Atlantis On the Shores of Forever

By Jennifer McKeithen

Romance, Historical fiction, Fantasy, New adult fiction

Paperback, eBook

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1405
16 mins

Prologue

She ran. Deeper, deeper into the mysterious Broceliande forest she went. Panic surged through her veins, holding her fatigue at bay. She had lost track of how long she had kept up this pace.
Massive tree branches choked out the waning sunlight, casting eerie shadows across the uneven ground. Very soon, complete darkness would fall over the forest.
And, her pursuers were gaining.
Where exactly the princess was going, she hadn’t an inkling. She knew only that she must flee. She also knew that if she stopped for but an instant, the warriors trailing behind would surely catch her.
Her bare arms shivered in the misty twilight air. Ferocious boars and wolves were known to roam the forest Broceliande. If she happened upon one of these beasts, she would find herself defenseless, as she had not had the time to procure any sort of weapon when she bolted into the wood. But was being maimed by a wild animal worse than the fate which drove her to this course of action in the first place?
The world as she knew it was changing. A dark threat from the east loomed on the horizon. Ships of an unknown people raided coastal towns throughout the known lands at random, leaving utter destruction in their wake.
The most experienced of generals couldn’t predict where this nameless enemy would strike next. Rome and Carthage were so moved that they had put aside their bitterness toward each other in order to fortify against this menace. Rumor had it that even the all-powerful Atlantis felt vulnerable.
Pushing aside those thoughts, she pressed on, racing over the boulders and entanglements of roots in her path. Low-lying branches reached out, snatching at her hair, tearing into her linen gown and any exposed skin. Undaunted, she continued.
In light of this uncertainty, her own people, the Breizhian Gauls of Ker-Ys, could no longer continue in their tradition of self-sufficiency and isolation. Rome, their nearest neighbor, held more values in common with the Breizhians than any other known people—except one.
But joining with the Euskaldunak, or Vascones, as the Romans called them, was quite impossible. Her grandfather, Alwyn Meur, High King of the Breizhians, had long ago sworn a blood feud against them. That her great-grandmother was herself of the Euskaldunak was of no consequence.
Ahead she saw a brook, but she already knew how she would cross. The autumn rains had held off of late, and the low waterline exposed many boulders. Skipping across would prove a simple matter. And she felt certain the water couldn’t rise higher than her waist at most.
Since alliance with the Euskaldunak was out, it was therefore only logical that her brothers would choose to ally with Rome. In order to cement this alliance, they arranged a marriage for her to Valens Petronius, a young, though influential Roman senator. Marrying him was the best thing she could ever hope to accomplish for her people.
High above the brook’s ravine existed a plateau, where an ancient archway had endured the ravages of time. If she raised her head, she could see its cornerstone just above the tree line. This was where the first exiles of Atlantis had crowned their rulers. Her people no longer used the place, but she had often played there as a child—once with Petronius, oddly enough.
And yet, the princess couldn’t bring herself to bind her life to his. From an early age, she knew she would marry for love. She would choose her future husband. Her brothers disagreed. So there she found herself, running through the cold, enchanted forest at dusk.
She reached the first boulder. Upon landing, her foot slid over the slippery moss growing on the rocks. Icy water engulfed her body. She found her feet, but it was too late. The warriors had already surrounded her.
Cahan, her younger brother, scolded her first. “What did you hope to accomplish by running away?” he uttered between breaths. His disappointment in her behavior soon turned to sympathy, though it was clear his resolve would not waver.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. Tears stung her eyes. Her wet clothes clung to her body, and she began to shiver.
“We made an agreement,” said her older brother Tierney, sternly. “We will not go back on our word.”
A lump formed in her throat. “How could you do this to me? You’re just going to sell me off to the highest bidder, like I’m some kind of slave instead of your sister?”
Tierney’s patience wore thin. “You’ve known all your life that your marriage would be arranged. I stand in the place of our father. You will obey me.”
“I will marry the man I choose,” she declared, clenching her fists in an effort to stop trembling.
A calm, deep voice interrupted the argument. “Excuse me.” Valens Petronius approached the water’s edge.
The princess felt her cheeks flush in spite of the cold. She had not expected him to join in the chase.
On the surface, there was nothing inherently wrong with Petronius. He was near her age, tall and handsome, and by all accounts an honorable and capable leader.
They had met ten years previously. The young boy had saved her life at risk to his own when he pulled her out of a rushing stream. She had thrown her arms around his neck in gratitude, and he in turn vowed he would marry her when they grew up.
As the years passed, however, she forgot his avowal. He, obviously, had not. The irony of the situation humiliated her to no end.
“There is no honor in forcing a woman to marry against her will,” said the Roman. “I wasn’t aware she was ignorant of the negotiations. I will have her willingly, or not at all.”
“The treaty has already been signed,” said Tierney. “It cannot be broken.”
“But I don’t love him!” She loathed having to reject Petronius in such a cruel manner. Yet after what he had done for her so long ago, she decided it was far better to do so than to give him false hope.
“You were born to privilege,” Cahan reminded her. “You don’t have the luxury of waiting to fall in love.” His tone softened. “You know I want your happiness. That’s why we’ve shown you patience up to this point. But you’ve rejected too many of your suitors. It’s time to live up to your responsibilities.”
The tears that had formed in her eyes finally spilled down her cheeks. “I’m only sixteen.”
Petronius nodded thoughtfully. “Very well.”
All gasped in astonishment. Was he seriously considering the dissolution of the treaty, with the enemy pillaging all around them? It was beyond foolhardiness.
The Roman obtained a sword from one of his guards and stepped into the water. “I propose a choice to you.” He gave her the hilt of the sword and held the blade to his neck. “My life is yours. Kill me, and you will not have to marry against your will. Felix,” he addressed his aide. “Prepare a statement: Rome will ally with Ker-Ys, regardless of her actions.”
“But Senator—”
“Do it!” he ordered.
Felix reluctantly complied.
Petronius turned back to the princess. His tone softened, and he fell to one knee. “Or you can spare my life, and marry me. Either way, my lady, your fate is in your own hands. You have the choice.”
“This is madness! A treaty without blood ties will surely fail!”
Ignoring Tierney’s outburst, Petronius calmly awaited her answer.
She stared back at him in utter shock. Her heart pounded harder than it had during her sprint through the forest. Freedom was within her grasp, if she was audacious enough to seize it. “Why are you doing this?”
Petronius smiled thinly. “You are probably not going to believe me, but I meant every word I said to you when I was a boy. Can you imagine my elation when your brothers offered me the chance to marry the girl I’ve always loved?”
She searched his face. Could his claim be true? His handsome brown eyes seemed sincere enough. Desire was there, no question. But, there was something else. Was it truly the love he claimed it was?
For the first time, she actually considered what it would mean to marry him. Her face felt hot again, and instead of pounding, her heart began to flutter wildly.
In appearance at least, he was everything she could have wanted in a husband: intelligent, dignified, and definitely good-looking. He was also much closer to her age than any of her previous suitors.
“You trusted me when we were children,” he continued. “Trust me now. I promise to do everything in my power to win your heart.”
Yet still, she harbored doubts about the veracity of his words. Offering his life was a bold gesture, but she couldn’t help but wonder if he believed there was any real danger of her taking it.
She had to make sure. Pressing the blade to his neck, she made a shallow incision. Though the cut wasn’t deep enough to harm him, it drew a considerable amount of blood.
The others gasped in horror. Petronius did not so much as flinch, but held her gaze as the creek babbled around his form.
She lowered the sword. “You’re a wise and valorous man, Valens Petronius.”
“We Romans are a valorous people,” he shrugged, apparently unconcerned by the trickles of blood staining his white tunic. “Besides, I’m a senator. I have to be.” He did not rise, but awaited her answer.
She looked away. His courage moved her. She still didn’t love him, but to be the wife of a man as lionhearted as he... Was it possible she could learn to love him?
None of her other suitors would have even thought of that scheme, much less gamble their lives on the outcome. Petronius must have wanted her very badly to risk it.
Yes, she decided, he deserved a chance. “I will accept you.”
Petronius rose at last, and gently kissed her cheek.
Cahan rushed forward and embraced them both. “You’re certainly a fitting husband for my sister, Petronius!” he exclaimed. “Well done! I knew you wouldn’t disappoint us.”
Tierney remained skeptical, crossing his arms in reserved judgment, though the outcome pleased him.
Petronius removed his outer tunic, and wrapped it around her as a ward against the chilly air. They climbed up the bank out of the stream bed. All the while, his eyes never left hers.
“You won’t regret this,” he whispered, taking her hand. With the other hand, he pressed a rag to his neck.
She returned a weak smile, and hoped she wasn’t making the biggest mistake of her life.

Chapter One

“They’re gaining. They’ll reach us by nightfall.”
Finn Stigandr shrugged at his captor’s statement. “Looks like I won’t have to face that trial after all.”
Lieutenant Kenda Ptah tore his gaze away from the dark raider pursuing them. “So it would seem,” he snorted. “But don’t relax just yet. It’s said they’re cannibals. You may wish you’d stayed with the Romans before this day ends.”
Finn shifted, causing his chains to rattle. “It doesn’t matter. My life was over some time ago.”
Ethnically, the two men hailed from different backgrounds. Finn was the son of Norse immigrants to Atlantis, while Ptah took pride in his ancestral line of Nubian pharaohs. Both men were citizens of the melting pot of peoples that made up the mighty Atlantean civilization.
As things stood, Finn’s future did indeed appear bleak. He had wandered the world for most of his life, making one mistake after another, getting lured into any cause that promised him a purpose. Now, his past had caught up to him.
Worst than any of his political missteps was his latest personal blunder. But he didn’t wish to ponder at length on that one just yet.
Plenty of time for that in prison, he thought grimly.
Ptah glanced back at the raider. “This is how it starts.”
To his horror, Finn saw a waterspout form on the waves behind them. Before the raider showed up, the sea had been calm, with no sign of bad weather on the horizon.
“How...?”
“They’ve learned to bend nature to their will,” Ptah explained. “Their science eludes me.”
A sickening lump tightened in Finn’s stomach. “Maybe it isn’t science. Reminds me of the kraken legends of my people. The monster drags its body through the water, forming a maelstrom to sink the ships of men, its prey.”
Ptah scoffed. “No wonder you’ve never made anything of yourself, when you believe in such superstitions. That’s what comes of spending twenty years with ignorant Romans.”
“The ocean is vast. Science has yet to explain—”
The deck of the Atlantean supply barca heaved violently, cutting short Finn’s rebuttal.
A military vessel could possibly have outrun that dark ship. But the more he observed their attacker, the more he wondered if even Ptah’s Nautilus, the flagship of Atlantis’ navy, could outrun such speed.
The noise of the Pelican’s seawater engines whined through the wooden beams under his feet. The captain was pushing her hard. Even so, it didn’t look like they had any chance of escape.
Ptah continued to study their enemy. “A galley, with multiple decks of rowers,” he mused. “Still, they shouldn’t have the power to keep up with our engines.”
“There’s more to them than what we see on the surface,” said Finn.
Ptah huffed, his powerful shoulders tensing beneath his armor. “We can agree on that, at least.”
The enemy galley loomed closer, its triangular sails casting menacing shadows over the defenseless Pelican. From across the waves, Finn heard the grunting and howling of the slave rowers. The sounds of the drivers’ whips cracking on their backs sent chills down his spine. He held his own back stiff so that no one, especially Ptah, would notice.
Ptah’s dark cheeks tinged with red. “At least we know spirits don’t drive their ships. What superstitious nonsense!”
His voice remained steady, though Finn knew Ptah had to feel the same terror he felt upon hearing those awful sounds.
Spirits or not, their pursuers would be on board the Pelican soon. Was this how it would end? Finn hoped not. With all he had done wrong, he yearned to do something right for a change.
“Give me a chance to fight,” he pleaded. “I want to die as I have lived—as a warrior, not chained like an animal.”
Ptah eyed him suspiciously. He and his prisoner stood the nearly same height. Ptah poised only just taller, though Finn could boast a little more bulk. A struggle between them would come out close. Finn had served Rome as a Senator’s bodyguard before he decided to return home. If he could call Atlantis home, that was. Ptah wasn’t going to underestimate the Norseman’s capabilities.
“I promised my captain I’d bring you back to Atlantis to stand trial for your actions. You are a traitor. Bargaining information or not, you deserve to die like an animal.”
“If our roles were reversed,” Finn persisted, “wouldn’t you make the same request? You’re going to need every available fighter if there’s any hope of survival.”
After a moment, he relented. “Alright. But at any sign of treachery, I’ll slit your pale throat myself. Understand?”
Finn agreed, and Ptah unlocked the chains. As soon as his hands and feet were free, he lunged at his former captor.
Ptah reached for his knife, cursing aloud his weak, compassionate fool of a self. They landed on the deck with a hard thud.
Finn released Ptah, who only then saw the flaming spear stuck in the plank at their side. The understanding that Finn had saved his life registered on his face.
They scrambled to their feet, right as enemy soldiers leaped onto the deck.
Ptah brandished his sword. “I’ll not end up on your roasting spit, you dogs!” With that, he plunged into the fray.
Finn followed right behind him. Together, they fought hard into the night.
A crescent moon rose high in the sky, shining her beams down onto the struggle. Finn’s arm grew weary. As he began to wonder how long he could keep up the defense, a sudden blow from behind pushed his face into the deck. Dazed, he tried to lift his head.
The last thing he saw was the enemy standard ascending the mast of the Pelican.
Ψ Ψ Ψ
He awoke with a start. At first, he didn’t know where he was. Then, he remembered. The enemy had captured the Pelican.
Why am I still alive?
He touched the back of his throbbing head. The wound seemed minor. As he moved, he heard a familiar rattle at his feet. He was in chains—again. He sighed, and rested on the oar across his lap. Why was it every time he tried to do the right thing, it blew up in his face?
It made perfect sense. Given the high mortality rate of rowers, raiding ships would keep their strongest prisoners for that purpose. That was what the Romans did.
But what had happened to the others? Were Ptah’s tales of cannibalism true? Finn shuddered, and decided to turn his thoughts to other matters.
To his left, he saw that Ptah lay chained beside him. A hint of gray showed in his emerging whiskers. Ptah’s exact age escaped him, though Finn didn’t think him quite old enough to be his father.
The Atlantean hadn’t yet regained consciousness from his own injuries. His armor was gone, and he wore a simple tunic much like Finn’s.
“Lieutenant.” He nudged him. “Are you alright?”
Ptah slowly came around. “We’re prisoners,” he rasped.
“Slave rowers, to be more accurate. If these people are anything like the Romans, we’re in for a miserable remainder of our lives.”
Ptah quietly pounded his fist on the oar. “We’re not finished yet. We’ll escape.”
Finn tugged on the chains that held them to the bench. “No one escapes the galleys.”
Ptah’s brown eyes filled with resolve. “We shall be the first. They—”
With a crash, the trap door at the front was wrenched open, and the hold filled with blinding daylight.
A huge guard strode down the stairs, coiling his whip in anticipation, and baring his rotten teeth. He shouted something in his native tongue. Although neither Finn nor Ptah understood the words, they grasped his meaning perfectly: Row, or you’ll answer to me.
A prisoner in Atlantean garb rose in defiance. “I’ll never serve you!” he declared.
The guard grimaced.
Finn winced. That was stupid.
The grimace grew wider.
The hulking taskmaster seemed incapable of a genuine smile. Countless tattoos and body piercings made him a frightful sight. Pain obviously wasn’t an issue for him.
He threw the whip aside and grabbed a machete from his belt. One slash, and the poor fool was no more. The smell of blood and fear reeked through the hold. He looked around. Satisfied that he needed to teach the lesson only once, he signaled the drummer to begin.
The drummer pounded out the rowing beat. This time, no one hesitated to put their backs into the task.
“Ol’ Smiley will be the first to go,” Ptah whispered.
After the example of the first man who defied “Smiley,” Finn found he couldn’t share Ptah’s optimism. It would take more than one man to bring that monster down.
Ψ Ψ Ψ
The awful day passed quickly.
Finn’s back ached from the lashes of the whip. Only now did he fully grasp why galley slaves didn’t live long. It astonished him that he and Ptah survived the first day. He prayed his end would be quick.
Ptah was far from breaking. “We’ve got to get out of here.” He greedily devoured his crust of bread, then stretched the cramps out of his arms.
Finn hung his head. “Our only escape is death. What do you think happened to the men who sat in the empty places around us?”
He studied the other rowers. Behind him sat a man roughly the same size as their overseer. The Babylonian, by the look of him, offered a sympathetic shrug.
“Just stay alert and ready,” said Ptah. “An opportunity will present itself. You’ll see.”
Finn felt too exhausted to argue. If Ptah wanted to entertain hope, let him. Before long, he drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Ψ Ψ Ψ
It seemed he had hardly closed his eyes when Smiley woke them with yelling and cursing, hurling the hated lash at random targets. They began to row, and Finn prepared himself for another day in hell.
After some time, he glanced out through the oar hole. The sun had risen high in the sky, while the waves splashed around them. He had a sick feeling this day wouldn’t pass as quickly as the first.
Late in the afternoon, Smiley commanded the rowers to stop.
They dropped their oars with a sigh of relief. As Finn leaned against the wall, he could hear hurried footsteps and excited voices above him. Officers barked orders, and heavy objects were dragged into place.
It dawned on him: they were preparing for battle.
Ptah nudged him. “Look out there and tell me what you see.”
Finn wearily complied. “Only the sea. I guess the other ship lies dead ahead.”
Ptah’s features filled with hope. “This is our chance.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” Finn mumbled.
“What?”
Finn didn’t have the chance to repeat his cynical retort. Their overseer signaled for them to row again. With a loud groan, the galley slaves lifted their oars once more.
The drummer pounded the fastest pace yet: ramming speed.

Chapter Two

The ships circled each other.
Finn never caught more than a glimpse of the other vessel. He didn’t dare poke his head out and risk slowing the pace. He thought he saw the puff of a sail, followed by the flattened end of an oar.
“I think they’re Romans,” he grunted.
“I don’t care who they are,” said Ptah, “so long as they give us our opportunity. Get ready.”
Almost at once, they felt the jarring impact.
Drawn by the moans of the injured, Smiley abandoned his charges to join the battle on the upper deck.
Finn and Ptah waited anxiously.
“Maybe they’ll free us,” said the Babylonian behind them.
“Better to die in battle than chained up like a dog,” agreed another.
The sound of buzzing drifted down the stairs from the upper deck, followed by a wave of painful cries.
“What in Hades is that?” uttered a man.
Ptah cocked his head. “It sounds like...flies.”
Finn blinked. “I didn’t think we were so close to land.”
The battle continued to rage above them.
A Greek rower sitting near the trap door stood up. “I see them! Ahoy, Romans!” he called. “Free us, and we’ll fight for you!”
Silence met their ears. The Romans were too occupied to think about prisoners. That didn’t bode well.
“Good thing you’re not wearing their uniform anymore,” Ptah remarked with a sarcastic click of his tongue. “The Romans aren’t as merciful to traitors as we are.”
Finn ran a hand through his sandy, blond hair. He knew that truth better than Ptah, having witnessed discipline in the Roman navy for himself. In fact, the Romans made him carry out punishments for treachery on occasion. It was how soldiers of foreign origins proved their allegiance to Rome.
Even then, they never saw Finn as one of them.
The ringing of swords gradually wound down. Through the portals in the side, they saw the Harappans tossing bodies overboard. More than one prisoner began to weep outright.
Finn felt their despair. But he had already prepared himself for this inevitable outcome. He found himself praying for a quick death once again.
Ψ Ψ Ψ
Centurion Marcus Duilius stared in astonishment at a ghastly sorceress, who stood upon the deck of the ship that had moments ago rammed into his trireme.
The crone called down the scourge of her deities upon her Roman foes. Just above her hung the spoils of their previous battles. Among the severed limbs and other gruesome objects floated an Atlantean flying boat.
They can defeat an Atlantean ship? he marveled.
A hoard of enemy warriors rushed onto the Ulixes, forcing Marcus to push aside such questions for later reflection. In the same instant they sighted the mysterious ship, the sea began to churn around them, forming a vortex off their bow. Marcus was certain the old hag had conjured it up.
But as the enemy drew close, the waterspout disappeared as quickly as it had formed.
They rammed the Ulixes from behind, thereby avoiding her corvus. They obviously recognized the boarding bridge for what it was, which suggested to Marcus it wasn’t their first encounter with the Roman Navy, and that they knew ahead of time how to defeat them.
Tribune Structus raised his sword. “Death before defeat!” he cried. “Let’s show these hellions that Rome has the best navy in the world—just like we showed Carthage!” He charged into the line of their attackers.
Marcus hurried after his commanding officer along with the rest of the crew.
With the boarders came a cloud of...flies?
Biting flies, he soon discovered. Trying to ignore their painful stings and deafening buzzing, he deflected blow after blow from the enemy boarders. His attention was divided, and as a result, his sword skills severely diminished. How did one fight flies?
The tiny beasts crawled beneath his armor. He could feel their minuscule feet walking all over his body, their little teeth piercing his skin in a thousand different places. It was maddening!
Several of his soldiers leaped into the sea howling, and it was all he could do not to follow them.
Meanwhile, the man-sized attackers brandished equal ruthlessness. In minutes, most of the Ulixes crew lay on the deck slain.
Marcus could do little better than defend himself. But he refused to give his enemy the satisfaction of seeing him cower.
A grim-faced warrior dropped onto the deck, still sharpening his sword as though he were about to embark on a sporting hunt. He looked up at Marcus and grimaced. He seemed the type who enjoyed squashing down the few resistors who raised their puny heads against him.
Pointing with his chin, he indicated the upper yardarm of his ship, where hung the spoils from their previous victims. You’re next, his eyes said.
Fear threatened to overcome Marcus once more. If they could defeat Atlanteans, what chance could he possibly hope for?
Gripping his sword, Marcus held his ground. If it was sport this ogre wanted, then sport he would get—flies, or no flies.
For the first time that day, he realized he would likely die. At least his family couldn’t find any cause for shame in his conduct.
He raised his sword.
His adversary charged toward him.
Marcus realized his error only too late. His sword was swatted aside, and a large fist connected with his jaw.
Everything went black.
Ψ Ψ Ψ
When he came to, Marcus found his ankles chained to a wooden bench. He sat in a crowd of other prisoners. His armor and weapons had been removed, though they’d allowed him to keep his sandals.
The floor beneath him seesawed. He was in the bowels of a ship—a galley. He was a slave rower!
“Good morning, Marcus,” said the man next to him, in Greek. “Fancy meeting you this side of hell.”
He knew that voice. It belonged to someone who had once saved his life.
Marcus felt his spirits lift. “Kenda Ptah! How did you end up here?”
Were the two not on opposing sides of a lengthy cold war between Rome and Atlantis, they might have been friends.
He shrugged. “Same as you. Our ship was captured.”
“Captured?” Marcus echoed, recalling the display of Atlantean spoils hanging from the yardarms. “Who are these people, that they can take an Atlantean ship?”
“In our defense, it was only a supply barca.” He scratched his head. His hair, usually close-cropped, was growing out past his ears. “They’re from the ancient city of Harappa, in the far east. Their ancestors were among the peoples conquered by Alexander. Some claim it was Harappan infiltrators who poisoned him. Not long after, they overthrew their Seleucid rulers, and have been rebuilding ever since.”
Marcus blinked in astonishment. “You learned all of this as a slave rower?”
“No,” he answered, his voice lowering to a sad tone. “I encountered them on a previous occasion.”
Marcus was about to inquire further when he felt the icy blue glare of the third man on their oar. A nasty taste filled his mouth. He’d recognize Petronius’ light-haired, savage underling anywhere. Last he knew, Finn Stigandr served the political rival of Marcus’ patron. Marcus always believed he was an Atlantean turncoat.
No good will come of hiring a foreigner for a bodyguard, Marcus had remarked. Allowing them in the military wasn’t a good idea in his opinion, either. Even a low-ranking traitor could cause all kinds of havoc.
It came as no surprise the man hadn’t amounted to anything in the twenty-odd years he’d worked for Rome. All the same, the rower deck of an enemy galley was the last place he expected to run into him.
Though Ptah was also Atlantean, Marcus considered him a different case. Once, they’d nearly starved to death while stranded on a deserted island together. After that experience, he came to understand him. Agreeing to disagree on the subject of politics remained acceptable to both men.
Whatever else he was, Ptah was loyal to his own people, and didn’t waffle in his patriotism. Unlike Stigandr.
The renegade leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, apparently ignoring the conversation. His low, creased brow made him look all the more barbaric.
“We’re planning our escape,” Ptah said. “We had hoped your crew would provide us with the means.”
Marcus lifted his palms in defeat. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
Ptah pressed his lips together in frustration. “You can atone by thinking of a solution to our problem.”
“Naturally,” Marcus replied. “But first,” he leaned forward to speak around Ptah, “there’s something I want to know.”
Stigandr tensed. He knew Marcus addressed him. “What?”
“Why did you leave Rome?” Marcus demanded.
His icy blue eyes narrowed. “I got homesick.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Stigandr sat unmoved. “Believe what you will. It matters not to me.”
Ptah straightened, looking back and forth between them. “You two know each other?”
“We are old...acquaintances,” said Marcus, between clenched teeth.
Stigandr turned away and leaned against the wall. “I’m going to sleep now. You’d be wise to do the same.”
Tired though he was, Marcus’ mind raced. He shared Ptah’s determination to escape. Stigandr’s pessimism, on the other hand, posed an irksome mystery. The man seemed as weary of life as he was of wandering.
“Let him sleep,” said Ptah. “We’ll escape without him.”
Marcus sighed. “I loathe agreeing with Stigandr, but he’s right. My mind is little better than pressed olives at the moment. Dawn is a friend to the Muses.”
“Sleep will bring us new ideas,” Ptah assented, reluctantly. Then he smiled. “It’s good to see you again, Marcus.”
They rested on the oars. Despite his eagerness to escape, sleep overcame him.


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