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The Sun Barge ploughed powerfully through the waves. Where that power was coming from was a mystery to Philippus and frankly he didn’t want to know. Never a strong believer in the gods and expected rituals he had nonetheless been forced to confront the fact that they existed and that they all probably wanted to kill him. Which was why he was sharpening his long bronze knife on what they had managed to identify as the best whetstone on Nadina’s island. He’d ensured that Micon had packed it along with the rest of their miserable castaway items when they evacuated their cave and, although it wasn’t an ideal sharpening tool, he was grimly honing his blade to full lethal capacity.
Xanthius had seemed supremely smug after pushing a vengeful Hera overboard but Philippus realised that it was just the natural expression of a skeletal corpse, the fixed grin hiding any real emotions the former crew-mate may have had. Still, there was a certain jaunty cockiness to his movements around the ship, but how much of that could be attributed to defeating the Queen of Olympus and how much to just being back at sea again was difficult to tell. And, being dead already, he wasn’t scared of the dangers of the deep. He was very sanguine about his new life as the sailing dead and, after standing like a watchful guardian for a full three minutes, had gently deflated into his customary pile of bones and rags in the middle of the ship.
Micon, meanwhile, was chatting to Nadina at the bow.
“Where do you think we’re heading?”
Nadina looked at the sky and thought for a moment. “Probably north west. The sun is still climbing and is mostly behind and to the right of us.”
Micon winced as he realised that the nymph who had never previously left her small island had just out-navigated a sailor. Five weeks shipwrecked on land and he’d lost his touch. “Yes, of course. Just checking whether you had any idea of where we might end up.”
“I cannot say. I do not know much of the world outside my island.”
She looked very stoic. Micon tentatively laid a hand on her firm, muscled shoulder and she made no attempt to remove it or step away. He cleared his throat. “Erm, I know that you’ve spent your whole life on that island. You must be quite, erm, apprehensive. Do you think that you will miss it?”
“That island wasn’t just my home. It was literally my mother. I feel a connection to every part of it, aware of every living thing on it. But that connection grows weaker by the hour as I move further away. For the first time in my life I think I know what it is to be lost.”
Micon tried to remember how he felt when he first went off to sea. Yes, there were some worries and home-sick emotions, but they were mostly outweighed by the excitement, the sights, the terror and the sheer hard work. He began to formulate an appropriate response that would give Nadina some comfort but she turned towards him and continued talking before he had got beyond “Erm.”
“But that island was also my prison. I was a slave to Zeus. You and Philippus released me from that bond. And when Hera turned me into a frog, you believed in me, rescued me, gave me my freedom.”
He shuffled on the fibrous deck of boat and mumbled in awkward embarrassment. She reached up and held his shoulders and kissed him on the forehead.
Poseidon flowed through his element, gaining on the fleeing vessel containing Zeus’s pet nymph. She may well have been the property of his brother but now she was out on the open sea and that was his domain. Anything that rode the foamy waves or sank into its dark depths was his for the taking. Hera had mentioned some other members of Nadina’s crew but he hadn’t been listening very carefully. Some mortals and something unexpected. Or something. Whatever, his main focus was obtaining Nadina for his own private use. Very private. She would be kept in the darkest cave of the deepest trench. And if Zeus ever found out, well he’d just have to come and get her.
He began to perceive the Sun Barge ahead of him, its supernatural propulsion humming against his immortal senses. Hera had warned him about transforming into a bird, for some bizarre reason. He hadn’t really considered metamorphing into anything; that was for the more flashy inhabitants of Olympus and something he didn’t tend to agree with. But perhaps there was a time and a place for everything. Birds?! There were far more interesting, more terrifying creatures of the deep that he could choose. He smiled a barracuda grin and closed in on his target.
Philippus held the blade up to catch the sunlight and it glinted viciously. He smiled and looked over to Micon and Nadina who seemed to be getting closer, both physically and emotionally. He wasn’t sure that that was such a good idea, but perhaps Micon being the polar opposite of Zeus in so many ways probably helped her to come to terms with her new life. The problem was how Micon would react to being dumped by this paragon of nymph-hood. He’d never really been one for the ladies and had generally stayed clear of the brothels the rest of the crew attended when in port. Not that he was one for the boys either. He was, Philippus decided, just a shy bloke with a pretty naïve attitude to women. He doubted whether Micon had even considered a sexual relationship with Nadina. He watched them closely as they talked quietly at the bow; a careful hand on a shoulder, a subtle move of the body that hinted at potential intimacy. They were taking things very slowly, he thought; they’re almost like brother and sister than lovers. Philippus thought about his own siblings and the fiendish playful chaos that had surrounded them. Maybe not like a typical brother and sister, he conceded.
Micon suddenly stiffened and looked around with alarm. Philippus caught his eye and immediately scanned the horizon for any airborne assault. “No!” shouted Micon. “It’s in the sea.”
Philippus stood up. “What is?”
Nadina hefted her spear and slid the war helmet back onto her head. Xanthius stirred and hoisted his head up atop a wonky shoulder. A dark shape slid beneath the boat.
The boat began to slow, as if dragging an enormous weight. There was a thump and a thwack on the hull beneath their feet and the vessel began to shudder. Splashing and squeaking noises came from all around them as they gradually huddled closer to the centre of the ship. A tentacle appeared over the stern, followed by one at the bow, then the port side and starboard. They stood in shock as a huge glistening grey head slowly appeared at the port side and appraised them with an enormous shield-sized eye. A fifth tentacle appeared and lunged for the crew. Philippus slashed at it with his knife but was hammered aside as it reached for Nadina. She parried the squirming limb with her spear but another tentacle coming from behind plucked her off the deck, despite the desperate efforts of Micon’s fists. The giant squid began to pull at her spear and eventually wrenched it out of her grasp and immediately discarded it as the monster focused on removing her helmet. The spear thudded into the deck, head first, travelling through Philippus’s out-spread cloak and pinning him to the floor.
Xanthius gave a bowel-loosening roar, as only an enraged zombie sailor can, and charged at the sea demon, leaping on to its head and gauging at it with bony fingers. Another tentacle brushed him away, clattering into a heap near the stern but he immediately reassembled himself for another attack.
Meanwhile, Micon had retrieved the knife that Philippus had dropped when struck and began hacking at the tentacle that held Nadina. His hyper-awareness was in full flow as he dodged blows from the squid’s other limbs that would have killed any man. He could feel any incoming attack and was able to pirouette away before ducking and slashing once more. Philippus glanced at Xanthius and saw that the undead seaman was about to launch himself in another fruitless bone-headed assault. “Xanthius! The spear!”
The skeleton looked back at Philippus lying trapped on the deck and skidded to a halt before grabbing hold of the spear’s shaft and pulling with all his might.
“This’ll give that bugger somefin’ to fink about!” he hissed through clenched teeth as the spearhead began to shift. “Where did that sod come from, then? I’ve been sailing the seas for twenty years and I never saw nuffin’ like that!”
Philippus gazed at the monstrous creature and realised that there was more to it than he had first realised. “It’s Poseidon! We’re being attacked by Poseidon!”
The spear came free and Xanthius staggered backwards, dropping the weapon and holding his hands to his head. His jawbone hung low as he gaped in horror. “Oh my life! Oh, Poseidon! Great god of the deep! I din’t know it was you!” He fell to his knees praying for forgiveness. “You was what kept me safe all these years,” he wailed, ignoring the plain fact that he had recently perished at sea.
The squid, meanwhile, focussed on the now helmet-less Nadina. “Well, well, well,” it said, in a deep, bubbling voice. “What do I find crossing my ocean, hmm? A delightful nymph in need of a home. I know just the place for you, my dear.”
Nadina had managed to extract an arm from the tentacle’s grasp and began pummelling down on it. “I am not going to be anyone’s slave anymore!” she shouted. “Not for Zeus. Not for Hera. And certainly not for you.” The blows, harder than anything a mortal man could achieve, shuddered through the tentacle.
“Enough!” commanded Poseidon. “You will be mine!” And he began to pull down on the boat, trying to submerge it beneath the waves.
The Sun Barge, on the other hand, had other ideas. It had been kept hidden in a dark cave for hundreds of years and, having finally enjoyed the light of the sun once more, was damned if it was going to a watery end now. It began to pull back, lifting itself towards the shining orb in the sky.
Micon slashed once more with the knife and blood began to spurt from the wound. Poseidon was getting more irritated, the resistance he was encountering causing pain and frustration. He pulled harder at the boat but the Sun Barge pulled back.
“I’m done with you pathetic mortals,” he shouted, “I have what I came for.”
Micon realised that Nadina was about to be drawn down beneath the waves and slashed again at the gash that he was opening up on the tentacle holding the nymph. Poseidon howled in pain and began to disengage from the boat. Nadina switched tactics and summoned the assistance of the tree-entwined Sun Barge to keep the Olympian from escaping with his prize; tendrils reached out from the tree trunk that surrounded and merged with the vessel to twist and twine around two of Poseidon’s tentacles, locking the enormous squid to the boat.
“Micon!” shouted Philippus, as he grabbed at the War Spear that Xanthius had wrenched free, “keep him off me – I’m going for his eye.”
Micon paused his slashing as the tentacle holding Nadina slumped, injured, to the deck. The nymph began pushing against its grasp to extricate herself. Philippus was heading towards the head of the squid, spear held firmly in both hands in front of him, the gleaming point targeted at the enormous eye. A tentacle moved to block his path but Micon had anticipated it, slamming the blade of the knife into the writhing limb. Philippus was almost at the edge of the boat. Another tentacle waved close to his head, only for Micon to intercept it with impeccable timing. With a leap from the gunwale, Philippus thrust his entire weight through the spear into the squid’s eye. Blood spurted over him accompanied by the most agonising scream of pain they had ever heard.
The squid’s head began to slip beneath the water and Nadina, at last free of the tentacle strode across the deck and leapt on to Poseidon’s head. Scrambling over to where Philippus still held the spear embedded in the beast’s eye, she removed his hands and grasped the spear once more. With a swift motion she withdrew the weapon, dousing Philippus with more watery eye matter, before plunging it deep within the head.
The squid trembled and then relaxed, the godly life-force oozing away with the blood.
They stared at the corpse, tentacles loosely draped across the top of the Sun Barge.
Xanthius still quaked in fear and supplication in a heap on the deck, unaware of the outcome of battle. Micon sank to his knees in physical and emotional exhaustion. Nadina calmly extricated her spear.
Philippus gave a grim smile and leapt back on to the boat. He prodded one of the dead tentacles.
“Anyone fancy some calamari?”