I have joined Artyphon. “No need to hector your coinsack,” she shrills toward the hasty Carians. “Two more bowls of hot ale are not beyond your reach.” She has offered two as the for’ard edge dismounts and they shrug off their coats in appreciation. Cold as beserker rat-piss this moon-lit night. “But, the torches … they are peculiar no question.” And both of the Carians steel up in satisfaction.
The woman, crunching a fried date & almond candy. “Had trouble been our welcome, instead of hot ale those torches both would have fired skyward like shooting stars then exploded in red flame.” She licks her fingers. “About leopards, save the flock if not the watchdog.” And she feeds a date to each Carian from her own fingers. Others have come awake.
So matches Cybelle makes in subtle haste … Gamma stumbles through the door with sharp street-sounds tunneling at his heels. A dog yips and his mates catch the cry. Suddenly life springs to the stable. Armed scouts rattle into the court-yard and we rush out to meet them. Horses brush us away … curved blades first the pair of troopers throw themselves into every shadow. A clattering armed cavalry-troop follows, filling the stable yard with the clash of bronze swords, slap of raw leather, tunnels of white breath and frozen sweat and a whiff of horse-shit. Merchants camels follow.
A Captain sees to the scout and stern patrols, then shouts gathering spearmen. Defenders are mixed among the traders, between arms and armour, and among the nations who produce mercenaries. Ten and ten and 40 I estimate, besides the dozen core butchers: boiled-leather mailed bow & hatchet wielding Spartan, Hebrew and Carian ice-hearts.
Horses thrash … those men are around us, pushing and groping … frozen breath streaming white and swords sharp and ready as their words --- who are we --- till Melquarts whore the Aanjar hetaera Sikjamr swirls through to us her robe flying and Arabian mare prancing. She slides off her saddle onto my chest, pressing bare breasts and I don't really mind it. Wealthy or poor by blood and birth believes random before and after. A fool.
Men of the traders life less so … guards Captain has closed on us hawk-eyes and beaked nose a desert Semite full of no-nonsense. Shark-born imagined He, all senses against risk …. the whore between us I've bared one of her cheeks and the Captains hand has the other. Hard-ass cheeks – as the Ethiopian world goddess Tzyk. Though whisper soft you might whip her all night and not extract Venus first moan. Hand to hand --- I slip a bag of Egyptian gold into the Captains palm. The money, and one open hand against another … money changes hands as is said and that shares enough, the women swollen lips graced with two Hyrkon electrums being with us, the gold leaving us and we are released.
“Three with us here, and three more at the way-station. That is enough,” spits the Captain and moves away.
“And the whore?”
“She goes into battle beside me, a darter by family tradition. One breast already shows the beggars corruption so she has little to lose. “What do you think, Minoan this be a sunny Cretan temple fuck?”
Melquart so hated. I think numbers trend to our favor. Better men are enough and Minos has bought them. The better horses have been unsaddled and are being brushed down. Some gold has found its way among the men. Dice-rolls have sent two men to the whores. Those who stay will stand with their backs to me. Trust is money in Damascus. It is a relief I tell myself to be trusted without good reason, but then here in the caravans shadow every shadow is a threat. Soldiers find the fire, hot ale, dates and almonds and toasted bits of lamb.
We sit speaking trade Egyptian near the troopers who grunt at the owner a village Syrian, but take commands in Hittite. Their Sargent has cowed them, and they will not allow the two woman to drift. Iron eyes never look away. If we step toward shadows a trooper will step with us. Melquarts hetaera is known for fearless behavior, and reckless behavior; she has carried men off … other times other places. She tells us this. I believe it will cost a soldiers life to lose her now. Both women wear red-dyed silk layers under their woolen riding habits. I am not surprised; Alpha becomes the hetaeras lover … they have taken a stone bench and fondle constantly so that is easy to see. The solders do not care and she returns.
“Alpha simpers. “Respected master, diamond of my heart she wants to know if you can please her.”
“No I can't.”
Her return snaps. “She has heard stories about a Cibias; a sailor-boyo, a satyr and master of womans pleasure. She thinks you are the scandalous one. Grant her wish. Ride behind her on the same camel and you may have whatever you wish.”
“Not me. Should we die under the new moon , slaughtered dove you fly to the goddess as my wish and escape the cold dead river. ”
Artyphon was not born for such roses and she hums a burial chant of Sumer. “Can she have heard false? Or her my moaning?” Artyphon goads me as a shepherds staff a lamb. “That this satyr has ruthlessly spread virgins on the very Goddess Circle-of-Roses, so the razor thorns pricked the virgins innocent skin ... while his pleasure roamed unrestrained.“
That indeed was Artyphon and I declaring to Venus the vows she so cherishes. “Zeus beard what poet has she been talking to? Be damned if I'd waste good roses for her amusement! There's the troopers, of-course, but at anyrate I don't fuck in public.”
“You are not man enough to be seen in public?”
“I don't bend a woman in half for the pleasure of others.”
“Did you take pleasure from me last night,” Alpha whispers? “Most Assyrians would have.” Tested. Forever, I think a man measured out by his woman till her children can provide the test.
Yet I’ve stiffed-up and long for her. “Under Cybelles garland we bow, not Astartes stone arch!” Damme so like a woman to believe all goes well with a heart when all goes well at night. “I'm Minoan, so I served the Goddess and the woman I have sworn to.”
Gamma had never strayed, and now snickers, wiping spit from his mouth. Night becomes his classroom and we are his tutor. Then we are four. “And you serve your precious goddess just how … strapping her to a alter-stone no doubt,” Melquarts whore snaps. There is silence, then “if you're not Assyrian and surely not Phrygian why are you nut-colored?”
“That's pretty fecking-A far-seeing, to tell a mans color at night.”
“A man may not hide from me at night!” She pulled down the veil from her face showing a full red mouth. “You must see the night color of a mans eye, at one-hundred paces as when I approach, Melquart and his lover will appear together at the villa doorway. Melquarts eyes are blue.”
The whores green eyes sparkle dark mischief which is no favor to me. I say. “So I kill either you or Melquart.”
“When I'm close I'll throw my neck over his shoulder. ”He'll take more bare tit than you are willing to enjoy tonight, but you will have an opening. Let your arrow find his silver breast.”
Fecking chatter. “ Keep talking bitch talk and I might not care whose tit gets the arrow!” I muuer about a plain ceder table. Our plans - - catching all faces into mine - - I may lay out for our companions. “All companions,” I announce , “will proceed like this, or like another we must change fast … as we are fast to abide this path.”
Quiet sits upon on circle, with conspires new among the old. Two oil lamps hang from the rafters and an ivory hashpipe makes its rounds . I have brushed clean a large sand-circle, gathered a few rocks as markers and cut a willow to make paths. “Swear yourself to this companions! We ride without incident with caravan, next 2 days to the hill where upon sits Melquarts way-station. Men say it’s a sturdy keep. Two brick cairns hold signal lamps and household warriors, while a wood stable serves all Visitors. A stone tower overwatches so we must drug all look-outs. To our advantage strangers are anywhere and everywhere. There, our caravan overnights. Before the next morning Melquarts faithful retire downhill to his villa and stronghold, while the ox-drivers plow north with mule-train and merchants ware. But, earlier our raiders van slips away in-small to the hills west side, gathering horses while a scaling party assaults the brick wayfaire.”
“Both or just signals?”
“Break thru to the lanterns and send false codes. Surround the house knarls with archers … none will escape. Our false signals will confuse watchers at Melquarts villa and allow our raiders to dash far down into the gully, over-ride enemy horsemen and slash into vineyard and wall defenses before guards sense danger arising aware. ”
“Won’t Melquart hide in his caverns or storages?”
A skeptical ring of murmurs sweeps among us. No innocents this band. A gaunt Berber raises his bronze hand-ax. “So our success, friend Cibias depends on your one word?“
I’ve thought about it. “Twenty-five warriors lives he claims. Melquart’s a bloody-fisted bugger. He’s defeated attacks such as this before. Never bare-skined or far from his steeled blade, he’s Gaulish war-horse mounted and always leading his defenders from the front. Uses a bow at distance and a hatchet within arms reach. His troop has taken 400 heads and expects to double that number. Sacrifices three young disgraced females to Baal after every battle!”
“Should Cybelle prove her mercy, and we kill Melquart, how do we escape retribution? His officers can’t be fools and must have 50 mounted corsairs, with another 200 trained warriors at his estate; honor restored they will want revenge.”
“That’s where the caravan come in again, the caravan and Aanjar! Our van retreats following the caravan, after our raid and we come upon them as close as possible without fighting. They run hard, not knowing who trails and make fast for the walls of Aanjar. We break off our follow at the last possible moment, looping about a southern swamp while Melquarts troopers who have been hounding us come plowing right into the retreating stern of the caravan. Aanjar takes in the caravan, and drives back Melquarts riders. With nowhere to regroup and no possible support they can only retreat back to the stronghold.”
“Aanjar knows nothing of us, the caravanserai's are confused by our absence, thinking us destroyed. Mequarts men cannot imagine where we have disappeared.”
“A few of our people buy supplies in Aanjar after Helios sleeps. Then we ride for Cufamabo.”
“As all prudence diktates! The light will show you. The tit that shines! ” She laughs and her gray Arabian mare shies away. “So lusting over my willing ass you vision me Melquarts lover and a boiled leather tube down which your arrow may slither viper-like rheaming black blood from his heart!”