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


“Damn fools to get snatched, then drunk, and then rat trapped like whores in a skiff. What good is a dead Captain? Phonecii hashish eaters they say.”

This crackling buzzes faintly and I strain to hear. Artyphon. “Crazy men you say, organized by troop into spear-carriers, archers and swordsmen. Officers in the van. Such insanity should rule the world!”

“Okey … alright, more organ ….” noise ...

Later. “Rightly so. Did the surgeon cut him? Egyptian mind, fearless with blades as a mummy from southern Pharaohs court.” Something rolls cross the floor, but my eyes are too blurry … “I guess he's seen ripped guts from the 2nd cataract to Jerusalem.” A strong voice. “Ale, Cibias? That's the lad. See, he's about breaking through!” The pause. “He operated as field surgeon for Pharaohs army last campaign season, eh?”

Tutors Green Isle twang. “A campaign ta' f'r. Took one fin'er too many, Heriklitus boyos say from the Generals crouped son and got shipped out to Cyprus backwater --- better'n cut throat or swm in the croc-pond.”

They have bound me to the sack with linen cord. Wicky-wack! Will they never feckin-A shut-up? Languorous haze …. snippets. “Thrur … thrur .. thirsty …!” Tangled words wrapped in fever, flowing in ice water that does not wet my throat, washed and sheepskin bound. “Up up... up me hearteez! …” Hands restrain me and a wet sponge dabs my mouth.

“Morning watch, Teutor and alls well. Mykron … Mykron says He understands and breaths better.”

“Hear you, Telemydon! Send them on. A sailor belongs on the sea, not tangled about alleyways. Twas the city miasma that done for him. But, what a tigress froken Artyphon, teth and claws about Cibias when bandits advanced. She pronged two like tunny, when they was to tak'n the Cap'ns head.”

“Shaved off a mans neck slick as a barber. Came slashing right around the Ca'N like a third arm. Then she sews up one of them Hittite peltasts … saves his hand. Is the Ca'N still sleeping?”

“Aye boyo, better he drink her root juice than me. Nauseating poisonous filtre if ye get my drift, but it's his life she saved. If he's saved.”

“Zorast conjure had town women running to hill witches,” NaziBu grunts. Zeus knows what grinds and potions they brought or what she brewed. ”

“Speak softly boyo, as a woman chooses her own. Ca'N too … he best mind manners and tend his bed for such a she-cat.” The mizzen mate thought some. “Do we sail or don't we...” and the other man shrugs, tipples a wineskin and by the clicking of rings must pass the opium hornpipe. I imagine, I imagine ...

Noise. Wind. Being inside where noisy Bogge dreams spatter the landscape – not so visual is it now, Master, when I try touching you. Artyphon … my dearest Artyphon … visually orange and red, mostly, as fever rages and I dream oracles speak through ancient curved tusks. Elephants to you, Bosco. Bogges slay them, you know by spears through the belly though tusks ravage a few. Spills of cold water shock me … is it me … am I awake? Two oil lamps shine behind Artyphons hair, so she stays a dark woman in a dark cabin. I no longer see fractured colors and my head does not blaze a devouring heat. Day and night pass, now breeze from an open hatch - - I can see shadows of a reefed mizzen. Artyphon giggles as I drink another amphorae of her vile potions.

“Drink this, lest Master betray his love to the dark river.”

“Do men eat their limes?”

She fits an ice-chip between my lips. Ice ! “We are still in port, master … sleep … fruits abound … ” she lays beside me and as by faire-skinned goddess Dianna-of-the-North cold abounds.

Three days later , dusk settling about Dysis bare knees Belisama wounded appear at my bedside. A troop it seems, most bandaged and stitched and fraught mess yet all manly fit to ship aboard as idlers. Cybelles mercy, I put down my draught of opium, scurried on leather britches and passing a wineskin caressed those boyos below deck to their hammocks. A main mastman sintered by an assassins torch and sorely burned dies that night. His city whore cut her own throat. Sailor boyos tell me.

Artyphon says they will be burned together. “I'll see to her coin.”

Gentle Artyphon. A day passes when I walk to shore. Cat-gut stitches pinch. I am carried back to swing on a eck hammock all afternoon. Clouds drift and race and wander overgead, not the sun so much. When rain finally comes Mykron and Telekydes carry me below. Then. Dreamy from poppy-juice clattering on deck soils night; I go above to watch Artyphon work her abacus and architects lay rules on papyrus sheets. All the next day they continue, and I drink boiled water filtered with lemon pulp and honey. Yet another early morning, suns silver shards splitting the eastern horizon. With Artyphons help we sit above-deck, feeling Belisama slip backwards from the runway, gaining two breaths of water over the keel, while I sip fish-broth. Fitters and carpenters and blacksmiths pass the spear-holding gatekeepers and clatter up our boarding ramp. It's Lesbian redwood framed, and fears neither mud nor water nor iron-shod boots of guildsmen. Metal weights them down and the Belisama tips ever so little. They have come aboard to install the bronze rudder pintles, that metalwork our sole reason for betrothing Salamis. Iron hammer-blocks shine in the red glow of firepots; tis a captains work to measure each stroke.

While they pound and slush with pig-fat, chip behind tinned bronze, bore with 4-pawled bits and keen with steel adzes Belisama yeoman guard in full armor , under sun and moon , never leaving the ship.Yeomen … that's a new word for us, a rude praise called out by a Tin-Isle mastman run-in with a sardine-buss from the muddy Temz. Tattooed like a bloody Berber cobra he was and vanished along the northern ridge, perhaps running for snowy eastern mountains with City Gatesmen on his heels and a linen-masters 14-yo daughter sharing his thieved Egyptian chariot. Bards sang of them around our fires … three days and nights while our hull sits exposed on the gangway and copper scraped, bronze annealed, sintered iron oiled and – seen largely – metal wisdom replacing polished wooden mass in the stern. For those days and nights none slept; spear-points stood skyward, a wall of ash shafts. It's a kind of praying for a sailor man. My strength returns, tested against shrouds and pawls and oars. There is such beauty in the laying of an angle or plumb, or grinding turns in a conic men could spend their life exercising such perfection and die with a kings peace, if Sheol allows mindful peace as Zorasts, Hebrews or some Egyptians believe.

Telekydes wakes me from my muse, as the shipwrights demand privacy … such as becomes an open deck and defanged stern; their rules deter men at ease and we must use our glass from the tops of overhung cypress trees. Salamis bronze-men try secreting exactly how their brass pintle mated to the brass channel bore in the rudder. Armed men guard the stern. I do know the rudder bore was caulked with rubber and filled with boiling water, and the pintle was brought to the ship encased in ice … ICE damn-ye where in Zeus name ice could be found during a Cyprus spring I do not know. Wedging and splining the rudder and keel to the same vertical took carpenters a full day and some mischief was done the hulls finish. But, two angles have only one right angle in common and with bronze sliding into bronze you would not get a second chance to find it! Every squeal of the hull drove pains in my chest … yet the time came with Horai holding the sun at mid-day when geometers stopped arguing and a giant mallet fitted into two barges wallowed into place above the hull. A tripod bore it beneath our strakes and winches pawled by twenty slaves raised it from barge-gears . Pig-fat filled the channel. Oak and lead, the mallets fall drove home like Zeus bolt frozen bronze pintle into steaming bronze channel. Three sharp slaps of oak against bronze … that was the sum as if bronze-men feared the brass channel cool and the pintle warm. I leap through the guardsmen as soon as the mallet was drawn aside, and yes .. the warp between tiller and rudder feels as strong as Hercules thighbone and smooth as Astartes ass … . Artyphon would not be impressed … claiming her Median tutor demonstrated that a gold ring becomes smaller when cooled in ice; and a heated metal rod lengthens!

“Shrunk or expanded in a straight line no matter what the shape,” she insists. I badger her below, with a stew of wine knowing heat tightens her body while expanding her imagination. From mouth to knees our bodies lock fast in a demanding race. Fires for her I will burn at Diannas temple as she has brought me home.

Thirty mornings after we first docked the Belisama stands poised on the slipway. Artyphon sporting Babylon silk trousers and robed NaziBu have slipped aboard and stand on the quarterdeck singing a seamans paeon. “Ours … ours … ours … Posidon be damned she's ours … ours ...”

Her seams have been sealed with melted bitumen and bronze rivets driven through copper sheathing on the lower hull. Our hemp heavy-weather mainsail was reefed and fore and aft anchors fully hawsed. The build-master stood blocking the gangway - - till on the counting table - - I payed out a full value of gold Syrian stators. A forge-man picked three coins from the pile … and melts them down, flinching when a spatter of pure gold flew out from his iron forge-cup and into the water. The builder spit, but a glow of honest envy crept into his sneer. “You can do any feckin-A thing in the world with this bitch.” His fist hammers an ironwood rail. “None more rash of hull or masts more boisterous have I ever seen. I think she will kill you Cibias, like a hard-ass southern Nile Jezebel all ringlets and gold and pointed breasts, but damme sail her hard until she fucks you dead.”

Then chucks are hammered out from beneath her keel and the Belisama slips spraying pigfat along the run-way groaning pleasure of release and into the water. Tillarmen bend the stern into a curve; my Lieutenants and mainmen spill jars of Chian wine to celebrate and sing the dark paeon to Dianna of North Waters where whales share her pleasure and she rides an old male into the cold deep hectoring giant squid. The harbor-master and guards captain had been rowed over and came up the side. I share a plug of black Syrian hash among us. The pipe passes and glows and fumes.

And I shared looks between builders and sailors. “What do your Egyptian masters say?”

He was not slow or short of words. “Troy is failing to the butt-fucking Dorians. Aeneas may burn Agamemnon barges and sink the Greek galleys, but Troy can't feed themselves. Count yourselves lucky, for what we wrought against bronze we cannot repeat against the Hellenes shield-wall.”

“So they starve behind their god-built walls, sell their daughters to the Parthians and sons to Rhodes.”

A fair-haired Kythos island trader piped. “Troas won't last long enough. Desperate men look for miracles from the gods. Greeks will bear gifts that trick hungry men … count on it! The magic route of trade, what some call the silk road … Crete to Rhodes to Kos ... then charms-laden Samos, Chios, Lesbos that golden rope snipped by Atropos razor sharp scissor. So it will be for Phonetician ships. The smartest captains already sail under a rovers black flag. Carthage rises and looks west. As should you.”

“Tell me something new.” Damme had he also fucked Mary of Genoa? “Cretans mastered the Pillars, traded the Tin Island and sailed Nordland ice-walls when the world was young. We mated sunstone to protractor to northing. To all, we opened our hands exchanging value for value and so done freely among free men of cultures both bright and dreary creating the Law of Trade.”

“I will teach you a hard lesson, Cibias Your trading created that law. Greeks envy your logic, but the children of Troas reject it hotly! Perverse creatures they are,” he said filling his mouth with a wineskin.

A Naxos companion picked up his words. “To Carthage first comes imagination of the law, an imagination ruthless and mercenary as merciless Baal himself. I've seen them crucify failure. First the coin drops, then follows the boot-heel. One before the other, yet what appears to the foreigner is whatever her actions demand. Do you understand that Hyrkon ... law before action, rule before life lived. Imagine Carians with two thoughts between their ears.”

I needed no oracle; such men seek to rule. Work on the Belisama continues. A rabble of hard boned Rhodians plied stone cored winches to raise the mainmast. Barges on either side supported huge cranes lifting … swinging … dropping the ten-cubit-thick triad of yew, oak and ceder into it's bronze pedestal and heat-hardened ironwood mortise where indeed lay the pygmy crush bones whose wives had mortgaged him to the hardening task and killing fumes. Trim was a issue … the new mast taking Belisama by the bow. You may ballast with rocks, but cannot trade them except at a desert port. We chose risk, buying seventy horns of pure bronze costing four times that of copper. Put to the vote, risk obtained eighty ravens feathers by counting our future trades as past success paid with Artyphons dower necklace of diamonds and the crews pearl beads. Worn old faces shake bald heads while the young freely gamble their profits! Water and fresh meat came aboard. We slaughtered lambs on the quay, and carry our own softwood bound water-jugs. But getting local woman to surrender their brass jampots for boiling water required both silver and blocks of dried Syrian sugars that thickened their jams.

Never displease a woman; four of their jampots come aboard with a plump lusty wife for our alchemist, which honest lady will mother the rope-boys. Details continue their pace. A mix of mongrel Salamis yard slaves and our own topsail men socket in the top-gallant mast slot and tillermen felt new strivings of the hull in short-leashed tacks and runs on the mile of channel. A clever Nubian metal-bender short one-foot sought release, and we hid him 'neath the cod-barrels claiming to have seen him taken by a river-shark.

“How soon, Cap'N?”

“The dove will tell us.” Quiet. “A flaming arrow always fucks the dove.” Noise. “Then send a falcon.” Harmony. “Queered by a flock of geese.” Despair. “Stork , if its mate allows.” Sorrow.

Two nights on, Ashurs gull flutters onto our mizzen yard, its beak chipped and one wingtip ripped off … by a hawk perhaps , or hawker and the gulls leg-capsule holding one black pearl and sliver of fragrant rosewood from beyond the southern deserts.