An Indian empire at the peak of its power. Everyone wants a share of the riches of Nagapattinam. When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A payment that includes a twelve-year-old girl, Aremis.
Here is an excerpt from the book:
I spotted Krishnan’s smaller ship nestled among a few trees. We docked next to it, a few hundred yards from a beach.
The men were bored and itching to get off the ship. But something told me that there was more bad weather coming. I made them wait as I surveyed the beach. In the distance, I saw bodies lying face down in the sand. Dead men in armour that looked like ours.
‘Slowly, with as little noise as possible,’ I told them, as we disembarked. ‘Keep your daggers and arrows ready.’
The most courageous thing you do in a battle is get off your ship in hostile land, abandoning safety. Once you do that, you are propelled forward by events and the momentum of other men. You live in the bravado of the moment and the need to stay alive.
There were pools of blood everywhere, soaking the beach sand. Some of the men stirred, most looked dead. The alien sun drenched my back with sweat at once, the sand burned under my feet as we ran up the beach, looking for shade or enemy. It was too quiet.
We headed forward through the trees surrounding the beach until we saw smoke rising into the sky. I had my few men split into two groups, to give us a chance to surprise the attackers. ‘Change of plans,’ I said. ‘We are no longer attempting to catch up with the rest of our ships. We save who we can here, and leave.’
It sounded like desertion, but we knew we were well and truly lost. We could end up in ambush after ambush if we tried going further into the island.
I put Maran in the lead with me, for his sharp eyes and aim with the spear. As we walked through the forest towards the smoke, I noticed that the plants around us were beaten down.
Maran stopped, turned back to me. His eyes grown hard. He nodded and I went forward. I crouched with him in wild grass that made my nose tickle and my skin itch. The heat relentless. This place didn’t like me a bit. It was trying to spit me out.
‘Can you hear it?’
As soon as he said it, I could. Screaming came at me in the wind and cooled the sweat on my back.
‘No more than two hundred paces away, is my guess,’ Vishakh observed. A thick-armed rower. Good with his knife and one of the few here I knew well.
I looked around. ‘How many bows do we have?’
Five men raised their hands, and I tried to look unperturbed. ‘How many arrows?’
‘Full quivers,’ the lead archer said. ‘Around four hundred.’
That was something. ‘Climb the trees when we are eighty paces away,’ I said. ‘Maran will give you the sign. And aim for the eyes and throats. There will be many of them and few of us.’
We crept forward quietly in case they had placed guards up ahead, and soon enough we spotted three men standing with their backs facing us, their swords unsheathed but intent on something happening on the other side. I nodded to Maran and Vishakh, both of whom had done this before with me, and we took down the men easily from behind with a knife in their necks so that they couldn’t scream a warning, and then again deep in their flanks, so that their legs were useless. Three good swords out of that. I put mine in my belt. We moved ahead again, and the raw smell of blood grew stronger, not good news. Maran spotted something and gave the archers the signal to prepare their bows.
I issued a sign for my favourite defensive position, the star, placing Maran and Vishakh at the apexes, with ten men to their right and their left, swords and machetes alternating, and moved forward. The rest of the men behind us.
Maran and Vishakh signalled back what they saw – at least two hundred of the enemy in the clearing and thirty of our own men, bound and gagged.
We were outnumbered. But we didn’t have much choice but to keep going forward.