............ Tales of Hyrkon: TRAVELERS FESTIVAL
............ Chapter One

Devil take the bite of salt air, but dream fair goddess Cybelle what now? "Our hulls race so far ahead " my father King Minos once lectured from his grandfathers bronze sheet diaries "that we lose affection for our laughing water paradise." Blue Sardinian seas whisper love and Nereids dolphin capers atop Belisamas bow wave. Belisama my ship, Cybelle my goddess. My love dearest Artyphon, do you listen ... I snap awake on the quarterdeck one moment before gulls dust the horizon in a fury.

"Pirates a' larboard, Capt'an," screams Teutor from his sprityard perch. The threat strikes me like a shattered Egyption glass ax.

A blade, Neckreaper flashes into my hand. Pirates, in Sardinian waters tame as a panther cub? His scream sends me leaping to the rail. "Where away, ye painted Pict bastard," calls Rusa the first among officers, scrambling for'ard from the quarterdeck. Its mahogany rail and strakes rise aft and fall below-deck in one piece, one frame. Its bronze-edged teak racks hold ships log, a precious Syrian brass bound northing, Median sunrock and farsighting glass, Egyptian protractor and hand scrolled papyrus maps ... a sailors nest and now I have it alone.

The lookout tensed, vulture-like stretching his tattooed neck rising for'ard. "Half ar' point west of south." His sprityard lair a tapered prized piece of wax worked maple out and above deck, hanging below the sea nymph Marah be damned fog. Catching first sight of the narrow Sardinian harbor Teutors pointed Pict ears and curving beak scavenged first blood. "By Ananns brass tit, three war galleys. Latins come beyond the straights Scylly bastards I reckon from red oak hulls and Messenian from the horns." Horns, distance, time, strategy all thought before thinking. Rusa had stripped away gold badged tunic to clamber up shrouds below Teutor; Mesembrias noon breeze carried sounds of the distant sea fight first to them. Now they lay out together on the maple cross, pale Pict and Cretan bronze. Rusas clipped Minoan parsed the enemy vessels. "Single mast sixty hand galleys, Sar, but twenty cubits broad about the waist. Single row of oars, double rudders and trailing stringers of seaweed. They've been out for a while ..." Damme the bastard has good eyes.

"Feckin-A blue water rovers, Capt'an," growls Teutor. "Jaws for any thin neck or fat arse!" I am watching winds devil our top gallant and the Pict doesn't like it. He hurls his feathered hand axe, burying blade into the mainmast a fingers breath from my head. "Di'nah mean to shave so close for attention Capt'an !"

Hulls rock, I grimly smile, while axes fly.... this threat brings a crews chorus. "Wear to larboard. Brail up the mizzen, ya sea cows! Cove hitch not a bowline to that cleat matey." Much scoffing. "When I tie a mare to an ass, ya lubber!" "Run them through Cibias, we'll stand the wall!"

Weatherly crew scamper for stations, their amethyst, jade and ruby laced silver torques rattle against mast and yardwork. Slim as winter lynx, men thinned by a relentless empty sea, but for wealth earned against Neptunes wrath private men snapping to wild rover skills.

You really didn't fuck with them, and they followed a younger man because I always found place in the first line of shields or notched the first arrow on a for'ard patrol. Men willingly fight beside another man scoffing death. Belisama girds for death-dealing. Pulleys groan and lines shriek without a word from me as our mainsail reefs to larboard. "Four hulls rising, Sur " Speedlogs and depth weights are thrown and counted. "Mark five... eighteen cubits and sandy ..." while views differ along the Belisamas rail. "Turn again on the larboard mizzen line boyos, we can't see a damn thing," shouts Kassite NaziBu a master tillerman. "Not from the back ya feckin pounce," returns grizzled Tar of Avelon who was listening to a rope boy atop the mizzen. "Smoke you say, boyo from where? And winch poles with a spike for boarding across hulls ?" "Stow it!" Shit. Idlers slip by to the pumps below. "Three long oared brigands. Shit! Brogue." I shout. "Brogue, send both watches to the oars. Elisedd ! Elisedd ya Ares infested bastard , shields and boarding pikes ... archers on the quarterdeck, spears to the starboard rail." Rusa had dropped from a shroud and stood at my shoulder. "Get men on ballista and firesling. Send another to the crows nest." The sea washed clean over this northern tip of Sardinia, but our sky was a fog blanket from the heights of Olympus down to mainsail yard. We shouldered around the point, blue-green swells weeping from Belisamas rounded bows and the Zeus be damned fog rising with hot air about the cliffs. I called to the top gallant lookout. "Say what counts! Fighting between decks?"

Water hisses angrily along the hull. " Two beaks at the waist!" Fog muffles the voice bellowing down the mast. "Some poor bastard's in their jaws. Appears an Etruscan grain sow. Can't see men in the rigging Sar, but there's fire in the bow!"

Beak, the bronze ripping prow of a warscraft, a ship killer which we, sea skimming trader full and bye with builders craft and tough as walrus hide do not possess.

He's waiting -- the signalman -- I make the sign of three and Green Isle bred Faelon releases the long thin banner of dolphin, bull and snake. Our blue and red tricon snaps in the mistral. Stiff linen flairs flying up the signal mast announcing a Hyrkon cruiser sailing under the Trade Laws brazening rough justice against corsairs. Such warfare if unthinkable two thousand winters before still resounds among refugees to the grace of Minos triumphant. Drest the Gaul snarls at my bright face. "We shall break their resolve, " I snap harshly, flight a curse bred into my bones, even as we scattered from Crete, clinging to Hyrkon. "Very well and scattered they be, boyos," I shout. "We will now see what brigands stand before us."

"Sur ! Our business Sur!" My second Kalicrates, a Rhodian ; first sailor of a mongrel crew to spare a drachma and last to lose a stator. Unusual for a top mastman, men whose every step on the yardlines risked life , even one whose family were tight fisted potters serving the perfume trade. "What dead mans virtue coins silver?"

"Nmemosyne remembers the coward to Lokis wit and to bronze clad Ares," blusters NaziBu swirling a spring of mistletoe about his long finger. "Mark the pestilence like a witches tongue!" His wily figure half-woven I snap. "You bruise our ears with such jangled rhyme, before the Latins bruise our flesh!" "Belus weeps blood," he cries fingers dancing among the dried, stringy plines teasing out limns of stringy death. He laughs holding it high. "Talismaker!" He would mix gods like a warriors body paint before battle. But, see here word warrior I wished to shout, I desire choosing the best safety, as Demeter bent her bow against leopards , while fleet footed avoiding the cave bear. Run or fight, that's the game in play for a Hyrkon trader. We had sailed guileless from Marsaii never fearing pirates ourselves a man being his own best coin. Peaceful merchants and traders, while I keep the silence, yet some moments anything may happen.

First shout echoed the rich chaotic blare of a Messenian war horn. Then a shrieking bolt fuzzed across our sprityard, carrying the waist and burying its blades deep in the teak stern hatch. A ballista goose feathered warbolt of arms length and thick as your thumb. The wailing sounds froze my blood; defiant shouts rippled across yardarms. Angry, Kalicrates jumped to the lower deck returning with a long shafted slotted bronze head. "Southern Egyptian Sar, Bastets screaming bitches the Latins call them, cause blade slots make bronze howl like war dogs!" Scythian auroche hounds baying moonstruck I'd faced, but never a slotted arrowhead; never seen one yet the thrusting mechanism, the Teknos I knew well and we had the equal! "Say you Kalicrates, something of a long shot, a warning ..." I turned razor honed blades on my palm, feeling the holes and imagining how air whistled through them. Spinning bronze discs worked equal damage in quiet. "What are Messinians doing with Egyptian arrowheads? Does Ramses pay for his Sinai turquoise mines by shipping weapons to his enemies?" "Assuming we are indeed Pharaohs friend," snipped Artyphon.

"I care not for any," carps a Mitilenian yardsman,"but our gold pouch and glass jars of ferment. Why do we risk saving bloody handed Etruscians? They are all half Corinthian butt fuckers anyway!" Damn every tutored young son of a good family. "Any ship's the next," I quip … any ship that's stupid enough to get run into a boxed harbor I do not say, but a sailor can hear it. Men skilled in the sea , sharp bladed without foolish instincts or home for a thousand leagues watch us and listen. Iron men these, fellow crew and traders groaning inward. Then shouts rumble from the oarsmens trench, shouts rough as the awled Lesbian redwood benches. "Your staff Sar .. let the traders staff decide."

It's calm the sea teaches and facing rebellion I mutter willfully. "You can't think too much about it!" Life and death is upon us, all can see. Yet no captain can fear the men at his back. "Swiftly now boyos ..." And saying that I peg the bronze end of my three-feathered trader staff into the quarterdeck slot from which it greets every foreign port and harbor master.

"Disciplined and orderly as a scribe," thinks Artyphon as she watches him command. Sly for his youth, developing the vote, loom and weave she sees him freely moving among seamen of wild hearts facing attack. "The discipline does not hide his long smooth jaw or measuring eyes." Minoan green singing eyes of ancient northlings, she considers. His gold badged kin must have found such a song. Bards already sang of Cibias; her mage promised centuries of Cretan sons. From ruby throated privilege and power she wants to shout , "how survived your families the fires and death and before that the trumpeting icewall?" How valiant her sex. Slave now she says nothing.

Men scramble toward the staff. "Fast it shall be," Rusa calls out. "Officers to the quarterdeck," he shouts and sweeps fierce eyes over the silent mastmen and oarsmen and tillermen. "The vote will be by guilds rather than by every boyo." "Count the nine indeed ," scowls a yardsmaster of no great wisdom, but arms of stringy bronze; about him on the shrouds headlocks, knot and braid and tailed shake approval , assenting free men not savages as our hull yet plows careless for the black tar rovers. I think we all see the crazy rush for'ard to battle even while the bones wait a thrown voice. The speakers eyes narrow , but face the enemy.

Kalicrates, Brogue, Rusa, Nykodemes, Elisedd, NaziBu, Mykron, Teutor, Faelon and Tar of rank by eldest each with two feathered pearls in their hand … Rusa holding high the arrowhead says simply. "Mind this boyos. Full holds we carry, wearing east off the Gaulish Mistrals, how else to catch Corsicas westward Libeccio winds. Such be craft. We was minding our own course and trade, " Brave's the man whose body stinks anyway with fear. Arms reach. Seven raven feathers loop my traders staff, one of the owl and two of the hawk. Officers stand away, and the roar of Ares paeon goes up from the crew.

"Fight Sar !" "Serve them the hatchet!" A crooked smile curves Kalicrates mouth, the close shave that Median physicians advise and I require filling his craggy skin with nicks and scratches . " Belly us up a bit?" I nod and mastmen scramble. "Faelon, set the banners!" So up the signal mast fly linen streamlets of hemp and a silken flag, these bearing the ancient forms of war in dolphin gray and bull black each different shape betraying the watcher as tumult, scorn, strife and bloody flight. "If they are men to be moved, that should move them," I say grimly to Faelon. "Bring us the south wind," snickers a Mede oarsman, sharping his short sword, bright eyes too young to forget his desert devil gods or to see a man guttering blood as a bolt rips his belly. Teutor's first to the rail with a clutch of Green Isles men, woven bronze shields clawing places for the edge of tecknos or the rim where spears first cross. I will fight beside them after logging the vote with metal quill scratching iron dosed dye onto papyrus.

Record blotted, ceder box locked I prod Rusas prime mast and tillerman. "Yes yes bear starboard a trace, then come about and bore in at the bastard. Stretch and clew an end of mainsail drive us a point starboard for a count of ninety or such, just as if we were plunging straight into the harbor, then jiffy it back tight. We'll not fight with a mainsail yanking us about to catch fire." Crew mutterings grew to the bitter shared jape of free men scoffed; cursing boyos leap to the pawls and yards, and the Belisama deck angles over ; I sought a handhold. "Firepots?"

That too was a potters game and alchemy. Pigden shouts below from a Phrygian whose sharp pointed beard just escaped the razor. "Nitre black, waxed rubber and tar phosphor, pitch and sulfur .. BanSire ..." Little less than an alchemist and more when he worked a forge. Bow wave spray rakes our quarterdeck. Mastmen thunder down mottled mahogany laced among teak planks to reclaim the mailsail reefing. Four hundred paces directly before us the Etruscan ship flounders, breached, boarded wheezing blood mist and shit like a pig among three leopards, its auroches head banner torn, the hull doomed. Indeed at the bow a pillar of fire reached high torching the for'ard sheets and burning down though the strakes. Other end of the craft perhaps one hundred men struggle as a single mass of hacking, thrusting and killing warriors. Bloodied sailors pitch over the side and bronze ax splits helms of tin. Men scream for blood and a womans breast. A confused, slashing melee continues on the raised stern poop deck. Artyphon had not gone below.

Daring a warriors value she said, "they fought, and will be burned to the waterline for their trouble."

"Better to die with a sword in your gut, than a dogfish chewing on your leg."

"The rovers would have bargained," she persisted. "And traders walked planks to watery Hades!" Damn the woman

"Look! They've broke the oil barrels, the fools ..." shouted Mykron as a river of fire spilled from the grain buss starboard hawse. My heart beats to the oarsmens drum and against the hiss of surf scouring the rocky beaches. Men like vultures stand on those beaches awaiting the spoils. So a mans mind waits, before battle sensing a slowness of time, movements lost, distance does not become smaller as distance between cities should you move one to another. I cannot explain that strangeness. Trader though I be gathering together, the tightness, the joining of men at arms. Bakk! Drumbeats quicken for the long yew oars. Lines tighten, canvas swells and shrinks, tillermen feel for the smallest thrust and a speedlog counts the marks faster, faster as if time hated slaughter.

Nearly at arrows reach the melee becomes more clear, three corsairs having run down and cornered the grain buss, while merchant owners valuing gold as honor putting their men to arms. Under the trade laws I have done such. Sling pellets begin to rail about us; Artyphon had brought my helmet, leathers and metal leaf cuirass from the cabin. "Better to negotiate a pirates tax," she says sharply. "None dead and the cargo reaches port!" She hesitated. "If you can do nothing else, pass round an ale horn and hashpipe!"

"There there Sar one o' the galleys is turning toward us!" Yes, the viperous bastard has reefed sail and oars whipping a sea-froth rushed toward us parallel and against the wind. It means to pelt us at distance should it bear the screaming bitches and we expose our loins. Had we no equal how deadly that strike. " Bear up the scorpions ," I shout. One of their bitches whistles over the bow. " Quickly ye suckers of cowtit!" Rusa organises our counter-force. Four hide boxes are lashed to the deck and their hickory splines opened. Inside, the split yew and oak double-armed sling-bowers rest horizontal to the deck. Bolted together at center, the broad ribs curve as tightened. Leather cords in each hold a nest capturing a saucer-sized wing-shaped bronze flail; a circle with two blades. It is meant to be thrown by the bow-like machine and spin while it flies. No arrow is this , but crewed by four boyos a nastier bitch must Hades build. " Wait till their next shot, then wear-away above deck high. "

Rusa pushes men into place. "You heard him," I shout to a pack of rope boys splicing at a pawl. "Rush the ale!" Swift into the wind, and famous about rocky coves the sixty oared corsair galleys were a third our size! Their next shot is a man-reaper. The bronze arrow-tip slices over the port rail diving among five upraised shields --- two men go down screaming." NOW" I shout and our four reaper discs fly outward toward the galley. It is near hull-on to the Belisama, a strong bowmans distance and the discs have been ably sent to their death. Death among flesh as bowmans blood sprays, death among mizzen lines drooping the mainsail and death to their Captain standing forth on the stern tillermans plank head raised to out sail, but no longer. The headless Captain spurts away lifeblood and tumbles over the rail. Their mainsail luffs and the bow falls off. Another bitch whines over our stern, but they have lost heart. Tillerman and mainsail boyo follow their fortune away from us downwind and to the safety of flight. A cheer sweeps across the Belisamas deck and men ready for the chase.

Mars fortune has been our. I must bring a raging crew back to battle, for one enemy chastised is not three defeated. "Keep the main sail reefed. Telemedon, throw out another foresail." This fight will be different! Coming after us are they, that second split oak galley, its warhorns of Tiber tin blaring defiance. "Put six men on the tiller, Teutor, put our bow to their waist and run it through and down! "

"Collision Sar ?

"Split them like a Sidonian hashish whore."

" We have no beak!"

"Brass and ironwood below! Bronze in our men. Drive our hull right over the pitchworn bitch!" "Should their oarsmen pitch aside us, Sar ..." "By Mercury we fly! Drive man, drive our shoulder for their waist fast as ever ye may. At them boyos and straight over their hull! And may Cernu stiffen our keel!" Time, imagination, how we see futures past stops for an instant run it down I say again hearing steeled words echo strike its waist and break its back! My scream. "Drive the slattern from our couch!" Action freezes at such moments, then like a stag hound the Belisama leaps for'ard. "Aye, Sar fuck the bitch to Hades!" They also it seems , both bows purchasing speed at all cost, bow waves opposing, wearing onto the collision course.

Artyphons woman plead her below, pulling ringed fingers from my arm. Then beside me my King waits green gilled and stinking of vomit. Minos helmed for war, belted and girdled in silver leafed triple leather, with strapped mail knee buckles and a leather striped robe beneath the waist. His eyes sparkle lemon flecks of his klan, and he carries both his spear and mine. Strapped to his shoulder a priceless doubled edged ax of phosphored Cyprus bronze. His fingers also found my arm. "No Spartans, these," he says weakly pointing to the enemy craft. An arrowhead split wood between us. "No mistress ours, these waters," I respond sharply to a seasick landman, wishing him below. Still shocked in fact he boarded my vessel. I was his only admitted bastard with his two wifed sons raiding Mycenae along the Peloponnese. Such trust did his stature earn. A Trading League messenger had approached the Belisama at Marsae pleading some days wait for a crippled diplomat. Next morning a hooded figure was shed from a pier lorry and, once standing shed his rags for the yeoman leathers and silver-blond curls of King Minos my father. No explanation asked or offered.

Now his landsman guts lathered by our rocking hull vomits a spew of green bile over the rail -- spit, spit --- and pulls himself upright, fondling the carved and oiled hickory axe handle. "Throat Slasher she be and well named! Steeled by Bansabira of Knossos, if the fight goes hand to hand." And he takes my right side with his six layered boiled boar skin shield. "Andarta rises; I find the mistress serves the man," and we pound afore to join the picket of ash spears at our bow.

Cast yourself down before a dark statue of Mars to spout brave talk. I shit over the side before strapping on leather and copper-leaf groin protector. " To the rail you bastards. All hail slaughtering bitch A'Draste."

Howling bronze and ironwood and flaming pitch Belisama dashes for'ard only a dozen ship lengths from the melee, twice again from the coves hard bitten and angry shoals. At the shield wall, sling decks and ballista pallets where death will find its scholars twice the alehorn and once again it made rounds spilling the Gaulish ferment into faces and guts, and encircling our helms the thick sweet brown mist of Syrian hashish seeped from closed lips. An ale carrying rope boy lay on the deck, his bloody forehead split by a slingers lead pellet. Men pounded the leather and mail chest amour of their companion. Conflicted Greeks and Cretans lovingly strapped elk antlers across neighboring foreheads. Two men on their knees vomited uncontrolled while another pair pissed over the rail. The paeon is raised to Aphrodite as first among women, then bloody minded voices raise to Ares and Cocidius and Aesma as thoughts of mercy turn to those of slaughter. Battle lust rises with the pounding of bronze swords on boiled bulls hide and oarsmen bent their yew poles in a frenzy.

One pirate rover was already slipping away east with no belly for men harder than merchants. But, the nearest hull thrusts brazenly for'ard. Clouds of arrows, bronze tipped hickory bolts and sling pellets zip unseen through the overhead fog. Life seekers they are, as the northern winter vampires swoop from ice perches still failing to find a mans blood drive home in wood or canvas, shield or thick boiled leather breastplate. When they do not feed on bleeding flesh. Hull rushes against hull, and given time the galley would have got up speed and threaten to clip our oars, turn our flank and pepper us with darts from the stern, but now we were first and faster, still riding the thrust of bellied, unreefed mainsails. Mizzen and foresails strain the mistral that has driven us from Marsaii. Ares lust for blood has us by the throat. Arrows, darts and slings came over our bow. Men of war see a discipline to such exchange and care not for the blood that flows. Archers bend, darters stretch, slingers curl all to a rhythm; as blood-lust drives us for'ard such would be unsounded music to Egyptian drinkers of living blood.

Making death of a ship how like Gwyns rattle of a spear warrior. Flocks of bronze, iron, flint and lead weapons ranged between hulls, Anubis flowering till our returning fireballs cover them with the stinking and sticking gum flame a man of Hyrkon saw as last curse between two enemies before the mass of our craft, shooting for'ard cubit thick ironwood bow planks crusted in plate bronze taking the rover galley fore on the larboard and riding up over their hull, snapping lines and the spines of warriors, grinding to sawdust plank and pole and beam and strake driving them all in one thrust down and back and beneath our ironwood keel, beneath our bronze center-streak and guttering screams driving them beneath seaweeds dark stench of the harbors swell.

Calls of warning by torn running men. Dead men. By the gods merciless fate my Belisama drives straight through them! Shouts of exultation over bloody bronze by our darting slingers and bowmen. Prideful victors, so among Poseidon green waves we slaughtered! Let no man speak falsely first is the shock of it, when the enemy faces lift before you connected to you by eyes and mouth and cheeks, twisted by fate and fear and human hate snap away, vanish, disappear from your vision at the same time your own feet stumble from the shock , knees buckle as wood and bronze and iron of our own ship first ride high above the enemy rail, then smashing down onto the pitchy hull. A great snapping sound encloses the seamist, their deck splinters, transverse beams across their hull cracking like dry barley stalks, water tight strakes reamed through the waist flaying skin, bones cracked and brains spilt open all paeon singing men of their center shield wall dead by impact while the hulls stern and bow pieces bob in a graceless random flutter. We ripped them open, split them in half! Where enemies still live warriors now carve and reeve a slower horror. Swimming mens pleas are met by bronze tipped arrow, men hanging to wood planks speared or the handax split their brains. Burned men never stopped screaming till water closed their lips. Against hull climbers iron hooks shear helmets and the white stuff of brain slops apart. Broken men wail at missing limbs and whole men shriek as dogfish chew into them. Long shanked pikes push asunder floundering men crying mercy. No sound made by a mans voice was unheard. Shrieks, screams, wailing prayer, cries, smoke, firespray, the splinter of wood and shattering of bodies, erupting steam of firepots, frothing of a hull once filled with living air and crack of their single mast snapping in half before everything that had been a life taking black souled rover vanished beneath us.

What have we done? Our shield wall loosens to forage death. Minos pulls a arrowhead from his slashed waistband leathers, spit wiping off a sheen of blood and taking the crews salute and a servants arm stumbles below. My Lieutenants call on bloody Mars brazen with praise. Ballistas reload. Our hull is sound, with the teak and mahogany scatlings unbroken. Artyphon clawing her way up from our cabin dispenses succors to the wounded, but scours me. "You have played god between cheetahs and oxen. Would you coddle doves from a hawk!" Piping sarcasm she asks no question.

Cheetahs I have never seen. "A hawk gives way to an owl or dies." A second corsair is close and our mastmen throwing the main canvas sail broadly while carpenters repair a cracked sprityard. Sullen faced rovers turn windward with sixty oars. "Such an owl are we not," I call to Artyphon, but she tends wounded and will not satisfy me. Nor will the enemy though we have fixed bloody talons into them. They run, oars flailing and we chase for Eletes own early noon span, closing distance and strike harshly when in desperation they turn on us, slingfire missing and our ballistas sweeping their deck, only to have them run again blood dripping from scuppers and their helmed archers in hiding.

But, Tyche playing Fortunas mistress our staysail line separates under shifts of force; Belisamas canvas luffs and we scramble rethreading the eyelet and block pulley, and find purchase for knots on a waist bollard. Ten boat lengths the enemy gains and a warrior klad pisses into the stern race. Our return arrows punch a hole in one mans belly. "Give them to their mothers ," scoffs Artyphon and leaves the deck. Archers exchange vain arrowheads. Beating two points from the wind we tire of the pointless game and they carry a gore laden vessel into the winds cold eye; we return on staysail and mizzen to the Sardinian harbor. Witches of death stir a kettle of gore. Splintered timbers and strakes scatter about the slicked down water. Dead and broken litter the cove; gulls and dogfish battle over the colored scraps, but both the rovers galley and merchants grain buss have sunk into the coves deep belly. Wounded cover our deck; no prisoners are taken.

Two longboats of merchants, hovering in the wreckage come over from the Etruscan. Fat bastards they demand wine and are sent to the pumps! The Etruscan navigator directs us to their crewmen still clinging to floating wreckage; we rescue three of our own and count losses. Eight comrade sailor boyos have joined the shades. Two others are so badly burned from fire arrows that Artyphon must brew them a tea of poppy from which drink they will never awake. She strokes their cheeks as they fight back pain, lolling and slipping into the black. Her medicines. Another twelve men drink the poppy wine, and feel ivory needle point as moss patches are sewn into wounds. With safety comes aboard a sullen peace. Did I fail in discipline? Artyphon warm breast grazes my arm, her hand presses my cheek, squeezing, but she will not look at my face.

To the roughly assembled crew I speak. "Mars gives us victory boyos. By Mercury and Aphrodite we will do service to our comrades. No shade will be without the Ferrymans coin." I hear older tillarmen say of Artyphon, "nymph that one. She quiets him when he wants to scream and cares not for a bare ankle." "Not every horse is saddled by it rider," Drest mutters to NaziBu and goes below.

Mercury weeps. We dress and row the bodies to shore , a plug of anised hash fills their mouth to protect their crossing and lips sealed with the boatmans silver

Our souless scream, How we fear that dark river and the grey shades beyond , and burn them under pitchy pine logs bright, a sacrifice to Helios with all honors. Minos as King returns us from the god, raising the silver cup to Aphrodite.

"The feckin trader," Kalikrates reminds. " Plunder for us all, were we fish. Even had we a pearl diver the reach is too far and the weight too heavy. "

" Captains pardon, a mans lungs need air not sky, and silver floats as well as it might. I'll see to it."

On our last voyage Kalikrates had used a Rhodian whore without mercy, but she had returned night after flaming night to his hammock. She had come after him with a whip .. he took her strokes till tired arms collapsed on his bloody chest and she pleaded his mercy. Kossian bards sang of her perfect, unmarked skin ... and of his manhood. A divers daughter she may have had more secret than one to share. We could guess this: deep below the grain buss wears new death uneasily, its spine broken to an underwater ridge. Currents rip. Dogfish trouble the dead. Yet after Kalikrates campaign of whisper men queue for the risk! One trick. Islander Tika carves a valve; I grind it smooth in a sandmill. Leather and grease wrapped, tubelike, you may blow through one valve end having no air escape! Working shifts, breathing from pump driven oiled leather airlines sunk fifteen cubits six of our men make repeated dives to the Etruscan wreckage. Three work while three hold tridents against predator dogfish. Poseidon blushes his realm invaded. They find gold Utica coinage within the burned Captains cabin, and that afternoon divers return to the surface with five horns of silver no harbor master would ever see declared.

Holding to Hyrkon custom we vote half for the crew and half for the dead sailors families and threaten to strand the merchants fatted on the untempered virtues of Phoenicia and rich Latin fields should they complain. None do.