Artyphon my dear after Stygian threats dissolve in lovers cooing has returned to a councilors veiled deportment. She scans the dialects and as men rattle broken secrets and promises she drops fragrant clues in my ear. Egyptian, Syriac, Latin, Berber and timbres lost in mist my ears cry for silence. Yet mostly the shouting is done in traders Minoan … anyone who could afford a place at the Trade Councils table must afford the Memphis tutor, or the Syrian port refugee. The Council was in no small or quickly crafted part a Hyrkonian venture. Cybelles gift after the diaspora; no trade no life. A few islanders like us taught their own. Blue water merchants spoke dead Cretan or didn't trade … not with the assurance of trade bonds that covered loss at sea! Certain. Assured. Controlled. Just like a thousand winters before when Minoan wealth could have bought heaven itself and brought Zeus' wife to the couch of dolphin and bull. Before the hot red rock flowed and ash overflowed the sky … before the islands were shaken. Before wealthy Gnopt and Crete and Atlantis were civilization no more. Better not to think of that loss, or of the pretending we do that Zeus has laid out his civilization for us and its image was the bull and its name Minos.
True. You may still hire a club-footed Mycenaean to ship Cyprus copper to the Gaulish Marsaii without a bond. Or wrangle poppy juice from scarred southern Numidians bound for the slant-eyed sailors beyond the Ganges. A hungry trader might do such. For the risk a price was asked, and the un-bonded trader payed that cold price. Cold in name, cold in manor and cold in execution. Risk in such un-bonded trades could still be spread among the markets. Those factors who bought and sold them called their insurance bridals. As in bride. Some Tyrian bondsmen would bridal, would retain the traders young wife and children until the return cargo of tin and amethyst, mountain lapis and silk or Kelt women made port. Gold-favored Scythian slavers circled Damascus writing such contracts with their felt huts smoking hashish and awaiting failure. Some slavers offer to share bridals, and it's said some women buy a piece of their own share.
False. Most farmers and guildsmen consider the bridal fair, as staunch labor they stand never to lose and their fathers lost risk was paid in blood. Ancient Cretan scrolls damn Ceberus on the Palace daring to boil a plowmans sweat! I am appalled. Should I ever sit at Council table such trade-in-slaves will see my wrath. No Captain, no banker, no trader who could put a sesterces between his wifes knees would take those risks.
I ensured Egyptian glass vials of cherry ferment were presented to the most important traders. Mostly the shouters shouted down the Egyptian plea for quiet and order. I let it gambol on, till slave girls had refilled the wine jars. Then shout! “Some have tasted the cherry ferment. That will ship in two years. I now transport fifty barrels of Frankish spirit and three hundred Spanish oak barrels of the Kings fish sauce ferment !”
The shouting stopped in an instant. Then... “Salt infested rotgut!”
“Store your butchered lamb under sawdust on block-ice; fresh ferment on fresh lamb is the way of kings. Priced at seventy silver minae? Most reasonable as rot comes not from our caves, and not in our barrels!” Movements seethe round the table.
Japhe the Armenia pirate and Golr the Pict have retained women for their laps. Good looking girls actually, Samothrake wenches sporting full breasts and gold earings for the two ugliest blue-striped sons-a-bitches I've ever seen at council. They are captains themselves, not just factors of captains or money-changers and strapped to a reeling deck knew a worthwhile womans ass when they felt it. Should one view the Trade Council as such a briny unsettled sea? Lear and beg they had … with silver Spanish minea between their teeth they had begged the serving girls attention. Japhe was something of a squire in his yellow and blue thatched-silk tunic and red linen vest, imported to Armenia by eastern desert caravaners who wouldn't share a stitch of that trade. Golr was got up similar, but for the wool tartan and the girls took to the rich fabrics like doves to nest. Bastards both - the captains were attentive whore-masters with only one eye on me. All four were now swilling unwatered Chian wine as if it were the sour-blue Naples dog-piss the Etruscans try to export.
“Fish sauce eh , dried out no doubt to camel-dung flakes on the Hyrkonian rocks,” snarls Demtons, still smarting from the lost silver horns of his city.
“Not so my friend. I transport that sauce from Marsaii where it ferments fresh and lively in the Kings cave. The barrels are encased in wax. Then, I sail to Herakleion. “
“Waxed eh … sure you aren't transporting goat-cheese,” sniped the Syrian? “I saw none in the zikkuret markets of Susa. Your fish ferments like feces in a Corinth cesspool!”
“Your mah … mah... mothers whoredom,” spit the Corinthian stutterer Procles missing his left hand to a Mantinaen ax-blow. He had already bought a 9% interest in my trade from Gedes to Marsaii savages be damned and was angling for more.
“Ferments like the Goddess Herself,” I puff. “In Poseidon lair She blew from Her own mouth amber sea-foam … sparkling with mysterious high-born life. So the witches tell us...” I let that indiscretion slide into confusion as the ultimate brewer appeared to be boiling, sulfur infused lichen ponds into which only virgin adepts were permitted to dip their feet before mashing through pods of rotted herrings. Then I pout. “All expect high demand for fish sauce this spring; remember that when May revels require you to rebid portions! Our agent signals that all barrels save the Kings own reserve are already sold. Sidonian merchants beg for the lees – Zeus knows their Phoenician women give so little pussy those merchants plead silver with fish-wifes for their daughters and must cover all their meats with rotted Etruscan fish-guts.”
The table round explodes in laughter, except for the Carthage factor Memns and his half-brother, a hook-nosed Tyrian. “Fuck you Cretan and the sinking reed boat you floated in on.” He reaches into his belt-poke extracting an Hyrkon electrum stator and flips it spinning across the table to where Ashur sat. “A half-truth like half-gold has always been the Minoan way.”
“The just and open Laws of Trade have always been our way.”
“Open you say? Will the Cretan wool market reopen to Utica weavers?”
“When the Utica wool comes from the backs of sheep not rats and rabbits.”
Memns face burns red. “Remember Minervas gift to Arachne when her arrogance exceeded her power … such little that still remains of Minoan lands.” Putting his face to a brass bowl Memns spit. “You cannot die away fast enough, Minoan … Hyrkonian … seafarers … whatever bastard child of the ocean fires you call yourself now.”
Volcano-like threats erupt about the table. Ashurs face blanches white in fear and anger. “Peace peace my brothers … peace in the trade laws! Does not Phinnias of Syracuse exchange each year sixty debans of pearls with Biryawaza of Damascus for the bronze gears to run their water- wheels? How could they grow their wheat without irrigating the highlands along the river?” Ashur hesitates while breathing calms. “Princes … bankers … traders … by Zeus beard,” he exclaims , “let there be peace among the council. Peace in these times of war as between royalty. My own brother may he live forever Assyrian King Ashur-Dan has contracted with Hequamaatre, the Egyptian Ramesses for nine-hundred fists of turquoise from the Sinai mines in exchange for one-hundred horns of poured iron. Surely men of politics and power and towers of stone ought not to trade more openly than we for whom trade is our very blood.”
“Tell that to Memns whose Gedes factors mixed snake venom into the tanning extract they brewed, bottled and shipped to Syracuse. Twenty tanners died .”
“Stealing bread from our childrens mouth those tanners,” Himilcar exclaims! “They worked hides of red deer from the Tin Isle. Marsh savages sneak those hides across the channel; we watch, but who would think to row hollow-burnt logs? Both are criminals who did not have Carthage permission to trade. Die badly so they should, and will once we put down our moles.”
My fist slams the podium. “A city without a wall claims an ocean without a bound? Has Carthage poured its first mole, or beach galleys on wood rollers like the picts! Really Himilcar your Troas brothers struggle with Mycenae stone-mongers. You forget your place. Do Hyrkons need your oil-bearded permission to fuck your wives, because if so there's lots of criminals at this table.”
As shouting erupts Ashur shouts louder. “Enough!” He drains his bottle of sour Egyptian beer which stank 'cross the table and throws it crashing against the stone wall. “Taking it roughly the fish ferment will fill most of your hold ….” I nodded. “... what would you have us make your bond.” In one phrase the Syrian had brought all to a head.
The sharp traders point brought silence. Raspy breathing fills the room, then the breathy rattle of abacus beads. I am ready. “Damascus silver stators, five per seven barrels.”
Spittle flies ! “Damn your bubbling Marsaii fish-piss. Five stators to cover a thousand leagues ?”
“In a vessel lacking bronzed rudder hinges!”
“Or any rudder at all should the fired oak biscuits fail”
Damme I'd cut the hands from Phonecii spies who passed that carpentry along, but superb spycraft with-all - - should I become as stealthy. Ashurs hand restrains his Carthage companion. “If our sea smooths to a nymphs posset, perhaps brave Cibias. But, really you can't bond Hebrew pigs in mule-skins floating up the Jordan River for that. Let's see … what is that rate per-fist” … his abacus rattled.... “Ridiculous …!”
“You compare us wrongly to stiff-necked Hebrews who have never sailed anything, but a wine-jug across the Jordan.” Laughing rolling 'round the table.
“Forget not our schooners sailed to the Ganges,” snaps Joseph Beni Labbi, “for the Captains are Hebrew if the crew Median.” He bunches a shawl about his thick neck. “Steal our women if you must loving them as we do dry homes among the dates and barley. But, allow we calculate risk as you far-striders experience.”
“Fair enough,” I bow. “Yet now consider how my risk becomes less. Last season at spring festival daughters traded between Parthia and Bizants beached many Black Sea rovers. Be winkled chaperone's ever so watchful, young bodies beckon! Eros conquers the Pontis! Do I await fair seas when Ionian raiders shallow vessels thrive? Threatening Ligourian raiders must sail against the Levanter wind, to sniff our route and Mycenaii pirates are busy ; Agamemnon has called them all to Troy and Mars favorite Hector has sunk them all! I fear not the Pontians … risk dims.”
“Yes yes with your new Pontian playmate you're closer to family than seacow for those rovers. But, not all vessels serve the womans loom,” jibs Aboudamarsser, a slant eye Byzantine trader who builds his own craft. “Corinth just payed gold for three oak and black pine decked birhemes.”
“And they'll be ma … ma … manned soon as Zacynthos whores release the Thespian rowers .. ha ha ...” laughed Procles. “Ashur is said to own the brothels!”
“Damn your royal blood Ashur. Enough! The Athenian Piraeus are said to have released seven galleys. What of them?” The Hebrew picks at obscure intelligence. Does he have agents in place, or just frequent the quay-side wine-rooms of drunken sailors? Does he know the Latin timbers are beetle-bored and weak? “Does Cibias propose offering any exceptional profit to the council?” Joseph made to speak more, then seemed silence itself, until suddenly snatching words from the sky. “I understand the Belisama can raise both a foremast and mizzen. Three masts amid Typhons gale...?”
Cleverly spoken. The Hebrew, a man of one god like Ptalpes was prodding me … “You would find the devils heat Ben Labbi if he squired an ice-floe,” Sailors chuckle; I explain the rigging. “Belisamas square mainsail serves her well, bellying out to the wind like Boreas cloak. But, should we despise the shy Dryad, a faint eastern breeze? Between gaf and boom our boyos raise mizzen-sail in thirty heart-beats. We move to a larboard breath or snap out a windfishing stay-sail while other hulls languish. Three masts we have not, but two-and-a-fishpole we allow. ”
How his crafty eyes twinkle. Scratching an ivory hash-pipe against his beard the Byzantine trader doubled into the threat. “It's your profit to be lost in the doldrums , but Joseph inks with a sharp quill . Insurance Typhon snatches from our purse should your sails overbear.”
Without snarling I bite back. “Typhon knows the master of his own pack.” I've snatched half-a-point and the grim faced Phoenicians know it. I ponder them. Slaggards and luggards they, fit for the iron gorge, not as my mastmen and rowers born to troughs of open green sea. “Judge how I have profited by risk. No profit and none of us sits here,” I snipe. Rude laughs circle the room. “My boyos can reef in and snap out a foresail or spinnaker faster than a Sidonian whore loses her girdle.” Giggles snicker about like wavelets in a narrow crosswind channel.
“Ocean natives, like dolphin your crew indeed, and driven so tell us what remains of their backs when your flogging ends?”
“None before my mast! We neither flog nor start our crewmen, but a true sailors dick full of salt and nose poaching hashish will snap to his own true coin.” I turn on Memns. “My boyos money pouches jingle electrum. You beat raw your rowers and whores, but have you ever surprised one thin copper.” Louder laughing.
“So all sails set and wind on the larboard bow the Belisama spins like a top,” hectors Phoenician Hamilcar finally awaking from a pose of slumber. He raises a finger and on it balances a small, but likely model of my ship. A clever finger-flick sets it spinning; a flip crashes it to the floor.
Bastard - - I raise my talus pole. “If our mainsail had no clews to the salt sea, like a Sidionian bumboat we would indeed travel only north searching for copper horns as you do! But, our keel and rudder keen against swells, fermenting them as wind if-you-will to the navigators eye.” Ignoring the proposed threat I banter. “ Round and round sails the Sidonian weasel, but for us fellow traders, for the kin of bull and dolphin no mule-skin boat for me.” I preen and let the words promise bounce along behind me. “The Belisama … it's a vessel pegged and bound of wooden plank not reed … I save those papyrus reeds so Egyptians have something to scratch their assholes. Planks of ninety royal cubits length and a keel founded to the plank beside and to the deck above. So ships course follows the Captains charts and navigators eye.”
“A full deck?”
“By Chronos gold, the Belisama seconds none as a long-strider on Poseidons waves. She sports a full teak deck from bow to mainmast , mahogany ribs with quarter and tiller-decks toward the stern. Captain and officers cabins are built around the main and mizzens. Two hatchways lead to a crews lower deck and beneath that the stern, waist and for'ard holds. Oarsmens benches ride above the seven knees, and the bilges closed by tarred Indus teak slotted to the keel. Our shipwright allows not a bare keels , but one to which has been pegged a beaten brass strip of armsbreath width; it defeats the sea-worms.” I blink looking over to Hamilcar. “Our hide repels them may they not feast on your mothers asshole.”
“Rare, dammme it's a rare find.” The Carthage factor scratches his thick black oily beard.”What a pestilent trader you are Cibias. A metal keelstrip; how did you conspire with Spanish traitors to supply the zinc?”
“If you swim forever in piss you can never find what buries beneath the ice!”
“We sailed first to those nordlands, Cretan, may Hephaestus crop your knees ...” Again the Carthage factor plays with his thick beard, as if to weave a steadiness into his angry , determined , but rudderless voice. Then … “You have no tree - Cretan - for such a keel, no such tree at all.” Himilcar was shaking a long thin manicured finger at me. “Had such a tree existed, David the Hebrew would have had such timber for his one-god temple … “ . Himilcar smirks, “I find no such god and he finds no such timber. We have both inquired at length.” He draws out a livid, threatening smirk. “Thus such a vessel as you imagine snaps in half should the load spread bow to stern, losing all. So you my smoothly lying Hyrkonian trader may promise three-hundred barrels of Bacchus own wine, , but sail with no more than eighty Spanish barrels. ”
I catch ben Labbis eye ; those females divers we fetched about the Belisama must be his. Playing the long game for western trade , though he ought to be Himilcars ally. But … then I turn my traders staff about, till the bright gold stamp of Gedes warlords faces Himilcar. “This camel-fucking provincial believes I sail a ghost, a phantom, a Boggeskein! Damn my eyes I don't know bilge about my own ship? I sail a ghoul and trade with shades of Styx. ” I pick a date from the silver serving bowl. “I waste summers in Utica whorehouses … and cold winters floating above hot Balearic hemp?”
“You speak not the worst Hyrkon devil, shade of Knossos yet leave the prudent trader bulls shit without the furrow. You spend half your time with Cretan sophists … begging among bards ruins for Talos to reanimate. ” Hamilcars eyes run round the table. “Hephastus might as well run for the King of Babylon.” He frowns at the faint ripple of laughter. “Your active hours nest with Median vipers, scribes , mages and oracles all whores to strange vapors and potions, tricksters who burn rock and color the suns white light with glass. With devils ,” he sputtered! “They build nothing, they fight no-one and they search only dead bones.”
I snicker … Artyphon had shown me the colored light trick, and among mages no explanation could we find. Either on earth or Hades or in heaven. Smiling I think nice try Hamilcar, you are spitting into the desert. So I prattle along, in my best imitation of an aggrieved Minoan. “You say this of me faithful friend, and fellow man of adventure? What hides between sailors? Are two vessels not drawn together? ”
Much uneven clapping. “Do such families join? Aphrodite, Poseidon, Astarte, Baal, Zeus and Cerebus,” carps Cerus the deaf Median Akkad who wouldn't know a mountain Mycenaean god who butt-fucked him. My family tutor had beaten me, when I had not carried on with foolishness from the Minoan poet Crytheis. A poet from the diamond age, when Cretan ships flew on a silent sea beyond Hercules Pillars Crytheis returned the pearls. He rhymed of silver-hair maidens, of lost friendship and bronze-body sailors lost in high rolling waves. He sang of life before the trade laws, and before this or any council, life in an age of free men.
By damn I carried on now. “Do we sail nothing to nowhere? Or do we sail with Hercules strength? With timbers that excel the height of Poseidons waves. The small NEGROS south of Hercules Pillars know such timber, the ironwood that grow to 200 royal cubits!” I draw a papyrus sketch of such a tree from a satchel, keelwood standing tall beside an enormous tree with human-like ants at it base. “Who among us has also seen the southern jungle,” I shout! Three jewel fisted hands raise. “And who has entered the forest dark, where men are ants and trees, giants?” The same three hands - - then a fourth.
“Stop Cibias,” Hamilcar shouts. “Mind your tongue and your geography. Enough and more than enough lest the length of your trees extend far beyond the length of your life! Carthage claims all property of the seas and coast south of the Pillars.”
“With dicks smaller than pygmy you over reach,” I snipe. We stare straight at and straight through each other. “Your threat and my risk , or the fates string?”
He says nothing and the grumbling spreads, for who wills every unknown to Carthage? For Didos klan so lately come to southern seas wall-less Carthage knows no modesty, cocksmen knowing only arrogance backed by their bloody bronze swords. But, I was just rousing up the Minoan high tone, and plowed for'ard! “Fearing neither lion nor snake, and making much of their smallness pygmies learned to form and dry wooden pegs that sweat amber and swell into the planks. Zeus knows they even taught that to the drunken, beer swilling Egyptian carpenters.” I lead to the edge of the harbor before showing them the wind. “And the open sea? Our women weave and wax hemp rope and bind planks as well as you – while entire trees and the first elbow branch become the ships keel!”
“No!” Words scraped from Himilcars throat. “A wise man finds the wind before he takes a piss. He would not know what lays south of the Pillars, except the worlds end.”
“Horse-shit! Phoenicians may not know which way they piss, but they have known a left-handed sun and a round world since men walked to the Tin-Isle,” I said. The quiet of old stories settles uneasily over the room. “If Cretans had not sailed to them, and brought their tin round to our forges, from where would our bronze have come? We have no Byblos!”
Every crease darkens on Himilcars ragged face. “ Tin-Isles, floating mountains of ice … and giant trees … what do you really know of these things Hyrkonian?” I said nothing. “Oh yes I have seen them … our sea-people know the Pillars and secrets of coasts beyond the Pillars. Giants that we are discovering those secrets and passing them on. Those secrets belong to us. All others .. smaller men choke on them. ”
“Choked on a Trojan blade?” I stab with my trade fetish. “Was it a Tyrian or Carthaginian arm that drove it into the neck?”
“You attend too many tragic Mycenaean plays, Cibias. They do prattle on, threatening Cretans, perhaps Hyrkonians.” Himilcar starred across at the Etruscan. “Many others, the wary are shielded by their ignorance of playwrights and geography.” Then he stood and turned to where the King must have looked down and spoke upward to the royal seat. “ Cretans choked on arrogance which no shield may defend. Ammuts fire and Greek savages once destroyed their high mountain temples. Do not encourage Hyrkonians to follow.” The arrogant bastard had the bards floor and played his whippet voice as the entire chorus.
Silence. Exchanging threats within the Trade Council lay beyond my power, but not that of the Kings Queen. Her voice drifts down from his platform seat high on the wall. “You should offer a play at Corinth, Hamilcar... as citizens offer oak leaves and hemlock juice to the blasphemous.” A womans cutting voice. “Are Cretans dead long enough to die twice? Perhaps, but surely not the wise Hyrkonians.”
Then another voice both icy and lilting floats down from the Kings box. Sisters in heart speaking if not in blood. “So young and quick Hamilcar your family prospers, and how slowly death will become you. Shall we write and explain what prudence I have learned from the Minoans?”
“Clothe Clothe is that you up there, beside the Queen, you traitorous Troas bitch,” shouts Himilcar? “Will you write in the high language than none understand?”
Taras, councilor and lover allows an echo. “The goddess understands.”
“I should have had your tongue cut out when you shared my bed. Little good it did me! Know this: your brother tried to sell you to me.” Himilcars voice echoed in bitter silence, then ...
“Mind your own tongue Himilcar.” Japhe the fat Armenian who could barely lift his hands for the emerald set finger-rings was shuffling gold beads on an abacus. “You may have no better use for a Trojan womans mouth; she may want to cut off your dick, but then again she might not be able to find it !” Iron daggers rattles and moaned against silver studded leather sheaths, the sounds flowing like snakes along the tall wood and marble walls. “Wine, more wine you fat-titted wenches,” Japhe shouts , blade in hand beneath his scarf. “Wet tongues are silent and wise.”
I mock, “Judge well my judges.” The rattling finished as a slur, Chian wine filling the amphorae. Japhe spit a plug of mountain hashish; some thought he could have been King of Armenian, a nation of beautiful women, hard-won mountain silver and gypsy song. Sturgeon too for which I traded expensively. Farms are centered on small dells, low walls divide fields and the kinship councils had chosen leaders since rivers ran white with summer ice. Such peoples would have served his justice; you can build-out workshops and discipline warlords to trade in such a country. Given time and a character brazen to risk. But, he kept council only with his Sythian nymph, perched on a rocky Rhonish seaside.
Twice I'd circle-traded the Black Sea from Byzantium past ancient Theodosia to Sinope and thought I knew what worried the clever bastard. Grasping for Armenia would put him next to Greeks and red-beards swarming the Scythian Chersonese, a mix of sulfur and pitch awaiting sparks; imagine squadrons of rye-rotted six-cubit red-beards thundering up from the plains in Scythian war chariots wielding iron Greek two-bladed hatchets. Yes, Japhe could imagine … all the risk with nothing quick to show for it. No gain. He remains a councilor to the Parthian Sinope Autarch. The southern mountains loom and one may only imagine the desires of the high-land Aryans split between raiding for women and trading for iron ore their fathers smelted to the east. Yet of even more influence and a two-week camel-ride exposed the restless mountain Assyrians. Their iron-wheeled chariots had come north before and their steel bladed wealth was exceeded only by their desire for lowland agriculture.
Like trading the gold-buggered Scythians you could lose your head with a false look at the wrong hetmans woman, but the profits from Syrian and Egyptian manufactured goods made barons of camel-drivers. I'd made that overland voyage and could imagine Japhes trade interests. Five nations and a dozen strong-walled cities grasping for Zeus bolt! Between Cilician Gate tin and Scythian gold Japhe lay in wait ...
“Shadows move from floor to ceiling. Cibias waits your daggers,” chants the Kings Queen.”
“Let the crossbreed rot in his fish ferment.”
“He'll have a trident up your asshole before that!”
Again the shouting, and chaos, voice against voice. But, the Phoenician opposition has been distracted and for that I praise Aphrodite ! Evening wind had grown cold and spill from the high windows has put skin-bumps and hardened nipples on the serving girls and of such the womens council will
remind Minos when shares of the service fees are to be distributed. All council were exhausted. Ptalpes the Egyptian finishes a beer and looking around the table shakes his wooden clapper trade-fetish. “We curse all evening, and yet make not one sesterces! Our wives will have horns on us all before we finish. Will Cibias complete his trades … I do not know, but our priests pay me to roll the bones.” He glares at the Carthaginian. “What does Moloch pay you to do Himilcar?”
Sensing a lost venue Ptalpes snickers a small sharp-toothed laugh. “I call for a vote.”
“Baaaa.... I'd call for a stoat I'd ball for a goat,” mimickes Hilmilcar spraying wine across his own paper as if his mouth was full of bread.
Japhe … waiting … patience expired snaps his fingers. “You will Cibias take our cherry-juice after delivering your feckin-A precious fish sauce? Take the juice, before the late summer harvest and we require the ferment … one barrel back for every four sent.”
Finally! As if trap jaws of silence snap shut! The demand sudden – a Trade Council member demanding trade in exchange for support … of anothers trade -- both intrusive and expected. I supress an admiring grin. His ploy brushes aside refusals by both Etruscian and Carthage traders. Japhes city lay far to the north east and a journey would take my vessel the length of the Bosporus and for weeks sail further into the Black Sea. Empty sea. Pirate sea. Artyphons fingers tap staccato numbers along my right hand. I exclaim. “Only the new press, and I shall return one barrel for every nine taken … if the juice is fresh with blueberries. And oak barrels, eleven turns to the wrack, and Zeus beard use not that pitch-seeping pine.”
“Bronze hooped birch barrels we can manufacture, rate them one for six.”
“With all bronze returned.”
I exclaim. “Say we both, and heard by all. Set a scribe to parchment that we may sign.”
“Last time you will ever see that juice is when you load his ship,” warns Demton. “He'll return goat-cheeze not ferment from those Gaulish whores.” Desperate … starving … fearing the southern Latins Etruscian harbors were empty, workshops bare and wine-vats full of sour catpiss.
Nicholydes scratches roughly at his woolen tunic. “We'll be bonding that trade also I imagine. Well well ...” He looked me over like a teamster eyes a mountain mule. “You know last month we had a fat-bellied luger taken not forty leagues east of Marsaii; Genoise raiders without doubt and their queen was not … helpful … Perhaps she has learned something since then, about what men expect.”
“Not from you though,” japed Golr and laughed harshly. Abacus beads ditto around the table looking for number and advantage. Parthian and Mede share a scratched tablet, then … “One-of-seven, Cretan. On the outward trade you will take at least two-hundred barrels. And on return … yes then have your share … but, for us neither the first nor last of the vapor. We want neither the Goddess sweat nor her piss, but only loving fluid from her excited loins. I have your word on that Cibias … your word!” He slides a rough emerald worth my entire farm right off his left little finger and throws it at me across the table.
Artyphon snatches it from the air. Her lips move in silence and her fingers lay on my wrist, making its words. Then … “Done.”
From above in the Kings place a womans singsong, “ Sing of trade, the Queen retires ...” The metronome stops ticking.
“Fuck a dolphin, bitch”, the Carthaginian snarls.
Evening rain pelts heavily against the north-facing windows slaves having run up to install the shutters. Anemoi speaks and Acte whispers through an Egyptian sand-clock that all could read. Japhes talus pole raps the floor and he flips a small electrum stator to wobble and spin on the scribe tally-sheets before Ashur.
His chair squeaks pushing back. “Will we finish the vote?” Ashur rises crossing the floor between us. Discontented mutterings and nutshells rain down from the upper benches. “Just make a fucking screw-up of this and watch brother Ashur-Dan take my head, and then pile yours above it.” It's almost funny, as almond shells crunch while Ashur walks. Fixing his traders staff in a hole beside my podium he calls, “sing of trade.” Then removing the trade fetish continues its wooden clatter as he beats the ivory stave butt once twice three times into the wood floor. Staff fixed. From his pouch he removes a falcon feather talus and loops it about the staff. Returns to his seat, Japhe pops up following his oak staff crackling with uncut emerald strings …. another looped falcon feather; then … Glim ...