The plan was explained, and the legionaries had taken their positions.
*They are ready.* Numisius said.
*Once the ship starts sinking, go for it.* Beckett replied.
*To your places.* Numisius shouted. *Now.*
The rowers dropped under the deck and took their positions at the oars.
*When we reach land, you take what you can carry and run!*
The Legion stood watching as Numisius gave commands.
*Well, what are you waiting for?* He shouted at the legions. *Either arm yourselves, or grab supplies!*
The men quickly dispersed. A number of the legionaries grabbed stocks of food; others grabbed weapon caches: sachets carrying ten swords, large crates full of armour that required two men to carry.
Beckett watched. He saw the men move, but with limited speed. *Why are they moving so slowly?* He asked Numisius.
*They've eaten and drunk very little in the last 2 days. Their energy is low. This run will take every ounce of power they can muster.*
The boat began to slowly turn towards the gap in the blockade and the dock.
*Once we hit the dock, Achillas' men will begin to harass us.* Numisius said.
The ship righted itself in its intended direction. Suddenly, Beckett heard noise from the blockade. He looked to the ship where Octavian was performing his mischief and saw shadows moving around frantically. There was shouting and hollering. Beckett heard a scream. *GO!* It was Octavian. A splash followed. Beckett looked down towards the water and saw arms moving; it was Octavian! He was swimming towards them.
*This is it.* Beckett shouted. *Give the order.*
*Go!* Numisius hollered below the deck. The boat lurched as the oars in unison made their first rip through the cold Alexandrian water. The first move was painfully slow, but with each row, the speed increased.
Octavian! Beckett remembered. He looked over the front of the ship and could see Octavian swimming towards him. I've got to get him!
Beckett jumped over the front of the trireme and carefully slid to the ramming end of the ship. He wrapped one arm around it and held out his hand towards Octavian. He squinted as the cold water splashed into his face. Octavian stopped swimming and held out his hand to catch Beckett's. Closer... Closer... he caught him. Beckett's arm almost came off as the speed of the boat dragged him alongside the boat, where Octavian miraculously caught a grip of the wood. He pulled himself up.
The two sat precariously as their arms and shoulders burned from the nights exertion.
*Climb!* Both heard as a rope was thrown down. The two made their way up the rope.
*It won't be long men!* Numisius shouted.
Octavian and Beckett looked around. Octavian became very self-conscious, fearing he could be recognised. He walked up to a soldier carrying a shield. *I'll take the shield. You can carry some supplies.* The man handed it over.
Another walked over to Beckett. *You carry this boy, I'll grab more supplies.* The man placed a staff in Beckett's hands, the weight of which nearly caused Beckett to fall. Beckett righted the staff, placing one end on the ground, and the heavier end up in the air. He looked up at it. It was a simple gold plate affixed to the top that said '37'.
*What is this?* He asked Octavian.
*It's the standard of the 37th Legion. This is their rally point for when the go into battle. They must always keep it held when they go into battle. But based on how little this standard is adorned, I don't think they've had too many victories.*
*These men are not very experienced.* He looked over the men's faces. They had none of that vigour that those in Veneti or in Pharsalus had. In Crisis Shock, there's a flashback scene to when Lieutenant Jansen is a rookie. He looked like these guys. Damn! A lot of thought went into that game! Beckett thought.
The trireme now moved at high speed towards the harbour. Beckett could see the Pharos lighthouse in the distance on the opposite side of the harbour they were headed towards.
*This is where it gets a little tricky.* Numisius said to Beckett.
The trireme now had to navigate between land and islands that blocked the straight path of the trireme. The speed slow and the boat lurched to the left.
*You're not meant to come into the harbour this fast are you?* Octavian asked Numisius.
*Definitely not.* Numisius replied. *Triremes aren't really meant to navigate this type of setting.*
The trireme then began to right itself before lurching right. They had to avoid land and shallow water once again, but now the boat had a clear path to the harbour.
*They are behind us!* A voice called out.
Numisius ran to the side of the boat and looked back. One of Achillas' ships was in pursuit.
*You couldn't scuttle the other ship?* Numisius said to Beckett.
Beckett rested the standard against his shoulders, opened up his palms and presented them to Numisius. They were swollen, splintered, and blistered.
*Duly noted.* Numisius replied.
Numisius' ship came up on the harbour. They were less than a minute away. A number of soldiers climbed up from the rowing deck. They didn't need to maintain the speed much longer. Some grabbed weapons, and others supplies.
*30 Seconds! Corvus!* Numisius shouted. Four men ran up and held the corvus. Once they hit the dock, it would go down. Beckett looked up at the large plank. It looked like it should take more than four men to carry it. The hooks on the end were sharp.
*HALT!* Numisius shouted. The boat slowed suddenly, jerking everyone forward. Beckett leaned hard on the standard, while Octavian propped himself up with the shield.
The boat came up hard against the dock, and before the boat had fully stopped, the corvus fell. They were attached to the harbour,
Beckett gripped the standard tight and jumped up onto the corvus. He ran down to the dock, and turned towards the mainland. He then took three steps before the unthinkable happened.
Beckett fell hard on his knees and then onto his belly. He then landed on his chin, biting his own tongue. His arms flailed out in front of him. With what little strength he had, he held onto the standard with one hand.
Get up, stupid! Beckett's mind screamed as his mouth filled with warm blood. He got up to his feet to see Octavian right behind him. Two metres behind him was the rest of the 37th Legion. Some stood behind Octavian. The rest were either on the boat or frozen on the corvus. They were all frozen, staring past Beckett. Beckett looked back and saw men walking slowly towards them, hands tightly around swords. The swords were scary enough, but these guys looked mean. Ex-legionaries with a lot of experience. These were men loyal to Achillas' and working for Ptolemy.
Beckett looked at Octavian. *What do I do now?* He asked. *They're not moving.*
*Rally them.* Octavian whispered back.
*How do I do that?*
*Just hold up the standard and shout, 'THIRTY-SEVEEEEEN'*
*What?* Beckett replied, utterly confused.
Octavian raised his free hand, put it up in the air, and whispered in a mock scream, *you know, like 'thirty-seveeeeeeen.'*
This is ridiculous. Beckett thought to himself. But he looked back and saw Achillas' men getting even closer. They looked meaner than they had at a distance. Beckett looked back at Octavian who nodded his head frantically.
*Do it!* He whispered.
Beckett opened his mouth to shout, but realised quite a lot of blood had pooled in his mouth. He spat it out, lifted the standard high, took a deep breath and shouted, *THIRTY-SEVEEEEEEN!*
Beckett looked over the faces of the men. Fear and confusion looked back at him. Beckett held the standard higher and shouted even louder, *THIRTY-SEVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN!*
Numisius held his sword and shouted, *THIRTY-SEVEN!*
Then a wave of screaming overtook Beckett as 50 soldiers screamed out: *THIRTY-SEVEEEEEEN!*
The 37th Legion poured over the corvus and began to run towards the men on the other side of the dock.
*Good job!* Octavian said.
The two started running.
*Stay close to me.* He said to Beckett. *Hopefully these fools know where they are going.*
Beckett and Octavian ran forward now caught in the middle of the crowd. They could only hear the sounds of swords hitting swords, and the screams and groans of men getting stabbed, slashed, and pushed off the dock and into the water. Beckett held the standard tight, and kept shouting 'thirty-seven'.
Beckett ran hard, insulated from violence by the 50 fighters around him.
They made their way from the open port to the narrow alleyways of Alexandria. Beckett ran hard. He was huffing and puffing as he moved through the treacherous streets. The sounds of swords clanging died down. Beckett looked behind him; little could be seen. There were other soldiers whose eyes were trained ahead of them. Octavian remained beside Beckett. There was far less fighting, but the speed maintained. Beckett kept a close eye on the ground as it became uneven beneath him. His knees were now screaming after the nasty fall he'd taken in the harbour.
Suddenly, the running stopped and a hush fell over the 37th Legion.
Beckett waited quietly, catching his breath. Octavian disappeared into the front of the mass. He returned after a moment.
*We've come up to a courtyard. Some of the men are scouting ahead to find the safest way through to Caesar's compound. We have a few moments to rest.*
Beckett's heart slowed. He looked around at all the men who stayed alert, waiting to move again. He thought about where he was, and the risk he was taking. He thought about the danger of the situation. What am I doing? He thought to himself. I'm getting myself killed over a stupid school assignment.I have to get out of here. Beckett had to leave, but he didn't want to see anyone watch him go. If I can just get away from the group for a second, they'll eventually leave and forget I was here.
*Can you hold the standard. I need to pee.* Beckett said, passing the standard to Octavian.
*We could leave any second.* Octavian replied.
*I'm going to explode any second.* Beckett replied.
Octavian took the standard, and Beckett slipped into a narrow alleyway, and rounded the corner.
Beckett, once he was out of sight, leaned against the wall and exhaled. He dug his fingers under the wristband he'd used to hide the return switch. He felt the water-proof plastic on his index finger.
*What are you really doing?* A voice said.
Beckett looked. It was Octavian. He held the standard in one hand, and his shield in the other.
*Um... I need to leave.* Beckett replied.
*I shouldn't be here. I could get killed.*
*You said earlier that you were worried about being judged a coward, and that you were never choosing what happened. Has something changed?*
*Yeah, I got into this dangerous situation.*
*There is danger everywhere. You could die at anytime. You could be caught in a revolution, your boat could sink, you could become ill, you could be murdered by a fiend.*
*Yeah, but this?* Beckett gestured to the soldiers. *This is a guarantee of death.*
*We're 100 metres away from Caesar's protection. You've come this far. Why wouldn't you finish what you started? You've transformed these men. Finish this task, and they'll never forget you, and you'll never forget it. If you leave now, you'll always remember that at the crucial moment, you quit.*
*I guess this is just who I am. I am a coward.* Beckett shouted.
*Leave the coward here, tonight, right there where you're standing. Let him die. You're right. You should die tonight. Look what you've been through. You swam out to an enemy ship. You cut a hole in their ship. You led and un-leadable Legion. If you quit now, that amazing person, that legend will die. That person who ran off and didn't see it through. But when you taste that feeling of accomplishment, you'll be alive like you've never been. You'll be reborn.*
Beckett's heart was pounding again. Octavian was right. Both of them were right. Beckett had to die tonight. The old Beckett Jamieson who couldn't look people in the eye. The old Beckett who slouched, and slowly walked to school in the morning. He had to go.
Beckett opened his palms and looked down at his hands. They were cut up, filled with slivers, and still bleeding. His fingers had dried blood on them. I started all this. He thought. Beckett looked up at Octavian and smiled.
*Ok. Let's finish this.* Beckett said, grabbing the standard back from Octavian. He made his way back to the mass of Legionaries, and walked to the front of the line where they were waiting.
*There you are.* Nimisius said. *I was hoping I wouldn't have to motivate these men myself.*
Suddenly, a short sharp whistle came from across the courtyard.
Numisius started to jog across to meet him; Beckett and Octavian followed, as did the rest of the legion.
As they were halfway across they heard screaming. Nearly 2 dozen soldiers converged from either side, and ran screaming, swords held high towards the soldiers.
*GO!* Numisius called out.
*THIRTY-SEVEEEEEN!* Shouted the legion as they started running. Behind him, he heard swords coming together. He held the standard tight and ran faster.
They were back in another alleyway, running on uneven ground, jumping over holes in the ground. Local Alexandrians saw them coming and ran into doorways to avoid being stampeded.
*Almost there!* Numisius shouted. Beckett looked ahead. He could just see through the mass of people that they had arrived at a stronghold. He could see Sulla and the 10th legion around Caesar's compound. We did it! Beckett thought to himself, looking straight ahead. Just a little further. Beckett had nothing left, but he pushed ahead anyway.
Suddenly, the ground beneath him disappeared. As he was looking ahead, he ignored the uneven terrain beneath him. Beckett's left foot dropped into a hole in the ground. His right leg went forward to brace him from falling. And it did; however, his left knee came down hard on the ground. Pain shot through Beckett's leg and up into his lower back. Beckett withheld an expletive, but he struggled to lift himself back up. He didn't have to though. Two legionaries grabbed him by the arms and lifted him up.
*Almost there. You can't stop yet.* One of them said, as they helped Beckett forward.
Beckett got moving again, but at a slower pace. He ran bow-legged for the last few metres until they were in range of the 10th. They ran through, and the 10th covered them as they made their way in, and eventually collapsed on the floor exhausted.
Beckett could hear continued fighting outside. But he was safe now.
Beckett sat there in the middle of the same courtyard where he'd learned to fight from Sulla and Ovidius. Octavian was next to him breathing hard. The standard lay across Beckett's shoulder.
*THIRTY-SEVEN!* Shouted one legionary. A few other voices cheered, but most of them gasped for air.
*Beckett,* Octavian started, still breathing hard. *I'll never forget this.*
*I was finished half-way down the harbour. How did we get all the way through the city?* Beckett replied.
*Not just you. All of these men.* Octavian replied. *Look at them. 20 minutes ago they were terrified and uncooperative. They'll never forget this night. They are a single unit now.* Octavian.
*All I did was raise the standard and scream.* Beckett replied shocked.
*You gave them something to unite them, a single common purpose. There is nothing more sacred to a man than a noble purpose. In this case, it was their own survival, and the survival of their new allegiance. If these men failed in this mission, it would've been devastating. They saw their General fail and eventually be murdered. They were lost. They'd seen no real combat, had no purpose other than payment. Now they see that any success of Caesar will have ben made possible by this heroic effort. And you helped make that possible.*
Beckett sat quietly. Sharp pain went through his knee and he rubbed it.
*Are you ok?* Octavian asked.
*I fell on my elbow.* Beckett replied.
*You mean your knee?* Octavian corrected his Latin.
*Right. My knee.*
Sulla entered the room, and the 37th stood up. Beckett and Octavian did as well.
*Good work! He walked through and saluted the men, shook a few hands. He eventually came up to Beckett and Octavian. Octavian hid behind Beckett, facing away from the General who surely would recognise him. *Well done again. I see you managed to incapacitate yet another ship.*
*Yes sir.* Beckett replied firmly. He then saluted Sulla.
The 37th cheered.
*Any fatalities?* Sulla asked.
Numisius stood forward. *Not one, sir. Cuts and bruises mostly.*
*Well done by all accounts. Leave the supplies to the 10th. You will find food and drink in the next room.*
*They'll need a few more minutes to rest, sir.* Numisius replied.
*Very well.* Sulla replied, turning to return to Caesar's hall. Sulla stopped turned his head. *You've had enough fun, boy. Time to get back to Rhodes.*
Beckett turned and looked at Octavian, who responded, *Yes, sir.*
The young soldiers of the 37th surrounded Beckett to shake his hand.