The Magdalena, quickly patched and leaking, had no choice to run before the wind. The winds picked up, and for as long as the seas remained manageable, they ran northwest.
“We will try to run to the lee of the island of Cossyra!” Drusilla shouted to Miri. “Drop the mainsail!” she called out to the crew. She turned to Miri. “It’s a big storm! Tie the children to the mast, and pad them with whatever you can find! There are grain sacks below decks!”
Miri ran to the children and engaged Martha to tie Sarai and Akivai to the main mast. “Loop it under their arms and make sure the knot does not slip! Leave some slack, so they can move about!” She ran below decks to find sacks of grain, and stopped in shock. The patch on the breached hull was leaking. There were men caulking the holes with batting, and others feverishly cutting a new patch and wedges, but it was moot whether they would keep the sea out of the hold.
The sacks of grain she wanted to use as a barrier around the twins were waterlogged and swollen, and the additional weight of the water was more than she could lift. The heaving of the seas tossed the ship violently, and the crash of waves against her sides thundered in the hold, and the every plank in the ship groaned and squealed as the ship was twisted in the gale. Her heart pounded and she decided it was too late to build a buffer against rolling flotsam on deck. She scrambled up the ladder, and was soaked by a rogue wave that pushed her momentarily back into the hold.
Four men were attached to the tiller, and they ran only with a small foresail and topgallant. The little ship, as gallant as she was, was no match for the power of the wind, and the wind pushed her down into the waves, and the waves washed the deck. The ship was climbing the passing waves, but the waves were shorter between crests than the ship and she was being twisted uncomfortably.
“Bring down the sails!” Drusilla called, “We’re running to fast!”
The crew swarmed the decks and Miri ran to Martha and the twins. She checked the knots on their harness, and looped an end over Martha and tied her fast.
“Cover the children!” Miri shouted against the wind, and looped the rope about herself just as the ship heeled about. He feet slipped on the wet deck, and she slid several paces before the rope snapped tight. She scrambled back to the mast. And tied Sarai to her own waist and wrapped her arms through a loop and around her daughter. Martha did the same with Akivai.
The storm punched the ship with the full fury of all the gods.
The rudder threatened to bend, and Drusilla called out to throw off a sea anchor.
The crew unlashed the skiff, and carried it astern. They punched two holes in the skiff and tied it fast to the base of the sternpost and threw it overboard to act as a drag on the fast seas, and slow the ship and keep the Magdalena straight in the waves. They had rigged pulleys to the rope, so that when the ship dropped into a trough and the rope slackened, a team of men heaved up the slack, and then allowed it to play out under pressure when the ship rose to the crest of the wave, to prevent the rope snapping when the skiff hauled back. The anchor slowed the Magdalena, and she beat well down the wind, but the waves rolled over her deck and washed below decks.
Suddenly the sea anchor rope snapped and scattered the team across the poop deck. The ship creaked ominously as the winds and the waves took her forward, and she was at the mercy of the storm. Frantically, crew members began throwing heavy cases and objects overboard. Miri closed her eyes and clutched Sarai to her breast, and prayed. The storm raged into the night and the wind howled like a banshee through the rigging, and the entire crew huddled and lashed themselves to the ship where they could. The crew took short shifts four at a time at the rudder, but three men were lost overboard to a single wave, and the ship heaved, yawed dangerously, but a new team leapt to the tiller and managed to bring the ship before the wind.
By morning, the seas had calmed somewhat, but the winds were variable, and they had not had a chance to get their bearings by the stars. The ship rode the swell The rudder had split and need ed repair as did the hull. Drusilla called a meeting of the crew and asked their advice. They all opted to head for the nearest landfall, and take inventory at anchor. But they could not agree which direction would bring them to the nearest port. Their biggest problem was trying to determine how far north they had been pushed by the wind. Some thought they were east of Sardinia or even Corsica in the Tyrrhenian Sea which meant they were dangerously close to Rome, others even thought they had been pushed toward the east coast of Iberia, which meant they could drop anchor in harbour with a predominantly Carthiginian population. The meeting was decided by the appearance of a sail to southeast.
Drusilla shook her head and smiled. “No rest for the wicked!” she muttered.
“Clear the decks and hoist sail!” she called out, “We’re headed north!”
She set a lookout to call the identity of the approaching ship. If it was a merchant ship, they would heave to and decide on a course after speaking with the other ship. However, the other sail passed away without coming near.
Maximinus was still bound, but had received a terrible gash to his forehead during the storm. Miri attended to it, washing it with vinegar. He winced.
“Don’t be such a baby!” she muttered.
“It stings!” said Maximinus, “I was not ready for it!”
He sat in silence as she washed the wound.
“You will have to kill me!” said Maximinus.
“Well, how Roman of you!” said Miri, “Are you sure you’ve examined all your options? We could just leave you on the first island we find.”
“Where would you go?” asked Maximinus.
Miri pushed against the gash on Maximinus’ head.
“If I told you that, then I would have to kill you!”
Redbeard stood watching as she stood up.
“He’s right!” he said gruffly, “The best thing to do would be to kill him!”
“Well, you two have more in common!” said Miri, “I an terribly tired of death, my friend!”
“Why not come to Tara?” suggested Redbeard, “We could start a farm and…”
“We?” asked Miri, “Are you proposing marriage?”
“Marriage?” asked Martha who happened by at that moment. “You’re not asking Miriam her hand in marriage, I hope?”
“I.. uh..” Redbeard was uncharacteristically speechless, and his ruddy face deepened to beet red.
“Land ho!” called the lookout.
The landfall was to the northeast.
“Sardinia!” said Maximinus.
“And how would you know that?” asked Redbeard.
“I was born there!” answered Maximinus.
Miri and Redbeard exchanged glances. Landing on Maximinus’ homeland was not the best idea and they walked astern to share their misgivings with Drusilla. Akivai sat behind Drusilla on the stern rail.
“Akivai, get down from there!” said Miri sternly. “He is not to sit at the edge!” she snapped at Drusilla. The captain didn’t answer, Miri grasped Akivai by the hand to pull him from his perch. “Stay on the deck!”
“I can swim!” he grumbled, but Miri’s look told him not to press her, and he slid reluctantly from the rail to the deck. Sarai sat on a coil of rope, her knees tucked into her hands. She was staring at a cricket that was seeking refuge from the sun under the rope upon which she sat. “Mama!” she cried happily as she spied Miri and jumped up and into Miri’s arms.
The rocky coast grew larger ahead. The Magdalena sailed happily west until a significant promontory loomed ahead.
“We can anchor and repair the ship there on the Isle of Plumbea,” said Drusilla.
“It’s an island?” asked Miri. The huge land mass ahead seemed to be part of the Sardinian coast.
Drusilla pointed to an entry in a scroll held down on a deck with lead fishing weights. She flashed a smile at Miri. “It is an old Phoenician settlement, and they built a causeway from the island to the mainland. It is still basically Carthaginian and was not important enough to be heavily fortified by the Rome! But they call the town Sulci. It is filled with fishermen who can trace their lineage to before the Hyksos who were expelled by Ahmose I of Egypt, and others who are descended from the Shardana who were defeated by Ramesses III over a thousand years ago. The only Romans there are traders who come down for the garum made from the tuna. You’ll have to put you Praetorian escort below decks.”
“Can’t we just drop him off somewhere?” asked Miri.
“After we’re repaired and ready to sail, we can put him out on the island of Inosim to the north with a sack of grain and his armour. It is uninhabited except foe a few hermits, but fishermen land there in the north from time to time. He will be safe, and so will we!”
They circumnavigated Plumbea, and entered a wonderful harbour bounded to the east by the island, to the west by the mainland and closed to the south by the massive causeway. Miri marveled at the industry of the ancient people who had decided to fill the straits between Plumbea and Sardinia and create such a beautiful harbour. The manufactured bay was crammed with small fishing boats. Nets were spread to dry on the causeway shore and the docks were filled with merchants and traders. A variety of larger Roman and Greek merchant ships were anchored and the place buzzed with men rolling large amphorae filled with wine, garum and grain from warehouse to ship, and ship to shore.
“What is that?” asked Miri, pointing to a sleek open galley with high prow and stern. Its prow had a strange creature carved into its head.
“It looks like a river boat” said Drusilla.
“It’s a Hyperborean vessel from the North!” said Pelagius, “I had heard they existed, but never seen one!”
“Throw out the anchor!” called Drusilla, and to crew men dropped the stone anchors from the stern, and the rope upon which Sarai had been sitting suddenly hissed and unraveled as quickly as a striking snake. Miri and the twins stared in fascination at the other craft in the huge harbour. No one seemed to notice their entrance to the harbour, and Drusilla and Pelagius spent most of the afternoon trying to track down the harbourmaster. Redbeard and Eleazar stowed Maximinus below deck, and sat him beside the open hatch so that he could more easily breathe. The dampness in the hold from the hull breach made it quite difficult to breathe below decks, and the crew started to bring the cargo onto the deck in order to dry it out. The grain sacks were ruined and their contents, not yet moldy, could be converted to beer, so were not entirely worthless, and were traded to a local brewer six to one for dry grain. The brewer took some time inspecting the grain sacks before handing over the dry sacks from his stores to the crew.
Miri and her family disembarked to stretch their legs. She was surprised by the great relief she felt as her feet touched firm ground. She could feel a firmness and energy flowing up from her feet and filling her being. Sarai and Akivia also seemed to be fascinted by the ground beneath their feet, and they pressed their small feet downward as if they were testing terra firma. Eleazar purchased some delicious grapes, and in the middle of eating the small grapes, he whispered, “Oh my god!” and his jaw dropped.
He had not realized until that moment he had seen only men, but here in the market, women abounded, and they were more noticeable than he had ever imagined women could be. Most were bare breasted. He was in shock, and his Palestinian upbringing immobilized him in the face of so many uncovered bosoms. Martha likewise was taken aback. Though bare breasted, the women wore a shoulder cover that could be drawn over the breasts, but they were loosely worn, and it was apparent from their stance, many women were quite proud of their mammaries. Miri was delighted, and she urged the others into the market. The children seemed to take the custom into stride, but Eleazar and Martha were traumatized. Yusef, supporting himself with his walking stick seemed to take in the spectacle with a stoic and reserved demeanour, alternately avoiding gazing at the breasts about and trying to focus his attention above them. This, however, meant he had to meet the women at eye level, and this, more intimate connection was even more uncomfortable.
“Look, Mama!” said Sarai innocently attracted by a nearby fruit stall, “Melons!”
They remained in Sulci on Plumbea for four days, trading goods and repairing the storm damage to the ship. Drusilla purchased a local fishing boat to replace the skiff, a fine high prowed dory from a boatbuilder who had built the boat for a local fisherman who, before it was finished, had drowned when his old boat sank. Miri found volunteers to row paying curiosity seekers between shore and the Magdalena where she put Sobek on display. He was wuite the momey maker, and the crew adopted him as a mascot. For the most part, they fed him chickens, but they did find that the visitors would pay extra to throw victuals into the snapping jaws of the crocodile. He seemed to have accepted his fate and the sailors fashioned a fence to give him space to walk. Martha learned the sail stitch from the sailors and insisted upon helping them repair the sails, and sat beside the crocodile pen sewing with one eye and watching her pet with the other. Much to the first mate’s chagrin, she also took over the supervision of cleaning below decks.
“Too many women on board this ship!” he muttered as he walked by Miri. She was sitting minding her own business, reading the Second Book of Moses Yusef had purchased from a Jew in Sulci to her children.
“Andronikos!” she teased, “Every other sailor I’ve ever heard complains of not enough women!”
“One is enough for any man!” he grumbled without looking back. He approached Drusilla who was speaking with Pelagius.
“We have a problem!” Anrdonikos told Drusilla.
She raised an eyebrow.
“The Roman tax collector finally stopped drinking long enough to decide he wants to check our manifest. I offered him a hundred sestercii, but he has decided to examine our cargo.”
“When is he coming?” asked Drusilla.
Andronikos pointed at the barge about to tie up to their port side.
“Oh good grief!” declared Drusilla. The rope ladder was already moving from the tax collector’s ascent. “Miri!” she shouted in Aramaic, “Secure your prisoner! We have guests!”
Miri handed the scroll to the twins.
“Read it out loud!” she ordered them, “And do not move from there, until I get back!”
The tax collector climbed aboard. He was quite large, and had more than his natural share of fat. He hesitated when he spied Redbeard, but he was followed by a series of several burly men, his authority when on board ship. He immediately saw Miri moving to the hatch, and shouted to her to stop.
She froze and turned to face him.
“Where are you off to?” he asked testily.
“I’m not feeling well!” replied Miri, “I was going for my stomach remedies!”
“Indeed?” asked the tax collector. “Perhaps you could show them to me?”
“I, uh..” said Miri slowly. Drusilla nodded at her to tell her to show him. “Of course! They are below decks! I shall fetch them for you!”
“No need!” said the tax collector, “I shall go with you!”
She was trapped. She had no belongings at all. Her mind raced, trying to think of some part of the cargo she could demonstrate as a medicinal cure for stomach pains. She drew a blank. She could not think of a way to distract the tax collector. She reached the hatch and looked down at Maximinus asleep, but bound beside the ladder. She descended the steps, and, looking up, realized her dress was blocking the tax collector’s view of Maximinus. Taking a deep breath she set one foot on either side of the sleeping Praetorian and fluffed out her robe.
The tax collector squeezed through the hatch, and carefully alit upon the deck.
“What’s that?” he demanded, pointing at her feet.
It was Maximinus’ foot. Unfortunately, the tax collector’s voice was loud and woke up Maximinus, who sat up quickly and his head rose swiftly inside her dress and between her legs, and she squealed in shock. Maximinus began to struggle, and Miri was swept from her feet, and the tax collector, alarmed by the commotion stepped back, slipped on the oiled deck, and fell against a stack of amphorae, one of which fell from the thitd tier and knocked him unconscious.
Miri, meanwhile was entangled with Maximinus, his head wedged firmly between her thighs. She was overcome by a strange mixture of alarm and arousal. Maximnus held her legs and was trying to speak, but she squeezed her legs tightly around him to keep his words muffled.
“Stop it!” she whispered, and lifted her robe. “Quiet!” she whispered to Maximinus. “We’ve been boarded by pirates!”
He immediately stopped struggling, and she reluctantly released her leg lock on his head.
“Hello!” called a voice. It was one of the tax collector’s henchmen.
Miri put her fingers to her lips to keep Maximinus silent. He needed no bidding.
She stepped into the light streaming from the hatch.
“Your friend would like you to come and assist him!” Miri said sweetly, and stepped back. The henchman climbed down the ladder, and Maximinus, convinced the tax gangster as a pirate looped his chains about the man’s neck and choked him into unconsciousness.
“Tie him up!” Maximinus commanded her. She immediately bound the tax collector and his assistant. “How many are there” asked Maximinus.
“Seven, I think!” replied Miri, “Perhaps more!”
“I need my gladius!” he said. Miri weighted her options, and decided after a brief moment to return the sword to Maximinus. She quickly dug it out from a bundle stowed nearby, and handed it to him hilt first.
“May Nike guide your hand!” she whispered.
“And Mithras my soul!” he replied. Let’s go!”
Miri came up first. The coast was clear. The henchmen were still standing idly at the port rail, and two were actually leaning on the topstrake, staring out at the harbour.
“Now!” whispered Miri, and, despite his chains, Maximinus leapt up the ladder with a speed that amazed her.
As soon as he landed upon the deck, the Praetorian brought his sword down upon his leg irons, and parted a link with a single blow. With a glorious cry, he charged the taxmen who scattered before his charge. Three dove over the rail to avoid him, and Redbeard threw the largest of their number into the harbour, and the others were tripped and thrown into the water by members of the crew, and the fight was over before it started. Maximinus, filled with the rage of Mars, hesitated for a moment, disappointed at the lack of resistance, but had no time to voice his frustration as Miri, coming up behind him, smashed an amphora of wine over his head.
She deftly took up his gladius, and threw it with all her might into the harbour.
Two crew members seized Maximinus, dragged him to the side of the ship, and fastened him to the rail, and immediately, the crew hauled the tax collector and his assistant from below deck, untied them, and threw them overboard. They slipped the ropes tethering the collectors vessel, and pushed it away with boat hooks. The tax collection team regained their vessel and fought of the poles, but they were powerless to stop the Magdalena from leaving.
Miri looked up at Drusilla.
“Is everyone on board?” she asked.
“Blow the shofar!” called Drusilla, and Andronikos brought out a ram’s horn and blew long blasts upon it. It was a signal to the crew, and those dozing on deck, awoke and immediately began to haul up the anchor, and locking oars into place.
On the dock, several of the Magdalena’s crew on shore leave appeared to the call of the shofar, and scrambled into the dory they had purchased in Sulci. The revellers scrambled into the boat, but three of their comrades, well into their cups, called to them from the taverna in the market, and staggered into the sun. The men shouted back and forth to each other, but the dory had already left dockside. The three men on shore reached the dock, and with a great whoop, leapt into the water and swam to the departing rowboat. They were hauled on board, and the impaired sailors rowed with great haste and impaired skill toward the Magdalena. The activity on the Magdalena had brought the attention of dockworkers to the ship, and onlookers gathered to stare at the ship. There was a brief skirmish as the Magdalena’s crew passed the tax collector’s boat, and oars were tangled and miraculously prepared, but no one was seriously harmed.
Meanwhile, oars locked, and the crew ready, the oarsmaster called out “Oars down!” and on “Heave!” the boat moved forward. The sailors in the skiff called out, still rowing for the Magdalene, but their rowing brought them to the ship before the Magdalena picked up speed. Anronikos threw them a rope, and the men, scrambled up the rope to the deck of the Magdalena, except for one of the drunks, who decided to wait in the skiff until he was better able to shinny up the rope to ship safely. He lay down in the bottom of the skiff, and passed out.
A pursuit of sorts had been mounted by a spontaneous flotilla of assorted small craft, but the Magdalena was large enough that storming the ship from sea level was extremely hazardous. The tax collector and his henchmen led the pack, and were hard on the stern of the Magdalena. They were attempting to hook the dory, and the drunken sailor in the dory snored loudly, oblivious to their efforts.
Arrows began to rattle sporadically onto the deck, but fortunately, no one was hit. Miri hustled the twins below deck, and broke out round shields from the armoury. She and Martha and Yusef and Sidonius distributed the shields to the oarsmen, slipping them over their heads and covering their backs so they resembled twin rows of turtles. The flotilla was close enough, they could hear the shouts of the pursuers.
Miri hunched down with her back against the starboard top strake beside Maximinus.
“So much for stranding me on Inosim!” he said sardonically, as he watched the morthern cliffs of Plumbea slip by. “There’s good tuna fishing on the north side of that rock!”
“I am sorry I lied to you!” said Miri.
“Lied?” asked Maximinus.
“About the pirate thing,” she reminded him.
“What in the name of Jove are you talking about?” he said, “I would prefer an apology for the smack across the back of my head with that wine jar!”
“I’m sorry I had to hit you!”
They fell silent for a moment.
“You attacked a tax collector!”
“He wasn’t a pirate!” said Miri. Maximinus was stunned.
“He was an Imperial customs agent!” she added.
“Oh Lord!” he said.
“You’ll have a hard time explaining it, I should imagine!”
“I’ll be executed!” he said fiercely, “You turned me into an outlaw!”
Their conversation was interrupted by the lookout’s cry.
“Sail ho, west of the starboard bow!”
Heads strained to the west. They were rowing parallel to a military convoy preparing to turn into the harbour from the straits between Inonim and Plumbea.
“Now we’re really in trouble!” muttered Eleazar as he ran to the rail. There were seven ships, three biremes and two triremes, accompanied by two smaller corsairs.
“Come hard about, helm!” shouted Drusilla. She was changing direction as the trireme was large and difficult to turn. Though the favourable wind was blowing up from the south, there would be no outrowing the convoy northward.
“Oars up!” called the oarsmaster. “Starboard reverse!” He waited as the oarsmen on the starboard team changed positions, and as soon as they were in place, he called “Starboard! Oars down!” The ship slewed sharply to starboard as the oars dropped into the water, and the men held fast while the oars dug into the water.
Instantly, the oarsmaster called “Portside down!” and then “Heave!” and the forward push accelerated the Magdalena’s turn. They passed within hailing distance of the trireme, and their turn caught several craft of the pursuing flotilla by surprise, and capsized two. Thankfully, they crossed astern of the trireme, and across the bow of a corsair, and past the line of ships, and the crews of the Roman ships stared open-mouthed at the Magdalena, and the tiny ships scrambling after her. The tax collector hailed the trireme’s master to urge the ship to give chase, but the Magdalena had the advantage until the Roman fleet decided a course of action. The Magdalena’s sail could tack close to the wind, and she brought the ship to catch an edge of the wind and ordered all sails up.
The Magdalena sailed across the southwind, cutting to east along the Sardinian coast. The Roman corsairs were the first nose out into the ocean from between the two islands. With the wind blowing against them, neither the Magdalena nor the pursuing ship made good speed. The second Roman corsair appeared from the straits between Plumbea and Inonim. The Roman oarsmen were more experienced and disciplined than the crew of the Magdalena, and, once in the open sea, it was obvious, the Magdalena would eventually be overtaken.
“We need to make that headland!” said Drusilla, “The closer we can cut that corner, the sooner we can add the topgallant, and put on more sail!”
They passed the promontory, narrowly avoiding scraping on the rocks, and across a rocky bay. As the Magdalena passed the mid way point to the next headland, the Roman corsairs came into view again, rowing hard. They had closed some sea between themselves and their quarry. Drusilla’s eyes lit up and she pointed to the shore.
“A temple to Tanit!” she said excitedly, “A good omen!” She rummaged through the baggage on board, and took out a cage filled with doves she had purchased in Plumbea. “Send my prayers to the mistress of the Seas!” she whispered to the birds and threw open the top of the cage. In a flurry of wings, the doves exploded in the ait, and, as Drusilla and the crew watched, they circled the ship and headed straight toward the Punic temple. And in answer the breath of Tanit filled the sails of the Magdalena, and the ship took hold of the wind, and surged forward.
The helmsman and oarsmaster, in unison called, “Oars up!” but the crew had already anticipated the command and the oars were up as soon as the call came and pulled inboard. They were underway, and the pursuing ship had not yet caught the same wind. The men cheered, but Drusilla, obviously relieved stood unmoving, her eyes on the Roman ships astern.
They crossed a wide bay, but their pursuers, now under sail, were hard on their heels. As they crossed the headland the wind veered northeast, and Drusilla ran before it, and the Magdalana raced northward, and Pelagius called for help with the rudder, as he had to keep the vessel from being blown by the wish of the wind bent on pushing the ship against the rocky shore. The pursuing ships were well matched for sail before the wind, and closed the gap between themselves and the Magdalena. They was not as heavily armed as the triremes, but the Roman navy always depended upon its soldiers, and if the Magdalene were boarded, the Romans would overwhelm any resistance the crew could muster. Their only salvation would be to lose them in the dark.
Though nightfall would cover them, it would also hide the rocks along the coast, but Drusilla was counting on the Roman’s distrust of the ocean to slow them down when night fell. On the other hand, Romans were the most determined and patient force in the known world.
Despite the circumstance, it was a good day for sailing. The sun shone brightly, the sky was clear, and the wind strong and steady. They erected a canvas screen and net across the stern, to slow any missiles that might be thrown at them should they drop into archery range of the Roman ships. The added canvas pushed the stern, causing the ship to and three men were assigned to the tiller. There was nothing to do but sail.
Martha took charge of Sarai and Akivai, and had them dip a bucket into the sea to pour water over the hide of Sobek. Miri had almost forgotten about the crocodile. It was penned, but not bound. An asset while onshore, the crocodile was a definite liability in an emergency. Thankfully, he had been well fed in Plumbea, and now lasy asleep in a sunny patch of the deck. Unfortunately, now the crew seemed to feel that to tie the creature would be bad luck. Though she could find no one, to bind him for the voyage, she did manage to reduce the amount of deck space for the pen, and closed Sobek amidships. He growled as the pen was reduced, but it seemed he was just irritated by her disturbing his sleep. He snapped his tail once and knocked the fencing, but it was a half-heated warning not to be disturbed. The extra fencing, Miri lashed as a cover between the fences on either side of Sobek. She felt a lot safer once he was caged, though she would have preferred to cover his eyes and bind his snout.
The children, much to her chagrin had no fear of the crocodile, and happily splashed their small buckets of water over Sobek. She hovered about them as they padded back and forth between the rail and the crocodile. Martha seemed uncharacteristically nonplussed by the proximity between the children and the crocodile, and sat beside the pen repairing a net.
“Sit down!” Martha said to Miri. “They’ll be fine!”
“I prefer to stand!” declared Miri, unable to leave her children unsupervised. She was ready to whisk them away at the first sign that Sobek became active. In particular, she kept an eye on Akivai, who delighted in dumping his bucket on Sobek’s monstrous head. and watching the animals eyes react to the deluge.
“Enough!” said Miri finally. “Wash him off with fresh water!” she commanded.
The twins were disappointed, and reluctantly trudged to the pithoi on deck filled with fresh water to wash the salt water from Sobek. Sea water had a drying effect on his skin, and they used it do most of the washing, and rinsed him once he was clean with fresh water to conserve the supply.
Sidonius and Eleazar flopped down beside the two women, exhausted from their stint at the oars. “Every muscle aches!” declared Eleazar. “Where’s Yusef?” he asked, then sat up quickly when no one answered. No one could remember seeing him. With a shock they realized no one had seen him since morning.
Yusef had fallen asleep in the morning sun, under the shade of the cabana, and was blisfully unaware of the frantic search that had begun for him. He walked on the hills of Galilee, and the wind blew gently from the Mediterranean. He heard a rustle behind him and turned. It was David, returned to the world. His son stood smiling at him, a lost lamb draped over his shoulders, and the sun shone, not just from behind him, but through him.
“Father!” David whispered, “Yusef!”
His name was being called from more voices, and suddenly he awoke.
“I’m here!” he called groggily from beneath the makeshift tent he had created upon the forecastle between sacks of Sardinian wheat. As he popped his head up, he realized they were no longer in Sulcis, and as a result he was not quite oriented as Sarai and Akivai pounced upon him’
“We found him!” they shouted happily.
“Was I lost?” he asked the twins.
“We thought we had left you behind!” said Sarai.
“I would never lose you, sweetpea!” he said happily and hugged her tight.
“We’re being chased by Romans!” said Akivai excitedly.
His senses finally returned to him, and he rose from his bier. He was surrounded by a grateful family. Miri hugged him.
“Thank God, you’re safe!” she said.
“I fall asleep for five minutes, and already we’re in trouble!” he complained. “What on Eath do they want from us? Why on earth are they chasing us now?”
“Maximinus attacked the tax collector!” said Martha.
“Good Lord!” declared Yusef, “Why would he do that?”
“He thought they were pirates!” piped in Akivai.
“I can understand that!” muttered Yusef, “These days there’s not much difference between the two!”
By sun set, the two pursuit ships had not slackened their sail, but as twilight descended and unfolded her night robes, a deep darkness fell between them, and Drusilla called for the topgallant to be lowered. The cooling air of the night wind descended from the island to the sea, and the helm no longer needed to counteract the shoreward push on the Magdalena.
The night was long and no one slept, but as day broke, the only sails set about them belonged to fishermen already at work.
“We’ll round the island and pass between Corsica and Sardinia and from there…” Drusilla’s voice trailed off.
They stared in silence at the morning haze on the horizon.
“Once we stop running away, we should decide where to run,” Drusilla said seriously, and turned to look at her
“Where are we going, Miri?”
The question was a good one.
But there was no answer. They were pushed this way and that by the winds, and at every harbour there seemed to be forces that conspired to keep her out at sea. She was carried on the waves, and alighted from time to time upon an island, each one different from the next, but in the end finite and bounded on all sides by the relentless ocean, onto which she set sail, with no direction nor destination. Her life had no purpose. There was no goal, and ultimately, no meaning. She had been at the mercy of forces far greater than herself, and she was powerless against them. She took a deep breath.
“We shall let the wind decide!”
“A wise choice, but what if we spot Roman sails?”
“The wind has powers far beyond the might of Rome, so which should we follow?”
“The wind!” declared Drusilla, “but just for now, we’ll run from Rome!”
She pointed to the south. Roman sails were on the horizon.
“We’ll run for the acrchipelago between Corsica and Sardinia,” said Drusilla, loud enough for the helmsman to hear her.
“Aye, Captain,” replied the helm.
“We’ll lose them in the islands!” Drusilla smiled at Miri. “Then, we’ll listen to the Wind!”
They reached the shelter of the Cunicularia Archipelago by afternoon, and far enough ahead of the pursuing corsairs, that they found a small cove on an island Maximinus believed was called Bucina. The cove in which they lay at anchor was a beautiful blue, and so clear and calm was the water the Magdalena seemed to be floating in mid air. The children were delighted by the ship’s shadow outlined under her keel on the sea bottom. The beach of pink sand rose from the cerulean waters, and the bounding the small bay seemed to have been solidified in some molten gyration. Grasses and low lying bushes edged the sand, and farther inland Miri could see a mad mixture of myrtle and juniper, banded together in a sea of heather. Seagulls and terns floated upon the air and the water, and the small cover wrapped about the Magdalena as if the ship had always been intended to float at anchorage in the bay. The call of finches and warblers drifted across the breeze from the maquis. Amongst the thorn bushes, goats gamboled gaily and grazed at the greenery.
“Are we getting off here, Mama?” asked Sarai.
“It’s beautiful!” sighed Miri.
“Can we go for a swim?” asked Akivai, “Please! Can we go for a swim?”
“We’ll see!” said Miri.
“We’ll be her ‘til nightfall,” said Drusilla, “We can’t be seen from the strait, and if they find us here, we’re trapped anyway! We’d have to abandon ship anyway!”
They pulled the dory alongside, and everyone in the crew voted to land ashore and rest on the beach. The drunken sailor, still snoring in the bottom of the boat was thrown overboard, and surfaced spluttering much to the amusement of his comrades, and he smiled sheepishly as he splashed back to the boat. After discovering they were making landfall, he swam to the beach ahead of the others and floated in the shallows, allowing the water to mend his wine-induced headache.
“What about me?” asked Maximinus, who was still tied to the rail.
Eleazar and Sidonius, untied him, and helped him descend the cargo net to the dory. Drusilla threw Miri the keys to his chains. “Release him when you get ashore!” she shouted, “He can stay here if he wishes!”
On the beach, Miri unlocked the chains, and threw them into the ocean. She had no intention of leaving them on the beach to be used as a weapon by the emanciated Praetorian. Unfortunately, they stood out in stark contrast to the sandy bottom, and she realized they were still quite accessible. “Damn!” she whispered under her breath.
“I’m going for a swim!” said Maximinus.
“That way!” said Miri pointing down the beach away from the chains.
Maximinus shrugged and stripped down. He was not only well-muscled, but well-endowed and Miri’s eyes were drawn to his nether regions, and she suddenly realized she had been staring at him far too long. He smiled at her for a moment, knowing what she was thinking, then turned and ran into the gently lapping water of the cove.
Recovering from her lusty thoughts, Miri called to her son.
“Akivai! Go and retrieve the chains!”
“Me too!” cried Sarai, and the two of them splashed toward the chains settled on the sea floor. The water soon rose to their necks, and though Sarai could swim, she dog-paddled for a short while, but turned back and stood in the shallows, directing Akivai’s diving expedition to recover the chain. “I can’t lift it!” he called out finally.
Miri removed her robes and dove into the water, and joined Akivai.
“I can’t lift the chain!” he said.
“Let’s bring it up together,” said Miri, and they dove under and lifted the chains from the bottom. They carried the chains to the shallows, and and glanced over to make sure Maximinus was not looking. Luckliy, at that moment, the dory was between them and Maximinus.
“Let’s bury it!” whispered Miri, and they sat in the shallows, and created a hollow in the sand with their feet, and deposited the chains in the hollow and swept sand over the chain to cover it. Havinf concealed the iron manacles, Miri relaxed and played happily with her children on the beach.
Most of the crew had ferried to shore, and the rest of the day, the dory traveled between ship and shore, taking men and supplies back and forth. They brought wine and unleavened cakes ashore with dates and cheese, and the day became an idyllic respite in paradise. The only people who did not seem emtirely at ease were Martha. Eleazar and Yusef, whose upbringing had ingrained the biblical proscription against displaying their naked bodies. As a result, they were hotter than their comrades, and the temptation of the beckoning waters created an uncomfortable tension in all three. But, they resisted and remained pure in their convictions.
Martha busied herself with preparing the food for consumption, and the men suggest a stew, and three volunteered to catch a goat to be cooked. They disappeared into the maquis, and Martha began to gather driftwood.
Sarai volunteered to help and she and Martha scavenged the beach for firewood. The little girl pulled at an arbutus branch, but Martha stopped her.
“Only dried wood, Sarai,” she advised, “That tree will burn with too much smoke!”
Martha enlisted three naked seamen to find stones for the fire, and with great difficulty, managed to work with them, and, at the same time, ignore their nakedness. Unfirtunately, the more effort she applied to ignoring their virility, the more preoccupied she became with their nudity. Finally, she threw up her hands just as two bronzed, salted and sweating Adonai placed a large flat stone over the firepit.
“I can’t do this!” she cried in exasperation and plomped herself down in the sand several paces away, pulled her hood over her head to serve as blinkers, and stared stoically out to sea, muttering a prayer for inner strength to Yahweh.
“A fine example of a widow!” she harrumped as Miri splashed naked and happy with her equally naked and happy child in the shallows, seemingly unaware that the display of her assets had attracted the leering attention of the equally naked and contented sailors cavorting on the beach. A few had taken out the oars from the boat and set up goalposts at either ends of the beach and instituted a spontaneous game of kickball, and try as she might, she could not prevent her eyes from wandering towards them as they ran back and forth chasing the ball.
Miri dried herself off with her robe and wrpped her dress about her. Maximinus sat in the sun, sucking the wounds the manacles had gouged into his wrists. ”Do they hurt?” she asked.
“Do yours?” he countered.
“They sting a little,” she said.
“We’re leaving you here!” she told him.
He smiled. “So you’re going to leave me in paradise, and go where?”
“If I told you I’d have to kill you!” she said with a smile.
“I’m as good as dead!” he said, “The Empire does not take kindly to a man, citizen or not, attacking a tax collector. I am as much an outlaw now as you!”
“I’m sorry!” said Miri.
“The world is the way it is, and I am who I am!” said Maximinus, “The gods play with our lives as if we were pieces on a game board. They are like madmen playing latrunculi, and we are no more to them than stones! They have an interest in the outcome, but have no attachment to one piece over another! No matter how we strive to appease the gods, they act with indifference to our supplications!”
“Perhaps your gods do not exist,” suggested Miri.
“Then how would the world unfold without the gods? Who would drive the sun across the sky? Who would order the seasons and bring the rain?”
Miri didn’t answer Maximinus. She was watching her children at play in the water. They had dug a hole in the sand and allowed the sea to pour into it, and digging in the wet sand they piled it beside the pool, creating fairy palaces, and floated small bits of driftwood in and out of their miniature harbour. They sent some bits on imaginary journeys, and, from their fingers, poured a small harbour town. But the gentle lapping of the waves undermined their efforts and the castles and towers, and their play began to turn into a serious attempt to preserve the town they had built, and became less and less play, until they gave up to search for seashells, and, without their efforts, the sea swallowed their work, leaving only a small eroded mound and a shallow depression at the water’s edge.
The three sailors who had gone in search of game returned with a kid they had netted. It bleated piteously, but it was soon brought to the fire, and dispatched by one of the men who poured its blood out onto the stones. It’s entrails were read by an old sailor who decided the intestines had fallen in a favourable pattern, and they were set upon the flat stone as an offering to Jove and Hera to share with the unnamed goddess of the island upon which they had alighted. Grain was offered to Ceres, and the goat was set upon a spit over Martha’s fire.
More wood was needed, and several sailors took it upon themselves to collect more fuel for the fire, and soon, they had a hot bed of coals on which to lay the gutted goat. By the evening, the fire had reduced to hot embers, and the meat was ready. They dug into a delicious meal, and were well satisfied with the day.
During a discussion about the nature of the currents and the state of the moon, they thought it would be best to wait for the first light of dawn to separate the islands and rocks from the sea, and that they should get some rest.
“Now, another matter,” announced Drusilla, “I think we should leave Ursus Maximinus on the island with some wine and grain, enough to sustain him for a full moon cycle,” said Drusilla.
Heads nodded and there seemed to be a general consensus to leave the Praetorian behind.
“I have no wish to stay!” protested Maximinus, “Since I was involved in the escape and assault on the tax collector, I have only the cross waiting for me! I have as much to lose as any of you, should we be caught!”
“And a fair prize we would be to remit your sins!” growled a sailor, “Sacrificing us would be a sure warrant to avoid your being nailed to the cross!”
The rest of the crew nodded and murmured in agreement.
Miri felt a chill cross her heart. She was overcome by a vision of Maximinus crucified, and at once, Yeshua’s death. Would Maximinus take the high road? Faced with crucifixion, would he sacrifice himself to save them?
Sidonius spoke up. “Friends! Friends! Do you not remember I was, but a month ago, the harbourmaster’s assistant in Marsaxlokk? And now am I not as one of you? And you--..” he pointed at a sailor. “Before you were a sailor on this ship, what was your occupation?”
“Galley slave!” replied the sailor reluctantly, “But not by choice!”
His mates chuckled at his comment, and Sidonius pointed at another. “And you?”
“I’ve been at sea since I was a lad!”
“But for who?”
“You name it I’ve sailed on it! From river barge to quintquireme! I’ve had twenty masters or more!”
“Who amongst us has ever remained in one place?” asked Sidonius, “How many Emeror’s have come and gone in our lifetimes? Can we truly troth our loyalty to a man like Claudius? Caligula? Tiberius? Augustus? Should we dedicate our lives to one, then the next or the next, regardless of their worth?”
He turned on Maximinus.
“Are you prepared to renounce your fealty to the Emperor before us?”
There was a long silence as all eyes turned to Maximinus, but he had no time to answer. A sailor called “Sail!” and pointed to the Magdalena, and all heads turned seaward. A Roman ship had entered the cove, followed closely by another. The light was fading fast, but it was obvious, that in the twilight, the Romans could not see the men on the beach. The fire had died to fading smoldering embers. One of the ships rammed the Magdalene, and a gangway crashed onto her deck.
At the sound of splintering wood, the crew scattered and ran for the cover of the maquis. Miri immediately looked for Sarai and Akivai. They were sitting in the dory at the water’s edge, their play interrupted, staring at the ships in the bay. She called out to Martha and raced for the twins. Eleazar and Yusef jumped to her aid, and suddenly animated by her movements, the crew scattered and scrambled in the darkness for the cover of the maquis. Pelagius, seeing Miri, ran to the dory to help.
The second Roman ship rowed closer to the beach and, at the splash of its anchor into the water, the cover fell silent. Crouched beside the dory, Miri could hear only the muffled thunking of the dory as the gentle lapping of the waves trapped pockets of air under its hull. For an eternity, they waited. There was some movement on the nearby ship, but the Romans remained on board.
Pelagius decided they should take the boat and, by hugging the shore, and skirting the Roman ships, head out of the sea and travel west, and rescue who they could. “We’ll ferry the crew to the next island, and regroup!” he said, “Everyone get aboard!”
Silently the adults joined the twins in the dory. Pelagius and Eleazar, took an oar each, and to make sure they did not squeak in the oarlocks, used them like paddles, and they slipped silently past the first Roman ship, hugging the western shoreline of the small cove. As they pushed off, three men ran across the beach into the shallows to join them. Maximinus and Sidonius and the sailor who had opposed Maximinus’ freedom lifted themselves into the boat. Their splashing had attracted the attention of a Roman sentry, and they all froze, as the man reached the rail, but the darkness was deep enough to cover their presence on the water. They all breathed a sigh of relief as they rounded the western headland, and were out of the sightline of the Romans. Pelagius fitted the tiller and rudder to the transom, and Sidonius and Maximinus fitted the oars into oarlocks, and began rowing in earnest. The boat scraped rocks close in to the shore, so they headed further out from the coastline in order to avoid scraping the rocks. But they encountered a strong westerly push.
“The current is taking us out!” said Pelagius in alarm. There were only two oars in the boat. The other four had been left on the beach, still marking the goalposts of the kickball game. They didn’t have enough power to cross against the current and were being swept westward. Drusilla told the men to stop rowing and save their strength.
“Do we have a sail?” asked Pelagius.
“On the ship!” answered the sailor.
“Now what?” asked Martha, staring out at the black sea. Clouds were crossing the sky, blotting out the stars.
“We pray!” said Pelagius.
3“There is no need,” said Yusef, suddenly struck by an epiphany, “We are already in the hands of God!”