“We of the Belisama,” pipes Kalikratus. The Master, his lady Artyphon and her woman for three. Three more in myself, Mykron and Elisedd making six and a rude seventh in ever-evading NaziBu. ” A hand-ax whistles by Kalikratus head, to bury shank-deep in a palm trunk.
“Yer won’t evade that a 2nd time,” grumbles NaziBu. Then count the boykins Delta and Gamma to nine. And finally two stiff-necked Syrian traders I would stand-the-line with. Those nameless two would have bowed, but they are out scouting our flanks. It’s busy for a wilderness. Stout villas … and their grain-fields scatter north and south in a gentle curve. Copper sheathed stella glow from surrounding; local ritual cares for them.
Thus I send my Syrians. They return in a quizical bearing. “Egyptian Sar, I believe the scribing. And some graffiti, the bases well found in black concrete -- volcanic – but likes of grain and smoothness I’ve never seen. If not the Ra-rangers then who came before them?”
Ra-rangers … it catches me almost silly. That question of first I might answer, but not to distraction. We must forge connection with our Belisama crew and so move on the village. Shambling clay-brick fortifications mark the streets edges, of what must have been inner and out walls of bastions vast and thorny while the kilns boil smoke from the actual village edges.
I pull down my leather cap, against the warm wind Mesembria blows from Our Sea, and think on this disruption of easy physical intuition. “Old may not remain friendly.”
Artyphon distracted. “We may yet have baskets of snakes and spear-thrusting worms.” I laugh thinking this a most unusual advise.
Gamma and Delta, scouting westward return along the roadway; I had sent them to the village edge to search for ambush while passing out small silver mirrors and almond-dates to mark us as peaceful traders. “They don’t get many from land-side,” reports Gamma. “Might detail short, yet adamant they were about Syrian raiders, and armed to prove it!”
A wastrel village without exchange cannot keep its woman! “Where do they trade?”
“Two exports they have … pottery and copper … the rest they make do with near fishing villages. The rare Egyptian or Tyrian coastal buss that puts in gets the export. ”
“Are we welcome?”
“Far as we could see in the city. Gates open, ladies walk free with their women and without a brazen eye.” Delta laughs. “No stork or flamingo decked hats; people dress workmanlike without poverty and dim without dark. Like a pig in shit, Cibias. If we crap we eat and the village might join our fare.”
“Move out then,” I order the van. A misty fog hangs low, slicking the smooth stone roadway. “Show not a grimace or frown to the village.” Winters day shrinks toward the solstice, so make all speed.”
Wide-eye farm brats pester us for a league; we shower them with almonds. A well-maintained, continuous inner city wall becomes clear. Then a basket carrying young women steps briskly from a pastel villa beside the road. Half-veil cannot hide smiling lips. Her tunic and chiton sway gently, and the fine Sardis silk appears to a mans eye transparent.
“What does Cybelle gift us here, sweet Artyphon?”
My beloved; seer! She has been chewing sour rye since midnight. Her eyes fill with liquid terror flowing over red cheeks. “Niflheim, where Nidhogg maw chews till eternity.”
“Have something ready, will you NaziBu,” I grunt.
This new, strange erotic woman comes for’ard. Our two women mean to approach, but I block with my horse and jump down taking a place directly in her path. “Tis a fine weave you display, but what trade do you offer from within?”
“Will ye bend me over this basket and taste trade I intend as yours?”
“Will ye taste this Hyrkon electrum in trade unbending yours!”
“Your life, dear Cibias,” she hisses from twenty paces, “ and flipping the basket cover heaves a writhing mass of snakes striking out from the open top. Swift! Basket, snakes and the screaming devil-women fill the air before my eyes. NaziBus bristling fire-arrow singes my cheek as I dive aside for my life.
Cobras, sand-asps and rock-vipers … Shakti tongue splits snake-like, ears seem to sharpen in witches curl and yellow webs of scale meld her toes and her hands each sport six fingers not five. The heat-seeking vipers all strike at NaziBu arrow and the two that follow, while the first takes cursing witch spittle between chin and eyes, clogs her mouth and breaks through her spine as a bronze shaft-point. Belisama boyos have thrust down the horror, yet life gone her voice finds the last words. “Ye gave not Astarte her due, fuckless thiever of life. Melquart damns ye!”
Roll up that eternal curse if ye may, long-strider of rivers and oceans. I have hit dirt at my shoulder, while the dead witch cursed me, I roll twice and come up slicing headless the one asp whose bite caught the robe at my neck, but no further. Tossing the robe to a fire I grasp about. Some snakes have left the cobbles, while my boyos have cut another five to gull-scrapes. Devil-womans body furiously burns.
I call out, “Artyphon. What prophecy next? More or less brazen!” She will not speak. “Do we fail of heart at the threshold,” I call out,” or do we seek our own?” Crow-feathers show from all crewmen. Beta and Gamma chant fierce for the thrust. “Can we not find our way back home?”
Dianna minds me by a hundred colored, jagged shards. Clear as Amphipylus winter mornings when the gods mountain shines silver throwing cold rainbows across emerald waters. WE find not Cybelle, and a way of OURS not Dianna and MENS home not weeping Persephone. Did Mary-of-Genoa ply geography, but slyly speak of this westerning? Does she release colors from my head so swiftly? I shake clear eyes at a world of violence.
Men follow my eyes. “Lead us Sar,” cries rough Mykron awkward a’horse. Conflicted, for a commander cannot win by losing his entire van. Yet one attack has never stopped the Belisamas hull, and what enemy do we see in Syrian devils? I motion and our van continues toward the village. But, young children have vanished. We talk wildly, about the attack till fifty paces for’ard a dwarf-man wriggles from beneath a gardens well, sniffs the air swinging a flag-draped bronze trident , and starts a slithering lope down the street toward us.
“See no evil, but feel my pain,” he drools into the misty air. Hemp belly-robed, scale cover his eye-slits and if he has two-feet on the cobbles then one leg pushes up the roadway behind him. “Ho brave Cibias, wander of oceans, slayer of assassins and general big-dick fuck of the nations join here to your slaughter!” Scares dry piss out of my bones.
Artyphon triumphs! “Threats fair master … every Kali has one.”
Elisedds heavy ash boarding-pike comes into my right hand, and two mailed gloves. Kali, I think. No local daemon to battle entering this wretched village. Wonder if the villagers, having abused their own gods mercy saves them up for the imprudent visitor? Feeding the pet leopard, this hoax as some Sythian tribes attend gaily. Trident splines thrust for’ard , fish-like mouth quivering the beast both arms raised and leather-helmed comes roaring onward. Worm or scorpion, dwarf or werman? A monster, I receive yet fearing for his head.
“Shouting the paeon to dark Yaga the creature hunches for’ard. “Three for one, brave Cibias, my trident tips find gore in your mouth, your heart and your manhood. So will if slaughter your flesh!” Steps away, his hideous leper-sores slime gore.
“Where are your legs, brave warrior, and where your eyes?”
“Kali took them, as purchase price for your life.” And leaping snake-like the creature assaults his grunt bellowed and trident thrust from below into my vision. Most men would be spitted, as I would, but for Artyphon chanting the paeon and running up my back so engaging four hands and two bodies in the trust of my steeled boarding pike.
“Mercury abounds,” we cry. Well aimed metal shocks against metal. Each weapon has found the others center, as a battle between crocodile and river-horse I had witnessed on the southern Nile. Jaws to teeth, rip and snap, roar and bellow.
“Drive dear warrior!” Steel of the boarding pike crumples bronze trident forks, steel forces the trident shaft backward, gouging the creatures belly. Steel shaft and point and hook punch through the creatures heart in fountains of yellow blood. Steel rips the creatures tail from the cobblestone, thrusting it steaming gore up and back and over bouncing rearward like a sows-belly full of trout, starlings and mutton split open before a hungry mob.
Yet not fully dead, this creature, for it writhes as a pitted scorpion and opens one scaly eye while the mouth laughs and laughs spewing acid till a gush of blood closes the shade. I flip a siver coin into the creatures maw. “Wasted on this fellow, Artyphon, for Ceberus fangs dare not touch the corrupted flesh!” Though we fire the body with pine-pitch, flesh burns poorly and gulls will feast ….
Still grasping the pike we return to our circle of comrades. They strip us naked and in leather tent-skin scrub us red with wine and burning, poisonous root ferment a Syrian archer had stowed in his camel-bags. So close had we contacted a leper our lives were the only option. Scrub they will with un-natural glee! When nones eye can resolve a patch of unmarked skin we are released.