The What Man Hath Wrought Series
Alexander the Great might well be on his way to conquering the world, but when he decides to explore underwater in a glass-windowed wooden barrel, he enrages Poseidon. The other gods may debate Alexander’s fate and make their deals on Olympus but the ocean deity is determined to frighten the young King out of the watery realm. Will Poseidon defeat Alexander and prevent future deep-sea exploration by mortals, or can a single clever Macedonian outwit a god?
Poseidon wondered if the mortals were, once again, up to no good.
The sea-god knew several ways to monitor their activities, but preferred appearing among them in human form. Mortals reacted in a more natural way, and revealed more, when among their own kind. Therefore, when he’d been informed by an alert dolphin about an odd construction project on a beach in the eastern Mediterranean, he had decided to investigate it himself.
While walking toward the large, barrel-like object he thought it did appear most unusual. He frowned as he smelled a burnt, oily odor spoiling the salt breeze. Four humans worked on the upright cask, a couple of them standing on stools to reach its upper parts, their white clothes splotched with black smears. The barrel stood taller than a man and spanned three cubits at its midpoint, tapering to two at the circular top and bottom. Six square glass panels ringed its circumference one quarter of the distance down from the top.
One of the workmen looked up at his approach. “Pelagios! We heard you were sick. You look well enough to work. Join us. There are extra rags.” He dipped his own cloth in a heated cauldron of tar and spread the black, viscid substance where some of the wooden barrel staves joined together, rubbing to work the sealant into the seams.
“I’m feeling better now,” Poseidon said. During the night he’d come to the workmen’s tent and waved a hand over one of them, imparting a fever to the slumbering man. He’d then assumed the size and shape of that laborer, evidently named Pelagios. “I’m ready to work again. But first, friends, tell me the purpose of this barrel.”
All four of them stopped daubing tar and looked at him. “What?” one of them asked. “Why, only yesterday you were . . . Ah, I take your meaning now,” he smiled. “He has a riddle for us, men. Very well, Pelagios. What is the purpose of this barrel?”
Inside, Poseidon seethed. These humans were maddening! He felt like killing them all with a thought, but restrained the impulse. He needed the information he’d come for. “No, I have no riddle. Perhaps I’m not fully myself yet today. I must have forgotten about the barrel. If you wish me to help, I must first know what manner of thing I’ll be toiling with. It’s an odd thing, this cask with windows.”
Three of the workers showed a mix of puzzlement, suspicion, and indifference. The other seemed more sympathetic, and spoke. “Mark well, Pelagios. Pretending forgetfulness won’t relieve you of your duties. You know full well the King ordered this special barrel—his Colimpha—built. He intends to weight it down with stones, get inside it, seal the opening on top, and then be lowered from a ship into the depths.” He paused to work some of the tar in at the edge of a square window, taking care not to smear the glass. “Now that I think of it, I don’t know if that makes us coopers, or shipwrights, or both, eh men?” He laughed and the others joined in.
Poseidon did not laugh. Anger rose within him like the tide; this sounded like a new and different way for mortals to enter his realm. He struggled to keep the edge out of Pelagios’ voice. “Why is the King doing this?”
The workman nodded his head to the southwest toward an island in the distance with high stone walls rising from its shores. “It’s said he wants to check on how our divers are doing.”
“Divers?” Poseidon fought to keep patient.
The laborer sighed again. “You’ve forgotten even that? We must remember to keep you and wine safely separated, or you’ll forget your own name!” The others chuckled at this and he continued, “The cursed Tyrians put obstacles underwater to impede our war galleys—jagged boulders and pointed spars. Divers are removing them.” He looked around, then leaned closer and lowered his voice, “I think the real reason for this Colimpha is the King wants to go beneath the deeper parts of the sea. You know how he loves to explore and conquer. I think he wants to be King of the fishes, too!” He laughed once again and the others also enjoyed the joke.
The bitter feeling inside Poseidon kept surging like a storm-whipped wave. His jaw set, but he kept his tone inquisitive, curious. “Why would the King risk angering Poseidon?”
The man smiled. “You and I would worry about that, but not Alexander. He’s not afraid of anything—man, beast, or god. I’ll wager he’s actually looking forward to tweaking the old seaweed-eater’s nose!”
Poseidon felt his rage burst like a bubble. He glowered at the cask, then faced the sea. His eyes blazed, boring into those opaque, blue waves, into the dark fathoms beneath.
In a few moments he heard a worker shout, “By all the gods, look!” Advancing toward their spot on the beach came a huge wave, its white crest towering fifty cubits above the otherwise calm waters. At its southern end, the monstrous wall of water tapered to nothingness, sparing Tyre and its teeming populace. As it neared the beach, its main peak dwarfed the Colimpha and the men.
“Run!” the laborers shouted, and one paused to tug Pelagios’ arm. The man gave up and sprinted inshore across the sand.
But Poseidon did not budge. As if fixed in place, he watched the mighty wave bearing down on him like a moving, blue mountain. He heard it now, a monstrous, deafening roar of gurgling, splashing, crashing spray and water. The sea-god smiled, admiring his destructive creation, summoned by his own command.
As if drawn by a heavenly chariot, a large, billowing cloud passed in front of the sun. The sky darkened. In quick succession, four jagged lines of lightning lanced downward. Each bolt smote the immense wave, sending forth gigantic plumes of steam. A fierce, sustained blast of wind came from nowhere and whipped seaward, meeting the onrushing wall in a titanic contest between the elemental forces of air and water.
Battered and beaten, the wave rushed on, much lessened in height. Reduced to a gentle roller, it swept up the beach and doused the fire beneath the cauldron of tar, then wetted Poseidon’s ankles and the bottom of the King’s Colimpha before receding back to the sea.
Only one being could be responsible for preventing his destruction of the vessel, and the sea-god knew whom, if not yet why. Poseidon glared at the cloud as it moved past, allowing the golden sun to reappear. In a voice of fury, as loud as crashing surf, he yelled, “Zeus!”