Party and Pursuit
Takaa was prophetic. The entire town had been celebrating for three full days. And Ash had a headache that would not go away. She and her friends had been eating, drinking, and dancing well until the early hours of the morning. Although her head was still foggy about the details, she did remember a very drunk Verihbitt clinging to her in the hallway, slurring her words, and tapping Ash on the saying, “This is the last night of cela.. cela… being happy about winning. Tomorrow we start planning our counter at… atta… fight where we go to them.”
The last thing Ash wanted to do was leave the comfort of her bed. Duzi was snoring next to her. The time she had spent alone with him over the three days had been almost dreamlike. She had never seen him this relaxed and happy. At times she even forgot that she would have to leave soon.
Outside the window, she could hear the noises of the town and, in the distance, the constant sound of the surf pounding the shore. And looking out the window, Ash could see white clouds drifting lazily by. Noone and nothing was in a hurry. But, it was time to move on. The celebration had been a nice escape. She had not charged her phone or worked on the calculator. She knew that her parents and her friends were probably worried and felt guilty that she had not worked towards getting back to them.
Rolling on her side, she pulled a protruding duck feather from the mattress they slept on and used it to gently tickle Duzi’s nose. Still asleep, he raised a hand to swat it away. Ash grabbed the hand, brought it to her lips, and gave it a gentle kiss.
Duzi smiled and stretched under the linen sheets. Then he let out a loud groan and said, “aaaaahhhh!. My head!”
Ash leaned over him and kissed his forehead. “Wake up, my darling, we have work to do today.”
She felt his hands slide to the small of her back and pull her down onto him.
He said, “Not yet, my smart one. We have other work to do first.”
The sun was well past its zenith when they walked into the courtyard to find their friends lounging around a low table, talking in quiet towns.
Alim smiled when he saw the couple approach and said, “Look who has decided to join our planning session. Our warrior and our scholar. “
Everyone turned to smile at them. Verihbitt added, “we are not going to ask where you two have been.”
Mnihh’dm rose and pulled two stools from the edge of the courtyard to the table as the others spread out to make room. A crude map was covering the table. It showed an island sheltered in a natural harbor with the name Motye written above the island. She knew it was an island just off the west coast of Sicily, one of many Phoenician trading outposts spread around the rim of the Mediterranean sea. Ash’s LARPing group often talked about organizing a trip there someday.
Alim pointed at the island and said, “We captured several sailors and some officers when they washed up on the shore. Most of them were more afraid of their King than us. Those died without telling us anything. A few cracked, and we learned that when what was left of the fleet fled and everyone received orders to regroup here, at Motye.”
Takaa added, “It seems they took over this trading post first and have since turned it into their rabbit hole. One captain, who claimed to have twenty children he wanted to see again, claimed they have set up their mirrors on the island along with enough supplies to last them a while.”
Thinking about the situation, Ash asked, “I guess we can’t try the same night-time attack?”
Verihbitt nodded. “They will be expecting that, but we can still attack at night or on a cloudy day. The problem,” she drew a big circle around the island with her finger, “is that our father-of-many also told us around half a two hundred bowmen are stationed on the island.”
Mnihh’dm pointed to the western side of the island, “If we can get our ships to beach here, we can overwhelm them. The problem is getting that close with so many archers.”
Ash thought for a while. The military success of the Phoenician empire was built on their bowman, and she assumed that this King Gula was taking advantage of this mastery. Imagining their boats rowing towards the beach, Ash could visualize the cloud of arrows descending on the unprotected oarsmen. Unless, she thought, they were protected somehow.
“Duzi, did any of the attacking ships wash up on the beaches near here?”
“Yes, a good score or so did. They are all badly burned, though.”
“What about their mirrors? Did any have mirrors?”
“Yes, be we ruined them by covering them with die. We are planning to melt them down and sell the copper to help pay for all of this.”
“Don’t do that yet. That much copper sheeting may come in handy. Let’s all take a walk to the harbor.”
Fifteen minutes later, she was telling a group of dockworkers to tie the remaining rowing skulls together, three in front and three in the back, to make a large parge.
“Druzi, do you think you could pull this behind your ship?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t hold enough men to survive an archery attack.”
“You are right, but if we put our fastest runners on board, and we protect them, do you think they could run into archers and attack them? Would that allow your ship and a few cargo vessels to land behind them?”
“Yes, but what about their mirrors? There is no way we could get them before they set us on fire.”
She looked at the makeshift barge and said, “We will land at night?”
Mnihh’dm spoke up, “But even with a full moon, there won’t be enough light for us to attack.”
Ash smiled. “We will bring our own light.”
For two weeks, Ash worked on her inventions for the attack and the calculator. She sent some short texts back to the future letting them know she was OK or asking for clarifications on the complex analog computer she would use to determine her exact time and location. Then, after a long day, her friends would gather for some food and to share the status of everyone’s project. These were followed by late evenings with Duzi. Every morning was more bittersweet than the last because each dawn brought her closer to returning home.
The first task had been to pound out the recovered copper sheets and shape them into peaked covers for the outrigger. An arrow would go straight through them if fired head-on, but they would deflect off a peaked roof. That was the easy part. Building spotlights was going to be more difficult.
She had never thought about it before, but the only way to make light in the ancient world was by burning wood or oil. Working with Alim, Ash experimented with different combinations and found that wool soaked in olive oil, with a little sea salt, gave off the brightest flames. She then instructed the artisans to repolish some of the copper to make reflectors. They then mounted the reflectors to the back of clay bowls that held the wool torches.
When enough of these beacons were added to her barge, they could illuminate a nearby beach, even on a moonless night. It was not perfect. Ahe didn’t have the time to play with minerals in an attempt to make a flare. This would have to do.
Her last morning in Tripoli started with a gentle kiss from Duzi. “Rise and shine my little scholar. We have to catch the tide.” They ended up arriving late.
The group was gathered for a quick breakfast in the courtyard. All of Ash’s gear was now on the ship, safely stowed away.
She walked over to where Verhibitt was eating and sat beside her. Her whole mindset had changed when it became obvious that they would be leaving in less than an hour.
Ash said, “I am scared.”
Verhibitt took a bite of bread and then said, “You have been through this before, worse maybe. We will be safe on Duzi’s ship.”
“I know. But before, everything happened so fast. I have had two weeks to think of everything that can go wrong.”
Yes,” said Verhibitt. “Sometimes, extra time can make things worse. Try not to spend too much of your day, or your nights, in thoughts about what might happen. That is for Baal to decide. Not you.”
Ash was a little surprised. She had never heard Verhibitt envoke the Phoenician deity before.
“You look shocked. I mentioned Baal.” Verhibitt took a deep breath. “Well, maybe this time I am also more than a little scared. Maybe this time I am looking for a little help.”
At high tide, they moved down to the harbor and boarded their mini-fleet. Five cargo vessels crammed full of as many soldiers as they could gather rowed out of the harbor behind them, following the towed barge. The wind was behind them, so they dropped sails, and the oarsmen laid around the deck, playing dice and sharpening their weapons.
Ash used the time to work on the calculator. All of the brass components were cut and shaped. All that remained was to put it together. And that was turning out to be very hard.
Back in the twenty-first century, making precisions components was easy. She could have used rigid metals and precision CNC machines. Now, working with soft brass and everything hand-made, she had to assemble each part then file it by hand to fit. Ash remembered watching documentaries about Swiss watchmakers that built timepieces the same way. She never thought she would be arched over a bench sailing across the Mediterranean, doing the same thing. And without a magnifying glass.
Verhibitt came to sit with her on their second day at sea.
“I don’t know how you can sit here for so long and file away at your little project. I am going crazy just watching you.”
“I’m not sure how I am doing it. I guess I do not have a choice if I want to go home.”
“Do you really want to go back to your land?”
Ash thought about the question. About her friendship with Verhibitt and her romance with Duzi. They were wonderful people, and she had had so many amazing adventures.
“I think about it all the time. Every morning and every night. But as much as I have felt so welcome here, and have built friendships…” Ash paused, looking for the right word.
“More than a friendship?” Verhibitt offered.
“Yes, and that. I have never felt like this about anyone before. I have had what we call boyfriends. But never like this. The problem is, with all of that, I just do not belong here. Hear and now is not my place in the world.”
Verhibitt sat and watched Ash work for a long time before she said, “I see that.”
And that was the last time they talked about it.
The next day they arrived off the south shore of Sicily. Stowing the sails, they rowed way from shore and waited for the sun to go down. Everyone was preparing for the battle, including Ash, who was storing her phone and the calculator safely inside storage crates. She then covered them with wet hides to protect them from fire. Behind them, the soldiers were preparing the barge, soaking the wool in the baskets with olive oil.
Then they waited for the sun to go down and for the sea and the beach to become dark.
When Druzi decided it was safe enough, everyone moved into position, and they used to stars to row west, then north to the small lagoon The moon was just a sliver, so that did not help much. Finding the opening to the lagoon and then the island were the biggest risks of their plan.
Then they saw light on the horizon. As the small collection of boats moved closer, they could make out a large bonfire on a beach. Silently, they rowed towards it, and as they got closer, it became clear that this was the island they had been looking for.
Duzi came back to confer with the group at the back of the ship.
“It looks like our King is so arrogant, he has set up his own bonfire. And even better, it is on the other side of the island. If we keep our distance and circle around, we can use our own lights to attack the beach we want to land on, and they will be blinded by their own flames.”
“Are you sure?” asked Mnihh’dm. “This seems a little too easy.”
Verhibitt laughed. “I think if the gods smote the island with lightning in front of us, you would claim that it was a trick.”
Mnihh’dm grumbled, “it just doesn’t feel right.”
They moved as planned, keeping as far away from the island as possible till the North star showed that they were east. They stopped and let the barge loose. Soon, the soldiers on board began to row to the front of the small armada. When they were between the ships and the shore, Duzi uncovered a small lamp to signal the beginning of the attack.
Ash could see white foam catch the dim moonlight as the soldiers in the barge began to paddle as fast as they could. Then, a few hundred yards from the beach, they lit the torches. She could now see the beach outlined in the growing flames, reflected by her makeshift searchlights. The archers were nowhere to be seen.
She turned to Verhibitt and said, “This may be easier than we thought.”
And then she heard the shouts.
Soldiers on the deck of one of the cargo ships were screaming. She could just make out that they were pointing to the left of the barge. A huge trireme came out of the darkness into the light created by the barge. In seconds, it smashed right into its side.
The sound of splitting timber and screaming men ripped through the air. Before they could really see the damage, the torchers went out as the barge broke apart and sank. They were in near darkness again and had lost their lightning attack force.
Ash watched the huge trireme slowly turn towards them and then gain speed as it moved to ram one of the cargo ships. Duzi was barking orders, and the soldiers on each ship began to row as well. Ash ralized they were not moving towards the attacking ship. They were going to storm the beach.
Druzi screamed, “Faster, you worthless dogs! They are too big to get close to the shore! We need to beat them in!”
Holding her breath, Ash felt the ship leap forward and head straight for the shore, the cargo ships close behind.
Ash heard the sound of timber rending again and turned, expecting to see one of the cargo ships breaking apart on the bow of the trireme. Instead, she saw the huge three-deck ship light up as fire broke out on the deck as it broke in half.
Verihibitt shouted over the noise, “It must have hit a rock! Maybe I need to talk to Baal more often!”
Then Ash was lurching forward, trying to grab onto something as the ship came to an abrupt stop on the beach. When she stood up again, she saw that Duzi’s men were jumping over the railing and joining up in formations on the beach. Their cargo ships and the soldiers on board soon joined them.
Everyone relaxed a little, setting up defensive formations preparing to march to the fort on the other side of the island.
Then the arrows came.
In the dark, it was hard to tell where the projectiles were coming from. Duzi sent ot squads in every direction, searching. Soon, a group to the left was soon yelling for everyone to join them. Ash watched in shock as half of the soldiers ran into the darkness while the other half took up a defensive position on the beach. They dragged those injured by the archer attack back to the ships.
The sound of fighting reached them from a distance, and Ash began to feel panic grow in her. Every battle she had been in so far was over in minutes. It had been over thirty minutes since they had slammed into the beach, and the small group was still out there fighting.
She felt tears coming to her eyes. The fight was taking too long, and Ash began to give up hope. Then she saw a tall figure slowly walking towards them in the light from the still burning trireme. When they realized it was Takaa, she and Verihibitt leaped to the sand and ran towards him. As they got closer, she realized he was dragging someone by the neck.
He stopped short and kneeled in the sand, still holding on to the squirming figure.
Panting for breath, he said, “The battle is done. We lost about half of our men, but we sent their men scrambling back to their fort. They are locked inside now.”
Verihibitt kneeled next to him, took his face in her hands, and kissed him deeply, and then said, “I am so glad to see you.”
The squirming man that Takaa was still holding in his large hands spat at Verhibit and yelled, “You whore!”
Someone brought a torch, and they could see that Takaa’s captive was Verhibitt’s former betrothed, Ahinadab.
– To Be Continued –
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