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

We approach Panormus harbor, and in dawns dark crystal its surf sprays high, a scree fanged bitch. Flaunt your girdle Medusa! Should a watchman doze or the navigator stumble our cold bones shall have sea-floor rock for the nights bed. Stout bronze pins a glass beaded, oil-wicked narwhal horn to the Captains workbench, and by that light praying Aphrodites love I scribe to the ships log: we have voyaged nine nights from Marsaii to Sicily. Our Syrian northing rattled like whores bones near Corsica, pointing its tit wherever metal seemed likely and since has been of no use; unguided we guided stars , bright Antares by evening and mornings Altair. Well enough for 2000 summers, but I do not understand this spinning device. A Hyrkon mechanic building wind-vanes told me a storms lightening guides and repairs the device; guides what I ask, but that also we will see. "Bitchy little bastard, ain't it, now Cap'n," snarks Mykron the foresail master. "I trust the Bear and points bearing white breakers nothing else." His father was a trader among the reef-strewn Pontian islets. Man killers they. Mykron said his father never lost his lust for daybreak across a spit of dry shore.

"You'd leave the open empty sea for leviathan, I know," I laugh punching his scrawny shoulders. "But clattering blocks and creaking pawls, a brine soured lot we were, the compass brought us up the channel between Gedes and the Tin Isle without a flicker. What say you?" "Arawns fortune the better to make a dice-roll," he spit with a wad of black tar hash, but knuckled his forehead. "To the cap'ns pleasure after his log be writ," and hurried back to a mizzen shroud.

Very well."Put a man on the starboard sounding rope" I shout and bend to continue writing.

A trade Council senior Captain will read it, so I ignore butt-kissing formality. Instead I plead the luck of a Pict god. Little did I ask of the tarry star-reading crew running from Marsaii before the mistrals and then with Lebeccio winds from the Sardinian strait. My pens metal tip continues to scratch the log. Between Corsica and Sardinia we rescued twenty seamen from a burning Etruscan merchant, a grain buss running contraband silver beneath the Trade Council ensured barley. Bastard Messinian corsairs we sank one by running it down some a dirty business , chased off another with fireslings , the flaming wax and pitch ball striking her at the waist along the midmast cabin while another galley fled, escaping into the winds eye . We have since observed no threat by sea or land. On the first day of the third month counting from winter solstice, one hundred and twenty eight years since Arudara drove his traders staff into the Marjar River thus darkly birthing Carthage under the suns eclipse and ninth year of King Minos reign after his victory at the Gulf of Lacon so swears Cibias, Captain of the Hyrkon cruiser Belisama.

Captain and owner or Captain and slave I wonder. It's always a legal mystery until a boat is lost! The retreating Messenian Captains will discover that from their own warlord. Pray A'Draste our nasty business of that fireball. What warcraft can stand against it without a bronze skin! I spoke to the armour who claimed even more drama should the compote be contained within a brass-bound clay bowl. He promised to demonstrate. He originally got the recipe from a Byzants physician treating snake bites; he burned them away and perhaps poison vs poison as sulfer and nitre-black fumes will choke a man! Yet bless that physician. May Cybelle clasp his fingers, and patients bowls of poppy juice never run dry.

I must appear the tyrant, for Artyphon approaches, speaking "masters mercy" even hiding the coy turned lips. She has not slept well; she must smell the man she sleeps near, if not with. "I prefer the last night on deck" is my spare sympathy. Finishing a voyage feels lots better than starting. Mykron our Navigator says stars of the nights sky-bowl speak so clearly and sweetly should eyes become ears nightingale songs would rule the dark. We approach Panormus Harbor to the fleeting dashes of night surf whisper. Signal torches streak the silent, gray Sicilian hills slipping by along the starboard rail. Do they know of our victory? Really, signals and noise matter not; Sicily has no King and Hephaestus could rain his forge-coals like meteors upon the island slaughtering proud boars and squealing piglets while awaking not one hoplite.

Artyphon beguiles novelty; she has never visited Sicily -- an adventuress ne' slave not visit the Sicils as she may Lesbos hot sulfur baths and so prowls my feeling and my shoulders sore and stiff with her hands trying to release the odd local truth from me as a female slave may do though she will freely allow none of it herself; Demeters beard two can play ... I force nothing from her. Free women in the Kings service whisper she plots lechery both jealous and cold. Her face smiles against my arm and whispers to my ear. "Patience master; revels await the company of equals . Without an equal how lonely night is for an off-shore sailor; how painfully your eyes search for pirates to reeve or merchants to pluck!" Uncanny, she knowing how much in time I will need her. "Look, look dear Cibias , the rocky beaks grown by the shoals thrust out ... birds of prey." Clever witch she. So yes, I smile discovering first her abacus certainty, then a bards voice and oracle of fresh young warm breath. Yes, yes I know those bits of jealous land and their white scree. They will tear planks from your bow and gut your craft in a single mis-used heartbeat so I banter with their details and think of them as a bards heroic chant. I say to Mykron who has just been relieved at watch, 'catch the shift in meter as starlight glistens from a rocky horn thrust upward catch it my friend or die.'

Such thoughts do not a tired, tarry seaman impress on whose watch the hull is ever safe and already he has the ale skin tilted skyward. "Don't fuck the goats that's all," he says roughly, laughing and goes below.

Sharp-eyed Mykron has been watching torches as goatherds drive flocks into the sea grass dunes. My smile says 'very well...' and my minds eye charts the shoreline. Sagittarius lingers above Mount Ercte convincingly due south just now in mottled daybreak we are coming round that point. Helios has painted the very mountain-top red, while dark silver strands still wash the coast. See? Look to the twisting wild olive trees !

Horai – goddess of hours throws day all about us, yet how the sailor and navigator and Captain romance mornings first light. Telekydes, Artyphon and I had gone for'ard to Belisamas starboard rail when streaming gold sun-rays of that March morning flung themselves over Sicilys northern hills and nearly blinded us. The first hour -- Auges fresh sun-light shattered on sapphire waters of the north Sicilian coast, the swell and the chop from a north-east wind sending glints, flashes, sparkles everywhere and making the entire surface glow. It blew out Artyphons hair from her silver grasshopper , a careless billow flowing about her quiet face and for a moment she is again the Parthian witch. Her wild hair smothers my face and I pull away.

It's cold. We three wear the knee-length seal-skin vests of a night-watch. Wind whips sharp smells of hot ale and roasting lamb to your nose, then snatches them back to the blazing firepit. A thrumm of bare feet beat to the deck as three strong young tiller-men receive the steering oar and twenty mast-men race to the Belisamas shrouds. Deceiving our quiet Telekydes barks a harsh command, then leaps down to his own men lending his back to a groaning line-wrapping pawl. Artyphon linked her hands through my belt as the ship drew over and her breasts and belly do not deceive with their heat. She means well. The ship heels another eighth and if I did not grab a shroud we would be overboard.

" Mind now Capt'an, " bellows Rusa laughter. " yer won't be swiving her that easy she girdlesw a nest of flint! " I flush. Indeed there's the harboring item and it pulls you like a single race from beginning to end you may not attend Babylons gold or Venus breasts.

After nine winter sea days the damp is under your skin and into your bones. You wish nothing more than a blazing dry fire and pot of ale. Sleep beckons a fool. Just fuck around on deck beside a narrow harbour with an off-shore flow. On the Sicilian coast near Panormus Poseidon and Boreas conspire to test every ships bow and navigators will. Sailing in from the west as we had, from Gaulish Marsaii you can't just clew your mainsail around in such a north-wind, throw out a for'ard stay-sail and drive a straight line south, deep into the harbor. You will not dare run before the wind. Oarsmen don't even figure. That southern track will put you against a rocky lee shore, a real hull-eater harbor sporting devious currents, nameless drafts and birthings hardly worth the name. A navigators prays precious little space even if you can throw your sprityard back across the wind to attempt clawing out against widow-making swells. Yet stop you must, so rounding Panormus shoals you bring the wind fiercely over the larboard bow, sideways, as if you feared Mount Ercte to starboard and were steering down-coast for Thermae nine leagues to the east. That gets your hull slipping, wearing away into Panormus Harbor. Pray clattering oak pulleys hold against the shriek of hemp lines, yet you must prod along that slip, catching enough southerning wind on the rear mizzen sail and spilling enough of the easting from the mainsail; the bow ribs vibrate clutching a swing to starboard, but you refuse it! Six men each shoulder pawls connecting lines to mainsail starboard and larboard clews to slide in and south, behind the wind-break Erctes jutting cliff provides. So we took a deep, cold sea wash over the larboard rail and to the thrust of rowers muscle bursting their armbands come about in twenty cubits of water. Momentarily the Belisama floats balanced between wind and swells. The shoreline is a salty trapped whorl, bites of brine sharper than open sea as if the rising cliffs had evaporated the moisture leaving salt-crust edges in the stale air. A lobster-scull curses us for disturbing their pots. The sandy beach westward is free of clam-diggers, as we are unknown and they value their women. Twelve oar tolvaers ply between merchant busses. Most craft moored near are sardine and tunny smacks. Over there, two open ocean fifty-oar galleys with tall main-masts and thick rudders swarm with guards; they have anchored in deeper water, rocking and jabbing at the bay as if a fleet-handed rover would care. Thick hemp lines groan in our hawse-holes. Men who do not like each-other exchange fuming hash and poppy-pipes as a crewman come over from the India Ganges has taught many , for bound safely to the sea bottom against Kalis misfortune they live and breath, talk and eat and whore till our next voyage.

Planks in our teak hull shudder as tiller-men swing Belisamas rounded bow to the wind, pawls rasp dropping the anchors and sailor boyos keen from tests of skill reef the mainsail and swooping from shrouds onto the deck clash mugs of clove-simmered Gaulish ale mixing mates and crew and officers crunching through hot bread-loaves and slabs of crisp steaming lamb like hungry sea-devils.

A bit of sea-room now and I contemplate my Lord, the Hykron king chosing to sail with me and even fight beside me. Honor to the young Captain my sailors whisper even Kings bastard though he may be. We together from Marsaii to Sicily and the route is far from common, an anomaly, a dare, a political threat too if threats you must see, him without his children royals Didikas and Yidini and without ploys of the whore Aminias such a voyage would have never taken place. Hetaera I should say, not whore and public feast not ploy as the King favors Aminias. And she I truly believe intends novelty. Most crew -- most crews will stay to their ships and do not care, but for the select joining days at the villa neither wealth nor birth is sufficient. Only those path-crossing roamers of sea or desert or forest will join above, exposing their daring and sharing their wanders. We are to gather. 'Gather what', you say? Patience -- patience. What a trade kings make of simple words like 'we' and 'gather', you would think maidens were picking dew-laden morning-glory and Minos wreathed in orange poppy the carrier of Demeters basket.

Such imagining Artyphon wishes to know. "Listen between the words," I spoke explaining crisply to Artyphon. "The children royal must earn their purple, and so this minute discover blood-truth in a snake-infested Pelops swamp. " Artyphon nods unbelieving as Hebrews coddle their young. " Our Trade Council stores its gold by the cart and shipping routes are again most safe. Is it not time? Priam and Agamemnon will soon rue their folly. King Minos declares so! Traders, their masters and consorts would partake in what King Minos called a 'court of travelers', before returning home. "We" a "gaiety" said the king. Nevermind such gaiety fit poorly with these times of starvation and war; Spartan slaughters Mycennai Greek and Thebes washes in its own blood while across the island Sea Semites and Aryans flay the bronze headed ax through cities older than bronze of the two ancient rivers that once flooded the earth. Then Helen and Troas of which too much is spoken. So is Aphrodite hectored and civilization slaughtered by war. Ra be raucous and Bacchus rage! But the hetaera Aminias whose villa hosts the travelers weathers her own seasons, and is an ex-bedmate of Minos, catered thus and so also cautiously trusted to push on merriment none knows where despite the thundering chariot of Mars.

"Food music, dancing, academy - women whose passions are ruled poor if ever". Artyphon scowls reaching for a dry fig, turning away, but I grasp her shoulders; she fights weakly. To her ear I whisper "As a trader I see Tyches net cast to uncertain waves, not Pans gay revel, but the kings wish for my company is a subjects order." What is a mans fate to kings?

So together 'travelers' would we be, yet he however was no sailor boyo. King Minos whose Cretan generations ran back to a time when Pharaohs bones were ivory and his arms leather straps whipping swarms of enemies into submission, fucking Nubian priestess not his sisters, mindfully coddling Hebrew slaves who bred his doves and grouse while playing the Hittite lackey till he could import chestnut chariot rims from Latium Thurii for all that - King Minos was green and retching, sick over-the-stern and I didn't envy him.

Neither had I any consolation to provide. My tutor warned against cleverness. He also was a Hyrkon sailor, who bold in his tecknos and arrogant in courage had sailed north of the Green Isle and returning out of season struck through the southern Gaulish passages. Four years ago a Tyrrhenian Sea gale caught him in a run from Corsica to Malta. He had spread all sheets, when the spring storm backed south'ard off Sicilian Marsala and sent his galley splintering onto the rocks. Bad luck, mostly ... yet I know a lee shore when I see it, so around the King I mostly remain silent.