Hours passed. Hanno felt only the steady beat of the waves. Each one he hoped would be the current to wash him away.
The king could not even lift his eyelids, couldn’t fight the cold of each low-breaking wave.
But the tides never changed. The ocean lifted but never carried him away.
Darkness had truly fallen when Hanno found the strength to rise. He spat the salt from his mouth, and failed to swallow.
His eyes burned from the sand and sea and the things he’d seen.
When he opened them, the Chariot of the Gods remained. Its glow had returned, and it seemed to have recovered in size from its partial collapse.
Suffete’s trireme lay anchored where it had been, but there was no sign of Hanno’s ship.
Only a sliver of moon allowed the king to spot circling birds overhead. Perhaps they were the Gorillae searching for him. Perhaps they were merely birds. Either way, a great fear urged Hanno to make for the trees.
He stumbled across the beach and passed through wide-leafed ferns growing amidst a lush forest.
Bestial sounds Hanno failed to identify echoed amidst the greenery. Deep-throated hoots and sharp-toothed growls competed with the chirping of birds and a million insects. Hanno felt madness pressing in on all sides, and ran as best he could, deeper and deeper into the island.
When his feet met water, he stopped.
He thought at first he’d crossed the island. But he heard none of the familiar rising and falling of waves, only the cries of the animals all around him.
Hanno blinked his vision straight, and saw the silver strip of moon glowing on the ground in front of him.
Not ground, water. A lake.
Hanno tested it, and found the water clean and cool. He plunged his head beneath the flat surface, and took in huge gulps.
When he’d drunk his fill, he wiped his lips and surveyed the lake.
Through what starlight penetrated the smoke-filled clouds, Hanno spotted a thick cluster of trees in the lake’s middle, and the words of Seer clanged in his mind.
“My blind brother,” Hanno muttered.
A deep-throated shriek from back in the forest urged Hanno to flee the shore. He feared the dark water, but he feared the things in the trees more. So the king took a deep breath, and waded into the lake.
It received him without complaint. Hanno swam to the island, his muscles near cracking from stiffness and welcoming the renewed movement.
When he reached the island, he glanced back, and spotted massive creatures on the forested outer ring. They stood on two legs like men, but their hairy black bodies and long, thick arms banished any illusions that these could be human. They sniffed the disturbed ground Hanno had fled, urging the king to continue further inland.
Only when he paused, safe within the dark trees, did Hanno catch the glow of the trunk he rested against.
It cast a pale yellow reflection of the moonlight, and the king realized that the forest on the island-within-an-island was made entirely of gold. Golden branches, golden leaves, low-hanging fruit that would humble the king of Persia were they to rest upon his head.
Hanno rubbed his eyes, but the golden trees remained.
He touched a leaf, and thought of all the glory that would come from a single bush, but lowered his hand.
The animal sounds hadn’t ceased, just grown dimmer inside the gilded forest. He swallowed his temptations, and fled further into the trees.
A light soon broke through the forest, turning the trunks into pillars of gold. Hanno passed into a clearing, where the light solidified into a glowing pool.
Ripples flowed across the water as if in answer to his unspoken question, and the light dimmed.
“Hello,” a voice chimed from the pool.
It sounded cheerful, delighted even.
Hanno froze, remembering the last time he’d encountered such a thing, and prayed that Seer’s prophecy of his blind brother would be true.
“Come and sit. There is plenty of room,” the pool sang. “Have no fear. Speak no evil and no evil shall meet you here.”
“I am…” he said, and stopped.
Instead, he sat down at the pool’s edge.
“Ah, there you are. You sit with such wariness. Do you hope for strength?” the pool asked.
Hanno closed his eyes, and felt the weakness near crushing his body.
“I don’t,” he admitted. “Just to be able to stand again.”
“That is a good hope,” the pool said.
A platter of dates solidified in the glowing pool.
“Go ahead,” the pool offered. “Eat.”
Hanno narrowed his eyes.
“You hope for sustenance, it shall be granted. But it will not be placed into your hand. You must reach for it,” the pool explained.
Hanno frowned at the pool, and saw nothing but the trees and the fruit, the surface lacking his own reflection.
“What will happen if I touch your waters, pool?” Hanno asked.
“Your hope will be fulfilled,” the pool replied.
“I have faced temptations before. They usually come with malice.”
“Do you hope for malice?”
Hanno shook his head.
“Speak. I cannot know your reply if I don’t hear it,” the pool said.
“I hope for only a bit of food,” Hanno admitted.
“Then you shall find it.”
Hanno swallowed, and reached for the dates. His hand returned dry, with the fruit between his fingers. He held it up to the pool, and saw its reflection floating in the water.
“I can’t tell if you enjoy it if you do not tell me,” the pool giggled.
Hanno put the date in his mouth. It tasted sweet and meaty, bursting against his tongue like a wave of spring water falling upon a desert stone.
“It is very good,” Hanno said.
The pool laughed.
“Eat,” it encouraged. “You hope for your strength to be renewed, it shall be.”
Hanno took a second date, and ate his fill of the glistening fruit.
“I am the Horn of the South,” the pool sang.
“I know you, Horn of the South,” Hanno replied.
“I met your brother, Horn of the West.”
“Ah yes. The Seer of wishes. How is Seer? I hope well.”
“The Horn of the West is… malicious.”
“Yes, of course.”
“It called you blind. And said you carried hope.”
“Both true,” the Horn of the South admitted.
“How many such islands within islands exist?” Hanno asked.
“Just us, as far as I know, though I hope there are more.”
“Did the Chariot of the Gods make more?” Hanno asked.
“The Chariot of the Gods claims he made us, but this is not true. My brother convinced him he did, and that was a form of malice.”
“So what sired you?”
“I hope to know one day, and maybe find my other brothers.”
“I hope none of them are like the brother I know.”
“Indeed. Though it is a miracle that we lie so close to each other, isn’t it? My brother did not wish for me to travel far, and I hoped we could reconcile one day. So here we be.”
Hanno nodded, then added, “So what do I call you besides Horn of the South?”
“What else would you want to call me?” the pool asked.
“The Horn of the West called itself Seer.”
“Because Seer sees. I see nothing. I am blind, remember?”
“Yes. But you hear. Shall I name you Hearer?”
“Not a terribly good name, that,” the pool laughed. “Pool is enough. That is what I’m told I am. That is what I feel myself to be.”
Hanno nodded, and quickly corrected it by saying, “Pool. It is suitable. Golden Pool.”
“Just Pool. Gold or not, I can’t tell. And it makes no difference.”
“Very well. Pool, am I in danger?”
Hanno glanced about.
“Do you hope for danger?” Pool asked.
“I do not,” Hanno replied.
“Say it once more.”
“I do not.”
“Say it in full. I, Hanno, do not hope for danger.”
“I, Hanno, King of Carthage, do not hope for danger.”
The pool giggled in soft ripples. “What great lies you tell yourself.”
“It is no lie, Pool. Please, Pool.” Hanno stood. “I came here to escape danger. I fear those outside your golden trees. Can you offer me security or not?”
“Security is another thing entirely to hope for. Look into my surface, Hanno, King, and hope as you said you did. Hope for there to be no danger, and tell me what you see.”
The water’s surface stilled. Hanno saw no reflection in the pool, not even his own.
“What sort of riddle do you wish to torment an already broken man with, Pool?” Hanno lamented, and fell back to his knees at the water’s edge.
“You’ll find no riddles here, only what you hope for. What do you see? Tell me. I do not know, for I cannot see,” said Pool.
Hanno leaned over the water once more, confirming its vacancy.
“Nothing,” he said.
“You see what you hope for,” Pool agreed.
“I did not hope for nothing.”
“You hoped for a lack of danger. Is that not what you see?”
Hanno closed his eyes, and sighed.
“How can you hope for this, Hanno? Either you do not, or it is not what you expected,” Pool explained.
“I do not hope that I am in danger, Pool,” Hanno reasoned.
“Every hour of every day you are in danger. More so if you venture beyond the walls of your home, more so if you are king. Even more so if you are King Hanno.”
“So I cannot hope for a lack of danger?”
“This is not a hope that can be fulfilled to a living man. Besides, your words betray you, Hanno. You do not hope for this. So you see nothing.”
“Perhaps you are right, Pool,” Hanno admitted.
“I do not mean to offend,” the pool replied. “It is not my intention to lead you to despair. Quite the opposite.”
“What is your intention then, Pool? What is the purpose of this place?”
“I myself hope to know that one day. But it is my brother who sees these things. And he does not wish to share. Perhaps I am his reflection? Perhaps he is mine.”
“Have many eaten fruit from your waters?”
Pool giggled. “Fruits and nuts and meats and cheese. I am not sure why so few visit me, but a few do. I hear without seeing, feel without touching, and oh do they ever call. Cry out and weep. They must not hear my singing, for so few drink of me.”
“You can hear beyond your island?” Hanno asked.
“I see no reason why I couldn’t. I hear so many hopes. Even yours, Hanno.”
Hanno furrowed his brow. He glanced behind him at the sound of the large, hooting animals.
“Do the Gorillae visit you?” Hanno asked.
“Sometimes. They do not have many hopes,” Pool admitted.
“I hope they’ll tell me someday. But they are not here. No one else is here. You and I are here. So come, Hanno, tell me, what hopes do you have?”
“Must I narrow it to a single one?”
“Of course not. You could stay with me and hope for the world if you choose.”
“And would I receive it?”
“There is a difference between a hope and a wish. This is why so few visit me, I think. It is easier to be granted a malicious wish than a truthful hope.”
“Then I hope for glory,” Hanno said, and stood. He put his hand against his sword hilt and looked at the pool as if it were a soldier at his command. “I hope for the power of Carthage to be unmatched. I hope to regain the strength of my grandfathers and reclaim the unbridled authority of my family’s throne.”
The waters rippled, but remained empty.
“That is an empty hope,” said the pool.
“But it is mine,” Hanno protested.
The ripples returned. “No, it is not.”
“Do not defy me, Pool.”
The cry of a great beast on the island’s outer ring silenced Hanno, and he pressed his back against a tree.
“What did you see?” Pool asked.
Hanno looked into the water.
“Nothing,” Hanno said.
“Unfortunate. If this was your true hope, I could find something to help. But it is not,” Pool said.
“You can’t grant all hopes?”
“I am the Horn of the South. I do not grant anything. I am that which people hope for. You hoped most deeply for sustenance, so I became dates. Now you lie to yourself, so I do not become power nor glory.”
“You remained water even when I ate the dates.”
“I am the dates and the water. I am my same form no matter what shape I assume. I am hope, as Pool or as Horn or as date.”
“So when I ask for the power of my throne…”
“I cannot become that. Because that is not what you hope for.”
“But it is. In truth, it is, Pool.”
The water rippled.
“There is a greater hope set upon your heart. Speak it, and I shall become it,” said the water.
“Alright. I hope for Suffete’s death,” Hanno said.
The water rippled.
“No, you do not,” said Pool.
Hanno grimaced. “I hope for the destruction of the Chariot of the Gods,” he said.
The water remained empty.
“I hope for my safe passage to Carthage,” Hanno said.
“And the safe return of all my crew and all my people,” Hanno added.
“I know you, Hanno,” said Pool when its waters stilled. “But do you?”
Hanno sat down.
“You speak these things, but they ripple to nothing. Know your own hopes, Hanno of Carthage. I am blind, so I cannot see, but you can look deeply. Speak your truest hope and you shall have it,” offered the pool.
Hanno drew his sword and set it upon the water’s edge. He looked at the chipped handle. He closed his eyes, and wept.
“I hope for the return of my friend. For the life of Bostar,” he admitted.
Hanno’s eyes burned, but he squeezed them tight.
“I hope for the safety of the people I cannot protect. I hope for the lives of all those I’ve failed,” said the king. “I dare not hope for my own life, only those of my people.”
He set his face upon his palms, and said between his fingers, “I hope… that Liva is still alive. And that I might save her.”
Light pierced the gaps in his hands.
Hanno raised his head and saw a golden blade lying just beneath the surface of the water.
“It is a good hope,” said the pool.
The king blinked the weapon into focus. It was unsheathed, slender, and made entirely of gold. Unadorned, it looked to be forged as a single piece, and resembled a fantastical version of the fileting knives fish mongers used to prepare their catch.
“As with all hopes, this hope will not be given to you, Hanno,” Pool advised. “You must reach for it yourself.”
Hanno nodded, and took the golden knife.
It was heavy, and sharp.
“Sheathe your father’s sword, Hanno, and use this blade for that which you hoped,” offered Pool.
“And my other hopes?” Hanno asked.
“You have yet to reach for them.”
“I see nothing else in your waters.”
“You need nothing else. Not until this first hope is fulfilled, and through that, so will all the others.”
“I am the Horn of the South. I am the blade in your hand. I am your hope for Liva. And if you still hope for her, then you must go.”
“Where is she?”
“You will have to find her.”
Hanno twirled the blade.
“What if I had those who took her find me?” he asked.
“Then you know why I said you lied,” Pool prompted. “You do not want a lack of danger.”
“I want Liva.”
“Do I have the strength to face the Gorillae?”
“Do you hold me in your hand?”
Hanno squeezed the handle of the golden knife.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then I know you will have that strength,” said Pool.
“You cannot see. How can you know this?”
“Because I know you, Hanno, King of Carthage.”
Hanno looked at the golden knife, at the coming dawn reflected in the glowing trees, and at the surface of the pool. There he saw his reflection. Battered, bruised, but standing with an unsheathed blade of precious metal.
The king nodded, and said, “So do I.”
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.