cow.â âNo, no, I mean it is born of a giant, a wanderer. They say some have been seen in these parts.â
âDid you say a giant?â
âIt has to be. How else could the faces be human?â
âYou are telling me some Etlantian monster has journeyed all the way from the mother city just to fornicate with one of my cows?â
âI have heard some odd things come out of you, boy, but this one is simply too strange for comment.â
âBut look at it! The teeth! Look at the teeth! You do know the curse of Enoch?â
âYou listen to me, boy, this here, this is god-awful. It is a poor bastard breech two-headed calf, but nothing more, and there is no name for it other than pitiful. Now gather some kindling and burn it.â
âI said to burn it. Have you lost your hearing as well as your mind?â
âWe have to get a priest. We have to get a priest up here, Father.â
Lamachusâs face went red. âWhat? Have you gone utterly mad? That damned half-witted priest would be slaughtering my cattle and cutting off privates from all my prime bulls before the sun could set. Lord spare us, just what I need, as if life were not already trial enough.â
âOne of the giants, a flesh eater, has been here and could still be here.â
âHaving sex with my cows? Boy, you speak another word, and you will be picking yourself up off the ground. Now gather what few senses you have, and once youâve managed that, burn this miscarriage and say nothing more about it. Nothing! To anyone. Do you understand me?â
Aeson was still staring at the steaming blood and flesh.
âI said, did you understand me?â
He finally looked up. As terrifying as the stillbirth was, the expression on Lamachusâs face was even more so. âYes,â Aeson answered quickly. âYes, I heard you, Father.â
âGood, good, that is progress. Hope. Now burn this thing, scatter its ashes, and then forget you ever saw it. In fact, best you forget the whole day; imagine you were too sick to get out of bed this morning.â
Lamachus mounted, gave Aeson a stern glance of warning, then put his heels to his horseâs sides and left at a gallop for the cottage.
Alone, Aeson stared at the mutation and felt sick in his stomach. He kept thinking it was going to move. He looked around at the hills, the far line of trees, fearing something might be watching; come for its child. When he turned back, the eyes of the face nearest him were open. They were dead, opaque eyes staring right at him, and he knew they had been closed moments before.
It was late when Aeson came home. He was blackened with ash and smelled of burnt flesh. Camilla looked up, astonished. She had bread cakes waiting, with goatâs milk and cheese.
âLord!â his mother exclaimed. âAeson, have you been in a fire?â
Aeson nodded. He splashed water from the washbasin onto his face. âI had to burn something.â
âYou look exhausted.â
Camilla glanced at Lamachus, who sat near the back wall in his oaken chair with a clay mug of grog on its armrest.
âYou are working the boy too hard, Lamachus.â
âMaybe I have not worked him hard enough. Seems he has got too much time to imagine on things that are nonsense.â
âFather, we should have â¦â He paused, catching Lamachusâs grim expression of warning.
âWhat?â dared Lamachus.
âMaybe we should have at least had it washed.â
âWhat is he talking about?â asked Camilla.
âNot your concern, woman,â Lamachus answered, shifting in his chair. âYour boy is soft in the head. Tell you what, Aeson, you return to the field, open your breech, and void your piss upon the ash. That should wash it, cleanse it, and curse it all in the same breath. Then our souls can rest the night in peace, ah? You think?â
Aeson stared back,