“Fucking with Cybelles promise will bring you no joy,” I blurt, for threatening a companion mates to exhaustion. All stop breathless . While village revel winds about us, the disembled Belisama boyos and two village spearmen sit around a brisk oil fire, fletching and singing wood spikes for the new pier timbers.
So he must hector. “Ye not get a suck like this every month,” and tosses a wad of black-tar hashish to Artyphon. She trembles … Elisedd and two young villagers had been standing watch on a purpose-built wooden tower we sank a legs depth into the end of the sandspit. Others stand picket beyond the walls, but keen-eye Elisedd has the highest, most westward vantage for an inbound vessel. “They have tricked the mizzen-yard some Zeus-forsaken way, curved like a bow but come Cibias, run with all your might and bring the torchmen!”
“May Zeus fuck Joves ass till even Mars would not have her!” Mayhem, as the lost grab flame and bags and short-sword. One oil-fired torch on the tower might catch Belisamas attention, but 15 torches follow me dashing behind Elisedd and his fleet-foot sandrat. Tis 200 paces to our tower. How the night sky gleam with Cassiopeia, Capella, Aldebaran and Saturn sparkling from the horizons wavelets and racing into our dark-washed western beach the ¾ moon.
Behind her dappled face swoons a full-sail kit of hull and oar. Bright jib and tight-belly mainsail appear common beside a large arc of linen, pinned at top to the mizzen-mast and pegged on either side to the stern ratline posts and the lower main-mast yard. Bow-wave washed right over sprint maple and the stern-trail shines in a florescent frenzy. Ghost vessel has already tacked west to slow then worn sharply awayho toward shore; this aligns keel and rudder with the two rope-caught torches we had placed and now fired on spliced ship-ribs bored into the offshore sand.
“Be that Cap’N Cibias and his harem of nekked darlings,” shouts a bronze voice-trumpet from the Belisama. Twas the thunder-voiced Rhodian Tsyrak no doubt. “Or has mistress Artyphon so bared the door that noone else may enter ha hahaha … !”
NaziBu answers. “He spun them around so they can barely walk. Tis all the horned men you greet.”
“Telekydess ...” I shout.”
Sails are being spliced to yards and shrouds guilded with fresh-knotted linen grit. “Aye, Captain, and Mercury speed to ye and yours - - we forever salute and sail honorably under your Council banner and command.” Cheers rise from both sand-spit and ship.
Again the voice-horn as the Belisama crawls between the torches, throwing it’s sounding rocks and anchoring at something over a hulls-depth. Teutor shouts. “That new northing holds ½-point closer true north than the old one destroyed. Brighter also the metal pointer. May Dianna of the Northern frost bury us all between her breasts!”
“But not another hand of hemp sail,” squires NaziBu.”
Tar plucks up his throaty chant. “Twas only seven leagues from Byblos to Cufamabo, and another seven to this codpit, but the shoals, Cap’N, no navigator may strike a line, but must weave into deep water to avoid the sand. That means tacking, for your coinpurse is the longest reach among the skeleton hulls if we weren’t ta be one! Belisama traveled three times the protractors distance to get here.”
An oarsmans tired wail. “Lucky we escaped, Sar and made way before the winter solstice. Cufamabo truly ranks as the gods cesspit! As it happens, we required two women and two Hoplites to smooth our exit; they sail with us now!”
Bite my lip. “Worthy additions to the crew no doubt. Have they so bent the mizzen-yard?”
“Aye Cap’N the one may try, she very much put-upon by a mans pleasure, but in truth we bent the Mizzen-sail to confound a coastal galley we sailed about in night mist. Tuna buss or Carian swamp-skimmer we could have run; instead we made for the best chance, a mongrel boat unfit equally for both tin-running and battle.”
“Yet she sails like a fish-hawk Faelon!”
“Cybelles mercy, Cap’N and the grounds of bitter Egyption brew. We mixed the hashish and coffee grind into a sheet and boiled it over-night. A Libyan galley had the spare yew pole and we bent and scrubbed it shiny in the brew. Such was our inspiration.” Pensive for a Hyrkon. “Yet jiffied into place Cibias on our landward reaches how she ran with the wind!”
Damme to Zeus beard an acting captain makes such judgments. Crew will justly vote him a second share while now … too much now happens between the torches wicking flames and the stars of Jove. I cry loudly. “Dianna will surely seek you Faelon, beneath the mossy chestnuts.”
Both crew and landers take up the wild paean, to that lusty virgin while Telekides paddles out to the darkling hull on a childs board-toy. He is greeted by torches, shouts of joy and a wine-bag size of an barley-pouch. “Sharks in these waters Cap’N?”
A captain does not cry for his crew. “Bait only for the fat and slow!”
“That counts us all, after the revels in Cufamabo!” Boyos hold the Belisama in good order, while a dozen men come over the side. “Cybelle grant us your patience, Cap’N and the precious Artyphon dear to our hearts.” Artyphon grips me tight, while sailors swim wildly to shore, despising the two fins that come to tail them!
A skiff flies to the Belisama and the arrow-shot bodies of two dead and two wounded remove to the village physician, witch and tanner. As the moon dives beneath our torchlit beach. Three coined bodies are burned the next evening as crew, ship and villagers make peace with a 1000 fears , Belisamas feed-chests newly packed are opened and poppied hash flavors the walled citizens. To have never lifted a war-hatchet in rage and to instead share a time of fortunate provision makes any leader appear clever and the people same in their new companions.
Yet the Belisama has come courting with a full cargo and wily crew, traders big and small eager for contest which I am loath to suppress. Hand-think hemp lines are brought from the Belisama bollocks to iron posts driven deep into the village pier. Our purser deals and supplies come aboard. Dried goat and sole and perch, boiled water, pistachios and rope and a slab of tin. Tin by Zeus beard a traders jewel where have they hidden that stream-bed, but we do not threaten them. Villager traders speak a mixed bag of coastal language: Hittite, Assyrian, Aramaic and port Egyptian that sounds like pigs fucking pharaohs ass. Even trade itself can become a language, shifting goods back and forth, higher and lower without words.
Two days sufficient from the Belisama crew and village carpenters to build out a respectable dock, complete with poured concrete moles and a robust watch-tower. Days pass in the whorl of commerce, and my reconnection to the Belisama crew. Do they trust me … will they trust me when swells wash over the quarterdeck and lightening dazzels the copper mast-wire? Nobody gets confused, the laws of ship-wright and trader are born so deep. For copper and masters purple-dyed pottery we exchange Cyprian piss-bronze, Syracuse iron and Gedes electrum and pewter, a lifetimes catch of metal and forms to a small fishing village.
Such novel exchanges please them. It's a sporting thing. We do not cheat them like the Egyptian traders, an elder mentions, roughly, as men do at unexpected justice so they will not burn our ship. Telemydon brashly trades our horses for three young village women, childless, who are neither virgins nor whores. They come fair, thin, short-haired, long-boned un-married and not-to-be married. Not to conservative fisherman families. Teutor insists on looking in one mouth … and she bites his neck like a Bulgar vampire for which she is widely cheered.
Like most sea-side village young they can catch, cook and dry fish, reef and clew sail , weave, splice and knot rope. They card and weave wool, linen , cotton and hemp and sport their own work as purple-dyed loincloths and tunics, and bleached girdles worn short and tight about their waists. They are all three brazen and accomplished and will be much caressed aboard the Belisama which currently sails only two women. I agree with a village elder they shall not be disfigured, or sold off the vessel and showing good service may later buy their freedom. Gamma will share sleeping space, till they can do better. The city sword-master prays we take his teen son, equally accomplished with a steel blade and ash oar for he knows skills father-taught , but not skills of the world. His fathers care obvious, Bazgay his name one of our ropeboys dances him a merry chase with club, staff and and wood-dirk; Baz suffers, but a cut ear and I take him gladly.
Next morning wakes spitting rain. Belisamas officers gather under a tent near pounding waves and say what is next.
“When the troubles came, and men fought from warf to desert, we drove off a mob of burning torches, ambushed and slaughtered a van of Hittite raiders and struck the temple. Amid flaming walls we ran with 650 stones of melted silver, gold and copper.”
“Melted … melted together?”
“The so-called Equalitites prayed equality to all metals, and while raping the villas women combined all their coins in an iron pot and burned it liquid. ‘A fuck is a luck, a coin is a loin” they chanted during the rapine. Twas those we slaughtered later coming against us over the stone bridge.”
No questions or mercy may I permit against the Demos. “Ceberus will rip them screaming, then toss those coinless into the dark river for Flesheater to mangle.”
“We were tipped, Cibias,” shouts a young black oarsman whose arm sports a yew splint. “Two hoplites brought the Diannas woman who would beguile sex. Their life for her body .. what were such Hittites thinking?”
“Not about their next lay, but the city committed suicide. What could anyone do.”
“Who has the woman now?”
“Artyphon has gathered all to herself - - some in rags and some Kosian silk - - and swears to use her own dirk to protect them! No Belisama crew would touch the hem on her tunic ...”
“And best for all of us, that affection. But, for the village shecat I should whip the Demos-pandering slut bloody-back,” I grunt, “when such a ripe-assed wench is identified as demanding, but mans one pleasure per day.”
“Ripe it is Cap’N, as I hauled her below decks. Famous in Cufamabo,” he jeers. “She prompted the women to revolt!”
“Eye Cap’N. Trade Council would no doubt approve the whipping.”
I think about it. “But, old men with shriven Richards do not run a long-striding trader as ours. Will word of whipping not pass before us as curse?”
“Hehe,” chuckles a Norse earsling, new to the top-gallants and short-sword. “Put her over the ropeboys as she must sleep along side them. See how she likes teaching the six how a mans bed is made. While washing their ass when the fevers come running.”
Laughter rolls like a wave, and pots of ale vanish. “Agreed!”
“Our next port, Cap’N Sar?”
A big, quick shift of style. “We sail to Valhalla, where woman outnumber the men.”
“Our own will have much to say,” snips a married forgemen with sail-along wife.
“A peaceful man speaks wisdom to his fellows,” I kant. “Home is our last mole, yet not forever. Let’s seek our best trades.”
A tillerman calls out. “I’ve sores from a landbed, Sar and miss the swinging hammock!”
“Then boyo let us race to the green mountains of wave and swell! Our last port is Hyrkon … where we declare the kings service and bend our knee.” Deafening silence, for all know the King will hold in judgment only one officer. A papyrus sheet I shake above my head. “We have a sworn Trade Council mark pointed to the Parthian Black Sea. Twas peace at issue as well as gold. Near 600 barrels of cherry-juice await transport to Gaulish Marsai, while goddess sing lewdly of the returning ferment. Not a knee remains closed!”
Hurrahs buzz even as murmurs rise. My rescue of Artyphon from her family vengeance has become fireside myth. A rough-face bildgeman jaws. “Not one ringlet on our mistress Artyphons head will the crew allow to be touched. There’s rebellion under those feelings.” Looking face-to-face I see rock! Her grace and potions have saved so many boyos lives.
“Sealskin from my own back I’ll sell, that she have a sable collar.” So I proclaim and most will count me silly. “At the cost of my own life , no harm will befall her. I swear by Cybelles womb!” The officers nod grudgingly. “Whether we return to Hyrkon before attempting Marsai depends on the trade-winds. They will order and we will obey.”
“And ‘tween here and the Pontis a man could sail his whole life!”
“True. We should make the best deal at likely ports-of-call. Before Parthia, I advise Rhodes and Lesbos, where our cargo full belly may be lightened.”
“Do we risk skulking arrows and food into Troy, enemies though they be? At war prices, every boyo would own a harem!”
Belisama sailors, traders all listen like owl for rabbit. “As Dianna allows,” I grant and the officers cheer for their own crews … while praying a gale washes us past!
I am on the quarterdeck, watching the sunset fad to a pink haze while plaiting a braid in Artyphons hair as sailors may do one to another. We have not a moment to lose. At the binnacle Hekateas and Teutor scrap over trends in wind direction. Artyphon murmurs I am bound to report in Hyrkonia which is south by west. The current Egyptian … wind from the south will curl us about the Eastern tip of Cyprus and I don't mind that. Should the wind back two points we will never leave the coast and we shall be subtle till a Damascus patrol runs over us and sends survivors to the copper mines.
Even worse if worse can be , sitting in this bay I fear hoards of Ammorite raiders spraying out from the southern hills like harpys and driving us off the quay, running us down in these shallows with thorn-bush nets. Very well. “On tomorrows bright day we launch for open blue water”, I prod driving my traders staff into the wet sand.
“We’re with ye Cibias … and eleven ravens feathers cover Alreks rough diamond now locked into the ash top. Even worse if worse can be , sitting in this bay I fear village elders seeing Hyrkons as Minoan ill-fortune bound to them by Moiras steel fingers. Who escapes ? Very well. A bamboo tube filled with coffee passes around. Now is the answer.
Later that day one wench arriving at the quay and seeing the proud Belisama sails mending boldly claims that no man can satisfy her, and she demands to inspect my crew. Inspect what about my fucking crew? But, I do not shout. Artyphon chides me; every prepared captain knows there are always last minute details and a man who craves the good will of his servants must not ignore those painful details. Well she should know how a temptress acts … I beg innocent confusion from her; unlike the Greeks and Phoenicians we Minoans have always considered it good luck to sail with daughters of Cliodna. Artyphon and I sleep aboard ship that night. The guard is doubles youthful lummox. Loves comes swiftly beneath Artphons tunic and pinning her hands a demanding heat rises; I must bind her mouth not to make public comedy of her flesh.
Helios rises over Hermes. A good auspis. A jar of Parthian ferment is passed to the village elders. Boyos remaining in the village, with whores, lovers or fresh grapes have long drunk their hot ale and packed their seabags. Aktes hour approached … always one of good fortune for a launch. Khronos twitches his wind as Eurus rises and falls. A jar of Parthian ferment is passed to the village maids and two sailors quickly disappear , but not their paean into stray napping. One had been a virgin when we drug them out.
Does any adventurous woman ever lack under the Minoan hand? I think not. Hussy is not a Cretan word. Many volunteers come for'ard among the oarsmen to row the womans launch. So all three and their personals and contraband fly from village quay to the Belisama in a boil of bent yew-wood and cries of good fortune from villagers. Every Belisama mastman feels optimism grow. I have gone ashore, to share a last pipe of hashish with the elders and ride with two archers for a copper stella they believe of ancient birth.
Dismounting beside the desert rock I can see nothing. Then an archer sends a broad-shaft bolt into a tall nest of stinging ants. Two flaming wax balls of flower-stem follow. The nest crumbles, the ants not yet dead flee and beneath sits a greenish copper stella. I close, chip mud with my lance and the writing sharpens … not writing at all, as I have been taught , but the hieroglyph etchings that proceeded writing we now recognize, Egyptian pictographs.
“A treasure we have found, boyos. Come close for histories voice.”
“We hear no voice, Cibias.”
“Then allow your mind to speak!” How obscure the curves and valiant the slotted script. As a right-hand curls, from top to bottom so runs the etched tale. Men venture sea-carried into the cold desert wastes. None greet them. The stella promise human companions. I can make out two dates, one of delivery and one of payment. The months are midsummer, transport north and the year … 13,000 summers before our own. Men before the Bogge as my teutor threatened? I shake cold-handed on my desert stallion; the year cannot be correct and yet who then rode these desert wastes worth accepting a lie?
There are moments where anything might happen … the youths become nervous so far from their walls. A signal flares from the village and we intend no pleasure to any intruders. “Map this place,” I call to the scribe, and his wax tablet serves well. Then we put quirts to our stallions flanks. A dust cloud rises behind us as we reach city walls. “Remove the tablet to you priests library and let them seek for a map among the etchings.”
After brushing my loaned horse I seek out an elders modest 2-story hut. Bowing to the city gods I pay a birthing fee of six Hyrkon electrum to four families as their daughters had rejected no sailors promise or offer. Returning to the Belisama Artyphon agrees to stand-the-tiller beside me and meows womans fantasy to my willing ears. “I read an old stella.”
“Old master? Did you exhaust yourself,” she purrs?”
“Ice-wall moraines covered this beach when the stella was set.”
“Pebbles will indeed warm a young mans sling, if not his soul.”
She toys with my history, but will remember every word some sleet-blown night and expect me to reproduce the vision. “And you advise?”
“How the young fall together, both lusty in their desire for joining. Listen to what the crew thinks of my female charges!”
“Not my crew,” whistles between my lips, responding to some outrage and Artyphon laughs while she grazes woes of womenless men.
I remain on the quarterdeck, watching the sunset and plaiting a braid in Artyphons hair as sailors may do one to another. We have not a moment to lose. At the binnacle Hekateas and Teutor scrap over trends in wind direction. Artyphon murmurs I am bound to report in Hyrkonia which is south by west. The current Egyptian … wind from the south will curl us about the Eastern tip of Cyprus and I don't mind that. Should the wind back two points we will never leave the coast and we shall be subtle till a Damascus patrol runs over us and sends survivors to the copper mines.
Telemydons men crawl thick on the main-yard where the off-shore wind whistles keenly; there is the stink to it of open sea. The anchor has been raised from the bottom, and the last skiff with the last wine jugs approaches a hull balanced one sheet by another. “To the oars,” shouts Elisedd and eighty boyos snak oarlocks into bronze fittings and wait for the drum. “Now,” Elisedd shouts and a one-armed Gaulish warrior starts pounding the paean and men take up his note.
NaziBu sacrifices the morning dove, his flaming arrow breaking its back as we break through the 2nd surf line. Oil-lamps shine fore and aft. Backs bend to the oars. Deck-men have set tackle, bowsed the lines and are ready to clew sheets about. Elisedd roars at the drummer of strokes … Drubyas turn-bull clicks the anchor rope tight and lifting through the hawse …. and with the Egyptian Eurus bellying our straked linen mainsail canvas, and mizzen reefed tight fore and aft we bid peace to the landsmen. Their calls of good fortune whisper behind us.
Artyphon, crawled inside my sealskin windbreak strikes the odd word cyphering an early well distributed Assyrian to replace. Pleased she is I as husband will demand dower confronting Japhe and her family. Her flesh burns into mine as her pulled glass pen flits the thin berry-ferment charcoal lines. Or I think the odd scribe can translate. Our ocelot screams from a yard at a slow gull while ripping apart its wing. Oarsmen chant and thunder, lines strain at their pulleys, a hemp foresail shrieks and mastmen curse their slippery yards as we claw off the lee shore setting our bow north before Arctus dimly seen along the Belisamas deck announcing the fall of night.
Hidden by Nyx, our banner of dolphin, snake and bull stretches beyond the stern gathering bits of the stream-glow. Thus oh honored Cybelle three leagues off the Syrian coast I sign, date and blot the rust-stroked Belisama log, on the 21st day of the Phonici month of Epiphi nei Necysos one month before winter solstice, 412 years after Hephastus flaming rock bloodied our Minoan hearts, 22 years since the birth of Minos oldest son Didikas and 21 days since I recovered Hykron honor in the blood of assassin Melquart.