Monday, 13 February 2012

Excerpt from Episode 1 - Explorer

It took them all morning to row against the tide, currents and wind, but finally they pulled into the lee of the headland into calmer water. Hanno looked around; first at his own battered ship and then at the six others who straggled after him into the wide bay. Satisfied that none would sink, he turned and surveyed the hostile shore.

    Hostile was putting it mildly. The mud banks along both sides of the river, which were exposed by the low tide, were lined at the upper edge by a colourfully clad array of gesticulating native warriors. At first glance there were hundreds if not thousands of them. Their plaid clothes gave them a nightmarish appearance and some of the colours he didn’t even have a name for. Their weapons looked fairly standard however, long spears, large shields, bows and swords. Their pale northern skin decorated in blue and black added to his sense of foreboding. If his men were in prime condition, they would be able to make mincemeat of these savages but, following the seven day storm, they were in no shape to fight.

    About a half a mile further along the shore, a half-built rough-wood jetty stuck out towards deeper water and a small ketch, about half the size of his galley, was beached alongside its shoreward end. A small, olive skinned man stood alone on the end of the jetty and held aloft the crossed tree branches that with a start Hanno realised represented the crossed olive branches symbol for parley.

    Hanno shouted his crew into activity, and they rowed slowly to within hailing distance of the seaward end of the jetty. His other ships spread across the width of the bay in a show of strength that was entirely feigned.

    “Ho, Carthaginian! You are a long way from home.”

    The fact that this man spoke his own language came as both a relief and a surprise to Hanno.

    “Ho, Iberian! You too are a long way from home.”

    “Aye, but I’m a trader in a merchant vessel not at the head of a fleet of war galleys.”

    “From where?”

    “As you say, Iberia. What brings Carthage’s finest here?”

    “I am Hanno and we sailed south from the True Sea through the pillars and were caught in a storm.”

    “South you say?” The Iberian roared with laughter. “You are a very long way off course, my friend. This is the land of the Durotriges. These people want to know what you want here. They have never seen a galley such as yours. To them it is obviously a war craft and they have a good knowledge of war.”

    The word war was obviously similar between the languages as its use caused the assembled native warriors to snarl, growl and wave their weapons fiercely.

    “We seek only storm shelter, the chance to beach, careen and repair our ships, re-supply, for which we can trade and then leave.”

    “Hah! You seek to take my trade away?”

    “No, we seek to return to our own mission. We have no interest in your trade arrangements.”

    “Stay there then; I will see their chief.”

    The Iberian trader swaggered off back down the jetty, skipping nimbly from beam to beam on the unfinished structure.

    Hanno turned to his second, Barca. “Keep an eye on him whilst I signal the other ships. If we stay here, we will have to use him as a go-between, at least until we can learn their language. He recognised our ships and knows our language but I don’t trust him. He knows his way around the True Sea and more importantly knows where we are. We don’t – see how he laughed when we said south. We thought we had been driven north, now it is obvious that that is the case. He gives us information when he doesn’t intend to.”

    As Hanno made his way towards the stern of his galley where he could communicate with the other ships in the bay, an argument was taking place on the shore behind him. The scale of the argument was apparent from the volume of the guttural shouts it was conducted in. The volume and tempo increased as time passed with the natives arguing between themselves and the Iberian watching impassively and interrupting from time to time.

    The voluble argument went on for several minutes until some form of consensus was reached and the trader returned to the end of the jetty. Hanno once again perched on the bow of his galley.

    “Ho, Hanno. Hail and well met! The local tribe,” he curled his lip to show his true feeling for them with his back to them “will grant you shelter, succour and water for two suns. For this they will charge you one ship and fifty slaves.”

    “What is your name trader?”

    “I am called Sagun”

    “Well, Sagun. You claim to know us. You know no leader of Carthage will ever hand over a ship willingly. No war galley of Carthage carries slaves and no Carthaginian crew will willingly give any crew member into slavery.”

    The trader was openly grinning again.

    “Of course, but that is what the savages ask. You are in no position to bargain, my friend.”

    “No friend of Carthage asks such of her. We are not as weak as they think.”

    Hanno turned and swept his arm over his head and then down to his right in a prearranged signal.

    The second ship now let loose its catapult and a large ball of straw looped lazily up and then down into the mud some fifty yards short of the high tide line. The natives fell silent.

    “Tell your friends to watch the next shot.”

    Sagun turned and bellowed out the guttural phrases.

    The second ship fired again. This time the ball of straw curled up and over the heads of the astonished tribesmen and landed squarely in the dimly seen village just beyond the tree line.

    Shouts of consternation could now be heard, they had obviously assumed the ships were powerless to attack them until they came into range of their own weapons.

    “Tell them the third shot will be lit and not just harmless straw. Tell them all of our ships are so armed and so ready. We are seeking help and trade as equals not as supplicants. Tell them!”

    As if on cue one of the sailors on the second ship was now to be seen balancing on the prow waving a lit torch aloft.

    Before Sagun could return to the chief the obvious significance of the fire threat galvanised the tribesmen into action. Some rushed down to the edge of the mud and began to gesticulate more fiercely. Some, probably those who actually lived in the village, ran back there in near panic to secure their belongings and livestock. The cohesiveness of the force facing Hanno melted away. Sagun frowned and walked slowly back to the chief of these Durotriges, no longer so sure he had the upper hand.

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