As speaker for the Council of Trade a lessor white linened scribe or rhetor could have introduced my claim with less prejudice. Perhaps Ashur believes such bakk fresh from a Tyrian quay inflames Cilician tin-traders or intimidates newly rich and brightly eager Sinope ruby merchants. Such pale faces sprinkle the chamber with lewd excess of the precious and fined, and I am not the single repulsed rough-handed sailor boyo. Formally only the nine Trade Council delegates decide on the bonding of a trader. But, they are men with daughters to marry and sons to promote among the near hundred observers seated to the wall benches. Anyone may speak and all listen for advantage. Options of fortune abound in this polished granite and plank cylinder of a council-room.
From weeks at sea my knees rattle, and the Cyprian bastard questions my worth? Face hot and windburn I stand at a redwood podium. Artyphon seats beside me dressed in councilors black silk and veil making contemptuous eyes at her brother Japhe half-way across the room. He her designed suicide yet by fair gamble, a harbor race I won her. Japhes vengeance scotched. Now she and I both safe among ranks of supporting Captains. How they stink of tillar-mans sweat and the seas clean salt. Their rope chairs creak, hashpipes click and voices rumble as if Euros breath had just backed into a rocky lee and new-thrown mainsails snap in my support. Not shy men, Captains who scotch Zephryos so it's rough speech slapping at Ashur, the Assyrian Kings brother and newly assigned satrap of Cyprus.
“Bonded traders are not your daughters cunt - - lest you've been busy,” explodes a leather cloaked northern Egyptian. He's above me, on the second tier and wears the acorn of ownership beside his silver bond and bronze captains medallion ; his shaved-head master sits cross-table, plotting and unmoved, whispering to and fondling his mistress who in truth speaks all nine council languages. Twas unexpected support I grasp. Well known that rogue triad slitting bellies of sacred crocodiles to provide leather for Pharaohs impenetrable shields. As victory forgives all he roars on. “The Council has bonded thirty-five captains and will now bond the best - - one more - - captain thirty-six - - fresh we trust and in service bountifully able as your daughter.”
Snickering runs round the gallery like rats plundering a vat of barley. A Po Valley Celt of the lowest rank, clattering his gold torques laughs out loud hissing “copper clown”. Climbs to an open window and pisses through it. “Won't show us what metal-worm infests beneath that leather, as Cibias hides blood vengeance beneath his bronze skin.”
Careless … or by his master a mastered swords-thrust leather bares a scared chest. He fingers the deepest wound and grunts, “ax swing by a redbeard pirate bit through my leathers; a brave man he was and and long traveled now headless among the dogfish,” and retires scoffing to his bowl of dreadful barley wine.
Cheers abound, and dissembling. “Tanners with steel chests disdain copper threats,” rails his master, feigning challenge as Phrygian warlords stinking of hashish gum, Egyptian factors clenching shriven balls, or as a Berber caravaneer crowing over priceless Rhapta cinnamon.
My minds eye sees thrust and parry as sword-masters teach. Ashur waiting, ticking his neck-born golden power warrant, biting his thumb till it bled. “Patience, master ...” Artyphons lips moved beneath her veil and her fingertips tightened on my wrist; I remain silent, a rye smile unmoved.
Support quickens. Our own man rises, weathered Kikeru, his traders staff newly topped with walrus ivory and strutting two steps toward my podium in newly traded white sealskin boots. “Hyrkon supports Cibias, wise beyond his years, deep in tecknos and family as does King Minos, may the royal chariot sail him safely.” Kikeru traded a hundred oar Rhodian galley across the northern Greek Thessalonian tides and slipped Thracian tin into Troy whenever Macedonian winds blew against the chunky Dorian vessels. Minos sea sickness was well known and failing all safety a source of amusement within the Kings circle.
Politely I bow, and direct a sharp eye at Ashur. Does the bastard think I couldn't feel a slap to the face or mistake the bronze-bladed challenge? All that weight Ashurs single word carried. To a Hyrkon trader it shouts the servants orders: ' be pleased to walk humbled, lower and slower.' Which no man of Hyrkon might obey! I allow the ivory Syrian metronome to gather ticks … one of the Kings scribes counts them … and heckler silence to gather skeptical traders ported to so unbalancing harbors as Gedes and Corinth and Tyre.
High above, and having sailed 200 leagues pebbles of heavy wet Sicilian air blows in through stone casements; the wind is laced with the oder of fresh snow-melt and spring pines and made flicker the two circles of light. Higher up , reached only by candlesticks almond and coffee scented wax devotes form a yellow ring, their brightness dispersing shadow by polished silver reflectors behind each pewter base. Lower down the wall, where a tall man on the walkway might service turquoise oil lamps glow through their myriad frizzed fingers and baffle the winds for a dance. Candles or lamps served each bench also, so no factor might miss a copper, complain of cold fingers or lack warm wine.
Lunch hours had long faded, and Nymphe had surely prodded Boreas to raise our passions. Get to your business prodded candle-light playing bright ripples over traders faces. Some faces worn and bearded looked up … or faces smooth and sharp snickered at the man under examination. Power-of-trade fetish poles fill in above the oval ceder table, which table surface itself scripted and carved, stained and burned is covered with stamped gold sheet, parchment lies, clay and silver promissory, and papyrus trade notes and bills. Cyprus … wealthy, arrogant and lecherous under the weight of her new Assyrian master … you could have bought & sold Cyprus for half-the-weight of those bills and Ashur knew it!
Windows arch high above and a walkway rim cantilevers out from the wall where from flaring Egyptian leather chairs Minos councilors watch. Minos seat is empty, him sailing to the Bosporus from Sicily, but his palace wife Tara stands his place. As daughter to a Cretan warlord holding against all his mountain keep she is trusted by Hyrkon sitting assembled, and by Minos whose dagger and state power she carries. Her cold silver eyes would have frozen Junos sex in Mars hot grasp. Ashur must feel the threat razor edged as bronze battle Stella intrude setting human against centaur, a fawning maiden their prize. The frescoes are suitably and sensually Minoan and tapestry newest of the swirled Median abstracts.
Table and bench and folding chairs, hidden hallways nurturing runners and dragomen, factors and aides, murmuring servants and their silver serving-wares scattered on the stone floor below. An adjoining room held the firepit, roasting lamb, cooling wine, and a second room the privy with running water and toilets. The nine trade council members sprawl on bullhide couches. Men languid in power gathered around the central fire springing from caverns below having no source any man knew save the deeply buried ancient bronze tube. It taps some deep truth of the earth, as do the nine traders. Such are the trade council chambers of Hyrkon.
Between earth and air on a raised raw oak stage stands the factor or captain or diplomat under examination. I've seen this separation play out at previous councils, Minos having appointed me a second for our own council member. I knew making faceless whispers is easy, sitting above and in the dark. Now ... my first time before the Hyrkonian trade council as a ships captain, standing for measure before the nine senior traders full of bloody spleen and bearing bloodless eyes … yes with all my teknos I fear soulless power.
I stand within a soundless room. Damn their shark-eyes! Then Artyphon touches my wrist and I speak.
“Hear Cibias, klan of tunny, great grandson of grandsons named-kin Sailor beyond Lands View. I raced Helios from Byzantium to Rhodes thinking not to sight Lesbos, disdaining Cos and fearing not the loss of land. Praying swift Leucotheas graces through the Balerics the Pillars of Hercules I call home, Gedes sister and brother the dense southern jungle and its flaming mountain of man-apes. North of the Tin Isle I have made floating ice-mountains my bed and golden hair she-bears my bedmate! I am He whose fathers father nevermind was sired by Demokedes ne' Minos, born by Phoneci daughter of royal...”
“Royal my asshole! Daughter of a feckin-A Spanish whore,” bellows the scar_face southern Egyptian Ptalpes. His shoulders broad, hips thick and mouth profane he holds the privileged second seat. Though Ashur presides over the examination, Ptalpes would rule the chamber should the king not be present. Just so, and now will not shut his face. “Fair judges listen to the Hyrkon prick squawk about family! She bear, Cretan ? Hahaha! He's part ocean Spaniard part sea-lion pup and all Hyrkonian bastard!” Ptalpes pounds his priceless cinnamon heartwood clapper on the Kings table. “The Kings bastard I say …. I wouldn't bond him to carry Etruscan pig-shit to Jerusalem … and a feckin-A boar-size trade bond he's asking.”
“Etruscan pig-shit har har ,” roars the dark Numidian Glim, shaking his five-feathered power-of-trade. “Wouldn't that put nose to a pumice scrubbing Cretan. Stink him right up.” Glims filed teeth flash round the table. “Of-course those Etruscan merchantmen he saved off Sardinia had little kind to say for him.”
“Cibias stole their silver horns,” squeals Demtons the Etruscan scratching his short black hair. “Who can trust such a man … no better than the pirates !”
“Salvage, Demtons,” bellowed Glim “and ye damned well know it. The Etruscan ship burned and sank , a gift to Poseidon and any brave enough to probe his wrath. Cibias divers brought up the silver from sea bottom thirty cubits deep!”
“By Cybelles tit he could have first saved it, instead of running after the Latins ” whimpered Demtons to a smattering of rude blasphemy.
“With tits showing the size of prunes who can blame a man for first finding the ass,” snipped Glim and the room dissolves in bellowing laughter. He waits .. like a leopard then turns back to the Egyptian … “Silver horns are nothing of-course like the crocodile testes Ptalpes brother delivered to that Corinth pederast Myrhokon. Paid in advance , too with three fresh-assed boys …. and delivered in time for the Corinthian Bacchus.” Glim rose, the Berber wool robe of vertical berry-stripes and pearl buttons stretched to his full six cubit height. His thrumming voice shakes the room. “Balls for the boys, HA haha so the story ran, but the testes were empty, filled with wasps nests and when Myrhokon cut them open the wasps stung every bare-ass in the room. Har har har so much for Ptalpes certainty!“ Bright eyes swing up to the Kings dark seat ; the metronome ticks. “Will Egypt offer to short the traders first venture? I think not fellow members, not when Pharaoh has already ordered forty barrels of the Traders own fish-sauce at seventeen silver minae per barrel! That's more than Ptalpes own daughter charges for a whole night of whoring. I say let in the Hyrkon bastard before he fucks your sister.” Laughter rolls. Glim swills his sour Theban beer, accepts a plug of honeyed poppy from Kikyru and sits down.
“Fuck you Glim.”
“Brave, quick, star charts without equal and has fucked every mans sister,” extolled Kubaba the Hittite metals trader. “Favoring Cibias I second Glim. What a market he will make for the Marsaii ferment .. and iron barrel hoops! But keep Glims stinking barley wine away from the barrels.”
Snickering rode the late afternoon breeze. “Bloody Glim! Trafficking southern coffee to the Hyrkons,” snarked wily Carthaginian Himilcar. He poses to sniff the air. “You barter for it with the shrunken men, trading across the suns path where lengths of day and night are forever equal.” Hearing no support for an obscure complaint Himilcar grunts. “You gain the nights profits trading in forbidden territory and exchanging against our council bonds.”
“Violating a bond with Pigmys you say? Ha haha bring action before the council … if you can find a pygmy to accuse!”
“Defiant talk! Sail the deserts as you will, but watch your back in the next dark port.”
“Ye ye yes who indeed do we le … le... leave at our backs,” snickered Nicholydes the Mycenean. “ Never trust a Troas bu... bu... bum-fucker. Himilcar can't keep his oily hair or slick words from curling around his tongue.” His blunt face and bulging blue eyes thrust out at me. “Carthage will one day grab the wrong set of balls, but no matter … and who's the wench Cibias … Zeus sake don't raise your chin like that looking down your nose!” He lowered his ear as Procles whispered.... Then hissing , “By Astartes tit , Ar...Ar... Artyphon, Artyphon … what kind of a name is that? No islander forsaken by Ariadne , but by Joves fleshy ass she's hanging on your arm like a satyrs silver bracelet!” He leers wickedly … “not another Greek piece-of-ass snatched from her cradle ha... hahaha!” He wipes drool from his mouth. “We know about Helen and the rage of Menelaus. We imagine her seduction of Paris and marvel at her escape to the night people beyond the first cataract.” Grabs his balls and points at Artyphon. “So is this dark haired slave beauty one pri... pri … private … or public amusement?”
Slanderous, lecherous bastard … I say. “Ending our voyage not last among my crew she became a free woman. And as of this day she is trothed to her Captain. ” I raise her beside me and touch the white doeskin sheath at her belt. “All may note the virgins dirk still guards. And boyos sharp its blade.” Preferring the larger truth I stare at the Greek. “Bound away darkly will she never be, as suffer Hellene naiades, but pledged to sunny Arinn will faithfully wear my knife before the next voyage.”
Cheers abound. Tara whispers to a councilor who flits away. Two Hebrew caravaners have blanched moon-pale. Half of the dozen women attending smile solemnly. A stunning Celtic beauty jabs her master; his face is iron. Artyphons cheeks and neck flush deep red, as I seem not to have informed her of marriage. She seeks my eyes as a dagger-fish seeks smelt, but mine are round and smiling as Queen Mary assures success to all westward moves. I see the westering in us, slipping round her wrist a gold torque fitted to one of Alreks northern yellow diamonds. Glitter and sparkle, size of a almond; the cutter worked all night for Artyphons pleasure. Her arm battles with long fingers which cradle the torque and she is crying, silvered nails digging into my arm. Without force have I captured her by prayer? I feel tension singing like stretched lines in a gale so motion to a wine-girl. Nicholydes leaps before me shouting, “wine girl and mistress of Bachus bring bowls and bowls even the nymphs gooseberry froth these Hyrkonians drink. Zeus beard how can we celebrate a virgins bedding with no fucking wa … wa... wine!”
And from behind me a greybeard competitor. “Bold move Cibias, from student to teacher. Zeus beard don't try mastering such a spry wench, but show her a bare arm and like hawks will she always return.” Older and wiser I see, but a sharp edge flashes. “Have you a sample of the cherry ferment, seeing as your darling maid gains Junos protection? Desert dorn thirst never forsakes my Berber clients.” The room now breaks into bawdy chants of doomed ships, lost sailors and romantic nymphs cavorting with dolphins, and indeed Bachus fills the Council room tiled bull floor to dolphin engraved ceiling.