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Soldier of Sidon
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Soldier of Sidon

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Author: Gene Wolfe
Publisher: Tor, 2006
Series: The Soldier Series: Book 3

1. Soldier of the Mist
2. Soldier of Arete
3. Soldier of Sidon

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Genres: Fantasy
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Synopsis

Latro forgets everything when he sleeps. Writing down his experiences every day and reading his journal anew each morning gives him a poignantly tenuous hold on himself, but his story's hold on readers is powerful indeed. The two previous novels, combined in Latro in the Mist (Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete) are generally considered classics of contemporary fantasy. Latro now finds himself in Egypt, a land of singing girls, of spiteful and conniving deities. Without his memory, he is unsure of everything, except for his desire to be free of the curse that causes him to forget.


Excerpt

Chapter 1

I am to write everything that takes place on this scroll, as concisely as I can. I will try. I must read this every morning, too. Muslak will tell me. I must have Myt-ser'eu tell me also. Let me begin with the first things I remember.

We left the ship and searched for an inn, ate and drank there, and slept in the same room. It was crowded and some of us returned to the ship to sleep, although I did not.

I woke when the others did, awakened, I think, by their footsteps. We ate again, and Muslak told me his name and that he is the captain of our ship. "We're in Kemet, Lewqys, with a cargo of hides. This was where you wanted to go."

I said, "I have been trying to remember my name. Thank you."

"You couldn't remember it?"

I shook my head.

"That's bad. Your memory comes and goes. Now it seems like it's gone. Know why we're here?"

I said, "To sell the hides, I suppose."

"But what about you? Why are you here?"

I had thought myself one of his ship's crew. Clearly I was not, so I shook my head again.

"That settles it. I'm taking you to a healer. They have the best healers in the world right here, and you're going to see one." He rose and motioned to me, and I followed him.

We spoke about healers with the innkeeper and set off for the House of Life, near which they are found. Here I should say that this bustling city is called Sais.

It is of great interest. First, because it seems so strange. Second, because I feel that I have seen such a place long ago. It is familiar, in other words, yet seems very foreign.

The houses of the poor are thatched mud huts, so small that most ofthe things other peoples do in their houses must be done outside. They have no windows. Only a few are painted.

The houses of richer folk are very different and are gaily painted, most often green, blue, or both. Some are of mud brick, though their paint deceived me until we had walked some distance. Some are wood. Some are of mud brick at the bottom, with wood higher up. All are surrounded by walls that prevented me from seeing what was in their courtyards. Often these walls are yellow or ocher, though a few are orange or red. At first I thought there were windows on the second level alone. Then I recalled the room in which we had slept, how high it was. I think these rooms are like that. The doors of the houses are small and low, the windows small and near the ceiling. It must be because the sun is so hot here.

Before I write of the healers, I should say that all these houses have flat roofs, and that some of the houses really are of two levels, both lofty. There are gardens on the flat roofs. I have seen many flowers there, and even some palms. These must be planted in tubs. There are also triangular sails, or perhaps tents, always two and always back-to-back. The sailcloth is as bright as the houses. I wanted to ask Muslak what they were, but was afraid he did not know and did not want to embarrass him.

The first healer we spoke with was a tall, lean man, as many men are here.

"This fellow," Muslak said, indicating me, "is a mercenary officer who has served the Great King. He's a good man and a fine fighter, but he cannot remember his name. Every morning we must tell him who he is and where he is, and why he is here."

The healer rubbed his jaw. "Why is he?"

(I should write that this was not said in my own tongue, in which I write it, but in the speech of Kemet, which Muslak knows much better than I.)

"He saved me from slavery," Muslak explained. "The price he asked was to be returned to his home in Luhitu."

"You did as he wished?"

"I did, and the next time that we put in there I looked him up to see how he was doing. I hoped he had his memory back and would remember me. He was as bad as ever, but he had written Riverland' above his door. I talked to his wife, and she said it was to tell him he must go there again to find out what had happened to him. I asked some other people what it meant, and it is their name for your country."

"Ours is the Black Land," the first healer said. (Kemet is black in their speech.)

"I know. But other people have other names for it. Anyway, I told him we would go there to trade, and he was welcome to sail with us if he wanted to. His wife wanted to come along, too. I told her it was impossible -- a ship has to have special arrangements for women, and we didn't have them. She said she would come anyway.

I told her she would be in a lot of danger. You understand."

The first healer nodded.

"Somebody would lift her skirt, then kill her so she couldn't tell Lewqys. Because Lewqys would kill him sure. He's a terror with that crooked sword. When I was to be sold, they had two men guarding us, and he killed them both before they could draw breath."

"His wife is not with you?"

Muslak shook his head. "He came down to my ship in the harbor when we were nearly loaded, but he came alone. I think he must have written his law on her as soon as I left. But what's wrong with him? That's the point. Why can't he remember?"

"I was not merely inquisitive," the first healer explained. "A wife often knows things a man's friends do not. I hoped to question her."

He clapped his hands. "I want to consult a colleague of mine."

"You think we're all rich," Muslak said. "Let me tell you that it isn't so, and until I can sell my cargo I'll have very little."

A boy came, and the first healer told him to bring Ra'hotep.

While we waited, the first healer talked with me, asking my name. I gave it, and he asked how I knew it. I explained that Muslak had told me.

"Would your wife call you so?"

"I don't know," I said. "I did not remember that I had a wife until now."

"When we are born, we do not know how to talk. You remember how to talk, clearly."

I nodded.

"Also how to use your sword, from what your friend says."

I said that I did not know whether I knew or not, but it seemed plain how such a sword must be used.

"Just so. May I look at it?"

I drew my sword and offered it to him hilt-first.

"There is a word written here," he said, "but it is not in the true Thoth-inspired writing. I cannot read it. Can you?"

"Falcata," I said. "It's the name of my sword."

"How do you know that?"

I said I had read it on the blade this morning, which was a lie.

"If he were in the grip of a xu, he would not have handed me his sword," the first healer told Muslak. (I think this word must mean daemonin their tongue.) "Also, he speaks sensibly, and those who are in the grip of a xu never speak sensibly for long. Has he anything to gain by shamming?"

"Nothing," Muslak declared, "and he couldn't have deceived me for more than a day. Besides, he pretends to remember sometimes. He wouldn't do that if he were faking."

The first healer smiled. "So, Lewqys, you lie to us, do you?"

I said, "I suppose I do. All men lie at times, it seems to me."

"Oh, really? I would have said not. Who has lied to you recently?"

"I don't know."

While we spoke, the second healer entered. He greeted the first politely and took a stool.

"This foreign man forgets everything," the first healer explained. "His friend the ship-master has brought him to me. The disorder is of long standing."

Ra'hotep nodded, not looking at the first healer but very intently at me. He is shorter than Muslak, and perhaps twenty years older.

Muslak said, "Lewqys is a mercenary. He owns a farm in his own country. His relatives work it for him while he is away."

Ra'hotep nodded again in the manner of one who had reached a decision. "Was he like this when you met him for the first time?"

Muslak shook his head.

"Tell me of your first meeting."

"We were upriver. We'd sold our cargo and were looking for something elsepapyrus at a good price, cotton cloth, or whatever. He had found out that the satrap had sent troops to the Great King, not his own troops from Parsa, but Nubians and your people. He had a hundred men and tried to get the satrap to hire them too. He wouldn't -- he'd already sent the Great King what he'd asked for. I told Lewqys he'd have no trouble in Byblos -- that's my own city. They'd be snapped up there, and good money. He said he'd go, but he didn't have enough to hire my ship. He'd have to march overland."

"And did you, Latro?"

He was clearly speaking to me. I asked if that was also my name.

"It's the name I was given by your comrades when I saw you with the Great King's army. It took me a moment to recall it, but I'm...

Copyright © 2006 by Gene Wolfe


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