He is tackled, brought down like prey on the Burial Mound Road.
He struggles like a civet in a net, wild, scratching, biting. He is
small compared to the man who is pinning him but he is athletic, strong
like a small animal is strong. All sinew, speed, panic. The assassin
is surprised by the boy’s strength, surprised he did not consider it
before, add it to his plans. He had seen the boy dance. Fool, he
thinks to himself.
The second surprise is the boy’s scent. It makes no sense to the
assassin at first why, in the rage that always precedes a kill, he is
bathed in delightful fragrance. Later he will realize that the priests
have bathed the boy in holy oils- hyssop, myrrh, lotus blossom, cherry.
But here, in the act of murder, his senses reel with confusion. The
scent is sensual, expensive, sacred, and innocent. He fills his lungs
with it, how can he not? His exhale is a sigh, a bizarre thing in light
of what he is here to do.
Release. Re-pin. His signature. It has yet to fail him. The boy has
spun himself onto his back in the release. Now the assassin is crushing
the air from his lungs, weakening him quickly. He sits up, grips the
boy’s hips between his strong thighs and knees, smashes his left
forearm down into the boy’s chest and slips his gold handled dagger up
to rest against a tan silk throat.
“Quiet, little cat.” His Minoan still maintains a Hittite accent.
But the phrase, in Minoan, forms a hiss all the same. He is a baritone
giant compared to this lithe creature, and he is quite aware of how
terrifying he can be. His is a deadly face, obsidian-eyed, oddly pale
skin for this climate, which makes the black, jeweled eyes even more
terrible. A square jaw, thickly muscled neck, and bullish shoulders.
The very features that draw the women to him, his hot, black eyes, his
strong brow and chin, his massive chest and arms and thighs, are the
features that frequently paralyze his prey with fear. But this boy is
far from paralyzed until he feels the cold blade against his larynx.
Then he freezes, and in a panic, lifts his eyes to those of the
And Rush, as if knocked from a horse, is stopped cold.
The boy peaks his brows, struggling to gulp the lungful of air allowed
him by the man's hesitation. Then he opens his mouth and yowls like a
tiger cub plucked from its mother’s teat.
Rush blinks down at the boy, clearing his vision in the dust.
He has watched this dancer perform, he has taken his time with this
kill. He has studied the boy under torch light in the Great Hall of
Knossos. He has measured the symmetry of his dance against all others,
has stood in awe of the boy’s athleticism and balance and timing.
These things are burned into the assassin’s brain already. But he has
never been close enough to know that, without face paint, the boy is
even more beautiful. He has never actually looked into these striated,
blue-green eyes. The boy's wheat colored lashes are too long, too
thick. His mouth is too perfectly bowed, his teeth too even and
milk-white, except for the slightly longer incisors.
It is the face of a cat, some blonde feline treasure from Africa, from
Two parts of Rush, one a stranger to him, are in hand-to-hand combat.
And Rush the Assassin, the Terror of the Aegean, has lost his edge. He
is a dull blade, a prop. He cannot slice home.
And the boy is howling.
Rush slaps his left hand over the pretty Cupid’s bow mouth, cupping it
away from the teeth so that the boy cannot sink those incisors into it.
The blue-green eyes are riveted to his. The boy is struggling for
another lung full of air. His chest is heaving against the assassin’s
Rush breaks his second cardinal rule and eases up off the boy’s chest,
letting him take a natural breath. Even so, the boy renders a
whimpering cough and for a moment Rush fears that he has caused some
permanent damage. Insane! He should have the boy's head by now.
He utters a Hittite oath, pulls himself to his feet, the dancer in his
hands. He throws the thrashing body over his shoulder and trots down
the embankment to the spot he had planned to leave the lower portion of
the corpse. By the time he has reached it, the boy has torn at and
bitten his back, bringing up bloody welts and bite marks that will last
Rush tosses him to the ground, eager to remove the nipping and
scratching teeth and nails from his now raw back.
“Run and I will break your legs,” he says in Greek. “Cut off your
head and leave the rest for the wild dogs to eat. I only need your head
to prove you dead.”
The boy has landed on his rump, and with this news, which he can just
decipher, having learned some Greek from the merchant who sold him to
Crete, his startling eyes widen as he shakes his head “no” and drops
his gaze down and to the left in the universal slave sign of submission.
He does not look up again, not even when the man grabs him up and out of
the brambles and takes his chin in his hand.
“Look at me.” He shakes the boy by the chin. Blonde curls fluff
prettily about the dancer's head and settle back into ringlets.
“Look at me again, damn you,” he growls in Greek and jogs the sharp,
newly bristling chin again. It would be comical, he would laugh
heartily if it were some other assassin and not he, Rush, who was
addressing the head he should have severed and should be carrying away
in a sack by now.
It’s those eyes! Those crazy, blue, gold and green eyes. He must be
regarded by those eyes again. He will, by God! Then he will find his
wits and cut this cub down like a fawn.
The boy is trembling. His body is so perfectly and leanly muscled that
the curling golden hairs running down in a diamond from his solar plexus
to his loins are shimmering in the fading Mediterranean light with his
tremors. The assassin's eyes follow the movement involuntarily. He is
fascinated by so much gold. Golden down. Golden eyes, shot with blue.
Golden skin, golden hairs along the apricot-golden arms. The boy is
dipped in gold. In sunlight and honey.
He lifts his eyes to the face he is still holding. The boy's striated
blue-green irises reflect and scatter the twilight. They are almond,
perfectly almond and tip-tilted like a cat’s eyes, the honey-gold
lashes thick and straight like brush bristles. He wants to touch the
lashes. Are they as soft as they appear? Or bristly like the tiny
golden hairs along the boy’s sharp, symmetrical jaw line? He wants to
run his fingers along all these sparkling golden hairs.
He is Hittite by birth, but has never seen a foreigner like this one.
He has seen a green-eyed Ethiopian, a light skinned tribe of barbarians
from the north, but never this. Nothing so feline, yet human.
The boy’s face screws up into a scowl as he attempts in vain to free
his chin from the assassin’s fingers, which have become vice-like.
His golden brows furrow and a little noise escapes him again. Like an
animal his noises all seem to come from his clavicle, that secret place
where cats purr. The assassin amazes himself one more time by laughing
aloud. Is this a fox? Shape-shifted into a human form for the
amusement of kings by some bored, comedic god? He runs his broad thumb
across the boy’s girl-soft mouth.
“Shh-h. I cannot kill you. Be still and live, or bolt and meet my
blade.” He can see that the boy understands him, although this he has
spoken in Minoan. “You know some island tongue.” The boy nods
carefully. His eyes wander as he relaxes ever so slightly. They drop
to the assassin’s shoulders, chest. He swallows. Rush notices the
tight gold bracelet around his throat for the first time. There is
another around his waist. This is how they chain the slaves at night on
Crete, even the God-slaves. It serves two purposes, for if a slave
becomes too fat, he will cut himself in half with his own gluttony.
Rush has slipped a finger under the gold waist cuff, absently wondering
how tight the thing is, does it hurt him? But there is enough room even
for his thick index finger to slip back and forth between the cold metal
and the boy’s tawny belly, which is glossy with sweat but as hard as
“For you? Not kill?” the boy offers, struggling with the Minoan. He
looks back up into the assassin’s face hopefully.
“Mother god,” the assassin mutters, pushing the boy out of his own
reach suddenly. “I cannot kill you, nor can I take you for myself.”
The boy catches his balance and takes a few careful steps backwards.
“I am an assassin for the court of Cyrus, you understand?” Rush says
The boy nods.
“I am ordered and paid to cut off your head and bring it to Cyrus, so
that Knossos loses his corn, his grain, and so his army. Kill the
golden dancer of Knossos. These are my orders.”
The boy's eyes are saucers.
“Do I think it will work? Do I think separating a head from a torso
will solve Cyrus’ problems with Knossos?” Rush absently stuffs his
blade back into his belt. “Bring Knossos to his knees? Bring a
plague of locusts on his wheat? No I do not. But Cyrus has not paid
for my opinion. Only for your head. Because I am the best. A man must
enjoy his work to be the best. Until now,” he waves his hand at the
boy gruffly, “I have always enjoyed what I do.”
The boy takes a step back. He is wicked fast and quite capable of
out-running this hulking Hittite if given a few yards leeway, and he has
been stealing these, inch by inch, as the assassin muses. He is taking
deliberate, circular breaths, eyeing a clearing to his right which he
knows opens onto a path that will take him quickly back to the Bridge
Road and so, back into the city.
The assassin chuckles at him. “If I want you dead you will be dead,
little cat. You may outrun me but not my dagger.” He gestures to the
blade he has returned to his hip. The boy’s multi-colored eyes drop
to the dagger and remain there. Rush watches as his silken chest rises
and falls in that purposeful pant. So he is willing to take his chances
with the accuracy of a flying dagger from the hand of a marksman, though
a moment before he offered himself to the same murderer in exchange for
his life. He is not a little fascinated by the boy’s nerve.
“You do this before the dance, yes? You take in air.” Rush has
lapsed back into Minoan. He thumps his own brutish chest. “You pant,
for air, for strength.”
The boy flicks his eyes back up to the assassin’s face.
“To dance,” Rush says again in Greek. He is startled now only by
the gentleness in his own baritone voice.
The boy cocks his head at him. “Dance?” he repeats the Greek word.
His voice, in strange contrast to his features, is dark, dusky. There
is something wrong with his tongue.
Then the boy does a startling thing. He lowers his body, softly, to the
earth, in a full and supremely elegant bow before Rush. At the bottom
of this feather-soft motion his arms extend, palms up, his fingertips
touching the ground. His golden curls fall to cover one knee. One
would salute a king, were one graceful enough, with no greater show of
humility. Certainly, no one has ever offered such a salute to an
It is the boy’s final bow, his bow to the King at the end of his
The gesture, with its elegant respect, twists a dagger of unlikely
emotion in the assassin’s belly. His throat tightens.
The boy lifts his head. He looks up, directly into the assassin's eyes.
The assassin hesitates for only a second. But it is enough time for the
dancer to leap, as on springs, to his feet, pivot, and sprint away up
the path like a deer.
He is two kilometers from the Villa of Mochlos when he escapes Rush. He
runs the distance at top speed and approaches the gate breathless and
spent. He is let in by two junior priests who demand to know why he is
acting like an idiot, why he is embarrassing the house of Mochlos with
disgraceful behavior. A holy dancer must always conduct himself in a
manner that is befitting his station and the boy had better understand
this and behave accordingly or he will be flogged to within an inch of
The household has been instructed to speak Greek when addressing the
boy, for he has only a smattering of Minoan, and Mochlos has learned
from experience that it is prudent to keep god-slaves in the dark,
though the boy’s personal attendants, Aros and Pyrus, ignore the rule.
These two priests are Minoan and the boy is unable to express himself
sufficiently in that language to describe the attack. In his panic he
has developed a stutter and this, coupled with his mangled tongue, makes
him sound quite retarded to the priests. His story is brushed aside. A
man? What man? Where is he now, did he not follow you? Why were you
still running, you silly fool? There is no one chasing you. You have
imagined the whole episode. Now go to the shrine of your god and bathe
and ask forgiveness for your mischief. You are trying to avoid your
obligation to visit the mounds, that is all. You want us to believe
that a ghost followed you home from the cemetery, eh? Do you think we
will believe you were attacked by a ghost just because we are priests?
The boy is frustrated, but happy to go to the baths, which are deep in
the sanctuary of the house. He does as he is told. When he arrives he
tells Tuma of the man that attacked him, but Tuma only chuckles and
shakes his head. “You will have to run fast on Crete, boy, if you
want to avoid what your giant had in store for you. You are going to
find that these Minoans lust for beauty and grace in either sex like no
other race on earth.”
That night the boy is visited by his dead sister. As always, he is in a
twilight state when she comes, conscious but completely paralyzed. He
awakens to a yellowish light as dawn crests the Aegean, and there,
standing to the left of the window and haloed in this light is a girl
his age. She is his twin but for her femininity, that is, she wears a
short white shift and her blonde hair reaches her waist. She is as
whole as any corporeal being except that the center of her face is gone,
eyes, nose, mouth hidden by a dark blur.
“Ahalai, my brother,” she says in the tongue they once shared.
“You must flee.”
Trapped, as always when she comes to him, and tormented by his own body,
which does not obey him but lies like a corpse on his pallet, the boy
attempts to speak, for she is fading.
“Ileah, don't go!” But he cannot make his tongue work before she is
The boy has no doubt that his dead twin has come to him from the land of
death with a grave warning, that she has come to save him from his own
otherwise certain death. But it is not a priest’s knife on the cliffs
of Juktas, nor the tidal wave which the bowels of Thera are already
preparing, that he imagines will take his life. It is the murderous
black eyes of Rush the Assassin he imagines. That horrible giant that
attacked him on the path to the burial mounds, whose clutches he escaped
by the breadth of a hair. He shudders, imagining again the monster's
impossible weight on him, crushing the wind from his lungs. He sees the
cold black eyes, center-less, the eyes of a shark, the oddly pale skin.
Most of all he remembers the man's lethal strength, pinning him as
easily as one might pin a moth by the wings. The boy starts when he
hears attendants enter Mochlos' bedchamber. He is covered in a fine
sweat when his own attendants, Aros and Pyrus, come somberly into his
room through the beaded drape.
“Poor baby,” says Aros, unchaining the boy and casting a miserable
glance at Pyrus. “You must come with us now. There will be no
“Those bastard priests have given the master a reason to. . .
discipline you.” Pyrus mutters close to the boy's ear so that the
others in the next room cannot hear him. “Now listen to me. The reed
is nothing, only pain. He will not allow you to be permanently scarred
with it. But when they put you in the drowning pool take several deep
breaths just before they force you down. Do not allow yourself to
panic. You must pretend, boy, and I have seen you can pretend. Thrash
for them as long as you can but be still before you begin to breathe
water. They will not let you drown.”
It is all Pyrus has time to say to him before several of Mochlos' junior
priests come for Rah and drag him down to the punishment chamber in the
bowels of the villa.
Excerpted from "The Grain God (Saga Of The Rah Series)" by Susan Shepherd. Copyright © 2011 by Susan Shepherd. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.