Perplexed by words ...”Spins my head Nykodemes you say less running a tiller night-crew from twilight to silver-light.” Oak thick arms squeeze my breath and pound my back. One storm before another.
Tar squinting, fondling a Balerics leather sling. “Aye silver, Sar, so we all feared your absence as loss.” Smoke from the horn hash pipe wreathing his head. “By Zeus beard as ye primped before , silver by the trunk! ”
"Silver it is Tar, and gold, but without your garlic I have not my life and the boyos have nothing."
Conspiracy boils Tars eye. "Tis your fortune, then Cap'N to only see the female scoundrels. Yee plugged their mouths with it, eh while their bodies remained as busy as they might. Otherwise yee forever undead !"
"Females only you say .." My tongue freezes ; alarm flashes across Tars face. Mine flushes red. New breath. New Life. New fortune."
Hot paws clap my shoulders. “What's this undead crap Cap'N. We're all rich now methinks, “ Nykodemes speaks hotly. “Yur slave Seth naer wrenched his shoulders bringing along the 2nd box. Artyphons woman helped him board don'cha know … hehehe. Torques and the coins of that first batch were all gold!”
“Thank the gods he didn't try to braid it.” Yardsmen and sail-trimmers above exchange hard grins; a few wear loin & belly-belts; the rawhide top mastmen mail shirts over boiled leather. A quick glance back at the cutter shows their people uneasy, uncertain , confused … a shift of mastmen have left the yards to man three ballista mounted abast the sprintyard.
“What do you make of them, Faelon?” He is running up three conflicting banners. I feel heat from two edgy determined crews not an atlatl-shot separated. “Zeus beard get us the fuck out of here,” I rail.
A hundred bare and leather heeled feet slap the mahogany deck as one. Gripping leather heels first show on Minoan blue-water sailors; bad weather and slippery, sloping decks were their mentor. Yet soon Minoan palace beauties snatched the built-up foot-style ... style they call it … as a way to display their well-curved ass more prominently. So bawd ideas self-promote. Bull-jumping maids and courtiers found the heel latching firmly to a bulls horn thus permitting both a higher leap and more succulent bedmate that starry night. I have fallen dreaming from the task of living.
“Aye sar, awake say … ” returns the grim smile. Top gallants to bilge, shrouds to deepest hold men scramble over the Belisama. Bare and leather-bound heels rap tattoo on teak and mahogany and ironwood decking. “The chests Sar, beg'ins pardon, but I minded them open. Gold stators fill one and silver t'other. You squeezed crocodile guts from those cat-fucking bastards.”
“Best not to insult the locals.”
Telekydes spit hemp, a broad-shoulder anchor-man finishing a knot. “None will complain this paymaster divide.” He looks sadly to the banner-strips topping our mainmast. “Cybel dear Goddess needs to whistle a tune.”
Limp … the banner hung limp as your cocksman couldn't fuck a wine-sweetened beded bare breasted Astarte. Telemachus has spread out the shoal map and all my attention pours into it. “ Our mates will never die poor, but if we wear south , to live we strip the hull or the sand catches us. Stripped bare includes the gold.”
I scowl at Telekydes, but manage it as a joke. Scan the deck. None laugh. Everything must start again. How can I say that, so I say nothing … then grab a wineskin and soak my face in it pouring out. “A smarter crew always finds first wind. Good for the paymaster?” The crew eyes harden. They'll give nothing away. I brazen the future. “We'll see about first-sail in an hour, if our heads still top our necks. ” I am scrambling up to the quarterdeck. Nykodemes follows.
“Worst things Sar than a drunk captain with his head screwed sideways!” He smiles ruefully and motions to the hatch-cover sliding into place. “Course ….,” he said with chewing rudely on a plug of black hashish , “we'll 'ave to run for 'im to keep it on !”
“For a start half the harbor will be after us … till the bodies begin showing up. Egyptian, Carthage, Greek … one's a Carian and they won't forget!”
Boyos at station already begin stropping sea knives on leather belts. “Carian?” Tar spits and mumbles an obscenity.
Nykodemes nods … and a rough belch escaped. Men find small groups and cling, though be damned to say so; cling tighter than Cybelles girdle. Oarlocks and water-line are greased, masts slushed and all sails wetted. He wastes a moment. “What happened?”
“Shit happened. Better run up the main-yard.” I dodge lay-abouts on a busy deck fast-stepping to the binacle where the watch-glass is stored. Flush shows on the faces of young men. “Strung tight now, are they board stiff! A lesbian whore should tar that plank. Have you fed them?”
“Two pints of Gaulish ale, Sar not the Egyptian cat piss.”
“My Gaulish ale? Damn you Nykodemes we had , but a barrel left ...” He says nothing, but his staunch fermented breath shouts. I laugh. “Very well. The Parthians will make it up for us.”
Men gather from their nests … oars-mans bench, mast shroud, tiller deck... Nykodemes lets out a long held whistle. “Lesbian whores Sar … Parthians …. ?”
“If we can break north, that's correct, and the last place the Egyptians expect us to run. Show them the map, Teutor.”
Our navigator unrolls a stiff , newly sketched papyrus. “Here Sar. I intend us running past Rhodes, Kos, Lesbos and Samo-Thrakae. Who guesses we sail along the Carian homeland, if they are the ones to chase us! Then here, northing through the Pontis sailing all the way to Trapezius!” Teutor evidently pleased with his course steps back and blows a huge roll of grey hashish smoke over the map.
“Bastards, they,” muttered Nykodemes. “Suppose the pursuit is close?”
Teutor chuckles tracing a finger, beyond Rhodes through a pair of islands. “Here, ya pouncy skeptic! I think of the two Ionian sea islands Kasos and Karpathos between which I trust a future run … should a future be. Not ten boat lengths of deep channel between those two. Against a following ship the shoals will scrape them away, like barnacles off a rudder.”
“Better pray the gods...” Nykodemes and the mastmen watch me with work-mans wary eyes.
Brighten up I must, so loudly … “But, now's now and here's here. What about the harbor?” A mile off through the glass I can see the whitecaps formed. I point. “Get there first damme , we will get there first … first by break-back rowing , first before before the large-beaked harbor frigates. Then throw main and foresail to the wind and run west for open sea.” Bright optimism, that story I tell myself and officers of the crew.
Nykodemes is still mouthing the word 'Trapezius, mapped on the worlds other side , not just a bitterly hard sail against Etesian winds and the bloody-handed pirates of the Ionian sea. “Not much,” says Nykodemes. “Two Sidonian grain ships docked earlier, but of the Pharaohs cutters and skiffs none's crossed us this morning.”
'Yes' , I think with good hope! Without wind we will need the slick finish of an empty harbor. “Finish off there,” I shout to the lower deck crew.” Oarsmen have taken to their benches , but most men can only see me moving. “Wayho,” I shout to the loadsmen.
We backwater, our crane swings about lifting and passing over the beer-cask containing Amum, Kalicrates explaining it was more sour than most and not to our Hyrkon taste. “Seal it in a cave for months, sons-of-dogs” he rasps the word 'dog'.
'May crocodiles fuck your mother,' rattles the cutter. The Egyptians curse us to every known cobra-god , biting fly and poisonous centipede. Leather-armored guardsmen lined their hull, but that itself tells much as men in leather armor do not care to advance against bronze arrow-heads. The gods hate sensitive traders and where by Baals cunt and every name of Ra was Pharaohs buyer Amum? What is wrong he does not yet understand. Yet words, if not feet advance over still water and their speaker – a tall thin watery-eyed man has the voice of limestone caves behind him. “May blood ooze from your limp manhood. And fungus infect your ears.”
“Lively now,” I prod the mastman climbing shrouds to the reefed mainsail.
"What ho," Cap'N he shouts reaching the high nest. "Larboard a point! A dory approaches from the Pharaohs dock rowing madly. Hooded oarsmen no less ..."
"NaziBu, stand to the tillar. From stern can your longstriker bow remove them, before they reach the cutter?"
"Drear Sir I fear, less leopard play the fat lion she's too much of the skip about her for that distance."
The dory brass speaker-horn shreiks vexation. Cutters Captain calls a pair of archers beside him. ""Waye ho Belisama shrive oars; come about for the Pharaohs pleasure."
That I will not do. The Egyptian cutter stands only twenty paces away from the Belisama, archers and darters have moved up their shrouds … easy to forget what is really not Okey. They are too close. We are not far enough away. Insults fly. Our oarsmen begin standing us off, stroke by stroke. In such shallow water polemen on the cutter close the gap. They are now threatening us, to present Amum, and a flagsman has gone to their raised stern. Answers they demand … for those Egyptian bastards I have two answers. Shaking the traders staff at them seemed silly; I do that anyway.
Artyphon tugging at my hemp and leather forearm guard. “Measure well dear Cibias. Minos ruled Our Sea for 2000 summers without blood and without enemies. Now you fill the east with raging enemies.”
“Enemies of Minos, enemies who rape their own daughters.”
“What does a man know of rape? This is art not war,” she chides standing beside me scolding. “You have exceeded the kings service?”
“Do not ask me about service, woman.”
“Bakk! You are pretentious, a warrior of lost causes and a liar against reality. Did we really need a battle after the Kings war was won?” She has got into a high feather over the shouting. “If you really enjoy me so little in bed I will continue the current suicide.” Above our heads two arrows clip the mainmast. I have only a stone face for her. “If I desire”, she rails harshly, “then will I murder you just before I cut my own throat?”
I will not shake her off, but say grimly. “East becomes west dear Artyphon, as Mary of Genoa predicted. Dianna shakes her silk-framed body at the Satyr and dares him enjoy it. What god am I mere Cibias to defy them?” Enough. I twitch an arm; one of our long-bowmen sends a hickory arrow flitting into the wildly signaling Egyptian flagmans forehead, jacking him overboard in a spray of blood and brains; a poleman follows with an arrow piercing his ribs to the feathers.
Artyphons women strive to see her below, but she weaves among their protective arms, fending the most determined and slides to a shield-notch beside me. No longer will she take innocence to her bed. Then our larboard bow ballista jabs a flaming bolt into the beer cask on the cutters deck. I shout a warcall; pitch explodes from behind the arrowhead, spattering over bare bodies. Their deck clears as Pharaohs sailors caught idling dive for any cover and scream for their weapons. Elisedd stands atop a ballista his chest bare and mouth full of loud pride. “ How clear is our message sons of dogs. Pharaohs man returns as a cur to Ra; remember that bastards . He and you will find rebirth as cowering rats!”
Blood is not on her hands and she speaks as a very impudent woman. Yet even as a rope-boy much taken by her throws himself and a five-layer bull-hide shield between her and the arrows she stands by me. I have not time to explain that suicide was my plan for the Egyptian rabble.
I clasp her about the waist and squeeze breath from her. “See to the wounded,” as Captain I order her, with a fierce look at the boy shield bearer and dash to a shorthanded ballista.
Tar is there. “A fight yur lookin' for Sar and a fight we have.
Let them come on unprepared. Our next three fire-arrows send their mainsail into a flaming torch! What could they do, but howl? Leaden slugs ting against our bronze shields. To the drumbeat oarsman send up the paean and pull us mightily away. There comes a lurch … then the insect like hissing of the hull. Our main chance, absent wind and allies to present the sudden stroke, to strike at the nearest enemy and then set our sixty rowers bending forearm-thick yew oars to the breaking. Strokes of the oarsmen lengthen. Muddy salt water murmurs along our hull. In the distance two cutters fresh from the royals dock drop mainsails … and catch nothing. “See,” I shout , “we may not die! May Medusa visit their daughters.” Farther … much farther to the south sails flash in the main Nile channel. A merchantman - perhaps – or grim Carian war-hull we have brought to anger. I give over the ballista lever and sprint to the quarterdeck.
Our Belisama now the kings war cruiser. All ballista firing, and oarsmen pawled and clewed aft our mizzen tight as daughters first girdle. Slingers dart between their wicker shields. Our main-mast men cling to the spar and stay-sail men to reefing beside the shrouds; cling like naked bats. Waiting … waiting while the oars-drum pounds and yew-wood shrieks the time when at top of the mainmast floats a spear-length chase of bright blue silk ribbon that might fly windward on a breath. Chew all the Pictish mushrooms you wish … battle at sea comes very weird, vessels being larger than their sailors and thus rarely is failure an all-at-once thing - the stroke of an iron-bound tree trunk smashing through … no no not at all like that, mostly, but mostly like the proddings of one, then two then three spear points and you can't drive them off, but the first two yourself, so the third becomes like many and when it becomes the fourth and fifth your own defense fails; but by then you've got the half-dozen oozing slashes of a screamingly fearful dead-man who shits his pants , but can't thrust out your spear-point one more time.
Shield-walls are devilishly like that, a creeping helpless terror. I've seen ten generals prepare their formation and every hetman prepares his warriors drunk, lines up the bronze-ax wielding killers drunk, sees that his men fight and bleed and die drunk. Rather than run for the hills sober as would any reasoned man. Well no – no ships crew ever sailed sober, and the rowers have bought us three-hundred paces. All watched now, breathless, fearing to touch water as an insult not bent to the oars as Aphrodite whispered to Aurae.
What counts as wind to the Belisama, a thick-bodied kings cruiser abaft the sharpest surf and defying Pillar of Hercules briny spray? I shout. “Does my body sweat chilling count for naught or tis pleasured by Rhode love sigh?”
“Pray not,” chides a Spanish oarsman, “For many a sailor has spread her knees, only to drown at Posiedons Etesian wrath!”
A tiller-mans wife has loosed her chiton and exposed a breast. “I feel it also, airs first breath, nursing like my three sons.” Oarsmen lower their heads in shame, and their yew-sticks groan under a new bend.
Winds, sailors believe come either from Gaias great ice walls, or from opposition between Posiedons and Mermans children. Whenever so faintly a windbreak speaks and silk ribbon curls stretching softly a torrent may follow. Brashly we flash out mainsail and billowy spinnaker like the crack of surprise dawn fawning over Aphrodite and Bacchus secret bower. Merciless Agrona having lost her maidenhead to swift Kinnaras and seeking vindication claims her sex squeezed his manhood so hard it would never swell again. But some longstriders say - - boone of lusty Mercury - - that tale becomes only a womans story. Best sing I believe to your soft-skin lover. No bashful, vindictive maiden our sails... they wrinkle, flap at their lines, taut up, billow, luff luff and luff again will the gods never grant it stiffen and … and belly, billowing more belly snaps finally to the breeze sounding a high-pitch groan like bolts of lightening crash.
Rope-boys cast the speed-log and twenty cubits are drawn off to a count of twenty drumbeats. We will not outrun a mullet. Again the sails wrinkle … you think sail will never remember how they once ate the wind, how their cotton sheets billow restrained only by hemp cord buried in the weave, but the tarry fabric snaps back, swollen large and tight behind the west-seeking Nile zephyr and heels the boat to larboard. Men tumble like pins on a gambling lawn, flying from the oak ball. Larboard main- mast-mens feet fly from shrouds and only their calloused fingers save them. The oars-mens drum raises its beat to the thrumm of a mans heart; then did men raise the paeon and bend backs to the screaming yew oars. Rudder-men dance to feel the tiller strain; directly before the wind we cast shooting away from the muddy Nile coastline.
Cybelles stork, Mercury falcon, Zephyrs single black cloud foreshadowing invasion. Artyphon has returned to the quarterdeck binding her breasts to my leather side. Life beats its pulse among the crew now reveling as Belisamas hull reaches brashly for the west. Success like clean salt smell rolls swells on the same tack. Peace in the midst of groaning ceder planks, pounding drums, tinging bow-strings, snapping sailcloth and swearing officers …. like gentle drawing away.