Chapter 1: Voyage from Epirus
The waves of the sea crashed against the prow of the ship as it glided through the calm, blue sea of the Adriatic. Alexandros of Epirus stood at the bow of the ship, one foot resting on the ledge as he watched the horizon for land. It had been two days since they had left the port of Ambracia, capital city of the Epirote Kingdom. The soothing rocking of the ship and gentle sea spray kicked up by the waves made him close his eyes. He remembered how he had said farewell to his mother, Andromeda, and he had watched in embarassment as she had scolded his King in front of him and made him (the King) promise that her son would make it home. The King of Epirus! The royal family and its leader, King Pyrrhus of Epirus had long been friends with Alexandros' family due to his father being a prominent statesman. Subsequently, it was how Alexandros had been one of those given the rank of Strategos (General) for the Pyrrhus' campaign, answerable only to the Strategos Autokrator (Supreme Commander), Pyrrhus himself. Epirus had been summoned to Greater Greece (Magna Graecia in Latin/Southern Italy around the Tarantine Gulf) by the polis (City -> City-State) of Tarentum. The Romans had violated a treaty with the city by sending a fleet into her aquatic domain and in response, the Tarentines had responded by sinking the fleet. Failed negotians consequentially led to the declaration of war on the Tarentines. Of the Greek states that had answered Tarentum's call for aid, Epirus had been among the first and few, thus now they were making their way to across the Adriatic Sea to come to her aid.
Above him, the harsh Mediterranean sun beat down on him, bathing him in sweltering. Despite living on the Greek pennisula, he had never truly adjusted to wearing his bronze armour in full daylight. It had always been uncomfortable, made doubly so by the humidity and his sweat. Walking back from the bow of the ship to under the shade of the ship's forward missile tower, he relaxed as the absence of the glaring sun cooled his sweat beaded skin. Around him, sailors busied themselves with tasks, while a few soldiers patrolled the deck of the ship. The soldiers mostly wore leather cuirasses and either Chalcidian, crowned Thracian, or bearded Phrygian helmets. These epibatai (the Greek equivalent of marines) were essentially hoplites and carried the Doru spear as well as a circular Aspis shield. Archers wearing the wide-brimmed Boetian helmets patrolled the wooden deck, bow drawn and quivers at the ready. Weary of his little escapade above decks, he leisurely strolled to the narrow flight of wooden stairs leading below decks, traversing down them easily. Walking through the small hallway to his cabin in the stern of the ship to retire, he sighed, wondering what lay in the far away land of Italia.
The sound of thunder boomed across the heavens, waking Alexandros. Getting up, he put on his bronze cuirass, slipping it over his head. He tied and then adjusted the straps, making them tight but not constricting. Putting on his bronze bracers, greaves and finally his military sandals, he proceeded to don his crested, bearded Phrygian helmet. He tighed the chin strap, the bronze cheekguards forming over his mouth, leaving an open space for his eyes and nose. Tucking in his sword belt, he sheathed his Xiphos shortsword, hefting up his Aspis shield. Walking above decks, the sea was dark with a storm. The clouds were a dark gray, exposing almost no sunlight as waves violently rocked the ship. Poseidon's wrath was evident as strong gales of wind and waves buffeted the ship's wooden hull, sending tremors throughout the deck. Alexandros stumbled as he made his way to the aft of the ship to where the Trierarch (Captain) of the ship stood, shouting orders to sailors and marines alike. The Trierarch was a stout, middle-aged man, sporting graying black hair as well as toned, definitive muscles. His voice resembled a growl and gave an aura of authority. As he approached the Trierarch acknowledged him in a rough voice: "Praise the Gods, Strategos, if we get out of this west wind! Poseidon truly does not favour us on this day and has conspired with Zephyrus to smite our ships onto the rocks of this accursed sea! We have to-"
The Trierarch was interrupted as a large projectile suddenly crashed into the deck, crashing through the wooden guardrail and hoplons (shields), ricocheting off the wooden deck and completely flattening the trierarch. A second later, a soldier on the aft watchtower shouted over the seething of the waves, "Pirates!" True to his word, the silhouettes of several vessels, raiding ships no doubt, came into view. They were triremes, equipped with two decks of oarsmen and fast but well armed- the ship of choice for pirates of the day. The pirate ships sped forwards towards the large convoy of Epirote ships. Already, allied triremes and the odd quinquereme were already peeling off from the convoy to engage the pirates. Not one to be idle, Alexandros shouted, "Make ready sailors, set a course for those ships!" There was a lurching sound as dozens of oars were re-locked into place and as the ship turned. Alexandros was suddenly pushed fowards as the ship jerked forwards, throwing him off balance. Recovering, he steadied himself, ordering the polyboloi (multiple repeating ballistae) to be loaded and made ready.
The warships neared each other and missile fire was exchanged. Alexandros watched as the polybolos near him devestated an enemy ship. Pirates were pierced by shafted projectiles such as javelins and many had javelin shafts protuding from them. Aboard his own ship, the Alexandria, men were cut down as volleys of missiles were exchanged from both sides. Naval combat was confined as ships would quite often be even less than a ship's length away. As the Alexandria rushed into the fray of battle, he heard an ear-splitting shattering sound as the bulk of the Alexandria's hull split the oars of an enemy ship into two. Without warning, the Alexandria lurched to a sudden standstill as the ram on her front lodged itself into the side of an enemy vessel. The soud was horrific, bronze scraping and tearing through solid oak. Additional screams added to the din of battle as rowers of the enemy ship were thrown off balance into the sea. Rushing to the bow of the ship, Alexandros raised his drawn Xiphos shortsword, jumping over the guardrail of the bow of the Alexandria. He landed firmly on the bow of the enemy ship, flanked by the epibatai hoplites behind him. He ducked under a pirate's sword, returning the favour with a slash to the pirate's right midsection. To his surprise, the pirate blocked the attack, parrying with a thrust to the chest. "So I underestimated these mongrels it would seem.", Alexandros thought, bemused, as he sidestepped.
The pirate realized his error too late and tried to reverse his sword arm to block the attack but Alexandros was swifter. He brought the rim of the aspis (hoplon) down on the man's wrist, making the man drop the sword with a sickening crunch as bone shattered against bronze. He then then reversed his forearm, his left elbow connecting with the man's face. As the man staggered back, he swung, the sharpened edge of the Xiphos slicing cleanly through muscle, tendon, and bone as the man's head came off in one fluid moment. Blood gushed from the opening as the head rolled off the shoulders and to the wet, soaked deck of the ship. The body remained upright for a few more seconds, still spewing blood from the site of decapitation before crumpling to the ground in a heap. Turning his head back, he gestured with his sword to three hoplites: "You three, on me!" Around him, the Alexandria's hoplites were slowly but steadily driving back the pirates. Alexandros charged up the length of the wooden deck of the pirate triremem, spotting a cluster of sword-wielding ruffians pinning down one of his soldiers. He charged headlong into the first of them, smashing the circular aspis into the side of the pirate, causing the other man to stumble. Without a second's notice, he cleaved through the thin leather chest armour in two diagonal strokes, carving through flesh. As he turned, one of the pirates slammed the edge of a falx into the side of his helmet, jolting his head. As he staggered back, disorientated, the pirate kicked him down onto his back, making him drop his Xiphos. The man reared back to stab him, and suddenly, several arrows sprouted from the man's neck and he collapsed to the ground, dead.
Alexandros retrieved his short-sword, as well as his aspis and got up, sheathing the sword. Around him, the din of battle was beginning to die down, with most of the pirate triremes having been successfully boarded or severely crippled. As he made his way back to the Alexandria and past the debris littered ship, he looked up, noticing the parted clouds yielding a faint glimpse of the setting sun. The ocean too was less turbulent, only the gentle rocking of the wave present. As red-orange light streamed through the opening in the clouds and upon the waves, he looked out and into the horizon, he caught a faint glimpse of white, stone towers connected by long pristine walls. Even from on the pirate trireme, he knew the location. It was Tarentum; they had arrived to their destination.