Allow Cybelles breathless love, pine needles scatter aside. My two feet flat on pebbles. A brook spills down from above and on stone I go to my knees, dazed, loving the earth light-headed to dash the brooks cold water across my face no , no not to admire , but to slap my face with water from the pebbled earth. We crossed a small stone bridge below which fish danced at the end of a riffle and over which hangs the smell of incense and citric. Feelings and stride all so normal now, dirt and rock and forest and only one direction possible. We shared sly smiles following each-other and a sculptured wooded meadow that led on even though you could not imagine there was any more to a flatness that jumped on you at the very top of granite stairs where the aroma of pine and sage and hay and long-legged salt wind overwhelmed those of sweat and fear.
Voices carry down, laughing and swaying. A final grove draws us on, Artyphon ahead, advancing through the pines yes yes I know what you think how the man must search for small interests , yet above eyes see other lights devised by his fellows. One may sail a year venturing deep into the coastal forests seeing all of Gaias unfettered bright towering glory I deny it not, yet in loneliness see not one human contrived sputtering cone of blaze bright and brazen. Lightness returned to my arms and my eyes smiled at the flames. By the goddess life is good! These shown through the fir and yew and red oak. Colored lights , dozens sparkling and twisting atop gray granite columns.
Remaining the stunned voyager, unexpected as Hylas released I had got onto a broad open patio large enough to lose a voice paved in stone pink and white. A mummers troop playing windpipes and flute wove a gaudy path about and between Aminias casually mingled and amused travelers. 'Travelers, boyo' I say to myself , remembering. They have been here longer than I had with no voice, because the swirl of people and light appeared a kind of picture or dream. Stuff scattered: who beside me is this, or her? What gateways there from which hangs gay banners of silk and Egyptian muslin, and doors of old axed ak punching into a rock wall. I back away from it as if shelter stands at my back. No! I turn. Water flows here , sheets of water bubbling down black marble slabs. Jade pillars also rise high beside them , but hold above sun-break fans of blue and yellow not the cold images of rulers or god. Jets burned of gas-light I'd seen Arabians drill such such orange flames circled the slabs. Cinnamon and clove and hashish burned someplace very much above; where those I had walked the hills , kings and women and slaves and peltasts well yes they had been all around me. My hand makes a fist for all I have seen must be still that dream, and people.
Out of nowhere she captures me. "You're young, a whelp, on the white side of Minoan bronze so a mixed breed, you with dirty yellow hair if you let it grow."
Whelp indeed I think startled, she by a face pure as ivory not beyond sixteen years. "Twenty-two years, dear lady; younger men accept the knee of their vassals. Hyrkons look as they may, since few families came pure through the fires. Libraries do not care what ancestor gathered the writings. But, by loves heart I'd grow hair to my knees and wear a laced skull-cap should I recognize one person. "
"If you try explaining more you will burst!" Her soft laughter .. it trickled like rose petals. "Our Captain will find his bearings." At my side, "Strong of sinew, but quicker than strong," the Berber hetaera announced taking me by the arm and forming up words in the old Minoan as if she had been taken young, as a slave, and moved on to rule her mistress court .
"Don't fear." She palms my hand in her own and stretches out the fist to five calloused fingers. "Prepare for no battle! Alone? You may remove your guard as friends surround more closely for being less seen." She wears robes and veils, loosely woven and overlaid , but not covering eyes large as black pearls or entwined gold torques; fabrics smell of far desert spice and gum trees. Her chin I touch with a finger. "The Captain will do no such thing. The Captain will skin Medusa if necessary." I took the hetaeras arm and made her turn with me while I pointed East . "My bearing I know well, as Sirius rises, Betelgeuse smiles there as our neighbor you see following the moon? But around us? In our smell before our feet dear lady , what is this ? All of this . and that!" Her eyes only, shown above the veil. Amused eyes , or sad eyes a man would say, or playful eyes "It's where I weave and where I sleep ," she laughed, spinning on one balanced toe. "It's everything you do, cibias," she whispered against my cheek. "Anywhere ," Her eyes and lips and hands were guiding me toward a raft of sailor boyos. "Where is the King," I say sharply."
"Minos?" She stretched away from me, silver bangles sliding down her maroon silk tunic to stop against my hand. "You shave your head and beard, smooth as a baby, yet I know you are little enough a child. Your eyes are an older mans eyes, as if you had lost something in a long ago youth." Her hand touched my mouth. "Where is Minos? He will find you alone and surprised and unready. Do not wish to hurry."
"Are you an oracle?" She answers nothing. "Did all around me hear the same story?" I would not allow her to walk quickly, and snap. "The soldier there, and there a merchant and the queen a hundred no, two-hundred not everyone does the same thing. Does each of them each of us find the same pleasures here?"
Her laugher came as the tinkling of metal chimes. "For all the differences we might be moon and sun! Do a mother and daughter sing the same paean to earth-toned Cybele or the daughter and her husband , to open grain field or lovers stream side bower would they take the same pleasure?"
She was coming it to me very high and minding uncertain eyes amused my confusion. Yet not simple womans amusement. I turn count there and there perhaps eight or nine hetaera all fabulously different pass among the crowd. I think they have formed up as greeters, so people who arrive soon join people already there and none stood alone. Again the woman has taken my arm and guides me. We stop at a musicians bench and listen to Lyre and flute play a Sumerian song of lost love. What misfortune prompts clannish Sumerians to lose love, I wonder? Which pleased this forward woman beside me. I turn her about facing me through the veil. "Tell me, who makes the rules here does Aminias rule everyone? Who is your captain?" My hetaeras eyes clouded in confusion. She motioned to another who swirled over. "Sister, can you say what rules you have made for me since breakfast?" "Yes sister I have drawn six Egyptian curves on the bolt of Cosian silk. For Dioras wedding dress. It is ready to cut." My eyes snap closed. Autonoe would have thrashed the sea with laughter. Enough cleverness; more than enough. I'd taken her hand and kissed it in all respect, snatched a bowl of warm wine and slipped the two sisters. For all I cared they could cut wedding dresses until Scythian ice froze the Niles first cataract. Far down the wall I found an oak bench beside white marble slabs of slippery flowing bubbling water. I was quite pleased. Sparkler rockets were being launched from a stone altar and their green-yellow trails cut paths in the evening sky. Being alone here made lots of sense.
"It's not really the great alone is it," a woman said wistfully, coming upon me from behind. Surprise seemed to play the best card here, and I only jumped a little. She spoke in the ancient Cretan language and style, swirling in from the crowd, a whirl of color , her yellow and blue layered himation and tunic ruby clasp undone and thus open at the breast and her dark brown nipples raised hard in the cold.
"Alone on the rock face felt that way and I wondered." "You came along the stone face, pray Minerva! I've heard it's terrifying. I traveled up from the east, beside a horse cart. All the food merchants were jostling for place and the trail was crowded and noisy as a Monday market." "It's quieter here." She wore a single diamond ring, and a gold grasshopper. Her lips restrained a smile. "And colder." Then blush told her color. "My name is Ardbenna Cretin you know, from the hills above Kournas ?" "Yes dear maiden I know it well. The home of poets and adventures."
"You make too much of us." Her warm hand lay on my arm. "Kournas was famous for its library of beaten gold volumes from the times before our times; reports of travelers so my grandfather says. But Gaia became jealous and swallowed them in fire. Surely now its a simple life, ours." I tease. "Simple life indeed, I am assured should rubies and diamonds be for-sworn."
"Trinkets," she says carelessly. My family harvests flowers and herbs from some of the steepest hills and from those petals and bulbs and stems we conjure fragrance. We soak, we grind, we dry and we boil healing too for the wounded, from certain plants and sometimes sweet potions for love. You cibias are wearing sailors pants and a Captains button."
"The Belisama of Hyrkon is my own. But, I had forgotten to write my name. " "Oh, that," she smiled. "One of the servant girls willingly exposed you."
"Your family name?"
"Oh I'm not always willing to tell that." One hand circled her own wrist. "Your name is Greek. Cretan names are . long, " I said nothing. "Cretan names tell what a person does in this life." She blushed again and said slowly ," Leap Cliffs of Stone."
"An old name."
"Yes yes so old. Full of must and ferment and powder. Do you know, my father retains some of the old hollowed-out tusks from which animal I cannot imagine. And they still hold the ancient gold sheets, covered with marking that none can read." Then she smiled. "My brother sails with the Phaistos fleet, and tells all the lurid seafaring adventures." Her smile broke wide and red-cheeked. "I recognize your name as one of the strakemen, an open sea navigator a long-voyager"
"Now I am the one who must blush." "Deny nothing Cibias. You loose landfall gladly as the Goddess steers you and about whom a brazen sailor may raise the paeon to Amphitrite; raise it dear Capitan should his wife not be made a widow. But, I do not know Belisama; she must be new." "We laid her keel one year ago, on the shortest winter day. It's a strange keel, of dark African wood and bound all about with bronze bolting." "I can see . you are a man of bronze. But, what image graces your bow? Be she nymph, goddess or woman of flesh?" "Dear mistress, for a bow image I would always choose the Goddess, Dianna of the snows. Do you know her? Huntsmans bow and dogs and fur mantel of a cave bear. She tears laughing through a snow blizzard. Yes yes you are turning up your nose. But, truly she is as Aphrodite was in her northern youth, fair and maidenly yet not one to disdain or curse the feelings of any devote youth." "She you worship?" Ardbenna laughed out loud. "Wildly spoken cibias! You are salty as squid." She moved close enough to whisper. "Seas boil and decks tilt alas and with them my composure. Only twice have I sailed from Crete, this is the third time. A Sidonian merchant brought us over, and while sailors may pipe a deck-dance the sea himself appears very empty to me." "True enough; Poseidon will open no wine barrels nor fill a gay village square. You don't count the birds, do you?" We both laugh. "A trader will view it different. The sea lanes where wind and current favor the sailors hull are actually quite busy. Merchants and traders of-course, fisherman of the northern cod, clay and ore mining ships included but the great national ships of warcraft and diplomats find a place. There's stirring, with the promise of profit, a restless set of captains and goods of labor to sell." "Really? Such a shop-keeper you must be with an oak hull beneath you not an oxcart. Then rushing about surely you devil the winds. Do you taunt Boreas brave captain? Ha .. I see you are a happy sailor you're never lonely at sea." Shop-keeper! She had my face hot with fresh blood. "At the far extent dear lady, where cities cease and grain fields are not planted, at the fringes of our sea I have seen voids beginning to open. Poets speak of them: mountains of ice, mountains of fire . few men claim to have seen beyond , but wherever men habitate and bind themselves to other men there is a law which binds us to our ships. Don't laugh. It binds like a woman binds a man to her bed, like a storm binds a ship to the lee shore, or like a pirate is bound to another mans treasure." "Bravo! You've seen pirates," she exclaimed?" "I may have been one myself, and perhaps I have seen your ship! We do search for the tasty young female morsels!" I had not noticed her green eyes and now, her lip curled in a challenge with those green emeralds flaring fire, a beauties hot green fire like an Arabian horse not yet brought to the service of his master. Those eyes flashed under her auburn hair, a deep fire like searchlights.
She says. " Very well may you search, my dear captain, but I am not so easy a capture." She brushed hair back high on her forehead revealing two short sharp horns. Pale streaked they were, both tan and maroon. She fondled them. "A fair chase may I be, but should you succeed and put me to earth and try taking your pleasure I may well use these horns as weapons seeing you dead." She put her hands to my face and her lips burning on my cheek. "Charon himself would cry." I reach over, to touch the horns, but the strength of her hand stopped me. My eyes have got so fixed on her, on the auburn hair that now covered the horns that I felt first, I did not see the two women coming to my side. They were mirrors, none of lesser feature, sisters in blood of Ardbenna with billowing, tumbling auburn hair covering each forehead.
Ardbenna was smiling. I burned for her. I ignored the two woman pressing close. "Surely fair woman these horns are a chimera. You were not born with them."
"Which is not for you to say, or for me."
"Shall I remove them?"
"At your peril."
"Then say you will join me tonight in my bed, that your horns may remain free while your heart is captured."
"Lustful rogue! Do you think any man here would refuse me?"
"None, surely, my beauty yet l fare none will plant more firmly with a hundred kisses and a thousand sweet flowers their adoration and devotion about thy knees."
"I do not doubt that you would try . Now I wonder if I should not require of thee a fair chase? I don't know. The Goddess may speak more loudly the more silent I become. So for now I will allow silence to answer. Perhaps later, dear cibias ," She touched my arm. And with a gracious bow Ardbenna and her sisters slipped behind a vine-covered trellis and into the crowd.
Suddenly I was alone, waking from a dream. And cold. Like awakening to breakers crash a rocky lee shore. Silent breakers … Ardbenna … she seemed now like a evening sylf appearing first as a woman, then vanishing as a night black orchard. Surely not surely the King yes where had I seen him last, but vanishing behind or beyond a vaguely attentive and well-dressed diplomatic crowd; sable jackets and beaver hats but they also had vanished and I had become simply one-of-many among whom servant girls circulated with bowls of hot wine and nuts and woolen capes. The capes were a simple brown hand-spun weave of two layers, the inside smooth and the outside rough and oily. Both a wine bowl and cape became mine. Some men wore the plain Greek chiton, but ranks of sailor-men bespoke white short trousers as I wore. The setting sun provided light, but already not enough heat against air that chilled from one minute to the next. I notice a Theban general talking to two women each with a small gold crown pinned to their hair. Personal servants and slaves were here also, but for the obvious rulers and autarchs not so many. Wealthy merchants seemed stripped bare and a third group a group that wore my badge there was something to it of the Assyrian high court, where a thousand tribes and fifty kings lent a rainbow-like sweep to the slavish bowing demanded by rulers of the Tigris and Euphrates though for splitting oak they would not toast you in iron cages like northern Gauls nor set cobra-fangs to you like the Egyptians for stepping on a cat.
I looked for the center and could find none; if travelers spoke truth young Ashur-Dans court rose from wealth to power to godhead as you approached the throne; nothing of that existed here at all. If anything people stirred about like an Armenian horse-trader bazaars. Spring thaw in the Caucasus mountains brings torrenting down a dozen horse-drawn woolen villages, hundreds of caravans and ten-thousand rogues all jostling on a Black Sea plain for each gold stator. Every belt held its bronze dirk, women and men mixed in a healthy war and Laws of Trade were upheld by the wealthy and by the strong and by the beggar. What surprises are here , what novel feelings? Those feelings made privilege common as flat-bread circulating about, accepting and sharing name and city and rank, if all admitted to one or did not claim more as there was no one at all absolutely with any power physical or philosophical that could enforce a damn woodland nymph scrawny and untutored from an un-named Thessalian stream to splash one hand-full of cold water on the hot and dusty golden-brow of Dianna had she appeared bare-breasted atop a marble slab. Chaos ruled here!
"Ho cibias," shouted the red-hair giant with arms lean and long as a fire-sling. His shanks carve a hasty path. "You have got fat as a Cretan bull!"
We are slamming together as two boars in a nursery and women scatter. "Alrek of Sklar you are an ugly son of a bitch with too slow a mind to set a compass against the magnetic wind." He was not a man of our sea, or Cretan or Phoenician, but sailed from the cold Baltic passageway, the Bay of Talin with a crew of vampirish werewolves, white in their faces from sunless forests, dark in souls sleek muscled and unforgiving. His grip all but ripped my shoulders off. He dropped me from head height and we were laughing tears "Yes, my mind too slow and eyes too sharp to need it," Alrek said showing a long-toothed and hungry grin. "Did you see that," I say? I turn left and right, but they have vanished. "Those women , women with horns ," "Horns indeed!" Looking about and chuckling Alrek watches my face sink "I see across oceans that boggle your Syrian compass." His hand made a twirling motion brushing over a rough red-dyed woolen skull-cap whose layers twinned and bound a palm-size raw diamond. "Has heat scared your vision? Where have you come from," he asked? What joy, for merciless sea returning an old friend. "I traded for sardines with Baleric fisherman before sailing into Marsaii. When the spring run ended I had a contract to exchange sardines for fermented sauce. We have a real market for it along the southern Levant coast. Marsaii that's where a Kings cutter found me and with a full belly of fermented fish-sauce here I am." "I thought perhaps, said, Alrek "you had spent late winter among the Picts, eating their mushrooms and devouring their women. Then you may see anything! " He laughed quietly then says, "Horns I have not seen, but I have seen the old ones." He dropped that like a hot rock in a kettle of scallops and leeks. I boiled. "Jealous for a better story … I hear that!" He fingered the diamond above his right temple. "You have not seen Bogges ," I say forcefully and we are laughing again and swearing to soft-thighed nymphs all truth. Wine-bowls delivered we sat to a bench and the bones came out. I threw first, into a pile of silver coins. and pointed. "Zeus guide your arm with such a fierce diamond Danu has been merciful." He touched the stone. "As she may be. We sailed twenty days east of Nordland, found a starving village of Bogge and traded three bronze knives for it." "I smiled. "Bogges, eh? Did you also twirl at the point of perfect north, sitting on Aphrodites lap while she fed you pleasure-berries?" "You should not mock the Goddess like that, Cibias. Look, you have thrown three deuces." But, three fives followed and I chortled. "Neither should you sail through ice-mountains. North you may go until the very ocean freezes, but east? The ice-wall is unending. Fiords to the south you may travel till nothing remains, but salmon and blond giants hurling axes. But, as far north as the white bear roams south you may find no passage east of Nordland." Alrek drank deep from his bowl of wine and lit a pearl hash-pipe passing it freshly loaded to and fro till my head spins. Then he whispers. "Cracks in the ice-wall none I've ever seen .. till last summer. You've sailed the blue granite spires haven't you ? Yes, yes I was sure you tried them, moving north and westing they rear out into the sea and fall back – ice bridges and ice-islands abound. With forty kinsmen rowers I tacked through such a break, north, beyond the elk-herds with ice-walls crashing behind us in summer heat. You know how it is: first one huge cod gets caught, then another. Entire meals to be cleaned and dried and frozen. But, it's kidding you know , the gods throwing up fish as an excuse to push on. Devils they are blowing the hot winds north and making the sun shine day and night and then with looming ice-mountains rushing toward us we hitched to the oarlocks going forward or be crushed!"
Excited I howled. "I'd do the same yes yes if Moerae , karma as the eastern klans call it throws herself upon me. For the love of Triton, Catha, Llyr, Agir, Atharit may the red assed whores defend their watery realm."
Alrek pondered my joy. "Lifes tree, Yggdrasil grows from three roots: lust, fortune and battle. We were small men among those floating ice mountains and I swear by the gods we each chose different and thrust for'ard." Between us our eyes glittered as men before battle. We crashed bowls and drained them. But, Alreks eye dimmed. We both knew venturing that had gone north, friends and companions reveling in day-long sun or in arrogance or in fear never returning to the land of light and sun and kinsmen.
"By the cold haunted sea my friend do you believe in one of them?"
Alrek rattled his bones till the chattering became like frostbitten teeth. "I believe in cold, and squeezing the bones of a woman under me." And his eyes wandered way to rainbow colored ice fields I would never see. Then he remembered. "An entire herd of narwhal had closed to the south, thick as beans in porridge; their tusks chewed at my hull. When sea-ice blocked the way north we turned to the only opening. My lovely Paw turned east !"
"Your lovely ," I chuckled. "When women chosen rightly they snatch you for their own." "Yes Cibias, she saw the smoke first, from the Bogges round-house and a sea-trail their broad-bow canoes and white-bear hunters had broken. Their fish-drying racks were empty and the warps for tanning skins held nothing. No joints from their elephants as our ancients pictured them. " I was shaking my head. "No other trader, no other war-leader claims to have seen Bogges except you. "Now you said they were starving." "No other southern trader also fishes the far north, beyond the cod. Yes I do see what others do not. I've seen a crocodile big as a log in the river-cows mouth broken in half! I've seen the western islands far below the setting sun where both grapes and people are colored red. Bogges are not public men as we are, and hold to the number three as an end or limit and so never become many. I saw them first on the Baltic, far to the east. Would you claim the colored sky-lights seen in the north are fiction, having seen them for yourself?" "Yes yes, lights of all colors of-course; one of my sailors speaks of redmen. But, Bogges? They lived only time and time again before our time. And they could eat bones so cannot starve. Did Aphrodite not strike down their childless women before giving the sea to us? And what do you mean three as a limit?" "Your precious Aphrodite!" Alrek laughed. "An arrogant Cretan says that. Yes, they were starving so the head-woman made to say in their mode of language. And I could feel ribs on that woman as I bedded her." Bones clacked! Alrek threw two ones and a five, about the worst possible number. Bad luck! He was playing with the bones before shooting again. " They were Bogge all right; thick eyes, nose like a radish, hair that same red color and no chin." "Savages," I said.
"As well they may be, granting savages holding to a kin-tribe. But there's a difference with our kin. If a Bogge woman has two children and her man still is alive then she will forget the oldest child and nurture only the youngest only the third. The fourth the older child fends for himself – and usually dies!"
"I cannot believe that, a woman deserting her own blood."
"You are a thick Hyrkon fuck if I must say," said Alrek. It's the number greater than three, not the blood that is rejected. Their men will spear ten cod, and carry only the last three back to their firepits. If a god removes their memory he is none of our own! And as all humans they scribe a history much as we, but that is a strange tale how they have marked passage through the bowl of the sky. Of hunger they are wise she told it in detail, words and mime how last falls gathering had failed, berries rotting green and nutshells without a nut. And mid-winter a white-bear had killed their two best hunters."
"What did they eat? Did they really prefer to crack bear-joints ? Alreks eyes sparked flint. Rough speaking as he was a part of him longed for the Bogges wild northern ignorant freedom, if such as lawless Bogges are ever free. "We ate when we could, but they really preferred guzzling ferment, a brew of green and blueberry mash strung up to rot in an elks belly where the sun can work on it, make it steam and bubble and blow out the top. It's the worst fucking elk-shit you ever drank. Of meat there was little enough." "Could they remember when there was a plenty?" "Plenty? Better ask if they remembered who they were." He waited then threw ,"No she didn't though she had kin the kin had no history, no before, no shit; none of them remembered a grandfather except an old spear-point maker, who said his long-dead family to the south could count and these could not." He spit. "Claw-fingered old man yet he knapped a perfect flint spear-point. I left it in one of the white-bears necks! But, I cut it out!" A crude stone spear-point bounced along with the bones. Alrek flipped it in his hand. "They dressed in bearskin as native Germans still do, skins, ears, jawbones and greased sinew slings. You know the Germans are cannibals, so what can you hold against the Bogges? At first they ate our fish . But, they wanted bear and promised a surprise payment. So we sailed out against a pair of white-bear on a floating ice-mountain. We baited them with seals patience patience and speared them swimming. You cannot think it was easy. Bear-claws took two of our own flayed alive. The Bogges would have eaten them I think as they did their own had we not burned them to bone."
"Cannibals!" "Are you surprised? Her very words best I can make them out to you 'From starving woman drives anger.'". Alrek drained his ale-horn. "Make any sense to you,? Bakk! That speech does no justice as they think and feel ,,, but let me not run away with the story. The ancient tales speak of cannibals. But we took a small whale, spearing it behind the blow-hole and hanging on. And four sharks that came for the party and stayed for dinner ha hahaha! They got that meat also. Funny about their counting, for of three monster cod and two white bear they managed to gut and skin! Now to the surprise." "Your diamond!" Alrek preened. "You wouldn't guess it, but they worked small mine-shafts driven at an angle deep into the frozen ground. Tusks of their northling elephants held the sides in place. Each villager wore a diamond strung round their neck; yes, they had a trades-good! Each savage wealthy beyond a rich tribes wealth. They also had a dead whale. So to cut it up they traded diamonds for three bronze knives. Did I do wrong for trading? Did they do wrong for being less than we are? Look Cibias, they were neither animals nor mages. Who can say we would do better?" "Our temples say that. At one time every mountain ," "Yes yes at one time so perhaps the Bogges had their one time. Imagine them nine-feet tall , swinging their stone axes and dismantling well beheading and declawing ravenous beasts that would rip the strongest of us insideout. " Alrek stood up, watching a meteor flash overhead. He laughed. "Those Bogge women were ripe and their men cared only for bear-hunting. Some of us wanted to stay, but then while Hyperion drew day over night a berry-bloom erupted turning green swamps red with fruit. We got nervous about ever getting back home. Summers peak ages as a maidens bloom. Do you see, my friend life must explode in the far north er it dies before birth. We had taken on more of the village tasks. I'm not sure they would peacefully let us go, so one night we simply shipped off. By that time we had scraped the ships bottom clean and mended torn sails. As if the gods had prepared it we followed a migration westward, herring before us trailed by ravening salmon and walrus feeding from them and behind all the white bear snatching walrus like rabbits snatch carrots from a garden. But, truly were sailed behind all finding a clear channel to the Nordland west coast. And eight-hundred cod big enough to swallow a man." "So now," I said admiringly "you wear the wealth of a nation above your ear. Do you worry about falling into the water?" Alrek guzzled his wine. Smirking. "Okey," I say, "you don't stumble, but don't see well enough to complain about another mans woman. Your own Spaniard panther has scratched your face to ribbons, ripped away half your hair and left your wood hut full of black-haired pups you must feed as if their hair was yellow. You've heard about Artyphon well I couldn't just leave the woman strapped to the beak of her brothers galley. She can read and do numbers."
"That's the new slave girl that has got you fat! "Read and do numbers by Zeus beard ," Alrek was shaking his head. "So you speak with her, one slave to another be her charms ever so close. Ha! True I've never left mine strapped down more than a night. HA hahaha. Does she serve you better than she served her brother? I am sorry my friend that question is impudent. Has she served you as she would never serve her brother Ha hahaha!" Alrek had got mighty pleased with his own questions. His Spanish woman sat tiller during his trading voyages and so carried the life of his ship in her wrist. His crew called her the Spanish claw. "Do I hear rightly that she is Parthian ? We had both refilled amphora bowls, and if drunk is a January bow wave we passed November under full sail. "Artyphon lived at the Parthian capital, but she will cut out your tongue for suggesting that. Her family are Zoars Zorasters from the eastern mountains. Her brother serves an Armenian Jew and she herself claims to be Jewish. It's all impossible! But then, if her family was well founded they would not have wanted her dead. And I would not have won her!"
"I will not question your fortune Cibias, but who would gamble their daughter?"
"A really pissed off family! Artyphon was bethrothed to the Armenian trader for whom her brother works. Bad idea. She stopped eating. She refused to give up her Mage geometry tutor. She refused to to weave a cloak for her betrothed. She refused to give up sailing. She was judged the blasphemous bitch of the Black Sea and a disgrace to the family. She was condemned to drowning. It was her mothers idea to use the boat."
"And you rescued her."
"I beat her brother in a race. We saw her brothers boat in the harbor, with her strapped to the beak. That was more than enough. I shouted "Ho brother is that an eel strapped to your beak or has the Goddess come riding." Dianna! He didn't like that implication one bit. I bet twelve barrels of fish-sauce ferment against her live body that the Belisama was quicker twice around the harbor fort. His slab-sided merchant hull was no match." "He could have declined, if honor were the cost of losing."
"Not with the barrels of cherry-juice going sour in his masters warehouse. Armenians have thousands upon thousands of hectares of cherry-trees from which they make much of their food. But ferment the juice they have tried ages long and cannot. Vinegar yes, drinkable wine no. One trip I bought and transported a juice barrel to Gaulish mountains and their Marsai witches. Two years ago a cherry ferment returned that would wring tears of joy from Bacchus. We have haggled ever since." "So risking the girl was a business venture. Yes I see. What did you win?" "She speaks five languages and does all the maths and star-maps anyone knows. She sleeps armed at the foot of my bed and will stand beside me when arrows fly; and the King trusts her." "Well all that is fine Cibias, but a man may wish for different gifts of the woman that sleeps at his feet say not beside him. I hear that you've a new vessel? Maybe this Artyphon has finally taught you how to trade." He thought while new wine flowed. "Have you been to Troy since Helen got pinched?" He had knocked words around enough. Now to his profits, which I'd help as little as possible without killing him. So I offered, "I got a long-boat through to a floating dock , and a galley into Mytilene which might as well be Troy for all the Phoenician trade factors." "Floating dock? Troy? Did the gods not build the city? What happened to the walled quay?" "Priams admiral is stupid. The Greeks always have a sharp stick." "Achilles?" "Zeus beard not him, pissing away at Agamemnon. It took a real man, Ulysses, who sneaked a fire-ship inside the quay. He had a vessel carved and grouted and got up like a temple to Mars. It had fireworks and fountains and a giant putrid sculpture of Pallas with fire shooting out her ass. I don't know where the Trojans thought it came from , but Hector loved it. His lovers, whores and the family virgins danced on its decks. Then Greek fire exploded. Everything burned: ships , docks, warehouses . Now Troy pays savages to build and float docks down the Hellespont and traders use them as they may."
"What did you get in?"
" With the long-boat two-thousand arrows, one-hundred sacks of barley and peas and fourteen barrels of Frisian mead that would poison a sea cow. Myceneii ship-bellies rot, and scurvy strips their oarlocks but the Trojans are starving. You can't talk sense to Hector oh no. It's not even that Greek pussy is that great. Not like some Chersonese wildcat that squeezes you dry as a almond then tries cutting your throat with Cyprus bronze.
"Tell me you're using Cyprus bronze on the rudder," exclaimed Alrek! "I got the main-mast pulley forged from it and we could lift the dawn had we lines strong enough." Alrek was watching me with one squinted eye and some concern as I was not speaking.
"Yes, both the mating frame and the pintles; my Cretan architect say we can jam one inside the other! But I won't try it myself. I'm going to let Cyprus forge-men install their own bronze and a message has already been passed along. We should be there this spring." "Ha", laughs Alrek. "I will tell you of a Cyprian whore who will keep you there, kissing her knees all summer!" We filled our bowls again and poured them nearly out. Then I thought for a moment; on moon-lit nights in air the color of ice surely centaurs and satyrs play here. "Have you any idea what all this is about? The festival of travel? I don't know most of the people. Which goddess likes to travel more than another --- they would be scratching at each-others eyes if one claimed it! Mountains would split should Pallas claim so much as a spring that Hera had not visited and pissed in for all I know. Or which nymph will lure yet another power-legged satyr into her nets! Travel where? Who wants to make arrangements to travel? You can't just pick up your sticks and travel to a sunny beach." "If we sit on the edge of a new age, or at the dawn , or naked from the cold spring before our masters robe, under the first flow of new wine perhaps everyone will be expected to travel much more than they do now." "Your poetry, Alrek serves a cold master, or surely in this new age of travel everyone will be made wealthy enough to do so."
"Work earns wealth." Alrek shook a bag of gold coins at his belt without shame. "All will finally work as hard as they might ever work."
"Under the prod of which tyrant?"
"Mayhaps northman will sweep south again, as your fathers fathers grandfathers storytellers remember of yourself as a northman. Work is land ; so is battle." Alrek was drinking and laughing and remembering our voyages together as he spoke. His eyes sparkle gleaming frost. Storytellers speak also of that. "Would we fight?"
"Never, my friend."
"Goose shit by damn Cibias we are young men still, but old as Medusas hairy cunt to have enough of this debate. Some child with no chin-fuzz will sail beyond our dreams. Before he has sobered from a nights wenching he will make childs play of our Green Isle roving. As for us I believe the King will lose his democratical imagination and tell us step here and no farther," said Alrek.
Fair enough, for two sailor-boyos at twilight, I thought. We tipped bowls to each other and drank them to dregs hot and bitter and just for men who have seen too much of empty sea and crowded decks. And just as Helios had buried his face behind Erctes west flanks, and diamond Venus as if embarrassed by her lust fled after him, just as Saturn and red-faced Mars and Betelgeuse appeared for their nightly slaughter , so it seemed as newly risen stars die young that is, just as night began her craft so becapped and silver-badged young boys in wool tunics and mast-mens trousers flowed out from a side door in a column and began their rounds.