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Liada and Tin Tin Ban Sunia set off for Iberia with Obolus
Tin Tin and I slipped through the darkness, keeping low. I glanced up at the main sail with its broad red stripe; it was slack, lifeless. The long pennant too, at the top of the mast, hung limp like a shriveled green and yellow lizard. I turned to look back at Obolus. He stood in the center of the deck, his head down, and his trunk resting on the layer of dirt covering the rough pine boards. He would sleep for another two hours, maybe three. Pale moonlight spilled over his body like silver flowing over a towering gray mountain. I felt a tug on the sleeve of my dress.
“You hear that one?” Tin Tin whispered.
I nodded. A low murmur came from the direction of the ship’s bow. She motioned me on and I followed, both of us crouching below the row of shields lining the rail of the ship. So late at night, who could it be?
As we neared the bow, a few words floated back to us, “…with one voice…the priest…taking the ransom…”
I tripped over a coiled rope and fell. My knee hit the deck, hard. Tin Tin’s hand was over my mouth in an instant, keeping me from crying out.
I rubbed my knee as we stared wide-eyed toward the front of the ship; the voice had stopped. My heart galloped as if Turanyu, Hannibal’s stallion, had gone wild inside my chest. I pulled Tin Tin’s hand away and gulped air, fearing all the while they would hear my heart pounding. Who are they and what are they talking about?
Our ship lay perfectly still on a sea of dead black water, nothing moved. We were so far from shore that we couldn’t see land in any direction.
Other than my ragged breathing, not a sound could be heard. Even the rigging that seemed always to creak and moan, lay silent.
“…but not so Agamemnon, who spoke fiercely to him and sent him roughly away.”
Tin Tin glanced at me, grinning; the voice had taken up again. It was a man’s husky voice, talking to someone, but apparently taking no notice of us. I whispered a silent thanks to our Great Queen Elissa, now long passed away, but still watching over us.
I heard soft footfalls on the opposite side of the ship, coming forward. I gripped Tin Tin’s hand and nodded that way. She pulled me to the mast and we ducked behind it, pressing ourselves flat against the polished wood. The mast was thicker than my waist and made from a single fir tree.
The voice at the bow stopped and then we heard the newcomer, “Lord Hannibal.”
“Yes, Captain Xipan.”
“Is Hannibal,” Tin Tin whispered to me.
I nodded. “And the captain too.”
“Shall we set the slaves to work with the oars, Sire?” The captain asked.
I eased up on my tiptoes to see Hannibal turn to look out over the flat sea. After a moment, he glanced up at the crescent moon. “It is well past midnight and near to dawn,” Hannibal said, turning back to the captain. “Let the slaves rest. If there is no wind with the sunrise, then we shall set them to work.”
The captain did not answer, but only slapped a hand to his chest in confirmation of Hannibal’s order. Captain Xipan turned away, hurrying back toward the companionway leading below decks.
The captain stopped, turning back toward Hannibal.
“If the water boy is awake, send him to me.”
The captain saluted as before and continued toward the hatch.
I glanced at Tin Tin Ban Sunia and saw the smile on her face. I rolled my eyes to the sky. Yes, we both knew who would next appear on deck.
Tin Tin, always the braver of the two of us, took my hand to lead me forward. Soon we knelt, only a few heartbeats away from Hannibal.
“Old man,” Hannibal said, “let me not find you tarrying about our ships, nor yet coming hereafter. Your scepter of the god and your…”
We could see Hannibal clearly now, standing before his table in the moonlight. He wore his red tunic with the fine double stitching. Upon the table sat a small olive oil lamp illuminating a scroll, partially unrolled. He bent low, peered at the scroll for a moment, and then he straightened up and addressed his companion; it was Turanyu, his warhorse!
“…and your wrath shall profit you nothing. I will not free her,” Hannibal, with a flourish of his left hand, spoke forcefully toward Turanyu, but the horse was obviously dozing, and, just as Obolus often did, he slept while standing.
Tin Tin giggled, and then I did too.
“Liada!” Hannibal raised his voice.
I stood, still giggling, but also frightened.
“And Tin Tin Ban Sunia too, I suppose.” He was apparently trying hard to display a feint of anger.
“It is myself,” Tin Tin said as she squeezed my hand.
I knew Hannibal could never be angry with Tin Tin, but me, yes, sometimes he was angry with me, and I had seen how he disciplined his men. I remembered quite clearly how he had humbled Sakul with his sword and javelin, and had caused Sulobo to receive forty lashes across his back. This punishment Sulobo had always blamed on me.
“Come here,” Hannibal commanded.
I edged closer to Tin Tin as we walked slowly toward him.
“What are you doing?”
At this time, Hannibal was seventeen summers in age, but already a grown man in charge of the elephant training camp at Carthage where he commanded several thousand men and oversaw the training of a hundred war elephants. Tin Tin was eleven summers and I was twelve.
“We, we…” I looked down at my bare feet. “We heard voices.”
He glanced at Tin Tin.
“Hear talking noise in dark night.”
I looked at Tin Tin from the corner of my eye and saw her grinning.
Hannibal put his fists on his hips. “You two had better go get some sleep before the sun comes up.”
Tin Tin slapped her right hand to her flat chest and I followed suit. I thought Hannibal was about to smile, but he jerked his head to the side. We heard it too; running footsteps. We turned to see the water boy coming quickly along the deck, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“Lord Hannibal.” He paused to catch his breath. “You sent for me?”
Tin Tin tilted her head toward me. “Calogo,” she whispered and I knew without looking that she had that mooncalf expression on her face. I liked Calogo too, but not the way she did.
Hannibal clasped his hands behind his back and eyed the boy for a moment, making him squirm. “How much water does the elephant drink each day?”
Calogo didn’t hesitate. “Twelve buckets, sometimes fourteen.”
Hannibal considered that. “And Turanyu?” He gestured to the sleeping horse. The animal turned one ear toward his master, but did not open his eyes. He was a magnificent black stallion with a broad chest and powerful muscles.
“Not nearly so much. Perhaps three buckets a day.”
“Hmm. And what happens if we cut their water by half?”
I watched Calogo glance toward Turanyu and then back at Hannibal. “They can give up half their water ration for four days, and they will suffer no harm since they do not have heavy exertion onboard the ship. After four days they will begin…” Calogo paused to look at me. “They will begin to weaken.”
“So be it,” Hannibal said. “Give them half ration of water until I order otherwise. Without the wind, it will be two days and nights rowing to Hippo Regius and you will have to give most of our water to the slaves.” Hannibal was quiet for a moment as he looked thoughtfully at Tin Tin and then at me.
I stole a glance at Calogo and saw the handsome, smooth-faced boy grinning at Tin Tin. Oh my Princess Elissa, another mooncalf! These two are going to get themselves into so much trouble.
“If you need help, Calogo.” I jumped when Hannibal spoke, because he had raised his voice. “Use these two ragamuffins…” He waved a hand in our direction, “to carry water to the salves. I want not a single slave to expire for lack of water. Do you understand me?”
Calogo slapped his chest. “Yes, Lord Hannibal.” The boy was bare to the waist, but he wore a short tunic, made of tanned doeskin that extended to mid-thigh.
“Keep a close eye on them,” Hannibal said, and I saw him wink at Tin Tin. “They’re crafty laggards.”
Calogo looked from me to Tin Tin, his eyes lingering on her. He didn’t actually smile with his lips, but his eyes were certainly laughing. I think Calogo was about my age, maybe a little older. “I know,” he said softly, but then caught himself and turned his attention back to Hannibal. “I mean I know how to make them work, Sire.”
“Good,” Hannibal said. “Now, go check your water casks and make your calculations for the next two days, assuming we have no wind and the slaves must row all the way to Hippo Regius.”
“Aye, Lord Hannibal.” Calogo turned and hurried away to his tasks.
Hannibal wasn’t a lord, not in the sense that his father, the general, was, but he commanded respect and obedience without asking for it. Perhaps this was because his father was a general and in command of all Carthaginian forces, but I think it had more to do with his charismatic and beneficent personality. He was a man who could bend others to his will without force.
Hannibal and I turned to see Tin Tin Ban Sunia leaning her elbows on his table, squinting at the scroll. “What story you tell Turanyu?” she asked without looking up.
Sometimes I was jealous of Tin Tin, and the way she could engage Hannibal with so little effort. I loved her, of course. She was as near to a sister as ever I had, but how I envied her easy way with other people. Even before, when she could not speak, she had a way of making anyone like her.
“We better go,” I whispered, glancing from her to Hannibal.
“But this not our words, Liada.”
Seeing that Hannibal was at ease, I too looked at the scroll. It was a strange writing, with some letters that I recognized, but arranged differently than our words. Tin Tin and I had only recently learned to read and write the language of Carthage, and that almost at the expense of her life because Tendao had taught us, knowing it was strictly forbidden by the priests. They had tried to burn him at the stake, along with Tin Tin, but Hannibal put a stop to all that.
“Are these your words, Hannibal?” I looked up at him. “Did you write this story?”
He shook his head. “It is the Greek language.”
“Greek?” Tin Tin asked.
“Yes. Do you remember that yellow wine from across the sea?”
“I do,” I said.
“I know that wine too.” Tin Tin pulled a sour face. “But not like much.”
“This writing,” he waved a hand toward the scroll, “also came from that same land. The writing is called Greek.”
“What story tell?” Tin Tin leaned close, trying to make out the words.
“It’s about a war, at a place called Troy.”
She looked up at Hannibal. “Why make this war?”
“The war was fought over a woman,” Hannibal said.
“A woman?” Tin Tin and I asked together.
“Yes. Her name was Helen. Some men kidnapped her and took her far away. Her husband raised an army and went to rescue her.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Was she so precious then, to fight a war over her?”
“They say she was the most beautiful woman in the world. And her husband loved her very much.”
Tin Tin unrolled the top part of the scroll. “You tell story for Tin Tin and Liada?”
Hannibal glanced at the scroll, but instead of reading, he walked to the rail and gazed out to sea. Soon he began to speak, “On this the rest of the Achaeans with one voice were for respecting the priest and taking the ransom that he offered; but not so Agamemnon, who spoke fiercely to him and sent him roughly away. ‘Old man,’ said he, ‘let me not find you tarrying about our ships, nor yet coming hereafter. Your scepter of the god and your wreath shall profit you nothing. I will not free her. She shall grow old in my house at Argos far from her own home, busying herself with her…” Hannibal turned and strode back to look at the scroll. He ran his finger along a line and then began again, “…busying herself with her loom and visiting my couch; so go, and do not provoke me or it shall be the worse for you.” Hannibal turned to regard us. “I’m trying to memorize the whole story.”
I unrolled the lower part of the papyrus scroll and saw that it went on for hundreds and hundreds of words. “All this, Hannibal? You can commit all this to memory?”
“I can only try.” He lifted his drinking bowl and frowned at the dry bottom.
Tin Tin took the empty bowl from his hand. “I fetch raisin wine for you drink.” She turned to run for the galley. “Don’t talk more yet,” she called over her shoulder. “Not till Tin Tin come back to hear all words.”
“What did Agamemnon mean?” I asked. “When he said ‘visiting my couch’?”
“Um, well, you see…”
This was something new; Hannibal lost for words. I had never seen him uncertain. Now I knew something interesting was going on between that woman, Helen, and Agamemnon. “Do you mean,” I said, “that she was like Lotaz back at camp? I saw a couch in her tent.”
I heard bare feet running along the deck and knew it was Tin Tin.
Breathing hard, she held out the bowl of wine, using both hands but still sloshing some of the brown liquid over the rim. “You drink, Hannibal, then talk more.”
He took the bowl, sipped and then leaned down to read silently for a while. Soon he began to speak, and by sunrise, the Trojan War raged all about us while Tin Tin and I sat cross-legged on the deck and Hannibal sat on his stool, reading aloud now but not trying to memorize.
None of us noticed Calogo coming to stand close behind Tin Tin Ban Sunia. He listened to the story for some time, but then apparently remembering he had work to do, he cleared his throat.
Hannibal looked up, raising an eyebrow at the boy.
“Lord Hannibal, you, um, last night said these two could help with the water, and I…”
Hannibal raised his hand, stopping Calogo. He glanced out at the flat sea, frowning at the lack of waves, and then he nodded.
Tin Tin and I got to our feet and I hurried to go with Calogo, but then I realized Tin Tin was not coming with us. When I tuned back, I saw her standing at Hannibal’s table.
He had spent the last part of the night, indulging two girls’ insatiable curiosity, and I knew he had much more important things to do than entertain us. I ran back and grabbed her hand to pull her away, but she resisted.
“Hannibal,” Tin Tin said. “Someday you will teach this words,” she pointed at the open scroll, “to Liada.” She glanced at me and grinned. “And maybe Tin Tin Ban Sunia little bit also too?”
“Thank you, Hannibal.” I stepped back, pulling on Tin Tin hand until both our arms stretched out at full length. “For telling us the story of Helen. We’ll go help Calogo now.” Tin Tin’s feet seemed rooted the deck; I couldn’t budge her. “Tin Tin,” I whispered. “Come on.”
“Wait, Liada,” Hannibal said. “When the sun is highest,” he gestured toward the top of the mast, “and you see that Dorien has finished his tasks with me, go with him to the shade of the awning and he will begin to teach you the Greek letters.” He stopped to roll up the scroll. “But remember, all your duties must be done first.”
Tin Tin grinned at him as I yanked her away. “Thank you, Hannibal,” I said over my shoulder. “We will watch for Dorien when all our duties are finished.”
Calogo had gone on ahead to start working, but on our way to check on Obolus, we saw Rocrainum, Hannibal’s lieutenant, coming toward us.
“Good morning, Rocrainum,” I said to the tall Carthaginian.
“Good morning, Liada.” He smiled at Tin Tin. “Good morning, Tin Tin Ban Sunia.”
“Morning, Lord Rocrainum,” Tin Tin said.
“I still can’t get used to hearing you speak.”
“My speak not good.”
“Oh, you talk very well.”
Rocrainum was a member of the aristocracy and a very handsome man of about twenty, but he was never haughty or arrogant. He was commander of the twenty soldiers on board and whenever he was not busy with his official duties, he would always chat with us as if we were members of his own class.
“Do you think we’ll have the wind today?” I asked.
He glanced around at the clear blue sky and calm sea. “I doubt it. If the wind doesn’t come up at dawn, it usually doesn’t come at all.”
“You have breakfast by now?” Tin Tin asked.
“We bring you food from below deck.”
“Good, but first I must speak with Hannibal. Have you seen him?”
“He over stand by Turanyu.” Tin Tin pointed her chin toward the bow of the ship.
“All right.” He turned away.
We watched him walk toward the bow. He wore a knee-length tunic like Hannibal’s, but a tan color rather than red. Unlike Hannibal, he was armed with a long sword. This heavy weapon was scabbarded on an iron-studded leather belt.
We ran to check on Obolus.