Hyrkons Lesbian factor SanJan had by peregrine-carried code insisted on our rapid, armed movement. Mitylene burns for terror at every dark limestone corner. This next morning , well fed and lightly armored - - wearing only boiled leather over twisted hemp and linen pad - - we watch for our best chance. It comes unlikely with a bloody-handed pitched melee between two Parthian factions. Half-helms tell that tale while high torches bare fire. From 60 oar runners tied along opposite sides of a mole hundreds scurry from below onto the pier; warriors stumble into contact mingling iron-browed like stinging ants into the maelstrom of swinging hatchets and driven spear-points. Calls of pain and violence of body contact cancel the clash of swords. Can’t make out city-markings on their shields, though one appears metalized and the other of hides. No speech no curse no dance precedes the blood-misted trauma. So swiftly do the warriors appear that singing the paean never has its moment. Our moment!
Gathered at waterline, into a twelve oar cutter a shove from the jimmy-poles sends us darting cross harbor-way. Artyphon, Mykron, Nykodemes and Teuter , ten peltasts and myself form the cargo. Our object - - a sardine-buss stinking pier lay one over from the bloody dual ambush. Corseted , helmed Mykron and three surefooted, limber , idle bilge-men paddle from the cutters bow and prepare to lunge first over the docks oak rails. Idle no more, even as their guild spurts first into a sinking hull to patchwork! This we know and plan, yet in the dark cannot see. Two torches only light the dock front and quayside, but red and orange lanterns aboard the Belisama guide us on. We steel our guts against vomiting fear; if splatter tis coming twill come unknown from the gloom and fall upon the leaders hasty dash.
“Now,” cries Mykron.
“Make way for Cybelle!” Strakes crack as our cutter finds the pier. Artyphon and her woman slave bull-leap over Mykrons back and make first on the pier timbers. “We stand unopposed,” she whistles as short-swords clash their wielders kneeling back-to-back.
“Damn the women ...” Heavy-arm Teutor pulls the oar beside me and smashing into the docks pillars we are brothers 4th and 5-th onto the decking; fifty yards away the slaughter torches light our way and more than one arrow fly above us. “Find our enemy,” he grouses at the slingers. But, darkness befriends us.
“Nine bob to a penny we’re alone for the next breath!”
“Make us fly, Mykron,” I gristle and our rubber-striped leathers flee toward the quay. Mastmen will curse their splinters … for the rubber soles belong to the yard-masters. We manage stumbling cross redwood decking , across a breakstone quay where lanterns have already been smashed and into an alley beyond. Our lungs hammer breaths before we gather into a tight, rude circle. Two of the slingers risk afront and two behind. Mykron slams a hash-pipe into my mouth and smoking teeth chew it around. “A rough landing I think, gentled by hemp trousers , tunic and leather vest. Five steeled hoplites appearing unexpected could have slaughtered us.”
Arthphons ropy arm has about my neck. “Them or a noisy dog-pack calling the city night-watch.”
“That … or a van of whores,” bandies Teutor. A very strong Tin Isle rover he chooses hard-ass, goose-feather women who might smash teeth from a lesser man. Yet know he spies into the dark, his face seeking a peace his wild home island gave or the ordered liberties a foreigner enjoys in Hyrkon. But, on Lesbos isle where Minoans and desert Semites first shared hulls rather than smash them, here after a thousand seasons past a thousand no peace may be found. His head jerks up. “This business district of counters covens and bankers barns yields one limestone square after another. We need split into three , with three ahead and behind so the others should they be find more surprise they we do.”
He leaches my command, but reads my thoughts. “I ken your worry, but cannot like the separation. SanJan expects a single thrust of men; so do his archers ….” Lost in Mytilene has among traders the same smell and threat as poisoned in Hekateas, for Mytilene buildings are not washed in the multitude of pale colors as other island cities. Citizens hide dim, rather than herald their front doors calling attention to family and craft.
Stubborn. “Ahead and behind , these streets hinting not which turn faces steel cheek-plates or archers quadrangle or a dozen bakers.”
Four blocks into the tangle a mislay-ed park appears, its grasses untended and pedestaled silver Athena tarnished. Two and three-story guilds surround us, each have a torch and taken together show the transition from older sandstone to newer, smarter volcanic blocks. Buildings slope Upward. Two slaves bungle into us from the right, splice their purple-stripe loinclothes with bronze handaxe , without a slaves shyness . They swoon and we charge behind them along stone inlay, bounding from whitewashed villa to shabby warehouse like Mercury wooing Daphne.
“THEM! Run damn you ...” A squad of slab-faced Elean hoplites appear katcorner at a four-way mulberry planted, cisterned shrine and quick as eyes see have got curious.
“What are Spartan dogs doing away from the kennel,” barks Teutor. “They should be cleaning shit-holes at Troy!”
Yes I think, as a minor ally of Mycenae Eleans don’t figure to ramble, unless ... Nykodemes at my shoulder and walking the same path. “Yer don’t suppose Cap’N the blood-leter Hector has come inside city walls? Figures he prefers the free-fighting attack-and-move strikes from a chariot galloping across open ground.”
“What if his strength frightens all, and no horse warrior comes against him?”
“Lesbos centers trade both for and against Priams city … perhaps Hector was sent to crush Mycenae traders.”
“Then why not just burn the port?”
“Perhaps he seeks an individual,” and Nykodemes grins harshly.
He jokes I pray… “What fool would face him between two walls?”
“A warlord perhaps. Scoffing Mars and bound to your sturdy companions some warriors might try to shim their thrust under his shield.”
“While Hectors spear shears their breastplate and his sword takes their head!” I laugh. We cannot say.
Left to an alley, then right onto a stone paved boulevard they follow, carelessly at first, but three blocks along leather armor thuds in a cohorts jog; we funnel directly into the traders neighborhood. Mist above us sparkles from Helios first golden rays. We pitch down a short steep into another cistern shrine … cobblestone splits four ways and packed into the 3rd is a solid black-hided phalanx of Bosporus troopers. Even a Delos virgin would spot them immediately; a lack of chariots makes not one warrior shy, and they crisply, silently pattern their blades against bronze shield-rims. To blood-red eyes all Hectors men. Mykodemes hoots as looking affront he spies the black-metal swatched figure of Priams godlike destroyer.
“Has he yet taken Helen from Paris,” Artyphons lisps without breath?
A shiver runs down my back. “Paris left her in Egyptian Thebes with the dark-ones; everybody kn ows that except stupid Mycenae! Or they ignore Helens fate for want of Troys destruction. Well the dark-ones are Egyptian and guessing who pays them is any wise-mans folly.
“You have met these dark men? Many tell stories, but none that have lived among them.”
“Well … well no, I mean yes … I mean I have seen them in the bazaars of Egypt, a gathering place when they so rarely leave home. That is I have seen their form, covered by woolen hoods and cloaks. All is black for them and eyes are covered. I can understand their ability to hide Helen. Protected by night she has yet to leave their valley. Minos son believes with blood in her veins she never will.”
“Then romancing a warlords wife their kiss defeats her virtue. Dear Cibias how birds whisper to you so sweetly,” simpers Artyphon. “What do they whisper about me?”
“A darkmans kiss lasts forever,” Words clog my throat. I squeeze her cheek. “Robins call you Mi-lady, hawks maid-of-claws while crows scoff at your veil which restrains no speech!”
“No maid I, for your body pleads my ruin.”
My hand pats love to her ass. “Frow’ard wench who misses not one-point in nine!” Kissing mocks her lips and I urge her body into the cover of large men in thick armour.
Not 75 paces away Troys men remain a sleeping volcano. I watch sideways as their van waits our passage then presses ahead. Hector is not a huge man, for the spawn of Mars and Venus, yet carries an unmoved vengeance in shield and helm and spear that promises slaughter. His plate … not steel that shines, but black metal that glistens oil-like curving to the warriors deadly form. He spies me, I see his eyes narrow and shine silver and pass me on to a future death - - so quickly decided that we shall live.
Granite walls soar, gates iron-bound and watered courtyards mist. Archer stands are noted by pink marble … the archers sifting in behind us like we know something … and villas by purple-striped ribbons. And Hectors eyes gleam through his helm. Steeled swords rise and as a man they dash across our path and into the roadway behind us. Screaming begins and the hack of steel into flesh. Sheep-like the Eleans run right into the storm of Ilium sword-blades. Our van snatches the glimpse behind - - even a glimpse needs a brave man - - into the forge-hammers splay into soft iron beating in the atoms of shrieking smoke. Pelt-stones & bolts fly in all directions and if the Eleans and Trojans go face-to-face their weapons find all paths.
Two of our peltasts leather bound only stop to release against Hector, seeing fame as a shield against the fates. I scream at them. “Dodge between trees; baffle the arrows! Forget your … ”
Fate quickly removes one fool. An oak spear flies from that chattering melee and splits four-layer bulls-hide our slinger had trusted. His guts spray out and his call “Cybelle” goes unheard. The 2nd man slings a lead pellet and dodges, cunning street dust and despising fate escapes behind the wall of our guiding slaves. Tall powerful black men they came well-armed, have fall behind us and take most arrows and pelts. Tattling silk peregrines high-hoisted mark SanJans domain; crossbowmen dull in bronze leaf flit walls above our heads. How close safety appears and lacking Mercuries fleet wings we have all removed sandals for extra speed.
Hungry, make-penny hangers-on throw a dusting of pellets and shafts at our heads. They advise at alley corners and broken statue and when they cannot thieve they starve. Return arrows tumble a brace like game-birds onto the cobbles bleeding away breath. Three lead pellets shatter a guards half-helm and his black sweaty face bubbles red. We think to drag him behind us, but the breath is not in him. A brass horns rasp urges us for’ard. Stained African ironwood planks loom before us opening even as we run; we dive through SanJans gateway; guards hefting steeled swords prod us into the courtyard and behind us slams shut both layers of an oil-hinged iron-bound walnut slabbed keep-safe!
“All safe … all safe … all … “ At our backs a tattling of arrow-heads beat on the iron. Then nothing. Then drum-beat sounds rattled and fractured over the city stone walls and bore into us. “Do you know the meaning of city drums,” I ask Artyphon? But, she hears nothing working furiously patching silk over the arrows-blade red-runner across the back of Mykron. “The sounds speak of us …,” I jabber. “ Surely some city faction cares about our task!” No so clear, that task I consider, or perhaps just not single-minded. It's a joke how fast fear makes you stink. Hard faces lined the walls. I had never been here. I had traded before directly from warehouses on the harbor quay and returned to my ship.
“Rallye them for’ard,” tunes a young womans voice accustomed to rule. “For Venus sake don’t grab the woman like a Bogge! Find her a robe.”
Artyphon has stripped to Spartan style and her well toned knees peek beneath her chiton. Our salted seaman will not notice. But, city-dwellers … a young voice I say and determined. “Cybelles blessing kind mistress,” I shout. “Friend Mykron will have ye a dark flavored sweet from southern Egypt even the Pharaoh would beg.”
How bumpy rolls fortune when people you don't know in a place you never saw keep you alive for trades you have not made. I was thinking how easy it is to die. The factor had promised secure trading. Archers dotted the turrets above and heavy armored men stand watch at the exit doors. Two blocks of almonds trees scatter easily from stern to bow. The walls stand thick and high, built of iron-cramped granite. Clay brick rooms each with a window line about the walls inside. But, as I noticed the outside skin is new, thick granite knit in vertical splines to the ancient brick. Inside , centering the courtyard rises a 4 story manse and below a marble fountain bubbles .
Shafts of speckled sunlight pour into the villa. Then unseen voice snaps pleasantly of Attis, Cybelles tragic lover. “Captain Cibias, how wonderful may Cybele always grant your safety. ” Tis a trim sharp-eyed and curly haired Syrio-Minoan who emerges from wicker screens beside the fountain.