our children from their home, their many relatives, their village? I can’t! I just can’t!”

“We’ve heard no such rumor.” Imsiba, Bak noticed, looked as concerned by the tale as he was-and as skep tical. The very idea was unthinkable.

Commandant Thuty would have been the first to hear and pass on news of such import. Thuty had said nothing; therefore, the rumor must be just that: a rumor. A tale that must be laid to rest before everyone along the river, military and civilian, grew worried and afraid. The army consumed not only grain shipped from Kemet, but large quantities of produce grown and supplied by farmers who dwelt along the river. Without the army, the farmers would not only be vulnerable to raiding desert tribesmen, but they would have no ready market for their crops. Their farms would decline, the land would die.

But oft times even the most outrageous of rumors carried a grain of truth. “I doubt the tale is true,” Bak reassured, “but I’ll look into the matter before nightfall.”

“He’s trying to cheat me, sir!” The thin, dark man, whose knee-length kilt made of soft cowhide, dyed red and worn shiny from use, identified him as a man of the southern desert, glared at the pudgy trader seated on the sand in front of him.

The trader sniffed his indignation. “He errs, Lieutenant.

Have you ever known me not to give fair measure?”

Bak, who had never before seen the trader, walked among a dozen or so long-haired white goats milling around the tribesman. A yellow dog held them close, nip ping the flank of any who dared stray. Ignoring the fine, soft hair brushing his bare legs, Bak placed his hands on his hips and eyed the objects spread out in front of the trader: a basket filled with stone beads and amulets, a dozen sacks open at the top to show the grain inside, fifteen or so baked clay jars of beer and honey and oil, and a stack of hides stinking of the acrid solution in which they had been tanned. Beads of all colors, strung to make them more de sirable and coiled for maximum effect, and seven stone amulets on braided cords lay on a strip of white cloth.

Nothing out of the ordinary; an indifferent offering at best.

“I can count as well as the next man,” the tribesman said,

“and I know what’s right and what’s not.”

“You people are all alike.” The trader raised his chin high and looked scornfully at his accuser. “You come off the desert, bringing the most pathetic of your animals, and expect to get in exchange half the wealth of the land of

Kemet.”

The tribesman’s eyes flashed anger. “He tried to give me five jars of oil, lieutenant, not the six he promised. The rock crystal amulet is cracked, and none of the bead neck laces look as long as he claims they are. I’d bet my only daughter that the wheat has been weighted with stones.”

The trader scooped the bright necklaces off the cloth, flung them into the basket of beads, and sprang to his feet.

“Look at those creatures!” he said, sweeping his arm in an arc over the goats. “They’re as poor and lean as the ears of grain in a dessicated field, unfit for slaughter for at least two months.”

The abrupt removal of the strung beads told Bak they would not stand up to close examination. Nor, he suspected, would the trader’s other wares. Smothering a sigh, he glanced up at the lord Re, a yellow orb in a pallid sky.

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