Instead we dig trenches and feel about for trickery. I lead a strong patrol down to the oceans cliff. Marauders rescue we imagine. Spreading out along the rocks, a distance of fifteen leagues we spot two byrhemes hanging just north of the mist after noon-sun. Big vessels, but shy. They must spot the spark of our glass and slowly edge south. What are they waiting for? Men scramble toward the beaches and the worst is true.
Gyrgya comes riding breathless from a sharp ridge. Arrows stick to a fur-stuffed leather shield he has strapped on his back. Lucky. “ Cibias, Cibias two luggers in the cove.”
“Anchored? Men ashore?”
“For the time! They have wounded rafting out to the hulls.”
Ballista carts follow us down the steeps . Shortly we come upon them, two thirty oar luggers dart out from the coast leaving wounded floated between sea and sky. A ballista exchange follow, bolt against screaming bolt that's worse for the luggers. Three men are seen pitching arrow-struck from their sterns. Do they guess the fate of fellow marauders? Have they hoplites or bowmen in reserve on the byrhemes?
“Save the wounded?”
“Strip armour and cut their throats. Let dogfish have the bones.” I follow the seas uneasy quiet.
We need an entire Kings cavalry column to securely scour our oceanside. A few other men have arrows choked by their leather vests. Horsemens arrows, light and broad-bladed, not the long-throated, hateful brass whippets hoplites spray upon each other. So the raid was mere scouting, scouting for a future shieldwall thick with bronze and fired with lighted ballista, a real killing phalanx not meant to retreat , but intent on conquest. So I think. With that uncomfortable feeling my troop regather and we return to the ridge-top. But, nothing more appears by Hesperis hour and we return to the farm.
Diannas bow has been silent. Pain surrounds yet like sailors farmers must live as well as die. Nearby a midden has been dug and limed for the burnt bones. Sand covers and the worst of rocky soil. Yew saplings have been planted and a stella cast. In time this place of death will be a shaded grove for young lovers. In Isocleas courtyard children have all been set to cleaning, but they sing as they rake. Smartly, the older gathered farmers unfit for patrol have laid foundation, the quick drying volcanic cement harvested from temple hill, and rebuilt Isocleas torched barn. Hidden lumber she had, that all would share catted and stored beneath a sandpile. I ponder, the carpenters trade smells of life and swear two pair of Green Isle sheep as a starter git.
Isocleas bears an equal separation. She wears Rusas dagger. She also wears new finery. It's a silver necklace of ruby and amethyst the value of an entire trading voyage. Her woman has fixed two gold clamps and the necklace snuggles against her throat without binding. Modest to a speck, she leaves open enough tunic to make a jealous woman scurry.
“He knows your love of red persimmon and orange fruit,” I banter casually. Rusas feelings are much deeper. Will he return to the Belisama, or in his wifes couch grow his feelings. I have in mind fresh land to the south for his own farm. It's flatter land, naked to Carthage lust, but he might desire that risk with Isocleas beside him. Or we may just build out here, a new town for the weary. Isocleas . . . “It's a marriage torque of large value, like a walrus tusk.”
She blushes. “Little I'll need of those now. Oh yes, from your packmule other joys. Yidini has sent two birds and from your post a letter. He has revealed yet another temple priestess to swear her love, and says they will live on a rock cairn at the tip of Cybelle forsaken Kythnos.”
“Kythros … can even a goat find two blades of grass on that hull eating mound of limestone?”
“Pray gently for the Royals, Cibias. He claims to have sunk two Argot galleys, but the third and fourth chased him east, into a wind spout for which the island beach was life. His black haired oracle swam beside him, urging on like a porpoise. Now they live on eros … and Myceneii luggers slyly placed temple fires lure to the shoals.” Isocleas almond eyes glisten. “Surely Minos will be pleased.... their children may come here, do you think ...? ”
Isocleas, Artyphon and their women reap dinner-time with such fables. Even half-Royals lie where polity succeeds. Meals and tools are prepared. As it chances their entire band intends to hopscotch farm to farm, repairing, building and planting as needs arise, bedding woven and childsware. In peace women celebrate their sisters. Over an ale bowl Isocleas and Artyphon become famous and me humbled for withholding notice. Every clothing stitch, every ring and every veil must be compared. Even rustic farm-wives bare rustic freshwater pearls.
Men sharpen their weapons. As evening darkens , Artyphon return in a mist. “I see why Rusa damns you for democratical weakness,” she observes, calculating my response. “A ships Captain and land owner must rule.”
Artyphon has not seen all the farm, but blood and battle prod her. “What open handed trader,” I say cheerfully, “fears his fellow sailors voice .. or husband a wifes cautions...?”
“Featherdust,” Artyphon exclaims.
I see the discomfort and carry on a story. “Do you know pumpkins? Some grow on that plot and make excellent pies. One of our fishermen traded a tunny buss for the seeds, which a Moroccan claimed he got from a mastman sailing a lumber trader who exchanged ironwood strakes for pumpkins with red-skinned feathered whalers sailing from the west. Can you believe our free traders and free oarsmen give that? Would you rule the starving and flogged as you wake each morning?”
“Do you rule so weakly,” Artyphon scoffs, yet hides something of a smile. “You boyos obey by rules of amusement.”
“And you, dear wife?”
“Yield to pity, not obedience.”
“Pity you say?” Satyr I play kissing her mouth suddenly, and she yields. But, I have proven a stuttering tutor.
I say. “Family history records southern ravages and the building first formed a keepwell for merchants, not farmers.” A crypt under the goddess shrine holds gold leaf sketches of that early violence, but few know and fewer have seen them. Wasn't torched by the Carthage, was it?” Isocleas shakes NO. “Or sense the ancient bond between Hyrkon and Minoa and the Berbers. “Property ownership is transmitted on Hyrkon through the wife, and thence her eldest daughter. But , my mother died having only a son. Stewardship falls to me. I hold the property till de-flowering of my eldest daughter.”
“You have not hurried along that task ...” Artyphon mutters smugly.
“If I will not flog a reaper or start a mastman, why would I race my own desires, except for the prow of my ship and the venture of fair exchange!”
The women turn away whispering, their gait petulant walking arm in arm. I feel the dry eastern grassland wind; smells of battle follow them. Land and its solidness brings such joy. Dinner bell rings a mainhall surprise for Artyphon. This one room among all my spare and disciplined holdings is decorated, embellished, adorned and attired with the chairs, couches, stools, lounges, benches, mats and even thrones of Our Seas dining halls, kitchens and public rooms. Curved Egyptian rosewood sits beside varnished Damascus wicker among Latin chestnut benches and Gaulish oak stools. A disguarded Assyrian throne … stripped of its gold sheathing, but retaining the cutlers tines arranges along an Etruscan leather and yew couch and carved Greek klismos. The squatting pine chair of a Frisian hetman hunches on a cubit of Moroccan wood mat. Minoan palace chairs formed of exquisite sensibility smooth into the whole. The most simple food becomes a feast of many cultures. We carve into steamed turnips and carrots, sweet lamb cut with spongy bitter brined olives and pale orange ale. Stories told, paeans sung of the shield walls, trading ventures fled to bards tale taking flight to fantasy as a fire burns low.
Artyphon and I sleep twined in sheepskins on the hardboard country bed. We wake to a deserted farm; most of the klans travel north to recover and repair the farms. They will see ravage, I believe and pray thanks for time on my own land. We have awoke early, and for two hours carry water to the fruit trees as the eastern sky turns silver. It's peaceful, watering now what you will eat later as nothing may be peaceful at sea. Breakfast shared with the wounded, their wives and two servants. Artyphon and I are the odd ones; wives knowing smiles sprinkle amusement all over the breakfast table of toasted sardines, goat-cheese, fruit and dark chewy rye bread. In a trice Artyphon gathers women to herself never second should work appears as we show her about the scrabble of building and near gardens where branches fall, rocks emerge and weeds clump without the fieldmans watch. Till noon we worked a wind gear which ground clay, oak ash and clamshells into a rough gruel for firing and fining as cement. Then a cartmens lunch appears almost as rough with black bread, sweet onions, brined eggs and dry aged cheese.
“Do we eat the mold also? It's dry …,” carps Artyphon.
“Now look here, in times before our times Hykron was much wetter and warmer. I promised you an unknown traders sea; follow me.” We mount unsaddled horses and pick our way down the ravine to seaside. “Up there”, I shout above a bubbling surf, and point to an opening fifty reaches high on the cliff-side. It's a cave, its mouth once I believe running deep with water , but now only a trickle tumbles to the sea. Benches, mauls and bronze filter beds sit just inside. Scrambling up the entrance promises little as machines of mining, troughs and gratings and crush hammers fill the space. “We dig and extract ore here … with care a bit of gold and tin may be swilled out ...”
Artyphon bows … and laughs. “A silent money baron, spilling his coin from Gedes to Ur … that secret my master prizes!” Cold and damp menance reach out from the opening. I light a torch charged with wax and pitch; it's base is a slab of gold speckled quartz. Disks of light spread across the cave walls shown now to be streaked in colored folds, grey and silver and gold and clear bright quartz.
Hidden beauty dazzles Artyphon. “I see what you hold, Cibias. You may own the quay and buy the pale royal wench of a mans fantasy.” She asks. “Who really owns the land?”
“I say. “The strongest spear.”
Distempered. “What man denies his lover, but see how a husband may treat his wife. By Cybelles law, who owns this farm?”
“King Minos, upon my return from Gedes bonded the land over, and more, really if you lay out the parchment maps. Lawyers will wrangle. But, I a new Captain returned oil and gold and the King rewarded. Before that venture I had cut yew yards from a copse just about where now stands Isocleas mainhouse.”
“Yes … my mother, his lover had died very young of the eastern plague at Chalcedon. Most think she acted as his spy before Troas.”
“And Isocleas owns?”
“Whatever she wished or wishes, as wife of Minos well loved younger brother. All this known to his people, the kings heart. After his first wifes death, and his taking of the Rhodian Kings daughter as Court Queen - - though known sterile by childhood sickness - - Isocleas rejected a court life, or to remain in Corcyra, but accepted my offer to by the law of heart rule this land. She has become in law my sister. Zeus beard, Artyphon I never thought of it; Rusa is now my brother.”
“And I, newly wed? Rejected by family. What has a woman to offer besides her family name?”
“Her name is now mine.” Very sly is this woman I would have, sensitive to minor discipline so I drop crouching and kiss her knees. “Blasphemy. I chose the woman who sings Aphrodites prayer.”
“Hermes,” she whispers and comes easily into my arms.
“Hermes indeed,” I say. “Put these words into the messengers mouth. Three fists a lucky year … we smelt that much gold , and with half press coin for our thanes daughters, that they may go to a husbands bed without shame of poverty.” Artyphons face is buried in my chest and she will not move. “But! This is not why I brought you to a drippy, dank hole in the mountain, proving I can afford to buy an Egyptian loincloth. You must follow ...”
Wetter. Sixty steps deeper the cave bends down and shrinks, and except for the hollows of fractured quartz only one body at a time may slip through. “This cave was once an underground river. If you dig at the sides you can find clam and oystershells. SEE? You can see the mining for gold stops here.” Deeper and darker and steeper … damp increasing and footfalls slicker till we pass joins from a side cavern, much bigger, but greened light shines from its watery surface. “It's salt ,” I say and dip in a finger for Artyphon to taste. Ahead the two caves join expand in width, then around a bend an enormous vault opens to a towering roof crusted and ragged and grey from the soot of a thousand fires.
Marble, limestone and quartz spires appear twisted about each other, walls and ceiling and between and around and through the fantastic natural shapes … I thrust the torch higher and we stop: a lion shreds horned red-deer as scavengers crouch nearby.
“Amazing is it not? Form and line , action and proportion, a gallery hidden from light. Can you see them, the carved images of wild animals and plants have been formed and the carvings painted by the arts of men.” Words do poorly in the torches bright flame. “There and there … and there you see? Auroche, bear, whale and Ibis. But, here and here and ….” I point to paintings of an enormous hairy two horned creature and another towering higher , elephant like , whose two curved front tusks seem as long as a galley. They share a swamp dotted with ferns and date palms, and as the artist imagined and colored mounded gardens of saffron as above blazes a saffron sun.
“The ceiling, Cibias, do you see the ceiling is blackened with soot. Why would men paint needing light, but hidden from sunlight? Shaman or witch, medicine or conjure? Would that my mage could see.”
“Mages pretend magic, but love gold and power. This vault pretends nothing. The painters could have been drunk raiders of the last Tyrian tyrant or ancient men of the ice walls … of times so long before our times the cave meant warmth. But, we shall starve for dinner like them if we do not leave.”
“Bakk! So these men portrait steamy swamps … what is this creature,” she points, “if not a crocodile? From what age if not their own ?” I have no answer. Artyphon is not finished with the cave. “Run us away so quickly from this mystery? The cave painting are a wonder. Are any tools to be found .. , or weapons … or bones...?”
“But, was this cave and this island their own? “Perhaps they refuged from the mainland, sailed across in dugouts. More powerful tribes drove them from the warmth … here those men could remember in pictures their old native homes.”
Artyphon gently traces over a lions head “Perhaps they feared the light for other reasons. The artists need not be ancient …. or wise.”
“Old as the rock tress on Lesbos, I imagine.” Travelers sought to collect those smooth ancient bones, while Lesbians desperately protected them, hunters and hunted. “Surely not a refuge of mushroom eaters,” I laugh? “But ancient by its own testimony. Bits of charred and oiled woodware only. No metal tools are to be found. No pots, pans, flats, knives, ladles ...” I rummage about the floor, finding a rude antler knife. Blade first I put my hand to a tusk and a bit of white crumbles on my finger. “See , the artist first carved the animals and then worked colored pigment into the slits.”
“Does Hyrkon now makes its own colors?”
“Juice colors yes for our weaving. But, not one metal ore to my knowledge. We import everything from desert traders and from Utica.” Our eyes have now sharpened to the sketches and painting , the torch catching gold flecked quartz almost flooding the cavern with light. I ask in a quiet voice. “What manner of nature grew such creatures and what mans vision painted such work?”
Artyphon has been silent and nibbling from a sock of nuts. She now splits an almond feeding half to me, then attends to the shaggy wild horse paintings. “ See here, Cibias, the animals fight. I have watched such battles on the Caucasus winter plains. In summer they retreat to the mountains against warmth. None can find them.”
'So modern, then.”
“Hetmen grandfathers say their grandfathers knew no time without them. Their life of range and tents would be impossible.”
“So ancient; and the artist here?”
“What has one human to share with another except his family name?” She turns back to me. “A mage could spend a lifetime in this one space .....” My voice stumbles on a path yet walked and with Artyphon holding her questions I go silent.
Artyphon. “Shall we love here, beneath the ancients? Gather their spirits? You may be a rhinoceros and I a gazelle.”
Closed in by the walls I think it's cold and bitter for romance. “Sailors know a bit from trading my dear wife. Both animals need the grassy plain.”
Her flesh icy pale chiton and boyo trowsers drop away. “In this cave dear Cibias such animals need only paint!” My dagger - - her dagger digs at the wattled cave walls rendering piles of crust, silver, red and black and yellow. Wet on the cave floor she muddies them and swathes our skin with the paint. A silver horn startles my nose and red manhood. She has sprouted golden horns as a chamois I had once ventured. Horns dig into my chest and they are sharp and wounding. Times seems so slow. Through me she melts burning and careless. In the golden mud I savage her, breasts and cunt and ass. She bloodies my back and neck till exhaustion freezes our skin.
So tattered, clinging, my knife sheath about her throat and blade at her breast we crawl from the cave. To a ledge. To the salt water is a twenty reach dive and we take it. Water warmer than the air would have us doze, floating. Our blood stirs the dogfish and by strokes we beat them to the dock. Sullen wood holds us.
“You could have mounted her dead body,” Artyphons strains from weary.
“Should heaven die,” I say. “When before you Diannas arrows find me, place the coins and burn me in charcoal, which eats even bones so my weight bears only your memory. Such is enough for a dead body.”
Fresh air finds the noon sun and Spondes hours climbing back up the hill catches all Helios warmth. My head clears. We take to horses again and wander fields of newly planted rye. Dark catches us away from the stables and we pick our way among the stubble. Where thorns grow Artyphon sees pastures of Elissa. “Land and water, trees and sod … will you raise a family here?”
“We, my dearest painter of rock. Rocks and drought and thorns …. what's wrong with a ships deck?”
“Can the ocelot nurse a sick infant or cots hold a library?”
“Can four baskets of barley hire a Mede tutor?” I catch the quiet...”Some women are not satisfied with family and a mans dirty hands.”
Sea tells a story, but land holds a library. Artyphon sees that. My landsmen have already harvested the winter crop of stones … the earth throws them upward! Each year by hand we re-carved those fields, I think, stepping the hillside like branches layered on Lesbian redwoods. Soil you must make, from leftovers and barnyard pillage and Utica farmers who charge for pig-shit as if stripping gold from Scythian sheepskin. Hyrkon being of stone, grain fields are brought up from the sea in baskets, and thus made my landsmen had planted the spring crop of ryes and barley. In a woodlot found nine goats where six had been before and seven lambs with the ewes. Cartage had not taken them all. One oxen had been slaughtered for a poor shepherds marriage.
“See, over there, at the hillside. Our mechanic had fitted Syrian bronze gears to the windmill and from the neighbors cows butter churned”
Nice to eat I might say, but for a bronze coin better the boards cut for seasoning from a precious chestnut. The grapes and almond and figs struggled … even with the farms two cisterns and still flowing winter spring. Three of my landsmen daughters will marry this year , and our estate must buy their silk. I have brought a roll from a Sardis trader in Sicily bartered against Gaulish quicksilver meant for the Gedes gold mines. Silk maidens will dance covered in flowers and their mothers weep with joy … fine be our looms of Syrian olive-wood, I will not have my lands-mens daughters go to their new husband carrying gold coin in a linen girdle. Artyphon will learn I believe.
“You have a forest,” Artyphon says, teasing my silent meditation. “My hands become ecstatic hoeing around the pistachio and almond grove.” Her family owned thousands. My twenty olive trees grow on rock and air. “And grape and olive presses,” of Gaulish oak so precious and soaked with the blood of fruit I would not trade them to a king. “And barreled salt salmon.” For which each spring the Hyrkon council sends fishermen, the younger men running full hot blood in two clippers by the west Tin Isle coast and pray their return with both salmon and metal horns.
Four cherry trees gifts of Japhe I fear do not grow well; chestnuts have always done better and I have five towering in full growth. Beside the handful of oak, yew and pine I harvest seventeen nut trees, twice as many citrus. One rough field steeply slanting is filled with berry-bushes and thorns and I think in a rash moment Artyphon is happy and would lay her head beside mine in that stone house till the seas boiled.
She senses my optimism. “A mans property without spring cherry blossoms … how can his daughters learn to smile? Have you tried cracking the rock, water to ice so the cherry trees get a purchase,” she asks?
“Six years ago, at the plateau summit our neighbors well froze.”
Warm and cold I think … “on the steeps you could plant another hectare of gooseberries if boys were willing to lower by ropes and harvest by baskets.”
“Perhaps … if girls taunted them and promised a dance ...”
Artyphon scoffs .. . “When does a boy not wish a girls promise?”
She laughs greatly amused by her own wit and my own slowness. Woven baskets remain to be mended and a new beehive raised as the beekeeper perceives a queen will lead out this spring a separate swarm. Weed tuffs finding a winter home need rooting from each precious pace of soil.
“We lose by leaving,” Artyphon observes, “though the King gains his son.” She has bound her hair with a silver broach and veil. “You said little about weapons found in the cave.”
“A few stone hand axes and spear points. The cave dwellers were a family, a klan, nothing we would consider even a village. And nothing manufactured we would consider the cache of a warrior.”
“Perhaps then their life was unspoiled and peaceful as some believe pleases a just god.”
“So the trade laws we respect.”
“Armed men standing before other armed men.” Artyphons faces flushes. “Forced virtue protects the strong, while satraps cheat the foolish, employ the wicked and crush the simple honest.”
How have we got into this broil, I wonder. “Have our physicians and carpenters and herdsmen produced nothing,” I complain, the traders tasks unspoken?
“You chose the fortunate Cibias , picking unwormed cherries from an infested tree. Who torments the afflicted worse than a physician? Have you ever watched an Egyptian surgeon remove an arrowhead?”
I bite my tongue, having done just that to a comrade, his screaming dulled by poppy. After dinner Artyphon excuses herself, and spends that evening with our women. Later she describes the women becoming close in small ways, weaving and firing clay pots and warning maidens of young mens tropes. Some herb tainted turnip ferment is exchanged whose formula is closely guarded by old crones and loud unguarded laughter slips from the womens council house before the youngest are storied to drowse and scattered.
Ale is better I think with the men gathering, but matters of the farmstead keep heads sober. The successful orchard master reports first, a profit half again as large on the brine olives exported to Lydia. Weavers also report greater profits on a linen wool mix selling well to the eastern Latin traders. Well enough … but, optimistic smiles end quickly.
“We ground limestone into the ash layer and roots wound deeper,” explains a fieldsman.
Rain the last three years is less by two cubits in our cisterns, and another two must be dug should water find grape vines after midsummer. Our soil making and import has helped, all waste composted, but at the highest points strong wind blows down near the ash layer. Children are taught of the great fires, but they frighten not as I was frightened, terrified, for I saw fire as earth and fire as invaders. Both left burned ash where plenty had been, though the thick gray rafts were left by the great volcanic eruption to the east in the time of Minoan power. Any farm in dry climate sees those threats.
“Carthage and Ithaca both send men, but Ithacan peltasts will not stand the sling.” Both ploughmen and fisherman have dodged them. Foreign incursions on this remote southern end of Hyrkon are matters of the spear tip, not the plough. I am warned of Carthage warcraft slipping near the coast after nightfall. Every landsman is trained by the Kings armory, and calls bow, sling or spear a friend. Hyrkon shepards have exchanged slingshots with survey parties come ashore from those ships , and while our signal towers can quickly call guild troops its a two day march for the Kings hoplite columns and heavy cavalry to reach over from their keeps on the northern coast.
We share a pipe of Syrian hashish as the gather closes. Stiffness too boils away in the great ceder washtub shared with the guild-masters, and a stone pathway leads me back to the breathouse. Rigil has just risen above Africa and Siris fallen. I fall onto the sheepskin covered planks with only a cotton tunic between myself and sleep, but sleep was not to be. Artyphon returns emblazoned, beyond control, her nipples prodding though the sapphire linen band holding her pointed breasts. She crashes into our great-hall room , drunk to Bacchus measure and libertine beyond Pans wild fantasy. Her breath and her body both speak of wild ferment. Well aled myself I need little tutoring and I must cover her mouth and she mine even with these thick stone walls to private the cries
… roosters caw and sunlight breaks the window glass. Beaten and raw she threads her morning discipline , she the needle and I the fiber. First to the wooden tubs of boiling water we remain cautious, discrete, restrained dressing having naked denied each other nothing .