Extract from Ruso and the Root of All Evils:
by Ruth Downie

Justinus was lying in the stinking dark of the ship’s hold, bruised and beaten, feeling every breath twist hot knives in his chest.

      The light that trickled in through the worrying gaps in the hull showed the angle of the ladder above him. Beyond it, thin, bright lines betrayed the position of the hatch. He remembered the slam, and the rattle of the bolts. Now he heard the sharp yell of a reprimand over the thumps and footfalls up on the deck of the Pride of the South, a ship that could hardly have been less appropriately named.

      Whatever they were up to, it seemed he didn’t need to die for it. If they had planned to kill him they could simply have thrown him overboard. Perhaps they would maroon him on a remote island somewhere while they sailed off to enjoy spending his master’s money. He would eat berries, spear fish and wait to be rescued. Sooner or later he would return home, thinner and browner and with a well-rehearsed apology to his master.

      He forced himself into a sitting position just as the ship heeled to starboard. Cold bilge that should not have been near the cargo sloshed over his legs. Beneath him, he felt the stacked amphorae slide out of position and begin to tip and roll with the movement of the ship. Dark shapes swarmed out from amongst them and ran squealing along the sides of the hold.

      ‘Hey!’ he shouted, grasping at the ladder to steady himself and wincing at the pain in his chest. ‘Captain!’

      No response.

      ‘Copreus!’ He banged on the ladder with his fist before he shouted the words that should bring the crew running. ‘The cargo’s shifting!’

      There was a muffled shout from above, then something thudding against the side of the ship, scurrying feet and the bark of orders. Between the other sounds, he was almost certain he could hear waves breaking on a shore near enough to swim to.


      Struggling over the rolling necks of the amphorae, he pressed his face against a gap in the planking of the hull. Outside, he could see nothing but brilliant blue.


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