Two trees parted in the clearing, revealing an enormous bear. It stood on its hind legs and bared its mighty teeth.
Bostar fired an arrow into its hide, but the bear paid it no mind.
“Quick step, forward!” Hanno ordered.
The short phalanx progressed toward the bear, and the creature paused its roar.
The bear didn’t attack or move, not until the marines got within throwing range.
“Javelins!” Hanno shouted.
The front marines ducked and halted in the same instant that the row behind them hurled their weapons.
Blood sprouted from the bear as it roared in pain and fury. It fell on its thick front legs, snapping the javelins protruding from its chest, and ran at the phalanx.
The formation stayed firm, planting their feet and thrusting their spears. The bear’s momentum cracked a spear in half, but the marines maintained their ranks while Hanno and the second row stepped forward.
They hacked and jabbed at the enormous beast. Hanno sliced off its ear and the bear reared back.
The spears thrust at empty air. A hawk replaced the bear, bleeding feathers as it took flight.
Bostar hit it with an arrow and the hawk fell to the ground, where it shivered a moment before becoming a man.
He stood tall and naked but for his leather cloak, and put a hand to his bleeding head. The human seemed unharmed, but he lacked his left ear.
The beast-man screamed in high-pitched fury before darting into the trees.
“Hold formation,” Hanno commanded.
The ground shook. A one-eared rhinoceros stormed through the trees, lowering its long, pointed horn.
The marines’ javelins bounced off the beast’s thick hide.
“Side-step right!” Hanno ordered.
The phalanx maneuvered around the charging beast, and its thick legs spun in the attempt to reach the marines. Bostar landed an arrow into its meaty head, and it charged back into the trees.
A human voice shouted at them.
“He says this is my land,” Liva translated.
“Tell him he owes Carthage a debt of blood,” Hanno answered.
Liva spoke, and a bestial laugh echoed through the valley’s high cliff walls.
“He calls himself Gorillae, and he allows you to live as he sees fit,” Liva translated.
“Tell him Africa does not bow to beasts,” Hanno said.
“I won’t tell him that.”
“Tell him Hanno of Carthage does not tolerate raiders in his lands.”
The beast master spoke.
“He says only he speaks to the true power of this land, and you can either submit to it or die,” Liva translated.
The rhino reappeared at the tree line, and shook off Bostar’s arrows.
“You can’t fight this one, Hanno,” Liva warned. “Even if you do, it keeps disappearing into the woods and coming back uninjured.”
The beast dug in its front foot.
“Then I’ll take the land from it,” Hanno concluded.
He took the jug of oil from his pack and tossed it into the grass.
The beast charged.
Just before it reached them, Hanno threw Artemisia’s torch and ignited the oil-soaked ground.
Flames erupted in the valley and the beast reared in fright before the smoke and heat.
“More fire,” Hanno ordered. “All of the oil — now!”
The marines tossed their jugs onto the valley floor, adding to the spreading flame. Soon the entire valley roared with fires to match the fury of the beast, encircling him against the cliff-edged wall.
The marines spread out to use their torches. The Aethiopians screamed and dashed out of their caves while Hanno led a withdrawal from the mountain.
They watched the fire spread. They watched the flames grow tall.
They watched the valley of caves become a crucible of flame, the cavern walls glowing with heat.
Along with the smoke and ash, a giant hawk took flight. It screamed over the heads of the marines in its unbroken ascent before disappearing on the far side of the mountains.
The sky grew dark. The mountains turned red. Hanno stood with his uninjured marines, staring at the flames.
“What have you done, Hanno?” Liva gasped.
“I have stopped this Gorillae,” Hanno said.
“And destroyed the land!”
“No more places to hide,” Artemisia said. “Job well done if you ask me.”
“How is spawning fire and destruction a job well done?”
“You would rather we stayed behind and allowed such a threat to remain unchecked?” Hanno asked.
“Yes! You’ve murdered dozens!” Liva shouted.
“I did not murder them.”
“What do you call this?”
A bleating goat silenced the marines. They reformed their phalanx at the edge of the tree-line, and saw the images of men and goats silhouetted against the distant flames.
They came one by one, every single Aethiopian save their beast master, and stood still.
One of them spoke.
“He says the beast is gone,” Liva translated.
They walked toward Hanno.
“Tell them to stop,” Hanno insisted.
They didn’t listen. But they didn’t attack either. They simply drew close to the phalanx, walking with slow, uneasy steps.
“They say they are afraid of the man who can burn down a mountain,” Liva translated after they spoke.
“They should be. Kill them and be done with it. Our ships need their supplies,” Artemisia advised.
Hanno held his palm down to keep his men still.
“They can fear or hate, it makes no difference. All they must do is cease their raiding. They can return to their mountains, but they must leave all settlements and the Lixitae alone,” Hanno said.
The Aethiopians looked to the mountain burning behind them, and spoke to Liva.
“They say they have nothing to return to,” Liva translated. “Their master is gone, so their beastly forms are lost.”
“Better to kill them then. They have no value,” Artemisia concluded.
Hanno looked at the burning sky, felt the heat from the distant cliffs.
“I took this land from you. Tell them that. Tell them Hanno took this land from them,” Hanno dictated. “But I am a man of Carthage. We do not steal. I have destroyed something of value and must provide equal value in return. Tell them I will give them whatever life they choose, with food and drink and homes. But they must never raid again.”
“We’re going to take them in?” Artemisia asked.
“They would make excellent scouts,” Bostar noted.
“That is immaterial. We have made an exchange. They took, I took. Let the world know that Hanno of Carthage does not destroy,” Hanno said. He stared at the burning horizon. “Hanno builds. Tell them that.”
Liva did so, and the Aethiopians looked to one another. They said, “Hanno. Hanno,” to each other, forcing the word onto their tongues.
“They agree,” Liva translated. “They will go where Hanno tells them.”
“Good thing they brought goats. We don’t have enough food for everyone,” Artemisia grumbled. “Come on, let’s go. We still have some daylight.”
The Aethiopians watched Liva closely. They seemed to mimic her way of walking, even began speaking a few words of Punic amongst themselves like they were sampling a new fruit.
They made no effort to flee, and Hanno made no effort to prevent them from doing so. The marines kept their arms at the ready, but the Aethiopians never attacked them. In fact, they seemed more fascinated by the javelins and spears than afraid of them.
Liva took a position between the Libyphoenicians and the Aethiopians, but they soon intermingled. After their first mile, the new members acted like they’d been a part of the expedition from the beginning.
The fire raging inside the hills puttered out when it hit the grass of the fields leading back to the coast, but the mountain continued to burn.
“Why did you not kill them?” Liva asked Hanno. She rejoined Bostar and the king at the head of the marching men, and glared at Artemisia when the Greek woman spat.
“There seemed no value to it,” Hanno said.
“Didn’t you want revenge?” Liva asked.
Hanno held his hand out to the burning horizon.
“Beyond that, I mean,” Liva corrected.
“I want Africa,” Hanno said. “I want to solidify my power as king. And that means harnessing all that has value.”
“So your mercy was mere selfishness.”
“I have found that merciful behavior tends to be a byproduct of selfish motivations, if they have a long-term horizon. Short-term gains have a lesser long-term value, tempting as they may be.”
“You’ve destroyed their way of life.”
“But I could have destroyed them entirely.”
“Do you think Africa will thank you for what you’ve done, Hanno?”
“I’ve yet to discover a land capable of speaking for itself.”
“But the people. Do you think the people are grateful for what Hanno brings?”
They walked along in silence.
“Few men are grateful for change,” Hanno added. “But as you said, we cannot order the world to stop turning. It is the Greeks who say the world’s turns create the winds and waves, don’t they, my helmsman?”
“I’ve heard that, yes,” Artemisia answered.
“And we harness those winds to cross the oceans.”
“That air fuels your fires as well,” Liva noted. She looked at the ground. “Do you not fear that what you have done is change for the worse, Hanno?”
The setting sun combined with the lingering smoke, and the light grew dim.
“We should make camp,” the king said.
The next day, Hanno awoke expecting to find the Aethiopians gone. He’d posted sentries and kept them armed and close enough to their campfires to raise the alarm at the slightest movement. But the Aethiopians never stirred, and when dawn arrived they roused with the marines and made ready to march.
After another day and night of travel, not a single one of them departed. The mountain continued to burn behind them, only growing dark with the coming of the second dawn.
The goats heralded their return to the fleet and the Lixitae. Children tore themselves free of their parents to run into the grass and greet the victorious party. They gaped at the Aethiopians, who stared back with blank faces.
Cheers and applause and chants of, “Hanno! Hanno!” rang out.
Hanno led the group to Gana, who stood beside Aba near the edge of the sea. He embraced his daughter and spoke to her in their language. Gana pointed to the distant mountain, and showed Liva a handful of ash.
“They saw the fires,” Liva told Hanno. “The ash fell all the way out here.”
Gana spoke to her.
“The fruits and grains will grow in abundance. They always do after a fire, and this was the biggest he’s ever seen,” Liva translated.
“Tell them the fires burned away the master of the beasts. The Aethiopians will never again steal his flocks,” Hanno said. He gestured to the thin men behind him, and the goats they’d returned.
Gana blew the ash out of his hand, and embraced Hanno.
The kings laughed and the people cheered.
They stayed three more days with the Lixitae, sharing more of the brown wine and discussing how best to use the land now that the threat of raiders no longer hindered Gana and his people.
A trireme had been chosen to ferry some members of the Lixitae to Arambys and back, so they would know where to find the Libyphoenicians. Several of the Aethiopians chose to make the journey as well, and when the trireme returned its crew shared that many had chosen to remain in the settlement.
They never learned how the Aethiopians had taken on beastly forms. The men seemed incapable of remembering their capabilities when they’d been amongst Gorillae, though they expressed no regret for it.
Artemisia warned that while enjoyment could be had from further celebrations with the Lixitae, the silt-laden river mouth provided poor ground for a harbor and their supplies needed to be preserved. They still had five thousand Libyphoenicians who needed a home.
And so preparations were made to depart. Each trireme got a translator of its own, since many of the Lixitae had learned to speak the Phoenician tongue in their time together.
Gana spoke to his daughter while Hanno readied to board his ship. Artemisia counted off the oarsmen’s pushes against the hull and Bostar helped Aba climb aboard.
“Father says I’m to go with you,” Liva said.
“He commands you to do this?” Hanno asked.
Gana glanced at the smoldering mountain looming over the distant horizon, and said something to Liva.
“He says that it is my duty,” Liva added, her face cringing like she’d swallowed something bitter. “Though he doesn’t own me.”
Gana spoke harsh words. He must have known by Liva’s tone that she had said something defiant. Then he spoke to Hanno, and embraced him.
“Tell your father thank you,” Hanno said. “And that you don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”
“This is not something you or I have a choice in, Hanno,” Liva said.
She hugged her father, and climbed the rope ladder onto the stern.
Gana called out words to his daughter she did not answer back. The king shook his head, smiled at Hanno, and set his hands against the hull.
“Yes, very good,” Hanno said. “Artemisia! Ready to set out!”
The Lixitae helped the Libyphoenicians push, and once more the fleet took to the waves.
“Friends of the sea, we meet the Lixitae! So off we sail, brave kings prevail, we speed away, away, away,” Mapen sang.
Jabnit played her pipes and the oars splashed in rhythm. Soon the waving Lixitae faded, along with the silty river.
The land grew flat as the stilled waters. Dry gusts of intermittent wind fueled the fleet’s progress south, along with the occasional spray of kicked-up sand.
Hanno waited until Liva could no longer see the far side of the Lixus, and gestured to the thin-grassed shore.
“You may go now,” the king said.
Bio: I once snuck into a castle. It wasn’t a terribly good castle. In fact it was quite old and broken, but it had a shut door I wasn’t supposed to go through. Yet through it I went. I climbed an ancient wall I shouldn’t have climbed, wandered across borders without using the approved path, and was handed a silver trophy for a contest I wasn’t allowed to enter. From my time growing up in the Missouri Ozarks to my travels abroad, I couldn’t help going places and doing things I probably shouldn’t. Perhaps more of those doors needed 'Keep Out' signs, or if they did have signs they should have been locked, and if they had been locked they shouldn’t have hidden such amazing things that made going through them so worthwhile. I currently live in Springfield, Missouri, where I teach Marketing, study History, and, alongside my wonderful wife, make a valiant attempt at passing through the doorway of writing.