Greetings friends. This is the prologue for another story that I've been working on for some time now. It is a work in progress and it is going to be quite a long story; 300+ pages in the end. There will be sex, but not for a many chapters yet. So, sit back, grab a drink and enjoy. Feel free to post or PM me if you have any questions.
More than 10,000 years ago civilization flourished. A seafaring kingdom arose that spread art, architecture, technology and agriculture to every corner of the globe. More advanced in many aspects than the ancient Greeks and Romans, their shipcraft was unequaled by any other civilization during the entire age of sail. For over a thousand years they stood as the virtually unchallenged rulers of the world.
In a single night of fire and terror Atlantis was wiped from the face of the earth forever. In the space of a single heartbeat, 100,000 years of uninterrupted human evolution came to an end. A comet the size of a small mountain made landfall carving out what is now known as Hudson Bay, spinning the earth's crust on its mantle; shifting the poles by over 2,000 miles. The ice sheets of the last ice age were suddenly shifted to temperate climates while large parts of the Asian continent were forced above the Arctic Circle. The last ice age came to an end in the geologic blink of an eye,
The Earth rang like a bell from the impact as the shock wave traveled completely around the world several times. Every living thing that was not sheltered high in inland mountains was incinerated by the global firestorm that followed the impact; or obliterated by the miles-high tidal wave that followed, striking every coastline on the planet and sweeping hundreds of miles inland.
The apocalypse left only a few primitive tribes living in fear for generations. What pitifully little was left of mankind started over from the ashes. So complete was the destruction that it took millennia before even the simplest forms of writing were reinvented. Yet a legend echoed down through the ages of a young woman who came up from out of the sea in the aftermath of that holocaust...
Chapter 1) Maia
There are those who say time is a river, flowing implacably from the beginning to the end. They are wrong; speaking only from the brief experience of a few short years of life.
Time is an ocean; vast and endless, spreading out in all directions at once, and we are all adrift on it. With proper rudder and sails we can attempt to control our destiny; but the currents are uncharted and unchartable. Great and terrible storms have blown across the ocean of time, storms which have been known to wipe entire civilizations from the earth; to erase their histories from history.
My name is Maia, and I am immortal. I have walked the earth and sailed her seas for day after lonely day beyond count. I was ancient when the pyramids of Egypt were built. I have seen civilizations rise and fall, or destroyed so utterly by war or calamity, that their existence has been lost to time. I remember them all.
Come learned reader, sit and take your ease to hear the tale of how the journey began. Of how I, a simple girl with simple dreams came to be queen of the world, and then unknown. A story of adventure and terror, of great love and greater loss, the end of the world and the apocalyptic fall of the greatest Empire ever created and how the world was reborn.
I was fifteen when I was cast adrift on the ocean of time...
I was born in the port city of Katai, off the coast of what is now modern day Japan; about eleven-and-a-half thousand years before Christ. Katai was ancient even then and majestic. For nearly a thousand years her walls stood untouched by foreign army; that was soon to change. From the founding of the city her ships ruled the Pacific and Indian oceans, trading with the Asian continent and eastern Africa. However, generation by generation, century by century, that territory was ceded to the great dark-hulled ships of the Empire. City after city, kingdom after kingdom fell or capitulated until at last, in all the world, only Katai stood against it.
Even in the cities waning years, life was peaceful and idyllic, yet at the same time busy and bustling. It was the strange sort of peaceful that you can only find in a port city. Every morning, fleets of fishing boats would sail out through the Lumere; the great arched sea-gate, to return on the evening tide with the day's haul. Large ocean-going ships would lead or follow with the tide, some never to return.
When I was ten, my little sister Amana and I used to climb to the top of the terraced pyramid of the temple of Lumis, to watch the ships come and go. At the top was the nausca, a pair of intersecting trenches carved an arm-length wide and deep across the entire top of the obsidian capstone, polished to a glass smooth finish. The nausca precisely marked the cardinal points, north south, east and west. The two of us would wander up and down those tracks watching for ships, so we could go down to the docks and talk to the incoming mariners about the rest of the world. Our Ata (father) was the king's chief ambassador, so we were constantly exposed to and taught other languages; an area where I proved to be quite gifted. By my tenth birthday, I could speak all seven languages of our primary trading partners. When I was eight; however, four of those cities fell to the Empire.
One summer day, as Amana and I stood in the nausca we spotted many unfamiliar sails creeping over the northern horizon. We watched in wonder as the group of ships approached. As they drew nearer our wonder turned to horror. Ata had told tales of the black trimaran hulls of the Empire. Only Ata and a handful of people had ever actually seen them, fewer still had lived to tell the tale. Yet here they were; a fleet thirty strong, making for the Lumere.
Ata owned a priceless treasure, taken from the only imperial ship our fleet had ever managed to capture. It was a long bronze tube with a polished piece of glass at either end. If you looked through one end, it made things far away appear closer. If Ata had ever found out that I had been sneaking out with it, he would have made me regret that I had ever been born.
I peered through the telescope at the incoming ships. Their tanned crews scurrying about the decks, stowing sails and breaking out oars. As they drew nearer I could see only a few weapons. Perhaps they wouldn't attack.
These were the demons that haunted our dreams. Everyone knew the stories. The Empire sacrificed young maidens to their dark sea-god, and devoured infants as part of the Pact. This was how they gained the arcane lore to build their great ships; ships that could outrun anything else on the waves. Only the wind could keep pace with those unholy hulls. Mothers would use the tales to scare their children into obedience. "Be good or the sea-reavers will come and spirit you away." "Be good or the sea-reavers will make a dinner out of you." "Be good or the sea-reavers will come and make plaything for their demon-god!"
From the watchtowers on the sea-wall (which were almost as high as we were) came a sound that had not been heard in years, the alarm bell. The great bronze bell; three times the height of a man, sat atop the eastern tower, and on a good day was capable of giving off a peal that could be heard for more than ten leagues. With a slow steady beat, it warned of incoming storms from the sea, which were frequent during the summer. Now, two frantic guards with hammers beat on it for all they were worth; pounding out a staccato rhythm of fear.
The city suddenly exploded with activity. Below us was a boiling beehive of people running to safety or to arms. In the harbor, our triremes began casting off less than half crewed. We watched, wondering who would reach the gate first. Suddenly, a loud piercing whistle arose from the palace. Moments later, for the first time in my life; the gates of the Lumere slowly, ponderously, swung shut.
I turned the telescope to see the king race from the palace in his chariot; Ata, the chiefs and king's advisors close behind. We watched as the royal party wound its way through the city to the harbor at breakneck speed. So intent were they in their race to the harbor that many people had to dive out of the way to avoid being trampled.
Turning my attention back to the incoming fleet I saw that all but two of the imperial ships had dropped sail and come to a halt about a mile short of the walls. One ship continued in towards the Lumere under oar, while the second turned under sail toward Iulia, the sacred isle, three miles down the coast. Would they desecrate the isle by setting foot there? Would they sack the temple; which stood unoccupied and undefended on all but the holiest days? These were the kind of sacrileges that the sea-reavers were known for.
The ship approached under oar, coming to a halt about a hundred feet shy of the sea-gate. Curiously, there was no fire from the walls as I would have expected, however, the guards looked as though they were ready to bury the ship under a hail of arrows. On the bow of the ship stood a man in a gleaming bronze helmet, who appeared to be shouting up to the guards. Sadly, this happened over a mile away, so we couldn't hear anything that was said.
This entire time Amana had been whining at me to let her look. I finally relented, warning that if she dropped it, I'd pitch her from the temple and see if she could learn to fly. Fortunately, I've always had very sharp eyes. The king and his entourage must have reached the harbor because the royal galley was pulling away from the docks and heading for the Lumere, where ten other triremes had formed a barricade just inside the gate.
The royal galley pulled up to the sea-gate and stopped; moments later the imperial ship crept forward until both ships sat only a few feet apart, on either side of the gate. All things seemed to come to a halt at that point, so I looked off toward Iulia as the other ship sailed around it once and headed back to join its companions. I could see the truth of the legends. The speed of the ship was such that it practically skimmed the waves, making the trip to the island and back in less than half the time of our fastest craft.
"I can't hear what they're saying;" said Amana excitedly, "let's go down there."
"Closer to those barbarians is the last place in the world we need to be;" I replied with exasperation. "Don't worry, Ata will tell us all about it, he always does. Now shut up and give me back the telescope."
"But it's still my turn... ," she whined.
"It's an awfully long drop."
She pouted and handed the tube back. No one goes through life without accumulating a list of regrets which weigh on us. Looking back over nearly a hundred and thirty-six centuries, my greatest regret is not having been a better sister.
We watched for over an hour as the king and the man in the gleaming helmet spoke heatedly from either side of the gate. Finally, the imperial ship backed away, came about and put up her sails. A great cheer went up throughout the city as the entire fleet raised their sails and turned about, gathering speed on the wind. They departed as quickly as they had come; disappearing over the horizon like ghosts. The relief of the city was palpable, there would be no war today. Our greatest enemy had come right up to the city gates, and left without firing a shot.
Ata didn't come home till very late that night. When he did, he wouldn't speak of the conversation between the king and the man from the Empire; not even to Ama (mother). He just sat in his chair all night stroking his beard, looking grim. The next day he was gone early, his armour and weapons with him. Ultimately, we had to resort to prying information out of the sailors who had been there. Very few, it seemed, wished to speak of it. Finally we were able to piece together that our last three allies, the cities of Xiana, Wat and Ngoro-tai had all switched allegiance to the Empire. All trade to Katai was now cut off. We were alone.
Even at the tender age of ten, I knew that trade was quite literally, the life-blood of the city. Our kingdom was mountainous with little farmable land; and since its founding, the city of Katai had swollen to more than half a million people. Even with fishing, we couldn't produce enough food for everyone. To add insult to injury; with foreign trade suspended, much of the population would be out of work.
Two days later the king announced the embargo; the effect was immediate. Half the population started screaming for war against Xiana and Ngoro-tai, our nearest neighbors; the other half rioted in the streets. The king called for calm in the city but his words fell on deaf ears. Finally he was forced to call out the army to quell the riots. The mood of the city became somber and listless; like a condemned man, resigned to his fate, just waiting for the axe to fall.
Ata and the other advisors remained with the king for nearly a week in council. Ama, Amana and I spent the entire time out with our household servants buying what foods and necessities we could before the price gouging became too bad. We all knew how to fish and Ata had taught me to use a bow (he even had one made for me that I could draw, albeit with some difficulty), so we knew that we weren't likely to starve when times started to get lean. Katai was built around the mouth of a large river, and as such, had an excellent fresh water supply. Food-stores however, were a different issue. Sadly, the thought of a complete embargo hadn't been seriously entertained in perhaps centuries. Without a more or less constant flow of ships coming in, the city had enough food-stores to last less than six months. Times would get lean; we simply could not have imagined just how lean they would get.
Finally, after days of being sequestered, Ata returned home. Sadly it was not to be for long. The decision had been made to go to war and the preparations were already under way. That night as Amana and I were laying in bed (pretending sleep) I heard Ata telling Ama that there would be raids against Ngoro-tai's shipping first to bolster our supplies before an all out attack on Xiana. The fleet was almost ready and the shipyard was stepping up production.
The next day, our family went to pray and make sacrifices at the temple of Lumis for a safe voyage and successful endeavor. Lumis was god of the sea, of sailors and patron of desperate situations. If ever a situation needed his help, this was it.
A great bull was slaughtered and Ata was washed in its blood, his armour and weapons likewise washed. The high priest read the entrails, with the proclamation that not only would the war be short and decisive, but that Ata had found favor in the eyes of Lumis and that his bloodline would be carried until the end of the world and after. With that,.our entire household was blessed. Ata and the priests then took some of the blood down to the harbor to bless his ship. I desperately wanted to go with them and watch, but only men were allowed to witness this ceremony.
Ata's ship was the first to receive such blessing, for the king had ordered that the high priest be taken out to Iulia on that ship to pray for our people at the temple there. Amana and I had friends among the city guards, so we were able to get onto the seawall and watch as his ship slipped out through the Lumere, dipped all one hundred and twenty oars to into the water and slowly gathered speed toward for the island. They would beach the ship there overnight, but the only one who would leave the ship and actually touch the island was the high priest. The entire crew would stay on board and wait for the next tide to carry them free. From atop the arch of the Lumere we dropped flowers for Ata and the crew as they slowly left the harbor and seemingly inched their way into open water. Ata looked up at us through his telescope, smiled and blew us a kiss. A couple of the crew followed suit earning what sounded like some rather harsh words from Ata, though we couldn't quite make out what he was saying. We would have waited for him all night up on the Lumere, but the tower guards shooed us off not long after the ship made land on Iulia.
Ata returned the next morning a few hours before dawn. I was awakened by the muffled groans and hushed cursing of him bumping into things in the dark. He was a giant of a man for the time period, towering a little over six feet in height, and he never did learn to be stealthy. I lay in bed and listened as he undressed and joined Ama in bed. Then I tried (unsuccessfully) to NOT listen as they said their own private good-byes.
The fleet sailed later that day on the afternoon tide. It seemed like the entire city turned out to see them off, and the mood was celebratory. Katai was going to strike a resounding blow at the enemy. The Empire would soon learn that this kingdom was still a force to be reckoned with. Every ship in Katai had been pressed into service, more than three hundred and fifty in all. We accompanied Ata to his ship on the overcrowded docks. He kissed Ama until Amana and I were ready to be sick, then embracing us said; "Maia, Amana, listen to your ama. I'm counting on you two to help her. If you're good, and say all your prayers, I'll bring you each a present."
With that he turned and climbed aboard his ship. King Iliak's ship was already pulling away from the dock. This time, the three of us: Ama, Amana and I, raced to the top of the seawall to watch from the Lumere as his ship set sail. For as long as we had them, we dropped flowers on every ship as it passed under the arch and raised sails. It was a truly awe-inspiring sight to see such a massive fleet all setting off at once and sailing down the coast. As they disappeared over the horizon I had to wonder how many of them would return. One look at the expression on Ama's face told me that she was thinking the same thing.
Life went on in Katai; day followed day and night followed night as we waited for word of the fleet and the war. With King Iliak at sea, the city was run by queen Itsiyina. Ama was the Queen's cousin, so we had the royal family at the house frequently. They seemed to delight in throwing the young prince and me together and my embarrassment as they spoke of betrothal. I liked prince Ilimak, but not in that way. He was infuriatingly immature. He wore shoes topped in highly polished silver plates. I thought they looked hideous when I first saw them. My opinion went downhill when I caught him using them to try and peek up my dress. It took a couple of "accidents" with the soot bucket before he got the message and stopped wearing them.
Every chance Amana and I got, we would spend atop the temple of Lumis, watching the horizon for some sign of sails. My greatest fear was that the next sails we saw would be the enemy's. There were several powerful storms that summer. Every time we heard the alarm bell warn of an incoming storm, Ama became a nervous wreck. Amana and I spent whole days trying to calm and console both Ama and the queen. When we weren't at home helping Ama, we were at the palace learning to read and write. From the age of ten, I spent much of my time there, learning the ways of the court and helping the queen with weaving.
Summer passed and turned into early fall when the first ships returned. Ama, Amana and I had gone beyond the city walls to a semi-secluded cove to go fishing and to dive for pearls. Amana wasn't a very good swimmer, so while she worked a net in the shallows, Ama and I stripped down and went diving. After our third or forth dive, we came up to find Amana jumping up and down in the surf, screaming and pointing out to sea. I turned reflexively to look. At first we didn't see anything, being only a couple of inches above the water, but as we were lifted up on the next wave we could see sails, a lot of them.
I'd never seen Ama move so fast in all my life. She was half way back to shore before I realized that she wasn't next to me anymore. I headed back in with all the speed that I could muster from my ten-year-old arms and legs. By the time I reached the shore Ama and Amana were already dressed and impatient to go. I threw my dress on, grabbed Amana's net, handed Ama the two pearls I harvested and we sprinted back to the city.
As we ran down the beach I saw twelve of Katai's ships with what appeared to be an entire Ngoro trading fleet, thirty ships strong, in tow. We arrived at about the same time, Amana and I were about ready to die of exhaustion. Out of more than three hundred ships only twelve had returned, all of them showing signs of battle; Ata's ship was not one of them. Ama broke down on the spot and it took us a while to get her home and settled.
Later that evening I went to the docks in search of news. The docks were flooded with people unloading the captured ships. Finally, I managed to find someone I knew, a ship captain who was a friend of my Ata's. I was relieved to the point of tears to hear that Ata and the king were alive and well. The fleet had stalked the sea-lanes near Ngoro-tai for more than a month before finally beginning attacks. They had come upon a small trading fleet and had taken it with hardly a fight. The next fleet they encountered had been a large one under military escort. In the ensuing fight three ships had been lost and twelve damaged enough to force them to return home. King Iliak had ordered that the captured ships be brought home to Katai, unloaded and put into service under Katai's banner. With winter coming, the fleet would soon be home for the season, and then it would be on to Xiana.
Ama was overjoyed with the news, Ata was safe as recently as three weeks ago and would be home soon. Amana however, was inconsolable that Ata had not returned and cried herself to sleep that night. With the excitement, I was unable to get to sleep that night, so I slipped quietly out of the house.
Katai was a beautiful city during the day, but at night, with all the city lights burning, it could take your breath away. I walked for a while, just reveling in the idea of being out in the city alone after dark. As I wandered down along the docks, I started to get strange, and in some cases frightening looks from some of the men there. I began to realize that the docks weren't exactly the safest place for a girl to be after dark so I headed around the harbor to the seawall. I took the nearest set of stairs to the parapet but a little before the top I was stopped by a guard.
"What are you doing up here young lady?" he asked gruffly.
I hadn't seen him standing there and nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound of his voice. "J-just going for a walk;" I stammered, "I wanted to sit on the wall for a while."
He glowered down at me; "A little young to be walking the wall at night aren't you?" He looked me up and down, "Judging by the way you're dressed, you don't appear to need the money, so take my advice and go home before you get yourself into trouble. Or if you really must, the sailors and dockhands will take anything, even a slip of a girl like you. Trust me, you don't want to be up here at this hour."
"No buts!" He said angrily. "I've got better things to do tonight than look after a little girl who doesn't know where she ought not to be, now stand aside! Ladies, right this way."
I turned to see two attractive young women standing on the stair behind me. Bare from the waist up, they were wearing even less than I was. In those times it was customary for a woman to leave her right breast exposed; but with the exceptions of swimming and bathing, topless generally meant one thing. So this is what he had been talking about. The wall suddenly became just as alarming as the docks. The two prostitutes eyed me up and down with an irritated look. As they made their way past me on the stair one of them said to me; "This is our walk tonight little girl. Come back when you get some curves and we'll talk." I beat a hasty retreat.
I still wanted to find a place where I could watch the moon on the water. Making my way back into the city I headed for the temple of Lumis. The temple was about five hundred feet tall, so by the time I got to the top of the stairs I was breathing heavy and not paying attention. Stepping up onto the capstone I almost tripped over another business girl servicing a client. I beat another hasty retreat before they had much of a chance to notice me. The night was a washout, so I wound my way back home and snuck back into my bed.
Nobody noticed my late night excursion, and I didn't intend to mention it. With any luck there would be more, and there were. In fact, sneaking out at night sort of became a hobby, not to mention it was the only way that I could get any time to myself. I explored the city by night, with both caution and gusto. I was free, unfettered. Any night that was clear, I would climb the steps to the top of the great temple and sit for hours watching the moonlight on the sea; wondering what it would be like to be out on the sea on such a night. Usually, if I managed to get there first, the ladies of the night would take their patrons elsewhere. Sometimes I was the one who got chased off, and sometimes none of us would budge and we did our best to ignore each other's presence.
The fleet began returning home in groups of twenty to thirty, every few days. Each group towing no less than ten captured ships. With the food cargo alone, our stores would be extended an additional six months. Each time a group of ships would return Ama, Amana and I would hurry down to see if Ata's ship was among them, and begging the incoming ships for information when he wasn't.
About ten days before the start of winter, word reached our home that ships had been seen inbound. We dropped what we were doing and raced to the harbor. We got there just as the king's galley rowed in under the arch, Ata's ship just behind. A tremendous cheer went up throughout the city. Katai had struck back hard against those who had betrayed us, depriving Ngoro-tai of much needed supplies, ships and men. In all, the action cost us fifteen ships and about eight hundred men.
As promised, Ata brought us presents. For Ama, he brought a solid gold vase that was taller than I was and a bolt of the most beautiful cloth we had ever seen. Never in my life had I seen such a rich shade of green (and judging by the look on Ama's face, neither had she). I simply could not wait to see it made into a dress for her. Done right, the queen herself would turn a matching shade in envy. Ama could be queenly in her own right, and with this she could dress the part. Lastly he brought out a huge blanket, twice the size of their bed, made of the thickest, softest, most heavenly looking fur. Now I was green with envy. With winter sailing in through the Lumere as we spoke, pulling up to port and asking for a long term berth it was getting downright COLD at night. For Amana he brought a bolt of cloth identical to Ama's to start her dowry and a full length polished silver mirror. For me Ata pulled out of his bag a bolt of cloth that made Ama's almost look common. It was a material that none of us had ever seen. It was light yet very strong. The surface of it actually shined, almost as if polished. It was as smooth as polished marble yet as soft as water, and it was a shade of blue that you could fall into and keep falling forever, the color itself was almost luminescent. Much to my disappointment this cloth was for my dowry, not to be made into the most beautiful dress in all the world... yet.
As I was busy trying to squeeze my eyeballs back into their sockets, I barely registered Ata saying that he had one more thing for me. I hugged the cloth, I loved the cloth but as he pulled the next item out of one of his bags I dropped it onto the dirty floor and forgot that I had ever seen it. I stood there and stared for I don't know how long with my jaw agape. Finally I gathered the courage to reach up with a trembling hand and take the item that he held out for me; trying not to drop it, my eyes suddenly filled up with tears. In my hand sat a polished metal tube, a little longer than one of my arms. It was slightly larger at one end than the other and had a polished piece of glass at each end. At first I couldn't understand why he would give me his priceless telescope, and then I realized that the tube in my hand appeared to be made of solid gold, not bronze.
Ata noticed my bewilderment and said; "It's actually bronze. We don't know how, but they found a way to cover one metal with another. It's almost like a paint, but much thinner and smoother."
"But how did you come by it?" I asked, still confused. "Shouldn't this have gone to the king?"
Ata chuckled; "Actually, we found three. One of the trade convoys we took included an imperial ship. While I came up from her starboard stern, Iliak charged in from mid port. The captain turned hard to avoid being rammed by Iliak and turned right into me. We almost cut her in half when we hit. Then Iliak pulled up along-side and we stormed the ship."
"Even with their ship sinking under them, the Atlanteans fought like demons, we lost three men for every one of theirs, but in the end we managed to take the ship. I had most of the crew break out axes and cut her loose before she dragged us down with her while the rest quickly searched the ship for anything salvageable. We found these in a locked box in the captain's cabin. Judging from the looks of them, and from the box they were in, we think that they were meant as a gift to the king of Ngoro-tai. I figured that if it was good enough for a king, then it was good enough for my first-born. Iliak agreed and sends his compliments. As much as you like scanning the horizon from up on the temple, I figured that this would come in handy."
I didn't know what to say, I gave him a huge hug, grabbed my telescope and my sister and dashed for the door. We hadn't gotten three steps when Ama spoke up behind us.
"Ah-hem;" she said, "before you disappear, you have chores to finish." You know, sometimes being a kid sucks.
I wasn't able to get out for the rest of the day so I snuck out that night bundled up in my cloak and went to my usual haunt. I arrived to find the top already occupied by a single man wearing a cloak. I figured he was just waiting for his favorite lady to arrive. Well, I wasn't going to be chased off tonight. Fortunately, he was on the side facing away from the harbor, so I sat on the top step on the harbor side and scanned the moonlit ocean. The scene was beautiful, albeit limited. It didn't take too long to see all that could be seen by the moonlight, so I sat there for a bit just wondering what to do. Suddenly, in a flash of inspiration, I raised the telescope to the skies.
I must pause here a moment learned reader and tell you that there are no words which can accurately describe the awe, majesty and sublime beauty of dancing among the stars through a telescope. So I will not attempt to do so here. Here, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, such sights are well known, thirteen and a half thousand years ago they were inconceivable.
I lay on my back and walked among the heavens for a while, seeing more stars than I ever knew existed. As I was dancing among the craters on the moon I heard the man on the other side of the platform walking over to me. I sat up, prepared to dash down the stairs when I looked at him, and my blood froze in my veins.
"When I arrived, one of the dock workers mentioned having seen you here and on the docks on a number of nights." Ata said as he sat down next to me. "I thought he must have been mistaken. What would my little Maia be doing in such places after dark, and alone at that?"
"Don't." He said sounding very disappointed. "Don't make up excuses. The city is no place for a girl of your age to be wandering alone after dark. I'm just glad you had the sense not to drag your sister along."
I managed to work up the courage to look him in the eye and speak. "That's why I do it Ata. This is the only chance I get to have some time to myself. I only went to the docks the first time. I stay away from the harbor at night now. Most of the time, I just come here. Occasionally the working girls chase me off so I go wandering a bit, but I'm careful and stay out of sight and not talk to anyone. I've spent most nights since you left up here watching, waiting for you to come home."
Ata sighed and laid his hand on my shoulder. "Maia I taught you to be free-willed and intelligent, but I thought I also taught you to be wise. Someday I am going to give you to away as some lucky mans wife, but to do so, I have to keep you pure. I can't do that with you wandering about the city alone at night. Have you any idea how dangerous these little excursions of yours are?"
I hung my head and replied; "Yes Ata."
"I'm not telling you to stop." He said. "Just take one of the servants with you from now on; and your sister is never, I repeat, NEVER to hear of your nighttime strolls, do you hear me?"
I nodded silently, too ashamed to say any more, yet overjoyed that he wasn't going to make me stop.
From under his cloak Ata pulled his own telescope. "Now what was it that had you so enraptured when I caught you?" He asked lying on his back.
We spent the next couple of hours exploring the heavens together. Apparently the concept of turning it skyward had never really occurred to him either. We finally left our perch a couple hours after midnight to sneak back into our beds, but Ata returned with me every few nights through out the winter. He taught me what he knew of the heavens, of stars and planets and constellations as together we learned more through our telescopes. There, on the top of the temple, standing on the nausca, Ata taught to me things forbidden to women; the arts of celestial navigation.
When one is learning to run a household one cannot help but learn numbers and higher figuring, but the things Ata taught me were fiendishly difficult, especially for a girl of ten. Ata said the fact that I was able to understand it at all was a testament to how bright I was. He was always trying to make me blush.
One night as he was giving me lessons I was having a hard time concentrating. Ata noticed that I seemed troubled and sat down beside me.
"What's on your mind girl?" He asked softly.
It took me a few moments to realize exactly what it was that I was having difficulty with. Finally I was able to articulate it.
"Why do this for me Ata? Why take the risk?" I asked; the words coming to me at last. "This is one of the greatest gifts you have ever given me and nothing could ever make me feel ungrateful for it, but you know the penalties for doing such a thing. And how could I let you put yourself at risk for it. I mean, here we sit on top of the very temple of Lumis discussing things that are forbidden to me. Why hasn't Lumis struck us down for the blasphemy? I think what I'm saying is that learning this, and here of all places, scares me."
Ata looked at me with a look that I simply could not interpret, almost as if he was trying to decide something. He looked at me like that for several moments and then closed his eyes and sighed.
"Maia," he said; "do you remember the day before I left? The day I took the high priest to Iulia?"
"We set down on the beach and waited, it is forbidden for any but him and the high priestess of Anais to set foot there." He continued. "The prayer he was sent to perform should have only taken a few minutes no more, yet he was gone for several hours. When he returned he had a haunted look about him and I feared the worst for the war, but he reassured me that that was not the issue which troubled him so. After we returned to the harbor he asked me to accompany him back here to the temple so we could talk in private. Down below, in his room, he told me what he had seen that had him worried."
"You see, in the temple on Iulia is a pool where the gods themselves are said to bathe. The water in the pool is holy beyond the understanding of man. If a person were to touch just a single drop of the water while praying fervently, then the gods are quite likely to respond. But if you are not cautious and quite specific in your prayer, then fate will tend to stick its hand in and twist and pervert the prayer; and while your prayer would be answered, that answer could turn into bitter ashes. This is why only the high priest and priestess, the wisest people in the kingdom are permitted to set foot there."
"He said his prayer as he had gone there to do, but before he had a chance to get up off his knees he felt an overpowering presence there with him and he was forced to kneel even lower; almost into the pool. The way he described it wasn't so much like he was pushed down but as if someone had taken over his person and forced him to look deep into the water; and what he saw there terrified and saddened him to the depth of his soul."
"When he looked into the water he saw a young woman; you, in a few years. You were on a large ship, similar to imperial design. The ship was far out on the ocean, weeks maybe months from land; and you were alone. You were on a ship large enough to be crewed by sixty or eighty men but there was only you, alone upon the sea, trying to find land. I could tell that there was more that he wasn't telling me, but it is actually at his insistence that I am teaching you these things. He told me that your journey would be terribly long and difficult and that you would need to learn everything that I can teach you and more; everything that you are capable of learning in order to find your way."
"Someday in the not to distant future you will go from here, I don't know when, I don't know why or where to, but there is nothing that I can do to prevent it. What I can do is to give you the knowledge to find your way home again. If time permits at the beginning of spring, I will begin teaching you to sail. If you were a little older, I would take you to Xiana and you would get all the sailing experience you would need on the trip there."
I didn't quite know what to say. This was the first time in my life that he had been that open and candid with me. My mind was still numb from what he had told me. I couldn't quite wrap my young brain around the idea that the high priest had had a strong and profound vision about me. These are the kind of things that make young children lay awake at night afraid of what's under the bed.
Finally I was able to think enough to ask; "Does Ama know?"
"Are you kidding?" Ata chuckled. "If she ever heard what I just told you she'd bundle you up and pack you off to the cloister of Anais up in the mountains! She'd hide you so well, the gods themselves wouldn't be able to find you!"
We laughed till we cried and returned to our beds a little before dawn. I knew that no matter what happened, one way or another I'd be all right. Sadly the winter became too cold to spend many nights out, but any night Ata was home, I could be found by his side till late in the evening learning everything he could teach me. I could see by her expression that Ama did not approve of much of what Ata was teaching me. I even heard them argue about it a few times, each argument ending with Ata putting his foot down and saying that I would learn everything that could be crammed into my head and that was final. Ama was not happy about this at all and attempted to fill my days and nights with chores so that I wouldn't have time to learn things that were not a woman's place. She even resorted to sending me to help other people with chores. One cold day, I had been sent to help the queen with weaving. Ata merely had a word with Iliak. The next thing I knew, there were royal guards sent to collect me. By the end of that winter I was exhausted, both physically and mentally.
All through the winter, Katai prepared for all out war against Xiana. Men poured in from the outlying towns, villages and farms; swelling the population to unbearable levels. The public squares became training grounds for young men and boys who had never handled anything more than a sickle or a cattle prod. When they weren't training they were cutting and hauling lumber for the shipyard. The shipyard was a madhouse, tripling its normal production and refitting the captured ships as troop transports.
Spring came late that year, but come it finally did. By the time spring found Katai, I was eleven, as tall as Ama, and still growing. I was already taller than anyone else my age and stronger than most of the boys that I knew. With Ata's blood in my veins, I would eventually grow to be almost as tall as he was.
In the end there was no time for Ata to teach me sailing as he had wished. A week after the winds changed the army was loaded onto the ships and the fleet set sail. Again, the entire city turned out to send the fleet off. King Iliak had his galley rowed out to the center of the harbor. We watched as he climbed the mast to the lookout so that he could address the assembled crowd.
"Children of Katai hear me!" He roared across the water. Iliak was a large man himself, and I think everyone within a mile of the docks heard his voice. "Children of Katai, for we are all children of Katai! Our mother has been slandered and forsaken by those whom we have hailed as friends for years beyond count. They have been seduced and debauched by the demons of the sea. They thought that they could betray us and walk away; that in her old age Katai would be too weak to respond! We have shown Ngoro-tai that Katai is as young as she ever was! Today we set out to show Xiana the full measure of our anger. Many years ago we razed most of Xiana to the ground. Today we will show them that we still have such strength! We shall teach them once again why we ruled the sea clear to the Dark Continent. We shall strike such a blow as will be felt clear to the throne of Atlantis, and we will drive those sea demons from our waters once and for all!"
The city went wild. From the queen to the lowliest dockworker the mood was absolutely jubilant. As Iliak climbed down from the mast Ata kissed us all goodbye and his ship pushed off. Again his ship followed the king's out through the Lumere, sent off with heavy fanfare. As Ata's ship was approaching the arch I heard his voice over the crowd. He was holding up his telescope and pointing up to the watchtower above the Lumere.
"Watch for my return from there by day or the nausca by night!" He yelled.
"Just be sure to come back before Ama marries me off!" I yelled back. Ama got a chuckle out of that and yelled across to him; "You DID teach her wisdom!"
And with that he was gone. There were too many people on the arch for us to have gone up there to see him off but every ship that passed under the arch put to sea under a blizzard of flowers. There were so many ships that it took till early evening for them all to put to sea. The harbor had been so full that you could have walked across it and never gotten wet. The three of us raced to the temple and managed to find a spot amongst the throng there where we could watch the fleet disappear over the horizon. I took out my telescope and passed it around to Ama and Amana so that they could watch, but when Ama got hold of it she didn't give it back until they were gone.
Once again the days began to creep by. When Ama didn't have us up to our ears in chores I could usually be found up in the watchtower looking out over the horizon, waiting for a sign. The tower guards grudgingly tolerated and eventually came to appreciate my presence. I was someone different to talk to, and they realized that my telescope could be an advantage. Any clear night that I could sneak out I would make my way up to the nausca to watch the stars. I nearly always had it to myself those days as the city had been virtually emptied of men when the fleet sailed.
Spring faded into summer and the city fell quietly into the rhythm of warfare. One of the chores that Ama had me doing was helping the fletchers. Over that summer I fletched more arrows than I care to remember. When not helping the fletchers I was busy using many of the shafts that I had helped to feather. Queen Itsiyina had ordered that all persons above the age of ten practice at archery for one hour every day. My skill with the bow had been passable before; but with enforced practice it improved dramatically. By the end of the summer I had even outgrown my bow.
When not otherwise occupied I dove for pearls, learned of cooking, herbalism and medicine, wove with Ama and the queen, served at the palace; the list went on and on. It was the busiest summer that I had ever spent. I wasn't able to get away often and Ama did everything in her power to keep it that way.
At first I hated archery practice, but began to love it when I met Anai. Anai was a year older than I was and we hit it off famously. We were about the same skill level with the bow and we both practiced as hard as we could to out-do the other. We were constantly teasing and cajoling each other to reach deeper and do better. It was for this reason alone that both he and I progressed as far as we did.
Anai and I became fast friends; he was in fact the first real friend that I'd ever had. I think that he was also the reason that Ama tried to keep me so busy that summer. He was the most adventurous spirit that I had ever met. He wasn't much to look at, being a little on the skinny side with constantly unruly black hair and a look in his eye that said that he was up to something. Any time that I could get away from Ama, we could be found together. We hunted together, fished together, swam together.
Summer finally passed into fall and one night in late September I decided to show Anai my secret hiding place. Sneaking out a little after midnight with my cloak and my telescope, I made my way down to his house in the merchants quarter. I quietly tapped on his window a couple of times. Anai was a light sleeper, so it was no surprise to find him wide-awake when he opened the window.
"The gods themselves aren't even awake yet!" He said with a yawn. "What trouble can we get into at this hour?"
"Grab your cloak," I said. "I've got something to show you."
We wound our way through the streets to the temple of Lumis then took the long climb to the top. We reached to top to hear the moans of passion coming form the other side. Apparently not ALL the young men had set out with the fleet. Since they were on the other side a good fifty paces away, and it was a dark moonless night, we were able to ignore them, though Anai occasionally stole glances off in that direction.
"Maia," he said with a wry grin; "I like you a lot, but I just don't think our parents would approve of us getting married like that. Not that I'd object mind you, but aren't we a little..."
His sentence was cut short when I punched him in the arm so hard I almost knocked him down.
"One more remark like that," I said, smiling back; "and the next time we go swimming I'll drown you!" We stuck our tongues out at each other and laughed. I sat down on the top stair and invited Anai to join me.
"So what's so important that you had to drag me out of a warm bed at this ungodly hour?" He asked, joining me on the step.
I pointed to the seven sisters and asked; "How many stars are in that constellation?"
He gave me his best sarcastic look and replied; "Hmm, they're called the seven sisters, and I see seven stars. I'm gonna say seven."
"You sure about that?" I asked, as I pulled the telescope out from under my cloak.
"Pretty sure; yeah," he answered, nodding his head.
I handed him the tube and told him to point it at the stars and look through the small end. He held it up to his eye, started to say something and stopped.
"Mother of Lumis." He finally said; his voice barely a whisper. He started scanning the sky. "I never dreamed..."
He never did finish that sentence, and the rest of the night we said very little, we just sat there watching the stars. The lady and her friend eventually finished their tryst and left and the rest of the night was quiet. At some point we wrapped up in our cloaks and laid back on the obsidian top to get a better view straight up.
The next thing I knew I heard a bird chirp. We both sat bolt upright. We had fallen asleep and it was now false dawn. The sun would be coming up in just a few minutes. My heart flew into my throat, if Ama found that I'd been out all night (not to mention with a boy) there would be nine kinds of hell to pay. I grabbed my telescope and was about to dash down the stairs when Anai grabbed me and spun me around.
"Maia, I've been wanting to do this for a long time," he said. He pulled me close, leaned in and kissed me. I closed my eyes and melted into him. His lips were warm and soft, and the feeling was exquisite. I was walking on air; so happy that my toes were curling. Sadly, reality intruded and the feeling of panic returned.
"I've got to go," I said, disentangling myself from him. He grinned sheepishly at me and nodded. Turning, we took two steps down the stairs when something caught my eye. I stopped to look out to the horizon. Anai got a few more steps before he realized that I wasn't with him anymore. He turned and came back up. He looked at me and then turned to look out to the horizon as well.
"I thought I saw something out there," I said.
Anai stepped back up to the top and said; "Then your eyes must be playing tricks on the both of us, because I think I see something too!"
I joined him at the top and looked again. There it was again, just the faintest hint of movement on the horizon. I took out the telescope out again and brought it to my eye. Even with the telescope, the object was still just a slight disturbance on the horizon; but after a few minutes it grew into a sail. We passed the tube back and forth and watched in astonishment and glee as the sail was joined by another, and another, about fifty ships in all came over the horizon and made for the harbor. As the light grew and the ships came closer, I could identify them as being Kataian galleys. Part of the fleet was returning. I jumped for joy and hugged Anai and gave him a big kiss.
I took one last look through the telescope scanning the incoming ships to see if Ata's was among them. They were too far out for me to identify individual ships but I could tell that they were under full sail and full oar. It looked as though after a long sea voyage, they had decided to race each other to the harbor now that it was in site. The group started to break up and string out, several of them taking a large lead.
"That must be the rest of them." Anai said.
I looked up to see what he was talking about. Following his gaze back to the horizon I could see more sails there, many more.
"Umm, Anai; we've got to go," I said as gripped my scope and nearly flew down the stairs; "right now!"
The reason for the fleet's race to the Lumere had suddenly come into focus. It wasn't a merely a race at all, but a desperate sprint for survival. The sails which we had thought to be the rest of the fleet were in fact a fleet of imperial ships; several hundred of them.
We were half way down the steps when the guards in the watchtower saw the danger and rang the alarm bell. When we reached the bottom I yelled at Anai, "Get your bow! I'll meet you on the wall by the watchtower! Run!"
I was nearly exhausted by the time I made it to my house. The city had come alive with panic and it was difficult to get anywhere without being trampled. As I sprinted into the house I caught sight of Ama and Amana looking petrified.
"What's happening, why is the bell ringing?" Ama asked; her eyes wide with fear.
"The fleet's come home," I yelled back as I quickly stashed the telescope and grabbed my bow and quiver. "But they're not alone! It looks like the entire Empire is right behind them!"
With that, I sprinted out the door and down to the harbor. I saw several columns of smoke coming from somewhere out past the sea wall and knew that the battle had begun. It seemed to take forever to force my way through to the harbor and around to the wall. By the time I finally made it to the top I thought that I would drop dead at any second. My legs and lungs were on fire like they had never been before.
The parapet was complete pandemonium; people rushing this way and that, carrying weapons of every variety trying to find a place to defend. I could hear screams from out on the water. Thirty ships were completely engulfed in flames, mostly ours, but some of theirs as well. Three of our ships had been boarded and the crews were being slaughtered, and twenty-five ships were racing for the harbor with hell right on their heels.
As the first ship made it in under the Lumere a cheer went up through the harbor and from the wall. Anai had found me and we nocked arrows and waited for the enemy to get closer. I heard a clatter beside us and turned to see a group of guards going down the line of archers on the wall, dropping a large bag of arrows between every other person. Stooping down I grabbed two bundles from the bag and untied them; leaning them against the wall for Anai and myself.
The second ship made it in through the Lumere and another cheer went up. By now I was so scared that I was about ready to wet myself. I was trembling so hard that I could hardly handle the arrows. A third ship made it in and I stood up and prepared once more. The imperial ships were closing the gap fast but twenty-five ships managed to make it in. By about the twenty-third ship, the enemy had come into range. I took aim at the lead ship, drew and held. Finally a voice yelled, "shoot", and ten thousand arrows took flight. In my nervousness I held my arm wrong and the string took off a layer of skin or two on my forearm. The pain was enough to snap me out of my fear. I immediately grabbed another arrow, drew it to its full, aimed and released.
A few arrows started coming back; I heard a scream next to me and turned to see the man next to me staggering, an arrow in his eye. An arrow skipped off the wall right between Anai and me. I tried to keep my mind on what needed to be done. The men in the ships needed us if they were going to make it home. I reloaded, drew, aimed and released, again and again until I could hardly draw my bow anymore. As the last ship made it in under the arch, the trimarans turned and headed out of range. A triumphant shout went up from the wall. I turned to see the ships that had made it home and found that Ata's had been the last one in, and she was badly damaged.
The dreaded enemy had come once again to our very doorstep, and this time it looked as though they came for dinner. With a tremendous groan, the Lumere slowly swung shut once again.
Chapter 2) Katai
I looked back to the harbor to search for Ata on his ship. As I did so the full horror of what had just transpired crashed in on me. I keeled over retching in sickness and frozen in terror. I don't know quite how I managed to keep my bowels in check; I was that scared. From somewhere off in another world I could hear someone screaming my name. I turned numbly to the sound of the voice.
"GET UP," Anai screamed! "MAIA, THEY'RE COMING BACK! GET UP!"
It was difficult to make out his voice amid the screams of the wounded, but I managed to force myself to hear him. With some difficulty I was able to stand up and stagger back over to him. My arms and legs felt like lead and didn't seem to want to respond. Looking out over the water I could see the pursuing ships had rejoined with the rest of the incoming fleet and were now continuing in toward the wall. There were so many of them, five, maybe six hundred in all; perhaps thirty or forty thousand men. This fleet came with one purpose in mind, to destroy Katai.
Another group of guards came down the wall with bags of arrows. My hands were trembling so bad I almost couldn't untie the bundles. My world turned into tunnel vision as I knocked an arrow and my arms felt too weak to draw the bow.
Just as I was beginning to stand to look for a target Anai crashed into me sending us both sprawling on the ground. An instant later there was a loud crash somewhere very near to where we had been standing. Suddenly everything snapped into focus. I was still terrified, but my mind was free of paralysis. I could think and move freely and I was mad! That shot had almost killed Anai and me!
"You all right?" Anai asked as he helped me back up. He looked around for a moment to find his bow.
"Still breathing, if barely." I replied as I untangled myself from my bow. Anai's impact had knocked the wind out of me. I looked out over the parapet again to see what appeared to be large rocks flying through the air. Many of the Atlantean ships were fitted with large crossbows, which could hurl a spear, or other munitions over a quarter of a mile. We ducked again as the barrage came in. There was a series of loud crashes followed by a low whoosh and the parapet erupted in screams.
Parts of the parapet were engulfed in flames. Anai, myself and about a dozen others were trapped between two walls of fire, cut off from the rest of the defenders. Everywhere I looked there were small groups, cut off from each other, trying to find cover from the hell falling from the sky. More crashes announced the arrival of another barrage, then the impacts became fairly constant. There were people running, screaming and writhing in agony in the midst of the flames, but my mind immediately pushed the image aside. My fear had given way to rage.
Standing, I screamed obscenities at the enemy in all seven languages that I knew. I saw that a large group of ships had rowed in under cover of the barrage and now were well within bowshot. In my mind's eye, I could see my sister being raped by the sea-reavers after having watched Ama being butchered in front of her. I knew such would be their fate when this wall fell; and there were so few of us I didn't see how we could prevent that from happening. All I could do for them was to buy them some time. Every minute we could hold the enemy back was another minute for Ama and Amana to get to safety.
Still screaming, I drew my arrow back to my eye, took aim and released. I didn't wait to see how true my shot was, I just knew. Before the arrow reached its target I had two more in the air.
It was as if time had slowed down. Everything around me seemed to be going in slow motion, yet I could move at normal speed. I kept a steady stream of arrows going, having as many as four arrows in the air at one time, and I knew with certainty that nearly every arrow found its mark.
Even in a fight for our lives, the competitive spirit was alive in Anai as he tried to keep pace with me, and failed. We soon depleted our arrows and had to retrieve the bundles from the pair that died next to us in the first engagement.
Finally the ships were in range of our catapults and a hail of rocks and burning pitch was launched from the walls. Two ships were set ablaze immediately and several more damaged in the initial volley and our crews began reloading and firing at a desperate pace.
The rest of the defenders, still huddling against the arrow shelf, realized just how close the enemy ships were. Overcoming their fear of enemy fire, they popped up en-masse and opened fire with terrifying accuracy. The defense of the city began in earnest.
Utterly forsaking sanity, I climbed up and continued shooting from there, screaming like a mad thing the whole time. Apparently insanity is contagious, and insanity shared is what true friendship is made of.
I don't know like to even think of how many arrows missed Anai and me as we stood together on top of the arrow shelf and laid waste to the crew of the nearest ship. Firebombs struck the face of the wall to either side of us, but we didn't even flinch as we continued loosing arrow after arrow. We were invincible; we couldn't be touched. I had fired so many arrows my arms were beyond fatigued and my fingers had started to bleed, but I was so far-gone that I didn't even notice.
I also didn't notice the voice screaming behind me. I looked up to see a large clay pot launch from one of the ships and sail straight for us. Just then, rough hands grabbed us both and pulled us to the ground just as the pot sailed through the air right where we had just been standing. It shattered and ignited on the back edge of the parapet, spilling down the back of the wall.
"LUMIS'S TEETH GIRL!! WHAT IN THE NAME OF THE GODS ARE YOU DOING HERE?!" Ata screamed at me. Somehow he had made it up here through the bombardment. He looked almost haggard from his ordeal and I had never seen him so angry in my life.
In my madness, I just grinned and screamed back at him through the noise of battle; "THE SAME THING YOU ARE! DUCKING!"
"DAM IT MAIA. THIS IS NO PLACE FOR A CHILD. GET YOUR ASS OFF THIS WALL, NOW!"
"NO!" I screamed back at him, my anger momentarily finding another focus. "I WOULD RATHER MAKE MY STAND HERE THAN BE RAPED WITH THE OTHER GIRLS WHEN THIS WALL FALLS! I'M STAYING!"
At that instant, there was a loud clink directly above us. We looked up to see a large hook locked to the lip of the arrow shelf. Another joined it momentarily. The ships had reached the wall.
"DAM IT MAIA!" Ata screamed once more. He reached to his belt and pulled out a long knife and handed it to me, then bent and pulled a sword from a fallen guard. He shoved it at Anai growling threateningly; "Guard her with your life."
Pulling his own sword he jumped up and began hacking at the scaling rope. I nocked and arrow and stood up looking for a target. The Imperial ships had pulled right up to the wall and were forming a raft, three ships deep. Some of the ships were large enough that their masts were higher than the walls and many nimble sailors were able to use their spar like a siege ramp.
I had just started picking off men crossing on the nearest spar when it felt like my head suddenly exploded. A rock, probably from a sling had grazed my head hard enough to knock me down. I cried and screamed for a few moments as the pain engulfed me, then managed to stagger back to my feet.
The next couple of hours went by in kind of a nightmarish blur. I saw things; and did things, too horrible to describe here. I do remember at some point, the Atlanteans made it onto the wall near us, only to be driven off again by a desperate counterattack. Ata had become death incarnate. I had never seen him fight before and his prowess was terrifying to behold. He was truly without peer and aside from my own abilities, I would not see his like again until I fell in love with a young Greek named Achilles many centuries later. By the end of the battle I was back on top of the shelf, screaming my multilingual defiance at the enemy, hurling whatever Anai tossed to me down onto the ships below; rocks, weapons, body parts, anything he could find.
The air was thick with smoke from burning oil and burning ships when the enemy pulled their surviving ships away from the wall and retreated out of range. While the fighting had been happening on the sea wall, most of the rest of the Imperial fleet had begun landing at the beaches to the north side of the city. For the moment, the fighting was over.
My screams ultimately trailed off, leaving a profound silence within the city. Still in a state of madness and shock, I slowly turned and looked around. The survivors on the wall were far beyond exhaustion and it was difficult to tell the living from the dead. Ata, Anai and me were the only defenders still on their feet. Down in the harbor, several thousand people watched the wall in anticipation. Raising my arm above my head, a severed arm still clenched in my fist; I roared one last time, spun and hurled the arm down at the retreating ships. The city exploded in cheering.
Sanity slowly returned and with it the reality of all that had just occurred. I almost fell off the wall as my knees buckled beneath me. If it hadn't been for a quick grab by Ata, I would have fallen off the outside of the wall. The world swam in front of my eyes and my bowels turned to water; there was no keeping them in check after that. I broke down into bouts of hysterical sobbing, between bouts of vomiting. It felt as though my body and my spirit were turning themselves inside out.
When I had finished throwing up, Ata sat me up against the wall. I could hear him talking to me as if from a great distance; asking if I was hurt and checking my wounds. I was covered in blood; both mine and others and I must have looked like the victim of a massacre. Of course, there wasn't a person alive on the wall that didn't look just like me. Ata took my face in his blood soaked hands and turned my head, forcing me to make eye contact with him.
"Can you hear me Maia?" He asked. "It's over. You are alive. Do you hear me Maia? You are alive and whole. Come back to me Maia, come back to me."
He pulled me to him and held me for a long time as I cried myself out. Finally there was a sound of someone retching next to us and we looked over to see Anai on his knees being sick. Untangling myself from Ata, I crawled to Anai and held him until he had physically and emotionally emptied himself.
"Who is this boy?" Ata asked in a grim voice as he sat against the wall.
"This is my friend." I said through my tears as I held Anai. "His name is Anai. We've been training together for months now."
"He stayed with you through the entire battle," Ata said. "He didn't run, though he should have. He stayed by your side the entire time and he saved you several times. A truer friend you could not ask for."
Ata got up for a moment and came back with our weapons. Handing the sword to Anai and the knife to me he said, "These are yours, clean them."
Anai nodded numbly and began cleaning the sword the shirt of a fallen attacker. Ata must have noticed Anai's wounds before I did because he suddenly stripped off his shirt, started ripping it into strips and binding Anai's wounds.
As Ata was treating him, Anai looked out over the harbor then asked with a distant voice, "Where is the king?"
Ata paused for a moment and buried his face in his hands. When he looked up again there were tears in his eyes. He said in a breaking voice, "Dead. Iliak is dead."
It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen Ata cry and his words shook the very foundations of my being. I crawled away for a moment and threw-up again. It was too much to take and my mind did the only thing it could to protect itself, it shut down.
After a bit I heard Ata ask Anai if he could walk as he helped me to my feet.
I was totally numb as Ata draped my arm over Anai's shoulder and told him to take me home.
"Tell my wife that I am home and that I sent you; she will tend to your wounds." I heard him telling Anai. "Tell her what I told you about the king and that I will be home later; there is much that I need to do."
Anai nodded and half-walked, half dragged me to the stair and down off of the wall. There were cheers, as we staggered past the docks but don't think that either of us really registered it at the time. As we made our way numbly through the city, I looked to the sun. It was still an hour till noon. The world as we had known it had come crashing violently down around our ears, our childhood had ended, we had been in a horrifying battle for our survival and it wasn't even time for lunch.
Terror gripped me as I wondered what the evening would bring. King Iliak was dead along with nearly all of our army and the enemy had come to our door with a vengeance. The siege of Katai had begun.
Chapter 3) Siege
Still in a state of shock, I walked with Anai as we limped and staggered numbly through the city toward home, holding each other up as we went. We barely even registered that we were following a long line of wounded people all going in the same direction. We arrived at my home to find as much of a scene of Chaos and suffering as we had just left.
The temple of healing lay immediately next to my home and was a relatively small building. With so many wounded coming in at once there was simply no way they could all be helped there, so the healers commandeered the closest building they could; my house. We found Ama frantically in the process of turning the house into a makeshift infirmary, directing Amana and the household servants like a general on a battlefield. As we limped through the gate Amana looked up from where she was helping one of the healers and screamed for Ama. My head was throbbing and the world was beginning to swim again; Ama came running up just in time to help catch me as consciousness fled.
I was alone, walking through the city. Everywhere I looked was empty houses and empty shops. I yelled trying to find someone, anyone; but the only answer I received was the whisper of the wind and the echo of my own voice. Making my way to the city center, I climbed the temple of Lumis. There was no movement at all from within the city, but something at the corner of my vision caught my attention. I looked out to sea. Several imperial ships were on the horizon sailing away.
I was on one of the ships. My hands and feet were bound in chains and I was locked together with other youths from Katai. I looked around in fear
and confusion, wondering how I got here. I turned and watched Katai slip below the horizon behind us. When I turned back around there was no one on the ship but me and I was no longer in chains. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but it seemed as if the ship was different too. As I walked about on the deck my thoughts were interrupted by a thunderous roar overhead, I looked up to see an immense ball of fire and smoke blazing a path across the sky.
I awoke with a shriek as Ama cleaned my wounds with alcohol. My head was pounding and felt as if it would explode and every inch of my body was in some degree of pain. The next half-hour or so was as nightmarish as the battle; one of the servants held me down as Ama stitched up the wounds in my scalp and leg. She was angrier than I had ever seen her, and I could feel her anger in every stitch that she made. When she finished, she gave me a large glass of wine and made sure I drank it all.
“Ama,” I croaked when I’d managed to stop crying. “Ata’s home, he made it.”
“So that boy tells me,” Ama replied with a glare.
“Anai? Where is he, how is he?” I asked as I tried unsuccessfully to sit up.
“He’s outside, and in about the same shape as you,” She glowered. “He, at least will live. You, on the other hand, are going to wish you hadn’t!”
Remembering Ata’s words, I started to cry again. “Oh gods Ama, the king…” I couldn’t say anything more, the ***** in the wine were starting to take effect and consciousness was beginning to slip away again.
“I know,” She whispered as she slipped quietly out the door, leaving me alone with my nightmares one more time.
The siege lasted for three years. For three years Katai; a city full of women, children and old men, and virtually denuded of able bodied warriors, held off what at that time was the largest army ever assembled in the history of man. We were doomed and we knew it, but sheer desperation kept us going from one day to the next. Several times the Imperial army attempted to fire the city by launching burning pitch over the walls with large siege catapults they built on shore. One nice thing about living in a city like Katai. Virtually the entire city was built out of stone, so their attacks did little but make us run for cover.
Ata could not keep Anai or myself from the walls, so he took it upon himself to train us in the arts of hand to hand combat. He taught us the arts of sword and shield and spear. He also redoubled our bow training in hopes that we would rarely if ever have to get that close. He took a great fondness to Anai and saw to it (when time permitted) that he was well educated.
A few days after Ata’s return home, Ilimak ascended the throne of Katai with Itsiyina acting as queen regent until he reached age of majority. There had been talk of marrying me off to him but Ilimak himself quickly suppressed that idea. Itsiyina, in her wisdom, decreed that in the end, he might have to marry outside in order to save Katai. His envoys to that effect went unheeded by the enemy surrounding the city.
By the end of the first year of the siege our food stores were exhausted. Hunger set in, then starvation. Once or twice small groups of us were able to sneak out to hunt in the cover of the forest, but when the Atlanteans realized that we were doing so, they very quickly put a stop to it. The waters in the harbor and the river were abundant with fish but even that had its limits. What fish could be caught were made to go as far as they would, but there was simply no way that everyone could be fed. Yet still we fought on…
By the end of the second year, deaths by starvation were becoming a daily occurrence. Disease began to run through the population. There were also a few incidences of cannibalism. Such reports were dealt with harshly but with pity; we were all starving. Yet still we fought on…
One thing must be said for the Atlantean army; they fought more civilized than we did. They patently refused to dam or poison the river that flowed through the city. They did not desecrate our dead as we did to theirs. Once a week, for the first year, they would have an envoy stand atop a tower and call for our unconditional surrender. But we had come to far, lost too much to do anything but fight to the last person standing. When we refused to surrender, they would mass and attack.
The third year was amongst the most terrible I have ever experienced in all my countless centuries of existence. Disease had reached plague proportions. The pyres for the dead burned day and night. It was hell on earth. By the end of that year a little more than four fifths of our population had perished. Ata and I watched helplessly as Amana finally succumbed to the ravages of hunger and disease and passed away. With the loss of Amana, Ama lost the will to go on and followed her within the week. Ata and I were devastated. All we had now was each other and Anai. Within another two weeks Anai’s entire family died around him. Ata took him as a fosterling and the two of us became closer than ever. Sadly it was more like very close brother and sister than lovers, but we were utterly inseparable. We knew with grim certainty that the end was near for all of us.
Ata redoubled his efforts in weapons training. He drilled us mercilessly until our reactions were automatic, were reflex. If we were to die, then he made sure that we would die well and take as many of them with us as we could before we went. Every day fewer and fewer people were left to defend the city, yet still, somehow, despite the fact that the world was ending around us, those of us who were left managed to climb that wall day after day and fight on. We did this for another ten months!
Then one day, I was accompanying Itsiyina around some of the districts near the wall. She liked to walk among her people during the lulls between attacks to boost morale. As we stopped to talk to a woman in the street, I heard a loud thump off in the distance. I looked up just in time to see a large stone flying through the air over the wall. Someone screamed and suddenly I was struck from the side with such force that it knocked the wind out of me. I rolled up off the ground gasping for air and looked around. My savior and I had gotten lucky, that rock had sailed in right in through where I had been standing only a second before. Itsiyina and here would-be rescuer had not been so lucky. It is a memory, which haunts me to this day.
The light went out of Katai. The will of the people died with our beloved queen.
The next day, Ilimak and Ata went out under a flag of truce to talk with the Imperial envoy. They were there for several hours. When they returned, the Imperial army marched in behind them. We laid down our arms and surrendered fully expecting to be put to the sword; but we were beyond caring.
Yet we were not slain. The enemy did not enter as the reavers we had all expected. The soldiers were so in awe of our resistance and so appalled by the conditions that they found within that one of the first things their generals did was to order food be brought in to feed the surviving population. Healers and medicines were likewise brought in to bring the plague under control. The siege of Katai was over.