“One pleasure? One has never satisfied you. I fear for our sons lovers.”
“Or daughter sweet.” None so blind as a husband or King, father Minos taught me. “Tell all ...”
“When little appears? Mages say so, my Babylon physician and a wise woman of Loutra. Barely a month so most will not notice.” Artyphon turns onto me full face. “We grow together if this our last venture before Parthia proves the Belisama worthy.”
Delighted to grasp her bashful. “Does that growing make all our crew your husband in pleasure, as a Temple whore?”
“Oh scornful Loki!” She jumps me, with figures dugs deep into my ribs. “Do not so soon plague a woman with threatened virtue, gentle and comely. How Venus dreads the insult.”
“Bold flesh!” I roll her over, redden her ass and take her roughly till breathless sends us quiet. “Have I served your justice, brash woman?”
Her laughter hides beneath a pillow. Then … “ unfair, master our sex together without patience … your babe is loves patient honor I pay to you, my master and joy in sight and song I pay to faithful companions about you. Belisama rogue crewmen bow; I blush not using the alchemists root; their flesh cries freely when pain comes to call and freely with physicians hands do I smother that pain.”
Playful, such. “Will you with Hathor hide from village street, pasture and from all men? Hide for months? Dally in fat! Such do Greek and Hebrew women.”
“Wicked scholar! Many may, but, not Parthian, Zorast or Assyrian wives ... even Egyptians if they be royals. Physicians we seek, witches brew also and birthers of great age. Husbands are not rejected from couples bed that a child may be born into joy.” Artyphon rises, lifting me and moves to toilet. “Mages promise me an easy passage, as your stretching urges my body limber and strong.” She turns from the steaming water-tub. “Not so our voyage to Sinope. Belisama has been three days breaking from open emerald water. How goes our passage through the narrows and Marmora Sea? ”
Truth heckles. Rolling body free onto my chest I bite her lip and groan. “Wicked wicked IO !”
Later, as dark clouds rise over day. “Northing unsteady Cap’N,” shouts Teutor from the quarterdeck. I am hung from the sprint-yard, worrying a wedge of bronze come unfixed from the ships-head … a spot of glory that binds timbers laid beneath redwood strake.
“Tis an iron mountain points east and nothing will keep the northing from its search.” Bullshit. I don’t know. My hand bleeds. The steeled bolts made through teak and bronze have brine rotted. Amathus crafters slipped a cheap plug by our very eyes. Overside, NaziBu follows me, swinging a huge ironwood mallet to punch though our forged piss-bronze repair.
Belisama races that day, snatching a local breath ballasting into Asia. Ahead, violence, all officers agree at evening meal. It’s peas porridge as fat men slow. Pirate coves lay ahead. “Seastus and Abydus,” rattles Faelon … “or whatever they call themselves this season lay bloody-hand to all that pass.”
“Clear clear,” I stalk the benches. “See you rightly, Mykron we may not plead clever. Blood calls!”
“Your blood, maybe shouts! We have a belly of electrum. Whose mind do the gods favor?”
“Yes we could turn about, like Tipfap the Phrygian against Achilles. One stroke put an ax though the cowards brain him seeking an easy victory prowling the dark Mycenni camp. Achilles even sworn against battle, for his stolen love Breises and just drunk, full palaver with his devote Patroclus and pawing a Morrocan whore. Tipfap leapt between, so the bards now sing, took a wild sword-stoke at Patrocles unguarded side striking a miss a fail a mishappen arc … unpracticed … then turning to run. Ha! Achilles jumped three steps and made his slaughter. TipFaps entire family sit in disgrace and were heckled from Priams city.” I stand tall. “This favor you wish?”
“I wish my lifes favor.”
“Then take a scull, leave companions and make for the shore!” All know the waters geography. Right about here Pontis channel really squeezes you in. “Favor? Those who bear Mercury and Venus to victory!” No battle among friend, this, but joining of metal before the hammer strikes.
Unasked, to my traders staff fly raven feathers without oppose. A navigator new to the channel will look for any help … firepots perhaps set by locals to mark the safe channel. Not here. The two towns on opposite sides of the channel set fire-pots at the junction of shoals. When a ship comes looking for safe harbor and finds rocks, the locals jiffy out, cut throats and steal the cargoes. Worst of men, but steady employment. Did they farm when not killing? Did they love daughters and watch them marry? I'd been to Abydus once, as mastman on a bronze-beaked Carian ship-of-war. Hull tough as very tough men. You could sail into that mud hut shit-hole harbor and live … protected by two-hundred armed shipmates. As it was we killed a dozen boarders coming over the stern before we got a replacement spar and shook the shit off our feet.
Crews remember. Every time. Coming in I'd shot good angles on the bastard nation of whoresons and where the channel squeezes most narrow we will cross at the deepest point. Three full rounds of the counter have passed … each sixty counts and each count of sixty pulses … and the twins were slipping behind us. I have a Syrian-built mechanism in my cabin that counts out the pulses; I mean it makes the pulses from a twisted gray-metal lever and then gear upon gear like an Egyptian waterworks. I know it picks out mid-day, and the dog-stars rise and fall. It counts a deck-watch. I don't trust it. Artyphon tells me the world is young, yet my heart is never light. Some who wish to be unseen the gods dim and make happy. I think the world is a lonely place, feeling Anemois bare wind blowing, a gust which seizes no direction and blows from forests none , but the Bogge have walked. A day half started has come half-way finished as Sponde keens for Mesembria under an empty sky.
“Sail ho,” comes shouting down from the mainmast.
“Bearing... “ the main mast-man shouted back ?”
Freshing wind snaps through our sails. “From the north-by-north-west on the starboard bow. They're just coming around the point, sur... from Elean. I make one hull … stay-sails fore and aft.”
Damme … “Oarsmen...?” “One row, sur.” Pennant … damn your bones mastmen do you see a pennant?” “None sur, none but the skull and bones!”
Very damned well. Men from below-deck are racing upwards. I shout. “Marines! Marines to your weapons.”
Feckin-A Elean dogs. I rattle up shrouds putting the glass on them. Yes … yes, could have been worse. Some could have hidden, but no. Decks run flush with variously armed cut-throats and renegades. But the sailors, they were nobodies fool; a fifty-oar open galley, that enemy craft, with a mast that could be raised, and stepped for'ard should the wind freshen beyond the strength of their canvas. High rope-lashed plank forms the hull , framed only by accident so shields could be hung and top-fitted oarlocks. Not the broad-bowed sailor as I had built the Belisama … not the high-hulled Carian bronze-beaked killer. Not thin-straked pine-tar rovers. Telemydon rests beside me; we grasp shrouds and rocket down.
“What do you think of them, Telemydon?”
Spitting out a chew of poppy-gum. “It's clear to me, Cap’N from the hulls cut and triangle-bound planks above-deck. She’s a foul-weather inshore vessel; a rugged corsairs tool for the free-booter, for the smuggler and any-weather blockade runner … and yes, very much so for the bloody-handed pirate.”
“Sails Nykodemes … where are their feckin-A sails?”
“Mast on the larboard sar, two points and raising a bow-wave from that patch of fog.” The voice grows urgent. “More sail she just laid sur. Mizzen and topgallant. Bat outa hell!” Yes … like a wolf-pack after a stag, two craft came out to engage us … while a dozen more waited along the shore-line for us to be taken down.
“Scrapes Sur, only gallants from one. Right now they carry scrapes of sail, pricing their oarsmen at the cost of wind, lancing toward us half-point to starboard and trusting to drive along-side us. Curs they are, but sharp-toothed. They'll come on hull-to-hull waist high, and with a curtain of bronze spear-points try forcing deck.”
'Would they now,' I think! “Have such robust hulls maneuver for such folly?”
“Enough for brave, hungry men.”
Lessoned. I wonder. They will come on a'pair squeezing together. Late-seen by watch, yet … “Both be at our throat soon enough sir,” for all had figured the squeeze. Belisama is fixed to her deep-water channel, they think. They would crack our spine, like wolf-jaws crack bone. Our doubled-curved bows would snap and our mahogany knees turn to water. Their bronze-headed pikes would boldly bleed us. So their captains sings. Come ahead my friends ... I figure Belisama to surprise them, cross the Hellespont narrows first , belly-out sail, get up all speed and in the last moments flash stay-sails and fly between them.
They dangle athwart our ballistas while we dart past. Let our fire-slings drive home their punch ! Decks turn to flame. Then drive smoking ballista through their hulls. All before they fire an arrow. I think I might burn them out, and send that forest of bronze spear-points and hatchets to Hades. A call rings down. “More sail to starboard, sur” Yes … like a wolf-pack after a stag, two craft came out to engage us … while a dozen more waited along the shore-line for us to be taken down.
“Twenty-five arms and pebbles.” Our iron depth-anvil returns.
“Deep for the channel.”
“Half is sar,” steadies Braden, new to the foredeck, but a past slave old on the Green Isle and Greek seas. “I’ve sailed with a pearl-cutter, and divers claim the gods cut a narrow sharp channel through the Bosphorus straight. And paved it with fine-broke sandstone from the Pillars.”
Brogue spit poppy-gum. “If gods performed all claimed them, they would never had time to travel races and fuck-away the herds of human heroes.” Then queering his gaze: “Some believe the flood tale, that pregnant Juno started pissing and forgot to stop washing one sea into another.”
“Only Hebrews believe that … and only after humans created boats.”
Laughing abounds for religions beg. I cry out. “We’ll get to the bottom … hehehe … throw anvil again boyo and double the fat! Nuuzli, bowse that stay-sail , lively now seaman ! Put your back into that line. ” I laid off the approach angle one last time. Squaring protractors long bamboo arm over the approaching bowsprits. “We'll bring the hull for'ard a notch. You there, logman, smartly, 27 you say … damme search us a mark. And you mast-man , we'll double the backstays.”
“Way oh, sur, ” come the return call. Deckmen knuckle their forehead and mates dash to the lines. “Aye sur.” The line tightens another notch on its stanchion. Our bow-wave come about and lifts another cubit higher. Logline flies whistling through the roller.
Oarsmen have donned leather armor, Another twenty have over-fit bronze plate, armored as hoplites with spear and shield. We scavenged the Lesbos killing-fields with care. Another thirty have taken up cross-bow positions. Crudely heckles Mars, spoils of war live to spoil again. Our six ballista oiled and manned, armed though arrow-tips remain in the embrasures. Same with the tar and pitch and rubber fireballs that arm our Syrian slings. The lead sling-shot being ignorant of its target, brave men die as quickly as cowards.
Swiftly, boyos swiftly! The corsairs keening sun from their bronze visors come on singing the paean to dark Yaga. Oars flash and sails belly. Firepots glow aboard each boat, and the steam of boiling oil rises into their sails like yellow ghosts. We hear the blood-thirsty chanting from twenty khet and it would have scared us silly, for the corsairs cared not for Goddess rule or temples of justice. Life-takers were they born and excepting conquest life-takers would they die. Would have … their throbbing voice would have taken breath from us … had the two boats not been wearing apart! Each breath removes them.
Something hard to tell from thirty boat-lengths, without the angle. Them westerly by a half-point point from intercepting us. They would float beyond us! One point … half a right angle and more. They could chant the dark gods blood-lust, but they could not lay out a triangle. The Belisama sails-men jiffy canvas, cracking-us-on, flying us away like a sea-born peregrine not to be caught by crows.
“They're missing us,” crows the Navigator. The entire ship whispers the words. “Did they think we'd fall-off into their arms?”
“A python strikes a grip before coiling,” gayly sings black Nuuzli!”
“Wery wery lucky for us,” spit old Tar-of-Avelon into his pipes ruinous hash-cloud; his fingers work work among a shower of arrows , weaving a tether giving the foresail breath. “I fel dat gray goose fly oer a virgins grave.”
“He’ll give us the knot Cap’n,” know the end, but not the means yells a young foremaster who couldn’t tie a knot in whores muff.
“Old Tas jibe aggravated me.”
“Catch his shout! Save the goose, old Tar. Mastman! Mastman,” I call. He comes smoking down a shroud and hangs above-deck like a bat. “If we went after them, what can you give me?”
“Go after them, Sur ?” Disbelief writ large on his face. “You mean chase them down!” Silence. Then … “To bend us starboard, sur ? I'll spill wind like a lubber, then clew mizzen and foresail. That will put us across their starboard bow, to portside hull. ”
I shout up, “do it now!”
“But, the slings and ballista sur … our deck will be tipped over; we'll have water over the starboard rail. How will we shoot with our ballista pointed at the sky ?”
Nice damn question, but already I am running astern gathering tiller-men on the way. Four men now … then six … they drove on the oak beam drawing our bow across the wind and bringing it quartering on the larboard rail. The Belisama dives into a deep turn to the north-west. Starboard oarsmen double-up stern-rail brailling the sling platforms with their shoulders.
Close enough to gamble a shot; some of the corsair fire arrows pitch by us. Oh yes Zeus ye bastard whoreson we fly our sails a fine high peak, one part curve one part lift … I am looking for that point where they cross … for beyond that one vessel recedes while the second plots for collision! Off the quarterdeck I shoulder sling-cages , taut and rock-loaded as the Belisama drives within two ships length of the first corsair. We allow sliding sliding sliding on the curve between rudder and keel as if they were one piece letting the wind push us over … sails bending to the right angle half-way mark and closer ….. Falling falling falling that black pitchy pirate hull falls behind us. One two three hull-lengths filled with pellets and darts falling behind us. I flash signals and tiller-men jam down hard with their body weights on the rudder sliding us off the bow-wave and pitching us flat!
Boom - the sheets snapped and I shout “Release!”
Ballista and cross-bow shafts follow the flaming balls of pitch like choirboys follow a dancing priestess. They strike as a single wall of flame … and again the Belisama crossed-wind , sliding over to a south-trending tack. That lagging corsair will see Posiedon before the next Rohdian whore.
“Ahead now all,” and Lieutenants trumpets repeat the song. Fat square-sails flash out again, ruffle, whine and tighten as we cross the leading corsairs stern. Sprung ballista shock! We let fly a second sheet of flame. Those three positions, afore, beside, behind … three positions and the wild hammering of men all happen in a single silent burst of action noone could claim as his right, but only that of Mercury prodding Mars.
Behind us, now the trailing corsair sails and hull, deck and rigging and oil-pots explode in a cloud of hurled bodies, burning pitch and tinder. We smashed them! Down go our bows and spears, for the leading vessel must be raked again. Oarsmen to the locks … bending the yew-poles like bows and pulling us straight away from the debris. Foresail billows wildly into the spray of bow-waves with noone, but the suns disk and open sea in front. The swill of battle lay just ahead ; dogfish fins cut the water, dirty and curdled as old Etruscan wine. Bodies swirl in that water. I wouldn't rescue those bastards if all Tethys nymphs promised blow-jobs to the crew till our bones broke. We left the corsair burning, and helpless Phoenicians screaming to Baal as the dogfish snapped struggling survivors one-by-one in our stern-race.
“Now!” as we find her side and rush an attack! Our premature firepots and rocks demast her, fore & aft and one rock has chipped a plank from her double tiller-slots. Lumbering now, she was a worthy corsair I deny faster than Belisama, but no matter. She still floats! We will not attempt to board. Yet following, our fountain of arrows and ballista litter her deck and yards with hung , broken bodies that will not soon recover.
Gripping an ax-handle and vomiting … a passing shaft flattened against my throat without breaking skin … battle rage still consumes me. I would leap against Mars bronze breast should he appear. Of the mind such tasks create … I look about … by their own light, all crew have stopped firing bolts and downed their weapons. Crafts fly to repair and masters torque pins that weakened. Idlers turn to any task - - mast or bilge that taking a sluice of water - - as a sailor must. NaziBus bare bloody arm points astern. “Few will make shore in this twilight ...”
“True warriors … float them a coin, sar in an empty barrel, that Ferryman will make space and restrain Ceberus.”
Oarsman. “Enough Cap’N ... their oilslick burns behind us.” Fire has burned deep, into a mahogany logs heart and he is chipping it out with a reeve, brush and jar of vinegar.
“Ten oarsmen sore by pellets. Artyphon and her woman have taken five boyos below. Two still keep the breath, but spit mucus from a punctured lung.”
“Brail-up mainsail and mizzen for a steady hull. Sar. Sar. your throat sar, it’s bleeding.”
Deep twi-light finds us still running before the wind, one more crew cycle before the Black Sea widen afor our bow. How Mars howled - - how mens belly churned clay - - yet now our channel battle with two raiders remembers a few broken bones and gray smoke streak on our eastern horizon. We lost our mizzen to a fire-arrow and mastmen cut it away. Our rudder steers undamaged, though for a heartbeat the Belisama had skated upon it! Cook-fire lit – hot ale passes to the crew. Cotton presses a wet pack of moss to my throat; I may still talk. “Talk, less sar, and go below begs pardon where our lady has treated others. She seeks you now. Lady Artyphon needs ...” and the ropeboi stutters and runs to his scampering shroud.
Midnight, by Belisamas Syrian mechanic and my cuts so burn that Artyphon brings me topside. Linen robes will do as our legs make four. Into cool air she says, below the quarterdeck so a philter of poppy and potato ferment will not strike as a thunderbolt. Night-watch doubled for mechanics cause and few may casually knuckle or grace … Yes mistress, I tell her. The crew knows I tell her not .. what does she not know first of trade and people? Such quiet music, I think, the slice of hull through waves. And such firm companions they not knowing dishonor. I fall asleep.
“Point Riva to starboard,” echos the Mizzen-watch.
We lay abed and bare feet patter Belisamas teak deck during shift-of-crew. Foremast boyos well clad spring to their station with a prompt unseen from below-deck. I leave her sleeping and climb our cabin ladder in silence. Bright so early, a silver-white sky bright with Helios rising, bright with the shine of tin ale-mugs and platters above fire-coal and bright with an empty lisping blue-green chop of the Black Sea! The Mycenaii outpost and logging port Riva sit two points east as Belisama makes for deeper water.
Belisama starboard rail leans into the bow-wave. “Winds circle the damned puddle,” snaps Tar who having sailed deep blue now leads navigation on day-watch.
“Eh Cap’N. this puddle of Black Sea. No month without a site of land as beyond the Pillars.” Drooling chin to neck he thinks on a day-gone time … “Here, four day sail travels between Scythian gold tombs and Carpath sky-burials to crow.” Face-up, his few teeth bubble-out poppygum. “We need to jiffy hard, just leaving Bosphorus channel or we’ll find our ass ground against that forest lee shore. Too many Greeks … too many wolves … I ain’t seen like afor, yet I feel visitors breath.”
Looking up, the mast-watch signals nothing. “Carry on Tar. Just don’t send us to the Chersonese … Greek cannibals do not fit Artyphons taste these weeks .”
“So the ropeboi women say ...” Tar snickers, and putting his shoulder beside another at tiller groans manfully and says no more.
Frow’ard salt I think smiling, and set for the quarterdeck, barely make Captains stool when shouts bellow back from the sprintyard. “Sail to larboard sar, just thrown, bellied-out and roving. Mainsail and jib with a Scythian gold cross.” Gold threads he means, as the few Scythian traders wear strung gold wire in their jibs. No stronger I think with a jealous touch. Damme …
“Seventy and counting. It’s a longstrider, Sah!”
Damme, to have slept … Shouting, now from all the look-outs. The Scythian comes on fast, before a growing wind and while a third our size prickles with glints of deck weapons. If we play-the-pirate no landsmen they, but bark our stern with steel trumpets. Gold carrier, likely and the captains head to lose it! A league and gaining, though I have not set our oarsmen to task. Peace first, before threat or fear. NaziBu has already taken to a horn booming challenge and bawd with no response.
As I set the glass to its mount, the Scythian hull swerves half-point larboard to run us parallel. Damn the glass, for its begun fogging, and another must be a half-year cutting and grinding should a Thebes or Damascus glassman need your coin – which they do not, but chose sons apprenticeship and adventure shared as their rule.
Squint, shift, turn and … “Ben Joseph you Jericho scoundrel,” I scream leaping about, shaking my fist at the closing separation. Does the glass just show a bow from the turbaned figure perched vainly uncertain on the Scythian sprintyard. Their shipwrights use cheap yew, like a longbow, for the bow and deserve the lost crack-wood foreyardmen. Hand signals … arms flapping like a … Zeus beard, in such a chop they will run under our lee.
“Repel them, sar,” kranks an anxious Drubya. A pint of fully armoured and piked hoplites backs him.
“Repel our next meal and daughters dower? Indeed Drub .. with a barrel of Celtic ale and three wineskins of Cyprian blackberry ferment. Prepare the hoist starboard!”
Confusion reigns, as an enemy lost and to sharpened trade labor coins counted before earned. All mans vice I think, and sails clewed the BARBEY slips beneath our lea like nursing lamb to its mother. Wind whistles and chop grinds. We both wrap sealskin vests and lowered well-roped take to trumpets:
to the wifes home for her encumber, as any man seeks, protects his unborn son …. I’d damn the birds if I’d not a threbble. Why are ye not pitting olives for stuffing … gold flows among Scythians like cobra venom among Pharohs scribes, but have they lumber not one real tree in 500 leagues … so you spare your wife and belly … stuffed with Scythian gold we sail while Sinope wallows in trees, they cannot grow half their wheat because the ceder swallow every new-cleared field … Sinope we travel there also, but … but for trade only as Troys copper pressing out makes our holds leak … damned Hyrkon lie, for I joined daughter to me that she may oversee your dearest Artyphon passage …. despise me not…
Despising best efforts and long poles our vessel hulls suck together … an Alleppo mage claims the world is one Bacchanal soaked by invisable ferment and like young couples cling together the closer they sit. Many old laugh ; none believe him , but couple new to love. I dally with gossip. Ferments transferred a pair of Scythian archers plant two pearl-strung arrows into our quarterdeck. Trumpets noisy and tired.
all affection Ben Joseph … in Sinope, dear Cibias. while women plot we shall trade rivers that the desert bloom and flaying ox make tables groan …. not I second to the platter. indeed even abiding our exchange of ferments not yet brewed trust my heart Ben Levi I pray for your god tonight ...
And our vessels push apart, Belisama buffing the blue-green swells and BARBEY slicing through then track away as tiny options among the chop find more in distance than near. Tillmen groan. As wind lesson they take to oars and forge ahead beyond our sight.
Indeed! Elisedd approves we do not challenge them, racing, to the seas crosswise shock. Three days to Sinope wastes nothing, and clouds vision by a day the close watcher. We switch to gray linen sail, begging some keel response, and set course by the northing … beyond land-sight. Teutor reports “All masters at station and repair well-managed above-deck. A new yard must come from port! Sinope, eh Cap’N though ner a redwood for a moons travel.” I grumble, that the forests do not obey my officers. Dog-watch all measured better than seven marks on the speed-log.
I go below … laying belly-up and potioned by every pain-driving salve Babylon may have imaged Artyphon weeps. The two badly wounded mates have died and sent to Posideon with Cybelles cinnamon grace and the Ferrymans coin.
“Do you understand?”
“Sailors weep to their own cots fair play. Lady Artyphon what say ye mistress?” Quiet. Humble. Too humble …
“Medicines, I must buy them by the basket. And pay wise women, alchemists and witches to extract their proof. You pay! Yes? You must practice now,; I worry for your throat! ”
I grumble, feeling a sob in her belly “Yes … yes … by Zeus hairy beard Cybelle will make it feckin-ever-so.” Yes mistress, I tell her. “Crew knows I tell you not .. what does ye not know first of trade and people?”
I doze, eat and doze again while crew work their crafts and urge me to Artyphons side, as the goddess has surely brought her to my lee. Yes, yee long-patient reader of hard heart, yet that day by default Elisedd captains the Belisima.
None to deflect evil. Sponde brings a falcon and Dysis a stork faithful though a bolt has shattered its beak. Drubya brings both below ; a snapped yard-line twisted his wrist as he hung for life before mates grasp payed the fates. The stork brings code from Minos sons, Didikas and Yidini. Yidini no longer squanders Amphipolus whores and Didikas has returned from the hooded Theban gem sellers. Taken to a swordmaster he bleeds every night. Only two years , two and five years younger than I; how bent their straight backs will become and how grey silver-blonde curls ... Noone can remember such … or few. I fold brothers code within its hickory nut case; in my ships-log box that nut rests beside 40 others ... Deep I drag on the jade-balmed hashish letting it clear my thoughts. The 2nd code flies from Japhe, Artyphons brother. His Sinope villa has become home for satrapes mistress, while Japhe, family and slaves trek forty leagues east to groom, crop and fertilize their cherry orchards. More , much more.
“Humble master, of quick sweet song ye would sneak the trousers from Astartes mistress!” Such quiet music, I think, the slice of hull through waves. And such firm companions they not knowing dishonor. She says, swoon beneath her first so the philter of poppy and potato ferment will not strike as a thunderbolt. Time sails with me. And Artyphons warm breasts, swollen a mite I am aroused and she joys all. Sleep. We have settled under a night-fog, lacking sting, of bitter-leaf taste, which may only blow in from the Black Sea coast smelling of rich pasture. Dare I think cherry blossoms? How they cover the land with color, and Hyrkons treasury with trade. Hold closer now. Artyphon beside me and a warm lamp flame screened dull red we care not for such excess whispering and patter of voices through the hatchway.
Midnight, by Belisamas Syrian mechanic and my cuts so burn that pain brings me topside. Naked under a linen robe I take to brothers code, and my logbook. Cool air humbles and an idler sets oil-lamp and quill beside me, light flickering, hiding, imagining I’ve come to believe . Night-watch doubled for mechanics cause and few may casually knuckle or grace …
Japhes code continues. His brother will meet us in the Sinope harbor, make permits for a dock and chandler, carpenter, rigger … whatever plus such trade as must be done promptly or not at all. Bird him my plans. Artyphons grandfather, an ill-tempered ancient burned Zorast black not Hebrew will desire a visit … and perhaps swat her pagan lover sees he the chance. The brother then guides us along the coastline. Fair enough; too fair of promise for the Trade Council knows mens evil heart.
Japhe has made two errors in his traders code, errors well known to Trade Council factors who felt two marks of truth rather than one were sufficient only. Subtle. Seductive. Shouting! Alone I call Brogue, a mastman saying little, and when swells roll high doing much. Explain simply, my knowledge he ponders, then places a raven-feather in my palm. I return it to his wrist and he leaves. I don’t need the Kings post; Belisama will meet steel with steel. I turn to the brothers code.
New ink new quill: Didikas a writer famous even young claims glass bodies and iron tips will send all goose-quills to the mattress. A landsman, he not figuring how brine rots. His text may not so easily be dismissed. But the code is long and tiresome and obscure … three releases old.
Clever, against enemy eyes. A new Helles ansatz threatens Hyrkon. These Greek no rude Mycenaii, shitting and drinking about Troy, but a colder more discipline faction, once hidden among Macedon forest now spilling into the plain of Sparta. They in fact call themselves Hellenes as if the nation existed not for 3500 summers! Yet steeled warriors these new ones, grinding past like manure beneath a horned-plow they pretend nothing. Already they have captured the isle of Zakinthos and reeve both ship and phalanx beside the Spartan homeland. Kythira fisherman are heckled and daughters virgin despoiled. Zeus beard if Spartan steel cannot hold then, what hope the remains of Europas entire peninsula? May Corinth boy-lovers buy them off? Might Athens wonder them with bards … or the island geometers dazzle … I do not know who may stop them, before they crash into Hyrkon blue-water cruisers and Minos bronze shield-wall.
Stand to order, blood-kin, the code admonishes. Behold our Minoan race unbowed. Thus I make short trade commitments. Belisama will join both brothers cruising the rugged Zakinthos north coast. Three months speeds charm, but avoid Greek squadrons. Chandler for five months conflict, having found honest company, and bringing such stout warriors as I might obtain, harry ships and moles of Hellenes and drive Minoan bronze courage though the flanks of their arrogance. A weapon … I seem such a pure weapon with all virtue-building lost. Thinking how I branched, like a swamp willow from before my Trade Council badging.
Dare I venture Artyphon-with-child into battle? Should evil befall ... should her pride be scorned ... this conflict rips me, as a future history, though fates have never unwound their threads ... Think! Solder of fortune! Bachus-like paeans via Aminias from her cloud of pleasure, bitter rivalry between states at Hyrkons Trade Council venue … so like real barter false horns appeared everywhere. Sea battles off Cyprus, whose craft gave finish to the Belisama: father of craft, mother of vipers. Amathus lay by Elisian fields, my sisters courage and the whiff of treachery - - the mime? Egypt and Syria hold the graves of my fathers enemies … and the grave of my virtue. These Greek and Parthian Seas only promise we race for a bitter, bitter war with Europa rising. Is this Queen Marys western flow? Has the goddess nothing better save one new life? Tis a colder evening than expected; I pull on a sealskin vest and find north-star. There. A twinkle; Medes blame sky not star. Fickle. Even Dianna smiles when a devote dies, for another surely comes to finish the race.
A silvered glass catches my face. Ego laughs. Lines and wrinkles have left no mark: how possible I should escape judgement? Actaeon lasted, but an afternoon; Prometheus & Sisyphus never avenged pain. And horrors , Jasons fresh-born blood flowed before his own eyes. Such do the gods avenge treachery. Very well; I turn the mirror against lambswool.
So ventures the Belisama , cruiser of King Minos Trade Council six years after Agamemnon lodged Mycenaii hulls before Troy, twenty-seven years since this Captain Cibias birth - - in the year of shooting-stars - - and 1974 suns retired as three warriors of different goddess - - Minoan, Egyptian and Atlantic knowing the true enemy - - placed together their marks on beaten gold. I sign and close ships log.