“At the villa.” Guarded, “She has just fed him poppy-wine and he has started beating her.”
“In the harum? Of-course.”
“Inside yes and locked away, but the villa courtyard is broad. Her women will provide hashish-soaked sweet-breads. She will give not one moan to Melquart till taking her own pleasure. Then she bolts. As master he will strip her fleeing; mimicking Dianna she runs through the courtyard and gate, to the lip of the bridge. Smooth yew barrels are fixed there so a woman body may be be shown in best form stretched and bound to the rims.
“So … your god provides visions. I see no amusement.”
“Some night sailor-boyo my moon-and-stars I will show you ...” and the lightest ripple of laughter floats from Artyphons lips.
An owl flies by. I say, “that is the death bitch come to await a soul. There will be no coin for that one.” I can imagine nothing , but failure; then I must cut Aanjans throat. Chills my bones and I shiver, that our purpose has finally come upon it. Looking about, lights in the signal-house burn common, but three of the watchmen bleed-out under them with their throats cut. The caravans tail lumbers west, while Melquarts picket leaving early has scattered into the roads and ridges of his valley; only wisp-light from their torches revels them.
We too could spread our forces, and fighting would begin as random sortes - - all surprise lost and the vans united power never used. We choose otherwise. In my head I can see the night-bannered gathering, and note Artyphon rides closer within the clenching fist. And from the hills various slopes we slip away north, the main into a gully and down toward the tree line. To here … a cobra strikes at a horses leg, and his rider spears the head. To here … southern picket it hides a crackling stream tuned to its shale banks and behind the night-wind we push along the rip-rap noise covering hoof-clicks and fine mist the white billowing vents of our horses which are drawn to the villa as if by a vacuum the entire quiet of it making time uncountable. Spare armour also slips along our line; both Artyphon and I wear corslets of boiled double-leather and wristlets of mail. NaziBus blindsight strings our our bows of layered ash and Auroch tendon; short and double-curved they find favor with Syrian cut-throats. The villa outlined in lanterns looms closer than a strongbow hasty arch. Symmetry of the baked clay walls is broken by rows of framed bowmens slots. Defending cliff attack - for reasons un-imagine. I know another column one-third our size has circled east, behind the lake. They bear four 4-man ballista that promise distraction to the rearward villa defenses.
Now, the keeps front door lays before us! Shadows cover the main gate. It’s 4-carts wide and offers the fearless opportunity. We nearly stampede into farm hay-wagons when our tree-line of fragrant red ceder runs into the cobbled road. If battle only required swinging brass and iron blades few would complain, but when the enemy must first be found …? Detail appears by the strongholds torches: our stream and tree-line join another completely circling Melquarts villa. Those streams round and bubble into the cliff-pool. Directly left, joining road to villa compound sits the bridge; above water waxed wood plank. Below, triangulated redwood web web fixed to a center stone arch.
Silent attack comes obscurely successful. But, the silence has ended our line perhaps 100 paces long breaks from cover exploding in a wild bezerker chaos from our thin tree-lined veil. To left and right ride one part, the third part follows me straight for the bridge Heavy wheeled wagons scatter before us while arrows pluck at their tops. Two broad-axle carts have crashed through orange and palms trees into the villas moat – horses scream as bellowing crocodiles set upon them. One oil-filled wagon has crashed into the guard-house producing a fireball that wheels upward to the stars and shoots a flaming stream thrust into the keep-safe moat. Flaming fire creates flares along the bridge and eddy fitfully toward the downstream pool.
“Twas meant for us,” screams a tatooed barefaced Pict bowmen whose arrows fly at every moving shadow.” Two light armed picket ride upon him shafting crossbows; two Carian iron-men at the Picts back deflect shafts and ride them down. The farce becomes clear; Melquarts picket cast a wide, slow-moving net after leaving the caravan allows our tight formation to destroy them in detail.
“Drive for’ard,” Cap’N urges NaziBu who deeply feels the winds moments and whose shield and spear protect my right side.
Just behind, two Trade Council archers have boxed Artyphon, who may now shoot directly over my head. Crazy thought … ‘did I please her till muscles strained last eve?’ Two of Melquarts guardsmen in Syrian mail leap to center bridge. Each bares a bronze hatchet and we gallop directly over them, smashing bones into the bridge planks. Some riders have just dismounted, while others call out moving about the gate. We have reached the bridges curved top. Arrows nick our horses and bawdy shouts surround us as the fighting thickens. I am off the horse, leaping around thick bridge-supports running alongside the row of torches atop the bridge. What can you see in the dark , but clutter and wants and what was true before , but not now? I am alone. Unseen guards are about; by side vision they are stick-men whose arms twitch up-and-down. Stiff-armed I have driven out the bows wood bending inside-outside which notches an arrow and knows nothing else, but to release on a target.
Bits of light stream from the villa making out the brick wall and grape-vines between which swings the now open main-gate! It's creaking, as three shadow-figures grapple which call to mind a man and a woman and a satyr; they bend upon its iron bars and the arrow is jealous of its power, but I may not release. I count on Melquart choosing to be first man through the gate.
Then a womans shout breaks through, as also at the gate a sudden bright glow floods from a signal lamp. It's a hole thrust into the dark, daylight clear shining and flashing. The whore has been stripped bare-breasted – she conspires thrusting up the lamp – and has entwined about a man, powerful bare-chest and close cropped ringlet hair whose black hand covers the woman neck in a consuming embrace. Yet not a peaceful lechery for beside those two prancing cloven hoofs dance and thrusting an ivory sheathed phallus more able than any natural man bears thrusts toward them while another arm shaggy and ropy, removed from a silver cuirass is seeking to pull it away that black hand which found wanton flesh and all the messages I have imaged scream now! The shock uncoils in the bow-wood and travels my arm. I have never understood how an arrow is thrown by a bow because it is the horse-hair string that throws yet my fingers release the string. It is myself that I launch and let fly.
I let the shock arrow release … and the penetrating arrow and though movement comes in front of me the bleeding-out arrow also releases flying flying flying toward the middle of that silver cuirass. Like the moon streaming cold light a white fat livid face sits in its beard above it. Shouts ! Yet all three iron points cleaving into the satyric figure now dancing the puppets dance with wooden shafts drilled deep into its chest now fountaining lifes blood.So justice be done for the murder of Hyrkons Syrian factorAsu.
NaziBus shield pushes high, catching a flight of death thudding as hailstones smash pine. Arms pull on my vest, and Artyphon hisses a womans breath “Live Cibias, live...!”
I look back. “Have I got him. Have I killed the right man? ” Those circling arms I shrug off.
It's two steps … a leap and another and I am over the bridge center-post racing toward the gateway. Blood spatters the living bodies that pull away and tumble into the dark. An archer shot-thru rises to a knee and thrusts his dirk … I may have a coin for his eye … I dodge and send an arrow through one ear and he must quiver shivering alone in death. Two planks have been ripped from the bridge-road and I jump that slow passage to Hades.
Now at the gate, breath pounding, below the oil-lamp the whore is driving a curved short-sword through the silver cuirass, tearing through the shredded metal with her blade. Alone. Her companion has run. A buzzing clips wool from my skull- cap. But, falling … my arrows have cut away his heart that fat faced puppet lives no longer and the shock of it moves me to be after all this time done … done... done … She looks up to me smiling a mad-womans wild smile. I slap a gold coin and black silk packet into the whores hand. Hoofs clatter and I am no longer alone.
“Live, Cibias live,” she hisses at me, sucking on my face forcing a tit into mine that for us gone a’ravaging no time remains then shouting whips me about.
From my left a clean-faced warrior tunnels from darkness; his bronze hatchet already swinging for my face it meets my bow exploding the grip, a shower of splinters yet the bronze head deflects. I bend away to one knee from the man reaching back for another strike that kills. Quick as a beardless child, in his first rush of battle, yet he is slow and late and dies with my dirk whirling , slicing, taking him in the throat. He cannot gurgle a scream -- I see his face screaming mother of heavens why have you done this to me .....? I reach his ax and raise it for another stroke one long deferred , but a just stroke for Hrykon enemies … but I must dive beneath the blade of a wolfs-headed horror, and rebounding reap the hatchet-blade across his legs. He goes down legless and screaming. I retch over the mans body time and again why why must he be no enemy of mine … a bee has removed a slice of flesh from my forearm.
Back back … I trip on the bridge-stones and fall; arms lever me drag on me, tear at my face up … back across the bridge sweet womans breath and the boys close to my own face. Flames explode behind as as if slingers have cracked the oil-pots. My god Delta and Gamma have seen everything. We are running to the horses. I did not need to kill him, the lone man ... branches reach down and arrows whistle above us snapping into thick ceder. Artyphon and I have not the breath to move, yet Gamma pushes from behind us , singing dark Yagas paean to good fortune.
He stops to fire his sling, and prays loudly for gifts only to the courageous. His song is a scream – it is blasphemy to the Goddess and I would vomit again had I the belly. No! Horses now, here, mocking us, my horse is rearing, showing his teeth the bastard wants to bite me. I make a fist of leather and slam the fearsome horse-face. He leaps, kicks out the bitch, I dodge gathering up into saddles legs askew, now strapped tight, we call to each-other bridle leathers between our teeth and arms wrapping each horses neck. We crash through the stream-side bushes and off into the dark. Up the hillside. Swiftly. Alone at the signal house, stinking of fear. Unlike a battle between ships, and I am grasping at emptiness. Land does not join warriors as does the sea, sucking them together both ships with her waves and pike follows bow, the hatchet swinging down behind the spear-point. It is so strange being alone after a fight.
“Three, master you put three arrows into the blaspheming Syrian. I saw the Aanjan bitch slash at his throat. Surely cold Charon will find no mercy for him and sink his corpse beneath the dark river.”
“The whore … did you leave her alive … master?”
“I gave her the black silk and a gold stator, so she will sleep and dream as Artemus on her journey across Stix.” Perhaps the stator is enough for both … a shudder from a trance.
“Penthesilea has the goddess favor. I saw her slash with a blade. Perhaps she ran … “
Artyphon nods. “Are we rejoining the caravan?” She tears cotton from her tunic to bind my wound. I read the orders given to me with the white silk. Lightening shows in the drought infested west where we will fly. We have dismounted and gone to the tethered Arabians; these three horses have awaited us … powerful stallions. We tip a wine bladder dry. I fondle packets inside the silk holding it up.
“Chew on this, but Zeus beard do not swallow.” They are breathless... I tear at the white silk and pass out small barley-cakes which they are not, or rather not only barley; they do not understand. I stuff the cake into my mouth and chew patently. I spit and spit again as my mouth looses feeling. Alpha tries; her faces reflect the meld of bitter foreign leaf and berries. “Chew damn you...”. Alpha and gamma curse me stuffing their face. We mount the Arabians and they paw the frozen turf with nervous energy.
Below us a line of horsemen has ridden out from the villa. Torchmen circling have split off marking their path and they are heading this way. I point west, toward the dark clouds smudging the vault of stars. “Fresh mounts are waiting at an Aanjar blacksmith.” I do not say we must ride around the caravan, as well we must and that Aanjar is still one day away and Byblos another two if we ride Pegasus strapping our legs about like Epona; constantly; and our horses do not fail or the travel will take two days for a minor demi-god. Enough to find us dead.
The line of riders has come to half-hill, circled again, filed by twos and swiftly come on. Twenty, perhaps. Forty. They will slaughter us if possible. I will not say that … or that we will ride death upon this following enemy and cannot say that the Belisama will wait for me at Byblos … since if one be caught … I cannot say they must not join with me at the ship for I do not know how to cut off my own hand. For one moment I think I shall grasp my sword and ride down to death, galloping into them below and allow my sword to feed its fill. Till spears put me down. Then .. then Delta and Gamma, they die also. That may be nothing to a landsman served by many and without heart, but a sailor … we must grasp our own ship. Do they understand? The leaf has chewed away my tiredness. And feeling a restless energy, and cold and dirt and frozen sweat biting deep I kick my mount along the westerly dirt trail , we four in a line I lead us, madly running for our lives.