Off to Sea
Ash could not believe what she was seeing. Somehow her phone was getting a signal, and she was able to text with Alex. After starting to text him, she realized talking would be much faster. So she clicked on his name at the top of the screen and then the telephone icon. A message popped up informing her that there was no voice service.
She said, “then I guess we will text,” to herself and began to type with her thumbs.
ASH: “I know this will sound strange. “
ASH: “But I woke up in ancient Phonecia.”
ALEX A: “You mean at that camp you were going to? The cops said you never showed up.”
ASH: “No. I mean ancient Phonecia. Somehow your augmented reality contraption shifted me back in time!!!”
ALEX A: “That makes no sense. I know that room had some wacky fancy sensors and emitters that projected directly into your visual and audio nerves. But time travel ?!?!!?!?!”
ASH: “Well, they projected me right back into the past.”
ALEX A: “I need to check something. Hold please”
ASH: “I have millennia or three. No hurry.”
ALEX A: “Well… hmmm… I looked at the log file. You told the system to start your job at 2022 BC and gave phoenicia as the server name. The feedback from the job controller said:”
ALEX A: “Batch Job Submitted. Engaging Quantum Temporal Solver.”
ASH: “What is a quantum temporal solver?”
ALEX A: “Well, there is a quantum computing project in the back of the basement. Some government project. They paid for the AR interface you were using. It’s connected to the compute cluster too.”
ASH: “What does that have to do with time travel.”
Alex A: “Hmm… It’s all classified. But I wonder…”
Ash started to type “I wonder what” when her screen went dark, replaced by an empty battery icon. She looked at the moon outside her window. So bright and clear in the sky, and she yelled a four-letter word that would not exist for four-thousand years.
Moments later, Takaa burst into her room and asked, “My lady, are you safe?” while he scanned the room, spear in hand.
Verihbitt and then Mnihh’dm soon followed. The room was suddenly crowded.
Ash took a deep breath, looked at her now blank phone, and said, “I’m fine. I had a bad dream. I must have yelled in my sleep.”
Verihbitt looked at Ash. “I can hear the fear and frustration in your voice.” She then walked to Ash and enveloped her in her arms. The unexpected empathy broke Ash, and she began to sob in her new friend’s arms.
That night, Ash slept well. When a servant came into her small room and woke her, the sun was already high in the sky.
“My lady, I have been asked by the Princess to bathe and dress you.”
Ash sat up in the bed while a half dozen girls and women streamed in with pots of steaming water, containers of oil, and piles of clothes. Before she could say no, they pulled her to her feet and removed the robe she had been wearing.
Ash said, “be careful. I made that myself…”
One of the older serving women looked at the robe then at Ash, and said, “My lady should leave the sewing to her slaves.” She then casually tossed the robes onto the brazier burning in the corner of the room.
Ash’s protests were stifled as more women lead her to a couch and began to smear scented olive oil over her body. She was not used to be naked in front of a group of women. She had always avoided PE classes for that very reason. However, she hat to admit it felt excellent.
When they started to scrape the oil from her skin with long bronze scrapers, she relaxed and said, in English, “When in Phoenicia.”
Over an hour later, she exited into the courtyard dressed in flowing red and brown robes, her hair stacked upon her head with bone pins and a heavy, blue lapis lazuli necklace around her neck. She had to admit to herself, she felt pretty good.
A servant guided her across the courtyard into a larger room where her friends, the King, and other court members sat or lounged on couches arranged in a circle. Verihbitt’s father was there lying next to Verihbitt. His exposed legs were bruised and scraped. When he saw Ash, he smiled and moved to get up.
“Father, no. You stay where you are. She can come to you,” Verhibitt said as she stood and greeted Ash with a hug. She then looked Ash up and down at arm’s length and said, “You look much more presentable.”
Another servant appeared out of nowhere and lead Ash to an empty couch and put a table covered in food in front of her. When the smell of the fresh fruit hit her, Ash suddenly felt very hungry.
Ash was able to devour a pile of grapes before King Attiball sat up upon his couch and addressed the group. “Now that we are all here, I must ask more of all of you.”
Everyone stopped eating and chatting and gave the King their attention.
“A trader just returned from the western end of the sea with bad news. Two of our colonies west of Carthage have been sacked and burned to the ground. I will not and can not stand for this.”
A large man dressed in armor stood up and said, “I will prepare an army. We can sail on the full moon.”
“General, as much as I would like to strike out with our might, right now we don’t know where to strike. This was not the act of another prince. Nor was it the local slaves revolting. The cities are gone. There is no sign of an army or a rabble hiding nearby. You will get your time, and you should prepare the men and provisions and position them in Carthage. But, before we can strike, we must know who to strike.”
The King walked to Verihbitt’s couch and said, “Princess Verihbitt, I need you to go on a voyage. I am asking you to take whoever you need and join the trader on his return to the west. This will be a dangerous journey. But I fear staying here may be just as dangerous.”
Pacing back to the center of the room, the King continued. “We tortured the men who cut the ropes yesterday. They would not say much before they died, but we discovered that they came from the far west, where our sea opens up to the endless sea. When they cried out in pain, they called to someone name Gula, and they called him the Master of Atlas. I don’t know if it is a western god or a Prince.”
Verhibitt kneeled before her uncle. “My King,” she said, “we will go west, and we will send word back on what we find. “
Soon after the King left, Verhibitt, Mnihh’dm, and Takaa huddled with Verhibitt’s father. Ash tried to stay out of the discussion, but she soon found herself drawn in. After they had planned their route to Egypt, Carthage, and then further west to what Ash assumed was the coast of Spain, she could no longer contain herself.
She asked Verhibitt, “I know you just met me, and I am a stranger here, but I would be honored if I could travel with you. I have never been to Egypt or Carthage, and I do think I might be helpful, even though I don’t know how to fight or spy.”
Verhibitt smiled and made a sound that Ash assumed was the ancient Phoenician equivalent of “Duh.”
An hour later, Ash and her companions were back on a chariot headed to the city. They were also accompanied by four war chariots with a driver and archer in each. The trip was uneventful and they went directly from the city gate to the port, stopping in front of a ship. It had a single mast in the center and a huge wooden rudder at the rear. Ash could see rows of benches for oarsman. A carved figure of a woman with elaborately styled hair decorated the bow.
There was not much for Ash to do in the chaos of loading a ship for a long voyage. After noticing her standing on the pier, Mnihh’dm took her to a pile of cedar timbers piled next to the ship. She climbed up and sat on top of the pile to get a better view. The process was fascinating. A steady stream of people arrived with clay pots and woven baskets. They moved in a coordinated way with no direction, doubtlessly having each done it hundreds of times before.
Over time her thoughts also turned to her phone. She started by pondering the physics of being able to communicate with the future. Then her mind turned to problem-solving. She needed a way to recharge the device. Every idea she had seemed to be a non-starter. She even thought about the potato battery she had made in elementary school. Then she remembered that potatoes came from South America.
Her reverie was interrupted by a loud crashing sound behind her. She stood and turned around. There she saw that a cart full of clay pots had run into a cart full of some sort of citrus fruit. That reminded her of a project she had started during a LARP’ing week a few years ago. She and another engineer in the the group had made a Babylon Battery from a clay pot with an iron rod, a copper tube, and some orange juice.
She pivoted towards the ship, spotted Mnihh’dm, and yelled as loud as she could, “Friend! I need your help!”
Sword drawn, Mnihh’dm rushed towards Ash.
“No, I’m not in danger. I just need your help. I need to make something for our journey. I can’t explain what it is, but it is very important to me. Can you lend me someone that knows the markets here? I need supplies. And coin?”
Mnihh’dm relaxed. “Yes, my Lady. And some soldiers to watch over you.” By the time Ash lowered herself off the stack of cedar logs, Mnihh’dm had returned with two soldiers and an older woman.
“These three will help you.” He then handed Ash a heavy leather bag, “And you will need this to pay for your supplies. But, please be careful. Do not do anything that might attract the attention of our brilliant magistrate.”
An hour later, Ash and her three helpers returned with baskets full of her supplies. Finding the copper sheeting and wire had been the hardest part. When they were about to give up their quest, they had found a jeweler who had both.
She led her group onto the ship and had them deposit their findings in a pile against the mast.
Phoenician ships did not have cabins or a hold. Cargo and supplies were piled between the rowers, and passengers could travel in tents erected on small decks at the front and back of the ship. Ash knew that they would row or, if the wind was favorable, sail during the day. They would have to pull onto shore at night to camp. Looking at the cramped area around her, she realized that the next few weeks would be long and difficult. Working on her battery would help pass the time.
Her supplies safely secured, she thanked her helpers, then moved to the front of the ship where Verihbitt stood with some men she did not know.
Verihbitt said, “Ash, I am glad you are back. We are loaded and about to leave. And I would like you to meet our captain, guide, and owner of this fine vessel, Duzi.”
He was a tall man with a mane of long, flowing brown hair tied with a simple leather thong behind his head. Ash could not help but notice that he wore a short, sleeveless tunic that showed off his muscular build.
Bowing slightly towards Ash, he said, “Princess, you mentioned that you would be bringing a foreign girl with you, but you did not mention that she was so beautiful.” And then he smiled at her.
Ash felt her face flush. She managed to say, “Thank you, um, we are pleased you could help us, on, um, our journey.” All she could do was look at her own feet.
Verihbitt laughed and gently grasped Ash’s arm, then whispered in her ear, “Careful, this one could sell eggs to a chicken farmer.”
The awkward moment was broken by an older man standing next to Duzi. “Since no one will introduce me, I shall do it myself. I am called Alim by this shark, although I have better names that are too long for his silly brain to remember.”
Duzi laughed and said, “My apologies, teacher. Indeed, this is Alim, and he is responsible for my silly brain. My father purchased him in Egypt to be my tutor when I was still a boy. Ignore his complaints. He wanted me to be a scribe, bent over clay tablets all day to count the corn as it goes in and out of a warehouse. He finds my current profession beneath him. And therefore beneath me. One of those long Egyptian names translates to angry old man.”
“Ignore most of what he says,” said Alim, “He was dropped on his head before he was given to my care, and I have not been able to do much with him. More importantly, the Princess tells us that you are a scholar yourself and a builder of tools?”
Ash felt an immediate connection with this older man that reminded her of so many of her favorite professors. “It is a pleasure to meet you,” she said. “I am not so much of a scholar, but I do enjoy making things.”
Duzi, playfully pushed the old man behind him. “We have a long journey before us, and you two will have plenty of time to discuss the stars or casting metal or whatever it is that interests this crazy old man. However, that will have to wait.”
He bowed to Verhibitt and Ash and said, “Everyone and everything seems to be on board. The tide has just started to head out. If you will excuse me, it is time for us begin.” He reached down and untied a rope holding the front of the ship to the dock, signaling someone to do the same at the rear.
Then, In a loud, clear voice, Duzi gave the order to the oarsmen, “Off to sea.”
Ash felt the ship rock gently under her as the oarsmen bent to the task, and the ship left the port.
– To Be Continued –
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