Mynakos was brimming with excitement. He had wonderful news for his prince. The Oracle’s prediction had gone wrong. She had been proved an impostor. At this very moment the guards would be putting her in chains and leading her to the prince for trial. But he wanted to be the first to give the good news. So he rushed on ahead. As was custom with princes to kill the messenger who brought bad news, it was also custom to reward the ones who brought good news handsomely.
When he reached the palace, he was stopped at the gates by the guards. “You can’t enter now. The prince is not in a mood to see anyone now. Come tomorrow.” But Mynakos had not come so far to go away empty handed. “I have very important news for the prince. If the prince comes to know later that you did not let me in to deliver my message, you all will be thrown under chariot wheels and crushed to death.” He sounded so earnest that they had no other go but to let him in.
The prince was prancing restlessly. He was a stout man in his early forties. He had begun to bald a bit in the front. A large crescent shaped scar ran the entire length of the left side of his face. Ugly though it was such battle scars were borne proudly as a mark of valor. He wore a pure white tunic. He had an extremely disturbed look on his face. This was how he had been the last two years from the time he had first seen her. She had come with a band of travelling gypsies. The moment he had seen her, he had been totally taken in by her dark flowing hair, heart shaped face and her bright doe eyes. Add to that the fair skin, sharp features and a long nose. She was simply irresistible. He had to have her. As the Lord of Macedonia, his word was law here. He had had her seized at once. The rest of the gypsies were only too happy to escape with their lives. He had then had his attendants get her ready for the night.
His reverie was interrupted by the arrival of the messenger. “Who let this rascal in? Guards!”
“Wait my lord! I have important news for you.”
On hearing what the messenger had to say, his face lit up into a bright smile. He had him rewarded handsomely as expected and began to wait eagerly for the soldiers to bring in the Oracle
That cunning vixen had managed to evade him at the last minute. She had put on a grand show before the court. She had gone into a trance like state and started spouting strange verses. The court somehow ended up believing she was the next Oracle of Delphi. And the Oracle was one person even the prince could not touch. So sacred was she. So she had escaped off to the temple of Apollo. So far all her predictions had been coming true. But something had not seemed right about the whole thing. For one the Oracle had never been a foreigner before though there was no rule about it as such. Most earlier Oracles had confined themselves to predictions while this one had been making a name for herself making love charms, good luck charms and truth revealing potions. There were even rumors that she sold deadly poisons to assassins. But so far he had no concrete proof against her. Now finally his time had come. He would offer her a choice between the dungeons and his bed. He clapped his hands joyfully like a child at the thought. He was feeling so light and happy for the first time in the last two years.
He immediately convened his court and waited. He did not have long to wait. The soldiers arrived soon dragging a protesting woman. She looked exactly as she had 2 years back. In fact she was looking even more gorgeous as age was turning her into a full woman. “I have done no wrong. Let me go”, she protested. Her voice however somehow seemed to have changed for the worse. It sounded hoarse and her words kind of uncouth.
But he did not want to spoil his great moment of triumph with such trivialities. “Well! Well! Who have here? The prophetess of Delphi herself? Ha! I can’t believe it! And what is this I have been hearing? That you are an impostor? Tsch! Tsch! Too bad! Let us hear what you have to say for yourslef.”
“Please show mercy, my Lord. I am not the prophetess. I am just a humble servant.“
“Come on, dearie! You insult my intelligence. I expected better from you. Guards I would like to continue the questioning in privacy. Bring her to my inner chambers.”
He waited eagerly on the bed his attendants had specially prepared and decorated with flowers. The expensive fragrance they had sprinkled elevated seemed to elevate his mood. Finally his time had come. Soldiers left her with him and departed. As he neared her something strange began to happen. Her hair was becoming shorter and her face darker. She seemed to become a bit plumper and her face more rounded. What the hell! Within a few minutes a totally different woman stood in front of him. A dark ugly woman who looked every bit a serving woman!
The prince’s face flushed in anger. “What vile sorcery is this?”
The servant cowered in fear. “Lord, please me merciful. I am just a serving woman in the household of the Oracle. I don’t know what my mistress intended. But she bid me dress up in her clothes and then gave me a goblet with some nasty drink and forced me to drink it. Then she left me in her chambers and set out on some journey. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening, your soldiers were upon the temple of Apollo. And without heeding to my protests, they dragged me to you.”
The prince was now seething with rage. That chit of a girl had once again outwitted the Lord of Macedonia. He pulled out a dagger from his robes and plunged it into the heart of the woman who stood pleading in front of him. Even then he was not satisfied. Imagining her to be the escaped Oracle, he continuously stabbed her. It was indeed a gory sight that welcomed the guards when they came to the prince’s chambers. But they were kind of used to the prince’s rages and not entirely surprised.
“Guards, that wicked witch has escaped. She still could not have gone far. Comb the entire country. Find her at any cost! Put the entire army on it. She has insulted the entire kingdom of Macedonia. We can’t let her get away.”
Within the hour the entire Macedonian army was mobilized. Every house, every office, even temples were searched thoroughly. The descriptions of the prophetess were circulated throughout the country and a thousand drachmas was announced for any citizen who would give information leading to her capture. All the ways leading out of the cities were watched closely and every person passing by was examined closely. Any woman even loosely fitting the description was taken back to the palace for further questioning. The discipline and efficiency of the Macedonian army was in full display. It was only a matter of time before she would be captured.
The one weak area was the dock. One thing that had to be said in the favor of the besotted prince was that he was a good military strategist. He was quick to realize that the dock would be the easiest means to escape and he himself rode to the docks accompanied by his cavalry. He had built an excellent cavalry constituted of the finest horses exported from Arabia. Within hours they were at the dock.
All galleys and merchant ships were stopped and a thorough search began. On board one of the galleys stood two unimpressive foreigners – one a white man in his early forties in a shabby cloak with unkept hair and a gaunt expression on his face. The other a younger one was dark and looked like just anybody, someone you would not look back at a second time. The prince went up to the vessel and announced haughtily, “Soldiers begin the search.” He did not think it even necessary to ask permission from the master of the ship. He was the master of the Macedonian land and seas and every person on it was bound by his authority. As he issued the command his eyes met those of the older man.
The eyes stayed locked for a few minutes. The stranger’s eyes had power in them. No one dared look the prince straight in the eye like this. The prince could not help feeling a strange awe for this stranger though he could not clearly pin point why. Then the prince suddenly lowered his eye. This stranger was clearly making him uncomfortable. The soldiers were just beginning the search. The prince called out, “She is clearly not on this foreign boat. Let us waste no more time. Let us get going.” The soldiers jumped to obey their Lord.
As the prince departed, the stranger turned around casually and spoke out seemingly into the thin air, “You can come out now.” A pretty girl of frail frame emerged from behind the boxes. She tried not to show fear but her eyes betrayed her. The normally impassive Sadat let out a gasp. But her beauty that bewitched everyone seemed to have no effect whatsoever on Salazar. He just looked at her impassively as if she were some piece of unwanted cargo. “Ok. Your pursuers have left. You can get off my boat now.”
She looked as if she could not believe what she had just heard. She had been wearing her heart on her sleeve when the prince had boarded the galley. She had been so certain she would be caught and against all probability she had been saved and now she was being flung back into the pit.
“Please, Sir. The minute I am on land, the prince will seize me and my fate would be worse than death. Please take me with you. Please rescue me.”
Salzar gave a slight nod,”Hm. You have to come with us then I guess. Women always lead to trouble. I don’t at all like the idea of having a woman on board. But then can’t throw you to the dogs either, eh?”
Then turning to the Sadat, he said, “Order the crew to cast off into the sea.” Within moments, the galley was into the sea and picking up speed. Hearing the sound of ripples in the sea, the prince turned around. He was furious to see a galley leaving the docks without his permission. It was the same galley which he had not searched properly. The girls must be on the ship. It seemed strange that he had not searched that galley. For a moment something had clouded his mind. The man must be some kind of a sorcerer. But it did not matter. They would not escape him.
“Soldiers, attack that boat,” he screamed
The girl’s eyes froze with fear as she saw as she saw catapults and fire throwers line up along the shore getting ready to attack. No way would the galley make it. But death better than dishonor. But her only regret was these innocent men would die because of her. Salazar on the other hand stood calm and unperturbed. She could in fact even make out a slight curling at the end of his lips as if he was smiling to himself. He opened his mouth and said something. It was unintelligible to her and sounded strangely like the hissing of a snake.
Within moments chaos broke out on the docks. All manner of snakes emerged from nowhere: vipers, cobras, mambas and pythons. They attacked the soldiers furiously. The Macedonian army that had never faced such an onslaught before was thrown into total disarray. The soldiers’ legendary discipline took to wind and soldiers abandoned their posts and ran in every direction. The prince stood alone glowering furiously. This had been the worst day of his life. He had never been so thoroughly humiliated.
On the boat, the girl could no longer control her emotions and was doing a jig. She laughed merrily like she had never before in the past twelve years for she was now finally free. She ran up to Salazar and gave him a tight hug. He just shook her off and walked away. He clearly did not share the girl’s enthusiasm. Then on second thoughts he stopped in his track, turned around and spoke up, “Guess the crew would want to know what name to call you by.”
“I am Rowena, Sir. Would I also have honor of knowing the name of my kind and gracious benefactor? “
“Reserve all your adjectives. I am not kind, gracious or anything of that sort. We are dropping you off at the next port. Then you have to fend for yourself. Your energies would be better utilized thinking of how you will survive there,” he replied in a gruff voice and continued to walk to his cabin.
Click for other Chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8
Picture Credit: http://pinsandneedlesworcester.blogspot.in/2012/06/aaaaaaand-relax.html