“Surely you know, Japhe that one satrap or warlord cannot provide bonding on fringe outposts. Those savages are too poor and too slow, but want the clever products of nations more wealthy. Instead … ” – and Joseph bit his lip as if revealing the north-stone magic – “an entire klan, coven or city covers trade risk by small individual contributions. Even bridals!” Joseph took a long draw on the hashpipe and passed it along. “One trader will move the contract to Heriklides or Tyre or Hyrkon before the newly bonded ship leaves. Storks, hawks and pigeons do the rest. Of-course if a vessel on such a route should founder then the provincial city or klan is ruined.”
“My blunder Joseph; Poorly schooled I mistook size for strength.” He laughs. “You know I demand a contract for so much as one cherry pit! Truly now, does Minos has such contacts with northern savages?”
A favor owed, thought Joseph. “Allover! More than a few cod busses. Even now Hyrkon encourages its Captains to spend nights with daughters of local warlords. Warlords become satraps become kings, and kings avoid wars with fathers of their family bastards.” Joseph halts, reminding himself that the klan has not a forest of spears and shields; his intelligence must be double-strided. What to tell? “Median scribes we employ read their ancient slabs and report Minoan ships are thinner now, and fewer than in Cretes glorious past, but like Janus a diaspora shows both sides. Minoan blood stains every coastline and girdle Ha hahaha!” Joseph tightened his wool collar against the rain. “Risk overwhelms! How Cibias and Glim stay alive I can't imagine, unless by one small victory following another. A single great loss and both vanish!” He shoulders the other two traders. “Should we live in more interesting times, pigmys would dance on our bones.”
Golr scowls. “Minos money in both cases. Neither trade ledger or diary would stand sunlight. Lucky for Glim his Nile barges carry cinnamon the Pharaohs favorite uses to paint her nipples.” He eyes the companions wickedly. “Many will testify to the sweet taste may Juno keep pharaoh blind! If not Ptalpes would feed Glims bargemen to the crocodiles.”
“There's some word of Minos traders finding saffron to feed Glims boats returning upstream.”
“Saffron, really? Quite rare since Malta was burned again by the Etruscians. Oh to get some myself. Chian factors will trade saffron for silk to the eastern caravans.” Even this high on the cliff Hyrkons palace roadway was ten-paces across, a broad paved switch-back wayfaire for a proud city. From the Kings Court , government towers and the stiff walled armory along wealthy estates to the white-washed shops of tradesmen Hyrkon brashly poured itself downhill. Was that the scent of baked cinnamon from an open window, Joseph wondered? Far from home he felt comfortable among the prosperous crafts and traders.
'So wealthy', thought Joseph Ben Abbi. Thinking out loud he said. “ Most islands are filled with the wretched , supporting the wicked.” Leaving unsaid the Hyrkons prudence and restrained strength-of-arms; they recalled his own shared fortunes. Each mans kinship was fabulously wealthy and all three were considered independents and much entertained among divided traders. The councils foolish bickering had them exchanging snide and snickering devilments. “I think Minos is lucky to have no daughter,” Joseph suggested to general assent.
“The wife of his dead brother lives on Cibias farm, other side of the island.” Remarried, her children could pose an issue of succession.”
“Does Cibias keep them docile?”
“He ensures they learn to read and do sailors calculations. Not so docile. Minos secures them?”
“Minos has seen to a sword-ship tutor. Such democratical fantasy as his requires all citizens defend the throne and senate.” A tender subject, even in a well-governed state. Golr nudged his companions. “The Three Fauns shall it not be tonight, gentlemen? What other ale house can so well fill dry throats and empty confused minds. ”
“Zeus beard that's far side of the quay,” complained Japhe who even now wished for a four-man sedan carry not possible on this steep road. He wondered unhappily on the democratical implications of such a road.
Golr sucked a huge glowing cone of fire into his hash pipe. “Better walk off those profits you made from the Chersoneese tin-horns or you'll drop dead on your mistress like Boforeens did in Sardis the fat fool and broke her spine. Only fifteen years old she was and it cost twenty gold deems to pay off the family!”
“Oh yes, the year before I saw them in Jericho … she being a ripe fourteen years and him gloating about like an old boar! She exposed one ankle and that covered in emeralds. How could I buy such beauty?” He sourly hitched at a snakeskin belt. “One of those tin-luggers sank off Abydos; one of six. Unrecoverable! Have you ever seen a Pontian pearl diver willing to dive deeper than forty cubits?”
“Bad fortune indeed, though a horn of tin weights twenty bricks ...”
“Not under water ...”
Golr made a wry face. “Well now since we are being that clever you may ask how many pearls fit in a divers cunt! You cannot become so outrageous about size! Ha haha...” And all did laugh in the measured way of metal traders. The shipment would have spanned the entire eastern Mediterranean. If recovered the lost tin Japhe thought would have made slave owners and salon maidens of any island farmers family. Trade Council insurance would redeem sixty percent of the loss.
Jibs were good-natured, time stolen; this walk was both a pleasure of place and status. Hesperis beckoned evening and first-flames lit beside many entries. Hyrkon was at peace. None feared the intruder, and should a door dispose an unlikely face it could expect a wine-bowl and gentle direction not the tips of spears. Bright hemp awnings covered most gateways and dyed linen banners of sewn womans-work touted family histories. The pitch and stairways swung easily across the slope; here the cliff-face was gentle. Enameled cisterns marked each switchback; the storm now swirling in from the north would fill each and Golr considered hurrying on his comrades … a bad idea for men prone to think and talk faster than their stride. Still the three men set a more brisk pace, and eyed the harbor warily as if thunderheads deep-set in evenings last light were marking them even as villas whisked by.
Some homes built to a steep edge showed little more than an oak doorway into a slate roof. The entry included a winch-system for lowering food and goods to the real kitchen-way entry. Royals perhaps, those green and blue and rose-painted buildings dotting below the harbor-view in bright ochre , but royals bound to the trade. Smoke and the smell of roasting lamb and rosemary rose from behind several buildings and the men were famished. Golr had picked out the wealthy tints that glow at night … phosphorus paint from the pools at Utica … and the prideful second story glass window, brass wind-vanes and the rare Syrian toy that made sparks from wire and spinning iron … yet walking those cobbles five times five he still thought that after 400-years Hyrkonia bound top-to-bottom was a city and kingdom, almost an idea where unity ruled.
That unity was deeper than a kings amusement. Home where oak covered hills met the Temes and a flame-haired Pict wife drove his chariot he had three-hundred bricks of priceless tin to bet on that unity! And he also had a unity, with Joseph and Japhe; the three men belonged together; he figured cautiously 'we are neutral traders bridging the split between northern Celts and southern Phoenicians.' Split indeed. Golrs gut turned thinking that really 'we are sewed screaming breast to anus' with each hostile klan so whichever way you turned you were always both fucked and buggered!'
Japhe mumbling yet found the right voice. “Buggered Zeus you couldn't get anyone to shut up.”
“I blame Cibias for the speech-making. Is he really the Kings bastard?”
Joseph said carefully. “Minos treats him like one, branding blood with a Greek name.”
“Bred on a Greek mother, a Spartan wildcat say the Argos witches.”
“Of witches you might know, hehe...”. Japhe said nothing. Joseph passed the hashhorn. “Last month he accompanied the King to that Sicilian bacchanal thrown by Aminias … whore, bitch, hetaera … the Phoenicians payed her a caravan of gold bars to set Minos against the Greeks … not that he needs prodding since he drove them out of Crete.”
Golr crackled. “Half the pearl-diving wenches on Hyrkon swear Cibias has the same bull-horn birthmark on his ass as Minos.”
“Word came with the Belisama, that Minos now wears a cheek-patch. A frey at sea and Minos would not stay below. A Messinian arrowhead split his mail and leather faceplate just below the eye. Lucky man, but his surgeon did a rough job sewing it up under fire. Small wonder his democratical senate of retired sailors fills his bank while gloating on his glory.”
“I heard the arrow carved his stomach, but no matter ...” A silence. “Tough men … both of them, father and son. Some hetaera say Cibias fucks like Minos too har har har,” roared Japhe .
“And your sister ...”
Japhe snapping around toward Joseph. “She claims to be a Jew so perhaps … ” Japhes face turned cold and he snarled. “No , no … say nothing of the whore to me, Joseph. She escapes the seraglio, to her shame and that of her family, rejects honorable death by boarding Cibias vessel after our race damned be Tyche. Cibias breaks his promise to ensure her honor and our families pride. What woman of virtue brazens the shield-wall?
“Her women say after fitting Cibias armour she removed as arrows flew.”
Only to return as physician to the blood-soaked deck! Whores only escape the harem or makes bold over a public slaughter!”
“Minos obvious thinks different,” scolded Joseph. “Do not blind yourself; Minos looks bore empathy and does she not sit at the right hand of his favorite? ”
“And thanks to Artyphon, which special tasks does Minos pick for his favorite bastard?”
“Cold ones some say ...” , and Japhe went silent, pounding his trade staff into the cobbles, “too cold anyway for a royal,” he finished.
Then Golr rutting on the hashpipe came alive. “Had I power, and not two daughters , but a son to train, with Welsh cannibals on my flanks and Ire vipers across narrow straights tis a dark brooding dirkman I'd make of him. At home on the breast of a enemies daughter, while he drives a blade into her heart.”
“Keep your blood council, my friend, we do not pry.” Joseph plucked ice from his well trimmed beard. “ Yet Cibias deadly, Cibias faithful, Cibias a blue sea Captain I mean to know what does that make him exactly in the Hyrkonian Court?”
“Favorite no doubt, just to afford the magical keel … should such a keel exist. Cibias trades actively and rarely ports-over at Hyrkon. Of-course Minos distributes power among his lords, and Cibias had that keel before election as a full trade council captain.”
Golr muttered. “You mean to show court interest should a current Hyrkon court exist. Ha! Bloody king Minos is seen to be of a democratical nature.” Golr could hardly contain his contempt. “He couldn't scratch three regiments from home nobles if Frisian berzerkers flew across the Tyrrhenian Sea! The damned fool he's scattering royals among foreign trading partners. Says they need tempering! What temper does a hetman need, but the bronze blade in his right hand?”
“Wise and profitable marriages, perhaps,” smiled Joseph.
“Royal marriages? They depend on land, and Hyrkon after driving the Mycenii out of Crete refused to govern the land soaked with their own blood. They say hill upon hill it belongs to each temple priestess … or worse, to the believers gathered on each hill; Minos calls them a peak sanctuary and I believe wants to make each one a city state. What crap! Even the sons … he's divided them up as if unity is not a kingdoms first jewel.”
“No petty vying for councils favor; I see wisdom in that. Where are Minos sons?”
Joseph thought for a moment, as he perhaps should not repeat all that his factors and spies reported. But, who speaks without playing the spy? “The Kings youngest troopers among Hyrkons raiding fleet south of Argos. He brought two companies with him, and gathered another pair from escaped slaves, dodging Dorian lances, stealing their horses and whoring the Elusians who gather like bees on honeysuckle. A man need choices.”
“Swaddled Greek women with not an ankle to show? ” Japhe spit. “What does he think? Does Minos consider the arrow lucky as well as wise?”
Joseph continued. “And he's got the eldest, Didikas trading glass ingots all the devil up to hell-hole hot Egyptian Thebes poor bastard it boils as Cerberus tit-milk. Will he trek south to find the Niles source pouring out of some river cows asshole? Or will he return north with a van of ebony hoplites set ravaging on the Phonecii? Traders from Elephantine say he hosts black burned diamond merchants from Abu Symbel who care not for the day.” A shudder ran through the three men, bodies bent in an unspoken curse. “Stories eh, but with such venturing he can forget about Pharaohs sister, and what comes from wenching every port between Sidon and Ithaca?”
Almost relieved Golr swilled a thin evil ferment and spit. “His money his time. Children at home spend the fathers treasure and lust for his throne; tight with his own money and surprise, Minos is honest with his state treasury.”
“Keeps the granaries full, too” noted Joseph who owned land along the Jordan river. “He's made dukes and barons plant their lands, though soil must be scrapped and transported from Lydia ; two fruit trees are planted for every one cut down, and the Hyrkon senate is chosen by lot every four years. Minos will have neither lackey nor beggar.”
“And you like that?” Golr spit. “Hyrkon farmers assess their own taxes and Zeus save the fool who can't perform his letters or numbers, and figure the laws when kings guards show at his doorstep. Should every labor and miller find pleasure counting to fifty?”
“Only those standing night-guard needing to report an enemy. Many weak have the power of one strong when all value the same interest,” Joseph observed to no sympathetic looks from his compatriots. “The poorest Hyrkon labor wear leather sandals. Tanned leather mind you from Thessaly. Minos had them made and rode with his wagons passing them out missing not the most modest straw roofed cottage.” Blank looks. “Don't you see? Such men gladly pick up the bow and sling and spear when Kings Lieutenants form up local guards.” Scoffing... “One or two of our prophets have spoken similar ideas,” mentioned Joseph again … and for the icy looks bit his tongue and then said nothing.
At bottom the street pitched out onto the stone harbor quay. The three traders were headed for a popular sailors rest – a timber-bound and well-heated commons dedicated to drinking and eating and gambling and swiving – at the far end of the quay. Joseph looked about as the odd fisherman bound for the night sea rustled nets and sails from warehouses bordering ships to the seaside and workrooms to the hill. The wealthiest broached the entire distance, while a dozen laborers rooms might share only a common arched wall. A traveler could still walk unarmed throughout Hyrkonia , which few kingdoms could boast.
Golr chuffs. “I'll admit Minos has sown widely. Cibias is odd for a trader.” All ports had ears and all kingdoms had dungeons for unwary speakers. A mans life and coin-bag were safe – safer still when his mouth did not betray. He had bent near to Japhe, almost whispering. “ Listens a bit longer than you might expect. Listening for what, I wonder … Not a pretender to the throne, then is he?”
“No pretender that one, whatever else he may be” growled sharp-eared Golr. “We've sailed together north of Loki-be-damned Frisian marshes. Those seas crack lesser men , and the Jutes … to the law-of-trade they trust him. One of his shipmates says he swore allegiance to both the kings sons at Cretan Phaistos where bull jumping still reigns … all three did it , leap the horns and lived and so after catching and raping the temple oracle bare to each-other closer than blood. He's the Cretans sense of duty and place.”
“Cretan, yes … or Minoan. ” 'If the Kings first and second sons died … what then,' thought Joseph? “And the keel, can we be sure of that?”
“Well Cibias boat's in the harbor. Over there, far to the right. Can't see it from here; it's lined tight to the second mole beside the Carian warship.”
“Long speared and short-tempered pricks, the Carians. They didn't mind Cibias company?”
“Cibias got first to the mole. Been in port for two days.” Both Joseph and Japhe stopped dead still. “Oh my friends I know nothing special. My serving wench has been among the shop-keepers.”
“Every bread-loaf and every dry cod purchased is another bribe, eh or does law prevail when she says 'my barley your silver'? Barley indeed!”
“Such bribes as you imagine are not needed , Joseph. A sailor may whistle his tune in any Hyrkon wine-shop as freely as channeling The Balerics under his mainmast. Zeus' fart, people here are sailors … and they have a word for it, for the sailing gear that gets built. Metekos is what they call it, a kind of half human half-machine. I mean our sea is their home and a sailor and his ship not to be separated --- at least at sea.”
“So secrets may then be thieved on land?”
“Joseph Joseph … does a man thieve his own wifes breath?” Japhe knew he was getting nowhere, explaining the sea to a desert man. ”Look here, all vessel descriptions are common knowledge – and it's no different with Cibias vessel. It has got plenty of attention from the locals cause by Zeus it's a stropping big bastard. So thick with plank they can rig up with a second mast! When sails are reefed they must beat local children off the spars … monkey-swing is a game with them.”
“Metekos minded children, eh . Tyre would skin and bone-crack them.”
“Not here! The little pagans run free learning what they can. Scraping rudder or climbing mast-top is all the same to the trained eye. Now the bow … it's not the Egyptian bow or a war-beak, but a shoulder that rides above waves not under them.”
“Above? An old Cretan idea, no doubt. The Hyrkonian King pays his carpenters well.”
“Yes indeed , the Minoans tried that rounded bow. My fathers library has painted tablets of the craft. Most beautiful indeed; they fled wind like butterflies … and fell apart by the dozens when seas turned choppy.” Japhe joined fingers and thumbs. “Rounded in front, there's no triangle you see to take the strain. The shipwrights were fined, then imprisoned, then forced to the bull rings. They did not last long! But, now some improvement in the hull ... I don't know. What lays under that shoulder … well that's to be seen, Ben Labbi.”
“So why assume anything, to the traders favor? Aphrodite doesn't suck his dick for free! And what was that crack about Tyrian Byblos?”
“Optimistic bastards aren't we, time and again! While we trade, are we always sure who lays under our wives when the heat takes them? “ Golr laughed cruelly and bit his lip. “Byblos used to be an Egyptian port only. No longer. Where do you think Phoenicians get their tin? “
“From the Red-Hairs above the Black Sea, or from Cyprus itself.” exclaimed Joseph.
Golr spit. “Cyprus my ass, and the mermaid I rode in on. You could melt the island beach to beach and never find enough tin for a cup! Now, the Red-Hairs ….” Golr looped a finger round his gold torq, “I'd like to know why they no longer trade. Keeping it for themselves?. They are not southerners you know.”
“True boreals,” questioned Joseph? “Unless you believe those early Cretan frescoes , of one man vessels of skin shipping among ice-mountains then you can't believe it.”
“Be as skeptical as you want, Joseph. I fear them, three-eyed blond-hair monsters biding their time for the ice-ridges to melt. Gnawing raw bones and waiting ... waiting … to come screaming down around our ears waving bronze hatchets and driving the Scythian cow-fuckers in front of them!” Golr said under his breath, “course others would sell tin, but who wants a Carthage knife in your neck?” He laughed, “ In council the wench in my lap was a pearl diver. She took my silver minea; I promised her two more for a keel-shaving. That should tell us.” Golrs eyes looked absently over the harbor masts. “She should be diving as we speak and meet us at the amphorae.”
“Keel shavings from a succulent pearl diver … you'd put a Utica whoremaster to shame,” shouted Japhe slapping Golrs backs and set flying sprays of ice.
“By Zeus is that sleet,” exclaimed Golr as he raised the collar on his sheep-skin jacket? It was a Pict style jacket, that deflected water with the oiled leather facing outward. He passed over to Japhe a thin bottle of green liquid boiling hot with ferment.
“Bringing water to the desert,” groused Joseph. “That's a Pict for you.” He wonder how Samual could say G*d didn't show mercy to pagans ? He had sprinkled mercy on Hyrkon like May orange blossoms. He had out of season sent it rain! Take away its miraculous fresh-water springs, snuggled in the Western hills; then, not one drop of water flowed on Hyrkonia for ten of the twelve yearly moons. March was too late for rain. Sleet globs blasted right through Josephs thick woolen cloak and stung his skin. “Never should it rain in March.” He hurried a step bouncing thick rubber soles over over the streets steep slick cobbles.
“Couldn't wait any later, to deal for that rotten cherry juice.” japped Joseph looking across to Japhe as they pounded along?
“I'm slo slo slow of speech, Joseph ben Labii affected Japhe, shaking wet from his waxed double-woven silk jacket. Though the silk came from far Kaphet land-traders, it was old Persian style of the high, cold mountains and trimmed with black lambs wool.
“Trade follows speech, and speech thought,” carped Golr who did not know a man smarter or quicker than himself.
A chuckle burst up though Japhes rough throat. “Cretans believe they could trade a hags whalebone comb for Junos ivory dildoe!” And Japhe leered gleefully. “But indeed I waited … and by the time I struck had him spread like a mushroom eating Messenian whore, now didn't I?”
'... breath of Aphrodites tit...' cursed Joseph silently. “but last year during the Virgins festival I did trade your wife for one!” And all three men howled! Then , “ Could the difference really matter, the difference between the breath Cibias cave witches bring to your juice and that of dark Glims; he claims breath of a virgin Negress. Or the Etruscan? ” They claim a very very old breath … if you can believe their finger-painting elders a breath from a time before our sea!”
“Etruscans can't wipe a auroch asshole without falling in!” Golr held up the half-drained bottle. “Grapes of Marsaii and your cherry juice , Japhe, blended together by witches and fermented by the breath …..” A stream of it flickered into his mouth. “HA! Gedes hetaera accept the liquid as gold coin, weight for weight.”
To that mystery all three traders agreed … Joseph thought of little else, the mystery of holy breath controlled now alone by Hyrkonian traders and their Zeus-be-damned witches. One breath for the fish sauce, and another as they observed turning common sweet juice into an intoxicating delirious ferment. One that could burn as well as intoxicate and who knew what other magic it carried? Not all the gold of Persia could buy that mystery. All countries made wine, and some like the Chians made it very well indeed. But even they did not understand the holy breath. Joseph himself had made wine in five different countries. You crushed the grape or berry and then waited for ferment; some countries failed, some years it failed, and the wine stank of rot. Even the rats wouldn't drink it! Most men would drink goat-piss, before they drank Egyptian barley-wine, or Scythian ferment mares milk; yet the intoxicating spirits were similar. So creative breaths unseen for even those must be similar.
“But holy breath never failed the Hyrkonians” spoke Golr giving voice to all mens thoughts !
The secret danced now in their minds eye – and finishing the bottle with throat-burning swallows, and wrapping cloaks tighter than before the men pushed on. Hyrkonians indeed made and bottled superb ferments thought Joseph. Klans of traders and entire countries became wealthy, oh yes. Men made and kept trade because of it. And one ferment product followed another as fish-sauce covered duck followed a pale Marsaii and in turn was followed by the now transformed cherries. Every flask a Hyrkonian marvel even if … this particular flask for which Joseph had traded two Mycenaean dancers and a ground ruby lens had not been made by them!