Do I imagine? Nothing may work! I think it over. First Amum. His murderous life was forfeit, but a clever plan would not snatch him at the plots beginning. His absence beats a drum, becomes dangers clue to an observant enemy. Had he not threatened … yet even worse crows the vampire excursion if such ever happened. Memory dims so quickly, of the undead hosts like memory of a dream. My arm had bloody stripes from ancients claws. Had. Where are they now? Vampires have need to set marks upon us and we have needs to remove them. Are we so different, feasting on our enemies blood? Cybelles marks on my heart .. are they real as Artyphon or my kaleidescope colors? How long have I been gone, from this Egyptian shitpile; how do I seem to vanish and what occurs in my absence? Where are my true vampires ! I stamp a mark into the sand; grasp the dirks ivory handle. Finally how to lighten presence of Carian body-guard. One already stands close; I have no truk with him, yet he guards as an iron gate between Hyrkon vengeance and Sinnasurs life thread. Real.
“But , first let’s get our fuckin ass out of this blasted sun. Not all breath steams; not all bodies favor the toasted stench of 2nd cataract. Move !”
Shadows darken against Helios searing bright. We all retreat under the awning … the wind has really come up bitching tight laced tent-flaps around the marble and billowing sand into whirling shrieking she-devils. Heavy purple wool rug ruffles under our feet. Amums’ tongueless slave turns and bows leaning forward on a staff, releases the belt holding the money-box letting a marble bench take its weight while Sinnarsur smirks. His Carian guard has loosed his leather sword sheath … “Hyrkon fool, your time has about ended.” Dead promise, but sucking a wineskin sniggers an ox-like grunt of satisfaction. Make no mistake … how senses sharpen you smell floating harbor shit like you swam in it.
Time to deal it back. To the Carian I snigger. “Heh Hitman, cut me some slack, but first put a stone to your blade. It’s got more nicks than a whores nipple !” I think we are seven puppets in this tented play. Sinnarsur, his Carian guard, myself, the slave, the whore and two young girls.
Carian freezes - - confused, appalled, delighted … “As the Hyrkon dog wishes.” Stale breath, bitter sweat, cold water beads on his forehead each foretelling pain as his oiled wetstone scrapes along the iron. Sharper .. ever sharper. Barking. “Say when’s enough Hyrkon.”
Such little horrors mark the slaves vengeance. sneaks through the red-eye masters glare he never notices the slaves smooth thrust. But, to me the attack is smooth and clear as an ivory honed blade. Slaves eye lowered submissive to a thousand years of the flog, he's crisply swinging the thick ironwood staff sideways against the guards leg, just CRACK goes the shatter breaking a knee-cap below which the younger girl has from behind smartly driven a bronze-tipped peg. Shatter his bone, peg his flesh and sub-human screams whip-crack shatters the calm.
Her sister prods a wooden clam-rake into the guards neck and blood spurts. Like the slaughtering of a heifer … leg, knee throat … thrusts so fast and so sharp-tooth, that violence which leaps from the hands of a violated young girl, and from the arms of the desecrated man slave. The bloody acts flash in front of me something much older than a warriors justice. Blood still squirts from wounds and the guard is screaming – screams end as the whore staggers for’ard plunging a jug of boiling hash-oil over his face, down his throat and the mouth melts into a bloody un-separated mass.
Sinnarsur plys no defense of his guard, but makes ready the nearest weapon. He is mine. I meet a killer in white heat squared up and around, one powerful arm raised in defense, the other swinging down at me a small wooden flint-edged club. It's not a real weapon I think, not like he'd swing in line-of-battle. But, mark of a warriors real weapons seems un-needed. He swings sharply, yet I stoop beneath it, a short-sword slingers move never to be forced and thus drilled and drilled to instinct and responding with all my heart spring upward , on the instant going straight for the weakness, a leap for his throat. Sinnarsur dodges - - tough luck bozo - - aware of the threat , but bending late he cannot save himself. My dirk drives from below through his dense black beard to his knotted throat tendons cutting through to the spine and ripping away so tendons alone hold on the head. A gush of blood covers his last thought of conquest. All my weight is behind the bronze blade and it carries us forward. We tumble over. Blood sprays thickly and a foot thumps thumps thumps against the tents wool carpet , but no longer.
Inside there is death and outside. The slave has driven an iron bar through the crippled Carians spine. Yet even now it will not end. Grasping at canvas and hemp rope out of the tent I am stumbling – bend you sloppy fool -- grabbing from the sand the Carian spear hefting it forward to catch a bright blade. I pluck it from the blue sky - - better than trapping it with my ribs.
I make a fool of it, having escaped the first surprise thrust. “What’s this, a real helmet among the eggshells?”
A Spartan hoplite has followed Sinnarsur and lunges toward me flashing his short-sword. His long oiled hair flows behind bronze cheek-plates - - Spartan bitch - - and chest bright-bound in the breast-plate armour Greeks have brought to fight hand-to-hand; the shield is a plate-size disc of bronze-strapped hide, extended by ash-ribs and marked with the iron LAMBDA. And his face shows not the mercenary sneer or dull mans arrogant optimism … there is a kind of lust in his eyes even protected by bronze face-guards and I am wondering what he must say to his lovers.
“A final meeting,” Cibias,” Klytus sneers . He feints retreat , a stumble one iron-strapped sandal over a tent-stub, but his sword slides along his leather belt and balance never lost. Raise your weapon fool … he thrusts and I counter iron blade sliding across bronze spear point. “I met your slave, while the woman escaped; she the money and one of your bouncy mastmen. Couldn't get an atlatle through him.
I square away as a ring boxer, watching his graceful steps. “Did you leave Seth alive?”
“What was man, lived; what was slave was not alive ... but yes, I spared his blood.”
“If you know liberty sweet and clear , why do you fight against us?”
“Our people parted ways, little Hyrkon before the ice-walls melted. We were once - - so why do you kill us when we come?”
Of a round earths infinite answers none will suffice. Moving sideways, one leg crossing another he says, “that stumble was more chance than your herb gave to my men. Poisoned were they not with those little woven trinkets? I'll measure that pain against pleasure your bitch properly restrained will give me. The Parthian witch does find pleasure in a man does she not?
We circle warily, weighing chances. I say. “We have no personal reason for this fight, Klytus. Walk away.”
He spits, a hard case. “Artyphon is half mermaid which does not serve your strength. Such a long way from home you are venturing, strangely for a landsman. Conqueror Cibias … scourage of Pharaoh! I will not allow you accepting that victory.” His face speaks of a conquerers cold evaluation and his certain triumph, the Laural of blood.
I see it different. “Didn't Minos ash spear convince you bastards never to cross the waters of Our Sea?”
“Those were Myceneii cunt, not Spartans. We were never corrupted by Cretan glory and shall see whose laws, those of trade or those of iron have the sharpest edge.”
“Or whether the vipers children have longer fangs than their parents.”
“Or better steel to their blades. Tecknos rules, Cibias as Queen Mary intimates.” Klytus sword makes a loop, slicing in from the side, sliding the blade flat along my spear-shaft , whittling the ash and looking to sweep this weapon from my hands. A deadly twist, only counter-torque from the spears heavy bronze stub can match it ! I wrench stub up-left with all my strength; weapons scrape and meld to each other like lovers. He curses.
reply. “Venus tit will care for its own.” Then drive both weapons
into the sand and step away cosseting my spear. “Carians
fire-harden their ash. Did your forge cool between hammerings?”
“Sisyphus mitt,” he screams, lunging for’ard, chipping my bronze spear-point; lunging I raise that bronze point and slash downward raising sparks from his finger-guard. Then dropping the stub counter-weight repeals another stroke; kneeling, I take the force behind my right hand … so well do we match force and counter-force, stroke and rebut. He advances with a thrust, rip and slash movement; body flow close to a dance savage naiads young from a gods own loins might explore about a forest spring.
What sort of man is this , the Spartan filled with desire that spills itself across Our Sea ? Crazy I am backing up, watching , thinking of this mercenary as a feminine elf a poacher while the Dorian steel chips ash from my spear shaft … action's a blur.
“Bronze points seek Spartan love.”
“Eat the bean.”
“Hephastus stumbles … “ when I catch the dancer at half-step. A sword sweep he minded, leaping high above my guard, but his blade caught by the spears bronze stub as my tutor drilled slides away and my Carian spear-point suddenly thrust over his shield , shatter his cheek-plates and has driven into his mouth. “Ferrymans prize, Spartan “ I gloat in battle-rage. My movement is much like a bull-leap where horns come in high and then to gore drop low while the leaper vaults over the deadly horn-tips.
“Adon..is..is …. ,” he cries abandoned. Arms shuttering, my spear point has impaled his head, brains and blood forming a milky spray, thick bronze shattered his thin Greek mouth, stolen strength from his legs, his arms flailing the sword-arm fails the sword slapping against his own shield pleading no … no … no … Impaled spear and body … I let them fall in front of me, body twitching … then nothing. The girls have watched.
Low dry wails escape Jan'ahs lips, like blown sand moaning. Far from alone, the many faces call up an un-natural silence. Pride and grief has happened in an eye-blink, the slaying of an enemy, a confused mix of sound and swirls … and of noise like life there is no more. Has the Greek a compatriot? I spin to a crouch and behind me … nothing, but thick sand-filled wind. Minos had hoped that the guilt of one death would be my portion. I have seen four men dead and that is a portion all my own choice. What will the girls tell their own children about the day they ceased to be slaves? So that's how I will excuse it! I bite my lip till it bleeds pleading Dikes vision that a man may create no excuse or reason, no rational man may for tests of blood. I am not good for killing and there's a buzzing in my brain like bees.
Blood covers my left arm from hand to shoulder and the two girls have pulled me down to a squat while they wash it off with barley-wine and wet rags. A cut creases my right shoulder and Jan'ah tipples ferment into my mouth , clamping fingers while her slave sews in nine stitches. I do not cry out, but the sweat forms cold beads across my neck. Like a mallet against oak my heart strikes against my chest and I think the world has watched my killing. Vultures swoop low, rise with the air currents and circle. Sandflies buzz over blood-soaked ground. I wait for the tramp of leather boots and my heart races; surely dark Yaga watches after his own. Or slithering hooded Apophus the blood hungry horned viper . Surely the Pharaohs god will call down shrieking vengeance. I watch the billowing sand-clouds for hellish shapes. But, the world does not come for me nor do the gods, but Jan'ahs rough muscled men do appear from nowhere … from heat-billows bursting through the sand-filled air. Rings are hacked from fingers, metal armor bound in rags, bare dead bodies are wrapped in camel-hair rugs while slaves strip away the ornaments that say I am here, human … bodies stripped and loaded on a cart which vanishes in clouds of dust.
Amums slave has the gold-box. Vultures and flies scatter seeking the next kill. Sand is brushed across marble and blood … unlike the Nile truth lives briefly in Egypt. Open sea, rocking ship-hulls, wind-swept desert, sand-blasted mud huts and marble reaching to the sky .. I can turn around once and each becomes equally real. Is this the victory Minos intended for me? One, two, three … how many deaths already? Some night past uncounted waves Minos will listen to my success, my story, my excuses. Neither safety nor escape nor victory has yet occurred to me. I am aware of this crazy casual everyday loathing of life , yet seem helpless in the grip of all Egypts excess.
I wander the sloped path, with the two girls and slave for escort downward toward the pavilian and guards brush by me, across the flagstones and north where a dune intruding seaward has made docking impossible. It’s a ragged part of the Pharaohs beach. Some guards wear full armour, while others dress bronze curass en’-march. Officers lead short contingents with purpose. “What ho valent guardsmen, I shout. Has Pharaohs child lost a sailboat ?
“Marsh King ,” shouts an archer hurrying bye.
“That or brigands,” snorts a leather-helmed officer. He stops me. “All to arms. Where’s your sword?”
“I’m a Gedes trader, Lieutenant ” I grunt in my best gutter Spanish; point to the girls. “Delivering Pharaohs brine olives, is my ship at risk?”
“Olives, eh. You don’t look Spanish.” Lieutenants bald eyes scan all three. “What’s that gold warriors torque about you wrist … that and the box ?”
“Torque? Belongs to my older whore. I borrowed it to gamble against cinnamon traders due this evening. But, a storm has taken all, I lose nothing and have a wagers price to collect dockside. The box is a nest of baby cobra for an alchemist.”
“Cobra?” The guard eyes both girls and backs away for the young are deadly. “All coin boxes have been shipped harbor-side ...” Lieutenant hurrying as two hoplites take his side … “better hope our shield-wall holds. Runners say they’re peppering it with fire-bolts and a phalanx grows behind the arrows. If they catch a merchant on-the-dock ...” A flood of spearmen wash them into the fray. The opposing shieldwalls are not 300 paces away downslope; feathered helms and leathers boats of attackers pile along and onto the beach. Slingers and darters marshall into the shallows, and flocks of arrows fly. Marsh warriors indeed.
“Return or follow?” A girl on each hand I hurry without fear. From the hilltop to dockside not one guard impedes our travel. All stations have emptied, all pickets removed to the battle-line and customs deserted. I am invisable and this fortune has crippled me. Merciless sun spatters the harbor, as Amums harbor cutter slips from the off-shore shallows alongside the dock. The girls laugh and giggle pushing me for'ard what they have done no more than a carnival. We make it stumbling, dancing, skipping and plodding to waters edge.
What am I thinking in this calm? Other traders pass, eyeing me with woe. I sign a papyrus some factor holds before me. Another sailor breaks a cut-purse hand. Rows of spears stand gelded. Can they come with me … the girls brave of heart what foolishness. Slaughter? “We remember you, Cibias to our grand-daughters. Farewell!”
Are they ruined as women, their children blood-tainted and cursed … or do the Fates take on that guilt? The younger whore has come down behind us, to shepard them and the girls each kissing my hand as a nymph might honor a god are taking up their flowered parasols and preparing to leave. Think of it, Hyrkon what game you must play.
“Fly with our goddess, young women fly ...” I thank them for their amusement tipping each six gold stators leaving them speechless , allowing them to vanish, vanish, vanish perhaps upriver to the south where an honest whore can become an hetaera, or young woman can blow glass or loom or even hope for a brash young merchants marriage offer; sometime. Now they are covering their almond eyes as if hiding tears. Clash of bronze rebounds from the shield walls nearly upon us. Wounded stream closer. Attracting tender hearts the women slow to observe , having passed through harbor dust and above treading pathway stones. “Go,” I shout. For Cybelles sake quickly, now quickly!” Stepping beside their mistress two hopeful innocent faces only look back at me once or twice.
Yes, beside death and the loss of comrades life is more empty than you can imagine, while always placing the end of one boundary against the beginning of the next. Winds catch the groaning sounds of beach-side battle. Bronze swords beat upon lemon-wood shields and long-shafted spears got the screaming minions of the marsh. Pitch-pine flares dart everywhere. Seths rope-toss catches a cutters bollard.
Angry shouts from the bow. "We ought to leave marshman spears to rot your Hyrkon guts." Tall shave-headed priest slams a hand-ax into the mast.
I jump to a redwood handsome, then upon the cutter deck; Seth awaits carrying the box of gold. Face up to the priest him a head taller. "And leave your factor Amum in-the-lurch? He'd whip ya raw!"
The cutters Cap'N pushes between us, then shuffling, hanging off the rail. "Look at the savages will yee. Metal faces I recon from the bright flashing in to the sun, when their shield-wall separates. They're advancing now ... metal or silver ... "
"Off we go now," I snark at the oarsmaster. But, my heart is ice, watching the silver faces war and thinking the undead legions may follow me even here."
"On my mark ...!" BOOM BOOM BOOM goes the drummer and oars dash for dirty brine. Cutter Cap'N circles me. "Be assured Cibias that AMUM will soon join us to deal you full measure."
Amum ... pickled in beer ... worth all the silver in Sheol ... I say, "Deal? We'll pour him right over to you as soon as hulls mate." Then turn to Seth ... or his brother I will never know; they are twins. "Freedom to starve worth it to ya?" I can never afford to buy him a close-woven linen blouse with pearl buttons such as he wears today. "Do yee care being a free man in poverty?" Tongueless … voiceless. His hands move in the universal language. That's Okey he says, his woman wove it … breasts and ass … they have not taken his manhood and she should be hanging on the Belisamas anchor-chain … pulling through the hawse -hole … when we arrive or he will obey the damning of my Zeus of whom he has heard , but has not seen. She will have two hampers of the waxed linen floating beside her. He shows her pregnant. Very well.
Yew oars beat the water and Pharaohs dock slips away. Two hundred paces north fire licks at an abandoned quay and helmed men fight over the ashes. A slight off-shore breeze has sprung up, the leavings around the harbor point of restrained southern Nile winds which blows generally from the southern oven-baked deserts toward the green delta. The cutter clips a piece of it snapping out its mainsail and standing the hull on its side. In less than the time to drink sour beer we race by the long train of marble pillars , across the underwater arches and coming about in a luff slipped the wind founding under the Belisama leeward stern.
“Tis about time ye gangling mistletoe of a Minoan Lords pleasure. A’re abouts growing beans in conch-shells lest yee be hungry arriving late.” Tar-of-Avelon ranting to the joyful howls of mastmen.
Gangplank extends and retracts between the strain of muscle and patter of bare feet. Yards creak to the pawl of lightning lines. Loincloth gird men cheering many-handed grapple and tug to align hulls … whip Seth and me aboard with the treasure … then separate hatchet bow from rounded stern. The anchor-pawl was already clicking as the trunk of silver slipped down through the hatchway. Space between Belisama and the Egyptian hulls separates in slow motion. Time now will move quickly, though the desert winds stir ever so meek, the Nile Herakleion currents nudge ever so soft and Belisamas Captain seeks the whisper of smooth empty seas.