“But brother most fair I have for thee a last gift.”
Rusa fully dressed for travel strides from stable, leading a fine Arabian stud. “One voyage she's given me Cibias. One more opportunity to save your stumbling feet and hands of mutton-chop.” Tearless, clear-eyed Isocleas watches him to-horse and join our van. Men and women prevail amongst one anothers dearest needs. So must they though my tutors supply nothing , but satire - - saytre say I , but little wisdom.
It's rough among friends parting. Adieu we cry leading horses away from the courtyard and those bits of hanging on released our horses break into a trot. “Zeus willing. If we create what we believe to be true, then all is possible.” That optimism I call back to Isocleas …
Pitch and run; pathetic! How have I managed such a bitter taste leaving beloved? Home .. I long for the Belisama rolling deck, thrust of her prow and shining, curved sternrace. Artyphon conceals, damnable lies by misdirection. Surely Minos has confided more to her … of my brutish task, yet last night she spoke of peace among savages. So out we move, Festa two troopers taking point. Problems yes, for as promised we will attend to the fishing village Akka then following the Kings coast road. Festa will meet us somewhere to return his men. Then the farmers pup Ajakas, a pup no longer. He has begged to join my crew, even to culling rats from the bilge. Not a bad carpenter, he wants to fight and see men in strange helms fire spears against high brick walls. I don't know.
Has she become the tutor against whom my desires thrash? I know better; later she will know. Later we will know together, of peace.... what does this deception make of me? My deception. Only a child … that long ago an innocent when I first removed rubble from the caves fire darkened wall and willful child pushed through the burned timbers. The servant that helped me long ago is long dead. Artyphon never saw … not fifty paces beyond the room of paintings, the room of human magic deeper into the seaside cave cold bones told a harsher story of that imagined ancient peace. You claw away to get there, but by the bloody spear of Ares what a tale is told; the shattered bricked wall must have held a wooden door; charred fragments and broken pottery litter the narrow space.
“Are you well master,” Artyphon queries drawing her horse closer, mistrusting quiet as I have said nothing traversing these ravines.
Spurs I put to my horses flank and gallop ahead, alone. That first cave discovery hints of carnage beyond. No paintings adorn those final walls, but a kind of art … not many for leather rots, even tanned seal leather … and a queens prize of beaten gold wires yes so bound as glass beads were bracelets and necklaces and bangles of drilled human teeth. They had been threaded for wear and wedged into wall crevasses; a stone boiling pot of teeth I found buried under charred wood. What to make of the horror... I found no metal at all beside gold. So the story told itself in words of frantic ancient dismay.
To shipmates I have tried to explain, how a man knows when remnants of struggle pass bounds of triumph or loss. What kant of body shows horror rather than hope, and what wounds cry immolation not defeat? Men do not crumple in fear at the last desperate moment , but thrusting outward defy Mars to take their life. It is so lonely beyond hope, I believe, as when our Mycenae trod a fire ravaged Crete . Bakk! Men laugh and turn away for another wineskin when I speak such, as I am too young for tragedy and ought to have chosen the bards life not the traders. Laugh Abellio laugh at this rotten fruit! He would not laugh perhaps at this ancient cave of slaughter! Cold ancient fighters speak here. To me the words declaim a last line of defense, a few men perhaps arrayed against many.
So those ancients stood, in my imagination beyond the narrowed doorway spears for'ard as so their spear points... so lay the skeletons, a dozen or more and each skull fractured by a rock ax or penetrated by a flint spearhead. And human heads not Bogges. The stone blades were left in the bone, as a warning or as sacrifice to whatever god had cried for vengeance. Was the art theirs, or had they in turn killed the artists? I found bitumen soaked shattered wooden shafts; perhaps the people were fishermen, but I think the spears pierced human flesh at the end. That cavern was the last hopeless stronghold of a klan erased from the earth. Such was the beginning of my land; no man could love peace and his soil and will that end. I choose something different.
Festa finds us on hills grass short, but wild grapevines climbing the yews before the village. His troopers both carry my highest warrant and pillage from Carthage dead and stripped. “Won't join us now, will you Cibias? Your tribe also. We can use good … outriders ?”
“When vipers are clams and briers surf-foam I'll sail the first galley.”
With a rueful laugh they are off. Artyphon rides near. “Will you tell them about the cave? Anyone?”
“So there's more, unfit for a wife.” Her shoulders shrug. “The Belisamas crew, I mean who believe you have only one home and that beside them.” Artyphon leans across from her horse and the weight falls on me. We circle arms and kiss.
“The farm is enough for any crew … how they share you will see.”
The village alehouse serves clams, and ale made from clams. Not to us. We trade spear-points for an orchards pomegranate cider and spend the night in our sealskins beside the Kings road and another day finds us watching smoke-trails to the north, from the forges of Hyrkon.
Hyrkons harbor writhes with ships as we make our approach along the seaside dunes. A steeled Carian patrol hails us, blades clear of scabbards; we have approached their hull-works. We do not play at peace with such men, but raise the Kings banner. Closer, faces shared over winebowls and our filled mail-pouches pass us through.
They feared exposure. A Carian warbeak has been lifted by cranes to repair a smashed prow … that is the doing of Myceneii. Three mizzen masted galleys have been thrown up on the stocks to have their hulls scraped. The wood grain is oak not ceder and not less than a cubit thickness. It places them among the Spanish gold traders or Black sea free booters. Ten years before all would have been sunk upon entry by the breakwaters iron fisted boom. So enemies become trade partners … perhaps. Rumors and storytellers abound, from ,lion cloaked blacks to Green Isle dwarfs; their stories of false kings and false loves all ring true … Another trader, a huge two-hundred oar Egyptian cotton buss carries word of yet another battle between Assyrian horse and Hittite chariots. I cannot understand why the Hittites do not swarm to the aid of their Troas brothers, yet the Assyrians have repulsed them yet again. And Spain … will it ever rise again with Atlantis … feels the sting of Carthage Numidian cavalry burning and slaving among cork harvesters and swamp fishermen.
My salty Belisama crew has invested sweat and bits of life at the farm and remembering the hard won ground many voices inquire closely. “Have the tea berries taken?” Bondarolosba equally of mizzen yard and far Ganges weeps to hear the plant root, branch, leaves and berries has died.
“But, not the bamboo for weaving?” “No.” “Willow .. for the bark?” “Isocleas tenders them!” “Or the brazen wing Guinea fowl?” “ Peck your eye out!” “The black rooster Cap'tn … does he still shriek over the hens come daybreak?” And another: “ How grows my greenberry vine? ” And a toothless Chian oarsmen. “Do my raspberries climb the milksheds rock walls?”
“Spaniard olives still bite the southern cliff, … eh...” Brogue queried as we tend our seabags across the gangway. He had nursed them from a Gedes axman. We return to the Belisama as Hesperus cool breath announces evening. Many crewman had planted a vine or bush or treeling in ground dry and stony and exposed to Boreas hard mercy.
You don't just leave a farm. “Lambs doing well Sar,” sniffs a one-eyed mastman passing on the foredeck and sniggers make the rounds. “And blueberries, blackberries ...”
“Next visit you may take a week and gather. And NaziBu take this pouch of dried frost flowers. How they grow below their mountain pastures I never would have guessed. An old crone said she soaks them in coddled wine spirits, but you may know better.”
“Artyphon and Cap'n Cibias, they are married before a high priestess and I also. Isocleas ...” stutters Rusa. “She .. she has become my wife.”
The crew cheers me without surprise, for Artyphon is their physician whose body must know all bodies. So long has she slept beside mine I am become her physicians basket.
Rusa different. Our crew chews on him, like a fried tunny. “She'd marry an auroche first,” sniffles a mastman.”
“Needs a guide oer his belly,” heckles the navigator Telemedon.
“Tar you up, from the black-roots,” tillerman Ktzaz advises.
“I didn't know she drank,” finishes a broadchested drunk oarsman, who Rusa promptly dumps over the side.
As they were. The crew stunned takes a minutes before ale-caskes are broken and an all-night revel begins. I bristle, but there's no stopping and bite it behind my teeth, defensive, protective … I know, before his hair grays Rusa sees himself in his own trading vessel, farm in orchards thick and sweet with Isocleas in his own hammock. Do we compete among harbor cut-throats, or combine spreading windmills, stone ditchworks and almond trees over Hyrkons dry hillsides? Yet preparations for voyaging continue, all that night if by the smaller pocket. I do not sleep.
Midnight, from a stern idler. “Earthy smell Captain, it being hard no doubt to avoid the pig shit.” I have brought a canvas of pig-sniffed mushrooms and they will join a pig in the second nights stew.
“The linen, Artyphon”, hectors a greybeard factor, “ remeasure the thickness of fiber.” Abacus wielding merchants await Artyphons tablets. “And the glass blower demands double for his etched ware.”
“Price rises as the bubbles leave his forms. Tell him that,” scoffs Artyphon.
I read the cargo manifest and mark the lies. Later, before Altair rises , my officers get drunk and I with them medicines are passed and stored. Preparations for the Cyprus voyage were well along should the captain barely able to walk care to, poke among the hash-pipes of ganged sailors stowing and trimming chandlers goods. Pistachios and almonds stripped from sloping coast-side orchards had been gathered green and ground with oil oil to a boiled lasting paste much favored with sardines and black bread.
“Brogue, why only eight casks of salt pork”?
Brogue has always dealt with the food chandlers. “At sea we sit a common table and by Zeus beard I will not chew rancid salt pork or spoilt with my Captain. That or sugarless dates.” So a night passes while chandlers search their warehouses for freshly brined hogs.
By daybreak carpenters had wool soaking in melted Lydian bitumen, wedging fumed stinking strips between the complex awkwardly mated stern strakes. Pewter tins of boiled water and thick glass jars of lemon juice storaged in barrels and bound to bronze ring eye holes make the final trim. Sponde, Elete, Acte ... the mid day hours fly. Faelon runs up our exit flags drooping at the signal pole. Wind drops to a whisper. Three mates come aboard last leaving maids weeping quayside and Artyphons threatening eyes preserve their fate.
Rusa walks the quarterdeck, while I play 2nd holds chandler against empty gums and swollen bellies. “Amalthus and Salamis may need the runners long stride, but against the breeze we need to walk us out of the harbor, Sar.”
“Walk we may,” I say, “but out we shall!” Twelve men scrambled up the shrouds, slipped knots that reefed mainsail to the stiff oak yard while keeping the clew-lines bound so the sail could not luff. The Belisamas hull rolled to wanton, chaotic puffs of breeze. “We will need the longboats.”
And the anchors walking out before us. It's break back slavery to draw the stern anchor aboard a longboat and row it before the bow, turning with walking anchors the entire ship. Harbor mud covers the rowers with its stink of crab and shit and seaweed. All are cursed before the gods. “May Venus tit spew ink for Jupiters next bastard. May the cunts of Egypt fuck crocodile jaws.” Then repeating for the bow anchor raised through its hawse and traversed a'front lowered again for our catching. Four times we repeat the torment till we decide rowers purchase on the yew will be sufficient.
“Heave away ye fat hearted bastards,” calls Brogue first on the oars and the drumbeat quickens behind him. Yew poles groan, as by oars only under a star-light canopy and singing first the Nareids paean , then an ode to long legged, high breasted Kelpie , she who primes our lust , launching for Cyprus.
“Jiffy the mizzen, ever so tart ,” calls Kalicrates, chief of the mainmast.
Chains to the land broken, we sacrifice a phoenix dove , darting from the wind gusted bow she flees between swells only to have the fire arrow catch her breast as she rises skyward, an explosion of flame … and then nothing. Oar strokes pitch through mounting swells for a hour till the gusts blow westward and Brogue can call out, “ship oars ya lobster-backed bastards no mans your equal.”
Mykron speaks. “A Bogges dream, Captain, all share that after Cyprus we shall have a tiller like no ship ever wrought.” That break back compliment while six tiller-men rush to the stern held into seas of whitecaps; the wind retreats yet another point.
On the third evening of the fifth month counting from the winter solstice with Arktos long asleep sly Anemoi began backing his wind to the west. Altair and Vega come up in a black night blaze swooning to the east. Tis a night for the dark mariner and every boyo grasps his gold, silver or jade talis.
"Fleshrippers beak will have the mercy of a rabit weasel, otter, mink ..." chants the northman Dertu while ochre tatoo about his eyes pucker in-and-out.
We follow them half-the night … longer, till Venus flashes out before daybreak. So the log is signed and dated. Snapping banners and open sea chase the cowards belly, a different searching dull blade rasping for hours at death-cold flesh. East and north of Hyrkon oarsmen fear the dark rush with our larboard rail buried in the green boil; their oars of Spanish oak pluck white buds from the olive sea while rope-boys pass clamshell hashish bouls. Mastmen stripped to their loin-cloths defy a heckling rain while every sail flies aloft.
I stand naked on rudder-watch at the stern with two others, cursing Poseidon and bowlegged whores yet cheering “now, now” to a flying bow and strained lines keening high and billowed sail that catch a Libyan desert sirocco come roaring across the Belisamas starboard bow.