.......................Tales of Hyrkon: book 3 .... CYPRUS VIPERS

Chapter Six

Hyrkon, Heriklytus, Salamis … harbors are like men, young first, virile and and active, growing both strong and bold with experience , then fading … looking inward weakly timid with age. Then as the far mountain peoples say comes either death by raider and plague ... or rebirth as a red-plumed phoenix into the new ages iron. Hungry iron as the machines surrounding us.

Metalized birds of prey … toiling at Hephaestus forge. Belisama creeps toward the maze on twelve oars and a mizzen top-gallant. Oiled steel block and tackle the size of luggers surrounded the docks ratcheting hemp lines thick as a mans leg. Spinning wheels too hosted with their sawtooth skin powder rotted strakes and yards.

“Rather a shark at my gizzard, than that bastard,” spits salty Tar pointing at an especially large hoop and the surrounding cloud of wood-flakes.

“Yes hungry bastards pray they've a lusty taste for Hyrkon electrum.” A grunt returns. How itchy the crew, being men in a strange port. Each boyo wonders how Fortuna will cast these city street. Mastmen and rowers crowd Belisamas rail sporting fresh linen tunics and calfskin vests. Along the canal workhouses crowd together. Closer we come , sharper the smell of sweet melted lead and acid copper, as bad for the nose as mallets for our ears. Sledgehammers pound blackened dowels plank-to-plank where slaves have bored holes.

Leather and linen cloaked mechanics scrambled everywhere to feed them. Unfinished keels hang like narwhal backbones fished from the icewall sea or horse sized cod drying in the cold northern sun. Brute power … I try to imagine all machines on such a scale , as had Mary of Genoa. Yes I do think of her, the cunning wench who imagined our world and its city-states as a machine and she caretaker and recorder of those parts. Dianas mechanic! Astarts jeweler. For that unwomanly mirror she might have my head. I am staring at the sounds …

“One for now is enough,” snipes Artyphon mind-reading while idling by. She wears a frond-plated Egyptian hat and half-veil, and has taken the arm and back of a well-formed oarsman. Together they move a waxed pallet of rarely traded Green Isle linen cloth to the for'ard ramp-hinge. Such a fine stitch to that weave - - - only a childs nimble fingers and sharp eyes were permitted to touch it! Signals having past, a coven of Damascus and Jerusalem traders already gathering quayside under a yellow-striped canvas. The Picts would as soon eat you as trade their linen , but some clever Hyrkon factor breached their walls offering Aleppo hashish and a dozen sides of wine soaked Spanish beefs.

We had on-loaded this pallet at Hyrkon and all who touched it would from this one trade become wealthy. Artyphons prim contentment trickles over ; her hair ruffles and lip curls at my inattention as to prick 'jealous my fine Captain?'

Salamis shipyard boasts the modern machines of hull craft. Volcanic concrete forms the poured moles … burnt lime and crushed volcano stone …. pitched timbers frame the greased log rollers and bronze-guided hoists of each gangway … six of them and two dry-docks where a ship too large for the runway might be floated , a water sealed gate closed and water below then pumped out. Egypt had such ships … One of the spinning Knossen engines sat at the head, clanking iron gears, ratcheting a pawl and blowing steam, and would draw forward with cubit-thick hemp lines attached to the keel and to the inside frame knees. Scythian primitives ashore as slave oarsmen would try worshiping the bugger, but who has not boiled water in a pot and blown off the top? Steam pushes! Since our keel is bronze clad the gangway will need a thick layer of hog-fat to run metal smoothly over the wood. And that only after the main and for'ard top-masts have been swayed from their buckles. But, that was all tomorrows work.

“Say hello, vipers,” Nazibu whispers under his breath.

Our bow ramp has been let down. Escorted by a half-dozen steel-bladed thugs, but no announcer and bright in official mollusk-purple tunics and robes, Salamis city satrap and harbor-master briskly come aboard. Without a coronet stepping up my spearmen block the path. “Has plague touched your city.”

“Not us,” the harbor master spit. He looks over their shoulders to me. “Only the outer citadel. It came with the Uticans, took its quarter and left with the raiders if there's any justice in Astartes tit.” He holds out two open hands. “I am Certees, and if you tit-slap a Salamis whore a-pleading she will go to her guild. Lashed bloody as Medb she has been –- one story after another , and till another silver piece is provided your crew will satisfy themselves.”

“Blasphemy, Certees” snaps his companion, harshly viewing my spearmen. “But, that's the short of it for Cyprus entitled women.” The satrap is an Egyptian, tall and fair , a breed of the Nile delta and if Pharaohs man one of efficient mercantile presence. “Welcome Cibias We received your messenger. I am Achen. We had a plague ship try to harbor last year, damn the Syrian freebooters and we burned it and everyone aboard. Yet a few men managed swimming to shore so we burned sulfur and poison oak soaked in Quicksilver for a week at every street-corner. Our people remained inside their own doors; ten Salamis natives died, no more, Ra have mercy.”

I pulled back our guard and open-handed stepped forward. “We met up with the Syrian leaving your channel. I understand he runs slaves; keeps them chained in the bilges where plague hides.”

“Cargo is nothing to us.” Achen smiled slyly. “Yes indeed your compatriot Doron just left with new foremast tackle. He Captains a modern craft.... a man very impressive to be around … ”

Not around me. “Achen I'd be more careful with my impressions. I saw the outer harbor damage. Somebody tore you up tit to anus! Now Doron leaving so soon after after the attack … some men would wonder ...”:

“Attackers? We crushed them,” Achen said calmly.

“Crushed, eh? Couldn't stop them from destroying the lighthouse.”

“Glass is cheap.”

“When will the Egyptian guilds pour you a new mirror?” Achen frowned. I continued. “An entitled guild, like your whores those Nile glass-melters. Cost the Rhodians three hundred silver stators and three years to get one silver painted mirror the size of a serving plate.”

“We try to stay up to date,” Achen smirked. “As to your fellow trade council sailor we have been told Greeks have their odd ways when sailing north.”

'North' , I thought one deception after another. “North you say … well, I figured Egypt was their next port, but who knows better. Not Cretans.”

“Well yes Cibias … we cannot expect Cretans and Greeks to agree. But, we have your money and the Trade Councils bond; in return we have your metals. Bronze is popular again, with Ajax bouncing between here and Troy searching out the throwing hatchets he prefers. You wouldn't have any from the Scythians would you …?”

“We don't sail north until after Egypt.”

“Yes … yes … of-course , not until after you deliver your precious ferment to Pharaoh , so our factors say. They would bid for it otherwise …”. He chuckled and his hands folded reassuringly. “That's too bad for more than one local banker. Perhaps next visit?” He moved both hands under his freshly shaved chin. “Well then, to the Belisamas refitting... once we square the measuring of mast-posts and rudder your gold will match our bronze. You do have the new mainmast pieces...”

“In the hold … yew, oak and ceder straight as a satyr's prick of ninety cubits smoothed and compassed to a triangle join, ready for mortis and tenon … and the bronze pins.”

Achen grinned smugly. “Your carpenters use the Syrian squares, scribes, chords and protractors so … they will not be too wrong … haha … matters advance my Dear Captain. I think one month a good estimate for the work , but the instruments will tell us.”

There was not even a feint of affection. “Very well. Our carpenters will provide whatever help required. We will respect your secrets, while guarding our vessel. Allow us the discipline of rotating watches on land as on sea.” Achen nods yes without enthusiasm. I say, “Will idlers have leave of your city?”

Local merchants and whores have certainly prayed his attention. Yet only effort manages a small grim smile. “Please the crew with your dock and the food market stalls. Along the water you have free passage where merchants crow. Sailors need caring, like worn gears on a water-wheel. I have arranged three public houses at the north end of the quay for their sleeping quarters. Our whores maintain two streets and a string of lofts lining the quay east end; those streets and lofts intersect at a stone fountain where we pipe in mountain water. You can find weavers and blacksmiths near. ”

'Worn gears' I think? Elisedd would put spear through his belly for such disrespect. Boxed up like a salted cod … that's what I hear. “Several of our crew have interest in native botanicals and wild animal species. How far may they travel?”

“And not the women,” Achen chuckles without pleasure. He rubs his clean shaven chin. “Understand us, Cibias, and the state of war that persists. Lion and bear, Greek and Trojan I might spend all afternoon reciting pairs. Hyrkon and Cyprus are brothers, trading allies yet Cyprus must defend against all. Your botanists may visit the orange, lemon and olive groves along the coastal plain.” He stops to chew on his lip. “You'll pay back the favor I have no doubt, our orchardists have got two new fruit trees to sprout buds, small yellow apricots from Troas swamps , them trading all but their daughters virtue for bronze swords and an even smaller sour hard-skinned grape one of the Ganges caravans brought over with lapis. He called it citro-vert … I call it vinegar piss, but every man tastes different.”

“Our nurserymen love new plants. Will we be allowed to take shoots?”

“Do you trade for Chios grade root-stock? Any merchant will consider those grape vines worth dealing.”

We had such few, coveting a glassed-in plot beside my villa and traded for Moroccan rubies, the lot intended for the King of Miletus, … I spoke voicing little hope. “A very difficult proposition my friend. Chians grasp their vines as a man grasps his young hetaera. But I will inquire on our next voyage north ...”

“Surely you will,” muttered Achen. But again to our city and its walls. All may pay respects at the bull-horn altars near the cypress grove north of the second city gate. That is the Street of Clowns on which you may also find our story-tellers and oracles. Pass through the wall on that street to burn fat at the altars. Some say rubbish may be found near those alters from ancient Minoan explorers.”

“Explorers? You do mean creators of Cyprus, those early Minoans. If you wish I can show you paintings of the folded, gold leaf miniatures they produced.”

“A savant may draw Juno fucking Mercury in the clouds, but I need not believe.” I have found none myself ... Yet, go no farther. Some in the mountains … many in the country-side villages no longer trust Hyrkons , seeing you as Minoans in flight, sea people raiders and so there you would not be safe.”

I flush at the insult. “We perish, but our electrum lives forever?” Achen says nothing. We are trapped in the city center he means, all but chained to the Belisama. “And the forges for melting your iron molds, and charcoal mills for steeling the surfaces ...? Certainly our weapons makers seek a sharper edge.”

“Technos always does.” Achens smile vanished completely. “'Steeling' is not a common word among sailors.... I see your Parthian bitch has proven more useful than any could imagine. What sand-miner or what smith was so foolish as to reveal ...” He caught himself ; a smile returns. “Permissions I have given. Visit the altars and groves. Venturing our forging methods and anything beyond the wenches will cost you blood for blood!”

Patience wore to the bone. “Is that the greatest safety your Hittite masters can promise … to murder your customers?” I tightened the money-belt about my waist. “Will we see Ashur?”

“So unfortunate my friend.” Achen wore his most slippery grin. “ His keep lays four leagues beyond the city walls and not to be reached, but by his brothers seal.”

A captive came to mind. I managed. “Preserve your own, Achen.”

Grim-faced they leave the Belisama in boot-clatter and the rustle of metal armour. “Snarky bastard, him.” Telemydon had come to my left shoulder.

“Damned if we won't see Ashur!”

“I know a very sly creep among the rope boys. A girl, actually of 10-years whose father raped her and she went to sea. An older boy plays an honest brother, but she'll take him when her time comes. For now though adventure finds her all-in. ”

I nod and spit. “Does crew normally hide such matters from their Captain?”

“Men see you as a good'N, so not when it would hurt our venture …..”

“Oh!” I look over the coast-line while comparing it to a map sketch I had removed from logs. Achen was giving us about twenty blocks, two pastures and two hillsides. Maybe he couldn't muster the troops to garrison more. We set lines to their bollards and their own men stood guard … and a more bloodthirsty crew of mongrel cut-throats I couldn't imagine. This much was common – rule in the name of bitch-goddess Astarte and her consort Baal. I made no mistake – the name of death ruled. My traders staff or pendant was worth a dirk in the belly.

“Wealth and death together,” said Artyphon come up beside me. She looked approvingly on the well laid out city blocks that spread outward from the quay. “Persian mages warn of the melt … of the clay cylinders and charcoal and red ore. Breath them not they say. Could it be the fumes of copper that so twist men?”

“Our own forgeman is well enough.”

“Below a moving ships deck, perhaps with the gods of air circulating, but in a brick oven as are so many melt towers and forges.....?”

Even in Crete only slaves are used for refining lead. How many other ores … the thought left me cold. Artyphon had reason to hate the forges, but love this city of metal. Salamis was squared out in pale orange brick, with cobbled stone streets. Merchants workrooms lay closest to the piers and quay and docks, with their forge-blocks rising over three stories. A stony open area posted with wind-whipped colored banners would fill up with food, clothing and jewelry vendors. Beyond the city squares were the walled compounds of the elite; merchants and builders, contract scribes and factors. Between were the whores and hetaera and the counting rooms. What you did not buy you did not get. Yet forge-men traded openly for our tin; that has not changed; that and the Hephaestus bronze which they sintered by the gods own piss, but none except they knew how. You can't just pour a hogshead of bull-piss into a melt of copper and tin and expect anything, but a slaggish plated iron stir-bar. But, the Cypriot bronze-men know much better and no other metal defied the rot of salt water as did their bronze. Very well. The power-of-trade grants even a black-hearted man the worth of his craft.

So our carpenter invited their chief carpenter … a Cyprian bastard long faced and woolly-headed with features snatched from every Mediterranean rookery … on the Belisamas gangway we put aside guards and climb gravely through the bow hatchway. Oil lanterns spark the hold where he surveyed our entire under deck. “No bench planks I see …. but, where's the hemp stress line fore and aft?”

“Don't need one with ribs,” I said one good half-truth being worth a damned basket of lies.

“Not one you need eh” ... he probed the spyderweb of fittings between the keels bow end and the rearward angled first ribs. “None of these dowels hollowed for a stress cable?”

I shrugg my shoulders, and from careless Phoenicians he might believe a captain did not know his own ship. He pounds Belisamas rib-work with his oak mallet. “Bronze boltings are so smart ...” his face creases like a weathered board turning around to me … “ yur snakey Cretan bastard too smart even to bisquet the strakes together.”

“It's the ribs you know … the frame, like a whale or narwhal.” His face showed blank. “It's all a skin whether hide or wood or … Zeus beard you could even use metal if you could roll it thin enough!”

“Bakk! How do you keep the strakes from splitting?”

“How do you open a whores ass if she's determined to keep it closed?”

“Drill the big hole first eh … hehehe … funny bastard, ain't cha ...” His mallet pings on the bronze pins. “See how much wood you waste … half a cubit at least from every plank. Must have cost a fortune to get that India teak across the desert.”

“Enough to fill Cuveras daughters girdle three times … the heathen whore bitch if we did bring it from the Ganges across the desert....”

“Are you saying you followed the Egyptians and sailed south of the Numidians?”

“No doubt the Egyptians sailed south , but as Minoa ruled Our Sea and the Pillars we traded everywhere within those bounds … and the brazen Captain thrust without! Wherever the Egyptions sailed they followed us!”

“So puffs Hyrkon Captains,” chuckled the carpenter. “You understand Cibias that voyage puts Saturn and Betelgeuse in the north western sky...” He looks at me square faced. “Bakk! None believe that voyage was ever made .... not by your age anyway sons-a-bitches. ” Then he squints, his jaw chewing the hash-plug and his fist pinging a through bronze bolt with an iron fork. “You're pinning the knees to the feckin-A monster keel. Did you drive in open threaded shafts , then peg screws downward through the knees?”

“Our carpenter bangs his mallet on one of the three bronze plates forming the base of the mast. “We buried the bones of the black pigmy from Malabar who burned billets below this maststep … we buried him underneath it all. Care to join him?”

Dammme I have slipped a vision. Sleeping. Masters and guilds were warriors of their craft. The Cyprian thumbs the sharp edge on his hand-ax; his murky face showed sour.

“Pray peace good men. Give praise to tecknos!” I find glass bowls and a rope-boys pitcher of ale to nurse them. Thrice around and voices have smoothed.

The Cyprian: “And here … you may frame a house, as do the southern Egyptians and Ganges-men with bamboo. But, the ships bow? Slam comes the storm breaker and cracking apart down goes the ship. Mortice and tenon come apart though Kadmos himself had them glued and swollen. You have to rope it together rail to keel, hull to stern.”

“If you don't know the support angles, one brace to another then yes, you have to rope all angles … top to bottom, left to right, front to back. Not us! You know an isosceles triangle do you now? ” Our carpenter said no more.

Always the fisherman, one craftsman to his employer. Still work had progressed and I thought not to insult him. “Yet master builder sink we do not unless a shade stands before you ! How can a shade pay wages.” I laugh? “Can it be that Dianna gifted the whale skeleton to us as teacher.? Backbone and ribs and ...”

“Bakk,” he spit a gob of black-tar-hashish through the hawse-hole. “Can you tell me what holds the whale rib to his spine? One billet or many?”

Warily I say. “One mortise may hold a force; two are certain. But three are needed to restrain a twist. In a living creature one of those three will be stringy tendon. Men of the grasslands use them to stiffen bows, but it's no small skill as we have learned. ”

But, the craftsman was not to be sidetracked. “Even the fucking Medes and their donkey-shit-filled basket-boats know that! But, how do you square them, Cretan … so mortise fits tenon.”

“I say cautiously, “We form our triangles first on the jigs great circles, running around the entire bow-jig. You have a man who can draw circles don't you? Once the braces are in place the jig and circle vanish!”

He had forced himself nearly into the bow-wedge. “But, where exactly … here or here or … pah piss on yee all. Nothing eh that great God Enki hasn't forgotten … forgotten to tell us! You wouldn't tell your sister how to piss, would you? And who forges those bronze billets as we do not. That I'd like to know … and have their throats cut!”

We came above deck into a bright clear blue sky. Why is it not that easy between men? Perhaps I understand how a circle shrinks in a straight line … but such will not move the narrowed visioned Cyprian craftsmen. So even now these works and goods are exchanged between he and I, but as almost shameful products; value was hidden, beauty defaced and open handed virtue removed from craft . One man might forget how trade guides a just mans actions, but for an active building guild … or an entire town? Faces toward us were bitter, that law we supported was not the law of thieving.

That night about the firepit Brogue raised the issue with a story. It was he taled … “... as if men swimming a river to escape Helios at mid-day , careless men of no religion , there happened on and perceiving Aphrodites natural beauty were to steal her robe. To thieve that silk , creeping on their bellies like water-vipers they added blasphemy to foolishness. So the goddess upon discovering their outrage created of them the water-snake making fangs their lustful words. How much better for virile men to honorably throw themselves on their faces so all could adore and yet claim innocence before Jove and mercy before the huntress. She delights in honorable men, the goddess.”

We set a double guard in chain metal armour and drank to oblivion. An iron mask and fearful mind had replaced human eyes. Call us provincial , we set two tents before our own ship showing unvisited the sailors art. Supply parties venture out under a forest of ash spear-points, and hetaera visited at the head of their own armed bands. Each morning we serve hot ale and lamb from our own stores, and none , but the guards and hungry whores visited.

So passed weeks. While the precious bronze pintle, and pulleys, gears, ball-and-sockets, stanchions and tackle were measured, ingots melted and forged and aged the crew casually spread into the wooded copse surrounding Salamis. Men bargain warmly, unlike Achens cold threat and a man who searched out a local servant girl, a shaded lane in the days prime heat or a cool brook found nothing to fear. Men and women yet searched out each other for pleasures. Certain Abydos whores once paid cut the throat of every man they service. But, they are a perversion to both Demeter and Astarte whose pleasures are uncertain and fleeting what chance is assured except the present? For men accustomed to a ships confines, mast to bilge and a false steps danger Salamis spread a wizard array of unlikely unseen and amusing places and people. Boyos stood their watches, served in the refitting and scampered wherever the ring of spears weakened.

Fortunate Tyche as loose mouthed sailors were like to address the Belisama and me casually threw bones with ambitious Mercury. Men sail I think, but man seeks. Thus, alleys and whores, tax evading cutter traders and potion masters became ours, as they were any citizen of Salamis. Any port becomes a sailors home.

Yet the time came when I was called by Achens master forge-man to inspect the bronze. No other purpose could have brought us here and we left the Belisama late in Eletes muggy afternoon. Wind blew hard from the northwest and the sky held no silver strips of daylight. A choking dark grips the narrow city streets this evening and above unusual banded rainclouds threaten. Kalikrates and NaziBu , chief mastman and tillerman join me among six picked swordsmen and our armed Salamis hoplite guard. Fat raindrops spark at the dusty street us winding in from quay to the first level of a forge block.

“Stand ho, Hyrkons. Your Cyprus tunics deceive none.” Ax bearing thugs backed by a thicket of spear points bar the gate, but melt before our dragomans shout.

“It's business you fools weighed out in silver not copper. Achen will have your tongues toasted ears braised so move aside.”

“Ten drachma is the fair and usual pass fee,” returns a thick chested, fair haired Cypriot whose double bladed iron ax disputes the path. His fellows in arms variously protected with helm, curasis, mail or plate form a metal laced hedgehog about him. Then stepping for'ard he punches a finger into my chest. “Leather breastplate? Expect a battle?”

“Bandits live on every street. I'd take that finger away, if you expect to keep it!”

“By the bearded goddess disperse those thieves,” cracks a strong voice from the entry. “Take a whip to whomever ignores their master.” The voice spoke from noone I could see; the massive iron bound door cracked open. “They would tax Zeus for Jove couch.”

Spearshafts and mail rattle; the hedgehog backs away from the door, and a short defiant leather aproned mechanic holding an iron headed hammer bounds out. “All warm welcome, Captain Cibias … a hearty welcome from the shipwrights guild.”

“That motley took little persuasion,” Artyphon carps suspiciously. “Were they measuring us?”

Artyphon senses the worst, but their guild mechanic quickly engages me. “I wondered … and ye be … Cibias of the Belisama?”

“Junos grace at least one knows.” Artyphon insisting on my arm and brazening a silver weave half veil carries our best ivory beaded abacus and the chandlers tablets. Iron shank doors have swung wide open.

“I am Adad, guild master of Salamis shipwrights by vote and crafts leader by skill. None, but I poured the bronze pintles for your rudder, for I went to the harbor myself to watch your ship enter …”

“Glassed us like a bug.”

“Disparage insects not, for in deep clay we find them old, very old. Old is wise.” Guildmaster cuts a thick plug of black-tar Syrian hashish and passes strips around. “Your Belisama, she is a long sea-strider as days past remember! Metal strips won't support the strains, Us are better, but Ts both most expensive and strongest.” Fumes and metal stink rush through the open door behind him; it burns your tongue, yet there … we stride to the middle of a large brick framed and ceder beamed workroom.

“Your work then … the apprentices must have bled!” Adad laughs and a dozen young men lining a wall fall back in a mix of fear and respect. There, atop long oak planks and marble slabs in the open center of the forge ring were the scatter of bright mating bronze-works. Wooden buckets of mixed copper and tin pellets unforged line a wall whose end holds the mated stone disks of a grinder. Bellows puff and creak and whine at the forges, while a usual consignment of idlers drink from flasks or hammer weakly on red forged blades. Flaring sparks surround iron oars and drawn copper bubbles in stone pots. Some count is taken as bull piss sprays above the melt. We see little while labor strives .

Diversion, those views. Artyphons vellum rolls holds sketches for the pintles; wax tablets ran through the entire chandlers list with all items, weights, dimensions and materials. Most of our ship fittings had been cast. Roughly chiseled, those pieces lay fresh from their glass molds, before surface sanding yet the rough feel created a confidence. Mating sufaces all fit for polishing dust and the suppots all Us and Ts.

“A fine mastery, Sir I nod.” This was a task for men of bronze , a weave tyeing together the Belisama into a true ocean rover. Yet the room worked more than metal. Beside those tables were the string of stone supports for our mainmast, once three triangle-shaped tuckets of wood now mitered, pegged, glued and bronze-bound together.

“See this Artyphon, a pawls pivot with an outer bronze ring and inner iron ball. Buried in pig fat the iron though harder will not overbear the bronze.”

“Master and slave?” Something darkens her eyes. Then … “fresh lamp oil shows the extreme tecknos,” Artyphon mutters, after one long rattling of her abacus and stretched curve of a thin yew bar.

“Have I not heard of your tutor,” said their lead mast-builder, a forge scarred man with a limp, but bright, knowing eyes. “Yes, yes … Kullaa is it not? A mage who works the curve with three solutions.”

“Was … my tutor,” Artyphon managed plaintively “Though Persian an Etruscan astronomer trained him in the curved paths of stars. Who believes the bowl-of-heaven to be flat? He even shaved most of his beard to be like his teacher, but much good it did. The Hittites killed him working figures at his sandbox while he tried coaxing the swords from their hands!” Artyphon swallowed words bitterly... “Those solutions, he calls them zeros, nothing, voids, like his Indus tutor before him.” She looks stealthily about the workroom, her eyes worrying each doorway. “Perhaps each door is a solution and some could pay attention.”

“Ha”! A hole in the wall is like … nothing, but for what is it a solution? I cannot imagine nothing,” puzzles the mast builder, “but, thinking of it ...” His one wooden leg betrayed ship battles, and curly black hair Elamite blood; his sharp browed head and eyes squeeze for'ard, but curious hands and arms the size of a mans thews. He squirts from a wineskin then passes it away. Obvious displeasure shows on his face hearing the name Etruscan. Arms folded and legs spread as if for a wrestling match. “A surprise to me anything worthwhile escapes those Latium merchants. Ingrown, reclusive … everybody knows they're a mongrel dissolute colony of Troy! Etruscan bastards limped in at winter solstice.” He passed a stretched parchment sheet to Adad.

Indeed it was,” pondered Adad, muttering “... fifty sesterces …”, then remembering the story. “I can see them blazing , Sirius and Rigel directly overhead like Melkarts eyes when that slab-sided walnut hulk slobbering larboard starboard came to anchor. Acted like Mercuries twin for the value of their trade, Etruscans drunk before hawsing anchors, but indeed the value of cracked pottery and mis-woven baskets was nothing.”

“You had sense enough not to drink their wine.” Hardy laughs make merry and the wineskin passes hand-to-fist. Then a rope boy is on my arm pulling me around and I see … cuff the little bastard till his nose bleeds … what the … then I see tis a young girl motley in rough tatters and she pertly whispering “Now … Now...”