The Crocodile Tomb (Gods and Warriors Series #4)

The Crocodile Tomb (Gods and Warriors Series #4)

by Michelle Paver

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Overview

Readers of Peter Lerangis’s Seven Wonders and Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms will love the mesmerizing Egyptian setting in the fourth installment of this epic survival story series

Hylas and Pirra finally arrive in Egypt, only to find that the dagger Userref guarded is missing. Even worse, Telamon and the Crows are also in Egypt to hunt for the dagger, and they'll stop at nothing until they get what they've come for. But when Hylas realizes where the dagger is hidden—in Egypt’s ancient tombs, buried with the restless souls of the dead—it's going to take all of his courage to slip inside. And as his otherworldly visions grow stronger, Hylas isn't confident that he'll have the strength to make it out alive. With Havoc the lioness and Echo the falcon at their sides, Hylas and Pirra must rescue the dagger and make a daring escape...before the gods of Egypt consume them all. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698407916
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/26/2016
Series: Gods and Warriors Series , #4
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 963,091
Lexile: 720L (what's this?)
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Michelle Paver is the internationally bestselling author of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series and the winner of the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. She lives in the United Kingdom.

Read an Excerpt

Also by Michelle Paver

Title Page

Copyright

Map

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Author’s Note

About this Story

About the Author

The leopard lay on the floor with its eyes shut and its thick tail curled around one leg of the ebony chair. The monkey crouched above it on the roof beam, torn between terror of the sleeping monster and desire for the green glass bowl on the table, which was heaped with pomegranates, figs, and dates.

Nervously baring its teeth, the monkey stretched out one scrawny arm, but couldn’t reach the fruit. The monkey drew back, champing its teeth in frustration. The leopard twisted one ear to catch the sound, and went on pretending to be asleep. The monkey didn’t notice. All it saw was the fruit.

This time, the monkey gripped the roof beam with one foot and swung down with both arms extended—and the huge cat struck. A blur of black and gold, a shriek, a crunch—and it was over.

Alekto laughed and clapped her hennaed hands. “But it didn’t last long enough!” she complained to the fat Egyptian nobleman seated beside her. “It hardly suffered at all! Can we find another one?”

She looked extremely beautiful and very un-Egyptian in her spiked gold diadem and her tight-waisted robe of yellow silk, and Kerasher bowed low. “Anything, my lady,” he said in heavily accented Akean.

“My lord Kerasher, we have no time,” snapped Telamon as he paced up and down. “You said they’re bringing the prisoner?”

The Egyptian inclined his head in assent, and Alekto gave Telamon a mocking bow. “How masterful you are, nephew!”

Telamon glared at her. She was only a few years older than him, but she loved calling him “nephew,” as it made him sound like a boy. “This prisoner,” he said to Kerasher. “You’re sure it’s him?”

“So my men tell me,” said the Egyptian with slightly forced politeness. “But only you, my lord Telamon, know the face of the man you seek, so it will be for you to say.”

Telamon went on pacing. “When?”

“Soon.”

“It’s always ‘soon,’” muttered Telamon.

He hated Egypt. The heat, the swampy River, this fat brown man with his jeweled collar and his green eye-paint that was starting to run in the heat. Kerasher had been sent by the Perao Himself, the god-king of Egypt, to help them find the dagger, but Telamon could feel the disdain behind his smiles. What made it worse was that the Egyptian was so horribly womanish, with his elaborate plaited wig and his painted, beardless face. He even had his slaves shave the hair off his legs.

It’s Hylas’ fault that I’m here, Telamon thought savagely. Hylas and Pirra together. If they hadn’t stolen the dagger—if Pirra’s slave hadn’t brought it to Egypt . . .

Alekto snapped her fingers at her new plaything. The leopard left its kill and padded over to her, and laid its blood-stained head on her knees. “What else can we feed it?” she murmured. “And this time, Lord Kerasher, make it last!” Bending her lovely head to the beast’s bloody muzzle, she put out her little pointed tongue and licked it.

Kerasher’s eyes were glazed and his mouth was hanging open. Practically dribbling with lust, thought Telamon in disgust.

Alekto caught his eye and grinned. He didn’t grin back. He hated her too. She was always laughing at him and belittling him in front of his warriors. For the hundredth time, he wished his uncle Pharax had been with him, instead of her.

But then, he reminded himself, it would be Pharax in command of this mission, not you. And you are in command, Telamon, whatever Alekto might think. You are the grandson of Koronos, High Chieftain of Mycenae. He sent you to Egypt because he knows you will succeed.

Footsteps outside, and a clink of armor.

The leopard twitched its tail, and Alekto gripped the arms of her chair.

“At last,” said Telamon.

They’d flung the prisoner face down at Telamon’s feet: a young man in a dusty kilt with his arms pinioned painfully behind his back. One of the guards yanked him into a kneeling position, and Telamon caught his breath. “It’s him! Did he have it? Did they find the dagger?”

“He had this,” said Kerasher. Another guard held out a knife with a cheap bone hilt and a copper blade.

With a snarl, Telamon flung it aside. “That’s not it!”

Kerasher permitted himself a small sigh. “Then I will question him—”

“No,” cut in Telamon. “I’ll do it, he speaks Akean.” Then to the prisoner, “Where’s the dagger?”

No reply. The prisoner was watching the leopard tearing at the monkey’s blue guts.

“Look at me!” barked Telamon. “Where is the dagger of Koronos?”

Like many Egyptians, the prisoner had a shaven head and black-rimmed eyes. It was a handsome face, striving for blankness. The dark gaze met Telamon’s and he shook his head.

“He knows where it is,” said Alekto, watching the prisoner with the fixity of a snake with its prey.

“I will have him beaten like a strip of papyrus,” said Kerasher. “If he does not tell . . .” One fat bejeweled hand indicated his men’s crescent-moon axes and copper-tipped whips.

Alekto drew back her lips from her teeth and gave a little shiver of excitement. “Oh, I think we can do better than that.”

For the first time since they’d left Mycenae, Telamon was glad she was with him. He disliked torture, but Alekto loved it. She would make the prisoner talk.

Soon they would have the dagger. Telamon’s heart quickened as he remembered the long, vicious sweep of its blade, and the feel of his ancestors’ strength surging through him as he gripped the hilt . . .

“Let’s make a start,” said Alekto. Her cheeks were flushed, her beautiful lips parted.

“Not yet,” Telamon said coldly. Squatting on his heels, he showed the prisoner the little amethyst falcon on his wrist. The slave’s face twisted with pain and grief. The sealstone had belonged to Pirra.

“Userref,” Telamon said quietly. “Tell me where you hid the dagger and I’ll give you a painless death. Your people will bury you with the proper rites and your spirit will join your ancestors. But refuse—and we will make you tell. Then we will fling your body to the crows and your spirit will be lost forever. So. Take the easy way.”

Again Userref’s eyes met his. Again he shook his head. Telamon was surprised that a mere slave could be so brave.

Behind him, Kerasher stirred. “Let us take him back to—”

“No,” said Telamon. “We’ve wasted enough time.” Rising to his feet, he glanced at Alekto. He was gratified to see that she was waiting for him to give the word. He was in command. The gods were with him. Soon the dagger of Koronos would be his—and this time, neither Hylas nor Pirra could stop him, for they were far away in Keftiu. Nothing could stop him now.

Putting his hands on his hips, he squared his shoulders. “Let’s get started,” he said.

“This is like no land I’ve ever seen,” muttered Hylas. “There’s nothing here.” Only the Sea lying stunned beneath the Sun, and this vast shimmering plain of endless red sand.

“It’s nothing like Egypt, either,” said Pirra. “Userref said Egypt’s got a huge river down the middle, and fields and villages and temples along the banks. He said . . .” She licked her lips. “He said that on either side of it there’s only endless red sand. He called it—deshret.”

“Desert,” said Hylas.

She met his eyes. “It’s where they bury their dead.”

Deshret.

The Sun was fiercer than he’d ever known, the air so hot it was like breathing smoke. Squinting in the glare, he scanned the quivering plain. No villages, no river. Just the odd clump of rocks and dusty scrub, and a twist of windblown sand whirling like a demon over the ground.

Far out on the Sea, their ship had dwindled to a speck. “They never intended to take us to Egypt,” he said bitterly. “They stole our gold and dumped us here to die.”

“They could’ve killed us and chucked us overboard,” Pirra pointed out. “And they did leave us our weapons.”

“What, so we’re lucky?”

“No, but we’re alive.”

She was right—but he wanted to rage and fling curses at those filthy, lying Phoenicians. For over a moon, he and Pirra had hidden in the Keftian hills with Echo and Havoc, desperately waiting for a ship bound for Egypt. When at last they’d found one willing to take them, it had been blown off course, and the crew had blamed them. “Foreigners bring bad luck,” the captain had declared. And who could be more outlandish than an Akean boy with strange tawny hair and a young lioness at his side, and a Keftian girl with a crescent-moon scar on her cheek and a falcon on her wrist?

Havoc padded past Hylas, then glanced back at him for reassurance. She still behaved like a cub, as if she hadn’t yet realized that she was nearly full-grown. After days of sea sickness, she was gaunt and bedraggled, and now besieged by flies. She stood panting, miserably twitching her ears.

Hylas untied the neck of the waterskin and poured a little into his cupped hand; and she slurped it up with a rasping lick that nearly took the skin off his palm. “Sorry I can’t give you more,” he told her. The waterskin was only half full. It wouldn’t last long.

“Maybe Egypt’s not far away,” said Pirra. “Rivers flow into the Sea, don’t they? If we walk along the coast, we might find it.”

“Unless we go the wrong way and end up heading deeper into the desert.”

Echo, soaring overhead, suddenly wheeled off across the plain. “Maybe she knows where it is,” said Pirra, watching the falcon fly.

Hylas didn’t reply. Echo could fly for days without water. They couldn’t. He could see Pirra thinking the same thing. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s dig a hole, see if we can find anything to drink.”

A searing wind flung grit in his eyes as they trudged up the shore. Sweat trickled down his back, soaking the coil of rope slung across his shoulder. He felt the ground burning through the soles of his rawhide sandals. Around him the heat danced, so that his shadow seemed to be moving on its own. There was a throbbing pain in his skull. He prayed that was only the glare, and not the ache he always got before a vision.

Fifty paces in from the Sea, they knelt and started digging with their hands. They dug as far as they could. Soon, moisture seeped into the bottom of the hole. Hylas tasted it—and spat it out. “Salt,” he said in disgust.

Pirra cast about her. “Berries on that bush over there. Can we eat them?”

Hylas blinked. He was an Outsider who’d grown up in the wild; he knew every plant in Akea. But he’d never seen this one. “I don’t know,” he said uneasily. “We can’t risk it, it might be poisonous.”

Havoc padded over to the bush and slumped down in its pitiful strip of shade, batting at the flies with her forepaws.

The bush gave an angry hiss.

Havoc scrambled to her feet and backed away.

Before Hylas or Pirra could take in what was happening, a snake shot out from under the bush. But instead of slithering off, it turned and rose up on the end of its tail—it swayed its flat black head from side to side, and spat at Havoc. She dodged. The jet of venom missed her eye and hit her nose instead. Hylas threw his knife. It struck just behind the head, pinning the snake to the sand. As it twisted and thrashed, Pirra finished it off with a rock.

A shaken silence.

Havoc sneezed and rubbed her muzzle in the sand. Hylas retrieved his knife and hacked off the snake’s head.

“Have you ever seen a snake do that?” panted Pirra.

“No,” he said curtly.

They exchanged glances. Killing the first creature they met had to be a bad omen. And for all they knew, this snake was sacred to whatever strange gods ruled this land.

Havoc was patting the carcass with a curious forepaw. Hylas pushed her aside and wiped the last of the venom off her nose with the hem of his tunic.

“D’you think we can eat it?” said Pirra.

“I don’t know,” he muttered. Anger tightened his throat. “I don’t know!” he cried, lashing out at the bush with his knife. “I don’t know these plants or these creatures! I don’t know if we can eat these berries, and I’ve never seen a snake stand on its tail and spit!”

“Hylas, stop it, you’re frightening Havoc!”

The young lioness had retreated behind Pirra’s legs, and was staring at him with her ears back.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

Havoc came over and rubbed her furry cheek against his thigh. He scratched her big golden head, as much to reassure himself as her.

“When I first met you,” Pirra said levelly, “we were stuck on an island with no food and no water. But we survived.”

“That was different.”

“I know, but if anyone can survive out here, it’s you.”

Echo swept down onto Pirra’s shoulder and gave a lock of her dark hair an affectionate tug. Pirra touched the falcon’s scaly yellow foot with one finger.

Havoc was gazing up at him, her great golden eyes full of trust.

“Right,” he said. “We’ve got half a skin of water, two knives, my slingshot, a coil of rope, and a dead snake. If we can eat it.”

“Animals know if something’s poisoned, don’t they?” said Pirra. “If Havoc and Echo think it’s all right . . .”

Hylas nodded. “Let’s find out.” Cutting a chunk off the tail, he tossed it to Havoc, then gave a smaller piece to Pirra, who held it in her fist. Echo hopped onto the rawhide cuff Pirra wore on her forearm, ripped the meat to shreds, and gulped it down. Havoc was already crunching hers messily to bits.

“Looks like it’s all right,” said Pirra.

“And there might be fish in the Sea,” said Hylas.

She gave him a wry smile. “And the Phoenicians didn’t get all the gold. I hid a necklace under my tunic—so if we can find someone selling food, we’ll be fine!”

He snorted a laugh.

It was nearly noon. The heat was unbearable.

“Havoc had the right idea,” he said. “We’ve got to get out of this sun.”

Pirra pointed up the coast, where a rocky outcrop shimmered in the distance. “Might be a cave among those rocks.”

“Let’s go.”

Hylas felt a bit better. But as they started toward the rocks, he realized that finding Egypt, and Userref, and the dagger of Koronos, no longer mattered.

First, they had to stay alive.

They’d cut strips off their tunics and wet them in the Sea, then wound them around their heads. The sopping cloth had been wonderfully cool, but it soon dried, and now Pirra could feel the Sun hammering her skull. Her eyes were scratchy, her tongue was a lump of sand. She thought she kept hearing the trickle of water, but there wasn’t any. Only the deathlike silence of the desert.

Hylas stumbled along beside her, squinting and rubbing his temples. She worried that he might be about to have a vision. What would he see? Ghosts? Demons? If it happened, he would tell her when he was ready, but she’d learned not to ask. He hated talking about it. “It’s frightening and it hurts,” he’d said once. “I never know when it’s going to happen. I just wish it would stop.”

The outcrop of big red boulders wasn’t getting any closer. She wondered if it was really there, or just a trick of the gods.

A trick of the gods . . .

She halted. “Hylas, we’re doing this all wrong.”

“What?” he croaked.

“Whatever gods rule this place, they won’t help us till we’ve made an offering.”

Hylas looked at her, appalled. “I can’t believe I forgot.”

“Me too. We should’ve done it as soon as we got ashore. We won’t make it if we don’t.”

Hylas wiped the sweat off his face and tossed her the lion claw he wore on a thong around his neck, while she took off Userref’s wedjat eye amulet, which she’d worn ever since Keftiu. Muttering a swift prayer under her breath, she found a clump of scrub and tucked the snake’s head in its branches. It would be safe from Echo, who’d flown off to hunt; and Havoc was plodding ahead and hadn’t noticed. After touching both amulets to the offering, Pirra stumbled back to Hylas and handed him his lion claw.

“Who did you offer to?” he said as they resumed their trudge.

“The Goddess for me, Lady of the Wild Things for you, and two of the most powerful gods of Egypt.”

“Who?” He was scanning the ground for pebbles for his slingshot.

Heru—He has a falcon’s head—and Sekhmet, She has the head of a lioness. I remembered them because of Echo and Havoc.”

Hylas slipped a pebble into the pouch at his belt. “Are there more?”

“Lots. Userref used to tell me stories when I was little . . .” She broke off. Userref had looked after her since she was a baby, and she missed him terribly. For fourteen years he’d played with her and scolded her, tried to keep her out of trouble, and told her all about his beloved Egypt. He was far more than a slave. He was the big brother she’d never had.

“Pirra?” said Hylas. “What are the other gods?”

“Um—there’s one with the head of something called a jackal, I think that’s a kind of fox. And one like a river horse—”

“A what?”

“They’re very fat, with a huge snout, and they live in the river. Also there’s a god like a crocodile, whatever that is.”

He frowned. “When I was a slave down the mines, there was an Egyptian boy, he talked about crocodiles. He said they’re giant lizards with hide tougher than armor, and they eat people. I thought he was making it up.”

“I’m pretty sure they’re real.”

He didn’t reply. He was squinting at the outcrop, which was now only forty paces away. “Your eyes are better than mine. Can you see people clambering about?”

Pirra’s heart leaped. Through the shimmering air, she glimpsed tiny dark figures moving among the rocks. “The offering worked!” she croaked. “We’re saved!”

The nearer they got, the more uneasy Hylas became. Those people moved astonishingly fast—but they were scrambling about on all fours.

He grabbed Pirra’s arm. “Those aren’t men!”

She shaded her eyes with her hand. “What are they?” she whispered.

They looked like a cross between men and dogs: covered in dense grayish brown fur; with thick tails; long, powerful arms; and narrow, bony red faces.

Hylas wondered if they were demons. But although he felt dizzy, and the rocks and even his shadow trembled in the heat, there was no burning finger stabbing his temple, as there always was when he had a vision.

Suddenly, he felt watched.

“Look,” breathed Pirra.

To their right, twenty paces from where they stood, one of the creatures crouched on top of a solitary boulder. It was bigger than the others; Hylas guessed it was the leader. He saw its massive chest matted with blood, its heavy brows overhanging small yellow eyes set very close together. Glaring at him.

“Don’t run,” Hylas said quietly. “Don’t turn your back on it or it’ll think we’re prey.”

Slowly, they began to edge backward.

The creature bared huge white fangs and uttered a harsh rattling bark. It sounded horribly like a signal.

Behind it, the other creatures had clustered at the base of the outcrop. They glanced up at their leader’s barks, then went back to their kill. Hylas glimpsed the carcass of a large white buck with a long spiral horn. He saw strong man-like hands snapping its ribs, ripping open its belly, and clawing at glistening guts. One of the creatures grabbed the buck’s hind leg and twisted it off as easily as if it had been a quail’s wing.

On its boulder, the leader swung around, barking furiously. It wasn’t barking at Hylas and Pirra.

Hylas’ belly turned over.

Havoc was sneaking toward the carcass, intent on scaring away the creatures and seizing their prey, as she might scare away foxes or pine martens.

But these were no foxes.

“Havoc, come back!” shouted Hylas.

The young lioness knew her name well enough, but she ignored it. She hadn’t been fed much on the ship, and a few chunks of snake weren’t enough to blunt her hunger. The smell of fresh meat was agonizing.

“Havoc, come back!” yelled Hylas and Pirra together.

Havoc broke cover and charged, snarling and lashing out with her forepaws. But instead of scattering, the creatures raced toward her, barking furiously and gnashing their fangs. And now more of them were emerging from caves higher up, streaming down to join the attack, and the leader was hurtling over the sand at a dreadful shambling run.

Hylas and Pirra ran after him, Hylas yelling and firing pebbles with his slingshot, Pirra flinging whatever rocks she could find.

Havoc realized her mistake, turned tail, and fled. Hylas and Pirra did the same.

As he ran, Hylas glanced over his shoulder. The creatures weren’t coming after them. They were leaping up and down at the foot of the outcrop, beating the ground with their fists.

Their leader sat on his haunches, glaring at the intruders who had dared approach his stronghold: Stay away! Don’t come back!

Baboons,” panted Pirra some time later. “I knew Userref had mentioned them, I just couldn’t remember the name.”

“Is there a baboon god too?” gasped Hylas.

“I think so. They’re incredibly clever and not afraid of anything.”

“I could see that for myself!”

The Sun would be down soon, but the heat was still fierce. They had backtracked all the way down the shore, past where the Phoenicians had left them and where they’d killed the snake, and were now warily approaching another clump of boulders that looked as if it might provide shelter. If it wasn’t full of baboons.

With his slingshot, Hylas pelted the outcrop with pebbles.

No angry barks, no vicious dog-men swarming out to attack.

Telling Pirra to wait, he climbed toward what appeared to be the mouth of a cave, flinging rocks as he went, to flush out anything hiding inside. A couple of bats flickered out of the darkness, but nothing else.

“It’s clear,” he called down. Dropping his gear, he crawled inside. It was stifling, but any shade was a relief after the Sun.

Pirra crawled in too, and slumped onto her side. Her face was filmed with dust and sweat. When she peeled off her sandals, the thongs left her feet marked with red stripes.

The Sea wasn’t far away, but they were too exhausted to stagger down and wash. What strength Hylas had left, he would need for setting snares.

He went outside again. From this vantage point, he saw a low rocky ridge not far off, and beyond it, the endless red desert, stretching to the end of the world.

The wind carried weird yelping calls. He wondered if they were jackals. He guessed that whatever creatures lived in the desert would hide from the Sun and come out at night. That was why Havoc, feeling the onset of dusk, had plodded off to hunt. Hylas only hoped she had the sense to stalk lizards or hares—if there were any—and stay away from baboons.

Behind him, Pirra coughed, and clawed at her dust-caked hair. “How much water’s left?”

Hylas hefted the waterskin, then set it down again at the mouth of the cave. “Enough for a day. Maybe two.”

She took that in silence, running her tongue over her chapped lips.

“We’ll rest for a bit,” he said, “but we can’t sleep here all night.”

“Why not?”

“The Sun, Pirra. We made a mistake, walking in daylight. From now on, we’ll have to move by night, or we’ll burn up.”

“And go where?” she mumbled. “West again, and hope we can sneak past those baboons? Or keep going east, and pray that the river’s this way?”

Hylas didn’t answer. Neither sounded like much of a plan.

Taking what was left of the snake from his belt, he chucked it to her. “I’ll go and gather some of that scrub and wake up a fire.”

She glanced at the mangled carcass. “I’m not hungry.”

“We need to eat. It’ll taste better cooked.”

The Sun was a bloody ball of fire sinking toward the horizon, but the heat was still crushing. As Hylas picked his way down the rocks, the ridge before him danced in the heat, and behind him, his shadow, stretching over the stones, was weirdly misshapen.

“What happens if we don’t find anything,” called Pirra. “Just more and more desert?”

“I don’t know,” he replied.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his shadow take on a life of its own.

It took Hylas a moment to realize that it wasn’t his shadow, it was a boy, as dark as a shadow.

But by then the boy had snatched the waterskin and fled.

The thief sped toward the ridge with the waterskin over his shoulder. If he got among those boulders, he’d be gone for good.

Hylas raced after him, whirling his slingshot over his head. The thief fell with a yelp, clutching his shin. Hylas jumped him and tried to pin him by the arms, but he was strong, twisting around and aiming a knee at Hylas’ groin. Hylas dodged, jabbed an elbow at his throat. With a choking cough, the thief squirmed out from under him. Hylas grabbed his hair, but it was short as a shorn ram’s; he couldn’t get a grip. The thief scrambled to his feet and whipped a flint knife from a sheath strapped to his upper arm. Slashing the air before him, he backed toward the boulders—still with the waterskin over his shoulder.

“Drop the waterskin!” panted Hylas, drawing his own knife and showing the thief its lethal bronze blade. “I don’t want to kill you but I will!”

The thief snarled something in a tongue Hylas didn’t know and edged closer to the boulders.

Pirra ran around to cut off his escape. The thief flung out a hand and sent her flying, then fled for the rocks with Hylas in pursuit.

Suddenly Hylas caught movement on the ridge—and there was Havoc, gazing down at the thief. The thief howled in terror and sped sideways. In two effortless bounds, Havoc was on him.

“Throw away your knife!” yelled Hylas.

“I’ll try it in Egyptian,” shouted Pirra, then yelled something Hylas couldn’t understand.

Havoc lay on top of her quarry, playfully batting his head between her forepaws while he flailed like a beetle on its back. Luckily for him, she wasn’t in earnest and had sheathed her claws.

“If you don’t throw away your knife,” snarled Hylas, “I’ll tell my lion to bare her claws!”

With a hiss, the thief tossed his knife aside. Hylas kicked it out of reach, then grabbed the waterskin and chucked it to Pirra. “Seems he does understand Akean after all.”

“What’s your name?” Pirra demanded in Akean.

The boy merely glared at her.

She said something in what Hylas guessed was Egyptian. Still no response. She flung up her arms. “Why doesn’t he answer?”

“Because it’s safer to say nothing,” said Hylas. “It’s what I’d do in his place.”

They’d dragged him back to the cave, Pirra having run and fetched the rope, with which Hylas had tied his arms. Night had fallen with startling suddenness, and they’d woken a small scrubwood fire. The thief huddled at the back of the cave, eyeing Havoc, who sat at the entrance, snuffing his scent. He seemed wary, but no longer terrified—which meant he was either brave, or a fool. Something about his bearing told Hylas that he wasn’t a fool.

He seemed to be about Hylas’ own age, and his skin wasn’t black, as Hylas had thought, but the rich dark brown of polished walnut wood. Hylas had never seen anyone so dark. His wiry black hair clung close to his skull, and lines of straight ridged scars on his high cheekbones seemed to have been done on purpose. His horny feet were bare, and he wore nothing but a rag tied around his hips. His jagged flint knife was familiar enough. Hylas had carried a similar one for most of his life; but thrust in his belt was a bent piece of wood like two sides of a triangle. Hylas had never seen such a weapon.

With a jerk of her head, Pirra drew him aside. “D’you think there are others like him out here?” she said.

“Let’s hope not,” he muttered, “or we’re in even more trouble than we thought. But what is he? He’s not Egyptian, I know that much. Have you ever seen skin that dark?”

She nodded. “Sometimes they come to Keftiu to trade. They’re desert people, from a country near Egypt. Incredibly tough, amazing archers. But they’re supposed to be brave,” she added loudly, so that the boy could hear. “Only a coward would steal our waterskin.”

That had its effect, and the boy glowered at her.

Putting her head close to Hylas’, she dropped her voice to a whisper. “What do we do with him? We can’t leave him tied up, but if we let him go . . .”

Hylas went and stood over the boy. “Are you alone?” he said brusquely.

The boy turned his head away. The muscles of his arms bulged as he clenched his fists.

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