.......................Tales of Hyrkon: book 2 .... COUNCIL of TRADE
Chapter Six

Home. Artyphon thinks otherwise singing her displeasure.

******Far out the lonesome blue-sky plain

*******dust-dry and ruddy Nomias heartmaster

********Glides. Follow she must. Will there you

**********marry us aliens from King and court?

That tune tickles her. “Home you say, far from trade-mates and soft pleasures and any relatives of mine?” Artyphon I have experienced believes this sort of wordplay to be lovers cooing. A prudent man sees snares.

“Aye dear love, far from the modern we travel. First to my retiring sister and farmers pig-shit, while only then to sacred trees, an ancient high stone temple and its warrior priestess.”

“Warrior in deed, even should it rain? ”

“Especially then so, as the temple ceiling forms a triangle either end, but the central altar sees blue sky and silver stars.” I nibble on her cheek. “ Make of such Freyja what you will.”

“You mean pigeon-shit covers the central altar. Thus, you wish my bare back supported while you frolick? As for Freyja who disdains warm waters, she's a snow whore carved with a blade of ice!”

“Or cunt stuffed with ice-cycles and feet wrapped about her ass?”

“Sandspurs lace her nipples!”

“And lips closed against a willing tongue?”

She will not blush. “Rogue!”

“Heartless nymphe of dark waters shriving my heart.” And Artyphon kisses me. Breathless we lean for'ard cheek to cheek. She whispers, “mercy I may not pray from thee?” I say “nor will our sons sons son permit.”

Barley ale tankards, olives, figs, boiled eggs and sourdough crisp from the ovens spread over our table. Two other couples young and old share the public room, they also lovers of mornings silver. The older greying couple wear white and orange caftans and eat toasted sardines on the side. But from youth, all hands and flashes of bare skin hardly into their teens comes the smell of cloves and coriander on chickpeas; both traders gold. Both expensive spices and dangerous to source from the Berber coastline only one-hundred leagues away. It's nemesis the western sky now roiling black. Rain pebbles rail against the bakers marble walls and thunder shakes overhead beams.

Dry and warm we share a frond mat. Earlier we had steamed and loved and blown dry after our morning ride. Then between cloudbursts found a small chestnut shaded bakery up a path from our stable. Our skin must touch, arm to arm and Artyphon wears a black linen half-veil to distract. She, pensive. “Without formality I'd still be yours,” she winks. “ Servant and woman. Your wise serpent yet free to use as a whores ass.”

“Free this and that. Which Zoroaster mage teaches such foolishness to Hebrew women? Such a land of which none exist between Muspel and Adn.”

“Do not blaspheme kind sir, jealous lover, rude master of sail - - - my unbound beloved.”

Hot bread burns my finger till it finds a honey sauce. “Unbound say this impudent wench. Yet still chained would I worship you beside Cybelle to whom I have sworn my life and service. How she would flay me bloody for praying love of one not both loved.” I take Artyphons hand and kiss it beside the emerald set gold torque.

“You speak well –- for a man.” Then Artyphon lips purse. “And in the marriage rite fit for the priestess, be she devil or goddess?”

“You know the ceremony,” I ask with caution? “If so do not spite me for this trip into the ancient mists?” I query 'yes?' wickedly. Have I melted her deep musing frown into a grin?

Artyphon gently rubs her emerald torque. “Such was the will of your forest goddess in the time of cold. Her heart remains cold demanding the knee, but thereafter I will wear your dagger. Women endure.” She takes a broken loaf from my hand smeared with goat butter. “Any Egyptian tutor will know Cretan ways before the time of fire. Mine did, an old Hebrew from the delta missing an arm to Nile crocodiles. I was a bold one and no tale was left unspoken.” She takes her peace, then brightens a new path. “What does old Avalon say of the weather?”

So much like crisis at sea attended – a broken yard driving into storm combers or rotted oar-slots failing while we pull off a isles rocky lee-side. “His bones you know, dear Artyphon. They ceased aching yesterday; he promises blue sky tomorrow and a fair departure.” Fair yes, but the rare spices hold my nose.

We go on like this, a discovered morning eventually sharing over-boiled eggs with the other couples –- eggs and plans how lovers share what can rarely be as easy as olives. All men sailors.

“We are physician and dentist serving on the Carthage trader Ru-battyr,” say the older pair whose squinted eyes show years of sea-born sunsets. “Half our children lived,” mentions the woman fondling a pearl necklace “and now all factors at Carthage insurance banks. What they pay for Rhodian ink I would not pay for Chian wine.”

Artyphon snips. “Must all moderns insure rather than build?”

The womans husband, a strong man with tight burly black hair responds. “Until a product is delivered and exchanged for coinage it ranks little more than a shade of Sheiol. If you doubt, think on the thieves profit. Yet if all's well, when delivered and accepted this product - - nut or fig, bowl or blanket or bronze gear no longer belongs to the builder. You sir”, lighting his hashpipe and turning to me, “are a trader and understand how modern business gives only insurance value.”

“Surely too somber by a Balerics slinger,” pipes the roguishly dressed young women. “Ta and I” - - pleasuring her husbands neck - - “ are minstrels and only our chords and voices ensure, but are not insured by the next outing among harbor denizens.” She whips out a pipe from beneath her bodice and pipes an eerie rill. “If the cup remains empty we do not eat!”

“Green Isles madam,” I bow in amusement and pleasure, tossing an electrum coin beside her pair of redwood flutes. She has found the tone. “Lesbian,” I ask?

She coddles them. “Assured sir. And ancient wood with hairs-breath grain. Before drilling of pipe-hole and slots the shafts are stored in amber sealed boxes, packed with sintered glass and moss dry and powdered. So before tones, rills and runs of music, ancient wood gathers strength and sleeps!”

“As with the lyre and harp?”

“Those we must ship ahead in its own coffin.” Her teeth show small and white. “I do not favor the harp; it's slow and dutiful and if listeners refuse the song such imoveable instrument binds you to the failure as limestone sinks a pearl diver.”

“Yet the pearl-diver enjoys what she discovers”, Artyphon teases, pointing to her man. “And you come to this runabout young woman by wings of Pegasus?”

Blushing. “Soft I would have preferred, but hard ways may have strange endings. I was a slave.” Her voice breaks, then “Captured young from the north by rovers, good mistress. I escaped the worst. Such music I learned at my mothers tit. But, Tanit wills a maidans life stricken by and too a strong man, my love.” Her partner has leaned back on a woven lounge and whistles along with the tones. A singer I guess or beater of drums. Still stranger. He appears too rude and young for wise silence while a lover gleams. “Tunes fly to our ears like mists in a narrow passage. Breast to breast, soul to soul music binds us to the performance by Mousai. What need of insurance when the gift is free?”

None of the women yet have children and none of the men slaves to family. Does that surprise you, a man trapped young to a sailors life would feel affection for womans weavings and a hot stone family hearth? Desire I feel returning with Artyphon to a landsmans home. Artyphon says I am of two minds, a commander wishing only trim voyages while beneath a hellraiser who absent the Trade Law would ruin servants underfoot and bruise her to the core. So women think. I have revealed nothing of those early events that set me before ships sail, bound me to the Laws. And now free me to chose a women and life of my own pleasure. Yes, I am anxious for Belisamas cargo of oak barrels and a missing bronze-bound pillar that guides it. Bound yet again free-man and laugh ale bubbles over my face. The young ones whistle through another jig, then we praying safety to all break away, headed back to the stable under a fine misted fog.

And the question 'can we sail?' But, even had I been a tunny or flying fish Poseidons rage traps us in port! Silver-tipped waves crash over the groin; mist covers a witches tree brashly rising from the black beach sand. Am I to huddle about a fire watching stone walls sweat? Were fair Acasta to swoon at my feet Belisama remains hemp bound and double knotted to her bollards. Tefnuts brazen tits have by eastern wind perversely driven squalls and thunderstorms that would have torn thrice-needled hemp sails from Hercules eighty oar galley!

Minos stern commands ring in my heart, but gods play with humans. Escape then, escape to home. Escape to the fire-riven high place where a senseless priestess awaits. Awaits her gold, awaits her own flight and rape before judging, before binding, before tying the thorny vine of Yggdrasil about our legs. Many couples fearing those old ways and that judgment, fear and fly to a city priest with pretty flowers, honey, salt-smelling incense or jeweled crowns. They marry laughing.

Our choice a harder way. Young Gyrgya from Japhes ninety-oar blue-seas trader and leathery Rusa will ride with us, representing the crews, and Rusa also serving himself. He has visited before and by my sister stricken! How stiff she was, even strapping her dead husbands dirk to her thigh. Yet Rusa gently teased daily and cheated a blushed smile from her so still feels hope. I choose well-blooded Sicilian mares for our long reach over the Hyrkon plateau, and oiled sheepskin cloaks to defy the rain. With Belisamas crew well silvered from the Etruscan wreck, abedded by local whores or entranced by supple fingered potters and weavers I burn a flaming Syrian candle to goddess Dike; a dove is sacrificed to Elisedds bow; Mykron promises a proper couples bower upon our return and wine bowls slosh full as our loaded horses are led from the stable.

I choose a demanding, hilly trek to my family homestead on Hyrkons southern coast. Of the sea many eyes and dangerous too like octopus suckers I wish none. A sudden choice; Artyphon feigns appalled skills. “Dear master over rocky ground can you ride a horse? They neither swim nor sail nor float over hills! I must passage aside a watery knave by horseback? Do I travel as your slave, your whore or your mule,” she demands while choosing a saddle at a small pasture and feedlot known for sturdy mounts?

I think unkindly that Parthian women learn to ride horses before men. “We shall both travel bouncing on our ass.”

Icily. “Perhaps I should walk along the roadside.”

Tis a poor fox, I think who cannot feed his vixen. “By the gods you shame Epona. Should we travel together on service will you excuse a shoddy rider?” Anything I think seeking peace.

Consulting harbor guards and a sourfaced Kings postmaster we strike a deal, for messengers to Hyrkon back-country are few. Swords sharpened, two bows and two slings among us our band of four leave port riding lean black bodied mares with white flag tails. Also of the Kings messenger service, our dealing has made us providing jerkins of black leather and saddles carrying leather satchels filled with letters of papyrus, cotton and copper for the outlying homesteads. In this messaging Minos lags far behind Babylon, the Medes and Syrian satraps; tis said in winter storms there are more postal horse riders than thieves between Aleppo and Tyre. Six hundred inns and smiths where mail can be delivered or sent. Hyrkon? Twenty posted stops in all along the Kings road.

Fairwell bids four leagues of flat farmland. What can be grown is grown under Minos stern eye. Rocks are crushed and black soil brought in from Spain and the Latin north. Where wheat and barley cannot find holds, hillsides are sprinkled with copse of eucalyptus and black pine. The kings road then heads straight up! Cedar clings to ravines too rocky or too steep for grazing. It's a shock really to crest the first ridge between seaside Hyrkon and the highlands. Far away to south Hyrkons round-stone paved coast road glitters in haze. Then an eternal and over-reaching sea vanishes in a thin-leafed forest of celtis. WE did lower between ridge-lines. This wedge of Hyrkon has always foundZephyrus moist western winds. A rack of red-deer bound across our path into the next brushy stream bed. Rusa bow could have taken one, but he stows it without a shot, grinning as my sister protects every animal that would turn a grain field to stubble. We stop for a drink and the deer watch us from moist shaded ground above. Raiding narrow streak clouds spit thunder and rain all about us. Only the second mountain range provides the rain shadow dominating Hyrkons central plateau.

“It's wilder here!” Gyrgya queries his mare fighting the bit and he dismounts to bribe a carrot and walk the steeps before her.

“Wilder? More than you can see. Both leopards and smaller lions roam the tougher crags. Yet a traveler may see something of a trade route in these rutted trails. Artyphon, you wll see a surprise in trade near the farms beaches. Sea and land are not always constant, nor the traveler. Some of our young men come alone, brassy and wilding beyond the second crest. There's glory and unfound gold for the brassy. Not all return.” I point above us to a ragged, approaching skyline pillaged by storms since the beginning of time. “Four should be enough,” I say peacefully.

“Eight better,” advises Rusa carefully evaluating the landscape. “Twice the number protects us from aggressive bush-rangers.”

“Minos cavalry has left few with two hands and two feet. We're safe”

As a boy I too roamed the drylands alone. Sometimes afoot, others on a brown and white painted stallion that did not respect distance. No reason now to disabuse Artyphon as women must have their chambers. Blue sky now brushes the green canopy. Almost like magic we cleave the crest and the drylands come upon us. They sweep down and away, a sea of grass browning with distance and loosing their companion pine and oak trees. Edgeline fails in a haze and even with Gyrgyas young eyes through the ships glass only a single far western white-topped mountain breaks the uncertainty. Ridge-top it's a battle; wet seabreeze still from behind while a dessert sirocco roaring up from the for'ard plains. Come full circle. Skatling wolves replace dogfish and fox the porpoise. A bear was reported six years before, but none since. Pirates sometimes keep them chained as camp guards. Hawks replace gulls and eagles the gooney. With a ships glass I believe little escapes our eye. My band must have a thousand questions, but respectly, watchful silence rules the unknown.

Helios seeks the horizon. “Ho there, riders, night falls and where do you travel?”

So we meet the first sailors on this lonely, landlocked sea. I shout in return. Post Royal kind sir, and travelers to the southern rim. We are four and peaceful, with a woman to share your wifes weaving.”

“With good fortune wife indeed I have. Goats too.”

Artyphon shouts. “A day among men proceeds like a mudslide. How I welcome your wifes company.”

“Your fingers and your company is welcome,” carries a womans voice from behind.”

“Aye travelers, come closer says the man. We approach in twilight a young boy and tall wirey bushman wielding a two-pronged pitchfork and belt hammer. Solitary, they pray for peace. Dismounted, an open hand, cased weapons and smoking hashpipe brings us into the family with the privileges granted any worthsome traveler. One of our postals , a melon-sized birch-wood box is meant for them.

So our first night in travel we spend at a goatherds keep reeking of potted cheese and sour country ale. A cold shower sweeps through, but the barn and cottage are dry and warm, the workings of a spry family only twice yearly seeing coastal Hyrkon and grateful for self-supporting visitors. Lamb shanks for dinner must be their rare treat. We discover a glass of boiled , salted fish-roe double sealed in wax among our nightshirts. Bravely the farm family plunges in.

Spryly. “We ate these eggs dear friends before our encounter with Messenian raiders off Sardinia. A dogfish strength lasted us through the killing, dawn till dusk.” Their young boy shivered close to his mother, yet swollen eyes begged for more. Stories wound off from that, and if truth be told, then noone listened, but with their 3rd ear. Strangers we, yet whose stories accepted of far island satyrs and stampeding zebra held mystery known only by the driver of Zeus chariot. A second surprise was the older teen boy who appeared hauling a bucket of fresh goats-milk to the dinner table. Polite as silence allows. Nothing handsome or smart about him, just steady as the leather mule-harness he took to polishing after he washed the meal crock-ware. Of our stories he missed not a word, even smiling when a goddess trope became too vivid. Artyphon and the farmers wife finished thatching a winters wool and hemp baby-carry, for the wife was well pregnant.

After all had taken to their beds the farmer lit a thick beeswax torch, poured two small bowls of a fruit ferment far surpassing the ale and men palavered; I share his soapstone hash-pipe and my Syrian blend. He seeing mine was about to begin prayed his family . “He's a good boy, Ajaka is, if a bit quiet. Farms the mule, hunts and quick with a blade on yew. But, he's aged sixteen and never been off the plateau; I leave him to guard the property when wife and I ride to Hyrkon. No other way, really, but the isolation has made him cautious, too cautious to find a girl in these rough skirtlings.”

“Girl or a new idea. Rent him out to a caravan?”

“As was I during my youth: caravan, dock, sardine-buss …. worked with both eyes open saw much of the Asian islands: Rhodes, Lesbos, Ithome. Saw plenty to love this highland quiet.” Farmers eyes scanned his well-kept cottage. “I learned to trade a bit, which holds me well among business tricksters in city Hyrkon. But, it's tougher here.” Farmer took a long draw on the silver-edged clay pipe. “I was hoping, perhaps, in yer goodness sir you might take him as free labor to your farm. Knock out an eagles eye with his bow. I have a spare old mare he can ride, he's strong as a Yew-tree and knows his letters. The wife was a merchants daughter and taught him early; kin write a bill-of-sale.” Me silent and thoughtful farmer passed over the pipe.

I say. “Two weeks, perhaps three in all before we return. Hard orchard work in between. Not much of a ocean tour.”

“Ajakas clever enough to make his own tour. You intend to return on the Kings Way, so drop him off when you return. His work will serve you well, cost you nothing, but meals and … and show the boy a bit of his world. Times are changing ya know.”

Some mages buy a dockside room, put out a sign and charge gold for their wicked ideas. Leaving a Syrian stator under the good womans breadbasket daybreak finds us riding south dressed in sailors togs of Median trousers and Pontian tunic. Five of us ride and the ol' mare Ajakas rode was tough and determined as shoe-leather.

Rusa thought me lacking numbers to pay his meals, while Gyrgya was overjoyed to have another teen to share dirty stories. Both pups had of-course fallen deeply in love with Artyphon. Worship not being too strong a word. Somehow she saw through their misty eyes, guiding them to service not jealousy. My smile prods her to a scarf and half-veil pleading a heartless sun. Artyphon then raises her eyebrows –- and approves.

“Have we served the King long enough,” I bicker, tugging her sealskin vest?

“As master wishes.” Artyphons smile hides beneath the half-veil. “I hope your brewer scrubs his vats with vinegar between mashes.”

“After a long ride the brewers master may so scrub his mistress.”

Artyphon considered, as if addressing the sound of the social patronymic 'mistress'. “A merciless master may, should he be able to catch her.”

And shouting encouragement Artyphon gives head and knees to her mare, we galloping fiercely robes ascatter racing up the long curve. It's a rock paved road older than most Egyptian cities, littered with marble and limestone stella imported by the last invaders. And stella of the old Minoan language often declaring Aphrodites mercy on the discovery of an empty land. So old … Our iron-shod Sicilian bred horses are not shy and devour leagues. Hyrkons poppy scattered central plateau speed us for'ard marking the hours by yew and almond circled farms and the growing ring of clouds circling a distant, lower seaward flat.

Blue streaks the sky and floating mist clouds have replaced black bands of rain. It's featureless here, on the high plateau of Hyrkon and the sun rakes us. Fleece cloaks are too heavy and we have strapped them across the saddles. I keep a hard silence which Artyphon does not understand and we make up the difference by hard riding. Before the great dying off, brigands freely roamed the Hyrkon forests. And forest giants of pine, chestnut, redwood and eucalyptus dominated the air. The fires killed off many and the wrenching ground others. Afterwards, Mycenaen bronze axed almost all. Even now some landsmen fear growing new forests of walnut and pine lest their slaves find life desirable without a master. Between farms the land is empty and our party rides alone. We camp the second night under a rare stand of such giants, building our fires low within circles of stone.

The Kings library still holds a few murals of those beech and redwood trunks soaring above the meadows. My villa hides one such piece, in silver, gold, ruby and bronze etch displaying a band of bush rangers, brandishing shortbows and breaching a copse of pine at full gallop. I imagine stone faced royal troopers on their tails!

“Friends,” shouts Rusa galloping upon us red-faced with sweat and bow strapped to his back. We have been making slow time among wild grape-covered hillsides rolling like ocean swells.

“Enough to be trouble?”

“Well armed men. Wearing yeomans cloth, leather chest-guard and helms, but three times our number.” Approaching us a dust-cloud rises behind and above Rusas dusty path.

I gather us five. “Give me a dozen Carian thugs and I promise you all back to your mothers.” I leap from my horse showing empty hands. We kneel in a circle. “Captains choice, but nothing keeps us alive. We group tight attack striking our way through; impulse denied by the larger force we are picked off singly in the running cavalry exchange. Stand and fight to slaughter or lastly, run and have arrows cut us down from behind.” My horse jitters with the rush of coming battle. Zeus beard I have no staff, so I raise the Hyrkon war banner on my spear. “I say - - - at them till our blood runs free !”

Coming about in saddle, four voices sing Mars paeon, leather shields raise and spears apoint. We tighten and break our horses into a trot up the rise toward approaching hoof-beats. But, before the top skylining horses appear. Two troops of guilds bowmen join from neighboring hilltops, folding together into a double. Thirty men, their blued fox-fur helms and sashes and mailed boarshide amour seem a gift from Aphrodyte. Minos paid Knossos tailors eight silver minae per guardsman for those colors and by Zeus beard he paid little. Our troops race closer then stop in a melee fifty yards apart seeing fellow Hyrkons instead of criminals or Carthage raiders.

Helm raised to display a thick red beard their barrel-chested Lieutenant approaches swearing like any good sailor. “Junos fucking cunt just who in wet-assed Olympos are you pilgrims of Adonis?” He rides around our band still horsed flank-to-flank. “ Where are your mules and oxcart?”

I break from the group and slide from my saddle. Ground my spear-point still flying Minos war banner which has trapped his eye. “Cibias, good sir. Captain of the Kings cruiser Belisama. Officer of Post”, I point to the leather bags. “These are my companions.”

“If you're a ships Captain and postman, then I'm a Temes River merman with three dicks and a harem of Sidonian whores.” He drops from his long winded northern pony and leaving arms behind approaches.

“Lowon has not enough water loving virgins to keep three dicks busy.”

“And I suppose you'd know?”

“Traded Cilician ruby for tin three months before last summer solstice. Spent evenings at the Cocks Cradle where the local wine could braze copper. But, could not make it to the monoliths since whores barricaded all bridges north. Now lieutenant for your red beard.”

“What about it. I'm a northings bastard. My Daneland mother said Cretan dicks were the biggest she's even seen and had to see for herself what they produced. See wot she did. That's me. Then sailing a tuna-buss I find a high-breasted Hyrkon wench who imagines country living.”

Truthing has long past so I continue. “So now you farm up here.”

“Yes I farm and keep bees, farmed I should say till King Minos and a cavalry troop ride by and see me splitting logs. Liked the stroke. Suddenly I am Lieutenant of the local militia. Never did enjoy weapons, but a oak spear well-charred. Never did enjoy riding, but up here stalking marauders it's ride or die.”

Wind scurries surrounding hay-fields, a muse taunting Baubos lyre. “So like me, friend. My wife-to-be is Parthian born. She claims I will fall off my horse and die before she can get a baby into her belly.” Now the Lieutenant comes forward greets me me with open hands. “Festa. Royals guild of militia.”

“Cibias. Sailor and sore-assed traveler. Now I claim nothing higher. I'm visiting my farm, and sisters family near the coast below Temple Tantalus. The property is called 'CYBELLE WALKS AMONG US.”

“Beyond our range, the eastern coastline.” The Lieutenants voice raves. “We took you for pillagers!” Some signal given. His 2nd rides up to us sporting two silver flasks of wine; local, sweet, poppy-flavored for the long marches. He says “Carthage byrhemes sighted offshore, then touched a southern beach five days ago.” He shares a silver drop. “I ken your farm. Lady mistress, a widow I suspect owns a wind-driven hammer that flattens hatchet-heads; she's not shy for fieldmen to serve her militia. The rovers landing was one days ride from your farm.”

“Shit”. Cold sweat pours from my back. “Nobody trailed them?”

“Shepherds reported the landings, the arrow-shot two that lived. They observed raiders were light armed and without metal armour. My troop has culled every gully between Mt Tantalus and end of the Kings road in Saadi, the mackerel-shit fishing village to the south.”

“Found nothing, I ask.”

“Slippery bastards, and not the first time.” Wine bubbles around his mouth. “ We found not a trace after trails vanish on the rocky high ground. Those Carthage bitch hulls can hold fifteen horses each and we know of three farms burned, but damned if we found any butchered farmers. Must have escaped, but where?” His head straightens looking at our postal bags. “Nothing by my ken about a property with that name.” He inspects the Kings messenger bag without breaking the seal. “Anything for us?”

“One parchment letter with a coded label and wax key.”


I open the bag and snatch out the letter. Lieutenant has the key correct. I pass over the message. He reads the parchment quickly, almost speaks then calls his guildsmen for two riders. “Remain with Captain Cibias and, using the coast road return with him to Hyrkon.”

“But ....”

“You outrank me Captain, but not the message.”

“Well enough,” I say not quite believing I have so casually joined the Kings militia. I take their names, share a hashplug while pointing them back to Artyphon, Rusa, Ajakas and Gyrgya. Shields and fists share the welcome two experienced swords bring.

Festa swings up to his saddle. “Fortuna guide your steps Cibias.” Then bridles his horse, suddenly turning back. “Cibias, do you recall sailors yarns speckled with African sympathies”?

“We trade of-course at the best price, but beyond that Poseidons trident is rickly imagined adorning Carthage asshole.”

“Best price you say - - and of Isocleas, any of her landsmen neighbors expressive a love for Carthage or their Phonecii masters?”

I sensed Festas displeasure with the tides of trade. “Isocleas told of nothing, but hate in the local gathered klan. African sands blow Carthage pestilence upon our southern shores. No casual trading occurs, beyond kif and woolens.”

“That I know well ; feet must walk and minds imagine. But, those contacts are between twelve oar harbor skiffs easy food for the first cross-wind.”

“Seas between Hyrkon and Carthage or Utica are a wall Isocleas shares with here neighbors. Here, a commons subscription bought thirty Syrian recurve bows ; she mentioned with pride women worked all winter to dry, craft and balance six-hundred oak arrows.”

Shaking his half-helm. “Any misty pilgrim or misfortune-pleading refugee begging a roof with tattered clothes, but new sandals and shiny short-sword?”

I shout. “Ajakas, show me your sword.” He rounds his horse and hefts a bronze ash tomahawk old before his grandfather with a freshly honed , but chipped face. It's a worthy blade that both of the new troopers examine and approve.

Festa grunts, “that pup needs a new mount. He flags the troop and one less than docile is galloped over.

“But wait Festa. Just before leaving Hyrkon I met musicians reeking of Berber food-spice. Artyphon and I shared breakfast with them. They did music, of some subtlety, but seemed awkward as a couple.”

“Did they query you?”

“We felt no threat, so what unwanted words escaped I can't say.”

“Those words may come back to you as arrow-points,” Festa nods, yanking the horses bit and dashing back to his troopers. A last salute of banners and he clatters horsemen ahead, double file in the direction of Mt. Tantalus. I can see them putting leather to their sweaty horses flanks far out-pacing us should we even try to follow. So much are we trusted. But, now we are seven spears, bearing southerly, to my farm and the metallic taste of bronzed blood will not leave my mouth.