.......................Tales of Hyrkon: book 6 .... The Syrian
Chapter One


Carians ruined, roaring and screaming and rattling her death head of rock and fire and steam did Medusa throw herself upon us. It is blasphemy to accuse Aphrodite of corrupting maiden Kathos. Hephastus and Poseidon joined to the ruin of Baal and Ra for such must be the avengers of Sinnasur and Amums unless you reject in one garment all the clothing of gods power. I send Artyphon below with her women, that they are tied together. Optimist sails are mast-strapped. Hatchways double-clewed, we have set Belisamas yards fore and aft, linen canvas jiffied till hemp ropes sing high and the tiller-pins struck sound to drive us north if ever Cybelle found pleasure in the fat of our burned lambs. Fractured light of all colors dance. So do sailors confront their fate.

I have one turn of rope about my arm and kneeling a pawl grasp as the eruption rolls for’ard and across all lines-of-sight. We are stricken. Fortunates have sheltered below deck; the force slams me backward against the mainmast. Flying rocks miss , but I see through the sleet many a hammer-blow struck to seamans body or face, and watch oarsmen thrown to the sea or tangled in lines and shrouds and hawse collapsing into black nothing. Whomever the flying rocks or wood or dash of water strikes down. Some men never recover; I watch all of it, deaths my own ill-favored men and while cut and burning the goddess favors my vision if sights of others death may be called a gift.

You cannot know what I mean, saved you live through such horror.; blackest dark and brightest light. Strike forgotten and there are many; pain remembered though this men cannot share. Now, so long after the explosion … what times I cannot imagine … breath and sight find me stretching along the quarterdeck, propped up by an arm and seeing my own sailors clinging to whatever parts of the Belisama fortune has directed.

Little enough I see, as chaos kaleidescope vision strikes me down. Within or without my body I cannot say, but an Egyptian physician with whom I shared this secret advised me to surrender all hope and enjoy a short life. “Anubis will sort your hours,” so stately his voice I did not fear it, “ and without warning declare at which spin of the glass blood will flow from you mouth and eyes and breath retreat from your lungs. If you wish a son seek Mins pleasure and see now to your woman.”

So Egyptian was he, rejecting Tecknos, accusing the gods of mens ignorance and hiding from all, but his fellow physicians the result of disecting and examination of dead bodies. Surely clues remain, as from a snapped pulley or cracked mast-pole, some flaw traceable to its human master … I have not the words … now I see dissected through that fractured column of colored glass, thus protected am I from Argus jealous vision.

“Artyphon,” I can hear my voice sing. The first of us must have walked the Belisama deck in smoke-darkened skin like dead haunting spirits walk. Or in fire scoured Crete like babes clinging to their torn and burnt mothers. Artyphon … she hurries by me carrying an armload of pig-piss soaked bandage, and when I next see her forcing a slug of opium-jelly down the throat of a sobbing burned-raw tiller-man. Water churns and boils beneath our stern - - yes, our surgeon has set up on the deck with his saws and bandages - - and has just thrown two lifeless bodies over the rudder-shaft. Sharks battle for pieces. I can hear myself shout. “North by east tiller-man. Bring the wind closer the stern...” something … something else or more I can't think of it … nobody can hear my voice.

Babble. Teutor leads two men struggle up a shroud while balancing a top-mast yard on their shoulders. Burning pellets dart the air, and they must deceive them. There … there's Artyphon... she is giving too much opium for one man I think. Our original topgallant mast has gone overboard, on the starboard side yet held by its stern shrouds. You cannot get about the mainsail with those tangled lines and northing drag. Two men cling to pegs outside the hull and hack at the hemp lines. A man slips, tosses overboard and a shark fearsome in size rips away his leg.

Then a mast-man crawls out from a tangle of stern shrouds and looks for'ard. “Where is my feckin-A fore-sail ,” he shouts. Fled fire he misses all the right side of his face and becoming aware of this begins screaming, yet longingly he looks to the shattered top-gallant mast. He leaps above the sharks for the tip of that flailing line, and grasping swings it home. Knots it to a clew while his face drips from his hands. … a fellow slaps a silver coin to his eye . Honor and duty done. Then removing dirk from belt drives it into his own heart pitching overboard … so a bashed-about sailor will look first to his own skills.

None of us have done more than rope our own life to that of the Belisama. We float in a sea of destruction, our hull turning slowly by its waist. Who first spoke craving release, but men driven through by splinters of wood , flaming missiles of rock the fearful crackling whip of a tared bowline. What words I first speak or to whom I cannot remember. Something tears at me, pulling and I pull back in pure terror shouting “you there, Kalicrates, give this line a turn on the cleats while I clew it over.” I must know the faces.

“Aye sur … but that one's burned through.”

“Tolymides why drap so over the rail? Why the blood and below char where are your legs … do not answer.”

A gore shrouded boulder lays beside him. “No Sur .. my legs will not move. Do not leave me to the gods like this ...” I find a Baltic oarsman pole-ax clove to the decking … wrench it out … strap an electrum to Tolymides eye and swing broadly, interrupting “see to my...” by removing his sobbing head; legless body rolls into Poseidons briney keep only leather sandels remain and I fall without strength vomiting beside them.

Belisamas hull snaps up to the wind, suddenly alive in the bowl of sea and sky and the tattered top-gallants drift beyond the stern. How do I come to stand? Kalicrates is screaming for more arms as the pawl threatens to wring his hand. That line controls the starboard tip of the mainsail. My tutor had once beaten me for pawling that line a turn too short as the canvas spilled wind. Boyos lives depend on that line … and the Captain … Elisedd appears above me pouring blood from his cheek torn and blackened and looking down. Silence.

Artyphon crashes into my side screaming a curse and another and … She bites off the words in my ear. “The line is no more my love. It has burned through and our mainsail flails the wind. We will broach if you do nothing ...”

All the idlings so well battened to well-founded ship have come free , stripped away. Teutor is not well, but hunches over splicing ratlines for the mizzen shrouds. Spars and yards, lines and shrouds, tackles and block and pulley and shards of the Captains harbor-boat …. “Twelve men, Sar, that's all I can find for the oars.”

He counts to twelve... unreal. “Very well Elisedd. Get us a bit of steerage, will you …?” I have become a madman … to speak while our mainsail is tearing itself against a crack in the stern-rail and I shout “NOOOOOO....” and throw myself on that sail the starboard corner in my left hand and a coil of hemp line in my right. The canvas slashes across my face, and I get one, two three turns about the torn end of the sail. I slip the knot then take another turn tightening the belly as I twist round and round … it is lifting my feet, throwing me for'ard over the rail where below a hungry sea chews and sucks on a hull gashed wide open … then a sudden jarring stop as hands grasp my feet, then belt those arms are about mine, calloused hands pulling me backwards and tip of the sail in my bloody fingers. Turn and turn again the line makes biting into the canvas forming a button that holds and that line tightens, holding against the wind … stronger men toss me aside wrapping the line about a pawl and putting their backs to the turnstile.

Tar has me by the shoulders, lifting me off the deck. A cup of harsh ferment fills my bloody mouth and I spit it out; I swallow the second cup. There's a rough, unsteady tilt to the deck and men are shouting. “Feckin-A hot day for a swim, Sar,” sez Tar with a strong arm on my shoulder , “so we thought better brung you back. You was more over the water than the deck!” I look up for the sail … “Nah nah being the Cap'ns pardon him so dashed about'n bleedin it's out there.. Sar … for'ard of the mast where it ought'r be. Beside the top-mast yard now in place, but Teutor took a banging.”

A bucket of seawater splashes in my face, Tars ropy arms behind it and another cup of raw ferment rushes down my throat. Above in the mast-work both top-foremast are lost, cracked at the posts, and their shrouds ripped away. No mizzen-sail. But, the tiller-bar was untouched and after Mykron finds north a hard certain thing … north-by north-east Faelan and NaziBu put the bow to that direction. Artyphon will not allow me to rise from my cot, and her women are wrapping my gut in mud-soaked Egyptian gauze.

Hammering comes from below. A rope-boy. “Beggins yer pard’n Sar, flying rocks have punched in two holes at waterline. Carpenters are plugging them with cork and wool battens.”

More movement. Dead men … oarsmen, idlers and bilge-rats manning pumps in tattered robes and shredded britches live again. Heart-felt scorching damage seen clearly appears cosmetic. Threads screech on a pulley; that a new mainsail coming up through the aft hatchway. Belisama has flown through and beyond the waist, binding the two islands. Men gather on the stern to watch with faint cheers the Carian masts burn, and the hull break half-way fore and aft each half bobbing like a Spanish cork among whorlpools and dashing to splinters on Kathos ragged fractured coast.

“Quite a slap yur took there Captr'n,” sez Mykron chewing on a battered hash pipe,” yas sur indeed it was when the fore-mast yard came down.”

“Threw sail-mongers Orotes and his son to the sharks it did,” spit Telymedon. “Should the rope-boy Zucyses go to the mast-yard? It's pitching madly, but somebody needs to patch.”

My mouth is filled with stones, yet I shout! “Zucyses damn your eyes boyo get up to the main-yard.”

He wears nothing , but a loin-cloth and rope glove on his left hand. A linen bandage thick with grease and blood circled his neck. “Aye, Captain .. and my bruther … he's working a pump.”

“Yourself, boy. You can't sail what you can't keep afloat.” With canvas over his back and a bone needle between his teeth he scampers up. Seamen mauling a cracked strake look after him then knuckling their fists return to pounding. I then understand the return of command.

Faelon stumbles up from the binnacle. “Piece o' the mizzen top-yard cracked off and drove right through the compass.” He holds up the crumpled brass box and cracked quartz face. “ “How do we sail off-shore without this?”

“Whip Astartes ass with a donkey tail and spin her around … she always points east,” blasphemes Teutor whose Tin Island gods care not. A wooden splinter has driven through his chest and mornging will find him among the shades. He sucks at a jar of ferment expelled from rye - - that much we can see - - and then boiled in polished dented brass through a glass tube he himself melted, formed and blew from sand. “Like the Egyptian I’m no better! At death all mans virtue provides nothing so barrel me in ale and bury me on Samos.” He forces words between cracked, bloody lips and poppied ferment flows down behind them. “I've seen enough of the water.”

Cold comfort. “Not like that Gedes whore who fucked us all in a boiling tub of brine.”

“Or the ice-Bogge wench and her sister, knees spread and well trapped on a floating frozen cave. Cibia friend Alark promised us transit to sunny Burgund, yet for a drunken navigator gave us the Ice-Wall.”

Teutor smiles coughing a death-rattle. Samos? Deckmates chorusYES yet know all the seas cold rules. He fears not the bolt-throwing hand of Zeus nor for his comrades. Our mouths just gape, those of my officers gathered whose families have cut the bulls throat and burned its fat to Mars jealous of any mans peace and Jove careless from her lewd night rambles as if a man could bed her and live. Teutor dies before Horae sunrise on the cold teak deck surrounded by his comrades torches and weighted about by hemp-line and ballast-stones sent to the oceans deep with nine of his mates.

A goats-belly of ale passes hands around and though friends for years we exchange the open palms of life to each other for no man chose his own life that day, but the goddess plucked souls from Moires broken threads and re-spun the fibres so now we live. Entranced by their own breath men go to their duty dazed and muddled praying the gods mercy or aware and determined and driven by the fear that none-other could do what they might do that day and live. When the best die, then motley must stand their watch.

Any crew has its sophists and philosophers, I observe. What bad cannot they make worse? Mostly our boyos take a bite on their gob and move about the Belisama to what their hands catch at first. Some to the dozen remaining oars, or the new spritsail yard, or to the new shroud-blocks needed along the hull where pawls rattle their bronze gears and tear at a mans muscle and flesh long since driven past pain. I cannot understand this about machines that are mans handiwork and yet care nothing for their creators. This suffrage being unique to Minos and her children, that we decline human slaves, both humble and willing. We prefer to conjure thankless harpies from wood and metal.

Cook fires are lit, and hot ale and porridge stretch from one mans hand to the next. Long after the smoking Carian wreckage has vanished we are still pushed along, pushed outward and away in a choppy sea by the outward flow of the volcano. Both sky and water had taken the volcano coin … yellow sulfur above and water reflecting from deep down a bitter copper tint. Dead fish and birds and whales and dolphin littered the sea surface. A brace of dolphin skated our bow-wave. That … while warm blood of scalded and cut mast-men called our aid and the fortunate slept. I have drunk bowls of coffee and with carpenters and our blacksmith the blond-haired Scythian Procon who has, but one finger lost survey the ship.

Belisamas keel sends the seas tune bearing its sing-song rumble to the last spar and deepest bolt and tightest seam. I think of it as a love song as the Flemish Gauls might sing not that of a women in surrender, but a sharp tone of sword against sword, a woman warrior that even should you live and conquer nothing ever will she give easily. I grasp our wrecked bronze compass. Even the gold embedded diamond that balanced the iron pointer have vanished. By none , but the mountain Syrians and their charge of Zeus lightening bolts may such an instrument be replaced … that priceless jewel of northing has been made nothing, destroyed. I have my pilots book-of-numbers which mark the dates and stars and time for each open-sea voyage in each season. Seventy-six! I mark such courses from shoal to shoal. But, old trade-routes do not bring new trade. The instrument maker had a son, two sons so perhaps the northing tecknos carries on. Later … I think … later we will find that Syrian hillside and the craftsman of lightening should craft it be not magic.

Repair work slogs. A day passes. By chart reckoning, and wind-currents gliding storks I figure we now pass Rhodes. Belisama urges northward and by the goddess I can ask for nothing else. Helios brings down his chariots blood red behind the volcano sea, while in scale of wind Zephyrus backing to the west ticked off the dying hours …. Acte, Hesperis, Dysis as if Hyacinth tired of his ravishing love, but tired slowly, dark tinged with the volcanos lasting fire. “Sails to starboard,” calls the crows-nest. Pair of single canvas, but long snouts. Third rides high with a full belley.”

Zucyses, now trusted with glass makes first up the shrouds. “Rowers, Sar be they corsairs or Rhodian cutters.”

Rhodians ... accosted on all sides, yet still crowning their own king, jealous for their harbor and the speed of their hulls. Would pirates wear this far east to close with Rhodian scouts? “Faelon, send up Minos flag and a banner-of-trade.”

“Rose and peregrine banners flying from all three signal-masts,” calls down Zucyes.

“A trap ,” cautions Mykron.”

“At the Rhodian cost of every false sailors right hand,” snips NaziBu. “That was announced last Trade Council, early morning while without tunic the Whores-Guild served hot ale.”

My Lieutenants meet at the firepit. They will all stand watch, men drained of will as the Rhodian fleet approaches. No worth in using time to drive sailor tasks as they will to find sleep; even as a potential enemy approaches the rope end or flog buy nothing, but fear of a dark corner. And if some few men mutter about an Egyptian gods vengeance, many more noting law-respecting Rhodian Kings release deep sighs of fear-removed. What comes across the sea and what has born of Hephastos come up from the sea to destroy us fumes without power in the dark west say men who believe in the gods will.

Rhodian sailors have taken up the Latin habit of announcing horns, and one pushed by a bellows can speak across oceans … if tin blurts and whistles are words. Our top-gallant look-outs cannot makes individual Rhodian sailors. Faelon knows this, as horn-breath blare. “The doves speak Belisama. You are ill-fated.”

Of-course we cannot answer, but by obscure combinations of flags. “Where are the Carians.”

Again the flags. “A volcano took them, and nearly took us. See our damage.”

“This morning, two warbeaks have departed Kos. The doves speak of your murderous Captain.”

“Just wrath against those Egyptian poodles slaughtering Hyrkon traders.”

“So also say the doves. We know, having intercepted and then released for excepting outrage against gods or royal we have no desire to test Carian determination. Carians do not care men reason their death. Only power matters.”

Our crew becomes stone-face. My Lieutenants bristle, reject compromise and vote immediately with their feathers for battle. Artyphon whispers. Faelon sends up a scurry of diction flags, though we are near shouting range. No mistake can be allowed. “May we port for a day at Prasonisi, for repair and sail without conflict across your southward waters?”

Translation in four languages is shouted down the Belisama deck. Silence, as the three craft approach. They are what they appeared to be: two single-sail eighty-oar cruisers with a blade for a bow, and a fat-bellied weatherly supply-lugger. Most weapons were hidden below deck-rails, any bilgeman knows, but supporting redwood braces run bow-to-stern. Three fists thick if a finger, so supported bow-arms must be mighty. Then a huge, leather-chapped, bronzed, blond-hair Syrio-Parthian leaps to the 1st cutters sprintyard.

He bellows. “Pinched the Carians asshole, did ya!”

“Tight as a hummingbird.”

“Stings like a hornet. Egyptian mercenaries paid by …. Carthage?”

“Hyrkon’s smoked more than one hive.”

“But, two at once and no Tyrian sardine busses at the bow-nose.”

Bastard knows too much for even a diligent snoop. “Threats made at the last Trade Council ....” I am cluing NaziBu whose voice best carries at distance ...”so a Rhodian skeptic may believe what I say.” Whether the Captain or the Captains sword … he spews streams of hashish chew. My invitation to plaver. “Leaving Heriklytus we ran from them three days. Then, while splitting Karpathos and Kathos both ships Hephastus volcano dashed upon. The same waves, fire, wind and rocks hit both Hyrkon and Carian leaving the gods to decide who survived … if any survive.”

“Not sure yet that you survived, eh peacock-of-trade, not with the Carian blood-letters brewing death! We know you Cibias, and Minoan cleverness employing Trade Council Laws.”

“Ferment and Gaulish oak I contracted to Pharaoh. These I delivered.” Only two ships-breath separate Rhodian cruiser from the Belisama. We are close enough to see each others copper-strapped belly. “This day finds us just men - - not clever. One day in your port will save our life.”

Longer silence. “You have gold.”

“To pay the harbor master, gifts for a cities welcome and a fair shipwrights price.”

“Terns of the blue-water snip you possess eastern sparklers … rockets the Karachy call them brought west by slant-eye venture.”

“If so then waxed and well-barreled for a deaths-head. No threat to you as Rhodians patrol their seas protecting peaceful trade.”

“That’s your candle, eh … bet the Carians saw a different light. Yet if so, after us where then?”

“Along Cyprus empty north side to beach in Syria.” I am thinking Byblos, for the splintered mizzen-yard may not be replaced by amateur woodchipping.

He might have shouted - - ‘beach not port’ - - as a question, but silence overwhelms. Are we running among the shell-scrapers he must wonder? Command bellows in Hittite! Oars bristle and slap. To our dismay the Rhodian cruiser turns on its keel and moves ever faster to the south; the supply buss follows.

Then the horn speaks. “Follow the second ship.” Belisamas entire crew finds the twin hull feathering oars and shifting yards fore and aft. Sailmates throw both a spinnaker and mainsail turning to catch uncertain notes piped by Boreas; The horn. “A Genoese bitch Captains the vessel and she’s chopped nuts from better men than you.”

“Belisama seeks nothing , but the exchange of value.” As I seek only the exchange of blood-price. “You heard the bastard, boyos. A maiden faire sets our path. Show respect for her ass by climbing aboard her rudder. We shall not find ourselves lost in her tail race.”

Artyphon has remained below, and I may only imagine her reason. But, sail I can do well enough. Feet race the Belisamas teak deck and rocket up her hemp shrouds. Belisamas patchwork of repair groans and screeches brought into the Rhodians smooth trace. Yet our mainsails are bigger; finding a brisk wind we gain. Our bow-wave crows spray, a proud rooster chasing a shy hen! Response comes swiftly; their Captain swings her bow across our path and wears away her speed till our stern-rails come parallel catching each-others spray.

She and I also stand opposite. She calls. “You are Cibias, a wenching frolic who does not flog his boyos. I am hard-ass daughter of Nabis. Why Prasonisi?”

“We are shy folk.”

“That gold torque and mastmans loin-clothe … ye wear little that proves shy.”

“As one with Hyrkon freemen, and as Our Sea demands. But a favor I do beg mistress … Captain … a priceless Syrian northing has been destroyed. Depending on that and our Nordic sunstone we can navigate an empty blue-watered ocean. So a good word to your Damascus chandler may return our free-sailing world. ”

“Mock the headlands, arrogant Cibias.” She wears a thin tunic, leather visor, thong and Median silk trousers easily taken by the wind. “You marry a freed slave, while honoring both of your fathers rightful sons. Ruby-crusted traders snigger your warrants from Teymes tin-pits to Taganr Bay whore-galleys. Officers, crew and Belisama sail to Chaos tune.”

Her own crew looked a bit over-fed. “My silver-coded credit-staff traders do not snigger; our joy Belisama delights in Diannas rule; I serve the Trade Laws.”

“Rounded fecking bow … Zoraster cunt … Neptune gifts their power to you?”

“Accuse Cybelle if ye dare. Rhodians grew from the sea. Her Captains grasp risk while disdain a simple overland mind. Tell me, daughter of Nabis if yards set quartering the wind, does your hull move forward or behind?”

For a full trace of heart-beats she stands beside the stern-post. Her scribe relays notes to a bird-keeper letting fly one dove after another. Artyphon has come up from our cabin to stand beside me. The women exchange something less than greeting in a desert language I once heard in Damascus, but do not understand. She calls out. “As you will.” And quartering her mainsail yard while opposing with both tiller-shafts backs away till windfall gives her stern a full-bodied tack.

One day sail sees us anchored beside the Prasonisi moles … giant fireslings protect the deep water channel from Trojan corsairs … they push white sandstone out from the sand beach like an heteras brazen white breasts. We take on fresh water and oranges; whores and gamblers are repulsed or their dory sunk! Two carpenters, a dozen shave-head labors and an iron-monger come aboard, all with their own tools and we feed them like kings.

“Can’t fix that mizzen-yard. Yur best bet Sar is ...”

“Already set flying two doves.”

Chief carpenter grunts. “Tis a messy rubble of rock, from sea-raiders attacks and from the new exchanges built by the Parthian cherry growers. They brought in the crop with infantry cohorts under treaty.”

“Lemons from India - - the new crop - - I remember from a trade three years ago.”

“Raiders killed all the Mahoots, when their elephants ran from camels.” Carpenter looks up at me from his cross-saw. “Not much fears you, Cibias that’s the sailors story. Strong on the tiller and first in the shield wall. Some say a 2nd Jason ….. but, there’s another like ye, not so fair-minded to those around him, but a waste-dealing bastard to enemies and careless friends. He’s a Damascene Syrian - - by name Melquart - - spending time cherry-picking young bankrupt daughters and rich heterea in Rhodes Port.”

“Does he pay well.”

“By his own rant, he pays what it worth. Ignoble to pry, but not every whore has lost all three cherries!”

“That’s his business, picking cherries?”

“Picks for names, also. Names like Cibias!”

“Traders do get around.” I lean on one of Belisama mahogany knees. “Does he pay well?” I drop two Hyrkon electrum on the box-saw.

Carpenter bites into the silver-gold mix. “Pays what it’s worth, but not a bronze chip more. He deals in precious stones, so never travels alone. Makes every route a maze and every destination a bees-hive. ”

His words freeze my heart, and thicken gruelish plots to flint. But my hands busy, trained to the timbers. A day and night replace the cracked plank strakes between two starboard ribs. Lesbian redwood not teak, but a well-knit grain runs true and oily sap seeps fresh from yearly rings; the count tires after 300. Fitted and finished with tarred wool, storm surge will the binding always deny. Ceder will do for the splintered top-gallant yard and we trade as well as replace Nabolian hemp-braided shrouds.

While poured pitch is cooling, and I strive with the crew to knit sail-cloth NaziBu pulls me aside; the Rhodian Captain has offered her pleasures, knees aflutter floating beside the Belisama in an empty, wine and poppy-smoke corrupted, tarp-covered longboat. Her pleasures waiting for me? A matter for 1st officer Telemydon. After a conference he and NaziBu set twelve of Elisedds youg oarsmen to wrestling the rogue Greek pankraktic style. I watch, bearing Artyphons body against mine.

“You see what evil springs from the body of woman?”

“Do women now fight?”

“Sly dodge,” as the ninth body splashes amidships to laughter of the three remaining.

Her hands clasp my shoulder, breasts brazen heat beneath my tunic and her teeth my neck. Sharp that, as if she had once stalked night-blood, but surrendered to her god-of-flaming trees. “Nine are thrown overboard. Best see to your own.”

All three victors are scrubbed in lavender olive-oil … then lowered to the dory carrying wine soaked lemoned silk balls , lest the sounds of forceful pleasure and desire enticed wake the harbors dead. Only once does a long languorous cry of the venturesome saytre filter into the harbor.

As silver light dawns I watch alone from shadowed quarterdeck our gallants row her dory to their quay. Hair let down and breasts bold from a cold morning swim ... and a nights attention ... she has eyes only for Belisama. The young boyos come up the hull-ladder less bold than they had gone down "She's an ass fit for three women," advises the oldest." Should he know anything. Each boyo now wears a silver toe-ring. "And she gave us these ..." Oil-skin bound parchment letters of transit which attested to our wide swatch of purchase real or imagined at the towns markets. Byblos Harbor-master will be impressed and obscured.

Fully manned, Belisama raises anchors at dawn, to catch the morning onshore. It blows down from the hills smelling of sage and berries and unyielding rock. What does Artyphon believe? She had taken to her foot-cot, till I pulled her up beside me and allowed her protests not a wit. And if she managed less than nine-parts of the ten gifted pleasures between man and women I will scrub Belisama deck with a clamshell. Nature foretells jealousy will cripple a man, but strangle a woman.

Four of the local younger sons join our crew. Oars make a difference for the first 400 strokes. Then wind has come round a point from the west so clew comes off the starboard lines … do you see I grab one of the rope boys and shake him, “the wind blows there, you see so we luff spare sail into that slice of breeze, he says 'Yes Sar … me thinks … “damned well you think that over for you own ship someday young boyo,” I finish and release him.

Our trace weaves the Asian coastline. Idlers toss depth-gauges to both sides of the bow, chasing the edge between four and twenty fathoms least favored by piratical black-hulls. On the quarterdeck Lieutenants gather close. I say, “Stay within eastern landfall till we round the point of Cyprus. Then make straight for Byblos.”

“Mizzen, Sar?”

“Belisama can hide among cranes and wallows for a week, while you find a shipwright able to replace the yard. There’s the prime wood itself, the yard-buckle protecting the end, then brass bolts for the foot and sail-lines and the bronze slipping hoop binding yard to mast.” I think that time frees a troop-of-attack for Melquart. “That frees me for Damacus, to search-out the Northing ye must know ….” And the circle of grim faces hide nothing. Yet Belisama cares not. Our large mainsail bellies as a fat matron. Larboard rail edges up as the moon dies over our stern. Already the Bear swings behind us.

We sail large all day. Artyphon refuses sleep. She is bloody and demands to be purified. I am neither priest nor oracle, but I wash her under a canvas with buckets of steaming water from the firepit, and wearing my woolen robe she stands my late watch though haggard and shivering against me. “I can feel the cold touch,” she says ...”the touch by shades of men whose deaths I brought to a speedy end. They were suffering without purpose and I murdered them.” I cannot help her with guilt ; she goes on... “Nordlanders think better, to have their warriors revive hot-blooded every night after battle .. to drink and fuck and … such they believe, but my God of history does not permit this. Perhaps our shades just vanish.”

Such sorrow surrounds her, surrounds us like all others in a bronze web of traders and builders who die to what end we know not. But, without newly splinted yards for the mizzen that end comes at the first gale. Crew speak openly.

We pass a stream of tin-busses voyaging between Cilician mines and the forges of Cyprus. “South by east,” pronounces Telekydes, “ making for any small islands east of Cyprus - - to survey the prospects of Byblos landfall - - if we can slip their shoals.” Nykodemes agrees.

Teutors map does not impress me. “Byblos bears due east, with shipyards and tarred wool.”

“Tarred wool does not keep a dead body warm, should we blunder into a Carian.” Artyphon does not share all her thoughts about death with me, her one gods of Zorast and Him of the Hebrews. She fears the islanders.

“Cut off your head for one gold Egyptian tooth,” Kalicrates warns. “I've lived among those buggers.

Artyphon shivers, but conjures warm flesh against me and I need her, this woman. She wears the warmth, but does not seem to have that need, not a she-tiger like Alreks golden-hair woman yet stands watch beside me bits of her silk veil whipping my neck, her clear voice calling out stars as if I knew nothing and the deck has become more and more hours like a scholios where talk is free, bawd and honesty common. Men and the few women repair together barding stories of fearsome battle and the trade laws abide.

“Feck Aphrodites tar and Ras teeth,” blasphemes Tar, “if a Troas warbeak runs us down in open water.” Muttering stops. Tars threat is enough. Mastmen, tillermen and Elisedds oarsmen wearing scraps and chewing salt water soaked hash plugs settle into their tecknos. Our wind holds; past midnight the stars shine through, Arcturus fallen and Saturn racing the moon to our east; well off our starboard beam the Cilician Gate lighthouse blinks like a ruined Cyclops sending skyward slices of orange flame.

Byblos is yet another two days sail, where we can repair and from which I can raid. That … while thoughts return of long made promises and the warm evil blood of Melquart calls. May Bheur restrain her ice-formed hand and Aphrodite prepare our sight. Will I ever write more? Cibias testifies, Captain of the Belisama in the eighth month twenty-fifth day beyond winter solstice of the ninth year since King Minos raiding the plains of Sparta struck down their King and wore his crown in victory. I sign and date the log.