The titan stomped over his golden instruments, denting the pipes and demolishing half the island. He struck the ceiling, causing boulders to rain into the water and soak the intruders.
“Chretes, stop!” Hanno ordered.
“Great Chretes, we beseech you!” Aba wailed.
“We’re still down here — can’t we escape?” Liva shouted.
“You will be freed,” Chretes reassured them. He continued his demolition, though he punched the cavern walls like a potter beating his clay. Cracks sprouted through the dome’s middle, and the water freed the trireme from its mooring.
The rocks where the wild men stood tumbled over each other, exposing more of the flowing current while the tunnel on the far side caved in with a great billow of dust.
“Return to your ship, King Hanno!” the titan roared.
The water rose so high the intruders had to wade their way to the drifting trireme.
“Hurry!” Artemisia encouraged.
The titan shoved one of the pillars holding aloft the silver orbs, causing a great wave to lift Hanno and his companions over the top of their trireme. The water crashed against the deck, depositing them near the mast before washing away.
Hanno stood, and helped Liva to her feet while the others examined their bodies in disbelief that they’d been unharmed.
“Praise be to Baal Hammon!” Aba cheered.
“I think it’s Chretes we should be thanking,” Liva corrected.
The titan shoved the second of the four pillars while the waters rose higher and higher.
“I’d thank him if he wasn’t about to kill us!” Artemisia protested.
Hanno, Liva, and Bostar returned to the stern while Jabnit played the pipes to signal the rowers. They extended the oars to keep the ship pointed at the waves rippling all around them, while the titian pushed over the third pillar.
“Hanno!” Chretes shouted. The water had risen to his chest, and when the titan turned, the water stilled. The remaining silver orb’s dull glow cast half the titan’s face in shadow. “My creation is completed.”
Boulders fell and the waters tremored.
“He’s going to bring the whole damned cave down — let us out!” Artemisia demanded.
“Your escape is guaranteed, so long as you give me a boon,” the titan said.
“What do you want, Chretes?” Hanno asked.
“My life has been prolonged enough. I wish it ended swiftly, and by the one who can craft these invulnerable words.”
The titan swirled his hands to disturb the current. Hanno’s trireme turned, so that the bow faced Chretes’s bared chest.
“Strike hard, Hanno of the Words,” Chretes encouraged.
“We cannot kill a servant of the gods,” Aba gasped.
“He wants to die, kill him,” Artemisia countered. “Just do it quickly.”
“Are you certain, great Chretes?” Liva asked.
“My time passed long ago,” the titan shared. He braced his hand against the rumbling ceiling. “Strike true.”
All eyes turned to Hanno.
“Powers of creation,” Bostar whispered. “Does it tempt you, King?”
“I’m a fool if I say it does not,” Hanno admitted. A boulder fell beside the trireme, splashing the king’s face. “I’ve subdued pillars before.”
Hanno put his hand to his sword.
“To subdue a master of creation…” he whispered.
“But are we worthy to be such masters?” Bostar wondered.
Hanno shook his head, and removed his hand from the chipped hilt.
“Oars to ram!” Hanno commanded.
Jabnit played a single, long note and the rowers splashed to speed. The trireme raced forward, and pierced the titan’s heart with its iron ram.
Chretes gasped, his colossal eyes the size of the foresail. They closed, and the titan’s hand fell with the rest of his pale form.
The unhindered ceiling gave way, collapsing in a wide line. But the falling boulders never touched the trireme. They splashed into the rising water until the sky opened above the ship.
Hanno and Artemisia leaned on the rudders to keep the trireme in the center of the torrent.
The mountain fell in on either side, framing their ascent and burying both Chretes and his cavern.
When the dust fell away, the waters slid into place and a current propelled the trireme back toward the silvery lake.
Its waters now glistened blue.
They continued eastward, joining with a wide river that split the mountains. It seemed as if the great cliffs concealing the titan had never been formed.
Hippopotami and crocodiles splashed into the fast-flowing waters, some roaring protests at the trireme, others searching the silt for freshly unearthed delights.
“I think I’ve come up with a name for this river,” Hanno announced.
“What’s that?” Liva asked.
The current never wavered nor depleted on their return journey. They lingered at the site of the titan’s ruined mountain long enough to conclude that his golden devices had disappeared, along with his body. The wide river seemed as if it had been there for ages, its flow uninterrupted through the gravel and silt.
They made camp further inland and kept a long watch. The mournful cries of beasts on either side of the river kept their sentries vigilant, though only hippos or crocodiles slithering across the waters entered the torchlight.
The next day, Hanno modified his maps. Bostar added the surveyed details necessary to discern the river’s path, and they wrote the title of Chretes next to the line.
“Are you going to call yourself Titan-slayer now?” Liva asked Hanno while they made their way along the current.
They traversed across the lake with the sail unfurled, speeding over the flat, clear water.
“King of Carthage is enough,” Hanno replied.
Bostar folded up the map and went to the bow, leaving Liva and Hanno by themselves.
“Where did this sudden burst of humility come from?” Liva inquired.
“Not humility. Reason,” Hanno explained.
“And what reason is that?”
“The titan wished to be killed. That’s hardly a slaying.”
“But you didn’t have to do it.”
Hanno looked at the rapidly retreating shore.
“Imagine the power of creation,” he said. “What we could do with it.” The king shook his head. “But it was not to be. The titan refused. He took the cavern down around us. Wise.”
“You saw the wild men, Hanno. You saw what they were able to do when they stole just some of Chretes’s power. Would you really have taken it if you could?” Liva wondered.
“There is no way of knowing.”
“But if you could?”
Hanno sighed. “He claimed I have a greater power. Perhaps taking the power from Chretes would have removed what strengths I already claim. And the waters needed leveling.”
“The king cares for his people?”
“This surprises you? I am king after all.”
“No, it doesn’t surprise me. I just… I’ve heard tales of kings who seek personal wealth and glory, and see their kingship as the route to this. The tales rarely end well.”
“This tale is not of such a king. If I’m being truthful, Liva, I have little power. Perhaps if my authority was restored to its full extent, I’d feel a greater temptation to steal what I could from Chretes. But then I’d never have ventured into his cavern. I’d have stayed in Carthage, and sought glory in the lands of the Mediterranean. Failure brought me to this river.”
“Did Chretes not offer a chance at redemption?
Hanno nodded. “In a way. The titan did not offer wishes, he offered power. But it required me to risk taking it, and it wasn’t the power I seek.”
“What will you do if you find the power you seek?”
“Do you think we’ll discover such a thing in Africa?”
“That’s why you’re here isn’t it?”
Hanno crossed his arms, resting his elbow on the chipped hilt of his sword.
“I suppose it is,” said the king.
“I’m glad you can admit it. And I can admit that I’m not exactly here for unselfish reasons either,” Liva said. She collected a piece of parchment and stared at the words on its pages. “What does this say?”
“Just a list of inventory. Supplies and necessary maintenance items.”
Liva nodded. “I want you to teach me this.”
“The letters? They are simple enough.”
“I want you to teach me to write it as well. I’ve heard countless stories, King Hanno. Some are legends of lost tribes, some are stories of stories that were themselves forgotten. Chretes was right about this power you wield, Hanno, and I’d like for you to share it. If you will.”
Hanno collected a wax tablet holding down further parchment and raised a quill.
“We start with the alphabet then,” he said.
Liva took to learning quick as a child sitting at a philosopher’s knee. She recited every letter in the Phoenician alphabet before lunch, and by the time they concluded their journey across the lake she had written her name on the wax tablet.
“Could I have some parchment and ink?” she asked as the sun began its fall.
“You can have all you want,” Hanno offered.
“Thank you for this.”
Liva handed Hanno the wax tablet with her name on it. The king took it, and their hands brushed in the exchange. Neither noticed how long their fingers rested against the same quill.
“It is nothing,” Hanno said, finally taking the objects from Liva.
“How do you write your name?” she asked.
Hanno scratched out the letters beneath Liva’s.
Jabnit played a bright tune and Mapen called out, “The island’s ahead!”
The marines waved from the railing as Cerne came into view. The rest of the fleet had been pulled far into shore, but the citizens had not been idle. A fortress had been built around the tower capping the hill at the city’s center, with more buildings spreading into the trimmed forest. A wide avenue of cut trees led from the shore to the hill, flanked on either side with homes both permanent and temporary.
The Libyphoenicians and Lixitae in their company lined this avenue, cheering the approach of Hanno’s trireme. A narrow jetty had been hammered into the soil, though only a single trireme had been tied to its pylons.
“Bostar,” Hanno said while waving from the stern. “Do you recognize that ship?”
Bostar narrowed his eyes. “It wasn’t with our fleet,” he concluded.
“That’s what I suspected.”
“Did your other colonies build a new one?” Liva wondered.
“No. That’s a ship of Carthage.”
Artemisia guided their trireme to the other side of the jetty. The helmsmen from the other ships met them at the dock, and helped tie up the trireme while laying out gangplanks.
Hanno waved at the crowd, but stopped at the rail.
“You go first, Aba,” he said. “And Artemisia. You guided us safely.”
The king gestured for the women to disembark. Aba did so with her hands lifted in the air and leading the crowd in a chant of, “All hail servants of Tanit!”
Artemisia simply got off and checked that the hull was properly set on dry land.
“That was a kindness,” Liva noted.
Bostar was third off, and he made sure to have his bow in hand.
“Not a full kindness,” Hanno noted, his hand on his sword.
When Liva joined them on the jetty, she understood why Hanno didn’t want to be first ashore.
“My king!” said a man who did not bow before Hanno.
“Suffete,” the king replied.
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.