I respond. “Spyders lace webs also and dragon-flies fear them.” Artyphon fears not and in transit gliding laces her body about mine. Tis a sad man without a woman promising heaven. Very well dearest witch. From a ropeboys earlier dropped word, I have such a loom in mind. Off the boat and alongside a bakers shop a loom of words begets. They are spoken too freely by an hetaera acting as messenger both obscure and presuming which woman approaches and guides me. Deaf, she also is too old for wisdom or attention and by hand signals gifts a diamond studded carved boars tusk depicting Helen raping a drunken Pan. For such a Lesbian dildo, what trader will not rise to that challenge?
Thus guided, I have shortly got to the harbor-masters perch. It lies fifty paces out from the quay, three stories high and its wooden plank floors sit directly below the lighthouse. Big as a barn a landsman might say, and sheltering its own kind of harbor animal. Known or unknown these are people of my trade. The back window is shared in hot pursuit of mercantile by a leather jacketed Greek trader and the master of a local weaver guild. Him duly modest in a leather jerkin, but the Hellene wore rich in lace and rough throated sharing a bench and speculations with his brassy long-necked whore. Two against one. She wore his gold weavers chain about that throat and much amused her quick glances.
Two men in tailored robes eat fish and glow, beside a circular Sidonian window-glass. Next around, three glum hoplites darken a corner, letting raucous talk fondle a prospective whore. Each to a curved Egyptian couch they share neither window nor table, and only pleasures foreseen and the waist-high amphora holds them together.
Paces away, over the rough ceder floor we split a big pine table toward the center and under a triage of oil-lamps. Such company the hetaera had promised … and they caught me up waltzing through the doorway. No equals here, but first among them three well-fed Amathus chandlers and their banker, a Cyprian whose body was as plump as his olive face. Two others I did know, the Parthian sailor Mythros and a thin-faced Syrian, viper quick, razor smooth … Druses, a well-regarded traveler of obscure history who to my knowledge had never raised a sail, bent an oar or tied a knot.
Druses greets and speaks freely. “Goddess greeting Cibias for one who has deserted my coast. May she piss in your face for all the lost profits you have cost me these two lost years.” The whore, overhearing eyed him boldly while he bolted on. “Good to see you safe after Aminias little party. I damned near fell off the cliff climbing up!”
Was Druses there indeed? “Yes the cliff .. I was reminded of a void, but no matter.” We exchange the bare open hands. “Did you believe Queen Mary?”
“You avoided the wild fields horse-jumping also. Wise, very wise.”
“Spent the morning with an Egyption rent-farmer. He also find labor annoying!”
Druses chuckles. “Kind of you to say. I would labor over Queen Mary had I believed her tits, but you having to play the diplomat. Chronos be damned, age-bold she might have spilled them out for free! Ha haha ,” he laughed without mercy. Then cold. “We all damned well need to move, she's right about that, but move west and west again, to the Tin Isles where rain never sees the sun?” He popped a tube of ruby colored poppy gum. “West beyond that. Can you find anything?”
“Dragons and mermaids,” I scoff. “It's really far to the north, so says my protractor angling for the sun at summer soltice there is nothing better to expect. And yes, two years Druses since we've traded. I seem to be caught in a conic circling between Gedes and Marsaii and Iolas will not release me.”
“Not south, Druses queries?
“Just once, south of the southern Isle for wood to built my Belisama.”
“Provincial then, as fits a Hyrkon,” Druses barks. “Trapped in the west? But … but you were seen in Troy last year during the spring Levanters. Let's see let's see oh yes it was Ikantis the Samothrake sailing a barque packed with Berber willow for the physicians who told the tale. He had made landfall north of the Mycennai camps and was filtering a caravan along a dry creek. You flitted by in a chariot driving him and Toombs his harvester into the ditch. ”
“Did I really do that? Certainly any man who approaches while I drive a chariot risks all haha!” I made to think harder. “Now pondering, yes twas springtime when red-birds flood the Bosporus and Helen promised me her bare tit, as she has promised many a sailor-boyo … did she deliver... or did I run back to the Pillars like a sea-skunk ?”
Druses pounds my back laughing. “You have more chance of keeping Helens tit than Paris, but enough ...” Still young if leathered, Druses made claims to have visited everywhere. Never captain, he played factor or kings agent or rummy wearing modest sailors hemp and sleeping on deck in a sailors hammock …. how the diamond whore never missed a word … and was wealthy beyond the wealth of kingdoms.
“Your Damascus bank solent?”
“Thanks to Carthage. My warehouse bulges with black oil ready to flame.”
“Better than the spear-wielding chariots they export without notice.”
“We sell then chariots-wheels!” He mused on the turquoise hashpipe. “What has bugger-ass Minos given you for the table this visit? More iron yokes and Balerics pearl?” Then he turned his shoulders toward me. “Too bad about the Syrian money-changer … he was Hyrkons man, wasn't he and brooded a family?” And saying that as non-committed as ever a man might speak he slipped onto his bench setting about salmon poached in goats milk.
I nodded my head … 'Hyrkon knows ...' saying nothing more. The Cyprians remained silent, landsmen with sails reefed; both foreigners predicted thunderous storms. Mythros ship would stay in port and him with his whore. Druses said it didn't matter. The harbor-master had left us; he had taken his daughter, and was visible through the glass windows, striding below with a brace of Carian hoplites .
He had my sympathy; with a packed harbor and the surge of storm prowling his breakwater better girdle it tight as the queens daughter. Armored Carian squads already marched on the quay. Big night torches had been lit and the harbors night-chain raised and pulled tight. Sailors swarmed the moles, swarmed the shrouds … swarmed the whores whose tents still hadn't been removed from the quay. Cyprians are a prudish lot, and the men had to go inside to get laid. Or carry the wenches to their own rowing bench. Food is different. Sailors could eat outside as inns and food-stalls overflowed. At least four fire-pits carry a full sputtering half-mutton on its spit. Steam pours from bake-ovens and pots of fish stew. Sex inside and food outside … that far it was the usual evening.
Fishing skiffs tied to the shore like a hundred dry mackerel. But, the big traders craft , two dozen of those waited at anchor or tied to wharves where loading cranes still feed them . Most would have already caught the evening breeze coming down from the mountain. The harbor would empty and the few remaining captains seek out their desired hetaera. Not tonight. Ha! There was the harbor-master like a pupput-masters play ; he was railing on two Captains. They had crossed sprityards and refused to hack them apart. Negotiate for damage they would not imagine, dancing about each-other on the quay and chiding their shortswords. For nothing, that display. Carian long-arms baring iron hatchets did that now!
I laughed. “What a night for my virginal Belisama. Nobody sleeps and nobody is leaving the harbor.” I grab a wheat-loaf, olives and strip of dried fish and pour a trifle of brewed fish-sauce into an agate bowl. “Will no Cyprian pay court to such a princess?”
Mythros laughed harshly. “I'll raise my glass, Cibias, but I notice you've got a double guard on her. Anyone trying to raise her girdle better have an iron stomach and bronze balls.”
“You see well, Mythros, but judge mildly. Her jewels are priceless!”
“And you charge for every strake viewed or bronze windlass turned.”
“See here my friend, a craftsman earns his wage. Notice the cook-fire. Iron braised into plaster and will not spew burning coals in a storm. A peaceful visitor eats hot porridge and drinks warm ale. And the sailors clack beside it, spinning tales of silver breasted Scythian maids and their golden lambs.”
“So, from the earths end I travel to braise a chicken. Your profit soars dear Cibias.”
Our table laughs … other merchants wish me seen more expensive than unique. I return. “There's even a young man playing zither should a romantic couple stroll within hearing. Pipes and flute, also whenhe takes a mind. Deck space might be rented for a well-maintained and romantic widow! ” I glanced round at my companions and they are sniggering. “A bit of bread and fish-sauce my friends?” I had laid out sets of the temple trident, a Minoan novelty with a teak handle and three silver tines. An eater could spear a piece of food like Poseidon spears a whale! Such expensive toys were common when expensive sauces graced workman plates.
“All hands to the sauce, the Marsaii delicacy as King Minos promotes the excess!”
Then Druses laughs out loud. “Superb my friend Cibias ! What a daring Captain you are, venturing eyes for your King beside silver for his treasury and Trade Council.” He was taunting, friendly perhaps and had passed over his hash-bowl as Mythros had passed round his ferment. The table holds almonds and goat cheese and the empty sauce bowl. “You dash from one end of the Levant to the other, selling this Parthian catpiss from an old Carian hull that should have sunk five years ago when the Mycenaii holed it , but you did not sink. Spanish cork that's you … bouncing from port to port, floating and surviving! Survived and prospered like a Tyrian eunuch.” Druses winks.” And now with the gods own vessel … you call it what … the Belisama? She will fly like Minervas daughter … should Minerva ever open her knees? Ha ha … your Belisama, bolts still bright and the oak stinking of fresh pitch from a Salamis dry-dock! Miss my guess that's an Egyptian rudder, isn't it my friend?”
I have filled five glass tumblers the color and size of lemons with Parthian ferment. “As for the history of my luck that is well known. The Mycenii rowers are too busy fucking each-other, to send the same ships-beak twice through a strange craft.” I laugh. Bum-fucking Mycenii and my voice rails! “They veil and cloth and hide their women in wool robes not fit for shepherds while shipping their naked sons to the boxers ring being fucked by cousins. I wouldn't piss on them ; I will vote against Corinth at the next Trade Council and instead announce the ferment beggars at Marsaii; short of coins, but long on dry, cool caves their cheeze and wine bends no knee to Chios. To Corinth Belisama will bring their due; worm infested Egyptian figs!”
“But, their rovers, Cibias! Corinth oozes wealth and wealth buys hulls.”
Snarling. “We met them bronze edge to bronze edge. Hulls are Egyptian copies. Avoiding their bronze nose while shearing a line of yew oars sets them screaming. That's our method. When they back water for a second strike, I sent two Syrian fire-slings up their asshole and over their sheets. Pitch and tar on their deck exploded and they burned to the waterline.”
“Bold words,” snark among three a lone Greek trader hidden by shadow. His cloak bore the northern Hellene Theban club, and voice a Median accent.
“No offense intended friend. Savage as Harpys in a wedge, shoulder to shoulder the Myceneai wall, but when singled out the Greek becomes … artful if not shy!”
“What art does the warrior have if not that of bravery,” hissed Mythros ? “So you don't believe a man is twice-the-man with twice the weapons? You might ask the Trojans about that.”
We were both of us fast from the wine. I held up a scared forearm. “I will not argue the platoon, pod or phalanx, but no men of Mars those Greeks if you meet them sword to sword. An iron blade does not make a iron man; they can never remain a conquerer.“
Suddenly the hetaera coos. “Drink my dear men drink as friends. Let everything be said not unfriendly , but as a warning to peace.” Her eyes pour honey over mine and she drops the silk veil to her thin, pursed, red lips. “That's you now,” she asks pointing, “second ship out from the quay? It's a beauty, with the rudder peaking out from the keel ever so casually, like a womans nipple through gauze!”
Pointing, I thought not to say through a pane of Hyrkonian glass plate. “Humbly so, dear lady. Unless that floating Syrian turd holes it as she's backing away. ” My almost virgin sea-going trader the Belisama lay near immediately below us, but the two-masted Syrian trader lay closer. “Yes, a novelty that rudder, if it hasn't fallen off already.”
Mythros barked. “You are far too modest. The Syrian shit his pants when you docked, and those ballista you mount on the bow stare right down into his hold!” Druses drips bread into the fish-sauce and sipped his ferment. “Such a bold Cretan design for your vessel, the whole of it, the way its taken by the bow. Big shoulders, eh to make crowding sail a joy. Like heroic Minoan maidens who feared not baring their breasts. But that ominous low-riding rudder … well you surely didn't sail in with it.”
“You say what ? Expose a bare arse and embarrass the harbor-master?” I laughed. Not Druses though oh no; he was so affected by a teckno he did not own, though he might not have been had he seen how badly the yew-wood swelled. “It's no secret that we sailed into Salamis and paid the kings stator to install their bronze over our own design.”
“Tut-tut Cibias you embarrass only the Sidonian bankers and money-houses who cannot afford to transfer all your profits. You trade boldly; you would turn their harems to whoredoms, should they lose ten-percent of your money.”
“No doubt when you bid you worry. Your house Druses has not bid...?”
His eyes narrowed cautiously. “My whores like your fish-sauce are too precious to spread around without care,” said Druses and we three roared. Hash and the ferment passed yet another cycle. Then Druses continued his assault. “That rudder, it's attached to the rudder-pole just how? ”
“Surely I will ask my carpenter.”
“Surely your carpenter does not know!”
“Then he presumes my charity! I'll pay the lash, to such an ignorant workman.”
“Now, Cibias it must be clear such an issue is tecknos! A carpenter cannot form either the bronze channels or the bronze rail-pins that connect the channels. Two channels – one for the rudder and one for the steering arm. Called the pintles, eh and they mesh. Those bronze pins must be thick as a mans fist , twice as tall and yet slide the length of the two channels binding them. .”
Druses fishes for my tecknos; I send him a crab. “Oh … so that's how it's done …. Damn clever those Cyprian forge-men connecting tiller to pintles. No wonder they charged for bronze as if it were gold! I will certainly wear away on center steerage, yet the rudder pole worries me ; just one of them and surely it cannot fail. Or if it fails the ships fails also. Imagine in deep swells taken by the stern and broached. Set to wet Hades below. Hummm … Perhaps in the tiller arms I should have used Brit oak instead of the ceder. It's strength versus rot you know the devils bargain.”
“Surely you play the bard Cibias,” he persisted, ” as if you never thought of it! Is the pin a square or a triangle bar?”
“Well damme by Zeus' beard I'm sure I do not know! Square or triangle you say … I remember an Egyptian tutor speaking of the cross-section and how you calculate it. Perhaps the papyrus remains... full of his sketches, figures, puzzles … even worse than their religion eh, Druses? But, if we make it to Heraclitus we'll see if the Egyptians have something in their belly besides sour beer. ”
“Something of those figures in the old Minoan tracts, eh Cibias? Where ever or whomever may be caretaker for those orphans. Shall we say a library in Hyrkon or a temple ruins on Crete. ” Druses for all his care did not speak with kindness, and was in fact making some sort of demand. I allowed it to flow by...
“Why the questioning, Druses,” interrupted Mythros thickly. “If you want a share of Cibias profits you can buy a share of his risk.”
Easy for Mythros to say. His family were business partners with Japhe. The cabal owned ten-thousand cherry trees from which fruit the ferment juice was extracted. He got it coming and going. Not Druses whose face had soured like apples left to a frost. And while all his risks turned to profits, who knew what his partners found?
“The old Minoans were … were tecknos … that is the word, I believe … lovers of all new machines.” Druses was chewing that around, like he was not sure if he really favored new anything. “Cibias is so like them, those old Minoans I think. They became unlucky … perhaps the newer your machines the more unlucky you become?” Druses snapped a quick glance at me. “Perhaps next year, traders, I will feel more lucky, purchase tecknos and fly like storks above the storm.” Bristling and redface twas the best he could say.
“May the price of ferment always rise,” finished Mythros walking unsteady to a far window and the stool beneath it. Druses joins him and bones are being thrown. They clatter against the glass.
I thought to be alone, but Cyprians had found a place beside each arm. “Rhys, sir and Price,” said the better dressed banker , introducing only one of the tradesmen. “We are not mistaken, then … you trade to the Egyptian Nile when the weather settles.” They had sat erect, not moved at all during the earlier talk which discipline makes suspicious any man of trade. Fat devotes of Mercury will always desire more fat, but such thin cautious men speak more political than those strictly of business ...
“Are ye coastmen,” I ask? Rhys shook his head no, Price yes. Very well … thin described both, and both dressed in close-fitting linen tunics. How successful could they be? “Trade yes. I sail for Heraclitus , which is a coastal port to the west ...”
“Yes yes Captain Cibias we know that … that whore of Egypt. To which invader does she not open her legs? Price stopped, as if testing my response. I say nothing. Then … “But, we understand … though our Egyptian business interests are south, foreign craft can't just go flying up the Nile like a pigs fart.”
“Just how far, ” I asked casually?
They exchange glances. “Thebes! Do you know it?”
That drew a whistle I didn't intend. “I've been that far south. Even in winter the Nile rushes strongly and the air is warm.”
“Pharaoh is never far from that city.” Rhys said thoughtfully. “Sais, Abuzir, Saqqare … Ra used to govern from the Nile, but it's where Pharaoh now goes to die!”
I wondered what else they knew. “Wealthy Egyptians build rich temples .... long ago. In Thebes the sky is full of tall stone columns, the rubble is full of cobras and the priests full of chants … over_ripe all of it … far too temple-heavy for my simple trader tastes.”
“A Kings son claims simplicity ...”. Price managed a defensive smile.
He deserves my scoff. “Your family library will say as does mine – that Minoans designed and built Thebes 2000 years ago … though even then the sea was not young. Traders came and went from all directions. Even the southern blackmen who must travel a year to reach the 2nd cataract. Our map-makers knew what must happen. It's only one step to Elim, first the old ones and then Pharaohs Red Sea port.”
Price eyed me with a long measuring look. “Surely you know what lays beyond...”
Surely … I would not locate one cinnamon tree for the man. I say amused. “Ivory and spice, and women showing the best of both!”
Price breaks into a harsh, knowing grin. “And mountains reaching Zeus throne … that also should the bold sailor reach India and ply the Ganges River.” He stopped, waiting for my confusion … “But, adventure as it will, Pharaohs eastern fleet cannot sail … without sails. Heavy sails for the storms, and light sails for the doldrums; you know of such?”
“I have sailed through such, and nearly died of thirst.”
“Have you been to the tall mountains Cibias?”
“Not to the ocean side,” I said and offered nothing more.
Druses winked. “But, sail the grassy sea you have, pray Mercury tell us more.”
Nosy bastard hunting Hyrkons southern routes to rubber. I say. “The sacred mountains, yes of them I'd seen more , oh yes. Trading foothills sixty days east of the Black Sea across the great lake I had seen the white peaks.”
“They build you know, peak upon peak and we had got to thin air. I found ice rimmed peaks in my glass, the Devanagari of Zeus , the high white holy thrust of earth. They appeared in the south. Closer, they loomed like an ocean whirlwind sucking everything toward the sky. Only a grassland and foothills separated us from their icy lower cliffs. What magics could appear? That vision we saw just before camel-riding raiders overtook our caravan, making us retreat north fighting for our lives.”
“My silk caravans know them,” snapped Druses,” and they bleed us.”
“Not men of trade,” I agreed. “All teeth and hoofs. Curved swords and a lance thrower were their weapons . Bodies fell like snowflakes … I suddenly looked up and Prices face bleached ... perhaps imagining he saw his own body fall. He motioned to tradesman Rhys who reached under his tunic and returned a folded nap of sailcloth. “We promise no such excitement, but feel the smooth weave.”
I take the cloth and roll it over my palm – light white linen, tightly woven with silk and finely waxed in the best Minoan tradition. “You feed the worms and they leave behind this silk as payment.”
Price smiles silent. He sips at his ferment. “Every sail we can manufacture Pharaohs Red Sea fleet will buy. Every sail we can get passed the Nile-mouth tax collectors doubles our profit.”
“You're not suggesting we make a dash up the Nile … into the beak of some Carian war-galley.”
“Does a minnow fear the stork? Ha hahaha. As I said earlier we expect no foolishness, Captain. If you can stand off the Hereklitus harbor for so much as a day, then our Theban associates … Syrian mind … can swing by a corsair and snatch sails from beneath the tax collectors paws.” Prices face darkened. “We will pay to your traders account in Sintos … And our business will naturally not interfere and may even make easier whatever other business you may have in the port.”
I stare at the Cyprians … what did they know … what did they wish … what did they remember or care of their Minoan roots? “Have you moved your workshops inland as well as your banking?”
“Of-course. We gather and comb in the mountains, but spin the thread in town … you see those combs and spinning wheels when you delivered the flax. But, the weaving of sail-cloth, cutting and stitching of the sails … who can keep virgins or money near the water? Mycenneii would rape a goat, if they thought grass touched silver.”
“How many goats do you pasture?”
Price chuckled. “What a fisherman you are, Cibias … we will warn our women, and we will send a guide to your ship tomorrow. It's the Belisama, correct, with a rounded prow and rudder that hides beneath the stern? Oh please take no offense at my interest. Everyone has heard the stories....”
“And all have heard of your ripe women.”
“Will your crew be as available as they are?”
“My crew will trade for any coin, and best the value of others. They have never voted otherwise.”
“Vote you say?”
“Do you have law?”
“Yes, and wise men make it.”
“Same with us, but we find wisdom a power of every mastman, tillerman and rigger. As by skill they vote atop every wave and below on every swell. So governs a trader and such is a sailor boyo.” I see too much. The idea of free men freely trading is alien to Price. Yet baring up our differencewe close the arrangements with another round of ferment. The harbor-master returned in sopping oilskins cursing all ships captains as a plague on Poseidon rolling meadow. “May eels chew their watery gizzards,” says he, “excepting you gentlemen.”
“How do the boats rock,” I ask.
“Rock? They twitch.” Fair enough master. Wish pigs on the Trojans and boyfriends on the Mycenni! Zeus save you.” We left him a hash-bowl and dregs of ferment and sauce, and stumble recklessly and hopefully along the curved stepway down and down as we were quite drunk breaking freely to the quay. Bursting water droplets fill the air. Not rain not yet, but the far away carry of storm unwilling to begin here and sticking to my eyes both like tears salty and warm from fair breasted Persephone. Right here where mole joined stone filleted quay was my ship.