“Brace yourselves,” Thraxos shouted as a massive wave crashed into the front of the Heron. Anech grabbed hold of the nearest railing, barely feeling the freezing water wash over his body. He had no idea how that crazy Hebrew had managed to nearly capsize their pursuer, but Binyamin had bought his crew a chance at salvation, undoubtedly with the cost of his own life. As long as he lived, Anech knew that he would never forget the sense of awe that he had felt as he watched the massive ship suddenly tip over in the onrushing wind. Maybe there was something to the man’s strange, solitary God, who the Hebrews believed held sole dominion over the earth. Indeed, even in Anech’s home village deep within the swamps of the Nile, people still told stories in hushed tones of the nearly inconceivable disasters that had befallen the people of Egypt many generations past when they had held the Hebrews in bondage.
Anech snapped out of his reverie when another wave came crashing down on the Heron, and cold water caused his thin linen tunic to cling uncomfortably to his body. He would not let Binyamin’s sacrifice be for nothing due to his own lack of initiative. A few more hits like that, and the Heron would capsize of break apart. Anech was startled by a tearing sound above him. Looking up, he saw that the Heron’s steering sail was ripped almost in half due to the storm’s powerful winds. At last, he felt his grief, fear, and frustration wash away and he began to act.
“Brondan,” he screamed over the rushing wind and crashing waves, “get that sail down.” Brondan did not seem to hear him, but readily understood Anech’s frantic gestures toward the rear sail. Thraxos, Vertus, and three other crewmen followed and began furling both the steering sail and the mainsail. The ship continued to lurch violently as Anech made his way to the ladder that led below deck. Before he could begin to descend, Anario, a Balearic islander who was also the ship’s most experienced oarsman popped his head out of the square opening.
“Sir,” he yelled, desperation adding a gut-tightening note to his normally calm voice, “It’s bad down here, Sir. Two of our oars are snapped clean off, and we have water coming in through the ports. The men at the benches have water up to their waists, and it is rising fast.”
“Seal up the ports,” Anech replied with as much calm as he could muster. If the hold filled with water, they were done for. Anario nodded and splashed back into the hold, barking out orders with a few curses in his native tongue complementing the distinct blend of Greek and Phoenician that was understood by almost every man that sailed the Mediterranean. Above deck, the sails were successfully stowed. Anech ordered the tops pried off several barrels of expensive Cretan wine. With a sigh of sadness he watched as the precious liquid was poured overboard. He then helped a crewman tie rope cradles around the barrels as if they were about to be loaded into a waiting rowboat. As each one was completed, Thraxos, Vertus, Brondan, or one of the other three crewmen still above deck would lower it into the hold, where Annario would ensure that it was filled to the brim with water. That done, the men would haul it up, muscles in their arms and shoulders straining, and pour it over the side.
Slowly but surely, despite the driving rain, and crashing waves, the Heron stopped wallowing. Below deck, the rowers successfully sealed the oar port covers shut with wax and pitch. It would be a laborious process to reopen them when the storm passed, but the hold was no longer in imminent danger of being flooded. At last, Anech gave the order to move the remaining wine, provisions, and other cargo into the ship’s hold to keep as much weight below the waterline as possible. That way, he hoped, a large wave might not bowl the Heron over without warning. Their best course of action was simply to wait out the storm and pray for the best.
With one last fearful glance, Anech followed his men into the ship’s hatch, closing the door after him. As he descended the ladder into the darkness of the cargo hold, he murmured a silent prayer to Anubis. He wondered if the tension and nervousness that was roiling inside him would be similar to the way he would one day feel when he stood before his god awaiting judgment. The wind and waves howled and splashed around them. For the first time since he had seen the man on the beach brought down by a hail of arrows, Anech could not feel his heart pounding in his chest. Around him, his crew murmured in hushed tones listening intently to the sounds of the storm and looking about apprehensively with every pitch and roll of the ship. The entire place smelled of sweat, vomit, and salt water. A few chanted prayers to whatever set of gods the people of their homeland worshipped, while most simply stared at their blistered hands or the water that was still pooling around their ankles.
Thraxos was in possession of the sole lamp to not be completely submerged, and moved from man to man, offering encouragement and approbation in equal measure. Slowly, a small modicum of cheer returned to the exhausted sailors. Before long, someone in the back of the hold began singing the first stanzas of a popular, if somewhat crude, sailing song in a rich, low baritone. Thraxos quickly jumped up and began bellowing out the lyrics enthusiastically, rhythmically clapping his hands and stomping his feet, looking at the other crewmen as if they were acting like grumpy old women for not joining in. By the time he got to the second verse, the entire hold was bellowing out the lyrics. Brondan looked askance to Anech before prying open one of the surviving wine casks, and the crewmen were soon passing wine around in small cups made of metal or wood. The cramped confines of the hold took on a festive atmosphere as the men shouted out the refrain, which involved a Babylonian princess with beautiful, dark eyes sailing off with a sea raider. Of course, the Babylon had fallen to the Persians years before any man aboard the ship was even born, but no one had ever bothered to update the tawdry lyrics. The Heron continued to pitch and roll while the men drank and laughed in defiance of the elements.
Anech was a lucky man to have someone like Thraxos on his crew. Not for the first time, he reflected on how the two of them complimented each other perfectly. Thraxos could handle the crew just as well as Anech could handle the complicated network of contacts and trade that kept food in the crews’ bellies and coin in their pockets. Of course, losing his navigator was going to make it harder to make ends meet, but Anech allowed himself a small measure of optimism. He smiled as Brondan passed him a cup of wine, and took a tentative sip. Thraxos, face flushed from wine and loud, toneless singing made his way over to where Anech was sitting.
“It looks like we just might make it,” he said to the captain.
Anech nodded in agreement, and noticed that the Minoan was holding an oilcloth-wrapped bundle under his arm. Thraxos followed Anech’s gaze and offered him the bundle.
“It’s Bin’s,” he murmured. “Anario grabbed it before someone set that crate of spices and incense on it.
“Good,” Anech replied, relieved that at the very least, his former navigator’s most prized possession had made it through the day’s adventure unscathed. Thraxos gingerly peeled off the oilcloth to reveal a linen strip wrapped around two intricately carved wooden sticks. As Anech looked on, Thraxos carefully pulled the two sticks apart, exposing line after line of densely packed Hebrew script painstakingly inscribed onto the thin cloth.
“I will never understand why he paid almost a year’s wages for this thing when we went to that market outside of Athens,” Thraxos said as his eyes wandered over the lines of incomprehensible lettering. “I mean, he has tried to tell me a few times, but it seems like a collection of old wives’ stories about his God punishing his people and little else.” He began to roll the linen cloth tightly between the two sticks again, keeping a bemused look on his bearded face all along. “Still, he was a good man, and he died protecting this crew. If he found the strength to do what he did thanks to the words written in here, it might be worth keeping.”
“Of course we will keep it,” Anech responded, perhaps a little too quickly and angrily. Then he explained, “The scroll chronicles the entire history of his people. If you unroll it right to left, and if you know the sounds each bit of script is supposed to make, you can learn the entire story of Binyamin’s people. This scroll is probably several centuries old, from before the time when Babylon destroyed the Hebrew’s country and took most of them off in chains. It is a rare and beautiful object, for those who know what they are looking at.”
Thraxos nodded in understanding and finished replacing the scroll. “What is your plan sir?” he asked, looking to the Egyptian. “The sea is calming. I think we are through the worst of it.”
Anech had to agree. “The storm is moving to the south and the west. We will unfurl the sail, and ride the winds that are driving it towards Syracusa. We will sell our remaining wares to Alcadimes or one of the other merchants in the city that will give us a good price. With what we get there, Brondan should be able to find us something worth trading for on the Gallic shore, which in turn should put enough gold in our pockets and cargo in our hold to come to Croton,” as he spoke, Anech was mentally tallying facts and figures, taking everything from the cost of provisions, to prevailing currents and winds, to the bribes he would have to pay port officials in Syracusa to look elsewhere while they repaired the Heron. He excelled at this kind of work, and Thraxos struggled to keep up as Anech continued to lay out his plan. Most of the crew was attempting to listen in on the conversation by now, eager to find out what their captain had in store for them.
“We owe our dead that much,” Anech continued. “I do not care if it takes us a year or more to get back here. We will look for Binyamin, and if we get the chance to find the one who killed Daryus and Hanno, so much the better.”
Thraxos, along with the now silent crew, all nodded in agreement, and continued to wait out the storm.