Samian ships were no match for the storm that soon overtook the sea. In a moment we were all soaked and the strong wind made the raindrops hit us like needles. Before the first charge, a lightning bolt hit Mount Micala which made everyone quiet.
– What is it men? – Shouted Diókles with a smile on his face. – Ah! Ah! Are you scared? There is nothing in the Aegean that I have not seen. If we were meant to be dead, Zeus, son of Cronos, would have already killed us all. Red flag on Pericles’ ship, the first row will cross enemy lines to the strait, turn around and strike them in the back while the second line will retain them, as in training. Hold on Kassandra and you too young blacksmith. I am not going to fish any bodies today, dead or alive. Restart the song and full speed.
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! Ο ενοσίγαιος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! The γαιήοχος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! The Φράτριος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! The Πελαγαίος!
Χαίρε! Χαίρε! Χαίρε! And so we went to look for a gap in the Samian ships at high speed. Visibility was low and the sound of the storm made it difficult to hear the orders. When we were at a shooting distance Diókles ordered us to prepare the spears and arrows. The strong wind made the arrows hit the boats.
– Shields! – He ordered us.
The bad thing about passing between two ships is that the shield only protects you in front, your back is up to luck.
– Spears! Get ready! Collect the oars! Shoot!
It was the most vulnerable moment of our maneuver. I threw the spear as hard as I could, but unfortunately it got stucked in the hull.
– Is this how you will carry out half the casualties of this ship misthios? – Diókles mocked at me.
– That’s how she’ll dig her own pit and ours too. – Shouted Nikophoros.
– Shut up. You missed too. Come on, one more time. On my command! Shoot!
I had to swallow hard and think twice about not hitting that bastard. Hatred guided my second shot that came to hit an enemy shield that had been pierced. When I looked at the captain angrily, I saw a smile on his face. Diókles was discreet in his compliment. When I looked back, I see Isocrates with shaky legs, but I didn’t know if he was afraid, cold or both. Before I could reach his shoulder, the helmsman turned the helm. The moment the boat started to turn, I lost balance, slipped due to rain and fell flat on my face on my shield. What a hellish pain! I thought I had broken my arm, but I just twisted it. Isocrates helped me up and I soon realized that I couldn’t move my fingers. Then I took the shield with my right hand.
– Get inside! – The captain shouted.
– It’s an order!
– I prefer to die fighting!
– So do it …
At that moment I jumped towards Diókles, covering him with my shield above his waist protecting his back. Two shots hit the metal. When looking ahead we were already in range of arrows again.
– Full speed and prepare for impact!
There we were approaching our first victim and I held on as tightly as I could. Their captain delayed commanding the helmsman to turn around and we hit them right in the middle of the hull. From that moment on, everything happened very quickly. The impact was so great that the ship broke in two parts and I was thrown forward. When I got up I saw three Samian hoplites who had managed to invade our deck. The first came towards me with a spear. To neutralize him I jumped in his direction and hit him with the face of my shield, but instead of the maláka falling on the ground, he grabbed the edges. Instinctively I put my left foot on the deck and with great force I pushed him into the sea. Unfortunately I ended up losing my shield. The second was simply dead on the floor, I didn’t see who killed him. As I looked back, I saw Diókles himself pushing his spear on the back of the third.
– Oarsmen, back off! Go back to your posts! – he ordered.
We were out of the wrecked ship and it sunk completely. The sea was bubbling with the screams of desperate men who could not swim and hoplites struggling to float within their heavy panoply. After the first charge my vision froze as if time was standing still. The strong and cold wind made me think “What am I doing here? Two drachmas a day for that?” I couldn’t gather the strength to lift my left arm completely, my shoulder was burning with pain and so I called Isocrates to help me:
– On the next boarding you stay by my side, don’t leave me. Just use your shield. Can you do that, boy?
– Kassandra, you better get down.
– Shh! Don’t give me orders! Just hear me. On the next boarding stay on my diagonal, protect my left.
Diókles gave us a signal and we were about to board a vessel recently attacked by Captain Nikostratos. The helmsman commanded the rudder and in a blink of an eye we were parallel to the enemy ship. One by one the enemy oars were broken and at the sound of the last crack we started the attack.
– Give me your spear Isocrates, you will not use it. Take the sword.
The first one to fall didn’t even see me, I was on his back when I lacerated his right thigh with a straight hit. The cry of pain left Isocrates completely speechless and frightened, which made him hesitate to throw the enemy overboard.
– Wake up man! We are at war! – I screamed.
Poor blacksmith. For a brief moment I felt sorry to see him in that situation. Notoriously it was the first time he was in a real battle. But this is war and we have to make concessions, however painful it may be to think that behind a breastplate there is someone fighting against their will, a father, a son or a brother. With Isócrates I understood that he would only react based upon shouting and it happened like that.
The second came towards us and hit our shield twice with an ax. In the third blow I hit him with the base of the spear on his left knee, making him fall.
– Push! – I screamed
But Isocrates did not push him hard and the soldier, still on the ground, picked up his ax and was about to throw at me. Like a lion I jumped over him and made my spear go through his neck. His ax hit my left shoulder without much force.
– Give me your sword, take the spear out of the ground.
Demétrius, our best hoplite, was being attacked by two soldiers in the center of the ship. In a quick throw, I hit one of them from the bottom up, ripping his thigh back. As soon as the other turned to attack me his head was decapitated by the friendly blade.
– Thanks misthios.
Suddenly the oarsmen started to come out on the deck with knives. Even less skilled they were too many and would get us into trouble.
– Back to the ship! – Commanded Diókles.
We promptly returned all, or almost all, to our ship. Isocrates had stayed and was mysteriously armed with the spear that I had ordered to be picked up and defending himself against two men.
– Isocrates! Back off maláka. – I screamed – Is it time to have courage? Retreat.
Unfortunately the bastard didn’t hear me and to make it worse Nikephoros suggested leaving him to his fate.
– Leave him there, captain. We cannot risk our entire crew because of such a stupid.
– Shut up! – I screamed. – Captain, give a moment.
– Kassandra ….
I didn’t listen to him, I had no time. I jump quickly back to the enemy ship and in the middle of the mess caused by Nikostratos I reached Isocrates. Before I could even strike the first blow a Samian oarsman anticipated and charged a dagger to hit my throat. I dodged three times and on the fourth I jumped towards him, grabbed his arm and in a spin I catapulted him into the water. As I turn to the stern, I saw Isocrates’ spear bloody because he had just hit an enemy’s foot. In three steps I was already within reach of a blow and I hit the left side of his belly, making his guts to fall to the ground.
– Do you want to kill someone by hitting the foot, you stupid? – I Said. – Come on, get back to our ship! Now!
In a blink of an eye I heared a loud buzzing towards me and then a shout. Isocrates had been hit by an arrow in the right shoulder.
– Run, let’s get out quickly!
Back at Cephalopod, I put Isocrates on the deck, removed the arrow that luckily did nothing but a scratch. The captain came towards us and slapped Isocrates hard on the face that made him stop screaming instantly.
– Do you want to destroy my ship, maláka? And you Kassandra, be very careful on your next move as it can be your last. Don’t you dare disobey any of my orders. Is it clear?
– Yes, captain.
– Sign of Pericles’ ship, let’s close the siege.
The maneuver of the Athenian squadron was working and we had the Samian ships cornered in a small circle, without any room for movements, but unfortunately we had three men that lost their lives in this attack. The Cephalopod was one of the last ships to close the circle and so we charged the enemies vessels at full speed.
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! Ο ενοσίγαιος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! O γαιήοχος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! O Φράτριος!
Χαίρε Ποσιδόν! O Πελαγαίος!
Χαίρε! Χαίρε! Χαίρε!
So our oarsmen sang, rowing as hard as they could, once it could be our last attack. Luckily I never experienced what it was like to be an oarsman, purely brute force work without any rest and without being able to see what lies ahead.
My left arm still was not fully okay and Isocrates had his right shoulder still bleeding. We had to work as a single person, he with the shield and I with the spear. The water around the great circle was red when the Cephalopod’s ram pierced the hull of the enemy vessel. The entire crew quickly invaded the deck and Diókles ordered us to keep an eye on the oarsmen to prevent them to get up in the deck. I did not like this order at all, although I was already resigned that I would not be able to earn my extra drachma and I was not willing to test the captain’s patience. Beside Isocrates there was a fire basin used by the archers. In an instant we were holding the handles and throwing the embers around the hatch to save us some time.
– Kassandra, behind you. – Said Isocrates.
Then I saw another basin, but with hot oil. We took it and through it over the embers. Soon the thick smoke began to rise, along with the screams of the oarsmen who jumped out the ship. At the signal of the first flames, Diókles gave us the command to return to Cephalopod. On the way back Isócrates fell on my feet with a scream and when I raise him I see the reason. A huge hoplite worthy of Heracles with a big ax in his hands.
– Run Isocrates! Today I’m going to eat a swordfish.
We don’t always hit the bulls-eye and sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. I knew that in one-on-one I couldn’t stand a chance against that pile of muscles, but luckily for me he shouldn’t exercise his brain.
– You gonna die! – That in a hoarse voice.
– We all will someday, you bastard, but you go first. Come on!
The big hoplite ran towards me raising his ax ready to cut me off but at the moment of the blow I threw myself hard at his shins. His weight and his heavy panoply made him unbalanced to fall into the sea. Demétrius, already on Cephalopod, hit him with a dart on his head and in an instant he was already in the depths of Tartarus.
I was no longer in the prime of my youth and fatigue had started to bother me. Diókles had already ordered the helmsman to retreat the vessel and I had to jump to get on the ship, but my feet slipped on the parapet, so I fell on my stomach on the corner but managed to hold on with my right hand.
– Help me! Catch me! Captain! – I screamed.
My last sight was of one foot approaching and the other stepping on my hand. In pain I let go and let it go before I fell into the sea and saw the face of my executioner. Nikephoros. Maláka.
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