Chapter V: Reunion
“Peridas? At last! No, don’t move boy-” Peridas attempted to sit up, only to yelp in agony and collapse back onto the deck as his wound smarted. Looking down, he saw a soiled bandage wrapped around his abdomen. He gingerly lifted it and saw a scarlet sheet of dried blood coating his left side. “You’re lucky,” Skipper remarked. “The blade missed your kidney by about a half-inch.” Skipper extended his hand and Peridas grasped it. As he was gingerly pulled onto his feet, the boy saw the body of the woman- if indeed he could call her a woman- slumped against the mast, though whether she was dead or unconscious he did not know. A single lantern was alight on top of the stump, bathing the deck with a ruddy orange light.
“Skipper, how… what happened?” As if in response, a pair a soldiers bearing the Greek insignia on their helmets strode forward, into the light. The boy didn’t recognize either of them, and they seemed disinclined to introduce themselves, so Skipper began, “Peridas, these are Lieutenant Tor and Commander Quentis Novale, of the Greek dreadnought Colossus. They helped me save you.”
The men inclined their heads, and Peridas did the same, then whispered, “Skipper, was not Quentis Novale…?”
“Aye, but that’s for another time. They are friends, you are safe, and we must get you back to Colossus to properly dress that wound.”
“Wait, Colossus is here? That is, she survived?” Peridas asked, incredulous.
Colossus was the largest, heaviest, most lethal ship in the Greek navy. She was essentially a floating city, as secure as any fortress, and nearly a mile long. “Yes, boy. And this ship was commandeered by her crew and has been serving as her escort for almost a week.”
“We were on a scouting trip when that devil attacked us,” Tor said, gesturing at the woman, “She was so quiet, it-” He faltered.
Novale rested a hand on his shoulder and continued for him. “Half of the men were dead before they hit the floor. We hid in the armory until we heard your fight. When we emerged, we found Julian fighting the wench and together we bested her.”
Julian! Peridas thought, glancing at Skipper with a wry smile. The old man shot him a look that could make a shark squeal. The boy suppressed an even larger grin. “Where are we going? What is Colossus’ destination?” he asked.
“Makes no difference.” Novale said. “Ever since the storm, we’ve been pulled by some immense current. It must have been hard to notice on a raft, but there be nothing we can do to until we get where we’re going.”
As the old man spoke, Peridas saw the woman rise lithely and glance at the men- Peridas’ eyes widened and he shouted a warning- then she sprinted to the railing and dove into the ocean, leaving a trail of blood splatters in her wake. The men ran to the railing and gazed into the dark waters. They stood guard for hours, then gradually relaxed and resumed their conversation.
They were in the captain’s quarters now, and Peridas was inhaling cold bread and cheese, and gulping down a waterskin. The three older men were hunched over a sea-chart of the Mediterranean, talking the nonsense of sailors. He knew that what they were saying was important, but the words seemed to go straight through his head, no matter how hard he tried to retain them. So he was content to sit and gnaw on his meager meal while they waited for Colossus. After the food and water was gone, Peridas crossed his arms and legs, leaned against the wall and dozed off.
Again, he saw the island, only this time the fortress was above the water and in its full glory. Pale light flowed over the grand stonework from a harvest moon nestled between the peaks of the mountains surrounding the lake, which was back as tar. Brass-grated marble canals laced the base of the city, and silver canoes drifted serenely down them, like folded swan feathers floating on liquid midnight. The dragon-monument protruded from the heart of the castle, towering over the other parapets in its grand climb toward the stars…
Peridas woke to the pale half-light that precedes dawn. He stood and walked to a nearby washbasin. He filled it with water and doused his face and neck, then studied his appearance. His pupil and iris had pulled over the scar, knitting into a rough imitation of the scar’s shape, and therefore making his left eye appear slitted like a cat’s. He had a short, rough beard that made him seem far older than he truly was. His hair, which was usually short and trimmed, was now somewhat shaggy. A purple bruise discolored the entire front side of his neck. His mouth was set in a continually grim expression that reminded him too much of a weathered adult’s visage. It was an unsettling experience for him. He returned to his place by the wall, disturbed.
Skipper kicked Peridas in the shoulder. “Ow…” he mumbled, still half asleep. Skipper kicked him again, harder. Startled, Peridas rolled away and directed an accusatory look at the old man. Skipper simply shrugged, said, “You won’t want to miss this, boy,” and then walked outside. Muttering to himself, Peridas got up and followed.
Once his eyes adjusted to the light, Peridas gaped at the inconceivably large ship that their small vessel was tethered to. It stood over three-hundred feet out of the water, casting them in a hopelessly broad shadow. It had rows upon rows upon rows of cannons layering the hull from each of it levels. It had not one, but three masts, holding a dozen sails, and a complex network of ropes, lines, and crossbeams that made a flawless spiderweb look rudimentary. “I am not seeing this,” the boy said to himself. Skipper appeared equally stunned.
Tor simply laughed and said, “Behold, Colossus, the blade of Poseidon.”
“How could the Vikings even think to challenge us, with this on our side?” Peridas questioned.
“Because,” Quentis said, looking serious, “The Vikings have a dreadnought of their own, the Leviathan. Longer and more slender, but its hull is thick and its ballistae are many.”
Peridas grunted an acknowledgement and strode to the edge of the deck. There was a metallic grating as a panel slid open halfway down the ship’s hull. From it fell a large steel chain with links spaced a foot apart and as thick as a man’s leg. The chain crashed into the water and stretched taught. Without asking permission, the boy grabbed the chain and climbed up as easily as if it were a ladder, wincing as spikes of pain lanced down his side whenever he stretched his left arm. It was a daunting climb, and by the time he reached the entrance to Colossus he was thoroughly coated with a film of sweat, and his ribs throbbed sharply. With one last heave, the boy pulled himself through the open panel. He froze.
He was in a small, dark entry room with two boulder-sized spools on either side of him, for storing the climbing-chain. The spools were connected with cables, and fed through to a lever for controlling the chain’s climb and descent. And standing opposite him, in the exit doorway, was Ionus. He looked unharmed, and wore a large grin. Relief washed through him, so profound it left the world throbbing with emotion. The boy stuttered for words, but it felt as if his heart was blocking the noise in his throat. “Ionus.” he finally managed. “H- how did you…?”
“Survive?” Ionus chuckled. “I jumped from ship to ship until I ended up here… It’s good to see you, my friend.” He studied Peridas seriously for a moment, then said, “Peridas, you look like a hammered-” he was cut off as the ship lurched and several horns sounded above them. A volley of yells followed a second later.
“What is that?”
“I don’t know-” The ship lurched again and a low, rumbling drone shook the very air.
“Come- to the surface!” Ionus said as he rushed through an oaken door. Peridas followed, and found himself in a huge corridor that connected every lock, hold, and cabin in the ship. As they raced down the long, bustling main corridor- Peridas relying solely on his friend to lead the way- the rumbles increased in speed, and plumes of dust drifted from the beamed ceiling. The booms alternated sounding from different places on the ship. Then, they paused for a handful of heartbeats… and sounded again, all at once. Peridas’ head rang, his ears and throat tingled, his teeth vibrated, and his eyes watered.
“The cannons.” Ionus explained. But what are they shooting at? They reached the surface hatch and Ionus shoved it open. Light. Pure and white and blinding. Then Peridas’ eyes adjusted and he found himself on a deck two hundred feet wide and two thirds of a mile long. The deck had multiple levels, separated by a step or two. Hundreds of soldiers and sailors swarmed over it like a colony of ants. A group of Spartans trotted over to them. “Ho, where is the commander?” Ionus asked.
The lead Spartan stood panting for a moment, then said, “The commander was just killed. Struck by a javelin. Captain, that means you are now our commander.”
Ionus took a moment to digest the information, then asked, “Killed by who?”
“Sir, it’s the Leviathan. The current’s pulled them right beside us.” Ionus and Peridas exchanged glances.
“Sir, your orders?”
Ionus’s eyes wandered as he thought. “I… don’t know.” he said, sounding surprised. “Follow us for now. I have to join Quentis Novale.”
They set off to the captain’s quarters. When they arrived at their destination, which stood some sixty feet above the deck, they found Skipper, Novale, and a tall, armored woman with a stocked quiver and a wood and silver bow slung across her back. Peridas assumed the woman was Colossus’ third commander. “…your forces cut down the center. Agreed?” Novale asked.
“Agreed,” the woman confirmed, “As long as it doesn’t-“
“You were expecting him-“
“We need to talk later.” The woman said flatly, staring at Ionus.
“Not now! Ionus, you need to get-“
A javelin head, lathered with flaming tar, punched through the wall and abruptly slid to a stop before it could exit. The oily flames danced almost mockingly around the blade. Everyone in the room jumped, frightened, except for Ionus, who simply lifted an eyebrow at the disturbance.
Quentis resumed, “You need to-” A second javelin broke through the boards and joined its companion in the wall, about ten inches down and to the right.
“…need to get-” A third javelin head erupted from the wall and sat neatly in between the first two.
“Blast it- go! Just go! Take up arms and command your troops!”
When they were outside, Ionus ordered his Spartans to form a knot at the front of the Greek lines and said that he would join them shortly. Then he led Peridas to the armory and bound his stab-wound with a tight numbing-poultice. Then he fitted Peridas in a flanged leather cuirass and mail-backed gauntlets. “Not that you’re in any condition to fight.” Ionus explained. “But just in case.”
He also gave the boy a new pair of boots and a small dagger. “Stay in the captain’s cabin until I get you- go.” Then he was gone.