Young Adult historical fiction
Goliath: Deus Ex Machina (Rev. 1)
Well hidden from the guards’ prying eyes, in a place most unlikely, a little boy of very peculiar nature and fashion hunkered in the thick shadow behind a balustrade.
The boy looked young, not much older than ten years of age, and his face, as far as could be seen under the big, shiny cauldron that sat on his head, was chubby-cheeked with a podgy nose right where it belonged. A mop of messy, jet black curly hair bristled under his makeshift helmet and a pair of dark marbly eyes impishly flashed here and there.
From his waist to his awfully skinned knees stretched a skirt of coarse yellow flax tagging him private property of the palace. Over it a ragged moth-eaten cloak, held together by a simple string, fell down to his bare and very smutty feet and a small wooden sword, his every pride and most precious belonging, was dangling from his hip. His thickset, short-necked and rather portly figure, especially around his middle, revealed the boy’s weakness for substantial and solid meals and completed his somewhat out of tune appearance.
There were whole bunches of little slave boys almost quite like him hustling and bustling through the palace’s halls day in day out and thus he would have been nearly a common sight, if not at this most unreasonable hour and in this perilous place.
Breathing noisily the boy pressed his back flat against the cold, hard, marble stones.
‘Shuesh.’ gasped he when the night dew soaked through the thin layers of his tattered clothes, adding to the sweat that was already coursing down his back. He shivered as an unpleasant shudder crept down his spine.
He ignored the cold for once and closed his eyes to focus on his mission.
‘One ... two ... three.’ Taking another deep rasping breath he slowly pushed himself up on the low wall and cautiously peered over its edge.
‘Blood and guts!’ The scenery was beyond his wildest dreams. He had chosen his observation post most meticulously and with the same consideration and thoughtfulness that dominated some, but certainly not most of his actions. A broad grin on his face he squeaked with pleasure and scanned the area.
All the effort to find this perfect spot? Absolutely worth it. The bedlam of the early morning hours providing the necessary cover to sneak here? Godsend! Eli and Festus, those numbskulls trying to play their stupid tricks on him? Unpleasant but predictable! Locking him in the cellar? Pfft, ludicrous! It had taken some time, but there was no lock he couldn’t pick and nobody, really nobody had paid attention to him as he had sidled towards his destination. Not the guards and not even Pothinus, Ptolemy’s beefy warden, who was patrolling the long corridor leading to the royal chambers, a viperish look on his fat feverish face. Too busy yelling at one of the poor souls bustling up and down the corridors, that fat pig. He had gratefully seized his chance and used the one unobserved moment to slip inside.
As usual at the first stirrings of an attack, the princess and her servants had been evacuated to some secure underground location and the chamber lay completely deserted, as expected. Well not entirely deserted. Isis, the princess’s cat had lolled around on one of the fluffy cushions. Yawning and stretching she had been rather annoyed about this unexpected disturbance of her peace. He liked the cat. Whenever he was sent to Cleopatra’s chamber he always brought something special, and for as far as he was concerned the cat’s diet was far better than that of most people in Alexandria. Whipping her tail from side to side it had gracefully retreated into a dark corner of the room when against expectations he had produced nothing from his pouch.
‘If only her mistress won’t return anytime soon.’ he thought. For if she did, he would be in trouble, and this time real big trouble. Nothing compared to the usual whipping and beating. No, this time it would certainly lead to trouble of the hands cut off, your tongue ripped out and feet burned to charcoal kind. At this thought he felt panic rise in his throat and he dipped back down to cast a reassuring glance at the balcony door. Nothing! Just the panicky rattle of his own breath and the silken curtains lazily flapping in the breeze. Bit by bit his thumping heart slowed. He fished in his pouch, pulled a handful of dried dates he had sneaked from the kitchen and shoved them into his mouth.
‘Now pull yourself together and calm down!’ he grunted and gulped down the sticky lump in whole. ‘Everything will be all right.’ The tasty morsel helped him to shake off the little worry that had begun to niggle at the back of his mind. He got up and peeped over the balustrade again.
From here he could overlook almost the entire palace complex. The temple of Isis to the left with its wide marble steps, massive pillars and magnificent colourful statues. Across the vast square and behind the royal garden, there loomed the mighty wall in the south, where the ferocious onslaught of the Egyptian troops had been shattered. To his right there was the Portus Magnus, where the dark shadows of the gigantic three- and four-decked Rhodian warships rolled gently in the greenish glow of the sea.
There was still some action beneath his feet, but there was no denying he had missed most of it. Eli and Festus had succeeded after all.
‘I knew it!’ he muttered crossly to himself. ‘Osiris curse them both. Yes, curse them and chop them into pieces. These horse-asses just don’t care,’ he ranted on. ‘That’s their problem. They don’t care about anything at all.’ Sulking he glanced around again.
The Romans had already begun to repair the damaged parts of the fortifications. He could see them placing more ballista and catapults on towers and walls, and reinforcing their positions with battering rams and trenches. Medics were carrying the wounded to the temple of Isis, which, against the only half-hearted protests of the priests, now accommodated the hospital.
Legionaries rushed to and fro the battlements, dodging some scattered arrows that still came whistling aimlessly over the wall. Every now and again a heavy war-drum-beat throbbed and rolled, and far away in the labyrinthine alleys of the Rhakotis quarter, where the Egyptians had taken cover, there came battle cries and horn-calls. But it was quite obvious that the Alexandrians were on the losing end again.
Beyond the walls, in the Jewish quarter, a blaze was roaring through the mazy alleys sending up thrashing sheets of flames and sparks. The silhouettes of the legionaries swarming the battlements loomed dimly against its red glow, radiating into the vastness of the night’s sky. Thick black gouts of smoke billowed off the Macedonian barracks outside the gates, paling stars and moon, and the charred skeletons of the colossal siege towers gave silent witness to the unspeakable violence of the earlier hours.
‘If I just could get over there, I’d get at least a glimpse of the action.’ He racked his brain, but with Pothinus lurking in the hallway and the entire Roman army sweeping around, there was no way he could possibly make it to the southern wall without getting caught.