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Seahorses

Chapter Text

The Hector had two masts, a small captain’s cabin in the stern, and could seat 24 oarsmen, with two more manning the sails. With a captain on the bridge looking outward, and a first mate watching the men, the white ship could patrol within sight of the coast, then, with a crew of around two dozen. However, it would be a boring and expensive exercise to employ that many men to live on an ever-patrolling ship that never left sight of land.

The solution, Xander decided, was first to periodically patrol, and establish relations with other villages up and down the coast. When not at sea, he wanted to create a way of communicating from village to village. When the signal came, they must be ready to load up with fighters and go out to intercept any incoming threat.

After cleaning and painting his new ship—a task he set to with all-consuming concentration, and pressed Achilles into helping—he immediately began dictating to his obliging angel a list of matters that must be attended to.

“Signal fires will work, if the leadership in the surrounding areas agree to it. We need to approach them. And we need to approach them by sea; they need to know we are serious, armed, and able to respond.”

Achilles scratched a note about it onto the parchment. At the moment, they were still just two men on a white, freshly painted, anchored ship, with Xander’s fishing boat tied alongside to ferry them back to the dock, for Achilles was continuing his stay at the widow’s lodgings in the village. The ship was anchored close enough to swim to shore, if one was in the mood, but Achilles was not interested in constantly washing salt water from his hair.

The sun was bright on the water, but in the captain’s cabin it was cool, and dark if the door was closed. Right now, it was open. Achilles sat at the wooden table with quill and ink. Xander relaxed in the bunk, his long legs bare, his arms folded behind his head.

“I think we need an armory on board.” Xander added. “Most of our fighters will be just local men, the same ones who came to the waterfront to fight the last time. Some of them were armed with nothing but axes. They need swords.”

“Can they use the swords?” Achilles paused to ask pointedly.

“You’ll train them,” Xander informed him. “But if we need to leave at moment’s notice, we can’t have them all running home first to get their weapons. They need to be able to drop what they are doing and come right to the ship.”

“The fishermen can ferry them to us,” Achilles said.

“—and then we launch.”

Achilles wrote for a moment. Then he looked up again, trying not to peer too intently at the underside of his Hector’s thigh as he lay, leg bent, tunic riding up.

“We’re talking about farmers, shop-keepers, craftsmen… they don’t even know how to man the oars or the tag lines on the sails,” he said to his beloved.

Xander’s knee wagged from side to side for a moment. “We need to run drills. We need to practice taking her out, doing a turn or two, and pulling back in.”

“How big a crew just to move her, if the hold is empty?”

“Eight? Let’s start with eight oarsmen, empty hold, and keep the sails down. If we have eight men as a core crew who know what to do, they can help manage the auxiliary volunteers when it’s time.”

Achilles wrote. “Those eight… we’ll need to pay them enough to want to come on all-day drills. We’ve got to find men who are steady and reliable, and such men are usually already immersed in their own lives.”

Xander thought a moment. “Perhaps the local landowners can each send a trusted servant to be part of our crew.”

“Then whom do we pay, the landowner or the servant?” Achilles asked.

“Both, probably. I hope your mysterious supply of gold pebbles is not drying up yet,” Xander said, looking at him obliquely.

Achilles smiled slightly. This Hector was the only one not to have ever seen any of his angel’s capabilities, other than fighting. He simply assumed his brother’s lover—as he still occasionally referred to him when he was irritable—was of wealthy stock.

“Not at all,” he assured his companion.

“Why is it always pebbles, by the way? Why do you never seem to have coins?”

Achilles shrugged. “I can get coins, if you prefer.”

Xander turned his head, admiring the stark cleanliness of his new sheets and blankets, on his new cot. Achilles had shuddered at the thought of his beloved sleeping in the nest that a Saracen pirate had spent weeks sweating into.

“The wash woman doesn’t complain about the pebbles, I gather. Oh, I need more candles.”

Achilles wrote it down, and then looked around the small cabin. “Do you enjoy living in here?”

“Enjoy? It’s better than the fishing boat. But I stay here so no one steals it, not because I prefer it to a home with a tub and a fireplace.”

“And how is one man, even one as combative and evil-tempered as you, going to stop a gang of thieves?” Achilles asked him.

Xander looked at him. “You think I need a crew on board at all times?”

“I think I should stay here with you,” Achilles said.

“Where will you sleep?” Xander challenged him, immediately defensive.

“I’ll bring another cot over and it can go on the floor here,” the warrior said calmly.

“His Lordship on a cot on the floor, imagine,” Xander mocked, dark eyes piercing.

Achilles put the quill down and stretched. “I’ll have you know I’ve gone on more campaigns than you can know, and slept on the same mean cots as my men. I’ve eaten at many a campfire.”

Xander looked at him closely: thus far, Achilles had told him nothing of his life. He’d washed up on his brother’s beach and became part of Karan’s world. Two weeks later, he had met Xander. Now, in the… oh, more than a month that had ensued, he had become Xander’s helpmeet and patron, his scribe, his valet, and his advisor. He worked on Xander’s boat, ferried supplies back and forth, bought whatever their venture needed… but they had not become lovers. And Achilles had volunteered nothing about his previous life until this casual remark.

“Did you?”

“Indeed,” Achilles said, “I had a fleet of men. Myrmidons, we called ourselves. Some of the greatest fighters that ever lived… it was long, long ago,” he added, and grew thoughtful at the table, eyes on scenes that his Hector could not see.

Memories, he’d found, fell into two categories now: those that were as sharp as yesterday, and those that were gone.

Patroclus, for instance. He had a picture in his mind of the beloved of his youth, of the boy’s green eyes looking out over the sea, and the breeze blowing his brown hair back. He had another of his angry, befuddled look in the hut when Achilles would not fight. He had a last view of him on his funeral pyre, with the gold coins on his eyes. It was all he really had left of Patroclus. He found the memory didn’t hurt him now. There was only a vague sorrow that the boy had never gotten the chance to be a man.

Xander watched Achilles grow still in that odd, unnerving way he had.

“How long ago could it be? You don’t look any older than I am,” he opined. He had a theory about Achilles, but he wasn’t prepared to voice it.

Achilles withdrew from his trance and gazed at his Hector, whose dark eyes were perusing him distrustfully from the bunk.

“Can you think of anything else I should write down? I’m going ashore when we’re done. I can get whatever you need.”

“That’s very obliging. If you’re going to spend the night here, you should bring more food and coals. Remember there is another brazier out on the main deck we can use, as long as we keep it far from the sails.”