The woman’s feet sketched patterns on the tiles: sweep, step, turn. She danced on the edge of the roof, with the boy above her, but the roof was only slightly peaked, not enough to make up for the difference in their heights. She still had to bend to clasp hands with him for a moment before spinning off again. He copied her movements, more clumsy but not slower, keeping up the rhythm of the dance.
“A story?” she said.
“About Eugenides!” he answered, breathless.
She laughed. “Which one?” Before he could answer, she began:
How the First Thief of Eddis Got His Name
After Hamiathes received his gift from Hephestia, he wore it ever afterwards hanging from a torc around his neck. He had a long and peaceful reign, and afterwards his son took up both his throne and his gift, and he reigned long and peacefully too.
His grandson was less fortunate. He married a goddess. In those days, it still happened sometimes that mortal men and women caught the wandering eyes of gods. So the goddess of the breezes that blew through the valley in the autumn married the king, and they had seven sons. And before she blew away again, she gave each of her sons a gift. To the oldest, who would be the next king, she gave prudence, and to the second she gave strength, and so on until the youngest. To her youngest son, she gave this: that whatever curse anyone spoke against him, it would strike against the speaker as well.
As the king’s sons grew, so did the second son’s jealousy of his eldest brother. He said, “I am the strongest, why should I not be king after our father?” And all the young men who were new spears with him agreed.
And then the king died--from accident or disease, in battle or otherwise--I don't know. And the king’s second son, with all the men who had been new spears with him and were now mighty warriors, came to his elder brother, and said, “Don’t you think, since I am the strongest, I should be king after our father?”
The king’s oldest son, being a prudent man, agreed, and gave Hamiathes’ Gift to his brother. So the king’s second son took both the Gift and the throne, but he was uneasy. As long as his elder brother lived, he knew that there would be those who thought that he ought to be king instead--and as long as his younger brothers lived, how could he be sure that they wouldn’t try to wrest the throne from him, as he had wrested it from his elder brother?
So he invited all of his brothers to spend the spring festival at a hunting lodge of his in a certain valley. And when they arrived, he and his warriors barred all the doors and windows, and set the lodge ablaze.
The king’s elder brother burned, and his younger brothers choked on the smoke or were struck down by falling roof beams. All except one. The youngest brother crawled the the wreckage, catching his breath in shallow gasps, praying all the while to the Great Goddess--which is the same prayer that ever afterwards the people of Eddis have said at the spring festival. He hid himself in the rocks while the valley burned, until the armed men ringing the hills above rode back for Eddis the city, and then he followed them.
The king’s youngest brother wasn’t a strong man, nor was he a prudent man. He saw the king going about his business--holding court, riding with his warriors, offering sacrifices to the gods--with Hamiathes’ Gift hanging at his throat, and he couldn’t bear the sight. So one night, when the king was asleep and his warriors had been at their wine, he crept into the palace by secret ways he had known as a child, and he stole Hamiathes’ Gift from the king’s bedchamber where it was kept.
The king awoke, but not quickly enough to catch the thief. Instead, he found his bedchamber empty, and Hamiathes’ Gift missing. And he said, “My curse on the one who has stolen my jewel--may his name be entirely forgotten.”
Then he called his warriors, and told them to search the palace for the thief, and they all said, “Yes, Your Majesty,” but not a single one of them could remember his name.
So the king knew that his youngest brother still lived, and that it was he who had stolen Hamiathes’ Gift. And since the king had no name that anyone could remember, he was afterwards simply called Eddis--and so it has been with the kings of Eddis ever since. And afterwards the kings of Sounis and Attolia also began to be called by the names of their countries, but the king of Eddis was the first, and that was how it happened.
The thief, in the meantime, found that he couldn’t leave the palace by the way he had come, for all the ways were watched. Eventually he was chased up to the palace roof, and as he heard the king’s warriors coming up behind him, with a prayer on his lips, he leapt.
He landed in the palm of the God of Thieves. “Why did you leap from the palace roof?” said Eugenides.
“I have stolen Hamiathes’ Gift,” said the thief. “If they catch me, they will throw me off the side of the mountain. This seemed like a shorter fall.”
“That’s true,” the god admitted, “but if I had not caught you you would have broken your neck all the same. Why did you steal Hamiathes’ Gift? There are fairer jewels, and ones less well-guarded, and if you had been caught with them you would have lost your hand at the worst.”
“Because,” said the thief, “my brother has taken the throne of Eddis by force, and he has killed all of our brothers save only myself, and when I see him going about his business with Hamiathes’ Gift as his throat, I cannot bear the sight. He ought not to have it.”
“The Great Goddess herself gave the Gift to Hamiathes,” said Eugenides. “Who are you, who thinks he can say who ought to have it, and who ought not?”
“I don’t know,” said the thief. “My brother cursed me that my name should be forgotten.”
“In that case,” said Eugenides, setting him lightly on the ground far from the shouting of the warriors, “say you will serve me, and you can have mine.”
“This roof?” said the boy, wide-eyed in wonder.
“Ah, who knows?” The woman’s skirts fluttered and were still as she settled herself on the tiles. “It was a long time ago, and it’s only a story. Away from the edge, kid-foot. Sometimes the god catches you, and then, sometimes he doesn’t.”