by: Adam Alexander Haviaras
In a little bay lapped by sapphire sea, walked a boy. It was mid-day, the time when all the adults lay sleeping in their huts, his favourite time. On days such as this the boy, whose name was Xeno, walked the length of the crescent beach before slipping into the sea’s cool embrace to dive for urchins. Afterwards he would doze contentedly beneath the whispering pines that shaded the back of the pink-pebbled shore, lulled by cicadas.
Xeno floated on his back, eyes closed, his black hair like wavering seaweed in the water. The sun was intense but his bronzed skin was unaffected by its harshness. A moment later he turned and dove beneath the surface. It was a different world at the bottom, fish darting alongside him over sand and seashells. Xeno stopped, holding his breath to peer among glittering rays of sunlight that resembled the rows of columns at the sanctuary up the hill.
After a spell, Xeno had assembled a good pile of urchins of varying sizes on the shore, the spiked spheres writhing gently in a mass of brown and black. He was searching among some distant rocks on the sandy bottom when he became aware of harsh voices invading his idyll. When he surfaced, he spotted a group of village boys walking along the shore. They came to a stop next to his pile of urchins.
A hint of fear gripped him as one of the boys pointed his way. All six boys began to hoot, two of them waving short clubs in the air. Then, the leader stopped, club in hand, smiled at the pile of urchins on the beach, what was to be Xeno’s family’s dinner that night. With a howl, the boy brought the club down on the urchins to make them crack and sputter bits of spine and shell.
“No! Stop that!” Xeno tried to yell as he swam unthinking to the shore where the other boys were waiting. Before he could get to his feet, filthy hands were all over him, pushing and pulling, scratching. “Why did you do that? Those were for my mother to cook.”
“No dinner tonight, little Xeno!” The leader had come up, a tall youth named Cacos. Xeno fought the urge to cry but it was so hard. “Ah, there he is!” crowed Cacos. “Little baby’s going to cry.” He wrenched Xeno’s long black hair in his fist. “Aren’t you going to call for help?” Xeno shook his head. “Well, let me help you.”
Cacos threw Xeno to the ground and, before the smaller boy could move, landed a kick to his stomach. Xeno cried out but no sound emerged. Before he knew it, the other boys were kicking him too, in for the kill like a pack of red-eyed dogs. He hurt all over, one eye was already swelling. Then he heard it: whistling.
“Hey! Stop that now!” a great voice boomed from down the beach, as loud and roilsome as an earthquake. The kicking ceased but through the intensity of the sunlight, Xeno could make out Cacos’ club poised to strike him. The voice spoke again. “I said stop that!”
Cacos turned, swinging toward the voice, and yelped. Xeno looked up to see a giant of a man holding the club in the crushing grip of his hand. Xeno couldn’t quite make him out but the stranger’s intensity and command was something to be felt.
“Not very fair odds here,” the stranger commented, glancing down at Xeno and back to the boys who had spread out. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” He released his grip on the club and Cacos’ arm hung tensely at his side.
“Who do you think you are? This is our beach, our village yonder.” Cacos stood straighter, a quick look to the other boys who began to feed off his aggression, move closer. “Stranger, I suggest that you keep moving or you’ll regret it.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” The stranger’s laughter shattered the threat utterly, his wide smile alone pushed them back. “My, my, you’re a mouthy little whoreson.” The smile suddenly withdrew and his eyes fired. “Better be careful, girlie. Why don’t you run along to your cave to keep your sheep company?”
Cacos’ club flew upward to the stranger’s face to be caught again but this time the back of the stranger’s other hand struck out, viper-quick, and sent the youth sprawling several feet away. It happened so quickly that before Xeno realized what had happened, the boys were already running down the beach, two of them supporting Cacos between them.