“Because we dash away does not mean we escape. Some Babylon mages believed that if you moved back-and-forth swiftly enough, you will travel exactly nowhere! Such are Kings secrets preserved! Better think slow is go!" Light-hearted against her frown for she has learned islander maths tricks-of-the-slope. “Oh. Dark mistress I must take you below, facing such tyranny so as to have missed nothing. Do you wear the golden cobra tonight, for she is first in torment.” Artyphon slides across my body and fixes her sharp small teeth into my neck - - will not remove them till blood flows.
Lost in love and a womans lust a man may think! What wisdom have I shown before this? First, I think the Belisama plows blue water, and by time and her good crew she will remain safe. My crew are stiff boyos in a fight, while should fates decline we have traded everything together from sour limes to alchemists scrolls. Time … I mean everyone else acts slowly. SanJan … his keep stands refreshed and guarded while he fights knowing retreat cannot happen – woe to the first against his battlements. Should his walls hold and warriors harrow, vast golden piles rise to Zeus throne where all safety finds a reward. His daughters find safety with us, our van of traders who find safety in the obscure wanderings of a forgotten culture and far off island. I wear Trade Council rings and staff; we were were and so now we will appear. Only if that web of trade collapse would I have no defense, but a shameless companion and the sharpness of my sword. And Artyphon my diamond who in a wiser world would bear my child in Parthian mountains will create a crooked path; create knowing I pray her happy life above all. Tonight we forge out to the redwood glades of Lesbos.
Cibias Min so signs and dates this log: three years in service of the Belisama, 95 years after the Elutian Kraktas set runestone for Athenas marble statue at Delphi, 51 years since the birth of King Minos of Hyrkon and 2 years since the whore Aminias set her Sicily glass-floor palace ablaze with falcons of world west, chamois women and wits of Our Sea.
“A pipe Cap’N,” Mykron leans over and I take a sip. Pipestem he wrought from a lions tusk. Smoke wreaths my head as Aminias poppy-mist. But, my sighte sharpens … foresight that is worth an entire body of eyes; we shall thus hasten for’ard into that foresight and damned the waiting trolls! Of Aminias succulence and bravado few who attended wished to forget! She had all who attend sign a bronze cylinder and render 15 words in their native tongue. The cylinder was founded within a second bronze vessel them bound-together in salt-tar. Those brothers then nested within a Baltic quartz cylinder she later dropped into a vortex hole deep beneath the harbor of Syracuse. Three Captains I trust testify to that burial. Tis a fishing village, Syracuse precious to goddess Dianna of the North. I push back from the split log table, imagine viewing wild seas from the Belisamas quarterdeck. That salt stench ye know sailor boyo. Syracuse you painted whore. Within its marshes Posidon had taken Diannas flower and from that union birthed in times before our sundial or sand-glass measure the ruler of our Creten Empire King Minos.
Farewell between living and dead exchange. SanJan, his wife and retainers to the stout-walled keep-safe, while his daughters, Myknon, Artyphon, two lusty bowmen and six baggage slaves follow me into Lesbos mountains. We trust strong legs able sight and nimble minds. Beneath the courtyard yet another passageway; we trod through a buckled, sandstone passageway once unsealed. Dark and rough as a pagan the first hours of travel were taken up by darker warnings; what a sailor smells when the wind turns and new points of direction dictated Sajans daughters . A narrow tunnel black as maple pitch leads to a tree-line and gravel creek.
“Zeus beard don't step on that cobra. Yes , left of the trail. No! There you fool. Don't stab it just because the hood is out, swipe it away with your net.”
“Take that step and it's three hundred steps down till the next one.” There , see what I mean? Nothing under your stupid foot. Of-course move to the left.”
“Yes the bridge will sway if you step on it like a donkey. Go slow, ignore the steam. The water below is boiling hot.” The slave totter, but roped together cross with all goods.
“No! Taking the right side of the trail will take us to the cannibal village. No, they live in three caves and retreating deep within drink sour rye mixed in barley-beer and draw pictures to the light of blazing pitch. When a week passes and hunger plays the tune they crawl out, foraging berries and stealing sheep to eat raw. Kill the Shepard trying to stop them.”
Mykron swearing. “So thinks a sweetling pounce , whose knickers have yet to find her knees. He ha! I’d fuck a she-cave-bear before I broke its neck!”
“Ancient is strength, arrogant sah.” They hold ancient rhymes and primitive fashions , claim their grandfathers before fathers lived north, in hovels made of ice and will eat us if they are hungry. Yes, arrogant hoplite with big muscles, the women will cut your throat and eat every part of you.”
Turing against me and baring a nipple for my pleasure ... blocked on all sides I reject her offer with a pinch sharp enough to steal her breath. “We must take the left side of the trail even if it is steeper.”
Khronos would beggar Delphi to feed richly Horais summer hours, yet now in the spring he squeezes Auge and Anatole and Musica like orphans gruel. A crisp sunny sky appears all, but before dawn filtering through tall yew and ceder.
“You choose beauty first ,” I say.
“No man has yet taken pleasure from me, though I have practiced skill with my Egyptian bath slave. Faithful woman! She was a priests daughter and of lust and pleasure learned early … learned often.” Sabeen blushes. “As may you trader, unless you have already chosen that frozen Parthian ice-bitch.”
We spend night under shared sheepskin in an open grave. Stars become our roof . We trail-hop all the next day, from tunnel to gravel stream-bed to forest … such sparsely treed forest as land given only 3-hands of rain each year may support and yet thick groves abound primed by peak melting snow run-off. It’s a dry deal, Lesbos, looking wetter! I have eaten only barley-cakes and olives. But, by next daybreak Sabeen and Tira have led us through another tunnel, jumping a 2nd ridge-line to within drum-beat sounds and stella boundary-marks of the first village.
We jabber profanely! Sabeen stops us dead. Our forest seems alive. The paths have been narrow and steep, dry and dusty. They were not paths of trade. I could not imagine goods being transported. Others find no such mystery; two naked warrior drop from an elm beside me. Tatooed from toenail to earlobe, they wear lip-bones, black-ore eyes, a stomach wattle and about each neck a shrunk human skull.
“What brings you to our pot, strangers,” the older man simmers.”
“Fly away evil Bogge-mites,” scream both Sabeen and Tira in tears!”
“Tut tut child,” snarls the younger. “You may be skin and bones, but the elders are ripe for a roasting!” He reaches out to squeeze my arm. I slap him away.
Our archers have untethered their bows. Grasping my dirk I rasp … “You must be ...”
The elder spits a bloody cud! “Look Futootu we have a scholar!” He turns on me. “Hectors wounded charioteer said much the same, so we sewed his lips before spitting him.” Picking a gold tooth he removes an awl from the waistband. “As my grandfather said ‘Lots of juice makes dancing use tender’.”
“Real bad attitude for an old man. Care you not for the orphan?”
“Not not not I am not old,” the silver-hair cannibal whimpers. “And orphans are fat while you are bony … meatless one might observe. Bon a petite’ au sauce to you!”
Even our slaves have gone to their dirks, for no servant of Hyrkon has ever been damned like a sheep. I reel back, but his companion plays the peacemaker. “Don’t mind him,” chuckles the younger man. He spent years in Paris eating auroche-eating Gauls, and has become quite sensitive. Do you mind being fattened on goose-liver?”
Some Island philosophers belive only they exist … or each of those they collect electrum coins to teach … a similar certain unreality has fallen over this forest glade, a crossing of the obvious with the impossible I mean to dis-allow. “Takes more than two to tanggoo as some African tribes allow.” Spot on I think, but …
“We don’t eat black-skin Negros, but assistance portends.” My god I think who was his tutor, that the point should so miss him? Yet he must finish. “Counting by two another dozen sickle-toting members of my kin will appear shortly.”
“These are the cannibal, Sabeen that you warned us about? What’s one wrong turn between pals?” But, Sabeen cannot find words for her red lips. “Speak to them Mykron of new friends and old enemies.”
“Speak before eating,” yips the older cannibal.
Snorting , unrolling his pack and backed by the archers Mykron prepares to whip his short-spear into the bastards gut. Just when … Cybelles forest lives … just when another dozen of green-linen wrapped foresters drop around our small gathering. How long have they watched us, I wonder? Half are young men, naked except for leather thong, a dagger and crossbow quills they strap to their chests. Each young man wears a blank, unsigned silver badge – an badge yet unearned I considered! Loud ringing sounds of a whistle shout from one of the warriors. No torques no tatoos no rings no piercing. “Warriors in training,” surveys Mykron as a tall rangy pair step to his shoulders, crossbows stretched in ready-fire.
Not attempting humor I say. “By all means, Mykron ask such young gents to stay and get comfortable. Pass the skin of SanJans orange ferment. ” Our van as one bends a knee to the badged leader.
“Your luck,” smugs that one of the six women, silver badged the alpha female by her electrum bracelet and gold & spring-steeled grasshopper , “but the unbadged need not ferment and will do as they are told.” Amazons beware! All six women under short leather skirts were trim bodied and firm, bare-breasted full with child-nursing and man-loving tasks … and the excitement had placed all twelve points at attention.
“We we we have rights, to our loathsome behavior,” bubbles the old cannibal. My feelings count!”
“If you ever feel again.” Alpha female jerks free a short-sword from a shield worn across her back and points the sintered tip toward a cannibals. “We sent the last two interlopers back to your caves with their teeth removed. Starved most likely” ….. the two cannibals limp-dicked shiver wildly in fear while Alpha stalks them. “What oh what shall we remove from you two?”
I suspect there’s method here. Our saviors have whistled for help, but cannibal reserve already approaches. What's better than uncertain two? Our first line takes a for'ard step! Cannibal-twins leap-up rabbit-like and turn for the brush. Our first slinger among the young releases a squirming writhing pellet of threat. Both enemies dodging they dash into a thicket of bramble. Thorns tear at their hides in a bloody swatch . Scorpion slung have fixed to each mans tatooed shoulder. What muscle survived would atrophy and twist … some movement appears beyond them and smashing branches they loose vision in a copse of pine.
Alphas eyes narrow; her voice crackles with authority. “We should retire lest more overcome better.”
Enemies prowl while saviors retire. I am scared shitless. “Being only seven and slaves I advise you allow us to follow your lead!”
“You must be the ferment traders from Marsaii,” says Alpha. “Drums speak of you. I have patrol this moon and husband warned me in all affection against your smooth talking sybaritic style.”
A man may outsail anything , but his lost lovers. However, women are clever at any age. “Oh madam you have so rightly targeted the thief of hearts,” simpers Sabeen. “Even myself and Tira … fruit hardly bud-broken while pretending service he has so sweetened language that should he ever touch us we would melt to his worst desire.”
Alpha laughing as we form line, retreating into the deeper forest cover. “Only half-as-bad as my husband - - who snatched my virtue early, after requiring I share his safety. How deep a lusty man bores into a womans tender heart.” A green canopy now covers us in shade.
Sabeen quietly. “Our father SanJan does trust him!”
“So with my own father,” Alpha snipped. “But, now I must take my husbands pleasure every night, as five children I have given him to hearts delight,” She cautions grinning. “Life is hard for an honest woman my children,” she says fingering her pearl necklace and a broken flint arrowhead , but you will learn to require a share!” With us now across leaf covered ground that story of womans woe trots along, but … but I observe Artyphon trotting beside her, exchanging whispers, short-swords crossed in defense, my dagger strapped to her loin-belt , pearled thong at her throat and Alareks gifted yellow diamond nursing her thumb none of which has Alphas eye missed.
The language of all is traders Egyptian, but the woman are using a coastal Phonecian dialect easily confused with monkey screeches! “I too dear Alpha shared his blade at night, before his bed. He trusted me!”
“Did he trick, then leap upon you,” snickers Tira?”
“Alpha whispers. “Be not so harsh, on a race who share your children. If twas like me, husband plys the 1st evening with sweets and ferment and poppy-mist while between warm flesh woos you into a dream.”
Alpha sighs … Sabeen pipes away rudely. “Cibias the sailor-boyo Cap’n! Poor Artyphon born free, then family slave, then freed yet again now slave to Cibias love which pumps her dry. See what two years bring to that lubricious ass, while younger women yearn! What defense has an innocent women to such warm pleading?” Mykron and I exchange glances, rumbling in silence. Bunch so together, and of such a single mind a van of women conquer with ease.
The village must have been founded when women made their own bone needles. Perhaps there was more I could not see. From above we can see the village, but not get to it. The buildings show strong , clean lines, stone-built on a steep with a stream and watermill designed into the center commons. Vegetables grow there in layered plots climbing the ridge. Hot ale and porridge bubbles at several fires. Freshly hemped and tared poles supported cantilevered porches. These early larger cook-fires were burning into coal-beds and villagers plied along stairways with first loads of morning.
Three open glades were protected by low brick walls across from the orchards. As a design, building, paths and washrooms worked an upper and lower Terrance of olive and nut trees and from its steepness was naturally safe from all , but the strongest force of bow-men or slingers.
Two warriors-in-training ran ahead to announce us. Heavily armed cross-bowmen return, young men of strength each wearing a leather vest identified with a blazoned trout-hawk. carrying only the traders staff ; Artyphon and Teuter stood beside me in the manner of equals. Our two bowmen carry the weapons bound and wrapped in sheepskin and six slaves behind them carried our trade goods. We pass among villagers and as all trade functions are returned stuffed olives for sweetened dates. Good for us ; the village trades-man had come with the archers; dealing began immediately and hardly stopped while we squatted on hemp rugs before the bucket of hot Ionian ale. It tasted of stream moss, not high meadow hops and long travel … and smells like fermented hog-piss.
Skala their ancients had named the town ; split between farmers and guildsmen they made and grew stuff of the most practical sort. Factors bridled when I named it a village. For a traders town it wasn't large or overly wealthy, but village councilors spoke a dozen dialects. And traders confounded accurate abacus figuring and would steal the ivory from your teeth in a single sentence. Skalians abided little ceremony to visitors. Young girls brought us to the village hot-springs and saw to a scrubbing with a paste of figwort and pumice. Craftsman displays started immediately after with household products of carved olive and almond wood. And by Zeus beard they could grow and pickle and preserve olives that would tear the girdle off Juno. This same first day I survey the orchard and the brine-barrel-filled cave and the ceramic glazed jars. I contract for two-thousand.
“We’ll need help on that order,” touts a grizzled glass-maker. I agree; thousands of units requires a disciplined production. Firm, fat and savory those olives … like many a wench you could not release till mid-morn – I contracted more at one time than ever – half the ceramic jars Skala producers could assure me, but the other half … talk to the Loutra producers. Loutra the city of fanatics, but wary guildsmen would tell us little.
Our little caravan sleeps early that night, in a comfortable tree-hut about which the village elders threw a light guard of peltasts. Lest perhaps we be werewolves. Of breakfast coffee they knew nothing. They made ground pottage of barley and goats-milk any hungry man could drink and a dried press of peaches, willowbuds and walnuts. Their lambs and birds were not casually eaten. Perhaps the cannibals had changed tastes , but sentries mentioned war-tides more than once. Their dried peaches and walnuts wrapped in oak moss and waxed hemp appears unique … I buy 1000 units as a trade item. You might travel from Sinope to Ludtown without it spoiling – and if cold wind filled your lungs with fluid and your head burned with fever it would cure that too. All such trade they promise.
Early that morning I have inspected some freshly planted olive trees, where a bit of hillside forest has been cut away. Far below the salt-water caldera was a perfect blue-green. Colored autumn leaves appear to blow across its surface. Clouds swirl over the water as Anemoi here had no power to direct the winds. Each morning warm breezes flew up from the water to the ridge-line swirling about the rocky hill-tops; every evening the winds reversed. No trading ship would ever be trapped in the caldera. I sat outside a stone warehouse with two salubrious, well-fed and rapacious factors examining samples and pricing the two-year-old pallet of stuffed olives obviously fat, firm and well brined.
They priced for Midis so I asked. “What traders have contracted already?”
“These jars are a new release. So nobody yet. Nobody important. Why do you ask? Only Ceybelle would know. Can't say, trader.”
“Foreign traders by land or sea?”
“If fish walked.”
“Or camels swam.”
Each factor hesitated to speak ...”Many would prefer islanders to trade only with islanders. We are the same blood. But silver runs through some fingers like sand.”
“Ha ha! Oh you mean the Carthage scum? Those pricks with the big reach and lots of poorly refined silver? You did have the silver bars cut open before you delivered product, didn't you?”
“Well … er … Carthage you say. Hummm , yes they have been such a man. Yes.”
“You would do better to accept only Egyptian or Cretan coinage.”
“Then who would we cheat?”
Laughing ran around the fire-pit. I say. “Once a man has tasted your olives he doesn't feel himself easily cheated. Traders of such a product may speak boldly. You sell everything you grow. But, tell me how you may move boatloads of olives on paths unfit for goats?”
“Certainly we lay snares for raiders.” The village trader and hetman exchange sour looks and feign dis-belief. “Our fields lay closed in by the forest, and twist from one ravine to the next , from far below upward, overtaking the ridge-line. We do not advise our lands to others, yet in extreme you came by the goat paths?”
Laughter runs around the council. I share it, then say. “Not the worst path a trader ever walked and well worth it for the olives. My trading seal marks your books. I took five-hundred presses and promised to contract six-times that should I not be buried at sea.”
“May your good fortune remain,” said the village shaman “Two of the earlier buyers did die.” His eyes rolled wildly across and over us. He was chewing the juice out of spotted mushrooms neither Artyphon nor I had ever seen. “They ate olives and sardines, then swelled up, trader, blew up like blow-fish and practically exploded.” The shaman finished his mushroom. “None of their shipmates did.”
“So evil belonged to the men, then not the food.”
“Surely, for no food was thrown away, but the men... they were pickled here like cucumbers, and buried with boatmans coin in the northling blue sea.”
Yes, the ever-blue sea. Nice to know Carthage traders had been round again. Fuckers! Toward evening as Elete passed Helios arc to Acte, and a freshing Eurus tickled the trees we sat at the cook-fire eating toasted grouse and drinking a vile unbarreled and unfiltered peach ferment that would kill a Thessalian boar. The drinking bowls were fine, ruby-glazed ceramic no local craft would produce. One hundred feet below were two midnight blue pools, one fresh and cold the other steaming hot salt … the pools of Vulcan. And women who swam in them wore no more than a careless loop of purple cotton. A trader could pass by sleeping, so little note was taken of the womens modesty. And far below that lay a large protected sapphire bay roughly circular on which bay flew flocks and entire migrations of multi-colored sails.
The next day Mykron I visit workshops, where Skala craftsmen produce wooden utensils and tools. Every craft a man produced hand-carved. Foot-power lathes, but no donkey; few bronze machines whirl for turning, pounding or scraping, though a water-powered mill ground their wheat and barley between fixed and moving stones. One carpenter , a furniture-maker used a geared wind-mill and flint-tipped shaft to drill slits for bisquets. A Syrian brother-in-law had showed him the method , but he had not imagined another use. A hand-driven corkscrew made all other holes.
Sabeen and Artyphon had conspired day-long with the hetman woman and her council. They told me nothing. Now Artyphon eats with the council which had a womens lodge over against the stream. Sabeen has taken herself away, only later to appear swimming in Vulcans pool. Skala young men circled the pool like sharks about a dolphin … and none dared press his suit beyond tossing a flower-ring onto her hair whenever she approached a benched rest-shallow for wine.
That evening a runner slips through from Mytilene. When all is lost, fortune remains. The satarap has fled to the 2nd mountain, where a high-keep defends him. The runner also reports the Elean cohort was destroyed to-a-man by Hector, and heads posted on Trojan chariot-beaks when Hector deserted town. The Elean factor had his villa plundered, throat cut and body hung from a flag-mast. Conflicting, his wife and daughter both ravishing and haughty were sold into Asher Dans gentile slavery.
“About SanJan,” I gently asked the runner?”
“Some factors still hold out,” the man gasped.” A battle raged around SanJans compound, as his neighbors villa burned to the heavens. Dead raiders hung from stone walls where wooden boarding pikes had run them through. A sally by SanJans hoplites had caught Hectors Lieutenants among slingers and bowmen; slaughter was vast steel plate against leather; the Hyrkon factor still holds his walls! But, Mytilene harbor burns, with the arrival of Priams squadron. No vast pouting of victors, but no word of the Belisama.
Pleased by our own safety, the parchment talley-sheets spoke caution. The Skala hetmen and council speaker approached at a poolside quiet. “Are you still prepared, Cibias to continue making trades, backed by the Hyrkon seal when your own best fellow remains hard pressed to survive?”
This time was early, when mist still sealed voices and eyes. I have thought about this risk. “Fellow traders, not one lead Byblos sesterces has been lost trading with Hyrkon merchants.” The group smiles knowingly. “I know not the mind of Atropos, or Clothos yarn nor Lachesis morning brew yet I know the ropy arms of Hyrkon attendents. They & we will loose our lives before a coin we have traded.”
“And if strength alone matters, not will,” snipes the oldest ragged glass-blower.
I think on the glass-mans wit. "Sir, I have seen no towers, no chimneys no firestacks for your skill, yet glass must melt by heat and heat, wind and wind strength. Where comes ye strength glassman?"
Duty-bound to silence the craft becomes without speech. " Ha you say nothing good workman. Show me Hector and I will show you meek will overcomes a brutes strangle!”
Hard to do, show evil strength when a village is devised to make that strength hard to display. Clever me! The Skala elders like clever … and agreed to our trades. After breakfast Tira vanished with a tribe of village girls. Early I had got up red glass beads for that tribe. They had wanted them strung and somehow a gold-like chain appeared. Before evening meal they reappeared as tanned flower-decked wood nymphs. Tira had made fast friends with a dark haired luminous raven named Ganymede.
She wore the chain now it being entangled with wild forest flowers and said. “Here you are honorable Captain. Like breathless nymphs chased merciless beyond their green fens we have surrendered … lest struggle inflame your passions and coolly woven our hearts into flowers for you.”
“Say ho dear ladies. Dryad, faun , naiad … which of these have gilded your tongue to poetess?”It was a garland, a charm woven green and capturing blue and gold and silver meadow tracings.
“None dear master, yet our hearts truly inflame.”
I chased them off … but wore the garland … wore it to the village among a shower of lewd jokes. “She owns you now, trader.” “Ayee how she will shake the bed.” “Don't let her pretend modesty, trader as her mother is wise and her father a late sleeper.”
Words crackled above the firepit as the older men urged on exploits of sexual joy. The girls would have nothing of it! They had been trading off one to another the glass bead necklace all day, to the girl climbing highest and daring most as they scampered trees picking walnuts and almonds and pistachios.
Now wearing the charm I was quite surrounded. “No trouble from the satyrs, I trust.”
The tribe giggled. “ Three in the high meadow, honorable Captain. They rode black horses and carried black shields so they can't be friends. Or lovers.” More giggles. “We told the day-watchman.”
“A fierce knight I'm certain.”
Tira was crying. “Would they carry us off?”
“None would dare such boldness.”
“Perhaps we will carry you off, trader as an owned man must repay his liberty.”
One of the young village warriors stood tall speaking bruskly . “We shall allow no overly bold satyr playing false among our young women.“ He shook a necklace of panther fangs and may have had in mind a maid from some nearby village. I understood that such carrying-off was common among brash young men, and that robust villages and some great number of young children were gifts of that brashness. All the young girls knew.
The tribe responded in one voice. “Oh Uniklys, he did no harm and promised us only diamonds and silk.” Older men howled warnings at them … warnings from which the girls ran laughing to their own tables and lubricious aunts and evening meal which was broiled trout, squash, nuts and olives. Skala women were known for long healthy lives.
“Our scouts found them also,” said the hetman.
“Well,” I said, “three horsemen may cause little harm. The number you see of us will pass to Loutra and we are all armed. Of-course three horsemen may call three-hundred. Will they see us leaving Skala?”
“Not if you retain one of our scouts and leave just before daybreak!”
Very late that night in my tent I am talking to Tira and Sabeen. “Here's the deal, girls. Artyphon, Mykron, the archers and I will leave Skala tomorrow with a guide assigned by Skala council. I'm going to try for a bay circuit. First Leutra, then Antinae, village by village, all the way around to the north side, directly opposite Skala and on-the-beach … wherever that might be. Mykron , the slaves and you girls will stay here, at Skala, to make solid our contact and for you tending your fathers business.
“We are desolated,” crying Tira.”
“No, asserting Sabeen!”
“And spanked, should you not hold to a childs tears. I will send for you – wherever I am – and wait right there till you arrive. Or should worst happen I will snatch you away to my side. Thus I promised your father.”
“No,” Sabeen repeats. “SanJan has business with Leutra and without my testimony and perhaps enslavement that business with never finish to my fathers honor. Our to the family gold.”
“And SanJans interest in Skala?” It bothered me some that no Skala traders happened to be traveling with us. Sabeen had draped over my shoulder. “You don't know much about Lesbos do you dear Cibias, about the womans poetry of love. We always know where you are.”
“ Tira, your sister has been taken away by romance. She speaks of love. Please speak to her about distance.”
“But our dearest trader, there is no distance on Lesbos, not for a woman. Evey womans heart listens and speaks to all.”
“ Now look, … I may be Icarus flying with Greek fire up my ass, but that will not save one of us should should any be surprised. One person cannot see around the nearest bush in this dense forest. It's war of all against all out there.”
“ And Cebellyian drums, poor simple Cibias, the love songs of women sounded everywhere as if all women see with each womans eyes. Every drum-beat shares. Do you understand what we tell you?”
‘Strangers in, neighbors out’ my fellow traders believe. Each of our van leaves Skala with a string of chestnuts, bowl of olives and two salt-dried sole. We walked uphill for a day, through dry forest and into wet grassland. Not one trading caravan or traveler passed. Now a ragged young man spoke of his city and I listened. Leutra was rich meadowland caught by every summer thunderstorm and roamed by long-horned cattle, Trojan chariots and Myceneii horsemen. The Kings Thessalian mercenaries had neither numbers nor the iron bound will required to control them. In consequence the cattle grew bigger and wilder than auroches and their herds finding a small group of travelers on foot would chase them down into a woodlot and stampede bones into the fertile loam. Then wild boar ate the remains. Even elk herds did not fear the bowman and huntsmen rode imported Persian war-stallions or risked being ripped to shreds by a swift, wary and vengeful rack of horns.
I thought of my tutor saying 'wildness does more than remember. He feared I would assume Minoan culture will reform the world both as to goodness and as to the future. Reform … he played with words a lot in ways I still believe are sneaky. So he said, ' Think not of these civilized times, when man is king and reason law.' Recently I had strapped a steel Syrian short-sword to my thigh. I thought the man saw approaching age in all weakness, while I grew strong to youth.
“Loutra is nothing like Skala.”
Our story-teller is a Leutra Shepard whose memories rest uneasily against his home city, all the more that he speaks to strangers. Ragged … hat, cloak, sandals, dog … his dog was a short-haired mongrel and rounded on the small flock without prompting. Shepperd … they are lonely men except when they talk. We hear this. Gaia the bitch ran wild in this open terrain and right behind her rode the Trojan and Greek black-hearts. A very good traders road drops a half-a-league from the Skala boundary posts to an oak and pine barrens bounding clover laced and rolling hills . Shepherds clung to those pine-barrens though panther and lions still roamed; it's where the long-horned cattle had driven them. A man with no money and singular opinions had not a second option.
So our young Sheppard guide says. “We build new pasture where we can, on the ruins of fields pitted for clay and metal colors; it’s money you know ...” A sad sad countenance … If you did not run Leutra would put you to the wheel!”
“Work never harmed a man.”
“But, the same work for each no matter his natural calling man? Every Loutra citizen manufactured ceramic and pottery and glass. One or the others. Or more than one if the trade supported it. Children started early. The guilds would tell you, man or woman. And the King told the guilds.” The sheep dog comes running and his master roughs its fur. “Zeus beard why do you want to go to Loutra? It's worse than being a galley slave,” said the shepard who strangely enough carried a Trojan name, Alaksa!”
“Have you ever been a galley slave?”
“No. But, what could be worse than Loutra? You have a choice of three things to do with clay. You can dig it, shape it or roast it. Get that? Dig shape roast. I don't count coloring and glazing because most of that is done by Phoenician outsiders. At twice the wage .”
“Why can't you earn twice the wage?”
Shepard ruffles his dogs mane. "Learning the glazing trade required 10 years of apprentice. most students fail, for glazing masters rank without pity. Most failed Loutrains die in the clay mines or ovens in less than five years. Really Cibias the numbers are not in my favor.”
“You sound bitter.”
“I'm happy, really , being a sheepherder.”
Ganymede who had been appointed our scout said brashly. “Do any of you weak-limbed creatures farm? I look over the meadows and imagine happy peasants keeping bees in summer and harvesting barley during fall.”
Alaksa smiled and scratched his thin beard. “I see Skala women must learn sarcasm before a man will look at them.” Then he pointed to a far off dust-cloud.” Farmer, eh. First you must beat the Trojans and Myceneii. You must match their horses! It's a clash of arms and men die before one spade of earth has been broken: before one cabbage is grown.” He thought for a while on that. “Sure every generation a few rich families lay-out homesteads. They grow grapes and almonds and poppy. I can tell you those families wear out fast.”
“Wear out? You mean ...”
“ Yeah that's exactly what I mean. After four or five years the men start giving away their gold chains and the women move to the mountain to take up as temple whores. I'm talking wealthy, high class women who wouldn't step on a street if your dirty footprint had passed there before. They say the gods must be crazy, to make them act like that. I think it's the kif. Oh would you like a bowl? Oh sorry it is kind of early in the day.”
“How about the cattle. Can you milk them and make cheese?”
“If you can milk rice out of a cobra , sure. There is a story of a satyr who lets a frozen cobra bite him once-a-year. He's then safe the rest of the year. Have you heard that ?”
“Anyrate I can't tell you how the Kurds do it, one generation after another harvesting shiploads of poppy and kif! You pick it by hand and can't survive a mountain winter without it! They cure bud and flower in the eves of their wool tents. Come winter you can't get within fifty paces of a tent and still walk a straight line. Still they make enough babies and flour to keep the next generation alive. Tell me those are not tough men! If Troy could hire a regiment of those horsemen they would walk across the burning bones of Sparta in Chian silk stockings.”
“I didn't know the Chians made silk.”
“Fat sheep give wool and fat worms give silk. Clever bastards the Chians. They stole a few worms from red-beard road traders who came from the east and that was that. You know of the slants? Could red-beard traders and their slant servants go to war so far from home?”
Traders had dreamed for this Shepperd, and now he awakes. "Friend Alaka , tales from the east balloon and turn like oven baked bread. Slant yellow-men as slaves? I thought them all merchant princes or kings of the martial arts, and speak shit of the red-beards! Who could overcome them?”
Slyly … “fortune like the winds changes with each traders. Master of a fleet … and a storm pleads you an oar-slave! Several cities sprinkle the caravans desert route, before hitting the great-fresh-sea. Everyman serves fresh water! The toss of bones may switch merchant to slave … while same man next trip wears fox-fur silver and fucks all the daughters of his previous master. Tis a war of all-against-all as mages say.”
“Our trade Council does not say that,” I grunt disturbed.”
“Nor your glorious lady, master … hehehe …,” the bastard snipes lewdly. “But, anyrate those fat silk-worms are happy eating island hemp leaves and buds. Impossible tasks flowed like Gaulish ale, all so easy once Chians built a huge brick glass-roof warehouse heated like an oven from cavern-gas to keep the worms happy.”
“Red beard road. I have heard that name from the Scythians. Once having portaged over to the Caspian Sea I tried to follow it. Really I was ready for a risk! What I found was just a swampy camel trail wandering East , but my Scythian guides got very nervous and crapped out.”
Alaksa cleared his throat and managed a low, evil laugh. “Cannibals … that's the story most travelers tell of the red beards. I'm surprised Scythians took you as far as the swamps; they love to eat relatives, but don't like outsiders chewing-the-fat.” Alaksa laughed at his own small joke. “You may find a few wild worm colonies on Lesbos; some of the villages gather it, but every village around us makes wine. I mean the grapes grow wild, but the weather is so mild that the wine will give a female monk weak knees, knocks her right over, juicy as a sybarite! But, do we touch it? Not us.” Alaksa looked at us carefully. “Do you really need to go there, to Loutra and risk the gods know what?”
“I need the Loutrain glazed jars to hold olives and peaches … and perhaps more. We intend to contract entire villages for their fruit. That's a lot of filled Loutra ceramic jars.”
Alaksa burst into wild laughter. “Hold? You mean like 'filled'! What you say is sensible to all, but Loutra. Their minds stop where the empty jars end. Trust me. For Loutra the clay trade is too profitable. Any money spent on stuffing the jars is profit they lose! Any trader bent to a full jar is a trader they must straighten! I know it seems insane. But, the King doesn't even need to kill guild-leaders any more to keep the output high and to discourage others harvesting fruit. Glass is class! Glaze is the way. Everyone works like a dog.”
“Work they may, but not like that one,” cracks a somber warning from Mykron, whose glass has been scanning east toward the sea. He has moved beyond our copse to the edge of a worn stone-quarry potected by felled birch logs for a better downhill perspective.
“Think dim not invisible I mutter to our female guide who would seem more comfortable in a wedding procession.”
Mykrons call. “Forty chariots if there be one!”
Artyphon trots closest and has the second look. “Hectors black chariots scour below. They want nothing of our hill, as a tree-line, two meadows and a ravine separate divide east. You can see a pond and smoke from a plundered farmhouse.”
“Run, my friends” shouts the Shepard. “Run like a milk-sucking mouse with a cat on its tale.”
Now … here … movement does not become me. “Do the elk and bison stampede against his frolic or does their instinct fear the hand of Mars?”
“Elk … bison … Hector picks his teeth with their horns.”
“But, not with Hyrkons!” My thick-belly forest pony wanders beside Mykron, who scouting had the lone stallion best of breed. With the sun behind us even Hectors silver-scrolled chariot and his raised silver helm stand out from the cohort. Men trail from the burning, dragging bodies perhaps while others in light leather and mail rashly dart ahead.
“Like they have no glass. A horse warrior prefers running up-your-ass not watching it vanish while he ponders.” I share a view with Ganymede - - who may never have glassed before - - her breath startles wordless. Our van retreats under the long birch tree shadows. Our Shepard wiseman, Ganymede our guide, Mykron, two archers and six slaves with mules and donkeys bawling. A sea-turtle might have heard us, and indeed two of the chariots break uphill from their main van and dashing a tack across meadows gain on our outpost.
“If we run we escape.”
Mykrons hashish comes to the rescue, and I am in no hurry to finish the pipe. Then … “If we run we escape before Leutras walls … where Hectors 40 chariots and light archers will set their tents. How Leutra will appreciate our gift - - the most deadly warrior between Sythia and Carthage threatening to rip their walls into womans thongs should they not release us. If Leutra ever took us in for their high observation towers see all.”
Silence and fear lay heavy. Then Artyphon. “We are not here!”
“How are we there, undetected?”
“Mykron, was there a track above the quarry?”
“Naturally, Cibias, a corduroy track parallel the lip. How can you get … “ His eyes shine. “And I bet the rotten logs that hid me are snake-havens. Logs and snakes distract if they appear unexpected!”
“How can we make logs and snakes do that?”
“One large long timber for a lever, jostling into the logpile and … indeed one rested just before me!”
Ganymede quick thinking. “Space between logs and rim?”
“A farmers fat cart-width.”
“Then Hectors scout chariots are most likely to follow the track. We can set three men ...” And resting back on her saddler she begins to sob, for the least error condemns all three lever-men to the Dark River.
“Settled,” I say.
Fever and cold sweat urge us on, crawling. Now we kneel low. “Grip well Cibias for we are fain to see thee thrown over the logpile.” So humor both archers as we have levered the lever-log under a prime nest of cobras slithering about. Frail animals really, should you avoid their bite! We are the three ; I have ordered Mykron to retreat our van uphill, and head to the forest should we fail our trial. Trial by throw, trial by lever, trial by …. feckin fuck the bastards for discounting the steeps their chariot dust-trails run toward us not away by 200 paces. Trojan archers ride anything that eats hay, but their chariot horses are of mixed steppe and desert breed. Nothing if not strong and tireless from unending travel through high grasses and shifty sand. They would stampede the hill and all those hiding.
Where find I white-lace of my blue-water crests? Where rolling slopes of swells? Again a battle forms up against my experience. Like that of the assassins against our mummers van trading from Amathus. How those bowmen swarmed through the low ferns and died on the long-spear bronze tips. Bastards! Now we kill not with weapons, but fronting a geometers wedge. When the chariots come between our logpile and the Quarry rim we shock harshly down on the lever-log. The logpile flies, snakes scatter hissing and biting at air, tree-trunks leap, jump, dash, rumble, toss … I think of every active motion ... taking the chariots with them. Both horses and 4 warriors tumble to death over the quarry edge. From below it looks like an accident of poor horsemanship for which the Trojan mind finds no sympathy.
“Will they come up to recover the bodies?”
“Hector will send his most disliked slackers. They will find nothing of us, and perhaps discover a viper at their throat!” Time belongs to none! The chariots dust and noise and insane activity comes slashing past us.
“Now! Heave mightily. Logs away! Lift them up thrust and tumble . Drive the grip downward … “ Many arms to one end, as on the Belisama. One driving lever can lift a top-gallant from deck to foremast. So now, on this pitchy afternoon in the Lesbos mountains logs screech and move. How the timber ripped bloody at our hands. Hemlock it was and pitchy, known to heal rough, but corrupt damaged flesh! Had Astarte sent it forth to despise our lives, or did Cybelle salve our wounds? A second held their lives, as the snake-infested logs crashed over them.
Truly enterprising charioteers might have sprung to the fore, drivers and bowmen leaping to horse while swords slashed-away chariot pins behind them. Pitchy pine warp skeleton of the chariots doomed, but the living who rode … for seconds this disaster floated before me … might have been a close thing even for warriors most clever. Logs we loosed shot for’ard with vast speed; a miracle for Hectors scouts to escape and we die, but fates grasped with gnarled hands their loom - - ancient fingers did not stretch linen skeins that far.
Long after the logpile billowed down on the two chariots I kept grunting for our enterprise that we be not backward in any motion for success. Smash the bastards and long seconds after the logpile smashed the bloodied bastards over the quarry rim in into Hades I could not stop … till Mykrons hand slapped close my face and yanked me into the saddle girth behind him.
“Did we butcher them,” I shout into Mykrons ear. “Has Priams son scoffed away his warning?” Below us the quarry amplified and extended the sound of crashing logs , shattering chariots and a mans one curdled scream. The two archers were already 30 paces ahead, under the birch copse and through it behind their riders with Artyphon and Sabeen holding tight to horses reins. Woman I thought …. as dust thickened making certain our escape … women have been known to save a man.