Alexander Inheritance – Snippet 32
Little Alexander resisted, but it came out of his mouth if it stayed in his hand, and the co-king of the Alexandrian empire started screaming. “Quiet,” Dag said, and for just a moment there was quiet. Following up quickly, Dag looked around for something, anything, to distract the kid from the painted sword. Nothing in his pocket. It wouldn’t help to keep the kid from lead poisoning, then have him choke on a button or keys.
There, in his back pocket, a plastic comb. He gave it to the kid.
Then he looked up at Roxane. She had come out of her chair when Dag grabbed the sword, and was now kneeling next to Dag, ready to snatch her son out of danger. Dad tried to explain, but he didn’t have the words for paint, lead, or poison. All that came out was “Sword bad.”
“Not for a son of Alexander the Great, they are not.”
Dag pointed at the teeth marks in the sword blade and said, “Sick.” He pulled out his cell phone and turned it on. Then he called up the translation app that Marie Easley had been working with programmers to tweak. He spoke in English. “Poison in the paint.” The app translated.
Roxane grabbed the blade away from her son, and threw it across the room. “How do you know?”
Dag was ready and pushed the translate button and got the words in English. But Roxane was still talking and the app only worked one way at a time. It had to record the words in ancient Greek, then translate them, or record the words in English and translate them the other way. It couldn’t just work in conversation. Dag recorded a message in English. “You have to say the words to the phone, then wait for it to translate them, then say another phrase. Just say the words when the front of the phone is facing you.”
Then he had the phone translate. Roxane looked at him and nodded slowly with emphasis. Then she waited.
Dag pushed the record button and turned the phone to face her. Then she spoke two phrases with a short pause between them and nodded again.
Dag had it translate and “How did you know?” A pause, then, “Who tried to poison Alexander?”
“No one tried to poison him. It’s the lead in the paint that is a slow-acting poison. It takes a lot of it over a long time, but it’s unsafe, especially for children.”
The guards were all watching this. “So, not a plot,” said Kleitos. Dag had enough Greek to make a good guess, and shook his head no.
Roxane pointed at the phone imperiously, then at herself. Once Dag had pushed record and had the phone pointing at her, she asked, “How does that work?”
Dag tried to explain using the translation app and pointing at symbols on the phone’s screen. In the process, he noticed that the little battery was less than half full. So he explained that.
“So it will be useless when the charge is gone?” Kleitos asked.
Dag thought he understood, but had Kleitos repeat the question to the phone.
“Yes, sort of. There is a charger, but it’s not mine.” More questions and answers. Finally Keith was brought from holding.
“What’s up, Mr. Jakobsen?”
“What would you want for your charger, Keith?”
Keith looked around the room. It was a luxurious room with golden candelabras and expensive wall hangings. The chairs were throne-like. Dag could see Keith getting greedier by the moment. “Don’t go overboard, Keith. They can always just take the thing. And kill us both in the bargain.”
“How about a couple of talents of silver?”
“Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“I’ll let them talk me down, Mr. Jakobsen,” Keith said with a grin. “Let’s see what they say.”
Kleitos was playing with the hilt of his sword, so Dag guessed that he had at least understood the term “talent.” A talent of silver was enough to pay the two hundred man crew of a trireme for a month. A trireme crew weren’t just casual labor. It required skill to handle those oars, and the men were also the boarders in battle.
Dag made the offer. Roxane started cursing in Greek and some other language, and all the guards were fingering their swords now.
Finally, she calmed down and pointed out that the charger wasn’t of any use without the cell phone. Apparently she had understood Dag’s explanation fairly well. Then the real haggling began, using Dag’s phone with the translating app. Roxane called Keith the worst kind of thief, and Keith protested his desperate straits. It went back and forth, and a couple of minutes in, Dag got the feeling that Roxane was enjoying herself.
Kleitos was clearly amused and a bit impressed by Keith’s audacity, and was kibitzing. It was Kleitos who pointed out that if they bought the charger and not the phone, they had nothing. Suddenly Dag was in the bargaining too.
They finally settled on one silver talent for both charger and cell phone. Dag was to receive two-thirds of it, while Keith Seiver got the remaining third. Since both were necessary, Keith wanted an even split. That didn’t fly with Roxane. She was very clear on the issue of officers versus common sailors. Dag was an officer/noble, he would get more. Dag would be required to help Roxane handle her new cell phone. Keith was sent off to fetch his solar power charger.
Dag checked his bars. He had three now. The Queen was on its way, but was still probably a hundred miles out.
He borrowed Roxane’s new phone and used the app to ask, “Where has the fuel ship gone?”
“Rhodes. That idiot Metello has decided that he will take the island and all of the Rhodian ships.”
Quickly, Dag pushed the button and called the Queen. He had enough bars. The call went through and he was talking to Adrian Scott. “Adrian. First, the Reliance is headed for Rhodes. Now I need you to get Marie Easley up to the bridge so that she can talk to Queen Roxane. Then I need you to come get us.”
“You’re on your way to Rhodes?”
“No, not us. When we got here, they dumped me and my work party off and took the Reliance, with her crew, off to conquer Rhodes. They have her packed to the deck heads with soldiers.”
“That could be a problem, Dag,” Adrian said. “The passengers are pretty mad about the attack and the Reliance running off like that.”
“Hey, Adrian. I didn’t run off. That was Kugan’s doing.”
“I know that, and you know that, but the passengers don’t want to believe it. I’ll tell you, Dag, I’m starting to think we ought to dump the whole bunch of them off in Ashdod and let them stew in their own pot. Hold on, I have Professor Easley on the line. Patching her through now.”
Dag handed the phone to Roxane, and was then left out of the conversation while Marie Easley talked to Roxane about what was known, and Roxane explained what she knew about the players involved. It was a few minutes later that Roxane looked up and said something in Greek. She listened to the phone again, then handed it to Dag.
“Dag, this is Captain Floden. We need to get the Reliance back before it gets us involved in the political mess that Alexander’s successors are involved in.”
Dag felt the color drain from his face. He understood. He wished he didn’t, but he did. Right now the Queen of the Sea was walking a political tightrope. She was virtually impregnable, but she needed food and supplies that she couldn’t force anyone to sell them. So she couldn’t afford to be banned from any port, especially not Alexandria. That was why the captain had decided to go after the Reliance before rescuing them.
But it might be worse than that. It might be that they would have to leave Dag and his crew right here in Tyre rather than alienate Attalus. Dag could be here for months.
* * *
Dag Jakobsen was a nice guy, but he was neither an idiot nor a coward. He realized that they were liable to need some form of weapon and that his captors were unlikely to sell them swords. Not that Dag could use a sword if he had one. But Dag had known how to make black powder since he was a small boy. His family made their own fireworks. Besides, he was a fan of Nobel and had studied the arms manufacturer’s life in school. “Keith, I want you to do me a favor.”
“What’s in it for me?” Keith asked resentfully. He wasn’t pleased that Dag got the lion’s share of the money for the phone and charger combination.
“Get over it, Keith. We don’t have time for that crap.”
Keith came to a parody of attention, snapped an open-handed British-style salute and said, “Sir, yes, sir. Anything the officer requires, sir.”
“Sit down, Keith. We need to make some black powder.”
Keith looked around sharply and Dag shook his head in disgust. He wished he had Romi Clarke with him. “Keith, how many people on this island know what the term black powder means?”
“Seven. You, me, and the other members of the work crew.”
“Right. So just don’t make a big deal of it. You want to make a poultice. For your aching backside, or your legs, or your forehead. I don’t give a crap. The poultice will containâ€¦” Dag proceeded to give Keith the ingredients for black powder, along with some other stuff that was essentially useless, but would mask the purchase of the ingredients a little bit. “Any of the local apothecaries ought to have all of it, so we are going to have to be fairly careful. One thing about black powder is it needs to be ground moist, and then dried, then ground again. For that second grinding, you want a brass mortar and pestle to avoid sparks. We’re also going to need clay or iron pots, little ones. Hand grenade size. And nails or other bits of metal for shrapnel.”
“What are you planning, sir?” Keith asked, serious now.
“I don’t know, but we’re prisoners. I believe the captain is going to come for us, but what do you think these people are going to do when he does?”
“They won’t turn us over. They’ll try to ransom us.”
“Right. How much are you worth?” Dag asked. “How much will Wiley and his people think you’re worth? I can hear him now, being noble. ‘We will not negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers.'”
“Yeah. Me too. Funny thing is, I sort of agree with him in principle.”
“As do I. However, it feels a bit different when you’re the one being sacrificed for his principles.”
“Don’t it just?” Keith agreed.
“The day we arrived, Kleitos asked me if the Queen would ransom us or not. If not, we will be sold as slaves. I figure they can get a really good price for us on the auction block, considering we’re such unique items. I’d rather avoid that, Keith. So I think that we might want to be in a position to get out on our own. Or at least close enough to out that the captain will be able to come get us.”
“You think there’ll be enough time to make black powder grenades before the Queen gets back from Rhodes?”
“Again, I don’t know. I do believe it’s better to try than not.”
Keith saluted again, but this time it was casual and real. “I’ll get right on it, Mr. Jakobsen.” He coughed experimentally. “I think I’m developing a chest cold.”