“We need a pair of strakes replaced … redwood is sufficient, but oak in a pinch. What are your workmens day-rates?”
“Ah yes I see the damage. Follow the red-bannered skiff. There he goes to your starboard. He’ll find a guild experienced for your hull-length and roust a shipwright and idlers. Most guilds pay two stators a day for normal labor, but if the repair is dangerous or heavy they’ll pay you three! All that’s required is that ½ the crew remain with us a month. ”
The officers hat is cocked sideways, and I wonder if it fills his head? I see and feel the crews confusion … and fear … they have taken to light leather armour and form shield-walls both bow and stern. Another official lorry glides to larboard. “What are your boarding rates?”
“Per-day six bronze for a willing seaman and two silver drachma for any guild-skill.”
“Paid by day or moon?”
“Every man paid every day, for the length of his boarding! Each hotel or hostle provides meals in common at 3-pence per feed. Most newly arrived, find the payment sufficient, but a larger gain for food the long-stayers would prefer. They have feelings to consider.”
“I meant sur, as we visit how we pay our own way.”
“I mean sur, what Cufamabo pays for the sympathy of your visit.”
NaziBu standing beside me at rudder-watch falls over the side. Local maids fish him out. “Oh the po po boyo, “ they simper bodice-ripping. Seedy sea people are needy sea people . We will … NURSE … him back to health .”
“Fuck you will girly,” I banter. “Catch this line and we will hoist him back aboard ship.”
“But, his hands, sur they are so … untended that fingertips must bleed. Such are the ways of needy.”
Clamshells - - thus were NaziBu paws. “And get his face outa your tits; he might suffocate.”
Feigning confusion and dire shock, NaziBu is lifted aboard. His body covered with mud, his face shows lip-color smears of a dozen klans. “Woot happens to me sur. I believe a whale swallowed me.”
The marsh now gives way to a broad semi-circle stone quay, upon which merchants bustle. Center-stage a fresh water stream enters the swamp, that stream lined with manse walls and bridged a dozen times. To our right a narrow ship channel ends at a hull-lifting crane. “Steel it up, NaziBu. Drop Artyphon , Kalikrakes and me at the 1st bridge so we may find horse and supply renters. You and Mykron take the Belisama down that channel and see to replacement of the broken strakes. And Zeus beard don’t let the insurrection come aboard!”
“Will the hecates truly pay Belisama fix,” Mykron responds querulous. “Repair, deliver meals and board every boyo while paying us as the callers say?” A dozen men drive and steer the Belisama with ash-poles , and a mule has been settled above to pull us along. Smoked broiled sausage are lowered strapped to the thick hemp braid.
I cautiously taste the first sausage - - yum! Next three bites are free. I bark. “It’s curious to queer - - grant you that. Discover truth before ya touch your purse! We’ve tented before on hostile sand. Here now, lay a ladder against this bridge and heave us and a crafts satchel to the dock.”
We make way along the ill-tended stone quay wearing rags unfit for a bilge-pump idler. A hashish chewing hoplite troop stops us, examines our crafts and gives each of us 3 bronze coin. “Ye be noone of those troublesome builders, some claim are sailing about. Devils work here, to skin them alive one useful product and mechanic after another. Believe them … and you believe a man earns his own way! Now to your travels, for the horsemans guild take the first left through the towns middle and the first right after the artist pillars. But, first report to the queen. Any jester will direct. Make merry the day friends.”
“Friends,” mouths Artyphon sourly?
Jesters came like a ocean-riving log … ten of them punched through our trio and danced about.“The queen the scene make way for the queen. Hillacious Clit is who we mean. Dance her jig and eat her raw, she’ll return a gig from her lying maw.”
Town center must remain much like it’s builders and merchants had first devised … but not the queen. A man cries out from the gutter: "Save me masters. I was hungry, so they crammed my gullet with sardines. now I vomit unending."
Only two blocks and the jesters released us among a nest of groaning servants. Trees behind; in front the twisted art columns and before them, in a crazed, glue-bonded Egyptian chair sat a painted wood puppet, red teeth clacking and her knees spread like a jar of rancid honey. Four arms clothed in Hebrew shawls reached down from a balcony above.
“Dutch guilder for your thought,” crackles a rude male voice.”
Trading the world, yet Dutch I do not recognize. “Guilder, Kalykratus, do you know it?”
“Mary of Genoa once used the word … in game play … a currency for land north of the Gauls full of bad cooking and salt-crusted linen. Unfit for human habitation.”
I seize the moment. Shouting a response. “Defend not your agents, before weapons are delivered.”
Nonsense of-course I tell myself and Artyphon smiles. Not so the queen. “Deliver my weapons or eat my rabbit,” a shrill womens voice howls clattering wooden teeth.”
“Talk for a minute piles coin all month,” bellow Kalykratus.”
The puppet has slumped to one side and its head begins to spin. “Dizzy urge as her daughters ass and dizzy does while the bouncing lasts,” chirps a well mannered temple thrill. Insane you say … A background metal rasp will scare the hood off a cobra.
“Was the queer, er queen ever … alive,” I ask a forest jerkin-clad yeoman pushed to the rear. He carried an oak staff and black circles about his eyes.
“Alive, you say friend … ever alive?” End of the staff pops off to reveal an opium chew. “Yes I believe she was, when her Egyptian consort was always pinching at her tit to keep her awake. But , she fell down stairs. Messed up her hair and her head spun-round like a bailer.”
“They packed her body in a keg of bitumen and set her adrift somewhere west of Hercules Pillars. Tell ya this for free … she put-on a better show than the puppets.”
Frightened … agitated , the crowd about us starts chanting. “Eat the rabbit queens succulent rabbit it’s a habit that rabbit,” and linking arms they begin to shuffle a circle. We duck, crawling first and slipping away, in the melee to the mobs edges then at a shuffling distance to city center.
“You picked the wrong bone,” sniffs Artyphon and I will not disagree as we three clasp together scurrying away.
Towns center: impressive once for a productive fishing village except now released of clever features: arts slag & crack while food-stalls appear poor in goods, taste and money. Men once worked here. We feel inside better than outside and search for a venue. One building pillars have risen above columns rock foundation. We circle and climb above to its cracked marble porch. “ A religious shine, no doubt ,” opinions Artyphon.
Wrong before the words echo. At the doorway stands a tall man, coral-crowned hair bleached white and clothed in silver-threaded pearl beads. His staff a narwhal tusk and sandals mother-of-pearl. ‘All sailors meet again.”
“We know you not, stranger.”
Radient in the sun his face glows darkly. “Greeting Cibias, Artyphon and Kalykratus. Long may you tune the Belisamas foresail.”
Steeping for’ard hand to my dirk. “A task for silent mastmen. Again I say, who are you, man?”
“Noah, the strangers of Nineveh called me, that a mountain name. But aboard your vessel and among my yardman boyos a name of Minos graced my brow. I held that name till the storms surge swept me to the oceans bottom. Remember ye so poorly?” Maids deliver a tray of silver bowls ; almonds, sandberries and a fruity white dune-flavored wine. We move with him through the door.
The room beyond is a high single floored glass-tiled pavillian supported by two dozen oak pillars and surrounded by wall mounted iron beams. Most of the floor is covered by gold and silver coins to the height of an ankle. “Noah you say … I do remember a Belisama boyo who sacrificed himself during a storm. He dove over the stern-race into the foam-topped waves, lightening the ship by removing both weight and the curse of a sperm whale calf. Death counted his number, so ye may not be him.”
“And if devoured I never reached the seas bottom?”
“By what means?”
“Taken by the mouth of great whale, into an air-filled passage and remain there while the storm raged. Days I continued a guest, til spit up in shallows. Crabbers of a coast village found me stretched dry on a pebble beach and cared me alive.”
Of a sudden my face lights. “ By damme waterlogged adventure , Brogue ye were called, and a right sturdy yardsman.”
“That may be as it was.”
“ And for your sacrifice you are given a room of gold?”
“The gods taught me stars, in the whales belly, stars of true value. Yey master Cibias; for Cybelles pleasure I was given the city of Nineveh, to move from its evil, child-slaughtering ways. For they sacrificed their youth - - burning infants to Baal - - in chase of silver.” For weeks they beggered themselves in rags … fondling their beloved. In time a dove descended to me and I returned to Cufcamabo which had belonged to another lover of derelict.”
“He also did well here?”
“City renamed after him , coming from Berber mountains to the vile southron bake-plates of Tyre and Sidon. Amabo his name. If he baked his own bread red wantouns found his bed – instead he preached a lie lather from the Atlas Mountains to swamps galore. Pussy too. Not teached the reach of fools. What a drool pool and he rapped to a pain game laming every swift while blinding eagle-eye sylphs.”
I horrified near speechless. “Are ye mad from the covering waters faithful Brogue? You speak babble, while once ye knit truth from the high winds.” Helplessly hoping … “has an earned death found him?”
“A mason farmer roosted a clay brick in his brain. Scribes tore him for that sin of truth and a band of Numids broiled and ate the remains.”
Of which I fail to ask. “Even stealth finds you so trapped … even now dear Brogue.”
“Trapped and rapped. Gifting the wretched wander, slackwell and misfit. Blessing the thoughtless, stumbling fool. To bind up the self-damaged and draw poison from the addicted. To force underserved mercy from the just.” Noah bent over to snatch a gold Egyptian stator worth a mastman year of skilled labor. “Do ye not remember a friend dear Cibias?”
“There again, master” sniffs Artyphon, “ ruin follows the company of such friends.” She slaps a waxed pfiltre into the palm of Brogues hand. “Take against utter nightfall,” and kisses his cheek.
Noah jumps back and shakes his head. “Many are chosen, but few call. See mistress Arthphon , how the silver and gold coins barely cover the treasury floor. They had reached to the ceiling, sinking the building far below its current height. We work of striving men, of builders and weavers, traders as we were and dragomen run far afield to serve their laboring masters. Sweat, desire and creative drive had filled the treasury with coin. I arrived to strip it clean.”
I say out loud to the rooms echo. “When scribes, oracles, merchants and princes together decide that crab-apples naturally fall upward, into gulls beaks then the orchardist is screwed.” Turning to Noah. “Serve perfidious slackers well, blessed of the goddess and pray the next whale holds you forever!”
He calls after us, out the thick wooden treasury doors. “To him who has nothing, nothing will soon be given. Even a mustard seed will be treasure!” Insanity.
Before an hour we find the horsemans guild. Pastures stretch into the bordering plain. We rent five long-striders and three mules for the next day. The Horseman gifts us ten bronze obols. “Well trained animals. They used to belong to a Sidonian Hebrew gold-smith, but he was ground-fine in his own iron mill for objecting to our theft of his product.” I WORKED FOR IT he howled. Of-course we returned, That’s why we take it from you not the winemaid. Sorry about the 10 obols. Money seems short the last while. We pray more appears.”
Close to the quay we find a dozen well-armed and short-sword hoplites pillaging and raping a long strand of Berber influx, fresh from the desert and without food and water or shelter. Our three bronze-tipped spears encouraged their good behavior. “We are Melquarts men; make way for the ruler.”
“Does Melquart rule here,” I ask an ox-like, ax-swinging brute.
He apprises our leveled spears. “Iff’n yur a free-kneed wench from the desert scrub, Melquart might as well be Thor!” His sword is out, flickering at my unguarded side. The cut runs shallow, but bloody.
“Is your ‘THOR’ in town?”
“Too cold my friend,” the hoplite relaxes. “His Damascus villa and bevy of newly blooded bitches keep his bones toasty. If bool is rule then gruel makes a fool … hehehe … you’ll do best to gift us the wench.”
Such a bard … his companions have moved on, this lusty hoplite to rape a pair of children behind a fence. Telekydes misses not a moment, but drives a short-spear though his gullet and we roll the still twitching body into a ditch.
Belisamas lanterns glow like Astartes boudoir. Doctors patch me like a sausage. We hold the last ships meeting late that night, among the shipsmens hammocks. Flicking candles restrain the fall cold; restless invaders stream the docks, wandering Numidians, Berbers and sea-people who have exchanged hope for a scorpion infested beach-towel and bag of hash. “We told troopers the Belisamas bilge was too dirty even for them,” reports Mykron. “And speculated three dead of plague. THAT made teeth rattle.”
“Can’t be too careful. Two Numids spotted the sunstone, when tillarmen removed it for cleaning. Must be their thick skulls, but one started to shout, “A tool a tool the devil Minoans are using a tool …!”
A family of grunts respond. “We stuffed one full of black tar hash and sent him after a whore. But the loud bugger … we stuffed with a short-spear and latched his body under the rudder. Crabs will feast!”
Grim chuckle. “Strong work! You can hold the Belisamas hull, then for two weeks or three. How go repairs.”
“They start tomorrow, and the vessel easily held, but the shipwright must send to Sidon for redwood strakes - - a full week at best! But, times your money, Cap’N. Who will join you to Damascus?”
“I take Artyphon, NaziBu, PI the forgemans apprentice and Elisedd our best bowmen.” A sprinkling of smoke from the hash-pipes warns me. "Steel up , warriors. I choose men best able for a sudden, violent attack. Melqart will once alarmed gives no quarter."
“I’d come,” shouts Yuur, the Egyptian physician taken along from Azmels craft. “Taped up your side, Cibias till no blood may be found. But, on trail will new blood appear to staunch and broken bones to bend? Surely so! What better use for my new Median steel knives?” His eyes glitter and he balances two blades on one winesoaked finger-tip. Our sixth man. Time chatters it does not fly.
It's cold, crossing in early mornings light the bridge between Cufamabo and the Syrian highlands. Shivers run right through me, making my teeth clatter. Jester bands hunt with pleasure, raping Berber girls along both sides of the span. In the narrow swamp a barge of sea-people go ax-to-hatchet with Melquarts hoplights, while towns women sling silver stators at both.
A scarred short-sword hoplite only steps away cut the robe from a maiden. Pure white her skin and nipples in their first bloom. He sees us staring - - "I'll pop her cherry kindhearted," he foxes. She shrieks to Jove. Nothing. "Can we do nothing Sur," snarls a bitter PI. He's not swived his first woman I imagine, but I nod. Immense power his arm carries and he cracks a lintel from the bridge and drops it whole on the hoplite bending back. Two snaps sound and the screaming will never end. A spear-nord rushes to his aide ... Elisedd slits his brain with a bronze-shafter arrow. Such do we met justice to kindhearts. Hoplites robe goes to the girl and she kisses PI before running to mama.
Days later, since the hills of Aanjar desert night sky preserves no warmth. Absent the city, mind-swarms of idolatry have stopped caging the clean emotion. I have stopped bleeding; Yuurs stitches hold. The black tar hash helps. I ride a cart-litter, a mendicant unable to walk, traveling to Damascus Jews for treatment. That, or a breathing , twitching corpse delivered for experiment as Egyptian trained physicians were wont to do. Guards stick a thumb in my wound and pass me through. Loss of blood makes me shiver easily. A half-risen moon cares not for my company … or for yours, traveler I think of those around me. Not for the womans flesh beside me - - Artyphon dares me find her unyielding - - and not for all slitted babes of the last village and certainly not for this baked brick Goliath in which we spend tonight. Artyphon comforts, but tis a cold breast that promises should I fail, completing the Kings task.