Here it is, guys. Could you please give me some commentary on it so that I can improve my writing skills?
Spoiler Alert, click show to read:
A Short Story
"Naval battles are more terrible than land battles, for the victors come out beaten and battered, and the enemy - well, there is nothing left to be said of them. They are shattered"
It was a warm afternoon in June, and Tacitus was standing on the roof of his house. The air baked, and on the highway no one was to be seen. Then, suddenly, a small breeze touched his skin. At times, some of these would blow inland from the wide seas that surrounded the Italian peninsular. When he was lucky enough to meet one, his thoughts were drawn to these masses of water behind the horizon. They were mysterious, beautiful, but also very dangerous for the people that didn’t know how to tame them.
A cloud of dust appeared in the distance, just behind the top of a hill that blocked his sight in that direction. Tacitus wondered who would travel at this hour of the day. Only the most urgent of messages were delivered when the sun sent its burning death to all who dared to challenge her. Soon the rider emerged from the dust, and Tacitus wondered where he would be heading for. He was surprised when the rider rode to his villa. Quickly, he shouted some orders to his slaves, to give the man water and bring him onto the roof. ‘’My lord’’, he said when the man arrived on the roof, ‘’what tidings do you bring me?’’
For a moment the man was silent, as if he didn’t know what to say. Then he answered: ‘’Noble lord, I bring you a message from your friend Marcus. He said that it was of the utmost importance that you receive it as soon as possible.’’ He gave him the letter, and bowed while he left the roof. Tacitus opened the letter, wondering what Marcus had written him. He had been writing for five years on his Great Historiae, and Marcus was one of the people that collected sources for him. He wondered what he had discovered, and thought to be so important! He broke the seal, and started reading…
‘’Marcus Tacitus Suo S. (Marcus says hail to his friend Tacitus)
Noble friend, for several years you have been writing about the great deeds of our ancestors, and I know that you’ve only added the ones that have been of great importance for our Republic. But now I’ve seen and participated in deeds so valiant, and so important, that I think it would be justified to add them to your Historiae. Will you, my dear friend, write them down so they will be remembered for all eternity, so that no one will ever forget the valiance showed by the Roman sailors?
It all started three months ago. After half a year of training the VI Classis Venetum, a small but highly disciplined fleet, set sail under command of Nauarchus Decimus. I was serving as centurion on one of the smaller ships, with eighty sailors under my command. The trierarchus, or the captain, was a friend of mine. He was a tall and heavy-built man called Titus. The sailors would row, handle the sails, and when in combat I would lead them towards the enemy ship. The trireme that we used had four small ballistae and a catapult, beside its main ram that was clad with iron. Under my command were further optio Lucius and an artillery officer called Publius. Due to the small staff, the officers of the ‘Hercules’ soon became friends, and we had a nice time together.
After two days of sailing (we were at the middle of the Mare Superum), a heavy wind started blowing. Above the noise of the heavy drums from the belly of the ship, we heard the high sound of the wind and the hearts of many a good soldier were troubled by these ill forebodes…
‘Centurio,’ a young sailor said, while asking permission to enter, ‘Would you like to eat in your room, or will you join the trierarchus tonight?’
Marcus, this being his first long voyage at sea, was only able to bring forward a grumble before he threw his breakfast out. ‘O, beg your pardon sir, I didn’t know that you were ill…’ the young man stammered.
‘Is it always like this on the sea?’ Marcus moaned, ‘How can you live when the flour moves two meters up and then four down?’
The man laughed. ‘You’ll get used to it, sir. But we all pray that we’ll miss the storm that’s heading in this direction. If we’re caught by that one, we’ll face greater dangers than missing a meal or two…’
Marcus went silent. After he’d dismissed the soldier, he went to Titus, who stood on the deck. He was looking into the east, with a troubled look on his stern face. ‘It’s faster.’ He said to himself. ‘We won’t be able to reach a port before it gets us…’
I have never been so afraid, my friend. Not even in the middle of a battle you’ll see the despair and helplessness of men caught upon a sinking ship. But I’ll tell you my whole story. After we’d rowed for a few hours against the current, the sky turned into the deepest blue. It seemed that our small fleet was embedded in the water, for at the horizon the air and the water mingled into a blue line in which no one could discover the least sign that we were close to land.
The wind howled in the mast, while big gulfs crowned with foam hit the ship. Cries of despair went up, and despite all their effort the men weren’t able to row it towards the safe harbor. They had become a toy. A toy, that played a terrible game against the dark sea and the storm. A game for survival.
While the heavy rain scourged our faces, we weren’t able to see any other ship. ‘How do you know where to go to? And how will we find the other ships after the storm?’ Marcus cried against the wind towards Titus.
The trierarchus answered with his loud voice: ‘According to my calculations we could find land any moment now. There we’ll have to try to find a shelter and look for the others when this weather’s past by.’
They stood there, wrestling with the currents to keep the control over the vessel. Suddenly, they heard blood chilling cries above the wind, and then a man standing at the front of the ‘Hercules’ cried: ‘There are reefs! Go back, turn her!’ Then they threw the rudder towards the other side, and while doing so they saw where the cries had come from. At their rear the Poseidon, another galley of their fleet, lay at its side while the waves threw the men up and down. They were thrown against the cliffs and drowned. They managed to turn the ship, but couldn’t do anything for their friends, who were dying in front of their eyes. It seemed that their mission had come to an end before it had even started…
After hours of darkness and fear, the wind finally lost strength and the sea became a bit calmer. We rowed alongside the coast in order to find a port. There we would wait for signs of the other ships, and take in some fresh food and water. Two hours later a soldier cried ‘Port ahead!’, and a small town came in sight. I was very happy that we were finally going to have land under our feet again. Then, we saw a ship. It was the ‘Augustus’, another trireme of our fleet. We joined it, and later the ‘Apollo’ came rowing into the port. Its mast was broken in two parts, but the sailors quickly repaired it. The officers of the remaining ships gathered, and we decided that we’d wait for one day for the other ships. If we hadn’t got a sign of them by then, we’d sail out again to kill those pirates. Our duty was of such importance that it couldn’t be delayed. Every day that we lost, merchant vessels were being attacked and sunk by those barbarians! Being the officer with the longest service, I became commander of the shrunken fleet until we’d find the Nauarchus again. In this state we slept, not knowing what events would happen the next morning.
The last rays of the sun hit the roof, and then it disappeared. Tacitus put the letter down. What an amazing journey his friend had made! He would surely add this to his Historiae. Tacitus decided to take a break, so he ate some food and then went asleep. The next morning he would continue reading about the events on the Mare Superum.
The next morning, when it was still cool, Tacitus walked to his atrium and sat there in the shadow of a tree. A slave brought him some bread and wine, and after he’d eaten he thought about Marcus’ letter. Eager to know how his adventures had ended he took it, and started reading the last part.
When I woke up we were at full sea again, and to my great joy I realized that I wasn’t ill anymore! Finally, I could eat some things on board of the ‘Hercules’. Soon I left my room and walked to the deck, in order to ask Titus if he’d join me for breakfast.
The captain looked happy, saying: ‘Hail, Marcus. There is a good wind, that’ll blow us to the other side of this sea quickly! I hope that you’re a little better than the last days? You can’t fight pirates without food in your stomach.’
‘Sure, Titus, I was just wondering if you’d like to eat a little together. That is, if you can leave your post here.’ He didn’t wait for an answer, knowing that his friend would never skip a meal. He ordered a sailor to prepare some bread and meat for them, and some minutes later they sat down. ‘Against what type of pirates will we be fighting?’ he asked.
‘These pirates fight in swift ships, called Liburnians,’ Titus answered. ‘Most of them are manned by about sixty pirates, so we’d have overwhelming numbers. I don’t expect there to be with more than three ships, for our navy has already destroyed many of those filthy barbarians. The only thing is that they outmatch us in speed, so we’ll have to come up with something original in order to defeat them.’
After they’d eaten, Marcus sat down for a while at the bow of the ‘Hercules’. He had to think of a way to defeat those ships. Once they’d boarded one, it would be easy for them to kill their foes with the superior weapons they’d got. The only point was that their ships were swifter, and could shot them all from a distance!
For hours he sat there, and then two gulls flewover the ship. They saw a hawk. One tried to attack it, and get the fish it had in its mouth. Of course, it didn’t succeed in getting the fish from the much larger bird. Fascinated, Marcus looked at this action above his head. Then, suddenly, the second gull came down on the hawk. For a moment, the large predator was surprised, and dropped the fish, which was caught up by the other gull. They landed on the deck, and ate the fish. Through cooperation they’d succeeded in reaching their goal. Marcus smiled. Finally, he’d got an idea. Alone his ships wouldn’t be able to catch a single pirate, but through smart cooperation they might manage!
‘Marcus,’ Titus shouted, ‘in a few hours we’ll reach the area in which the Illyrians have been spot. Hold your men ready for attack, I’ll sign the other ships to stay close together! Did you see those gulls? They are a good sign! Neptune must have sent them to show that he’ll help us, for they are his children.’
All men gathered, while Marcus explained the plan. Under the deck, optio Lucius would hide with the legionaries, and the main part of the sailors. At Marcus’ sign they’d come forward and engage the enemy. Publius and his men would do the first action. They’d shoot the Liburnans with burning stones and missiles. After that, they’d make use of the moment to ram them.
It seemed all clear, and when we prepared for the oncoming battle a great excitement took hold of all of us. It seemed like a relief when sails appeared at the horizon. They drew near quickly. When the men in the mast cried that it were our enemies and that they’d got two ships, I grew restless. This would be my moment. Now I’d have to proof my worth in battle! Thankfully, we outnumbered them by one ship, so once we’d got them it would be easy to take them out. The problem was how to do that! It was a good thing that I had thought about this. Hopefully, we’d be able to use the tactic and by that destroy the enemy! It was good that we’d seen the gulls. It comforted the men that the Gods would be with us in the coming battle…
‘Aaah…!’ a man sank down before his feet, with an arrow through his throat. The Illyrians were coming close. Still they stayed far enough away from the Romans so that these were unable to ram them. Missiles went to and fro, while men tried to find cover.
‘Attack speed!’ a heavy voice from the belly of the ship shouted, and the rowers started to pull the oars at an incredible speed. The ship cut through the waves, and foam was thrown up against Publius and his artillerists. Every few seconds, a large snap could be heard when ballista’s were fired. After having shot, the men sought protection behind the iron shields that had been put in front of them while they reloaded the weapon. At the enemy ship, men could be seen falling down on the deck, hit by their missiles.
But they wouldn’t win the battle like this. Before his eyes, Marcus could see his plans unfold in the right direction. The two enemy ships were in between the ‘Hercules’ and the two other ships. This was the moment to unleash the terrible attack that he’d prepared! While Lucius and his men checked their equipment one last time, on the command deck Titus shouted the last instructions to the men on the deck: ‘Light the fire!’ his raw voice sounded. At the same time, ‘Fire ammo!’ was shouted between the artillerists, and the first flaming stones and oil-bags were unleashed to find their way to the enemy. These hadn’t expected this, and soon small fires were burning all over the Liburnians, finding their way through dry wood and pieces of rope. For a moment, they laid there lame, as if they were hit by lightning. This was the moment to pick the ripe fruit from the sea! Titus shouted a few orders, and then the ship started vibrating from the great acceleration.
Under deck, the rowers where working at their highest speed, after their leader had shouted the ‘Ramming speed’ command. Sweat was streaming down over their bodies, as they moved at the rhythm of the beats. Then, one stopped moving, and another one. They died because of a heart attack. Soon they would have to stop, because no one had the condition to keep rowing at this speed for minutes!
They had almost reached the enemy that they were aiming for, and now the Illyrians had seen the danger they were in. They tried to row away, while some that were burning like hell because the cooking oil sprang overboard. It was too late. With a great clash and an terrible shock the ram of the ‘Hercules’ ate itself a way into its smaller opponent, and at the same moment a bridge with a large iron point fell down on the enemy deck. ‘For Rome and victory!’ the legionaries shouted, when they streamed over the bridge at the enemy deck. Marcus jumped aboard, and was immediately attacked by two large warriors. He took his gladius, and for a moment stood still while the barbarian hew at him with all his force. At the last moment he sprang aside, and hit the man at his head. A large wound appeared, and blood ran all over his face. In a last severe strike, he managed to scratch Marcus’ arm, after which he was hit in his heart.
Although freed of his first enemy, Marcus still wasn’t safe. With his sword buried in the large man, he couldn’t defend himself against the other pirate that stormed towards him. Just when he was about to be hit, Lucius jumped over to the Liburnian, and slew him from behind. ‘Thanks, man! This was almost my last fight,’ Marcus screamed to his second. Lucius looked back with a grim face. ‘Take your sword sir. Let’s hit a few of these pigs before they’re all away.’
With these words, they ran into the fight. Around them they heard the cries of battle, while the men fought on. It was clear that this would be a Roman victory! The few Illyrians that were left grouped around the mast, and one by one they were taken out by the Romans. In the meanwhile, the ‘Apollo’ and the ‘Augustus’, two smaller ships of the fleet, had managed to enter the second Liburnian, and were making good progress in capturing it.
Then suddenly, when they thought that all was over after defeating the last pirates, men from the belly of the ship started shouting: ‘Fire! She’s on Fire!’ For a moment Marcus was pinned to the ground. Fire! It would mean that their own ship, rammed into the Liburnian, would also burn to the waterline. This would sink both ships, and when they didn’t act quickly many men that had survived the onslaught of the battle could still die…
Quickly he shouted orders. A group of men with axes started cutting the Liburnian into pieces where it was fastened to the ‘Hercules’, while others tried to extinguish the fires with some water. It didn’t work. Because of the oil-bags, the fire drove on top of the water, and already the lower parts of the ship were so hot that they couldn’t go there. It was a hell. Soon they couldn’t stand on the deck anymore, or they’d burn their feet. Luckily, they managed to free their own ship and sprang on to it. When they were finally separated, the Liburnian started to sink, with fell fires at its deck. The wounded Illyrians cried as they were cooked in the boiling water, before the ship took them with it to the bottom of the sea.
The others had been luckier. The second Liburnian had been captured, but was sunk because they had too few men to keep it. The ships grouped together, and after that Marcus made up the stats. They had lost sixty men in total, but defeated the Illyrians. Now the trade routes would be safe again, although it was heavily paid for by Roman blood. ‘Men of Rome,’ Marcus cried, ‘Today we have lost many comrades. Today we have suffered, in all dangers of these seas. But today, we are victorious! You have fought bravely, and will certainly be remembered for what you’ve done with me. Go now, and be proud!’ Cheers went up, and soon all were busy repairing the ships. All were tired after the action, and longing for home.
After we’d defeated the barbarians, we could finally leave the sea. After three days of sailing we ran out of food, but happily we reached our home port that afternoon. The men rested, our wounds were cared for, and after some time I came to fully understand the great deeds we had accomplished. I know that these will be made eternal when you make account of them in your Historiae, and that’s the reason why I made this detailed account and sent it to you with the highest urgency. I know that you’ll do the right thing with it. My noble friend, these are the actions that took place at the Mare Superum. VALEMARCUS (greetings of your friend Marcus)
Tacitus put the letter down. For hours he sat there, thinking about all he’d read. Then, a gull landed at the roof, at his side. For a moment it watched him, and then it flew away, in the direction of the blue depths of the sea. This was a sign of Neptune! Tacitus stood up, walked to his study and started writing. ‘The events at the Mare Superum, victoriously fulfilled by Marcus Aurelius’, the title said. The sun went down, and its last golden rays fell at the mirror of the sea. A place of death and fertility, of gods and brave deeds, but above all the place that would forever keep an important place in the heart of a Roman officer.
I am not a writer but just plain bored so I was exploring the other topics of TWCenter and found this.
Anyway I read through your work, I like how your write conversations, they sound natural and helped in getting my mind to imagine the whole scene you are describing. Good work there. My only criticism is certain words are repeated in some of the sentences. For example "He gave him the letter, and bowed while he left the roof. Tacitus opened the letter, wondering what Marcus had written him." These two sentences have the same formatting - first part, then a comma and then the second part. In both if the first parts, the letter was mentioned. Not sure how this could be improved but I think they should be combined into one sentence.
Just sharing my thoughts.
"I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is." - Albert Camus
Indeed, now that you highlight it, I see that it isn't the best construction. I'll try to look more at these things in future writings.
Thanks about the dialogues! The thing I have set as a goal for myself is to make more of them, and follow different characters that'll interact with as a result some other forms of action. However, this may be difficult to achieve.
Anyway, I hope that more of you will give me points to improve upon. Because it's only then that I can improve myself as a writer.
I'm reading, i'm halfway, and I like it very much, I like the style, the emotions and the sensations, all intermingled with the facts, I like it, I like it very much, after few lines you are on the roof close to Tacitus, and yes, I confirm, here the winds and the breezes from the sea are really a magnificent gift from the Gods! +rep Mylord!
Thanks a lot guys, I didn't expect that someone would rediscover this old competition entry! I think that my style has improved since I wrote this, but I do still like it myself. If you would be willing to give me some tips or comments, robinzx, I'd really appreciate that