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  “Excuse me?” Liva replied.

  “You are disgusted by my works. You are disgusted by me,” Hanno said.

  Liva stared Hanno in the face. “Yes. You’re a single-minded demon.”

  “I’ll not get much use from a translator who thinks that of me. So go. We’ll have Artemisia slow the oars and you can swim to shore. Or you can wait until nightfall and depart wherever we make land.”

  “My father said I have to stay with you.”

  “Your father is on the far side of the Lixus, and you said they don’t go this way.”

  “Because there is nothing this way.”

  “I’ve heard such warnings before,” Hanno noted.

  Liva bit her lip.

  “Duty did not pin you to your people before. Why should it now? Go then,” Hanno commanded.

  Liva glared at the king.

  She climbed onto the stern railing.

  “It’s not that I don’t value my people,” she said.

  “It’s that you value yourself more,” Hanno added.

  Liva stomped her foot. “How can overbold Hanno make such a claim?”

  “I care about my people.”

  “You delude yourself. Will this fabled treasure you seek bring peace for your people?”

  “It will bring me my kingdom. If you want to throw yours away, there’s the beach,” Hanno directed.

  Liva stared at the rapidly passing coastline.

  “If I stay, it’s because I choose to. Not because my father commands me, and not because you have any say in it,” Liva announced.

  “So be it,” Hanno said.

  “You have no idea what you’re heading toward.”

  “No. I don’t.”

  Liva nodded. She hopped onto the deck, and held out her hand.

  “A formal arrangement then,” she said.

  King Gana’s daughter took King Hanno’s arm, gripped it tight, and released.

  “I am your translator,” Liva said.

  “You two are adorable,” Artemisia mocked. She leaned against the rudder and made a minor correction against the wavering coast. “So, what are we headed toward, Translator?”

  “Like I said: nothing.”

 

  The grass depleted. The dirt lightened. And soon the beach advanced into the terrain so far there was no sign of its end. A great desert greeted them with a blast of hot, sandy air.

  The first night they spent warmed by the ground and chilled by the wind. The triremes slipped in and out of the coast so easily they required only a single thrust from the oars to reach the sea.

  The second day, the trees disappeared behind them, and all but yellowed desert and rolling blue sea enveloped them.

  Firewood came in the form of handfuls of driftwood, polished smooth from their journey through the saltwater. Their flames offered little comfort to the shivering five thousand huddled on their campsites.

  The third day, the helmsmen took greater care with rations. The rowers needed their food, so Artemisia claimed, but no excesses could be granted.

  “How far does this desert continue?” Hanno asked Liva when they set out on the fourth day.

  “I’ve heard tales that claim it is endless,” Liva noted.

  “No land can be endless.”

  “There are wandering peoples on it.”

  “Berber desert people, yes. We have our troubles with them in Carthage.”

  “These Berbers consider the desert home. But they don’t speak of its end. They consider it like the sea.”

  “The sea has its barriers. The desert itself forms its end.”

  The waves lashed at the sand, cresting and withdrawing endlessly as water evaporated upon the sunbaked surface and the land eroded into the sea.

  “No Berber has crossed it,” Liva said.

  “Hanno will,” the king declared.

  Liva approached the railing. She stared a long while at the coast. Dunes rose higher and higher, then fell into great chasms of shadow.

  “What do you see?” Hanno asked.

  “I see a distance on the horizon I could travel if I were to jump over this railing and run out of the desert,” Liva said. “If Hanno wants to take his people on a quest of suicide.”

  “You made an agreement.”

  “That is not the only thing keeping me on this ship.”

  “What is?”

  “I want to see this desert’s end as well.”

 

  Each day, they cast their nets into the shallows to catch what fish they could. Each day, the catch grew lighter.

  That night, the Libyphoenicians found no driftwood. The sparse fuel the ships dislodged from their ballasts cooked what remained of their undried supplies, and fell to cold coals before the tents could be erected. Families lay close in their coverings from the wind, and awoke with their tent ropes buried in wind-blown sand.

  On the sixth day, they ate their hard bread and smoked meats, chewing on the uncooked fish and praying it would keep their bellies full. All day the sea crashed against the beach. The waters stayed flat further out, but close to the shore the waves grew taller and taller, and the desert rose in ever-steeper dunes.

  “How far have we traveled?” Hanno asked as the sun fell upon the horizon. It shimmered against the flat waters to the west, turning the sea a golden color and the eastern sands dark, as if the terrain shifted substance with the motion of the heavenly orb.

  “Eighty miles today at least,” Artemisia announced. “Any sign of a place we can forage provisions?”

  “None so far. How many days do we have left?” Hanno asked.

  Artemisia pointed to the marines casting a net over the port side. They hauled it up empty, and shook their heads at the helmsman.

  “We’ve caught nothing all day. If we can’t get more, we’ll last six days at the most,” Artemisia said. “Cutting rations would add to it, but hungry oarsmen row much slower.”

  “We’ll make for land then. There’s not much sun left,” Hanno said. “The waters look calmer past the next dune.”

  The hilly sand flattened in a wide valley, welcoming the ships with calm waters and plenty of room for their tents.

  One of the triremes cracked their bow while trying to make for the beach. A wave lifted the vessel and smashed it against the sand. Repairs were made, but with light fading, the shipwrights had to wait for dawn to finish the patching.

  When Hanno awoke the next morning, he found his tent half-buried in sand. After he dug his way free, he wondered if a god had picked up his camp and placed it in another part of the desert. High dunes hid the sun where flat sand had been the night before. A dune had swallowed the damaged trireme up to its foremast, and screams erupted around the camp from Libyphoenicians forced to dig their way to open air.

  Waves struck the sterns of the beached ships, pulling them into the water so quickly the crew had to tear several buried tents to free their occupants so they might man the dislodged triremes. But the colonists collected their possessions, repaired their ships, and boarded before the wind could blow more sand and water onto their heads.

  They had to journey over much deeper waters, as the waves grew too tall closer to the shore. The dunes met the rising tide, climbing higher and higher until they blocked the sun.

  A thunderous crash of wave against sand echoed the beating of the oars. By midday, a new sound added to the calamity.

  Hanno thought it a trick of his senses. Many times before, he’d seen images in the hazy waves of warmed sand that didn’t exist. But now the king witnessed a mountainous dune collapse upon the beach and crest into the white water.

  “Melqart preserve us,” Aba declared.

  “What gods of the desert are there, Priestess?” Hanno asked.

  “Tanit and Baal Hammon hold dominion over all lands.”

  “The Berber here don’t worship those gods,” Liva noted.

  A shiver ran through the trireme, tilting it on its shallow keel. The tremor passed, and Hanno saw it roll underneath the rest of his fleet, then rise. Higher and higher the wave grew, until it matched the dunes in size.

  It slammed against dry ground and took with it huge volumes of sand.

  The sea withdrew in its ebb and flow motion, and in the space it left, another dune rose. It turned over on itself, forming a wall that a new wave demolished.

  “Well gam my toe,” Artemisia said.

  “What does that mean?” Hanno asked.

  “It means I’ve never seen that before. And that can’t be good.”

  A second wave shook the fleet before rising and smashing against the dunes. The mountains of sand rose in unbelievable size before cresting against the white caps.

  Clouds of salty spray grew over the clashing land and water, and the triremes rose and fell upon the shifting currents.

  While they did their best to stay clear of the conflict between land and sea, a sandbar surfaced before them like a breaching sea serpent.

  “Land!” the call arose, answered by Jabnit and the other pipers’ high-pitched alarms.

  “Hard to port!” Artemisia ordered.

  The triremes turned to avoid the sandbar. What had been deep water became rough shallows, and the waves beat at the beach in a mist-filled combat.

  “Poseidon!” Aba called out while the trireme fought the whitecaps. “We beg you cease your battle against the land!”

  “Deeper water — out!” Artemisia ordered.

  The fleet fled the invading beach. Hanno’s trireme led the way, further ahead than any other vessel, and so when the sand enveloped the water in a newly risen lagoon, only the king’s ship was trapped.

  A crescent moon-shaped embankment separated Hanno’s trireme from the rest of the fleet. The sand rose in its tip, encircling the trireme. But the waters flattened, and the winds howled.

  “Row!” Hanno shouted.

  “Full speed!” Artemisia ordered.

  Jabnit piped her loudest and the trireme lurched toward the rapidly shrinking opening.

  Sand struck the stern. The ocean floor rose to grab them while the embankment spread to hold them. The oars pushed against wetted ground, slipping free and racing to open water.

  Just before the ship reached the gap, a wave lifted the trireme, depleting what remained of the water. The sandbar rose with it, and the ring of sand smashed against the wave, hurling the trireme further inland.

  Rippling currents of sand pulled the ship across the dried land.

  “Oars in!” Artemisia called out.

  The snap of wood and screams of men came from below as the rowers struggled to pull in their oars before the desert tore them apart.

  Hanno cut free the main rope holding the yard arm and pulled the sail to catch the wind. Bostar added his strength, and together they directed the ship across the dunes, a wake of kicked-up sand trailing behind them.

  Only their amber-smoothed bottom allowed the trireme to skip safely across the desert. Dunes rose on either side, and Hanno guided the ship through them until the trireme rose over a wave-like dune and raced down its side.

  When they reached level ground, the trireme slid to a halt.

  Hanno retied the yard arm and ran to the bow.

  A ditch of broken sand marked their trail. Ahead lay the flattened desert stretching to the horizon. Behind, the dunes continued their battle with the ocean, the sound soft and distant.

  “Hanno, don’t!” Bostar warned when Hanno leapt over the railing.

  The king landed on the sand with his sword raised.

  “Foul desert! You wanted Hanno, you have him!” the king shouted.

  Not even the wind answered.

  “Hanno, get back on the ship!” Bostar urged.

  “Desert! Be you god or beast, you have Hanno! What do you want with him?” Hanno roared.

  But the desert remained still.

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About the author

DavidDHammons

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.

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