“Hulls to larboard,” shout the sprint-yard watch. “Tunny bus hulls fetching to and fro!” I choose , and officers agree, and shipmates with-hold judgment as we bypass Priams snake-pit wearing north against the shifty Etesian gale.
“Not floating logs ye say?” For I well remember that sail-less, oar-less log that flit north beside us from the Syrian coast.
“Fish to the scuppers!, Ca’N. And rowing madly to keep afloat.”
”What now, Artyphon,” beside me, “we have driven-off fishermen? Putting glass to eye she minds her sharp tongue.
A rope-boy tumbles from the bow-sprint and rattles for'ard. ”Yar pardon sur, it's tunny fishermen after a drive. Some nets before the school , the rest scattered behind they ring brass bells underwater and the tunny swim for doom.”
By Zeus beard if they had seen the Greek birhemes that way … “Tack on the fishermen, so they can find our lee” I call to the tiller-men. Best not run over the skinny bastards sculls cause we might need to eat their fish!
And then like a flock of gulls cruising between swells they appear everywhere, darting ceder and birch strake hulls approach and retreat as they chose between setting all nets … and running for their lives. NaziBu muttering. “Zeus beard our Sea tis a lonely place to die.”
I station, then stand a short shield-wall shadowing our rounded bows. “Surprise no sailor favors, yet even facing the kraken best see to your weapon.” Calling on the giant squid shook our spearmen to clear eyes.
“I’d split his bloody Titans beak,” kranks a oarsman new to the wall.”
“Brave words,” whispers Artyphon who will fain miss her lovers bloody join. Dangers real. I've seen a gathering of lightly armed troops more mist than cloud gather swiftly and sweep-away a careless hoplite phalanx; rows of bronze greeves under-trampled will ney for us. Another order brews by my commands. Bacon-side fries on the iron forge; ale steams in our largest pot. We keep rockets below-deck and set the traders pennant flying large on the mainmast. A man good with his hand-ax flies a leather-bound plug of black-tar hashish overside, and into the hand of a sculls harpoon-toting bowman. Plugs bite round the birch hull and the wine-soaked hash stories all who touch it. That mix altogether catches the boldest. Most young and oldest captains maneuver their sculls athwart and the single twenty-oar longboat nests under our lee. Hetman!
His swordsmans boots rattle up our ladder-pins, snarl over the rail a hard-faced man of no mercy and his chief follows briskly with sailors cutlass. Surround us prattle of a hundred foreign voices. “Friend or foe ...” chiefs crusted voice stabs while he spits juice worthy to break lionstooth and tosses back a cut of our hash.
“Cross eye so soon,” I jib?” More men come overside, lining the bow-rail. They stink filth and dirt and dried fish guts after two unsheltered weeks at sea. Legs wobble, on our solid deck and tired does not properly describe their sleepless eyes.
Yet … “I can see your bold woman, prancing bare-ankle from a mizzen-yard. Ye sail with a whore?”
“My wife sir, and brass bold on a yard as under my blanket!”
He grimaces sadly, bows stiffly to Artyphon. “No insult intended … your grace” and steps for’ard to extend a bare hand and accept mine. “I had such a one, till the plague took her … yes yes we Bospor fishers know the fancy new riggings not that we can afford them. We’d need sell our boys to Corinth. Yes yes the world is not so small for our hulls that buggers hide unknown beyond every lands-end.” Chews and spits and re-sheathes his blade. “What be you?”
“Cibias by name. Traders, sir fisher and welcome strangers to those like you sharing a hand. Never seeking violence we know eating fills the belly and coin-purse while cuts empty it.” Chief nods and his swordsman stands down. “Eat freely with us,” I say. “Cookie has baked barley-rye bread since we’re fresh from port! Join our meal!”
Chaos scrambles words. You know sailors talking like that, cause those voices in fifty ports were our own; Demokydes and I stroll them our deck unarmed. I think we shock them, blond Hyrkonians dressed in silver Hyrkonian smocks and Persian white trousers. They dressed wet and cankered for the day of human features so mixed to crew their fleet every nation in Anatolian must have lifted its girdle.
“What have ye fishers, from your nets caught fresh?”
“Fresh … eh and meal size?” Old salt in torn robe of hemp scuffing his thin beard. “All covered in salt and old ice, tunny and flounder, tunny and whiting, tunny and ...”
“I see your fortune sir. We’ll take tunny, 30 of the most fat: let pursers wrangle all side-price while you share our bread. Eat fast drink boldly!” Hot ale went first. When more bare feet hit our deck we filled their hands with hot bread and a boiling mix of goat-milk and coffee. Can't fight and eat - they talk and eat and as more board, sniff around, exchanging wariness for dues, knots and carvings of a sailor. Fresh water pours from our barrel. They worried with us against the Eleans who sometimes roved for plunder this far east , and scold that our trade pennant had not been shown earlier. And they worry about Mycenaii who snatch hulls and heads before mercy pleaded !
“Big eaters, ye Hyrkon pups. Trading to Lesbos,” asked an old boat-captain?
“With permission of the Greeks, or without,” I return. “Dare we run into Troy?”
Sharply. “If ye Helens girdle to return!”
“So Agamemnons imagine. Wiser heads maintain she’s in Egyptian Thebes, living a Hetaeras pleasure.” I bite into a steaming lamb chop. “Exchanging food with us, sailors in a brig off the coast of Hecat claimed a chief scribe fucks her every morning with the defanged head of a horned viper. Sand-clocks run dry while pleasure plays her.”
“Stories age,” says an ancient seaman long bound for Poseidons throne. A mate who knows an oarsman who pays a ropeboi whose father’s a tailor … onesuch told me a lustful story more fit for snakes than humans.”
I pass him the pipe and a new hash plug. “Tis a first night story, when man and woman should melt together Paris could not thrust Helens cunt, drill as he might. Tight as an eels-mouth was she, and as he thrust she tried to bleed him!”
“With her teeth, Cap’N Cibias. And him a faire lad of Mars venture on earth. But, finally he got one jab into her, with great cries of pain and tasting swollen lips threw her across the bed before her lips tasted his life. That’s all the story. “
“And the teller?” All hung on the tale-point!
Teller piped a cloud and sipped from the wine-skin. “I’d lie if I swore … but, dead now my bard claims. Dead of blood-draining sea-spider while 1st mate on a cotton ketch off the coast of Egypt!”
“Spyder, viper … eh hehehe … all know. None care. This bloody game plays on,” craps out another fisher of a skeptical sort.
“We know they have raided Lesbos.” The young tillerman speaks too quickly. “Any solid ground they prefer, be it ever so small. Only their young men, iron armed heroes and only their fast ships as at sea they fear not rotted Myceneii hulls, but the Carians.”
“Plunder ...” I ask. “We fought them at Lesbos. A struggle like sawing elm, back and forth, steeled armour they, but most preferred to run from well-fought archers. Hector did own the lowlands, burning a few barns and snatching a few women.”
His son snickers. “We think some of the ugly ones let themselves be taken.”
“Parthian traders spoke of a thousand Greek sails covering the sea like a white plague, and beaches of the Pontis soaking in Trojan blood! Are those stories told by a sailor or by a blind bard?”
“A thousand lies,” grunts the old man. “In the beginning young Agamemnon came round looking for pirates to harasses Priam. He got four from the Marmora, but the Carians sunk them. Finally as he aged and wissoned chat a few thick hulls started to dribble in from Argos and Amphipolus. You know Greek and Trojan they fucked together for a thousand summers.”
“I know Minoans fucked ‘em for 2000! Haha. You may not see the Greeks, but a trader needs the whole truth to keep his neck in one piece.”
“We passed a Myceneii patrol last night, in the fog.”
“Perhaps they sail together at night, with none to attack them! By day they camp apart. Greeks hate each-other almost more than they lust for Trojan women. Thebes, Argos, Sparta and Corinth … they battle around their fire-pits every night.” He clasped onto my shoulder. “If it weren't for the women they thieve … thieve and share among hetmen every last Myceneii would have cut his brothers throat!”
“But, not yours...?”
“What fisherman looks for trouble?” He was fingering one of the metal-bound ballista arms. “Twice we drove off the pussy bastards. Sometimes they trade for the peaches. Peaches won't grow in Spartan rockpiles!” Then he looked over a near fire-sling. “Merciless ...” he murmured. “ Would you have pillaged us as a weaker fleet,” the old man questioned?
“Surely not sir” I said , bound by the laws-of-trade, adding that as for a fierce piratical attitude we had some questions of our own about this mans swift-sailing craft. “Fishermen you ... simple fishermen and swift-sailing” …
He laughs a fierce laugh at that proposition, buckling the strap on his cutlass and filling the bamboo mug with godless Skala peach ferment. “Thick hulls and full amphora … that never hurt any trader.”
Yes, they have heard of a shoulder-bowed vessel with a single rudder. Yes they had heard she was a fighting tar. Yes they had heard she was bound by the laws-of-trade. By Zeus beard they heard we had flown beyond the worlds end and back trading Junos virtue and Zeus secrets for the southern Egyptian beans that boiled to make coffee. So fisher rotate from their sculls across our deck and back … we favor all, even dressing a few most ragged as one loose tongue sinks us beneath a Carian or Athens bronze prow!
Acte rules her dusk. “Moiras bitter spit may be your fortune, Cibias,” says the hetman fingering all the gold coin we paid for the tunny. “We divide fish and head for home, cold fires and hotted wives methinks.” His boots clatter overside and his swordsman last glowering would ner share a smile even one.” A cold crew. As quickly as they appeared, from between the swells they retire … perhaps to a pirates cove where better men than they left wifes and daughters as easy pickings.
That night we run two longboats past the Myceneii patrols into Priams harbor. Twenty strong men oaring and square sharp bows making fast of slow. One carries the tunny, the other Skala olives. Crews return with as much bronze pig as their hulls may support. Ten times the trade value in any Latin or Spanish port. Trojan factors try buying the skill and memory of one tillerman, try with a pair of broad-breasted whores. But, they were Hebrew and fuck only in a candled, rugged room. Both tiller-men return to that safety and success Cybelle brings.
“How carry Priams host for spirit?”
“Since Troy lost its sea-fort, all water-trade sneaks up the Scamander. Sneak and slip quickly, without shoring for the sculls are manned by Greek prisoners of war. They chatter like magpies. And among ten a Trojan tillerman stops nothing.”
“Did they fuck ye for promise,” queries Tar lascivious?
“I wanted no mouth, but a joyful cunt. Yer couldn’t notice lounging behind, but few children run about Priams quay!”
Tar tamps out his hash-pipe, and grumbling huffs up a rigging. I wonder? Priams minions starved for sex by their own maids? “To become more fierce,” Artyphon imagines which I cannot believe as German berzerkers free-fuck among all the tribes women maiden to aged before strapping elk horns about their forehead, forming a shield-wall and advancing on an enemy. When a belly is sliced more ale flows out than blood, Alrek says. Drunk on sour rye also and barley-wine. Fight we may, so I rule for the night sail-mates may drink nothing, but boiled coffee and goats-milk. Took nerve say our crew, what we did, while next day passes in a bitter tack among soaring rock pillars attempting to force Marmora Sea.
Winds die sometime after moon-set. We flee land and shoals. Northward, in a soft mist we take to oars before coming upon the Myceneii patrol. Eyes of the watchmen bleed! All gray, the unearthly spectre air equal parts invisible sharpness and soft vapor edge. Could the hell-hounds actually smell us, or was a night considered empty without the taste of cold blood even at the cost of a shattered keel? I would not have chosen that fight. The ships rumbling by our larboard, shouts and bells and torches rudely marking their uncertain positions beside each other.
“Can you make out the dialect,” I whisper ?”
“Not Thracian … or Thebes. Islander ...”
Telemydon speaks quickly. “I caught the words 'like Psili', cursing a shoal. Psili is an island off the coast of Argos.”
“So Agamemnon really has got Argos into the fight.”
“Of need. One Spartan woman makes 10 Argos bitches. Twill always be.”
The main mast men see them as shadows against the rolling fog banks , heard their oars and saw their top-lamps flashing passwords; galley and biremes mixed together, even the dull wooden sounds of hulls crashing and men swore … a pack of blind rabid dogs. A Damascene signal-man fixes by gold wire an egg-size ruby between shifting lemons and apples … claims the enemy sails unhelmed, and sworded bronze not iron, but none believe his vague ruby flashes of image. I look. Among worlds wonder this deceives less.
I tell Mykron. “We might pitch against their shield wall unscathed. What fool tries? Yet all believe enemy dogs of war … Myceneii could show you war from day-break till full moon.”
Nobody had denied Mars honor to them since they came crashing out of Macedonia forests eating raw bear-meat and covering their womens heads with woven moss. Born pederasts … then Helens un-natural lust. Come an engagement they would provide a hundred heroes clashing bronze and swearing destruction to your brothers asshole. Killing became a weave threaded most certainly by the Greeks, and all ships-of-trade became sheep.
Yet many Greeks sat among traders allied with the Hykron council. They fight with other Greek cities for trade routes and clash with their own citizens over cargoes. A third of my ships crew were Mycennii and you could not sail across the seven-mouthed Nile without trusting your life to every man. And as they battle, all members expect support from the Trade Council.
Artyphon: “Tis filling a pot with cabbage, so boiled potatoes and carrots may not confuse.”
Instructions whisper bow to stern already obeyed. I give orders for the watch to stand in place. Live quietly and so less certain. Become night as it were to the restless daylight Greeks. We clashed no metal, lit no fire and said not one word, and none knew if we could out-sail their oars should we be discovered. The meaning of innocent trader the Myceneii do not know, when their bitch Helen and Trojan spite weight in the bargain.
None slept. Had the ships been Phasian blockade runners and fell upon us nothing would change. In the dead of night violence would be exchanged, hand-to-hand, mindless, till one died or another escaped. Some crew pray and the westing wind holds. Short life lived poorly for the rope-boys. This we deny. Sea swells grow and smell of fish.
Our sails still weep when sun-rays clear the mist, far after daybreak showing us Etesias emerald mountains, and for a bow-shot distance the water around us a gray boil of anchovies. Being alive in small ways gives more breath than it takes. How wonderful that breath is. How long had they swam with us? Perhaps Aphrodite had sent them, to confound the Greeks! But, no … a modern captain served by his instruments and a bronze-pintled rudder will believe no such stories.