“All agree then, we have seen monsters of a city, not a city of monsters.”AYEsay the voices to continue, but we travel armed and mailed.
Shadows from the palm and fig trees lengthen. Our van for’ards to a courtyard just before a iron-bound wooden gate. It opens and a triple of village elders squeeze through. “We expected you sooner, after your scouts passed through this morning.” This first turbaned elder sports a grey-beard and hooked left arm of a a corsair or pirate who lost at least one swords-match.
“Your village gates were then open.”
“Horae passes her wisdom.” His mouth works furiously for words. “Still, our village is pleasured for your trade.”
So, they have sent us three lawyers! “Not so the shrieking devil-woman.”
“Most do not see her,” rumbles an older bald-head schemer, hooked nose and veined cheeks overseeing a full mouth of teeth. “How did you awaken her?”
“Perhaps, when we examined the stella.”
“Indeed such might disturb her greatly … and her brother!”
“Obsessed with the stella, and who built them. So also with his disfigure even the old whores won’t tolerate. He kills maliciously all that call him such.”
“But, no longer.”
“You killed both,” asks the 3rd younger bearded villager? His long face , quiet diffidence and waitful eyes assigns him as leader. “For years they have plagued our overland trade.” Quiet then ...”did you retain his trident?”
“Melted down, I expect with his body. We burned everything!”
The long face holds secrets as well as quiet. Finally he nods. “Welcome toUu#@U#uand the city gates are opened before us.
For a city name, the ancient Minoan number near strikes me down. Tis a large number which makes this village later on the list of Minoan traders … or settlers as a palace disfavored family might venture. Now we return, and the source of the stella becomes clear. I had not ventured myself, but with time I will find some dulled with age and try reading them. While contact with the Belisama is remade; fish stew requires both head and tail.
As a trader I don't mind. People live here and allow us to live beside them. It's a pastel dash of mud and limestone wall that doesn't quite surround cedar roofed shacks ... Kalicrates and Elisedd wish to dash off. There is the village well and square and square colored village icon which speaks of a desert Aramaic tribe that rode west, but no farther. I kill nobody, order no slaughter, and leave young village men to their girls. When we arrive there is a moment of joy, while Aphrodites paean is sung round. Villagers are wary and stiff, happy in a way considering themselves unobserved the same as being unruled. Nykodemos wisely set no guards to spy and had left them alone. Above the dune-line there are sorry plots of barley and wheat and peas that simply could not feed everyone.
“There's no real harbor,” Cap’N Elissed comes to report. We may catch in a tuna buss close enough to sale up to Cufamabo. And join our Belisama mates.”
A short skiff ride tells the tale. A sand-spit is all that's remains of its western-most lay, dunes all but covering the limestone reef. Two crumbled moles lead out to a rotted pier. At Syracuse you would not spit in that brackish puddle, but at the edge of Syrian foulness four-hulls depth of water has made Nykodemos smile. Blunt-faced Belisama will sail for us coupling Notus broad shoulder to the yards, rugged they of split ash and yew bending to the billow of waxed hemp sheets. Or we shall drive the village sardine buss into that south wind tack and run, tack and slither by damned Poseidons belly we shall crawl as sea-snakes to a beached Belisama.
Sleep of the walking dead buries us the first night for hopeless we were, living on hashish dreams while our breath faltered sand-soaked. That’s how we lived not died eating the villages wet fish. Second day we take out 4 sculls searching shoals for the sunken ribs of freshly deceived traders. We find six in half a day and guarding against high-finned dogfish recover twenty ribs and keels not yet soaked of their tar. Three of the dogfish also return with us, tails roped to the mainmasts and their toothy heads cosseting a clutch of spears.
That evening and the next day we soak and grid pitch into the keels .. five of them of twenty paces or more … new posts for the villages new pier. Driving them into sullen sand will be a bitch most lazy fishermen don’t desire to swive. Yet they are impresses. Such a shock for them a pair of rosy village virgins they would have laid on our rude-built stone alter. But, we did not seek that blood, and our two women took them for their own, then granted them priestess rights over the youngling oxen and taught them the ax! Blood enough for one night. Oak ribs we split into a bundle fit for village carpenters and under a quiet blue sky all the following day pile the remains high above the wash line. Kilnmen brings bowls of powdered metal to sprinkle the oak promising shooting stars flying to the heavens.
A bleached-white coastal trader arrives before mid-day. She anchors deep and her crew skiffs quickly ashore, claiming they spent the last night hounded by a sea-peoples raider of immense hull and sails to blot-out the sky.
Not the sharpest hook in a cod, they take my questions. “Did the rovers try to board you.”
Gruffly, the most stupid. “No ye green-gilled pounce. We thrust out three pikes.”
“All of three, eh … then did they shoot at you?”
His son, proudly. “Poison darts, of the purple seashell. But we caught the tips and smashed them against the hull!”
Eight gold dinars, equivalent the rovers offered for ...for what and they were refused! “Brave work fellow, the bards will sing!”
They ask for protection, and for the right to drag their vessel upon the village beach and cover it with seaweed. For 1/4rd the cargo and kiln-goods trade village elders agree, not so much for the value - - Libyan irons pots it proves - - but for disbelief that a ship of any credit will assail their well-maintained village. Greedy I imagine … and hold my tongue. Optimistic cities draw Astartes ire. Fresh seaweed stinks. But, every welcome bed in town that held two now pleasing the whore holds three.
Next day , free from attack we gather in early evening. Village maidens slay their lowing ox with two strokes and the lyres, tambourines and flutes begin their revel. Poisonous Byblos tomatoes appear, such as condemned are forced to eat, but so soaked are they in sour ferment that poison dissolves among the green onions. Our spread of ships wood and sea-drift snaps among the turning roasts of meat and tubs of clams and shells. So the paean will linger while wine, flat-bread and flayed fat joints plays deep along our van and the villagers. Dancing and barding tails deep into the night.
Smile, done, end, finish … such a fire of salt-soaked ships-ribs thrusts a crackling, sparkling flame high into the night sky there is a moment when I grip Artyphon knees with hands like talons unable to release her till she has held my head … I don't know. Exhaustion lags only till our heads find a fat rug. I steal hasty dream-time on Artyphons lap, though afterward she claims hours . Before her shouts wake me.
“Belisama, Cap’N the Belisama torches burning two points off the setting moon.”