Octavian was grabbed roughly, and thrown down to the deck, his Admiral landing on top of him.
Above the two, a lit bolt fired from a ballista sailed overhead, the javelin embedding itself into the ships mast.
“You men there, douse those flames!” Shouted a deck officer. Frantic Sailors moved to dip wooden buckets into the sea, and then haul them up by long rope. Rushing across the deck, they worked to quickly smother the fire before it could consume the ship.
“General, my pardon” Octavian’s fleet commander muttered while helping him up.
“Nonsense, Agrippa, “I would have been skewered.”
Standing Octavian once more took in the sight of Antony’s ships arrayed against him. Roman warships giving chase arrayed in a line stretching from horizon to horizon. Behind those the ships of Egypt sailed.
It had not begun well, Octavian having landed his troops at Ephesus found himself quickly under attack by soldiers loyal to Antony. The traitorous general having made his intent clear used his battle hardened men, weakened though they were by the Persians, to breach Octavian’s lines. Antony, Octavian had to concede, had made the right decision, knowing the longer he allowed Octavian to organize his troops, the stronger his position would be. The die thus cast, Antonius’ attack had been withering and Octavian’s forced retreat from entrenchments, though the city, and finally to the docks had been humiliating. At the last, his men were forced to throw off their armor and dive into the waters, swimming out to Octavian’s ships as they fled the harbor for the open sea.
Piles of finely made Roman armor arrayed haphazardly along the waterfront, such a waste...
For a fortnight, the fleets had skirmished against each other, as Octavian retreated west. Antony gave no quarter, knowing full well that if he defeated Octavian’s fleet, Italy herself would be under threat of a sea bone invasion. If Antonius landed on the peninsula he might, by his charisma, gain the loyalty of more troops, potentially taking control of mother Rome before Uncle Julius could march his men from the border of Hispania to defend it.
“General, Zephyr’s winds have left us,” Agrippa’s words caused Octavian to glance up at a slack main sail. “We cannot maintain the pace of our retreat by use of oar men alone.”
“Then nether can Antonius.”
“Not so, General” Agrippa’s hand rose, finger pointing. “He is further out in the channel, where winds still carry his ships, while we have been forced into skirting close to land, which blocks any hope of our salvation.
“What inlet is this?” Octavian asked while studying the sea worn features of his Admiral.
“General that be the Saronic Gulf, and the city of Piraeus beyond.” Agrippa clasped Octavius’ shoulders, a gesture meant to impart how serious the situation was. “The noose tightens around us, we are about to be boxed in by Antony. He is moving to cut our escape to the open sea.”
“And I fear, Greece will not be kind to us should we be forced to seek refuge in the harbor of Piraeus.”
“I concur General.”
“Well then my old friend. We shall turn and fight!”
Agrippa smiled wide, “We may not win the day general, but tis better to fight as men than die like dogs.” I promise we shall make Antonius pay for his treachery to Rome!”
Stepping away from Octavian, and up to the stern of the ship, Agrippa, grabbed the tiller himself after pushing the man holding it aside gruffly. Shoving the rudder starboard, he yelled to the signal man standing near. “All ships come about! We attack!”
Below deck the ever present beating of drums, meant to keep the slave oarsmen in time, picked up speed.
Agrippa steadied the tiller, guiding his flagship about in a tight turn, attempting to maneuver as quickly as possible to catch Antonius’ fleet of guard. The first ship, the one which had drawn close to fire the ballista was caught napping and made the deadly mistake of attempting to heel hard to port.
At Octavian’s order, soldiers on board grabbed anything near as means to steady themselves.
The iron ram at the prow of the ship smashed though wood, the screams of the chained slaves ringing out as water flooded into the enemy ship.
“Grab the shields!”
Soldier and sailor alike, snatched up the wooden shields hung along the starboard and port side of the Trireme as arrows and ballista bolts from the enemy raked the deck. Screams rang out as those too slow in raising shields in defense were cut down, their blood spilling about the decks. In the mist of battle, boys ran to and fro scattering sand to keep the men from slipping on the crimson liquid coating the deck.
“Reverse!” bellowed Agrippa to the officer of the deck.
Ever so slowly, the Trireme pulled from the enemy ship, the ram exiting from the damaged timbers, allowing more of the sea to rush in. The enemy, realizing the ship had been mortally wounded jumped into the blue waters. When they surfaced for air, well aimed spears from Octavian’s men sliced through them.
Within the bowels of the enemy ship, desperate cries where heard as the rowers where pulled under the water, by the chains binding them to their oars.
“Agrippa!” Octavian shouted out to amidst the din of battle. “Our ships are smaller, more maneuverable, swarm Anthony’s ships!”
The old Admiral smiled wryly as he was just about to suggest the same course of action. Octavian was doing what he always did, attempting to turn sure defeat into a fighting chance.
“Signal the fleet! Ships pair off, attack together.”
“Antony, the enemy means to fight.”
For long moments, Antonius continued to lean against the wooden rail, chewing upon a fig, showing little concern for the present situation. Tossing the remnants over the ships rail, he stood fully.
“Cornelius I know how Octavian thinks and I understand why he’s doing this. He wishes he were somewhere else, but turns to fight, looking fierce so I’ll think him brave. Tis not so…” Antony moved to don his helmet and check his armor. “Octavian is desperate, not brave. He cannot win, so he seeks annihilation.”
“Even so, should we not take heed?” Cornelius’ expression was tense, doubt written upon the lines in his face.
“Order all ships to engage the enemy, melee attack!” The signal man nearest raised his flags to pass the order on to the other ships of the line.
“No formation?” Cornelius pressed.
“We outnumber them.”
“General hear me, on land I know well of your prowess in dispatching the enemy, but here we are out of our element. Is it not wise to use caution? Agrippa is a most experienced sailor.”
“These tit for tat skirmishes between our ships has gone on long enough, we crush them now.”
“Antonius makes a rash mistake, bore from impatience and a lack of familiarity with the ships he commands.”
“My Queen?” asked Raia with a most confused look. “He outnumbers them, certainly that is an advantage?” she queried most respectfully. The eldest daughter of Vizier Amenemhet followed behind the Queen of all Egypt to the rail of the ship. In the shimmering reflection cast by the sunlight off the waves Cleopatra’s dark locks shimmered, the gold beads woven within her braided tresses shining brilliantly. The Queen chose to wear no armor; instead a form fitting dress of sea green and gold accentuated her beauty. To Raia, Cleopatra was truly the daughter of Ra.
“Octavian has found his one advantage and soon we shall be called upon to save Antonius.”
“Forgive me, but I see no advantage.”
“Raia…” A gentle smile played upon gorgeous lips. “You must learn how things work. All ships are not equal, some are heavily armored, a definite advantage against attack, but that same armor makes them slower in maneuver. Others, like Octavian’s are more maneuverable, due to less armor, a definite advantage when facing larger and slower warships such as those Antonius fights with.”
“Then, does not Antonius have the advantage?” asked Raja, clearly confused.
“My dear, it is all about using best aspects of your ships to your advantage. Raja’s gaze followed to where her queen was pointing. “See how Octavian pairs his ships?” How they attack together as wolves do?” Antonius’ attacks without formation, his lone ships will be picked off one by one like sheep culled from the flock.
“What should be done to—“Raja’s next question was cut off by messenger.
“My Queen!” The man knelt before her. “A ship, which has raced across the waters to find us, has signaled a message.”
“And that is?”
She watched as the runner’s eyes darted about nervously observing those on deck who were listening, without appearing to do so.
“Here man.” Cleopatra instructed, one beautiful finger touching her ear. “Whisper it to me quietly.”
The man did as commanded, and Raia watched as her queen grabbed the rail to steady herself a moment, shock upon her features.
“Signal the fleet! Cleopatra hands balled into fists. “All ships come about! We sail for home!”