The winds strengthened, churning white-tipped waves. The white sail bore the brunt of the strong gale that sent it flapping. The clouds hung dark and low over the horizon. The only thing I could see was an impending storm. While Hyros ordered the men to adjust the foresail, I could not help wonder if the wind was driving us deeper into something we couldn't escape. I looked back at the lighthouse which glimmered from the shoreline now a few miles east of us. While the crew rallied alongside each other I paced back and forth around the deck looking for Theseus. We had to turn back now.
He was nowhere in sight. I sighed. As I turned around to head into the trap door that led to the cargo hold below, I bumped into Maximus.
"Sorry," I mumbled, as I took a step back. I could hear his breathing as he straightened his rumpled tunic. I bit my lip as his green eyes studied me.
"You are in quite a rush," he muttered, trying to stifle the irritation in his voice.
"I am so sorry. I was trying to find Theseus. I had to tell him something."
"He and Hyros are in the captain quarters. I am assuming it is about me," he said in a hollow tone. "You are not rallying to remove me, are you?"
"No!" I said shaking my head. "I was concerned about us sailing with the winds picking up. I think we should turn back," I said.
"Turn back now?" he asked, wrinkling his brow.
A drop of water splashed against the bridge of his nose.
"It is just a little water, Troy. Relax it will not hurt you," he said, wiping his nose just as another drop splashed against my warm cheek. Relax? Storms were nothing to relax about! Lives were involved. He clearly had no idea what it felt like being at the mercy of the sea being tossed about. None. "I hope we can continue the voyage. The Brotherhood has been looking forward to this trip for so long," he continued. "I would think you would feel the same way, brother."
"It is not like I want to cancel the voyage but I have to think about the safety of the crew too. After all, the captain makes the final decision," I said prudently. Maximus nodded his head.
"May the winds be in our favor my friend," he said, as his words drifted into the breeze.
I tiptoed into the boxlike room above deck, to find Hyros and Theseus alone. I had everything I wanted to say prepared—
"I do not feel comfortable with those men onboard," Hyros protested. "Like I told Jason, they need to leave," he said pointing out the narrow slit along the wall.
"They pose no threat to anyone. You are making this more of an issue than it already is. I am the captain and I make the final decisions and right now I am really questioning my own judgment with making you second in command," Theseus said. His words were more firm and brisk than I was accustomed to.
"I don't get it. The fellow puts a knife to my throat! If that is not a threat I do not know what is," Hyros exclaimed shaking his head.
"I will talk to him later. This could have all been avoided if you had not caused the men trouble by blocking their entrance to the boat in the first place," Theseus said, heaving an angry sigh.
"Wonderful! I try to stop a band of criminals from raiding the ship and slitting our throats and now I am at fault. Where is the logic in that? Look, I was trying to follow the rules. I did not have a list of who was boarding. How would I know?" Hyros said throwing his hands up.
"Did you even bother to ask?" Theseus questioned. Hyros rolled his eyes. "No you didn't bother to! You assumed the worst. Look, you claim to follow the rules but in reality you only follow the rules when it is convenient for you. Am I right?" he asked. His arms folded against his chest. Hyros pursed his lips at the question.
"I cannot believe my ears. You are making such a big mistake letting that fellow stay onboard. I suppose he must have bribed you and Jason with his cunning words," Hyros said, letting out a bitter laugh as he began heading to the doorway.
"Enough! When will you grow up?" Theseus snapped. Silence. Hyros pursed his lips as he froze mid-step. I watched Theseus' cheeks flush red. I could hardly recognize him. Hyros paused to observe my stunned reaction before looking back at Theseus.
"I thought since the last journey you had matured and after all the expeditions we had been through you were ready. I wanted to give you a second chance because I believed in you. But I suppose you are right. I made a mistake. I chose you to be second in command because I was too nice. I won't let that happen again," he said softly. Hyros pursed his lips together in silence. The room grew quiet as he turned his back on both of us.
I could feel a gust of wind hit me as he slammed the door behind him. I gazed at the small clay jars rattle along the table.
"I am sorry you had to hear that, Troy," he said, clearing his throat. "This is not a good time right now."
"I know but this is urgent. I was concerned we are sailing into a storm ahead." Theseus gave me a solemn look before placing a hand on my shoulder.
"Let us take a look, shall we?" he beckoned. We both walked out into the open deck. The cold rains were falling, making the deck floors slippery. I watched Theseus trudge to the edge, his gaze locked ahead at the dark skies.
"This does not appear to be as dangerous as the last one," he said, shielding his eyes from the pelting rain.
"How do you know?" I asked from behind. He paused.
"How high are the tides?" he asked.
"Three feet at the highest, maybe?" I said with a shrug. How would I know for certain?
"This storm looks different than the last one. I can see it. I can tell a mighty tempest when I see one. This is nothing compared to the last one. Yet we must still take precautions. Keep an eye out in case things change. The tides change quickly," he said turning to face me. "I am counting on you," he said firmly. I nodded. With that Theseus paced towards the mast. Every step creaked along the damp floorboards.
"Redirect the ship southward! We are venturing too far from the shoreline," he commanded. The crew scrambled at his words as some of the more robust men clamored to climb the mast. No longer was he the meek captain that hovered in the shadows of Philemon. Philemon was gone now. Theseus was now in full control and had taken his place.
I awed at the men as they tugged on the pulleys to shift the looming rectangular sail while others adjusted the foresail to maneuver the boat as it began to veer against the currents. I wanted to help. I was not the scrawny boy I once was. I was stronger now but I had to hold my ground.
The cool drops splattered against my face, leaving me soaked to the skin. I gazed below as the big waves rose and fell, rocking the boat back and forth. Through the rain I could hear Theseus giving out orders.
Pull South! Moans came from the men as they fought to defy the winds.
A cool mist blew in my face as the waves splashed along the curved sides. I shivered.
Just then I heard someone coughing. Through the sheets of falling rain, I scampered to investigate on the other side. A young man was stooped over the railing. He rasped as he wiped his mouth dripping with drool.
"Are you well?" I asked. His glassy eyes rose to face me. It was Hyros! A dark splotch stained his tunic, as he clutched his stomach. Just then, his cheek bulged. He craned his neck over the side of the rail as he vomited his stomach juices. I patted him on the back, as his body shook with the boat.
"Hyros. Are you all right?" I muttered nervously. He nodded weakly before burping in my face. His breath reeked of sour grapes. I watched him stagger closer towards the railing. I grabbed his arm. I was not letting go!
"Are you drunk?" I exclaimed, yanking him away from the edge.
"No," he muttered in a dull tone as he pulled away. "I cannot hold my wine down with all this rocking," he moaned.
"How can you drink at a time like this? Nothing will stay in your stomach until the sea calms," I said, trying to escort him further from the edge. Hyros kept pointing at someone ahead. What now?
His green eyes were piercing even in the shadows that cloaked him.
"You look drenched to the bone," Maximus remarked slyly.
"I realize that," I said, squinting. Must he state the obvious?
"So Theseus grants me to stay onboard. I am rather pleased to speak to a reasonable man," he continued. I nodded.
"I am glad too," I said. Maximus draped his arms around my shoulder. Hyros heaved a sigh.
"I am so terribly sorry you did not get your wish," Maximus said in a condescending tone, turning to Hyros. I watched Hyros' eyes narrow into tight slits. "I expected you to be with the other men lowering the sail." Hyros remained silent, as he cocked his neck.
"Now I remember you clearly. You were the owner of that tavern were you?" Maximus continued in a calm voice. "I wonder what is to befall your shop now that you are gone?" he uttered.
"I left it in the hands of my good friend. He is a trustworthy and hard-working individual," he emphasized. "Now please do not think you can intimidate me. You may have fooled Jason and Theseus but you cannot fool Hyros," he said slapping Maximus on the shoulder. "I know about you and your 'brotherhood,' " Hyros said with a smirk. Maximus peeled Hyros' hand from his shoulder.
"Come on Hyros, I think it is time we took shelter below deck," I interjected.
"What do you know about it?" Maximus asked in a stern tone.
"I know you are a newcomer to the city but you have already established your allies with the common thief to the loan lender. You excel at the art of extortion. I realized I did not need any of your money to run my business anymore. I am no longer any man's puppet," Hyros said, stepping closer to his face.
"Come on Hyros. Just let it go," I muttered.
"Step back, Troy. I have nothing to lose anyways. I am not letting this fool to cause me to lose everything I worked for," he said in a bitter tone.
"I am looking at one. If you want to fight me, we can do it below deck. It will be just you and me," Maximus said, cracking his knuckles. I could not help notice his sword's handle protruding out its sheath.
"Come on. Why not take the action above deck? We have 43 men that would love to be eyewitnesses to the spectacle," Hyros said. Maximus rolled his eyes. "What? You do not like audiences? You have something to hide? I suppose I do not blame you considering if you were to try something crazy everyone would be eyewitnesses –" In a sudden move, he lunged at Hyros' neck, shoving him across the deck and slamming his backend against the wooden engravings along the rail.
"I told you to watch your back!" Maximus snarled under his breath. He gripped his fingernails against his neck, leaving Hyros' head cocked back.
"Maximus. He is not worth it. Let him go!" I ordered. Maximus held on as Hyros feet slid closer to the edge. The only thing to break his fall was the frigid sea below.
"Go ahead. Push me over. It is not like I have anything left going for me," Hyros said in a hollow tone. That was not the Hyros speaking anymore. Just then Maximus' grip loosened as the boat tilted. All three of our legs began to slide across the slippery floorboards as the ship began to shift in the water. The boat was changing course. I gripped the railing, trying to steady myself.
"What is going on? You were needed to help with the sails," Jason exclaimed, gripping the railing as he scampered towards us. Hyros remained silent as he rested his torso on the railing. Jason paused to observe Maximus' tightened jaws.
"This man is testing my patience," Maximus said, trying to straighten his rumpled tunic.
"That is his specialty," Jason said, rolling his eyes. "Hyros, what happened between you and the young man here?" he asked. Hyros did not say a word.
"I am giving you the chance to tell your side of the story. I am waiting to hear your excuse," Jason said, tapping his foot.
"No use," Hyros said quietly as he shuffled his feet along the deck. I watched him descend into the cargo hold disappearing from sight.
He refused to speak to Jason. He refused to speak to Theseus. He even refused to speak to me. I suppose I did not blame him. In his eyes I looked like a traitor. But I never told him I was a member of the Brotherhood. I was forbidden to tell anyone, not that I desired to tell Hyros. That would end whatever friendship existed between us.
As nightfall came the rains slowed to a halt, just in time for the ship to bank along the coast. The winds and the tides had stabilized, ushering calmer waters. The rainstorm had passed. But in its wake it left clouds to mask the stars that would guide us back home.
I awoke the next morning in my straw cot nestled deep in the cargo space along the reinforced buttresses. I emerged above deck to find that the ship was back in motion, drifting into the currents. Most of the men were already up and helping themselves to the morning meal of porridge and bread. Everyone was up except Hyros. I went over to Hyros who lay motionless in his cot.
"Hyros. Wake up. Wake up, Hyros," I said nudging him. He would not budge. I rolled my eyes. Perhaps the wine had made him unusually sluggish.
"Last call for porridge," a man called above deck.
"They are going to give your rations away," I whispered to Hyros. I sighed when he did not stir. Errgh.
I clutched my gurgling stomach. I had to feed myself. I left Hyros to lay there as I went to grab my morning meal. He would have to fend for his own breakfast. As I looked around the deck, all the men were divided into their own groups. Some of the older experienced sailors sat together while some of the men in their 20s were huddled on crates, scooping the porridge with sullied hands. I watched Jason go inside the captain quarters to join Theseus. I followed Jason only for him to close the door behind him. I sighed.
"Over here," Maximus said, motioning to me. I stepped over the other sailors' legs careful not to trip and fall. Sergius, who was sitting on an elevated crate observed me as I skirted along the other men's legs.
"Thanks for letting me sit with you," I said.
"Anytime. Members are always free to sit by us. Is that not right, Sergius?"
"Whatever you say," he snorted, shrugging his shoulders. He scooped the mushy porridge and brought it to his mouth. I watched in disgust as glops escaped beneath his fingers.
"I suppose I am the youngest one here," I remarked, studying the other faces that sat in our circle. Although I no longer had a burning hatred for Sergius I still found him repulsive to look at. I barely managed to lower my guard with Maximus let alone the other nameless men that formed our pact.
"How old are you again?" Maximus asked, snapping me from my thoughts.
"I am sixteen years of age," I responded. He nodded as he bit into his bread.
"He is just a pup. I remember like it was yesterday when I was sixteen," Sergius blurted. "This other fellow is about your age," Sergius said, elbowing the young lad next to him in the ribs. Although he was supposedly sixteen I thought he was at least twenty. The young lad wiped his stubbly chin as he continued eating in silence. He looked up, casting me a cool blank stare as he exchanged glances with Sergius.
"This 'pup' is rather clever," Maximus responded swiftly. "His name is Troy and he is officially on our side now. You have already seen him in the Hollows Den."
"Is that the lad you men beat up," the young fellow snickered. Now I recognized him clearly. He was one of the attackers that tried to rob me my first morning in Rome. My jaw tightened. Sergius shared a smirk with the other fellow. Without thinking, I jolted upwards from my crate, sending my clay bowl shattering at his feet.
Smash. Hundreds of pieces went flying against their shins, as the men scrambled backwards.
Their eyes widened in utter shock. The young fellow looked up at me with a look of bewilderment. How did he not remember his victim? But I was no longer the victim.
He looked down at the blood drizzling from his leg where the shard stabbed him. The men grew quiet as I hovered over my opponent; my eyes cold and hollow. It was my turn to administer revenge to show him in front of everyone I was no longer the weakling he targeted. I raised my fist to strike him, but I saw Theseus walking along the deck. His face turned in my direction.
"Troy. Have you seen Hyros?" Theseus called out. I retracted my balled knuckles. My heart began beating against my chest as his words blurred. I feared the worst.
I excused myself, running down the steps, leading deep inside the cargo hold. Nestled in the corner, Hyros still lay in his cot. I called his name. No response. Something was wrong!
"Come on. I know you're awake," I exclaimed, running to his side. I shook his heavy shoulders, hoping to shift his weight onto his back. "Please stop playing, Hyros," I muttered, slapping him gently in the face. "Please. Do not do this," I moaned as I placed my hand on his heart. His beats were faint. I had to find Crispus. I climbed back on deck to find Crispus conversing with Jason.
"I need your help!" I blurted, interrupting Jason. My face said it all. Without a word, Crispus followed me where Hyros lay. The physician leaned into his chest hoping to catch a heartbeat. I hovered over, trying to feel his pulse. I could still feel it.
"He is breathing but it is irregular. He appears to have drunk intoxicating liquor before he drifted into sleep," he said prudently.
"Will he be all right?" I asked. Why did I leave him?
"I hope so," he replied quietly. Moments later, Hyros stirred in his sleep as a moan escaped his lips. A wave of relief swept over me. While Crispus placed a cool cloth over Hyros' forehead, I paced back and forth between the rows of tall clay jars and crates of cargo that covered most of the cargo space. I fingered the tall amphorae that were filled with wine. How much had he drunk? I looked back at Hyros who managed to lift his head from the pillow. He stared at me from afar without saying a word. He clutched his head in pain as Crispus motioned for me to get a cold cloth. I searched around the cargo space searching for a cloth. I rummaged through the rows of barrels, before scouring the room for any baskets. Finally I found one. I raced back to Hyros' side, as Crispus dipped it in a bucket of cool rainwater, squeezed it and placed it upon his forehead.
"You will be all right. You are a fighter," Crispus assured with a smile. Hyros eyes held no glint as his blank eyes blinked up at Crispus. He turned to look at me before craning his neck away. A part of me feared he already knew I was a part of the Brotherhood.
"Please hold on. I am so sorry what happened to you," I said softly.
"There can only be room for one of us," he muttered.
"Do not say that," I scolded. My tone was more worried than angry. "You still have a role here. We all do," I assured. "Prove to Theseus that he was wrong about you. Show him you are a better man now," I said, trying to stifle the emotion seeping in my voice. He rasped for air. I clutched his hand.
"My adventure is done. Tell Leo…I love…" he croaked. I held his hand and he held mines until I his hand went limp. His pupils rolled back in its sockets. I gasped, fighting to hold onto my own breath. I watched as Crispus ripped the neckline of his tunic before pushing down on Hyros' chest with both hands.
"He is not breathing! I tried, Troy," Crispus muttered. The physician shook his head as he closed Hyros' eyes. A lump formed in the back of my throat, tightening into a suffocating knot. I paced around the room, panting. It hurt even to breathe. Even though we were gliding through the sea I felt like we were not moving. I froze. His heart stopped and so did time.
Crispus broke the news to Theseus and Jason as they sat comfortably at their desk bolted to the floor of their cabin. He was more composed than I could ever be in sharing the horrific news. I still kept trying to slap him or pour water on his face. But nothing stirred him. Nothing. I hurled the tin bucket across the room, knocking down a stack of baskets in its path. I didn't care anymore. After all the times he instilled in me the will to keep fighting he gave up. How could he give up like this? He was several years older but still held onto so much youthful vigor? Why must he go so soon? Why? I stayed in the cargo space, tucked away in the corner. I sat in darkness hidden amongst the cargo but I preferred it this way. With my knees against my chin, I rocked my body back and forth, fighting the salty tears that burned my eyes.
The lowered sail blended into the overcast skies. Conversations were stifled to mere whispers of what had happened to Hyros.
Did he kill himself?
He must have been a drunkard.
Their whispers were too loud. I could not stand to listen to it. It made me sick to my stomach. That is why I chose to hide. Meanwhile, Theseus made the decision to turn the ship back over to the coast to bury his body. I was the last one to come out the ship. I was the last one to view the freshly dug up hole, before his fresh corpse was lowered in. I looked back at Theseus. For the first time I noticed creases under his glossy brown eyes. His role of captain was taking its toll.
Jason shared his words about Hyros, from his love for the sea, wine, women, and adventure. The only words I remembered were his closing remarks: 'Let him rest in peace along the sea. He loved the sea. And the sea loved him,' just as the waves crashed onto to the shore.
"Anyone else would like to say a few words?" Jason asked. A few coughs broke the silence. Jason looked at me as I trembled. I was overwhelmed with so many emotions in just two hours that I did not know what to feel anymore. The only sensation was the cool tingling waters that swished against my ankles, chilling the numbness that consumed me. Rocks and palm fronts were sprinkled over his grave but before long it was time to depart. There was no time to cry. No time for extended goodbyes as the men began boarding the ship. I stood by his marked grave in silence. Just then a hand plopped on my shoulder.
"Why did you not say anything?" Jason asked. Why did Theseus not say anything? "I know you wanted to say something. You were friends with him," Jason continued in a gentle tone. I nodded as I stared out blankly into the foamy sea. "I felt like you knew him better than anyone else here," Jason sighed. I pursed my lips together. "Come on, the ship is going to leave. I would hate to leave without you," he beckoned as he began walking. My heavy feet stood grounded in the sand. Jason turned around to see that I had not followed him.
"Come on Troy. We need you. You make an excellent Watchman," he said as the breeze rustled through the date trees behind us. I no longer felt motivated to go anywhere. Not yet. I knew if I stepped foot on the ship I would hear their whispers. Even though I was a part of some 'brotherhood' I would never fit in. I stood my ground.
"The winds are blowing south. This is our time to depart," he said. I shrugged my shoulders at his words. Is that all he cared about?
"Please, look, I did not mean to sound like I do not care," he continued. I stared at him with hurt and anger boiling inside. How could he care if he took Hyros' coveted position while his corpse lay to rot; forgotten? This was his dream all along. Surely he must be secretly rejoicing! I closed my eyes.
"He would have wanted us to continue the trip," he said. "I do not know why I was chosen to be second in command in the first place. Hyros knows more about seafaring than I do. I am nothing more than a merchant who garnered a living shipping cargo. He was more qualified than I ever was. Now he is dead leaving me to fill his sandals and I have no idea what I am doing. I am terrified, and I know you must be scared too," he said heaving a sigh. "I will tell Theseus you are not returning," he added, his voice trembled with each word. I opened my eyes to see his head bowed low. Dejected, he shuffled his feet across the damp sand, leaving me behind as he climbed up the ramp. Perhaps I was wrong about Jason.
"Jason, wait," I shouted. He stopped in his tracks. "I have something I need to do first…"