|Posted By||Topic » The Exile|
Posted: Sunday, Jul 07, 2013 at 8:01 PM — Edited on 2013-07-10 08:38:57.0
This was the place, the place his world had ended. Wind and wave may have worked their timeless ministrations on this narrow bay since then, but though rock may crumble and weather away he would ever remember what it looked like here the afternoon he had washed ashore, broken and battered.
Demetrios knelt, one knee to the hard stone, resting his left hand on the other. He breathed deep. The air was redolent with the smell of salt and earth, transporting him instantly back to that fateful day long ago, the day when Poseidon gave him back his life for purposes he would never comprehend. Four years had passed since he’d last looked down upon this secluded strand, and in those four years, what he’d known of his life had shattered around him.
Long have my thoughts lingered on this beach, he thought to himself. Try as he might he’d never been able to banish the memories, the upheaval of the sea, waves as high as the walls of Troy, the brutal sound of the keel of Apollo’s Spear snapping before the unrelenting might of the sea-god, the screams of the crew as the water surged up to claim them. His crew, the men for whom he had been responsible.
All gone. All gone down. All save him.
Why did I come back here? He wondered, and not for the first time. He felt a nagging impulse he couldn't understand to clamber down over the stones to the dark, wet sand. It was the last place he wanted to be, and yet he'd been driven here all the same. All the ill that had befallen him had occurred since he had crawled ashore amidst spar and timber and bloated corpses. It was as if his luck had washed away with the tide. Once married to a beautiful woman whom he loved with all his heart, once an honored member of the Apollonians, once a bodyguard to Prince Hektor himself, now he found himself wandering in empty lands, lost and forsaken.
Though not entirely alone. He could feel the gaze of his two companions upon him, their stares almost a palpable heat, boring into his back like the rays of the sun. They were curious, he knew. No, curious was not the right word. Concerned. He did his best to ignore them as we watched the sun sink toward the eternal embrace of the Aegean, hoping that a course of action might finally occur to him, something, anything to end this interminable malaise that plagued him so. Should I go down there? He was surprised how afraid he felt, and it infuriated him.
When a voice finally spoke up behind him, he was not entirely surprised at its tone. “Well?” it said, a man’s voice, heavily accented with the thick and rich syllables of the Minoans. “Another sunset over the Ionian Sea, another day seeing our fortunes decline under the leadership of Demetrios of Troy.”
“You are wrong. The winged goddess has not abandoned us,” a second voice answered, in strong feminine tones. But of course she would think that. Her name derives from the goddess, after all.
“Oh, make no mistake, I am not speaking of fortune in the celestial sense,” the man countered, “but rather in the more immediate, financial, we-soon-won’t-have-enough-coin-for-food sort of way.” Sandaled footsteps approached. The speaker stepped up on the rocks beside Demetrios, looking out over the crashing surf. “Ah yes, another idyll along a rocky shore. Most prosperous. Our purses lighten with every passing hour. You’ll soon have us stealing sheep from these primitives we’re paid to guard.”
Doson. He’d made many mistakes since the Lord of Waters deposited him at this forbidding place, and hiring on Doson was among his greatest. Demetrios did not know the sellsword’s real name, and didn’t much care to. The Cretan didn’t even come by his nickname honestly. True, he did have but one eye, lost, it was said, in a fight with Ajax the Lesser himself. Demetrios believed that just about as much as he trusted the mercenary. Those who fought for gold were capable of anything. And, as Doson so maddeningly pointed out, gold was in short supply these days.
“Well?” Doson said, his voice hammering down on Demetrios’ skull. “Are you going to bother to tell us just what it is we are doing here?”
I don’t have any idea, he thought, though he remained silent. His continued reticence angered the pirate.
“Zeus on his throne, if you want to throw yourself from the cliffside so badly, then be done with it already!”
“Enough!” Stratonike now approached in her own turn. “You go too far, Minoan.” Doson hated it when she called him that, and she knew it well. Demetrios could hear it in her voice, could tell instinctively that her hand was even now tightening around the shaft of her doru. His Phrygian captain and the Cretan pirate had nearly come to blows many times before but with tempers frayed and fortunes waning it seemed as if the underlying tension was at last about to explode into open conflict. And that was the last thing the one-time Trojan hero needed.
Doson took a hesitant step backwards. Demetrios’ temper could be legendary, and though the Cretan was growing bold he had not grown that bold. Not yet, Demetrios though to himself, but soon. There will be knives in the dark, if I am not careful. He looked to the pirate. “Though your tongue is as insolent as ever, it speaks the truth,” he said. “I would hear your counsel.”
“The demand for our little fighting force is, shall I say, minimal at best. We could not find work in Ephesus, and so we come south and find ourselves paid to protect sheep and trade caravans from raiders. Hardly worthy, my friend, nor lucrative.” Doson paused a moment, glancing at the dark-haired woman glowering at him. “And, since you are asking, it might be best to choose a man to command what is left of your Trojan warriors. Oh, yes, women can fight, that much is true, there are some among my own band who are more brutal than the men. But the reputation you have gained…from having a female captain….it doesn’t lend much…how shall I say….gravity to your name, yes?” He laughed. “What, are we Amazons?”
Demetrios was unruffled. “Counsel. I asked for counsel, concerning our course of action. If I merely wanted attitude I know well enough I would not have to ask for it.”
He watched Doson’s eyebrow raise over his good left eye. “Ah, no, well, I’ve never been miserly with my opinions,” he admitted, that easy smile visiting his lips again. He gestured to his right, inland, back down the rock strewn heights to the small encampment behind them. A few of the Trojans in their long fringed skirts were standing beside forlorn tents, looking expectantly in their direction. Of Doson’s crew little could be seen, but brutish laughter floated over the breeze. “I have twenty men and women, all ready to fight and die at my command. Currently, I’m still deferring to you on where to spend those lives. But it is unfortunate that they find themselves in the predicament you have brought us to. They are to be guarding shepherds, perhaps, but soon you'll have them living off stolen fleece. Idle hands, my friend. If they are already stealing from those we are paid – and I use that term generously – to protect, it cannot be long before they will find more interesting diversions. You have to give them something to do, or they will find it on their own." He shrugged, then added, "With or without my lead.”
“So what are you suggesting?”
Doson brought his right hand to his pointed beard, stroking it thoughtfully. The wind pulled at his braided scalplock and rattled the bronze disks hanging from around his neck. “There is always conflict, somewhere. We can go into the Hittite lands, sell our swords to them against the Ægpytians. Or for that matter, head down to the Nile, and offer our services to the highest bidder there.” His smile broadened, toothy, treacherous. “I hear Bubastis is nice about this time of year. The cats, they don’t much fancy to fight on their own, you know, but they have ample gold to pay those who will.”
The Nile. No, it was out of the question. Heading to Ægypt meant sailing, and Demetrios had not set foot on the deck of a bireme since that last one had come apart around him. In his heart, he could not help but think after all that had happened, it was not the wish of Poseidon that he should venture out upon the wine dark sea. No, he could not risk taking ship. If he did, the little band he’d managed to string together might well share the same fate as those on Apollo’s Spear. Though I daresay drowning isn’t like to be the fate of this pirate.
“My lord,” Stratonike said, “with your leave.”
Demetrios looked at her, his only constant, his only firm ground in these unsettling days. Fierce, skilled, and brave, she’d never failed him, and never would. He found her loyalty and good counsel as rare a commodity as she was herself, a female soldiering in a world dominated by vicious males. Gods above, woman, why are you still here? Why haven’t you left me like all the others whom I’ve trusted? He nodded at her to speak, suspecting where she was going even before she began to do so.
“There are many rumors,” she said. “The camp runs rife with them. The news was all over Ephesus and Miletus. It is said the Achaeans are mustering phalanxes and fleets alike. We do not need to go seeking the labor of Ares in foreign lands. It marches within our own.” Eyes as brown as her hair bored into him. “They will sail north. The rumors say they are heading for the plains of Ilium.”
“Ha!” Doson laughed. “Ah, yes, brave Agamemnon has finally convinced the Achaeans to unite and crush old Priam in Troy. Or should I say coerced?” He chuckled. “And for what? All over a woman. A woman. The gods truly are mad.”
“Mind your tongue,” Stratonike snapped. “It does not do to mock the gods.”
“They make mockery of us,” Doson said, waving his hands at the desolate countryside about them. “Why not return the favor?”
“You are free to go whenever you wish,” Demetrios said, his gaze drifting back to the surf below, as if an answer lay in the foam curling up the beach. He felt that nagging urge make the descent again, to revisit up close the place of his ruin.
“And I may well do so, and my men with me, soon enough, if you keep wasting our time.” Doson flexed his right fist. “I am paid to fight, Demetrios, not idle away looking at rocks and sand. North or south, or to the bloody east if you want, I don’t care, just so long as there is coin and blood to be had.”
“On that point I shall agree with the Minoan,” his raven-haired captain said. “Let us go to Troy. If they are heading there, then that’s where we should go too.” She took the edge off her voice, her own clumsy way at reaching out to him. “The King…Prince Hektor…they would welcome you back and…”
“No.” The force of his own reply surprised even him. Not back there. After all that had happened, the betrayals, the scorn, the treatment by his own fellow soldiers, brothers-in-arms with whom he had fought, bled, starved, and grieved…no he could not, would not return to Troy. That life was gone, washed away with the wreckage of his galley.
And yet, he knew the truth was in her words. There was nothing he wanted more than to go home. In Troy was the only family he’d ever truly known. He longed to see the walls of Poseidon, the Scaean gate, the megaron of wise Priam, the swift banks of the Scamander. He longed to be reunited with the friend with whom he felt he had broken a sacred trust, with the noble king to whom he had lied. Priam, king. Hektor, my prince. Forgive me….
Fury blossomed in his chest, as sudden as a chimera’s fire. Abruptly, he broke away from his counselors and began to labor with steady determination down the cliff. An argument broke out predictably behind him as soon as he departed, but the noise of the breakers soon drowned it out. So angry had he become at his own weakness and indecision that he became heedless of his own safety as he descended. When he made it to the beach his hands were scraped, his arms were bruised, and the hem of his faded Trojan skirt was torn and soiled. The sun was a crimson ball now, dipping below the line of the sea, painting the face of the rocks the color of blood.
Without hesitation, he waded out into the frothing surf, the water coming rapidly up to his waist. Sand cloyed at his feet, making his legs heavy as a bronze panoply. Demetrios almost wished it would drag him down into oblivion and end this useless internal struggle. And suddenly he found himself shouting, unmindful that his words might be heard by his companions above.
“Why?” His voice echoed off the cliffs. “Poseidon! Answer me! Why? Did you spare me in mockery? Am I of so little insignificance that you would not have even my very life in sacrifice? Why am I here? What is it you wish me to see? What is it you wish me to learn? Earth-shaker! Lord of horses! I stand here before you, Demetrios of Troy! Hear me, Poseidon! Hear me now!”
The only response was the incessant roaring of the waves. Demetrios lowered his eyes, chin falling to his chest, his tangled and unkempt beard wet with spray. It was foolish to lead these poor people back to this desolate cove, foolish and selfish. There was no answer here. Only emptiness. He should have expected no less.
With heavy heart he turned to climb back out of the water. His foot brushed against something hard, something solid, entombed in the glittering sand. Demetrios looked down, moved his foot to clear away the detritus. And then he reached into the water, astonished. His hand touched something solid, round, encrusted with rust and barnacle and coral.
He lifted it.
When he at last returned to the top of the overlook, he found Doson and Stratonike staring at him mutely, as they had during the entirety of his climb. They gazed with wide eyes at the thing which he bore as the twilight settled in about them.
It was Doson, of course, who broke the silence.
“What in Hades are you going to do with that?” he asked, incredulous.
Demetrios hefted the trident. It was amazingly light, and by all appearances, ruined, caked solid with years of oxidation. Without reason, he acted mechanically. In a swift and blinding motion, he brought the head of the three-pronged spire down in an arc, striking it with all his might against the rock atop the cliff. Instantly, the grey-green coating shattered like glass, scattering away in an explosion of light and power, revealing a smooth and glowing metal beneath the likes none of them had ever seen before. A deep bass note thrummed powerfully away from them. Raw power radiated from the transformed weapon, flowing up his arm, touching him deeply with a primordial tremor, stirring within him something veiled, something hidden.
Stratonike fell to her knees. “Poseidon protect us,” she said, bowing her head.
Doson blinked. Ever so slowly, the stunned amazement on his face gave way to a grin.
“Stand up, woman, for Olympus’ sake,” he chided her. “I think that our luck is about to change.”
Posted: Monday, Jul 08, 2013 at 12:22 AM
Posted: Monday, Jul 08, 2013 at 1:08 PM
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