“Half, perhaps - - - yes on a good month we run half-full, ” responded Adlai removing his scarf, in good humor biting a fig and scratching his curly black locks.
I knew he sailed hull low in the water, with horns strapped-in from deck to keel Zeus save him from a south-west storm. Hebrews scratch their hair when they lie. “You're buying more hemp cord this season, Adlai? I've heard so and happen to carry a spare forty fathoms. Problems with the anchors? You know that I set four against the flow, overnighting in a Bosporus channel.”
Adlai refused to look up. “Yes, yes mebby so Cibias. I'll speak with the tiller-man.” The raw smeltings from beyond Scythia, work of savage river klans were eagerly sought as bronze casting without tin forms a death-breeze; many forgers won't touch it. Sinope, a minor Black sea port from old known only for cherries and sturgeon , and her Captains had gained influence transporting horns-of-tin down the Bosporus to the Syrian and Cyprian metalists.
Alrek, bored with the southern trade trivia broke in. “Poison yourselves with the metal trade; a man lives and dies best at war. And roast ox does prepare a man for war, as any shield-wall veteran will testify.” Alrek hurried down his last bite of meat with a wash of cheap Sicilian ferment. “Bloody roast ox sprinkled with cherries and washed down with red wine; bring on the Bogges!”
Five of us sat around a serving table, the seating immensely expensive African sandlewood and just as uncomfortable. Backless, you dropped ass onto the cushioned top and bone-breaker tucked your legs beneath. Pickled sardines would tolerate less. Hashish soaked in bitter-rye eased the pain and clicking of gold filleted ceramic hashpipes glazed every eye. Bold too, and we gossiped, rattling the peace of empires while daring winters starvation. Rowena said little, as befits a princess, but not Artyphon who had become her older sister:
“You would brag less, and work a thicker shield Alrek if you understood Hittite penetration into the north. Catch your cod they steal your cod and crew and perhaps your life. Crude men, yes and lovers of desert dry chariots the Hatusya, but they sail on the back of Priams warships and travel as they wish. Trade Council routes hold no respect.
“Free range pirates be they? The Achaens would dispute that freedom, with their bronze beaked biremes,” I observed, covering a seared ox-slab with Hyrkon fermented fish sauce, carving a bite and grasping the moment passed around the remains. Artyphons eyes scolded, but a lead miner she would not love.
“Of biremes they have, but twenty of the craft,” scoffed Aat, an Egyptian quartz trader from a Nile posting so far south lions and their Nubian masters stalk each spring just beyond the towns ramparts. Woe to the careless. “Sidonian sailors say as much. I boat downriver every summer to visit my daughters and our sea coast merchantile. Phonetician traders all row fifty-oar galleys. All that is , but the traitorous most wealthy who ferry grain to Agamemnons raiders.”
Dark thoughts, from a nation with real money when every financial success breeds a traitor. So, I thought war it will be. Our sky darkened, the firepit glowed brighter and Lybian gazelle hounds battled for bones. Songs became bawdy and Minos attending two northern queens became silent. Certainly I thought details were unneeded after Minos pounded the two stakes of his war platform into hard mountain earth; pounded awareness into the klan. Hykron is attacked and attacked yet again; we will strike from silence as would a viper.
“To Minos banner,” calls Alrek!” The wine-bowls all raise. Very well, I thought, Hykron rises, but experience will tell you few sailor boyos are wise without their cautioning muse. “Bastard or not,” Alrek whispered under bowls of hot cider wine, “you will not escape unburdened.” Foolishness, I thought with Minos have two marriage-graced sons to win his torques. Who better than a future king to stand first in Hyrkons shield-wall. Better for the free warrior to be drunk and folded in a womens arms. With longing and heat I stared across at Artyphon, who would not have my eyes.
So gates opened and seeking warmth, each for his own we drifted apart. Not the females. Four bronze-bound Amazons guarded the womens quarters. Silk and wool pennants dazzled from behind the iron gate, music and laughter wandered far into the night rising above dancing orange flames. Gallants whispered -- pleaded - - demanded through the few barred windows and there again sweet womans laughter returned. My tutor would have said of this hill-top keep: 'night slinks as a predator to Aminias porch cleverly stalking expectations'.
Whether just drunk or swore silent, after the klan meeting men rejoined speaking little of their own concerns; all pretended their cold dry slabs fit them. I had consumed hashish pipe-for-pipe load with Alrek and dreaming-awake I consumed emotions as other did honeycombs. Most stopped caring and men fell when their bodies failed. Haetera pillowed their heads and covered them in sheepskin. Some slept in wooden washbasins, others on rugs or wooden slats in soldiers barracks and a few alone on waxed down in thick-walled brick rooms. Such did I. What sailor hasn't his fill of rope hammocks? Thors hammer rattled the night.
Auge stormed wet-footed from the east while many-faced Anemoi drying breeze slept. Heavy wet raindrops would set a plumb-line. Most servants also slept through spiting rain on a gray-cloaked day-break. The chill woke me, laugh as you will Artyphons warmth not covering my feet. I found a dry public room, with wooden toilet seats at that; it's an old utility. Only Assyrians shit on the streets and even a shepherd forms soap with wool-grease, cakes of boiled olive-oil, mashed aloe, water and ash. Tunic and trousers are fire warm; an oilskin wrap and pots of warm ale graced the commons . A slave was pouring beans into a bubbling grainy stew smelling like carrots, horseradish and garlic; that Achaen breakfast I would not challenge.
Grabbing my vest and robe I came out to the rear of Aminias patio to find the Egyptian Seth crossing to the gardens beyond. Smells of wet shale, sandstone and earth sunk deep into the morning air. I hailed him. “Seth , the Lords of water grant you another sun.” He appeared younger in mornings light and optimistic. Had he ever in his life seen a wet morning? He removed a silk cap and tossed it into the rain. “So says a man standing on sand!”
We drank coffee ground between flints, boiled in his clever glass vase and served in small siver cups. Flat-bread we carried, and breakfast trout caught from a stream on the estates gentle western approach. Careless, we wandered those meadows with the whole of Panormus Sicily spread out before us. We had become two boys playing beyond the marker-stones which caught Seth trance-like, but talkative.
“Ethiops supply the coffee beans. Is it not a playful drink?”
“Playful? Compared to ale, bitter as a Jericho whore.”
We laughed and drained our thumb-cups. “My father had been a temple scribe, oldest brother a farmer and another a priest of Ra. Our families one sister married a merchant who died at sea and she had returned to my house. As youngest son I had little status and ran the family spelt and barley trading.”
Seth had never before seen any land beside the north African coast. Sand, rock , snakes and scorpions - - those and a flooding Nile … black sucking mud enamored him - - “by which Ra extends mercy and life to his devotes. What has salt surf to compare,” he queries?
“Fresh clams,” I advise, thinking raw mud and Hittite and Phoenician conquerers marching under an all-conquering sun must also eat. Does he read my mind? “Soldiers must eat also! Egyptian barley marches the Corinthian Isthmus” Well said, but never seen , I think. Is such provincial what Egypt has paid for power? Damme. Trader he may be, but no trekker, this Egyptian house-pet excepting whatever venture Aminias had planned. Any Hyrkon sailor would piss on that life and that god; I keep my council.
He seemed not the worst for it. “Do you ever wish for your own land,” he asked me?
“Small-owner you may call me. I own a beach and two dozen fertile hectares on Hyrkons west coast,” I say, “that and a rocky goat-pasture.”
Seth is packing utensils into his carry-all. “So much? By Ra a squires property,” he exclaims! “Why do you not farm and acquire wealth?”
“I'm more lucky than many. Half my land is below the granite plateau, shelved out along hillsides a mix of sand and clay. My landsmen tease surprising carrots and onions and beets … you know them … yes of-course … teased from Demeters thin soil. But, you must beg the grape-vines and plead with the olive trees to give their fruit. Each root we nurture like a baby. Water we sometimes haul with yokes upon our back.”
His mild eyes show surprise. “Why would you be a slave to water? Our Nile rises and falls, its flow makes rich and waters every year, even years when Hittite blasphemy overruns our cities. Grain-stalks reach up through the fresh mud to our shoulders, though we can sacrifice no slaves to water-cows or crocodiles so beloved by Ra .”
“A river thin as bone surrounded by desert.”
“It has not always been so, the elder scribes claim. They have burnt clay manuscripts from times before our times –-”
Me skeptical. “ I'm certain the gods pleasure is an issue. We also raise melons and cotton with a wet spring. But, like vines and stalks our sea also rises and falls.”
“My friend you cannot eat the sea, “ Seth laughed.
“Well now, fish we both know. But, yes fair enough, yet we sailors catch the movements and they call us to trade what we have for what we wish : streams of the great sea flowing first to the Chersonese, then to the Pillars and yes, finally to the seven-mouthed Nile. Our trade-ships bear both needs and wealth. I will not speak of sacrificing men. Yes the sea-gods do take lives, but none do we give willingly.”
That bothered Seth most deeply. “You are just men, honest men so I serve Hyrkon willingly. My brother says Minoans and Egyptians shared the waters even in the times before our times when ice rose on the northern shores and swamps filled the desert. Yet how dare you value a mans life above the power of Bastet and Ra? The gods must anger, that you do not give them what you value most.”
“We believe that the gods gave us what they value most! Dianna bow is never strung against her brothers and sisters. Do the gods of Egypt now demand Hyrkon lives?”
“Seths mouth drooped and his eyes looked away. “As you know our Pharaoh deposes and is himself deposed. Beside all who sit on the throne the rare white bull Ra may inhabit … or always does. Men may act as gods and how are we to deny them? Do you see the unity of land and ruler whose blood must be the gods and whose will must be our own ? Is a conquerer any less than Pharaoh himself?”
“A usurper would displease my King no end,” I say lightly.
An agitated Seth sips the coffee-broth drugs at the bottom of his cup. “Does Hyrkon seek to expand?”
“To recover what fate and the Mycenae have stolen. What race will not recover their honor?”
Seth frowns. “Fate cannot steal, Cibias and no vessel sails against the wind. Have you felt the gods displeasure as you reach beyond your place?”
“Murder is not displeasure kind Seth.” Egypt he did not say. “Belisama too bows to nature, yet sets a foresail and navigates three points into the lebeccio! The trade Council will hear of it when we return to Hyrkon.”
Seth scowls as if thinking return we may not. “Your Trade Council does not hear all voices.” Perhaps I see law and he sees power; I laugh: all sit at the trade table and hunger or get fat! Still, liberty before the wind or even before another man has no meaning to Seth. Egypt hears Carthage, a voice like no other, so I waffle, seeking not to alarm my new companion.
“Of bold traders Egypt has a share. But, of those foreign ravagers does Egypt also share?”
“Our clients become masters as Pharaoh weakens. Some clients are pretenders, I will grant that. Pharaoh will see to his own.” Seth walks away, telling me more of the servants glory before his master than a free Hyrkon desires. We are of such different races that his … or mine might have been born of the moon and fallen to earth. This craven simpering I do not understand, as in times before these times of ease our nations had sailed alone, together trading starvation for food, skins for woven fabrics and ruling the cold waters of our Sea. Equals, before the fire-god willed our destruction. Equals again if Cybelle yields to our prayer.
It's past lunchtime before we return to Aminias patio. Some of the porch has been opened, dizzying the eye across teak planks and even quartz strips that leave you walking on air before looking down on soaring hawks ravening quail. I find the edge-rail and lean over – it is nothing compared to a top-gallent-yard in heavy seas, but Aminias sails are silver-threaded blue and red dyed silk one section upon another such as to make you dream. A clean cold breeze from the Latin north has taken the rain, and most of the best roast lamb is eaten.
Satisfaction pases over me, like a bowl of poppy wine. I live on the sea and will return; I was born on Crete and will return. Seth would have Pharaoh master all. Some Cretan sophists spoke well of no master, of a policy they named polis, or democrat. From chaos wisdom they tease and pure tone squeezed from the noise of many as the vain would have it. Does truth belonged to other than the gods? Are we gods? From such foolishness I believe comes the ancient curse : 'all Cretans are liars.' My tutor claimed the idea of polis came first from the mountain Persians, new from east of the Erythraean Sea and so adept at making gods of men by trance and the commons power. But, Minoans have held Dianna in common since the sea threw us up upon the islands , yet democrat she treated as social poison, carrying away the best. How can one item of belief move two different ways? Sometimes I think of seamans wares, when the Belisama mast-men vote for a new yardarm or mainmast chief. But, I think that different, the well and proper sailing-master as none willingly chose the fool whose pawling parts sturdy hemp lines and so taken to their own death. The democrat fool kills; the tyrant kills. A chill passes over me and I wish my linen tunic to be wool or silk.
Guests now swarm the food tables. Many ladles and slabs of flat-bread dip into the stew. I take the arm of a veiled server carrying two wine amphora. “Shall I serve so early,” her eyes slyly whisper? She let her cape slip showing gold rings pinching swollen nipples, a gold threaded tunic, waist-torque and slung crystal ampule of a perfume trader. Two brothers approach hands on belted ax-handles.
“Every pardon froken”, I bow. Dismissed!
A fat robed Corinth spectacle towing boys bounces into me. “All apology good sir,” greets a dismissive scowl. Does Aminias festival prepare her guests for our new travelers world?
“Have you seen King Minos,” I ask to a back sprouting long white hair. A goats head appears upon turning and Bacchus laughter roils from his circle of merry fresh beards. Is it me or the wine ….? Light bleeds from the join of ruby and sapphire rings topping a magicians quartz flask. “What magic,” I ask? He is mad and drunk and mutters 'lemon juice'! A couple take my arms … faces fall when mine does not rise and covering each others sin father and daughter leave me standing in a cold wind.