We top-fly the Egyptian flag of far-off Thebes while below it fix green pennants of a glass-blowers guild. Such ruse will fool a pelican poisoned by rotted red-spot octopus. A single silver-sail Carian warship awaits us … under the Trade Council rules … if only that one trader we pluck from the schools of killers. By now the entire Carian mercenary knows Belisama has destroyed a Carian warbeak, and for revenge any Carian Captain will ram his bronze nose into Belisama waist and go down sharing flames together into dogfish maw.
Yet even granting revenges blood lust few will risk our shallow route, but one ship I think should they remain otherwise unseen and to their sailors reason sufficient as with Carian elders, mages and warlords who negotiated the contract. Junos tit what a roll-of-the-bones. For when we exchanged sails in the port of Hereklytus we obtained more than gifts of traders, but also a boxed, wood-packed cargo of no great size from the heat-deviled southern Nile. Didykis birds say more, in code but to my crew I say less till silver speaks for the risk.
“Expect them at sunrise,” crusts a tillerman who needs to know. I do not.
“There!” Luffing all, but a jib-pair the slab-sided Carian wall-hull slides from a narrow, rocky pennisula. She comes out hard, bow-frame moaning and buntlines singing a deep thrum from their clews and belay-pins. A peaceful sea may have backed her into that pine-studded bolt-hole, but flocks of bitch-welded rollers pulled her out! Seeing the deckwash didn’t snatch your feet would break a shy man, worn masts or a rotted hull. Not this one - -/X/U&U/K\ - - Adonis in port Phonetician. It’s signal pole wears a Trade Council silk pendent, and making the point releases a swarm of fast rowed cutters. As Helios chariot falls into evening we wear away from the lee shore … and the cutters follow stroke for stroke, as their mother ship must bang ungraced and upwind into the main channel. She fades, but her spawn play devil and soon surround us with a score of long-hulled net-covered skiffs pulled up rocking and pitching from the swell by broad-shouldered oarsmen.
Belisama responds swift as a falcon; lines and tackle and cargo hoists find the wave-washed skiffs and our deck soon is filled by smoking iron pots of toasted sardines and slung-over wineskins before 25 armed men of the Belisama have hit our deck. No fools have come over our hull skatlings, but a mongrel wash of red, black and yellow hair and teeth and skin fitted to bones chipped from mastodons, cave bears, lions and monkeys. Foolish to arrive empty-handed , but rather lugging sardines and bread and ox-joints noone be flung back into the ocean. Jade opium pipes and black-tar hashish smooth the banging of shields.
Among the rush their leader a Kassite whose thick curly black hair has been woven through six-flanges of elephant tusk ivory … “and if my skull lacks the vigor of Ethiope darkmen then Syrian hatchet must still find its way to the weakness” … and hand-ax brandished he leaps upon me as a leopard leaps some moonstruck gazelle. We dance among the tillarmen, Agun the Kassite and me dodging the wheel-spikes as we once dodged the blades and spears of a rogue sea-people brigade on the salt-flats of Bardawill. Zeus-be-damned exposed puddle, which yet yielded skimmed sweet-oil on the night-surface of boiling brine pools. Arrows took our guides and scouts. Twas 20 to 2 when the sun-high melee started; short-swords of the Latins against our ironwood spears. Twilight saw four run off and we skinned a couple dead bodies to cover our own wounds.
We stand alone on the Belisamas packed deck with only Artyphon as witness. Top-gallents are reefed. Four men battle the tillar and every oarsman dashes his stick into the tempest. Though our deck heaves , five boxes size of mummy-cases had been raised from the Belisamas hold. “Green, ye swear Cibias, the glass green through its body and one side silvered.”
“I looked, but once and those colors I did see.”
“Others do no good, against the threat. He must keep them to the damnable south or ... or one will forever follow.”
“Then open one box!”
“Asher Dan has given no such permission; Breaking the wax seal could be our heads!”
“Artyphon, write us a document in code, to which I will affix my signet. Testing the trade reflects good faith, not a careless agent. Agun, what code type will the King most prefer?” I motion for rope-boys to heft torches.
“Ha! Music-born my friend. Some riddle of tones! King Asher Dan never travels without his flute, lyre and cymbals!” With that Agun dashes an iron tang into the sidelock. It cracks, pops open revealing a layer of silk and wool padding. He strips back a wad.
Artyphon hums a lesbian paean of lust. “There indeed, Agun is the silver coated side of the glass plates.” She reaches down with a silk-gloved hand and lifting with effort turns over the mirror-size glass plate. It’s thick as a Cerulian emerald. Torch-light blazes off the silver-side, but only a misty green glow penetrates; through the glass Agun and Artyphon and I can one-way perceive a green torch, reversed nothing!
“With such does Asher Dan conquer the desert?”
“Agun remains silent. “He says not a place, only dash chariots into a valley of unforgiving heat! Each chariot mounts a green glass plate silver-side facing out. men cry Mars battle paeon: spear, bow and hatchet thrusting yet every edge sanded hickory - - only wood must taste blood! Who remains a King without conquest?”
“Who remains with boxes on a pitching deck! Let’s hoist, get them aboard your skiffs as fortune travels one way quickly. ”
“Quickly, yes. My first-mates skill cannot keep our warcraft near.” Agun looks admiringly at the masts. “Ye canvas sail travel faster than the ships length will bare.”
“All see the same winds. Some blame the carpenters carving our bow to ride over not through the breaking swells. Simple trader I would not know ...”
Agun howls on a reef of hashish swirling his ears. “My arse shits gold if simple ye be friend Cibias. But, keep your secrets away from us Carians. We know vengeance not truth!”
Cold eyes, his, this man who has saved my life , a friend, and I take his meaning. “Surely sir,” I say as he makes for the hull-ladder, “not all the Pontis fish are as tender as the sardines.” I reach into the trade-bag Artyphon has brought and remove a seamans knife of elk-bone knapped grip and glittering Spanish steel. Doe-skin cases it. Agun draws the blade across his thumb and nods … they carry as well samples of our food and pottery-wares and a silver Scythian torque back to their sculls. The fishermen leave a bitumen torch that would burn for a week, an oak barrel of brined sardines and a sheeps-hide sketch fixing marks a new shoal.
Snaking over shields laced to our starboard bow … Agun shouts. “Perhaps we will see each-other before Troy. I am bound to Priam!” Nasty business that, Priam and shoals, wombs for scavengers north-east of our course, but now with the Carian warhull lost in mist and her skiffs backing off we lay angles farther still.
“Our King likes music.” Belisama lies near a league off-shore when Carians depart into the damped night-watch swells. Artyphon has wrapped about bare breasts a sealskin jacket neck to thigh no man might quickly untie. She hands me a papyrus script of eight musical chords. “This he will know.”
Pups work for old dog Faelons coding. I examine … and think of it. “When did you first know?”
“Dear Cibias you master my heart as from a dream, while a King masters lives. Love, battle, dawn ... and while my body lives in yours I dream.”
So Endymions curse sits upon me. I snarl. “Not our king, their king. Minos rules our mind and Hyrkon our hearts.”
“And a rider swift as dragonslayers?” Artyphon gazes into the lime-green swells. “Who has run beside fearless bowmen?” She melts into me , her foot opening the hatch leading below, to Belisamas cabin and our newly swung hammocks. “Have we time for sleep among such treacherous rocks?”
“Knocked senseless beside him, during the woods fight he ravaged not, what was his without struggle and knelt before me. Swore me to your service saying he had lost two and would not lose four!”
“His hands on you.”
“His eyes searing through me.”
“Swore you say?” What am I now, prowling Belisamas quarterdeck like a poppy-idled satrap? Which pretender might I mimic … a mime, a guest, a libertine. I take her face in my calloused hands as gently so. You race the moon my goddess and being human I can only wait."
Artyphon has leaned back, her haunch against our skiff and loosed two cords from her vest. Bared a tit, ripe arrogant and pointed and I willfully slap it, stinging a moan and flushed skin and nipple swollen hard from the bitch. “Have you place to escape among my treacherous lust?”
Days of it … the demands of shallow-water sailing …SAFANA, SAFANA WINE PLEASE … Artyphon and I mastering those shallow, rocky swells before Belisama throwing a proud bow-wave higher than three tall men crosses the Mytilene breakwater in time for the last mid-day roast of anchovies, almonds and sardines.