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The Alexander Inheritance: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Monday, July 10, 2017 20:44 EDT



Queen of the Sea
October 20

    Captain Lars Floden felt like a coward and a traitor as he turned the Queen to go after the Reliance. But he had a responsibility to the passengers and crew of the Queen. They needed that fuel. They couldn’t afford the chance that some accident in the battle at Rhodes would leave the Reliance aflame and all her fuel up in smoke.

    So he did what he had to, hating himself all the while. The Reliance left on the route to Rhodes almost twenty-four hours ago, which put the Queen well behind. It was going to be close, even with the Queen’s higher speed.



October 21

    Rhodes was in sight and the Reliance had clearly been seen. In the dawn’s early light, the Rhodians were putting to sea. Three triremes were heading out to meet them and Joe Kugan wondered where the rest were. Metello was sure there would be a bunch here.

    “Run them down, Captain,” Metello said. “Steer straight for them. My men will deal with any of the crew that manage to board.”

    Joe did as he was told. The Reliance, with Barge 14 attached, wasn’t exactly spry. She had powerful engines and controlled thrust, but a barge full of fuel wasn’t easy to shift. She was close to as fast as the triremes, but she couldn’t maneuver like they could.

    So what followed was a slow-motion game of tag. The Reliance would head for a trireme, and the trireme would turn and race away, then try to come at the Reliance from the side or rear. One unfortunate trireme managed to close on the Reliance and found out what the backwash from eleven thousand horses did to the local currents. It survived but lost about half its oars, and was out of the fight for a while.

    “Reliance, this is the Queen of the Sea. What are you doing?”

    It blared over the speakers in the pilot house, and Metello went a little white. He had no idea what was said, but he had to know what it meant. Joe checked the radar and there it was, big as a mountain rising out of the southwestern sea. Still half an hour out, but coming on.

    Joe still didn’t have much Greek and he wasn’t of a mind to try just now. He turned to Metello and said in English, “You’re toast, sucker!” Then he grinned like an idiot through his busted lip and missing teeth.

    “Go there!” Metello pointed at the harbor, where until just a few years ago the Colossus of Rhodes had stood.

    Joe started to comply. He was cowed by this bastard, as much as he hated to admit it. But an ATB the size of the Reliance doesn’t do anything fast. There was time for Joe to consider the consequences. He realized that if the Reliance grounded Barge 14, there would be no escape. In desperation, he hit the emergency stop, and the engines came to a stuttering halt.

    Metello looked at Joe, and Joe looked back. Metello reached for his sword, and Joe lunged. He was desperate, but Metello was just that much faster, with reflexes honed by years of combat. Joe never laid a hand on him as Metello sidestepped and brought his kopis down on the back of Joe’s neck.

    With the ship stopped, the Rhodians saw their chance and pulled alongside to board. But they didn’t have it all their own way. There were two thousand troops camped on Barge 14, and by now they were at least fairly familiar with the hardware that dotted the hull, making defensive works.

    By the time the Queen of the Sea actually got there, the Rhodians had been pushed back to their ships, with considerable losses on both sides.



Queen of the Sea
October 21

    “Are there any of our people in view?” Captain Floden asked Staff Captain Dahl.

    “Not that I can see, Captain.”

    “Fine, then. Clear that deck, but keep the muzzle velocity low. We don’t want any of our shells poking holes in the Reliance.” One of the nice things about a steam cannon is that, to an extent, it has a modifiable muzzle velocity, and therefore adjustable penetrating power. The power a one-pound lead bullet needed to pulp a human chest, even an armored human chest, is considerably less than the muzzle velocity necessary for that same shell to punch through one-eighth inch steel plate.

    The crew of the Queen had made lots of bullets for the steam guns.

    Two thousand armed and armored soldiers crowded onto the Reliance. They couldn’t have spread out if they wanted to and they didn’t know enough to want to. They clumped together to provide mutual protection and support and the one pound rounds of the steam cannon went through two or three men to finally lodge in a fourth.

    It didn’t take long for the deadly rain of lead bullets to have their effect. People started screaming that they surrendered. These were tough men who would readily face other men in battle with sword and shield, but invisible death that ripped a man in two and sounded like Zeus on a rampage…? That they weren’t willing to face.



    They surrendered, but could that surrender be trusted? Could Lars send people across to the Reliance without knowing that?

    “We’re ready, Captain,” came Daniel Lang’s voice over the speakers.

    “All right. Pull us alongside.” Then, into the mike, “Dan, don’t take any chances. If any of them give you any trouble at all, just shoot them.”

    “Right, Captain. Police brutality coming right up.”

    The Queen came up alongside the Reliance and a massive porthole opened to reveal men in glowing white uniforms with little metal things in their hands. The little metal things looked harmless, and the only ship people these men had contact with till now were the unarmed crew of the Reliance and the equally unarmed work crew. They didn’t know. Still, the rain of death from above kept most of them in check.

    Most of them.

    Daniel Lang would never know whether the Macedonian soldier who charged him was desperate or just saw an opportunity. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Dan had done twenty years as an MP and another ten as a cruise ship cop, and never even drawn his gun in anger.

    Didn’t mean he didn’t know how.

    The gun came up, he hollered half in Greek and half in English. He’d been practicing. The man didn’t halt.

    Dan fired. Blam, blam, blam! Three in the chest. They punched right through the guy’s bronze armor. That halted him and more. He went down on his back. It was close enough to what had been raining on them, louder even. Now they knew.

    The order to drop their weapons was given again. Those who hadn’t already done so dropped their weapons.



    Goran looked at the men. Wait! Is that a woman? Yes, it was. Dark-skinned, long black hair tied back, wearing the same whiter-than-white clothing as the rest. And holding death in her right hand, just like the men. But she had tits. Nice ones too, best he could tell. And no man had a waist and hips like that.

    His observations nearly got him killed. Not because the woman was offended, but just because he was so busy staring that he almost missed the order to get on his knees. Fortunately, they were repeating the orders twice before they killed people over them.

    Goran got to live. He went to his knees on the decking wet with blood and waited. He put his hands behind his head and interlaced his fingers just as the voice from nowhere told him to, and as he did he realized that it was an effective method of restraint. Not because you couldn’t unlace your fingers, but because it took time and was pretty obvious. These people must be great slavers, they were so practiced at restraining captives.

    He looked over at the woman. By now he had seen other women among their captors, but he thought of her as the woman. She had a set of bindings and was going along behind the kneeling men, taking one hand and binding it behind their back to the other hand, while a man with death in his right hand held death pointed at the captive.

    Goran let his hands be bound. She wasn’t gentle about it, but neither was she vicious. She was just efficient.

    There was a shout in their tongue, and then what sounded like orders. About half the white suits went off to do something. Goran considered. Probably they had found the crew. Goran had come on at Tyre, so he hadn’t had much to do with the crew of the little boat that pushed the big boat.



    “Captain, we have a ship. A galley, but only two rows of oars. It’s heading for us and there is some guy in the front waving some branches at us. I don’t know if he’s suing for peace or trying to drive off evil spirits.”

    “I’m not entirely sure, either, Captain,” Marie Easley put in. “I would guess suing for peace. I think those are olive branches.”

    “Talk to them, Professor Easley,” Captain Floden said. “Tell them to stand off while we deal with the Reliance. Tell them we’ll send a boat to talk to them after we’re done.”

    Marie waited for the comm officer to cue her, then spoke. The ship stopped, but the guy with the branches started yelling. It was too far and the accent was weird enough that she wasn’t sure what the guy was yelling about, but it seemed urgent. Or at least, he seemed to think it was urgent.



    “I think I’d better go have a talk with them, Captain Floden,” Marie said. “The Rhodians were the England of the eastern Med at this time. As in ‘Rhodes rules the waves.’ They probably have more in common with our modern form of government than the Athenians do.”

    “Fine, Marie. After Mr. Lang has secured the prisoners on the Reliance, I will have him provide you with an escort and one of the converted life boats to go chat with the Roadies.”

    It took time. There were a lot of troops on the decks of the Reliance, nearly two thousand before the shooting started and nearly fifteen hundred after it was all over. After twenty-five percent casualties, there was no organized resistance, but Daniel Lang was taking no chances on people going there. And rightly so. There were two more shooting incidents when individual mercenaries from Tyre went berserk.

    It was just on three hours later and approaching noon, when Marie Easley, Daniel Lang, and Officer Arti Young boarded the converted lifeboat for the trip to the Rhodian ship. It was fancy and sleek, if smaller than the warships, a ship of diplomacy.

    “We will need to go aboard,” Marie told Daniel. This was less from her reading than from discussions with Atum, Ptolemy, Dinocrates and other merchants and military officers after they arrived in Egypt. Refusing to board was both an admission that you were afraid and an insult to the integrity of the other ship or people. That was why Atum had been willing to board the Queen in the first place. On the other hand, taking guards was just prudence.



    Once they boarded, they were met by Nauarch Demaratos, who informed them that the ship — he pointed at the Reliance — had been involved in an act of piracy in the very harbor of Rhodes and was therefore the property of Rhodes. And, while Rhodes and its people were thankful for the aid, that didn’t entitle them to seize the property of Rhodes.

    “We have a prior claim. The ship was taken by an act of piracy a few days ago and we have been following it to get it back. Many of the crew are still alive and were taken prisoner by the pirates and the captain of the ship was killed only a short time before we arrived.”

    “So you claim. But there is no evidence, and even were it true, it doesn’t change the fact that the ship was part of an invasion attempt, and someone has to pay for the deaths of our people killed in that attack.”

    Marie was not just a scholar anymore. She had been, of necessity, involved in the negotiations in Alexandria everyday, ever since their arrival…and she had learned. This was a starting position of negotiation, but the negotiations were going to take some time.



    Anders Dahl looked out the bridge windows, down at the Reliance and its still blood-soaked deck. “With Joe Kugan dead the Reliance is going to need a new captain.”

    “You want it, Anders?”

    “No, I do not, Captain. With all due respect to the Reliance and even considering the new circumstances, captain of an articulated tug barge is a demotion from staff captain on the Queen. I was thinking Elise.” Elise Beaulieu was the first officer navigation, which was the senior navigation watch stander. While not next in rank after the staff captain, it was the next in line ship’s command. And with the loss of navigational satellites, her training in navigation was even more vital. Both ships had radar and sonar, so with care were unlikely to run up on the rocks. They had radio communications and shared observations and could sometimes get directional fixes. But both ships would be using clocks, sextants and star sightings to determine their locations, along with inertial and magnetic compasses.

    “I will pass, mon capitaine.” Though French, Elise spoke with very little accent unless she was upset. “I will stay here on this large ship, with good food, clean sheets, and laws against rape.”

    Everyone turned to look at Adrian Scott, the second officer navigation. “Hey, wait a minute, Captain,” Adrian offered. “This is ancient Greece. I have more to worry about in the rape department than Elise does.”

    “Don’t worry about it, Adrian,” Elise said. “You’re no Johnny Depp.”

    “I do all right, Elise.”

    “I know, Adrian. I just don’t understand why,” Elise said. Then she turned back to the captain. “Still, Captain, if someone is going to be sent off to be raped by barbarians, I vote for Adrian.”

    “Gee, thanks,” Adrian said to general laughter.

    The laughter might have had a slightly hysterical edge to it. The deck of the Reliance was still covered in blood and gore, and the captain they were getting ready to replace had been murdered earlier in the day.

    “Well, Adrian, do you want it, or do we send out poor Doug?”

    Adrian looked over at Elise. “You sure? You deserve it, you know, and I don’t want to step on your toes.”

    “I’m sure, Adrian,” Elise said.

    “I’ll take it, Captain,” Adrian said. “We must protect Douglas here from the rapacious Greeks at all costs.”

    Captain Floden nodded. “Thank you, Adrian. I hate putting you off the ship, but someone has to captain the Reliance. It’s bad enough that Dag and his people are sitting on Tyre while we negotiate with yet another group of rapacious Greeks.”



October 20

    Young Alexander had not liked losing his chew toy. He screamed himself hoarse and managed to develop a cough.

    Roxane heard about Keith buying materials for a poultice, and after consulting with Keith about it, Dag agreed with the queen that a blackmud poultice would be good for Alexander. Just make sure it was kept moist.

    For the next three days, Dag and Roxane used the translation app on Dag’s phone to discuss politics and their situation, with Kleitos looking on. Dag was six foot two, with blond hair and blue eyes. He had a square jaw and was clean-shaven when he could manage it, and with the money he had made from the sale of the phone, he could manage it. To put it another way, he was a handsome young man and Roxane was an acknowledged beauty. Maybe not up to Helen of Troy, but only maybe. They played with the baby and talked.



    “Should we put a stop to it?” Evgenij asked Kleitos.

    “What difference does it make?” Kleitos shrugged. “You know she’s going to be married to whoever wins.”

    “That or dead. Sure. But a little blond bastard might confuse things.”

    “We won’t let it get that far. It’s not like they have time alone.”

    “Might not be a bad thing at that,” Evgenij said. “Did you see the size of that ship? And it was just the fuel tender for the other. Those ships change things.”

    “No. Men are men. Always will be. Things stay the same.”



Queen of the Sea, Rhodes Harbor
October 25

    Captain Floden smiled at the new captain of the Reliance. “You’ll do fine, Adrian.”

    “Not a problem, Captain. Reliance and Barge 14 together are as seaworthy as the Queen,” Adrian Scott, the new captain of the Reliance said, and it was almost true. The ATB was smaller than the Queen, but it locked up tighter. Fully battened down, Barge 14 was as watertight as a submarine and constituted a massive flotation device that would keep the tug part of the system protected from the worst of any storm. It wasn’t the ocean that worried Captain Floden. It was pirates.

    “How about the crossbows? You have enough?”

    “One for every man in the crew and another twenty in the arms locker,” Adrian said. This time his smile was a bit twisted. Adrian was getting the worst of the malcontents from the Queen. Only about three hundred of them, but the really bad ones. They would be in tents set up on the hull of Barge 14. Those people would not be armed, except during designated practice times. And the reason for that was neither Lars Floden nor Adrian Scott trusted them with weapons. They weren’t prisoners, not exactly, but the choice to travel on the ATB rather than the Queen hadn’t been entirely voluntary.

    “Stay well away from land as much as you can and don’t put into shore till we reconnect,” Lars said, knowing even as he said it that Adrian knew it all perfectly well. “We’ll probably be stuck here until you’re past Gibraltar, then we have to go get Dag and his work crew. I don’t know how long that’s going to take.”



October 27

    The phone rang and Roxane almost dropped it. She was playing chess against the computer and losing, not surprisingly. Dag had showed her the game only days ago. She barely knew how the pieces moved. It rang again and the little green symbol had a circle around it that was expanding. Roxane had been playing with the phone whenever it had enough charge since she had bought it, either using it as translator or playing games. She knew about tapping or swiping. She tried tapping first, then swiping. Swiping worked and a voice came over the phone. Not the voice she knew from the translation app, but a different one, speaking Dag’s English. Roxane had maybe ten words of English. She tried one. “Hello?”

    “Hello,” then gibberish ending with “Dag Jakobsen” came over the phone.

    “Roxane,” Roxane said. “Phone mine.”

    Roxane turned to one of the Silver Shields who was always with her. “Find Dag and bring him.”

    The Silver Shield nodded, but didn’t leave. Instead he gestured at another guard, who ran off in search of Dag.




    Dag was showing Alexander how to make a paper airplane, or rather a papyrus airplane. He had just tossed the airplane when the guard came in and it flew right past the startled man.

    “Roxane wants you,” the guard said.

    That phrase was familiar to Dag and he picked up Alexander — decked out in a black powder poultice — and headed for the queen’s sitting room. Dag now had a pouch at his waist with a grenade in it and a Zippo lighter loaded with lamp oil in his pocket.

    When he got to the sitting room, Roxane held out the phone. “It talked English,” she said in Greek.

    Dag walked across the sitting room and exchanged the toddler king for the phone and saw bars. He called up the phone function and found a recent call from the ship. He called back and got Captain Floden asking for a situation report. The conversation ended with, “We’ll be there in about three hours, Dag. Be ready.”

    By that time, everyone was watching and apparently getting a bit impatient.

    “The Queen of the Sea is coming to get us,” Dag said, looking around the room. There were half a dozen Silver Shields in the room, including Evgenij, who had apparently arrived just ahead of Dag.

    “What about the fuel ship, the Reliance, you called it?” Kleitos asked, coming into the room.

    “What about the Reliance?” Dag asked the phone.

    “The Reliance is now in our hands,” Doug Warren explained. “Captain Scott has been given command and the remaining crew have agreed to the sale of the Reliance to the government of the ship people for a fee in ship’s dollars. It’s a pretty damn large fee, but not unreasonable, Ms. Kinney says. Dag, those steam guns are murder, absolute murder. You know how they talk about stuff being awash with blood? Well, the Reliance really was.”

    Dag wished Doug were speaking Greek. It might persuade the locals to be reasonable. He looked over at Kleitos. Or…maybe not. If one thing more than any other had impressed him about the Macedonian mercenary, it was that he didn’t scare easily. That was actually something Dag liked about the man.

    “They took it back from your pirates,” he told Kleitos.

    “Not my pirates,” Kleitos said. “What happened to Metello?”

    “What happened to Metello?” Dag asked the phone.

    “That was kind of a mess, Dag,” Doug said. “The Rhodians wanted all this stuff in recompense for the Reliance being involved in attacking them. First they wanted the Reliance, then they wanted all sorts of promises about the Reliance and the Queen, then they wanted all the Macedonian troops as slaves, and on and on. Anyway, when Wiley heard about the slave part, he started screaming that he would not see free men made slaves. ‘It was hard enough to stand idly by while the horrible inequity was practiced.’ As though the captain would have done it anyway. And then…well, never mind. The captain finally had enough. He had Metello tried for piracy on the high seas and hung right in front of the Rhodies. And the passengers.”

    “What did Wiley say to that?”

    “Funny thing. He backed the captain right down the line. He’s still making speeches about it.”

    Dag turned back to Kleitos. “My captain had him hung.”

    “Your device said more than that.”

    “Apparently, he did it right in front of the Rhodians. I’m not clear on the details, but they were making claims against the Reliance or something, and the captain decided to make a point.”

    Dag was watching Kleitos as he spoke, and Kleitos was looking more grim at each word.

    “The rest of the soldiers?” Kleitos asked.

    Dag remembered Doug’s comment about awash with blood and started to feel a bit grim himself. But he passed on the question. “What about the rest of the pirates? I know they loaded up a bunch when they got here. You can’t have killed them all.”

    “No. Mostly they decided that the soldiers were just following orders and not responsible. But there were a couple, the ones directly involved in killing Julio, that they hung. Most of the soldiers are on the Queen, disarmed and locked in, eight to a stateroom. The captain wants to put them off here, but not as slaves.”

    Dag considered quickly. “What about the rest?”

    “Dead,” Doug said. “Either in the fight or soon after. Like I said, those steam cannon are murder.”

    Dag turned back to Kleitos and the rest. “A lot of your fellows were killed in the fighting. The rest will be returned after my companions and I have been freed. And, of course, the young king and the queen can come with us.” Dag wasn’t sure, then or ever, why he had said it. Something in Roxane’s expression, or maybe just something he wanted to be there. But the idea of sailing off on the Queen of the Sea, leaving her and little Alexander to the not-so-tender mercies of these hard men was more than he could face.

    Right up to Dag’s mentioning Roxane and Alexander, Kleitos had been half nodding. But as soon as the suggestion about Roxane left Dag’s lips, his face changed.

    “I have my orders,” Kleitos said. “Attalus doesn’t want Alexander to leave the island till he gets back.”

    “I’m not leaving my son,” Roxane said instantly. Then she added to Kleitos, “But you have no authority to prevent me from leaving.”

    Dag was looking around the room. The Silver Shields seemed of two minds about what to do. Then he saw Evgenij’s expression and somehow he knew. Evgenij was in on it with Kleitos. At any moment, he would give the order. Dag was sure. So sure that he turned away, put the phone in his pocket, and pulled the grenade out of its pouch. With his other hand, Dag reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the Zippo lighter.

    “I have the money I was paid and Attalus’ orders. That’s all the authority I need,” Kleitos said. Then, apparently seeing Dag’s movement, “What are you doing?”

    With a flick of his thumb, Dag opened the lighter and struck the flint. He turned back to Kleitos and lit the fuse. “Making a point.” Dag watched the fuse as it burned, then tossed the grenade. “Catch.”

    As soon as the grenade was out of his hand, he turned, spread his arms wide, and pulled Roxane and Alexander to the floor behind the couch.

    There was a pause and Dag though he hadn’t let the fuse burn down enough, that it was all going to end in disaster…then boom.

    A boom and screaming. Dag stood up and looked around. Kleitos had been holding the grenade when it went off. He was dead and his right arm, the one that held the grenade, was gone to the elbow and shredded beyond that. Not that it mattered. The shrapnel, small bits of iron that were in the casing with the powder, had filled him with more holes than Dag could count. But the shock wave had probably killed him. There wasn’t that much bleeding.

    Not from Kleitos, anyway. One of the Silver Shields had apparently stepped over to see what the grenade was. He was still bleeding and screaming. The rest of them were staring at the mess in a sort of shocked horror.

    Then Evgenij looked over at Dag. “Stop!” Dag shouted. “That was what we could make in a few days while under guard. What do you think will come off the ship if you do us harm?”

    Evgenij stopped and stared. By now the outer edge of the room was crowded with Silver Shields.

    A voice from behind the Silver Shields came in “You want us to blow our way in, Mr. Jakobsen?”

    “Hold what you got, Keith,” Dag shouted. Then to Evgenij, “Choose now, Commander, whose side are you on.”

    Evgenij looked at Dag, then the mess on the floor. Then, oddly enough, he looked at Roxane and he wasn’t looking at her like his prisoner or his charge. He was looking to her for orders. Dag could see it in the old man’s expression. This was so far beyond his experience that a horse might as well have sung Pavarotti right there in the sitting room. Roxane might not be brave, but everyone knew that she was almost as smart as she was beautiful. Smart was clearly what was needed right now.

    Roxane saw it too, and Dag wasn’t altogether pleased by the little smile that lit her face. It wasn’t a very nice smile. It was calculating. “The Silver Shields,” Roxane said, “are the royal bodyguards. They will remain loyal to me and my son.” A short pause. “Won#8217;t you, Evgenij?”

    “Yes, Your Highness.”

    “Very well,” Dag said. “Now for the important question, Roxane. Are you and little Alexander staying here or coming with us?”

    For just a moment, the queen mother of King Alexander IV, co-ruler of the Macedonian Empire, stood like a deer in headlights. Then that little smile came back. It was still small, and still calculating, but there was a little less frost in it. The hint of warmth that might be there, hidden under the habit of fear and caution. “We will go with the ship people. That is the wisest course.”

    “Evgenij, have your people let mine through.” Dag gave the order now, confident that it would be obeyed. “I’m going to let the ship know what’s going on.”

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