The Secret Empire
Part one of the Soul seeking Soul Series
By A J Burton and Christine Leov Lealand
By A J Burton and Christine Leov Lealand
The bow of a brightly coloured Greek merchant ship plunged deeply into the wild seas, right up to her painted eyes, as she ran before the late summer storm. Her square sail had torn from the boom hours before, the remnants whipped to destruction in the howling wind. The helmsman together with six strong crewmen helped hold the long wooden tillers steady, as they struggled to hold their ship straight. A huge wave picked up her stern in a watery fist, flinging the ship headlong down the foaming face. To broach, and fall tumbling down through this wave would be the end of them all.
Captain Agapitos looked up; the rope shrouds were tight and creaked ominously as the wooden mast hummed in the high winds. Torrential rain lashed the deck and the terrified crew, who were already exhausted from hours of fighting the storm.
Agapitos steadied himself, as his bare feet toes white and bloodless, tried to grip the treacherous deck. He blinked his eyes, to clear the salt water lashing his face as the wind sliced the tops from the waves and drenched the ship with stinging spray.
He thought of his special passenger, a proud young priestess sheltering in the high stern cabin. Helena Delphinios might be young, but she was of high rank at the temple of Delphi and this voyage was to take her to Ortygia to celebrate the crowning of King Theron. Now her safety took second place as the captain struggled to keep his ship safe.
This storm is as fierce and violent as I have ever seen in the Mediterranean, thought Agapitos. He was a hardy sailor and master mariner but he knew he was at the mercy of this storm and had no choice but to run before it. Who knows how far from Ortygia they were now? Who cares? Survival is all that matters, he thought grimly. We must uphold our nerve and keep the ship afloat. Surely this storm cannot last forever.
A flash of lightning shredded the sky, for an instant revealing the fury of the squall. As the ship surfed down into a trough she momentarily stalled, before another giant wave lifted them skywards. Agapitos looked instinctively to the port side and saw what every sailor feared most in a storm; a foaming monster of a wave on their beam reared up out of the gloom. It was a rogue wave following its own rules, coming out of nowhere.
"Lookout! turn to port!" screamed Agapitos trying to shout above the howling wind. His words had no effect, as the helmsman never heard him. Thoughts and words failed the captain. All he could do was watch slack jawed, terrified as the green wall of water surged down towards his ship.
The rogue wave caught them beam on and the ship slid sickeningly sideways as the wave broke over her. A huge amount of water poured over the decks, taking all before it. There were screams as the men holding the tillers were tossed aside as the tiller beams swung violently to starboard forced by the weight of water on the steering oars. Some of the crew ran to give assistance as a second huge wave swamped the boat. Some of the port sweeps, extended as storm stabilizers, were shattered by the force of the ocean. Cries of distress came from the rowers who were struck by the oars as they broke. Now his ship wallowed sluggishly in the water, Agapitos held onto a rope line as the second wall of water drained from the deck. Now our lives are in the hands of the Gods, and Poseidon God of the Sea does not appear to be in a forgiving or merciful mood today, he thought. He looked above him as another wave crested then crashed over the ship. He closed his eyes and held onto the rope line with both hands and cursed the Gods.
Captain Klaus Meinbach sat at an ornate military desk in his cabin attending to the ship’s log. He dipped a metal tipped quill in a small bottle of ink hung on complex brass gimbals and wrote in a precise elegant script: ‘The 3rd day New Spring, 812, 0800 hrs I am maintaining standard patrol. Easterly course 70 leagues from the coast of Atlantea and abreast of home port Atlantis. No sightings of pirates or uitlander trading ships. A tempest is approaching from the East. I have ordered the crew to keep a weather eye out, as storms often blow the uitlander ships closer to our shores.’ He signed it with a flourish Captain Klaus Meinbach, battle cruiser, Hieglund. There was a knock at his cabin door.
“Come in,” he said, blotting his entry. Navigator Vielung, his second in command entered, he was a small man whose regulation sword seemed too long for him. “Permission to secure for rough weather Captain,” Vielung said.
“Permission granted. Steer North East, we don’t want to take this sea beam on. Have the boiler room coal bunkers filled. The crew won’t be able to replenish them once it gets rough.”
“Yes sir! I’ll order all lamps switched on and the gun ports closed.” affirmed Vielung.
“Very good Vielung, carry on, I will attend the bridge shortly.”
Vielung shut the door leaving the captain to continue his paperwork. Klaus sighed, continuing to fulfill the meticulous administrative requirements set by the Atlantean Navy. Battle cruiser Hieglund’s bow lifted slightly and Klaus felt the shudder as his ship ploughed through a set of smaller swells ahead of the storm front. The feel of the ship moving under him, the increasing throb of the engines vibrating through the hull made the captain lift his head. Klaus felt his ship speak to him as a rider feels his mount. Every noise, every creak and groan had a meaning and a reason for being. He could close his eyes and see the helmsman making small corrections then feel the change transmitted through the hull. His eyes returned to his paperwork; his hand picked up his quill again. He continued writing but part of his mind lingered still with his ship. The storm was moving fast, but he had faith in his crew and the speed with which they would make the ship secure for foul weather.
The Hieglund was 5000 tons of riveted steel hull and hardwood decks. She was the strongest of the coastal patrol fleet, sleek and elegant. Many times larger than the crude wooden uitlander vessels that strayed into Atlantean waters. With ten rifled cannon arrayed on her gun deck, she could easily defeat any craft which the uitlanders could bring to bear against them. Indeed a fleet of their oar and sail propelled vessels would be no match for her firepower. The steam dreadnaught was one of the reasons the Atlantean people were protective of their waters and technology. They needed to be.
The primitive races were treacherous and constantly warring with each other. Should they attain Atlantean weaponry they wouldn’t hesitate to use the armamants against his people. Klaus knew this; every citizen knew this. By keeping their race pure the archipelago that made up the Atlantean Empire had become prosperous and all powerful.
Klaus put his pen in the holder, placed his correspondence in a wooden tray. It was good to stand and feel the gently rolling deck under his feet. Carefully he put on his charcoal naval uniform jacket trimmed with silver braid and buttons. His captain’s rank marked by additional blue trim and three red pips. Then he donned his silver braided stiff black cap, buckled on his sword and put a brace of pistols in his holsters. Now the captain of the Hieglund was ready for action. As he climbed up to the bridge deck, the sound of ringing bells made marines and sailors scramble to their heavy weather stations. His men saluted as their captain strode past them seeming oblivious to their presence; but they knew their Captain missed nothing. Klaus felt proud of his crew; they were the best trained, most loyal crew in the Atlantean fleet.
He entered the pilothouse, noting the helmsmen held her great wooden spoked wheels steady on the new course, and all hands were at their stations. The first mate saluted, “ship is battened down and ready for heavy weather, Captain.”
“Very good, carry on.” said Klaus returning the salute. The Atlantean navy insisted on correct protocol at all times. A ship of the line had never lost or retreated from a naval engagement in Atlantea’s eight hundred year history and all ratings from cabin boys to the Captain himself knew failure was never tolerated by their masters ashore. In this way the navy kept the secrets of their islands theirs and theirs alone.
Klaus replaced his cap with a metal helmet, attached to the front was a telescopic device which he pulled down in front of his right eye. He looked ahead at the dark clouds and rain sheets of the approaching storm. Large cresting waves preceded the rough weather; it would be a long day. He watched as a new set of large waves rolled towards the ship. Her high prow and broad shoulders shoved the waves aside effortlessly, sending spray outwards in a huge surge. The Hieglund dipped her bow into the next wave, tons of water poured over her decks; she lifted again, her twin screws driving the battle cruiser up the face of the next swell. “Head straight into the wind.” ordered Klaus “This is a major storm. We will take it on the nose day and night if we must. Reduce to three hundred revolutions.”
“Aye sir.” said the helmsmen in unison as they held the battleship directly into the cresting seas. A huge sheet of green water came foaming up over the foredeck. The water spilled spectacularly down her sides as the water drained through the scuppers. "Nothing but an Atlantean ship will survive this storm.” remarked the first mate. “Those uitlander Greeks, Persians and Mesopotamians will all be sent to the bottom of the sea this night, mark my words.” Klaus did not respond to the first mate’s remark, but felt smug satisfaction at his ship's performance as he braced for the next wave.