There is not a lot of good literature out there, or even bad literature, for and about engineers. So, we decided to fix that by writing a silly, non-literary, and often poorly written serialized story about an engineer, time travel, and using engineering skills to solve problems. We hope you enjoy reading along as much as we enjoyed coming up with the story and the characters.
Siege and Showdown
The son of King Attiball and fifth in line to the throne had looked better. The tatters of his uniform was covered in mud and blood, as was his bruised face. He still struggled to break free.
Verihbitt overcame her shock at seeing the man who was supposed to have been her husband, a man she had assumed was on his way to hide in some other corner of the sea. After taking a deep breath, she asked, “You call me a whore, should I call you a traitor? I’m going to guess that you were not kidnapped by the mad king – well, because you are you. I’m guessing you ran right into his arms and offered to help him?”
Ahinadab struggled in Takaa’s firm grip and spat again. “You are the traitor. You are the one debasing yourself, a princess, with a common soldier.” He spat again.
Takaa twisted the prince’s head, shoving his bruised and bloody face into the sand. Over Ahinadab’s muffled protests, he said, “You are correct, Ver. When we attacked a group of soldiers fleeing back to the fortress, we realized they were wearing the uniform of your cousin’s guard. They fought back but without heart. Once they surrendered, we found him in the middle, yelling and threatening to have them all killed for treachery. It seems he did throw in with this King Gula, against his own father. He must have decided he wanted to try for the throne himself.“
Standing slowly, Verihbitt looked down at Ahinadab in silence. She lifted a sandaled foot and drew it back in preparation for delivering a blow to his stomach. Instead, she paused and took a step back. “Takaa, please have some soldiers bind him and take him into custody. As much as I and others would prefer to deliver justice to this traitor now, I think we should reserve that privilege for King Attiball.
She then turned to Ash and said, “Let’s go find Duzi and plan how we will finish this. I’m tired of this mad king and all his betrayal. I want to go home. Without glancing back, she walked swiftly away from the small group on the beach.“
After asking a few soldiers, they learned that Duzi had set up a command post in front of the fortress, behind a conveniently placed boulder that kept the archers on the wall above from picking off his men. After arriving, the two women stood at the edge of the makeshift camp and watched for a few minutes, greedily drinking watered wine from a clay jug that a soldier offered them.
Duzi stood behind a small portable table, marking clay tablets and talking to runners as they came in, documenting the strength of their forces and their location. One of his soldiers placed stones around a large rock in the center of the table, building an ad hoc model of their situation. Ash could tell he was tired. His armor was bloody, and his hair was a mess.
When they had satisfied their thirst, Verihbit whispered in Ash’s ear, “Go ahead, get in there and give him a big kiss. You know you want to. “
Ash laughed. “I’m not getting anywhere near him. What I really want to do is drag him into the surf and scrub him head to toe. He is disgusting, and I bet he smells worse than he looks.” They both began to laugh and fell into each other’s arms. And then the laughter turned into sobs, and they let go of all the tension they had been carrying through the night.
A few hours later, as the sun rose in the west and after the two women had taken short naps in the shelter of the boulder, the travelers found themselves reunited and standing around the table contemplating the crude model.
Mnihh’dm began the briefing. “Here is the situation as we know it. We have scuttled or captured all of their ships. They are not getting off this island. And, good news, our losses were not as bad as we thought. We found a group of men who swam to the other side of the lagoon when their ship was rammed. We thought we had last the whole ship’s compliment. But thanks to Baal, we now outnumber them about two to one.”
He paused and looked through the boulder towards the stone fort. “The bad news is, they are in there with a freshwater spring and enough food for far more men than they have. They are not coming out soon. I see two options. Normally I would suggest we send out ships to bring in the King’s navy to siege this place and starve them out.”
“But,” it was Alim, “we all know this mad king has ransom and plunder from two years of piracy hidden somewhere in that fort. Any commander we send will either try and get it for himself or will take a bribe and let him sneak out.”
Punching Alim in the arm, Duzi said, “Alim, old tutor, don’t tell everyone my plan. I was going to take off with all the loot and move out past Gades and become very, very fat.”
While everyone laughed, Ash was a bit surprised that Duzi was joking. This period in human history was not a time that prized selfless sacrifice. Knowing that so much wealth was available, the normal response would be to take it yourself. But it seems this group of friends was actually loyal to the King and the state, centuries before the grumpy Romans made such behavior a model of moral action.
Verihbitt signed and said, “Well, my father was always a little crazy, and I think I inherited that. Let’s end this now and get the booty back to my uncle. Was that your second option?” She picked up one of the clay tablets with numbers written on it. “I’m sure that he will reward us with a nice inscription in the corner of a dark temple in a distant colony.”
They all laughed and set to planning their attack on the fortress.
After they agreed on storming the walls at the next full moon, Ash recommended they continue to use the copper shields for protection from the archers and build a ramp that men could safely carry up to the wall and then crawl up. Mnihh’dm then suggested a faint attack on the west-facing wall to pull men from the south wall, which was the lowest and the best one to prop the ramp against.
After a few details were worked out and a schedule for guarding the fortress and keeping the King Gula and his men inside was established, the group slowly walked back to Duzi’s ship. It was beached on the other side of the island and would be their home as they waited the fourteen days till a full moon.
Duzi was gone most of the time during those two weeks, patrolling the perimeter of the fort and erecting sand and stone barriers for his man to hide behind. The mad king had installed giant reflectors on the corners of the fortress. When the sun was in the right position, the men on the walls would try and burn any soldiers caught out in the open. Archers also tried to shoot at the soldiers and sailors that surrounded them.
His absence gave Ash time to work on her calculator. Each day she added another few gears to the contraption and fine-tuned the movement with her file. She took her time, knowing that once it was done, she would leave this world, her new friends, and Duzi.
The island had no citrus, so Ash only sent one or two messages a day back to the future through her phone. She mostly asked the engineers questions about the calculator’s construction, but she also let her parents know she was safe and would be coming back soon.
The day before the full moon, Duzi delegated his duties to one of his men and spent the entire day with Ash. They didn’t talk much. They walked on the beach and ate lunch under some trees, falling asleep next to each other in the shade.
Ash woke to the touch of Duzi’s hand on her cheek. “Was I snoring?” She asked.
Duzi kissed her forehead. “Yes, you were” He kissed her on the lips and then said, “I’m going to miss that.”
His words brought tears to Ash’s eyes. It was the first time he acknowledged that she might be leaving.
He kissed her wet cheeks as she said, “I hope you miss more than my snoring,” and pulled him on top of her.
Hours later, as the sun was setting in the west and the moon was rising in the east, the friends sat around a large spread of food under the tent on Duzi’s ship. Verihibitt and Takaa were no longer hiding their relationship. Mnihh’dm and Alim were huddled in whispered conversations. Ash leaned against Duzi as she sampled the olives and dried meats and drank her well-watered wine.
They chatted and laughed, recalling exploits on their trip. After a long and hilarious story about Duzi’s attempt to cook a meal when he was on one of his first voyages, Verihbitt could no longer hold her anger in and launched into a rant against Ahinadab. Then she stood up and stomped her foot on the deck over the small room where they kept the King’s son. They all got up and joined her. Stomping and jumping on the wood planks, screaming not just at him but at the mad king and all the pain and suffering they had caused.
It was a release that Ash had not realized she needed, and she found herself screaming obscenities in English and stomping her foot on the deck as hard as she could. Even though they had no idea what the Germanic four-letter words meant, her friends liked how they sounded and joined in. From the beach, the soldiers watched their leaders shout, jump, and stomp. They assumed this was some sort of priestly ritual to ask for Baal’s favor. Eventually they all headed back to the pillows in the tent to wait.
When the moon was about a third of the way up in the sky, they joined the soldiers on the back. Duzi walked up to Ash and pulled her into his arms.
He said, “This will hopefully be the last battle on this trip. “
Ash answered, “Yes, I hope so. I also don’t want you to get hurt. “
Even though Duzi’s armor was digging into her chest and her arms, she didn’t want to let go.
“We will send a runner back to the ship here, letting you know how the battle is going. “
“Why?” She asked
He moved his hands to her shoulders and pushed her back a few inches to see her face. “Because you and the other will be waiting here.”
Duzi flinched a little when he saw the anger on her face. “No. That is not what is going to happen.” Ash said. “We will be at the command post behind the boulder. “
He started to say, “That is not acceptable. You will be much safer he-”
She couldn’t decide if she wanted to slap him or kiss him. Compromising, Ash took her index finger and placed it on Duzi’s lips while he was mid-sentence.
“Shhh. This is not open for discussion. You focus on finishing this fight. “She dropped her finger, and he didn’t say anything.
She continued, “Besides, if there is negotiation needed, and we all know this mad king may try and bribe his way out of this, Verihbitt needs to be there. “
“But, we can send…”
She put her finger back on his lips, looking up into his big, kind brown eyes. She didn’t understand why, but she had never felt more in love with him than she did at that moment.
Duzi leaned forward, pulling her hand away from his lips so he could kiss her one more time.
From their post behind the boulder, Ash, Verihbitt, Takaa, and Mnihh’dm could see the small force form up on the western beach, out of bow range. When they saw the soldiers assembling, the defenders in the fortress had lit fires along the wall so they could see better, and the attackers could not see them behind the bright fires.
Both sides waited for another hour, the archers on the wall sending an occasion arrow out, trying to reach the line. Then, when the moon reached its zenith, a loud horn sounded to the west. Ash could then hear the troops running forward towards the wall and then could see their ten, neet columns. They held their shields above their heads with one hand and a rung on a ladder with their other. Even a few hundred yards away, she could hear bows twang and arrows thud against the shields.
The defenders on the wall called for reinforcements as the men, and their ladders got closer. Meanwhile, one of Duzi’s sailers had climbed on top of the boulder and was watching the south wall. When the archers posted there all night ran to reinforce the west wall, he raised a small torch in his hand and waved it back and forth.
At that signal, the rest of Duzi’s sailors leaped up from where they had been hiding behind a sand wall and lifted the ramp above their heads. It was a simple design with a peaked copper roof over wood planks arranged with spaces between them. They would have to crawl up it, with only four feet between the ramp and the peak of the roof, but it would keep them safe from any remaining archers.
Not able to help themselves, Ash and Verihbitt leaned around the edge of the boulder. So far, no alarms went up, and the sailors were soon at the foot of the wall. They rested the two wooden wheels Ash had placed on the front of the ramp against the wall and lifted. Once the ramp was at about a ten-degree angle from the ground, they started to push forward on the rungs Ash had designed into the ramp. With the help of the wheels, the ramp was soon up and over the lip of the wall.
They saw three remaining archers raise their bows, but the sailors quickly crawled inside the ramp and under the protection of the copper. Hopefully, the defenders didn’t have any burning hot tar or other flammables to thwart the attack.
The next sound Ash and Verihbitt heard were the screams of the archers as the crack troops emerged from the top of the ramp and attacked. The sailor on the boulder took his torch and tossed it as high as he could into the air, signaling the soldiers attacking the south wall to abandon their position. Leaving the ladders they never intended to use, they ran under their shields towards the ramp.
The moon provided enough light for Ash to see their sailors defend the top of the thin wall as more soldiers emerged out of the ramp and joined the battle. Before long, no one was left on the wall. But they could hear the sounds of battle, spears and swords hitting shields, and men crying out in pain from inside the fort.
When those sounds died down, they heard three short bursts of a horn, the agreed-upon signal for Verihbitt to come inside the fort with her companions. Maybe it was the relief of this battle going well, or maybe it was how tired they were, but both women began to giggle uncontrollably as they crawled up the ramp onto the wall.
When Takaa’s huge frame got stuck in one particularly low spot on the roof, they all began to laugh even harder. Between giggles, Verihbitt asked, “Couldn’t you have made this a little taller?” After some playfull pushing of Takaa forward, they emerged from the tunnel and onto the wall.
Someone had pushed the bodies from the battle off the wall and into the fort’s courtyard, and other soldiers were picking them up and moving them to the corner between the west and south walls. Ash’s smile faded when she saw how many dead there were.
Taking the whole scene in, Mnihh’dm said, “Well, by the way our archers have surrounded that tower in the middle, it looks like there may be some left. I am guessing our mad king is hiding in there. Let us go find out.”
Ash and the others followed the former assassin along the wall, then down some steep stairs, where they found Duzi waiting. He and a collection of men were shielded behind a cart that blogged a straight arrow shot from the tower.
Duzi looked at Ash with a grimace. “Well, my clever girl, your ramp worked perfectly. We only lost four men, and another four were injured. However, our mad king has locked himself in the granary in the middle of the courtyard.” Duze looked at everyone in the group and asked, “Ideas?”
Takaa looked around the cart, then asked, “Is there grain in the bottom?”
One of Druzi’s men answered, “We think so, Sir. Just before they closed the door, we saw them scrambling up a big pile of what could be wheat, but it could also have been dirt. “
Takaa and Mnihh’dm exchanged a glance, and both nodded. Takaa asked, “Are you too old to hold a bow steady without shaking?”
Mnihh’dm responded with a swear that Ash didn’t recognize and held his hand out to an archer standing nearby. The archer handed over his bow and quiver. As they all watched, the older man opened a pouch at his belt and pulled out a wad of cotton and a small clay pot. He wrapped the cotton around the arrowhead and then poured what looked like olive oil on the cotton.
Without saying another word, he held the arrow to a torch a nearby soldier was holding. Then, in one smooth motion, he stepped out from behind the cart, pulled the bow back, and loosed the flaming arrow towards the tower. Instead of hearing the bronze arrowhead striking stone, they heard a faint wooshing sound. Smiling, Mnihh’dm ducked back behind the cart as they started to hear yelling from inside the tower.
Looking at Takaa, Mnihh’dm said, “Does that answer your stupid question?”
The soldiers and sailors began to cheer as smoke, and then flames, shot out of the small openings in the tower wall. They expected the mad king and his remaining men to fling open the door and rush out. Instead, they saw figures appear on the roof of the tower. Then they heard a loud splashing sound followed by steam and thick white smoke streaming out of the windows.
Looking around the cart, Ash saw a thin, grey-bearded man with a shiny gold and brass helmet on his head shouting down at the soldiers who were surging forwad. “Idiots! Our water stores are up here!”
Mnihh’dm shrugged his shoulders at his companions as if to say, “Not my fault. I did my part. “
Motioning some of his sailors to serve as a shield wall, Duzi led his four companions out into the courtyard to talk with mad King Gula. Once out in the open, they saw that only six soldiers stood with the king, and none was holding a bow. Duzi pushed his men aside and shouted.
“I am Duzi, a merchant from Tyre and, unlike you, a faithful servant of King Attiball. “
The mad king shouted back, “And I am King Gula, lord of lightning and thunder. Your fat and lazy king sent a merchant to negotiate with me?”
“No, actually. “ Duzi motioned for Verihbitt to come forward, “He sent his niece, Princess Verihbitt. “
The princess looked a foot taller than normal as she elegantly strode forward and said, “And we are not here to negotiate. “
“A woman!” the mad king laughed. “A merchant is bad enough, but a woman. No! I will not treat with you!” He raised his clenched fist and shook it at them, then walked away from the edge of the tower and out of sight.
After whispering orders to some of his men, Duzi stepped forward and said, “Gula! Your lightning and thunder are gone, we have you surrounded, and all but a handful of your men are captured or dead. Let me also remind you of how you just used your water to put out the fire we set beneath you. Are you ready to surrender?“
When he got no answer, Duzi raised his hand in the air, and they heard the twang of bows being released, then saw arrows decent onto the torchlit top of the tower. After another motion of his hand, a group of larger soldiers rushed forward with a battering ram and attacked the tower door. After hitting it three times, the door splintered, and soldiers with long spears rushed in.
Verihbitt then shouted, “Like it or not, I’m not here to negotiate anything other than your surrender or death. You can come back with us and ask my uncle for mercy, or our soldiers will climb up there and end this now. “
King Gula appeared again on the edge of the tower roof. “I am King Gula, ruler of the Great Sea and the wealthiest man in the world. “ He raised his hands above his head. “I command thunder. I command lightning. I rule these waves and this world. It is you who will surrender to me!”
He followed his rant with a loud roar, then disappeared behind the low wall. A second later, he reappeared with a spear in one hand, leaned back, and launched it straight at Verihbitt. At the same time, Ash heard Mnihh’dm’s bow release and saw, just as Verihbitt sidestepped the spear, an arrow fly up at the mad king and buried itself in his left eye.
As the soldiers began to cheer loudly, she heard Takaa say to Verihbitt, “I guess he doesn’t want to talk to your uncle.“
As celebrations broke out, Ash looked towards the growing pile of dead defenders in the corner of the courtyard. Relief and sadness overwhelmed her, and she ran towards Duzi and begged him, “Hold me tight. I am so done with all of this death.”
They stood there, surrounded by noise, rocking gently back and forth in each other’s arms as she softly cried and said, “It is all just too much, I don’t belong here. So much death.” over and over again.
Ash didn’t know how long they stood like that, but eventually, they were interrupted by a soldier clearing his throat. Duzi spun her around to face forward and put his arms around her shoulders from behind.
He said, “Oh, yes. What to do with all of them?“ A collection of captured defenders stood in front of Duzi and Ash. They were a motley group of different sizes, ages, and races. Dark Africans stood next to olive-skinned Greeks and pale, long-haired tribesmen from the far west end of the Mediterranean. Some were crying, but most looked blankly at the ground, waiting for their fate.
The soldier who had cleared his throat asked, “Do you want us to kill them here or on the beach?”
Ash began to cry again and buried her head in Duzi’s arms. He squeezed her tightly and whispered, “do not worry my little genius. “ To the soldier, he said, “Tie them up and take them to the boats. Someone needs to row us back to Tyre.”
– To Be Continued –
Watch this space for the final chapter of our story, “Two Journeys Home,” wherein Ash and her friends find their way home.