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The Tenth Muse 13

The sun was still low in the sky above the eastern hills when three black ships slipped toward to the beach. Wiphitos clutched two javelins in his left hand and on his left arm he wore a round wooden shield reinforced with bronze. In his right hand was another javelin, ready to be hurled. His men were outfitted with either spears or javelins, and, like Wiphitos, a few officers wore swords on baldrics strapped across their shoulders.

Above the surf, he could hear the cries of watchmen in the village raising the alarm. He cursed under his breath. He could have hoped they would at least reach the shore before they were discovered. But if they couldn’t count on stealth, at least they could try to stun the villagers into submission.

Ships slammed into the beach as fighting men rushed down from the village to meet them. Most weren’t even wearing armor, although two or three carried shields and were decked out in leather tunics.

The ship captain splashed into the surf and up onto the beach. He stopped his advance and flung his first javelin at the nearest of these armored warriors. It struck him under his arm with enough force to wheel him around before he fell. Spearmen were advancing even so. They harried the other two ships, preventing the men from disembarking. Wiphitos retrieved his javelin from the body of the fallen Wilian and raised a war cry. He led his men across the sand to support his countrymen. Other javelins flew into the handful of men who had mustered to defend their village.

Soon fighting men were slipping over the sides of their ships and storming up the beach. Then the king’s trumpeter sounded the attack. The Achaians advanced and soon pushed into the village itself.

There was a villa not too far from the beach at the foot of a small hillock. It was a fair bit larger than most of the peasant huts. Wiphitos wasn’t the only Achaian to have noticed the prize, but he was first to reach it. It wasn’t long before the door gave way to his shoulder. He and half a dozen comrades poured into the house.

Outside he could hear the screams of women and children. Achaian soldiers were battering down doors throughout the village, ransacking houses, and dragging off anything-and anyone-they thought would be worth something.

In the dim light of early dawn a young man lunged at him from the shadows. Wiphitos deflected his attacker with his shield and skewered him with his javelin. He heard a muffled scream and headed toward a door just off the courtyard. His men had begun to carry out gold and silver trinkets: goblets, jewelry, whatever they could find. He turned his attention to the door.

This door gave way before his strength more easily than the first. Behind it he found a sleeping chamber and three shivering bodies huddled in a corner. A man about his age, sporting a bandage across his forehead and clean-shaven but for a couple day’s growth of beard, rose and set himself between Wiphitos and the other two occupants of the room: two girls, one maybe twelve years old and the other a few years older. The man said something. What, Wiphitos couldn’t begin to guess. He shifted his weight and spread out his hands in some sort of wrestling stance, but it was obvious he knew little about self-defense.

“Out of my way!” Wiphitos growled.

“No!” the man answered in the ship captain’s own language. But the ship captain could see the man’s whole body was shaking with fright.

“You’ve got some fire in you, Wilian, but not enough.”

He slapped the man to the ground with the back of his hand and grabbed the young woman around the waist. She and the little girl screamed in unison. Wiphitos shoved the woman into the courtyard and returned for the girl. He shoved her also into the courtyard, but when he followed her the man jumped upon his neck to prevent him. He shrugged the man off as if he were a cloak and followed after the prizes he had found.

In the courtyard, two of his men were making sport of the woman. She escaped from the  grasp of Tharsios and, before Eriklewês could catch her, she bolted for the main door of the villa. Wiphitos moved to cut her off, but just as she reached the open doorway she ran headlong into an imposing figure who had just entered the courtyard.

“A present for me, Wiphitos?”

The captain sighed. Anyone else, and he would fight for the right to keep her.

“As you say, O King.”

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