Chapter 5 - Pirates
The quiet of the afternoon was suddenly shattered. “Pirate ship!”
Croesus and Eneas were on the tillers and tried to steer away from the ship coming fast on the starboard side, straight for the Cyrene. The sails of both ships were full and the Cyrene was plowing through the water as rapidly as a loaded merchant ship could be expected to move, but the pirate ship was closing in at a faster clip. Mentu’s crew scrambled to retrieve the weapons stored below deck as the sleek pirate ship was racing straight for them.
“Bring me a bow and some arrows!” Mentu shouted. He turned to Sinon, “Get me some cloth. Tear up a chiton or something, and some oil.”
Melanthios raced to Mentu with a bow and several arrows. The other men were now armed and lined up along the starboard deck. A moment later Sinon appeared with several pieces of fabric and a flask of oil. Mentu took a piece of cloth and wrapped it tightly around the tip of one of the arrows and told Sinon to pour oil on it. He placed the arrow to the bowstring, lit the dripping cloth from the cauldron, and drew the arrow back as far as it could go, aiming it high to arch far enough to reach the oncoming ship. He paused for a moment, then released the bowstring. The flaming arrow flew in a great arc toward the pirate ship’s sail. The arrow pierced the sail and fell onto the deck of the ship. One of the pirates grabbed the arrow, which was still aflame, and threw it into the water. By this time the shouts of the men on the pirate ship were nearly as loud as the cursing among the men of the Cyrene.
Arrows were flying from both ships. Some fell into the sea completely missing their target. Others stuck into the sides of the ships, or into the deck or mast. Men on both ships were dodging arrows.
Mentu prepared another arrow with Sinon’s help and took another shot. This one hit high on the sail and stuck into the mast behind it. A moment later the sail had burst into flames, fanned by the wind that had been pushing that ship along. The pirates were close enough now that Mentu could see their distorted faces as they were firing arrows at the Cyrene. Two arrows were coming right toward Timon. He ducked one, but the other arrow glanced off of his shin. Timon dropped to his knees; but continued to fire arrows at the pirates, and the pirates fired back. Mentu saw one of the pirates drop to the deck, an arrow protruding from his side.
On the pirate ship, flaming pieces of sail were dripping down onto the deck and into the hold below. Moments later the pirates abandoned the battle and their vessel veered away from the Cyrene. The pirates were scrambling to fight the fire using buckets tied to ropes. They tossed the buckets into the water and pulled them back to dump the water on the flames. But the fire continued to spread more quickly, melting and igniting the tar that sealed the seams. Soon the whole ship was ablaze; the flames fanned to a brilliant orange with black smoke pouring into the sky. Men were jumping from the fire into the sea, to a less painful death.
Their shouts faded as the men of the Cyrene abandoned their weapons and grabbed the oars in a struggle to escape. The crew frantically sliced at the waves, oars slapping together as they tried to get into rhythm. Bows and spears were scattered all over the deck. Arrows from the pirates stuck in the mast, the deck and even some down in the hold. There was no cursing or shouting as they pulled hard on the oars to get distance from the pirate ship. Croesus and Eneas were still on the tillers, but everyone else including Sinon and Mentu and even Timon, pulled hard on the oars to move the ship faster away from the burning pirate ship. Before long that ship was a bright spot on the dusk-darkened horizon behind them.
When it was clear that they were safely away from danger, everyone stopped rowing. Some of them just sat where they were, while others moved to lie down on the deck. Every one of them was exhausted from the effort to escape. The adrenaline left them and silence replaced the turmoil of the battle. Sinon turned to Mentu, “How did you come up with that?”
“I have been thinking about what to do if we were ever attacked for some time. This idea came to me in a dream.”
Sinon shook his head. “I didn’t know that you were that good with the bow.”
“I think it was more luck than skill. I don’t know, but I think maybe it came to me, in that moment of need, from my ancestors.”
“Wherever it came from, I am thankful it did.”
Melanthios had gone into the hold to get his bag containing medical supplies. He was tending to Timon’s wound when he heard the conversation between Sinon and Mentu, “We are all thankful for your quick thinking.”
Mentu moved closer to Timon. “Are you okay?” He kneeled beside Timon as Melanthios began cleaning the wound.
Timon was sitting on the deck with his leg stretched out. “Yeah. I’ll be fine.”
Melanthios was washing the gash that was a little below the left knee. Timon winced as Melanthios used saltwater to rinse the skin and muscle. “The salt stings, but should help cleanse the wound. He is pretty lucky, it is not deep, but we will have to bandage it tightly for a few days, and make sure it closes up good.”
Mentu watched as Melanthios finished cleaning the injury and wrapped a strip of linen several times around the leg. The cloth over the wound turned crimson, but as more layers were added, the bleeding seemed to subside. Melanthios secured the ends of the cloth, gathered his supplies and moved to return them to the shelf in the hold.
By this time several of the men were collecting the weapons scattered from the fight. They returned them to the storage under the deck. Zeno and Marcion were pulling the pirate arrows from the deck, the mast and the hold. The one bag of grain they had kept for the crew to eat; had been hit. After the arrow was removed, they had to reposition the bag until the hole could be sewn up to keep from losing any more of the contents.
Mentu continued to kneel beside Timon, who was sitting on the deck near the rail with the bandaged leg still stretched out in front of him and the other leg draped over the side of the ship.
Mentu asked, “Is the pain bad?”
Timon laughed. “Nothing an ample amount of wine won’t take care of.”
Mentu nodded to Sinon. “Would you please bring some wine to this warrior?”
Sinon replied, “I sure will.” He went down into the hold.
Mentu had not had much opportunity to talk with Timon. This sailor had green eyes that stood out against his light olive skin. Mentu had listened to Timon singing as he worked, usually quietly as though for his own enjoyment. Sometimes when others knew the song, they would join in. Timon’s voice was smooth and rich when he sang. The same could not be said for those who sang with him. For the first time Mentu noticed that Timon’s left ear was deformed.
“What happened to your ear?” Mentu asked as he pointed to it.
Timon smiled. “That’s what happens sometimes when you wrestle, but I won the championship at those games, so it was worth it.”
This drew Mentu’s interest. “When was that?”
“About three years ago at the Nemean games.”
Mentu continued to question him. “How old are you?”
Timon paused as though trying to remember. “Twenty-three.”
Mentu nodded. “Well, you have four years on me. I hope you don’t hold that against me.”
Timon smiled. “No, Captain. Age is just a number. Character is what is important.”
Mentu pressed on. “So where are you from?”
“Thebes. My father is still there. I haven’t seen him for a long time.”
“What about your mother?”
“She died when I was born. My father raised me by himself.”
Mentu shook his head. “I’m sorry about your mother.”
Timon nodded. “When my father took a new wife; I decided it was time for me to be on my own. Don’t get me wrong, she is a good woman and she makes my father happy, but I knew it was time. I was sixteen and I set out for Athens. When I got there, I saw the harbor and went to look at the ships. I guess I realized then that the sea would be my new home. I asked several captains if I could join them, but most weren’t willing to take on a young man with no experience. Finally I found a captain that was willing to give me a chance. That was Captain Silenos. I have been on the Cyrene for seven years now.”
Mentu got up. “Thank you for sharing that. You rest for a few days. Here comes Sinon with your wine. Drink as much as you want. We will see that you don’t fall overboard.” Timon laughed at that last comment.
Sinon gave Timon the bowl of wine. “I didn’t mix it with much water. I’ll get you more when you are ready.
Timon held the bowl up. “So getting wounded has its benefits.” He took a long drink. Soon he was singing, less beautifully than usual, but singing none-the-less.
That evening they reached the island of Crete and found a small bay with one old, dilapidated dock. There didn’t appear to be any people around, but darkness was coming upon them on a moonless night, so Mentu directed the crew to take the Cyrene to that dock and secure it there.
He announced to the crew, “It doesn’t appear that anyone is here. We will look around in the morning, and move to another bay if needed to find what we want in supplies.” Then he spoke to Melanthios. “Set a watch and have the men stay on the ship until morning.”
Mentu tried to sleep that night but Hypnos wasn’t helping. The pirate ship in flames and its crew jumping into the sea haunted him. He had never intentionally hurt anyone in his life until now. He did what he had to do to keep his ship and his crew safe, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept. He wondered if any of those men would survive. It was highly unlikely, but then it was also highly unlikely that he and Sinon survived the wreck of the Amphitrite, yet they did. Strymon survived too. What would he have thought about what happened? Mentu wished that Strymon was here, on the Cyrene. For a moment, the thought of Strymon seeing him as a captain with his own ship took his mind off of the pirates. He was sure that Strymon would be surprised, yet supportive of this venture. Mentu’s thoughts gently faded into black silence. Water lapped against the ship’s hull, the gentle creaks of the deck finally lulled Mentu to sleep.