By Zeus beard its a night-prowl; I squint away frond-filtered sun while a bolt cleaves my brain, a kaleidescope of colors wash my face changing hue as they shatter against what unseen wall. Dizzy. My fist takes fierce grip on a batten. Artyphons breath over mine. She is prodding a bittered sugar-tab through my teeth, as the cold sweat punishes, but my eyes open and see today.
“It passes dear Cibias,” I hear her say.
Words jumble still. Yes. Harbor and harbor opening. Rills of peaceful waves depart from the entrance and I think since Helios and Poseidon are so related perhaps light passed through a tiny hole may cause waves.
“Waves of imagination,” chides Artyphon? She reads more than my face.
“Waves of foolishness,” I concede seeing ripples finding every crack on the shores. “How can a wave find every direction, if every direction resides not in the wave”?
Artyphon winces, “Yet I can make a shielded gold tube and holding to the sun only a thin beam passes through. Clearly dear Cibias light has not a wave?”
“Hum … how about Mykrons trick, in that quartz-washed cavern above Sidon? Dark as danger, yet should he punch a pinhole opening strange images appear on the walls. Do images spread like waves? Wind lifts sweat from my back and I shiver. Artyphon points away, yet her tunic brazen bare nipples press against my chest. Warm. “Might as well say, dear Cibias that rainbows seen afar be meant for mechanics not lovers!”
I look back through the water-way, engaged with the next comber should its secrets hover like Nike. Finishing another dark ale beside, for the smooth rolling green combers have now no brother in sunlight. Other delirium have vanished. Wave power and narrow entrance have stripped away both tailing dogfish. Since this harbor is little visited, and the deep brine clear to the bottom shapes swimming below magnify to show lobster, perch and salmon for companions and the shrimp they dart for. Boyos cheer like a bull-jump; pipes and ale and a mastmans jig fill our Belisama deck. Artfully, Artyphon and her woman seek the cabin while one reef upon another of grimed and sweated crew strip and snatching olive-soaps dive from the oarlocks into a huge mirror of brisk fresh emerald and I with them.
“Miletus rules the lobsters. At 'em companions.”
“Only after we Rhodians leave scraps.”
“Malta forever, mates!” And three teams of divers chance fifty hands to the bottom shall we invite bountiful Dianna to join us?
Horas evening hours cast long shadows upon our harbor. Elisedd beside me dog-paddling like a pup. “A couple of arms, Sur, a moment difference chosen and we're upon the rocks.”
“As I remember. Your oarsmen cheated us through. ”
He laughs and burbles beneath the surface. Rises. Serious. “Face taken a pale Captain, from weight of the crew.” Elisedd swims now freely, free as a bluefish. “Or weight of the cargo is it, but our boyos think you're been assigned the load of Sisyphus. Neer-mind, swim as ye may Sur, but fortunes friend advises better please a young wife.”
Elisedd I discover wears walrus paws strapped to his feet; he seal-flips and drives for the bottom, shimmering as the reach deepens; I never knew he could swim so. First up the rail Belisamas raw teak scratching I find myself, then to cabin hands tearing at Artyphons Median silk trousers, waist buried in her brazen heat. Surprised she battles slyly with mirthful affection. Strike off my hand, before striking her yet like Kynestes I whorl, appearing on all sides deftly stripping her ass bare and have just penetrated feeling her sex beat into my belly when golden dew-drops fill my eyes and sailing free I fly beside Hypnos deeper and longer and more ravishing without right arm or leg till sleep reveals nothing will remember.
One day and one night. They tell me later. Broth warm and muslin towels cool. All live as shades. Crewmen shadows file by, the officers mumbled questions and Artyphons bitter sugar-tabs prod at my mouth. I can hear.
“It passes, dear Cibias.”
“Still asleep?” Teutor faithful, and forever worried about some Thebes oarsmen. “His fist is needed.”
“Not sleeping. Eyes mistrustful, yet bright and fairly rising.” Teutor stands close and Artyphon leads him away, protective. “Cibias will wear me out with children, but from your yards and lines will they go sprightly, wishing to fall. I envy you not the discipline of a Captains child.”
“Tar says, from his age Cibias tutor beat him like a cub.” More business. “Ships stores need a refresh, Figs and dates aboard, lady and a few wild oranges. Of the green ones men eat what they can.”
“Half filled and more rowing shipwise. But, if we don't strip the oak our fresh water will rot. Damned be Latin barrels.”
Another day. I am stronger. I stand behind a woven curtain listening to a sour bile infecting the oarsmen. Foot-rot for one and worms and a week of threat without satisfaction for another. Food and water dribbling in. If foolish to rush in I will not rush out, to dismayed sailors, but find days of dry shore to humor them. Sleeping I still hear reports crew deliver to Rusa and Artyphon sitting beside my hammock. Out-harbor the coast forms a fearful jumble, all razor-edged shells and quick snakes. Two men are bit and lose fingers. But, inside small predators swarm, felons at a bazaar and the snakes are absent. A black sand beach clings to the foot of Peregrine nesting cliffs. They overhang our mast and such sky warriors do not fear man. Boldly they swoop down to snatch fish from our gloved hands should you man of Hyrkon fearing neither beak nor talons boldly reach skyward. Roses deeply red and wild grape-vines fall through rock crevices near to the top-gallant yard dangling purple fruit. For the thirsty sailor fresh water sprays from the sky tumbling two-hundred cubits through its own rainbow.
Finally my eyes clear, face trims. I become a normal man. No, ease Cybelle does not grant, for the colors are hidden within me and may not be ruled. This harbor appears to follow instructions of history. I know the libraries of my grandfathers grandfathers. Wily men, brave for the future and for 7000 years Minoans have hewn to that rule. We saw the Egyptians as children, and Assyrians as babes-at-tit. We are the meaning of civilization, yet perceive , any who will watch, what 200 years of fire and Mycenni spears have wrought. This bay no more perfected by a human hand than when we swam water-logged hulls first to our shores. Sailors spleen I wonder? I snatch an oak staff; then knot a short wool robe and go above.
Decking pinches; Helios ravishes my eyes; I borrow Brogues dark-curving glass eye-sheet and fix the leathers. “Charcoal master forge-man?” He smashes black reddish lumps between folds of iron blade. Mastmen cheer and the crows-nest rockets a line down beside me carrying bronze-bound Syrian glass. Thus armed I re-capture my quarterdeck from nimble-fingered rope-braider and grinders of iron. “Faelon, do the birds sing sweetly?” Yes, yes - - sweep-glassing harbors fringe shows peace, and a single plucky leopard.
Boyos litter the deck and masts, whistling welcome. “Two pigeons from the King, Sur and one stork from the south!” Sheepish. “I don't know that code.” All three beaten gold chips I bind inside a waxed elm stub tied to my belt.
“Good to see you on Deck, Captain. At times, Parthian women will cave their mates, feed them cheese and honey the better to fill cradles.” He laughs.
Another. “Royal Cilician wenches chain commoners inside copper-mines and fuck them dead. My brother trades the metal and speculated a still-born issue among mine-owners daughters, so any path is a better one.”
Very well. I have earned my share. “Say Drubya have you greased pintels? Surely pig-fat remains.”
“Grease we rendered, but ate the pigs Sur, a drift making for the outside.”
“Has anyone tried the stairway.” Nothing. “Has anyone found the stairway?” Nothing. But, Tar knows far more, and I impose on his humor as water barrels hoist and eventually the lay of an ancient curse filters through curling smoke of his hash pipe.
“Above us boyos temples lay built by the race of northing gods, some say human, but corrupted by cobra, cunt and vulture. Talos once stood there, all proud thirty cubits of bronze till the witch Freyja poured golden blood from his veins and he shriveled.' He eyes seamen born after his grand-daughter. “What remains? The cave-favoring witch, a blood-drinker should ye tarry in silence , but also the temple built to sweet Dianna , mind which is better known,” he rasped pointing, “than the path upward beneath that feathered rainbow.”
“There be no witches, Tar,” rumbles barrel-chest Elisedd, chief of the oarsmen. “There be a time of gods and witches I'll grant you certain, but now is the time of men , oak gears and ladles of iron.”
“So you say mate, till a witches hawk desires one of your eyes.” He points to the circling peregrines and their wild decent on foolish pigeons. Elisedd spits and continues axing strips from a new bladed oar.
“With a fish-tail I'll snatch a hen from the air,” snipes Ajakas, “just like papa taught me. If she's a witch she claws me. If hawk she clings to the leather armband.”
Mykron strains in. “Like a barnyard wench caught afield, no true hawk is untrained.” He hesitates. “Pintle shaft is worn, but pray Mercury enough remains to find us Salamis! Noone like a wet burial.”
A thin Syrian eyes the cliff, calculating with abacus, protractor and plumb. “Forget Cyprus, for the sake of Baal!” Something of the lands-lay has disturbed his numbers. “I'll lay three plugs of black hash against the truth, there's plenty of dry holes above this cliff for anyman with a weak foot or bleary eye.” A rash of coin jingles at his feet, and Rusa agrees to hold-the-pouch.
A wild bet, how better to start! Hot blood urges us for'ard, but rudder-scraping intrudes. Two iron blades have broken and its all men to the bellows while forgers hammer. The cliff challenge is promised for tomorrow. Most know the temples namesake, some had visited the temple ; none believe the stairway. Late into the evening Artyphon and I ponder the clear Western sky. Both the moon and Jupiter are falling and cradle Arcturus swings across like a Caucus lyres string-bow. Rusa wanders bye, lonely, telling love tales of Isocleas. Midnight passes, then morning.
“Boil your egg , burn your biscuit and lets be at it!” Steamed lobster serves breakfast.
A core gathers and boats are lowered. Pray, I think, we can climb this bloody rock. Oarsmen shoulder cross harbor to the rainbow source. But, idlers row to a ledge, backwater, hack away vines and claw their way up and sideways. Shouts! Indeed, behind the rainbow mist hide squared steps carved in the vertical limestone wall. Smooth steps by age, by edge bronze carved not flint, striped and kanted so water drains away and a careful man might step again. Men return shaking and nothing relieves, but violent half-brewed Parthian ferment. Yet tecknos has formed the stairway and nothing amazed my crew more, nor more frightened them.
“First step is slippery,” but repeating is easy.”
“Wedge sandal-leather into the striping.”
“And if your ankle snaps?”
“A Corinthian ankle is a mans little finger. Stiffen your back, mate!”
“Till your spine is cracked slipping between streams.”
“A horse-shoe floggers perhaps.”
“Chalk as ye may, seaward thrown should slime grow on a mastmans yard-line. This too.”
I settle it. “With me!” Lots had chose those brazen twenty men climbing the stairwell once found. Sacrifice at Diannas Temple of Storks names the task, but adventure makes every face. The climb is brutal even for boyos disciplined on high wet mainmast yards. Walking sticks find no purchase. Each up-step a full shin, so each man support the heel of the one above him. Green ropey snakes hiss from the vines, yet never strike. Near the end, when trees thin, vines retreat and the stairway curves over we happen upon five drilled holes, deep cones in the hard rock each gushing a fraction of the waterfall. This flow is not the work of violet-haired Furina, but a task of man, planned and labored. What labor and which men? Exhaustion makes us weak. The bets canceled as equal. Moss-back and leg-weary we emerge, yet such magic by the top!
Diannas temple. A flight of rising storks announce us. An aged, one-eye hoplite mis-speaking Phonecian lead us along a beaten oak path till the scene, widening devours our eyes. Marble seamed the temple lay at rest in a bower of dark green pine and cypress, a leafy cloud high above in the high meadow. Column soars to frieze bearing a slender peaked roof. Since the great fires, and the coming of long speared mountain Greeks marriage between villages has replaced rape thus Crete population remains mixed; Minoan, Dorian, Mycennii, Phoenician …. but temple spirit is older than invasions and all priestess and eunuchs serve the goddess. Even during the worst, Dorian ravagers could never precede us, never climb the steep pitches facing shaft-hurling acolytes and the temple columns scarlet and green marble from Latin quarries have wondrously survived. Carved limestone forms the base, length of a bow-shot while fluted pillars hold a dual roof, east and west with an exposed marble altar set between them. That altar, formed as a morning-glory to catch the virgins sweetness tapers to a jade floor. Honeyed candles devil the jade, the inlay spreading outwards supporting among other silver follies a purple-roofed throne for seers and red-dyed tent. This yew-framed tent sits alone, waiting for sacrifice, for travelers rest, the spoken lyre and for the priestess rape. Twelve virgins attend, should twelve in all live on this time-worn Crete and they greet us as aliens sent from Olympus.
“This one strong.”
“And this other weak, but wise.”
“No woman escapes these brothers.”
“And no man this woman.”
“Greet them sisters, for they have forged the stairwell.”
“So did Elikantor the Spaniard.”
“Twenty summers ago, and he died striving to snatch bare breasted Tia from a granite ledge, poor fool. She led him on.”
Temple priestess say gods of the icewall are their protector. As they tell, the northland satyr Loki discovered Dianna searching a fjords herb-strewn hills; the time was high summer along the Atlantic nordlands. Helios edge glowed brightly at midnight and sweet berries stretched beyond view, Dianna even then imagining for Bacchus the wonder of ferment. Always a womans desire comes hasty, as at such a time satyrs roam boldly, their lust without bounds and though she of status far above him Loki approached the Goddess with a sudden brashness. He pleaded foolish love. She fled across fjords and forests and valleys … Loki pursued even through the deep bays of our sea to these Cretan hills , eventually driving Dianna into this marsh. She had availed all effort to protect her virtue and was resting, completely exhausted from her flight Pygmalions gift, the gold-fringed tunic hung upon a myrtle branch while Dianna , sharing the waters with mated swans bathed her heated body in the spring. When Loki came upon her he spied her alone. Justice yields to surprise, thus victory was his yet the oracle recounts instead that Loki dazzled by fearless exhausted beauty refrained throwing himself upon the Goddess. Instead he threw himself at her knees praying for affection that he could never force. Foolish man. Reaching her weapons belt and arming she struck his hip with a bronze hand-ax, splitting the bone so thereafter Loki never again ran, but in the year he recovered turned his unrequited love to building this temple.
Knowing the story, at Belisama fire last evening Artyphon wickedly pronounced that Dianna must mock him, Loki a god, yet now a solitary cripple without the enjoyment of her body. Artyphon whistled in triumph, yet I pondered. How does a creature recover from the stroke of a goddess, without she ministering to him? When candles dim and the lyres note thinning did she flit to his side, yielding soft succor and strength to his prayers of love? Such meditations I never dare reveal to Artyphon. 'Weakness - - Master' would be her cry and demand I pin her ass to a limestone column till she prayed mercy.
Yet boyos of few words understand. Generations of Minoan sailors even from the times when they alone sailed our Sea have worn smooth a western path woven among carved rock from Sitia to the stork nesting marsh and temple. Forty columns of marble support forests of oak beams, Baltic beams one canopy above another within which migrating birds couple and nest. This weave is Diannas way. We stand before Her temple exhausted and redeemed. Two mastmen, Kalicrates and Telemedon have consulted the oracle, a fat heifer purchased and then slaughtered to the fires. Twenty Hrykon sailors take their ease while four younger priestess dance in red silk and Green Isle lace.
Wine is drawn, almonds and flat-bread passed. Then a crippled hoplite, now an elder temple seer approaches. Drunk and reckless, a leather vest still binds two thin-beaten iron plates upon his shoulders. Coins spatter in the empty bronze bowl he carries. Speaking. “Hyrkon buys tomorrows bread and olives, but what of the temple price? A priestess silver may appear and belongs not as her own, but petition and your coins have already vanished!”
“So you say,” Mykron advises. “By Mercury, respected seer you should run Damascus bazaar.”
The four youngest Priestess have retired. Now bare full-breasted, throat torqued in gold, her waist veiled in trailing silk shards dances the older most lived temple whore. Sandy haired , sharing flute rills and voice she wears brazenly her virgins dagger and might have been sixteen summers. Braden, a Celt pup from Marsaii means to rise , but I ground him without malice; my sandal steps on his broad-sword sheath and waits.
The temple seer is laughing. “Just so. But, neer should one confuse an ordered temple with a freely traded bazaar. There, my leg was fraught by sharp Syrian bronze. Men will venture, but we should have never strayed from the ship. Here the Goddess pays one gold stator per rising of the moon.”
“Zeus beard she appears a generous maiden. Now look here, consider us unshipped! None has taken one of your virgins. Why then should all pay?”
His coarse, fat poppy-pipe blazes. “Not one has taken, true, but twenty-one Hyrkons share the temple. Twenty-one is not one. Will you show that one-half your number has not taken?”
“That's ten and one-half. One-half cannot have taken.”
“But, one-half a boyo cannot be found. How can you be so sure he has not taken? ”
My chest groans; half a sailor cannot be found, so his pleasure cannot be weighted. Such paradox is the ruin of culture yet olive and meat to island seers. Negotiation stumbling. Time enough now for Braden the Celt near mad with lust to liven our game. So I remove my foot from his sword.
How like a hawk, I think. “I claim the right,” he cries, darting between negotiating men and the flute whistling nymph. Sword wavering, looking round at his comrades then fixing the girls eyes he says. “I'll pay the temple price and take the cherry of this arrogant wench!”
Priestess voice sharp as a blade. “Three boyos have tried and cliffs maw has eaten all three.”
“Likely Corinthian bathers. They offered so much less than I do. Has Dianna made you sufficient women to please me?”
“Young women pray for your bounty,” sneers the girl dancing around him without a breath of touch.
“But, not you.”
“My virtue unblemished.”
“This altar will drink its blood.” And he dives for her legs, well-formed and smooth only to be dodged, then tripped-up by the short sword hidden in her silk.
“Neither your prayers nor strength suffice.” She runs to the tent, slips on red-silk-bound leather sandals, a water-gourd and gloves, then dashing for the tree-line. “Earn your pudding, Celt, if earn ye may.” Efficiency and grace rule her every motion , yet the fever-driven Celt pelts after her not ten steps behind. One of our crew tosses Branden an oak staff. A step gained, bushes crash as they enter the tree-line, then only echoes of a branch broken or shouts of domination return. Shouts become fewer. Night falls.
“Shall we pay this temple fee or not,” I ask the twenty?”
“Cap'n says this voyage will make us all wealthy as Taisui,” chides a salty yellow mastman long due to return home and short a blue-water hull traveling east cross the Erythraean Sea. “We never seen your Isle Wu Chi pleads a Greek oarsman. “Big as the earth,” say he. Raw diamonds, silver coins and a few gold collect in a frond basket. More than enough. “Better eat,” I say, “before we going searching tomorrow.” Temple priestess shoo-away the seer, stow the money and find willow couches and wool blankets for all. Fires light. They do not return.
Two deckmen from the Belisama have climbed up and join us at daybreak. “Artyphon sent us to search you out. Ya know what happened?”
“A bird flew in my ear and whispered.”
“ Be that so Cap'N, Artyphon discovered two young birds hiding out along the shoreline. They was covered with bramble-scratch, torn and bleeding; the leopard stalked yards away. Artyphon slinged a pebble bouncing off the leopards head and it run to the thickets. Those two young birds though … one the Celt pup we took as bond for fifty cotton bales in Marsaii she brought on board, cleaned 'em up and set them to sleeping in the navigators hammock.” He winks. “Mighty quiet under the deck in that sling during daytime.”
“Where are they now?”
“Artyphon chased us up here, before they woke, but both birds will be following!”
They arrived sheep-eyed and wooly at noon, just as Mesêmbria gave way to Spondê. Worn and somehow older they sit with the temple hoplites. Trouble brews. Belisama crew prove their basket of wealth delivered, and demand Branden put her to the altar. Men without women will make such demands and feel proper about it and temples could not survive if their women did not whore. But, Branden exploded, drawing his broad-sword and shielding his priestess from wandering eyes. “I won her fair, ye perverted jackels and all between us now is private.”
Most of the twenty find leafed sticks to pelt them. “When the Goddess rock finds our keel that also be a private? Close your gob, boyo and do her as the temple requires.”
Elisedd. “Blaspheme roughly, then marry her on the return trip, as there's room for a seer at one Hyrkon temple. Serves both ye and serves the temple.” That started grumbling, as only Nubians permitted married temple priestess. “Let us allow that time for the Goddess to move our hearts.” Not one man pleased , yet Branden returns to the ship with us next morning.
Better for us perhaps, a good boyo retained yet during the night a neat-ankled Temple Priestess made off with one powerful young Rhodian oarsman of good family - - Archelaus - - the same man earlier chosen by shipmates to join Minos at Aminias festival. Such honor, for a young oarsman though he vanished between the steep Sicilian shore and last rocky overview. Death by shale all feared, though Artyphon felt queerly about lost young men among foreign women. As it happened this same boyo had been earlier taken in Panormus harbor by the raucous half-galley of the Byzantine Queen. Archelaus cared not for fate. Leaving us he swam cross harbor to the ship, announced Hyrkon devotion and proved useful in the art of oarlock grinding. Byzantines are a rough lot, in dress and music one step above savage nomadic Scythians. Archelaus soothed them, with his carving skills, and caught more than one of the Queens women without her tunic. In extreme he freshly straked their tunny-boat, set a birch mast and fished it off-shore. The returning Queen feigned distemper with his antics. Chained him aboard her ship from dusk till Helios first morning gleam.
Feigned I say as it's known Minos visit to recover his oarsman resulted in the Queens sweetened admiration and a now famous retort upon kindness served;
“Of mercy in ten parts sovereign Minos, nine parts belong to men.”
“I have found women forgiving.”
“You have not yet found a woman!”
A tart retort most in her service thought, but good for Minos, good for Hyrkon and good for Archelaus claiming heavier chains he bore than a mistress most scheming. At Queen Priss insistence Minos sailed north with her after he assured our Belisama chandlered and well spoken. Minos took his manservant, two guards and three Corinthian jugs of first-remove cherry ferment I so carefully guarded. Had Queen Priss a cherry to remove, then freely drunk remove he would. Archelaus obtained a bronze seal, worth not much as money, yet thereby marking him for royal service, a service much endearing his formalist Rhodian family. Minos is such a smart bastard . By Archelaus, island women spread their bounty before him, and he - - if ever now re-discovered - - will transfer from the Belisama after we reach Egypt to serve as Hyrkons ambassador to northern Amphipolis.
Zeus beard what a fucking mess. One oarsman gone-to-ground and another following, both in the clasp of Minoan temple whores so young a man can't say whether either have bled. Romance granted, and if parents wail court bards will sing. Minos likes a good song.
Yet I, Cibias shipwrecked - - he responsible to merchant shippers for maintaining a strong able crew, and to families for straightening the young, bent rake-Heil citizens they bestow for training. Training indeed, Naiads all trained to a red ass and I failed! Returning to the Belisama I get roaring drunk with beached oarsmen and threaten to go after Archelaus till Artyphon beat me to our rug with a wooden shepherd stave, and brazen as temple whores threw herself upon me. She still lays thus having served her bloody claw and bite-marks on my neck with warm salt water and oiled moss.