The sailor came down to the hold, not with dinner, but with a key. He
unlocked each man in turn while two sailors stood guard, holding back a
bit in case the Romans tried to make a break. The three men rubbed their
wrists and ankles, trying to get the circulation back into the pinched
“To what do we owe this honor, sailor?” asked Antonius, in Greek.
“Topside. Captain wants you,” the sailor replied with a strong
The three followed, Galosga and Gaius aiding the none-too-steady
Antonius up the ladder through the hatch onto the deck. They blinked in
the dim light of a stormy evening near sunset, clouds glowering gray and
gloomy. A steady wind keened over the deck, humming in the rigging,
spitting stinging spray from the crests of waves. Gaius noted that only
the artemon and the mainsail remained deployed, half-furled by brailes.
All the other sails were bound fast to the yard. The sailor separated
Galosga from the Romans, and led them into the master’s cabin, what
had formerly been their quarters. He then left, slamming the latch shut
firmly to keep the weather and water out.
The stateroom was dark, the windows shuttered, glass removed and stowed.
An oil lamp swung lazily from the overhead with the ship’s motion,
casting a fitful glow throughout the darkened room. Ibrahim was seated
at the desk. “Antonius Aristides. How pleasant to see you again! Come
in, sit down, both of you,” he said in Greek, motioning to the empty
“No, thanks, I’ll stand. Been sitting all day,” Antonius responded
in Latin. He spat, working the thick gobbet of spit into the polished
floor with his toe.
“Suit yourself, Roman dog.” Ibrahim refused to change languages, and
continued in Greek. “We have a bad storm coming, and I will not leave
you to drown, chained in the hold of a foundering ship. However, make no
mistake.” His arm snaked out of his robe and a small knife flashed
through the air over the desk to land with a quivering thunk,
transfixing Antonius’ spit inches from his big toe. “I have no
qualms about killing you, and I may do so yet. But no man deserves to
die in chains, alone, not even a Roman.
“We will need every man to work the ship, if we are to live,”
Ibrahim continued. “You two will work with my sailors, hauling lines
and doing what you are told. If you try to make more of this than it is,
I will throw you overboard. Understood?” The deck pitched upward
vertically and rolled to starboard, the ship shuddering as the bow
stumbled back down into a big wave. The spray spattered over the
quarterdeck above their heads.
Ibrahim studied the two men intently, as they studied him. Then Gaius
responded, also in Latin, “So be it. We shall talk later!” It was
not a question.
Ibrahim produced two coils of rope from under the desk. “You will wear
safety lines at all times tonight. That is not just for you, but for all
the men as well. These waves can wash you over the side with no
warning.” He handed them the ropes, fitted with bronze hooks at the
end. Outside, to give emphasis to his words, a wave broke over the
starboard rail with a boom and a crash of splintered wood. Shouts of men
could be heard in half a dozen languages, swearing as the water rushed
about the deck. The ship staggered to port under the blow, buckling the
men’s knees as the bow plowed once again into a wave, and the load of
water hissed off the deck. It was going to be a long night.
Outside, the darkness had grown much deeper, although it was just
sunset. Rain spat fitfully, propelled by the wind into horizontal
stinging pellets. The sails were now fully reefed, the bare poles and
rigging moaning in the sustained winds. The seas were mountainous, waves
rolling by in slow, unhurried grace like passing elephants, plodding but
unstoppable, as the wind ripped white spindrift from their tops. The
Europa rode up and down the sides of these huge rollers, pitching and
bucking like a tethered horse. And tethered she was, to a host of sea
anchors deployed from her bow and stern. Occasionally she would catch a
wave from the wrong angle and it would explode in a dark torrent over
the gunwale, boiling fiercely, running down the scuppers and back out
overside. Everything, the sea, the sky, the ship and the men themselves,
was in shades of black and gray.
Excerpted from "The Eagle and the Dragon: A Novel of Rome and China" by Lewis McIntyre. Copyright © 2017 by Lewis McIntyre. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.