We discourage revealing animal company with slingers pellets, but hawks circle watchfully for their hatchlings first feed. Our horses grow headstrong, jumping the sage and rosemary bushes smelling change. Leutra awaited. Idling through clover strips we come at it along the neutral ridge, the trail dodging meadow to forest and again wandering beneath the rocky crest from which Loutra spirals up like a wedding cake made of sandstone and clay.
“Leave you to fortune, kind travelers” Alaksa our Shepard says in well-met goodbye. Tis at a limestone spring. “Towers of Loutra and sentries appear just over this rise.” He reminds us we travel to his enemies moreso than Hector. Bits of food become our exchange … sweet dates and figs and a silver thimble of coffee against berries of straw and goose and wilders. That all lived brought joy, as the spring washed us all. Hardly turning aback Alaksa vanishes with his dog beneath a flowered bramble. Among us gone his meme crosses our spirit.
“Dead before breakfast porridge.”
“Another lost soul.”
“A poor man alone.”
“Close to Cybelles heart.”
“One free man alive, “Artyphon whispers toward blue heavens and urges us for’ard. Trusting Ganymede the rivulet guides us unharmed past outlying sentries to Loutra city gates before evening.
Unharmed is not quite right. A hawk dashed from the sun upon a bowmans pup: a last dash against the wrong pup. Bowmans sling put a lead pellet through the birds eye, the pup escaping with talon-scratches. Farther along a panther attacks and kills one of our mules. A panther! I put an arrow in its spine and that stopped his foolishness.
“Quite the savage, we voyagers,” snips Mykron, “when we do not trade. He pouches hawk tail-feathers for his much admired tuna-baits. Looking about. “Indeed we have more a forest than a grave.” I shiver, for he repeats Lopktath the ancient Minoan poet ...'lost he, that human finds death, but unsearched finds the beast below'
Stone pens and rivulets I have noticed; could all this be managed by the town-guilds, as does Hyhrkon? While not primeval - - like the great dark inhuman forests of Brums Baltic mid-winter, these Lesbos groves make us believe more of what Alaksa had to tell us. Nervous chatter abounds for what personal craft will such a people admire? Most men might retreat from such sturdy ridges and clefts. Not the Sheppard, of-course, but perhaps he misses others in a desire for self-worth.
We figure him rejecting order, an anti-religious zealot who loves his sheep and wild kif to excess; we wish for opportunity to spend more time with him. He knew more and thought more than most herders. Had he grown up here? Did he have a woman? What did he care for? All that … at some point his dog maneuvered the flock more toward the open basin and I was determined to stay within the double-cover of spindle-oak and the half-size pine trees. After disappearing he waved us a strangers good-bye from the next ridge as might any person met on the trail … now his analysis seems godlike. I swear to beat the first person speaking of anything , but ceramic art!
Guards on the city gate ramparts could see strangers approach leagues away. Our thin and straggling van trots for’ard harmless as sea-cows. Thick tall wall, level terrain, many eyes … no innocent and no fool built such good defensive barriers. We have nothing to hide, and walk with a motley crew of peasant farmers and craftsmen. I raise the trade staff with some prominence, and its three feathers rattle about in a slight breeze. Of-course the women had modestly taken to head-scarf and veil. We shouldn't have scared baby chicks. So they let the nine of us approach within fifty paces of an open gate till locals scattered and a flock of arrows came humming about our ears. Arrows made a circle around us, plowed among the low prickly berry bushes. Of-course we stopped!
Inside the city, now. Hyrkon long ago learned passing visitors to a wineshop far favors our desires, than sending in hoplites to chain them. But, not inside Leutras gaol. “Bring the foreigners to heel, baliff and spread them out.” The judge had ponderously drunk and eaten steadily through the first two cases and was now I thought little more than a wine-filled bag of fat. He leaned heavily on the think pine table before him .. leaned and snored and jumped high revived by a splash of water.
“Who dare splash the councils bailiff,” he grunts. None of the wet-handed jailers admit. “I’ll see two of you lashed, when this straggler issue becomes settled.”
Artyphon speaks up in harbor Phonecii. “Tired we may be, your honor, weary to Kronos bone, but stragglers we are not!”
The bastard could still talk though and he knew the dialect. Still focusing on me, because I carried the Trade Council staff. “Do you know trail-wander only one legal entrance marks passage of a foreign trader; that council-stamped passage runs through the seaport below?”
“I did not know Leutra supported a port on the inland lagoon below.”
“Sea you insolent rummy , an inland sea by damnation not a clam-diggers lagoon. Answer yes or no, trader.”
Chuckling meanly, scribes bracketing the judge shake their pointed gold-trimmed caps. “No? No indeed! No the prisoner says and no it shall be,” intones the judge. “Any laws ignorance is no excuse for a foreigner.” Our judge was a fat pig-eyed ugly kings relative. Had to be. “As the kings right hand I strike thee down!” Fuck! None, but a kings family member could afford to be so stupid and arbitrary while rising in court majesty.
“All visitors, trader or royal honor the Kings desires.”
His eyes wandering to the women. “But, not mine you insolent squid. Do we have a port … pah! Do you bleed blood or ink?”
Querulous. “With the courts leave, where should I have gone?”
“Without knowing of the port, nowhere. Of-course!”
“But, the trail your honor, from Skala to Loutra … it's a very good trail obviously used by...”
The judge all , but shouted, “Skalians!” He peered menacingly downward. “Skalians and a rude sheep-herding class bumble along that trail. Sheep and olives, as if they deserved our pottery!” A scribe had shuffled reefs of papyrus under the judges watery nose and he felt compelled to read a few. “Well er, ah I see some of Ajax & Hectors people use that road … er … ah … none of my concern.” He glares at me. “For a man who shakes his traders staff in everyones face you ought to know who is Hyrkonian and who is not.”
“Island cities welcome Hyrkon traders as kin, and as such we came.”
“The whores tit that whelped you is no kin of Leutra.”
“May I hire an advocate to make a better excuse?”
“ Advocate? Excuse ?” The judge looks at me like a sour piece of mutton just removed from an ice-box that should have froze it solid. Frozen yes, but instead allowed it to go rank and stink up the kitchen. The judge jingles my coin-purse. “I have your gold, trader so you won't be hiring anyone. When a foreigner trods the Loutra paths he trods a secret!” He smiles as if making a discovery that amused him no end.
“What new traders will visit you when the path of trade is a secret?”
His mouth falls open; then he spit all over the wax tablet from which this case was being tried. “A court does not make policy. A court presides over the law.” Then he wipes a rag over the tablet which evidently erased almost everything written; he puffs and heaves.
“Secret? Secrets? Your van spies upon our secrets!”
“A trader accepts every-mans secret and such matters vanish within the trade. His also modestly shared! So do buyer and seller both prosper.”
Throwing back his face the judge laughs at the mortared ceiling. “Clever … very clever, but should this court ask that policy question … do we want new traders 'cause we certainly do not want new paths. Hehehe” He laughs a malicious little laugh peering down at the lot us us standing in chains ... “I detect no smart answer for that, eh … eh … oh yes Cibias. Greek name eh … or what? Persian? Do you agree trader? All new paths lead money away from us, while money flows to us along the few old paths.”
Bastard. Why did he protest so much about novelty which did not exist? Something is cracking open, so I make the obvious jape. “Any man of Loutra who shares risk in my trades will find four silver obols returned for every three invested.”
The judge pounds a ham-fist onto his judicial table making wax tablets fly like pigeons. “May Ceberus damn your eyes, trader! And from whose purse is that silver obol stolen?”
“ From Hephaestus during the day and Bacchus at night.”
The brightly lit and richly appointed room in which Loutra dispensed justice encouraged a kind of inclusive optimism. I can feel it simmer. No trader mocks justice though there be as many kinds as there are weakness of the human will. In Britain a tribal chieftain will rule in a rain-soaked tent; in Germany the whole drunken tribe rules as you swing in a metal cage. Innocent or guilty they will piss on you first. In Egypt it's a priest of Ra with three-thousand years of merciless memory and along the Tigris a satrap will swear only the kings truth influences him … while his book-keepers queer the silver. It's very easy to die in Nineveh and even some of the radical Jewish fanatics who preach there and will curse you to Sheol for a penny have lost their heads to a wenches well displayed Median nipple. Don't even raise a whisper against the temple whores. You can't piss against the wind.
I am thinking along those obscure lines … shivering inside the hollow clay building as the judge grunts a long string of wet coughs … thinking how justice shows many faces as Leutra judges face turns blue.
A jailer shouts, “wine for the judge,” and rushes for’ard. Rooms back corner, a fully veiled woman perhaps the judges wife and moaning as her security guards fingers roam her loins stumbles close behind.
Who expects instant karma? On trial a defendant feels all pain. Judges smirk power. Rare will time make the coin flip; flip as the judges face now gleams bright purple! He grunts, stammers, trying to get something out of his throat, fighting to condemn as only a Loutrain judge can condemn. Stand tall he would! But, instead he heaves up, flings his hands toward the ceiling and then topples from the bench, falling on his face arms thrown akimbo. Turned over blood flecks his lips. All that; then he stops breathing. Tis a crucial moment.
Scribes mutter. No decision had been rendered. The bailiff puts his ear to the breathless judges lips and comes up shouting. “Four years in the clay-pit. All foreign men four years in the clay-pit and foreign women will spend that time at the bailiffs pleasure stamping molds.”
“You heard nothing, bastard,” I shout. He was brassing it through. It was clear to me whose family owned a piece of the clay-pits as the rest of the court must have noticed. Two guards yank back on my chains and again I bite the clay floor. Courtroom turns dizzy with options. Some dickering back and forth among scribes and some plain bald-face bitching. Even the short-sword carrying guards rattle uncomfortably. At that moment fleeting as it was crucial Ganymede throws a thunderbolt and saves our sorry ass.
She shakes off a bailiffs hand and unbuttons her travelers rough-edged and torn hemp cloak. “Damned this villeins paws be a leopard more gentile!” She throws her cloak to the stone floor. Beneath she shows a slim, purple-slashed cotton tunic stained with a Skala trout-hawk and rimmed in cherry-dye lace. The Skala hetmans grand-daughter. I knew nothing ; Artyphon looks satisfied. Mykron cracks a chain, ready to go down squeezing life from a villians throat.
Ganymede cries. “Will noone see my mark and undo these irons? Say you, bailiff , a man who has sered royals since his youth undo these irons and those of my property servants.”
Such expires the explosion of a chained royal. I must remember some … Plain dressed court-workers have already gathered over the judges dead body to try doing what couldn't be done as Charon was never known to return a soul. If anything, however could be more unlike or unforgiven it was ignorance of a bloodline. “Room for the royal, make room for Skalas royal,” pleads a Leutra court maiden.
So now the political shock. A member of neighboring royalty had been bound, impressed and condemned! And a woman at that. A political and social blunder, sufficient to change a well-greased profit-making cultural machine into a chaos of back-stabbing blood-drenched vendettas. War between merciless, savage Skala and benevolent Loutra. I could see lines of terror spreading over scribes & merchant faces. Loutra dis-possessed! Treasury emptied and the queens jewels sold. Oh the kings factors at court could imagine it all … shattered ovens, spears flashing from the dark … arrows flying from tree-tops and the royal whores gutted in their seraglio!
Industries burning … never-mind they were of clay … the city economy swinging from profit to loss to starvation! A volcano striking through the cities middle would have damaged less! Mykron in this confusion breaks the block on my right wrist and the chains fall free. All of this seething emotion , tides of pity and terror I watch both helplessly and in awe of Ganymedes presence!
Then the second thunderbolt strikes. “See her free you peasants, damned be Ceberus teeth see the royal woman free!” A mans silk cape flies from a raised balcony; man- of-the-purple, one of the kings brothers by his gold badge hurries down, brass boot-rings harsh on the sandstone steps.
Loosing her veil by half ... "Prince Karl,” snacks Artyphon to my ear. "He's a well known prize among the seragios." I nod. Not all kings after tasting keep all young wives.
Courts assembly freezes. Silver wrist-torque shines yet Prince Karl approaches humbly, face stern as a warrior: eyes twinkle. As his man retrieves cape, the Prince bends a knee before Ganymede. How Dianna now favors her, for women of Skala live provincial values of work, love and honor. Yet she sparkles as a court jewel, wears a proud, womanly and understanding smile the Kings brother finds irresistible. Thunderstruck .. I know the word and meaning from Sicily, where young gallants will steal a mans young daughter from beneath his bed! Here also it seems. Serving Ganymedes toilet Artyphon has fixed her gold grasshopper, exchanged silk for woolen footpads and over her right breast Ganymede wears a lace badge which covers almost nothing.
Love strikes a man with honor. Seeing the torn tunic yet honor valiant, Loutras young royal swiftly covers Ganymede with his purple cape. “Dear lady please accept my humble aid at this most embarrassing and confused time.”
For a kings brother it was a nice cape , but nothing special. Ganymede squares her soft green eyes into his and says ruefully. “Your judge was insulting, demanding then irrational and now dead. But, his judgment lives on.”
Appalled the prince. “No doubt he was … confused.”
“Confused you say? I am Ganymede of Skala, captive to your honor sir. Councilor to your reason. Release the trader, for he is my property.”
She displays the small flower ring pinned above her again caped, but uncovered breast and points to the larger one, plaited and waxed and looped around my neck. “As for the others … trader, trader! What say you for the truth?”
Steeling voice, I ply best face and bow to both. “Yes Princess Ganymede … these slaves, peltasts and the women … they are my property.”
Princess. It had seemed the natural thing to say. Ganymede pursing her lips has assumed the high-born supplicants tragic pose. “So … so ...”
Prince Karls eyebrows bristle up. “Princess … Princess Ganymede Zeus preserve us and all honor be yours I am Prince Karl,” says he, bowing. “We are at your mercy, fair Lady. My brother King Mykotys will be appalled and vengeful.”
“Pray gentle sir, no lives are lost through this … confusion.”
Seeing the prince face register ‘my gentle queen ...’ . Yet Prince Karls eyes sweep the court-room and gasps flew as eches through the crowd; devil-may-care court-room hangers-on fall on their faces as the Prince growls. “Smooth your pride Princess Ganymede.” Prince Karls bass voice rattled oil-lamps and bounced chairs. “My brother the King … he will deal with his untrustworthy servants accordingly.”
“Cybelles favor to you, My Prince,” says Ganymede. Zeus beard in irons how the woman could curtsy. Where did she learn that? She says, “Well then you see how it is , my dear … dear Prince Karl. Karl … oh yes … I own him, the trader and he owns them so I own the lot. And,” she says twirling around so no virtue remained hidden to princely imagination, ” I am surely not a foreigner!”
Prince Karl valiant kicks open the door; we find attainers waiting. The Kings brother of-course commands horses and so we ride. So I had time to think, and reason to conspire as the iron manacles had torn up my wrists. How to stop these fools again, should they not enjoy our passage? What if the judge had not died? What if I had remained silent or the Kings brother had been inspecting kilns not courts? What if Ganymede stuttered? Chaos reigns past and future beyond nightfall.
Yet love bloomed! “Will you see the Court faire lady,” Prince Karl advises?”
“ My pleasure as forever your cities devoted servant.” Ganymede attends the offer of Prince Karls arm … as he had all , but fallen captive at her feet. Surely a tour of of the cities better neighborhoods would cast Loutra in a proper light. Ganymede agrees. We ride first up, then down in this cobbled-street sand-castle city. Were there any temples the mountainside wind blew free of clay dust? Did the air ever sweeten of its metallic tang? Our path turned down again, leading to a city gate. We speculate on royalties heavy tasks.
Through that gate, the Kings guards house us in a circus tent below and nominally outside the cities northern wall. Prince and Princess ride on together with Sabeen quickly snatching Ganymedes side as her woman-in-waiting. Prince Karl , I observe has quickly proven subtle. Laugh if you will at a circus tent; they are tall and wide and airy! People got along as the King remembers cots and food and ale with lots of soothing simpering servants and a dancing bear. And talk. Servants hint of an African elephant that had gone off to war. They also speak of a port city to which we would surely be transported after our trading ventures. Follow the rim of the ridge-line? Well no, of-course as a foreigner you could not do that. Promises hinted, I see vague conflict and something said of the Kings invitation to a palace ball. I know Artyphon extracts from me the cost of two gowns, and as soon as the princess returned Artyphon remains all night with Ganymede.
Morning breaks lots of rules. Stretching till my bones cracked, but wicked Artyphons red ass pleases me. Artyphon has her woman prepare horses, for reasons unknown to me. Minted and beeched our teeth finish only bread and ale before trouble. Hair stands stiff and your balls turn blue. A hawk has arrived from Tyre. Mykron glasses the silver-foil scratch; Ben Josephs code I tell him. Translated. BELIEVE NOT THE MERCHANTS FOR THEY CONSCRIPT POISON GRASSHOPPERS. Unhappily, I would not trade a jar of beans …. a Captains swift judgement, like that of still swamp-water. Does he mean womens work ?
Generous Artyphon. “Shagmar trapped by Job would sweep-away any Jerusalem trader who challenged him. Even vaster of many-sea Ben Joseph.” Star-eyed Ganymede … Prince Karls cup-bearers approach. Artyphon swears us to respect. "Twill be our life to rebuke," she foresees bustling about our fire. So with all mimed joy we allow Kings escort to sweep away Ganymede. Not only swept her off, but also Artyphon, with Sabeen and Tira saddling fast on their tail.
Sore thoughts of an invading leopard carrying me off in its jaws, I move alone to the outside. My souls Artyphon? Why does the Hebrew trader bird from Trye not Jerusalem. Insecure to bird, but from a ship or your own keep-safe. Muskets of Lebanese ceder are stored in his damnable desert water-hole for a gods temple not yet designed. Or loved, as Hebrew tribes clash. Asher Dans dead lover shouts to my ear. Thinking maybe ...
A servant brings hot flat-bread. Concrete Titians to fore. Any visitor could look at nothing, or at the wall, and like most of Loutra that wall was all business. Ceramic ovens gleam and glow and simper in that wall. Efficient for provincial folks. A living wall you might imagine as if mud-wasps and fire-flys mated and the hellish progeny had settled next door. When firings were done a column of sparks would fly from the chimneys. Scrubbers with brass brooms would climb out through the smoke of those chimneys and when they stopped to rest , hung from rope ladders like Barbary apes. How could they live?
Those overhanging ovens catch my attention. I would have rather been a galley-slave. Yet more to the point what did sparks and smoke have to do with firing pottery? Surely the burning charcoal doesn't mix with the wine jars. Then again why burn charcoal to fix powdered surface color? Much hotter and more expensive than say … now that was it … what I really thought; what I really saw was Loutras new business. All that fire and heat and Ceberus brimstone not too hot, but just the right temperature to smelt Anatolian iron ore! And what was scrapped from air-flus, but some adjuvant for the smelting … something weird and obscure perhaps something found like the comb of gold speckled young glass used by Minos … physical magic that allowed the iron to melt easily.
Smile or cry … send a bird flying at once if bird I could find. Too much for a Kings sailor to bear, but not too much for a Kings …. the thought rumbles my gut. Kings what indeed! Much to bear, the discoveries of iron worship and its hovering Myceneii priests. I run hot and cold in a fit of unshared success. To follow its joy and defying Artyphons heart I would have pounded a willing slave girl into lubricious heaps had one been near me. If King Minos shares this agency with his sons … damned by Zeus beard we have been trolloping boys together all three lather and mischief since infants sucked tit and became aware of nothing. I quench a wine bowl and blow along a poppy-pinch as a stream of grey ash.
Laugh or cry? I am standing alone in the tent-shadows. Then I am not alone. And whether the dim bastard could have cut my throat before he whispers “if iron and the purple are enough, trader, follow me” I will never know. In long shadows of morning he appears invisible.
I palm the small Spanish dirk Artyphon had given me on Pans birthday. “What are we doing?”
From under his rough wool hood. “Keeping a chatterbox trader alive.”
So he says and says nothing more. “Assassin!”
“Of a dreamers twisted threads Moira vexes.” I move beside the short dim man while he finds every damn little brush and tree between the tent and the wall. Clever how he makes stuff up, so we never quite walk in the open yet lots have been planned. A small leeway at ground level opens into a narrow stairwell curving upward along the wall. Yes I have walked lava-pipes in Italy, where volcanoes spit out their hot rocks and this pathway was more narrow and dirty. It stops … up there, high on the wall where the ovens heat made a difference. Nesting! Makes sense that people who knew about the iron smelting would now be … nesting & talking near the iron smelting. Yet at least another option might hold. I don’t like that second option, that I be ashed & smelted out of the picture while companions were no where close.
Fucking heights! Heights don't encourage feet to grip tightly, so my impending death advises some sense as we come out of the stairwell and enter an upward sloping trough; hallway then still sloping. When it levels we dodge among a maze of dark, airless and empty rooms. It's where the Loutras killed people … or where some Loutras killed some people … or where metal-working Loutras killed … I feel warm drafts.
“Life will not end with purple dye or the steel, you know that trader! ” His voice makes an older and more prudent version of Prince Karls booming base. Brothers, Prince and King … the brothers sounded amazing the same. King Mykotys stepped out from a doorway. Light bloomed in the hall behind it, so careworn traces appeared as he moved toward me. “We race from the unloved to the unknown by way of the unmanaged. Do you think Minos did better before the fall?”
I know a King when I see one and put my knee to the floor. “King Mykotys.”
“Foolishness,” he rasped out, coming up to me alone and offering the clasp of open hands. “You are well known Cibias, to a dozen assassins!” He shook his head an amused curl to his mouth and motioned me to stand. “Well trader, speak up! What say you of your precious Minos?”
I think of his three-fold way – unloved, unknown and unmanaged. In the past unloved … a big fat fuck you for Cretan rule. “We are taught two things; that like any nation rain and sun fell equally on all, but Cretans bore the Kings weight, and that the Cretans found grace before they found destruction.”
“Oh you were taught that... my my.” King Mykotys made a rye face. “Never were modest, eh trader, the Minoans, not their women and not their philosophers. Well well perhaps you may show us again.” He motioned to the dirk at my belt and I handed it over. He thumbed the blade carefully. “You use a damnable word, Hyrkonian. This 'grace'; some priests of Ra claim grace is like sunshine , a part of the God himself and yet is given to humans. But, enough of this sideways talk.” He shoveled the dirk into my palm. “Please come in, join me, the room has windows … it's a library actually and Mytilene ale serves the table.”
He could have said the room was busy. Windows on each end of the corners fitted bookcases in between and permitted a touch of breeze, but no more. The room had no candles, but what I took as frittered glass balls soaking below in whale-oil and glowing at the flame-speckled top. I had such a toy in my Hyrkonian villa, but could rarely afford the oil. The small bent-over man, pockmarked and querulous looked away through both windows, and returned standing beside the King and saying nothing. I took him for councilor. Perhaps he did nothing at the window, but two slab-faced guards quickly appeared outside the doorway. Persian rugs of exquisite variety covered the floor.
Yes I did kneel for the Queen … Queen Charis. She wore leather riding boots and britches, and about her shoulders a silk tunic and dust-robe. I kissed her golden ring. A hooded scribe wrote down every word and to finish the bargain a very old woman wearing a silver tierra, fur cape and mittens against the heat sat in the sixth chair. She drank ale continuously while a servant filled the cup.
“She gets cold ,” said the Queen. I nodded. “A thousand years ago, Cibias or two thousand it must have been like like this, everywhere that was anywhere. First caves. Then keeps gather walls against the night. A trader wanders through from afar and village nobles crowd close for his stories.”
I raise my ale-cup in toast. “I should wish it so, fair Queen, above all that ever happened.”
“Wish? You do not believe Kings traded?”
“I don't believe traders wandered!”
Queen Charis raised an eyebrow. “A fearless trader admits to laying-abed, soothing his seraglio while his stories of adventure multiply and travel for him. Your ships log, Cibias would start you along the Dalmation coast … no doubt savage women and ale are to your taste. Then you hop the backwater Greek ports... scavenging for silver no doubt and a bit of that hard metal iron the Corinthian dogs are said to forge. Then a wild dash to that port-of-bards, Piraeus and a bawd public play that even the women attend? How bold can they be behind those veils? No comment I would not think you could dare! Then you fly again through the Bosporus to the Scythian Chersonnese.” She was reading from a crumpled bit of papyrus. She gave it back to the Kings councilor. “And then after a homey stay with Parthian pirates, your bed-wenches family have you no shame …? 'Course not and blood-lust prompts a joust with the Eleans before you come to us! Do we take this as a wandering pen, rather than a wandering Hyrkonian?”
A lee shore if I've ever seen one, this queen. She was much amused with her own cleverness, and satisfied as women rarely are. She finished the draught of ale. “Planned or unplanned, did you scotch the Eleans?”
“Hectors work, to the death, your highness. A flaming bitter death.”
“Flaming … bitter … what a warrior he must be when aroused ...”. She laughed wickedly and called for the ale-wench. I matched her cup for cup wondering how she had got her paws on the Belisama logbook. I had to say something stinking of a plan.
“ You may judge our planning for yourself, madam as that which men wish to accomplish. Amphipolis will never take second place as a backwater most true – Autarch Georgous sent four-hundred hoplites against our landing, mind though we came under the trade-laws, and though we had already paid parole for the two Phrygian captains held ransom we had contracted to transport. Our oarsmen escaped with only their honor and without the Phrygians That night we broke into the gaol and took them. How fairly we may have dealt with the Eleans will never be known as they ran down on us with a galley fleet, approaching Troy but we were faster at the cost of a mainsail. Had we planned to visit one or both cities the Goddess may judge … but the attack made neither possible. By such my fair Lady go the plans of a sailor in chaos.”
“Superb … superb!” Mykotys was quick after it! “Ha haha oh Cibias we will have you a sculpture and a medal cast by that Rhodian fellow with quick drying concrete. How the gods flog you. Organize all you will, yet you wander from one misbegotten adventure to another. We may not allow our tears to wash your fame! Ha ha what a devil you are , how we would morn for long-faced traders and … and how we would privilege them haha should your hankerings, your frisky little pets of sad imagination lead our actions. Oh hahaha !”
He didn't believe a word I said. “I protest King Mykotys. It's not sympathy we ask for, but the blessings of Tecknos, council maps and the Kings dragoons!”
The servant splashed a full measure of ale into Mykotys bowl. ”No doubt the Cretans organized trade in those elder days, about which our mages tell such stories. Those days of sharp-tailed dragons, and long-jawed red-haired fiends. We still scare our children with those legends. Should the King be frightened by maps and dragoons, as he was by the fiends?”
“Yes, if he cannot supply them. Fiends spring from ground unmapped and laggard patrols.”
“Why do you insist on tormenting us, trader?” Mykotys had got up and worried his sandals pacing about in a small circle. “You will rue the demand, trader, for maps and hoplites. The Myceneii will supply them at the sharp steel end of their bloody-handed conquests!” He points straight at me. “They will remember you! Mark my words Cibias, no woman will lack a veil nor citizen a Hyrkon slave. ”
The Kings eyes have grown harsh and his voice; I grew silent. Queen Charis hides behind her gold ale goblet. “Do the women believe you, trader,” asked the Queen sharpening her eyes? “I'm told ...”she said hesitating while the Kings councilor whispered ...” I'm told that the Mytilene trader Sanjan detailed you his two lovely daughters; Sabeen and Tira ...” she was prodding along, feeling me out for a hook.
Like any good trader... I wouldn't let one eye wink. “Young men think the world of them – Tira the rebellious nymph, a warriors wife and Sabeen already a hetaera in all, but flesh. Adventurous both. How odd your councilors pass by them. They may still remain with you in whatever capacity you desired should you ask them.”
Queen Charis. “The Kings brother has already set his teeth into your Skalian councilor. Clever wench. Healthy too and not simple about it. Already we joy their sons.”
“Has a marriage been announced,” I ask” The Queen demurs. “Forgive me my Queen, as a trader sees his worth in the odd fairness he brings to his trades. I am bound by that fairness to Sanjan, under the law-of-trade and by the same law bound to his daughters. What honest trader offers a worn rams-horn for a basket of cherries? Both girls live on Aphrodites cusp, blooded by both Hyrkon and Assyrian races I expect they will assume their fathers business. A sea of trade awaits them as circumstances allow.”
“So trader you dispose of such desirable young flesh as shop-keepers. How sad for the boys and … and how optimistic of you … but, very well. Surely Princes Ganymede … her eyes glow liquid fire whenever she watches our young Karl. ”
“My Queen I believe that liquid glow is a kind of hot-fish-sauce.” I snatched a quick sip of the ale. “ Skalans pour it on old tuna. I mean, what woman wants a dead fish on her hook, even if she intends throwing it back?”
Lame as the cottage mule. I know it after the first words, but who can just shut an open mouth? I take the Queen by surprise and surprised women remember, but do not laugh. The King, inconsolable I think nearly fell off his chair. “ Ha haha enough Cibias har har oh my oh my being a dead fish on a womans hook what a funny man you are would that we all had many streams and many fisher-women har har har oh dear me ...!”
“Queen Charis shot back. “Carp die every spring, so that will be quite enough.”
I had no idea what task they want of me, but having been called I put my shoulder to the nearest wheel; it rolls and rolls some more, and Janes your sister wasn't going to stop it now. The Kings councilor has maintained a steady mumble, like knuckles in the Kings back I think, but mumbles turn to ominous static. “Oh well my my the Queens sharp polished iron hooks oh yes they fish in troubled waters ..”
“Trolling for which, Myceneii or Hyrkonian or Phoenician fish,” snaps the old womans voice like the breaking of a glass spear.
“Oh well oh well my dear let's see I can't imagine anyone enjoying barbs and blades and hot bloody shanks oh no no no ,” which certainly put the councilors ship to sea and his mind to rest for he then said nothing. But, the Queen appears pleased. Does a villain hide behind the Queens stately presence? I sit quietly while King and Queen exchange rancor. Ants beware during a dog-fight!
Then the old woman removes a candle from her poke and lits a bright small flame. She speaks the croaking gasp of neat death: “ Troy weakens with every fallen hero, Phoenicia lays scattered, the ancients looms burnt even as Carthage builds and the Myceneii rebounding and eternally young leap from strength to strength.”
As a flute tuns to a whistle, so the room finds history. “Patience trader,”mocks the Queen? The hag intercepts speaking.
“What strong breaths these villages of ravenous stoats … Sparta, Corinth, Argos, Thebes, Athens … who will deflect their spear-points? Where are the multi-colored towers of Atlantis, Cyprus , Nylai and Crete, but crumbled into the great salt Sea. Huge were the builders oaks. Those towers were old and the flame carried before Jove scattered his seed among dark men , but subtle of the southern coasts. Lesbos was a child then and a plaything of the Minoans, like a willing nymph beneath a satyr, but where now do their peltasts march under the golden bull and dolphin. Where are the blood-stained red-beards still trampled under bronze heels? Where do their copper-shelled hulls fly beyond the pillars , and ravage inside them terrible in gore-covered visage? Your precious feckin-A coffee, trader … do you imagine how long men have crushed the bean? While the world was still cold and their fathers fathers huddled to fires and squatted on each-other while Sheol demons howled at wooden walls. Then flint ax in hand they drove off the red-beards. Few and mighty they were and hungry for mens flesh. They ruled from castles among the ice and Aphrodite melted the ice-walls from which pine forests grew. And hard was their bloody fall as horses swept them from the eastern plains. They had chanted paeans to their ice-gods from time out of mind. Fathers of their red-haired fathers gloated over the white tusked herds they drove onto frozen lakes crashing through to doom. How their strong men howled over well fed women. How the fat-fires streaked with giant bones and jagged broken joints reached the sky and tempered the ice-gods harsh joy. Top of the mountains haggard men burned pitch and drove staved demons even as praying for dawn-light. Wolf-skins saved many and thirsty spear-points faced the bears. Some died. Macedonian snows blew forever. Even then were there ragged men who watched from fern woods dark and hostile and secret and old.”
“Wine sah,” a corseted slave offers, her breast brushing my arm. Then the ancient continues.
“See here rogue Cibias. Rough men old men hard men white as pearls crossed the dry-bone channel that now creates the Tin Isles.” Her voice became heckling. “ Not all humans, mind, for many appeared old men though young. Thick legged and without a mans weapon, they strove night covering their shame because they could not comprehend the fires. And even the humans gathered male to male with children few, like the Bogges till a wise woman brewed her peach ferment and enticed male hunters snatched first for the bawd then softly enchained. Such human beasts had come down from cold-lands to the north , from valleys sunk in water-ice and scoured by ravenous masters half-human. Such beasts … Bogges you say left their women to howl pain beside newly dead children who were not understood by those women who would give the tit, but not call down the man beside them.”
She breathed fast and hard and her eyes glittered diamonds like a young womans. King and Queen polished pearl ringlets lusting for the memory of which Cybelle has gifted few. Damme, Mykotys and Charis had a real one. I had heard such on the green islands, a blond goddess telling of heroes old before time was counted and of mad and impossible ocean voyages. Men lusted for her tales. In prize she had taken two men and cut their throats. Her ass made the prize of many an ancient war-house feud and she used it well. Those were days both faire and foul. And once when taken as a Scythian prisoner I heard one greater. The witch had brewed her mushroom tea and howled for two full days until she died given sight and speech and memory by wind-gods on the great eastern plains. She had buried four husbands and would not chose the yoke again, but instead would set free her own spirit. A fool repeats her words. The old womans raw throat swallows potato ferment and her eyes glaze.
“Not long now,” she whimpers, “not long for me indeed!” As breath failed her she told of the seas first breaching the Pillars of Hercules; torrents of time and space before all our times and all Our Sea. “Twas the end of an ice-covered age, when Bogges ruled north and hairy apes south. Even the Berber feared them for thus cannibal kingdoms formed !” She closes her eyes. “Ye be not the first rude Prince of the mountain and Rhode foam-flecked waves. See the early ones sprung from their winter-castles bright shielded in blue ice how the thunderous the pour of water. Titians thrust frozen rams against the Spanish mountains; falling ocean rainbows misted auroche meadows drowning pastoral and from heights mystery of creation had been watched by a blond man and a bronze woman.”
Arawn protect us, that of the ancient lifeless sea humans intrude. "Unthinking, unshaven yet smashing stones they were, till the sour-rye bent them." The old woman goaded her hashpipe and storied on for another hour. Memory weakened and I remember what I can. Of monarch elephants and rude tribes that stalked them and curved tooth leopards stalking all. Of the great flame and thunder and surf! When the flame flickered she snuffs out waxed ember. “Grist for a mill, should ye understand, trader?”
My heart venturing hammers my chest. A boyhood song emerges. “Jane's your sister nice old cousin, ply the damsels twelve a dozen!” Embarrassed, I say no more playing on the two-faced god. “Those hulls will sail no more.” Sail no more indeed, sometimes I cannot forgive my own cleverness. Yet I am repeating her words backward and forward like poetry my Cretan tutor had taught me to memorize. The silence becomes uncomfortable.
Queen Charis. “Put down your mallet, Cibias. I can hear you hammering hemp-pegs into blocks of oak. Of-course they won't work.”
“As the flat-faced Bogges failed to work? Minos houses two of their bone flutes. Alarek swears bearing north you may still find them pestering local kings.”
“But, not me!” Mykotys pounds fists into a plush pillow. “Pay attention, how the Mitanni blundered because it's fools history more than mine. The Greeks thunder to Zeus, treating their women like dogs and their slaves as cattle, but even they surpass you! Less becomes more!” The King drains his wine-bowl calling for more while fixing me in his eyes. “Do you expect to spend the next thousand years doing the placid traders delight cruising as the last thousand? Will bare breasted maidens welcome your bows and simpering peasants throw their wares at your feet?” The King was in high tone, and his face grew bright. “ Be assured, Loutra does not. Even the gods cry in Zeus new paradise. We have turned away from old habits. We do not farm or fish or plant or harvest, but we manufacture, build, assemble.
“Pegs for the ignorant; who attacks a city of clay? Modern ways become us; we'd stretch iron cable to the clouds and glue the trees together if we could find glue-pots big enough! We have raised high walls, set war machines against the ill-wishes of enemies and become wealthy. Say what you will about Leutras stern culture; we set irons greeves against tomorrow. How will you survive?”
Zeus beard … my first thought retreated to Alreks story of the surviving Bogge village, buried in frozen ground, hidden on a frozen sea, nested by rhythms already old when ice-mountains ruled the land. And trading diamonds for bronze just to eat. Some trading is theft as proves also the novelty of a fresh day. “ Survive? I don't know that we will. We trade with our partners, yet strong vessels sink and captains drown cursing the gods. Tecknos thrives, yet simple men die in front of me and I don't understand evil things. Should I cast far enough and fast enough and deep enough with my trades will I write the future?” I laugh. “Will I ever see the Loutrian Queen smile? Or Borophus!”
“Cowardly Borophus, who covered himself with his womans silks while escaping?” The Queen almost laughed, then stiffening shot back. “I'd put the flog to such a bold traveler as you … if he carried not the Cyprian bronze. And Scythian mink-skin!”
I had to smile, but the King was not amused. “Do you tire of us so soon? Well never mind ...” The King paused and turned away, as if removing something hidden in a purse. He said. “ For all the worth it brings might as well see a Titan thrashing in his own gore -- you'll see the bloody-minded bastard tomorrow. But, you will not curse the gods.” Then he leaned towards me and slapped a silver-bossed code-stick into my palm. “You'll need this to get off the Theban dock!”
“Tecknos,” I exclaimed! “And to get on it?”
Mykotys gave me a hard look and grasped his sword-hilt. “Why the gods ever allowed Hecate-browed Mycenae to foul our Sea I will never understand. ” Charis had come next to him, grasping his arm as if to protect him. “We adjust to survive, and choose new actions; you choose a new god. Very well, for a mystic, or oracle or a seer, but how very confusing for a trader.”
Queen Charis covered her husbands lips with her fingers. “You will leave us the girl, won't you? Ganymede. We see her kindness and Prince Karl is a fool for her. We have sent runners to Skala, to request a marriage farmer, that negotiations for dower might run smoothly. ”
Any trader smiles. Two cities bound and stronger each by the other. “Her heart already has been won, your Highness. Grant mercy her companion Sabeen who serves from bath to bows-hunt. Allow her service Queen Charis.”
Cautious smiling. “I can swear to her safety and should her tradesman feelings flourish , assure her free return.” In her hands rolls a clay pot, a pewter bell and iron gears small as your hand, but intended to mate with much a larger wooden partner. “And our most favored thanks to your King Minos.”
My own discretion had bought into lots of the Leutra future. What better ally for Skala and where better for Ganymede than here? I promised many other things while not quite remembering why I had spoken so openly. Maybe all times spent with kings are similarly wasted times. Had I intended to change them? They were prepared not to like my words assuring a 'free return'. Who is free before a king? We're back to that! But the old woman reminded them of some oracle … I didn't hear everything … they left for whatever remained of the ball. It being their own.
City bells tolled through open windows into a room, still guarded and bolted , but suddenly empty of reason and thoughtless. Suddenly thinking like that – you better show up at your own party – got me in a sour way. Olives were only a method of figuring, of keeping track of what you did right. Loutras grinding culture had turned away from that ideal of Minoans … one law-of-trade acting among many free states ... law enforced by the free choice of those states.
King Mykotys raises his hand … that the interview had ended. I salute and bow to the Queen. “Fortune guide you trader, for I see Cybelle as well as Minos places supreme hope on your shoulders. For our small part, taste of Loutras table, for new joy banishes old fears.”
Hope of what, I might of asked … hope before tasting fear? Yes perhaps … in a different world. Not that scruffy wasteland bastards wouldn't starve otherwise, but if a wealthy island like Lesbos could not follow our lead then the twin fires of Myceneii and Phoenicia would toast us to cinders. Then again all tired-foot traders with one pelt on their mule and one amphora on their back felt their deals spun the world round.
Guards escort me from the Kings library, six in all which appeared many for humor. Our van works down a series of long halls till a small door opens on a plaza open to the sky, but hedged by four granite-blocked, ceder-rimmed passages , each with a different wood fluting. Redwood I knew and Baltic birch - - one young cup-bearer sits mid-room in an Egyptian chair; a grizzled guard hovers over him and opens a parchment sheet on the bench before him. In sit in the open chair.
Quill in hand. “You are Cibias Min.”
He marks a square on the ruled parchment. “Twenty-four suns since your birth on winter solstice ...”
“My wet nurse told me so.”
“Yes or no, please ...”
“Captain of the Hyrkon cruiser Belisama, whose building cost amounted to 23 silver talents.”
I have noticed the mans questions have not been stated as questions. “Belisamas Captain, yes. If 9 for hull, 3 for keel and 6 for masts, I yet cannot speak for the bronze fittings until next Trade Council meets.”
“Yes or no, please.”
Red faced this quill-scratcher crushes his feather into the parchment, smirks and slapping away the chair stalks off. Then three guards hustle me through a door woven of hemp and rainbow colored silk. This small narrow parlor is plated in silver-trimmed ceder. Four scribes work at their oak benches copying manuscripts on papyrus scrolls. Guards change: these two new worthies carry only ironwood lances , and guiding open ivory-linked bamboo shutters clamp me past a mahogany door-frame into a curved brightly lit lecture. Doors close and a 2nd coral-painted shutter slides into place .
Guards ground shafts standing at rest on the ceder floor. A tonsured scribe potters his inkwell beneath a flickering candle; statues of winged lions bracket the flame. I step for’ard. Sunlight from corner windows cross where I stop. Forty paces … that fall my sailors eye measures between window-frame above and rocky soil below the castle walls. Might as well speak first I imagine. “Well founded my friends, such an aerie for unexpected travelers, traders and I, poor servant of good King Minos. How may I serve the Lords?”
Redwood stick rockers make a rim for three turbaned, shawled, bearded Freemasons. They sit about me like honey-badgers about a cobra. Bejeweled each mans little finger carries a silvered Masonic ring. “You’re his bastard, aren’t you,” snap pale lips of the eldest.
“No babe knows his own cradle kind Lord.” How long they dug at my past I cannot say, but for the lengthening shadows and brighter lamp-light.
Questioning some obscure traders venue - - Fat man chuckles, whispers to both sides but his jaded companions satisfy him not. Spitting. “Tutored?”
“By a Minoan sailor.”
“Minoans have all died.” A small explosion covers his poppy-pipe in green fumes. “Did King Mykotis or Queen Charis mention anything about tin?” Twas again the eldest Pharisee who queried.
“Honored elder, the word tin never crossed lips.”
“Or iron?” This fat second man ruby-ringed each thumb.
And my voice strengthens. “Neither iron nor steel. Leutras bronze import comes mostly from Cilician forges; I know the metal flaws.”
Studied silence. Then … “Queen practices pompous bragging on a water powered loom,” chirps the 3rd, retrieving a cold hash-pipe and most clever his ringing voice snips. More clever than I the after-clicks announce
“So do the Egyptians grow cotton, and my sister cabbage! Children play with such trinkets in Hyrkon academies and Skala pools. Upstream downstream what liquid doesn’t turn paddles dipped into the flow? Two gears and flutter twines into webs for butterflies, trout nets and balls for kittens. Do their elders conger stripped tree-bark for tunics using the machines I do not know. All of Our Sea has loomed for a thousand years.”
“Our ovens can make you scream,” threatens the old flogger.”
“And silver bars weigh not one thimble more on the scales. Your masters do have scales, do they not?”
“We have no masters.”
“Mary of Genoa admitted we all of-the-east may loose all slaves. Perhaps become slaves to ignorance. Obvious - - that - - to one with listening ears.”
Elder. “What command may I give and not find a response?”
“Indeed womens karma simpers such , as you slap the tit, flatten oiled back, spread knees and pump their ass. Such are responses given, but not expected!” I think on it, pouring a bolt of iron … “All states of the Mediterranean have water-looms … all except Leutra . All cities forge iron, cities that move against the Hittite threat. But, by your word not Leutra and by my own travels not Elah! What holds them retarded?”
“Cain slew Able for burning iron and we forbid it!” Rubied fingers tone solemnly. “Loutra makes pots.”
And sparks from sir Clever! “Busy hands obey, all commands to ply the clay.” Snickers go round. Not mine.
“What will you tell Hector, Fat man when Mars black sword slices off those ruby fingers one-by-one ? Will he care about your pots?”
“Damn you Hyrkon it’s men soul not their pots our law governs! Our Lions of Judah stand between my fingers and all others. ” Fat jumps from his rocker. “Hector frolics now, but Mycenae will defeat him. We have paid the Delphi goddess to proclaim Hellenes victory and write that prophecy in poured bronze. Tis a law and must be obeyed!”
“Whose law lives in bronze and not peoples heart?”
Emeralds shake on his turban. “You misunderstand our power. Imagine a baker; he works through the coarse stuff of fields. Likewise, whatever we confect becomes law, scribed upon surface all can see. Scribed as the mighty Kings of ancient carved script into their temple walls and as our god of fire scribes into our minds.”
“Minds of dust?” I thank fiery gods for Artyphon "Bodies of clay? What remains crumbles into dust".
“They … they … they … what burns from the fire will always be renewed.”
“But, had you listened to Mary of Genoa you will remember … not renewed for you!”
Riot looms. Guards find a hostile shift . The Clever man simpers sweetly. “Sixty silver talents, Cibias Min to leave the Our Sea traders game and King Minos service. Fly waves. Take to the growing flesh-pots of foreign lands …. Gedes, Benin, Bebensburg , Deli or far to the east Ankor Wat and Peking. Wealth beyond measure, those eastern pleasure-pits ... laced together! Free maths decipher freely where slant-eye willing bitches roam like ants; accomplish our heart as labors rush to your vessel. ”
Cybelles shield …. I must be tough to kill! So I ratchet! “Artyphons brother has promised me every fish-egg and black cherry in Parthia. Your brothers at Temple fly Egyptian longboats to the Ganges and return with peppers I resell to Gauls. Fellow Captain Alreck claims the Bogge-Queens freeze your manhood to their cunt and will release you only after the moons phase repeats. Meanwhile drop-by-drop a mans pleasure repeats! My sister wishes I snatch sea-trout, raise pea-pods and find a wife to chatter her up. Then sisters they, sharing womans tales while spindles hum threads to loom flowing fabric between them. She then may even marry. All offers of tranquility.” Firstly, I move from the crossed beams of sunlight to beside the flickering candle and glancing take-up Clever Pharisees prune face. “Your promise adventure seems quaintly insane!”
One breathless scribe, 3 precious chins unaccustomed to mauling, two guards grunting curses … anything could have happened. And the door breaks through with fabric torn and bamboo slates splintered. A booming voice carries … “Food for the priests, food for the Lords, with all this fish you won’t be bored!” Tis Mykron done out in his best court service supported by the two archers and in flowing African yarns both Tira and Sabeen toting pearl amphora waist high. Their full lace shoulder-veils cover nothing of interest, and my how Tira has blossomed!
My arms are crossed and legs splayed firmly. They .. they the door-breakers … they my heart companions have bowed-to-knee before the turbaned Lords. “This my Lord be Tin Isle sole, iced white from the channel, and these red river run salmon from Nestos so near Zeus heart he would turn Junos ripe ass red to match the color. Oh sorry about Zeus, but you gain the image… eh ?”
“Who are these …!”
“Hot bread of Cylesian rye!” Tira curtsies before Fat.
“Dinner is ...”
“Everywhere my Lords. The bowl Loutra threw and glazed, but the laughing water-nymphs painted by a woman of Amphipolos.” Tira pours a bowl and passes it so barely touching Fat mans hand he stuttering, grasping, reaching so hungry needed grip his chair. “Parthian cherry ferment Lord, from sah Cibias Marsaii villiens.” Slyly … “Twill buckle your knees if you drink without lemon-water.”
“Common among savages, my sister failed to express,” chimed a haughty Sabeen. She approaches Ruby-finger. “Red as your ruby, sah and as any parts a man may concern - - my aged Chian wine for the oak barrels once rinsed in pure potato ferment conjoin with the island goddess grape. Fear not the pagan sah for he knows not the flame and so may not threasten you. Drink deep my lord, while figs and currents smooth the path. “ On cue the archers trundle close, their heavy wooden platters of fruit, nut , barley-bran and fish obscuring all want. Zeus beard how Artyphon must have tutored them !
A commotion behind us. One bandy-leg tailor, six servants of baked eggs, apples and pheasant, four gaudy guild whores and twelve of King Mykotys hoplites have entered the room. Full helmed. Bronze pointed footlets. Their Lieutenant barks to the eldest Pharisee. “To serve the Lords my Lord. See the pitchers of fresh lemon water and the poppy-pipes? When you have taken all pleasure, find us waiting beyond this mended door. Noone shall disturb you.”
After, not hours but heartbeats ! Mykron yanks me from the room, as quick and far as bright orca slaps his chewed seal-pups. I sit among scribes on the parlour floor. This reckless van of mimes - - two archers next , and Sabeen and Tira brashly roughing their bodies dash laughing from the lecture. The tailor already works and weaves new hemp fabric into hinges. “King of the mimes,” cries Tira hugging Mykron to a blush.
“Did you see his face when I ...”
“Wicked sister! I though he would … I mean you left him no control … hehehe ...”
“Innocent baba. Your chiton would scandal Venus! Arms hugging as a play can have , but one author.
“Keep moving now, companions let us allow no after-thought. Keep moving to the left, then right into the wide stairwell.” His red face bristles. “All mercy has Cybelle shown us, yet we must grace Astarte before leaving this wing of the castle.” We dive off the main corridor into a close-furnished, redwood floored temple bright with the smell of poppies. A shining statue near to life as a god. What a brazen thing, in the castle spire a creature of cold beauty , bold and lustful lips and nipples of gold and sex of ivory over which a tiny fountain pours hashish and almond oil only to guide & burn them in a lamp carved about her ass. As if she be real …
“Leave us,” snaps Sabeen.”
"Tis Lesbos, Cap'N and a man answers for it!" Powerless, Mykron, the archers and myself wander from the spire, down one set of three steps and out .. out … out into bankers, banners and cages …. tastes, smells and feelings … out dropping into the fractious middle of Leutras market district … bright with stalls and open food-courts. Spring evening creeps on warm pads. Entire lambs broil, to our Lords displeasure I think, but men carve rashly onto bread-platters covering the meat with oiled mustard and tomatoes damned be their poison. Cobbled streets radiate away, the largest sloping down along a commercial venue, shops well-lit with whale-oil lamps as Dysis rules onrushing night. Dark seeks its own. Wealthy women hunting a plunge brazen clipped and swollen nipples behind faint veils and trailing maidens search out both bearded ventures and precious metal workshops decorated by gold-flake columns and polished oaken doors.
Retainers follow me through a queer city gate, where wooden machines tumble and music, gamesters and gambling run riot. Bodies wizz from all sides. This here … now that .. and another all senses are stretched and beside a painted cobblestone arch I find myself alone.
A small fluted hashpipe helps; I step away to feel the cold stone. Momentus, a kaleidescope of color swims before my eyes only to vanish. “Cibias of blue water ,” the voice calls. I snatch about, in all directions and see nothing.
Drum-beats rattle my stone wall. I shout for Mykron and the archers, but confused shouts only of a market crowd return. Lightheaded. "Ye flagging bastards where be ye?" Stumbling among revelers snaps me along dragon-lines sparkling with Cretan fire and wool banners of gold and red, and boxed between silver and blue papyrus kites that can fly above the heads of those who carried them along. Every color sought the unattended eye, and every sound an ear. Another arch. Every hand reaches out and no body refuses the touch. So am I pulled beneath the arch, where a womans breasts promise and her mouth demands , glass doorways leads to orange warmth and beside a torch-lit dark tunnel … kaleidescope my eyes shatter and the womans body swings hot against mine and hot the blade ….
So poets tell us that goddess unreal reflects our own human love and hate. Without the world of color and swing to distract me I catch the womans wrist-dagger as the blade creases my right ear. Listen close say I. Blade snickers out nipping the mole on my chin. Pay unbalanced. Against the padded wall I toss her, but armed left & right she finds no distraction. The short-spear rips my tunic and sends blood trickling from waist to knee. ‘How strange’ murmurs the kaleidescope.
“Have we met?”
Not a woman to be trifled. “Surely a wine shop in Corinth!” On the orange room fringe my assassin becomes real. A woman not young, but well bodied, armed by leather plates and half-helm. Taut legs show bruises and a small scar creases her neck. A mans teeth? She boasts a womans flesh. “Amazon, “ I say.”
“My kin have taken a village near Troy.” Orange oil usually kills a candle for it is acid. Not here. A hundred fixtures glow orange. Orange blood serves me not.
“Did Hector approve?”
“Hector ran, though our women armed in bronze march in support of Troy. What women can tolerate a Greek ?” The spear-shaft comes at my head again. Light helps her. I yank at the spear-thrust and lucky, grasp & swing her awry crashing out of the bright doorway and into the dim tunnel. She scrambles for’ard , but I just crash into her with all due affection.
Picked up we stand an arm-length apart. “I advise Chian spirits and a slice of rosemary lamb and rice. It’s Egyptian short-grain , but times are hard. ” My dagger still rests in its sheath.
“You are Cibias Min.”
“Friends call me Cap’N.”
“I call you death.”
“Can’t recall that name, but my crew does curse me when I shave their heads.”
A firing volcano I feel the heat. “Your death, for an Amazon woman means life for her children. I cannot marry without first taking male blood.”
“I must be handsome then, should I become your savior!”
“Wealthy people hate you!” She scoffs and uncovers a breast for all the good dark gifts when she pinches it glows a pale green. “Thus shall Cibias never enjoy, this flesh. You have a price on your head, and ten gold sesterces buys me a husband I can fuck and ignore.” She hurls her entire body at me, knife swinging knee-high while short-spear points to the head.
Warm. Dizzy. Colors … Dianna bring me cold. My tutor and I had practiced the response all one winter. We had been trapped on a Baltic lee shore while blizzards howled and Bogge women were hard to dig out of their ice-caves. Two fed us as companions. Skinny as bone, each defended virtue with two birch rods. We triumphed with effort and warmed them, but a birch-slap will teach you manners yeh woe to the local wolves. Colors! It’s going sideways, my body and my feet catch her legs wrapping round, thrashing, tossing the spear, snapping the wrist-blade and crumbling her knees to the cobblestones.
“Poor archers and slingers hate me also.”
Amazon assassin. Her coin-purse has released and under a torch I open it. Only 3 silver and 3 gold stators. By the torch one glance into her tired face tells all. The golds were minted in Damascus, but the silver in Yeriho. “The Hebrew does not pay ahead, for a head.” Only sputters as the toss has dazed her. I think. Dazed and confused. Blinded. She leaps toward me punching the half-blade knife at my throat. I pin her forearms and flip her tits-over-ass. She comes up from dirty cobbles jabbing her boot stirrup-pin at my face. Swept aside by my leathered elbow she tumbles again now moaning grief. “Better you harried Scythian gold.”
No 2nd chance now, my joined fists smash her ribs and she tumbles; I lunge atop her, spread her kicking legs and … and she punches me blood-shower in the face. My head jerks, jumbles, kaleidescope colors spread from moon to sun. And nothing remains for me, but rage of the battle and the reaping of its pleasure from this frow'ard wench! Some scuffle has broken out at the tunnels mouth - - shouts , curses, wild thudding of oak-staffs - - colors. Madness. Kaleidescope. Envy. Short-spears comes to my grasp. A tripper a ripper a belly-slamming gripper … has this Amazon opened my throat or have I slapped flesh tumbling away and lynx-like with-al a rabbit leapt upon her? How my thoughts explode into blue bears and red Bogges and yellow griffens … Ripping free her breasts and cunt, shaved, Amazons do this? Pinning, then binding her hands behind her waist where a belt of bronze no-swords slice her fingers and three-deep pigskin makes my dirk saw them away. And I wear into her body like a hull dives among Marmaras northling slough.
Pinch the remaining aware. No power acts against the fall of night. Bawling. sword-wind whistles above my head. I swing round, into a spitting bearded face. The short-spear tip responds … rip tear rip her … him rip … and the mans screaming warps as a never-ending sour-rye hallucination. ‘You plow the wrong field screeches an orange flower’. Cracked and buried beneath me as I torch bitch Amazon pounding her sex and pounding her brain into all my colors … till her nails stop scratching my face and rip rip at my hair so fucking succulent in pain hands pull at me. She escapes , but my fist like mail pounds her back flat and I take her bitch-in-heat all wet and swollen and yield. Pull , voices I know yet I cannot find the colored lust to take her ass. At her face, I make the Amazon bitch swear she will not harm the child I have just seeded her. A hammer slams my ribs then brushed aside by a sky-god. How little the drunken sailor imagines about a swive. Lost leg Zeus beard! I swear her, both breasts belong not to Amazon virtue, but to that child and I will write sulfur acid into her skin if she betrays either. Her pleading arms squeeze at my throat and I do not care as colors darken.
Voices, hands, powers act against the fall of night chopping and a screaming whiskered bag of hatchets, then covering my cuts with sweet wine and stretching my curled body …. so must feel curved split ewe-wood upon a hammock I cannot stop whimpering broken shouts for the colored stars. Mykron pokes a bilge of tar hashish into my mouth. “Colors, Cap’N, did the colors come upon you?”
“Colors … were the colors blue … orange.” I cannot seize them! “Harm her not,” I manage before the hashish gums it up. Silence. Dark colors shatter and swirl for the living I believe my last thought.
Beyond Loutras walls breaths of the salt sea and a measured tromp of guard squadrons rule. While I remain buried far beyond the surface of now. Tis a field we live in, now, plotted of roses and barley and onions and blueberry and carrot. In dreams I wander near the tree-line beneath which lay nothing and return to my cotted tent. It’s well after midnight. Of any year. I know this. None sleep who remain near me - - stale air roughens a mans gullet - - and my hands are tied beneath the cot. Won’t get handsy with that Amazon anytime soon. Bound and tied. Me!
Doctors, bald Egyptian surgeons and wise alchemists appear; appeared. Some cut some salve and some grind seeds into potion I must drink. A woman sews me and I taste her nipple. Witches of brew tube liquid down my throat. Vomitus, How I would beat them, but they force the potion squirting along my gullet. Delusion of sound. It’s morning on the 3rd day. I can speak now and my right leg no longer refuses to move. My beard tells me 3 and an old woman shaves me while binding a moss bag inside my lip. “Off with the bandages.”
“How long had you worn the mole?”
“Since a child. Zeus beard my cuts burn.”
“Good. Scum-grown quicksilver. Cybelle wills.”
Another day I can eat gruel. And another …. Mykron finds me trolling a rock ledge. Barefoot. Stiff wet breeze pulls at my tunic and storms seems certain. Below, fallen trees have made eyes path to the inland sea. “Am I speaking to Cibias or to the Strymon dogfish we fight!”
No woman have been allowed near me. “Have women been near?”
“Artyphon bid them all away.”
“Four nights and a fifth I would not count you as human.” Mykron does not smile. “When your right leg does not work you crawl and bite like a snake.”
“Twas the Hebrews did this - - Fat and Ruby and Clever.”
“We have inquired. If so a mis-happen effort, for wounded they paid your alchemists.” Mykron whispers. “Something about AN EYE FOR AN EYE … ever heard of such bullshit? Yet a dynamic outward looking Leutra cannot benefit all. I fear for the Queens intentions!”
“And the Amazon?” Not a word from Mykron. Feathery that prospect, but Father Minos will hear and judge. In silence I count to ten. Name my ships officers, and square the triangle. “Who sees me like this.”
Mykron limbers his jade hash-pipe billowing black. “None of the royals have seen you laid waste by an assassin. Only old men some limber some sickened, but all wise who have tasted death and no longer fear.” Blasphemous, “they bid you Diannas white tit!”
“Can we return? My teeth do not rattle. I hear what birds tweet. Trade returns? Artyphon ….” I think mostly despise not that dungeon, Cibias nor the key that unlocked thee. I have been living thus, as a wild man tucked into a hillside stone keep. This afternoon Mykron walks me back to the circus tent and the joy of my companions.
It’s rainy smattering the waxed linen with a dark sky angry at the mountain. We meet at a shaded table beside the tent. I am drinking warm ale. Artyphon wears a yellow tunic and rain-shawl knitting a pot-warmer and taking a sit in my lap. “Has battle rage found a home?”
“I hate no one.”
“You came back.”
“For your dear heart.”
“Do you love me?”
“On Cybelles chaste honor.”
“Will you ravish me?”
I kiss her hand. She has me sandals. We sleep together and walk Loutras archways for two days; city people run from us as from Medusa. A scarce farmers wife asks if the horses trampled me once or twice and we four share walnut muffins.
Artyphon has made contracts for two-thousand glazed ceramic bowls. I nagged that out of her. There was more, as an older, well-connected family had come forward with forty barrels of honey-brine aged olives. Grossly illegal, capitally illegal. For royals twas a flogging offense after which the property involved was forfeit. You would think ambitious factors could keep track of hundred year old olive trees. But, the odd cask did slip by, from tree-shrouded borderland villas and find their way to the Kings own table. And if a citizen could sneak them beyond the walls such fruits of sunny Lesbian hills would demand a kings ransom. Artyphon has written the contract; Ganymede would negotiate final details.
I have no doubt, Ganymede seizes detail, for healing days later she returns from the Kings ball wearing a conquering womans fire green eyes, and a string of pearls large as robins eggs and fit for the Queen of Loutra.
Breakfast came before Eos had tethered Helios chariot, and while Auge raised from her mat and Notus merely skimmed with breath grassy woodland our van had wound out from Leutra and onto the sloping beach-ward trail. Beside guards the prince had assigned Ganymede two slaves and her woman was combing her hair as they rode. The one-eyed Corsican didn't speak, but rode behind them with his cross-bow cocked.
“I can't imagine choosing such a place.”
“Loutra Bay is all business. We could have traveled North to Tupys … but Hectors people burned it.”
“So I heard the slaves say, pumping water.” I pulled my cape closer against the chill morning air. “The people … the walls …?”
“What do you think? They didn't submit, so Hector butchered everyone.” Some Loutra royal had caught Artyphons ear last night. She spoke with smug confidence. “Really, it's sandy, rocky poor soil terrain, like much of Lesbos hill country. Sturdy peasants measured their own grain. They dug pits and trenches , rather than raising walls and used the dug up soil for patches of melons and vegetables and flax. ”
“Sounds stupid. Arrows fly right over the pits!” The Loutra dragoman remained silent. Not Artyphon.
“Well so much for stupid, trader. Of-course they built rock keeps and store-houses where their citizens could hide.” Artyphon tightened reins stopping her horse. “Tupys was three-hundred years old and doing well – they extracted a bit of silver from the diggings; between that and the melons they fed their children, armed warriors and provided dowers for their young women.” I got a dirty look. “Hyrkonia is not herself that old ...”
“Then what happened?”
“A lightening bolt; Hector waited for rain. He had hauled long planks up from the seacoast in his chariots. His corsairs ran in on a rainy night, when the Tupys fire-arrows were ineffective and drew those planks over the trenches. He built plank bridges! Hoplites poured over the planks; you can guess the rest.”
“And casual travelers still get their throats cut.” I'd seen the carnage at a dozen burned-out coastal ports. “ Okey, so Trojan raiders have cut off all northern Lesbos.” I have the silver-bossed stick in a carry against my chest. “ We either go down to the coast or retrace our path to Skala.“
“Well you see what direction we are headed in now, eh trader?” Ganymede says that with a trace of humor. “I told Prince Karl you wanted to meet Borophus. You will meet him here.”
“What's the towns name?”
“Prince Karl said it has no name,” said Ganymede.”
“Can a town without a name perform any worthwhile task? Could there be a part to the Belisama that has no name?”
“When the Belisama Captain is drunk does he know his own name,” managed Artyphon?
“Why bother, when his womans sharp tongue is ready to correct him, “Ganymedes eyes spark at me? They were green shimmering pools. “Do you think,” she laughs,” that the Prince would fool me, spin out a myth of fairies and goblins, confuse the work of my most trusted … servant? Oh fie on such a thought, Cibias, how dreadful you have become.”
“Forgive me Princess I cannot , but wonder that Lesbian wine has loosed my brain from sensible mooring.”
“How like a man that is, to blame the wine. “ She tussled over the bow-string that lay along her thigh. “You weren't at the tent when we returned, and Artyphon was so mad! Don't even try to tell me you had gone site-seeing. Did some randy Loutran wench drag you into the bushes and shake your brains loose?”
“I can't remember, Princess.”
Loose indeed. We choose pitching straight down the mountainside. “And don't call me Princess. Not yet, not before the Loutra Senate approves Karls … er, Prince Karls claim for rights to virgin royalty, rights to the first night, rights to exclusive pleasure, rights to all woven goods, rights to pottery thrown by my left hand … and rights to the Emperors daughter.”
“Skalas Emperor naturally.” Her head bobs. “Lighten up, Cibias. Of-course it's all me , all those rights they are talking about. It's a a legal detail-- emperor, king, hetman … since the Loutra High Court doesn't approve of the “hetman” concept. The high judge said it was tacky.”
“Didn't seem to bother Prince Karl.”
Ganymede bridles. “Lots happened last night you don't know about.” Ganymede adjusted a saddle strap. “The prince acted a perfect prince, in a romantic military kind of way. I did see him shower - what a chest that man has; like a lion! Will he swallow me, Cibias …? Don’t answer!” Her hand finds carved ivory chits. “He's an engineer you know, by training, on one of the cities fire-slings so he's always straining and pulling … I'll bet I could get him to strain in ways he hasn't even thought of...” Ganymede quiets and blushes … then laughs. “ Oh yes he wanted more than I gave him, but I would have given plenty more than I gave had Artyphon not hounded my shoulder. What a pest! Every time I wanted to bite the apple, she'd tell me about another worm. Is she a prude or what … how do you tolerate such a woman … bedded and pinned does she please you? Don’t answer!” Ganymede rolls her eyes...” free you made her, but right slave she never was! ”
“She serves under stress like a warrior. Didn't pry, did she?”
“Pry? You mean scour for privates? Faire woman gives by action not pry from the nose … just the discrete girl-to-girl stuff that drives men wild.” Ganymede throws me a worried look. “She wouldn't say a thing about you, though not the first little tidbit. Women usually share the juicy morsels. Not Artyphon. You know before I met Karl I was certainly fantasizing about you my dear Cibias, what an older man would be like! I was sure you were going to come up behind me and snatch me into the bushes. I would have fought … for a while. Tell me true, you never took your eyes off me. Did you!”
Zeus beard, an older man ..... Given one confidence apple into the basket I could have given Ganymede a bushel. I might have done so .. and done lots more with the tanned wood nymph I had known … such a forest of wild fruit to be picked … But, Princess Ganymede, she of the proud quick study, steps away from Loutra royalty … she who saved my blundering ass from Loutra claypits! That she , oh yes was an entirely different peach pudding.
“My Princess, my own wants are as nothing. We pass from childhood unannounced and must make the best of it. May Aphrodite allow you joy and permit me to serve your King and your realm. I am happy.”
Older, yes much older in so little time. Her eyes looked over at me phrasing something that shifted between sad and determined. Then devilish. “You are so full of it Cibias … “ she was struggling to understand … “and you are a good man. Serve as you say, and you will carry all my affection.”
“Ay sweetness at least that's settled. Now .. about the iron...”
Ganymedes eyes flashed steel. “Sweetness? What a dog you are Cibias. First I'm a feathered wood nymph ready for the plucking, then princess and now? Sweetness, really? I see you squeezing any woman in sight for traders secrets. Well if you must know every knife at the kings table was made of iron. He said their Myceneii trained armorers were practicing: hammer, hammer, hammer! Prince Karl teased me saying little bitty blades lead to large blades which lead to huge blades that will slice up bold island traders in a trice !” Ganymede winked over at me. “He's not jealous of you, do you think?”
Quickly, “I'd be larboard ten leagues when he decides. ” Then... “Those iron knives, did they really cut auroche steak? The old ones can be tough.”
“Slashed them up like clams … slicity-slit of which by the way we had just bowls and bowls.”
“A queens feast no doubt,” I said imagining the scene of young, healthy servants bubbling in awe beside their even younger, healthier for'ard masters. So many fresh striving bodies … steely-eyed rapacious scribes … and ordered tromp tromp of an arrow-straight and iron-bound guard. I tried matching that life to Cretan scenes – and the way we imagined trade-laws bringing success … never-mind I had happened on a pearl. Young auroches and fresh clams … if clams they were make for a revealing dinner. Fruit fly humms about my head, yet I can transpose yesterday evenings meal to the present sharp as a razor.
I am about to suggest lunch, when the path gets briskly steeper, and even experienced Loutra horse fail to manage. We walk them shouldering along bits and harness with confidence. Winds whisper roar of briny surf. “Home, Cibias dear heart your home,” Artyphon cries.
“Blue water stinks,” I humor, yet home for the left-behinds seems more of a commands than a gift. I play a determined face.
“Stinks of tunny and scallops, lobster and crab,” Artyphon willfully licking her lips.
“Lobster and tunny indeed!” I pinch her bare leg against my chaps. “Forgetting broad-beaked fish that may tow a schooner or spotted grey monsters dragging seaweed skeins and chewing schools of dogfish. Women think so often of low-hanging fruit.” Artyphons quiz and beside me her face wrinkles in forejoy and nuzzles mine. Belisama forejoy mine.
“Our time is gay, Cibias.” Downslope trees thicken, groves and scarfs too where among rafts of black orchid woodsmen may not so easily heft their axes; long before us this accounted a matter of Leutra privacy and now becomes our stealth! “Hide your wish in me,” Artyphon songs. Dismounted and clutching at brakken we hike peacefully and without false grace. Loutrian stallions smelling the blue-water foam prance afor over a saw-tooth ridge.