I followed Gia up the gangplank of the Aegean Star, and even before I could say anything, the crew began preparing for us to pull out of port. I watched as Gia gave Captain Dellis a signal, and I felt the ship get underway.
“And since when does my captain take orders from you?”
“Since I called him from Monterey and told him to have the ship standing by and ready to sail as soon as we got aboard, per your instructions, Lord Nereus.”
I started to say something, but Gia motioned for me to follow her below. From the seriousness of her expression, I knew the discussion about using my name in vain was going to have to wait. I entered my cabin to find her three sisters waiting.
“I see the gang’s all together.”
Melanie made sure the gangway was empty as Zoe checked to ensure no one was lurking above the cabin. Once it was clear, Calista pushed the button on a box on the table next to my bed, and the four gathered around me.
“It’s a white noise generator, Lord Nereus,” Calista explained. “If someone is trying to listen in electronically, all they’re going to get is static.”
“Well, you have fully convinced me you four have taken leave of your senses. Now, will someone explain to me what’s going on near Naxos that requires my personal attention? And why all the secrecy?”
“It seems an unauthorized archeological group is diving several miles off of Naxos—”
“You mean looters.”
“That is one word for it, yes. They have discovered what they believe to be an ancient Greek ship in about 200 feet of water. They hope to pick up archeological artifacts for resale through less than legal means—”
“You mean the black market.”
“This will go much faster, Lord Nereus, if you quit interrupting.”
I sat down on the edge of my bed and motioned for her to continue. “Sorry. And we are interested in this, why?”
“Because it is not an ancient Greek vessel. It is actually a Trojan ship, sunk shortly after the fall of Troy. It was carrying several members of the royal family who managed to escape along with several of our sisters as their bodyguards. However, you know Zeus intended the war to eliminate many of the demi-gods he himself had sired. And, it was quite the slaughter in the end.”
“I remember the war. How could I not, since so many ships were crossing the Aegean and so many fine men were dying on both sides? Even the gods themselves took sides, aiding this one, opposing that one. I’m surprised they managed to limit themselves to that.”
“Up to a point, Lord Nereus. One of the humans was favored in the end. Aeneas not only managed to survive, but he was saved repeatedly by Aphrodite, Apollo, and even Poseidon. He led the remnants of the Trojans from the burning city and eventually wound up in Italy years later.”
“I remember him. His descendants ran roughshod over Greece a few thousand years later.”
“But, you may not have known that Aeneas, being blessed by Apollo, had a special golden bow and arrows of fire, forged by Hephaestus on Apollo’s orders. Now, Poseidon had taken the side of the Greeks during the war, and he raised many storms to scatter and destroy the Trojans as they sailed away from the destruction. Aeneas’s ship sank during one of these storms. While the people were saved, all the treasure was lost.”
“And when you say, all, you mean—”
# # #
Three days later, we arrived off the coast of Naxos and began our search. I discovered Gia’s sisters had brought a quartet of underwater propulsion devices to help them keep up with me. I made a joke about feeling like an extra in Thunderball, but not being fans of American movies, it went right over their heads. However, like in Thunderball, I noted these UPDs had integrated spear guns, which told me Gia expected trouble at the wreck.
While I hoped she was overreacting, I decided to break out a few of my old things. I opened the hidden panel in my cabin and took out a few things that rested near the Staff of Prophecy. I wasn’t sure what kind of reception we would get at the site of the wreck, so it wouldn’t hurt to bring the Crown of the Seven Seas in case I needed to be a bit more persuasive with the plunderers. If that failed, having the Trident of the Aegean might be even more persuasive. Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I felt more like my old self. Maybe I had been missing this in my life over the past few millennia, but now was not the time to woolgather. I slipped over the side before anyone on the ship noticed, and the Amazons took up their positions on either side of me.
I paused for a moment and decided. If we were going to make an impression, then why not go all out? I called telepathically for an old friend. A few minutes later, my faithful hippocampus, Spartoi, arrived. His golden scales sparkled in the light beneath the waves, and his steady green eyes showed he was ready for whatever adventure I was taking him on. Slipping onto his back, I motioned to Gia to lead the way.
Spartoi easily kept pace with the UPDs, and we made our way even deeper into the sparkling blue Aegean waters. The sunlight grew fainter, but to my eyes, it was as clear as if I was on the surface. The Amazons had turned on the lights to their UPDs, but only on the lowest setting to ensure they could keep in contact with each other.
If the mission hadn’t been so serious, I would have loved to have taken the time to do more exploring. Swarms of fish swirled around us, many stopping to greet me before continuing on. In the distance, I spotted larger fish, but even with my presence, they kept their distance in deference to the Amazons flanking me.
Apparently, Gia’s source had been accurate because, within twenty minutes of entering the water, we could see activity ahead of us. Several divers were circling above what appeared to be a steel hull in the water. Puzzled, I lifted an arm to halt everyone and watched them for a bit. Some of the divers had acetylene torches, and others used large metal tools to work pieces of the wreck loose before attaching them to a cable that stretched down from the surface. All things considered, they appeared to be a simple salvage operation. I motioned Gia forward.
Placing my hand on her forehead, I asked, “That wreck is less than a hundred years old. Are you certain this is the spot?”
Gia nodded, and then using sign language, she spelled out, “Aeneas’s ship lies beneath this wreck. They’re not removing the sides of the ship, just clearing a way to excavate below without being spotted.”
I watched further and had to agree. There was no rhyme or reason to what they were removing from the sunken vessel. It seemed almost all of the salvage was coming from inside the ship. I motioned for us to move forward but to stay close to the Aegean floor to keep from being spotted until the last moment. We rested behind a small rise and continued to observe them for a while before I called the Amazons together.
“I’m going to approach them and see if I can’t discourage their activity. Unless they have found the bow, they’re really not much of a threat to me. I’d prefer this was handled with a minimum amount of effort. However, if they insist on being stupid, then feel free to show them the error of their ways.”
The four nodded in agreement, although Calista seemed to be enjoying herself a little too much as she sharpened the tips of her spears while watching the wreck. Then again, she was a warrior born, so I wasn’t too surprised she relished the chance to showcase her fighting skills in an unusual situation. I knew I could trust Gia to keep them in line, though. Once they were in position, I guided Spartoi forward.
The divers were so intent on their work that I was able to close in to within fifty feet of them before they noticed me. One of them banged a piece of metal against the hull of the ship, and the sound had barely finished echoing when four men cautiously swam out to meet me. Apparently, the sight of a large man with no visible means of breathing sitting astride a half-horse/half-fish creature was a bit off-putting.
Exactly as I had planned it.
Summoning the power of the Crown of the Seven Seas, I tried my best to charm them into cooperating. My voice carried easily through the seawater. “Gentlefolk. I think I know why you are here. While removing this old ship is a noble cause, it’s your plans for the wreck beneath it that concern me. Since it’s against the law to excavate an archeological site without permission, let’s save ourselves a lot of trouble. Go back to your ship and leave right now.”
Their reactions told me I was having an effect on them, but while some were fearful, others were debating the best way to eliminate this latest problem. I lifted my trident and sent a jet of compacted water to dig a trench near the feet of those closest to me. “Please, do not mistake my desire to end this peacefully with weakness. I’m rather fond of you mortals, but I’ve no patience for thieves.”
One of them moved closer and began writing something on a blackboard. We have a permit to salvage this boat. Do not interfere.
“My good man, I don’t care what you do with this boat. I do care what you mean to do with the one in the silt beneath it.”
The diver erased his board and then wrote furiously. We don’t know anything about another boat. We’re only after this one.
“Is that so? Well then, let me help you.”
Before they could react, I dismounted Spartoi and shifted into my normal shape. I swam over to the sunken vessel before growing to about six times my normal size. I slid my hands through the sand beneath the ship, and, with a heave, I wrenched the boat free from the clinging silt and mud and carried it several hundred meters away to the south. It was heavier than I’d anticipated. I knew those muscles were going to give me fits later, but I didn’t let the divers see the strain on my face. I set it on a pile of rocks and turned back to see the divers still floating where I had left them. Their shock was easy to read.
“There you are, gentlemen. This spot should be easier to work in. Also, since I’ve moved the ship, you’ll have no problem raising it when you’re done. If this ship was what you wanted, it’s all yours. If the other ship was your goal, I’m afraid you’re going to be very disappointed.”
The diver with the blackboard slowly swam toward me and scribbled something. Who are you?
I made certain everyone could see me. I raised my trident and took a pose I’d seen in a superhero movie, and raised a wall of bubbling water behind me for dramatic effect. “I am Nereus, better known as the Old Man of the Sea. I protect the Aegean and the surrounding seas. Your presence will be tolerated if you focus on salvage, but if you ever think of pillaging an ancient wreck again, you will find I am not so forgiving a second time.” Pausing to ensure everyone was looking, I shot a bolt of solid water from my trident to land behind them. “Now, go!”
Almost to a man, they began swimming toward the surface. Laughing, I watched them dropping tools and equipment to lighten their loads, and I hoped they’d remember to pause on their way up or else they were all courting a case of the bends. Once I knew I was out of their sight, I relaxed and resumed my normal size, and walked across the floor to where Spartoi waited patiently for me.
Gia and her sisters swam over to join me. “Trying out for Hollywood, Old Man? I could feel their fear all the way over to where we were waiting,” she signed.
I smiled before floating over to where the wreck had been. I held out the trident and concentrated. A few feet below the surface, I could feel a source of power beckoning. A jet of water shot from the trident. I carefully carved away at the seafloor, exposing an ancient wooden box that had metamorphosed into a stony substance over the centuries. Lifting the lid carefully, I removed an ancient bow and a quiver of arrows, both looking as new as the day Hephaestus had forged them. I handed them to Gia, and she secured them to her UPD.
I carefully replaced the seafloor and smoothed it out before turning to Gia. “Signal the Aegean Star and have them contact the Greek Archaeological Service. They’re going to want to send a team to excavate this spot properly. In fact, let them know Nereids’s Expeditions is standing by to aid with underwater expeditions to recover items beneath the sea and with organizing diving tours of lost archeological sites beneath the waves.
“Well, Zeus wanted me to create a new business. If I, or one of my reps, are leading these forays, I can ensure that if other items lost in the old days turn up, we’ll be there to recover it before they become problems.”
So, you figured out a way to not have to stay at the complex?
“Was there ever a doubt? Oh, I’ll have to show up occasionally. I’ll set up an office for Nereids there and see if I can’t recruit a few of my daughters to serve as guides. After all, I don’t want to go on every expedition—I am retired after all.”