A minor character in my first novel, Moon of the Goddess, has to step up and take on a major task in Before the New Moon Rises. In this excerpt we see Brizo, prince of Ephyra, as he heads off to confront one of Poseidon’s plots.
With his hand on the tiller, Brizo watched the single white sail billow as he tacked across the light wind from the north. The second ship followed precisely the same path in the quiet waters. The dolphins that had followed all day shifted their track as well. Their presence gave Brizo a sense of ease: experience had taught that no predators were near as long as these swimmers followed.
Brizo steered the boat around a small island that rose as high as two ship-masts from the water. Swirling patterns had been cut by waves into the rock. There was a hint of green at the top of the cliff, but nothing grew on the sheer face. “Watch for outcroppings,” he called to Apro, whom he had assigned to the prow as watcher.
The sailor did not even raise a hand to acknowledge the command. Fair enough, Brizo thought. Apro knew that it was his job in unknown waters. Even as sheer as the cliffs of this island appeared, there could be rocks just under the waves. He pressed the rudder to steer the ship farther from that possibility.
Since they had put up the sail a handspan earlier, his companions had been sharing stories of shark hunts as they lounged on the rowing benches. These beasts and the larger whales were uncommon but not unknown in these waters. The eldest of Brizo’s companions had hunted shark successfully, and the men hung on his story as they let the wind carry the boat forward.
When the storytelling had begun, Apro complained that it was bad luck to speak of sea monsters while on the water. Others ignored him, but he kept grumbling. That was when Brizo ordered him to relieve the watchman in the bow. Looking at the man’s back, Brizo wondered if this sailor was going to keep being difficult. It would not help morale if he continued complaining. And he seems determined to undermine my authority.
The successful story the older sailor told encouraged the others, but given Eurynome’s concern, Brizo did not think this was an ordinary shark they hunted. Brizo ran through the tales of sea monsters he had heard since childhood. In many, it seemed that the beasts attacked at this time of day when the sailors rested from rowing and let the sail do the work. That is what happened to Jason, according to the poets. When they came near the island of the sirens, the bird-women’s captivating song drove them to take down the sail and to row toward the hazardous rocks. In that story, Herakles figured out what was happening and told Orpheus to sing. The glorious music of the master musician was stronger than the call of the sirens. Jason and his crew rowed past safely and journeyed on to achieve their hunt.
Brizo’s crew were ordinary men, not demi-gods and heroes, but he would give his companions a strong fighting chance. When they got near Corfu, they would shift back to oars. He trusted them more than the wind. Poseidon could stir up a storm in an instant. That god might have left the area, but if he was looking for revenge, the Earthshaker could make the breeze disappear or call up a violent wind just when they met the white shark.
Studying the eastern horizon, he saw a break in the mountains of the mainland. He knew that marked the place where a river flowed into a fertile delta. They were getting close to their destination. He turned the ship so that they angled north-west. When they passed the next small island, he saw a dark shadow above the water, the island of Corfu.
“River valley to the east,” called Apro from the prow. “Steer dead straight for Corfu.”
Brizo pressed his lips together. The sailor stated the obvious as if his captain had not noticed. And he likes to give orders. At least the captain of the second boat was following his lead precisely. He would have to find a way to keep Apro in line.
The boat bounced as they headed into the open channel between the mainland and the large island of Corfu. When they were close enough to pick out the shape of the shoreline, Brizo decided it was time to shift back to rowing. “Sails down,” he called. “Oars in locks.”
“Sails would take us in more smoothly,” Apro objected.
“Watchers, be alert for any sign of the creature.” Brizo held Apro’s eyes until the sailor turned back to his post, then made sure the other captain acknowledged his call.
“Should we prepare weapons?” one of the sailors asked.
“A spearman in front and one here beside the rudder,” Brizo answered. Again, he relayed the instruction to the other boat. Rowers took up their positions.
“Brizo,” said the man in the first bench, “the dolphins are gone.”
“Alert!” Brizo shouted. There could be any number of reasons for the dolphins to leave, from boredom to hunger. But their departure might also point to danger.
The boats bounced as they rowed directly into the wind. Only the caller now spoke as he set the timing for the rowers.
“Disturbance!” called the captain at the tiller of the second boat. “Straight behind!”
“Spears ready.” Brizo scanned the water. A line of ripples ran across the surface as if a large school of fish in tight formation swam just under the waves. No fish swam at that speed. The creature came.
A white fin cut through the surface, chasing the second boat. The creature would hit it in a moment.
“Hold!” Brizo commanded.
The men dug their oars in. The sailors stretched their necks to see what happened with their companions’ ship.
The fin disappeared as if the creature dove. Then, the boat heeled to one side, and several rowers were thrown from their benches. The captain at the rudder struggled to hold steady. The white fin surfaced beside the boat and carved a path back toward it. The boat twisted, and the captain was flung aside. A moment later, the fin appeared, driving straight toward Brizo.
The other captain steadied himself. “Three oars and the rudder gone,” he called. “Bit right through.”
“Oars up!” Brizo shouted. He let go the rudder, and the ship turned slowly across the wind. The oarsmen could right it when the creature passed. The fin dove out of sight a ship length behind them. Where will you attack?
Something hit from below causing the boat to spin. A sharp crack right beneath him, and he knew the rudder was cut through. “Straighten us out, then oars up!” The rowers pulled the boat back into line.
“It comes again!” One of the sailors pointed to the fin that came straight at the side of the boat. “Can it bite through the hull?”
Just as the creature reached them, it twisted, pressing its body against the side of the ship. The boat listed, and men swayed on their benches.
The spearman beside him spoke up. “I can see its back. Do I throw?”
Brizo hesitated for one second. If they only angered the creature, it would do no good, but it felt wrong to sit like a toy for it to play with. “All your might.”
The creature came up on the other side, tearing one oar. then ramming the side of the ship. The boat tipped, taking on water. Two men started baling. The spearman waited until the white fin rose on his side of the boat. He drew back his arm and threw.
The spear bounced off the hard hide of the shark as it would off a bronze shield. The creature swung its head out of the water, showing teeth sharp as knives, then it dove. The water slowly calmed, and both ships became still.
“Didn’t even wound it,” said the spearman.
“Row for shore,” Brizo called. “Neither of us waits for the other. Get to land.”
Suddenly, the fin appeared right by the other boat, and the shark rammed the prow. With no rudder, the boat spun and rocked, but the rowers straightened it and pulled hard. A crack and another sailor was thrown from his bench, his oar broken.
Brizo picked up a spear. His hand clenched it hard. They were going to lose more of the oars, but without a rudder, he could not order the sail up.
“Straight ahead!” called Apro. “It’s coming!”
“Row hard! We’ll try to ram it,” Brizo called. “Be ready to lift oars. Make the call, Apro.”
Apro glared over his shoulder, then turned back to the water. “Row. Row hard. Steady. Lift!”
With one motion, the rowers lifted their oars. The fin of the creature turned, skimming past on the port side of the boat. Its tail thrashed, and it turned away. At two ship-lengths out, it turned and rammed the boat.
The creature surfaced, jaws open wide. Brizo threw his spear into the mouth. The weapon bounced, but the creature halted. A narrow stream of blood flowed from its mouth.
“Hard forward,” Brizo called. His men responded with all their strength.
Again, the shark harried one ship and then the other. The rowers lifted their oars on command, and no more were lost, though the ships spun each time the shark hit. Ever so slowly, the shore approached. Four ship-lengths out, and the shark stopped hitting them. The white fin circled once, and again. Then with a slash of its tail, it swam away.
Brizo watched the creature cut a straight line away from them toward the north, watched until he could not distinguish the fin from the white caps of the waves. He did not think they had injured it enough to drive it away. More likely, the beast knew it had forced them to land.
The sailors put their backs into the rowing. They had seen their enemy, angered it. They had lost several oars and both rudders. They now knew it could cut through oak like a blade through unripened cheese.
“Where do we land?” called the captain of the other boat.
“First beach,” called Brizo. They would not risk sailing to the nearest village in case the beast returned. This night they would set up camp, and in the morning, they would cross over land to find the nearest fishing village for supplies and information. The shark had won this first encounter.