Chapter 18: A Black Response
Chief Warrant Officer Egan stared out across the dark waters. Something didn’t feel right. Vizier Iskan’s ship, carrying tribute, had been gone for over an hour and no flags had been flown. No signal had been sent, as was the custom during negotiations.
A city watch captain bustled down the stairs and out onto the dock. He saluted Egan. “Chief, we’ve had a major disruption at the market. The city watch requests your aid.”
“What is it, Captain?” Egan barely turned his gaze from the water.
“My men chased down some vandals, sir. They’ve caused quite a commotion, sparked a mob it seems.”
Egan sighed. A grand battle it was not. “Fine, take twelve of my men. Whatever the outcome from these negotiations, it will be a while yet I think.”
The younger captain saluted and called twelve others with him. The platoon quickly made their way up the great stairs towards the city.
A recruit looked to Egan, “Chief, should we fortify the docks? They have a sizeable fleet out there. We could ready archers at the very least and--”
“No, we wait,” Egan snapped and paced the dock, “Sharper minds are at play.” The words rang hollow in his mouth.
Hours passed and fog filled the bay. Egan’s men joked and chatted quietly amongst themselves. Egan leaned on one of the pier’s pylons and skipped a stone across the water. It bounced perfectly several times before disappearing into the gloom. He sighed.
Then a call came forward from the watchman, high on the great stairway, “Ship’s approaching! Flying our flag!” His voice carried down to Egan and his men. Egan turned to see a ship, torches ablaze through the mist, sailing fast for the docks.
“It appears to be the Vizier, Chief,” one of the recruits called.
“Yes, he has grand news I’m sure, ” Egan straightened his uniform. Something I won’t hear the end of for a fortnight.
“Sir, the ship’s not slowing!” the recruit called again.
Egan peered through the fog. The torchlight was noticeably brighter, and it came ever closer. “Maybe recruit, maybe . . . .” Egan started, and with a gust of wind, the ship broke through the gloom. Its sail was ablaze with fire, the banners of Gilead burning on the port and starboard sides, casting a red light on the pig poles planted across the deck. On them, Egan saw the heads of his men stacked four high on each. Off the main mast hung the bodies of Iskan and Salain.
“No! No!” Egan screamed as the ship plowed forward. And there strapped to the female figurehead of the ship was a great brazier. Barrels and crates were tied to it like some kind of sick gift.
Egan’s eyes went wide as he spied a long-corded fuse burning its last at the bundle.
“Run! Run! Damn you all!” Egan called to his men, trying to throw tow lines on the ship’s cleats as it sailed past.
The ship exploded, sending his men standing on the edge of the docks flying. Metal and wooden debris flew across the water and pinned five more of his men to the ground, instantly killing them. Egan was knocked back to the base of the stairs, the air sucked from his lungs. Fire. Screaming. Chaos. As Egan’s eyes cleared, he saw his men running. Others, covered in flames, raced for the water. He could hear the watchmen’s voices rise above the confusion.
“Attack! Awaken sons of Gilead, we are under attack!” their voices cried overhead.
Egan stood, dazed, and through the fog saw black corsairs race toward them. A war drum sounded a savage beat as the cries of the Amorites filled his ears. The ships slammed into the docks and hundreds of warriors swarmed out like cockroaches.
He ran forward and tried to pull his standing men back, but they were leaped upon by countless attackers dressed in black, their faces covered by ashen masks, their hands wielding serpentine blades. Every beat of the drum brought another corsair crashing onto the shore.
“Back! Form a line at the stair!” Egan yelled at his retinue to the right and left, but they ran in panic and were at once torn apart by the Amorite warriors. A small platoon formed a circle several feet away from him as he called again and drew his sword. He slashed his blade through three of the attackers before reaching his men and moving into the center of the formation.
“Move back, we can’t hold the docks! Keep your shields up and move with my command!”
The guardsmen shored up their shields and held back the horde of spears, swords, and hands, their faces wincing with every spear thrust that was blocked.
“We push together now, then strike! Remember your training!” Egan yelled above the din. “Now!”
The soldiers moved in one fluid motion and knocked back the Amorite mob with their shields before shoving their own swords and spears forward, impaling a line of the attackers.
“Yes! Again!” Egan yelled.
In unison, the soldiers shoved forward before slamming their weapons into another line of black-garbed warriors.
We can do this, I can do this. Egan’s eyes gleamed. I can push them back and make a stand here. Maybe I CAN end this right now.
In that brief second, he remembered his father standing over him at the shore. “Move forward!” he yelled.
A recruit turned to him desperately, “Sir?! You just said we can’t hold the docks. We’re overwhelmed!”
“You heard me, soldier! Forward!” Egan called again.
The soldiers pushed forward again, but their shields faltered. The ground shook as if a great mass had fallen to earth. From the shadows, a giant of a warrior, nearly fifteen feet high with arms thicker than a masthead, strode forward through the water. His shoulders and chest, covered with bloodied plate mail, spanned the width of the ship, and his large head was the size of a grown man, covered by an iron skull faceplate. As he pushed his way forward past his own men, he slammed an evil spiked mace to the side and sent five Amorite soldiers flying. His other hand held a wood and metal plate that Egan could only guess as having once been the hull of a boat.
“What in the Maker’s name is that?” Egan’s mouth dropped.
A savage chanting spread across the invaders, “Molek! Molek! Molek!”
Molek howled and sent his mace flying into Egan’s platoon. The weapon decapitated two of the recruits and sent another three to the ground.
I have killed us all, he thought, his hands trembling as he tripped over the body of one of his soldiers and dropped his weapon. Molek slammed his mace down on two more of Egan’s men while the Amorites cheered.
Egan pulled himself back to the stairway as Molek strode to him and leered.
“Is this a great lion of Judah?” Molek scoffed, his guttural laughs echoed.
Egan turned and ran up the stairwell. He could hear the laughter and taunts of the black army calling at his back, but still, he ran. Only the cries of his dying men followed him.