Read Immortal Online

Authors: Glenn Beck

Immortal (6 page)

Caspar asked, “Is this the place?”

Agios nodded. “Tomorrow I'll gather the frankincense—if some other collector has not found the grove.”

“I need enough to fill a vessel of one sacred
,” the scholar-king said. When Agios did not respond, he explained, “About twice the volume of an ordinary wine cup. That would be a gift worthy of the greatest of kings.”

“And how much was in my garment that Gamos took from me?” Agios asked.

“Perhaps a twelfth of what I need.” Caspar bowed his head. “I will recompense you for it. I did not mean for my men to steal.”

But you didn't offer to return it
, Agios thought. He watched Caspar as he touched the leather sack that he kept tied to his belt.

Krampus had not tried to escape, not once, and when he had been cleaned up and dressed in decent clothing, he no longer looked like a monster, but simply like an unfortunately ugly man. He could speak—not clearly—but could ask “Food? Water?” when he hungered or thirsted. And he could say “Agios.”

When the dawn came, Agios said, “Let Krampus come with me. There are dangers ahead. You'll be able to see us from here. If trouble comes, I'll call out. We will need a rope.”

“I'll go with you,” Gamos said.

“If you want.”

At first Krampus shrank from the rope, perhaps thinking he was to be tied again, but Agios showed him what he had to do—to stand with the rope wound around him and to let the slack out gradually as Agios descended the cliff. The man was strong. It was like clinging to a rope lashed to a stone pillar.

They bypassed the first two trees—the ones that Agios and Philos had already harvested—and came to one that grew so high on the cliff that, lying on his stomach, Agios could almost reach the top branches. He stretched out and squinted down at it and the libanos trees below, trying to see if the resin still clung there or if it had become too heavy and fallen. Enough of it gleamed dully to tell Agios that he could collect an amount from the trees that would satisfy Caspar.

“Doesn't look too hard,” Gamos said from beside him. The man had joined Agios on his stomach and as he spoke he stretched out his arm. One of the branches coiled and struck.

Agios knocked Gamos's arm away just in time. The serpent had barely missed him. It recoiled, looping its body around a branch, and hissed.

“Adders,” Agios warned. “Their bite is deadly.”

“By the gods!” Gamos muttered. “There are scores of them! What do they live on?”

“Birds. Small animals.”

“How did they get here?”

Bitterly, Agios said, “I put them here myself.”

He had brought a long pole, and he dislodged the first snake with it. The adder tumbled down, landing in a lower tree, where more snakes hissed and squirmed. Agios probed, but the highest tree held no more threat. “I'm going down,” Agios said. He made sure his short knife hung secure in its sheath at his belt. Before taking up the rope, he said, “You've been kind enough to me, Gamos. If I should die here, take care of this man Krampus. See that he's not mistreated.”

“I'll do my best.”

“Help him hold the rope. This is slow work.”

Krampus spread his legs and braced himself, the rope wound around his waist. Gamos took up the slack and stood ready to pay it out as Agios descended. Agios swung over the edge, braced his feet against the stone, and let himself down. The first tree only had a few nuggets of resin—the rest must have grown too dry and heavy and fallen to the valley below. Finding the remaining bits was a tedious job, and the strain of holding on to the rope made his shoulders ache, but Agios gathered the precious resin one-handed, storing it in a cloth bag slung to his belt.

He moved to the next lower tree. An adder looped around a low branch, and Agios moved very, very slowly as he cleared the higher ones. The snake suddenly struck, lightning-fast. Agios swiveled and caught it just behind the head. The furious serpent thrashed and hissed as he dropped it. It fell a long way down and died on the tumbled rocks below.

Agios's eyes stung with sweat. He worked as quickly as he could and cleared that tree, then another and another.

“I have it,” he called at last. They pulled him up until again he reached the highest tree. “Wait. Let me rest a while. I'll throw the bag to you before coming up.” With the rope taking most of his weight, he put his feet on the sturdiest branches of the tree and got ready to toss the pouch. Once that was done, it would be the work of a moment to pull his knife and cut through the rope. He would fall as Philos had fallen. He locked his jaw tightly. He would die, as Philos had, without a cry.

But as Agios drew back his arm to throw the sack of resin, something stopped him. A heart-wrenching wail came from the cliff top—his name, slurred and changed into a child's frantic plea for a parent. Krampus, who must be afraid for him.

“Throw it!” Gamos said. “I don't know if he'll hold on much longer—I don't think he understands. Throw it and come up!”

Krampus wailed again, and the rope felt as if the rescued slave were edging toward the cliff. Agios nearly lost his footing.

Gamos cried out furiously, “Get back! If you let him fall, I'll kill you!”

Krampus was yowling. What would happen to him if Agios let himself die? Pity moved Agios's heart, and he shouted, “Caspar! Caspar the Scholar!”

For a few moments there was nothing, and then Agios could see Caspar himself peeking over the side of the cliff.

“Do you have it?” Caspar asked.

“You know I do.”

“Throw it to me.”

“No,” Agios shouted back. “I want something from you.”

Caspar's eyes narrowed. “Your life is in my hands, friend.”

“My life means nothing to me.”

“Then what do you want?”


“What? This slave I bought?” Even at a distance, Agios could tell that Caspar was confused. “What do you want with him?”

“You don't want him! You said so. One silver piece wouldn't have bought a twentieth of the frankincense you took from me. Now I've gathered this.” Agios held the bag out. “Sell Krampus to me for what you took and for what I've done!”

Caspar stared at him, his lips pressed together shrewdly. “Tell me if you mean to harm him.”

“I intend to free him.”

Caspar's eyes went wide with surprise. “Then you are a better man than I had hoped.” Caspar nodded firmly. “He is yours.”

“Swear it to me.”

“I swear it.”

Agios could feel a tug on the rope as Gamos began to haul hand over hand. When he reached the lip of the gorge, he threw the sack at Caspar's chest. He strode to Krampus and took the rope from him. “I'm back. You did well. Come.”

Caspar's party walked all the rest of that day and into the night before they came again to the village. Two watchmen there let them enter the place—but one said, “Not this ugly brute.” He threatened Krampus with the point of a spear. Fury rose in Agios, and in one outraged movement he jerked the spear from the guard's hands and thrust the shaft hard against his throat. The man fell, sputtering, and Agios whipped around to face the second. He had his spear trained on Krampus and wasn't expecting the punishing blow to his knees as Agios used the weapon like a club.

“If you ever touch him again, I'll kill you.” Agios spat, standing over the wounded, uncomprehending men. Then he snapped the shaft of the spear over his knee and tossed the broken pieces at them.

Turning to Krampus, Agios looked him full in the eye. He wasn't sure if the giant could understand, but it didn't matter. “You and I will camp outside the village. Come,” Agios said. And Krampus followed.

Chapter 4

loathed how his owners treated that poor man,” Caspar told Agios after they had left the mountain and caught up to the caravan.

“If you didn't like it, why didn't you do something about it?” Agios asked. They were reclining in Caspar's tent, enjoying a light meal of honeyed cakes and figs from the groves near the base of the mountains. For all his size and clumsiness, Krampus ate very carefully, pulling off small pieces of the dense cake and then licking every crumb from his thick fingers. He stole the occasional glance at Agios, and each time Agios took time himself to smile a little. He wanted the big man to know that he meant no harm.

Caspar said, “I am not king here. And I am not a soldier.” He spread his hands, revealing palms soft and unlined, the hands of a man unaccustomed to heavy physical labor or the heft of a sword.

Agios didn't say anything, and Caspar clapped, ending the conversation. “Shall we see if we have met our mark?”

A servant hurried over and measured the frankincense in an ornate bronze cup. When the man nodded and reported, “More than full measure, sir,” the scholar smiled and glanced at Agios.

Agios returned his gaze. Beside him Krampus stirred restlessly. The flaps of the tent had been closed and it was getting hot and stuffy. At length, Caspar said, “You have done well, Agios. What compensation would please you?”

“Proof that Krampus is mine. You sold him to me, remember?”

“Of course,” Caspar replied. He whispered something to the servant, who disappeared through a fold in the tent. Moments later a scribe appeared. The scribe handed Caspar a square of paper—the rare Egyptian invention made of pressed reeds. “Here is his document. It says he belongs to you.” The scribe melted wax, and Caspar pressed his ring into the cooling surface. “I have sealed it with my own impression.”

Agios accepted the paper and rose. He motioned that Krampus should also stand, and the strong man scrambled up awkwardly, as though unused to having no fetters on wrists and ankles. Others in the caravan had demanded that Krampus be restrained, but Agios had prevailed. By now the merchants knew of Agios's skill, and they heard whispers that he had done a great service for a king. He was a hero of sorts, but he longed to be away from the press of people and their prying eyes.

Agios bowed his head, trying to find a word of farewell. He had not expected to return, had thought he would die on the mountain, but in accepting responsibility for the deformed slave, he had somehow tied himself to life again. But though Krampus would never again feel the bite of a whip, how were they to live—and where? Agios had no plans, and he hesitated.

Caspar had risen, too. “Of course you are free to go,” he said, as if sensing Agios's inner uncertainty. “However, I feel you have paid far too much for this slave's freedom. I am still in your debt, Agios, and I wish to reward you further. Now, tedious journeys still lie ahead for me. I wonder—would you accept service for a while longer?”

“I serve no man,” Agios said.

Caspar raised his hand. “Don't be so hasty. As I told you, I have two friends, scholars like me, who are joining me on a journey to where the new king will be found. Like me, they will carry precious gifts. We have no wish to travel in full panoply, with an army accompanying us, but in ordinary clothing, with only a few servants. Yet, with riches in our baggage, we need protection. You and your big friend—”

“His name is Krampus,” Agios said.

Caspar nodded gravely. “Very well. You and Krampus could act as our guards. You are cunning, and he is certainly very strong. If you escort us, I will reward you. I request no service beyond that, and I recognize that you and Krampus are both free men.”

Agios looked at Krampus. Caspar was offering them a purpose for at least the months of the journey. After that, maybe he and Krampus could find a place to settle far from haunting memories. “If our obligation ends once we arrive at your destination, we will accept,” he said.

“You will be well compensated,” Caspar assured him. “I know that my two friends will want to contribute, too. You will never have to face the dangers of harvesting frankincense again.”

It was more than Agios could have hoped for.

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