“You think poorly of them,” pouts Artyphon scanning the rich chaotic harbor. “Had I caught you sooner you would know more!” A pair of horns one tin another brass announce our entry, but shortly blare again as an oak-mast cruel-hulled pirate galley swims in behind, mainsail torn and shaking water from yew oarcups and blood from her scuppers. Artyphon observes, “even the pirates will find a hot water-tub!”
Their black-eyed lookouts pepper the mast drooling over Belisamas clean frame. NaziBu frames an arrow, but I reserve, saving one pirates twisted soul. Misguided, yes I think! To Artyphon. “Miser is not a popular Minoan word, but … enough abundance to make it vanish, did time not ferment the brew of Carian, Minoan, Phonicii, Greek, Egyptian Hebrew and Pontian?”
“On the same or different couches?”
“Sly Artyphon, my diamond star, tooth and claw they cleave … and then cling to eachother. Bloody!” How like a loving couple I think and Artyphon mindreading razors her glistening emerald eyes upon my neck.
Better I think to play fool to your woman brave sailor than clasp a cold log after moonrise. “If bitter works better, then we all would drink only Egyptian barley wine.”
An audience gathers for our exchange. “Better oysters and boiled barley-wine than toasted pigs ears.” snarks Faelon. He shakes a headband at the motley lay of wooden hulls cluttering the Mitylene moles and docks. “To whom shall we declare peace Cap’N? To Carthage whom we hate or Egypt whom we despise or the Latins whose hull-planks take aim for Belisamas waist?”
“Except the hulls they pillage,” grunts Mykron. “Look, the fighting top on that Messenian be rotted nearly to sticks. The first ballista-strike and ...”
“Work among them, boyos,” as the oarsmen and mizzen yardsmen see to without a snapping rope. “Pray, my friend that ballista shaft be not ours, for no coin is returned by those attacked!”
“Weasel-shit!” Mykron spits a wad of poppy-gum and passes a Chian wineskin. “Gods of war a hundred ships … torches lit …”
This harbor springs at a watchers vision, promising threat! Two oddly shaped anchovie buses from the black Sea eastern swamps wear battens sewed directly into the linen sail-cloth. Telemydon, master of light wind points to them. “Awkward you might think Sar, but they turn on a mustard-seed by hemp winch-driven races folding each wand separate from a foredeck postern.”
“Quick jury rig for an unmasted hull,” pipes Tar-of-Avelon practiced by sail among the Green Islands.
I nod. Opposite minded, two wallowing vessels are the huge Egyptian rafts. But, most hulls are curved bow and stern into the blue-water Egyptian mode, or Rhodian racers. Call therm racers for these are blockade-runners meant for Troy. Yet apart full twenty display Greek bi-deck oars and war-pennants; a sea-wagering thrust into Mitylenes trade-neutral harbor. Such craft sport metal-helmed guards and lay at anchor under picket by fire-arrow shooting archers.
I feel the Belisama roll through its steadying plane of oar-cups. “Fat boyos we have become, yes, and we must all get thinner before leaving Lesbos.” Kicks a right-thinking sailors balls, how thick enemies past and present lay to our own hull. Rowed skiffs boil the water , city shields raised each carrying no fewer than 5 helmed hoplites; not good for defense of the Belisama. I speculate. “How many steel shoulders beyond five will we need plating a single guards back? Ajax, Diomedes, Achilles, Tydides, Odysseus …”
Surveying Rusa grunts. “ Greeks have a whole choir of those thick-skinned hero brutes who would raise arrogant Hades and trod under-foot any free-form defense.”
“What do you plan,” I ask Elisedd, master of the long blades and boarding pikes used to repel assault.
“You really have to keep your shield-wall intact, Cibia, no matter how the crew whines. Throw hooked-nets ahead to scratch eyeballs and keep spear-points prodded out to rip off their balls. Expect a gold-torque warrior first up-the-stern - - he’d be your man to meet Sar - - like a lion ripping goats asshole, but following close on randomly moving skiffs array, and dash against our stern in any frisky maneuver.”
Show the sword before it’s needed, he means. “Idlers to the rail,” I call out. My shout sends men racing across the ropes to do it now. “We must see our Hyrkon agent SanJan, for Priam squeezes our trade through the Pontis. SanJan had daily contact with traders and scouts ; his knowledge needs to be ours no matter what time is required. I’ll pick a van ; while we dash for the bankers neighborhood Belisamas chief officer must imagine, chose and execute a distracting display.”
Helios mounted Nymphe as cock upon a hen, while harbor winds swirled; Zephyrus brought the hills taste of sage; we came into the wind and started the anchors near two broad-shouldered brass-beaked Carians at a place in the bay where the old city of cut volcanic melt ran straight up the hills before us. A flock of sail hovered before them; fifty … seventy-five …. every trading council, every brass-coined baron had a ship in the game. Red-beard galleys from the northern Baltic were lashed at dragon-bows to a 40-hand pine-stake flaming pitch above bronze feet driven deep into Lesbos marl. Three fifty-oar war-galleys and a fat-belly Egyptian trader carry the Argoes water-snake pennant. Closer to shore, X-pines had been fixed to the bottom and five shaved-head Egyptian priests crucified upon bled-out over wood into the bay; I cannot make their vessels, but Carthage was here.
Square block after square block houses crept for'ard, becoming older and more worn the closer water approached. First explorers … and I did not doubt that Mytilene had them … the pathfinders for us all must have been frogs! I wanted a front view also. The kings keep hung over the waterfronts northern edge. A deep thrummm of drums covers the harbor. I see men at the battlements, and mercenary banners , but the king? Houses crowded down to the waterfront angling together like seats at the amphitheater. Cut gray-stone building squared-up at random … they had walls and carried stories above the ground; only wealthy traders could afford them. From one of them a nervous trading factor had been watching for us.
Sure of it. A peregrine arrives from SanJar. What may be covered, all tis evil. Heliographs flash over city walls. We exchange mirror-codes ; a cutter launches, carrying Artyphon, myself and an Egyptian mastman Ahrah quick with a goose-quill. A high-priests son, he knocked-up the Pharaohs niece and so was made a slave oarsman, before we bought him. Free now and ruthless with the charioteers heavy bow. We reach the quay before the Belisama anchors settles into mud. I know the Mytilene factors - - whores bastards. First fruits of villainy encourages some sort of competition among them for us as for pearls, chipped or grayed while their traders blood runs cold as the Strymon.
Mitylenes council room smells of rotted redwood flooring and fresh olive. A hetmans table has not been waxed. Factors provide watered local wine fit for slaves and dried out almonds. No lamb has been toasted. Cheap bastards. “Our electrum they desire, Sir so they will spit perfume on us to get it,” opinions the very proper Egyptian. He and Artyphon confound the Mitylene factors with their own law-tablets. Each word means exactly what is written, two words four and three, eight!
“You may stay ten days.”
“And if Mitylene merchants make money on the eleventh …?” I have passed a sample of cherry ferment and noone may ignore it.
“Then leave us a person to secure your good behavior on Lesbos.”
“I will, Sar,” flashes the Egyptian, because I think he had sighted two of the Mitylene officials daughters spying our visit and thought them easy game. “Room and toilet and guide to the towns better sights I beg of my holders.”
“Done,” says the chief satrap. Then turns to me. “We see the following business.” Tricks aside they say their piece, I agree to favorable terms based on future trades , prove my bond, cleave wet cement, mark up papyrus scrolls and return us to the boat while the Mitylene girls have already found Ahrah.
“He will make a superior satrap of Mitylene,” observes Artyphon watching behind us with her glass. “Each of his hands is taken by a different girl and a third massages his neck.” Love thus rules as we return to our launch. And what are children, but more trade? Such wisdom does the Trade Council bring.
Before states joined to insure trade any spot in a harbor must be fought for, and any trade at the expense of a burning luger and eviscerated sailors. No more may Cybelle be blessed. Harbor transports arrive first; our trade goods are immediately removed to warehouses along the quay. Zeus will protects it! Touching that trade would foreclose exchanges from all Council members, and call down an immediate declaration of war; all classes of ports from barbarian cannibal to corrupted priesthood respond … so at the cost of extermination villany simply is not practiced … as we had taught the Hericlytus Egyptians.
Returned to the Belisama. “It's fecking-A old Captain”, NaziBu heckles cringing his nose. “It stinks.” It's dirty. Shit floats.”
“Where are the women?, carps a younger oarsman. “Their moles are falling apart. Borophus rules, eh? Guts of a magpie.”
“Mind of a sophist,” I caution. Think him not alone, nor a torque starved weakling.”
“How long do we keep harbor?” Arrogant. “Who are the Kings guards?” “Where is the keep?” “Where's the meat?” Shark-belly cannot substitute and men get tired of salt-mutton. “It stinks, but whether donkey-shit is worse than the sulfur I can't tell.”
Cities stink, to crewmen fresh from the sea. I snark. “Piss needs to go someplace! You might as well have asked where was the king?” I know the answer and I know why and I try explaining it to Artyphon. We have found a quiet lean-to just off the mole and packed with barrels of salted mutton. “Really Borophus got a raw deal. He is hiding in a cave eight leagues down the coast with some very tough retainers.”
“Ready to run?”
“Ha! He’s not going anywhere since Hector has been trying to kill him.”
I think like this and Artyphon follows. New Troy attacking old, as Borophus family in an age when a single bronze tool was the work of twenty years had thrown limestone walls about Illium so high and so broad Priams family could only imagine them the work of Cyclops. An accident of war my contacts said inspired the hate and made an example of how war turns love to vengeance. And how a rulers manhood best stay within his own tunic.
A resourceful man and an ambitious one, Borophus had pushed through a trade caravan to Troy, over the southern mountains. No mean trick in winter. When his sheep-driven sleds broke through the twelve foot drifts and slipped over the hinterland he got the royal treatment from Priam and Hector. The sleds had brought in scores of sheep and beef-loins. This was before Troy employed blockade runners, and they had been boiling sandals with wild onions hunger had so taken them. The Trojan court showered Borophus with honors … Hectors sister was not to be outdone – she banged him every night for a week, and two months later Trojan marriage brokers came calling. Borophus two sisters, and Iphinae the whoring daughter of an Argos noble didn't like the idea of marriage. Not his.
Artyphon entranced by the cunning, I observed. “The women looked only to their own short rations. You can see how the dispute got out of hand.”
Artyphon sniffed. “For all the consequences, they really could have got on as three.”
“Just because it’s Lesbos, I snarked?”
Artyphon held my hand to her sex and scoffed. “Just because a wet-cunted wenches fingers and mouth know exactly where to find another womans greatest pleasure. ”
Zeus beard if she hasn’t found it. Found love talks razor edge or the patios of Mitylene or … or the princes game of doubles? I try a scowl. “Not in Hectors world!” … for men justly feared Pandora! “He drove Penthesileas three-horse chariot all over Lesbos pissing as he went … slaughtering random olive growers and sheep farmers too. ”
Artyphon giggles. “ He knows the cost of everything, but not the price of … what to waste.”
Unlike Asher Dan I think coldly … and grin. “A fine queen would you make, diamond of my vision.” Whatever she imagined … war acted flatfaced teething death , on worlds stage acting like Mars with silver inlay on his greaves. Not Hectors first bad idea, making the livable flat coastline of Lesbos a death-trap. Humiliating the ruler while destroying his tax-farming income. Insane Hector drew the expected response. Borophus looked to Hectors enemies, and had invited the Argos fleet to resupply at Mytilene by whatever seemed their own pleasure. He might as well as well have invited Ajax to sit on the royal piss-pot! Borophus even invited Cretan slingers, who on steep olive-growing hillsides cut down a forest of Hectors men. Lesbos balanced so precariously between the lusts of Europe and Asia and Trade Council desires cracked wide open.
We try making ready for best and worst. Fresh water and salt-beef come aboard, with peaches and dates. My officers would have kept shields up till we left the harbor. But, a trader can't just stay alive. For a few I have reserved this till now and I gather about the crew.”
“Bend yer ears boyos, ye cunt-wenching crew of satyrs and sylph-raping dolphins. Are ye leather purses full or empty?”
“Full,” returns the shout.
“And always shall be, should yur Cap’N perform his duty.” Faces about me shine and hashish glows with the wealth of fresh wine. I shout. “We must see the Hyrkon agent in Mitylene. He knows Lesbos and knows more of Phonecii intentions toward our western trade.”
“Will we fight them again, Sar ..” rings a dozen voices.”
I raise a full bowl of Chian unwatered wine. “The Belisama runs from no man, though Carian whores might set us to throwing the top-gallents all men to the oars ...” and the ships deck breaks into rolls of laughter and long grey draws on ivory hashpipes. “But beyond those harpy-red cheeks lays a more slippery truth.” The deck falls into silence. “A traders customer wants to see your face even if it's lodged inside a bronze helmet. True in Gaulish Spain, true in Egypt and as true for Lesbos. I need one week … maybe a second if the local women find Artyphon in a silk vest to bring that fruit into ferment.”
“What can Lesbos sell us, Sar? It’s redwoods all died in the great plague so me grandfather storied, and the silver mines have played out.”
“That … and poetry reading whore twins,” raps another.
I stretch the grin. “But, high in the mountains there’s metal in the clay and the potters fix it by baking, like a sorry bread-loaf after 4 months at sea! High value in that pottery with them that affords it! We have a factor who banks those mountain cities.”
A rude idler. “Even the stupid Gauls won’t buy smashed pots … getting them unbroken down to the Belisama will be some trick.”
“The mountain cities have experienced cartmen.” Crewmen listen. I blow a long thick stream of black tar hashish into the cool wind. “But, the pottery trick runs deeper. That metal locked in the pottery clay are two metals, silver and tin as the diggings are from seasonal stream-beds. Water-worked hammers and cutters mix the raw clay so the metals once separated by nature now fired by charcoal melt and join together , seeping to the inside of each baked pottery. Those cities have a name for it … pewter … the join of silver and tin metals; bowls and jugs and plates so formed are both water-tight and rugged. Count on it - - we shall get a full load to the Belisama.”
The crew roars with delight. “ Will ye give me the time boyos, abroad on Lesbos.” Shit! I hate to leave officers behind while I play the land-rat!
Sailor boyos will argue from moon-to-moon over the proper splicing of linen and hemp chord, while gambling their lives on a coin-flip. I raise the traders staff, but they shout it down. And the motion carries wailing ascent without the need of pearls and feathers. A bucket-size winebowl passes among the crew seeded it’s said with sour rye of Artyphons modest recipe and none spend the night sober with more whores strapped on the mainmast than sharks among salmon.
During a sober cold next morning pitchers of hot ale divides the crew as needed: Telemydon and Brogue and Hekateas remain on-board the Belisama to stiffen arms and secure the cutter maintaining contact with the mole. Our scribe reminds of an old debt, and a leather purse carries that gold. I leave orders … do this and this and this the next two days.
“Stay in port at least three days, if the mobs allow. Whether our longer trek, to the mountain potters comes before or after this jump I cannot say; the fates keep a quiet council.” Talk and drink and the hash-pipe cycle. If we fail to return do this and that …
“If a storm comes, Cap’N and the sea pulls away from land? Or the belching earth?”
“Water ruins water, so run for the deep blue water and return as Poseidon allows. Hephastas curse still lays upon us … I have no solution, but a sturdy hull as we have seen before.”
A wildly drunk Greek. “If obverse women run-off with Artyphon, dash to their mountain bolt-hole where temples wreath with the earths cunning, confusing flavor.”
“She would not allow her shipmates hearts so empty!”
A roar of affection sets Artyphons cheeks burning. “Against ballistas, Cap’N?”
“Use our rockets swiftly. Cause secret terror before an enemies blood runs hot and optimistic.”
“If rowboat mobs swarm the harbor or a pirate clique surrounds us?”
“Again. Any threat pull to blue water for several nights. Hit another hull near the waist and cheer her sinking. Others will find their oars busy finding shelter away from us. . Crunch the sea-worms as ye run for blue water. Mars will guide you. And if Titans rule the universe this cycle , and after a full moon we still don't show cruise such and so for days … bla bla bla. Don't feckin-A whatever you do lose the Belisama. Even if you cast us aside.”