Chapter Fifty-Six – Preparations For Defence
Finally, after years of petty squabbling among the tribes in Kirenia, and putting up with Meral’s constant raids, the tribes ended their feuds and joined forces to drive her out, sickened by her cannibalistic ways. Word had travelled to Gilgama and the Kirenian’s cause soon became the Gilgaman’s. Their combined force of over ten thousand berserkers cut off Meral’s army on a narrow isthmus in what had been the Peloponnesian peninsula of southern Greece. Given the option to surrender or fight to the death, she opted to fight. Hundreds of her warriors were killed before a halt was called. A boat was found and Meral and her fifteen remaining berserker females were pushed out to sea never to return.
She and her companions spent years travelling from island to island, now and again coming across tiny pockets of people, staying long enough to get her females pregnant, then eating their captives, until finally she had sufficient numbers to take on larger targets. She tried to return to Mt Etna but the Kirenian’s stood ready to repel her. So she turned south and now Meral and her murderous females were crossing the central plain of Atlan near Mosta, looking hungrily at Marsaxlokk.
Meral stopped to sniff the air. Spread throughout the ruins of what once had been the thriving community of Birkirkara before the flood, two thousand female berserkers stood in readiness. Meral tensed when a feral black cat leapt from its hiding place among the ruins and ran to escape.
“What is it, my queen, what do you see,” her champion Cilla asked.
“Smell, not see, Cilla,” Meral said, quietly shifting her gaze toward Marsaxlokk. “Nephile! We’ve found Nephile.” Meral’s eyes narrowed. She knew that they would put up a strong resistance. “Take half our force and head east for a few kilometres to that ruined town we saw earlier, then turn south. I’ll take the rest with me. Don’t attack unless you’re fired upon. The Nephile are tricky. They may have weapons that none of you has seen before, more powerful than ours. In which case we’ll have to rethink the way we attack them.”
Cilla looked at Meral, puzzled by her leader’s reluctance to charge head on towards the enemy. “My queen, I don’t understand.”
Meral turned and looked deep into Cilla’s eyes. “The Nephile are an old enemy, my friend. I met their kind a long time ago in another time and place. They don’t use swords; they use lethal weapons, which can kill you long before you’re close enough to strike them with your sword. Now go, do as I say, wait for my signal.” Meral hugged her friend and champion, and watched as a thousand of her berserkers followed Cilla, making their way east towards Zebbug.
“How close are they?” Max asked Geb, as they stood on the hill above Marsaxlokk, looking north.
“Our scouts tell us that an army of two thousand has been seen. They’ve split into two separate groups, one is heading east towards Zebbug, and the other is coming this way via Marsa, skirting the old harbour.”
Max left Geb to continue watching, and returned to Neit and the rest sitting in the garden. “Time to arm ourselves, Goran,” he sighed. “It’s definitely Meral. There’s no question of it. Somehow, she’s found a way of crossing the ocean with her army. I just wish we still had some of the weapons we used against the Drana all those years ago. We could end this, almost before it began. I doubt her female berserkers have ever come across disrupter rifles and the like. God, I wish Akhen and Khan were here beside me!”
Ausar got up and quietly left the garden. Talia hugged Goran with tears in her beautiful eyes, terrified that her mother had found them. “She’ll kill us all.” She broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. Sefani hugged her mother and father. Melos and Het-Heru sat in a circle with Shaila and Tihke holding hands. Ausar soon returned to the garden and beckoned to Max.
Max followed him as he led the way down a winding staircase to an underground vault. Ausar opened the rusting iron door and turned on the light. A broad grin broke across Max’s face. There, safely stored beneath ancient Marsaxlokk, in the ruins of an ancient Neolithic temple, was row upon row of disrupter rifles, Semac charges, and laser mines. In a separate room, off the main arsenal, were eight crates painted red. Max carefully opened the lid of one of the crates. Inside it, nestled in their separate containers, were twenty molecular charges. He had one hundred and sixty of the most lethal Drana antipersonnel mines ever constructed. “I hoped and preyed we would never need these weapons again, Max,” Ausar said, glumly standing in the doorway. “None of our young ones know anything about these weapons or how to use them.”
“No time to lose, my friend. Meral is getting closer. Time to put a few obstacles in her path.” Max yelled loudly, “Goran, Tihke, get down here –now!”
Under Max’s direction, the people of Marsaxlokk began mining the northern approaches to their home. The molecular and Semac charges formed two deadly arcs of destruction five hundred meters away from the defensive walls hastily thrown up to repel Meral’s two pronged attack. In the fifty meter gap between the charges, booby-traps were set up designed to hinder the enemy’s progress, using ancient rusting rolls of barbed wire and reinforcing rods ripped from the crumbling ruins of old buildings. By the time Meral camped for the night at Zetjun, Marsaxlokk stood ready.
From where Geb stood on top of the ruined ancient coastal watchtower, he could see the glow of Meral’s camp-fires to the north. And to the east above Birzebbuga, the fires of Cilla and her army glowed in the warm night air. Sefani climbed the ancient tower to be with her lover. “I’m scared, my love,” she said, wrapping her arms round him and shivering despite the warm breeze of the Mediterranean night. Geb kissed her tenderly as the warmth of the night and the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring, turned their thoughts for one another to love. Tomorrow they may die; tonight they would share the love that burned between them.
On the hastily erected ramparts, Talia leaned back against Goran’s chest as he hugged her close, staring towards where they could see the glow of Meral’s camp. Max, Neit, Bast, and Nehket ate in silence, wondering if they would survive the battle. Melos and Het-Heru made love on the roof of Melos’ parents’ home, while down below in the comfort of the living room, Tihke and Shaila held each other close, neither saying a word, but silently praying that the nightmare would soon end.
Next time – Chapter Fifty-Seven