High up in the island’s mountains, a shepherd boy looked out over his flock. They were resting in what shade they could find from the heavy heat of noon. The boy rested too, on dry grass under a rustling olive tree.
Below him, he could see the whole valley. Cypresses pierced the sky like spearpoints. The hillside he sat on was tawny, parched like an old lionskin.
The boy’s name was Corydon. He had been an outcast for almost as long as he could remember. He was always alone.
There was something about his body, something that made him different. It was lucky, for a shepherd, but it had always been bad luck to him. His own mother had helped to chase him from the village, to the desolation of the Pharmakos Rock. “You belong there!” she had screamed.
His mother’s fury was part of the boy’s flickering memories of a past different from his present. They mostly came in dreams. When he was awake, he tried not to remember.
When he dreamed of the time of pharmakos, what he remembered was the food. Figs, the dry, crisp husks of barley embedded in the good bread, and the soft white tang of cheese, as good as the cheeses he now made himself. He remembered the peppery green glistening streams of olive oil. The sweetness of the honey and how it overpowered his mouth, making his teeth hurt. It was the only time he’d had enough to eat in his whole life.
Months of food. But with the food came a sly kindness that he felt was all wrong. It was like when boys trick one of themselves into being the butt of a joke.
Then the terrible moment had come.
He pushed the memory away. He forced himself to think about something else.
Kleptis, for instance. Or sheep-stealing, really. No one called it that, though.
Kleptis was the only thing Corydon had ever been good at.
The boys of his village–the older ones–liked to go out and take a sheep or a lamb from someone they didn’t much care for. Someone who had shouted at them for playing noisily during a sacrifice, for instance. Corydon had loved to go with them. He loved the cool walk through the moonless night, the excitement of creeping up to the flock, the stealthy and dangerous business of grabbing one sheep without disturbing the whole flock and alerting the shepherd. Corydon had often been the one doing the grabbing. Somehow, the sheep seemed to treat him almost as one of themselves. He’d even taken goats, the hardest animal of all to
steal. And once he’d been on a daytime raid, deadly dangerous, because the shepherd being victimized would beat any boy he caught. Corydon remembered how he’d managed to snag twin lambs and to carry them to the koumos, a scrabbled hole of stones in the hillside. He had dumped the lambs in the hole and covered them with pine branches, working frantically, hearing the belling of the shepherd’s dog. . . . He had been terrified. But the older boys had clapped him on the back and had given him the best pieces of the stolen meat. Later, the village headman had forced them all to make up with the man whose sheep they’d stolen; they’d all gone off to the altar of Zeus and sworn an oath of friendship, between clenched teeth.
It had been this man who had said, first, that Corydon should be the pharmakos. The scapegoat.
And the boys who had helped him become an adept kleptis had been among the \first to throw things at him on the day of the pharmakos.
But they had also been his salvation. Kleptis had kept him alive, given him a life.
It had taken him a while to build up his small flock of sheep. But after the pharmakos time, he had been left bare on the hillside, with nothing between him and death but the knowledge he had. And because of his days as a kleptis–or perhaps because of something in himself–he had a way with the grazing beasts of the hills. He could scramble and clamber down cliffs and along ledges and down sinkholes, nimble as a goat, to places where other shepherds had been forced to abandon sheep because they were not so agile as he was.
And often, gloriously, he stole his animals. Lambs, ewes. Revenge on those who had cast him out was sweeter even than the meat he devoured.
Now he prized his animals fiercely. They were his livelihood and his friends.
As he looked them over, he saw that the sheep farthest down the mountain were startled by something moving below them, something that was itself climbing, something they feared. As the frightened sheep moved faster, he noticed that the panic was spreading, so that the whole flock began hurrying over the rocks,
slithering in the light, dry grass, heading uphill.
Whatever it was moved below the hazel thicket.
As his favorite ewe rushed past, her heavy belly full of lambs, Corydon scrambled to his feet and ran after her. He wondered what had scared them so–wolves? Bear? He fumbled for his only weapon, a small slingshot he had made himself. The leather had dried a little, but it still held one neat stone. He ran, stumbling a little, and turned around, ready to hurl his stone at whatever was
menacing his sheep far below.
He saw that there were many of the menacing things. They were half hidden in the hazel thicket, making it rustle and tremble.
Wolves, then. Bears did not hunt in packs.
As he looked down, he saw that one of the attackers was larger than the others. Perhaps it was the leader. He decided to aim at it. Whirling the sling around his head, he flung the stone toward the shadowy figure. As it came out of the shade of the trees, he gave a great start. This was no wolf, but something huge, something metallic that caught the light. Surrounding it were men, more men than he had ever seen together on the hillside, at least six of them, and a whole train of carts, each cart burdened with what looked to the boy like giant metal houses. His stone had bounced off the largest of these.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Corydon and the Island of Monsters by Tobias Druitt. Copyright © 2006 by Tobias Druitt. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.