Artyphons distant councilor Nidra wakes me softly as cats paw. Lightening flashes through the doorway. Night flowers scent a garden servant to the olivewood and marble; air crackles with a storms life. Naked padding softly I can prod my leg out the door, feel cold wind bite and feel the spatter and drip of icy rain. Marvelous rain, unexpected rain, chilling beating rain dancing on black stone and against my skin. Artyphon comes to me shivering. She carries a small oil lamp and wine-bowl and dried apricots.
“This becomes our omen, Cibias our Talus.”
She climbs me like a tree and finding the branch cries out. Badb wisely sleeps so silence endures without silly questions, without the war of sex and I think she would have returned to her cot, at the foot of my bed, but once joined separating Artyphons flesh from mine I will not allow.
Ever. Artyphon has washed and shaven my head and face. A bell-ringing messenger arrives from Aminias calling her away and sending me to the King. Since the Queen died Minos has turned early morning to interviews with local scribes or alchemists. I am no scribe.
Neither am I of the Tribe of Pan, who may hear glassed northing bars whisper in pairs. Moccasin-footed Alrek slips from a door-slot pulling inside me to a wicker table. "What a sly Captain you are Cibias. Your compass measures the sea, while your wife shall measure the King." From a chamois pouch he shakes a rough yellow diamond size of my thumb. "Like a woman, worth nothing till it's cut and polished; beware my friend." I grasp the stone, and he slips out a back way without words from me.
Jostled and compliant I see Aurora grants me no choice of morning. Hard leather soles beat a snak-snak-snak sound as Minos strides one of the long high open hallways that leads out of the living quarters, paths snug and warm diverging to the curved colder, but truer floating porch . By silver streaks in the east just daybreak. And south between black storms Sirus chases Rigel from the sky. I have vested, settled on a tin miners wool cap and wear plain leather sandals; I manage to shiver keeping up. Travelers speak of Sicily as a place of sun and warmth. Who ever said a traveler needed to stay warm in Sicily?
Minos being no respecter of personal joy. “Sleep well,” he says slyly?” I say nothing. “Your joy of a virgin happens only once.” To which he does not offer. “Artyphons soul will mate with your own. Marry her if you wish.”
“One night with a slave?”
Minos scoffs at my bravado and chuckles . ““So she must believe. The yoke is bearable.”
“First, then I must free her. The scrolls say Cretan fathers blessed their daughters to marry freely.” What blessing Artyphons father would will upon her none would favor.
Minos thought policy worked otherwise. “Well well free as a white dove in Atlantis golden air. Won't her liberty also free her aggrieved brothers sword? He has a duty-curse to perform on his sister, a blood vendetta, but as your wife Artyphon is no longer his families possession. So avoid emotions graceful trap. Finish it by pinning the saucy wench to your bed. Do we need a Parthian war also?”
I try to follow Minos kingly reasoning backwards and sideways. “Japhe is a fellow trader. He would never ….” Why do we talk about a woman, I wonder? Perhaps Minos is testing? Then as if nothing passed during the night except the Kings command I say. “By my Lords order and by my own choice I will own the Kings tasks.” Minos slowed his stride. “I will take Artyphon as wife, same day as the TRADE COUNCIL bonds me. African murderers blood will be repaid. I will, father bring honor to the crown and family.”
Hardfaced, Minos hand waves off my dedications. “Artyphon will be your family … and screw the crown,” said Minos in good spirits and we quickened our pace while bitching about the Zeus-be-damned chilly weather. His eyes sternly upon mine , but speaking softly, “Dedicate to Artyphon and to my son, whichever the gods give the crown.”
“One or both I will serve equally.”
“Zeus be dammed if both live, for two heads may not share a crown in peace. I send both sons on missions of threat trusting Moira to find the stronger thread. Neither do you escape unweighted.”
Leaving an empty sky Minos plunges like a fish-eagle deeply into the political ocean, matters of state and crown. Artyphon and her mage thought each point of statecraft worth studying and debating a month of nights. I preferred setting bow two points to-the-wind and may Poseidon be damned. “Your youngest, Sir, Yidini and I fought the shield wall on the beach at Antikyron, archered from horseback against Syrians at the Tigris passage Nihriy- - -”
“Damme Yidini is a fighter.”
“And - - father - - we drank and whored together on Samothrake.”
“Samothrake that mongrels turd-pile!" Minos eyes and tongue sparked like an unthroned Zeus. "A god for every rock! Lucky your throats didn't wander finding the same dirk. Women you say, Zeus beard not the same hot bitch I hope. Can you imagine the issues if … “ Minos turns backward, walks a furrowed line and then returns on path , opens a sliding window and shakes his beard into the wind. “Samothrake indeed, hosting nests of Trojan vipers … did the women bite?” I shuffle my feet and say nothing. Minos swears softly. “Did he take a good families virgin?”
I hesitate, then shake my head. “Daughter of a senator. Her breasts marvels of lust and she wore silk, under her long amber hair. Never was a girls knees more willing to separate. Yidini later marveled at her untutored skills. And strength! But, that's a boys simple error!”
“Strength you call it now - - - and you?”
“Guarded the guest-room door till daybreak. I stripped to yeoman leathers claiming my master punished a servant, for all the noise and moaning. Noone asked twice.”
“Minos bends under the load, tears, then recovers scoffing amiably. “Do you know maidenheads tax for a pregnant Senators daughter?” He waits - - I am wiser than he expects and say nothing - - “General yes, but a diplomat will Yidini never make. And of my oldest Didikase?”
Hiding conflict serves no purpose. “We sailed together on my tutors galley, and in Malta fought over Green Isle yew wood. A Gaelic trader had brought them pitchy fresh down the Tems and through the Pillars; any bow-wright would have coined his daughter for a bundle. Having coin in hand I overbid Didikas. Short tempered, him, short and quick scoring my rib with a spear before tutor pulled us apart.”
“Both traders, yet you have no love of this brother,” Minos observed roughly and stretching his shanks shot even more swiftly down the marble hallway.
“Then Sir, is the southern Nile guild matter. The members - - - glass-blowers and slingers of occult glass slugs fermented with silver prey on packs of night creatures, desert wolves from the Red Sea hills , but more, much more than pack predators.” Hairs on my neck stiffen. “The old ones still living in musty ports farthest south fear them, fear both and build keeps of block granite and bolted steel to repel.”
Minos shivered. “Night people, they are, burned by sunlight. Anyone living near them burns salt-oil after dusk.” Minos swallows from a small silver flask. “A minor Pharaoh, Thsi-Penne confided to me she burned them during daylight out of northern Egyptian ports. No reason to story chopping their heads and torching the living body - - if living be the true word. she was my faithful and hungry lover, only to be bled-out by a vengeful assassin. Modern priests will say nothing of it, but mentioned, cover their throats in garlic!”
“Nightmen only, yes, for most of the redeye guildmens. Didikas trades with this occult guild, exchanging young boys for the silver veined slugs. Dealing with Hittite charioteers he may trade them weight-for-weight in gold to Hetmen in the Caucus."
“What will you do should you need to bend a knew toward him as king?” Minos found a long silence best. Then: “Didikas values the trade more than the trader and of dark companions I could not break him. We are lost without you three fighting as one.”
“Father, if the tradewinds will not discipline his souls eye, and pirates his choice of companions to the better choice, then I will bend that knee.” Minos turned back toward the fire. I allowed the rain to dog me. Those who never leave the harbor never feel chill mountain rain! It sliced down from east of the hill-top and despite logs pitched on iron racks, flaming, warming each brick-walled room our breakfast tent had been set on the porch. Aminias fucking rain-drenched porch! Was this some kind of a test? I couldn't get my head around that … why Amineas had got up breakfast in the middle of a rainstorm. What was wrong with a dry room and hot fireplace? For that matter what was wrong with eating breakfast with the woman you slept with? Did some men sleep alone … well some always do.
“This way honorable King,” guided a basket carrying servant. Women darting laughing among the tents. Food was right there steaming away under a rainbow of canopy. Bakeries held swollen fresh rye bread and hot tubs ale and wine and the small ceramic jugs of Asian tea. One coffee-steamer bubbled black liquor. Grills held sides of bacon and whole salmon and a blown glass oven where vegetables and whipped eggs swirled together in a flaming butter lake. Surely it was the way queens would run their courts … if they ran most of them.
We had stopped just short of the sliding glass partitions, in a room whose walls were covered with the horns of sheep and stag and buffalo and auroch. A series of glass panes were arranged to cleverly slide one-past-another on oiled wooden rails. You could see through them, to the outside gaiety, yet they separated the villas civilized frescoes, wall hangings and statuary, stone floors and fountains from the porch wood-slate floor residing on wild floating air. And of-course the feckin-A tent pitched in a rainstorm. Minos spoke gaily of Artyphon … and how she had surely negotiated the best part of my bed. I said nothing …
He then spoke more sharply. “You son, soon to be TRADE councilman , Captain of our newest, strongest ship, most swift and with the greatest range, the finest tecknos.” He paused scratching his pen across parchment. “Syrian northing?” I nodded. “Still have the new bronze rudder controls to be carpentered. That's a task for Salamis, right?”
“Yes, father. I feathered Cyprus , timing immediately after the Trade Council meeting in Hyrkon.”
“Keep a shield to your right and one behind … Salamis ruler Achen plays the Egyptian viper.” The fire before us muttered and he fed two oak kudgles to the embers. “We will have no talk of Hyrkons frail life-line. Proteus mad storm-waves flee from your broad-shoulder bow! Or of our courage. I have asked … you stand first in the shield wall and fire first when arrows fly. Your crew would follow your sword to castrate Cerberus and rescue Persephone ! That said you can debate the sophist and confound the mage. A city served by men as you would fear neither Mars word nor Astartes wile. ”
“Sire,” I responded instantly, dropping to one knee,” A mans will bows to Aphrodites pleasure; I serve Hyrkon and serve the king, even against the northmen.”
“What! Exclaims Minos. “Northmen?” Have you listened to Captain Alrek palaver, too drunk to stand and too sober for modesty. He's a cod fisherman by any decent traders name. Did he threaten screaming rafting blonde hordes of bronze axed, birch speared icemen?” I said nothing. “It's our women they want not our land, but we might just as well sail north a take a few of theirs … as they are ours by blood and by klan and by right!”
“If so, Cretans then icemen, why did we leave?”
“You mean why didn't we return. Eh? Tell me, why do you cling to the Hebrew?” His head flew back laughing. “Thus bards torment us with fables, perverse tales that encourage our own destruction. Cold and old, warm and young. Not that easy! Kings justice laments a thousand years ago and so a thousand years into the future. Traders will shape the new world as they created the old , forging their hulls to novel lands; kings and nations drag along behind.”
Well that was the last damned thing in the universe I expected the King to say. I made of it what I could. “A leader then among brothers under sail. Ha, father I will surely steal away fair Persephone, but leave woolly elephant tusks for Cerberus. May on ancient bones his teeth break!”
Serving girls had brought us flat-bread and hot ale.
“Your Cretan tutor taught you that?” Having said what mattered he drifted away. “How amazing! Are there really woolly Elephants?”
“Whether they live today I don't know. But, to the far north, father I have seen them frozen in ice! I rescued a tusk ! Huge creatures; men still carve their bones.” I hesitated for a second. “Did you know some of those frozen skeletons have spear-points driven through the bones? Men hunted those animals in the time before our times. Far more able they must have been than those elephants the Egyptians barter; which appear more like inflated camels.”
Minos shook his head. “Yes I have heard tellers of history remember such hunts as if they were their fathers fathers. But, yes, the hunts were actually before our time began. Perhaps the hunters were satyrs not humans. ”
“Perhaps they were Phoenician! Ha! But, but that's not the issue I see now. It's the sneaking, the skulking about, the double-talk and stab in the back I do not favor.”
Minos face turned dirty. “No reason to recall what has been decided. You will do your duty whether ax against ax or mind against mind!”
“The King knows I will do my duty. But, thinking does not figure here or there. Have I ever fought when I did not think? It's not man-to-man battle, father. Not spear-point to greave. Or even gods force against a mans will. No … it's something stolen here, or betrayed there. A pinch of treason and hint of gossip. It's like listening to a womans private pleasures … which no respectful man does. If Mary of Genoa is correct, then what sort of world drives us west? ”
Minos did not share his council as we stepped onto the porch as the cutting rain had turned to an uncertain drizzle. Minos stopped to look between pillars, out over the Panormus harbor where mist shaded boat-lights. “A private pleasure indeed, that of our trade secrets!” Minos looked back at me. “Do you ever think of them like that , as mystery we discovered when the sea was empty. So if Carthage bleeds us, trade-by-trade, secret-by-secret till Hyrkonia drys out like an old maid what of us then? Whose blood will replace our own? Of what use is a sword or spear to protect an empty house?”
“My ship and my trade, my crew and my own life will prevent that” Damme … I felt the sudden chill of arrogance and presumption. The sound of a man who does not serve the Goddess. “ Forgive me , father. The Goddess has been too kind, as you have. “ He smiled. I said. “What then do you imagine, father?”
“I imagine that old world crumbled with the shakings, burned under the volcanoes and sunk with the giant waves. Like those ways without law in the time before our time it's all gone. ” Minos … King Minos had never before looked old to me. “Without the law or wealth or power it becomes a mans choice , so you will lead. It's worth seeing the oracle though I have no idea whether the truth is in it. That bitch has always been the downfall of a just King and I fear her. “
“ I will set the Kingdom right.”
“Zeus beard you'll do no such thing though you lack neither adventure nor courage or cleverness. A search for truth will cut your soul to ribbons.”
“Then what task does the king set for his faithful … servant?”
“Servant …. son ….. an Etruscan boars asshole if you need the truth!” The king shifted heavily and walked to a glass porthole. What did he see outside? “Different matter if you merely wish to become wealthy. ”
“Yet wealth springs from trade and trade from the law.”
“Zeus beard you can be a priggish bastard,” Minos grumbled. He seemed shaken by the thought of wealth. “If you find a woman - - Artyphon, say - - tolerating your arrogance, teach her to bear a child for your mothers sake … and for your fathers.” Minos was now pacing before the glass panes. “ I promise that child safety as far as my power allows. And where Carthaginian treachery sinks in its fangs, there and then – chop off the vipers head.”
“That was the matter for last night.”
Minos thought for a moment. “Sex and death by Zeus beard they may not be separated one making room for the other. By the way, our watcher say Pontis Greeks in Byzantium have brewed a flaming mixture that sticks together and streams like the breath of Cerberus, unlike our firesling balls that must be clay bound. Nasty weapon to vomit upon an enemies bow when he attempts ramming. You will track down that report.....”
We stood there, clasping hands, till a slave-girl wearing practically nothing at all under a gold cape and girdle grasped onto his arm and carried him off. They flew like birds to a a small tent from which they could see the harbor. Minos looked happy, I thought. No men would be sent to slaughter from that tent. He is not such an old man … no matter his landsman foolishness about sailing to hard places. Places where tarry sailors gob snouts to the trough, or the very breath vapor becomes poisonous, or wild fangs seek a mans blood in darkness … which of those does the King wish I discover?
I was looking for a hot amphora of wine , but couldn't find one … till Artyphon appeared from a side chamber, carrying a vexed look and armload of waxed tablets. She wore a beaded tunic, belted and shawled, but barely suppressing eager breasts. “So, you have not escaped,” I explained loud enough to turn servants heads.
Her cheeks riped in a blush. “As master wishes. What did the King say about Artemis?”
“He said your beauty shames her.” I touched her cheek.
“You are a lying Hyrkonian shopkeeper. Your hand dissembles, your mouth deceives and your numbers do not add.”
“Cybelles mercy upon your children ! Would you desert such a hard, unjust master....?” Did I imagine her eyes sparkled? “Truly dear Artyphon , fickle Artemis has been driven to the dark tall woodlands. Quickly then, we must return to our room and find the error in my calculations. I will bind your strength to my own. As Horai spins her hours like threads of Moirai and one heart sets two arms in motion let us see to our own cloth and waste not a instant.”
So we joined, her flesh softer and more willing to wait, her womans pleasure coming with the long
wail of a Baltic ice-storm. Messengers came with the first bright sun. Trade and tecknos and the weight of old meetings occupied the day till midnight. I wondered, in the times long after our times will searchers of the past think us special, unusual, preferred, advanced, pathos of the gods? Will they be fooled as have we over our own heroes? Aminias had the days wonders printed on silk pads. First came mystery, a dark room darker than Hades shades. Within a single needle-hole was punched in a wall bordering outside a bright, active and colorful scene. The demonstrator, a Byblos mage born on the Ganges sealed tight the entrance then bidding us to view the inside wall opposite the tiny-hole. Nothing, nothing ofcourse nothing until your eye gained second darksight. Then on that black-but-whitewashed surface faded as the shades danced the entire outside beyond the wall. We saw a faint colored apparition. How could a pin-prick do that?
“But, more obscure kind sir, watch the close up.” The mage showed that obscure-shade with ringed glass beads placed against the pin-hole. They magically projected an entirely different, but sharp images of sharp lines and swirls against the far wall. “Which sir is the real outside image or if many then uncountable?”
Artyphon paid the mages coin. “You make me like that,” hissed Artyphon digging her knuckles into my ribs. I kissed her hand. Back to the main hallways Damascus mechanics showed a new quicksilver compass. They hinted their battery-making friends had got quicksilver to show sparks, but offered no proof. The best iron compass needles are on display, and their Trojan makers brag of the lightening attractors used to create them, sometimes melting the iron rods and other times creating spark a handsbreath long!
Most traders see them as toys. But, a few … “Zethos the Parthian gem trader has made a ruby glow,” claims a Zorast Mage from the Caucasus Mountains. “ I have seen light streaming from a flattened end. Bind it in a silver case and excite the ruby with ten such spark machines.” As if an example he snaps his own flint striker flaring a shower of light. “Can the ruby stores the spark flashes, then releases them at one instant,” he wonders?
Listeners gasp, for as I they must think of such a weapon gleaming a burning red sun upon enemies, but he has no such machine to display.
“Has he made more than one of these magic rubies?”
“Alas, the rod of lightening took him while sharpening the iron point. Many warned that the storm approached too quickly and Zeus bolts flew all about, but he persistent. We buried Zethos charred boned with all respect!”
I speak before a captains council of variation in wind strength voyaging between Sardinia and Marsaii in early fall. For all love you would find more geometers spinning the ball that rolls, and yet a young captain showed me new angles on that same route for the northern markers of the dragon and two bears. Spartan Klytus demonstrated two-handed swordplay seeking the low attack against a pair of spearmen. Yishharu of Titikus Cretan school though born above the black Sea demonstrates separating the color and smell of an orange. An old mage, modesty has long escaped him.
“Proudly I proclaim the wisdom of Titicus, creator of the atom as each part of a substance may be split into its closely divided essence. You see my fine gentlemen how color and smell of an orange separate?” I hold two flasks. “one exhued by steam from orange pulp, the other separated by treatment of
orange skin with spirits of barley. Atoms jostle about so a few escape the flasks and thus tingle human smell.”
“Tingle...?” Indeed one flask glowed pale orange while the other colorless liquid smelled like the orange … or at least a lemon. “Does that work for metals … the color and the strength of bronze,” shouts a warrior sporting light mail?
“I fear strength has no smell,” Yishharu offers,” as Titicus believed courage has no atom, but spraying Lybian oil of phosphorus into the melt of copper and tin will produce when well hammered a yellowish blade.”
“Jostle as they may, do twin atoms of orange smell like twin brothers or must one bath while the other grows rancid?”
“I fear sir without proof that neither may do as it wishes. ”
“Can ye conspire steam and spirits to peal the girdle from a virtuous woman,” comes a cry from the rooms dark edge? Yishharu remains speechless and all dissolves in laughter.
Finally a contest is held between two bowmen, one using a yew recurve which by oak hand-grip and elkhorn tips bends out at both ends. Travelers say hunters of the far eastern plains use such bows, and forest yeoman the other Gaulish metal-tanged cross-bow. Two oddities two prideful archers. Each swore his weapon consigned the other to histories dustbin and a shaft pinned through the breast. The short, swarthy tall grass eastlander claimed a tiger-pelt at 500 yards; and horsed he sat on it to alls respect. But, the bone-thin cross-bowman shook from his shoulders a cave-bear robe taken through bared teeth said he with a single headshot at ten strides.
Recurve and cross-bow, thus were the craft. Two swinging bowls of Chian wine were shattered at fifty breaths. Then, their bolts cracked auroche thigh-bones at one-hundred-twenty paces. Betting hastened as did pitchers of ale. Both split pumpkins at three-hundred strides like Io's-your-sister. A brash tin Isle weaver hands steeled by cunning wool promised her maidenhead to the better bow. Gold chips flowed like water. Aminias huntsmen then released grouse to thunder overhead - - thunder, to fly no more. Chaos triumphed! When archers threatened to shoot Aminias pet geese bows were burned, bets returned and the warriors stumbling drunk chained to casks of ale.