Why A Short Story?

You could probably tell that this is not what I typically publish. I recently participated in a community wiring challenge.  Each individual was asked to write a fictional short story around 5000 words in 2 weeks.  I joined to have some fun and practice my writing skills. Below is the story I submitted to the contest. This story follows a teenage boy in Ancient Greece.  It is a coming of age story comprised of pirates, sailing the unknown seas, and overcoming the odds. I hope you enjoy!

It all Began in a Small Village

A teenage boy lived in a small fishing town on the coast of Greece. This town did not even have a name or could be found on any map. It was so small that most sailors would not recognize it from off shore. The village consisted of several thatched huts along a ridge. The simple huts sat in clusters along the hillside. A sense of poverty hung in the air.

The public areas were not much better off. Most public dealings occurred on docks along the shore. The broken and dirty wooden beams forced villagers to step carefully. Merchants and villagers set up shop each day in small make shift hovels on the docks. These hovels could only fit a few people at time. It was a crowded place. These conditions caused most people to have little ambitions for their lives. Not this boy. He dreamed of becoming the greatest sailor Greece has ever seen and lead a Greek Fleet. He was named Democles after the Greek god of courage and achievement. Alas, he was born poor without an opportunity to fulfill his dream.

Democles planned to save up to buy passage to Athens. He worked as a fisherman’s aid making enough to put food on his family’s table. The young boy’s mother helped to sew sails for ships. The repetitive work damaged her fingers as the days went on however. Their efforts could only do so much to support each other. Their futures looked bleak.

The boy shared his wishes and dreams with his mother. Knowing his chances, she never discouraged his vision. But, she never outwardly supported his dream. His mother secretly hoped he would abandon his dream, so he can remain safe and sound in the fishing village.

The boy persisted. He continued to wish to earn passage to Athens each and every birthday. On his 16th birthday, his mother gifted him their family heirloom: a golden apple of the Hesperides. Gaea had gifted the golden apple tree to Hera and Zeus on their wedding day. Very few apples had escaped the heavily guarded vale where the tree stood. Their family has owned the apple for hundreds of years. The apple was the only valuable item they owned. It possessed the ability to protect a home from destruction. In addition, the apple offered its owner a vibrant health and long life. His mother encouraged him to use the apple to buy transport to Athens and fulfill his dream.

The Pirate Lord

This village, among many others along the coast, had fallen under the protection of a pirate lord. His name was Tyrannus, which literally means “Tyrant.” More accurately, Tyrannus did not offer true protection. It was more oppression masked like protection. He returned every once in a while. The pirate lord required “tribute” from the town’s people. In exchange, he promised to protect them from the “wrath of the sea.”

On the day Tyrannus returned to requested tribute, the boy went to the docks. He was seeking passage to Athens. As the boy went about his business, he got tangled in the crowd that had formed to resentfully offer tribute. The golden apple hung from the boy’s packet. The pirate reacted to the apple gleaming in the sun. Tyrannus recognized it as an item of myth and legend. The pirate too knew the story of the Hesperidies. He called the boy to the front. Democles begrudgingly approached. The pirate demanded the apple as tribute. Knowing the meaning and value of the apple, the boy declined and ran home. Naturally, Tyrannus was enraged by this disrespect. He ordered his 1st mate to follow the boy home and make the boy “pay.”

Later that Night

Later that evening, the boy was awoken by a sound. As the boy gained his bearing, he identified two figures in front of him. One was struggling. The 1st mate held his mother at knife point! The 1st mate requested the apple and promised to set the mother free and leave them unharmed. Democles resentfully gave the apple away. The 1st mate went against his word anyway. He knocked the boy out with the butt of his sword.

The boy woke to smoke. He surveyed his surroundings.  The pirates had picked the house clean of all their belongings and set the house on fire. Even more, his mother was nowhere to be seen. The boy was in a state of shock. His world had been destroyed in one single night. He didn’t know what to do. The boy sobbed in desolation among the wreckage of his old life. Due to the loss of oxygen and his panicked state, the boy passed out while crying.

Night time. The town was quiet. A passerby rustled the boy awake. The boy felt rested and calms down. He now viewed his predicament more clearly. There was nothing left for him on this nameless island. The boy resolved to find his mother.

Searching for What He Lost

He hurried down to the market to search for her as dawn approached. The boy passed through the market asking the merchants if they have seen his mother. No one had caught sight of her since yesterday. They had not been paying much attention. The boy felt disposed as the market began to close. He was beginning to lose hope. Suddenly, an old man crossed his path. The old man had overheard the boy’s pleas for his mother. He explained that he observed Tyrannus dragging a woman’s body wearing a bag over hear head onboard the ship before they departed. He reckoned that the woman was his mother.

The boy felt enraged. He had never experienced this kind of anger in his 16 years of life. This feeling offered the boy motivation to seek retribution. He vowed to not only save his mother, but destroy everything the pirate lord apprehended as a normal life. He began to formulate a plan to make things right.

The boy made a decision. The next morning, he would set out to work his plan. Democles reckoned that the Tyrannus and his crew would return to his island with the loot before setting out to the rest of the known world. It was called “Pepromeno.” Everyone knew it as the “Isle of Destiny”. It was one of the most dangerous places in Greece.

Putting a Plan in Motion

In the early morning, Democles headed for the docks. The boy planned to seek passage on a trading ship headed towards the island. He would then sneak off in a row boat in the dead of night to take on the pirate lord. All day, the boy approached ship captains offering his services. The boy suggested he can work as a deck hand for fair passage to their destination. Not a single captain bit on the offer. They all took one look up and down at the boy. They viewed a scrawny, soft young boy without sea legs. All the captains told Democles that he would only be a burden and only hire seasoned sailors. Once the market shut down, the boy was out of options.

The boy came across the man yet again as he ventured “home.”

“No luck, my boy?” asked the man.

“What are you talking about old man?” Democles asked.

“Well, it’s obvious son. I know your story. I beheld you all day groveling for passage on a boat that will take you towards Tyrannus. Yet, no sane captain would take you up on your suggestion.” the man said plainly.

The boy eyed his opposite up and down. The man’s old skin stretched tautly over tough muscles. Scars covered his face and limbs.  A long, bushy beard adorned his face. He wore ragged clothes. Furthermore, he walked with a gimp in one leg. His condition seemed dismal.

“What do you know of it, old man? You have probably been living in the gutter your entire life not knowing love or loss,” commented the boy.

“Appearances can be deceiving my lad. I have lived a lifetime most men could not imagine. I have realized riches and status most men would be envious of,” retorted the old man.

“I doubt that” young Democles scoffs. He begins to walk away.

“Young man, I cannot say I have experienced the kind of pain you have right now. But I see potential in you. Your quest and motivations are pure. I understand your dilemma. I have myself a boat. She is one of the finest the Greek seas have ever seen. I will offer to take you to the pirate lord so you can fulfill your desires.”

“And, what is in it for you?”

“I get to experience one final journey and pass all I know to you. Meet me at the farthest edge of the docks tomorrow at dawn. We will depart immediately.”

That night, the boy rested in the rubble of his home. He was torn in which direction to take. The boy realized that there was nothing left here. He must confront the Tyrannus and fulfill his dream of becoming a sailor for the Greek fleet. He decided to meet the old man tomorrow at dawn.

Embarking on A Voyage

The boy arrived at the docks right on time. The old man was waiting.

“Are you ready to set sail?” asked the man.

“More than ready,” the boy replied.

“Hmmm, do you know what this kind of voyage will require of you?”

“I do not care; I am ready for whatever comes my way.”

“I was afraid of that. I admire your enthusiasm, young man. But this voyage will demand much of you. Our voyage will take years. You may never see this place again. You may have to persist hunger, storms, and dangers you have never experienced in your short life. Can you handle that?”

“Yes sir, I believe I can.”

“Be that as it may. I have something for you. In preparation for your journey ahead, I am gifting you my sword and bow. These weapons have served me well in the past.”

The old man handed Democles the weapons. The sword’s hilt held an emerald imbedded in the center. Its blade was solid iron and sharp as a dragon’s tooth. The bow was made of solid oak. Mysterious curved markings were etched into the ebony bone handle. Both weapons were of warrior make. This gift made the boy wonder about his partner’s origins. All the boy could utter was a “thank you” in great awe.

“Let’s get going before we lose the tide,” said the man as he untied the anchor.

They set out onto the vast sea. The old man owned a small fishing boat. The boat could hold six passengers, but only needed two to operate. This boat was sleek and strong. It cut through the water like a knife and was hard as iron against the bashing waves. They embarked with optimism and hope that their voyage would be successful. They made their way to Pepromeno far to the south.

Time to Learn

The partners had much time to kill as they ventured out into the vast seas. The old man enlisted the boy to help sail the boat. First, he taught the boy how to gain his bearing on the open water. They used a sextant, a compass, the sun, and landmarks to chart their course. Democles learned how to fix the sails to catch the wind. The old man taught the boy how to fish and harpoon for larger animals as they went along. The boy excelled in all his lessons. Knowing the perils that await them, the old man instructed the boy in sword fighting and archery. Each day, the boy spent several hours practicing his sword and bow techniques. He caught on impressively.

One night, the boy wanted to know more.

“What is your story old man? How come your body is so battered?” he asked.

“That is a fair question, my boy,” the man answered.

The old man sat up. He stood square to Democles. He looked at the boy straight in the eyes sternly.

“My story begins many years ago, long before you were born. I was a 1st mate to a captain who led one of the greatest fleets in the Greek seas. This man was honorable and venerated by his crew.  He achieved many great feats throughout Greece.  Fame and fortune found him wherever he sailed. My captain unfortunately began to misuse his power as his influence grew. He began to bend towns and villages he once protected to his will. He would terrorize and pillage these towns. This captain swiftly became one of the most feared pirates in the open sea. You know of whom I speak.”

It took a moment for the boy to understand his words. Then, Democles’ eyes grew wide. He became angry.

“You served Tyrannus? How could you? How am I to trust you?” The boy demanded.

“You are not wrong to doubt me boy. Give me a moment to finish my tale. I recognized that he was misusing his power. I saw him growing evil before my eyes. Once I could not tolerate his evil deeds any longer, I confronted him. I led a mutiny against Tyrannus. We fought hard and almost overturned this tyrant. However, he defeated me in hand-to-hand combat. I received all my scars and injuries from the fight. Once I was defeated, he marooned us on an island for us to die. You see, I have the right, just as much as you, to gain retribution from him.”

“Wow,” Democles said. “I am sorry I doubted you. I am relieved to hear that you did not lose your honor.”

“Exactly, my boy. That is the greatest secret in life. You must live honorably to find favor with the gods. Do not underestimate these scars. I have journeyed up and down these seas and persevered through much. These scars not only strengthen me from experience, but also remind me of my motivations to keep going. Be sure to remember that.”

At that, the partners finished their conversation and continued sailing toward Pepromeno.

A Quick Detour

The partners needed to restock their supplies as they completed their first fortnight at sea. They came upon a port on a small island. The port was a web of small huts and thatched homes. The villagers offered kind and warm accommodations. They found a room at the inn and ate a hot dinner of roasted chicken and fried potatoes. They found comfort. But it was to be short-lived. The overheard two men complaining at the bar.

“I cannot take it anymore. I am down to two sheep from fifteen! My wool business may not last the year,” said a man grimly.

“I feel your pain. My dogs that guard my butcher shop were eaten. Even more, crooks came in the night and stole all my meat! Plus, most of the wildlife has been slain. There are almost no more animals to hunt to restock my shop!” the other man claimed.

“Excuse us,” the old man said, “what seems to be causing you both so much trouble?”

“Wolves,” one man said. “And not just any wolves. These are Olympian wolves sent from the gods to plague our small island. Their stature rivals bears. Their claws are like daggers and teeth like knives.  A ten-foot-tall albino wolf leads the pack. They come down from the hills more and more each month. The gods punish us, you see. We have thrived in this place without paying homage through sacrifice.”

“That is one big predicament you both have!” the old man exclaimed. “Indulge me, if one were to liberate your town from these wolves, what would the reward be?”

The men thought for a moment. They looked at each other with serious eyes. They turned away from the old man and whispered. You could cut the silent tension with a butter knife. After a few moments, the men turned back toward the old man.

“These wolves have plagued us now for too long. We are at our wits end. If by some miracle, a hero appeared to take on these wolves and be victorious, we would greatly be in their debt. The men of this village would be bound to serving this hero until he completed his task.

The old man gave the boy a wink and responded, “Your savior is sitting in front of you. Young Democles will take on the task.”

The men took one look at the boy and burst out laughing. Even the boy joined in. They scoffed at the absurdity of the promise. Once they had their fill, the men turned back to their drinks.

“What the hell? Who do you think I am? We did not come here to save this village. We are on our way to challenge the Tyrannus!” chided Democles.

“Boy, how do you expect to take on one of the most feared pirate lords in all the seven seas? After all, you are a green sixteen-year old boy!” said the old man. “Consider this a test. This challenge will ready you to take on Tyrannus. Even These men will also be in our debt. We could use the support of a crew out on the ocean AND against the pirate’s crew!”

At that the boy conceded. The partners concocted their plan as they completed their meals. They set out right after dinner. According to the men, these wolves settled in a grove less than a mile from the village.  It was not difficult to find.  The wolves left many clues in the forest.

Attacking the Pack

The duo surveyed their situation as they approached the wolves’ lair. Democles and the old man sat perched on top of a stone slab. Below, six large wolves lay asleep in a small grove. Their size matched the men’s descriptions. They seemed even more sinister under the glowing moonlight. The white wolf laid in the center.

From atop their perch, Democles and the man began their assault. Silently, the boy strung his bow. He aimed for the neck of the nearest wolf. The bow shot with a soft whoosh, nailing the wolf in the jugular. The wolf set out a soft howl. Pulling the string back and releasing, the boy shot the next wolf. The same result. At that, the others began to stir. They heard the moanings of the dying wolves. Immediately, the beasts recognized what was happening.

The white wolf hung back, glaring at Democles and the man. He growled with yellow teeth. He snapped his mouth and the three remaining wolves attacked! Each wolf approached the boy and the old man. They stalked their prey. The partners drew their weapons. The humans and wolves circled each other intensely in the night. A black, mangy wolf leapt at the boy. Democles reacted just in time and sidestepped the beast. He stabbed the wolf deep in the throat. The wolf slumped and died. The old man faired just as well against a smaller, brown female. It was a quick fight.

Before he found time to react, Democles was tackled to the ground. His arms and legs were pinned down by the weight of a bulky gray beast. The wolf growled low and bared its teeth in his face. Democles’ sword lay nearby, out of reach.

The boy thought it was over. As he closed his eyes to welcome death, the weight on him lifted. It took a moment to regain his senses. The old man had tackled and stabbed the wolf!

Democles stood up and retrieved his sword. The white wolf remained. It was the largest of them all. They stood apart, sizing each other up. With a cry, the boy attacked! He hacked and slashed at the great white beast. The wolf dodged, clawed, and bit at the boy. Both traded injuries. It seemed like the fight went on forever. As dawn broke, the boy saw an opening. He sidestepped a thrust from the wolf. The boy hacked downward as hard and fast as possible. The head fell as it was removed from the wolves’ body.

Democles and the old man returned carrying both the head and pelt. The men were dumbfounded. But they acknowledged the courage and valor the boy displayed. They fashioned the pelt into a fur cloak for the boy. And, they kept their promise. Democles, the old man, and 30 men of the village disembarked on a trading ship the next morning. This ship was a beauty. Its strong hull gleamed in the sun and sails reached high into the skies. This ship was built to sail the seas effectively. The company hung black sails marked with a white wolf.

Back on The Sea, But not Better Off

The company began their venture successfully. They caught the wind well. Morale and enthusiasm were high as they began. For the next several months, the company sailed toward Pepromeno. As they crept closer to the hideout, they stopped at many towns. Inspired by the acts of Democles, the men solved the many troubles of the townsfolk as they moved across the sea. They received the reputation of courage and valor. The gods took special notice. They could not believe the mettle this crew of village men carried in their hearts. The Olympian god Democles watched the boy named after him with curious interest.

On one occasion, the crew spotted a large warship on the horizon. Upon further examination, they identified it as the pirate’s war galley. Their quick merchant ship had caught up to their rival! The company grouped together to strategize. Some men suggested they follow the Tyrannus straight to his hideout on Pepromeno. These men argued that they could not beat the pirates in sea combat. Others counseled the boy to attack! They held the element of surprise. It would be a risk, but they could defeat the pirates right then and there. It would be easier than over taking an entire camp of thieves and soldiers.

The young boy made the deciding vote. They would attack the ship right here, right now. Together, they created a battle plan. The ship would attack from behind the war galley. Once in range, the company would shower the deck with arrows. This would pick off some unlucky pirates and shift the advantage in their favor. They would then ram the war galley and board to finish them off.

The company attacked with urgency. At first, the pirates could not recognize the source of the arrows. They were taking some losses. Unfortunately, a sentry perched in the crow’s nest located the origin of the arrow storm. Becoming aware of the attackers, Tyrannus adapted to the assault quite effectively. He ordered his crew to attack the merchant ship with their broad side cannon. After a few shots, the small ship began taking on water. It was damaged and unable to carry on an assault. The boy ordered his crew to retreat from the fight. As their boat left the battle, Democles and the pirate lord caught eyes. The pirate juggled a golden apple between his hands. That magical apple gifted to the gods by Gaea. Both recognized who had the advantage. That heirloom of the Hesperidies owned some considerable power. The boy stared defiantly at him. Tyrannus smirked and almost laughed. This boy had some gall.

The crew was able to sail their damaged ship into a safe harbor. They had just enough payment to repair their ship and stock up on supplies. There was no going back now. They left as quickly as they could in an attempt to catch back up to the pirate. However, they had lost the wind and the pirate ship gained a tremendous lead while they regrouped. Dark storm clouds brewed in the distance.

Lost at Sea

On the eve of a year at sea, the company of Democles found themselves in hot water. A violent storm engulfed their ship. For a week and a night, the crew was at the mercy of storm and waves. The waves tossed the ship back and forth. On the eight night, the storm subsided. However, they were unequivocally lost. The entire crew could not discern their location in the vastness of the sea. For months, they tried to get their bearings. However, to no avail. The men soon became starving, empty shells of their former selves. The storm’s effects created a sense of desolation and hopelessness.

At that time, Democles saw his men suffering. He had to do something! He had never been a prayerful individual. Why would he? The gods never showed favor on him in that fishing town. Even so, he had experienced many hardships without the gods favor. But the boy and his crew were losing hope. In a final attempt, he led his crew to praise the gods. They prayed to Poseiden for safe passage and Zeus for strength. They paid homage to Apollo for light and Athena for wisdom. Since the Olympian god Democles had been watching the sailing crew so closely, he heard their prayers.

Moved with sympathy for the crew, Democles sent a sea nymph named Corlea to aid them. The nymph approached the crew with twelve dolphins in her service. The young hero was taken with the nymph’s beauty. Her face radiated like the sun. Her voice sang like a full choir. The boy fell in love with the song She moved with grace and acted without hesitation. Democles could tell that this gorgeous woman carried a competence rivaled by no one. She requested the crew tie the dolphins to the ship. These dolphins led the ship to the island. They had arrived!

Planning Their Move

In the dead of the night, Democles and the old man left the ship to scout the pirate lord’s camp. They approached a high hill that looked over the area below. From their vantage point, they made out hundreds of pirates throughout the camp. These men were heavily armored and garrisoned. After more observation, they identified a hundred slaves. These individuals had been kidnapped from surrounding towns and forced to work to survive. At that moment, Democles saw her! He had located his mother. After all this time, the boy has the opportunity for retribution.

After observing the situation, it was determined that the company were outnumbered. The odds were definitely against them. They needed a plan. Democles consulted his loyal men and the nymph. How will they overcome this final adversary? They needed a distraction. Corlea knew the island well. She also had the ears of all the wildlife in the area. She offered a plan that would take the camp by surprise. The pirates would not stand a chance.

Creating Chaos

When the moon hung at its highest, they set their plan into motion. Several men stayed behind and lit a huge bonfire. The bonfire led the pirate guards away from their walls and lookouts. The nymph offered to lead the animals of the sea and land and the remaining sailors in a frontal assault on the garrison. During the confusion created by these two events, Democles and the old man secretly freed the slaves. The young hero had a moment to greet his mother before the fighting erupted. Embracing her gave him strength he had never known. They then armed the slaves and led them in a guerrilla formed attack behind their foes. All hell broke loose as the two squadrons attacked from opposing sides, surrounding the pirates.

During the confusion, Democles slipped away from the main battle. The boy located Tyrannus. He had been shouting orders to his pirates from the bridge of his warship. There, young warrior faced off against his nemesis. The boy drew his sword, gleaming in the moonlight. Their blades clashed as the two hacked and slashed at each other. Through all his training and experience, Democles was evenly matched with him. They exchanged thrusts and parries. The battle went on for hours. Both men began to tire.

All night, Democles the god viewed the fight with apprehension. He had faith in the boy and did not want to intervene unless absolutely necessary. As he watched, Tyrannus knocked the young boy down to the deck of the boat and knelt on top of him. The young hero struggled against the pirate’s weight. His wrist was pinned, and he could not swing his sword. As Tyrannus raised his sword to strike, he heard a squawk and a whoosh. A hawk had attacked the pirate and began to peck at his eyes! Democles has sent the hawk to give his namesake the upper hand. The young boy recognized his opening. He stood back up and thrust his sword deep into his foe’s chest. Tyrannus slumped over and died on his warship. The young hero pulled his sword back and raised it to the sky. Victory was theirs!

Splitting the Spoils of War

Once the dust settled, it was time to make things right. Democles reunited with this mother. They were excited and happy to find each other again. Filled with joy and gratitude, he led the efforts. First, the pirate lord’s remaining crew members were given amnesty as long as they apologized and offered a tribute to the gods. Those who refused were to be left on the island with nothing. The freed slaves were clothed and fed.

They took stock of the remaining ships. Those that required repairs were fixed back to their former glory. Democles offered his most loyal crew members the opportunity to captain these ships. Lastly, he led his crew in collecting the treasures and objects of value from the garrison’ vault. Everything was divided equally throughout the crowd.

In gratitude, the entire crew offered a portion of their share to Democles. He had been their savior not only from the wolves, but from the wrath of the gods. He offered them hope and service. With this offering, Democles had accumulated enough wealth to sail back to his village, rebuild his home, and revitalize his community.

A Special Ceremony

Before they set sail, the crowd gathered for an extraordinary celebration. During the final leg of the voyage, ensuing battle, and fallout from the victory, Democles and Corlea had fallen deeply in love. Under the setting sun, in a grove backed by a waterfall, they married each other. The old man presided over the marriage. It was a beautiful ceremony and all on the island were there to attend the memorable night. Once the nuptials concluded, the man approached the boy holding a wrapped package. He eagerly unwrapped it. The golden apple appeared out from the packaging! That family heirloom that had been so significant to him and his mother. The boy had recovered the legendary apple of the Hesperidies!

“I found the apple in the pirate lord’s private quarters. He knew how rare this apple was, just as you do. I pray it keeps you safe and healthy until the end of your days,” the man said.

Democles could only smile and embrace the man. This old man had been instrumental in their voyage and victory. The boy did not know how to thank him.

“No need to thank me, son. You have already honored me with your courage, perseverance, and unfailing devotion to the ones you love. You have given me the opportunity to right the wrongs I committed in the way I misguided Tyrannus. Your actions have offered me peace until the end of time.”

With that, the man stepped back. His face and limbs began to transfigure. In a matter of moments, the old man transformed into a hawk. The bird unfurled its great wings and flew in the distance. Democles finally understood. The god he was named after, the Olympian god of courage and accomplishment, had graced the boy with his presence and power. Democles had the blessing of a god.

Returning Home and Beyond

Finally, Democles set sail for home. His new fleet escorted him back to the fishing village. The return voyage was sooth without any difficulties. Once he returned to the village, he and his crew revitalized the town. They repaired the docks, cleaned the market, and built a new temple to the Greek gods. The crew erected a statue depicting Democles’ battle against the wolf to honor him. The boy had been nicknamed the “White Wolf” by his comrades for his deeds.

Democles was no longer that 16-year-old boy full of dreams. He was no longer a green warrior nor inexperienced at sea. Two years of hardship and victory had changed him. The young boy had become a man- one of honor, valor, confidence, and strength. He had gathered a fleet of ships. Even more, he had earned the loyalty of men who would die for him.

With that, Democles left the village and made for Athens. Upon arrival, he approached the Greek Navy general. He recounted his journey with the help of his crew. He offered tribute to the navy, the gods, and Athens. Lastly, Democles offered his service to protect the seas and shores of Greece. And that is how one young boy became the greatest ship captain Greece had ever seen.


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