Chapter Eight: Fortune Favors the Prudent
Kamos' base was heavily fortified. There were only three different ways into his side of the island by land. Three different passes, one near the north, one pointing west. The last is near the southern edge of the island, through a forest. Apparently, wild pigs could be found in that part of the alliance and were often hunted.
Now, as Arkantos looked over the ridge, Theseus lay beside him. "Is that the place?"
"Yes, Kamos has fortified it well," said Arkantos. "We'll be hard-pressed breaking through such a venture."
"Perhaps there are alternatives," said Hippolyta.
"What do you mean?" asked Arkantos.
"There are a tribe of cyclops that dwelled in the highlands of this region," said Hippolyta. "Many of them are descendants of the Sons of Kronos as well as Poseidon. Perhaps if we were to gain their help, this battle would become easier."
"If they indeed share the blood of Poseidon, then Kamos will be their enemy as well," said Theseus.
"You would ask the cyclops to aid us?" asked Arkantos.
"You worship Poseidon," noted Theseus.
"Yes, however, it has rarely been the tradition of Atlantis to employ them in war," said Arkantos. "There is a... bitter enmity between us."
"What do you mean?" asked Theseus. "Surely, you have diplomatic relations with them."
"Ages ago, when Atlantis was first founded, we humans were ruled by the cyclops," said Arkantos. "For many ages, they ruled wisely over us and gifted our rulers with techniques for smelting no one else had. And so Atlantis became powerful beyond reckoning.
"However, eventually, a new generation of cyclops took over. These cyclops feared mankind and sought to exert greater control. Many people were forced to relocate to the outlying islands.
"Others were sent to make war on the centaurs and died in droves for small gains.
"Their rule became tyrannical. Plans were made by the cyclops to overthrow even the gods.
"Fearing the god's retribution, the men of Atlantis rebelled and fought the cyclops. There was a terrible battle, and many on both sides fell. At last, the cyclops were defeated and humbled and exiled from Atlantis.
"I have made some efforts to fix our relations; however, I'm not certain it would be wise to trust them."
"Surely we share a common enemy in this, do we not?" asked Hippolyta. "An offense to the gods is an offense to us all. Let us send messengers to King Polyphemus, and ask him for help."
Arkantos nodded. "I will go myself.
"Zethos, continue unloading our forces," said Arkantos. "Theseus, Hippolyta, will you come with me?"
"I will," said Theseus. "I want to see this Polyphemus for myself."
The cave of Polyphemus was in the heights of the cliffs. It delved into the earth diagonally. Theseus, Arkantos, and Hippolyta moved up to it. They halted as they neared, accompanied only by a small guard. Arkantos looked at them. "When we go to meet him, remember not to set foot inside his cave until he comes out."
"Why not?" asked Theseus.
"Polyphemus has been known to eat humans that intrude on his domain," said Arkantos. "And his cave is not a place I'd like to fight him."
"You, take the flag to the mouth of the cave, then come right back," said Theseus.
A man led a white flag to the mouth of the cave and waved it. Waiting for a moment, he suddenly fled. Out of the caves came cyclops, dozens of them. They bore metal breastplates over their chests and held huge clubs in hand. And at their front was Polyphemus.
Larger even than the others, he bore a massive mace in one hand. In the other, a round shield with the symbol of an eye on it. Arkantos held his spear a bit tighter as Polyphemus came forward. "Admiral Arkantos, you are brave but foolish to stand before me, so soon after the death of one of my brothers."
"King Polyphemus, I acted only as I must to defend my nation," said Arkantos. "It gave me no pleasure to end your brother's life."
"What do you want?" asked Polyphemus.
"Have you seen the Egyptian Pirates who even now are gathering upon the shores of this island?" asked Arkantos.
"I have," said Polyphemus. "Kamos has claimed his vendetta is only with you."
"He has the trident of Poseidon," said Arkantos.
Polyphemus looked at him. "What?"
"He stole it from Atlantis," said Arkantos.
"...And why should I want to correct your mistake, Atlantean?" asked Polyphemus.
"Consider that this offense is one directly against the gods," said Arkantos. "And now consider that by aiding us, you may well regain their favor. If the Trident of Poseidon was regained, it might be the first step to regaining his favor."
"That we already have," said Polyphemus. "You mortals threw us from Atlantis against his will."
"Whatever you believe, Kamos has offended your god," said Arkantos. "You may go to avenge this insult, or linger in your caves and wait to be conquered. Surely you don't think that Kamos will remain neutral to you forever?
"Once he has enslaved the men of Atlantis, he will enslave you next.
"There are many things your people have that he would want."
"And what makes you superior?" asked Polyphemus.
"Have I not reigned in those who sought to hunt you?" asked Arkantos. "Atlantis has respected your borders and allowed your people to flourish once again. The rebellion that killed your father is an ancient memory for us, one hardly remembered. We bear you no ill will, and indeed, wish to make amends if possible.
"Will you march with us?"
Polyphemus looked to his warriors and spoke to them in their own tongue. "...We will."
"Then let us march to war," said Arkantos. "Every moment we wait sees Kamos become stronger."
"And what is your plan?" asked Polyphemus.
"My men will take the northwestern pass to assault Kamos' forces," said Arkantos. "At the same time, you will take the southmost pass. While the enemy is distracted with my hoplites, your people will strike their flank."
"And what of our own forces landing to the north?" asked Polyphemus.
"You will strike from the north, of course," said Arkantos. "We have superior numbers, and so our best option is to divide the enemy stronghold.
"However, we should avoid doing undue harm to Kamos' people."
"What, why?" asked Theseus.
"They are more valuable to us alive," said Arkantos. "I'm not asking your men to avoid looting, just stay their hand as much as possible. Some of those who are working for him may well be Greeks or colonists from other islands."
"Hardly," said Theseus. "We'd benefit far more from wiping them out and taking their belongings, as is our right as conquerers.
"The strong do as they like, the weak do as they must."
"And by doing so, you will have every one of their relations seeking a vendetta with you," said Arkantos. "Take what you will from Kamos' soldiers, but leave his slaves in peace."
"You haven't changed, Arkantos," said Theseus with scorn.
"I do not confuse battle with butchery if that is what you mean," said Arkantos.
"Enough," said Hippolyta. "Theseus, if we stop to look at the enemy camp, Kamos may counterattack and gain victory. We Amazons do not believe in plundering our enemies, but if we must do so, let us do so once the battle is won."
"They're all like this, you know," said Polyphemus.
"Then let us finish the matter, quickly," said Arkantos.
The final preparations were soon made. As Theseus took his forces north, Arkantos waited in his camp. He gave orders, and Zethos often paced back and forth. The young man seemed stressed.
"I've forgotten something," murmured Zethos. "I know it."
"Calm down, Zethos," said Arkantos. "We have done all we can. If our plan works, it will work. If it fails, that is Poseidon's will. There is no point in worrying about things we cannot affect."
"Yes, Admiral," said Zethos. "Do you think we'll kill Kamos this time?"
"Perhaps," mused Arkantos. "Perhaps not." He realized that he was not as invested in the question as he ought to be.
"You seem calm," said Zethos.
"At my age, Zethos, you learn to let go," said Arkantos. "I will fulfill my obligation to my wife and family and finish this cycle. However, I have no intention of letting it affect my judgment." Finally, he stood. "The time has come.
"Send the signal."
Raising his spear, Arkantos went out to his men. The archers and hoplites of Atlantis were arrayed. Further down the pass, he saw Kamos' spearmen assembling before them, raising shields. Slingers were preparing.
"Forward! For Atlantis!" cried Arkantos.
And so the battle began. The two sides met head-on and did battle. Spear struck shield, arrows were launched as stones flew. Arkantos speared a man through the breast, before striking down another. Soon the hoplites were pressing through the enemy army.
Then came the anubites.
The jackal-headed men rushed out, wielding sickles and leaping through the air. Black-furred creatures landed amidst the Atlantean lines, and chaos was sewn. The battle lines became a melee. Arkantos saw a man cleaved down by an anubite before another fell. Spearing the creature through the heart, Arkantos stepped away. The battle was being lost now.
"The cyclops!" cried Zethos.
Looking up, Arkantos heard a massive horn call. The cyclops lumbered into sight, crashing into Kamos' forces from the rear. Their clubs smashed through men like wheat. A man was snatched up by a man or hurled to smash down his comrades. Polyphemus swung his mace to send an anubite flying.
As the enemy fled before them toward the settlement and they pursued. As they did, they heard horn calls. Ahead, the hoplites of Athens were rushing toward the town-center. Their spears were out, and the Amazons were with them. They were firing arrows into the retreating pirates.
"To war! For Athens!" cried Theseus.
There was Kamos, rallying the defenses. Even now, the pirates were readying for war. Many of his men were fleeing with stolen plunder, but the trident was unclaimed. Arkantos saw it lying upon the beach. Men ran forward to grab it, only to be shot dead by arrows.
The men charged toward the town center, cutting off the retreat. Now they had surrounded it and were battering at the gates. Archers fired from the walls, as Kamos directed them. Men fell as stones struck them from above. A cyclops tried to scale over the wall, but Kamos swung his blade and cleaved his head from his shoulders.
Then he raised his hand.
Serpents came from the ground, hissing and biting men. Arkantos stepped back as one of the creatures snapped at him. Running the beast through, he saw them breaking up the armies. As they did, the gates opened, and Kamos rushed forward. He and his anubites rushed for their ships, fighting their way out.
"Kamos is fleeing from the town center! After him!" cried Arkantos.
As the town center's defenses fell, the Kamos broke off from his men. The pursuit was divided as the men shoved off. Rather than head for the beach, Kamos was fleeing up the cliffs. Arkantos made after him and saw Theseus cleaving down three anubites. Then the man crushing a serpent beneath a foot and cut the head off another. Hippolyta fired arrows through several pirates. Then she fired one at Kamos as he fled.
Yet Kamos knocked the arrows aside and scaled higher.
Up they scaled after him. Arkantos and his men shot up the cliffs after him. Theseus' men went with him. Soon they reached the heights and had Kamos cornered. The minotaur stood at the edge of a cliff, blade ready. Three men lay dead at his feet, and his wounds were small.
"I know you, cretin," said Kamos. "Theseus, slayer of bandits. Theseus, killer of my ancestor, the Father of all Minotaurs from whom all my kind were descended. But I have heard rumors that you merely killed him in his sleep."
"You have heard wrong, monster," scoffed Theseus. "I slew the beast in single combat within the depths of his labyrinth."
"Then show me your vaunted strength," said Kamos. "Face me in single combat and prove you were not a coward!"
"This is ridiculous; the enemy are routed," said Arkantos. "Seize him at once."
"No, he's mine," said Theseus. "Do not interfere, Arkantos."
"This is foolhardy," said Arkantos. "We have him cornered, let's have his head and be done with it."
"Let him, Arkantos," said Hippolyta. "This is a matter of honor."
What absurdity. Still, Arkantos was not going to alienate Theseus solely to save him. "Do as you wish."
Theseus set down his spear and drew his sword. Moving forward with his shield, he and Kamos circled one another as ships flew away. Then Theseus attacked, and Kamos met him. They struck and parried, slashing and hacking as Kamos was driven back. "Vile minotaur, your kind are nothing before the Sons of Poseidon! You think to stand against me! I slew the Father of All Minotaurs in the depths of Menos!"
"Perhaps, but I have long surpassed him," said Kamos.
"Surpassed him," scoffed Theseus, dealing him a wound to the leg. "You fail to understand the nature of this world. The future is always less than in the past." Striking again, he drove Kamos toward the edge. "The first men were the greatest of all! Sons of Zeus are stronger than grandsons! Such is the nature of the world. You are less than your father and will-"
As Theseus made a final lunge, Kamos stepped to one side. The King of Athens stumbled forward and halted barely near the edge. Teetering at the edge of the cliff, he tried to regain his balance.
"Did not Kronos fall to Zeus?" asked Kamos.
Then he brought around a fist to strike Theseus from behind, and he fell down from the cliff. He fell beyond sight, and there was a sound of an impact.
"Theseus!" cried Hippolyta.
Arkantos put his face in his hands. "...Well, that concludes negotiations, doesn't it? Kill him."
The men stepped forward, but Kamos raised his blade, and they halted. "Another time, Arkantos. Your luck will end. I will be there to see it! Your head will hang from my mast, Atlantean!"
Then before they could lay hands on Kamos, the minotaur turned and leaped from the cliff. Arkantos surged forward and saw Kamos land upon the back of a great beast. The beast that Arkantos saw had a skin like bronze armor. It was akin to a whale, but no whale has been so great. Kamos took hold of the creatures back and whispered to it.
Arkantos had a heard a story once, that Kamos had lost his hand seeking to tame a Leviathan. It seemed the attempt had been more successful than the stories claimed.
"At least one of Poseidon's children still favors our enemies," snapped Arkantos. He turned to his men. "Load the trident aboard the transport! We'll send it back to Atlantis immediately." Then he looked back. "Zethos, get some men to retrieve Theseus' body. Or what's left of it."
Hippolyta looked like she was on the verge of crying. Arkantos walked by her. "Might I suggest not indulging in a trial by combat when the battle is won in the future?"
Hippolyta said nothing, seeming beyond words.
Arkantos got back to work.
So I just killed off Theseus.
In all fairness, this death is more glorious than his death in Greek Mythology. In that, he lost favor in Athens and got thrown off a cliff by some random nobody. He didn't even get to put up a fight. Here at least he won a glorious victory beforehand and got to show off his stuff.
Coincidentally, this has given me a chance to examine a trope I kind of hate. That being of the post-climax confrontation. Basically, after the villain's plan has been beaten, the hero chooses to fight them one on one. They usually spurn help from their friends and insist on a fair fight. Usually, this leads to the hero beating them. But from a rational perspective, if the hero loses, then he'll have died in a pointless bout of stupidity. His story will have had a downer ending purely because he couldn't resist stroking his own ego.
Trial by combat is a meaningless formality when you've already won, after all. So all you're doing is giving the villain the chance to get his revenge on an even playing field.