“I see you have discovered the wealth of Africa already. Where did you find a source of amber, of all things, beyond the northern waters?” Councilman Suffete asked, examining the gemstone-repaired hull. “It seems you discovered a great wealth of it if you can use it to adorn your ship.”
Bostar stepped between Hanno and the councilman. “What are you doing here, Suffete?” he asked.
Suffete frowned. “I am surveying my empire.”
Liva kept glancing between Hanno and Suffete.
“And it seems you’re surveying its bounty,” Suffete added.
“It was Hanno who founded these cities, Suffete,” Bostar noted.
“Yes. And a great accomplishment it is.” The councilman raised his hands and caught the attention of the crowd. “Our city of Cerne and the new colonies of Carthage are won!”
The tension of the crew’s docking melted with the councilman’s smile, and the people set to work unloading the ship and readying a meal for the returned crew. Wives and translators greeted those they knew in the king’s trireme, while whispers of the titan Hanno had slain spread from ear to ear.
“They look like they enjoy it here. It suits them, away from civilization. The mixed bloods need to let the savage out, and you’ve found a nice blend of wild and settled,” Suffete told Hanno.
“The Council acknowledges my works then?” Hanno asked.
“The Council of Elders agreed to depopulate the city. You’ve done that. I’ve yet to see any works from it, though.”
“We’ve founded seven cities with thirty thousand colonists.”
Suffete waved off the claim. “They’d have been slaughtered or starved. A sunk cost.”
The councilman walked to the end of the jetty with his hands behind his back.
“You’ve done your work, Hanno,” Suffete said. “But you failed in one regard.”
“What’s that?” Bostar asked. He, Liva, and Hanno followed the councilman and stood behind him.
“All the treasures of Africa. That’s what you claimed to collect.”
“We’re not finished,” said Hanno.
Suffete turned around.
“Yes you are,” he said. “I hardly think the amber on your ship justifies the costs you’ve incurred. Perhaps a break-even, but that just means you should turn about at this very moment. The Greeks make for war against the Persians, and Xerxes has blamed our kinsmen for the failure of his invasion. The Council wants these ships returned. The Council demands the king return.”
“Am I not king enough to choose my destination?” Hanno asked.
“Of course you’re not.”
Hanno reached for his sword. The sight of Persian bowmen on the councilman’s ship stayed his hand.
“Persian assassins. They come cheaply, I’m told,” Hanno noted.
“As do Persian helmsmen,” Suffete agreed.
“And I am to fight them for Carthage?”
Suffete remained blank-faced, and looked between Hanno and his trireme’s Poseidon-adorned bow.
“Do you know why we put mermaids or great fish on the bows of our ships?” Suffete asked. “These figureheads serve no practical purpose. In fact, they must sometimes be trimmed to ensure they don’t interfere with the rams.”
Suffete patted the hull of his trireme.
“But we put these symbols on the prow to inspire the men,” Suffete continued. “It is a useless, valueless creation that costs more than its objective value. But it makes people feel good. So we allow it. Men fight better beneath a symbol than nothing.”
“Hanno isn’t a symbol, he’s a king,” Liva insisted. “He killed a titan.”
“As did Hercules, I’m told. In fact, the greatest helmsman I’ve ever known had a symbol of Hercules on his ship’s bow. He told me that during a battle against the Syracusean fleet, his men fought more bravely than any man on either side. And this was accomplished simply by cutting free the figurehead. The men saw it as a sacrifice, a herald of their victory. So you see, the symbol serves two purposes: to be an inspiration, or to be burnt upon the altar as needed.”
Suffete patted Hanno’s shoulder, and walked toward the beach.
“Now, what sort of foodstuffs does this island possess? I doubt they’ll have any figs, but I brought my own, don’t fret,” the councilman said.
The Persian bowmen hadn’t removed the arrows from their bowstrings. Hanno glanced at them a moment while watching the councilman greet the various helmsmen and commanders in charge of Cerne. Someone disembarked Suffete’s ship carrying a wicker basket full of figs and followed him to the cook fires.
Only when Suffete drew out of sight did the Persian bowmen return to their posts or their cups, leaving Bostar, Liva, and Hanno alone on the pier.
“Something you find funny?” Hanno asked.
“Of course it’s funny,” Liva replied.
Hanno and Bostar frowned.
“Oh come on, you don’t see it?” Liva continued.
“I’ll have to post extra guards on the king’s tent tonight,” Bostar said.
“He’s not going to kill you.”
“He tried once. The assassins failed,” Hanno noted.
“Well…” Liva said, and bit her lip. “That doesn’t mean he’ll try again. He outright said so.”
“He said he’s bringing me back to Carthage like a hunted trophy.”
“Hanno, he’s afraid of you,” Liva insisted.
“I didn’t hear fear in his threats,” Hanno noted.
“Then you don’t hear your own language. I’ve seen enough words from the body and the mouth to know that he fears you. If he truly has power, then why did he travel all this way? Why did he not send a messenger if he thought that anything less than his own presence would prevent you from returning? Whatever power you lost, you’re gaining it back and he knows it. Now he’s trying to steal it from you.”
“He could have sent a messenger,” Bostar realized.
Liva put her hand on Hanno’s arm.
“You can’t quit now,” she said. “You’ve reached the end of your world and mine. So let’s go further.”
Hanno looked to Bostar. The bowman nodded.
“Find Artemisia,” Hanno said.
They located the Greek near the tower at the center of Cerne. She sat upon the hill overlooking the river they’d recently departed. An unopened wineskin rested near her feet.
Hanno dismissed the sentry on the tower and approached his helmsman alone.
“I was just thinking,” Artemisia said. “We go to fight the Persians, they’ll have it out for me. Might be a useful tool in the battle, parade me around to draw their fire.”
“Is this your wish?” Hanno asked, and sat down beside her.
Artemisia glanced at the wineskin. She shrugged. “Not my call.”
“It could be.”
“You didn’t pay me for my opinion.”
“I’m venturing to a point where I won’t be paying you at all.”
The helmsman raised an eyebrow. “Make your offer then.”
“You might not be open to it.”
“Why do you think my skin is closed? I guessed you’d come calling for me to leave the docks early. That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it? To ask me along on some venture like the one we just barely survived.”
“Much of my map remains blank,” Hanno noted.
“Curse your map then. Draw it in with squiggles and go home,” Artemisia said.
“I’d rather it be filled with coastlines, and the names of gold-rich settlements.”
“And you want me to help you find them.”
“You’ll be paid.”
“As will the crew.”
“Have the men assemble just before dawn. We’ll row out with the tide. Might be Suffete won’t realize we’re gone for a while,” she said.
“Has he made a competing offer?” Hanno asked.
“If he did, would you expect me to tell you?” she replied.
“Have I not earned any loyalty from the Scourge of Caria?” Hanno chided.
“You’ve earned what you’ve earned. As have I.”
Artemisia walked toward the trail leading to the shore. “Leave the wineskin for the sentries. It’ll help. Arrive early, King of Carthage,” she said.
“My thanks, Artemisia,” Hanno called out.
All other orations of gratitude fell off his tongue, though, as the trees hid the departing helmsman.
Hanno returned to the growing festivities at the beach.
Jabnit played a dancing tune while her brother sang a verse for a song already in progress when the king appeared.
“Hanno arrives!” Mapen called out, and continued singing. “The king unafraid, our hearts were dismayed, as he plunged at the monster with sword well in hand. With a swing of his blade and great strength well displayed, struck great Chretes, the blood in a flood, felled to the land.”
The crowd applauded.
“He chose to die,” Hanno corrected.
The applause stopped.
“I did not kill him,” the king added.
“Forgive me, Hanno, but he was killed,” Mapen noted.
“But he asked for the ram to be driven. The titan wished to die.”
“Is there more of your journey that’s false, my king?” Suffete asked. He sat in a padded chair eating fruit and cheese and freshly slaughtered goat from a brass plate.
“Know this, singer,” Hanno told Mapen. “You must not embellish my stories. I only need the truth known of Hanno King of Carthage.” He looked at Suffete. “The lie does not serve me.”
“Yes, my king,” Mapen said.
Mapen leaned in close to the king’s ear. “I’ll see you before dawn,” he whispered, and returned to dancing with his sister.
“Come. Sit, King of the Truth,” Suffete called out. “And correct these tales I’ve heard.”
Hanno complied. He shared the details of their journey without embellishment, though Suffete laughed off half the tale. The councilman’s eyes wandered to the dancers while Hanno spoke, and before long the king had lost Suffete’s attention entirely.
Bostar made sure Hanno and the councilman’s cups were always full, while Mapen invented countless reasons for drinks to be raised and downed. Soon the Persians had acquired skins of their own, and carried on with the toasting in their own language.
Hanno excused himself once the moon had fully risen.
“Has weariness set in so soon, my king?” Suffete asked.
“We have a long journey, do we not?” Hanno replied.
“I suppose we do. Carthage will be eager for its figurehead, and to know the truth of what he has done.”
Hanno nodded, and went to his tent.
A home of stripped logs had been built for the king, but he allowed the helmsman who’d been elected to administer Cerne to settle it, preferring the same canopy he’d used on the journey thus far.
Bostar awoke him before the sun rose.
They exchanged no words, just a clap on the shoulder to rouse the king, and a moment for him to empty his bladder and don his belt.
They progressed to the pier as silent as could be, and found the entirety of the crew assembled before his ship.
By the light of the sentries’ torches, Hanno saw the faces of the men and women standing ready for his command, Artemisia and Liva at the front.
None spoke a word.
Hanno nodded, and they set to work on their amber-studded trireme.
The sentries watched them, but stayed silent as well.
“Your hair is wet,” Hanno realized when he approached Liva.
“Shh,” she whispered. “You’ll see.”
Artemisia climbed the hull of the beached ship and lowered the rope ladder. Hanno, Bostar, and Liva climbed up, where they found Aba and her children.
They smiled. Fierel waved.
None of the Persian archers were in sight. A few of them lay scattered on the beach beside their empty wineskins.
At the third wave of Artemisia’s hand, the rowers pushed Hanno and his trireme into the sea.
The sound roused a few of Suffete’s men, who ran onto the pier as the ship slipped past.
“Where are you going?” one called out.
“Stop! Stop in the name of the Elder Council!” another shouted.
A third tossed a rope over the stern and tied Hanno’s ship to the pier.
A thin ray of dawn provided just enough light for Bostar to launch an arrow through the rope. The frayed ends snapped loose when they grew taught. The thrower grabbed hold and was pulled into the ocean with a great cheer from the freed ship’s crew.
Suffete ran onto the pier, his tunic ruffled and marred with spilt wine, and shouted for his men to board his trireme. Those Persians who could be roused stumbled onto the planks. Not a few splashed into the shallows on uncooperative legs, while the rowers struggled to shove their way to their positions.
All the while, Hanno readied the sail and Jabnit played the tune.
“I’ll tie it off!” Fierel announced, and scurried up the mast without waiting for permission. He turned the sail into the wind and applauded his success, sitting on the top of the mast like a squatting bird and crowing into the breeze.
The rowers pushed the king’s trireme far out to sea, and came in full view of the citizens waving Hanno’s departure on the island’s far side.
“Beyond, beyond, we journey beyond. Set sail; row fast! What treasures be spawned? Avail, speed past; securing our bond. And journey we go, beyond, beyond,” Mapen sang.
Brother and sister played the rhythm to speed the rowers, while Hanno tied off the sail and returned to the stern.
“So why is your hair wet?” Hanno asked Liva.
A great cry came from the shore. Suffete’s trireme pushed away from the pier and jolted to a stop. A rope attached to its stern tore the jetty in half and sent the still assembling crew splashing into the water.
“Artemisia has a couple backup rudder oars now too,” Liva noted. She kicked the stolen rudders lying along the stern railing.
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.