Design and Deploy
The group reconvened in the central courtyard. Soon most of the remaining royal court and military leadership joined them, minus Ahinadab. After picking himself up, he and his guards had fled the palace. No one knew where and few cared.
Verihbitt took charge of the palace and the planning. “As niece to the King and ranking royal family member, since my betrothed decided to leave us, I will lead our response. Who is the ranking military commander still here?”
The assembled officials looked around. None of the leadership from the fleet was there. The attendees in uniform huddled in the corner and talked amongst themselves. Before long, an older man in a tattered uniform stepped forward.
“Your Highness. It seems I’m the ranking officer after the fleet was destroyed and others left with the prince. I am Abibaal, supply master for this port.”
Verihbitt thought for a few minutes, then smiled. “Well, that is good. Because a quartermaster is what we need. I hereby appoint you as Admiral of his majesty’s fleet and army in the west. Now go and do what quartermasters do best. Get me an inventory of what we have left. Food, weapons, fuel, ships, supplies. Everything within the port and the city walls. I expect a detailed list first thing in the morning.”
She turned to the crowd and motioned for the best-dressed man in the room to step forward. “You are Platibaal, correct? “
The man answered, “That is correct, I am Platiball the farmer.”
“And a smuggler and trader as well, from what others have told me. You are now my ambassador and chief negotiator.”
The man turned ashen white. “But my princess, I know nothing of negotiation and –“
Verihbitt cut him off, “You know how to lie and hide things. That is what we need now. You are to row out to the main boat and deliver a clear message. Tell them that we will comply with their demands but will need three days to gather the money. Go to Baal’s temple and take enough gold to satisfy them as a token. And if you skim, I’ll shave part of your hand off.”
The crow gasped, and Takaa asked Duzi, “I thought we were going to fight?”
Verihbitt stood and said, “This is to buy us time. We need a plan, and we need time to come up with our next step.” She paused and looked at her hands, and took a deep breath. Then asked, “Ash, what is our next step?”
Ash stood frozen. What she wanted to do was hide behind Duzi and Takaa and let someone else figure this out. But no one was breaking the silence. She tried to relate this to her previously normal life. What would she do if her boss asked her this question? Then an idea came to her.
“Well, what I usually do in a situation like this, is develop a project plan. And that starts with defining our specifications and then brainstorming solutions. “
Alim asked, “Why would getting so drunk our brain storms help?”
“That didn’t translate well. I’ll explain. We are going to use some proven project development tools to understand and design our way out of this mess.”
Alim shook his head, “I only understood the small words in that sentence. But you have been correct so far with your inventions, so lead on.”
An hour later, Ash had all of her friends sitting in a circle with two scribes ready to write things down on clay tablets.
She began the session with, “Remember, there are no bad ideas. Just share what you are thinking with the group. You don’t have to defend it. No one can criticize anyone’s ideas. Our scribes will write it down, and then we will choose the best ideas.”
“Our problem statement is simple. There is a fleet of large ships off our coast. They have big, polished metal mirrors on their decks. When the sun is right, they use those mirrors to send the heat of the sun on the town, burning everything. How do we stop them from doing that?”
Takaa spoke first, “We sink their ships!”
Mnihh’dm shouted back, “We have no ships or soldiers to do that with!”
Ash interrupted with, “Remember, no criticism. We are generating ideas here.”
Mnihh’dm muttered, “You do things strange where you come from. Arguing is where the fun is.”
Takaa then asked, “So no one can attack what I say?”
Ash said, “Correct. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming.”
“Then,” began Takaa with a huge grin, “I would like to point out that Alim’s tunic is the color of vomit and it makes him look sickly and makes me feel worse.”
Alim started to shout, “You oversized, insolent…,” then saw the look on Ash’s face and instead said, “Thank you for your comment.”
Some laughing and silence followed, then Verhibitt said, “What if we attack at night, in small boats, somehow disable the mirrors or the boats?”
Alim added, “We could damage their tillers, so they can’t steer.”
And that started the discussion. For a good hour, they tossed out ideas and a few more insults, Ash facilitating and adding her own suggestions.
When two tablets were full, she said, “This is good. We have good ideas. And I think we can put them into three groups. The first is to sneak out there and damage their ships somehow. The second is to pray for divine intervention, and the third group is to find a way to damage the mirrors so they do not work. Verihbitt, you get to decide which group to design our solution around.”
The princess began to pace the room while everyone waited for her answer. After some time, she said, “I think we will do all three. The priests can start their sacrifices. But the rest of us will find a way to sabotage the mirrors and their ships. I like the idea of making clay pots filled with ink and fire. What do you all think?”
Ash answered first, “I agree. We can take clay bottles and fill them with ink or oil. Attack them at night and cover the mirrors with ink and sink a few ships with the fire.”
The group all nodded in agreement.
“But,” asked Alim, “How do we get out there quickly and quietly?”
Ash answered, “We build outriggers?”
Takaa looked at her and said, “I do not know this word, outrigger?”
“Some island people in a distant sea use them. They are small, fast rowing boats that can get through the waves and maneuver between the large ships.”
Ash took a clay tablet and sketched a narrow rowing boat. It showed five rowers and someone in the front and back to throw the small bombs. She marked an area to store the clay jars. Then she drew an outrigger on the right side of the small vessel.
She tapped the tablet with the stylus and said, “We need to make as many of these as we can, as fast as we can. Carve the body out of logs, make them as thin as possible. This part here,” she pointed to the outrigger, “will keep the boat from tipping over. We also need big fat oars instead of the ones we use.” She drew a picture of a wide-bladed, sort paddle.
Alim and Mnihh’dm studied the tablet and talked to each other in low whispers. Before long, they were nodding and started making their own drawings.
Meanwhile, Verihbitt ordered the head of the local potters guild to start making the small bombs. She then commissioned another group to get oil and die to fill the projectiles. Abibaal the former quartermaster, joined her in coordinating supplies and manpower.
As the sun started to set, everyone in the town who had not fled inland was busy working on the plan.
Several rooms in the palace were turned into makeshift workshops, and everyone was busy, although Ash really had nothing to do. Her attempts to supervise slowed people down, so she found herself in her own workshop, staring at the pile of supplies she had gathered for the device Alex had sent instructions for. Her battery and her phone sat side by side on a bench, both depleted of energy.
She stood there, paralyzed, for so long that the oil lamp she had brought with her flickered out.
“Ash, are you OK? Why are you standing alone in the dark?”
She turned to find Duzi, his charming smile illuminated by a small lamp he held in his hand.
“I honestly don’t know. I should be working on my device, but I just can’t seem to start. Or at least charge my phone. But same.”
She felt his strong arms wrap around her from behind. The heat of his body was comforting. She tucked her head under his chin and leaned back into him.
“I am happy with that.” He kissed to top of her head gently. “I don’t want you to work on those other things.”
She felt his arms tighten around her. But instead of comforting her, it made her feel trapped. Ash flexed her arms to signal that she wanted him to loosen his grip. Instead, he held her tighter.
Duzi said, “I want to keep you right here with me.”
Rage built up within Ash. It was not just about how Duzi was acting. It was about everything. She had not thought about leaving him and her new friends. She had just focused on solving the problem of how to get home.
Ash shouted, “Let go of me right now!”
She felt his arms fall away as she turned to face him, “You have no right to tell me what to do or when to do it. Nor can you try and keep me here.” She poked his chest with her forefinger while she spoke, looking up at his face.
“I know that in your culture, you feel like men make all the decisions, and we women just need to meekly do what you tell us. But, and listen very clearly, where I come from,” Her voice got louder as she continued to shout at him. “Duzi, where I come from I decide what I’m going to do and who I’m going to do it with!”
She expected him to try and comfort her, or apologize. But instead, his face turned bright red.
He grabbed her by the shoulders and shouted into her face, “I came here to help you. And I was telling you that I did not want you to leave me. I have done nothing but support your strange way of doing things. And…“ Duze let go of her shoulders and stepped back a few feet. “… And I get repaid by being accused of something I did not do. That may be how you do things where you are from, but here we talk things out and treat each other with kindness!”
Duzi turned and walked out of the workshop, leaving Ash standing there in the dark, not really knowing how she felt.
The next few days were hectic. Ash ventured out of her workshop to check on progress, then returned to work on her own device. The phone sat uncharged, and she only ate sparingly and slept less. When Verihbitt or Takaa came to check on her, she told them she was just tired and that everything would work out.
No matter where she went, Ash didn’t see Duzi, and he never returned to their rooms. When she finally asked her friends where he was, Alim mentioned that he was angry and had taken a chariot to try and gather more supplies from the surrounding villages. He had told Alim, “It’s best I do my part from a distance.”
On the second night, two of the outriggers were done, and she worked with the oarsmen from her ship and some navy rowers they picked. At first, they struggled with the broad paddles she had devised. But after doing laps in the harbor for a few hours, they got the hang of it and showed that they could move quickly and quietly. Takaa had recruited a group of skinny teens to be their bombardiers, and he was showing them how to throw the small pots, whild sitting down, in a field out of view from the ships blocking the city.
Before she went to bed, a little after midnight, Ash filled the battery with juice to charge her phone while she tried to sleep. At first, she blamed her restlessness on all of the stressful activities going on. Then she realized the problem was that she missed Duzi.
As the sun rose the next morning, a messenger rowed ashore from the siege line with a scroll. Verihbitt read it and announced to everyone around her. “We must deliver the gold tomorrow before the sun is at the highest.” She turned to Mnih’dm. “How are we doing with collecting the golds?”
Mnihh’dm said, “We are on schedule. We collected every bit in the city. Duzi is still out with some troops getting the rest from the surrounding villages.”
“There you have it,” Verihbitt said to the messenger. “Tell your king that we will have his money tomorrow.”
The messenger grinned and said, “That is good. You are wise not to fight us. However, I would have enjoyed seeing this city burned to the ground. I’ve never been a fan of Tripoli.” Ash could see some of the city father’s in the crowd tense. But they held their cool, knowing they would get their chance to fight back after midnight.
After a brief conference to update everyone on progress, Ash returned to her shop. She tried to work on her device but could not concentrate. Then she remembered her phone. She picked it up, flopped down on her bed in the next room, and texted,
Alexa, order me a pizza.
She waited a good fifteen minutes before a reply came back.
Ash! So good to hear from you. We were worried something had happened. How is the mechanism coming along?
Slow progress, we have a bit of a bigger problem here. Your normal ancient warlord battles and such.
Well, stay safe, we can’t wait to get you back in our time and place. Even the men in black are starting to get anxious.
What if I don’t want to come back?
We can’t stop you. You have to give us the time and place for us to pull you back. So you control everything.
I guess that is true
I will say, that your friends and your parents would be heartbroken if you didn’t come back.
hmmm…. I thought it would be easy, but I’ve made friends here too.
Before Alex could answer, the phone went dead. Confused, scared, and depressed, Ash closed her eyes and soon drifted off into a deep sleep
“Ash… Ash… wake up.” It was Verihbitt’s voice.
“I, ah, what… what time is it?”
“It is time to destroy a fleet. Come with me, join us on the balcony. And grab some food.”
A few minutes later, Ash found herself on the balcony overlooking the harbor. She could see the dim outline of the sea wall and the occasional glint of moonlight off of the ships poised to attack them. The vessels had no lamps lit or fires going on their decks. They were just darker patches on the dark sea.
She could also make out the nine outrigger canoes they had constructed. The plan was for them to follow the coast to the east, then head out to sea and loop back, attacking the extortionists from the rear with fire, then paddle between the ships and launch the die on the mirrors.
They all stood in silence and munched on the snacks each had brought, looking for some sign of what was going on. When Ash could not take it anymore, she asked Verihbitt, “Did Duzi come back from his mission.”
“Why yes, he did, just as the sun was setting. He had enough oil and dye to finish filling our pots. He was a huge help.”
Feeling relieved that he was back safe in the walls of the city, Ash then asked, “Do you know where he is now?”
Verihbitt lifted her arm and pointed out to sea. “Somewhere out there, rowing with his men.”
Ash’s heart sank. And she knew, if he were killed in this attack, she would never forgive herself.
Just as the waiting became unbearable, they saw the first flash. All at once, flames appeared up and down the line of ships. The flames provided enough light for them to see the outriggers speed between vessels and, hopefully, launch the multicolored dyes that the team had scraped together.
Like many battles, this one did not last long. They could hear some shouting and splashing from up on the hill, but mostly they saw the line of ships begin to move in random, at least those that were not on fire. It seems that the oarsmen on the ships had not been sleeping on their benches, and by the time they got into position and began to move, the wooden decks were on fire. Although they could not see, they also assumed the mirrors were now covered in many different colors of dye.
When they saw the outriggers begin to head back to the harbor, A good two-thirds of the ships were on fire, and some were starting to sink. The remaining, including the large command vessel, were rowing to the east. The group on the balcony gave a loud cheer, and the rest of the city did the same. Everyone headed to the harbor.
The outriggers were beaching themselves when Ash, Verihbitt, Mnihh’dm, and Alim got there. Then she realized that the large bodyguard had not been with them on the balcony. Takaa must have gone with the attackers as well.
She counted the outriggers.
There were only six that made it back to the port.
In the dim light and in the crowd of well-wishers, she could not spot Takaa or Duzi. She walked through the gathering looking, hoping. Dread and panic welling up in her as she still could not find either man.
Then she felt a tap on her shoulder. “Looking for someone?”
It was Duzi. She spun around and leaped onto him, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips. She kissed him as hard as she could. When she pulled back to grab a breath of air, she saw that Verihbitt was doing the same to Takaa.
Realizing how awkward things were, the four friends soon began to walk up the hill to the palace in silence as the townspeople and soldiers started a party that would last till well past sunrise. When they arrived at the entrance, they turned to look down on the sea, where a dozen ships still burned.
“I can’t believe we did it,” said Takaa.
“It must have been the storm braining,” responded Verhibit.
Ash said, “It is brainstorming, and that only helped a little. Mostly, it was people working hard to save their homes.”
She felt Duzi’s arms around her again, and this time she didn’t feel trapped. He said, “But their king got away.”
Takaa added, “And that is why we will celebrate for a few days. However, when the headaches are gone, we go back to work.”
– To Be Continued –
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