Chapter IX: Enemies in Unfortunately High Places
After Peridas climbed the seemingly endless steps back to the top of the bluff, he searched the ruins of the camp for any survivors. He found none, and by the time his search was over the sun was just visible between the walls of the cove, a thin slash of red at the borders of the horizon. It suffused the sky with an all-too-cheery radiance that seemed almost inappropriate after the events of the previous night. As if in response to the light, Colossus raised anchor, unfurled her many sails and glided back to the bluff on the sturdy morning breeze. Once there, dismayed sailors exited the ship and escorted Peridas back on deck after scrounging the sooty wreckage for useful equipment. Along the way, they prodded the boy with endless questions of what had happened. Peridas recounted the tale, and having witnesses the banshees from the ship they believed him. They scoffed, however, at his mention of the hooded creatures.
“No men live on this island!” shouted many, or, “Boy’s done heard too many ghost stories.” These statements were not jeering, but concerned, for Peridas had saved the entire ship, and his presence always elicited a degree of respect. This facet of recognition never failed to disorient Peridas, for in his mind, all the men still had greater experience and authority than he.
On boarding the ship, the boy was informed that the tide had miraculously dispersed, and throughout the ship, preparations were being made to leave the island. When he heard this, Peridas demanded to be taken to the captain, who he found outside the first mate’s quarters, thirty feet above the main deck. He was surrounded by high-ranking sailors, and was intently studying a sea-chart. The first mate, Garvrek, a scraggly man that Peridas could smell from across the way, nudged the captain with his elbow. Frindic looked up at Peridas and said, “We’re glad that you are still with us, Hammerbane. When we first beheld the camp, many feared that there would be none left alive. Do tell me how all this occurred.”
Terrible anger welled inside the boy. If Frindic hadn’t left the men and retreated to safety, Colossus might have been able to drive off the attackers. And now, with half the ship’s crew missing, and just perhaps still alive, Frindic was preparing to abandon his allies. Peridas bit back an oath and, in a deceptively civil tone, recounted the story in as much detail as possible, leaving out his conversation with Ionus. When he finished and all the men were digesting what they had heard, the boy politely asked the captain as to why he was abandoning their friends. He worded his argument to sound as if pursuing the denizens was the only logical solution, for in the deepest, most cunning and mature part of his mind, he reasoned that unwavering determination and logic would impress Frindic, he being still quite young. But his tactic didn’t work.
Frindic rejected the proposal, saying, “Even if we could find them, I have no fit soldiers, only sailors. And we don’t know where they are, what attacked them, or even if they are still alive.”
“I’ve explained what attacked us,” Peridas replied, “and I tell you now, they are alive… they have to be. …They have to be.” He said again, as if repetition would make it true.
Frindic scowled. “We don’t know that. We actually know very little, save that banshees are now haunting our only port.”
Peridas mentally sighed. He hadn’t assumed Frindic would believe in the black figures, but had still hoped he might. The boy struggled to come up with a valid argument, but thousands of others were raging as well, just in his mind but equally exhausting. How would he find his friends? What would he do if he did? Did he really expect to challenge whoever controlled the banshees like dogs? Finally, he gathered his wits and said, “You yourself called this place hell. What did you expect to find here? Fat monks and lavish temples and merry revelries between all the men who were shipwrecked here? Do you honestly believe the whole world as tame as Greece? Think of all the beasts that we used to call monsters, but were merely animals! Here is no different! What will be said of us, when we tell our story back home, and everyone learns that we abandoned our friends on this gods-forsook island! Banshees can be killed- I’ve seen one die, as can everything else in this place!”
“Including us! Peridas, do you not know what this place is? Truly? It is the realm of legend more than anything! I’d wager you didn’t know that it is impossible to reach this island on purpose. Dozens- nay, hundreds have tried, but only a few succeeded. We know that because they were never heard from again.”
The boy’s eyebrows rose. “What do you mean, it is impossible to reach?”
Frindic scoffed. “Where do you think we are, boy? The Mediterranean? No, we were swept out into the ocean and pulled for hundreds of miles!”
Peridas suppressed his expressions of surprise at these remarks; he had to be rock-steady if anyone was to be convinced of the necessity of his mission.
Frindic continued, “Getting pulled by the current is the only way to get here. I’ve no idea what sea we are in now. No one does! There is no hope of rescue for us, unless we help ourselves. If we stay, we risk everything. Even more lives would be lost-“
“Aye, but they would die doing the right thing! Look around you, Captain. All these people will die some day. You, me; we all die. I would make certain that my death meant something!”
Several of the sailors were nodding in agreement and uttering low affirmations. Frindic fixed his eyes on the floor, and for a moment, Peridas believed his words would make it through Frindic’s thick skull, but then the Captain glared up at the boy. Peridas glared back, and both men’s faces contorted and reddened until they appeared more demon than human. The reason for the hostility was perfectly clear to the older sailors, the ones who had seen more than their share of mutinies. Peridas had the respect of the sailors, and he played on their hearts, while Frindic had the obedience of the sailors, and played on their fears.
Their argument continued for the better portion of the day, until Frindic thought of a cunning angle that he hoped Peridas had overlooked. “What happens to Greece if we stay here and die ‘honorably’?” he demanded. “Who would be left to challenge the Viking fleet? Without Colossus, Greece may already have lost the war!”
Exclamations broke out among the younger crew members. Peridas, however, had anticipated the question, and said, “My family awaits my return in Greece, same as yours, but there is nothing we can do for them, now. If what you say is true, there is no chance of returning in time to aid our people. Athens has emptied, and we are all that’s left of it. Sparta will decide the fate of Greece.” He turned to the crowd. “‘Tis a dismal truth, I know, but if we still have the chance to save our friends from death here, then on my life, I will see it done!”
A few broken cheers went up from the crowd, then died away, replaced by scattered clapping. A hesitation rippled through the men, and then they threw off their shyness and roared and shouted and whooped; banged their scimitars against their legs and stamped their feet on the deck. Frindic bristled and shouted, “Silence! SILENCE! You can listen to this naysayer, this coward, but I tell you now, we are the hope of Greece. We will save it, and be sung of as heroes! Stay and be slaughtered if you want, but I for one am not about to let my city and family be massacred. And I will not send my ship to the bottom of the sea over the hallucinations of a blood-addled boy!”
The crews’ support shifted as easily as childrens’, and they responded with cries of, “To Athens!”
Frindic nodded, appearing satisfied. Then he turned to Peridas- who was sifting through his mind for a witty retort- and said, “Your snake-tongue would have seen me cast off my own ship! I, Captain Frindic the Unbranded, name you mutineer! Garvrek, throw this boy off my ship!”
“Yes, sir.” said the first mate with a smirk.
Peridas growled, dropped his noble tone, and began to curse Frindic as a coward and a child. The captain stiffened and said, “Now if you please, Garvrek.”
Still swearing, the boy was dragged up the stairs to the Captain’s deck by the foul-smelling sailor. That deck was a bit higher than the bluff, perhaps twenty feet. The men on the main deck had used a ladder to surmount the cliff, as Frindic considered his quarters too special for ordinary sailors to tramp through. Then Garvrek laid both hands on the boy and threw him off the deck. This took Peridas a bit by surprise; he hadn’t expected Garvrek hated him that much. The boy was still flailing about when he hit the ground. Hard. He landed on his left side- his weak side, and pain flared up his ribs. “Argh!” he exclaimed as his vision flickered and dimmed, and an image floated before him like the blobs of color he saw whenever he shut his eyes. It was gone in an instant, but he had time to see… a group of men standing on a glacier. A spiked tail erupted out of the ice and impaled one of them… That was all he could remember from such a brief image.
A loud grating sounded below him as Colossus raised anchor. Ever so slowly, the massive ship veered away from the bluff and sailed out of the cove. Peridas gazed after it, feeling nauseous. Those sick animals… they left me here… alone… with nothing. “You just left me!” he screamed. “Alone!”
He resumed his tirade against a mental image of Frindic. Presently, he was surprised to feel tears streaming down his face. Despite his disgust, he found himself on the very brink of losing his composure. His oaths became wordless, hiccuping yells, and his head swam with a sense of disbelief. And soon Colossus disappeared out of the entrance to the cove. With the vanishing of the last light of civilization, he let out an agonized howl and collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. There he lay, alone in his misery; Desolate. And the horizon became a rich orange gradient as the sun set, blessedly removed from the worries of the world.
And so, after having spent not even two days on the island, Peridas found that it was beginning to own up to its name. His desolation had already begun.