Carian and city harbor guards did not like us a bit, raising bright spearpoints and covering well-turned linen tunics with plated leather armour. Archers and spearmen formed squares on the nearest quay while sailors skatted the brass-bound prow of their birheme up to our masthead as if their thick, high-sided skatlings would bust hymen should one ever be spotted at sea. We remain barehead, half-helms on our seats , but respond with the clash of bronze sword on shield and barrels of raw Sicily ale. Our drinker stands atop the bowsprint pitcher to his face, while hoist swings the barrel over-deck and toward wouldbe enemies. Ferment and the spear-point offered side-by-side, so stripped had ports and so empty had trade-routes become that shaking arms at a friend is deadly business. Their message flags spelled it out; these Carian mercenaries guarding the Amathus harbor had been recently bloodied – coming from a war of revenge – and were in no mood to fuck around.
Clouds scud overhead. Docks bustle with labor and tradesmen, Belisamas crane is roved into place and from a pier city officials push off. Our navigator, never Nyxs friend much as he loved the stars living in that dark sky claimed he felt it heaving 'round as one mass. Formal. Official as a seasons change. As a friend trapped, or as an enemy. But, then I consider why have laws and a Trade Council without the required formality of greeting? Never consider that the trade laws require bespoken friendship of the stator! Officials board from their pole-skiff, clambering up the bow-ladder.
Our hook-nosed harbor master accepted my token from the Trade-Council, assigned our place at the inner mole, and took twelve Egyptian stators for the week, managing only a tut-tut “you were expected two days ago Cibias” as a greeting. Surprising how men are laws tool.
For the Carians remained. Matters advance; Sicily ale pours between ships , spreading its soothing ferment across angry brows. Sailor boyos are much the same, excluding Carthage villians. Belisama sits mid-channel , as the Amathus docks splay-out and we follow the birheme eastward. By the second ale-cask the Carians have got all so drunk that the eleven Amazons among their number take to bawding, remove breastplates and iron-laced skirts. I exhume my own precious flask of ferment and passing it to a gold-flaxed hoplite am rewarded with a demanding tongue and swollen nipple couched on a fearless tit. Wise seamen may worship or hate an Amazon, but never displease.
“Best have the officers set sea-anchors,” warns Artyphon, and with Viiva in tow scampers below.
Our sailor-boyos long deprived now wantons proceeded to the revel. On the Isle of Cos there is a wonderous shrine and oracle to Phrygian Cybele of such great age even Minoan texts only hint at its founding when flint adze not bronze chipped the stone and that goddess is pictured many-armed to more tightly wrap her consort. The Carian Amazons whose swatches of golden hair blazed like suns were without doubt great worshipers of this Cybele and dragged off our elated oarsmen to a sail stretched across hulls. Bronzed and rakish, feral and naked and ferment loosed warrior goddess passed our crewmen to-and-fro fucking the breath out of them between the wind-blown folds of linen. And should any pair fall between lines they I believe boiled on the harbor floor until bright lust flamed them to the surface. Tis a scene from Bacchus play with satyrs new life ever returning to used bodies.
Invited aboard, I share Parthian ferment, but not elation with Carian Captain Daxxon. A mossy silk bandage, red-stained and oily swathes his neck. Raiders repelled, Carian command had just returned from a punishing expedition against Amphilocian pirates. “They're northern bastards, eh from the Gulf of Corinth.”
“Right as ye may be, Cibias. They had come against Kyrenia, a seaside rope-braiding guildsite, and when their townsmen stood firm on their walls raider companies retired to pillage fishing villages till local slingers drove them out.”
I say. “Greek arrogance had received a thrust to the belly. Any captives?”
“If wounded, slaughtered! But, a debt was owed in Myceneii blood,” Daxxon exclaimed. “First full moon I put water under my hull, and hounded them across the Ionian Sea.” Daxxon tore into a chunk og black tar hash, chewing madly. “Wind against us, we tacked north of Crete and chased them down in the arrogance of their war-banners. Oarsmen brought us hull-to-hull in the Corinthian Gulf.” Daxxons bronze beak sunk two of the black hulls, at the expense of his own cracked starboard strakes which he roped together before sinking and twelve crewmen dead and buried at sea. Savages swarmed the banks, trees and shallows,
“They swarmed cursing Yaga and eating two bodies before an archer filled longboat reached them.”
Silence and more. Not to be born well. Then. “Hoplite marines wanted to rape and burn their women.”
“Eat the bodies? Opium banshees of Tyrus Minor would not treat men so,” I mutter. We parted shaking open hands and while our exhausted mastmen and night watch swim for it from the dumped sheet Belisama spanking between sardine busses dodges to her assigned mooring slot.
What's a bit of ferment worth, when outside it is the same harbor and same rough mole chewing apart my sandals. A surprise assault on our dock-slot would have found Belisama without defense. And yet mens hearts had chosen not to throw us beyond its borders?
“Not too tired are your lads?” A bridal trio of guild-whores approach. Smooth knitted cotton striped tunics and robes mark their status, and they gift flowers and peach-bread and name-tabs by preference when few crewmen leave their hammocks only to be blocked by the watch.
I apologize. “Tired they are haetera of Amathus, my boyos. Red-eye tired. But, the sun rises anew tomorrow.” I give each an Hyrkon Electrum praying their good will and with Artyphon beside me, icy as a glacier get three chaste kisses in return.
“They are strumpets, whores not haetera snaps Artyphon to an empty quay and to me.”
I kneel to kiss her bare knee. “Respect paid costs a Captain nothing while an unknown searchers favor may not be purchased by metals.” Artyphon grumbles; no thousand kisses will her knee allow, yet she soon leads me to our cabin below.
My sleep is again troubled. Bits of talk and memory had conjured a Amathian Republic as reliable as the occasional Autarch had maintained for five-hundred seasons: the same babble of tongues , the same food-court smells of roasted lamb, the same ruled government square and the same whitewash rabble of buildings, their baked brick and marble-chips defying age and leading off from the sandy quay. Wealth and the servants to carry measured paces and homesteads notched into the steep hillside. I wake early, and eat porridge with the changing night-watch. Artyphon sleeps while two frisky rope-boys join NaziBu and me about the daybreak town.
Amathus stones creak age. A granite stella, skiff-size and older than any-man knew marked the join between mole and quay. It had been painted – traces of bronze and silver reflected from deeper cuts, but even granite ages. Carvings on all four sides reflected Minoan and Egyptian mariners carrying ship-goods and wearing the ancient beaver-fur jacket grandfathers might have inherited from a grandfathers Po Valley ice-cave. Opposite sides, two other men appear naked except for a mans fishskin pouch, goggles of slit shell and the blue stained tattoo of whales. I have rarely encountered such men, them being of far Nordland where snow-blindness and the glare of ice-mountains require eyes closed to slits. Even in the times before out fathers times Our Sea has been warm as bath-water.
“Ho ye sophists of history. Wait up us,” rings Nephils voice leading a horses gallop. Artyphon and Nephil surprise by joining us here. They carry ale-pots, baked bread and opinions. Artyphon slips from her pony slick as a Parthian archer and examines the stella. “Cretan children might climb for two days to find a winter snow-field. I have seen that for myself,” chirps Artyphon. “Of-course Hyrkon low and south and dry does not conceive of snow, while snowstorms bury Parthia every winter.”
Now all must play the decipher. Nephil has brought a glass embedded in a wooden eyesocket and all use it. Eyeing closely the stella. “Our brothers, Cap'N, in a cold world,” wonders a Hyrkon ropeboy?
“Almost for certain.” What men carved these stella none knew, yet by a rite and display thus so old a mariner might know that free man sailing into the harbor stood as a free man on the quay.
“Those near naked: be they comrades or servants?”
“Or the traded item,” I add with a cynics rough touch. But, I smile, thinking of Alrek and his tail of northmost Bogge. “Our wisest still do not reckon this. Zeus ordered Gaia to prepare for our needs. Yet since time before our fathers time men have traded good-will for a shared defense against Gaias evil. So yes, I see bronzemen and northmen serving together. Gaia howls to have vengeance removed; notice round here,” I shanble, “the half-darkened sun at the bottom of this stella face. Proof! How then can both faces of Gaia be true?”
“We wavered by greed in Diannas worship”, says one boy.”
“We corrupted”, says the other.
“And fell apart from both Dianna and our companions.” Artyphons tone comes with a bitter sting.
“Were all nations then one, while men varied,” wonders Nephil. “if so then this age of trade and travel and war has surely regressed.”
Artyphon ponders, breaking bread-chunks for the boys. Then. “Our judges say men, like gods are born free. And if free unruled. And if unruled then jealous and if jealous ...”
Zeus beard what the boys must think. I interrupt. “But, you do see don't you Artyphon that it's an imaginary thing, our freedom, our rule. Look here, my voice neither builds nor maintains the stone we walk on, yet ...” I don't know what I expect her to say … she is a wise woman and infrequently tries to improve my understanding for which I am more grateful than for her body which we share with such lust. Horus moves as she must.
Nephil takes the rope-boys into town for lunch. No doubt he'll greet the brothals virtue for growing young sailors; won't be the first bare tit they'd ever seen. It's mid-day when we finish tracing flowers carved into another ancient Minoan tomb. Still it is cold now, near the windward mole and Artyphon has wrapped her arm about my waist and we are warm together. And in that careful womans way she lists the traders tasks promised, but not yet started. What can I do, but return to the Belisama and strap the belt tighter? Exhausted Artyphon beat me into our cot for two hours when the thrumming of bare feet above my head snaps me out of sleep.
Now there's trading to be finished. I gather the below-deck seamen into a scratch guard, and we find ponies and carts to deliver tin and bronze ingots meant for the silversmiths and Gaulish linen to a guild of exiled Cretan sail-makers. The sun stood directly overhead and how their sheets of mixed fibre glint in the light. I chose three of the sturdiest oarsmen and delivered a glass bullet coated inside with beeswax containing oil-of-sulfur. It was destined for a house of Alchemy beyond the city walls. And by the gods tt was vastly evil matter, that oil confined to the glass by a witchy Marsaii distiller and perfectly willing to strip flesh from bones should it escape. Once at a Syrian forge I saw it melt gold, as cannot be true, but the Syrian insisted that the eye does not easily forgo truth. Can what is impossible still be necessary?
Did the Syrian not also have a gold coil barked very carefully to waxed wood supports that could create lodestone, the north-pointing metal from a iron sliver? Could he not create a compass? The ignorant call such things wonders, until the day they do not arise, forgetting that breath exceeds all other wonders. Does a god provide my first breath every day? A man of trade does not so much believe in devils and gods as in free exchange between free men. Some call that Tyche , the god of risk, or ever-resourceful Mercury rising, but I believe the power of good resides in the trading spirit of free men. I am happy to have corrosive gold-melting liquid away from my person. Payment comes as a hammered bearers mark on a silver strip embedded in my trade-staff.
That alchemist had buried his den high on a north-facing hillside. Hawks and levanters scoured that stone, and rain in season, but never the sun. We climb a short ridge then down down into the failing sun. Lower, we trek across fields of rye and poppies , the jaunt leaving us light headed and weak-legged. Nothing remained on the Belisama, but oak planks and the ferments intended for Egypt. And some free-booting gambled bronze which we prayed Nubian traders north-of-the-delta would prize; a passing ketch from Utica – the Captain suitably bribed - already carried that message. Risks … they all burn a sailor-boys bare feet. We stumble onto the Belisama.
Some of the crew had drifted onto the quay, but most slept where they stood. I posted officers as watchmen upon the bollards , taking for myself the gangway post. Yes, I the Kings bastard, the brave-hearted one. I stand so the first attacker will meet my sword, if needed while on the brightest afternoon of a bright month a kind darkness descends. That dark sweeps me along as wind sweeping harbor chaff to the beach. Men who worship one-legged storks and glazed pottery innocently knot sails to yards to masts that defy world-striding Poseidon. Stars spatter the night sky-bowl and NaziBu lectures on the views of Babylon mages, whether the sky-bowl goes on forever or quickly moving stars a protractor finds rotate in the same bowl as those that move not at all.
Nephil seems greatly amused, as if hearing this before the world brightens to a mans imagination. “And should all the many stars glow at once,” he questions? Do they not, I wonder? Here Aphrodite allows an imbalance in truth of the sort that would sink a ship were it not trimmed. I don't understand this. And I am so tired. And all able seamen and the Belisama sleep.
“You'll want this Cibias. Take a small drink – careful it's hot. Don't make a face, it's supposed to be bitter. Tumak calls it Arabian coffee.”
“First dog watch. Careful it's hot!” She held back my hand. “Tumak claims this for his own coffee, when he doesn't call it bee-shit or bean-shit! Red Sea traders brought it up from the Ethiopian south, claiming it grows there on bushes, not the trees of desert Asia as slant-eye traders tell. Berber slaves, Arabs bake the beans in closed brick ovens till sweaty black oil appears. This oil is allowed to seep back into the bean. Sometimes he does put in honey, because the taste, well … like the hard green beans there's no accounting for it. You can roast the bean over embers and change the color
“Not Ethiop coffee? My head rested on a pile of rough fish-netting. Steam smothered my face. I coughed. She … Artyphon was so far away when I heard her … like climbing out of a well. “Who does? Artyphon?” She had got me awake from a dead sleep. I tried to sit up, but that didn't work since her warm body was laying full against my chest. “I've been sleeping. The guards ...”
Somehow I had been got inside my cabin. Artyphon pushed back with arms stronger than those of a slim woman ...”What a tarry sailor you are, Cibias. You might have slept all night, and if a slave whom you had roguely misused sought revenge ….” A torch-light flickered; her lips and eyes were laughing. “It's too late to worry about who watched what. Steersman Brogue woke wide-eyed he tells, ready for battle when his whore fell overboard. She was splashing and screaming with not a nod from the guard until he poked down a boarding pike and she climbed back on deck.”
“But, the officers....?”
“Brogue set his own men to the watch … since we were all sleeping anyway. He said no sailor can take an honest piss with officers at the watch.”
“He said that, Brogue ..?.” a blue-tattooed Brit Pict. He spoke little , but the old tongue of long-striders which none now understood and spoke with his hands. His hand … with one hand and a steel hook clamped to the cut and mended bone he was a dangerous fellow. “What time is it?” from green to orange. Doesn't mean it tastes as good as an orange.”
I swirl the hot brown mud and sip … pretending to novelty on my tongue. “It bites a bit like you do , my love. How do the traders handle it?”
“They would die gagging if they handled coffee as poorly as you handle me,” she teases roughly … and thought to slap me, but my gin put her on guard as I gladly would have her ass over my knees! Sophist minded she imagined a better lesson. “Each pleasure to its own veil. So partake of coffee, generous master … an exotic, a rare commodity … fondled like pearls, teased as a nipple growing hard and traded like poppy or hashish.” Now she is sipping her own from a small white mug. “Bags of coffee beans are auctioned against silver Scythian torques the Egyptians get from Troy. Should we be doing that also?”
“Stealing silver from Troy? Clever woman … or do you expect Paris to come sweeping down from his corsair to swoon you away?” I laughed. She had a traders eye on me as if figuring for how many Syrian mules I might be sold? “Such a trader you have become slave girl. Artyphon the mogul, with her own seraglio … a harem of slave men haha! Will you unlock my bonds each morning …?”
“Oh enviable master , your bonds? I should be so bold as to lock them.” She simpers playfully drawing her veil across, “pray do not beat me as I so unworthily deserve...”
Zeus' beard … I took her hand to steady, and rose on my sailors cot. Coffee smell filled my head and I gulped it! Zouds it slapped my head back. “Zeus beard – coffee you say with fangs like a cobra. Well it's not the first time it's bit me. I shared Mykrons cup just out of Cyprus and spit it overboard cause it tasted like bear-piss. Bush or tree grown must it be so hot and bitter?”
“So you have had it before.” Artyphon was rolling her eyes. “Remember this ever-wise master. Like servants, only the good baked beans are bitter, so Tumak says. Show some patience! You roast them, crush them, pour over the boiling water and soak patiently in this glass bottle.” She held up a hooka-like contraption of blown Egyptian glass worth its silver-weight.
“Gifts from that Egyptian trader , the fat Theban so willing to win your attention?” I prodded, surprised her and catching her wrist before getting slapped . “He thinks you are sweet as Sardis melons and has offered … well I blush to say how much that dickless bastard has offered for your services.” My voice had got up a bit something shy of bellowing . “Doesn't the crew say I am a patient man?”
“Other slave girls say you freed me from guilt , yet now use me willfully.” Artyphon took back her wrist and looked askance. “Whatever gods decide my all-powerful master deserves ...”
“But, not the wife whose soft skin and silver thoughts I dream of each night...?” I get nothing for free; laughed, and took a second drink and a bite of sweet lemon cake she held in a bowl. “What's the harbor like,” I said rising to my feet and gazing about ?
“It's dirty! I know … I know You would like to get out on a full moon, tonight and en-route to Egypt.”
“No, actually, not at all ...” and my cabin door swung open. “The feckin-A Amathus Harbor is like the sky, “ says Rusa roughly. He has come from the cook-fire smelling of smoke and gristle and gnawing a large bone. “Sea and sky … both are full of crocodiles!”
Rusa words register nothing for Artyphon who did not know the story of our being stranded all night on a Nile sandbar while gap-toothed crocodiles gnawed at the shattered dhow hull protecting us. We had killed four running spears-points through their eyes in the blackest night before a emerald traders galley took us off that morning him seeing the sparkle from the emerald that had topped my traders staff. A mix of terror and dead crocodile shit filled the hull!
Was that like the harbor? I stride outside. By all speed both Dysis and Notus hurried on before Khronos , leaving for nightfalls short hours both a sky and sea got up dirty. A silver annulus bound the moon and waves streak all about in white foam. Reckless south wind restrained like horses to the bit, hiding his wrath! Nykomedes rows me to the breakwater; you might almost chew the combers foam it foams so thick with bubbles and sand. Wind has backed around, weather-flags now blowing stiff from the Pontis. Sea beyond promises nothing, but deep swells and a sharp chop coming across the larboard rail.
“A widow-making sea for any sailor with a warm bed,” grouches Nykomedes. He listens for my reasoned voice and I say nothing. “Two of the mizzen pinions could be re-threaded ...” Again nothing.
Back on the quay agents had doubled rates for ships departing now; among oarsmen and mast-men there were no takers. Captains and traders and bankers could prowl the moles all they wanted. They could flog crews and curse gods or believe the Sardis mage and his quartz flutes of Syrian quicksilver that had been shrinking all day long. Shrinking, yes, I put them under my own glass. Would the storm grow as the quicksilver receded? Some thought when you prodded Aeolus like that, what could you expect? Agents and money-lenders and kings could shit white, but the god and his death-dealing waves would not be mocked.
Rain from the north? Every cry of the gulls shouted rain. We listen … you can learn to listen at the whispers between clouds as they rub past. If they say 'rush rush rush' that's Boreas calling his teary-eyed children, I believe. Very well; a gods children may serve without reproach. I am not a gods bastard, but the Kings. I have the Kings coded orders in my safe-box of which Artyphon also knew, but not the code. Spare no effort in promptness they said. Track down the Egyptian murderers – send them to Hades.
The foolish dead of-course serve nobody. In that way I am between fires. Will the crew go to sea? While a Captains craft ruled absolute – at sea the captains word was Zeus bolt to a crew of Hyrkonian freemen pitched to the direst gale; yet, on land all shared in the trade bounty and in-port any voice might be heard. Tutor would say 'you must pitch wonderfully, to circle the maids breasts'. Bastard. I argue imprudently loud with Tar-of-Avelon. Mykron and I shriek triangles. Word gets round … tides of my sailors wash clean under pitch-lamps and torches glowing red. Officers call with the speaking trumpets. Men hang from the shrouds and spars and packed the broad-shoulder bow and I stand to the quarterdeck. Around went the flagon of Parthian ferment to the Scythia drum-beat and around went the bowl of Chian wine and when Sicily wine took its place the crew all hooted for cat-piss and urinated over the hull-rails.
I set the trade-staff before me and gathering courage shout above the pounding. “Ho oarsmen, mastmen, tillermen all manner of moss-bound feckin-A servants of Belisama and great gobs whoresmen and men of war gather to the council of trade.”
“The Captain calls by the belly of a ship.”
“Worthy eye … flagon of ale to the shipmen, sir …!”
“So their whores can drink it? Send them below with a red ass. Tickle their ass with a silver coin and send us to the sea with a cargo.”
“Cargo fat to the Egyptian Nile.”
“Might as well swim in the belly of a whale! Sunk to the bottom on Poseidon wave with a fat belly Egyptian cargo.”
“He sir ridin' the swells like a long-tongue Messenian whore sir. By the belly of a ship she'll wet your keel but leave the mast dry yo ho !”
A bronzed Cretan oarsmen cries out. “Ye pricks as white and cold as a feckin-A codfish boyos not poached in the milk of three tit seacows. Shy skittish bastards ye? I say sailors to the sea boyos Captain to the ink-well and toast to the oil.” He missed a left hand , but spun a silver stator on his hook. “Do we lay-a-bed or miss not a coin from the guilds-man purse. Find us a break in the wall boyos and roll the barrel boyos.”
NaziBu stood tall swinging a flowered indigo net of fifty links. “In high walled Nippur great Enil sleeps beside Ninlil. Shall we above everflowing seas?” From an oarsmans bench he threw the net whirling up to the binnacle, where it gently encircled wrapping about Artyphon she drawing it to her breast.
More than one skeptics mouth drops to his ivory hash-pipe and goes silent. I believe in nonesuch, yet as if ancients An and Ki had risen from their pleasure to speak. That … and a dozen calls riding underneath . Tar takes up the chant widely followed for the golden-hair Whore of Avalon whose ruler... Queen of Amazons freely mounted lascivious poetic satyrs as well as commanding them and nonesuch had ever been found.
It cannot be true, though for truth I do know of an emerald bay far to the north where a wise queen rules over silver-haired sheep and men of untiring strength. Now I speak up for that royal wench, sharing flagons I mark the crew as well motivated and pose as substitute for poverty the value of briskly conducted trade. We buy, we travel, we sell and we sit among brick walls enjoying our fireplace. The exact words run on … and are such a mix of necessity and damned lies I will not recount them even in the ships log to which I am writing now. We have money and agents and buyers in Egypt. They account the law-of-trade only by our success, our art, our for'ard sense of service not to make too high a sound out of profit. But, a trader might become unworthy and all knew the first ship-to-port lived high. Would Doron beat us … did it matter! Navigator and mate thought we should stand down. It was all the weather. Boreas loud breath and the whip-crack snap of the waves spoke for gods and fate. For a bag of barley or ingot of tin a day means nothing for-the-trade, one day or two days.
I speak brashly pushing the crew to move rapidly, as a powerful force had come to the laws-of-trade with no purpose other than to destroy them. All this said and more I said nothing nor hinted a butterflies wing of the blood deed assigned to me by Minos. We made no decision, except to be watchful this night , and no threat appearing vote on the sailing next day.