No young woman will be pleased to appear as wasting her time … when we say 'traders' they begin laughing and form dance-lines circling our scouts. Flower garlands became mens helmets and the girls made coy as only a peasant maiden may. Then they begin a whistling music, that of wind over the steep green pasture, a spring pasture rich with flowers and the patter of flocks and water bubbling over mossy rills. Not only their drums sound; a steady thrumm rises beyond the hillside and Ganymede can pick out the distant messages by tone.
“Listen Cibias, some chance appears. Peace appears in the small. Firesling Battles in Geras harbor have stopped; armed longboats hold away from moles. Some conference was proposed, with satisfaction to be given by single combat. Some ships escaped with vats of coin - - they are to be returned …
“You're not Greeks, are you,” wool-vested natives say scornfully. “Your hands don't reek blood so you're surely not Hectors men. What do you call yourselves?”
“We know you not. Why two vessels so different between them?”
Ganymede answers with grace. “The slim Rhodian-lined cutter belonged to a Mytilene trader. A gentle man drawn to Mytilene yet friend of Hyrkon.” She ponders the worn wood sundial. “Now, with his death before Acte the vessel belongs to his daughters.”
I break in. “See? Black-tar ceder with oak ribs; longstride traders vessel of Rhodian parents. Now 'tuther! Shackled alongside lay Hyrkon strange round-bow craft. Long a shipwrights dream tis Minoan … as we are Minoans by blood.”
Merchant by Turk slippers shuffling wary. His fat wife watches clasping a waist-belt; he thin as willow. “But … but, Minoans have died. The volcano burned them and Mycenii raiders ate the crisps.”
History as gore I think on it. Sailing local means no damage. “As island philosophers say, one physical and one moral evil even paired need not succeed. We are her decided children and Cybelle watches her own, even on ravaged Crete! In diaspora other Minoans also lived on to live again.” I pass over the jade hashpipe. “Men living to live and dream and build and trade again!”
A tribal ancient mutters pale chants. She breaks a weir-pole of flax and olivewood. Her cheeks stripe red three times for buried husbands and wrinkled arms cover in black pearl. “Perhaps, Hyrkon. Our stories remember them as well washed , dressed in linen and carry ferments from afar. Most boys and young women they requested returned; returned with godlike stories of bull-leaping and ports of many races and statues and temples … as we have, but one.” The old woman holds her tongue, for she is one holding their story. “When Minos died we died.”
She spins my head, this dame-of-fables. Think Cibias. Noone had thought to ask Mary of Genoa what appears when born and raised the West die? We buried another mastman morning-hour whose brain leached white and never awoke from a lead pellet. I say. “Hard times have found this Hyrkon child of Minos a beggar.”
“Hermes would have us bind your wounds and feed your belly. Yet every man of you arms like a pirate. If we open our larder, what will you leave us?”
I think on Belisamas belly-full of gold coin. “Our Goddess is Dianna-of-North - - Cybelle - - two sisters or one spirit we have never demanded she reveal. Either may appear in woodsmen garb, or in the Temples silk finery. We see you dispose an ancient temple as best poor-folks may. We pray her mercy for you. Surely one of your maids may join with Lady Artyphon and contrive a priestess gown. And next night all would join them at your temple and Cybelles fire.”
“Faire as May, voyager. We will trust! ”
I scatter a light scouting party around the cove, mixing our crew with ambitious herdsmen. More cautious we shove archers to the hilltop and surrounded by our own feel safe below at the tents. Our fire-lights must wink deep into the wine-dark sea, but Cybelle restrains black-hearted raiders , watching her devote and while shepherds and their flocks nest about us, into the thick green hillside forage we long-lost warriors sleep.
Next morning winds from the south have traded warmth for threat. Fisherman longboats visit. They tell of crowded sea to the north and streams of purple-stripe war-galleys. Belisama and SanJan crews exchange those chandler wears any boyo needs facing long-striding swells, but the fishers have neither money nor women and as flower-bowers raise upon posts decline joining our festive. Yet no merchant leaves a buyer naked, for in time all with money buy. We trade a toasted lambshank and beaver hat for three lobsters and two pots of hardshell shrimp little seen this far south. Ten bowls leave of peas porridge from pots boiling all day beside toasting bread that dips. Councils sway about the food. Different plans are laid for our two vessels and best of our sophists splice words like silk thread. “Do you see, NaziBu we are leaving as one cold night turns the elm leaf.”
“Half-ass to me if I need a crap!” Too fast he says. “I’ve taken more time to shoe a war-stallion.”
“Watch us stall,” I advise. That soft evening, spring air holds a hundred stories. We slaughter lambs to Aphrodite, sending the smoke fat rising; lamb-chops she returns to her faithful and for peace in the time of war we raised our bowls and toasted lamb-shanks in fennel. A dozen fires put an orange glow to the hillside.
Beside NaziBu I ride my watch with Drubya, Nykomedes and Teuter. Two crew-members come before my officers to beg freedom. Local ravishing full-breasted beauty has caught their heart. Oldest, hardest mastmen scoff; yet noone deny the bond and crews ventures support with silver coin wrapped in mink-skin. Venus had set before we found Tars firepit; he had racked thin scrub-oak weaves one over another, till the red coals lay two-hands deep and the fatted ox loins sizzle above them.
Crisp skin sizzling for a feast all move uphill through the low-grazed clover. Lambskin sit-upons grace the granite-stepped Temples rim. Atop three cut ceder logs men in green-stripe loin wraps & satyr masks tune flute and lyre and pipes. Waiting. Lyre musics first Temple tones, simple in texture, absent whores melody and echoing from the stone. Inside, on the marbled floor Artyphon has gathered about her Ganymede, Tira and Sabeen joined by five of the faire peasant girls. This fabric of village Artyphon has woven well. Nine in silks and linen meant for five, no smooth bare flesh shivers for a race twas in building - - even Astarte races from Bachus careless will as these faire yet Venus bloom. Eyebrows and nipples silvered, knees blushed by ground rose-petals …. how the gathering entire laces about them. Vested they, two young sheep mongers carry pitchers of whale and olive-oil mix and pour into the Temples one silver lamp. Local folks cannot afford a Temple priestess; Artyphon chooses a long-limbed black-haired budding virgin to be stripped, oiled, staffed and as all instruments grace a prayer she set swirling among the women as they begin Cybelles dance. Lace and turn, bow and curl about limestone and yew alter cylinder, chase the naked flank promising life. She yields thus, to a masked broad-shoulder male darted in from the chanting. Yields pounding his chest bloody with priestess staff till her pleasure wraps him in chains. While cries resound to Venus mercy the other eight gather flowered linen curtains about them.
Suddenly the dancing stops. Curtain retires to display nothing, but five modestly girt shepherdess in wool vests and chiton. Then from the four Belisama women a rush of shiny Hyrkon electrum strip away their linens all-but-the-veil ringing and rolling and blazing across the entire marble floor of the Temple like so many devils of Baal! Seventy stator … no eighty I surmise then bite my own acquisitive tongue.
"Free ," one man exclaims."
I grip his rude shoulder-seam. "Free good friend as the labor coin buys."
“Simple men know not the god.” A wool-vested salt-worn trader one-of-few taps my shoulder. “Villagers not darting elves of sheep will this coin create; ye Cibias will have a city named after you. City father in wisdom before blood.”
Smiling. I think to giving builders birth and the thousand trades that follow! “Friend of blue water, grace your new city with Cybelles name, but use letters of some dancing woman. Build her a silver nest beside the Temple, with festival honor each year for so women become willing and travelers become a village to discover a city.”
His wrinkled face twists into a grin and confidently he butts alongside an elders klan with promise on his lips. Happy the builder. Bitter the selfish man and woe his life. Name Ytik king of Sidon once took a hostage and called for a Kings ransom … he called and lost both his daughters to a vain, but powerful camel-raider who come charging through his walls. Oh yes … naked prideful obedient women. Here honor prevails for Cybelles servants. Elisedds oarsmen rush from the crowd to cover them with their own rough wool vests. Linen trousers abide to much laughing from locals bent on robes. And two men well lubricated by poppy slip on the electrum coins and go down in heaps and roars of bawd. I wonder if sex is both private and nature entire, as taught my tutor and such I see, yet where inspired the lordly honors? But, done deed .. the men returning to the chant and women gather within eighteen arms. Amphora and pipes and flower lays pass among the cheering watchers singing Dianna-of-the-North spring paean.
A flint spark sets the lamp to flames. Its one greedy spout reaches brightness into Lesbos chill night sky. Hillsides throw song to the silent swells and one dogfish dies when he breeches among a separate tribe. End or beginning I think on it; as if my thought guides fate. Our entire hungry van leaves coin to their elders and flies downhill - - already a village in desire - - to the spits, roast fires and steaming sealed crocks. Families curry their tunics and scrub hands in our ash-water tubs. Ale and meat conspire with berries and carrots and onions. Young dally before promises never before offered.
Gossip carries all about. Elisedd asks. “So Tira will venture where?”
Yes, I think such issue winds about its own feet. We are together Kalikratus, Itaja, Tar, NaziBu , Elisedd and Mykron. “Where a woman may take her bath in Persian oil,” I snip. Then imagine the SanJan. “Oceans deserted, momentary, she will travel with Sabeen. Before Prince Karls marriage Tira will be Sabeens consort, as Sabeen will be Ganymedes. After marriage Sabeen will become Ganymedes lady in waiting, palace scribe and woman of business.” I think on the puffed, over-dressed flamingos even in Hyrkon. “Sabeen will have that power granted by casual court access. Yet many practical adventures will be considered below her station. As example take public commercial trading of the very type taught by her father. Adventures denied, sadly those she values from her Papa living a traders life.”
“Ah-ha! This aspires and appears Tira, as Sabeen lady-waits and trade adviser and venture too, approved by the Loutra court. Should she fail no fault becomes the royals, while her success deepens the royal treasury. One step lower among the royals Tira can sail with the SanJan … and thus sail with her night-flower. He’s been quite taken with her. “
“Night-flower,” growls NaziBu!”
“Yes … yes … you know that strange young navigator … an Egyptian Hebrew Ach’Av by curious name at that doubly suspicious.”
Cybelle laughs to my inner ear. “Let me guess. Ach’Av: a left-behind favoring the one creating Sun-god not a mud-monger as favored by current Hebrew judges?”
“Indeed, yet cruising reed shallows the Egyptians taught him well. Any form a map; eyes eagle for coastlines none deny. A slave in Troy, he came on Belisama at senior navigators bidding. Imagine, he cost a box of onions while knowing all sides and spreads of the triangle. Then as SanJans navigator died of consumption, he transferred to their hull briskly run by Sabeen and Tira. Brisk and bold they, but frankly sah no blue-water Captains. Ach’Av quickly brought quarterdeck discipline to the mast and tiller. In salty weather SanJan crew trusted him and he disrespected not the woman ship-owners.”
Telekydes pondering. “Night-watch says they have crept off to lower decks, to the hold where SanJans spare mast lay bound. No man would despy a companion, but a rude rope-boy claimed Tira coiled snake-like about the mast, and Ach'Av made the best of it till crys of pleasure wrung him dry. Similar stories from nightwatch, of them together into the pines to pick night flowers …. methinks anything may be permitted by the Leutra Court since the “anchors” have been removed from policy and Tira means to stand breast-deep in Pharaohs gold coin!”
“Night-flowers, eh … so that’s what mastmen call it! Yet fantasy is a girls logic and among royal extravagance supported by the graces of ...” Alone yee may not be, during festival. Low murmurs
of discontent fly from the women. Elisedd chimes. “Sun-tyms Cat'an a man bes not watch his purse.” Which changed the murmurs to soft whistles of approval.
I baffled! Tar of Avelon explains. “Tiras father spread his wealth much as you advise. A shipment of Sanjans gold passed through Mithymna and on to the Loutra bankers; Mountain of greed, mountains of gold Ganymedes support now runs that deep. She has bought her prince. ”
“Cold-heart damned bastards.” Returning from Cybelles Temple, Artyphon has advised frolic to the women, under Ganymedes rule and alone rejoins us.
“Think not of what plays fair or bows to justice. Class restricts labor. Tis social law among those factors just below a kings power.”
“So creeps the Parthian viper!” Artyphon gazes above the fire-pit, to the field of floating sparks. “As for the young navigator … Tira has mentioned him. You my dear Captain will need to do something for his status!”
Hummm I think … “Tira flying to the trade-winds leaves Sabeen battling Leutra royals ...” though
Tira be Sabeen sister. They should be awash sharing wisdom and love.”
NaziBus hashpipe fumes. “Er … not exactly Cap’N Captain,” says Kalikratus the Belisamas faithful first officer. “All of the family business has fallen to Sabeen … the one-of-three trading galleys unburned, whatever she may recover of family property and all the business contracts … Sabeen has asked for a Captain … and asked for more . Tira will not be alone if I can stand as SanJans Captain, with Tira and her husband Ach’Av sailing beside me. What ship owner does not wish to trade himself, though his bones be bent twigs. Here a lively young pair inspires the crew and bares all faith toward the Captain.”
I laugh out loud. “Promoting yourself like a bald-face pirate, should he cross a discarded longboat!”
“Trained and trusted by Hyrkons most prudent blue-water trader!”
“Honor to Hyrkon,” I query seeing Kalikratus serious as a Hittite chariot-Hetman?
Already a changling, Kalikratus. “Honor to my trust,” he says gravely. Tiras father would have been proud of her … and I will bring honor to the family and ….” his narrow eyes steeling ...” wisdom to King Minos!”
“Aye Captain” growls Tar, “the Belisama crew is fond of our #1 - - we’ll miss his stale hash and seal bark, but Cybelle blesses a new Captain from one of our own. And beside him a young womans weave dazzles. Mates see a reflection with you and our lady Artyphon best for both and us all.” He was sucking a thick black wad of hash-smoke, “ an tuther ain't so bad on the swells neither.”
“Oh … I see, Captain Kalikratus, but Leutra gentry will prompt for their own man. Prince Karl, eh, but he rules and fights as a landsman. Doesn’t know a yard from a foot! You might best speak through Ganymede taking service under Karl … him ascending to Leutras King-in-waiting. Hummm that Rhodian hull under Sabeen was is a bit skittish, taken by the bow I'd say. Show Prince Karl what swift skating a swell brings, or the menace of tacking cross a swell! He will understand power beneath his feet. When he vomits have ready the lemon-water. But, as a trading hull no reason to be a'for'ard shifting the load for a full pack. Karl can manage an abacus and see how you grow his treasury. I can assign you the vessel, with the girls permission as owner, but power to grant a captains medallion belongs to others.”
“Competition … and frow’ard enemies I do not fear. But, I’ve served long at the Belisamas hull, and beside your grace - - such a loss does not vanish with a signed parchment.”
I shake his shoulders. “True companions always, over Poseidon harsh domain. Our hulls will cross as stars move in the sky-bowl.” Face to face. “Pick any three mastmen from the Belisama, then sailing bold stand strong before Prince Karl. Royal pretenders may bitch, but let fresh waves show in you a truer balance.”
Kalikratus modest resolve advances … pondering. “ Ach’Av though young and of the teknos mind will serve me well as navigator. What he sees he remembers three ways. Tira no doubt will choose his company, and the Temple above can honor their marriage. But, what of SanJans Egyptian night-watch; quick after command, light on the yards and powerful at winches they earn a sailors respect.”
Tar calmly. “Likely a southern Nile guild, freed slaves of a malign ruler I imagine.”
Kalikratus. “But they eat nearly nothing, save a few kept bilge goats, and except for their pale dragoman remain below-deck every long daylight.”
“Hooded, yes …. “ A dark cloud passes or’head. “SanJan must first return them home in gentle confinement. Sail up the Nile do not strand them among coastal enemies. You will earn their unforced service. What a traders nightmare losing the Theban glass-blowers, so give all due respect to their ancient hooded humors.”
Tis the end of feasting, but not of night. Cybelle grant us peace. Mornings breaks clear in the east, a silver-pink slit finds fires still warming ale and roasted lamb, and our ship crews working beside shepherds to load provisions. Officers bind Kalikratus aboard the SanJan hull, to be sworn in service to his crew, Sabeen & Tira as owners, to King Minos as lord and to Cybelle our mistress.
Kalikratus address all from his quarterdeck. “Trust my resolve Captain. Tis a Hyrkon vessel; no man be flogged without evil done and everyman paid his worth-in-trade.” The SanJan flies both flags, of Minos dolphin & bull, and the owners laural flower banner. I sigh and date Kalikratus Captains commission, as may any active Trade Council captain. Tiras young man Ach’Av receives the Lieutenants silver badge.
Anchors rising, from the gravel shallows, Kalikratus continues. “Not only will I bring home these lost hooded sheep, but also seek a trading opportunity whose value I may present to Prince Karl. That’s a four moon voyage, trouble refraining and Leutra moles will likely find quiet after the recent warfare. Our van will troop up-mountain to Leutras delite.” He turns to the women. “Waiting I trust, how travel ye home with my Captain Cibias?”
Artyphon. “Ganymede and Sabeen trek first to Skala, for matters of celebration and dower. We have sent birds and two returned with code promising scouts and a convoy immediately upon entering the forest. Ganymede unseen is already famous! At Skala a Loutra delegation will be waiting. Legal plates and platters naturally, when a royals marriage and dower forms the menu. Negotiations also, concerning a strip of mutually claimed ridge-line; brothers-to-be send councilors not warriors to settle such issues. Then a well-armed and subtle escort will carry all to Leutra where a week-long festive ends with their Temple marriage. Those details from sacrifice to music to bawd also need to be agreed.
“What of the Belisama?”
Already I am leaving SanJan deck and Belisama oarsmen pushing pikes into her oarlocks to prompt her seaward. But, the sea darkens swiftly, a sea within view criss-crossed by warring beak-nosed galleys and razor-nosed flat-decked skiffs swift as falcons that slid along-side our poor dock exchanging waxed mail packets and then flit before the approach of slab-sided war-beaks or black-shanked rovers. Swiftly takes the prise. Secrets … our Sea has no secrets, nor any of men I know.
I am shouting with NaziBu doubling the sound. “Belisama and most crew stay here to help the shepherds build foundations for their new village. A bit of our copper pipe will run down from the nearest spring. Of-course any decent mole must be poured; the light, black rock best suited for grinding with pebble, ash and sand sits below water two leagues away. Horses may carry, but men must dig! the expect perhaps we can follow you to … to where sir indeed the goddess might wonder.”
“You will not travel to Leutra?”
“For many reasons! Instead we return from Skala , then voyage to Parthia, friend, where Artyphons family continues bearing ill-will toward a prideful daughter.” Belisamas longsail crew hard as sharktooth will tolerate no threat to their lady. I mutter: "Her family will surely want to meet … not their daughter, but Captain Cibias new wife.”
“As SanJan Captain ought I marry Tira and Ach’Av without the Temple honors?”
I grimace thinking not all Temple ceremony are honors … “Indeed just do it, Kalikratus! Pick soon a stormy night. After both crew and couple feast on hashish and poppy, dresss them in linen robes, bind them with mistletoe and laural, then by net hoist them to main-mast yard and lower canvas about them. Thunderbolts will appear, and if Zeus withholds his own then the couple shall spark themselves.”
SanJan oarsmen have bulled the vessel through modest surf. So ancient as to be hostile, two doves are released, and flaming arrows break their hearts. Mainsail and spinnaker break out fore and aft skinning warm southern wind . “Egypt ahoy” comes the oarsmens cry and their vessel slowly lifts toward a blue horizon. The Belisama crew cheers and weeps, critics the heavy stern and approves a courageous hull. Hash and poppy abound, and another hours sees my van trekking uphill, toward the mountain forests south of Skala.
No you cannot sail uphill. Maybe it's for the better, as Belisamas archers make a strong-legged impressive phalanx leading Ganymede and Sabeen to their new stations. Villages pass. Even more than a guard, when an armed, sea-tanned and hard-bitten crew of troopers pass out stuffed figs and dates and silk scarves as their calling card not terror does their path become a kind of moving celebration. Skala scouts appear as vapors. Always the drums precede us, and country woman flock to a new queen. Queen-in-waiting that she is, villages wishing to caress Loutra trade policy welcome her with showers of privilege. Women discover their treasures once hidden from foreign thieving eyes; I find trades each day, completed the ones we had made during the first visit.
Our pack animals groan under the bounty, Half-way to Skala we meet with a mixed royal van. They are pleased that Ganymedes councilor has herself a ship owner as council. An afternoons parlay and meal sends us flying to Skala, outliers and woodsmen advancing to sweep their new Queen-in-waiting over the royal threshold. I find each day a bit longer. Skala appears as a large plush silk pillow and as Artyphon and Ganymede and Sabeen entertain as royals I sleep for a entire day. My head no longer buzzes, where the sling-stone had made its mark. I no longer seek justice and Artyphon no longer seeks to teach it to me. On rosemary and thyme scented nights she wraps me in hot arms and dazzles me so I did not think of our Sea as lost love. She must know all. We pass comfortably into Skala life as the modest village council , jealous for its princess well-being wrestles with much traveled and split-tongue Leutra factors. Old copper sheets are recovered from older stone ruins; bills of sale rest within, and remarkable profit. Skala wisens. Loutra factors puzzle as they would steal every maids girdle.
I share negotiations , avoiding the worst for simple people. Skala council and her hetman father feel not one moment should be wasted by Ganymede before returning to her Prince. On the fourth day with Skala entire in a drunk festive, Ganymede and Sabeen with their escort move north toward Leutra.
Leaving Artyphons teary grasp, Sabeen gifts me a small silver-laced bamboo staff. “From father, if we ever depart dear Cibias. Thus his order to me. He says you read runes; many have seen as public remains the best private, but noone broke them. Fair seas and SanJans blessing from the god of sun.” I have no fancy words holding Artyphon to my side as Ganymede and Sabeen advance to fortune. Their tearful figures strong, then faint slipping into vapor beneath forest green.
Northern Celts among Belisama crew find a fairy-tale quality to the outcome which as memories of childhood became almost a new religion as the sea and it's smell of weed and fish and mist grow stronger. Prince of monsters, by a witches cruel. Nymphe Sabeen and her Prince Karl may their children reign to the tenth generation, while moss and vines of the deep northern forests found their way into Belisama main-yard niches and crooks of the sprit-sail. Our talis! Taut though a Hyrkon ship may be run I never saw them. Scouts find us a day early, but on the evening of the fourteenth day we return to the vibrant village already posting new trades in the little Lesbian bay.
Hesperis watched over the fire-pits where shanks of lamb roasted and Notus seaward breeze covered the meadow with smells of rosemary and thyme. Yet the sea-wind carries a sting. I promote Faelan the signalman to Lieutenant. The Belisama nodding at anchor turns almost mournfully to the easy mainland wind.
“Will you miss land,” Artyphon queries?”
“Dear falcon of my heart I miss the ground you tread.”
“So neither land or sea, but sky? How my master Cibias has changed.”
“Tar-of-Avelon assured me so, having buried three wives. Thus said he with much regret. Find your soul-mate Cap’N and die a warrior before she.”
“Astarte and Zorast be damned if cold fingers shall ever replace your hands.” Her stiff bare nipple presses against my chest and teeth slide along my thumb; her bite draws blood. “Never dear master may possession taste so sweet!” And sliding open our cabin hatchway she leads me below.
Already a bird arrives from Leutra with Prince Karls approval of Kalikratus Captain of his first blue-water trading vessel. With two days work, and hull bulging Belisama flees Lesbos with Eurus flowing stiffly over the larboard bow. Salted lamb-shanks hang from knees. Oak barreled ferments and olives mix with scavenged steel weapon ballast. Three vast ceder chests hold coin. The new mole wet, but fully built permits oarsmen a clean remove from the dock. A dove flits and dies flaming. Rowers break into a bawdy paeon of Goddess Dianas red ass, but lost love and our main-sail fat-bellies west into a new offshore gale. Bow-wave leaps high above waxed maple sprintyard . A newly carved speed-log claims 13 marks which seeing I cannot believe. Yet Acte falling dusk sees Belisama racing porpoise, carving a clean sharp path between coastal islands, course set across Troys bow toward the Bosporus sea manglers and Black Sea moles of Parthia.