Artyphon. “Our bloody bit’s coming.”
“We’ll slaughter fast and certain like Bastets screaming bitch.”
“I can tell what a rogue ye be, by the pleasure forced to my ass. If such a small task were mine only, I’d have been couched in a Black Sea harem one year ago.”
“All six of you?” She makes to swing for my face, but I pin her arms under that most willing prize. Night darkens. Besotted in time, with eachother I can say. “Minos birds promise more.”
Indeed that night three older boys and a spastic-legged bard join Gamma and Delta as bleak-eyed indebted cousins. When examined they show, only eight hunting arrows. I have already purchased 36 iron-tipped ash war-shafts from our forgeman. Thus far our plan … Melquart will not expect Hyrkon vengeance coming from the south … he will expect me less … I may shoot first I think and my wrist feels weak as a girls. When it passes through, the entire caravan will have the port of Byblos for a target with a stabling at Aanjar. There also we have a bolthole prepared after taking down Melquart and outfoxing his cavalry. Not even a named warlord, Melquarts convoy is only a part, moving his gems and his whore out the street of Horses to his country keepsafe. To join this melange we must be introduced … as travelers … minor diplomats under the satraps protection , but without his beneficence.
Loyal servants, Beta and Alpha we travel in worn-soft wool, rather than expensive mountain fur jackets. That story .. and a few gold Egyptian stators will mend the tear in complacency. Alpha has promised to serve a last fallback … though a desperate affair it would be for Melquarts guard to assault a visiting hetaera; all ports to the west of Rhodes would refuse his ships!
“Castrate a man before his woman fights,” Gamma spits. “How may a woman would make that offer being clothed and robed and veiled?”
I yank him around. “Has your voyaging brought you fighting in the thickets, where a spear-point hides behind each leaf?”
“Not for my caravans,” he puffs and simpers! Brashly he believes many such offers will be given to him, when he grows a year or two. Delta taller a head slaps his face and chases him from the fire.
Venus has fallen; moon-light washes silver around doorways and windows. Harsh Yarikh has given wind to the night, but icy coils penetrate so you may not exclaim “cold Eurus”, or “bitter Notus”. Cold washes everywhere. Damascus sinks in that silver wash and we measure our luck. “The Aanjar whore should arrive soon,” councils Alpha optimistically. I agree. She saw to the horse caravan, from Byblos and to us crossing the baking limestone hills. Alpha shakes her finger at Gamma. “You will show her proper respect, wealthy as must be Melquarts Heteara.” What she is doing east of Damascus we never discuss. Gamma makes a face and I cuff his ears.
But, he has gone sullen. “She is late,” Gamma says his voice shaking. “Our bones are already sold for grist.” His father was a Phrygian rower or Armenian and mother no mans whore, so when the pox took both my crew voted their child a place among the bowlines. He is eleven years old and does mens work clewing and knotting broken shrouds. Melissa dotes on him. She might be an older sister and trusts him as would a sister never do. “I have prepared,” he whispers gamely.
“Moon-rise she said for the caravans entry,” … Alpha is muttering … “and moon-rise has passed.” Shuffling of weapons. “Yes master seize safety! We shall ride away, master, into the empty night. I have prepared barley cakes and our horses are fed ...”
Enough! I grab the boys arm yank up and draw him within. “Silence. Night is never empty, but filled with hopeless cries of the foolish. Do you hear rabbits crying with the stoats teeth at their neck? Do you wish that for us?” I set him down. He is an arrogant young man, whose hand never leave his dirk. I release him. It's not a matter of feeling safe. No such feeling exists. I speak harshly. “We trust those we may … she cannot not keep her knees together, but her head still resides upon her neck. Her fortune and ours move together.” Did the child expect she would be given a parade by those she deceives?
“And if she has betrayed us?” His fingers make the snakes forked tongue. I say, “perhaps the young repel her, and she needs them to be sacrificed. A boys manhood won't even break the crack in her ass! Perhaps if she carves your teeth away from your gums and burns them to Astarte then she will remain faithful. ” Gamma goes silent.
I shiver and think that I have no special knowledge. Not reckoning idlers or men-on-foot who may fall uncared to a vipers fangs, four other groups of travelers wait with us for this caravan. Green-eyed high mountain sheep-herds whose horned Ovis fetch a queens ransom. Cold they live, so they must trade upon winters onset. Two woman slaves travel with them, but silver ear-hoops, sharp quick tongues and gleaming curved loin-blades sketch narrow limits to that slavery. The Carians fuck and shit and piss and stink in their boiled leather armor. Our’s a prideful beat-hard packet, a full nine man squad mustered out with their Sargent from Ur or Babylon after their six year service. Likely they return to Kos, and perhaps easy service about the Autarches. Not so the five wild-eye golden-hair Gauls. They stalk about our stable, inside and out while ignoring the shave-headed Pic woman they claim to escort. Escort where? She is a thousand leagues from her stone circles, drinks boiled water and wears no great girdle; instead a slaves iron mesh circles her waist, but the lock hangs open and the wire studded with pearls. Her loincloth is Persian lambs-wool.
Through the smoke she has watched the sleepy mage. “She favors the boy not his master,” whispers Artyphon.
“I think she could sell herself twice over for the price of those Gauls … or will she offer to me … “ I smile and Artyphon digs her dagger-hilt into my bandaged side. It's a small amusement. Our eyes meet, and her face creases smugly, jerking away from mine.
Common? Too dark skinned? My nose stops short of small and my chin square; it's a Minoan face far removed from the terror-inspiring square jaws of Mars so prized in Phonetician lands. Among the western islanders my face is common as sour wine, green peaches and flat bread. Dreams are easy, a small thing for most to find themselves alone .. together … and see to bending her ass over a wooden rail. Few women judge me beside Apollo … or Bacchus. A free man would think little of such quick pleasure.
I fumble at Artyphones breast, but she pulls away. “I will see to it.”
Blood conflict I must avoid and edge up, sitting, waiting to dash between them. In a kings palace poin’s the message, while I have buried more than one pair of dagger-exchanged female skeletons on the traders long march. What now? The Pict bitch greets her with two steaming silver cups - - that and a jade hashpipe. A woven wool rug, blue at the fringe and red in a central box falls around them offside the fire. They settle into a dim corner, where the fireplace stone edge steams at a water-drop and straw muffles every word. Do I detect the girlish giggles women at repose become famous?
Time stretches and I’m asleep. “They are ours,” snips Artyphon sliding between sheepskins and baring nipples and sex against my back.