That was bad.
Yesterday we conducted our Ciconian raid.
We've lost two ships and nearly one in five of our men, and it could have been much worse.
Here's the short of it:
The evening before last, the Lil' Tethys spotted the Ciconian city of Ismara just before nightfall. The Tethys relayed the information to us, and we anchored out-of-sight off the southern shore.
Not long after sundown, our fleet began to slowly make its way towards the city.
It was our intention to embark out of sight of Ismara. However, the city lies at the foot of a mountain, and the coast to the south of it was very rocky. As a result, our fleet crept up along the coast for quite some time before we could find a place to land.
The moon was nearly new, so things were pretty dark. In fact, as we looked for places to land, Polites and Elpenor were on the bow, repeatedly dropping a plumb line.
Even so, if it weren't for the Lil' Tethys guiding us, we would have probably ended up upon the rocks.
I can clearly recall standing with Odysseus and Baius as the lights of Ismara grew closer and closer.
It was a tense moment, and the General was obviously anxious. Aside from Elpenor's whispered soundings, I could only hear Odysseus wrapping his knuckles upon his shield.
Anyway, we were nearly on top of the city before the rocks gave way to a sandy shore.
Here, our first contact with the Ciconians was the Lil' Tethys running into a small fishing boat.
This occurred several yards off of our bow, and we couldn't see what happened. However, we heard a few high-pitched screams and what looked like a torch thrown through the air.
At that, Elpenor shouted something like: "It's begun!"
Odysseus loudly ordered Baius to bring us in. Lighting two torches upon our stern, I signaled for the fleet behind us to do the same.
This was almost comical. As our large ships rushed towards the beach, we had to plow through a flotilla of small fishing boats. Many of these boats contained sleeping fishermen, who were understandably disturbed by the appearance of our ships.
As a result, our stealthy landing wasn't so stealthy.
Although we unintentionally rammed a few fishing boats, we didn't bother to engage the fishermen on our way in. However, once they realized what was going on, the fishermen started throwing what they had at us, and caught the mainsail of one of our ships on fire.
The blaze provided us with a bit of useful light actually, and within moments we were orderly unloading our crews into the sandy shallows to the southeast of the city.
After ten years of war, our troops are incredibly well-trained. -With only minimal orders, our army of over two-thousand poured onto the beach, and then quietly fell into columns.
Actually, aside from the efforts of a few brave Ciconian fishermen, the only real confusion upon our landing was on account of our officers. As several of these men had been reassigned to replace lost helmsmen, they were confused as to whether they should join the raid or to stay with the ships.
Frustrated, Odysseus ordered all of these officers to join us on the beach. -In retrospect, that might not have been the best idea. The men were already falling into formation, and although a handful of soldiers were left to guard each ship, the lack of a helmsman later contributed to an unanticipated problem.
Anyway, within just twenty minutes or so we had gained the beach, and began to advance on the city.
Ismara was only several hundred yards up from the water, atop a gradual sandy slope. We made our way quickly, with officers spread every ten meters or so across our front. I was in the center with Odysseus and Elpenor. Misenus was some distance to our left, and Polites was commanding our rear guard.
I won’t go into too many details, as there's not much to say. -In short, we made quick work of the city.
As we had caused quite a bit of commotion upon our landing, much of Ismara knew we were coming before we fell upon them. In fact, a small contingent of about one-hundred brave souls met us just in front of the city, but they were ill-prepared and obviously untrained.
I was somewhat struck with how efficiently and almost stoically our troops engaged and dispatched these desperate defenders.
Besides this defense, Ismara had a small wall. However, two of the entrances to the city were either left open or were non-existent. As a result, we quickly poured into the city, reformed into twelve separate companies, and then went about raiding the place.
I stuck with Odysseus throughout the sack of Ismara, as did Elpenor. For his part, Elpenor was refreshingly quiet, and helped direct our men with only a minimal amount of kissing Odysseus’ ass.
It wasn't our intention to damage the city or to unnecessarily harm the residents. Thus, we went through the night and early morning with very little fighting. In fact, after a few hours, the Ciconians seemed to become resigned to our efforts, and more-or-less stood aside as we went from house to house, taking what we fancied.
It felt pretty dirty.
Things were also made easy by another circumstance. Shortly into the raid, we were confronted by a group of Ciconian guards escorting the city's mayor. This chubby and swarthy guy named Ennomus, was quick to make it clear Ismara would surrender to our force, and only asked us that his city not be destroyed.
Odysseus obviously got a kick out of this, and he responded by asking Ennomus why he shouldn't do the same to Trojan-loving Ciconians as he had done to Troy.
I guess word had already reached Ennomus about the fall of Troy, and he was immediately dumbfounded to find himself in the presence of "The Great Odysseus, conqueror of Troy."
We were then escorted by the mayor and his small contingent as we looted the city. That was kind of surreal. Odysseus and Ennomus were actually making small talk as we went about our business. –Maybe Ennomus thought it was an honor to have his city sacked by the “Conqueror of Troy.”
Anyway, after several hours of looting, our force began to reassemble near the city wall where we had entered. As the sun rose, we piled our spoils onto Ciconian carts, and prepared to head back to our fleet. At that point I don't think we had lost more than a dozen men.
But then things went very bad.
Standing with Odysseus and the mayor of Ismara at the city gate, we heard a signal horn from down at the beach. Rushing out to see the cause of the alarm, we saw our fleet was still anchored at the foot of the city. A trail of carts linked Ismara to the shoreline, and some of our ships were being loaded in the shallow water.
At first, nothing appeared amiss. However, Polites then stepped up next to me and exclaimed: "Mother of Zeus. We're fucked."
Turning to Polites, I could tell he was looking at something else. Following his gaze over our ships, I then saw why we were fucked. -Almost obscured by the rising sun, a number of large ships were headed towards the shore.
It didn't take long before we realized what we were looking at. It was the Ciconian army, returning from the War at Troy. In fact, these were likely the same Ciconians that shot Odysseus in the leg. -They must have been delayed by the storm, and we beat them to their home.
Why we hadn't considered their return, I don't know. In fact, it actually crossed my mind as we landed, but after I got caught up in the raid, I forgot about it.
Looking at Odysseus, I was stunned by how quickly he reacted to the situation.
The General's response was: "Burn the city. Get to the fleet."
Obviously baffled, Ennomus yelled: "Nooooo!"
To this, Odysseus coldly replied: "Kill him."
Not staying to watch his order carried out, the General began to jog towards our fleet. Polites, Elpenor and I joined him, listening to a quick stream of orders he gave as her ran. -Strangely, Odysseus seemed more pissed off than anything else.
Basically, the General's orders were for us to board as quickly as possible, leaving the rest of our treasure on the beach. Elpenor and Polites quickly dispatched and began to spread the word.
Odysseus and I were intercepted by Macar as we ran to the boats.
Macar brought more bad news.
Unfortunately, while we were raiding the city, the tide went out. Baius had been able to get some of our ships to deeper waters, but without a helmsman in each our ships, things got pretty confused. As a result, our six boats closest to shore were essentially resting on the bottom. -Baius and Macar assumed we'd just have to wait until high tide, but no one anticipated a rushed departure.
At hearing that, Odysseus looked crazy mad.
Grabbing Macar by the shoulders, the General asked him to repeat what he had just said, one more time.
That was the first time I had ever seen Macar look intimidated. However, after making sure Odysseus was serious, Macar coolly repeated the situation, word for word.
Odysseus listened and then nodded. With his hands still on Macar's shoulder, he slowly looked at the situation about us. To the west, plums of smoke began to rise from Ismara. To the east, we could see our fleet, soon to be boxed in by the returning Ciconians. All about us, men and officers ran, both up and down the beach, often changing directions midway.
Looking back to the two of us, Odysseus shook his head, and then broke into a warm smile.
"Macar, Eurylochus. It looks like we're fucked." With that, the General started laughing.
Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but Macar and I immediately burst out laughing as well. -It felt like the funniest thing I had heard in a long time.
Anyway, after a good chuckle, we continued on our way down to the shore. There we met Baius, who was his usual cool self. Baius reiterated what Macar had said, and then suggested we meet the returning Ciconians with the few ships that were free.
Odysseus agreed with Baius, but decided he would stay on shore. Macar and Baius then took the Lil' Tethys out to command our fleet.
Apollo's ass, it's getting late.
Alright, so here's what happened:
There were five ships in the Ciconian fleet. Two of these ships were caught up in a hasty blockade set up by Baius and Macar, and three of the Ciconian vessels broke through to the shore.
These ships unloaded in the shallows amongst our own, where we fought one of the most chaotic battles I have ever witnessed.
Unfortunately, despite the burning of Ismara, soon after the Ciconians ships were spotted, a substantial number of furious citizens began to harass us on the beach. These pissed-off citizens were mostly armed with farm implements and rocks, but they created a second front on our rear, which greatly aided the Ciconian attack.
It took about thirty minutes before the Ciconians had landed. However, due to these new partisans and the confused state of our officers (Polites and Elpenor had just ordered our men to board our beached ships) we were less than prepared when the Ciconians began to disembark amongst us.
I stayed with Odysseus throughout what ended up being a very long battle. Polites joined the two of us after about an hour, and we later happened upon Misenus, who was trapped under an overturned cart of Ciconian treasure. -He'll be alright.
I didn't see Elpenor for the rest of the morning. I guess he ended up on one of our beached ships, fighting a group of Ciconcians that repeatedly set it on fire.
Interestingly, we did happen upon the Ciconian captain that we had met at sea. I think his name was Euphemus, or at least that's what his men called him.
Euphemus and his contingent of troops met Odysseus and our entourage late in the battle. Once he saw Euphemus, Odysseus became very animated, and kept working to engage him personally. However, Euphemus' guard was well-trained, and they fell in tight before him any time we pressed towards their leader.
Even so, I'm sure Odysseus would have eventually gotten to Euphemus. However, that's when Achaemenides appeared.
By noon, things were looking pretty grim. Whenever I had the opportunity, I would look about us and assess the situation. Each time I did, I always saw the same thing: Our Ithacans were spread out along the beach, fighting about one third as many Ciconian soldiers, and nearly twice as many Ismaran citizens. The beach was littered with treasure and bodies. By my measure, we were slowly fighting to a stalemate.
However, at this particular lull, I climbed upon one of the carts to have a look at our fleet. -For the past several minutes I had heard a few cheers come from that direction, and I was wondering what it was about.
Amazingly, what I saw was Achaemenides' ship on the far side of the ongoing sea battle. Apparently, Achaemenides had just rammed into the hull of a Ciconian vessel. -It was difficult to discern what was going on, but there was little doubt things were looking bad for the two Ciconian ships that remained offshore.
I immediately related this to Odysseus.
Hearing it, the General grinned from ear to ear. He shouted: "Get the men on our ships!" and with new energy, he charged towards a skirmish taking place closer to the shore.
With that, Polites, Misenus and I began to spread the world along the beach.
It wasn't a perfect retreat, but it could have been worse.
Fortunately, the tide had begun to come in shortly before Achaemenides' return. As a result, it was easy enough to board our ships, but we didn't have to wait long before they were afloat once again.
We spent nearly half and hour fending-off the Ciconians as our men boarded and waited to embark. However, as the water rose, it became more and more difficult for the Ciconians to attack our ships.
Furthermore, as the Ciconians had concentrated on fighting us as we boarded, by the time we were free, it was already too deep for them to effectively board their own vessels that began floating nearby.
Thus, after several hours of fighting on the shore of Ismara, we were able to escape to sea, taking a number of doomed Ciconians with us. However, we did so with two fewer ships, and many fewer men.
To add insult to injury, we got very little treasure from the bargain.
After we were out of sight of Ismara, Odysseus had Achaemenides brought aboard our ship. The General then made a very big deal about Achaemenides’ rescue. He bestowed Achaemenides the ship he’s been commanding, and presented him with a very ornate sword. -In fact, the sword kind of looked like mine.
How many of these swords does the General have?
Anyway, we had an impromptu feast to honor ‘Captain Achaemenides’, which went on far too late.
We didn’t spend any of the daylight assessing our damages, or redistributing the men. No doubt that will be my job tomorrow. -Without Odysseus, of course.
I have to think Odysseus hoped the Ciconian raid might substitute for our missing treasure barge.
However, although Achaemenides returned, I now have very little hope for that flat-bottomed ship. -Besides, if the Milesian barge is still afloat, they are likely on their way to Ismara.
Wouldn’t that be ironic?
At any rate, I don’t think the General will want to linger in Ciconian waters, waiting for our missing treasure.
No, I think we are going to have to start heading home. -Our fleet is damaged enough as it is.
Odysseus did his best to raise morale with Achaemenides’ feast, but I don’t think our crew can take any more of these adventures.