They emerged on the other side of the island.
Neither could believe what they saw.
“She came back!” Liva said.
Hanno nodded, and waved at the trireme circling the waters just off the island. Barca stood on the bow and returned the wave while the oars swept the ship to the shore.
When its amber-studded hull pressed against the sand, Artemisia, Aba, and her children gathered with the marines by the rails.
“Glad to see you ignored Suffete’s command, Helmsman,” Hanno called out.
“We thought you were dead!” Jabnit shared.
“Looks like you were enjoying yourselves while we hunted for you,” Artemisia pointed out, and crossed her arms.
“May we board, Helmsman?” Hanno asked.
Artemisia considered the mountain, and the shadows gathering around its crimson glow. It seemed to be focused on its own workings, and paid no mind to the ship or the island.
“I’ll find you some clothes,” said the Greek.
One of the marines tossed the king and queen a rope, and they climbed aboard. Jabnit greeted them with a spare tunic for Liva. The Lixitae pulled it on and buckled it at her waist, but kept the leather shawl upon her shoulders.
“Have the shadows attacked? Has Chariot begun his assault on our colonies?” Hanno asked.
“The darkness still gathers,” Aba lamented.
They stood at the stern, looking back at the looming mountain.
“It seems to be focused on whatever it’s doing. Let us slip by without a second glance. Only talks to Suffete,” Artemisia explained.
She pointed to the distant form of a man in white standing near Chariot’s base. The Councilman’s trireme remained tied to one of the nearby boulders. The three triremes of gold lay anchored nearby, carrying Suffete’s glistening armor. Suffete’s prize, it seemed, had yet to be claimed.
“Then there’s still time,” Hanno declared.
“Time for what?” asked Aba. “Praise Tanit that you still live, Hanno. We came searching for you, but we must flee before your presence is discovered.”
“Hanno is going to stop the mountain,” Liva said.
“We’re going to stop the mountain,” Hanno corrected.
“Did you find a way?” Mapen asked.
“That doesn’t sound like you actually found a way,” Jabnit noted.
“How do you stop a mountain?” Fierel asked.
“We should go, Hanno. You are our king, and if we can safely return to Carthage, then praise the gods and make sacrifices for that,” Aba insisted.
“My crew, my crew!” Hanno said, and raised his hands to stifle further protests. “We have been through much. We have challenged beasts and foes none of us could have known. And we have triumphed. It is through your skill that we have come thus far. Do you know what it is you have done?”
“What have we done?” Aba asked.
“Just look around you. We stand in the shadow of a mountain beside an island made of gold. If you think this is not because of the strength of every oarsman and shipwright on this vessel, or the bravery of each and every marine, the skill of our Helmsman, the beauty of Mapen’s songs, and the steady playing of Jabnit’s pipe, or even the prayers of our priestess and the laughter of her youngest son. If you do not think we have made it here by your efforts, then you do not know yourselves.
“I know you all, and you know your king and queen. We cannot return to Carthage while there remains one last song to be earned. Look into your hearts, Libyphoenicians, Greeks, Lixitae, men and women of Carthage. Know that we can stop even the Chariot of the Gods.”
All stayed quiet, save Artemisia.
The Greek stepped forward, and said, “What should we do?”
“Do you expect payment, Helmsman?” Aba asked.
“I expect we’ll all die.”
“And still you remain?” Hanno asked.
“I’ve known many kings, Hanno of Carthage,” said Artemisia. “You’re the first I’d be willing to die for.” She smiled and added, “I’ll even do it for free.”
“Gods be good,” Aba gasped.
Hanno returned the Greek’s smile and clapped her on the shoulder.
“Ready the sail,” he said. “Ready the catapult and the javelins. Ready the oars and ready the pipes. Ready your hearts and ready your wits.”
“To stations!” Artemisia shouted.
Jabnit played the pipe while Mapen and Fierel ran below to signal the rowers. The marines stood in formation and prepped the catapult while the sails were unfurled and tied fast.
They thrust out into the open waters, and turned the bow toward the mountain.
“What’s the plan?” Artemisia asked.
“I need to get to that mountain,” Hanno said.
“You tried that before.”
“This time I’m not going to kill it.”
“Then what are you going to do?”
“Liva’s going to kill it.”
Liva showed everyone the golden knife. “With this, I assume,” she said.
“You can’t kill a mountain with a knife,” Aba said, and frowned. “Can you?”
“We’re going to try,” said Hanno.
Aba nodded. “Then let the blessings of Baal Hammon go with your blade, my queen.”
The priestess laid her hands upon the unsheathed knife, and smiled at Liva.
“Why do you need to get to the mountain if Liva’s killing it?” Artemisia asked.
“To talk to it. Perhaps Chariot will kill me on sight. Perhaps he will be withdrawn. Perhaps he will turn his focus on me and delay his collection of shadows. Either way, I need to earn Liva the time she needs to discover a method of killing him,” Hanno explained.
Artemisia nodded, and said, “The second we get close enough for him to see you, he’ll attack. No safe harbor there either.”
“Can you carry me, my queen?” Hanno asked Liva.
“It’s hard enough to fly by myself. I doubt I could lift you very far,” Liva said.
“What do you mean fly?” Aba asked.
Hanno collected one of the grappling hooks stored at the rail.
“We’ll use Suffete’s ship as a bridge,” Hanno said.
“Shall I play the attack?” Jabnit asked.
“Do not reveal us until we must.”
“What do we do after you get onto the mountain?” Artemisia asked.
The helmsman grinned. “I like the flexibility of those orders. All ahead!”
“Hold on, what did you mean fly?” Aba pressed.
“Wait and see. And pray, Priestess,” Hanno advised.
The rowers pulled and pulled and the trireme shot across the calm coastal waters. Hanno gripped the rudder and made what he hoped would not be his last turn of the ship, and pointed the bow toward Suffete’s trireme.
If the mountain saw them, he made no sign of it. Chariot kept his glowing red eyes on the gathering shadows, his mouth a thin line of bubbling flame.
Suffete seemed to turn at the ship’s approach, though he remained upon the black stone shore.
Ever closer they sailed, until Hanno and Artemisia gave one last turn on the rudders to angle parallel with Suffete’s trireme.
Hanno handed off the rudder and embraced Liva.
“Fly well, my queen,” he said.
“Do your best to stay alive,” Liva replied.
“I will do my best.”
They released each other, and the Lixitae pulled down her leather shawl. Golden eagle’s wings sprouted from her back. She leapt over the rail and took to the sky, catching a warm breeze from the boiling mountain.
“Tanit be praised!” Aba gasped.
“Ah. So you were being literal about flying,” Artemisia noted.
Hanno stood upon the starboard rail, twirling the grappling hook.
“It’s been a pleasure serving aboard your ship, Artemisia,” said Hanno.
“Likewise,” said the Greek.
Hanno threw the grappling hook and pulled it tight against the second trireme’s stern. He swung out and struck the ship’s hull, then climbed aboard while Artemisia guided her ship back to the sea.
Several of Suffete’s idle marines raced to the rail to see what was happening, and stepped back at the sight of Hanno.
He drew his sword, and looked into the shocked faces of the men.
They remained where they stood, and watched the king walk to the railing and cut the rope binding the trireme to the rocks.
“Here,” Hanno said to the nearest Carthaginian, and handed him his father’s sword. “Keep an eye on this for me.”
Unarmed, Hanno stepped off the ship and pushed it away from the rocks. The crew made no protests at their withdrawal from the coast, and turned the bow toward the open ocean.
“Hanno!” shouted Suffete. The Councilman hadn’t moved, but he pointed down at the king. “Chariot of the Gods, look! Look, there is Hanno!”
Suffete withdrew a good distance from the shore, and Hanno walked toward him, up the shallow incline and across the warm stone.
The mountain fully opened its fiery eyes and looked at its base.
Hanno glanced up at Liva, who circled overhead with the golden knife in hand.
“I am here, Chariot!” Hanno shouted with his arms spread wide.
“Here to submit? We could still use our king,” Suffete mocked.
“I’m here to stop you.”
“Your people will die, Hanno of Carthage. Be thankful your life has been spared,” the mountain said.
“I am not thankful. I am here to stop you,” Hanno said.
The ground trembled.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Hanno. Lay down your sword and submit to the Chariot of the Gods,” Suffete demanded.
“I have no sword,” Hanno said, and showed the councilman his empty, wounded hands.
Hanno walked up the side of the hill, away from Suffete and toward the mountain’s widening mouth.
Chariot laughed, and the shadows dissipated with his growing heat.
“Stop, Hanno, stop!” Suffete shouted. “Stop or the mountain will have to kill you!”
“Then kill me,” Hanno said. He stopped, waved at Liva, and ran.
He charged the mountain quick as he could, leaping over rocks and evading the widening flows of melted stone. The shadows diminished like fog before the sun, and geysers of flame blasted out of Chariot’s side.
“Alone you charge me, brave Hanno. Alone you will die!” rumbled the mountain.
Hanno made no reply. He just kept running. The fires grew hotter and the crags grew wider, but still he ran, dodging every obstacle the mountain threw at him until Chariot fumed a rage so hot the shadows fled his summit.
“You will die alone, Hanno!” shouted the Chariot of the Gods.
“Not alone!” Hanno called back, struggling against the steepening, burning ground.
Liva dove out of the smoke-filled sky and struck the mountain with the golden knife.
For a moment it seemed Chariot feared the flying woman. Then he laughed a great, shuddering laugh.
Liva paused, hovering and examining the blade. It had left no mark on the mountain, but seemed no less sharp.
She struck the ground again, but again the knife had no effect, so she withdrew to the sky.
“Hanno, it’s not working!” she said.
“Then try something else!” he called back.
“What is this?” the mountain asked.
“I told you, I’m not alone,” said Hanno.
“Not alone,” Liva muttered, then she shouted, “Not alone! Hanno, it’s the Horn of the South! It’s not a weapon, it’s the Horn of the South!”
“Take your horn and flee for your life,” mocked the mountain.
He swung his stony arm at the flying woman.
A quick dive and a turning ascent put distance between Liva and Chariot. As she flew back toward the island, she shouted, “I know what to do! Hold on, Hanno!”
The king resumed his charge.
“What weapons you have fail, and yet you continue your doomed ascent!” mocked the mountain.
A wall of fiery spears flew at Hanno. He ducked to evade them and rolled away from a second volley, barely avoiding falling into a burning gash.
As he rose to resume his charge, a strange, beautiful noise echoed across the sea. It sounded like golden chimes. The music grew, louder and louder, and finally became a horn that stilled the air and sent a chill down Hanno’s sweating spine.
The sound increased the mountain’s fury, and Chariot launched more flaming lances at the king.
Hanno ducked away from these and kept running, when the stone caved in and erupted in a solid jet of flame.
The fire came so fast it enveloped Hanno before he could recognize the danger.
His steps slowed, but he continued. Hanno examined his hands and what should have been charred flesh, and instead saw a glowing purple hue upon his arms. It surrounded him on all sides, and when a burning pike flew at him it glanced off him like it were made of snow.
“Hello Hanno,” said the flames.
They crackled and chirped, and near blinded Hanno when he looked at his own skin.
“We heard your horn. We’d like to help,” said the flames, and Hanno recognized them.
“Children of Harmattan!” Hanno hooted.
The horn returned, and a great wind pressed against the mountain.
“Hanno!” cried the wind.
Harmattan blew the smoke away from the king, cooling a path for him to travel.
Hanno marched on, protected from every flame and missile by the gusting wind and the enveloping fire children.
“What treachery is this?” shouted the mountain.
The ground shook greater than before, but it came not from Chariot. It came from further ashore, where a thousand trees burst through what had been a flat plain of blasted stone. Their roots swam through the rock, tearing it apart and continuing onto the mountain itself, where they collapsed whole sections of Chariot’s side. One tree stood taller than the others, its branches wide and hurling boulders with ease.
“What trees are these that move?” the mountain shouted.
“Adansonia!” Hanno cried out.
Chariot threw his own rock sides at the trees, but they evaded the boulders. With a great roar, the mountain blasted molten stone toward them. Harmattan blew a whirlwind between the trees and the flames, protecting Adansonia and lifting up even more of the mountain and tossing it into the sea.
With a mighty crash, the waves smashed against the mountain’s side. Suffete fled from the rising water, crying out in fear for the steaming assault.
From the southern shore, a wave of sand echoed the water. It tore at the rock, and became a cloud of a million missiles with Harmattan’s burning wind.
“Poseidon and Sagara defy you as well, Chariot of the Gods!” the king shouted.
The horn sounded once more, and a stone missile smashed against the mountainside. Hanno felt a cold wind at his back, and saw his trireme’s catapult launch its ammunition at Chariot, though the stones flew far faster than they should have and hit with far greater force.
The wind froze Chariot’s side, and a second wind carried the catapult’s ammunition to shatter the ice and stone.
“We welcome your return, Hannooooo,” called Scirocco.
“And revel in your horns,” added Mistral.
Then a great crash of boulders echoed the blowing of the Horn of the South. Gibraltar and Jebel rose from the ground beside the trees and battered at the mountain.
The winds blew and the giants smashed, and while Chariot hurled his fire, the children of Harmattan preserved Hanno’s flesh.
Half the mountain caved in from the unrelenting assault.
“You cannot destroy the Chariot of the Gods!” he shouted. “You cannot destroy me!”
A great rumble came from deep underground. The flames dimmed and the mountain closed his eyes.
Suffete raced to catch up with Hanno and flee the assaults from the sea. “Hanno, stop this! Stop this at once!” he demanded.
But Hanno did not stop. He ran forward, ever onward, toward the shrinking summit.
“I am still here, Chariot!” Hanno cried out.
The mountain rumbled, but his fuming smoke fled before a widening space of sky.
There, a collection of stars glowed bright enough to pierce the blue of daylight, forming the shape of an archer and a giant. The stars moved, and the giant crafted the twinkling lights into a heavenly arrow.
The archer accepted the weapon, and launched it from his bow.
The ground shook, and one of Chariot’s eyes caved in. The mountain screamed.
The stars disappeared, and the ground stood still.
“I am the Chariot of the Gods,” the mountain rumbled, closing his burning eye and sealing his mouth.
The ground sank, and Hanno felt his feet grow hot where Harmattan’s children couldn’t protect him.
“What are you doing?” Suffete asked. “Do you realize what power you’re sacrificing? Do you realize what fortune you’re throwing away? Why would you do this?”
Hanno saw Liva take to the skies above the distant island. She raised the golden knife, and caught the sun like a beacon.
The king smiled. He stopped, looked at Suffete, and said, “You don’t know me very well.”
The mountain exploded.
Endless chasms of fire opened beneath Hanno and Suffete, and the councilman fell screaming into the flames.
Hanno’s feet gave way as well, but he did not fall. Liva dove through the sky to collect the king and spread her wings, catching the hot air and rising with the assistance of the three winds.
She flew over the water with the king in hand, and landed atop the deck of his trireme.
There they watched as the Chariot of the Gods collapsed in on itself, taking Suffete’s reward with him. The coast broke open and the waves rushed in, snuffing out the mountain’s burning heart and burying it in Sagara’s sand.
The crew cried out in joy over the rising steam and the cooling land, and the kiss Liva planted on Hanno’s lips.
The trees, the winds, the Colossae, and the fire children all gathered at the coast.
Hanno waved to them, and without a word, dropped to his knee, bowing before his cheering subjects.
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.