The Songs of the Kings by Barry Unsworth

By Barry Unsworth

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He was easily abashed when it came to speaking and had difficulty in finding words. ' 'Ah yes, I see. ' From the fabled spoils of the city the debt would be paid. A girl, a gold seal, a bronze tripod, a certain weight of amber or silver. It was a form of dreaming. In that great tide of plunder there could be no losers. He thought of the other tide, the one he had seen as the scented smoke rose to his nostrils and the voice came from below the ground in broken words and snatches of song. A flood of red between the banks and the armed bodies rolling in it like the tumbling of debris in the swollen waters of the Maeander River in early spring, which he remembered from childhood.

Both were equipped with the standard conical helmet with bronze cheek pieces and nose guards, and both carried the round oxhide shield and the heavy thrusting spear. But the Boeotian was more heavily armoured – he wore a tunic of leather with bronze shoulder plates, and he had chosen as his second weapon the short, broad-bladed stabbing sword. Stimon the Locrian had no sword, but he had a dagger slung low on his right side. For body armour he had nothing but a short coat of padded linen. The two men came together and turned towards the King, standing side by side, waiting for his signal.

He spoke carefully, knowing the other for an enemy who would destroy him if he had the power. He had been given a sign as to who would be the victor, but it would have been unwise to talk to Chasimenos about this, as it had been of an unusual kind and he had mentioned it to no one. The outcome of the fight was of course the only thing Chasimenos couldn't organize. He was a gifted and devoted administrator, meticulous to the point of obsession, which was why he held his senior position in the palace hierarchy.

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