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For an instant, I contemplated running him through. "Stay there and stay down," I snapped. "Or you're going to get someone—probably me—killed."

"Fallon!" Ajani shouted at me from the bow. "Leave that pot-scrubber alone! We're closing on the other ship again. Fast."

I turned and loped across the damp-slick deck. Ajani met me halfway and fell into step alongside me. Normally, Ajani would have been carrying her bow and have a quiver full of arrows strapped across her back. But in this case, she carried a short wooden sword—like the rest of us—in one hand, and an Aegyptian-style flail in the other. It seemed she'd gotten used to the new weapon with its knotted leather lashes nicely. I was fairly certain that more than one or two of the Amazona girls would walk away from that battle with deep red welts on arms and legs.

"We're trying to get close enough this time to attempt a proper boarding," Ajani informed me.

High above us, Tanis was calling out the other ship's every move and the placement of their fighters. In that, we had an advantage—up until the moment one of the Amazona girls decided to put a stop to it and threw a dagger at our lookout. I saw the blade spinning through the air and gasped in anger. The sun glinting off the blade meant that it was real—not wooden—and therefore expressly against the rules of engagement.

Fortunately, Tanis saw it coming.

Unfortunately, she ducked out of the way as if she wasn't perched almost thirty feet above the deck. I heard her scream as she pitched backward and into thin air.

"Tanis!" I shouted. She screamed again as one of the rigging ropes tangled around her leg tightened in a loop around her ankle and jerked her to an abrupt halt about ten feet above the deck. She hung there upside down like a carcass in a butcher's shop, howling in pain.

A roar of excitement went up from the queen's barge. Our ship had closed broadside with the Amazona vessel and run out the boarding planks.

"Ajani, go!" I barked. "Help Elka and the others—I'll get Tanis."

"Get her how? She's too far up!"

"I'm going to have to cut her down," I said. "Before that rope cuts off her foot. Go!"

I ran back to the ship's single mast rising up from the center of the deck. The throwing knife lay only a few feet away, and I picked it up. The blade was sharp, and I snarled at the thought of whoever had thrown it. But at least I could use it to my advantage now. The only other weapons I carried were wooden. Shoving the knife into my belt, I reached for the rope ladder that led up to the yardarm and started to climb.

Just below the yardarm, in the lee of the billowing sail, I stopped to catch my breath and looked down to see that our boarding attempt had been successful this time. The Amazona ship deck was filled, shoulder to shoulder, with pairs of combatants. The two vessels were grappled together with hooks, and even the skeleton crew of galley slaves who sailed the boat for us had abandoned their posts, joining with the gladiatrices in gleefully bashing away at their counterparts as part of the whole ridiculous pantomime.

The deck of the Achillea ship beneath me was deserted.

Except for Leander, who had an axe and was busily hewing away at the ship mast as if it was a mighty oak tree in the forests of home that needed felling for the great fire.

"What in Hades are you doing, you lunatic?" I shouted from where I was perched on top of that very same mast.

A silly question. It was obvious what he was doing. But for a moment, I couldn't believe my eyes. Kitchen slave that he was, I'd seen Leander day after day in the little yard by the stables, chopping firewood for the cooks to feed the small army of gladiatrices that lived at the Ludus. His sun-browned arms were taut with long muscles, and he was very good at chopping.

I just didn't know why he was chopping down our mast.
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