On a hill overlooking the beach where he had been informed the smugglers had arranged to make landfall, Galankos, Captain of the Croton City Watch, waited with eager anticipation. He saw a group of three men with a large wagon waiting on the beach, eyes fixated open the sea. Periodically, one of them would uncover a lantern, let it shine briefly, and then cover it again. That alone would be enough for Galankos to apprehend the men, one of whom he could tell was the odious little Patrocles even from here, but he wanted the smugglers as well. An athletic man with a close-cropped beard and several prominent scars on his arms and face, he moved easily under the weight of his armor. Spread out along the ridgeline, another dozen city Watchmen kept themselves concealed from view, looking askance at their commander.
Generally, he would leave missions like this to a trusted subordinate, but Galankos had suspected Patroclus of working with smugglers for a long time. With his grubby clothing and constant fidgeting whenever a patrol walked past his shop, Patroclus had always aroused equal feelings of disgust and suspicion in the fastidious watchman. In a way, the smugglers and the local merchants that were enabling them were taking money out of Galankos’ own pocket. The City Watch helped to ensure that the merchants and ship captains paid the taxes that in turn supported the City Watch. If he could make an example of Patroclus, tonight would be a very good night indeed. Galankos slowly sank back behind the crest of the hill so that only his head was exposed.
His patience was soon rewarded. One of the three men started gesturing out to sea, and even though the fog was still too thick for Galankos himself to see the approaching smuggler’s ship. It was almost time to spring the trap.
He turned to the youngest member of the watch and said, “get the fire started. When I call, light the signal and we can catch them all tonight.” He smiled for a moment, “Men, if we do this right, no one will notice if a jug or ten of Patroclus’ wine ends up in the barracks.”
With a muted growl of approval, his men went into action. Galankos and ten armored Watchmen with shields and short swords began to make their way down the hill, using a small draw to conceal their movement should one of the men on the beach turn around. Meanwhile, his archers fanned out along the ridgeline until they could range the entire beach. The youngest watchman remained in place, struggling with his flint and tinder.
The guards’ movements were well-choreographed. They moved silently and efficiently, like the professionals that they were. A decade ago, before the war with Sybaris, the City Watch was made up of rank amateurs much like that of a more established Polis on the Greek mainland. Croton, however, was on the ragged edge of the civilized world, and needed fierce, seasoned warriors like Galankos to protect its people. Galankos spent the first the early years of his life serving as a mercenary across Asia Minor, fighting for Greek and Persian alike. A run of bad luck found him penniless and desperate on the streets of Croton on the eve of its war with Sybaris. Galankos, needing the money, joined the men of the Polis for the duration of the war alongside several thousand other mercenaries. At the time, Galankos had planned to defect to the Sybarite army at the earliest opportunity, but surprisingly, Croton eventually emerged victorious even though they were caught flatfooted at the outset of hostilities.
In the wake of the conflict, the council of One Thousand felt it wise to institute a permanent City Watch, which Galankos was all too happy to join. He rose through the ranks quickly by making the right friends in the right places. Within ten years, he commanded the entire watch, and quickly set about expanding its power and influence. With his new position, he was able to obtain all of the money, power, and the luxuries that accompany such things that he could ask for. His home was both large and well-appointed, and he had quite the hoard of ‘gifts’ from merchants and informants buried in the courtyard. He ran the guard with an iron fist, but they respected him. They knew very well that he was responsible for their prosperity, even if his expectations and standards were high. Hard men from all over the Hellenic world vied for a position in the watch.
Tonight, gods willing, the latest arrow in his quiver would be tested in combat. Built in Athens, the Artemisium was a massive trireme worthy of any of the great Poleis. The ship carried nearly one hundred and fifty rowers, along with another fifty marines for ship-to-ship action. It was less than a league north of the beach, well concealed in a narrow cove. When the fire was lit, it would make short work of the smuggling ship while it was anchored. Every Greek city worth anything had at least a small flotilla of warships, but until now, Croton had lacked a warship of comparable quality to naval powers from the mainland such as Athens or Thebes.
For a moment, Galankos felt a twinge of nervousness. This was a massive undertaking based on the word of one informant. If something were to go wrong… No. He stopped himself. The men on the beach saw something out there on the waves, and this night would be one of triumph. He felt like a wolf closing in on a flock of sheep as he continued stealthily down the hill, the moment’s hesitation forgotten.
By the time he reached the bottom of the hill, he could make out the shape of a small rowboat approaching the shore. Staying in cover, he and his small group of watchmen advanced closer toward Patroclus and what had to be two of his house slaves. The donkey strapped to the cart brayed indolently, probably upset at the disruption to its daily routine. A jolt of excitement ran through him. Just a few moments more, he thought. He always loved this part. He loved it just as much as he had when he had impaled his first Armenian savage twenty years ago when he was a mere boy of sixteen. From here, all was in the hands of the Fates. He had but to play his part, and the bones would fall where they may. He found the uncertainty thrilling.
The rowboat paused before reaching the shore. The two men inside guided the boat in a semicircle with their paddles before rowing the ship backwards toward the sandy beach. Professionals, preparing looking for a quick getaway. Galankos’ breath quickened as he watched the boat run aground in the surf. Two men jumped out, dragging the heavily laden craft further onto shore. From his vantage point at the foot of the hill, he was still not close enough to hear what the men on the beach were saying, but from their body language, he could tell that they were haggling for the ship’s contents.
Just then, a gust of wind briefly lifted the fog revealing a sleek Phoenician galley anchored close to shore.
Now was the time. With a voice tempered in the thunder of half a hundred battles, he bellowed, “In the name of the Council of One Thousand, sovereigns of the free Greek city of Croton, I command you to raise your hands and submit to our custody,” behind him, a massive bonfire came to life, bright enough for the crew of the Artemisium to see. The five men on the beach spun around and stared at the watchmen. One of them began to run away from the swordsmen who, in their view, must have materialized less a javelin’s throw from where they were standing. Galankos gestured toward the running figure.
“Take him down,” Galankos cried again in a clear, ringing voice. Half a dozen arrows peppered the ground around the running figure, one of them passing so close as to pierce his cloak. With a shriek of fright, the criminal whirled around, checking his body for a protruding arrow. His moment’s hesitation proved fatal. The next volley ripped through his body, killing him instantly. The man fell, convulsing, to the ground, his blood oozing into the sand. Galankos ripped his gaze away from the fresh corpse in time to see the smugglers attempting to push their boat back into the water. Not so fast, he thought.
The guard captain and his men sprinted toward the shoreline, blades drawn, shields flashing in the sun that was just beginning to rise over the sea. The heaviest of the lot, the merchant Patroclus, fell blubbering to his knees, chins wobbling. His men aimed a few passing blows with the pommels of their swords at the sobbing merchant as they ran past him into the surf. The third man, still holding his lantern, was already clambering into the boat with the two smugglers, as they began to row, oars pushing off the sand just below the surface. Galankos reached the boat first, splashing through the thigh-deep water. He dropped his shield and grabbed the man with the lantern by the hair, using him to vault into the boat. The lantern went out as the man fell backwards into the water. Galankos heard a gurgling scream from the would-be accomplice as one of his Watchmen slit the man’s throat.
He paid the violence taking place behind him no heed. After taking a moment to regain his balance, he sized up the two men seated one behind the other in the boat. He suspected that they were both easterners, judging by their loose clothing and olive skin. To their credit, they reacted quickly. The closer of the two men, with a plaited beard that denoted him as some kind of Persian, drew a knife from his belt and slashed wildly at Galankos. His oars splashed into the water as he pressed the attack. Galankos thrust his hips backward to avoid the knife, and fell bodily onto the smaller man. The Persian crumpled, mouth colliding with his knees as he dropped his knife.
The other easterner was already preparing to swing an oar at Galankos’ head. Thinking quickly, he wrapped his arms around his quarry, and, pushing off with his left leg, rolled into the shallow water. The sounds around him became muffled as his head was swallowed by the sea. The Persian kicked and struggled, but was unable to right himself before Galankos’ hands closed around his throat. Straddling the smuggler, Galankos arched his head back, breathing in the cool salty air and bore the Persian under the water. Within moments, the man’s struggles grew weaker, and bubbles soon ceased to escape from his mouth. Galankos felt a thrill run through his body. He knew that this was the real reason that he would always accompany his men on missions such as these. There was nothing quite so thrilling as the act of taking another man’s life.
It took another moment or two for the excitement of the kill to recede enough for Galankos to get his bearings. The other easterner was out of the boat now, splashing in the surf. The man was bigger than he looked. He brandished a large oar as if it weighed no more than a walking stick. He had wild eyes and his long beard that glistened with seawater. He swung wildly at four Watchmen as they attempted to surround him. One of his men moved too slowly and doubled over when the oar connected with his breastplate, knocking the wind out of him. Another Watchman seized the opportunity and tackled the smuggler. The other two quickly piled on and brought the man down into the waves, short swords sliding in and out of the smuggler’s body, darkening the water around them. Galankos nodded with approval as his men helped the injured Watchman out of the water. From the way he moved, he looked to have a cracked rib, but he would be able to recover.
He saw the smugglers’ galley crawling with activity. Where was the Artemisium? As if he had summoned it with his thoughts, he heard the muffled thud, thud, thud of the warship’s drum as a single large mast became visible through the slowly vanishing mist. The mast resolved itself into a ship that had no peer for hundreds of leagues. It incorporated all of the latest shipbuilding designs and techniques from the Greek mainland. The ship was so majestic that Galankos momentarily regretted his decision to accompany the land force and leave command of the ship to one of his lieutenants. It was too late to reconsider, of course, and Galankos had never particularly liked sailing, so it was all for the best.
The ship came fully into view. Its ram alone was the size of two men laid end to end. No eastern ship could stand before a Greek warship if it was making speed. Bathed red in the early morning sun, the Artemesium raced toward the galley, which had struck its sails so as not to snap the line securing it to its anchor. Too late, the sea scum realized their folly. The Artemisium would smash them where they stood. Galankos smiled to himself not long now, he thought. His informant would be rewarded handsomely, and his patrons in the Council of One Thousand would surely bestow great honors upon him, perhaps allowing him to finally recruit the additional score of men that he had requested two months ago. Today was going to be a good day. Maybe he would allow a few of the smugglers to live if they surrendered quickly enough. He looked across the water and saw a man on the prow of the ship staring back at him, even as his crewmates began to scramble about the deck, surprised by the massive Greek warship that to them must have appeared out of nowhere. If the gods were kind, that man and his whole crew would be begging for their lives before the sun was fully risen. Galankos made a mental note to put a good word in for the fruit vendor that had given him the needed information to set up such a perfect ambush as he stared intently out to sea.