“I know Cleandra,” jealously shouts another hoplite , and the two young couples pass. “Fuck!”
We remain. Uncertainly Joseph steps for'ard, but Golr shoots back in colloquial Hyrkon. “I speak not words soaked in bitch cat Egyptian, Nor I … we're more your own fellows....” combined all three men. They pass over an Egyptian blown flagon of Chian wine. Golr shows the political side of his klan and remarks broadly. “ Stout men as yer'selves , brave sirs challenging the intruder earn merit –- and we have preserved prime vintage for such a challenge.”
Drinks around for cold, wet sentries. The Lieutenant smiles his boiled leather collar loose and stiff at the same time, while the traders laugh. Threat removed Japhe understands while face preserved. He brandishes his walnut-tipped oak trade fetish. “We come for roast ox-joints and for the ferment and the women.” Well spoken, that … and to each man a bronze coin for the evenings ale passed them.
“Very well Sirs”, manages the Lieutenant, draining the wine-jug “but on Bastets curvy ass don't touch the Cyprian copper-drink. It's really Kition brewed Egyptian beer flavored with anise to cut its metal taste.” The guardsman spit. “Far inferior to Junos cat-piss!”
“Be sure brave youth I would not touch her wet or dry while she shares Jupiters couch.” Laughter roars from the group spiting gods. 'Do they kin' Joseph wonders? 'Yes', Golr thinks, ' the harbor balances just about perfect.'
A mixed company of short-swords guard beyond, in decimals of ten men where the trade council boats had gathered. Ten. Not Josephs favorite number. All fingers or all toes. That was the India traders idea; Persian and Medo-Persian mages prefer eight or sixteen if drunk, he three, or nearly so, but should he try to explain his fraction blank faces stare him down! No loss. The Indus-trader was not yet a council member, though he had delivered twelve bricks of gold to the Damascus bankers. You couldn't ignore that power, eastern power even as Phoenicians extend their own. “Reliable, aren't they Japhe...?” The words just slipped out … Japhe like a mind-reading Etruscan whore just spit!
Breeze floats flute and lyre notes - - - they are near as sin. Torches burn against the night showing the tavern to be a massive bronze-bound wooden redoubt, three-stories high forming the lighthouse base and set upon a seaward edge of the stone groin. Below the tower a harbor-masters residence had been plugged in … and below that , sitting at quay level and guarded by a lighted glass sculpture of three dancing fauns are the beam-strewn rooms of a public house, whose space was the sailors public amphorae. How the wind ripples among those protected whale oil lamps throwing up in showers of light first one fauns leg, then anothers tangled hair … Joseph thinks neither Macedon wind nor a shipload of hashish chewing Thracian pirates could ever sweep it away. Above the door an ancient bronze Minoan hieroglyph is unreadable; look close and you will see slim-breasted mermaids riding a gold dolphin. Hyrkonian Kings have always been generous.
From the building music of pipes seeps out, like the smell of fresh barley-bread , crisping ox-ribs and aged wine. Three melon-sized leaded windows spill colored light under the front awning where the building steps for'ard. Two bull-chested short-sword bearing Carians guard its bronze_bound door . Had they ever smiled? Josephs silver coin makes them smile and doors of Lesbian redwood swing open; their riot spills in.
Chaos. To Josephs eyes folly rages … thoughtless unguarded folly. No Hebrew would ever open his front door to any , but the closest family blood. What strangers eyes shout murder, theft, lust … what cloaked a strangers eyes from violence? So Josephs amazement, though not his first public house. How could men eat, drink, trade, whore and live together who shared no common law? “Cerebus eat their bones mutters Golr,” and slaps Josephs shoulder.
Six eyes sweep the room as one and fingers slide away from ivory handled dirks. Before them the revel of sounds, colors and movement spread away to the walls like one enormous laugh. To a crackling, groaning round-about of oak and limestone and lemonwood, dark as Hades beneath the almond-wood tables from and over which many colored bodies hung and bright smooth above where Damascus fizzed-glass oil-lamps wash beams of orange light over pastel Terra-cotta. A silk-robed whore takes their three soaking capes leaving in each hand a copper demes worth whatever her sense of virtue allows to be given away that night. Behind her an olive-skinned bare-breasted Syrian gambler swoons and croons on a raised wooden platform to Troas pipes, and shakes a birdcage rattling three dice, pentagonal ivory and bitumen and lapis. Twenty-to one she offers for triples and whatever else you squeeze from her flesh. She gets a few drunks on their way out. One wall if round can be said to have a wall holds a red-glow iron firebox. It curves left and right, iron pipes feeding cold outside air into the lower grill and it steams clams and lobsters! A staircase rises from the rooms middle and servants carrying silver food-platers work downward. At this moment servers shuffle shoulder-to-shoulder an entire honey-coated roast boar. Silver knives flash at the waiting table. Beneath a window coins and poached fowl exchange places; laps fill with bread baskets and hands toasted loaves lest a brazen wenches ass be found instead. Filling the room was the mindless noise of drunken sailors, fifty no one-hundred voices some as wise as Zorast priests claiming one overpowering, empowering God, others foolish as the island believers in many random atoms having each no awareness and parts, but which never-the-less move themselves.
I see them enter, forewarned by a silver mirror set to the ceiling. Before the gust of wet air they appear soggy as three spongers; I catch their entrance right off and shut my mouth should I speak the fool. Having voted for me are they following to plead preferences? No speech would however sound dumber than that of NaziBu, our self-appointed guard. In half-leather armour and spread shoulders he sits between Artyphon and the door. From a leather pouch he was weaving a talisman of crows-beaks, purple wolfsbane and sinew of a Po Valley auroch . He was catching beaks in butterflies nested between overhand loops one after another till the ends threaded a button of blue lapis drilled and polished. Serious and glint-eyed he was as Cerberus. “Should we be driven north Sar, making the tip of Cyprus...” he fit the thing over my right wrist … “bloody Agronas terror , the wolfsbane so wear this on the right wrist, but should …
“Japhe, dear Japhe,” cries Artyphon leaping up from beside me and dashing in a flash of tunics and girdle across the almond-wood floor to her brother. She glows like the granite fireplace. He had once tried to kill her. “Make me not play Hestia,” she sobs clinging to him like a wild mossy grape-vine clings to a ceder. She tumbles over, regains her feet and pulls him beside me. “Japhe my dear brother we are to be married at a hill-top temple, one built of jadestone by the old people. She breathless, he raising an arm to strike her, but tightly she clutches. “Surely Lord Zarathushtras manse leveled, but now rebuilt an arrow-flight from Cibias farm.”
'Tell the world and every Carthage spy' I swear under my breath. Japhe companions grin maliciously while he strikes Artyphon across her mouth … he gazing wildly, appalled and his voice cracks, while booming away across the floor to his companions spearing Artyphon. “Can't your master bind you to the womens rooms? What foul wind deposits cherry blossoms in a pigsty. But, he's got his hands on you that's for sure” he leers with an evil look toward me. “Can your master so scoff at Artemis not preserving what little respect you show to convention as I've taught you?”
“She has come for your inheritance,” laughs Golr. A certain quiet had come over the sailor boyos packing the room, and fingers loosened the flaps of knife-sheaths. The blade loosed second usually falls from the hand of its dead owner, and reputations of wild-minded barbarian women were well known and as is so often true among truly hard-footed boyos a source of visceral uncertain provocation. Any spark might do.
“Damn the wench,” bellows Japhe shaking his huge frame, “she has inherited no discipline from her family and can expect from me not one salted box of fish-roe to say nothing of her Egyptian scrolls and crystals.” None can dispute him, as force is fear with a steel edge. Dianna expects better. Some ancient Minoan temple whores claimed strong must always give way to weak; they slew men who pleased them not, so they were altogether conflicted. But, even if so, if the weak must advantage none has found the talus.
So come high sounding words as I hear it, for a brother and sister at war. But, he might as well have tried bottling Zephyrus; she has clasped onto his shoulder harness and spun 'round him. “What joy dear brother. Cibias says as the wind changes to northing by full moon and backing westward we will follow the steady breath to fair Cyprus.”
“Follow? You may follow dogs to the sheep ...”
“Feed this to yer dogs,” came flying out of a crowd dipping fish-stew from a huge copper pot; serving wenches laced the crowd and they all swore Hecates anus on Japhe. Artyphons mouth is bloody, aA faithful sister deceived! Right behind the words follows a pair of salt herrings that barely miss his dodging head. Raw tomatoes spatter the floor and his boots. He spins around, Zeus be damned to find his tormentor only to tangle on his wet heels and trip to the floor. Nearly all of the hundred sailors, solders, tradesmen , traders and visitors collapse in a roar of laughter, as do Joseph and Golr. Wild barbarians chant for the heated cage. A Latin and a man from Babylon threaten to call the guards. I know the man so 'Democratical cats,' Golr must be wondering , but drawing a sword is unthinkable. No man may always keep both his honor and his head.
Yet an ugly mood is building, I think among men shorn by Hyrkon of natural enemies; ready yet to act, but forced by the weather to wait as mice upon the cat. How many fortunes are lost already … shouts of “Man for'ard” and “...man to man...” were heard, and there's pride to pay, but Hyrkon women are far from Japhes specialty. His sister, yes, his blood … yet Japhe is going beyond a visitors liberty. I am in my home port with all the subtle powers entailed, yet Artyphon is not yet my wife and Japhe still powerful before his female relatives. Unthinkable upon a ships deck, on land it still really sucks.
“Do I cast away a mans first companion … the woman at his side?”
“She is guilty of impurity,” touts Japhe. His clean shaved face and reddish blond hair give an honest impression men believe. “Brazen was her disrespect of Parthian gods testified by her families oath.”
From my bench I shoot up to full height. “Calamitous to the gods justice was the families harsh response. Would Zeus make sterile the woman who most granted his desires?” I say stiffly, “By Zeus beard in my bed she is pure as a raindrop. Guilt you say? Be she ever so guilty in lands beyond vision where auroche dash in fear of a herdsman she stands the Belisama quarterdeck as Aphrodites handmaiden. She stands beside me, Japhe.”
Japhe had finally shook loose from Artyphon. He shouted at her. “For this I kept your bones from bleaching on my ships maidenhead.” He pushes her away and storms to our rosewood table. The steel blade whips out from his belt, flashes a reflection from the oil lamps and buries in the wood beside my arm. The knife-blade quivering in wood still flashes the cold flickering images of jade lamps and demanding satisfaction in steel and blood. “I voted for you! Hyrkonian fool! I risked my family well-being. Are you looking for an excuse to escape our contract? My family warehouse will hold nine-hundred barrels of cherry juice comes the fall harvest . And the fecking Armenian holds the warehouse note! Will the juice rot and our family fail? ”
Thank the gods he is now after me. His a merchants terror that I understand and my face must show that understanding not the contempt of a royal or a warrior. I fill the glass wine-bowl beside my own and lift it toward Japhe. “We will be brothers to you and as sons to your family at harvest.”
“Bakk! The trade laws bind us closer than blood! Your juice will rot … as I promised, a noble rot fit for kings. It shall become a ferment brewed from goddess breath and witches touch beneath the limestone caves of Marsaii! The gods own drink!” I finish the wine in my bowl and scowling first … slowly grinning Japhe his. “I will carry the juice you squeeze from the cherry and return the divine product, chosen by Pan as bringer of visions .We will trade as I swore to trade. We... we are agreed friend Japhe … friend and partner .”
“Well you now?” He barks. “I leave for Sinope in three days. The voyage takes ...”
“Your voyage does not figure for us. I sail a crippled ship. You know that! Do you want us carrying your ferment or feeding the sharks? The Belisama has a makeshift rudder and tiller; we sail first thing for Cyprus and their bronze work at Salamis. Hinges, pintles, keel-plates ...” . I glanced at Artyphon. “When those trade-tools are ready … when the Belisama is ready she will be waiting for you.”
“Words are the liars promise,” Japhe snaps. “Bubbles in Stregas pot where Assyrians are simply last to the kettle. They barely control harbor mouths! Do you expect a clear sail when both Hittites and Egyptians would prefer your hull at the bottom of a reef!”
“Then let in the witch”, squalls a bandy-leg Pic, blue tattoos about each eye and a steel belt-hatchet strapped to his waist and spreading powerful arms throws open the doors. “Let the foul man blow away,” he screams. Gales of sleet blow in cold as Ratis tit sending ice tides across the wooden floor.
Prepared by a fool, still now was the main chance. I grab top of the knife-blade curling my fist around and into the bronze edge and let it slice into my fingers and palm, spilling my blood; Japhes sneer tightens, then the mouth curls in a laugh as his hand loosens on the knife-hilt. His broad hand grips below mine , metal slicing into his palm, blood to blood. Fists of a hundred sailors pound wooden tables, taking up the chant to Mars, paeon to Aphrodite and prayer to Mercury. The room becomes one drum -beat … stopping instantly at its peak!
Guards had rushed the doors, closing them against slicing rain. Artyphon shrieks … her hands beating on our backs till Joseph cries, “master … brother … enough you bloody bastards. Truth not sacrifice is gods will.” He stops suddenly, his face creased in a kind of fear of betrayal a man might, a man who speaks his own truth.
Yet the company is rough enough to see honesty freely spoken. One hundred throats rasp for air and hands not seeking sword-hilts lurch for the wine-jugs. Each man looks to his neighbor as a villain or protector. The most drunk pour ale freely filling gullets with ferment. A hundred cold eyes search for stealthy treason and find none. Only our blood flows, and our hands ending up in the same tube of salt-water and moss and sparking pig-fat; wrapping bloody hands in linen cloth hurts like a Hittite steel sword twisting up your asshole. It is not enough that Japhe has put deaths edge to his sister and I have drawn her back. Golr and Joseph called for parchment, and through Artyphons hectoring write the second contract … the cherry contract so we called it … right there right then and it trussed us up like the kings youngest daughter.
Sums are run three times on two different abacus. Dates and names scribed in trade Egyptian, Parthian and old Minoan. Many eyes and many faces bend close over the scribing bench. Pounding begins again at surrounding tables … ash pikes against stone floor and bronze swords against helms till the clashing wears into the wet air more than ears can bear.
At the end Japhe says. “Which god shall seal the contract? What pledge and what sign”
“The Trade Laws unadorned,” I responded, “for the bread in our mouth and all culture cannot be imagined without them.”
Japhe laughs. “Well enough for a Minoan bard dispensing wine-bowls on a lawn, but what of the winter sailor hard-pressed to a rock-bound passage, Scyllas ice-reeved paws pinning him to the sheets of never-ending merciless white-crested combers. What of him?”
“The old ones … they be not so neat ankled dainty, but seal with bronze” rumbles a salty tar with one eye patched and one arm hooked. “If both fair and foul a man must endure , then choose Dianna of the northern hunt.”
Golr pounded the table-top. “Did chaos shrieking alone not give earth its unmoving seal? She and Cronos and the Titans who founded the gods themselves reshaping earth as pleasure … light and dark, high and low, wet and dry... “
“Deceive chaos,” snaps Artyphon. “Gods of the earth may move from sea to sea , but their mark and seal never change. I have such a seal ...” She folds back her tunic, exposing her belt-pouch and into her hand rolls a dark stone ball sized like an apple. There flows a strange texture to the balls surface and carvings worked into that texture. “Ink”, she calls. Joseph passes over the small sponge and cork-pegged conch shell. “You won't mind the color … it's purple-reddish scribes liquid, worth a years farmers-field barley for every scribed line.”
Artyphon slides two Hyrkon electrum stators beside the conch. “The formula you shall not have woman, but the marks … “ Joseph removes the cork. “ They will live when we are ash.”
Artyphon bows. “Yes. I think this mark will live far beyond us.” She tips the thick, sticky ink from the conch onto the sponge and rolls the stone ball over it. Then she reaches for the papyrus on which the traders and witness signatures have been scripted. Japhe reaches for her wrist … then holds his hand above the ball as she positions and rolls it beneath the signatures. Perhaps a third of the balls circumference leaves its mark; then Artyphon raises her hand and the ball returns to a pouch inside her sleeve; then blowing gently on the drying ink as it soaks through the thick papyrus. Marked on the paper below the names was ...
Most faces showed confusion – only a few lips gasp … amazed . Japhe smirks at his sister as if to say too smart by twice. I had her arm tucked against my side. “Time enough,” rumbles Golr who got out his knife and slashes through the contracts middle. One-half goes to Japhe and the other half to me. “Devil take the Trade Laws and may we all die fat!”
Then hot ale flows from the oak tubs and sailor boyos drown fears in the flood as live men swear aid to new brothers and men who were there later spoke of it coming a fecking long way seen across wooden decks from the dark cold merciless sea before us when the kings own bastard, royal sea Captain and member of the Trade Council puts his seal across the water to a roving Parthian money-changer and whore-master that their sons might learn to choose friends whose shoulders square with their own and whose shield whatever the embossed city-seal that bronze-hammered edge lay over their own. As for the girl … the witch ... the Jewess … my lover … Demeter declares her rare as the southern red-winged eagle and chaste as a lily beyond the Captains bed which is as much as any man may hope. Her wondrous seal had returned to the chamois-skin bag at her belt, beside the bronze dirk.
I ask her where and how had such an impossible object come from? “Shall it just vanish?”
She says as if each word measures in gold , “During my two years serving a Babylon scribe an old mage became taken with me. I gave him nothing, but he strove for my attention. He told me that as a young man traveling far to the eastern volcanic mountains a raven, ice-winged and starving had come to him every night for a month. Alone in the sky, sharing tent and food each night the raven recited another piece of the balls carving.” She looked up at me. “It's volcanic rock, porous so it holds the ink very well. Do you see … the view is from high above skys dome so only a raven could see what was carved on the ball … yes?”
'Witch' says an honest man. She asks me to say no more; that I understand. How may the entire shape of Our Sea, land and coasts, islands and passages and channels be carved on a stone ball? What did it mean? What was carved on the parts of the ball she had not rolled on the papyrus? It's a small thing, but I am a man who must face the world and I know that what is true of the small must also be true of the large … of everything.
So it comes to the seven of us, masters all of this hard time as any man who eats will tell you sitting sword-hilt to ax-handle along the wooden bench, finishing a sailors spring meal of lamb and black bread, onions and cucumber and hot ale.
“Do you serve the Egyptian first,” asks Joseph. He pauses, rubbing his beard slyly. “Your ancients, had calculated their numbers for technos?”
“Contracts we have, as the ancients had not. Contracts, but no such swift luck Joseph, though we should fly like Mercury to avoid the rovers. Technos indeed! We need the Cyprian bronze for our rudder and masts.” I thought to stop, then … “numbers were always technos, but whether they were ever numbered as a contract I have always wondered myself. ”
Japhe belches, then growls “It's the contract profit that matters … there's a number to love. Asher or his factor Achen will be pleased to take your money. He used Byblos steam cranes to build up their shipyard I hear.”
“Risk building they may, if Assyrians still hold the main towns,” Artyphon speculates. “The Sidonian merchants care not whether bulls or Hittites fill their big-belled bum-boats.”
Golr crunches through a lamb-shank.” The Mycenneii are exporting iron sword-blades to Caer-Londyn as if Paris and Hector had already joined the shades. Bold as confidence allows, they will own Cyprus soon enough.”
“Soon you say, but already too late.” NaziBU the tiller-man pronounced solemnly. “The seven spirits have already condemned their blasphemy.” He held out from two fingers a wax and twine hoplite image and snapping a spark burst it into flame.
Our table roars without Nazibu joining the laughter. Telemydon, bastard pup of a Balearic pearl diver and Corcyrian Greek raider shook his bushy blond hair. “Etruscans never feared the Greeks , old or new no matter how far they scattered. But, they do fear the Latins and their city-state Roma, self-regarding and old as the Minoans.”
A mailed Greek. “Narwhal piss; even Roma boot-leather is green.”
“Your comforting thought - - - a slaves thought. Some say no different who fight only others, never their own kin.” He looks over. “Roma, Romanis, Rumm …. some say indeed they are new-found from Troy, but old traders know better a people never seeing the ice-walls and caring not. For years upon ten-years they have been hiding out. From whom I can't guess; from themselves maybe, but brewing power every year! Of adventuring their leather boots and armour care not. Perhaps Hyrkon should join them early.”
“Rustics ,” I say uneasily having traded for sheepskin with those independent farmers. “Perhaps in a thousand years ...”
Laughter dances round us; years of a thousand flow behind, never before as considerations quarrelsome child. We have Trade Councils, mages of Babylon, money-changers of Syria and our own two strong hands in front of us. Servant wenches pour one wine-flask upon another as rain hammers windows showing out to a harbor flashed into day by the lightening and we eating our own sauce ferment covering codfish baked in thyme and ginger and held in a sculptured silver bowl. Artyphon believes that shield angered an island goddess jealous for the mantle of peace giver. She persuades Poseidon dogfish squadrons to rallye, and as if ice wall dragons awake from a thousand year slumber.
Boreas roars for five days. Blades of lightening trim forest to meadow. Rain thickens to sleet and bored marriages seek the comfort of a hot blanket. While the storm rules Artyphon and I ride naked before dawn among the low eastern hills. It's homeward while a warm burrow of straw sleeps under us in the stables. We are lovers hard to find! Breakers snap at the base of sunken boulders raising stone hoplites against the Phonecians. Clouds of green foam raft over the seawall; gulls, pelicans, cranes and turns shelter in the lee, fighting for scrapes. Even a sardine-buss favoring the Kings mistress could not have left harbor.