Астахов Андрей Львович : другие произведения.

Leodan the Son of Lion Chapters 1-7

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    Авторский перевод первой книги серии о Касте и Леодане

  A. Astakhov
   Gods can do everything. They create and destroy the worlds, their power is infinite and undivided. But so happens only if people remember gods and esteem them. If gods are forgotten by mortals, they should come back to the Earth and conduct life not so divine as before. And what is absolutely bad - the ancient enemy of the Forgotten gods is going to conquer the world of people, and demon hordes are just about to destroy all that was once created by these gods. What can the former inhabitants of heaven deprived of their power oppose to the supernatural enemy? Only two young people whose fate was connected by an ancient prophecy. A brave and cruel Casta, the female gladiator, and the coddled slave Leodan who grew in bondage and never held weapon in his hands. All that the Forgotten gods can make - to connect them together, to give them ancient magic Relics, and after that to expect the result of the coming great fight which will decide not only destiny of the world, but also the fate of gods themselves.
   To my friends, Yulia and Valery who once again proved
   the simple truth that old friends are the best friends.
   Contempt thee of another do not brand,
   And for a start the Truism understand:
   We can`t the plan of Playwright comprehend-
   The play by Demiurge a secret system had,
   And each of chosen actors young or old
   On stage of Life by His desire will be called.
   Not later that will happen, not before,
   And do not judge the actors anymore!
   The poor jester at the beginning of representation
   At the end - the wise man without exaggeration,
   The hero in the end can be discredited at all,
   And bachelor will be married pretty girl,
   And one who seemed to be pathetic dog,
   Appears as a mighty lion in the epilogue
   Peyre de Montier "The Lais about arrogance"
  That was well familiar feeling - in three years of performances she felt it dozens of times, passing along dark corridor which circus fighters called the Way of Fateful. To pass it with a slow step, gait of the soldier preparing for fight took the couple of minutes - enough time to indulge in memoirs and to experience what great value life is and as she unreasonably arrives, putting it at deadly risk. Especially now, when she wasn`t the slave any more, not the circus meat intended for a bloody show. But the Way of Fateful took her, eventually, to Fate Gate - huge oak gate behind which there were a bright daylight and the arena. The place which attracted men of courage which gave birth to them and drank their blood. Behind gate the victory and glory - or death waited. Many passed here, and many will pass this way after her. But so far the heroine of day she is - Casta the Warrior, Casta the Amazon, the best fighter of the big Darnat arena. Today she will prove once again that she is worthy her glory.
   Her opponent is already there, in the arena. And the audience is waiting for her coming. Old Derak, her lanist, told the circus was overcrowded that day. It means that the fight will be seen by more than seventy thousand spectacles. Seventy thousand couples of eyes will watch without blinking each wave of weapon, each movement of fighters, expecting the bloody final of a duel. Seventy thousand citizens of the blessed by gods Darnat city will stake who will win this fight, and someone will leave today from circus as the rich man, and someone will lose everything, having put to defeated. Because only one fighter today will leave the arena alive. Such is a duel condition which was set by Shabak, the secretary of honorable Abnun, the owner of Big Circus. Such is a condition of each duel in honor of Darnat's gods.
   Casta reached the end of a corridor, became straight, rose in front of gate, waiting when the gatekeepers dressed up as demons of death opened them. She did not see the arena yet, but could hear a roar of many thousands people crowded in the stands of circus, and was quiet. In three years of the career of the circus fighter Casta participated in hundred thirty five fights, and always gods of her fathers were favorable to her - only twice she got serious life-threatening wounds. She battled in pair and group fights: light and fast lance bearers-retiarii and heavy-armoured swordmen, warriors with axes and daggers, riders and chariot drivers, humans, animals and the spiteful monsters brought to Darnat from far lands by brave hunters were her opponents. She killed all of them. However today she is meeting the unusual opponent. Never before in the arena of Big Circus a human child and an orc met in a hand-to-hand fight.
   Heavy drums reeled up powerful iron chains on themselves with a hysterical scratch, shutters began to open, and the bright sunlight struck to the Casta`s face especially desired after darkness of cubiculum and corridor which she went to the arena. And then she saw the arena - virgin and clean, snow-white because of the purest sea sand covering it. She stepped forward, moved to the center of the arena with elastic light step, and the wave of enthusiastic cries and applause covered her. Casta adored these seconds - for the sake of them it was worth risking life. She saw eyes of the audience; thousands of men looked at her with desire, thousands of women - with envy. For a long time she had been a heroine for these people, the embodiment of force and courage, and remained it until this time. They compose verses about her beauty, courage and cruelty, and the most high-ranking men of the kingdom covet her love. She is met by these people as, perhaps, the Shofet the Shadow of gods on Earth, the governor of this realm is met on Darnat's streets. And only then, having torn off a look from the crowded stands, Casta saw the enemy in the center of the arena.
  The orc was huge. He was one elbow higher than the girl and twice wider in shoulders. The breast of orc which densely grew with black hair impressed with iron muscles, curve legs reminded oak boughs, the rigid mane stuck out. When Casta stepped to the opponent, orc eyes blazed of a scarlet flame, and the upper lip spread up in a contempt smile, having opened sharp yellow canines. The orc was armed with a big oval shield and the labra, heavy two-edged battle axe on a handle one and a half yard long which, however, looked as a toy in his mighty hands.
  - "Ha, woman!" - Orc hoarsely shouted. - "Tulkan to wait when the woman to go to fight with him. Tulkan to respect the woman. Tulkan quickly to kill the woman. He to show the head of the woman the children on holidays! Beautiful head, Tulkan to store it long."
   Casta answered nothing. There is no sense to talk to this monster. It is strange, however, that this creature is able to speak. She thought with satisfaction that she had picked up the correct weapon for that duel. Derak suggested to choose a long spear, but Casta decided to take weapon which was tested on humans and on animals. Once she had thought up how to turn a usual steel infantry sword into cruel weapon of murder; having left one of edges as what it was, Casta, by means of the circus blacksmith, turned the second edge into the sharpest saw which blow inevitably caused severe bleeding and shock. The jagged blade which was christened as the Fleecer (Casta used to name it Caress of Shante), immediately became fashionable among fighters, having made battles in circus even more bloody and cruel, but she was the first! And this orc will feel now on his own skin what it means - to miss even accidental blow of the Fleecer. There is almost no armor on the orc, only a wide leather skirt protecting a bottom of a stomach and hips. Several cutting blows by the Fleecer up to orc`s hands and legs, and the issue of the combat will be turned.
   Casta raised eyes to a tribune where The Shofet usually sat, but saw with surprise that the governor did not deign to visit circus today. It was unexpected, divine Shofet never missed a fight with her participation. The place of the governor was taken by his young wife, charming Kuati, the daughter of the Sais tsar Zurappa and the most beautiful woman of Darnat dressed in purple and a fine linen, sparkling with jewelry of the great price. It seemed to Casta that in emerald eyes of the beauty she saw something bigger, than just interest in her. The wife of the governor looked at her with admiration. But why is Kuati alone? However it is strange that the governor misses such unusual fight. Divine Ras Navan, Lord of Darnat - the great fan of military entertainments, everybody knows it. Perhaps, the governor got sick? Or such indifference to a duel - a disturbing signal for Casta, the sign of monarchical disgrace?
  - "The woman to be afraid! - Orc bellowed, bringing Casta out of thoughts. - Then Tulkan to attack the first!"
   Told - and jumped under an amicable roar of stands. The heavy sharply ground labra sparkled in air, and Casta only during the last moment managed to substitute her shield. Even the sliding blow of a labra forced her to sway. But she quickly recovered. In a fast pirouette jumped aside to the right and cut with a sword on a hand with a pole-axe, but did not calculate distance. The orc pulled in the shaggy head in shoulders, began to roar and struck new blow. This time Casta left from blow without effort, coquettishly smiled to orc - she knew well that such smile enrages her opponents.
  - "Well, come on, freak why are you standing still? - she shouted. - Or already shot up?"
   Orc tried to get the girl with side secants blows, but the labra only touched edge of a shield, and Casta grinned. If gods do not let her miss accidental blow, this duel is after her. The orc is too sluggish, clumsy and rectilinear and a pole-axe isn`t a weapon convenient to fight against the sword-bearer. And now she will tickle him ...
   Tulkan solved the attack of the opponent and skillfully left sideways - the jagged blade with an opposite gnash scratched on the shield of orc. Then they turned some time on the arena, drilling each other with furious views. The circus became silent - all, with bated breath, waited for the new attack, sought to not pass the moment when the first blood is finally shed.
  Casta continued to smile. After the orc tried to get his wide side blow labra again, she sent him an air-kiss, having caused snickers in the stands. The orc attacked again. The girl easily evaded from blow, ran by Tulkan on tiptoe and got up, having exposed shield before herself and having taken away a hand with the Fleecer back, kind of inviting orc to attack.
  - "Do you want to have me? - she shouted. - Try, handsome. I will love you to death."
   In the stands laughed loudly. Tulkan showed canines and suddenly jumped forward. This time he did not cut, and just struck with a poke, having got to the middle of shield. Rejected Casta back as if she were hit with a ram. The orc roared, repeated the attack, having strengthened blow in the girl's shield with a furious jump. Stands roared - the best fighter of Darnat, the invincible amazon Casta, fell backwards. Stands heard her shrill shout. But the orc made what nobody expected. Having lifted a pole-axe, Tulkan departed on a step and croaked:
  - "To rise, woman! Tulkan not to hit a fighter when he is down!"
   Casta, spitting out the sand which jammed into a mouth, rose to the feet. Thousands of eyes bewildered looked at her, and she looked at orc. Tulkan quietly stood, having put a labra on shoulder, and waited when the girl would recover. And Casta met his look. A strange look - in the eyes of orc there was neither rage, nor blood lust. He looked at Casta with interest as if he tried to consider her better.
  - "Ha! - he shouted. - To rise, fight! You beautiful woman, and Tulkan want to kill you beautifully".
   And he is vain, Casta thought in confusion. Also he is noble, may the dust take him - circus is not that place at all where it is necessary to follow the code of the soldier, but this orc seems to conform to the rules of honest fight even here. However it is impossible to miss such blows more. After blow by a pole-axe the left hand grew dumb, the shield was strongly bent, but fortunately she did not get wounds. It seemed to Casta that there was a triumphing grin on the ugly face of orc. Seemed this freak to decide that she is only a weak maid who can be slammed as an annoying fly. It is a high time to remove this grin from his physiognomy!
   Casta rushed ahead. She always had a good reaction, it saved her in a duels with animals and monsters. How the Fleecer unstitched a skin of orc, Kasta did not see, and felt all over her body. She jumped aside back, being closed by the rumpled shield, and with evil pleasure saw that the face of orc was distorted by pain, and sand under his legs was besmatched by dark blood in the eyes. The jagged Fleecer's edge after all found a vein on Tulkan's hip.
  - "No, that I am who will kill you beautifully, - she mischievously said."
   Tulkan came round, went forward. Casta noticed at once that her opponent considerably drops to a wounded leg. The orc began to strike powerful wide blows with a pole-axe, heky as if the butcher does, but all of them did not hit the mark - Casta turned aside from them with the grace which caused a roar of delight and a thunder of applauses in the stands. Then, having improved the moment, the girl herself attacked, and again the Fleecer hit the mark. This time the blow had sideways, having broken off skin and muscles.
   Stands could not stop admiration shouts. Now very few people doubted that a victory will be for the human. Sand of the arena was covered by all new and new crimson spots, and together with blood the orc lost forces and hope. Even so hardy and strong being will not be able to battle long against such bleeding. Truly, gods love Casta the Savage! Again she won. Here she went again forward, restricts an orc, strikes blow after blow. Hey, look, she for the third time wounded this freak! Heil to Casta! Heil to the Invincible!
  - "Finish him off! - rushed from stands. - Finish!"
   The orc hardly beat off the masterly attacks of Casta. There were some more avulsive bleeding wounds on his hands and legs, the face became absolutely gray, breath - faltering. Casta did not hurry; her victory won`t get to anywhere, it is better to be kept and not to be substituted inadvertently under blow of a terrible labra one direct shot of which is enough to leave the wet place from her. The orc is wounded, bleeds profusely, but his eyes still burn with fighting fire, and he has still got enough forces.
  -"The woman to play for time. The woman to be sorry, - the orc suddenly croaked. - It is time to finish. Tulkan is ready to die."
   Casta understood. Tulkan recognized defeat, and everything what he wants is to die quickly and adequately. Having nodded orc, she immediately jumped forward and brought down the opponent from legs with the blow of a shield. The roar of seventy thousand crowds deafened her.
  - "Kill! Kill the orc! - voices shouted from all directions. - Finish off this scum! Casta! Casta!"
   Tulkan lay without the movement and panted. The bloody pool spread under him more and more, but Casta suddenly understood that orc did not receive any vital wound in a fight. Blood from his wounds was dark and flowed slowly, though is plentiful - the Fleecer did not cut any artery. Tulkan was lucky. With such wounds they survive. Though about what luck the speech is if the brave orc is left to live only several moments?
  - "Kill! - rattled in the girl's ears. - Finish off the beast!"
   Suddenly Casta remembered the wife of the Shofet, the beauty Kuati. Interesting, does she demand the death of this orc too or not? She raised eyes up - Kuati continued to sit on a carved small bench and looked at them. In her huge clear eyes there was a disgust, and even the layer of powder could not hide the pallor which covered her face. Fight did not give her pleasures, abundance of blood shed on arene frightened the beauty, and the forthcoming final of a fight caused in her only fear and loathing.
  Casta looked away from a tribune of the Shofet and brought a sword. Tulkan nodded her and threw back the head to open a throat.
  - "The woman to win, - he told wearily. - To kill quickly".
   - "No! - Casta thought only after a while that it was told by her. - Do you want his death? Never, I swear by Gavan! I am a fighter, but not the butcher. If you want, let go here and finish the wounded. He battled honestly and bravely. I do not want to kill him!"
   Shouts ceased, and the silence hung over huge circus. Never before the fighter went counter to will of public. Moreover, mercy was granted not to the human - to a furious monster, an ugly creature. But Casta looked not at these people expecting a show of death and disappointed with an unclear and unexpected outcome. She translated again a view of the queen Kuati as if only her decision could save or ruin a wounded orc now.
   Kuati slowly rose from a small bench. Her eyes were cold and empty. But before leaving tribune, the queen of Darnat removed a ring from a finger and threw on the arena, to Casta`s feet. The audience met this regal gesture by the triumphing roar.
  - "To think long, - the orc told, and surprise flashed in his yellow eyes. - To kill!"
  -" No, - Casta lifted the ring which sparkled a scarlet spark from sand and bowed in that party where the spouse of the Shofet and her suite left under a thunder of an applause. - Let someone else will have the guts for garters to you. I do not want."
  - "You went balmy! - old Derak told her when she left Gate of Winners and could get drunk and wipe sweat from face at last. - Why did not you kill this creature? Organizers of games are scary dissatisfied. You will regret of your decision!"
  - "Do you threaten me, the old man? "-Casta asked quietly, having scooped a new portion of water from a bucket.
  - "Ah, daughter, why you don`t want to follow a wise advice! The orc had been specially brought to circus to kill him how you do not understand? Everybody wanted to see how brave Casta would finish off a monster. It was only the orc. Stupid cruel creature. They say, they eat human flesh. And you disappointed their hopes. Now the public will turn away from you. Your glory grew dim, daughter. Because of silly compassions unclear to me".
  - "Silly? - Casta closed the eyes partly. - And you saw how at the beginning of fight when I lost balance and fell, this monster allowed me to get on feet? None of those dogs which I had fought on this arena did behave as nobly as this orc! By the way, let doctors hurry up to cure him. If he does not bleed profusely, then will recover and break many human heads in the arena for joy to this blood-thirsty cattle."
  Old lanist did not answer the girl and left, grievously shaking the head. However Casta did not think of him any more - the assistant to the manager of the games Shabak, the young-looking person in a good silk tunic and with a gold necklace on the neck approached her.
  -" You become limp, the heroine, - told Shabak with a contemptuous smile. - Earlier you killed without deliberating."
  - "Earlier I was silly, now grew wiser. Have you brought my money?"
  - "Here it is," - Shabak gave a sack with gold to the girl. Casta glanced in it.
  - "Here are only ten sakkars. - she told, having hard look at Shabak. - We agreed on twenty five".
  -" When noble Abnun signed the agreement with you,Seltonian, he expected to see Casta the Warrior, Casta the Murderer in the arena. But you have deserved the Casta-Crybaby nickname today."
  - "Do you think, I will rush to beat your cute ugly face now, Shabak? -the girl told quietly though everything boiled in her soul. - Kind of not so, swine! I know that the law protects such small crud as you and your owner. But wait a moment, day will come, and you will come crawling to me, and will beg to act on this three times damned arena! For now go away from here, else I can forget about laws."
  -" Silly whore! - Shabak smiled, but there was a fear in his eyes. - Beware, kind of your mad speeches may be transfer upward, to the House of the Sun."
  -" Today the Sun from the House of the Sun was on representation, and in her eyes I read a request to be merciful, - Casta answered, - though a bunch of jackals similar to you demanded blood of this poor creature. I know what gods to pray. Fifteen sakkars remain as your debt, Shabak, and as a debt of fat belly toad by the name of Abnun. Once I will come to demand them back."
  - "You will come ah! - Shabak made the averting gesture towards Casta. - Rather a sky will fall to the ground, or you will kiss your barbaric arse. The road to circus is closed for you now, a pathetic Seltonian. Forever. "
   It is a lot of cities on the Universe tray, and immortal gods love each of them, but there is no city more rich and more perfect, than the Capital of Seven Seas, the Sacred city of Ygerabal, nice Darnat!
   Young Shofet Ras Navan, the Keeper of the Sun, looked from a balcony of the palace at the huge bay of Darnat, and his heart was filled by pride. Which another city of the world has such port? High-speed trirema and enormous five-deck trade heptareses from the Gold Mountain seemed as the toys clamped in Ygerabal's Palm - so the Darnatians called the bay. All these vessels are within his power. And also all this city where temples, palaces and gardens are so awesome, that even crude barbarians fade with delight, getting on Darnat's streets. To services of the Shofet are fifty-thousand army from mercenaries and the huge fleet in one thousand ships, ready to break any enemy. There is nothing impossible for the Shofet. One word - and Darnat merchants will throw to his legs the infinite treasures which are saved up by many generations. One hint - and secret murderers will save him from the enemy even if they should go for his head at the end of the earth. One expressed desire - and court magicians will manage to awaken the secret and non-called forces to execute will of the Shofet. Truly, only the electee by the Highest forces can possess such great power in incomplete twenty years! However why is his heart broken and why sad thoughts often come to him? Why all gods are with him , and only one whimsical goddess bypasses him with her favor?
   One and only goddess. The fine Kua granting love to the mortals.
  -" Lukkar!" - quietly called Shofet.
   One of two magnificently dressed up court, entered rest several moments ago and indecisively stiffened behind the back of the governor, shuddered, crept with small hasty short steps to Shofet, fell to his feet.
  - "Did you deliver my gifts?" - asked Shofet.
  - "Yes, the Shine of Shur!"
  - "Did Shemmer-Ta-Nat accept them?"
  - "She did not meet me, the Shine of Shur. I gave your presents to the housekeeper of Uzmay, and he swore that incomparable Shemmer-Ta-Nat would estimate their wealth and beauty that day."
  - "Did you tell her about my invitation?"
  - "Of course, the Shine of Shur. The housekeeper assured me that everything would be transfered to madam."
  - "Well, Lukkar, I am happy with you". - Shofet gave a hand for a kiss, and Lukkar nestled lips to it right there.
  - "Do you want to tell something, Gavaor? " - asked Shofet the second court, without turning around.
  - "My lord, your uncle, the Supreme priest of Shat-Tsebu has arrived. He told that the master had appointed to him an audience to midday."
  - "Truly, I absolutely forgot about it ... Invite him, Gavaor. And both of you may go."
   Court, bowing and pressed down a marble floor by the very broad sleeves, slipped out rest. Shofet put a view on the bay. Water in the light of the sun seemed to be transparent-green, and only over the deep places became blue. His wife Kuati has green eyes. And Shemmer has blue ones. And for some reason recently he began to give preference to blue colour...
  The visit of the Supreme priest Ras Navan apprehended with enthusiasm. Lord Ashran was only man at the court, except for Lukkar and Gavaor who knew about Shofet`s secret passion. To Shofet`s surprise Ashran regarded a confession of the young governor with favor. And, maybe, today Ras Navan will hear a practical advice from the head of priestly board of Shat-Tsebu. The loving uncle always has a good idea for the beloved nephew.
   The priest who was magnificently dressed and smelling sweet as expensive aromas entered slow and important gait - his power is almost equal in Darnat to the power of the Shofet so it is not necessary to burden the meeting of relatives with unnecessary ceremonies. Having exchanged kiss with shofet, - the only requirement of court etiquette which lord Ashran always observed, - the priest sat on the bench. Ras Navan continued to stand.
  - "Now we can speak quietly, - told Shofet. - Nobody will prevent us."
  - "Glad to see you in good health, my dear nephew. Someone is surprised that you were not at the Games today. Such inattention to circus representation was considered even for sign of your illness."
  -" I did not want to look at this slaughter. But if you started talking about it, so tell - whether there was anything outstanding today on the arena?"
  - "In the first part there was a lot of blood. Abnun did not deceive our expectations. Animals were magnificent."
  -" And in the second part?"
  - "Your favourite Casta won against an orc, however left him life though all circus demanded to kill him."
  - "It is similar to Casta, - grinned Shofet. - She looks like a wild cat, she cannot be tamed. Only therefore I still did not take her in my house. I will make her the concubine, and she will kill me, ha-ha-ha! So Abnun seems to be in rage?"
  - "Yes! I think, the fat man is still in fear and dripping with bloody sweat. He promised you that Casta will finish off an orc."
  - "I cannot be angry on Casta. She is capricious as untrained mare, but ... is beautiful. A lot of things are allowed to the beautiful woman."
  - "With your permission, the nephew, such willfulness is unacceptable. Fights in circus are not only a show, but also a gift of the victim to gods. Fights have to come to an end with the death of participants."
  - "I don`t care all this. I think of another, uncle."
  - "About public affairs? Or about the blue-eyed maiden from Temple Quarter?"
  -" I hope, you have kept in secret our conversation. "
  -" Don`t you worry, priests are able to be silent. If you want to know my opinion, you should not give vent to feelings. Your wife Kuati is charming, and I would advise you to pay more attention to her, but not to the daughter of the merchant."
  - "Uncle, it is stronger than me. I`ve been trying to conquer the passion for the second week, but it inflames more and stronger."
  - "It is because you are young. At your age love is similar to madness - it absorbs us entirely and forces to make silly and unclear acts. Eventually, you are the Shofet, the Embodiment of the Sun on Earth. You are free to take any woman what you wish in your bed. Take Shemmer-Ta-Nat, and nobody will dare to condemn you. "
  - "And father of Kuati? You forget, uncle, that I am married only four months. This world is arranged so that my communication with Shemmer-Ta-Nat will not manage to be hidden from human eyes. Rumors and gossips scatter quicker than arrows. Tsar Zurappa will be offended if he learns that I share a bed not only with his daughter. And it seems to me that I do not love Kuati and never loved."
  - "For the benefit of the state you should like to her passionate love and somewhat quicker to give birth the successor from her," - the priest seriously told.
  - "I know, uncle, I know! Her father waits from me the same. It would be so good and correct. However the goddess Kua laughs over me. There is no place left for my wife in my heart."
  - "Gods sometimes joke on mortals, - Ashran uttered. - Here also perceive everything as a joke. Soon the Sea holiday, and you should think how to please sea lord Ygerabal. After all, this god patronizes Darnat."
  -" And it is told by you, the priest of Shat-Tsebu? I do not understand you, uncle."
  - "Now you will understand, - Ashran linked fingers of hands, lifted up eyes to a painted ceiling as if he were going to read there what he will tell to the governor then. - God Shat-Tsebu is happy with you, nephew. Our situation is far better, than it was at your father and my beloved brother, may he rest in peace! Sais is not the enemy to us any more, - your marriage with beautiful Kuati made us allies, - and in the south savage tribes grew quiet. The city of Five Rivers recognized your power, and still a year ago rebels filled there. However, in the West now it is still restless, and all because of damned Sabia. Their pirates continue to attack our merchant ships."
  -" So what?"
  - "We need to strengthen our fleet. Of course, Darnat's fleet is powerful and invincible also now, but will never prevent to add some oil in the lamp yet even if it burns brightly."
  - "Go on. So far I cannot understand where you drive".
  - "The lord has to be engaged in public affairs, - the priest mysteriously told, - and what can be more pleasing for gods, than strengthening of the city loved by them? In day of the Sea you will announce to Council of Wise that conceived to construct the new ships to extend our power to all Green sea. And you will construct them - a mighty squadron which will finish with Sabian robbers and their capital of Gale, this ulcer on a forehead of the ocean. Once your father wanted to subdue to Sabia, but the serious illness prevented him. You, not him, will bring a grand design to the end. You will destroy a den of Sabian robbers and will deserve favor of gods and appreciation of the people."
  - "To begin war with Sabia? It is remembered, we began a conversation from another subject, uncle."
  - "Of course, we spoke about the blue-eyed beauty. Her father - one of the richest merchants of Darnat. Whether it is known to you?"
  -" Certainly, uncle, I know that her father Uzmay is a rich man. And what?"
  -" For construction of the new fleet money is necessary."
  - "And you offer me ..."
  -" It is unlikely the heads of merchant guilds of Darnat will refuse you if you ask money for construction of the new fleet. Besides we know that Uzmay, the father of our beautiful Shemmer-Ta-Nat, owns the private shipyards, the largest in Darnat. "
  - "And what about Shemmer-Ta-Nat?"
  - "You will make her father the court shipbuilder, and it is a high post. It is more than that, I did not accidentally ask you to please Ygerabal's priests. They can if you want, grant to the court shipbuilder a high title of the Sea Son. Once, in ancient Darnat, the Sea Son was considered to be the second person in state after the Shofet."
  - "Do you suggest me to glorify some merchant of humble origin? But what`s the purpose? By Gods, I can not follow a smart texture of your thoughts, uncle!"
  -" His humble origin is the key. You can take Shemmer-Ta-Nat in the house. You are the Shofet, all is allowed to you. But this girl is of too low origin, and your communication with her will be got in the opinion of tsar Zurappa as adventures with idle maids. It is bad. But everything will change when her father will be glorified. If the Sea Son is considered under our ancient laws to be equal to highest grandees of state, then why the Shofet cannot take his daughter in his bed?"
  -" I swear by eyes of Kua, you are right! - The look of Ras Navan began to sparkle, the young man rushed to the priest and embraced him. - My father-in-law Zurappa will condemn me if I take just the concubine, thereby having humiliated his daughter, but will not be able to challenge our customs! "
  - "You will conclude ritual marriage which does not exclude carnal rapprochements at all with fine Shemmer-Ta-Nat. Small cunning, but as a result you will receive at once three things which will make you even more great and happy; the blue-eyed maiden, money of merchants and the new ships which will strengthen Darnat in the West, and at the same time you will save the face before the strict father-in-law, - Ashran summed up. - The threat from Sabia will justify everything. This way the great governors govern in their realms."
  - "Uncle, you are truly a fount of wisdom! However the Holiday of the Sea will be next week. We have not enough time."
  - "It means only one - that in a week you will enjoy delights of Shemmer-Ta-Nat, and both any jealous wives and their fathers will not prevent you. Trust me and prepare two decrees - about construction of new vessels and about purpose of Uzmay the chief court shipbuilder. That will do. And I undertake Ygerabal's priests."
  -" I will make today! - Ras Navan literally shone with happiness. - After the meeting with you I will bring together Council of Wise and will announce the decision to strengthen the fleet."
  - "And gods will generously reward you, - Ashran rose from a bench, kissed the nephew bluntly. - Prior to a meeting, nephew. May Shat-Tsebu will bless your hand and your mind! I am happy that I helped you to make the right decision to your and all Darnat's benefit!"
  -" I have wise advisers, uncle."
  - "Not any governor listens to them, - Ashran told, going to an exit. - But gods presented me the reasonable nephew. You will receive what you wish. I never waste words. But at first I want to tell something to you. It is time to talk about public affairs, and put these, dear nephew, great importance. Two days ago the secret representative of one Sheran magician came to the temple and met me. The magician wanted a meeting, and I agreed to this meeting."
  - "Sheran magician? - Ras Navan fitfully turned on heels, stepped to the priest. - Here, in Darnat? You were going to meet him? And you so quietly speak about it?"
  - "Yes, nephew, because I am going to find out what was conceived by this magician. Sheran spies got into our lands earlier, but never before the messenger of The Cup Circle was looking for a meeting with the head of priests of Darnat. There is something unusual in it. I intend to meet him and to learn what the Sherans want."
  -" I swear by Ygerabal! The secret envoy of the sworn enemy of our kingdom looks for meetings with you, and you are so quiet! But it is good that you told me about it. Go and try to find out their plans. Where the appointment is made?"
  - "In the Old City. I beg you, nephew, no guards and detectives are necessary. If the Sheranite suspects something, it will destroy my plans badly. One Shat-Tsebu knows what secrets of a black arts this magician owns. Therefore trust me. I will manage everything as it is necessary. And after the meeting I will tell you what the damned queen of Hera-Dalor wanted from us."
   In an hour after the meeting with the Shofet the Supreme priest of Shat-Tsebu dressed in common dark clothes of junior priests left alone the temple at Square of Gods, passed sacred gardens of Kua and, having gone deep into poor men's quarters of the Old City, arrived imperceptible home on Darnat's city edge. The silent servant with face wrapped up by the fabric impregnated with tar so that only eyes were visible opened him the door.
  - "Bring me to the owner", - Ashran ordered. The servant made the strange sound similar either on rattle, or on low, began to nod the head and led the priest in depth of the house along the long corridor lit only with dim oil lamps. Ashran looked to the conductor`s back with fear and disgust - he guessed whom Kiris used as the servant. Though, on the other hand, could not be more reliable servants than the Silents of Sheran. The house was old, shabby, the loosened floor boards in a disgusting way scrunched, the peeled walls were covered by a thick black coating, all house smelled of mice and a mold. Following the servant, Ashran walked upstairs on the second floor of the house and entered the spacious, but dirty and poorly arranged room where the owner was already waiting for him.
  -" Lord Ashran! - The thin shaven-headed man in wine-red clothes standing at the window turned to the guest and gave ceremonious bow to the priest of Shat-Tsebu. - What an honor to see you!"
  - "Master Kiris", - Ashran answered with bow.
  - "Did you come alone?" - Kiris released the servant with gesture, and they remained together.
  - "Alone as you can see."
  - "Very imprudently of you. I am in your city for the very first time, and I don`t like Darnat. It is too much beggars and thieves there. This part of the city teems with them. For the person of your dignity and situation it is dangerous to go on poor man's quarters alone. I would not object if there were a sort of guard with you - three or four persons at least."
  - "I am protected by Shat-Tsebu's strength, - Ashran answered. - And still these clothes are sacral. The respect for priests in Darnat is very big. Any robber will not dare to raise a hand even against the junior priest."
  - "Well", - master Kiris pointed the guest to one of benches, sat down opposite. Magicians were keep silence rather long time, looking at each other. It was their first internal meeting, two wizards had communicated by means of the encoded letters before. Now Kiris made what lord Ashran did not expect from him - arrived to Darnat personally.
  - ""Wine?" - suddenly Kiris asked.
  - "No, thank you", - Ashran understood that it is time to pass to business. - "I read your last message and decided that it deserves attention".
  - "It is very flattered, - with irony in a voice the magician answered. - I am glad that you found time to meet me."
  - "However it is strange that such powerful person as you are, decided to stop here in these slums on the edge of the city."
  - "I had no choice. It is unlikely in Darnat would be enraptured with a visit of the Sheran magician."
  - "Darnat and Sheran are not enemies long ago," - objected Ashran, perfectly understanding that he is unconvincing. Kiris laughed.
  - "But also ain`t friends, - he noticed. - Our ambassador is not at court of your Shofet and at other yards too. Possession of Force, my friend, often gives some inconvenience. They are afraid of us - and correctly do. Our true purposes are clear to very few people. Sheran's time has not come yet. But will come soon. And you made a right choice, having agreed to help us. "
  -" I want ..."
  -" Of course, you want prosperity and power for Darnat. And it is possible if the worthy person, the brave man and the experienced wizard would be a governor of your city. You, master Ashran would be the best Shofet. By the way about His Majiesty Shofet - have you stated our plan to your divine nephew?"
  - "Yes, and he agrees to carry it out. But he has his own reason for this purpose."
  - "Love! - Kiris smiled, but his black shrill eyes remained cold. - Well, he will receive what he wishes. And all of us will receive what all of us want when time comes."
  - "Let us be frank as kind friends, master Kiris. My nephew wants to take the woman whom he fallen in love in the bed and for the sake of this he is ready to begin war against Sabia. I want to become the governor of this city and to make it into the stronghold of Force on the seashores. And what is wanted by you?"
  - "Really do you want to know all this, master Ashran? Sometimes ignorance is far better than knowledge. Knowledge brings grief and alarm. "
  - "Don`t you trust me?"
  - "Oh no! In two years of our correspondence acquaintance you proved to me that you are quite credible. But my queen undertook the obligation from me to keep in secret our general plan. And magicians of the Cup will be dissatisfied if they learn that I told you about our plans."
  - "In a word, you will tell nothing to me."
  - "On the contrary, - Kiris told, having noticed the offense which flew on the face of the lord of Shat-Tsebu priests. - I so appreciate you that I will tell you everything. I consider you as the friend and the ally and I do not want to use you in dark. But you should have patience to listen to all background."
  - "I am ready", - Ashran's voice even trembled from impatience. Kiris laughed.
  - "What do you know about the Shadows Father Relics, master Ashran? - he asked."
  - "Only what is written down in sacred books."
  - "Would you comment,please?"
  - "In sacred books it is written down that twenty thousand years ago the whole world was under the power of governors of the Nin-Ouchtian house, and people lived so long that it is difficult to imagine it now. The tsar Ningirakh the First ruled five thousand five hundred years, and his son Nin-Ouchtian - seven thousand three hundred years. It was wonderful time when force and knowledge of Nin-Ouchtian dynasty changed all earth. The cities then were built of gold and crystal, and the paradise fruits granted to people by gods grew in gardens. People then were very pious and esteemed gods for their care. So proceeded until the throne was occupied by Ayukka the grandson of Ning-Ouchtian who decided to be equal to gods in everything- simply speaking, to become immortal. He appealed to the Eternal Nine to grant him immortality, but gods refused. Here what they uttered Ayukke through the oracle: "The human is only the God's creation and also cannot be to equal to gods. Your life is so rather long that you managed to make in it everything that is foreordained to you from above. You demand is impossible". However Ayukka continued searching immortality, and once priests of the Shadows Father, the Lord of Abyss came to his diamond palace to Atal."
  -" Everything is right, - Kiris confirmed. - And Ayukka accepted from them three gifts which together brought the greatest benefit - immortality. The Shadows Father handed to Ayukka through the priests the Word of Abyss, The Crown of Abyss and the Flame of Abyss. You know sacred texts well, master Ashran."
  - "Our sacred texts are learned that great troubles came for people with the Shadows Father's Gifts. Shoo's era, time of domination of demons of the Shady Side began. The world plunged into continuous horror ... And then the flood began and totally destroyed the world of the Initial Century. Since those times human life became much shorter, and we live it in works and diseases."
  - "But Abyss Gifts remained in our world, - Kiris told."
  - "However nobody would manage to find them. Any of sacred books does not explain what gifts were received by silly Ayukka from the Shadows Father priests."
  -" Sheran magicians know it."
  - "Really? - Ashran looked at the magician with curiosity. - Interesting to learn."
  - "It is more correct to tell, we have a description of each of these Gifts. Word of Abyss are two tables, gold and silver, with inscriptions. They contain spells which give the chance to awaken strength of ancient governors of Shoo and to operate it. The Crown of Abyss is a magic helmet. And Flame of Abyss is the staff radiating underworld light. Among three Gifts Flame of Abyss has the largest force."
  - "And what do they give?"
  - "Three things which was being looked by Ayukka - force, eternal youth and immortality. The things people in eras of Ning and Shoo possessed."
  -" Should I understand that you already have these Gifts?"
  -" Only one so far- The Word of Abyss. But we know where to look for other two, and Gifts will be in our hands soon."
  - "And what it will give you?"
  - "And do not you understand? - Kiris raised hands to a ceiling. - What the person looked for from the moment of his creation by gods - true immortality. We, Sheran's magicians, had been trying to solve the mystery of immortality for long centuries and achieved much, but did not find a key to the real eternal life. All three Gifts, gathered together, will return the world by times of the Golden Age of Shoo when Earth was under the power of one lord, there were no wars, and people lived forever, without being afraid of death. And we will make it, magicians of the Cup."
  - "And your queen will be the lordess of Earth?"
  - "Why not? Her Majesty Margiana is worthy the absolute power as nobody else. If you know more worthy monarch, tell me his name. Do you know him?"
  - "However I don`t absolutely understand the role of Sabia, master Kiris, - Ashran left from the answer, having changed the subject. - Explain me why it is so necessary to begin war against Sabians."
  - "For two reasons. Sabia is the old enemy of Darnat. And the second reason is the knowledge we possess. In one of Tables of Destinies it is written down that the hidden governor of Sabia can capture the Gifts and to become the destroyer of the world."
  - "Hidden governor? The juvenile daughter of the king Raymond governs Sabia now. About what governor is spoken?"
  -" Hlodd's prophecy, the eighth in the thirteenth Table devoted to the future calls this hidden governor as the Son of Lion."
  -" I do not remember this prophecy in the thirteenth Table."
  -" Perhaps, you have just forgotten it."
  - "Indeed, - Ashran rubbed a finger the fleshy nose. - You very well explained everything to me. And now let's talk about the main thing. What will I get if I help you?"
  -" The things that you want - a Shofet throne, beautiful Kuati and Sheran's support. When The Gifts of Abyss show their wonderful force, you will receive both immortality and the power over creations of the Shady Side. You will become one of magicians of the Cup, master Ashran. We do not forget our friends. And for now accept this ring, - Kiris removed a ring with wonderful bluish diamond from a finger and stretched it to the Supreme priest. - It is a gift from my lady, the queen Margiana. She asked to give you it in honor and friendship. Do not worry, the ring is not enchanted. Only usual ornament which is worthy you as it seems to me."
  - "It is awesome! - Ashran accepted a ring; even to him, the person, inexperienced in gemstones, it was clear that the stone in a ring has the great price. - I am very grateful to the queen. Convey my thanks for a wonderful gift to Her Majesty."
  - "The queen Margiana hopes for you. She wants very much that the longtime senseless hostility between our states will be finally ended. A new era approaches, and gate in it will be opened by us, magicians of Darnat and Sheran. Conquest of Sabia is the first step on the way to implementation of our plans. We have the mutual enemy and mutual goals. It is necessary to seize the moment and to forget about the past. "
  - "You are able to convince people, master Kiris. - Ashran gave ceremonious bow to Sheranite. - I leave you, full of hopes."
  - "Please wait, there is more to come. As I understand, your young Shofet wishes war against Sabia. However the Sabians are excellent seamen, and their capital of Gale is strongly fortified. Blood of brave Darnat legionaries will be spilling in this fight like water by land and by sea."
  - "Why do you tell this, master Kiris?"
  - "I want to tell that you should not underestimate your enemy. Of course, Darnat possesses numerous and victorious army and the excellent fleet, but it seems to be not enough. The Sabians can oppose you raider sea war; their fleet much less than yours, but they have high-speed vessels and brave seamen. Therefore I want to help you. You need weapon which will quickly and effectively destroy sea power of Sabia and will facilitate capture of Gale fortress."
  - "Do you mean special fighting magic?"
  -" Not absolutely in that sense which you put in the words, dear friend. The fighting magic is a powerful thing, but it has a big shortcoming. It is very long and very expensive to train the good fighting magician, without saying that not everyone can become him, and any idiot can kill him, having successfully sent an arrow cost of two copper coins to the magician. You need a lot of time to prepare enough magicians fighters for war against Sabia. There is easier, faster and cheaper way - it is simple to accept others knowledge and to use them for a victory over the common enemy.'
  - "And what knowledge do you mean?"
  - "Have a look, " - Kiris took the small glass bottle filled with the red phosphorescing liquid from his purse and threw it into a fireplace. The bright flash blinded Ashran: the orange smokeless flame burnt in a fireplace, such strong that Ashran immediately moved back away from fire - it was impossible to take out its heat even in five steps from a fireplace.
  - "There is more to come, - Kiris told, smiling: his dry face in reflected crimson lights of a storming flame seemed to be the face of the infernal demon. - Try to splash water from a jug on a flame- it will inflame even more brightly."
  - "What is it, for the sake of Shat-Tsebu?"
  - "Pyrokollodium. To make it is as easy as shelling pears, and the bucket of a pyrokollodium will cost to your treasury cheaper, than a leather bib of the archer. But if you fill with a fiery potion a small jug and shoot from a catapult to the Sabian ship, the enemy vessel will turn into floating hell in a moment. It is impossible to extinguish burning pyrokollodium ... it is almost impossible. This potion will force to Sabia to the knees.'"
  -'"Great gods! - Ashran made the gesture averting evil spirits, transferred amazed look from the dying-away flame on Kiris. - But war requires a lot of your potion. Will you make it for us?"
  - "What for? I will give you a compounding. Using it, your magicians will be able to make enough pyrokollodium to turn all Sabian fleet into a heap of floating brands. It is absolutely optional to you to say that you received the recipe of a potion from me - you can tell that you have found it in ancient books. Your young lord will believe you, I can not doubt."
  -"It is truly great day for Darnat! Shofet will be happy."
  - "Consider it as a contribution of my country to a general victory."
  - "I am shocked. And where is recipe?"
  -"Here it is, - Kiris gave to the Supreme priest a varnish tube with a scroll. - Read it, and you will understand that you won`t to find weapon cheaper and better anywhere. "
  -"Today I will bring together magicians and order to begin works on production of pyrokollodium."
  - "Good luck to you, master Ashran. Please keep me informed of your undertakings."
  - "Farewell, master Kiris."
  - "See you!"
   Magicians exchanged with ceremonious bows, and lord Ashran left the room - his face just shone for joy. The Sheran magician remained in an office after departure of the Supreme priest- having sat down in a chair, he patiently waited until the silent servant that brought the guest before the conversation returned. At last, the servant came. Kiris immediately got up at his emergence.
  - "Faugh! - The servant broke the scarf impregnated with tar covering the face, pulled together the rough sackcloth gloves too soaked in tar from hands. - I am nearly choked."
  -"Even the dress of the Silent could not spoil Your Majesty. I will order to give hot water and you could wash."
  - "I will be in time, - the queen Margiana graciously offered to the magician a hand for a kiss. - Good work, Kiris. It seems that the magician will manage to convince the boy, and war will begin."
  -" I do not doubt it, Your Majesty."
  - "And we will receive what we want?"
  - "For sure. I will make everything to get into Sabianum's vaults after falling of Gale. The new ally will not refuse to me in such small courtesy."
  - "I heard your conversation with Ashran, and it was very interesting to me. Tell me about three Gifts, Kiris, - the Queen dumped a rough chlamys, remained in the dark woolen tunic intercepted on a slender waist by gold-embroidered corbel. Kiris involuntarily admired Sheran's ruler: Margiana even in this simple dress was fresh and madly beautiful. - You did not tell this barbarian the truth, did you?"
  - "Certainly, Your Majesty. Magicians of Cup would never forgive me such garrulity."
  -" And what force do the Gifts really have?"
  - "Three Gifts are three levels of domination over ancient forces of Shoo. The Word of Abyss specifies the place where the entrance to the secret city of Shoo is located - the sleeping army of Veel-Zabar, the last tsar of Empire of the Immortals, is based there. The Crown of Abyss will make carrying it the commander-in-chief of troops of the Shady Side. The Flame of Abyss will give the owner strength at the same time of two Parties of life. Among all three gifts the Flame is the most powerful."
  -"And do you know where they are, these Gifts?"
  - "After the brilliant victory of your troops over orcs at Meru we caught The Word of Abyss at last. It is a source of our secret knowledge. Our power will be based on possession of the Word. As for The Crown of Abyss, indirect signs indicate that it is hidden somewhere in Sabianum's vaults."
  - "Aha, and so that the war with Sabia is necessary! - The queen burst out laughing with ringing maiden laughter. - But explain me, Kiris why is it impossible just to steal the crown from Gale? Are the allies so necessary for us?"
  - "It is possible to steal, my queen. The magitians of the Cup were even going to charge it to our agents in Gale. But then the grand master Hraor nevertheless convinced magicians of need of war. Sabia is our enemy, and Darnat is our enemy too. What can be better for us, than war between our enemies? They are waited by sufferings and ruin, and we will get all fruits of a victory."
  -"And where there The Flame of Abyss is?"
  - "It is known by nobody. Only possession of the first two Gifts can lead to the main treasure - The Flame."
  - "Madly interesting! However allow to notice to you, Kiris, that you are very precipitate. You should not have trusted the barbarian a secret of a fiery potion."
  - "Your Majesty, this secret will become known to all sooner or later. The structure of a potion is so simple that once the beginning alchemist will create it accidentally, and the Cup magicians know about it. For the sake of our victory over Sabia and mastering The Flame of Abyss it is possible to offer such insignificant magic secret. Let's look now as Ashran will dispose of my gift. I hope, he will use it correctly."
  - "Yes, it is a pity that Sheran has no fleet. What`s now, Kiris?"
  -"Now we can come back home, in Ere-Dalor if only Your Majesty does not need to be delayed in Darnat."
  - "Me? I swear by the Shadows Father! I will be glad to see this city turned into a pile of ashes and fragments. Now I feel sick there. I miss Sheran more than ever. You worked well, Kiris. I will think how to reward you for it."
  - "I am only a servant of Your Majesty."
  - "The good servant, I would tell. Let your Silents prepare for departure. "
  - "I also wanted to suggest you to leave Darnat, Your Majesty. Just before a meeting with Ashran I received a news from Ere-Dalor. The master of fight Rakhus reports that a part of mercenaries employed by our recruiters in the Wild cities, agreed to accept the elixir, and your guard of the Fearless was replenished with one hundred more soldiers. You should be presented at their first creation."
  - "Wise note, Kiris. Then we will hurry up, and let Darnat will fail to demons! I hope, once we will do with this city as it deserves."
  -"It will happen soon, Your Majesty."
  - "I hope, - blood-thirsty gloss appeared in lilac eyes of Margiana. - Nothing will stop us, Kiris?"
  - "Anything, Your Majesty. We will find all three Gifts. And you will return this imperfect world by Shoo times. You will connect Flesh and the Shadow and become the immortal ruler of all Universe."
  - "Sounds seductive. I do not delay you any more. Gather to the road!"
   Casta raised her head. This evening she drank much more than normal, and now felt not only intoxication, but also strong unusual fatigue. That damned dog Shabak told the truth - she becomes limp. Earlier she could drink the whole nights moreover and put to bed two or three men and felt like the real amazon, but not a powerless old jade in the morning. And now ...
   Casta looked around - "The Gold Cup" was full of people though time of the second guards just came. At a rack the company of seamen and port loaders, and at a distant wall, in brightly lit part of the huge hall, at hexagonal tables gathered, players in "black and white" - their exclamations and knock of counters about a table-top gathered it was carried on all tavern. It seemed to be all as usual. "The gold cup" was famous on all Sacred city for the kitchen and the game - the owner of tavern, Urshad-the-Squabbler, had bought the patent from Office of God allowing him to keep game tables in his tavern. Someone was attracted in Urshad`s tavern by refined imported wines and foods of Darnat cuisine, such as "Shumbura" - dense soup made of different sorts of fish and shrimps with a lemon and mint, or "Twins" - pork chops, fried on grill, in eggs, vinegar, pepper sauce and a saffron, - but most of guests nevertheless came to try the luck in the game. From evening to the morning players from all Darnat gathered in tavern, and it was possible to meet the most different people here - both officers of the Sacred Legion and dealers, fishy persons with the running eyes and junior priests, rich idlers and sailors from the harbor and freedmen. Since the beginning of evening many frequenters of circus already approached Casta - to express admiration of her beauty and military skill, to make a declaration of love, invite her to their houses. However several times the Caste tried to catch baleful sidelong glances of people unknown to her on herself: likely, there were those who lost money today in circus because of art of the first warrior of Darnat. But today in the Urshad`s place circus fighters for were not visible some reason though usually Casta surely met someone from her brothers in arms here, and it was strange.
  - "Hey, more wine!" - she shouted with a hoarse voice.
   Waitress brought a small jug with pink Sabian nectar, accepted money at Casta. The waitress was pretty, big-eyed and slightly fat, and there was a fear in her eyes. It was unclear to her how Casta can drink undiluted wine alone surrounded by men. Casta understood, made terrible eyes. The waitress started back from her and tried to get lost in crowd.
   Someone put a hand on her shoulder.
  - "I knew that I would find you here", - Derak told.
  - "So what?" - Casta transferred a look from the waitress to old lanist. Derak sat down opposite to her, called up the waitress and demanded some wine. The girl, once again having scaredly looked at Casta, hurried for wine.
  - "Trying to get drunk? - Derak inspected the line of empty small jugs on a table before Casta. - Good occupation. Sometimes wine helps to forget about troubles. Though the beautiful girl should not drink alone moreover such strong wine."
  - "Why did you come?"
  - "I came to drink. I hope, you are not against my idea?"
  - "I say yes! - Casta poured some wine in a cup to herself and to lanist, drank, wiped her lips. - At Urshad`s wine is excellent. Drunk wine, I swear by eternal beauty of Beris! Drink, old man. It's my treat."
  - "Abnun was in rage when you left circus, - Derak told. - I thought, he would burst from rage as the overripe watermelon. You should see his face! It became violet as Gelata plum, and the eyes just climbed from orbits. Hardly the heart attack happened with him. You strongly angered him, daughter. He told that you would not be allowed to aprroach Circus from that day".
  - "I spit on him! I am waiting my money from this toad. Fifteen sakkars, may the plague kill him! He underpaid me fifteen sakkars. And I will return to circus only when he pays me everything to the last coin. I am not be allowed to aprroach circus, you speak? He will come crawling to beg me to start acting over again. The public loves me. And he has no standing fighter, only sissy bastards who are befouled of fear hardly having heard the word "arena".
  - "These is case of you and Abnun. I came not for that".
  - "And for what, it is interesting to know?"
  - "You should be careful".
  - "Careful? What do you mean, Derak?"
  - "I was reached by a gossip that Abnun wants to revenge you".
  - "What? - Casta crookedly smiled. - This pig wants to revenge me? And how, I wonder? Will crush me with the paunch? Or will spoil at my door?"
  - "I do not know, daughter. But you should not underestimate Abnun. He lured many bastards in the Old city, and has big communications. Today you caused Abnun deadly offense - he was expecting you to kill an orc as it had been demanded by organizers of games. You know that there is one rule in such fights - not to leave the defeated alive. Very many are dissatisfied with what you made".
  - "I don`t care, old man. I made what I made".
  - "Really you think that orc will keep his life?"
  - "What do you tell? - Casta set aside the cup. - What do your words mean? Speak, let strike you an arrow of Nekrian!"
  - "Right after your leaving circus Shabak ordered to finish orc".
  - "And they ... killed him?"
  - "How do you think?"
  - "Damned pigs! - Casta furiously began to sparkle eyes. - Abnun will pay me also for this mean murder, I swear!"
  - "Do not get excited. I came not for telling you about murder of an orc".
  - "Then that it is necessary for you, Derak?"
  - "That orc whom and unclearly why we speak very much about asked me to find you. I swear by Ygerabal, any orc did not deserve such attention. And I do not know why you ..."
  - "Become silent, Derak. - Casta felt that hop flies from her with extreme speed. - Keep to the point. What did he tell you?"
  - "The tribespeople had had this Tulkan like the shaman sorcerer. When he was carried away in cubiculum, I tried to find out where you left away. And here some of Shabak's underlings ran up to me and asked to follow him. I rose to Shabak and accidentally heard as he ordered to his people to finish off an orc and to get rid of a body. It was not pleasant to me, and I after the conversation with Shabak went to look for our doctor - I thought that the doctor would be able to convince Shabak to save life to an orc. I did not want that your noble, though silly act was gone for nothing".
  - "Speak, Derak. Speak on case".
  - "Well, I went down in cubiculum and saw an orc - he was lying on a mat, and the slave doctor was tying up his wounded leg and side. He saw me and asked where you were. I told that I didn`t not know. It seemed to me, the orc was very upset. Then he told me to find you and gave this, - Derak stretched to the girl a strange amulet: the round gray stone with a hole hung on the greased leather lace in the middle. - He wanted very much to talk to you and asked you to find".
  -" I`m going to Circus", - Casta rose from a stool, but the head began to spin, and the girl grabbed the table edge not to fall. Derak shook the head.
  - "Hard drinking doesn`t suit you, daughter, - he told. - And especially you should not go now there in such condition".
  - "Perhaps, you are mistaken, and Tulkan is still alive. I will not allow to kill him, I`ll be damned!"
  - "Oh, absolutely forgot to tell - the orc ordered to transfer to you to show stone to some Dinche. He told she lives here, in the Sacred city, near the market. Than he told nothing anymore, only asked again to find you. I think, he would tell you much more".
  - "And so that I have more reasons to go to Circus and to be convinced that Shabak and his henchmen did not manage to finish off the poor guy yet".
  - "And still, I would beware".
  - "Since what time did you become a coward, Derak?" - Casta said with bitterness.
  - "Since I grew old. You are only twenty two years old, you are strong and healthy as a tigress, and you do not know how the old age mocks at us. Every morning I thank gods that my hands and legs still obey me, and my brains did not dry yet as a spittle right in the sun. When you live about my years you will understand. For now I have warned you. Once again I speak to you, Casta - be careful. Abnun is dangerous, and you angered him".
  - "Thanks for advise", - the girl threw gold coin on a table and went to an exit. Derak looked her following and swung the head.
   The entrance to the Big Circus used to be closed before midnight if the round-the-clock fights weren`t held therefore Casta didn`t hope that the gatekeeper will open gate especially for her. However she was also not going to break through the central gate. She intended to enter from an entrance about which only gladiators and circus servants knew - this entrance was near the channel. Exactly here cargo vessels with supplies and animals for circus unloaded, and from this entrance all this good was brought to storerooms and cages under the arena. Casta did not doubt that she would manage to pass - she, as well as all elite gladiators, had a key from an office entrance, and the fellow countryman, the Celtonian, was a watchman. And still Casta hoped very much that Abnun or at least Shabak would appear in that hour in circus. She had a lot of things to talk with them.
   Having passed narrow and dirty streets of Trade Quarter, Casta came to the embankment and went along the wide channel cutting Seaside Quarter in two almost equal parts. The Big Circus was on the hill, in the most northern part of the Seaside Quarter, and there were gardens of Ygerabal and the temple city. Casta went and thought that it would be quite good to pay a visit to Abnun this night - the owner of circus lived just in the temple area, - and to ask for an unfortunate orc.Casta also could not understand why she was so caused anxiety by Tulkan's fate, he was only the orc. However the story of Derak enraged the girl. She kept life to an orc in a duel, and these pigs ... She hated Abnun and his henchman Shabak who scared together a huge fortune on human blood earlier - on blood of Casta including. Now she was overcome by blood-thirsty thoughts. But at first it is necessary to get to the Circus.
   She reached a pier for a quarter of hour. The moon was behind clouds, and streets plunged into a dense gloom, but it suited Casta. She quickly passed the tiny square with a statue of the goddess-mother Mammu-Ashtennet, overcame several narrow lanes and appeared directly before pier. In the light of torches several slaves loaders put boxes and bags towards a wall, they did not pay any attention to Casta. The girl quickly slipped for gate and began to climb the paved road conducting on the hill to the Circus.
   The many-tier bulk of the Circus hung over her, having closed the half-sky. Near entrance Casta stopped, pulled out Tulkan's amulet from a satchel. The gray ordinary-looking stone with a hole in the middle had no any value- it was just the stone. And why for the sake of godsTulkan decided to give her this amulet? There is something inexplicable in it. All events happened with her in the last day are too strange. Beginning with the fact that she spared this orc. She, Casta the Amazon who killed young and handsome men in the arena without mercy took pity on a monster. Derak tells the truth - orcs are only spiteful creatures, furious beasts which hate people. If orc won in fight, hardly he would be so generous to Casta. And she spared Tulkan, and more than that, now tries to learn about his destiny. Yes, Tulkan behaved nobly during their duel, but only whether the reason is? All this is strange and unclear.
   Casta did not concern for a long time how people live there around her. Even in the arena, looking in eyes of the enemy, she thought only of one - kind of to be finish off with him quicker and to hear an enthusiastic cry of stands. How many did she kill that way under the applause of the audience? First Casta kept count to the victories, then ceased. The gladiators killed by her stopped to come in her dreams, and even their faces began to be erased from her memory. She was not concerned any more by their death shouts, their agony, their views full of inhuman horror. So that it was more unclear to Casta everything that happened in the arena yesterday morning.
   She ceased to feel personal and other people`s pain long ago. Four years came from that day when the plague came in her hometown of Tseruni. The disease destroyed in a week the world in which she was called not Casta, but Leyda. The world of her childhood and youth where she was happy and which seemed to be eternal and invariable. At first her mother died. She was tormented not for long time, and Casta was near her until last minute of her life though the priest of Beris warned her how dangerous for her to visit dying. She did not catch the plague, but "black death" after all came to her house - in two days after the funeral of mother her husband and the tiny eight-months daughter Elea got sick. Her beloved Aylor died for the fifth day of disease, having endured their daughter for one day. Casta badly remembered how she felt washing bodies of the daughter and the husband, turning them in pure unbleached linens, and she laid them near on beds, and then locked the hut and set fire to it. She stood and watched how the fire inflamed and devoured her house and bodies of her darlings, and inhabitants of neighboring houses stood and looked at her, and there was horror in the eyes of them. Casta knew that they were afraid, kind of the flame of the fire was not thrown on their hovels. And they were afraid of infection. They were looking at Casta as at the dead man. When the burning roof collapsed, Casta turned and, without looking back, left Tseruni to the south, to Eponar. The infection spared her, she survived though she dreamed to die. In Eponar she earned some time a living by hunting, selling meat and skins of the animals got by her in the market. And then there was a meeting with that strange old man, Martsevius. He bought from her goods several times, but one morning approached a counter and told her:
  - "You are really good hunter, girl. I see that you cope better with bow and a hunting knife, than with needlework. Who taught you?"
  - "It`s not your business".
  - "I have just asked. I look attentively at you and I see that you are a special girl. You are very beautiful, but at the same time aren`t coddled. Probably, you were always daredevil".
  Casta only shrugged shoulders. Is it worth saying to the old man that he is right? She hated dolls and fuss with rags since childhood, always associated with boys, arranged different mischief on an equal basis with them and did not concede in anything to them, sometimes even beat her pals. Aylor before wedding taught her to shoot a bow, and she well turned out in archery. So well that old Virion, the uncle of Aylor, presented her expensive Logarian bow made from black bronze and a quiver of arrows on a wedding. All were surprised then by this wedding gift, but Casta was very glad to it - because her progress in archery was a merit of Aylor. The husband said to her that she was the born archer.
  -" If you were born the man, you would become a soldier", - Aylor told her once. It became ridiculous to her, but for some reason she thought that her darling is right. Now the old man in the market noticed what had been noticed once by Aylor.
  - "I need the person for very important and responsible work", - the old man continued meanwhile. - "I feel unknown force in you, the beauty, therefore I suggest you to accept my offer. I will feed you, dress and pay two gold Toulons monthly - it is good money. Think and make a right choice. If you decide, come to my house on the Moon and the Sun Street. I will be waiting for you".
   He gave her an earnest - one piece of gold - and left. Casta thought not for long. In the same evening she came to the house of the old man and arrived to him on service. The old man was the rich merchant, and he needed soldiers for protection of trade caravans. So she became the security guardian at Martsevius`. The old man gave her weapon, a cheap leather armor and charged to the foreman of the guardians to train the girl in techniques of fencing and hand-to-hand fight. The foreman got down to business. Other security guardians laughed at Casta, but there time passed, and they stopped laughing. In six months of training the girl handled a long sword so surely and skillfully that the foreman Tannik allowed her to get to the real work for the sake of which the old man also employed her - to protect Martsevius' caravans from robbers. He even tried looking after the girl, but Casta was unapproachable. Then Tannik called her the Amazon for the first time. The young and hot soldier outright fell in love with this strange wildish fair-haired Seltonian girl with scintillating chartreuse eyes and gentle golden skin, such fragile and womanly by sight - and such unlike all women seen by him before, aggressive, ruthless to herself and to the others, and brave. Tannik also nicknamed her Casta. She asked him that this word meant, and Tannik, having reddened as the boy, answered that "Casta" in Logarian language means "Fair-haired". She saw that Tannik was in love with her, but she did not want to love. Neither Tannik, nor somebody else. She lived, not thinking of tomorrow - all her life remained in the past. With the death of Aylor, daughter and mother something seemed to have died in her soul. She continued to live, but life resembled a dream - gray, incoherent and senseless.
   By strange coincidence just in anniversary of death of her little Elea she was taken prisoner. Everything happened unexpectedly, the big gang of Faracks nomads attacked caravan which they protected. Tannik and three more security guardians were killed in the first minutes. Casta managed to kill four attackers before she was deafened by a bone mace. She got concious in a stinking earth hole covered with wounds and sewage, bonded by leather belts regained consciousness and there were three more captives with her in a hole. They tried to start talking to her, but she was silent and did not respond to their inquiries. She did not learn who they were and how had been got to Faracks- in the same night they were taken away to an altar of ancestors and sacrificed there. Casta was staying in a hole more two weeks: from time to time the Faracks pulled her out the hole, washed from dirt, and then raped - five or seven men for time. Wives of Faracks came to look how their husbands rape the fair-haired captive. In the evenings, when in a settlement of nomads fires were lit, children of Faracks were going to take a look at her, got up crowd around a hole, sneered, spat and urinated on her, threw in her clay lumps, manure, a garbage and dead rats. Casta did not pay any attention to them; the Faracks meant to her less, than the clouds of flies annoying her. In wounds of Casta their larvae appeared, and she picked them out with a straw. Everything what she wanted those days was to die quicker and meet Elea, Aylor, father and mother. But Nekrian, the goddess of death, did not come for her. When she finally lost count of time, and madness already began to obscure her mind, she was suddenly dragged out from hole, and the chief of Faracks sold her to the visiting slave trader from Nieguan, and the trader resold Casta in the slave market in Darnat for fifty sakkars. Derak the lanist bought her- the old man correctly estimated character and strength of the girl. So in the nineteenth year of life Casta became the circus fighter. She was demanded to kill her associates by misfortune in the circus ring and she killed without asking questions. Never before Darnat saw the female warrior in the circus ring, and fights with participation of Casta attracted thousands of people. Casta well remembered her first fight in the arena; she was given a curve bronze dagger and a leather light shield and released against the black Afari fighter named Mshai-the-Hunter armed with a long heavy spear. The Afari went forward at once, furiously crying out, calling her dirty words and rolling the furious eyes poured by blood, but Casta didn`t become puzzled; having rejected shield, she contrived and grabbed the spear of the enemy by a staff and during the next moment cut the Mshai`s throat with a wave of a dagger. Tribunes were discontentedly silent when she left the arena through Gate of Winners -everything ended too quickly. After this duel she was summoned by Abnun the owner of circus and angrily explained that the viewers need a show, but not a slaughter, and after that the silent Seltonian was sent again to the arena to battle against the next fighter. That time Casta did not disappoint the audience. Her new opponent was a Farrack, and Casta was eager to kill him slowly, prolonging pleasure. She understood from first minutes that she will cope with the opponent without effort, but long and skillfully sent the enemy in the arena until she knocked out life from Farrack with blow of her mace together with brains. That day, three years ago, Casta understood that she is a born soldier, though a woman and had only one opportunity to survive - to kill. And she killed quietly and coolly all these years, killed without mercy and doubts, and only today in a duel with an orc changed the most established rules. Why? Whether only the look of the beauty Kuati full of horror was the cause? Or gods again inexplicably decided to change her way?
   The life of circus fighters was short. Only the few of them could brag of such number of victories as Casta the Amazon. Probably, force, courage, external appeal, good possession of weapon and improbable luck allowed Casta to turn from an entertaining wonder, the insignificant slave into all Darnat's idol over time. The worship of the crowd adoring murders and murderers made Casta free, rich and well-known - she was cruel as well as this crowd. But Casta thought almost with pleasure that today she disappointed hopes of these blood-thirsty plebeians having kept life to orc. The crowd already anticipated as she would cut a throat to prostrate Tulkan, and she did not make it.
   And nevertheless, she thinks much of this orc. Too much, Beris is the witness! Derak, of course, is the coward and swine, but he is partly right. She has been left without work. Instead of thinking how to reconcile with Abnun and to return the reputation of the best fighter of Darnat, she goes to circus once again to meet Tulkan. Gods, what a nonsense! Casta stopped and unclenched fist once again to look at the amulet. Just ridiculous stone with a hole in the middle. Or perhaps the case isn`t in this stone at all?
  Life beat her cruelly and without any indulgence in four years. But today the wild orc could kill her, but for some reason did not kill. Tulkan's act struck Casta. The nobility and mercy of orc could amaze anyone. After fight Casta regretted not asking Tulkan why he acted that way. And if the orc is still alive, she will surely ask him this question.
   Why he spared her life? Or the wild orc was the first who saw that she is a woman first of all?!
  The entrance to service premises was directly before her - wide gate in three human growth high stone fence framed with bushes of the blossoming magnolia. Casta entered inside and appeared in a cozy court yard with the fountain and Mammu-Ashtenet's statue in the center. Here gladiators came to honor the Goddess-mother, and on a sacrificial stone at the feet of a statue their touching gifts lay: a cup with a millet, fruit in a rough clay bowl, rags of color fabric, a garland of flowers, copper coins. Casta passed by the statue and went deep into the long gallery conducting to barracks of gladiators and bestiary. Here it was dark and damp, there was a pungent smell of urine and dogs. She almost reached the end of gallery when some dark shadow loomed at an exit; the round-shouldered elderly person in gray clothes of the freedman came in light circle from a torch, began to blink weak-sighted eyes, endeavoring to distinguish the face of the night guest in the twilight.
  - "Casta, you?" - The old man recognized Darnat's champion at last. - "I swear by curls of Shante what madness brought you here?"
  - "I came to learn, what happened to orc", - the girl answered. - "Derak told me Shabak had ordered to kill Tulkan".
  - "Truly, you are a madwoman!" - The old man pointed a finger knotty at the girl's shoulder. - "Don`t you know that Shabak ordered not to pass you in circus? All we have the strict order to stop you if you want to enter".
  - "And you will execute this order, Elrik?" - Casta derisively closed the eyes partly. - "Will you begin to fight me?"
  - "May I?" - In a voice of an old Selton bitterness sounded. - "You have come in vain, sunlike. There is no orc in circus any more. By order of Shabak he was taken away to Plague Ditches".
  - "So he died?"
  - "I don`t know. I heard how the foreman of gladiators ordered two pupils to ship an orc on the vehicle and take out to Ditches. I know one: in the evening your orc was still alive. I will not be surprised if Shabak ordered to dump Tulkan in a ditch being alive".
  - "Bastard!" - Casta clenched fists in rage. - "When was the orc taken away?"
  - "Recently, about the beginning of the second guards. Hurry up, perhaps, you will find his body in Ditches. Though, if I were in your shoes, I would not risk to poke into this damned place after nightfall. Hyenas and ghouls are managing now there".
  - "And is Shabak in circus?"
  - "Left before twilight. Listen, daughter, I have heard something and I want to warn you. Shabak conceived something. I saw how he gave money to Bald Hushni and told something to him. It seemed to me that he mentioned your name in a conversation. Take care, the darling, Darnat dogs seem to begin hunting on you".
  - "Hunting, you speak? Nice. One more occasion to break the Shabak`s bones. Thanks, Elrik. You helped me very much".
  - "But tell me please, girl, why do you care of this orc? I tell you frankly, you struck me today. Your mercy was ...., - the old man faltered, looking for a proper word, - unclear. What for did you so suddenly spare this monster?"
  - "I cannot answer your question, Elrik. Probably, this is intervention of gods. Or perhaps I did a foolish think. All of us do silly things in life".
  - "Truly, did a foolish think! - Elrik got a scarf, wiped the watering eyes. - You ruined the career. What will you do now how to live"?
  - "For a start I will go to Plague Ditches".
   Rustle of steps forced Casta to remember danger behind the back. She was not even surprised when she saw the circus trainer Hushni, enormous shaven-headed Shurret man, and five more spindle-legs with him - most likely, they noticed her in a court yard and followed her. Hushni stepped to the girl and stopped in light circle from the torch burning under the arch of gallery: there was a nasty grimace meaning a smile on his stupid physiognomy covered with scars.
  - "Came, Seltonian trash"? - Hushni asked, rubbing hands. - "Got into a trap yourself, I swear by Ygerabal. Thank you that saved us from care to look for you around the city".
  - "I came on business, Hushni, and I have not enough time. What do you want?"
  - "And you do not understand, Seltonian? You disappointed the owner very much. Very very much I guess. The owner does not love when he is disappointed. And he ordered Hushni to talk to you".
  - "Speak quicker. What do you want?"
  - "The owner paid Hushni well", - the strapper took more step forward, and his friends made the same. - "The owner told Hushni the silly bitch needs to be taught a good lesson properly. And Hushni executes will of the owner".
  - "Do you want to fight?" - Casta crossed hands on a breast, her eyes began to sparkle angrily. - "Think properly, pal. You have a chance to save your fat bum of big troubles. I am Casta. I am not the one to be trifled with".
  - "You are Casta, but you alone now, and don`t have any weapon", - Hushni grinned again and waved with a huge fist before the face of the girl. - "And we are six. We will have you in every way, and then I will cut out your interior so you will not delivered of Seltonian bastards. You are not afraid?"
  - "Of you? You`ve got nothing to have me. You are just pathetic talker, Hushni. I know that you had no woman for all your life because you are only smelly faggot. Only bugs which you press in a bed can be afraid of you unless", - Casta told and unexpectedly for the Shurret punched him to face.
   She won only a moment: murderers, confused was impudence of the girl who dared to resist to them alone quickly recovered and rushed on her, swinging fists, knives and heavy bludgeons. Casta pushed away old Elrik and rushed up a ladder, entraining attackers. Having passed the third floor, she stopped, turned facing murderers and, having let out shrill cry, kicked in a breast the nearest fighter who almost overcame ladder. He did not keep standing and departed down with a cry, having brought down from legs one more accomplice. Using the arisen hitch, Casta reached the end of ladder and stopped, taking breath. There was the most convenient location for defense, and if Casta had had some weapon, she would have not worried about the future at all. But, having left Urshad`s tavern, Casta did not think of weapon, thoughtlessly poked into circus unaided. Meanwhile persecutors with cries and abuse walked upstairs: Hushni rushed ahead, furiously growling and shaking by huge fists.
   Casta saw heavy wooden bench standing at an entrance to a corridor. The girl, without thinking twice, lifted it and, having swung, threw directly in Hushni. The Shurret managed to bend down; a bench, having flown over his head, got into the mercenaries rising for the leader. The roar and cries of pain and rage sounded for Casta like music. However there was no time on delights concerning a successful throw; Hushni was already near her and rushed on the Seltonian with a roar. Casta evaded from the terrible blow directed to her face, got Hushni blow of right hand. The Shurret swayed, began to roar from rage, went forward. Casta hit him under knee, and brought down the fist on a shaven skull of Hushni an instant later. The feeling was such as if she struck a boulder with a hand: the right brush was penetrated by an acute pain, and Casta moved back back, asking all the seltonian gods to not allow her to appear in such alteration with the broken hand.
   Hushni understood everything, his eyes joyfully sparkled. Having brought fists, the spindle-legs rushed on Casta. However he did not see how Elrik appeared behind backs of his accomplices. The old man called Casta, and the girl heard. In the light of torches steel sparkled - the long curve dagger-kutuba thrown by Elrik flight a wide arch in air and fell to the girl's feet. The rest was business of second: Casta picked up weapon the le ft hand and, having become straight, struck direct shot, for a moment having been ahead of Hushni. A dark stream of blood struck her in a face, was sprayed on a wall. Having grabbed the cut throat with hands, Hushni goggled, began to wheeze and overturned on a back, pulling legs as the killed bull. Casta with squeal jumped through dying, cut a shoulder to one of bandits with new blow and got the third enemy with the return movement of a blade - he got back with a cry , clamping a deep wound in a side. After that all crowd hit in flight, roaring with the grounded sandals on ladders steps. Casta wiped blood from her face, took breath. When footfall, damnations and cries calmed down at last, she approached the Shurret struck by her. Hushni ceased to rattle, only spasms continued to cramp his huge body. Trying not to come in the bloody pool which spread on a ladder, Casta went down.
   Elrik sat on a corridor floor, having leaned a back against the wall splashed by his blood. His head was injured - the running-away bastards after all managed to revenge an old Selton. Casta felt Elrik's pulse and shook the head.
  - "Thanks to you, Elrik", - she whispered and kissed the old man bluntly. - "You saved my life. Let a torch of Nekrian will brightly light your road to the country of ancestors!"
   In a closet of Elrik under a ladder she found little water in a jug and greedy drank it. Wiped a kutuba blade with piece of burlap. The old towel embroidered in flowers, an only valuable thing in a closet caught her sight. Casta took a towel and, having left a closet, covered the face of the killed old man with it then hurried to leave circus.
   The fever of fight passed, an aching hurt hand pain and gloomy thoughts left. Hushni's accomplices ran away, and it means that by the morning all Darnat will have known about occurred in the circus. Murder of the free citizen is serious crime for which she will be inevitably judged. She has no proofs that she was attacked : Elrik is dead and she has no more witnesses. Five escaped bastards will claim unanimously that Casta attacked them first, killed Hushni and wounded two of them. Judges will believe them moreover Abnun and Shabak will pay extra them. Very bad. It remains only one - till the dawn to try to run from Darnat.
   Shortly before midnight Casta returned to the house in Armourers Street. She had bought this house shortly after had become a star of the arena and received freedom and the status of the citizen from the Shofet. The house was small: Casta kept only the gardener, the maid and the cook - she released them even in the morning, having come back home after the fight with Tulkan. She did not need a lot of servants to keep in order in five rooms, kitchen, the storeroom and arsenal. Casta went to the arsenal first of all.
   A lot of weapon bought and trophy was collected here and all this weaponry could arm small army. But Casta quickly made the choice. First of all she dumped dusty clothes become permeated with the smell and bloody and dressed the fighting armor. A year ago Casta paid for armor one and a half thousand sakkars to Saval the smith, the best weapon master of Darnat. There were rumors that old Saval studied his crafting at demons of fire and metal therefore his armor and weapon were of unsurpassed quality. Casta saved up money half a year to order arms from Saval. She drew Saval on a piece of papyrus as an armor should look - once Casta had seen in her dream the goddess of war Nataya in such armor, and since then dreamed to have similar one. When Saval delivered her ready armor and Casta tried on it the old smith sighed in admiration. That day Saval told her that he had never seen the warrior finer, and she understood that the armorer told in all sincerity. The choice of weapon was harder for Casta : she couldn`t take a sword and bow with arrows at once, the burden turned out too bulky. Reluctantly, the girl selected a Seltonian one-and-a-half sword and left the arsenal.
   In the bedroom she opened a chest where all her treasures were stored in a leather sack - a ring with topaz, two rings with amethysts, several gold chains and bracelets, a ring with a large emerald, a gift of one rich lover, two gold amulets with chains -also the gifts of admirers, - and fifty sakkars. If she adds the wonderful ring with a faultless ruby received today from the queen Kuati to these trinkets all these golden bagatelles will cost about two thousand sakkars - quite enough to begin new and carefree life in any city of the world. One of amulets Casta kissed and hung up on a neck: the lock of hair of her unforgettable small Elea was hidden in an amulet, the only thing that she managed to save from that life when she was Leyda from Tseruni, but not Casta the Amazon. For the first time for the last three years her heart clenched from the pressing melancholy and there was a wish to cry. Having discarded an empty chest, Casta went down to the kitchen, drank a mug of a cold water, had hastily a bite smoked meat and bread, put some supplies for the road in a bag and, having put on a wide black cloak with a hood over an armor left the house. Now the most difficult thing remained- to escape imperceptibly from Darnat. But at first she should find Tulkan and try to save him if the poor orc is still alive.
   Here the quite good idea came to her mind. Several months ago Casta borrowed the large sum of money to one Seltonian freedman.The Selton whose name was Nirran run on a small tavern under the name of "Belly of a Whale" near port .He will not deny to her in assistance. Still Casta thought that Nirran for certain should have familiar seamen and if she is lucky, she will be able to agree with some captain and leave Darnat by one of foreign galleys. She has money so it is possible to try. So Casta took the bag on a shoulder, left home and moved the street down towards the harbor.
   As well as Casta hoped, Nirran agreed to help her. She left at Nirran`s her bag with things and immediately went to Plague Ditches. She had still hope that orc Tulkan was alive.
   Plague Ditches were located behind northern gate of Darnat, and Casta had to pass through all city to reach the place. However, night walk did not bring any troubles - after midnight the street of the Old city became absolutely empty and rare patrols of city guardians did not pay any attention to the hurrying woman in a black attire. The soldiers of Darnat couldn`t even imagine that the stranger who was so diligently hiding her face under a hood was the arena star, a ruthless and blood-thirsty Casta the Amazon. Their indifference saved their lives: Casta decided that if something happens she won`t sentimentalize. But she had not to shed blood fortunately. The guardians of northern gate took her for the wife of the criminal thrown dead into Plague Ditches and passed her out, having limited to several malicious and obscene remarks.
   Still long before Casta left the city, she felt the disgusting stench going from Plague Ditches. They began just behind gate, on the right side, and lasted on several hundreds of steps along a wall, to a stocky stone tower where the guild of grave-diggers was located. Once in these ditches were being burned corpses of the dead during the pestilence but then the authorities began to dump there the bodies of executed criminals, slaves and tramps. Grave-diggers for a small fee used to bury some of them in common graves, burned others, but most of the dead thrown there remained unburied in Ditches, infecting air with a smell of death and feeding hordes of rats, flies, stray dogs and jackals. The grave-diggers burned the oil lakes located in ditches to banish deathbirds and though to take away a little the dense stench of decomposition, , however black fat smoke poisoned air even more, accumulated black soot on walls of ditches, making this terrible place even more ominous.
   One of such lakes was burning directly on the way of Casta. Having convinced that she moved rather far away from gate, the girl kindled the laid-up torch from the red smoky flame dancing on a surface of the lake. Rolled up the face with matter strip impregnated with tar - she took both tar and fabric at Nirran's tavern. Then extended a sword from a sheath and began to go down in a ditch. All surrounded her from the first steps could cause horror in the most brave hearts. On the ditch bottom covered with ashes and a soot and impregnated with fat of burned corpses, the charred bones and skulls were scattered. Here and there ominous remains were collected in heaps in which fuss and growl were heard. The bonfires made of bundles of the straw watered with oil and prepared for new kremation rose nearby. Then dead bodies began to come across to her. Some of them had left here long ago and absolutely decayed, others seemed fresh, but all of them were spoiled by deathbirds. Somewhere absolutely close howls of jackals and a mad laughter of hyenas sounded: several times some dark shadows were cast away at her approach. Choking with a stench and whispering guarding prayers, Casta went further, crossing through deformed corpses corroded by decomposition and deathbirds, trying to see Tulkan among them. Her hopes to find Tulkan alive thawed every minute.
  - "Tulkan!" - she shouted, having taken ten more steps. - "Tulkan!"
   Some bird flew by absolutely near her head and soared up into darkness, having let her cry. From darkness behind heaps of bones spiteful growl was heard, and Casta saw the eyes of unknown creatures whom she disturbed with the emergence flashing in the dark like green sparks. She was motionless and waited. At last, growl ceased, was replaced by a crunch and champing. Having lifted the torch, Casta went further on. From a dense smell of death the head began to be turned, painful nausea squeezed stomach. It seemed to her that the worms teeming on remains begin to creep on her. Under her boots something crackled, squelched, soles slid, and she nearly fell directly to the decaying weight, once being the living man. Having inhibited mad desire to run away from this underworld, Casta nevertheless reached the middle of a ditch, to the second oil lake and set fire to it. Oil flashed with booming sound, and it became lighter in the ditch.
   Suddenly she heard low moan. Heart of Casta joyfully clogged, she ran forward, maneuvring between heaps of the charred bones and the bodies rolling in a ditch. She appeared soon in the distant end of a ditch where bodies of the executed slaves had been dumped. They had been executed right there, near Plague Ditches next to a fortification. Again the groan, this time absolutely nearby was heard.
  - "Tulkan!" - Casta shouted.
   Two hyenas rushed on her from darkness. Casta began to squeal, threatened on creatures with brightly burning torch - in its light she could see the grinned snub-nosed muzzles of predators, their mad eyes full of animal rage. One of hyenas moved back away, but another with hoarse bark rushed forward. Casta stuck with a sword edge directly into the blood-stained muzzle of hyena and got into an eye, and then struck with a sword from below up, so, that the hyena flew up in air and plopped down on a heap of remains. The second beast ran off Casta on ten steps, but then rushed off to her with big clumsy jumps. Blow of a sword rejected a hyena back, having killed her a forepaw, and the second blow of Casta nailed the wounded creature to the ground. After that she already slowly finished the first hyena trying to rise and again to rush on her. Having finished hyenas, the girl hurried there, from where, as it seemed to her, groans reached. In several moments she saw Tulkan.
   The orc lay on a heap of the disfigured bodies in a ditch corner. Casta shuddered: the right leg of an orc was covered with lacerations, and there were shapeless bloody tatters instead of the left foot. Hyenas had come here before her. But Tulkan was still alive: having dropped an ear to a mighty breast of orc, Casta heard weak faltering heart beat. Then Tulkan quietly sighed.
  - "Tulkan!" - Casta whispered, having taken a hand of orc.
   The orc moved, made the hoarse bubbling sound. The girl saw that he opened eyes.
  - "Tulkan, it`s me!" - she told, having bent over the dying. - "I am Casta!"
  - "Tulkan not to see!" - the orc croaked. - "Eyes night. Woman?"
  - "Yes, Tulkan, it`s me, woman", - lips of Casta begun to tremble. - "Forgive me, Tulkan!"
  - "Tulkan to die", - the orc exhaled. - "It is good to die. Pain to come end. Why woman here?"
  - "You wanted to see me".
   - "Dinche!" - Tulkan told. - "To go Dinche. She to tell. Ayvari's stone. Shenay-eshgan-rokh-ammar-denna!"
  - "What?"
  - "Now the woman to leave. Tulkan to die quietly".
  - "Tell that you forgive me".
  - "Tulkan not to be angry. The woman to live quietly. Tulkan to die quietly".
  - "Tulkan!" - Casta unexpectedly for herself broke into tears. - "I will revenge, I swear!"
  - "To go Dinche", - the orc barely audible exhaled and began to shake and wheeze. Casta screamed, but Tulkan did not hear this shout any more.
   The girl was captured by strange catalepsy, and she continued to stand near a dead orc, holding his hand in hers, listening as the jackals ransacking near ditches exchanged the cries similar to children's crying. Then she understood that she only wastes time. Night passes, and she should still manage to make about what Tulkan asked her. And to take care on unfortunate orc that hyenas would disturbe him nevermore.
  The gray-haired person such thin and emaciated that looked like the skeleton fitted by skin opened her the door in a tower. He looked at Casta with amazement, but then saw her tear-stained eyes - and understood everything.
  - "Come in", - he ordered.
   Casta steppeed inside and flat-out fell by the clay scaffold covered with dirty mats. Everything floated before her eyes. Then she felt light touch. The lean person stood nearby and stretched her a cup with water.
  - "Drink", - he suggested.
   She broke a tar rag from a face, brought a cup to a mouth, but spasms smothered her, and water spilled on a breast. The person knowingly nodded, brought to the girl a dirty wooden tub. He made it in time: next moment Casta began to vomit.
  - "The silly woman", - quietly said lean man. - "Who goes this place at night? You were lucky that hyenas and ghouls did not break off you in pieces!"
  - "Who ... are you?" - Casta wiped a wet mouth with edge of a cloak.
  - "Conductor. I take care for those who needs to nobody".
  - "You are a grave-digger?"
  - "Foreman of grave-diggers guild". - The old man filled a cup with water from a jug again. - "Is there anyone of your relatives?"
  - "My friend. He ... is an orc".
  - "Twice silly woman, if you have friends among cannibal orcs. Though there is no more terrible being under the sun than the humans".
  - "Can you bury him?"
  - "It will cost one sakkar. Do you have one sakkar?"
  - "I have two sakkars for you". - Casta opened a bag with shivering hands, threw gold coins to the old man. - "I beg ... you".
  - "Olan!" - the old man shouted, hiding money in the loincloth.
   The thin teenager came to call of the old man from the neighboring room: in his indifferent eyes the curiosity flashed when the Caste threw off the cloak, and the teenager could see her sparkling steel armor covered with skillful stamping and the long sword with the handle trimmed with nacre which was hung up to the belt.
  - "Olan can clean your clothes with special composition which neutralizes ptomaine and takes away death smell", - the old man told. - "It will cost one more sakkar".
  - "Let him clean".
  - "Undress", - the old man ordered and left the tower.
   Casta threw the cloak to the boy, shuddering from loathing, pulled dirty boots, then unknit belts of the armor skirt and the semi-cuirass protecting a breast. It didn`t borther her that she remained naked, and the boy was looking at her. But Olan was more delicate, than she thought: having looked down, the boy picked up her things and carried them away. In a minute he returned with a basin of hot water and a bast. Water in a basin was dark and had a strong smell of some herbs.
  - "Wash up, madam", - he told and smiled.
   Casta grabbed the bast, dipped it into water and began to rub herself with rage of the madman convinced that his skin is covered by parasites, invisible to the others. The strange composition in the basin foamed on skin and caused strong burning, but it was seemed to Casta that she was finally exempted from the terrible smell which contaminated her body and from horror which she felt this night. Her nausea settled, a shiver in legs began to pass gradually. She continued to rub herself with a wet bast, spilling caustically smelling water and moaning from pleasure. She stopped only when all her body began to burn and itch as if it was whipped a nettle, but the terrible smell absolutely disappeared. And then there was Olan and brought her cloak and armor.
  - "Take", - Casta generously threw gold in the boy's hand. Olan rolled up the head.
  - "No, madam, is too much here!"
  - "It is not a lot of. Take! For such work you should be showered with sakkars from head to feet".
  - "As madam wishes", - Olan bowed. - "May I help madam to put on"?
  - "I`ll handle it. Go, don`t stare at me".
  - "As madam wishes".
   The old man returned when she almost stopped putting on.
  - "I have taken care of your friend", - he told. - "He is already on the way to the world of the ancestors".
  - "What is your name, old man?"
  - "Why do you ask my name?"
  - "Just I want to know who forced me to believe in people today again".
  - "You are very kind, the Warrior. But do not do similar nonsenses from now".
  - "Did you recognize me?"
  - "You are recognized by anybody who once saw you in the arena".
  - "Thank you, father".
  - "I have only made my work".
  - "May gods bless you. You are a good person".
  - "Grandfather, who was this woman?" - Olan asked the old man when Casta left the tower of grave-diggers. - "Was she really Casta the Murderer, huh?"
  - "Remember, Olan, you saw nobody this night", - the old man told, bolting a door. - "There was nobody here. It was just the dream. Understood me? No words to anybody, even to our guild fellows".
  - "I understood, grandfather. She gave me five sakkars".
  - "It is good. Hide them better and never speak about them to anybody. Perhaps, day will come, and this money will help you to escape from hell in which we live ... And now go to sleep. Morning is soon, and we will have a lot of work. While there are judges and executioners in Darnat, we will not be left without piece of bread".
   The slave gatekeeper who opened doors to Kuvlad's house was unfamiliar to her and looked sleepy and frightened. Casta did not begin explainings why she came so late - having pushed away the slave, entered inside, to the spacious lobby of the house brightly lit with a set of the trimmed lamps. Eventually the owner of this house is her lover so there is absolutely no need to wait at doors when she is deigned to be accepted.
   She decided to visit Kuvlad not at once. This thought came to her already to ways to port - in the beginning she was going to stop for the night at Nirran`s tavern. She changed her mind when Nirran reported to her that he had agreed with the Saiss captain, and for Casta there was a place by the Sais galley leaving Darnat at sunrise. Thought of Kuvlad and decided to say goodbye to him. Young Darnatian was her official lover. Their communication continued three months - Kuvlad, the hereditary aristocrat and one of the richest people in Darnat, tried to get her attention very long. He went to all her fights in circus, sent her rich gifts which Casta did not accept - was afraid to be fond of Kuvlad really, to lose the head because young Darnatian attracted her. Unlike most of her admirers Kuvlad was young and beautiful - high, swarty, with pensive black eyes, refined and perfectly well-mannered. But Kuvlad did not frighten off such coldness, he was annoying, and Casta surrended. In long series of her lovers Kuvlad was the first to whom she was really attached. Darnat gossiped about their communications, but it concerned Casta a little. She needed Kuvlad at least sometimes to feel like the woman. Their relations were less, than love, but were more than sympathy. Casta herself also understood that they will never be able to get married - similar marriages were prohibited by Darnat laws, - and she also did not want to be just the concubine. Kuvlad seemed to be satisfied their meetings. He tried to obtain love of the amazon and achieved it, the rest did not matter. But this night before leaving Darnat forever Casta wanted to see the young man once again. It is possible because it was nobody closer to her than Kuvlad in this city. Having taken away things from Nirran`s Casta went to Kuvlad.
   Kuvlad appeared in a lobby in several moments, correcting folds of the chlamys on the run. Casta could clearly read all scale of feelings which captured him on his sleepy face- confusion, bewilderment, surprise, joy.
  - "Darnat's gods!" - Kuvlad exclaimed, having clasped the girl in arms and strong kissed. - "My goddess has come to visit her slave. Why did not you warn me about the visit? I would take care of good reception for the bright star."
  - "Forgive, darling", - Casta took away hair from a face, smiled guilty to Kuvlad. - "I woke you".
  - "And it is nice! We will spend the rest of night, being awake, you know how I value the hours spent with you, my sweet warrior". - Here Kuvlad frowned. -" Gods, what a smell! As from the embalmer! And why are you in armor, with weapon and things?"
  - "It`s long to explain, darling. I will tell only that I would not like very much to have same night one more time".
  - "What happened?" - The smile left Kuvlad's face.
  -" I have troubles. May I come in?"
  - "Of course! I order slaves to prepare a hot bathtub for you now. Sit down, my house is yours".
   Kuvlad's slaves were prompter, than Casta expected. Through a quarter of hour she already luxuriated in hot water to which the aromas were plentifully added. Then Kuvlad came accompanied by two slaves - one with a silver jug of red Khaestan wine, another with fruit and sweets.
  - "Will you allow to join you?" - Kuvlad playfully smiled, put off a tunic.
  - "Not now, darling", - Casta told a sleepy voice: heat of a bathtub filled her body with long-awaited rest. Kuvlad's caress would destroy this rest, and in general, she had no time for love. - "Maybe, later".
  - "Well", - Kuvlad sat down on a bathroom side, took the girl's hand. - "You can explain nothing to me, my star. I know that happened in circus today. I saw fight. All Darnat speaks only about it. All are delighted by you. You did right thing. This orc was within your power. As well as me, - he bent to Casta and tried to kiss her, but the girl did not allow him to make it".
  - "I beg, Kuvlad, only not now".
  -"Don`t you love me any more?"
  - "If I did not love, I would not come".
  - "Then what is the matter?"
  - "I killed the person, Kuvlad".
  - "Ha, the grief is big! Do you do it all the time, or am I wrong?"
  - "I killed the Darnat citizen, darling".
  - "Oh!" - Kuvlad smiled, but his face turned pale. - "How did you manage to kill that poor one?"
  - "I was attacked". - Casta, without opening eyes, began to tell about everything, what happened to her last evening. Kuvlad listened, nodded and grew dark more and more. At last, Casta became silent and left the bathroom with a sigh. Having darted a glance at Kuvlad, she noticed that he looked not at her, but somewhere aside.
  - "Shall I put on?" - she asked.
  - "What?" - Kuvlad started, raised eyes on her. The smile on lips of the young man seemed strained and insincere to Casta. - "Of course, no! I haven`t seen you nude for ages. You are charming. Divine Kua will not be compared to you, my pearl! There is no another woman in Darnat with such skin and with such body as yours, I swear by a radiant disk of Ying-Nubas! Your scars only give you delights".
  - "Ah, Kuvlad why my heart begins to thaw of your words?" - Casta shook the head, having drenched the lover with a rain of warm odorous drops, nestled on his breast. - "Embrace me more strong. I`m fed up to be Casta the Murderer. I want to feel small, weak and beloved. I want you to warm my heart in the palms and your breath to dry up my tears. I want my body thawed from your kisses and caress. I feel very very bad now".
  - "Do not think of what occurred", - Kuvlad touched by lips of her lips, then tenderly ran fingers over her breast. -" I am Kuvlad, not the last person in this city. I will say a word for you in the House of the Law, and you will be left alone".
  - "Will you indeed be able to make it?"
  - "Even do not doubt. Only we need proofs that you were protected. Do you have witnesses?"
  - "No. There was one old gladiator, but these dogs killed him".
  - "It is a pity". - Kuvlad suddenly cheerfully and carefree burst out laughing. - "However, all this are just trifles. Let's not to think of bad, my radiant. We are waited by my bedroom and the rest of night which we have to use on more pleasant things, than on talks about our troubles. You missed my caress, say "yes"!"
  - "Just now I understood how you are dear to me".
  - "Then prove me it!" - Kuvlad picked up the girl on hands and took out from the swimming bath to the convivial hall, and from there to the luxurious bedroom in which the fragrant aromas stupefying reason were already smoked.
   Casta dreamed to forget about everything that she happened to endure this evening, and her dream almost came true. Kuvlad was unusually gentle, his hands softly slid on her body, and Casta was taken by the real passion. Today she tried to be obedient and subject to the lover - Kuvlad once, whether for fun, whether in reproach told her that she behaves as the man in their bed. This night she wanted very much to be weak and defenseless. Let Kuvlad caress her, loves her, protects her, owns her. She wanted their last night to be remembered by her for a long time. Let night of love will force her to forget about horror seen in Plague ditches ...
  - "There is no, darling, not so", - she whispered when she understood that Kuvlad is going to take her staying back. - "I want to see your eyes".
   Kuvlad obeyed, and they appeared face to face again. Casta might see his eyes now, but they were strange - it seemed to her that it was another Kuvlad, not the one whom she had known all these months. In a look of the young man there was not only desire. It seemed to Casta that Kuvlad was confused. That he was afraid of something. His hands were gentle and skillful, but eyes were empty.
  - "Well give!" - she whispered, having pulled the lover on herself. - "Or you were tired? I swear by Shante, you cannot lift the spear in any way to hit the target!"
  - "No, I only ..."
  - "Trifles, darling. Do you want I will help you?" - Casta gently carried out by finger-tips on the men's dignity of Kuvlad become soft.
  - "All about wine", - Kuvlad was suddenly rolled on a bed, got up, threw with the embroidered dressing gown. - "Forgive, darling. I drank too much wine today".
  - "We have a lot more time", - Casta playfully smiled, shook the magnificent light head of hear, clapped a palm on a bed near herself. - "Everything can be corrected".
  - "Forgive. I have to leave you ... for a while. I will return, and we will continue".
  - "As you want, my love".
   Kuvlad disappeared behind the heavy drapery hiding door to the bedchamber. Casta leaned back on pillows, closed eyes. The unsatisfied body demanded a discharge, the bottom of a stomach was filled with painful weight. Having sighed, Casta put a palm on a stomach, then below, on a crotch, felt how shiver ran on her body, but straightened out a hand right there- a thought that she will achieve release in such away here, in Kuvlad's bed, seemed humiliating to her. It is better to wait, maybe, her lover will return, having realized that offends her and still will bring her necessary satisfaction. To wait, relax a little. Even it is possible to have a sleep. She had such unlucky day that the short dream is simply necessary. Hour or two of dreams. She still has time, the galley leaves Darnat at dawn. Kuvlad will wake her when returns, and she nevertheless will have satisfaction from him.
   Or he does not love her any more?
   Casta shook the head. Sparks of lamps began to produce long light threads, eyes stuck together. She wanted to wait for Kuvlad. But there was a wish to sleep even more. When will he still return, this boy? Inopportunely he drank wine, absolutely inopportunely. She expected absolutely another night. No - so is not present, in her life greater disappointments happened. There is nothing to be angry with Kuvlad, it is better to have a sleep. It is not enough.
   Tulkan stood, having turned to her with a back. She could hear his hoarse breath, and it seemed to her strange that the orc is still alive. He died there in Ditches - she saw that. The old grave-digger buried him. Why he came to her?
  - "The woman to sleep much", - Tulkan told, without turning around. - "It is impossible to sleep. Enemy close. To find Dinche".
  - "Why do I need Dinche?" - she asked.
  - "In order the woman to speak with Dinche. Very important. The woman has to know".
  - " To know what?"
  - "Ayvari's stone. The woman to go to Dinche. She to tell what to do".
  - "I do not understand you, Tulkan".
  - "Silly woman!" - The orc laughed the barking laughter. - "Me to die. Nobody to help the woman. Ayvari's stone. Shenay-eshgan-rokh-ammar-denna!"
  - "What does it mean?"
  - "It means: "You are a woman with the warrior's soul". Dinche to explain. But already late. You not to get to Dinche".
  - "Why?"
  -" You to wake up now".
  - "Tulkan?"
  - "Casta!"
   She opened eyes. There were two policemen in a gilded armor with an emblem of the Sacred Legion near bed. One of them, is more senior, held papyrus scroll and an ivory staff in hands. The younger policeman examined naked Casta with visible pleasure. Two more soldiers were standing at the entrance to the bedroom and inconsiderately stared at her too.
  - "You are Casta, the Seltonian from Tseruni, the former slave and property of lanist Derak also called Casta the Amazon, the warrior from circus", - the senior told and touched her shoulder with the staff. - "Put on, you will go with us".
  - "Where?" - The girl pulled on herself a sheet to be covered from too frank views of legionaries.
  - "To the House of the Law. You committed murder of the citizen, and will appear before the court for it".
  - "I protected myself!" - Casta exclaimed, perfectly realizing that legionaries do not trust to her words.
  - "It is unimportant. Follow us and remember that if you resist the guard of God you will wait by death".
   To resist, fight with guards, Casta thought with bitterness - how? From all her things she kept only an amulet with a lock of Elea. Ah, Kuvlad, Kuvlad! That is why you had such look at night, that is why you could not prove to be the man!
   Man? Kuvlad is a man?!
   She laughed loudly. The elder legionary frowned, asked why she laughs.
  - "Four heavy armed soldiers came to arrest the naked little girl, is it not ridiculous unless"? - Casta told. - "And will you stare at me, or will you allow me to put on?"
   According to the sign of the elder one of legionaries threw a light green silk tunic and sandals to her legs. Casta learned clothes from her bag. Means, the bastard Kuvlad already gave her belongings to guards.
  - "And where is the host?" - she asked the chief of policemen.
  - "He did not wish to go with us. This is his right".
  - "It is a pity", - Casta told, tying thongs of the right sandal. - "Once I considered him the beloved. It would be desirable to tell him at parting who is he".
  - "He will be able to visit you in the Silence Tower".
  - "It`s not necessary". - Casta rose, threw tunic over herself, looked the elderly policeman fool in the face. - "Sometimes rats and worms are more pleasant to contemplate, than those who once were dear to you".
  The sun over Darnat rose high when Samedyar knocked in gate of the luxurious mansion of merchant Uzmay in Temple Quarter. Gate was opened by the slave gatekeeper and he led Samedyar to a huge shady garden where the host luxuriated in the pool after a midday meal.
  Two slaves met Samedyar in the garden , washed his feet and suggested to change clothes to a fresh tunic from fine white cotton and sprinkled the guest with aromas. After dusty and stuffy streets of Darnat Samedyar felt true pleasure having put on clean clothes. Having made toilet, Samedyar on a path, paved with marble slabs, went to the pool. Uzmay slowly floated on a back, having exposed the huge hairy belly from the purest bluish water. Two very young Afaristan slaves dressed only in very narrow loincloths were standing on a pool side, expecting when their owner leaves water to give him a towel and a glass of ice water. Samedyar threw a cursory glance on Afaristan girls, estimated their faultless seductive forms and looked at Uzmay who noticed the guest by this moment.
  - "My friend!" - Uzmay waved with a hand to the young man. - "Welcome to my humble house. Freshen up if you have a desire".
  - "I thank you, master, but I will better wait for you here".
  - "However, what a hot day!" - Uzmay dived, came up, sniffing as a hippopotamus. - "Would not get out of the pool, I swear by breasts of Kua! Did you bring me good news, my friend?"
  -" More than good, master".
  - "By Ygerabal!" - Uzmay reached a marble ladder, got out of the pool. Wiped a face with towel, ordered to slaves to leave him. - "Well,speak!"
  - "I talked with lord Ashran, and he accepted money and told me that the Shofet is ready to adopt his plan".
  - "Is it right?"
  - "Yes, master. Ashran will not lie. Divine Shofet so fall in love in your daughter that he is ready to make everything if only to achieve her favor."
  - "And I really will become the Sea Son?"
  - "In the nearest future, master".
  - "Thanks to Ygerabal! If only my father and mother would know that once their son will rise so high!" - Uzmay uplifted a look to the sky. - "And order for construction of the new ships?"
  - "It is almost ready. Ashran convinced the sovereign to take the credit from rich merchants of Darnat, and Shofet agreed".
  - "Repeat once again! Oh, your words sound like gentle music for my hearing! How many vessels The Sun from the House of Sun is going to order?"
  - "It is unknown so far. But I learned something from court. For small remuneration they reported under a big secret that war with Sabian pirates is about to happen. And it means that the hightest Shofet needs many ships. Worth thousands sakkars".
  - "What good news you have brought today! Truly, you are just a messenger of good luck. I will order to award you generously."
  - "I tried not for the sake of award".
  - "I know, you are my best friend, Samedyar. I am very grateful to you. - Uzmay tenderly frayed the young man. - Sometimes I treat you, as the son. It is honor for me to have such friend".
  - "It is in the power of master make me more than the son. Master could accept me as his son-in-law".
  - "Ah, my friend!" - Uzmay frowned. - "You tell about it again! You know that the Shofet ..."
  - "Shofet will not be able to marry fine Shemmer-Ta-Nat. His passion will pass. And I am ready to marry her tomorrow".
  - "I would bless you with pleasure, Samedyar. But Shemmer-Ta-Nat will not agree to marry you. You spoke with her, didn`t you?"
  - "Spoke".
  - "And what?"
  -" She refused".
  - "Here you see!" - Uzmay grievously shook the head. - "My daughter does not love you".
  - "Truly. She loves nobody, except this nasty slave Leodan".
  - "What can I do? My daughter values him very much, and I did not get used to refuse anything to my girl. This cute worthless boy is as a bone in my throat. But I can make nothing. The daughter will never agree to leave this son of a pig and donkey. Since my wife died - may silver-eyed Shesh keep in peace her light soul! - Shemmer-Ta-Nat does not leave Leodan even for a day. This effeminate Chochi * are dearer to her than all grooms of Darnat. I tried to finish this more than once, but she did not even want to listen to me, the spoiled little girl! The last two years I even cannot send this damned Dorian to the market without her permission".
  - "Now, when the Shofet inclined the light eye to your daughter, we have an opportunity to get rid of the unusable slave".
  - "No", - resolutely told Uzmay. This conversation began to bother him. - "Shemmer-Ta-Nat is a daughter of her father and stubborn as a mule. It is easier for her to leave me, this house, all treasures which she has, than this son of not buried father. She also will take him in the palace of the Shofet. The lad so looks like the eunuch that he even should not be castrated. And the Shofet judging from the fact that I know, is so fallen in love in my daughter that will not refuse her this whim. I swear by face and palms of Kua, I do not understand what `s the matter. Perhaps this is black sorcery?"
  - "Then it is worth talking over with priests: can, this effeminate Dorian is really ..."
  - "Do you have melon instead of head? The highest look of the Sun from the House of the Sun fell to us: Kua inspired young Shofet love to my daughter. Do you realize what happens if rumours about magic go? The sovereign will grow cold to Shemmer-Ta-Nat at once. And I will fall into disgrace. Sorcery in the house of Uzmay! It is impossible to think up anything worse. No, this idea is no good. It is necessary to think up something another".
  - "The Dorian could just disappear".
  - "How? To put him on the ship and to send far away? The daughter will kill me".
  - "He can die. All we are mortals. And Shemmer-Ta-Nat will condole and reconcile."
  - "To kill the slave?" - Uzmay looked at Samedyar with interest. - "Whether you were going to cut his throat?"
  - "What for? There are good laws. For example, there is a law on the slave, robbed the master".
  - "You make laugh me, Samedyar. Leodan will never steal something. He has been living in this house since his birth and for these years even did not break apple from a tree without permission".
  - "Theft can be arranged. And noone will prove that the unusable slave is actually innocent".
  - "It is a thought!" - Uzmay scanned the young man. - "And you are a rare rascal, Samedyar. I would not guess such meanness".
  - "Only the unfortunate lover who is in despair and tries to think up any way to achieve reciprocity. And then, I want that the favor of the Shofet won`t leave your daughter".
  - "What do you mean?"
  - "You told that Shemmer-Ta-Nat would want to take Leodan with her in the palace. Of course, this pathetic slave is so ridiculous that nobody will suspect some confidential communication between him and your daughter. However our young sovereign is so jealous ..."
   Uzmay shuddered. He understood that this was a prevention. That Samedyar was tired to wait for and is ready to take any step if only to get his daughter as his wife. The merchant knew about Samedyar's love to the daughter long ago. The guy also appeared in his house as one of numerous boyfriends of the beautiful Shemmer-Ta-Nat. And nearly a year goes to his house almost every day. He is servile and respectful to sugariness - more pleasure than halvah. Uzmay understood that this young officer of Sacred Legion drives friendship with him only because of Shemmer-Ta-Nat. However it did not confuse the merchant - Uzmay even was very rich even among the Darnat grandees, and nothing so erases class borders as money does. But the main thing, this young man is madly in love, and is in love with his daughter. So Uzmay without hesitating exploited arrangement of the young man. Samedyar rendered him essential services more than once. From where would Uzmay learn about the events in the palace of the See Master if not from Samedyar? In Samedyar's head arose the plan to use the unexpected interest of the Shofet to the merchant daughter for the eminence of Uzmay. To be jealous of the Shofet? Nonsence. Shofet is a double of the Sun on the earth, but here will never be able to marry the merchant daughter. And Samedyar will be able and marry when the shofet is bored by the new mistress. Perhaps after acquaintance to the bedchamber of the sovereign Shemmer-Ta-Nat will become more compliant. Samedyar, of course, tried for himself, but the merchant estimated mind, cunning and unscrupulousness of the guy. If this plan is carried out, all will be happy - Uzmay will become very important grandee and put thousands of sakkars in a pocket, Samedyar will marry the beloved and become the son-in-law of the Sea Son. For the ordinary centurion of Legion the transcendental prospects will be offered. Only the Shofet will receive nothing, except fleeting pleasure he so aspires - however, he also does not wish more. Love is really unselfish sometimes. Now the words of the young man disturbed the merchant. All his grandiose plans can be ruined because of unclear affection of the daughter for the Dorian slave - effeminate, silly and lazy.
  - "And how do you intend to execute this plan?" - Uzmay took an interest. - "Shemmer-Ta-Nat keeps Leodan by her side all the time. The little girl hammered in head that this pretty boy - her live mascot. She will never believe that Leodan steals something from her. And why should he steal? He lives in imperial luxury thanks to my daughter though, if I only could, I would have sold him to some fan of beautiful boys long ago. You have to recognize - Leodan is beautiful and brought well up. I would get good money for him".
  - "He could steal something from you, master. He adores expensive knickknacks".
  - "What?"
  - "Something very valuable. Expensive thing which could attract him. Rare jewelry, for example. Such one which is very easy for identifying. I undertake the rest".
  - "Do you want to throw him this bagatelle?" - Uzmay began to finger henna colored beard. - "And if the daughter does not believe us?"
  - "The main thing that the judge believes. Deal, master?"
  - "Frankly speaking, this slave costs me a fortune. Shemmer-Ta-Nat spends a lot of money for him". - Uzmay loured at the interlocutor. - "Perhaps, it is worth trying. To tell on conscience, I feel sorry for this boy though I like him. He sings not bad and plays on a zither - that's all that he is able to do. I stand him because my late wife loved him, and the daughter considers that he was sent to our house by gods ... So cruelly to treat him! But you are right. It is impossible to allow the worthless slave to ruin my and your happiness - and happiness of my daughter too. Only, gods witnesses, I am sorry of this fellow. My late wife would condemn me if I harmed him... I accept your offer, Samedyar, but, for the sake of Ygerabal, do everything yourself!"
  - "Lie more, the old pretender, I know why you haven`t exempted yet from this Dorian puppy", - Samedyar thought, looking at distressed Uzmay. - "I bet that the Dorian himbo humours you in a bed and not one year already! Whom do you want to deceive, Uzmay? You do not want to get rid of him, I swear by light face of Shesh!"
  - "So you agree, master?" - he added aloud.
  - "I will give you one thing which I once presented to my wife. The rest is your care. However remember that my daughter will be not so easy to be convinced of Leodan's guilt".
  - "But whether I can hope that in case of success you will agree to my and fine Shemmer-Ta-Nat marriage?"
  - "Word of Uzmay".
  - "Oh, master!" - Samedyar kneeled before the merchant, nestled lips on his chubby hand. - "You will not regret about your generosity. Even the dog will not be as devoted to you as I will".
  - "I know, I know! Come to me for a dinner tonight, there we will discuss what to do. And now leave me. I still need to check accounts for this week".
  - "By all means I will come, master.May Ygerabal will shower you and your house with the favor!"
  - "Go. Also do not forget to tell me everything what you learn in the House of God about".
  - "I remember whom I serve. Till the evening, master!"
  - "Till the evening", - Uzmay waited when the young man disappears behind garden trees, scratched the immense stomach and marched by the pool to a marble table already set by Afaristan slaves with all the delicious things that the Uzmay`s cook prepared for the owner for an afternoon meal.
   The new gift of the Shofet was awesome -Shemmer-Ta-Nat has never seen in her life anything similar to this thing though in house of Uzmay there were enough expensive wonders. Gold garnet apple was made so skillfully that everyone would want to cut and eat it. When Shemmer-Ta-Nat unintentionally pressed the secret spring hidden in the apple fruit stem, apple revealed on six segments with a melodious ring, and the delighted girl saw a set of the ruby kernels scintillating red sparks hidden in gold pomegranate. In addition to the surprising apple Shofet sent her the thread of magnificent pearls, but Shemmer-Ta-Nat did not even pay attention to it.
  - "Gods, it is so beautiful!" - she exclaimed, having clapped her hands.
  - "And refined", - Leodan added. He was sitting on pillows beside the madam and carefully polished nails on the left hand with a bronze file. - "The Sun from the House of the Sun always makes you refined gifts".
  - "He is in love with me".
  - "Does it surprise you?"
  - "It seems to me to be unclear", - Shemmer-Ta-Nat carried out by a palm on the black hair twisted in small rings. - "Wife of the Shofet is a rare beauty. I cannot compete to her".
  - "Nonsense!" - Leodan blew a file, critically examined nails, was satisfied. - "You are beautiful. The queen Kuati is beautiful too, but she lacks your femininity. She has cold beauty causing only admiration, no more. And the flame of Kua burns in you, your beauty awakes mad desire in men. And our Shofet has also seen it".
  - "Sometimes I am afraid of the future, Leodan", - told Shemmer-Ta-Nat, having carried out by a finger on lips to remove lipstick lumps. - "The love of the Shofet frightens me. Of course, it is great honor when the Son of the Sun turns the favorable view of the girl, but ... The queen will not forgive me this love, understand? And I cannot simply reject the Shofet, it is even terrible to imagine".
  - "Oh no! Shofet is so fallen in love with you that will forgive you any whims".
  - "However I am not ready to accept his courtings. It can anger him, can`t it?"
  - "The Shofet is only a man. And men, having hardly caught sight of you, forget about everything in the world".
  - "You say me it so often, Leodan, that I begin to trust in it", - told Shemmer-Ta-Nat very flattered with the words of the young man. - "Also do not deny that in many respects you help me to be beautiful. You have a faultless taste. Noone compares to you in ability to choose a dress or jewelry for the woman so that they ideally emphasized her beauty. I appreciate it very much".
  - "It is very kind of you", - Leodan put painted lips in a tired smile. - "I love you so much, Shemmer-Ta-Nat! What a pity that in this rough and imperfect world there are not enough people, similar to you! To tell more precisely, they are absent at all. Your beauty makes you similar to the deity".
  - "And I love you, - Shemmer-Ta-Nat rose from pillows, approached Leodan, embraced him and kissed. - You are the man, but understand a female soul better than other women".
  - "You have already spoken to me about it today". - Leodan attentively looked at the girl. - "Did you put on beryle earrings? Sapphire ones suit much more to you. They amazingly stress your blue eyes and your swarty skin. Put on them, I beg you".
  - "Really?" - Shemmer-Ta-Nat grabbed a mirror, critically examined herself. - "Perhaps, you are right. Simply these are new earrings. Samedyar's gift".
  - "Faugh"! - Leodan was twisted in a fastidious grimace, widely opened eyes in theatrical horror. - "Do you accept gifts from him after all?"
  - "Why not? He is very lovely young man".
  - "Lovely? I feel smells from his mouth. And his dress is always nasty. To put on a chlamys, orange with gold, together with sandals of green leather - oh, gods! He has no taste at all. And his gifts are simply poor. Only beryle earrings! He is just a cheapskate. Could present you jewels more expensive and more elegant. And last time he presented you this nasty monkey. The rooms stank of urine the whole week after her".
  - "However he has beautiful eyes", - Shemmer-Ta-Nat told, considering herself in a mirror. - "And he is in love with me. He cannot make me expensive gifts because he hasn`t a lot of money. But you are right, Leodan, these earrings do not suit me. I will obey you and I will put on sapphire earrings".
  - "You should not give hope to Samedyar", - Leodan told. - "He will never become your husband. You got used to luxury, and in Samedyar's house you will not receive it. He is only an officer, though serves in guard of the Shofet. You are worthy that your husband showered you with gold as Shat-Tsebu's altar ... You obeyed my advise, and now I need yours. What is it delicious to me better to cover my nails? The day before yesterday I chose nacreous varnish. Today I want something brand new, festive".
  - "Color of imperial purple. You like this color, don`t you? ... Oho, we are lost!"
   Exclamation of Shemmer-Ta-Nat forced Leodan to distract from a chest with toilet accessories and turn back. In the doorway housekeeper Shebtar was standing, portly, important and dressed up, as for a holiday.
  - "Come here, Dorian!" - he ordered, having supported the words with draft gesture. - "There is a work for you. The lord charges you an important task".
  - "What one?" - Leodan with a visible reluctance rose from the embroidered pillows.
  - "This Saturday the lord is indending to receive very distinguished guests. New draperies for a refectory are necessary. You will go to the Trade city and will choose fabrics for these draperies. I will give money to you".
  - "I have to go immediately?' - Leodan interrogatively looked at Shebtar, then at Shemmer-Ta-Nat.
  - "Of course. Or you think the owner will wait for until you deign to raise the well-cared Dorian bum and execute his order?"
  - "Choose words, Shebtar!" - the girl frowned. -" Leodan belongs to me, and only I can give him orders".
  - "Forgive, my lady, but it`s the urgent case, and nobody will perform a task of the owner better than your slave. If only you are ..."
  - "Certainly not!" - Shemmer-Ta-Nat looked at Leodan. - "Will it be easy to you to execute an order of the father?"
  - "Of course, yes. I also would like to do a little shopping and look at novelties'.
  - "Very well", - the girl approached a low dresser from a carved tree, opened the chest standing on a dresser and got several gold coins from it. - "Take, buy a gift. Please yourself. And then we will look at your purchases together".
  - "Excellent thought!' - The face of the young man brightened up. - "You are very kind to me, dear Shemmer".
  - "Because you are the best', - the girl kissed Leodan. - "Go and come back quicker. It will be missing you".
   Day was hot and dusty, the market was full of people, and Leodan, making the way between counters of dealers, thought wistfully of a pleasant cool in the rooms of Shemmer-Ta-Nat. His embroidered linen clothes got wet from sweat, sand crunched on the teeth. It seemed to Leodan that the make-up began to stream down at the face. Fanning, he went through the market, quietly damning heat, Uzmay and his task and the smelly plebeians surrounding him. Dealers took him for notable master and looked at him with curiosity. Leodan darted indifferent glances at hills of multi-colored fragrant fruits, greengrocery and spices, on clay, copper and glasswares, stopping only at trays with fabrics, footwear and clothes, but did not see anything worth. Moving ahead to the market, he appeared in its east part where were most expensive stores trading in imported goods.
   He bought fabric for draperies at once: first, he wanted to quit with the Uzmay task quicker, and secondly, fabric really was nice. The slave accompanying him readily accepted the bought pieces of fabric, and Leodan ordered him with the gesture to come back home . Now he was free, and it was worth choosing a gift for himself.
   There were many jewelry stores in the market, and Leodan bypassed them all. Looked gold and silver knickknacks, tried on, spinning in front of mirrors. Dealers hid smiles, watching him. At speckled Tuma`s shop Leodan bought a silver necklace with large nephrites - the thing was found and surprisingly inexpensive. Paying for purchase, he did not even pay attention to the thin person dressed in tatters who entered the store and stopped to the right of Leodan at a counter, pretending that he considered the bronze and copper jewelry which laid out before him. In practice the ragamuffin looked at the young slave all the time. He jumped up to Leodan when the young man was going to leave little shop.
  - "Ayvan *!" - he whispered, looking in eyes of the Dorian with dog devotion. - Kind ayvan, fine, as radiant Ying-Nubas! Be mercy to the poor sufferer, endow him with the favor!
  - "What do you want?" - Leodan was fastidiously removed from the ragamuffin: the thin strongly smelled of hardened sweat and dog.
  - "Ayvan, I suffer from hunger and deprivations. My wife and children are sick. Only one coin ..."
  - "Take", - Leodan threw to the beggar one of copper kavashes, received from Tuma as change. - "And let me go'.
  - "Oh, ayvan!" - the beggar howled. - "May Ygerabal bless you. I see that you are a true father of virtue and the judge of fine. Your soul is also nice, as well as your moonlike face. I have nothing to thank you, but one of my companions is going to sell a fine uncomparable bagatelle".
  - "What a bagatelle?" - Leodan looked at the beggar with curiosity: a real percher in appearance, but flatters and spins words not worse than court poets do.
  - "A ring with sapphire, ayvan. Fine, as the moon and the sun. You won`t find similar ring in all Darnat, swear by head! And to the kind ayvan my friend will concede a ring for low price - if I ask ..."
  - "You lie!" - Leodan mistrustfully frowned eyebrows. - "Where did such beggars as you get a precious ring? Only if it is stolen, but stolen thing is not necessary to me".
  - "Ayvan is unfair!" - The beggar punched himself in breast. - "Gods see that I have not stolen even a crust from a table in tavern for my life. My friend won this ring in dice game against one notable young man. To such poor people, as we, this ring is useless, but money for it ... Do you have money?"
  - "Yes I do. Three sakkars".
  - "I swear by Ygerabal, my friend will sell you the ring for two pieces of gold. Let's go, ayvan".
   Leodan suspiciously looked at the beggar. The thin did not resemble the bandit, but nevertheless ... And maybe it is some sort of cunning trap? It is worth being more careful.
  - "Two sakkars for a precious ring? - he asked, having skillfully represented mistrust. - Your ring is just a fake".
  - "No, ayvan!" - the beggar whispered. -" Once, many years ago, I was a journeyman at the goldsmith, but got sick yet and lost forces and job. I swear that sapphire in a ring is the most real".
  - "So why is your friend going to sell it so cheap?"
  - "Sapphire cannot be eaten as a piece of bread, ayvan".
   Leodan thought of sapphire earrings that governor presented Shemmer- Ta-Nat. If the beggar does not lie, and sapphire in a ring is really good ... Eventually, it`s a daytime now, it is full of people around and unlikely he will be tried to be robbed there. It would be much simpler to creep to him in a market crowd and quietly cut off a purse from a belt. He left the shop and, following the beggar, appeared at east gate of the market - there was a brisk petty trade.
   The friend of the thin squated under a big plane tree - same dirty, emaciated, smelly, torn off and squint moreover . He resembled the successful dice gambler as a donkey resembles a fighting stallion, and Leodan again suspected a dirty trick. However the cross-eyed saw them and cried a shrill voice:
   - "Who is this guy, Mushkee? Whom do you drag, Mushkee? Are you absolutely fool, Mushkee?"
  - "Shut up!" - whispered the thin hotly. -" It is kind ayvan. He gave me money and wants to buy a ring".
  - "To buy a ring? Who told you, the son of dust that I want to sell it?"
  - "You spoke ..."
  - "Fie on you!"- Leodan corrected the lilac chlamys on a breast with finger-tips and went to gate. However the squint punk suddenly rushed behind him afterwards, grabbed for a floor of a chlamys and shouted:
  - "Kind ayvan, do not become angry with the fool who is not knowing what does and do not avert from unusable, offended you in the silly ignorance ... Do you really want to buy a ring Mushkee told you about?"
  - "Release me", - Leodan answered without hiding fastidiousness. - "Your friend told something about a ring with sapphire. But I see, you do not want to sell it. And it is not believeable that such dirty rat can have real sapphire. So hell you go".
  - "Oh-oh-oh, ayvan, wait a moment, stay! I really did not want to sell this ring, but now I see that I can trust you. You know, we are the poor people, we are not aquainted with thieves and swindlers, because there is nobody to protect us. We have no trust to anybody, but ... But you are good ayvan, a flame of great Kua is flickering in your eyes. Tell me how much you give for this precious ring?"
  - "At first I should look at ring".
  - "Gold words!" - The cross-eyed momentally unwound a dirty rag in which his left palm was rolled up, and Leodan could not hold an admiration sigh. The ring was magnificent - of light gold, with the big square sapphire surrounded with small diamonds. And still, sapphire in a ring was the same shade, as stones in earrings of Shemmer-Ta-Nat were. His lovely hostess will be delighted with his gift. Gods give him the chance to thank Shemmer-Ta-Nat for her kindness.
  - "Fake", - Leodan told, perfectly understanding that the gemstone is real. - "One sakkar".
  - "Ayvan just wants to rob me!" - sobbed the cross-eyed. - "This ring was put in a game against one hundred sakkars. The gem is true, I swear by loins of my father and mother's belly!"
  -"How much do you want?"
  - "Two sakkars. Only two sakkars for this miracle of jewelry craft".
  - "I should think". - Leodan hardly overcame desire to untie a purse at once. - "Do you speak the ring isn`t stolen?"
  - "How could you think it, ayvan! I am not a thief, I am an honest gambler".
  - "Well, I buy it".
   The ragamuffin dexterously pulled a ring from a finger and handed with bow to the young man. Thrust two gold coins received from Leodan in a mouth and right there disappeared in the crowd which is pounded at gate. Leodan sighed, looked at a ring once again. The sapphire was stunning. Of course, the damned cross-eyed cheat lay, and for certain this ring had been stolen. But who will know about it? He imagined eyes of Shemmer-Ta-Nat when she would see his gift, and became light and good at heart. Not for nothing he suffered from stench, dust and a heat in the market today. It is possible to come back home with peace of mind.
   He almost reached gate when two soldiers from city guards and well dressed young man with derisive eyes approached him.
  - "You are Leodan, the slave to respectable Uzmay?" - the young man inquired though Leodan understood at once. The question was formal because the unknown perfectly knew who stood before him.
  - "Yes, I am Leodan. What do you want, sir?"
  - "Show us what you carry on fingers of the left hand".
  - "I ...." - Leodan choked as if a bucket of ice water was overturned on him. Everything floated before eyes, legs became weakened. He as in a dream watched how the unknown seized him by hand and with the triumphing exclamation pulled damned sapphire from a finger.
  - "That`s it!" - he exclaimed, addressing policemen. - "This is sapphire respectable Uzmay told us about".
  - "Nasty dog!" - one of soldiers told Leodan. - "How did you dare to rob the master? Do you know what will be to you for it?"
  - "I ... I did not steal!" - Leodan imploringly looked at the young man, at detectives. -" I bought it from the beggar here, in the market ..." - and here Leodan broke off because he understood how ridiculously and unconvincingly his words sounded.
  - "You will go with us, the rascal", - the policeman said. - "You will explain to our wise judge how the precious ring appeared on your dirty paw. The ring gets as a material evidence".
  - "We go, dreamboat!" - the second policeman said, pushed Leodan sideways with a lash handle.
   The Dorian, hardly rearranging legs, trudged for officers. The young man who took away a ring from Leodan watched leaving policemen and their production, then went to a small toucan where under a canopy sat with a wine bowl in a hand a man , who thought up and paid all this representation.
  - "Policemen took away a ring, honorable Samedyar", - the young man told, having approached sitting man closer.
  - "It is not your care". - Samedyar handed to the young man ten sakkars of an agreed payment. - "Also thank your friends actors. Irreplaceable people, I swear by Kua".
  - "Master could add couple of coins for them".
  - "You`ve got enough. And now go. Also remember - if you talk much, you will ride out the highest stake near Plague Ditches".
  - "Understood everything, master. I am mute as rocks of the harbor".
  - "Go".
   The mercenary bowed and got lost in the crowd which gathered near a toucan. Samedyar drank up wine with small sips, threw copper kavash on a table and came to the sun. The heat fell down, day drooped. Business was made. Everything that it is necessary now to come before dark into the Tower of Silence and return the Uzmay's wife ring until someone among the judicials imposed the paw on it.
   The Silence Tower, the highest construction in Darnat, was a ziggurat of Shesh the god of the Sun. It was constructed during the government of king Ashebgardan, and for long time Shesh's Tower had been considered as one of Darnat's miracles. However after an era of the Midday Empire Shesh's cult was cancelled, and the authorities found another application for the tower- it was made into a city prison. Marble and granite slabs of facing of a tower were taken away for other constructions, a sacred garden was cut down at the bottom, the freed platform was turned into the parade-ground for the guard formations and flogging of the convicts, and internal furniture of a ziggurat was distributed to the temples devoted to other gods. The tower lost former magnificence and got the new name among the people - the Tower of Thieves, - and it was unclear who was meant by the people rumor: either those who were inprisoned in the tower, or those who took everything valuable from the place which had been sacred once.
   Casta was brought to the tower not at once: in the beginning the legionaries who arrested her brought the girl into the House of the Law - the low stone building to the right of an entrance to prison where prison officials were engaged in the girl. They described things of Casta and put them in a big chest, then one of jailers, the elderly person with a yellow face and dim eyes, ordered girl to strip to the skin. Casta, having spat under legs, pulled down the tunic and threw it to feets of yellow-face jailer. During the next moment another jailer standing behind the girl's back hit her with a lash on a back. Casta turned to the offender with a furious cry, threatened a fist on him - and right there received new blow from the second guardian with a blunt end of a spear this time in a stomach. Her breath intercepted, pain forced to bow. The third blow, with a staff on a back, brought down Casta from feet, and the girl fell on a cold earth floor face down.
  - "No tricks, whore", - quietly told yellow-faced jailer, - "here is not the arena. We will teach you to respect the law and its attendants".
   She was examined as if the animal intended for sale, they looked between legs moved apart and broke a gold amulet with a lock of Elea`s hair and Tulkan's stone from a neck . The yellow-faced opened an amulet, fastidiously pulled out soft light curl from it with finger-tips.
  - |"Oh you are also a witch!" - he exclaimed.
  - "It ...is hair of my ... daughter", - croaked Casta. - "Give ..."
   The yellow-faced threw a curl, put the amulet in his satchel. Then turned the stone received by Casta from Tulkan in fingers and also threw it to the girl. The second official stretched to Casta a tunic from rigid burlap and pair of rough rope sandals.
  - "Put on", - he ordered.
   In a tower she was led by the yellow-faced jailer and two Aglamits, thickset, long-armed and overgrown with red hair like monkeys. After bright sunlight on the street the gloom of a tower blinded Casta. The stomach got to a throat from the stench reigning in a tower. Casta stopped, trying to cope with the rolled nausea.
  - "Move, damned whore!" - The yellow-faced pushed her in back.
   They climbed the twisted stone ladder which is hardly lit with dim oil lamps. Then Casta saw cells with trellised doors from wrought iron. Inhabitants of cells met her emergence with enthusiastic howling, shrieking and obscene jokes.
  - "Hey, look, the maid!"
  - "I swear by blood, a woman! Hey, chief, where do you conduct her? Put her to us though for day! Though for an hour, chief!"
  - "What a beauty! Hey, the girl, I already want you! Look at me!"
  - "Oh, brothers, my bollocks will burst soon! Gods, how she smells! Yes I feel a smell of her pussy even from here".
  - "Give, let's look! Eh, if I could ..."
  - "Chief, give us this whore! We will quickly re-educate her, I swear by Ygerabal's bum!"
  - "Legs, what legs! Now I am dying ..."
  Casta went, having hung the head. Nausea settled a little, but then she was broken by a fever just as before fight. There was a wish to howl with feeling of powerlessness. If she could, she would break off bare-handed all these bastards, would squeeze out eyes full of lusts, would cut their dirty tongues from stinking mouths. But behind the back two Aglamiths armed with heavy spears puffed, and Casta did not want to be influenced by sharpness of these spears. It is necessary to be more smart. All the same she will release from this rubbish pit. And then she will be considered with Kuvlad as the indignity suffered today. The thought of what she will make with Kuvlad once forced her to smile bloodthirstily.
   She was led to the open cell, and the yellow-faced jailer pushed her inside.
  - "The respectable judge is busy today so the court will take place tomorrow", - he said. - "You will spend night here. If you arrange hysterics, you will get acquainted with blocks. Or you will go to those punks which saw on the road here".
   Casta looked around. All this reminded her a dreadful dream, and was hardly believed that everything happens with her, really happens. The cell was sp acious, but crude and cold, and Casta began to be shivering again- stones of walls seemed to drink heat from her. The yellow-faced slammed behind her a heavy trellised door, the bolt rang out. Then she stood and listened as the jailer and guardians removed along the corridor, stamping the legs put in the heavy sandals lined with bronze. And she was left alone.
   There was a jug with water on a stone floor near an armful of the straw replacing a bed. Casta lifted it, smelled - water was fresh. She greedy drank all water, without thinking of the fact that she had no more water. Dizziness and nausea became less. Having got drunk, Casta laid down, curled up on straw, listening to feverish beat of the heart. Then she remembered a curl of Elea. All this time she clamped silky hair of the daughter in her left fist. Casta unclenched fist looked at the curl - and tears dropped from her eyes like stream. The second time for the expired days she cried hysterically, in a voice, absolutely in a feminine way. It did not happen to her several years. When the storm in soul settled and tears ran low, Casta kissed lock of Elea and tied it around the left wrist, wound on top with a strip of the burlap which torn off from a tunic in the manner of the handcuff. Now she was quiet.
   Everything wasn`t so bad, she told herself. She will surely be selected from here. Even if she will need to battle against all Darnat for this purpose. She is not afraid of death. Three years she fought in the arena, and great Nekrian, the goddess of infinite rest, was near her all that time. Only forces should be kept. It is necessary to have a sleep. She worried too much in last two days.
   Casta closed eyes and failed in drowsiness.
  - Hey you, Seltonian whore! - The ugly face of the Aglamith guardian lit with a torch flame seemed Casta to be the continuation of those nightmares which tormented her in dreams. - Visitor to you!
   Near the guardian there was a small puny figure wrapped up in a dark cover. A woman. Casta rose from the pathetic bed, stepped to an iron door.
  - I want to see nobody, - she told, looking at the woman.
  - But I wanted to see you, - the woman told, gave something to the policeman. - Go, my friend, let us talk alone.
  - What do you want? - Casta asked when the gardian left. - Who are you?
  - I am Dinche, - the woman told in clean Seltonic language. Casta shuddered.
  - Do you speak Seltonic? - she asked.
  - I speak. Do not worry, nobody will prevent us. I gave a silver mina to the gardian, for such payment he will allow us to talk all night long.
  - Tulkan wanted me to find you.
  - And you did not listen to him. So I had to find you myself. And I am glad that I`m not late. I thank you for your noble management with my son.
  - Son?
  - Tulkan was my son.
  - Your son - an orc?
  - Half orc. His father Ebresh Aykhkho, the cousin of king Uday was an orc.
  - Did you have the child from the orc?
  - I loved him. Yes, he was an orc, but with clean, noble and brave heart. And he loved me. It is a long story, and I will not tell it to you. After the son's birth Ebresh took away the child: he wanted to make the real soldier of Tulkan, was afraid that the human nature could get the best in our child. I did not object.
  - You gave your son?
  - It was necessary. But I grieved for him all these years. Tulkan went to Darnat also to meet me. But was not in time. On the road slave traders took him by deception and sold to Abnun. You were generous to my son, though could not save him.
  - I fought with him in the arena.
  - It was not your choice.
  - Forgive me. I really could not save him. - Casta removed Tulkan's amulet from neck, stretched to the woman. - Take, this thing belonged to your son.
  - No, - Dinche softly took away the given hand of the Seltonian. - It belongs to you. It is Ayvari's stone, one of nine Relics left to the world by the Forgotten gods, which was belonging to orcs until recently. My son made that he had to make. There your time is coming, Casta. You should find for all other Relics to fulfill the purpose.
  - I have no purpose. Tomorrow I will be judged and most likely sentenced to death. So find another little fool and tell her the fairy tales.
  - No court will take place. In the morning you will leave this prison. And Darnat you will leave. A new life will begin for you. The life of the Warrior of Forgotten gods.
  - I will leave this cage? - Casta mistrustfully laughed. - Will you, perhaps, release me?
  - No matter, who will make it. Consider that such is the will of Forgotten gods.
  - What Forgotten gods are you talking about?
  - Once they owned the world. Then the evil came and destroyed everything that was created by these gods. And then there was a great flood which cleaned the world from filth. The time of other gods came, and people did not know that new idols whom they worship - only pale shadows of true creators of this world. Even names of the Forgotten are remembered today by very few devoted. But the Forgotten gods did not leave this world, they continue to live among us because their immemorial enemy has not been defeated finally yet. And now ancient opposition begins again. Far in the south, in lands of Sheran, magicians of the Bowl are going to return our world to the immemorial enemy of the Forgotten - the one who destroyed the Golden Age and doomed people to sufferings and death. The Father of Shadows.
  - From where do you know it?
  - Is it important? Think that the Forgotten gods told me about it.
  - You are just mad old woman.
  - You know nothing, Casta. Or I should call you Leyda?
  - From where did you learn my name? - Casta grabbed an iron lattice of a door, dropped face to rods, seeking to make out the strange guest.
  - Your name was told me by the lock of hair hidden under a bandage on your hand, - Dinche answered.
  - I swear by Beris! Do not dare to torment me!
  - I tell the truth. Do you know why Tulkan did not kill you? In lands of orcs there is a big war now. It was entrusted to Tulkan to come here, to this city to transfer Ayvari's stone to people. Exactly from here, from Darnat, the campaign against returning Evils of ancient has to begin. Tulkan was devoted. And he saw your soul hidden from all. He tested not only your strength, but also your mercy. Also understood that you are fated to rise in defense Forgotten in war against the Shoo demon forces. How did he call you? Shenay-eshgan-rokh-ammar-denna.
  - Yes you are just a witch, let Nekrian take away you!
  - The witch, - Dinche laughed. - Or one of the last attendants of the goddess Ayvari. Or the Forgotten goddess herself. Call as you wish.
  - What the hell do you want from me?
  - Too long to tell in details. But you have to know something now. Imagine, Casta, that gods need defenders too. Mere mortals people whom gods choose from many for the sake of the purposes. It is hard to find the worthy defender, but it is necessary. If gods begin to be at war with each other, the world will cease to exist. It will be destroyed by fire and water, storms and frost. All will die - right and wrong, kind and evil. Gods don`t want such exodus. They love people though people forgot them.
  - I do not want to be a defender.
  - Not your solution. You are a special woman, and your way was predetermined long ago, during an instant of your birth. Call it destiny, or will of gods - there is no difference. The warrior's soul lives in you. You got a female body and soul of the soldier, Elea Leyda nicknamed Casta. Gods chose the road of the hero for you. And you went this way all last years.
  - Gods? - Casta contracted in a lump, precisely like furious cat. - And you dare to speak to me about gods? They took away my darlings from me. They forced me to test captivity and slavery. They turned me from the happy wife, mother, from the loving daughter into the murderer. I was beaten, forced, sold in the market as a thing, sent to the arena to kill slaves same as I was. A way of the hero about which you speak is a way of blood and sufferings. Do you imagine what does it mean to kill the person? To stick a sword into him, to cut out his skull with the axe or mace? I have been engaged in this insanity for three years. Three years I leave the arena with the hands sticky from human blood. I got used to its smell the same as another woman gets used to a smell of the grindings. Such is there was a will of gods, Dinche? To make destitute the happy person so that this person began to kill? That he dreamed of death? I do not want!
  - I understand you, daughter. All these years gloom and blood surrounded you. But it was only beginning of your long road. Do not abuse gods - they do that have to. They need your help. There hard times are coming - times of steel and fire, black sorcery and the power of demons. The ancient evil of Shoo is already here and it will return the world to those damned centuries when the demons of the Shady Side who found flesh governed it. Many decades the orcs inhabiting Plateau of Orsiana constrained an impact of the Sheran hordes alone. But not so long ago there was what should not to happen - the Sheranits occupied Meru the sacred city of orcs. The Word of the Chasm fell into clutches of Sheran black magicians, and now they know how to awaken invincible power of Shoo.
  - I don`t care all this.
  - It is difficult for me to speak about it, Casta, but I have to. Whether you want that the Father of Shadow found the power over the world again, and both your unforgettable Elea and Aylor returned to you - now as blood-thirsty vampires how spiteful to indulge?
  - Do not dare! - Casta struck with a palm an iron door in rage. If she could reach Dinche's throat, then would strangle the old woman without hesitation. - Do not say names which are unworthy to be called!
  - I understand your anger. But everything that I tell now is an honest truth. I understand you are sorry to hear it. But you have to know what awaits for you, me, all of us if Sheran magicians finish their impious intention. Shoo's time, an era of the demon forces empery on the earth will return. Tulkan went to Darnat also because leaders of orcs try to find allies today. People do not know that for many years they could sleep peacefully only due to orcs. But today everything has changed. That help which was rendered to orcs by us who were once operating the worlds and forgotten, is not enough now. Orcs alone will not be able to cope with Sheran's power. However people hate orcs, consider them spiteful creatures, dirty and furious. Appearance - alas! - often is deceptive.
  - Well, and what do I have to make? To serve you?
  - No, but simply going your way. It has already begun, this way.
  - Words, words. Empty, meaningless. How can I protect gods if I cannot protect even myself? I have nothing, except this stone and a lock of hair of my daughter.
  - And unless it is not enough? After Tulkan gave you a Relic of the Forgotten, the blessing of the goddess Ayvari is on you. A choice is made. My son made it. The Forgotten received the Warrior. Now your place in the future war is defined. And hair ... The memory of those whom you loved still did not allow you to become cruel and ruthless murderer though you shed a lot of blood. You passed the last test - test by rage. Three years in the circus ring you cruelly revenged for those misfortunes which fell upon you. But you spared Tulkan, and the Forgotten saw it.
  - I am tired, - Casta grabbed ears with palms, rolled up the head. - Leave, me alone, mother. I do not want to hear more.
  - Well. Only some more words finally. Your destiny is closely connected with the fate of one young man whom you will meet soon. It will be not absolutely usual union, but it will allow you to make what the Forgotten wait from you. And now farewell. Protect a stone, he will serve to you kind service more than once. It possesses the great force to cure wounds, diseases and to neutralize poisons. And still, accept from me this ring. Do not look at its simplicity. It is the second Relic of the Forgotten. Ring of Mommek, god of wisdom. It is also called the Ring of Languages. It will help you to find the way to heart of the one who will be met on your way.
  - Dinche! Ayvari! - Casta shouted, but already was nobody behind the door of her cell. Dinche disappeared in the dark of corridor. The Seltonian looked at the right hand - the shabby copper ringlet inexplicably appeared at her ring finger. And then removed an amulet from neck, and saw that the ordinary-looking stone of Tulkan changed. Now it was the polished piece of amber which had the faultless hexagonal form - a form of bee cells.
  - Oh Beris! - Casta sighed. - What`s going on?
   But she could not answer this question.
   Venerable Rees-Shavkhun, the Supreme judge of Darnat, looked at first at the scroll lying before him then at the person who was looking at the judge with servility, expecting when his honor deigns to answer his question. And it is necessary to concentrate to answer. The venerable judge just could not make it in any way. He wanted silence and rest. Yesterday's libations still reminded of themselves with a stupid headache. His eyes stuck together when he tried to read scrolls of the affairs demanding consideration. He was eager to be at home, in a cool, in a bed. And here still this applicant ...
  - I will think, - Rees-Shavkhun told, without lifting up eyes. - At first it is necessary to interrogate the defendant.
  - Of course, of course, The Light of Truth. But kind master Abnun humbly asked about ... the special relation to this case. After all honorable person is killed, killed rascally, in the face of many witnesses.
  - I will think.
  - Kind master Abnun asked you, The Light of Truth, to accelerate adjudgement.
  - Why is such haste? - Rees-Shavkhun nevertheless raised eyes on the visitor. - Legal proceedings put difficult.
  - The accused is only the dirty slave.
  - The libertine, - the judge corrected. - Which has been an idol of common people for three years. But we should not speak about it, Shabak. If you have nothing more to tell me ...
  - Oh, absolutely forgot! - The secretary of the owner of Big Circus pulled a ring with fine diamond of bluish water from a finger and put it with bow and well played guilty smile on the table before judge. - This is a little gift master Abnun most low asked to accept from him in honor and worship.
  - Already the second, - the judge told.
  - What the second? - Shabak did not understand.
  - You are the second one who tries to put off a bribe to me today. Since morning there was the first ... What does your owner want? To sentence the maid to death? In all case she won`t escape the executioner's block.
  - You truly desired to notice that the damned Seltonian has been a celebrity for three years. She could have influential defenders.
  - And what`s from this?
  - I have heard that it is time to equip "the death ship", - having passed to whisper, Shabak told.
  - Ah, what you mean! - The judge shook the head. - I thought that your owner wants to look how the executioner will rip the maid at Breathings Square.
  - I am happy that you understood me, kind master.
  - All right, - the judge took the scroll and kind of accidentally brushed away the ring from table to his knees. - I will dispose about the maid. Say Abnun my hello and wishes of health.
  - Hey, woman!
   Casta raised the head. The bolt rang out, and the tall person in black entered the cell.
  - Rise! -he ordered quietly.
   Casta obeyed. The person got up so that light from a tiny window of the cell fell to face of Casta. She could not see his face - the unknown was without torch.
  - I have come to tell you, woman, that the High Court considered your case. You are sentenced to death, - told the black.
  - Considered my case? - Casta took away dirty and sticky hair from face. - Even without having listened to me? Truly, it is a top of justice!
  - Your words are offensive. But now it is not so important. Tomorrow at sunrise you will be beheaded at Breathings Square publicly.
  - "The black raven, the messenger of death, wants to frighten me", - Casta sang, contemptuously grinned. - Do you think, I am afraid? You are mistaken.
  - Under the law on the eve of the execution you have a right for a bath and a dinner at the expense of the state treasury worth no more than eight kavash. After that you will be transferred to other cell where you will spend this night till the morning.
  - Very good custom, - Casta swallowed the lump which got stuck in throat. - And will you let me the handsome man at the expense of treasury? I do not want to spend the last night alone.
  - Dirty whore! - hissed the black and left cell.
   Casta fell by straw. The blind horror which captured her when she heard about sentence passed a little, there was only an opposite weakness in legs and feeling of full hopelessness. Tomorrow she is being executed. Dinche deceived her. No release will exist. Well, she must be strong. Eventually, her tortures will end tomorrow. And then ... then she will meet Elea. And Aylor. And mother. More than three years she thought of this meeting. It is left to very little to wait.
   She was in catalepsy till the minute the new visitor again entered her cell - this time the yellow-faced jailer familiar to her and two security guards with him. She was lifted a hail, ordered to follow them. Brought down, into the cellar of a tower. There were a flank with hot water and the laid table waiting for her.
   Even several hours prior to the death people could be happy, Casta thought, washing away with pleasure sticky prison dirt. Moreover, such minutes life seems especially fine. Casta washed, spilling water, sighing and moaning from pleasure, without paying attention to security guards who were watching her. She didn`t care they looked at her. Let them stare - maybe at least once in their life they will see the beautiful woman. In some sense executioners took pity on her: tomorrow on a scaffold she won`t look like a dirty pig. The weak but real consolation. And then she put on and sat down at the table. The wine offered her was sour, meat - underdone, bread was gooey, and fruit were slightly begun to rot, but even this miserable dinner seemed to her extraordinary tasty. She was eating with greed until the dish became empty. And then she insufferably wanted to sleep. Casta wanted to tell the jailer that she wanted to be taken away to the cell, but her tongue did not obey her. Next moment the girl was tumbled down directly on the table, having poured the wine remains.
  - Well, that's all, - the yellow-faced jailer told. - Now take her and bear in the vehicle. You will bring the first batch to the port and quickly return behind the others.
  - It is a pity that she will be fed to fishes, - one of security guards told, looking at sleeping Casta. - I would look how the executioner will cut her head.
  - Keep your nasty imaginations around, - told yellow-faced. - And what idiot thought up this law on sentenced? Bathe these swines, feed ... If I had my way, would hang all of them without any formalities. Move, we have a shitload of work. Six more villains remained, and I am not going to stick out here all night long.
   And after all gods love me, Vislav thought. The few can boast of the same health and endurance, as he can, Vis the Lucky. They will not call him the young man any more, but by this ghost ship he was the first who recovered. The others deeply sleeped in a hold, even without realizing what had happened to them.
   Situation was really breath-taking. A month ago Vislav thought that all talks on the death ships, or the ghost ships as they also were called in Darnat - only thieves' folklore. There were spoken a lot about these ships among lucky guys in Darnat, but Vislav did not trust in all these cock-and-bull stories. It turned out that it was the truth. The most offensive thing was that he became a forced passenger of such ship.
   After dark smelly hold it was twice pleasant to be on the deck. The cold beat of the sea quickly drove the weakness and slackness caused by action of sleepy potion which he had been hocused the day before in prison. Vislav set up face to sea wind with pleasure. Maybe the situation was hopeless, but there were pluses even in it. At least, now he won`t die in the stinking cell and not on the cross for quartering under the excited shouts of stupid common people, being covered with blood and rattling in agony. And he is free. He can stand on the deck and feel this wind on the face, inhale this wonderful salty sea smell which reminds of the homeland. And more - there was Casta with him by the ship of fateful.
   Vislav recognized the girl at once, - he had seen her in circus for many times, - and his surprise was big. During the first moment he did not believe his eyes, but then, having considered the sleeping girl, after all understood that it was Casta herself. On a roundish suntanned shoulder of the girl had been skillfully made color tattoo which marked gladiators of Darnat circus - the black dragon surrounded with fire, the sign of the fact that the fighter was devoted to Geshtan, the god of war and bloodsheds flaunted. But how the terrible Seltonian the champion of Darnat beloved by all appeared on this vessel for sentenced to death? It would be clear when the crew of the ghost ship was made of any bandits but to sacrifice Casta the Amazon to the sea! Truly, there was something improbable in Darnat. Or he after all was mistaken, and this girl only the double of the well-known star of the arena?
  - Hey! - Vislav slightly clapped the girl on cheeks. - Ehey!
   Casta - or the girl amazingly similar to the famous amazon, - continued to sleep tight. Since that moment as the ship of fateful was brought out the Darnat bay and left on a will of wind and currents, several hours passed, but sleeping substance which pumped up prisoners before sending for the ship continued to work. Then Vislav charged the girl on shoulder and carefully stepped up from the hold first on the rowing deck, having put to edge of the hatch the thick board found in a hold, and then on the main deck. Having recovered the breath he once again tried to wake Casta and again achieved nothing.
  - Well, sleep, beauty, sleep! - he muttered. - Perhaps fresh sea wind will be better alarm than me.
   Here Vislav thought of the associates by misfortune sleeping in a hold. Sooner or later they will wake up, and then it would be possible to wait for anything. There is neither food nor water by the ship, the wheel does not work, the mast is cut down. The high sea was around and though sometimes seagulls appeared in the sky, they were too far from the coast to reach it by swimming. And which way to float - only Tsvir knew it! There were seven more people in the hold -the inveterate murderers robbers and rapists judging by their ugly faces and tattoos. Vislav noticed out one of them had breast tattoo in the form of the wolf head; those who at least once tried human flesh marked themselves with such tattoo in the Darnat prisons. Others weren`t better, the special sort of public. Of course, Casta - if only he were not mistaken, and this girl would be really Casta, - was the experienced and skillful fighter, however to cope with all of them if the fight began, she would not be able, especially without weapon. And it was also necessary to think of his own safety. He should think up something. There was full of any garbage in the hold. Vislav decided to go down and look what could be used for protection and self-defense from this stuff.
   On the rowing deck was rather light - rays of light fell on top, also ports for oars filtered through holes in boards. And here below Vislav used the Spell of the Night Traveller to which he had been taught still being a student. Soft pink light allowed to make out hold, and also frightened off couple of rats who were selected to walk. At a bottom and heaps of ballast, together with bodies of sleeping fragments of barrels, pieces of the semi-decayed hemp and ropes, the broken ceramics, shabby boxes, some rags lay. From badly caulked boards water exuded, gathering in muddy pools between frames. Vislav understood that his search was vain. Anything worth. And then Vislav clearly heard someone's sobbing. Led a beam in a distant part of hold. Saw one more girl: having hidden in a corner, she looked after Vislav expanded for fear.
   Vislav smiled, stepped to the girl. And then suddenly understood that was mistaken. This was not the little girl - the guy. Only some strange. A fair hair was too dense and long, still with traces of a skillful wave, and here and there in them grains of gold powder sparkled. Paint traces remained on eyelashes, the remains of shadows on eyelids. Skin on legs hands and breast was smooth, without a hair and silky from grindings. And nails - great gods! No doubts the guy was the gay person also got from some expensive lupanar here.
  - Hi, handsome man! - Vislav told. - You woke up, nice. Ain`t you trying to remember how did you get here?
   The guy made some strange sobbing sound, hid in a corner even more deeply. Vislav approached him closely, gave hand.
  - Someone played a nasty joke with you, lad, - he told. - Truly, you did not please clients very much.
  - Where am I? - the guy said, knocking teeth either from cold or for fear. - Who are you?
  - At first I will answer the second question. I am Vislav. My friends call me the Lucky more often. Only this time I was not lucky in the same way as you, kid. And now answer to your first question. We are by the ghost ship. Heard about them?
  - N-no, N - never.
  - You see Darnat's authorities sometimes want to kill two hares at once - to save money on keeping of prisoners and to please gods. And they succeed and you and me are involuntary witnesses of their success. You shouldn`t be much smart to manage this joke - the old unusable vessel just undertakes, it is loaded with crew from the convicts hocused by a sleepy potion and removed in the sea. And it is not unprofitable for the authorities, and sea god is happy. Earlier I thought that these are only rumors, now I see that I was mistaken. And we are floating now by such kind of ship. Speaking on conscience, our business is lost.
  - I ... I am not guilty of anything! - the guy began to whimper, smearing tears and dirt on face. - I only bought ... a ring. Wanted ... to present. And here are r-a-a-ats!
  - Are you afraid of rats?
  - I am afraid! - The strange guy began to cry absolutely like maiden, having hidden face in the palms. He was funny and pathetic at the same time.
  - Not everything is so bad, kid, - Vislav tenderly patted the guy on the head. - If there are rats, so we will have something to devour. At least at first time.
  - Eating ... rats? - The guy looked on Vislav with horror. - Yak!
  - No choice. Mutton soup and fresh halvah will not be definitely brought to us ... Raise the bum, there is no sence to sit here.
  The guy continued to complain. Vislav gave him a hand to help to rise, but the young man pushed it away.
  - The hell with you! - Vislav muttered. - Want to sit in this rat hole, sit. I`m going upward. It stinks here like in the bum of the troll.
   He already began to climb a board on the deck when heard rustle behind the back. The guy after all followed him.
  - There now, and you went obstinate! - Vislav told. - What`s your name?
  - Leodan. I am a favourite slave of fine Shemmer-Ta-Nat.
  - Well, your madam not really loves you if you came to be here ... The slave, you are speaking? Too well-groomed for the slave.
  - I told, I am a favourite slave.
  - The slave for love? - Vislav hemmed. - And who loves you more often, the hostess or the owner?
  - I do not understand you, master, but your speeches seem to me offensive.
  - Ah, forgive! And what the favourite slave is engaged in?
  - I help the hostess to go way of beauty. She appreciates my taste and my sense of beauty. I am very skillful in the choice of clothes and a make-up and in art of wearing jewelry. Still I can sing, recite verses, play on a zither and a pipe.
  - My friend, these talents will be useful to you at very distant day if at all will be useful. And I thought, looking at you that you are the male whore from a lupanar.
  - What?
  - Oh I said nothing ... Call me Vislav. Or Vis. Now you have neither master, nor madam. You are a free guy, Leodan. Only your freedom will be short.
  - My master surely learns that I am here, and will make everything to return me back home.
  - I doubt that he learns. And even if learns, we will be already in a stomach at Ygerabal together by then.
  - It seems to you to be ridiculous?
  - No. Stamp for me.
   Casta could not understand in any way where she was. Noise in ears and nausea prevented to concentrate, heart jumped in a breast, legs and hands insufferably hurt. During the first moment it seemed to her that she was being carried in the shaken cart. Probably, to Breathings Square, to the place of execution. She turned the head to make out the driver, but saw only the blue bottomless sky. She felt smell of the sea. Then voices rushed into consciousness.
  - Oh, she is coming! - The shadow fell to her, and Casta saw the ugly face with deeply put monkey eyes and the wry smile baring decayed teeth inclined over her. - Wake up, the bride, fiancés were tired of waiting!
  - Leave her, Bug, - spoke in a bass another, and the nasty ugly face disappeared, but there was another, not less repellent: pale, extended, with a hooked nose and gray lips. Strong hands stirred Casta up, and bitterness rose to the girl's throat. - For sure your attractive face is familiar to me, sugar. Where could we meet? Whether in the cheerful house of the old grumbler Hushshur?
  - Where ... am I? - Casta croaked, trying to overcome nausea and weakness.
  - Speaking! - Gray lips stretched in a happy smile. - If is speaking, so she is alive. And if she is alive, so will give. Will be able just to give.
   Someone began to guffaw under the ear in a disgusting way. Casta leaned hands in a deal floor, rose, looked round. She was on the deck of ship. And there were people around (oh, Beris, what vile faces they have!) and they were looking at her.
  - Where am I? - Casta repeated.
  - At friends, - the owner of the extended physiognomy told. - And we can`t wait to make closer friends with you.
  - I am alive, - Casta murmured, having started fingers in the uncombed mane. - Damned what`s going on? Why am I by the ship?
  - Because jailers have a sense of humour too, sugar, - told man with grey lips. - Generally they say that the woman by the ship brings misfortune. But it is not so. We are lucky to be here with you, sugar. Judicial rats made us the abrupt present. Will be what to be engaged at a leisure. We have not had young meat for long time.
  - Hey, Sambar, this whore already recovered, it is time to put her in use! - someone shouted.
  - Shut up! - Sambar bellowed. - It is my ship, and I am a captain here. I solve what to do, dig?
  - It is clear, the captain, - Casta heard someone's derisive voice. - Only your ship is lousy. Any minute we will go to feed fishes.
  - Nobody asks you, choohi, - angrily answered Sambar. - If you open a mouth in waste, I will not look that you are from lucky guys. A stone on the neck, and in the sea.
  - I saw here some ropes, Sambar, - the derisive voice answered. - But I did not see any stone. And there is nowhere to hang me up - neither masts, nor yards. We even have no water, and you pose as the shofet. Do you know how to get out of this shit? Do not make gods laugh, tell something worthy instead.
   Meanwhile Casta could sit and make out all picture surrounding her. She already understood that somehow she had appeared by the ship, and people around her were the same prisoners as she was. But where are guards? For some moment she felt joy: truly, they were transported somewhere, but prisoners made revolt and seized the ship. However then joy passed - whatever there was onboard, she is in the power of these people, and is absolutely clear what part by this ship of robbers is going to be assigned to her.
  - Worthy? - Sambar grinned as a dog. - You as I have a look, prefer boys. So we favor them too. And how I think: if you are in brotherhood, so all yours also belongs to brotherhood. Right? So select, choohi - either you are with us, or ...
  - I am not lucky enough to belong to respectable guild of robbers and murderers, - the derisive voice answered. - I am only a thief and the player. And as I cannot descend from the ship, you should stand my unworthy person, the captain. Consider that I am your passenger, and this young man is my baggage. If you deliver us safely to the port of destination, we will get even, I will not offend.
  - Let's get even? - Sambar hemmed. - What will you pay in?
  - Gold. Only it is necessary to survive at first, Sambar. And to wait until I dig out the grists.
  - Hey, you heard, boys! - Sambar laughed loudly. - What generous passenger! Let's believe him, or not?
   Casta then considered the owner of a derisive voice. The stranger was sitting on steps of the ladder conducting on a tank, and behind his back Casta saw one more passenger of this strange ship - the effeminate young man seemed to be very frightened. Apparently these two men did not belong to the gang seized the ship.
  - It is necessary to believe, - the stranger told. - If you knew me better, captain Sambar, then you would not begin to doubt my word.
   The interesting man, Casta thought. Not handsome, but can make an impression on any woman. He is already elderly, but well constituted, tightened and strong. How old is he? Thirty five, forty, more? His dark hair is short-cut and mostly gray, but the face is without wrinkles - and open. Nice face. It is easy to trust the owner of such face. This sort of man never lets down. But his partner ... Is this effeminate type hiding behind his back really his lover?
  - And how much will you pay me, Vislav the Lucky? - asked Sambar, he seemed to forget about Casta.
  - Your ship, Sambar, is not similar at all to the galley of His Majesty Shofet by which as I have heard, the guests are served with the best viands and wines and crew arrange representations and persecution of animals for them. So thirty silver coins for three will be enough.
  - For three?
  - I`ll pay for myself, for this boy, - Vislav showed on Leodan, - and for the girl.
  - See, what a bright guy! -Sambar playfully exclaimed, and bandits laughed servilely and loudly. - Only for you thirty coins, choohi. On friendship. And the cockerel and girl ain`t on sale. They are mine, got it?
  - You will get nothing!
   Casta said it quietly nevertheless her words were heard by all. But the girl was ready to effects. She recovered already enough completely to control the body. Rocking of the deck were still given by nausea, but she already felt former force. And the growing hatred to this dirty son of a bitch Sambar representing himself the captain.
  - What did you say? - Sambar forgot at once about bidding which conducted, sharply turned back to Casta. - And well, repeat, the port whore! Took in head to argue with the captain, bitch?
  - You are not a captain. You are the piece of cat's shit which stuck to the deck of this vessel. You stink as a heap of throws. And I am not afraid of you.
  - You are not afraid? - Sambar became green. - Well look, the white trash. I will kill you slowly. I will cut you in pieces. I`ll cut out only those places which fit to my boys for fun and feed the rest to sharks!
  - Hey, Sambar, wait a moment! - Vislav shouted, only his hail could change nothing any more. Sambar snatched out the bronze plate ground to sharpness of the razor from a sandal back, with the triumphing smile went to Casta.
   The girl perfectly understood that she deals with the real bastard. While he wants to teach a good lesson the rebellious maid, posing at his buddies. The noble duel will not be: as soon as Sambar feels her force, right there will call to the aid of friends, and seven bandits will rush her at once. But it had no value any more.
   Death is only death. She got used to her presence long ago.
   The main thing is not to die like a sheep under the butcher's knife.
   Sambar began to roar, jumped forward, threw out a hand in cunning swing. Casta evaded from killing razor, sat down in a rack and answered with direct stroke in a stomach. Sambar moved back - Casta did not calculate distance a little, the blow did not conceive effect, however frightened the robber. Sambar also did not assume that he would meet resistance. He also could not imagine that some stranger girl behaves so bravely and fights so skillfully. A moment opponents watched at each other, then Sambar, having broken out in perfect abuse, again rushed on Casta. The girl felt an acute pain in the right shoulder, the bronze razor deeply cut skin and passed absolutely close from Casta`s throat. Retaliation of the Seltonain had directly in the Sambar`s chin. Blood scattered, the bandit became shook the head stupidly, but Casta, without allowing him to come round struck two short blows on the right and the left and when Sambar raised hands and revealed put direct crushing blow from below up in a solar plexus. Sambar dropped the razor began to wheeze goggled. And during this all his six friends instantly rushed on Casta.
   The main thing is not to die like a sheep ...
   Casta brought down the first bandit on the deck with blow of a leg, stopped the second by a fist in the left cheekbone, and then added under edges with right leg. Several seconds she won. But Sambar already recovered, furious bandits with cries pressed her, and no blocks could save from blows which rained down on Casta. However Vislav was not the indifferent observer any more. With a soft jump he rushed into a fight seized one of the bandits by a collar and hit him to a deck superstructure that the robber was disconnected at once, brought down from legs the second, rejected to a board the third - the bandit did not keep on the edge of the hatch and failed in a hold with a cry, breaking bones. Casta meanwhile forced to develop in half the bandit by nickname the Bug with the blow in a groin. The hefty robber with a curve nose, having jumped through Bug howling from pain, pushed Casta in a breast, then, dexterously having come behind, tried to take her for a throat. Casta managed to bite a hairy hand of the spindle-legs, with a furious cry struck with an elbow, from a turn, directly in a face, breaking the spindle-legs` nose which had already suffered much from others fists. At the same time Vislav with two blows knocked out the bandit with the wolf head on a breast who jumped on him from a superstructure.
   Sambar managed to pick up the bronze razor and tried to strike Casta on neck, but the girl solved his maneuver. Stridently having screamed, she intercepted Sambar`s hand with the skillful block and hit the leader of bandits with the heel on an ankle joint. The bandit howled. Casta broke him the hand, beat out the razor then cutting dumped Sambar on the deck and hit already lying bandit with all foot in a stomach. Howl broke painful rattle. A second later the Seltonain grasped Sambar by neck.
  - Not ... kill! - croaked Sambar, spitting out blood.
  - Die! - whispered Casta.
   Collected the strength, and sharply jerked the enemy up. The dry crash was distributed, "captain" became soft, his eyes were rolled up, bloody foam rushed from mouth. Having flung away lifeless Sambar, Casta jumped up to Bug rising from the deck and was through with him as well as the leader in a flash. Then became turn of the third robber - the one who Vislav sent to a knockout. Having turned back to the escaped three bandits, Kast growled:
  - Well what are you waiting for? Go!
  Bandits only moved back from the Seltonian. They were three but they were afraid. There was a superstitious horror in their eyes - just this little girl, dexterous and cruel as the wild cat finished off without any mercy their leader and two members of gang on their eyes. It was indeed terrible to look at Casta: soiled by blood, with the swept hair, she stood above corpses of bandits and her eyes were white from rage. Heavy breath of the girl seemed the breath of death to scared bandits.
  - Madam! - The bandit with the broken nose failed on knees so that knee-cups loudly knocked about deck. - Forgive!
  - Forgive! -two his companions gloomy muttered, too falling on knees.
   Casta did not answer. She was shivering, sweat and blood from the cut eyebrow filled her eyes, heart rose to a throat. Then she felt that rage and blood lust leave, giving way to infinite fatigue.
  - Throw out them overboard! - she ordered. Passing by Sambar, several times furiously kicked the dead with a leg to break the rage which was still dimming reason.
  - Cruelly you have done with them, woman, - noticed Vislav, examining the bones of the fingers broken in blood.
  - Shut up! - Casta cried, then, having taken breath, added already more softly: - Forgive. Thanks to you. You saved me.
  - Do not mention it, captain.
  - Captain?
  - Of course. You finished off this poor fellow, so now you are the captain.
  - You are joking, take away you Nekrian!
  - At all. Personally I am ready to submit to you implicitly. You see this poor creature did not suspect that he dealed with Casta the bloody goddess of Darnat Circus. And I recognized you at once.
  - Really? - Casta looked at the "sailors" dragging the Sambar corpse to a board. - And your name is Vislav, right?
  - Flattered you remembered my name. You can call me just Vis.
  - I like Vislav much more. And how to call your ... friend? - Casta looked where Leodan sat having nestled on a board.
   Leodan began to tremble when noticed that this terrible woman looked at him. The fight which witness he became horrified him and how Casta dealt with prostrate opponents got him into deep shock at all. Casta looked at a deathly-white face of the young man, at the shivering lips and hands, glanced in his glazed-over eyes and contemptuously spat.
  - He is not my friend, - Vislav told. - Just another future dead man, as you and me.
  - What the hell are you talking about?
  - And you do not understand? This ship is our floating grave. All of us appeared not accidentally by it. We were sacrificed to Ygerabal. A lovely way to get rid of sentenced to death, without soiling hands.
  - I do not understand you, - Casta stepped to Vislav convulsively clenched fists. - You`ve just told that I am a captain now, and it is my ship.
  - Truly so. But you got the so-so ship. There is neither food nor water on this vessel. There are no wheel and sail too. Didn`t you notice yet that your ship is without mast? We were submerged being sleepy in Darnat port on the old shabby vessel and towed off in the sea.
  - There is no food? Water? - Just now Casta felt that she is awfully thirsty. - I swear by Beris, it cannot be!
  - It can be, oh Casta Invincible, and it is! - Vislav seemed unperturbable, but his voice nevertheless trembled. - If gods do not take pity on us, we will soon envy Sambar and two bastards whom you have just fed to fishes. And to that guy whom I pushed in a hold. They died rather easily and quickly. And we will suffer.
  - Damned! - Casta felt cold touch of horror to the back. - And what we shall do?
  - For a start cure your wounds.
  - And how to cure them? I have neither needle nor threads to sew up them.
  - At least wash them out.
  - You have just told that we have no water. Do you scoff?
  - It is plenty of excellent salt water around us, - Vislav showed overboard. - It nicely expels poison and fever from wounds.
  - Poison ... - Casta murmured taken by a new thought. - Fever ...
   Ayvari's stone. Dinche told that stone had great force. She said that one of nine Forgotten Ayvari blessed Casta then. The girl's face lit up for the nervousness which captured her. The forgotten goddess should help them. At least it is necessary to try ...
  - You are right, - she told to Vislav. - But how to get water? We have no cutlery for water.
  - I saw quite tolerable jug in a hold. The neck is beaten off but the jug seems whole. And also some ropes are there.
  - Well. So help me with it.
   She entered into deck superstructure - once there was the captain's cabin, - closed the creaking door. Examined a wound in the shoulder. It was deep and wide, but equal as the wound given by sharply ground edge usually is, and blood flowed out a little. Casta couldn`t see the burning forehead wound but felt this wound also was trifling. Grazes and bruises on legs and hands did not deserve attention at all. Having leaned against door that nobody could enter, the girl removed Tulkan's amulet from neck and, plainly without representing what needs to be done with it, just applied the stone to shoulder wound. The hand was pierced by acute pain. Casta screamed but pain passed very quickly - it was similar to needle prick. Being surprised more and more the girl observed how the cut from razor of Sambar disappeared in the very eyes without leaving even marks. In a minute only blood stains on a hand and spots on a tunic reminded of a wound.
  - Gods, what a stone! - delighted Casta whispered. And remembered Tulkan suddenly again. He had this stone. Tulkan could cure wounds of the Fleecer directly in the arena when they fought - and did not make it. He could heal them in the ergastul after fight - and neglected stone magic too. Why? Why he gave her SUCH stone? Or there is something unknown sense so far too?
   Casta put amulet to the cut eyebrow and by all her being felt how the wound disappeared. Then the strange thought came to her mind. Once in fight with the Massith gladiator she got deep wound in a hip. The wound safely healed but there was a whitish fragmentary scar which Casta hesitated very much. Hoping for a miracle Casta kissed magic stone and put it to the scar on a hip.
   The scar disappeared.
   Casta began to squeal for joy, clapped the hands, began to jump in the fulness of the heart.
  - Hey, woman, what`s going on? - the voice of Vislav distributed behind a door.
   She left superstructure with the dancing gait. Vislav held a wet jug for the handle.
  - You have such look as if someone set a good table for us in this wooden shed, - Vislav told and stretched her the jug. - Hold, be washed.
  - Not only I will be washed, - Casta mysteriously sparkled eyes. - Perhaps I will also get drunk.
  - Went balmy, woman? It is sea water. It cannot be drunk.
  - Now we will look, - Casta dipped Ayvari's stone into jug, took a sip. - Of course, couple of glasses of the sustained sherib would refresh me better. But also this water not too bad at all.
  - I swear by Tsvir! - Vislav snatched out jug, dropped to the split neck. Having got drunk, looked at Casta with mad eyes. - Fresh! Let me burn down in an infernal belly, fresh!
  - Right. It seems that you hurried to bury us.
  - Hey, Leodan! - Vislav shouted. - Scoop still water.
   Casta with a smile observed how her "crew" greedy satisfies thirst - with the sea water, on a miracle, inexplicable for all, which became fresh. And they looked at Casta with amazement.
  - You are just real magician, woman, - Vislav just devoured her with the eyes. - Damn me Atal, Tsvir and all my gods, but I thought that you are an excellent soldier not more.
  - And I thought so. Now will not prevent to think of food.
  - Precisely. Do you have ideas?
  - You have to have them. You are a man. To get food is your task. And I will go and wash, - here Casta laughed: she was amused very much by the dumbfounded look of Vislav and her other satellites. - The woman's task is to be well-groomed and tidy in any situation.
   Vislav eventually managed to build a primitive fishing tackle from pieces of hemp and copper nailing very opportunely found and pulled out from a vessel covering. The rat caught by one of convicts went to a bait. With Sambar`s razor Vislav cut a rat on pieces, having forced Leodan to test bad attacks of nausea several times. Gods were favorable this time to them: after several failures when the fish who caught a bait broke from a hook, Vislav managed to catch a strange big fish, flat, with a long tail and a huge mouth.
  - And can it be eaten? - Leodan asked fastidiously looking at the fish fighting on the deck.
  - It is a stingray. Not the worst fish if you want to know.
  - But we cannot eat it crude!
  - Oh, kid, this just not a problem! There are a lot of pieces of wood in the hold, drag them here.
   Leodan almost tremblingly observed how Vislav, having laid fragments of boards and a chip in one of braziers on a tank, made fire. Parted without flint and flint as if from air having caused a tongue of flame.
  - Gods, how have you made it? - the young man exclaimed.
  - Only simple spell of the Call of Fire. Real trifle.
  - I truly was lucky that you are at my side in such minute! - Leodan told and his eyes were moistened.
  - The luck is luck, and we are getting hungry.
  - There now, the man has performed the work! - Vislav heard Casta`s voice behind his back.
   The Seltonian was in great mood. While men caught fish she by means of Ayvari's stone reduced some more scars at herself on a stomach, hands and a breast and then took a nap on a floor of captain's cabin. Now she felt fresh and also full of strength. Only awfully hungry.
  - Is this fish possible to eat? - she asked, looking at a stingray calmed down. - It looks extremely disgustingly.
  - All the same we have nothing else, - Vislav noticed. - And this fish is eatable. I heard meat of stingray is tasty.
  - And how have you got fire? - Casta noticed flame in a brazier.
  - This is Vislav parted, - Leodan inserted.
  - So you are a Jack of all trades? - Casta looked at the thief with interest. - And in what country such masters are born?
  - Very far one. Heard anything about Resh?
  - Nothing.
  - Resh is my motherland. It is far in the north, in the region of snow and deep forests.
  - And how did you appear in Darnat?
  - Long story. So to say - I had a stormy life. It was necessary to wander much all over the world. But I am glad to it. I do not like to sit in one place longer than month.
  - It is clear. Thieves' happiness calls, truly?
  - I was not a thief all my life, - Vislav told, skinning stingray with the Sambar`s edge. - I was a novice in the monastery. Then student. Then soldier. Then bard. And you know, I was rather good to compose verses and songs. However I always hesitated of own compositions.
  - Really? - Casta hemmed: this strange person attracted her increasing and bigger interest. - And can you sing any song to me?
  - I have neither zither nor a lute.
  - Sing just like that without zither and without lute. I want to listen.
  - Well, if the lady asks ... - Vislav thought couple of moments, then started singing:
   I loved the girl with eyes like stars
   - Oyo!
   On my bed I wanted to take her.
   The father told me: "Listen, the lad,
   I will give you a word:
   You are so young to marry this time -
   You are only ten years old!"
   I loved the maiden with eyes like stars
   - Oyo!
   On the bed I wanted to take her.
   But the father said: "Listen, the youth,
   I will give you another word:
   You are so young to marry this time -
   You are just twenty years old".
   I met the woman with eyes like stars
   - Oyo!
   On my bed I wanted to take her.
   The father was angry: "Listen, the fool,
   My final parental word.
   With marriage you can wait still -
   You are just forty years old".
   The old woman neighbor made eyes at me
   - Oyo!
   On my bed I wanted to take her.
   The father from next world came once and said:
   "My son!
   You lived life alone,
   and now get my last word:
   Do really you want
   to make laugh all this world
   When you are seventy years old?"
  - You have a quite pleasant voice, - Casta told when Vislav stopped singing. - But song is foolish. You did well when you ceased to compose.
  - So bad? - Vislav asked with a cunning mine.
  - Disgusting. In general I hate poets.
  - But why? As far as I know, many poets in Darnat glorified your northern beauty and your feats in the arena.
  - All of them are talkers and visionaries. Why to write about feats of arms if you understand nothing in them?
  - Understand nothing?
  - Of course. Poets compose verses on great athletes. Also lie impudently and without measure. - Casta kept silent, remembered the necessary line. - Here, for example: "Gezion took the bow and sent an arrow as a thunder, on one thousand steps, having punched both shield and armor". Have you ever seen that anyone sent arrow on one thousand steps? On six hundred is the longest shot, and only the great archer from the best bow will be able to hit the mark from such distance. And from usual bow you won`t get for three hundred steps. Moreover to punch both armor and shield - nonsence. I would look at this poeticule on a shooting range! He would not get to a cow in fifty steps. And he sings ... And fight on swords? Yes, listen to all these authors, in every second ballad the heroes chop with swords - only shreds fly. And in reality the fighters do not chop with a sword, and cut or prick, this way, - Casta made several indicative movements, working with the imagined sword. - A sword is the same as big knife. They chop with the axe. And sword is expensive weapon, it is necessary to protect blade. If you begin to beat them as a stick, you`ll ruin all edge at the moment.
  - You are just born critic, Casta, - Vislav sincerely admired.
  - And how they write about death? - Casta's face grew dark, the rigid fold appeared between eyebrows. - As about something good. Honor and glory to you, the hero killed supposedly the enemy! At once it is visible, anybody was killed ever. Do not know, what is it, when you thrust sword in the person and you see during this instant of his eye. Its guts fell out of a wound, he can already tell nothing, just about will die, and horror and entreaty only are in his eyes: "Do not beat me more, I`m hurt!" Any of bards never wrote how the torn interiors stink. Or that the person shits pants during an instant of death. Cheap talkers, one word. The small dogs coddled like it, - and Casta showed on Leodan. - Only also know that the nonsense for a ride to take people.
  - Perhaps, you are right, - told Vislav who was surprised by the words of this strange girl. - But if there are no poets the world will become more boring.
  - Hurry up with a dinner, - Casta changed the subject. - My interior reduces of hunger.
  - I liked your song very much, - whispered Leodan when Casta departed from them to an opposite board. - You are just a master! What syllable, what metrics! I am excited.
  - What? - Vislav shuddered as if he woke up, looked at Leodan. - Nonsense, kid. Crappy song.
  - Lie! You are unfair to yourself. This rude maiden understands nothing in fine arts.
  - You think so in vain. She just gave us a line from the poem by Roklener-Sweet-Singer "Death of the hero". I bet, this beauty is a good judge in much of things ... Already`s getting dark, let's take care of our big fish.
   The pause dragged on. The copyist who was standing behind a desk with pen in a hand patiently looked at master Kiris expecting when the magician would deign to continue dictation. But Kiris did not hurry. Either considered how to finish the letter or thought of something special. And the copyist decided.
  - "Sir?"
   Kiris looked at the copyist.
  - "What?"
  - "I am waiting whether sir will deign to continue dictation".
  - 'Wait a moment. Where I stopped?"
  - "... also tell me when The High-Born Shofet will make the decision", - the copyist read.
  - "Well. Add this: "You remember, the quicker you execute our arrangement, the earlier receive what you wish". Done?'
  - "Yes, sir".
  - "Now make the copy and cipher the letters. The messenger has to leave today to Darnat".
  - "Of course, sir".
   Kiris nodded. Passed through an office, came to a balcony. The beautiful view on Er-Dalor lit with the sunset sun and surrounded with lead-colored mountains opened from here. On the right on the rock which hung over the city powerful walls and Ham-Ashtanir's towers, the royal residence flushed. This midnight the Council of magicians of the Bowl headed by the queen Margiana will take place there. The queen will ask magicians about what is made in the last seven days and what more magicians are going to do in order that Sheran's power became still invincible.
   Seems Margiana has to be happy. After the victory at Meru the remains of orcs are driven into fruitless lands in Orsiana's northwest. The Sheran army controls the whole country of orcs from Heylan to the Askarian Sea. Strategically important passes are taken and now a way to the north in Schur, Logar and to Aglam is open. Now if lord Ashran keeps the word and Darnat begins war with Sabia it will be necessary only to wait for falling of the Sabian capital of Gale. Lord Kiris did not doubt that it would happen very soon. The Sabians will not be able to resist to Darnat's army and fleet long enough - forces are too unequal. And they have no allies. Logar is too far, Seltonia is even further away, the east neighbors of Sabians, the Dorians, are busy with their everlasting conflicts. And the Sabians have nothing to pay mercenaries their treasury is empty. Already in half a year magicians of the Bowl will receive what will force all people to obey Sheran - The Abyss Gifts. And then real war will begin.
   The sun quickly sat down at mountain tops. There time of evening shadows came and it was possible to start the Interview ritual. Kiris returned to an office, replaced a working robe with the Shadow cloak. Except Kiris only two persons in all Sheran had the right to wear such attire - Hraor the Head of magicians of the Bowl and Her Majesty the Queen Margiana.
   Three persons on whom Sheran's power keeps. And everyone has own gift.
   The queen Margiana was granted the Bowl Gift from the birth.
   The Archmaster Hraor was granted an opportunity to touch the Bowl - the only creation of the Shady Side which still could be in the world of people.
  Kiris' gift was that he could have dreams in which the Shady Side expressed the will. Kiris was a Negotiator. Among of all magicians of the Bowl only Kiris could communicate with the Father's envoys. He had to be an intermediary between the Shady Side and magicians of the Bowl.
   The day before the envoy of the Shady Side was to him in a dream again and warned that this evening Kiris should be to the Hall of the Interview with a gift. The Shady Side always demanded different gifts. Usually it was blood - sometimes blood of animals, but more often the human`s the most desired for Shadow Inhabitants. This time Kiris was told to bring to the Father of Shadow ten orcish hearts.
   Kiris came to the Hall of Interviews via the system of portals - it penetrated all Tower of Magicians. The master H'zar the head of the Silents already expected him with a basket in which fresh hearts of the orcs killed in glory of the Father of Shadow lay.
   Kiris entered the circle designated by sixteen columns from pure quartz. Out of a circle, opposite to each of columns, was established on a support the mirror of the black polished bronze reflecting light spread by the powerful magic lamp under the Hall arches. The shades, cast by quartz columns, met to the center of a circle, forming a sixteen-final star - a symbol of sixteen Houses of the Shady Side.
   The master H'zar spread out the bleeding hearts in the low bronze braziers located between mirrors meanwhile. The smell of burned meat floated on the hall. The wave of a stench covered Kiris, and during the next moment the magician felt approach of the envoy of the Shady Side.
   This time a keiche the lowest vampire was an envoy. Kiris always liked these fragile graceful beings similar to very young girls with greenish skin, pretty faces and the huge shining eyes. They seemed to Kiris extraordinary erotic, and he sometimes regretted that cannot enjoy illusive flesh of keiche.
  - "Speak", - Kiris told.
  - "The Father of Shadow is happy with you, the Negotiator", - told keiche, having bared sharp teeth in a smile. - "He ordered to tell you that your merits are big".
  - "I thank keiche for a praise. I was told to be, and I came. I expect orders of the Father of Shadows."
  - "The Father ordered to transfer to the servants owning the Bowl that they will shortly face the new foe".
  - "About what foe does the Lord warn us?"
  - "The Sheran army broke orcs, but the kingdoms of people are not yours yet".
  - "It is only a matter of time. We will win Schur and Aglam soon. Our allies are just about beginning war against Sabia, and then the Crownof Abyss will belong to us at as our general master wishes. After that you, inhabitants of the Shady Side, will be able to join us at last in common to bring closer the hour returning blessed times of Shoo".
  - "You have less time, than you think, the magician".
  - "What do you speak about, the envoy?"
  - "One of relics of the Nine, Ayvari's stone, passed from orcs to people. So other relics have lost the Cover of the Shadow and become available to the human tribe".
  - "It is impossible. Relics of the Forgotten were protected by the strongest spells at the time of Shoo!"
  -" Orcs are guilty of everything. Once the Father of Shadows patronized them because it is difficult to find soldiers braver and more skillful than orcs. But then orcs betrayed the Father of Shadows, having refused to serve queen Margiana and also to our general master. You beat orcs, but they are not defeated yet. Their leader Uday is not only brave soldier but also skillful magician. He knew that there was a Hostility spell on Ayvari's stone. While the stone belonged to orcs people could take control of it only by force. Blood of the killed orcs and people profaned stone, depriving magic power of it. Uday thought up how to bypass an ancient spell of magicians of Shoo. His messenger gave the goddess-healer stone to the human of own will. Now the spell of Hostility is destroyed, and the stone found force again".
  -"It could not happen, keiche. It is impossible. People and orcs always fiercely hated each other. Wars between them became a usual thing since ancient times".
  - "However it happened. The one who received a stone from Uday was the half-blooded, the son of an orc and the human. And he gave the stone to people. We do not know yet who owns Ayvari's stone now but the ordinary person could not receive such gift. The Forgotten noted this mortal`s birth in an hour. You know, the magician, that Relics of the Forgotten choose themselves whom they want to belong".
  - "It is bad news. What can it threaten us with?"
   "The one who will collect all Relics of the Forgotten will be able to resist to the power of the Shady Side. Magicians of the Bowl should remember it".
  - "Do you know who got the Orcish stone?"
  - "Ask the Bowl to give you the Shadow look, and nothing will take refuge from your looks in one of the worlds, - Eyes of keiche flashed as bright stars. - Be through with that one whom the Shadow will point to you as soon as possible. It is wished by our mutual Lord".
   Keiche disappeared also inexplicable as well as appeared. It was a property of creations of the Shady Side - they appeared from nowhere and disappeared in anywhere. Kiris felt as if he had nightmare dreamed. The Interview finished, the will of the Father of Shadows was stated, and it would be necessary to inform magicians of the Bowl about it.
   The hall of the Interview was more and more filled with a stench from the orcish hearts burning in braziers. Kiris left a circle of quartz columns, made the sign to the master H'zar to follow him and went to the portal glowing in the dark depth of one of hall apses. The meeting of council of the Bowl will begin soon, and Kiris did not want to be late.
  - "Did you find him? Speak!"
   Samedyar grievously shook the head. If Shemmer-Ta-Nat could cry she would burst out crying - but all tears were dropped for last days.
  - "Really you cannot find him, Samedyar?"
  - "My people turned upside down all Darnat, my beloved. Nothing and no traces. Poor Leodan disappeared as if he was taken away alive by gods".
  - "It is impossible. Surely somebody has to know about him!"
  - "We interviewed all beggars, all our secret informers, all dealers and holders of brothels. Nobody saw Leodan. Alas, my love, he disappeared. But, I swear, I will continue searching. I am sure that he is alive".
  - "He is alive?" - Shemmer-Ta-Nat stepped to the legionary. - "Of course, he is alive! He is so darling, so kind, so harmless. Unless it is possible to do him any harm? Perhaps, somebody frightened him, and he ... hides. Find him, Samedyar, I beg you".
  - "I will find him", - with confidence in a voice the young man answered. - "For the sake of you I will return the boy from the kingdom of the dead".
  - "How good you are next to me!" - The girl's face brightened up. - "I would die of despair if you weren`t here. I miss Leodan so much".
  - "I will find him", - Samedyar inspired with the words of the girl repeated.
  - "Find and come back together with him", - Shemmer-Ta-Nat gave a hand for a kiss, and Samedyar dropped it to lips with great feeling. - "I will be waiting for you".
  - "And she told?" - Uzmay grinned. - "You apparently managed to become the favourite of my daughter".
  - "Yes, she told. Only I do not know now what to do. I even begin to regret that I hurried with this ship".
  - "Oh, yes! Just imagine what heights you would rise in the opinion of Shemmer-Ta-Nat if you brought Leodan here. But how I think it is impossible?"
  - "Alas, master. The ship left the Igerabal's Palm four days ago".
  - "Poor boy! We treated him very severely. But we had no choice".
  - "Truly so, master. To make a little amends, I want to compensate to you the cost of the slave", - Samedyar put a bag with gold on the table before Uzmay. - "I know, Leodan costs more, but that`s all I have".
  - "You are truly a noble young man, Samedyar!" - Uzmay in the fulness of the heart even threw up the hands. - "You even thought of it. I swear by palms of Kua, I did not expect. Drink some vine".
  - "I hope, Shemmer-Ta-Nat never learns the truth?"
  - "Do you joke? I am in the same way involved in this story, as well as you. I gave you ring of my unforgettable wife. The daughter will never forgive me what I made. So don`t you worry. Only you, me and the judge know what happened. And though I feel sorry for the guy we cannot turn back the things made. Let's think of the future and not to regret for what was created".
  - "Gold words, my master. And absolutely to disseminate your grief, I will tell you what heard in the palace. The lightest Shofet signed the decree on construction of twenty more fighting ships. You will be a contractor. And still, - with a smile Samedyar continued, - you and fine Shemmer-Ta-Nat were included in lists of persons invited to celebrations in port, in day of the Holiday of the Sea. The Shofet himself approved these lists".
  - "Your words sound like divine music, my friend", - Uzmay did not restrain, embraced the young man and right there in a volley drained a wine bowl. - "Let's not think more of the ill-fated slave. Now I see that I didn`t make this sacrifice in vain. Gods love sacrificing. Especially everything that I make I do for the benefit of my daughter and gods should see it. They will not condemn me for love to my child".
   The Shofet Ras Navan was happy. In any case court recorders to whose duties belonged to document any event with participation of the Son of the Sun, several times entered in the plates that "the radiant smile did not descend from a light face of the Sun from the House of the Sun all this day". However what raised that smile - the shows and games organized on the embankment by Igerabal's priests or rich gifts presented to the Shofet by merchant guilds or opportunity to see a certain blue-eyed beauty next to him - nobody could tell definitely. Shemmer-Ta-Nat sitting near the father in an honourable guest row at first considered how many times the young Shofet looked at her then lost count. She did not want to go on this holiday but her father insisted.
  - "You will mourn your Leodan after time", - told her Uzmay. - "Such the honor is done to us and you go obstinate! You go on a holiday such is my will".
   To obey to the father - the daughter's debt and Shemmer-Ta-Nat did not begin to argue though her heart was black. However on the embankment she forgot about Leodan for some time. The atmosphere of holiday disseminated melancholy and captured the girl. She was surrounded by magnificently dressed court, important men and beautiful women covered with jewelry like ritual statues in the temple of Kua. Not only the Shofet glanced at Shemmer-Ta-Nat: many men appreciated beauty of the debutant. Another time it would flatter the girl strongly, but now she did not want to flirt for some reason. And she just watched what happened on the embankment especially as representation was really interesting.
   In the beginning the actors dressed up by gods, demons and heroes passed on the embankment, showing scenes from the Book of Heavenly Waters - the sacred book of Ygerabal cult. Further the turn of the parade of vessels came: twelve richly decorated fighting galleys at full speed passed by the embankment under applause of guests of the Shofet and an enthusiastic roar of the common people covering piers. Then the most real sea battle with hijacking of the "enemy" vessel was showed. After that on the embankment, under the beating of drums and whistle of flutes, hundreds of the Sacred Legion marched. Tall stately soldiers in the scaly gilded armors and helmets which were brightly shining under beams of the sun with white and red plumes and big square shields and long spears. The last one hundred was conducted by Samedyar and Shemmer-Ta-Nat saw that the young soldier looked only at her.
   Time approached evening when soldiers in easy leather armor of the Sea Lions unit appeared again on the embankment. They accompanied a ship catapult which was dragged by six white bulls decorated with flowers and tapes - the sacred animals of Ygerabal. The audience become silent observed how soldiers established the catapult on the embankment, having developed it to the bay. And then many saw on water in several hundred yards from the coast the stocky birema with black boards and signs of a Fiery Eye drawn on a vessel nose - the ship has been recently seized in fight with Sabian pirates.
  - "Kind citizens of Darnat!" - Lord Ashran, the Supreme priest Shat-Tsebu, rose from the place and addressed guests: - "Nowadays in order to glorify the greatness of Ygerabal in day of the Holiday of the Sea, we, great Shat-Tsebu's priests, want to show you something extraordinary. Look and wonder the marvel of gifts which gods sometimes give to the mortals!"
   Two soldiers carefully brought the big wicker basket to a catapult filled as it seemed to the audience with big balls made of gray felt. The third soldier according to the sign of the team officer carefully lifted one of spheres and put in a catapult cup. Bemmmm - the catapult with a clang and roar threw out a strange shell towards the Sabian birema. Several moments all people watched tensely in that side where the sphere departed, and was thought by much that catapult team made a booboo, having missed the target, but there in the condensed twilight the orange flash blazed and the Sabian ship was literally shrouded in a rusty smoky flame. Under cries of delight and applause catapult sent the second shell to the target. The raging flame in minutes captured all birema and the burning ship began to be filled up sideways slowly.
  - "Great gods!" - Ras Navan exclaimed looking at the sinking ship. -"Is it your surprise, uncle?"
  - "It is delightful, huh?" - Ashran literally radiated complacency. - "Do you see how Shat-Tsebu's magicians seek to strengthen your greatness, dear nephew?"
  - "What is it?"
  - "Magic elixir. Fiery jelly. I thought you should look at its action".
  - "Incredibly! You managed to strike me in the heart, uncle".
  - "Really, unusual show", - told, making a wry mouth, Vaakhrad, the Supreme priest of Ygerabal. - "But for the sake of what gods respectable priests of Shat-Tsebu decided to perform it?"
  - "And you did not understand, dear master Vaakhrad?" - Ashran showed on the Sabian birema which almost disappeared under water. - "Now we will be able to be through with Sabian pirates once and for all. Our fighting ships and this wonderful weapon will clean an ocean smooth surface from Sabian filth to the delight of our gods - Shat-Tsebu and Ygerabal".
  - "My uncle is right", - told the Shofet with gloss in his eyes. - "Now I do not doubt that it is time for us to carry out great plans of my late father".
  - "Conjurers!" - grumbled Vaakhrad when representation ended and guests of the Shofet were invited to follow to convivial tables in palace gardens. - "They want to force the Sabians to the knees with that trick?"
  - "The jealousy and envy are in your voice, my lord", - the Supreme priestess of Kua, the tall black-eyed woman in heavy embroided clothes noticed. - "This is really terrible weapon. Here only how lord Ashran got it? Isn`t there a sort of black magic in it?"
  - "It isn`t important", - Vaakhrad sighed. - "But the Shofet always follows Ashran`s advice, and I`m afraid we won`t escape big war now".
  - "It grieves you?"
  - "It will ennoble priests of Shat-Tsebu and the god of war Geshtan even more. And they will receive the most big chunks from the House of the Sun again and look down on us. Doesn`t it upset me, the Supreme priest of Ygerabal? You heard, Ashran told the name of Shat-Tsebu before the name of Ygerabal - it means someting, isnt`t it?"
  - "Let's not think of bad", - the priestess of Kua playfully took the grieved Vaakhrad by an arm. - "We are waited by an entertainment in the Shofet gardens and then we will be able to discuss how to glorify our gods".
  -" Allies?" - Vaakhrad looked at the priestess.
  - "The love and the sea suit one another better than the love and war", - laughed the priestess.
   Shemmer-Ta-Nat did not see how servants carried away from a feast her drunk and happy father. Now she was a daughter of the Son of the Sea, and the most notable grandees spoke with her faithfully. But she noticed in what irritation the queen Kuati left a feast - it happened after the Shofet sent sweets to Shemmer-Ta-Nat from his table for the third time.
   It seems, she had an enemy. The queen Kuati will hardly forgive her such humiliation. Or perhaps everything is not so bad?
  - The Son of the Sun ordered to tell to the brightest star of Darnat that today he intends to show her rooms of the palace, - the eunuch servant squeaked her in the ear. - Let the brightest star do not worry about anything, she will be carried out to the Shofet when time comes ...
   Shemmer-Ta-Nat answered nothing. A thought appeared unexpected and as seemed to the girl very successful. The Shofet more than favorable to her, so she could ask the Shofet for help to find her Leodan. The Shofet can do everything and if Leodan is alive ...
   If he is alive.
  An opposite lump drove to a throat and tears clouded eyes again. The eunuch servilely faced her expecting the answer. The silly eunuch was for certain sure that she cried with happiness.
  - Oh ... thank the Son of the Sun, - Shemmer-Ta-Nat told and pretended that she was interested in a vase with fruit and sugar cookies.
   My Leodan is alive, and I will find him, she told herself. Only it is not necessary to cry, the make-up will begin to flow. It is necessary to remain strong. Gods smile strong and persistent. They will grant her desire.
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