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

I hadn't chosen this trail known for spitting volcano ash and breeding scorpions, but Aminias has thinly perched her villa high on a far cliffside; it's a sylphs trail. Patchy spring flowers spill their red glory between rocks. Sulfurous smoke rises from a tree high cinder-cone one-hundred steps from our path and I had been watching it smelling it daring it to come alive. Afternoons bright time Artyphon styles it. Helios Elete pale spring face falls lower toward Acte Khronos marking time even Zeus must respect, withholding brightness while praying all hot love from Dianne. Can a mortal imagine such a dance and from the spring sun what an hours change will bring cool air to your face and chills to your trousered legs! Hot virginal Dianna HA! such are Hyrkon jokes. Artyphon walks beside me, chatting boldly a brash boldness poorly tempered for a Parthian slave and that Sicilian spring sun splashes right in our face. Her cheeks glow like a goddess. Screw this spring heat; I swear to bury that gold disk beneath Nordland ice-walls should the snow gods allow passage so hot was it the dogs wouldn't piss.

"The arrow Sire," I inquire of Minos. His physician has cleaned and bound the waist in sulfur moss and bulk showed through the knee length linen tunic. "Nothing ,Ha! A Spartan would thrash his physician for even attending such a wound."

King Minos was kicking along, smothering the limp with a rangers long-shanked style he had learned fighting Argots on the Knossos plateau and then ambushing Spartan convoys in Greek Pelops. The stride put shame to younger mens stamina. Stumbling sweating councilors and bubbly streams of chatter proved him doing the kingdoms business in public. Some leaders cannot walk and fart! The King has a cluttered way of speaking and a softer tone which does not always do service to his agile mind. He spoke loudly. "You don't suppose do you she would hire some of the mountain toughs and set them on us? Like there," he points out across a rocky field of wild black iris, "in that thick plot of fir you could hide a company! Well no of-course not not this far along on the rolly-polly well damn what's this? Zeus beard is that a scorpion? Look here Cibias one of the browns not a killer." "Take care with that little bastard, Sire," I say briskly and step up, prodding the bugger off-path with my sandal. The King had bent down as-if to let it run up his finger poison fang first he was scowling Zeus beard ,

Minos straightened . "Adventure lost," he sighed and glanced about. "You know old prince Amethol kept a garden of black scorpions in his Thebes palace. Deadly little creatures, like his own children till his wife had done with him ," He laughed to himself. "I mean to say surely you're correct Cibias, that Aminias intends to weave garlands about the trade laws, as does your NaziBu about fortune , but it's bad enough with bloody-handed Corinth wanting a seat on the council. Logic never embarrassed Corinthian silver. Well never mind ," his eyes roved over the stepping stone terrain , "I mean if Aminias had wanted to do something or threaten to do something it was the slate-faced cliffs right off the bay that she would have chosen." He chortled, pounding my leather shoulder patch. "We came bouncing into the harbor jug-a-lug like breathless pearl-divers determined to leap somewhere! Leap anywhere on the first ledge. Who knew they were so steep and who watched anything , but the hand-holds? Geese-a-splatter that's what we were for two-dozen Balearic slingers pouncing on us right there."

"Cybeles pardon, Sire, but since that shipment of Chian spirits last spring the Balearic have been rather on the Trade Councils side. And ours". "Don't say? Balerics on our side? Damme I thought they ate the crew of that Santinean ore-barge coming over from Latin Lavorno. Artyphon damn-me", he shouts " Artyphon! Leave that pestilent Tyrian alone; he's been sniffing after you all morning Zeus beard woman look here and speak to this Balearic fuddle."

Again Artyphon, my female slave, whose wanton yet chaste wit has found infinite favor with the king. The Tyrian merchant bastard he had been lucky she didn't cut the only purse he reccond and dump his body into a lava-pit. By Zeus beard the councilors triathlon she had mastered by hiking, curtsy and the scorpions tongue. Minos compared her to Aphrodites bow-bearers. Well may be his imagination of her -- as a quiet silk-wrapped Cybele -- she did not sleep at his feet. Some crew , NaziBu the Akkadian wander taken up to the Red Sea saw her as alien wizard, one of many tentacled creatures to be found sleeping in the bays of Ur, its poison spurs awake to the slightest vibration. He and Drest vexed me to throw her overboard and she saved brazenly holding a blade to her own throat daring him to find the ships fortune in her blood.

"Sea-snake ye be bitch of great passivity, till its lunge and squirting fangs send unwary seaman without Charons coin to the dark river." He yanked the ruby-studded knife from her hand, buries it in the mast and walks over to NaziBu cursing furiously and they slid below-decks. "The elder Ones, yeh by Zeus beard she knows them till death no longer dies." Nothing to my face was ever said again.

Neither was Artyphon discouraged. Then or after she glowed Hebrew prudence beside the fireflies sparkle and charm. "Live forever merciful Sire," she cooed squiring herself up beside Minos. "May the evening breeze cool your Graces brow seeing as it fails to cool my masters fevered mind." She wore the maidens dagger at her loins, a perfectly respectable scarf and half-veil of green Sardis silk, but her wind-blown white linen sailors vest and Persian trousers required no imagination. So she spoke "Even your Majesties maiden understands that Cibias mis-speaks whenever he speaks of anything, but ship rudders. The Balearics your Grace rage fiercely and threaten us every day. Their young men ignore the cod-fleet and sling for the largest coin. Their elders have cast off our Minoan ancients and got in thick with the Moroccans." A Parthian witch dares speak of Minoan ancients? She will steal breath from Boreas lungs! I caught her stitch as the needle threaded; that's how she's going to do it; my thread her cloth. I bit my lip and shouted , I should not have shouted, "Horseshit Sire!"

"Well damme if that won't thieve the oxes oat-bag ," muttered King Minos and raised a dejected face to heaven. "Cretans starve, Cyprians poison and now what in Cybelles name has happened to the satyr-footed Moroccans?"

Artyphon scanned my face for threats. I lay one finger over another, which would normally mean I was pleased indeed to whip her ass red should another word continue. "She has never visited Sicily Sire, and I fear these warm volcanic vapors have encouraged her womanly fancies beyond the vaults of reason."

pass through a small grove of carob and wild olive; shadow covers her face; scorn edged to her voice. "He whose eyes expect Hecate to leap from an ash-cone any minute speaks of MY fantasy? Such a worried mind comes it high, my Lord with metals and wood, but should he be unable to carve a persons will like a board there his judgment may falter." She she stuck out her tongue . stuck out her tongue and wiggled it Aines tit I'll have the skin off her.Then plaintively she began the weave. "The young lovers, your Grace, whose gentle feelings and hearts foreign of visage yet burning for each-other sought only peaceful unity. Woe to the simple, for unyielding Moirae weaves an unyielding fate, allowing them only to have flesh and bones burned together on the pyre, the same day as their marriage. " I sputter, "Oh shit not that!" To the line of Kings retainers, soldiers and royals there was a general rustling, a kind of disorganized shuffling sense of calamity spoken among the walkers stretched across the pale limestone escarpment no matter how soft the Mediterranean breeze, or tranquil the blue Sicilian sky or how quiet the gilded country-side where each rocky upward curve led on to yet another narrow flower-laced green meadow, or how unassuming the scattered pine copse or how watchful the guides and bowmen and thus all taken together what is not foreseen being among the victims thus enabled. Not mans men at all I thought hefting my sword-grip and the King thought not much better. "Well now what? I didn't expect the whole line to stop moving just because my retainers get up a good rattle."

"I'll see to the guards, Sire," and I ran ahead. Front to back it was no big deal, there being fewer than fifty walkers in our little troop caravan I could not bring myself to call it. Whatever you could not make move a crank Carian Sargent thick as Lebanon ceder who believed his feet were more like roots that should crawl before they walked. And whatever insult made a King shout should at least make him stop moving. "Move damn you" I moved him not! "Grow the beard a little sonny, spew," he said of my chin while spitting a wad of chewed Chian hashish into the thyme bushes. "You beat them at sea," he said referring to our victory, " never gave them a fair chance on land." Feckin-A Carian wisdom, I thought. No two races living port to wall ever differed so wildly, yet where Chian wine flowed there also traveled the wine-soaked hashish where Carians of Kos prayed Hera favored Tara would never remove her bounty. Yet such pleasures a mans body may innocently retain. One thousand years of martial servitude had corrupted not one bone of the men of Kos, and sadly added not one thought. The Carian would grant a Hyrkon king the bow, one warrior to another, Minos having finally thrown Dorian Greek hoplites back onto Pelops desolate valleys. Five-hundred years of pillage revenged in two brilliant marine strokes , but that same Carian warrior cared not a wit for my gold ships-captain badge. Faint grace to Minos perhaps, who put the iron ax to Greek pride, but the devil to citizens of Minoan Hyrkon. Be that so, a clean shaven sailor felt no insult. Five hungry cave bears with Lugurian spears up their assholes would have had no better luck moving the man than had I. Afternoon stretching out to the lowering sun I returned picking out bits of sage from my tunic and shrugging my shoulders. "They have stopped for no reasons, Sire and will start for none. May I remind you of the conflicted minds between Astarte and Dianna, though the same Goddess they surely be? One reeves while the other smooths, and maidens temple rampant with whores while chaste incense enveloped fleshpits !" My tutor forgotten, I had uncovered a clever brash allusion. I had an armful of fresh-sewn scars to remind me, but for Minos it was a sore topic and I had blundered.

Thunderheads grow and sky darkens before a storm. Minos face crinkled into scattered bits of deep tan while flying into a rage, arms flailing and his gaze fled from front to straggling rear. "May Hecate sell their souls to Cerberus!" His shout breaking quiet. "It's Venus, boy not Astarte! Do I need to spell it out for you? V-E-N-U-S nothing of Babylon will I tolerate when the original makes Pan cry." The entire line jumped like Elysian snake-dancers and fiddled, shuffled and reshuffled about trying to regain their place. It wasn't the clever god-makers now falling before mountain savages. Abstract deity didn't speak to it. Truth was our entire line of walkers and guards had all been on edge, expecting ambitious natives to come sniping. All feared playing the straggler, exposed to bushmen on these Sicilian hills and ears tuned to an arrows buzz or hatchets whurrl such ears catch on the first shrill noise. "Apologies, Sire. It's Venus, then Venus and Aphrodite . They came to the table with sharpened knives, having no mercy on Diannas innocent followers who simply wanted to," Minos would have none of it and he roared ", who simply wanted to not fuck oh spare me the weepy-eyed wood nymph stories, cast and loom cast and loom and oh please may I carry the bitch Diannas bow! 'Run, run run,' she cries 'from lustful eyed Zeus.'" "Surely it's just ,"

Minos is stomping about the trail, fixing eyes here and there, looking for a willing victim of his displeasure. His eyes settled on me. "You would think Silenus had no better use for maidens than weaving rabbit nets!" The King now sported a scowling leer directed at Artyphon. "Having corrupted my Captain, how would the woman have it? Europe and Asia vent their underworlds boiling foul spawn for ten-thousand years all those slant-brow Bogge the ancient priests dig out of caves and claim for their own for our own! By damnable Zeus beard men and women of Diannas cast who lust not for each-other, but for the quiet woodland glade. Foul and foul again I say while we Hyrkons fall to the cracks! Did I say that correct enough for your Zoarast tutors?" By any example of the kings voice it was quite a roar. Favored Artyphon had blanched I could see the look of restrained horror on her face fearing poor Minos had got it all jumbled up and shrunk her shivering body against me, yielding warm flesh as she never does. Minos temper was as famous as his electrum coins, which swirled gold and silver together into an almost unimaginable tangle. Syrian counterfeiters trying to break the design were hung a dozen to the tree. The King could have apologized. He spit instead. "Am I the last Hyrkon King to rule over raucous children and lubricious women? The islands will be dry rocks and bare bones populated by snakes and Lydians if Dianne has her virginal way. Oh fuck." He was puffing like a trapped boar who feet had tied with his own tail. "Try my patience Artyphon, this saying-beside-truth has got beyond all reason." He looked sympathetically and then sheepishly down at his curled hands.

Artyphon rescued him, passing a skin of watered wine, her voice gentle, fragrant with pity and irony as any bard. "Tragedy your Grace. As Hera and Astarte trapped Gaia between Asia and Europe demanding her breasts flush for only one so too Mycenaii and Phonecia trapped young lovers." Clever Artyphon wily Artyphon she barely cooing hardly allowed enough breath for the word 'lovers'. Lovers well oh yes by the damned cold breath of Cerberus they would be lovers should not one lace of a girdle ever be loosed! Then her voice crackled! "Innocents sire who burned for each other."

Minos now wine bit and teary-eyed blurted. "Were they they were boy and girl both Trojan?"

Hooked! That dried the sweat on my neck. Only after tangling metaphors – that of the Kings displeasure with Minerva and Astarte be they Europe and Asia or a milkmaids two tangled girdles did Artyphons politically tangled story come round again for the telling. My story also, one told in iron and bronze as I was there. "Trojan?" She blushed. "Oh no your grace. The groom was some Pontian daysailor, a mast-man by trade named Phinias who had got out with the Trojan fleet. A real striver, mind and go-getter diving overboard trailing a rope and capturing a derelict Spartan transport. His Captain let him have the prize; later a Samo-thrake boat-yard took twenty-percent share for outfitting it as a raider. How does dear cibias say it?"

Masts and spars

Beams and tars

All around the feckin yards

carries the rovers shrouds ,

"Surely your Grace my master would say more, yet even so little is baskets for Phinias! Suddenly he's captain of a free-booter, despoiler of Greek prurience and champion of Paris lust! He Troas darling, with a marque from Priam to snatch what he can , sailing large and first chance loving being such a charm gloms a frail from some Berber tribe allied to the Egyptians." Artyphon was in high color, eyes sparkling and lips trembling with the next sweep of her tale. You just knew how clearly she imagined the prize swooning into her captures arms "Swooped her naked as nightfall right off the Egyptian beach west of Heriklides so there was no going back."

"He brought disgrace to her then,."

Artyphon sniffed. " Her jewellery mistress claimed she matched him stroke for stroke." King Minos gasped. Artyphon patted his forehead with a dry silk hank and continued haughtily. " Not much of a rape in my opinion, Sire. Like she and her five serving women preparing her for some religious festival couldn't see the galley bearing down on a smooth sea below blue sky, but raised full blush to her lips, removed a woven girdle, got up three gold grasshopper for her hair and a silver arm torque before she got hoisted aboard? Never was an unready victim so well advised! I claim nothing of the future, my Lord , yet history teaches some women prefer surrender to the strength of an arm, rather than tears of a prayer." "Yes yes, then no crass violence by the Pontian, only the promise of ardor, hehehe"

Artyphon paused a breathless pause was delicious and Minos panting ," Suspicious your Grace Wiley Berbers they are simply all over the coast. But, of-course the Berbers are trading spring lamb to the Myceneii and one invitation leads to another. Greek city states – hardly more than a circle of rock huts lust for that kind of respect, invitation to a royals wedding. Now it gets juicy. This guy Atlas , the frails father is a Trojan transplant with the biggest sheep-herd in Morocco; has just swarms of them from Ithaca to the Pillars. He's selling sheep to Sparta, then turns around and buys Cyprian swords for the Trojans. And may Heras candles always be lit he has just managed to get rid of his daughter without guaranteeing a dower. That's just too much luck. The Moirae were going to snip one of those threads fast as you can say Arachnea. You could see it coming, Sire coming on Icarus wings ten leagues away."

'What a glittering little firefly you are Artyphon,' I thought. Preening, like a Samo-Thrake mystic one big lie like sea currents following each one smaller. Subtle as a snake; she has crawled all over the servants quarters and soldiers mess with mothers eye and harlots ear. We waited for the King to catch up the story-line. Artyphon loved extending life; be it the tragic angle or blind-spots or yet more improbable farce. She was going to weave a cats-cradle about Minos, you could see the spyder-web.

But, Minos a mackerel long the tunas master and silver-headed as he was ahead of us. "Push on push on Cibias. I see how Perseus smells the double game." His peaceful blue eyes said 'yes I know tell me what you would not have told before '.

Sly Perseus may he rot Artyphon laced a hand through my belt-loop; the story line was mine for the picking. "Er well yes Sire, the entire wedding venture was being sniffed up and down by the Mycennii it was coming to a bloody end. Though the wedding was well and truly under way, Perseus the Greek king sniffs, then bolts all rules of men or gods. As a formal guest of Atlas family he must swear to their safety. His own neck must divide Atlas from a sword blade. But Perseus is surely father of lies. He passes out Spartan wine which only a fool would drink and then some ground-up pea-and-piss friendship food that reeks of onion and olive oil and only a Moroccan would eat. Zeus knows what recipe Delphi gave him. He was there for weeks, sniffing around the priestess and passing out Pelops gold." I paused while the King drank deeply from a goat-skin water-bag. When the sloshing ended I restarted the tale. "Atlas was really a pretty simple country gent , no threat to anyone. He goes whole hog for the gift of food. Chomps it right down. Ha! Eats and dies. Perseus poisoned him. Atlas doesn't last five minutes Jasons new wife lasted longer in Thebes."

"Zeus beard I had no idea it was so crude," exclaimed Minos splashing the remaining water over his short curly-blond hair. "It was worse being there I can assure you of that. Telekydes was just getting our plates from the brides mother when Atlas pitched over into a punch-bowl. What foul poison? Mushrooms would be my guess, cause he dropped dead stiff as an oak plank. And with Troys big man dead their allies were slaughtered; Acabus … and Indian Athis the Numidian Hodites all their Red Sea traders. That butchery of-course makes the Balearic spice factors happy, as they have sources far south on the African west coast! I hope Perseus is satisfied because the Myceneii will surely be paid back in Mars bloody coin." And for refusing sides so will we, I thought grimly. "Oh,!" Artyphon had touched my arm as she sometimes does when an idea drifts me away Winter evening air was bright and crisp above the Panormus Harbor. We had hiked two rolling hills during mid-day; now we had got face-on to the cliff. The King swung steadily upward and still upward along the carved limestone stairs.

"Hector wasn't there was he Cibias? Well of-course he wasn't silly to ask ." Minos chuckled ruefully. "No traveler him unless he's set sail to his Egyptian chariot. But, Aeneas,?"

"Gorgos at Nykomedia said he saw him in Byzantium trading for wool and pine tar, fixings to stuff cracks between planks in his galley. Whose hulls need patching? Where the hell does he think he's going, with Myceneii raiders all over his asshole?" Where indeed with the bodies of dead Greek raiders littering the Bosporus. What warrior ran from a bloody swords success? My lungs cried for breath. Our stairway hewed to the cliff limestone had brought out on a ledge. We stood perhaps three-hundred cubits above the bay and two-third of the exercise to Aminias villa. Her waxed teak jewel hung in the sky above, as if unconnected to earth while most of us here stood panting. Sicil natives had carved wooden benches for some ledges like this one where the island gods might choose to listen had a traveler spent the time to stop and worship the gods view. Tan Sicilian hills behind, blue Mediterranean before us catch your breath poor human, allowing Sicilian Ida to run with your spirit, a free-mans breath whose knee bent only to his gods and to his king. Sicilian waters were always a perfect blue-green except some evenings when the Turquoise became like nothing on Poseidon ocean and you could believe Zeus cared for men he created.

"Are you praying again, master?" She startled me! "I am praying for a sharp-tongued slave to know her place." Turning quickly I found Artyphon and the King whisper close. "Oh ha ha you picked a sharp one, Cibias so can't complain when the blade cuts oh haha that razors edged to shave Ulysses so sharp the strop; I am a smart one hehe." The Kings interest had found a harbor detail and had his eye to a protractor measuring angles. He seemed unsatisfied. Then "Tell me again. Why was the wedding scheduled in such a Zeus-be-damned Hecates desert shithole? Who's ever heard of Melilla?" "Of-course that was Atlas home portif three fishing smacks, sandstone keep and a wooden mole count as a port. The Egyptians wanted it there, Sire." Artyphon piped in. " It was your Grace an inter-racial marriage across the entire Phoenician territory from east to west ! Something of the new wave washes clean message, the same one they use at bazaars to advertise Carthage. They also wanted a long sea voyage to discouraged the Corinthians who have been flooding Nile ports with half baked pottery." I smirked humorless. "But, there's nothing half-baked about Corinthian iron axes. Once they started hacking inside the temple Phoenician bows might as well not have shown up." I gratefully took a sip of watered wine from Artyphons skin. "I didn't realize how thin-skulled the Trojans really are till I saw those iron axes crush away." "Spartan iron no doubt hummm , Sparta and Corinth together so soonZeus beard thank the gods you're safe, son." I could not answer the King ' thank you father '; not in public and not among friends. How bright on an evening the Kings chambers could be , overflowing with local wits and bards and perhaps a far-sailing mage. Yet always the bastard, even should the King own to my blood. Never to be close in public, instead I was thrown five-hundred leagues east , back to the melee ravaging Atlas stone-walled compound. For seconds that might have been my lifetime the awful screaming gore and flame-drenched marble inside Astartes Temple flared the wild fire of a mad Bacchus before my eyes. Greek against Phoenician. The slashing, battering, crushing, the random thrusts of elm-pikes with random effects some catching air and some de-bouling the target. Cuts our Egyptian surgeon had sewed up on my left shoulder hummed like sword blades humming the air. Human heads and arms flew like red-besotted chaff; you could not put words or mind to it. Minos was watching me closely. Bitterly I related. "When it hotted up the Greeks thrust forward whirling and slashing with their iron swords like daemons, forcing us to circle with shields low and spear points high. Bronze points drove them back arms bleeding as mail didn't cover their forearms. Now it's all drill from our masters at arms. We uncoiled and stood the line, Sire against thirty the nine of us not one a shy man and brushed away spear-points like turtle-doves come to dinner. Shields up now and spears out. They're life-takers, the Myceneii should you turn your back on them, but if your spear-point is for'ard and low they value their balls as much as the next man."

Minos shook his head slowly; "Well ended, when you can tell the story." "They pranced about for a while, like dancing over a speared cave bear then carried their dead to the pyre, respecting the gods enough to allow Atlas family the same rights, fired the logs and sailed away." Story and move was the venue; I had said more than enough. The hetaeras guards were fidgeting and we were near restarting our climb. About us groups were separating on the trail, each perhaps having relived some ecstasy or horror. Each traveler alone and yet sharing the adventure, which to my best imagination is how this gathering was arranged, as a feast and celebration of many lives; each carried a small shoulder-strapped pack and personal arms and sorting out we had got a bit separated from the van. Small bundles, large stories and steep hills I wondered how human ego might fit them together. "Packs up and sandals bound you lazy devils," laughed the King. I leaned close to Minos ear. "I would care to know who set Perseus to the task?"

As if the very wind had ears Aminias dragoman Philo was walking beside us. I did not expect the King to name names. Sedition carries the weight of air and value of gold to a man so named ; he might well run. For a kings ransom Aminias might tell him. Who would dare take her head to the block rather than her ass to the couch? So yes the King showed prudence as a man does with enemies facing on all sides. Scouts had run up ahead. Four Cretan bowmen labored below with the twin-brother Calabrian Autarchs so rarely invited to Sicily they left wives and mistresses and slaves at home to come as freemen; crafty Artyphon had lagged and was amusing them and the Tyrian glass-trader Eshmun to her own advantage. The path had got rocky moving upward toward the plateau and voices carried here. Words fly from a stage and with all the privacy of a bards troupe. 'Speech, fool, speech' a spy might have shouted! A time to bandy names would come soon enough; Aminias villa loomed above, one cliff-side away. We came round an outcrop of flint. There above seven cantilevered ceder logs boldly dashed outward, threatening vertigo while supporting the famous floating porch. Only Titans could have set those beams so deeply into the rock. Floating free hanging in space you could watch it play the winds-toy all day and still believe it was preparing only this instant to fly away. Who could say whether its glass faces, golden silk walls and bronze joints belonged to earth or sky? But, whichever truly ruled Boreas or Gaia no creature on such a porch was ever sober or silent. Dragoman Philo was bragging on it. ", and the three kings were made so jealous by Aminias divided attention that they drew swords on each-other smiting first against this one, and then against that smiting whomever seemed to have the favor of-the-moment. All were struck through cuirass and plate and all bled. Lightening and thunder had nothing on those three worthies, with their flashing steel blades , but truth-be-told it could not continue though other guests had cleared the porch." One of the Calabrians piped. "Surely once a kings blade is loosed it may not be bound till blood be tasted." "Surely honorable sir, what you say is true. I myself have seen kings fight through the dark hours , into daybreak until death closed the eyes of one. And yet ,"

"Well spit-it-out Philo. Those were the three Judean kings, if memory serves. Well why not admit it I heard the story in Alexandria over a tub of sour Egyptian beer and the kings not even Semites some said , but Egyptian rejects! Idolaters. playthings of the scribe Atsomatis; blood-thirsty bastards and master liars of that one god sect! They butcher the weak like lions and whine like jackals when they lose. Can't even work their own metal! By Zeus' beard what stopped them here?" We were climbing hard, on the curved steep part of the walk, that part overlooking and gifting the best views of Panormus harbor. I had traded the false-bottomed harbor and its stiff-necked unwilling merchants before, a harbor where by shear size an entire nation of sail might sleep undetected. Climbing limestone cliffs to a hetaeras couch was a different matter. I grunted. "Damn you Philo, it was the girl, wasn't it!"

Philo was puffing hard. "Well yes, I mean well there are a hundred girls and the Hebrews brought a half-dozen from the hills above Galilee, but if you mean Aminias daughter Acantha she swam while the kings battled, then came up from the pool hair to her waist streaming water and pearl skin quite naked; she tore a blue curtain for her dancing robe and a serving girl plated a rose crown. Who other could have stopped the slaughter and who else would the god have protected?"

"But but what did she DO," griped a Gedes gold-merchant raised in a clay-pit?

"Do? My dear sir Artemis herself trained Acantha to the dance that of the witch and that of the flowers and that of new spring. What man could deny her, or deny himself since all who watched became drawn inward, fused, mere extensions of her body; she danced it is said till the stars cried only to have lustful Apollo throw a impenetrable fog over the entire cliff-side. She had cast spells against him with the blood of three white heifers and he poor bastard could not make an erection last. How the volcanoes rumbled and shot fire that night. But if Apollo couldn't have her then would none other. She and her young virtue escaped." The Italian king sputtered, half believing. "Little young for that, eh playing with virtue likes its dice and Hecates the roller." He looked away as if to conjure an image. "Can't be more than thirteen. I've been considering Acantha for my own first son." The King panting hard self-consciously tapped his heart. "He'll rule before he's ready and Zeus knows a queen needs spirit, but I'd whip my daughters ass for bold shit like that! Has her father nothing to say?"

"Bakk carries the message on silver feet – the father was Hercules, so Aminias says." I laughed. "Hercules? Very well har har and I'm feckin-A Zeus uncle."Artyphon fist rapped my ribs – my cleverness never amused her. But, I got a querulous and confused look from one of the Calabrians as if boldness, viewing the wall above and his freeman status did not tell him enough about what decisions waited at the mountain top. "Perhaps this ground is sacred to much traveled Hercules and he calls to fellow travelers." Kings worried about such things they worried about Troy and Greece and Ur. I thought about it. "Did Hercules declare this Festival of Travel or did Aminias or did the gods themselves. We've pitched in the whole poke so somebody say ," Philo did not respond. Minos was silent. Artyphon worried a bracelet. Now that's the thing, isn't it, a celebration of travel not one of whose travelers has organized it. Nobody admits to anything. Oh surely there's the stretching of bodies on the path and matters plainly shared that elsewhere were state-secrets worth your bloody head in a wicker basket. Perhaps there was trust but there was no reason, no logos. Only the wind keened over stone pawed smooth by a thousand years of fingers.

"Mayhaps ancient Bogge spirits have returned to call us ? NaziBu what's that you have about your staff?"

"Oh it be noitin' Sar , noitin ," "Be damned by Zeus beard is that a scorpion tail, stinger and all?"

"Well Sar that it may be, neither the first nor last of the seven evils wind devils they be, but should a man observe closer than fates eye seein' it so bothered the King I figured stingers might lead us a straight path." He pondered the evil fare at the end of his staff. " Some say Cap'n that the fates be quiet women bound by mans suffering to the threads of life." He snickered, "some report wild creatures my own father feared leopard, viper, dragon as Babylon fears. Swamp dwellers see Moirae long in hooked claws and blood-seeking white fangs as also some Egyptians imagine dead scribes judged evil by Ra."

I laughed." Tell me truly such monsters dance in your nightmares, and not the hard assed whores of Memphis!"

NaziBu shrugged. "My talis respects both good and evil in fates, strapping them together as you see , a scorpion squashed and roped around with sweet pea vine. You get my drift Sar what poison waits along the trail one against the other balances out."

His eyes were smiling, as sane a boyo as ever cranked a pawl or reefed a sail. I never held with curses thinking the Fates held enough for all and yet I never considered NaziBu a troubled boyo. Playing one poison against another or praying rock dead when the earth first called forth its gods may still call for its own visitors? Yes yes, some of the Pict conjures will break rocks and read the flakes, or in a cliff-side reeve read wind-sound for you or even pitch broken sticks and read a circle . I believe not a word. Well for me as opinions had ceased. Our path is now so very steep that only the physical act of climbing is possible. We all grasp hand-holds bore into the limestone and hold our bodies flush to the carved cliff-side. Even the footsteps are deeper and angled down. One reaching arm with effort may be brought to follow another. One strong shoulder may pull an entire body upward from chest to knee; and then finding the new grips repeat. Gray limestone stares back at you, vanishing elsewise except as it touches your fingers and toes and belly when pure terror forces you in. Always pressing closer. Venus could not have clung to Mars on such a steep and for that time I felt my own guts churn in the grip of older gods. For one awful instant my instinct sensed the mountains centrifugal effort to throw us off bodily ; that the air was hungry and full of itself. That the Goddess has forgotten how evening sky fills with the burnt fat of lambs. My left thumb is bleeding, but that left hand and foothold are carved into a flint seam, so more secure I drift empty along seas and empty steppes esteeming voids and filling you with nothing, yet what is so lonesome as this shrinking curve of rock? No screams of terror come from climbers above or below me, no faint hearts praying safety; only the greatest emptiness, the fact of choosing to live. But, that void becomes a fact and carries on only a moment.

My tutor said that's what our fathers fathers again fathers found as a great mystery, the brutishness of fact beyond any gods provenance. Such facts stop you dead; you move at first only in a dream from the first ferments which women had found to break men away from their hunting klans; how Zeus and Hera struggled! Men progressed in those dreams to mushrooms and bitter grain, seeing the next instant before it was and when men saw beyond hard figures of square, circle, triangle, cone and pentagraph those new-born facts of now made change to everything . When you imagined the step before taking it made appear a lily-stem unrolled only to to find another stem.

"We feel and we think and we become" said he. Thought I at first, my tutor mixes too many mushrooms with his quail eggs, but he had seen further.

A foothold slips from my sandals moments of breathless life and only my right-hand fingers clawing into the limestone save me. Savage now, I hang by one hand, three fingers and seeing the entire steep as one experience think as savages thought before we came to the islands as men, for clinging to the rock you must feel ahead to continue. Hyrkon words for feel and think are as sunrise to noon. This rock in its dead cold lives all that is wild and I am thinking slowly slowly now I know what arrogance sleeps in such feeling. Weak becomes strong. Sweat covers my body ; I swear love on the Goddess knees to the next pull and the next stretch and recovering lose all sense in every straining fiber one pull following another as the shear cliff-walls stretch and fracture, widen and broach joyfully into a crevasse which grows wild roses and poppies and bits of grass while expanding wide-armed into a ravine. Stem and purple wings of an Orchid cling to a thin crack.

At first I think it is a dream joy flows so freely into my heart. How useless are the pretty words; "Venus I smell your sex" so shouting out pain reminds how wonderful a strong arm.