Fall of the Trident @lord22
The Return Journey

Chapter Three: The Return Journey

The weather was warm and pleasant as Arkantos, and his men made their way back to the village. There were no clouds in the sky, and as evening came on, it remained brighter than was usual this kind of year. The Gods, it seemed, were pleased with their actions.

Even so, the day ended, Arkantos could not help but feel a profound sense of anti-climax. Once, when he was a boy, slaying a cyclops would have been a life goal worth striving for. He and his comrades should have boasted of the deed for years afterward. Arkantos should have thought of it with pride. Now it merely felt like one more enemy defeated and not a worthy one.

Still, the cyclops had been a threat. Kastor had nearly been killed, but that was Arkantos' failing more than any virtue of his enemy. He ought to have made it clear to the boy that he was to stay back, to await orders. Kastor had spent his days of relative peace raised on stories of heroism. He thought to achieve great deeds.

Discipline should come before any deed, in Arkantos' mind. But the boy seemed to be oddly quiet now. He'd hardly spoken since they fought. Kastor seemed almost in a trance as he walked.

"Is it always like this?" asked the boy. He said it the next morning, while they were readying for the rest of the journey.

"Hmm?" asked Arkantos, pretending not to notice.

"The sort of emptiness." said the boy.

"I don't know," admitted Arkantos. "Most people deal with their first battle differently, I expect."

"How did you feel?" asked Kastor.

Arkantos tried to remember that far back. That was nearly thirty years ago now, but the memory was there. He'd felt the same thing after every battle for a long time, gnawing at him as he waited for the next. "Afraid."

"But you've never been defeated," said Kastor in surprise.

So the story had gone. Arkantos had no horse to yield, and that fact had come to symbolize the importance of his victories. A single loss would have left Atlantis destroyed, and its people scattered to the winds. Even after Arkantos had become wealthy enough to afford a horse, he'd never bought one.

Symbols were of importance.

And so Arkantos went on foot, long after the need had passed. It kept him from growing too proud.

Yet he was not, in his own mind, undefeated.

Every man who died was a defeat. At best, it was one taken for a greater victory later. In that sense, Arkantos had suffered more than he could count. "Yes, but my first battle was against the vanguard of Theris' armies. We defeated it, but everyone knew that there was another enemy waiting beyond. The end of every war sews the seeds of the next conflict.

"Father's dead lead to vengeful sons.

"For the most part, I tried to keep busy and focus on what I could effect."

"Ah," said Kastor, pretending to understand. Some things only came with age and reflection. He'd have to learn the reasons for those things through experience. Arkantos had forgotten many of his own father's lessons, and they'd only come back to him in his worst of moments.

"Kastor?" said Arkantos suddenly. He felt the need to say something, yet he wasn't sure what.

"Yes?" asked Kastor.

"I'm very proud of you, you know," said Arkantos, speaking the truth. "Few boys your age would have the courage to charge a cyclops, let alone the skill to wound one. It was brave of you. But also very foolish." Best to make him understand not to repeat it. Though he doubted, Kastor would forget what had nearly happened. That was well.

"Thank you, Father," said Kastor, sounding like he had a lump in his throat.

Turning his attention to others, Arkantos saw the men were in good spirits. All except Zethos, who was looking around uneasy, thinking to himself. Several times, the man drew his bow and aimed at something in the woods, only to relax the shot and return it to his quiver. Arkantos moved up to him.

He'd fought alongside Zethos' father, and taken him under his wing after the man's death. He'd performed well on every battle they'd fought together in. Arkantos had prayed several times to die before Zethos did, on the battlefield. Though both surviving was always preferable. "Zethos, what is it?"

"I keep thinking about what we saw while on the shore," said Zethos, fingering his beard. "I remember there were a whole lot of other footprints near where they boarded their vessels.

"Someone else met them there."

That was unfortunate, and it gave Arkantos an idea of who they might be dealing with. He hardly dared to hope. "Well, it is a mystery we will solve later. For now, we will see to the people of this island."

And on they went for half a day.

Soon the trees gave way as they came to one of the island villages. It was larger than it had been the last time Arkantos had been here. But far more poorly defended. The walls were rotting and broken, and in some places had decayed entirely. There were no guards on duty, or watchmen looking for threats.
Only the town center had any kind of reasonable defense. A heavy fence of wood surrounded it, tall and thick enough to keep someone out. One or two youths with bows were watching their approach. And there it was.

The statue of Poseidon had not fallen into disrepair.

It stood tall and strong over the town hall. The bearded figure on the stone held the trident, one of bronze. It was well made, one of a series created for the Atlantean villages throughout the empire, or what was left of it.

Even so, Arkantos was not impressed with what he saw around him. What had happened here? Who had let this community fall into such an abysmal state? He would have to correct this while he was here. Perhaps it was by Poseidon's will that he had been drawn; thus, they cyclops sent as punishment, and to draw him hence.

"We have returned," said Arkantos flatly as he came into the midst of the village.

An old man, hooded and flanked by youths, came out. He fell to his knees before Arkantos. "Admiral Arkantos, praise the gods for your presence. I am Mynus, the leader of our people in this region. We had despaired of our survival."

"Lord Poseidon looks after all the people of Atlantis," said Arkantos, nodding to them. At the same time, his mind began to work as he thought about all he had seen. This place had fallen into true disrepair. "Still, where are the others? Your men at arms ought to have been standing by to receive us?"

"Many of our men went to fight as mercenaries in King Agamemnon's army ten years ago," said Mynus. "They have not since returned, and we are left defenseless."

"Have no efforts been made to drill the men in the use of a phalanx?" asked Arkantos. He was annoyed by this, but, in a way, relieved.

"There have been some, but we've had few instructors." said the old man. "And they were killed by the cyclops."

"I see," said Arkantos. "That will have to be remedied.

"What damages have been done to this island?"

Mynus stood and came forward, leaning on a stick. At the very least, the youths moved to help him before he waved them off. Arkantos had been afraid all respect for the older generation had faded. "Shortly before you arrived, Admiral, a large group of pirates came in. They attacked the gold mines, killed the overseers, and made off with all of our slaves. None dared resist them after he slew our warriors."

"Then it is Kamos or one of his subordinates," said Arkantos, now certain of what he had already guessed.

"What makes you say that?" asked Kastor.

"Kamos has made a career of freeing slaves to use in his armies," said Arkantos. "By doing so, he ensures those that serve him are loyal and have no other obligations. And if I know him, now that he has tested the defenses of this place and found them lacking, he'll be back.

"Kastor, Zeno." He turned to the boys.

"Yes?" asked Zeno.

"You will return to Atlantis immediately," said Arkantos, looking at places where a wall ought to be raised. There was an area good for drilling as well. "News of what is happening here must be made known. There have been years of peace, but small incursions often foreshadow larger ones."

"But Father, I can fight-" began Kastor. Zeno, meanwhile, looked relieved, which Arkantos thought unbefitting. Still, he had performed reasonably well, that was what mattered.

"I know, and you are brave," said Arkantos. "Even so, at least two of you must go, and you are the least experienced among us. It would not be the first time a messenger died during a journey.

"I am entrusting both of you the responsibility as a messenger of Atlantis. If news of what is happening is not brought, we may be caught unaware."

"Yes, Father," said Kastor.

Then Arkantos turned back to Mynus as other matters came to his mind. "Now, for more immediate matters. The Temple of Zeus here has become overgrown and fallen into disrepair. We will restore it as much as can be done in the time available to us. At the same time, we will train the boys of this island into men."

"Surely the Temple can wait, Admiral," said Zethos carefully.

"The Gods gave us victory over the cyclops," said Arkantos. "And the labor will instill discipline. I will not see the Gods dishonored on an Atlantean island.

"You, Zethos, must oversee the training of a new militia.

"Now, we must get to all this at once. Mynus, gather together all the masons and woodworkers on this island. We will need their help for the coming days."

"Yes, Admiral," said Mynus.

Yes, Arkantos was certain that he had been drawn here by Poseidon. This land, like Atlantis generations ago, was on the verge of falling away from virtue. It was necessary to restore their warrior spirit to rebuild their awe of the sacred. Only then would the island become the bastion it once was.

"Remember this much, Kastor," said Arkantos. "Greatness is not a gift. It is a state of being. The great man may fall far. Just as the lowborn man may prove himself a worthy citizen and serve his people.

"Those with the blood of gods may have more potential. But they are in all the more danger, should they live a life of hubris."

"Father..." began Kastor suddenly.

"What is it?" asked Arkantos. He hoped the boy wouldn't become sentimental; he'd been trying to break Kastor out of that. It was not befitting a man.

"You seem different; that's all," said Kastor. "I've never seen you like this."

"I am in my element," admitted Arkantos. "I'll see if I can meet you before the end of the year. This may be nothing major."

"Thank you, Father," said Kastor.

That day, as Arkantos saw Kastor's ship depart, he remembered his son's words. Perhaps there was more truth in them. For years, Arkantos had found new and creative ways to avoid conflict. One reason after another had been found to hunt pirates. Excuse after excuse was found to keep Atlantis from a greater war. He'd sought only engaging in the bare minimum amount. He'd told himself that the terrors of war were necessary for men not to grow fat and helpless, but not to be sought.

Perhaps this, in the end, was what he had longed for. An opportunity to once more set a spear to rest, and do battle with a real enemy. Arkantos set to his duties with new energy. And as he did, he prayed to the Gods for a long and glorious campaign.

Author's Note:

The odd thing about Age of Mythology is that Arkantos is a fairly complex character.

He opposes going to Troy long after everyone else in Atlantis wants him to. But at the same time, he's kind of blood knight. He expresses genuine regret that his days of glory are over, even as he refuses the chance to continue them.

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