Quiet Brook Publishing
Copyright © 2011 by Matthew Wilson all rights reserved.
THREE SLAVES OF ROME BOOK 2
All characters in this book have no existence outside the author's imagination.
For contact information and any other questions visit our website at ThreeSlaves.com
ISBN: 978-0-9838210-1-4 Paperback Book 1 & 2
ISBN: 978-0-9838210-2-1 eBook Book 1
ISBN: 978-0-9838210-3-8 eBook Book 2
During the glory days of the Roman Empire, seven Irishmen living in the midst of a violent war are captured and taken into slavery. Crossing paths with a lifelong slave, friendships are forged that lead them into an amazing adventure.
They traverse the known world, seeking a treasure dear to them. Some find love, but all encounter incredible obstacles and find themselves facing impossible odds.
Tieg was being violently shaken. “Wake up! Wake up! There are pirates after us!”
“Look behind us! Look!” Ball shouted, pointing in the direction of the gaining ship. He had practically dragged Tieg from his hammock in his alarm.
It was still at a great distance, but he could tell it was a large ship and moving quickly in their direction. Tieg looked to John. “John! What is going on?”
He was at the helm as usual. “We spotted them when they were just a speck ahead of us in the Straits. We were heading east into the Straits at that time. I altered course to the south to put some distance between them and us. But after a while, you could tell they had altered their course also. So I turned her southwest to run down the coast of Africa, putting her to full sail and they altered again right behind us and are moving fast. We don’t even have a load we could throw over to gain more speed.”
“So what is the verdict?”
“We cannot outrun them. It is fight or surrender,” John said sullenly. “If we hold them off with arrows, they will simply retaliate with flaming arrows and burn our ship down around us.”
Tieg thought about that for a moment, while staring back at the gaining ship. Everyone, by then, had gathered around the helm, nervously hoping someone had a solution. “Ball, get a couple of good swords and hide them in the pit out of the prisoner’s reach. Jephthah, get the file out of the scullery, break it in half and give me one half.”
“Are you planning on surrendering?” Jephthah asked apprehensively.
“It is a possibility we have to prepare for at this point, but only as a contingency plan. It is two or three hours from dark. If we can keep ahead of them, we can alter course as soon as we lose sight of them in the darkness, circle around them and head back to the Straits. John, do you think we can hold ahead of them until dark?”
“Maybe, but it will be close. We will be getting an uncomfortably close look at them, for sure. If the moon shines bright at all, we will not be able to lose them. They will be able to see us at the distance that we will be at by that point.”
“It is only a crescent moon tonight. It would not take but a few clouds to block out that much light. It is our only real hope. Ball, hide those swords. Jephthah, come with me. We are going to try some home cooking. We can take our oil for bread, mix it with our strongest wine, and see if we can make some flaming arrows.”
Tieg, Jephthah and Ball were in the scullery attempting a recipe to light their arrows, when they heard someone shouting. They all stared at each other. At the sound of it, Jephthah dropped the arrows that he was holding, and with huge eyes, asked, “What?” as though he did not hear. Then all at once they ran out to see.
There was no one at the helm. They ran to the back of the ship where John, whom they had never seen ill at ease, stood pale as a ghost. The other sailor who stood beside him was even whiter than he was, and unable to speak.
John’s words were even more shocking, as he shakily pointed to the following ship, and whispered, “The Impaled Lady.”
They all stared. The ship had gained enough ground that you could make out a large wooden carving on the front.
“May God have mercy!”
“I thought you said that the Romans burned that ship down and killed everyone!”
“I also heard that they took the bribe and left them alone,” John said sullenly. “Yet, another story was that they never could catch them and made the whole thing up.”
“Apparently one of the latter stories is true!” said Tieg as he nervously ran his hands through his hair.
John swung around, eyes wide with fright. “Did you have any luck with the flaming arrows?”
“No,” Ball answered as he stared out at the following ship, then added, “All of the wine that we have is too weak to light, and we have nothing with which to strengthen it. And obviously, no time.”
John slumped down onto the floor. “We are dead, then.”
“No, John! The sun has already set and you can barely see a person on that ship because it is so far away. It will definitely be dark before they get here, and when it is, we will turn around and sail right past them. The fools will probably be looking around for us out here for a week.”
By the time it was dark, they had stared at the ship for so long they swore they still saw it, but there was no moon and only two or three stars visible. Finally Tieg said, “There is no way we are seeing them or that they are seeing us. Cut her hard to starboard, John.”
John spun the wheel. Now, to the best of their knowledge, they were heading west. They adjusted their sails, kept that direction for an hour, and then turned north. They were hopefully an hour west of the Impaled Lady and headed in the opposite direction.
“Ball, Jephthah, try to go and get some rest now. About half way through the night, I will switch out with one of you. John, as for you and the statue here,” Tieg said rapping the shoulder of the other sailor who was still staring into the darkness, “one of you should rest.”
“You think that we can sleep?” John exclaimed quietly.
“Even if you cannot sleep, at least lie down for four of five hours and rest—try to relax.”
“No, thanks. I am staying at the wheel.”
Knowing he would not budge from his decision, Tieg watched him walk away. Turning to the sailor beside him, Tieg asked, “What about you?” There was no reply. Tieg could just make out the ghostly whiteness of his face as he continued to stare out into the darkness behind them. Smiling, Tieg said, “Why don’t you stay here and keep a look out?”
Hearing their mumbled arguing, Tieg turned as Ball and Jephthah approached. “Tieg, we need to be ready to fight!”
“Just sleep with your sword and arrows by your side. If we hear or see anything approaching, I will wake you. Even if they hit us before we know they are there, it will still take them time to throw ropes and climb aboard. The bow and arrow will be useless in the dark; besides, they will never find us in the darkness anyway. The morning is what is going to be a problem for us.”
“What if they just sit there and wait until morning? They will be able to see us then. There is very little wind; we will not have gone far.”
“Then we will fight.”
“Twenty men? Not just normal men even, but well-trained, bloodthirsty men!” Ball said quietly.
“We are one or two days from a port where they can sell us. If it looks too bad, we can surrender.” He then yawned and said, “Well, if you two are going to stay up and worry about this all night, then I am going to get some sleep.”
Sleeping in his hammock a while later, Tieg awoke to the sensation of being squeezed. It was still so dark he could not see what had happened. He tried moving his arms, but the net materiel that squeezed him, would not give. Someone was wrapping his legs with a rope, which must have been an extra precaution, since they had also bound his legs in the net. It cannot be the pirates, he thought, they could never get here that quickly or so quietly.
“What are you up to, John?”
“Just securing you, so that I can surrender to the Impaled Lady.”
Tieg was worried about Ball and Jephthah, knowing that they would never be talked into this. “Where are Ball and Jephthah?” he asked.
“They got the idea that the prisoner was escaping and ran down there to see about it. I guess someone shut and locked the hatch behind them.”
“John, I told you that I would surrender if it looked like we could not win.”
“I know. If you are going to surrender anyway, then why not let me surrender you to them. It is like you said, there is plenty of food aboard, so they will not eat us and we are only one to two days from a slave market where they could get a good price. If I turn you over to them, then I look pretty loyal and trustworthy to them; crew-worthy instead of a candidate for the slave market.”
“John, that is ridiculous. You will look like a traitor, obviously you just turned on your own crew.”
“Maybe so,” John said, as he and the other sailor finished the last rope, “but I will certainly stand a better chance than you.”
“They may not like tubers either, John. If they have a taste for cannibalism, you look like the fatted calf.”
No matter how badly Tieg frightened John, there was nothing that frightened him more than facing the crew of the Impaled Lady. Therefore, there could be no stopping him from attempting to get on their good side. Tieg lay there contemplating his situation and worrying about his friends in the hole. He had a piece of the file between his buttocks, even if he could get to it, it had no sharp edges. And if he cut the ropes at his waist that would still leave the rest of the net covering his body. He just lay there silently until morning.
The next morning, Tieg asked John, “Do you see it?”
John hopped down from the platform he had been standing on. “Lower the sails! Lower every one of them,” he shouted to the other sailor, obviously no longer concerned with being heard. “They are behind us. They must have come out to sea in the night to get a better view of the shore in case we tried to duck in and hide there. Get all of the sails down so it does not look like we are trying to run.”
“How far behind us are they?” asked Tieg
“If we were trying to run, then we would be about four hours from being captured.”
“I came up with an idea last night. Did you ever think about running aground? We could run for it into the forest,” Tieg suggested.
“They would hunt us down and kill us. Even if we did escape, there is nothing out there to sustain a man; we would either starve to death or be eaten by some wild animal. I am not about to let you go, Tieg. You should have stayed down in that hole in the first place and none of this would have happened.” Then with an angry snarl, he added, “I guess you were meant to be a slave.”
Tieg watched John as he fiddled with the ropes, trying to get the sails down. His hands trembled.
Ball and Jephthah had been quiet all night for fear of the pirates, but upon daylight, they started trying to bust open the hatch. This put John into a nervous fit, and he screamed at his accomplice to help him get a couple of water barrels over the hatch.
Before too long, the Impaled Lady had come close and began to circle the ship. “What are they doing?” John’s accomplice asked.
“They are suspicious and they know that there is no way we can get away, so they are taking their time checking us out, trying to see if it is a trap.”
“Maybe they saw you two and are waiting until lunch,” Tieg said with a laugh.
John’s accomplice fell against the rail, his knees giving way. Quickly righting himself, he stood back up straight.
“Release me. I am the only one who can save you,” Tieg shouted in the most serious voice he could muster, trying to terrify the sailor into action. “It is not too late! I can take them and I will spare you!”
“He is right, John! We have to let him go,” the sailor exclaimed, running to Tieg’s aid.
“He cannot defeat twenty men, you idiot. This is the only way!” John’s words fell on deaf ears, for the sailor was trying to untie Tieg as quickly as he could. His hands shook so badly and he was in such a panic, that he was making no progress with the knot. Then Tieg heard the impact and watched as the sailor crumpled to the floor. John stood over him, plank raised, ready to strike again, but the sailor was out cold, arms limp at his sides. John threw down his weapon and walked away.
Tieg looked down at the unconscious sailor. “Oh, John, if he’d had just a couple of more years he could have gotten these ropes off and I would have saved you.” He let his head drop back onto his hammock.
“You cannot defeat them! This is the only way,” John exclaimed, near insanity at this point. Stumbling onto a platform, he looked out. “They are still circling! What are they waiting for?”
Tieg didn’t bother with any more infuriating comments, seeing as his only hope was now lying unconscious next to him.
John tied a white rag to a stick and waved it about like a madman. The Impaled Lady turned and began to head their way. Lowering almost all sails, she moved very slowly.
The Impaled Lady was half a size larger than their ship. John found himself looking up, as it slowly slid in beside them. Eight ropes with grappling hooks came flying over her side. They dug into the ship and a man came sliding down each one of the ropes, holding onto a metal ring with one hand and their swords clasped in the other.
Tieg watching this, shook his head and mumbled to himself, “No shields, no armor—every one of them would have had an arrow sticking out of their chests before their feet touched this ship. Here comes another eight. Oh, now that one was a surprise, no shields either. The best part was the pause between the groups; long enough to reload and get a sip of water. After killing this group of eight, I would climb up those ropes, kill anyone left on board, throw them over, and sail the faster ship to you, Maggie. I would be there sooner.”
The pirates stared at Tieg, forming a half circle next to his hammock. He was mumbling loudly enough that they could hear him clearly, but he was speaking a Celtic dialect, which they did not understand.
One of them said, “He has gone mad.”
“Maybe he has been tied there for days.”
John came down from the platform carrying his white flag. “I am just a deckhand—doesn’t matter to me who I work for. Been sailing for years. I am quite handy at the helm, especially in a storm. There are three more prisoners below deck, plus these two—five in all,” John added nervously repeating most of what he said. With a ridiculous, nervous grin, he asked, “So who is our captain?”
All this time, the pirates were just staring. No one really looked like he was about to say anything. Some startled, as Tieg suddenly yelled, “Captain!” An idea hit him. “Captain! You are all pirates, right? Well, if I challenge your captain to a fight and beat him, then I am captain, right?”
“Hear that captain? The madman wants to fight you!”
John took a couple steps forward, his nervousness causing him to stutter now. “H-H-Heees dangerous. P-Pretty dangerous. He is the most dangerous one. G-Got to watch out for him.”
“Hear that captain? Do you want to fight the crazy, dangerous one?”
A tall, slender man wearing black breeches and a red vest stepped out of the mix. “Give them some water and put them below deck,” the captain said as he surveyed his new ship.
Tieg rocked back and forth gaining some momentum and then jerked, flipping his hammock over. Now hanging upside down, he tilted his head back so he could see the captain. “Do you have a name or should I just call you, coward?”
The captain turned, facing him squarely, staring at him for a moment, then turned away and continued looking over the ship. Shrugging, he said, “Yeah, coward is fine.”
“Are you going to let him speak to you like that captain? You want me to run him through?” one of his men asked, as he raised his spear above Tieg.
The captain spun around, anger on his face. “Let me put this in a way that you can understand and then you can choose whether you want to follow my orders or not. When we sell him in the slave market, I am going to take the money and put it in a box. That will be your year’s pay. Whenever we are at port, I will give you some of it. So he is yours,” the captain said, stepping back and drawing his sword. “You can run him through with that spear, or you can turn him loose and give him a sword and I will kill him. When he is dead, you can work a whole year without so much as a wooden token.” The captain raised his sword. “Do you still think we should run him through?”
“No, Sir. I will just put him below deck.”
“Ah, so when it is your money you can swallow your pride and think. Maybe you are not as stupid as I thought. Be sure that you check the others for weapons. Give them all the water they can drink and be sure to tell them to urinate in each other’s hands and drink that too, because it may be a week before we give them water again. Throw that gibbering idiot down there with them,” the captain said pointing at John, and then he continued his survey of his new ship.
“Oh, no,” John’s lip quivered. “I am experienced and trustworthy.”
“You?” The captain laughed. “Really, you think that I can trust you? Of whom should I acquire a reference?” Pointing at Tieg, he asked, “Him, or the unconscious man on the floor? Do you think that they would vouch for you?”
They grabbed Tieg’s hammock, ropes and all and carried him to the hatch. “Tell them to come out and drop their weapons,” they told Tieg, as they removed the water drums that John had dragged atop the hatch.
“Ball, Jephthah, put your weapons down and come out. There are sixteen armed men up here. Do not try anything.”
The captain turned suddenly and began to watch the scene carefully. He had taken Tieg for a madman. Tieg had acted somewhat drunk, when speaking to the captain and his men. Now, his situational awareness caught the captain by surprise. Tieg was in no position to be a threat to him, but still the captain thought, if he chose any one of his own men, pulled him aside and asked him how many people are on this ship, he would not know. No one pays that much attention.
The captain positioned himself in front of Tieg to try to discern the answers to these questions. He asked, “You are no madman at all are you? I’ll bet that you aren’t even as big an idiot as these men.”
“You’ve come to that conclusion simply because I can count?”
“You followed my train of thought. You are no idiot. Perhaps I should reconsider your offer of a fight. What say you?” he asked, pointing his sword at the pirate he’d put in charge of Tieg.
“No, no. I will just put him down there and give him some water. He’ll be alright.” The pirates roared with laughter.
“You have become quite the economist now that you are a slave owner, I see,” the captain said in a belly laugh.
Tieg looked over at his owner and said, “Let’s do it! As captain, I will double your yearly salary.”
“Oh my, now that truly is a double or nothing bet you have in front of you,” the captain said, all traces of a smile gone as he looked at his deckhand. “What will it be?”
“I would take the odds if I could switch who it was I had to bet on,” the man said with his head down.
“That is a very loyal thing to say,” the captain said, putting his sword away, “or just a wise bet. Does anyone wish to trade places with this deckhand and take a double or nothing bet?” He peered over at his men. “No one?” he asked. Silence followed. “All this time I thought your grumbling and complaining behind my back was due to your inability to understand even the simplest of business concepts. Now, I see that all of you are able to understand at least some of the changes I have made. There is not much gold in impaling everyone and burning down a ship. That would leave us only the gold they carry. Times are hard with the Romans tightening down on Pirating. People do not carry as much gold as they used to. Human trafficking, stolen goods, that is where the money is. If we sell these people and the ship, then we double the gold. You do not care because, up until now, you have only had money given to you. But no more! Now that I see that you have the ability to understand a few simple concepts—here are a few more for you… Each one of these slaves represents one month’s pay for each of you. There are six of them. That is six months pay to you. This ship represents six months pay to you. If it is damaged, then your pay is adjusted accordingly; if anything happens to one of these slaves, then that is one month deducted from all of your pay. I hope that you morons can understand this. Now tie them up below deck!”
When the sailor that John had knocked out finally awoke, he looked thoroughly confused. “Where are we?” No one replied. His eyes widened and he looked around franticly. “Did they eat anyone? Are they going to eat us? What is…?” In his panic, he asked question after question, never noticing that no one bothered to answer.
Imprisoned in a tiny room, barely lit by a couple of cracks in the planking above, he could see that no one was responding with even a change in facial expression. Finally, the franticness of his tone became an annoyance, and John mumbled, “No one has been eaten. No one is going to be eaten. No one is going to die. We are all going to the slave market.”
“No! I… Why I cannot be a… a slave!”
“You will get used to it. After eighteen years or so, you will not know any other way of life,” Jephthah said with a chuckle.
The sailor cried out loud then, and blubbered, “No, no, no; I have been a good worker, I do not deserve this!”
Jephthah swore at him. Glaring at both him and John, he said, “You two have carried countless numbers of people into the slave market, while I have never hurt anyone. When...”
“Jephthah,” Tieg cut him off. “Say no more. This is not the time.”
Tieg stared at him, Jephthah only stared back; he knew Tieg was trying to tell him something with the intense stare, but what, he did not know. His lack of interaction as a slave had left him unable to read any signal possibly hidden within such a look. He only knew that he trusted Tieg and that Tieg had said, “Say no more.” He decided to leave it at that. He also knew that Tieg had a broken piece of a file, which he had put between his butt cheeks, and that, with his hands tied behind his back, he figured Tieg would be free before dark.
Tieg and Jephthah had gone into the galley the night before and broken the file in half, each one putting a piece between his cheeks. Therefore, Tieg was under the impression that Jephthah also had a piece of the file. But Jephthah had dropped his half when he and Ball were trying to bust the hatch open. When the pirates from the Impaled Lady had come down to tie them up, they found it along with the rest of their weapons.
Jephthah stared, as he pondered how he would let Tieg know that he did not have the file. His stomach sank as he wondered if Tieg had lost his, too. There was no telling what Tieg had been through up on deck. What if Tieg is waiting for me to get free of my ropes? After thinking on it a long time, he decided to go with a strategy that he thought might work.
“Tieg, I am afraid I let you down.” Tieg looked up at Jephthah staring at him through the dimly lit room. Jephthah repeated his statement despondently. “I shit myself, when Ball and I were trying to bust that hatch open.” Ball snickered.
“It was frightening, there was a lot of running and kicking, so I shit myself, letting you down; I know you entrusted me.”
“That is alright. I did not shit myself, so I cannot be too disappointed.” Tieg winked at Jephthah, turning his head so that only he could see.
Ball looked at Tieg and Jephthah, then at the other prisoners. They all thought nothing of it, but he knew that Tieg would never say anything that stupid. Something was up.
“Hey John, how close did Ball and Jephthah get to busting off that latch?”
“The nails were almost completely out. That is why I put the barrels on top. That is why they returned the barrels to the top of the door, not to mention tying us up. You have barrels, latch, tied hands, and no one coming down here for you to bribe. You are not getting out of this one, Tieg.”
“Yes, I guess you are right. I will be a slave right next to the man who sold my wife and me into slavery,” Tieg said leaning his head back against the wall and looking over at the priest.
The priest looked up as Tieg stared at him. “You wouldn’t have gotten her back anyway,” he spat.
Tieg had no more information than, she was taken to Syria and so was very interested in fishing for more while he sawed on his ropes with the piece of file. “Why do you say that? Is Syria that big of a place?”
“Syria is very big, but that has nothing to do with it. I can tell you exactly where she is.”
Tieg felt his heart pause. He held his breath in order to hear the man better. “What do you mean? Where is she?”
“She is either at the king’s palace or at least a nearby building. You cannot imagine the amount of gold I got for her. While I was visiting in Rome, I ran into a Syrian who was in the employ of the king. He was a businessman, you know, a trader, who traded only for the king. He was, at that time, searching for the most beautiful women. I imagined that money was of no concern for him, so I invited him to share my meal and told him of an Irish girl with soft white skin, eyes that glisten like green emeralds with hair the color of flame. He had never heard of, nor could he imagine such a woman. I remember the first time the clans ever saw a black person, and how they were so amazed that people came the very same day, from miles around just to see him. The king would be just as amazed as he; and he would be the one to receive all of the glory for it. I talked him into a price one hundred times the price of a beautiful woman sold in the slave market. I then set up the whole thing in Rome.”
Tieg’s head dropped in depression. The old priest smiled. “So you see, you will never see her again, even if you earn your freedom in five or ten years. You cannot defeat a king unless you have a bigger or better army. You may be good, but you are not that good,” he finished with a satisfied smile.
“If this is true, then why did you not tell me this sooner?”
“If you had that information, then you would have had no reason to keep me alive. After what happened to your father and your wife, you would probably kill me. Hell, you probably do not know, but your mother’s death was also my fault; I started that war, as well. I did not mean her to die in the fire like that, though. She was too beautiful a woman for that. She would have fetched a handsome price; that was truly a waste.”
Tieg’s head just hung, he did not speak another word.
John, however, immediately asked, “If the part about one hundred times the price is true, then why did the villagers only bring Tieg a couple of handfuls of gold from your house after having searched it?”
“You wide-eyed fool. Do you really think that if I tell you where I hid the gold, that you will beat me to it? I know almost everyone at these slave markets. They know that I am rich. All I have to do is tell one of them that I will double his money to return me. He will buy me; I will give him double his money and will still have a chest of gold that requires two men to carry it. I will be free while the rest of you rot away in slavery.”
John shook his head angrily. “You try to go back there and they will kill you. Your house is in the middle of the village.”
“If I had hidden my money there, then I would be as big a fool as you! You settled your ship right by my gold. All I have to do is anchor a ship in the bay just as you did and row over behind that tall rock, get my gold, and I am gone. Those fools will think that I am rotting away in slavery like all of you will be, but I will be purchasing slaves in Rome. And I hear they need some good priests there.” The old priest could hardly finish his last sentence, he was laughing so hard at the irony of the situation.
Day turned to night without anyone saying another word. Tieg’s head stayed bowed like a wilted reed. Now that night had fallen, no one could see their hands in front of their faces. It was not that dark outside; it just took a lot of sunlight to make its way through the few small cracks.
As the sun rose the next morning, the old priest awoke and looked around. He stopped. Something looked funny. When he’d fallen asleep, Ball had been sitting in front of him. He rubbed his right eye on his shoulder and looked up again and this time he knew it was not Ball; Tieg’s arms flew out from behind him, as he lunged across the small room. The priest did not have time to gasp before Tieg’s right hand clasped his face, clamping it like a vice. He could not open his mouth; the thumb pressed so hard beneath his jaw that he felt it push against his tongue. The index and middle finger shoved far up his nose, the fingernails tearing the skin on either side of the bone, the back of his head smashed against the wall. His eyes were huge with fear as he looked at Tieg, who was a hand width away. He tried to gasp through his tightly clenched teeth. “You were right about one thing,” Tieg growled, “I would have killed you.” The sound of snapping bone filled the room as he forced the priest’s head into an unnatural angle.
Tieg sat back down as the dead priest slumped over. Ball and Jephthah’s hands now came out from behind them. Wary now, John and his companion took a deep breath. Tieg held up his hand to calm them. “I know there are a lot of problems now and they are all your fault,” he said calmly, looking at both of them, “but I am not the kind of person who spends time and resources trying to recover a sunken ship, unless there is treasure on it. The fastest and most efficient way in the now, is what I am about. Take, for instance, this dead man here. First, it was the chains binding him down—I did not have time to free him. Second, he had nothing to lose from the slave market and everything to lose from an attempted escape. He most assuredly would have screamed and tried to foul our plans, so he is dead. If he had helped facilitate escape, he would be alive now. Nothing of his situation applies to you. It is ropes that bind you, and you have everything to lose from the slave market. So what will it be? Are you in, or do you want me to put you out of your misery?”
“I am definitely in,” John nervously mumbled looking over at his friend, who was nodding excessively. “We are definitely in, but there are barrels of water on top of the door; we cannot get out of here,” he added with a nervous twitch.
His friend, who was staring blankly and fidgeting, snapped out of it just long enough to nod excessively again.
Tieg produced the broken piece of the file. “I am going to take this and whittle through two boards up there in the very front of the ship, leaving only the thickness of my fingernail all the way across. Then I will come down here,” he said motioning with his hand, “about the length of a man and do the same to the same two boards. I hope that tonight we will finish them all. The ship will go nose down. When it does, the barrels will roll off the hatch and we will finish kicking it open. We will then climb up onto the deck to the helm and mast hoping to find swords, bows, and arrows and the crew getting into the life raft.
“Here is what I need from you,” he continued. “Everyone will sit in a circle around the dig to muffle the noise and everyone will take a turn at the file.”
They worked all day, peeling sliver after sliver of wood from the floor with the broken file. They did not get it as thin on the front as they had wished for, for fear the boards would break in and the ship would go down in the daylight. They would then be sitting ducks, in plain view of the crew of the Impaled Lady. About two or three hours after noon, they were starting on the rear sections. Three hours past dark, the wooden plank was as thin as a fingernail. They then went back to the front and finished it off. Water was now seeping through the groove across the floor.
It did not take long to finish off the back, but the tar between the boards was holding them in place. “She will not sink like this.”
“Too loud, John,” Ball exclaimed in an angry whisper.
“This is why I wanted to cut two boards. Everyone stand on the seam of the two cut boards,” Tieg whispered and guided them onto the spot he had implied. “Bounce up and down with me.”
“No! They will hear us!”
“Don’t jump so high that your feet leave the floor, just surge your weight onto the boards right where the seam is.”
As their weight surged against the boards, the tar loosened from around them and the boards bowed downward. When they jumped off the boards, they snapped back into place so hard that the tar between them, broke completely, and the boards flew up into the ship. Instantly, water flooded the ship and was ankle deep. Tieg ran up to the hatch and positioned himself to kick through the door. In less than two minutes, the ship went nose down. It happened so quickly, that it threw two of the pirates into the water before they could grab hold. The pirate at the helm was hanging from it, and screaming to those aboard the Impaled Lady for help. The pirate was relaying everything that was happening, something Tieg would have loved to put a stop to, but he was having no luck with the hatch.
Ball ran to Tieg’s side and began helping him kick the hatch, “It is not budging! The room is filling with water too quickly!”
They were in a panic now. Tieg kicked the door as hard as he could. “We have to go this way to get the weapons! Some of you try to go through the hole we made!” John disappeared instantly, his companion seconds behind him.
“Jephthah, you stick with me in case we find a bow and some arrows on the other side of this door. Ball, you go through that hole and try to get around the ship to secure us weapons and something to float on, preferably, the life raft. Wait,” Tieg exclaimed as Ball started to go under. “Watch out for John. He is going to try to kill us all to get that gold for himself, and he is pretty fat, I am not sure he can fit through that hole down there. If he is stuck, he will grab you.” Their heads were touching the ceiling, the water line now up to their necks, as Ball gulped air and went under.
“Jephthah, stay up here and mind this gap. Give me a signal when it is going to be my last chance to get a breath of air.”
The door had given way some; Tieg could now get his hand through the crack. Holding on with both hands, he kicked as hard as he could, but his whole body was under water and he could not get any force on the door. Jephthah grabbed his arm, giving a yank. He went up for air. He had to hold his head back, his face pressed against the ceiling just to draw a breath. Jephthah was shouting, “We have to go, Tieg! We have to go!”
“Won’t get any weapons if we go that way!”
“We will die this way! If you go down there again, when you need air again there will be none here!”
Tieg knew he was right, he just did not know how to face the Impaled Lady unarmed. “Alright, watch out for John!” They went down and felt for the hole they had made. They found it with no one stuck in it, and pulled themselves through.
After getting through the hole, they began swimming for the surface. Getting to the top took a long time. The whole ship is under water, Tieg thought as a chill ran down his spine. He had thought that half of the ship was still above the waterline and he would be able to get supplies and weapons as it went under. Still swimming up and needing a breath badly, he was fearfully amazed at how far off he had been in his calculation. It seemed like he would never reach the surface.
Finally, feeling the water parting from his face he let out about half his breath to make room in his burning lungs for a gasp. Hearing Tieg and Jephthah gasping for air, Ball tried to get their attention as quietly as possible. They heard his urgent whispering and swam over to him. From the debris, he had secured a board long enough for the three of them. They both lay upon it somewhat dizzy, still gulping air, but more quietly now.
“Where is John?” Tieg asked panting his first words to Ball.
“John and his accomplice are dead.”
“What?” they both asked in unison.
“When I came up, they were both yelling at the pirates in the life raft, that they knew where gold was; enough so that you could not carry it all and offering to take them there. The pirates must not have believed them; they shot them full of arrows. So, I thought it best to keep quiet and find what I could floating around.”
“Did John tell them where the gold was?”
“Well, no, they sunk him before he could tell anything. Why do you ask?”
“They will be back for us,” Tieg said scanning the water.
Jephthah disagreed. “That captain is all about doing what makes the most money. Chasing after three very uncooperative slaves is not very profitable; and besides that, who would believe those two about a treasure anyway?”
Tieg thought for a moment, wishing he could believe that. “I know his kind; this will put a ding in his self-image, making it harder for him to pretend he is better than everyone else. He will blame the way he feels and everything else on us. That may make him search until he finds and eliminates us. If daybreak comes and we are not on, or close to that shore, we may be dead. It was not supposed to end this way!” Tieg whispered. “That damn latch was supposed to come open and we could have gotten food, weapons, and the life raft!”
“I did find a bow; I flung it over my shoulder,” Ball said half-heartedly. “No arrows, though.”
“Well, that is a start. Let us all get to one side of this board and start paddling east before that sun pops up. I hope the Impaled Lady will just be a speck by then.”
“Maybe some arrows will wash ashore,” Jephthah said hopefully.
“I do not want to always be the one with the negative outlook,” Tieg replied, “but we need to paddle hard to put distance between us and that ship, and I am afraid those arrows will not be putting quite as much effort into it.”
The last they heard of the pirates was when their life raft reached the ship. After the survivors had boarded the Impaled Lady, things got quiet. The ship was behind the escapees on the raft to the west. They paddled hard east, keeping their legs below the water so as not to splash, and if they did whisper, they whispered directly into the ear.
Three hours later, the three of them at once, grew deathly still. Tieg was in the middle; he grabbed both their arms and squeezed to alert them of danger, however there was no need. No one spoke of what they heard; there was no mistaking the sound that had them holding their breath in fear. A wooden ship creaked as a wave passed by. It was so close it would probably take them fifteen minutes to get out of range of its arrows. If they put their heads down against the board and looked upward they could see the top half of the ship and the mast outlined by the light of the stars, the black backdrop of the land hid the rest of the ship. They waited there a few moments because the ship was in their path. As the moon started coming out from behind a cloud, the ship came into view. Tieg pulled the other two men off the board. They tilted it up and hid beneath one side of it. Trying to further disguise their outline, Ball and Jephthah each held an end of the board, making a slow slope to the water. This concealed the ninety-degree angles that might get noticed. They stuck out their legs, feeling for the ship, as they steadily drifted toward it.
The three of them now held one hand against the ship’s hull and, with their other hand, held their board to prevent it from bumping against the hull. Tieg then whispered in their ears one at a time, “You two take this board and go around the ship that way, and I will go around this way. If they have let anchor down here, then we can climb the rope for a surprise attack. If there is no way up, then we will meet on the other side, and just keep moving toward land.”
As Tieg reached the port side of the ship, unable to find Ball and Jephthah, he swam around to the back of the ship and found Ball, but no Jephthah. “What is going on?” he asked in a hushed whisper.
“The life raft from our ship; they are towing it behind them. The emergency supplies are still in it, beneath the seat.”
“Are all of the supplies accounted for?”
“No, the water is gone, but there is a bow, a pack of arrows, two short swords and a bag of dry grain. There is also a ladder built onto the ship that looks like it is intended for accessing the rudder from the deck. We could climb it for a surprise attack.”
“I changed my mind about that. After paddling all night, my legs are cramping so badly that if it were not for holding onto the barnacles growing on the side of the ship, I would have drowned. I assume it is the same for you.”
“Yeah, that is why I have the board and left Jephthah holding onto the life raft.”
“Then there is no way we can climb up there, much less fight. We can just hold onto the side of that life raft and head for land.”
Tieg smiled as he cut through the rope that was securing the small boat. He thought of how angry the captain would be when he found it gone, with only the cut rope trailing behind the ship.
When they finally reached the shore, the three of them paced back and forth to rid themselves of the cramps in their legs. They then eased into the wood line and made plans for the next day.
The morning found the captain of the Impaled Lady cursing his crew. His face was mottled red with anger, as he peered over the side of his ship at the life raft moored to a rock at the shore. Of course, there was no sign of the runaway slaves, only the cut rope left floating upon the water, and the moored raft. He knew now that they were, indeed, alive, and that they had made a fool of him. “Lower our life rafts!” the captain screamed. “The four morons that let them sink our ship, get in it.”
After these men were in the life raft, the captain picked six more men that he particularly disliked, and sent them ashore to look for the slaves. “Do not come back without them. You will all die in that wilderness if you cannot bring them to me!”
The ten men paddled ashore unaware that they were being watched and counted. They suspected the runaway slaves were fleeing through the forest, but when they came ashore, they found that the trail ended no sooner than it had begun. They did not know what to think. The undergrowth and briars were gnarled so thick that they could not progress forward, and they assumed the same was true for the slaves.
They were confused. There were no other tracks; just those that headed into a dead-end trail. To make matters worse, the captain had sent them with no water and the sun was searing hot and climbing higher. They decided to split up and comb the beach in both directions. In the meantime, the captain was leaning over the rail observing their search, when he heard a yell go up. “The slaves! Arm yourselves!” The only problem being that the shout had come from behind him.
He turned to see one of his men running to the weapons stash, grabbing a bow and arrows, then turning, he drew back on the bow. He watched the man ready himself to release the string just as an arrow slammed into his eye and pushed through the back of his skull. The man staggered sideways two or three steps; his arrow shooting wildly, splintering the deck at his feet. He fell, still grasping his bow. The captain turned further, searching the direction from which the arrow had come. There, at the back of his ship, was a sight for his enraged eyes. Tieg and Jephthah stood dripping wet side by side. Jephthah had an arrow notched and at the ready. Tieg stood, sword in hand. Ball’s head popped into view as he climbed up the ladder at the rear of the ship and hopped over the side, joining his friends.
“Well,” the captain said, “if it isn’t the three slaves. Been for a swim, have you?”
“A bit,” Tieg smiled. “But the sides of the ship bow outward so conveniently, that we were able to get out of sight under there and relax, taking turns napping on our board,” Tieg explained knowing this would incense the captain.
“It looks like those morons would have seen you when they were paddling ashore.”
“Oh no, we were on the other side—toward the sea. The sun does not rise on that side, so you can sleep later that way.” Tieg watched the captain’s eyes dilate and his nostrils flare, as he thought of them relaxing while he angrily searched for them. His hand clasped his sword hilt tightly as he looked at Tieg and then at Jephthah’s drawn bow.
“Are you still interested in the challenge to be captain of the ship?”
“Oh, yes, that is what I came up here to speak to you about. I was hoping that, if you were not too busy and you could get around to it, we could fight for the captain slot today,” Tieg said with a smile.
The smile was like pouring salt into a wound, inflaming the captain’s anger. A chill of indignation went up his back. Upon reaching his neck, it caused his face to twitch. He shook it off, regaining his composure and laughed. “Tell your friend to lower his weapon so we may get started.”
“That arrow is not for you, it is for the other eight,” Tieg replied, stepping forward and between the readied arrow and the captain.
The captain drew his sword and advanced. “Been doing some more counting, have you?”
“Yes, and I am about to work on my subtraction.”
The angry shiver that went up his spine now had an outlet through his sword; he thrust at Tieg, but was a little too focused. Tieg could read ahead easily. Their swords clashed repeatedly as the captain thrust and swung for Tieg.
“You know,” Tieg said genially, surveying the captain’s sword, “I really like your sword better. I think I will kill you with it.” Then, after blocking the captain’s angry charge once more, he threw his sword aside. The captain jumped back and turned to look at Jephthah, thinking this was a signal for him to shoot. “I told you, that arrow is not for you,” Tieg said as he walked back between the two of them.
The captain did not hesitate for one moment. He raised his sword and made a slice for Tieg’s head. But, before he could follow through, Tieg smashed him in the jaw with his elbow, as he came in too close for the swing. He grabbed the captain’s arm and shoulder spinning him around, and throwing him to the floor. He kicked the sword from his hand, and reached up to catch it. As he did, the captain began to rise, grabbing Tieg and attempting to pull him over. Before he could knock him off balance, Tieg caught the sword, and, spinning it around, plunged it down through the captain, pinning him to the deck with it.
Tieg looked about quickly to see if the crew was considering fighting or surrendering, but all he saw were people ducking for cover. At first, he thought they were just afraid of Jephthah, but it then became apparent that they were not running for cover, but for shields and weapons. Jephthah, unsure of what was happening, had not yet let go a shot. Two men carrying shields came running from behind the mast with spears; their shields were facing Jephthah, only they ran straight for Tieg, while throwing their spears. Tieg blocked the spears with the captain’s sword and charged the men. The first had his sword drawn, holding it high to smash Tieg’s head. Tieg crouched under the man’s raised arm. Upon coming up, he severed the man’s sword arm.
Quickly jumping aside, he kicked the man’s left foot, pushing it in front of his right, and as he tumbled forward, Tieg came down with a backswing decapitating him. The other man had just removed his sword from its sheath and was raising it when Tieg ran him through. Grabbing his shield, he threw it to Ball. “You have to use this! They are throwing spears.” Ball grabbed up the wooden shield and charged to help Tieg. “You have to shield Jephthah,” Tieg shouted. “He has nothing to defend himself from a spear or arrow.” Tieg was holding the other shield behind him, looking back and forth between his enemies and his friends. He knew better than to turn his back on his enemies, but he was concerned for Ball and Jephthah. He felt responsible for them and the situation. He saw that Ball was in place. Now he and Jephthah were fortified.
Ball did not like staying in a defensive position when Tieg was out in the midst of it, but he would not leave Jephthah open knowing the likelihood of an attack upon their archer. Ball was on one knee in front of Jephthah, so that Jephthah could get a clear shot over his head. It was then that Ball realized the importance of what he was doing. It was because of Jephthah that everyone was not attacking at once. They had all taken cover, and it was because of him that it would stay that way.
Tieg’s attention now focused forward. He held a shield in his left hand and a sword in his right. He stared at the helm. It had a waist high wall with at least three men behind it. The only problem was, there was no knowing what kind of weapons the men had. He knew they had a sword on them when they ran back there, but what about spears, or even worse, bows and arrows? They could have hidden anything behind there.
Tieg studied the situation and then spoke up, “What happened to me being captain? You fellows do not like me already?” It was as if he spoke into the wind. There was absolutely no response, not even the clearing of a throat.