Damn their eyes I can hear the crews speculations; it's a democratical erslings trap to harry such unknowns.
Curse my name, Susturranible if my city first failed its oarsmen, chained replace free citizens. Hirelings! Then for a copper only to lose its temple whores."
“Well you're wrong Sustu. Worse might be claimed for Lesbos. Shipmen say King Minos once bedded their Queen, and if their constitution did not forbid male-royals would have her ass red every morning! Here also, Fortuna pleads you wrong for the right reason , my fat tillermate. I’ve overheard NaziBu closest to Artyphon of all boyos. Says she despondent Cibias bites the devil-dog on the ass and with PuZu- hounding runs for Cyprus shoals. Closest there to Syria.”
"Cheap we could try." Tars thoughtless pipe pouting flame. “And should we escape,” question a pair of eyes looking all about?
“Cleverly," spouts Wuuk. "Landless now, wealth and pleasure draw me. I’ll import and groom the new Sicilian grape, snatch a Lesbian haetera and wear her raw.”
“I’ve a small untended farm in Crete, like other boyos my fathers land, but vines and orchard overgrown by thorns. Stone cottage without a roof. But , there’s a maiden close by with older brothers ….”
Bronzed Faelon. “Tame for my tastes boyo. If we capture a pirates snow, I’d chance IOs island trade should the Cap’N allow ...”
Close .. closer I edge. Thoughtful iron men; whose life have they not saved once … who does not hope … trodding wood plank brought stern-wise above the tiller by different tasks . All wish to live long, die fast suckling young tit in a prosperous wenches feather bed. A stairway yew creak gives me away and the men all nod as dreamers. “And what say ye Telemydon, Elisedd, Teutor and Mykron? How does this Cap’N raise the Kings banner and best serve his crew?”
“Cap’N sur we boyos master of far blue seas answer to Lybias long-strider swells not the Sicilian thunder-squall.” I am now 4-th man on the horn-pipe and I keep the ash aglow. Pass on to Elisedd master of flags.
“A man may be wealthy, safe or honorable. Pick any two!” He has run up two battle-flags, of the snake and of the bulls-head.
“Starboard bastard’s setting a foresail,” comes the crows-nest call. From ropeboy to Cap’N all boyos rush to their stations. We draw northward in a smooth curve, crew steadied behind the Niles vague and subtle push and confident the luger will wear away.
By moon-lit evening land sinks, and only three sails remain to our stern: Farthest off a slab-sided Carian war-hull stalks an evil, patient intent; I make the glass not always friend to courage. Even on the horizon their byrheme throws clouds of oar-feathers and torch-lit sail; well off the starboard bow, and threatening to cut our path skims a broad-sailed Heraclite luger. Timid and skinny with 2-finger deck-planks , eight hoplites, three Hittite officers and a crew of twenty naked sailors … praying all they never get to ballista range. And close enough to see deaths hand a bronze_bound eighty-oar galley of the Pharaohs harbor fleet.
The galley Captain stands on the sprintyard showing white teeth, short curly hair and a thick Phoenician body. Little good his leather and bronze breastplate will do, should we escape for he stands prepared for crucification , allowing theft in his harbor. Escaping death, the lash and slavery await his mercenary crew. Fuckers are motivated! That crew bends its black cold-hearted thews to the crack of drum and tamborine till closely viewed from our crows nest blood boils from their eyes. The vessel sprouts a forest of spears and breast of shiny bronze corslett. Their officers already condemned mean to deal death with that craft and do not care if its own lost life forfeit in the process. From behind us by pure determination and broad shoulders they have approached from 400 to 60 paces.
“Again, boyos, shields to the rail.” We have fifty men strapped to the slippery deck in corslet and shield and 25 bowmen feet fitted to hemp loops between them.
“Release ballista!” This time as before their arrows fly against us, as their hull gains or looses purchase in the race. Again our ballista rip a bloody path through their mast watchmen and twice we pinch seething masses of flesh from their tiller.
“Rip them again, boyos!” Twice our ballistas break through their bullhide oars-mens shields carving glades of shattered ripped chests and broken spines. If they were more than beasts never flagging an oar they are less than human … “Slingers ho with the hot lead pellets!” Yet no pain however great diverts their bow from the bubbling streak of our stern.
They have made another run for us; we have plotted and timed their approach and our brewers have prepared well. Both of our 4-man-slings throw a basket-size ball of flaming wax, oil, pitch and sulfur soaked hemp exploding onto their main-deck. Melting men fly overboard and sheets of fire coil about their main-mast. Smoke pours from tarry heated strakes. Only by roping their oarsmen and mast men into bucket lines are the flames beat down and the keel directed for’ard.
It cost them ten boat-lengths and rooted our youngest men , Elisedd and Teutor to the stern-rail. Brave men both, yet never have they felt a machine lust so for blood boiling in their young veins. They have never before tasted the desire of death from something mechanical and abstract as a machine of sail and oar and mast and rudder … all those tools which on the Belisama keeps us alive against the sea now breathing as Cerberus hatchling across an arrows-breadth of water ... breathing mist of hemlock through long bloody fangs for their death. Lines newly carved in their faces … despair becomes the very edge of their balance and I watched them closely for the first turn toward fear.
“We’ll gut them Sar,” shouts Teutor as his maple atlatl and grind-spear find a mark. Elisedd pounds his companions leather shoulder-plate. “Lay one through a bleeding scupper, that bones may break and soul a-clucker,” he chants, pointing to a wounded oarsman stumbling up from his oar-lock bench. A gain Teutors hurled short-spear grinds him through and away. Very damned well may it be for the hounds of Cerberus I think, but he is not the only god.
“This stern-trail be our own, Sur they cannot defeat us.” Brokkrs iron watch is working out a bronze screaming bitch-head from the tiller. “May worms crawl from the silk ass of Pharaohs sister,” crows a tillerman naked but loincloth - - so much put about his steamed oaken hoops suffer such a claim. I go for’ard, stand at the main-mast feeling its vibration, working the clew of each sail-edge and hiss of the hull. Sometimes I think the mainsail ought to be like Thors hammer thrown bow-to-stern, stretched out along the hull-line so wind from any quarter takes a bite on the fabric. Mast-men tell me the sail will flutter like a maidens eyebrows … and produce as little pleasure though those are Myceneii islanders speaking who lock away their women... and I think if I could only set waxed linen sails in line and stroke them like a young woman likes to be stroked then, only then …
I squint at the following galley; Brogues rowers have gained us another twenty bloody-handed oar-stroke. Cooling Eurus whines through our shrouds, Tritons message grows and even as our timing log is thrown and counted out the wind backs to east-north-east. Both vessels now have the wind, but the Egyptian vessel ballasted for harbor patrol sustains damage and casualties, shorts its rope-men and so fails to jiffy mainsail when a sudden wave trough appears. White foam-fringed emerald green crest-maw gathers their bow beneath it; buries it beneath a mountain of brine and overborn by sail the bow cannot shake free.
“Dead-men,” calls Elisedd from the stern, anticipating with skill the death-dogs howl. One drowned lookout floats up from the buried sprintyard, the Egyptian founders, rolls near to its belly and flips almost vertical; its hold become water-filled and mainmast turned 90-degrees. No longer a wave-dancing hull, but a bowl it’s spilling mastmen and savaging trapped rowers. Sinking no more now, the dead cruiser as the stern air-bubble holds it floating ; holds it as a malicious wetted corpse.
Expelled mast and tiller-men cry for salvation and get better than deserved. Wearing off the wind as expected the small lugar has fallen behind our intercept course; it manages to come about for a rescue and prodding bloody maws with bronze-tipped assault shafts save schools of Egyptian rowers and mastmen bound for the jaws of dogfish.
A cheer runs from bow to stern of the Belisama. For life or death of blue-water men I do not know, but think coldly how fortunes slaughter makes men brave. Willing. Active. “We taught ‘em Sar,” grumble the mast-men darting up the ladder and shrouds.
“Lonely whores in Heraklytus tonight,” snarks another sail-man scrambling to his yard up and up that noone should be hindmost to spider-like Telemydon who has sculled yew-wood far far above the crows-nest where a smatter of sailcloth remains bound to the mast.
I climb to the 1st yard. We take that fresh wind over starboard rail beginning as a whisper and growing to a growl from Telemydon snapping out the top-gallant briskly thrown to taut lines. A crack like Zeus thunder , that sudden tension , but strain on the sail seams hold if barely heeling us over, forcing the bow more deeply into the swell yet driving us forward. Such is the balance when Boreas takes the foremast in hand which you cannot despise ; such fortune cannot last, as the Levanter and Aolian Etesian will soon come pouring over the larboard rail bending us east-by north-east. But, for a time the sea before us is as open as the world once was new. Oarsmen gather windward on the raised hull to stiffen ships oak knees, and while the Phonecian wreckage becomes lost in mounting swells. Victorious Belisama spewing bow-wave high above the rail races alone for an open sea.
Night falls on a brilliant sky with Mercury and Mars shyly slipping away off the starboard bow and the nor-west wind holding. Soon we will bear north, as our compass directs , but for this hour Posiedons smooth silver ocean outshines any golden fleece of Scythia. No Egyptian or Phonecian or Carian presencve looms to dull perfection of bright shadow and roll of the sea. None shown, yet the slabbish Carian prowls ahead. Hekateas and Nykomedes agree that should the wind hold in two days we are wearing just west of Cyprus. Hard pressed, Belisama may run for a free-booters port and on their docks divide our spoils among each man.
“Time ye gobs.”
“All bare empty pouches to the scale.”
No officer, the Belisama paymaster , but the oldest son of a dopoor ancient Etruscian family. He has power to entertain contracts when exchanging monies of different states, well-founded cities or empires weighted more. Minos permits his council to refuse exchange, though with a hungry crew such arrogance may cost his head. Having nothing, but honor as rentpay and wearing naught excepting a cotton loincloth stifling even his manhood I summon him to divide profits among the crew. Silver, gold and electrum all have their standard weights and the paymaster keeps them. He may disapprove, but not force exchange of precious stones. Men rise from the oarlocks, drop from the yardarms or swing up from the tiller to fill their bags. Strapped to each mans hammock the mony-bags are sacred - - to thieve is to set vafloat on an inflated pigs-blatter, till the dogfish come nosing. Afterward the bones stay silent, for silver is priced this night by shipmates lost lives; no man risks the emnity of the oceans uncountable lost souls.
Instead proud men await fateless Eos. WE doused all lights excepting the red binnacle ash. We know north only by stars. Oars locked, sails wetted, tiller pintel washed in olive-oil all’s well with us. May worms eat the Carian navigators belly! While I watch and time by pulse rope-boys rotate nearly vacant glass sand-bouls just after midnight. Just after. I know this … damn liar the Captain I know this from a bronze oil-soaked mechanism peg-fixed under my bed. Thus obtained. I traded to Militus sages a barrel of my own farms pomegranate and cherry ferment for the ever unwinding and ever ticking latice of bronze, brass, glass and gold; no two equally hard surfaces ever meet. Hephaestus conjure without rust our own forgeman examines with respect; Ahmes remembering his dust. Every summer solstice I squirt boiled and filtered mink-oil into its gold vulva and each new moon I turn its fist-like brass key one Babylonian measure.
Know the time boyo, know the speed and declination from true. “As patient as they are vengeful,” murmurs Artyphon who has climbed up beside me to sit astride the yard.
“Their mariners must show skill as well, or they become another floating log.” Three leagues off our stern to starboard oil-lamps speckle the Carian rovers yards like a Picts Yule-tree. From the mysterious, but certain sea-light about their hull I know oarsmen still cut at the water, bending yew sticks while barley loaves are eaten at-the-bench.
A mastman shrouds down with a pitch-bowl for Artyphone fingers. “Tis a slippery yew-cut, turn of the hours, ” he manages flushed, knuckling his calloused paw then slipping away.
Pleased beyond words, she finds them. “Does my master also worry himself without need?”
In my minds eye appears the triangle Carians are trying to close tomorrows night or the next … I chalk that triangle onto Artyphons slate and lay above it the Syrian speed toll. I say: “changes in speed change the angles … so lines of intersection may or may-not meet tip-to-tip. Bronze horn gloating below and eye-painted triple oak strakes learing above they come upon a fearsome horror. Try to close on us they will and venturing by rote they will fail if the wind holds above six marks.” I grunt and wrap my neck-shroud about Artyphons shoulders. Graceful belly Court women will close on her, should Cybelle grant us safety. “Not without need,” I say and bring us both to the cabins safety.
It's daybreak of the second day. We make along the northing-line as the direction of seas tint. Stary Arcturus sets off the larboard bow while Capella rises. Hounding Carians have failed to cross our bow. Rope-boys run hot ale and coffee up the shrouds . Fresh pig has been slaughtered for the firepit and its skin sizzles. A watch changes while the dirty copper sun rises over a sea filled with cross-swells and chop. Our sailors line the stern. Belisama shoulders a heavy swell from the north-west. The sky before us has been swept clear. Two leagues behind us the Carian war-craft has got into a corkscrew motion in the cross-wind.
It’s Egyptian slabs are wearing badly to the south-east. “Any fool can build a hull that doesn’t bend,” rants Syrian carpenter Nykod, “but only a real shipwright can build one that nearly breaks!”
“Cold comfort my friend against an ice-wall.”
“Serves ‘em right to harrow a peaceful cod.” Nykod spits, who has never seen water colder than a Aleppo bath-house.
Seeing their difficulty and trying for advantage, we lock oars, strip away our square-sails and run up for'ard staysails, gallants above and patch a huge mizzen onto a lower yard which we have thrown up stern to bow. Yet with the wind backing 2-points the Carian war-hull fully one-hundred cubits in length and streaming Kos silver war-banner recovers its bow-wave and clings to our stern like a Mycenaean pentakoster to his hetaeras ass.
No accounting is possible for the setting and re-setting of sail, clewing of lines or bending of yards. At times our tiller shudders like Poseidon himself has gripped and shaken the redwood rudder. We have watched Carian mast-men fall from yards while their craft sails on. No man can glory at that dishonor, but all notice the lunatics forward drive to the Carians. Fortunes of wind bring them as close as a half-dozen boat-lengths ... close enough that their prime bowmen piss over the bow and send a few arrows into our top-gallant … their maidenhead that of bitch Hecate with, but one breast armoured. At that distance we exchange thick darts and flaming slings … to no resolve.
“They don't shake so easy, Teutor.” I am returning to the quarterdeck having replaced tillermen, preparing for the more subtle afternoon wind.
With Eletes noon comes two flocks of stork and during officers mess V-ed wings of duck not known to travel blue-water wind passages. Flying south with them are peregrines primed for a moving banquet. The ducks have no defense so the storks beak needs no helper. And hawks are seen riding their slipstream as porpoise a ships bow-wave.
“It may sail like a tub, a war-craft meant for ramming and boarding with that sloped bronze snout , but they have two rows of twenty oarsmen per-side. Let the wind fail for …. “ Teutor refuses the number he knows so well … “They come on to satisfy the soul of their dead Captain,. And make Hyrkon traders an example to any venture crossing them.”
The voice holds no criticism. Just the fact of iron blades and Carian intransigence. A rope-boy. “Papa says arrogance gets a kick to the shins.” Oarsmen tie a rope to his ankles and pitch him over-board. Dragged for a count of twenty just outreaching a sharks jaws the boy is lifted sputtering back to our deck.
“Papa was right!”
A bit of the tainted eastern sky still shines a bawdy pink. “Seen the like, Nykodemes,” I say standing the quarterdeck after a check of lines and loosing of the for'ard staysail. Rowers work the oars in shifts all day long and they now lay exhausted where they had sat. Far from land a stink of sulfur and swamp-vapor fills onrushing evening as sure as darkness. Where into have we sailed?
“Smells not,” says cooky, “of Gaias domain: fish, lamb or pheasant , but smells of the underworld.”
“Our bow must yield to the east. Against the Etesians that's for sure.”
“East we shall move, but look here … we shall see who the gods favor.” I draw out a parchment map on the binnacle table … so far as on the Egyptian dock have I planned. “Here! These useless pieces of rock.” Beside the map I lay out a star-tracing for the night sky laying angle upon angle. “Two nights should we survive we'll try to split Kasos and Karpathos … scrape off the Carian buggers and if we find luck send that Hecate-damned hull into a Kasos whirlpool.”
Skeptic Tar. “Have navigator and tiller-master seen this overlay?”
“Or us, Sir ...” The first mate lit his whale-bone hashpipe stoking a unruly gray cloud. “I've smelled her, Captain … that swamp-gas smell , and the sulfur too. You have us sailing directly into it!”
“No worse than a wet grave-line along the river Teymes.”
Scoffing row-master Elisedd has joined him bringing mugs of ale. “Eh Captain .. off the nor'cost of Sicily, while Hephastus mountain fumed and roared and spit rock like cherry-pits.” Looking into the winds face. “Yes, I’ve smelled the like.”
Smell. Shit! I'd seen them. Twice. Once far to the African south. Once hiding an open galley under swamp willows as Greek raiders prowled about Amphypolis. Seen and smelled. Lakes of fired rock. Fountains of steaming brine and ash that left me safe because by Boreas gift the wind blew away from me. “You think we're heading into the mouth of such a blast?”
“From at least two islands, sir. The closest is Astakida; it lays a half-day north of the Kasos passage. I rowed that passage as a slave on a pearl-diving galley ,” spit Elisedd. “ The island shows an old layered cone. Like Hephaestus crapped rock once every fifty years and it spilled all over. Sometimes it smokes, and roils the sea trembling and shocking like a bulls back , but I've never seen fire shoot from it.”
“Shoals haven't closed the Kasos and Karpathos gap, have they?”
“The flowing lava spreads smooth, but … from either island or close neighbors … we just don’t know.”
Men as weak and wicked and jealous as their neighbors become noted as sages , build stone lodges and marry delicate weaving, licentious , but faithful women by making unavoidable decisions using obscure logic on unreliable data gained through unknowable methods. “Whales on the starboard bow,” comes the shout from the top-gallent cross-yard and echoed by mast-men. “A whole pod … male , females and caves.”
“Captain, sir, Captain ...”. One of the rope-boys, Antandar of Rhodes comes rocketing down from the crows-nest. His voice cracking with excitement broke right in. “ Lookout reports if the Captain please there's a forest of whales approaching on the starboard bow.”
From sprintyard to tiller the cry is repeated, and men dash rails for the spectacle. Mikron cuffs the boys ears. “That's a whale pod, not a forest, boy, since nothing covers the sea. They're outriders from a larger herd, but once the cows pass all will quickly vanish.”
Tar slides against me eyes wicked in their intense green. “Yer’ll not harm the calfs now will ye? Till an old taboo among the Lesbians, leart from broken spines of their grandfathers. Dercetos children will be revenged!”
Brogue has armed aft oarsmen with boarding pikes and they prod at a black tail flailing high above them. “Flukes, boyo, not fins … slash them to the blubber and bleed them out.”
“Derceto will see to your mangle, hectors Tar!”“And I to this hectoring old man."
Tars red-worn cheeks have bleached pale as a dead mans. “Calf , you say, like a auroche or milk cow baby? I’ll see to their protection. Yet how queer the pastures differ, yet families remain.” Tar knuckles his fist and climbs down toward Brogues tillermen.
“Auroche Sur? Not these,” the rope boy stiffens his courage. “Sea's alive with 'em. Can ye hear the tuning, rumble and whistle?” Sputtering and hopping one foot to the next Antander continues. “If the Captain pleases you can't see a wave for the fins. They are huge! ”
"Nykod, to the bowline ... Nydod!" I lean over the side as Nykod rockets down from his cros-nest watch.
"A'ye Cap'N I pray us safe. The whales ... they're Posidons monsterous voice."
"Yes I hear the shouting. But, can another control that voice? Has another god, or another person ever mastered these huge sea-creature?
Chewing his tin hashpipe. "Whales are clever. I once heard an Egyptian navigator claim a royal egret wounded deathly by a dart called the dogfish upon the guilty hunter. With it's last breath the bird claimed the hunters eye!" Nykod blinked. "Never believed the tale ... and never darted an egret ..."
"Sharks you make it?" "If the Cap'N please." "Nothing smarter?" "OWEOEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE" "By the greenland swells nothing dumber than us!"
My blood boils. “Ellisedd ship all oars … get those sticks out of the water.”
Sixty yew oars flip to their upright positions. And none too soon as rolling black bodies seethe and scrape our hull from rudder to fore post log. Elisedds rowers have taken council beneath their shields, but aft and just above a huge black, shark-tattered tail rips away stripping of larboard rail.
“Playful cows,” Tar bellows, but he is optimistic. I dash off the taffrail and up to the sprityard. Terns and gulls have taken flight from the yards, and our ocelot cringes in her cage beneath the bow timbers. A mountainous black lantern jaw breaches the sea just off the bow, collapsing in a ring of spray washing over the brailled lines like the whistles and chirps , callings from one black form to another . “Sperm whales a' starboard,” shouts across the sprityard lookout. “Three flukes sir crossing astern past the tiller … right under us Sar ”
I dash sternway; a shroud rockets me to the tiller. We rise, flounder and straighten away and men head-over-ass scatter like nine-pins about the deck. Fountains of spray appear on all sides followed by the dark wash of a fluke. Suddenly a sharp thud rattled along the keel and the Belisama canted over the larboard rail. There was a moment of fear. “ Hekateas,” I shout, “we have a man among us who has harpooned whales?”
“Ey, sur I'll get 'im off the mizzen ...”
“No need,” shouts Brogue proudly leveraging aboard a baby whale, a calf run through eye-to-eye by his boarding pike. Big as an auroche, innocent as a maids knee slaughter-simple as half-steps that reach forever. Flopping and gasping and bleeding out the calf equally long as the pike that done for him whistles mournfully. A lantern-jawed male and female appear just above our rudder spouting furiously, then dive below.
And just as suddenly as the first flukes appear we sail among them, Neptunes bodies bobbing, bouncing, spraying, roiling the Belisama like a brown cork in an ocean of white teeth and black hides. Our hull sounds like a drum-head as the whale migration plows alongside us, their hooting prevents all talk and and our ships metal parts vibrated with their screaming. Most smooth gleaming black bodies slide by gracefully. Belisama shudders as a mountainous head slams our larboard side. Entire slices of the sea from hull to horizon thrust for'ard to the smooth black curves of the jaw, skin and fluke. But some whales had been cut to pieces, or scalded through their hides with huge slabs of skin and fat hanging off them and schools of white-bellied sharks tearing at the pieces; whatever fell beneath their ragged jaws became part of the frenzy. Other whales would fight them off, snatch-up the sharks and crunch them with a single ratchet of their jaw. The sea sailors knowing which did not care ran cruel red.
“Tis a mighty curse you have gifted us. ”
Giant squid too wrapped around the wounded whales and they in turn were attacked by both whales and sharks. Again the slamming of our hull on the larboard. Horrific Medusa-like composites appeared as a squid wrapped about a fifteen-cubit long shark was engulfed by a bull sperm whale longer than the Belisama all wrapped in a raging foam of blood and torn flesh and flailing tentacles. As if the bounds set by Artemis among creatures had been loosed and nature itself falls apart. Beside our hull the writhing masses lay almost one-atop another , their giant black eyes peering upon the deck while whipping flukes cracked out rail-posts. There was no mistake … Poseidons fear had taken all of them ratcheted them around and was driving them south, directly against our path.
Behind us, the Carians tossed firesling of sulfur and pitch into the living forest, burning holes in the sea and for that torture the whales separated. Yet the Carians paid for it. They had gained three ship-lengths on us, till their bronze beak speared a calf. It's mother dove to the ship, and pounded the Carian beak till her own child and skull l were a bloody mass. A thrash of her giant fluke snapped off the sprityard sending the forersails fluttering skyward. Bodies broke apart and sank in schools of ravening sharks while whales rose high above-deck chewing the guts from sharks long as the vessel wide. Agorna ate Chaos bloody fill. That cost the Carians two-dozen ship-lengths.
All day we sailed counter the migration and became clever at dodging pods of young, while prodding away and slipping the largest. Twice gigantic males and mates turn to follow us; the males hit either side of the rudder, while their mates slide off to join pods with caves. Twice calfs follow us … one to be ripped apart by a white-belly shark-schools and the second its whistle screeching bloody air taken by a squid so huge its bone beak broke water like navel bronze and sucker-laden tentacles roam up over the stern-rail ; we hack them off saving ourselves if not the calf. By evening the forest had thinned. Only a few grandfathers as Teutor called them … the largest and oldest sperm whales swam by. A few were larger than the Belisama with heads and flukes spanning our whole deck, and curved gray masses rising about our rails. “We should follow them, said Teutor, an ex-whales men.
“Into the arms of the Carians?”
“Can they be worse, than the monster driving the whales?”
I watch a lingering few who approach at the end of the migration wandering it appears without the herd guidance as if the fear behind them wasn't enough. Then a van of three breaks off from them and surfing the Western swell approach our stern at all speed. Long and heavy and sleek maws awide therte’s death in those maws. Tar is screaming at Brogue. “”Kill yer the feckin-A calf yur turd of brine what have ye brought upon us?”
Harpoons fly, in our our defense, but all inexperienced throwing-arms miss; each of the three sperm whales crack the starboard strakes sending sprays of ocean into the bilge. “Two points north,” I shout. Brogge has frozen stiff at the tiller, moving feet and body as his tillermen shift local course trying to confuse the whales. They will not be confused.
“Cybelles rejected him. He belongs to the whales, the whales the whales ...” Tar chants. Men who clear-eye faced waterous mountains, hammer-steel pirates and cannibal northlings hang from the shrouds in fear.
“Allow Poseidon to judge his sacrifice,” bellows another leathery mateman. Of taboos and juju they care little. Of good the man beside them matters. Men scatter along Belisamas wooden carcass as the three whales in turn strike just below the sprintyard. A rope unyarns and forsail goes flying free. Swimming freely and fluke-high, Titans of Our Sea they cruise together coming about to the stern.
Artyphon has come up beside me, and crams a jade hash-pipe between my teeth. Jah smoke …. jah wisdom … jah fear … “Life for life,” she snaps, feeding me her mouth. Damme no matter the crime, I will not order a crewmate fed to the wild black sea-bears of this migration.
“One life for the Belisama,” forms the crew opinion and Telemydon insubordinate and fierce grinds those words into my face.
Seizing his collar I say, “Bugger their calf … perhaps whales have an Elysian shoal.”
Has Chaos never decided for you? Near as quick as made that decision is removed from my heart. While he drinks from a wineskin, the tillerman crew have strapped two heavy bags of silver to each of Brogues wrists. He has spread himself across the tiller-wheel, so a ropeboy may tape electrun coin to his eyes. “All debts will be payed” … Artyphon speaking. With a sightless look forlorn to his companions, and one of consolation to me he knuckles a fist and dives overboard into the three open maws just appearing below him. Blinded dead, the bloody calf body follows.
Bastets screaming bitches wake me alive. Artyphon taken below by her women I am watching far behind the Carians do battle with a whale whose mammoth flukes soar above their decks. “Monsters you say? Have the gods ever made worse than the worst human?”
“Bein’ the sea and all Sur, Brogue done what a man could do.” Silent men surround me. Tar spits out a gob of black hash saying. “ The pity of some men is hard as a granite mountain and Carians take pity on them. Sail away-ho. There are mountains of ice and mountains of water and mountains of fire. One way or another, Sur you will have your mountain.”
“Very well. Aphrodites will, that we be neither virgin nor whore, but take pleasure in our skill. Let us try our passage, at Kasos. If we stay before the wind they cannot beat us. We can then dodge east among island shoals to make our run for the Bosporus. Devil take Carians if not by then , for they never like sailing in their own waters. I pray Zeus give us the passage and then the volcano may blow itself off the earths face and up Heras robe.”
“Blasphemy , Captain” chuckles ancient Tar … and a meteor shower announcing the star-struck night falls. The dragon rises north-by-north east along our compass bearing with Tar counting its movement. It glitters upon a sea dashing together from one swell-cap to another and finding no secure direction dashes again. The Carians brashly displaying their mast-lights creep to within a league their scaled prow coiling between waves like Echidna and staying there satisfied that tomorrow would be their day of vengeance. I find bed with a mainsail reefed and the swells gaining in our favor, the miserable dirty-minded wind backing ever-so-little to the east.
The moon has set, and Artyphons body dove thin now, too thin for a cold sea is pinned against mine. But, we need not strap to the frame; I’ve mind to ruffle her feathers. A coven of bare feet shuffle not a foot from our heads over teak decking suddenly steeply pitched when Mykron bursts in. “Better get your ass on deck, sir. Both the swell and wind like it was following have gone down to the east. Far from natural Sar. It's whipping a gale over the starboard bow.”
I follow him on a deck leaning far to starboard tugging on trouser legs hopping left then right. A moonless star-strewn sky makes pitch black appear silver bright. At a word the tillermen pitch Vega another point east., so we run due north, tight as the rudder would hold between the cups of the dippers. With the mainsail bellyed-out , lines tight against steady winds you may run such a course from one moon to the next. “Kin ya feel it Sar,” snarls Mykron . “The whole sea is squirming like a squid tentacles.” His giant shoulders lay against the oak bar and alone, with one leg braced against the mizzen-mast has the tiller.
“The sames up here, Cap'in Sar” Hekateas shouted down from the crows-nest. “Thar's bumblebees in the wood! That … or Typhon rising.”
Gods horror Echidna and Typhon coupling. Artyphon beside me I ask. “What did foul lust conceive?”
“Monsters of lust … such three; Chimera and Cerberus and Sphinx. What without wings may soar and runs without feet?”
Why now would she riddle me … till flashes rimmed the ocean and turned red the black bowl of night ! Then the eastern sky comes filling with light and a thunderous roar rolls over the ship. Leagues off the larboard stern a fireball shoots hight into the night sky and vanishes in showers of speckled lights. A thrust of air follows and sustains a brisk gale blowing up hard whether from the explosion or from an Egyptian wind that has forgotten how to die, while the swell … the dark green ocean swell has become dark mountains rushing at the stern. My eyes adjust to shadows; just above the deck, Mykron has laced himself to a shroud and says. “Telemedon has reefed two stay-sails and clewed the main. Look! It's billowing like a pregnant dog.”
And the deck pitches over half of a right angle – you may not hold a forty-five degree pitch without blunder, and when you did blunder the ship went on its side. Knock-down. I shout to the mast-men … “we'll come round to a starboard stern-wind. Even out those lines. Now!” To Hekateas and his tiller-men I shout, “steer due north-east. Let the wind wear over you to north north-east. By Zeus beard don't try raping that sheet , but tease her … play with her. When I call fore-stay-sails waste not a breath. The yards are coming round … now!”
“To the pawls, boyos to the pawls,” bawls Mykron and lines tighten like lyre strings.
There comes a moment , when the Belisama has rolled to larboard and the gale got under the copper keel bands and we lean …. “Luff larboard,” shouts Telymydon, rippling the mainsail while starboard oarsmen bend their backs to rowers benchtops and round comes the bronze edged bow chewing on the swell.
Or did we fly … float … did we skate on the keels bronze edge.... but Kalicrates yards-men knew how chewy the sea should feel grasping on you and throw both jibs and the fore-stay sail at the wind, snapping them out like the drill of a shield-wall, wrenching the Belisama by-the-bow so shooting for’ard of the ever-leaning roll like a bolt from a ballista. We skip over a crest; Then our bow tunnels into the leading face of the swell, as if diving to the bottom , burying linesmen strapped to the forecastle posts and the first dozen seats of oarsmen. While sailmen clew the larboard mastline to a pawl I watch that hungry feckin sea-bastard roll toward me on the quarterdeck , yet even before it hit the Belisamas deck thrummed with a buoyancy thrusting up from the burying wave and shaking free its ironwood timbers , shouldering away the cold green sea and knifing for'ard.