“Peer largely boyos, but shut yer gobs,” howls the mast-mate, a tall brown ra’kins whose harbor Egyptian sailors barely trace. Yet thinking on it we quiet for a bird-brains measure and not because scampering the Safanas yards and lines has worn our stringy arms. Tireless, each younger chasing the foreign sail intruder since Auges silver smile fired our warm ale. Foreign, methinks as no Crete or Phonecian fish-buss or Egyptian trader hoists such triangle-shape mainsail. Not in this western sweep of Our Sea. An Intruder, as no Trade Council pennant flies from the signal mast. And chase? What else would brace a well-maintained Kings corvette to carve swells like a dolphin?
“Damn me eyes, Cibias ...” Our half-sheeted mainsail whispers. “Flag? Noone I can tell, but colored rags hang from the signal-pole.”
Colored by … ? I return. “Bow-maid?”
“Clumps of salt onion-weed.”
I shout. “Zeus beard … to spy a hag!” We are twin youth imagining I think, Pame and me … Cibias praying Cybelles fine mercy. Salty air north of the Balearics spawned daybreak no older than I and with first-light finally a discovery. It’s exciting! Sent for’ard as lookout - - first to call the intruder - - she’s falling off the easterly to roll in a small northward swell. Onion-weed I think … a bays devil ... I clutch rough grips in the slippery maple and think on dual grey shapes swimming beneath my belly.
Below, ignoring my chatter DAN bellows. “What do ye now make of them Tuk?” Our ears buldge snapping up sail-master words.
“I make trouble!” Our 1st mate and DAN have used Pames smooth-face rail; orders flow and mastmen extend the mizzen. Satisfied with canvas small urge, DAN and number-one stalk the corvettes seven-board quarterdeck eying the foreign hull as sailors will.
“Your trouble’s what I see!” Swinging down to the larboard rail ...”tillermen, half-a-point to starboard!” He’s the DAN and can swing anywhere, needling a mate. “Yours or mine or ours … hehehe?” Zeus beard DAN Itaji would not be skeptic by any crew. Itaji … a northern Italiot mastering a Kings ship of Hyrkon and by blood and council nearly unbelievable.
So far has DANs mastery of winds taken him. Tuk spits black. “Beggin the DANS favor a plague ship by all rights. Plague ship … or a plague on us. They’re hiding out below, ready to jump, hatchets raised , bone flag furling should we blunder close.” He looses a boul of billowing black tar hashish.
“That … or simply lost souls.” A DANs long pull on a longstem ivory pipe. “There’s two standing tiller; see, they wave at us.”
I could have answered. Our Kings corvette sighed at the light eastward breeze the deck-planks normal groan a whisper. Officers file by bending their heads in advice, but 1st-mate bullies his way. “This intruder galley makes a smooth passage, but smooth and gentle have different mothers. A cobra waves when it’s head spreads wide, waves and strikes … .”
“Curious cobras them … standing the tiller. One black hair half-helmed Amazon with a bare tit … one bald ancient days with parrots sitting on his wool tunic shoulders and a hashpipe between his gums. What the fuck …?” A DANs oath. Tensed crew take a somber man serious; ale-skins fly and bare feet slap oak deck racing for stations.
Nearly amused, DAN ... the Kings Captain on 20 summers scratches his thin dark salt-crusted hair. Tuk scoffs. “And what are tiller-men on a decked galley doing with blades? See the flash when their hull comes up to the sun?”
“Drugged, mebby … a luffing mainsail makes little reason! No break in the yards I see or waterline bubbling.” Pulls at a scraggly beard … “trader gone bad with officers revolted, I’d guess or ale poisoned crew all dead. A trader makes sense, three nights off the Frankish coast. ”
Number-one snaps. “Bah to all that homey titter. Not all enjoy the Marsaii grape. Bait I say ... all taken together, tit and blades and pipe. Bait like an archer fish!”
“Our gentlemen should have a look.” DAN takes a hook on his seal-skin belt. “Damme the flash … Tuk ... no damn-your-eyes Cibias … Cibias get eyes off those dogfish, ass off the sprit-yard. Come aft - - take a dory and six boyos across to their stern. Jiffy them up close. See what those poor bastards are up to!”
“Ey DAN,” I shout leaping from the long maple yard , crossing the quarterdeck and saluting en’passe. “Pame also if I may?”
Itali spits. “If yee must snatch my eyes … bugger I send a mans vision to the nest!”
“Thank e’ DAN. Boarding he can stretch like milkweed.” I strap on free-hanging rude bronze corslet. “Spears and bows and a rope for boarding?”
“As ye say,” Itali scoffs … amused. “Drill gizzard ! Scratch their ass , poke an eye eh hehe marking well not to risk a boyo. ”
“Are they threatening us DAN?”
“We’ll see when they cut off your hangers, eh hehehe?” His strong shoulders muscle a paw onto Pame. "Your first boarding? Course it is ... bleeding sweat , but the first always seems the worst. Here, strap this bullhide corslet round the gizzard. It turns most blades." DAN swats him away chuckling. "See he returns, Cibias!"
Oarsmen snigger and I’m red-face. Crew’s short enough … I should know that. “Not a scratch, DAN!” Yet five weeks of quiet patrol west of Hyrkon … and I wouldn’t dare miss poking gizzards. Not me, a new 3rd since look-out slipped and dogfish took him. Bisquets and ropes strain on our 40-pace sea-rover pulling the hull about, shattering bow-wave and Pame tunneling to the pinion launches the skull.
I’m late to the lowering. Men monkey overside. “Cibias DAN,” comes the shout. They are ready to surge, and for the duration I am DAN for our vessel. My local orders obeyed; flog and rope at the first stench of shyness. I drop behind the rowers and bowmen rocket lines from the bow. Swords and leather shields are lowered. Oder of shit-pants fear … “All haste now gentlemen … quickly, quickly so the ten slingers waiting bilge can’t come-a-deck.”
Pame. “A net thrown first catches the first blade.” He rides high on the dory bow while I’ve got the rudder. “I’m quick with a net.” If he beats me to the hags rail.
Our eight pairs of eyes bear on the yellow oak galley looming before us. Cheering comes from the boyos behind, a sturdy crew manning Hyrkon King Minos corvette Safana. A citizen crew, mostly manned with a trey of island warlord sons in gentle captive; work like demons to make place. “Give me headway, boyos and I’ll swing us astern.” Safanas crew got our back with two-dozen longbow, a pair of slings and four ballista. “Stretch them now boyos like she’s ass-over-cups!” Foreheads glisten sweat. Oars bite pockets into the smooth blue sea. We lurch ahead and the intruding galley does not run from us. Holds mystery I think. “What slingers ye flauncy pounce,” bitches Tin-Isle greyhair Tar-of-Avelon. His stringy arms twig the longbows notched arrow.
“Kings blood,” raps an oarsman, respectful, who had beat me out of 3 sesterces in a helmed game-of-staves.
“We’ll ram her amidships and sink her,” I snark pounding sweat out’a oarsmens leather shoulder-pads.
“Just ponder the bitch DAN said.”
“Five gold minae each if yee feck her jolly and take her,” I challenge … as if seven naked men could mount a livered forty-oar galley. Wish I knew … I wait six pitches of the oars till age and wear of galley strakes seems clear.
“Peevish jitter,” worries Amphiloc birthed Percedon. “Her ports look spider-webbed! We called them detchmen.”
Peevish ugly word. I grunt. “Watch for the spider fangs.” Closer still, it rides uneasy too high in the water as if empty.
Ku grins madly passing an iron-ribbed glove. “Break bones DAN Cibias not yours ...” It fits tight, like a peashooters lip or young maids quim.
Our dory crew laughs brightly, while eyes darken. “Makes right hand a charm,” I say crunching the birch tiller. Then each boyo finds his own and oarsmen bite into their yew sticks making a trial of quieting while the galley breasts water and we maneuver about the stern.
Wooden beams moan. "Ashtoreth ..." hisses Pame. Above, lashed to the signal mast a human head hangs dripping ... Bare leg, and arm and breast peal over waxed tiller-shafts. The Amazon has not covered her tit, but hurls a chestnut pod splitting to pieces inside our hull and turns away spiteful. Parrots wrack lifting from the druid and fly amast.
All eyes find head or breast. "That one!" Gorgons head, she could loose all masts in a fleet. For weapons, you couldn’t see the port so easy for mist hazed waterline. “There … by seaweed growing a stringer.” Oars feather.
Measuring the vessel takes care .. she’s near Safanas own length, but a third narrow. Spaces are compressed . So the sighted weapon … a big fucking crossbow brailed narrow ; kanted yew bolt whizzes close above our heads. “Respond to attack! Prepare to board.” Pames swift return bolt catches port-spray of blood and water.
“Irons away …!” The second archer, a Green Isle slave named Faelon whips a boarding-hook over the galley rail. Glassy sea surface boils about both hulls. Two arrows thud into the dory bow. A brace of our arrows responds, one gracing a notch from which howling returns. Our dory slams into galley strakes.
“Onto the deck, boyos” I shout and lunge for the hook-line shimming up before I have a grasp. A second hook follows and a thin Gaulish oarsman all bone and sinew whips by me helm and shield and sword ahead diving over the edge. “To honor we sail!” We fight for speed and over-rail for first blade for’ard.
Crashing on, Pames net afor us. He wills to the front. Swift metal, before my eyes bronze spear-point transits hemp loops catching his throat between chin and collar-bronze. Pame grin a glyf he flips over the rail in a spray of grisle red gore. One two three … heads behind our blades and shields. Thoughtless I strike war-hatchet at the lone hoplite before me.
Glaring blackly and guttering he wears helm-crest and leather breast-plate. His spear once raised now tumbling blood spouts from the war-hatchets blade embedded to yew stem in his chest he flails backward to the deck … a dead man crawling … a spearless warrior without bronze. Thumping a lifeless arm. Pame ghost lay beside him. And … there’s nah another man in sight.
“Strike the next ones quickly,” I shout. Faelon throws his leather vest over Pames face. Six men spread out bow to stern. I stand frozen over Pame, stand and retch and start the wail.
“There’s that,” Faelon grunts knowingly. He throws a worn leather vest over Pames face. “Save yer tears, boyos standing before Ceberus now. Ferrymans coin for the passage.”
An oarsmans fist thumps my back. Noise behind the tiller-blind and I know the ken. Another fist drags me away … “Your command DAN … .”
Yes my command … burning eyes open. “Nothing … ye found nothing?” Lines set to cleats and deck clear to the sprityard. Crows-nest empty. Pulses up my leg. Kaleidescope of fractured color blinds my eyes … I push it away, behind, forgotten … a cold sweat covers me. Torn spinnaker slaps the sprityard. Bare oarsmens benches shout. The bilge and cargo hatches lay open. “Faelon and Ku and Percedon slap on cargo hatch bolts.” NaziBu has already hefted a timber closing the bilge-hatch.
“And you? Do you conceal a short-spear meant for stabbing?”
Amazon. She bares the 2nd breast. “Find what you wish.”
“Ships whore can mind her tongue, lest it vanish.”
Ancient had gimped up beside her, his gnarled hands and fingers twisting a rune and lips muttering silent druid curses. Amazon. “Vanished? Surely my … my master can find better uses for a lively tongue.”
Ancient pricked up , started a jig chanting an unknown tongue ... “... ahe ligehtis connagaht ...” and I smashed his mouth with an ironed right fist. “I have use for an obedient mouth.” Ancient rolls moaning on the deck ; Amazon … “I am Celtebex, a right dangerous cunt of the Sari tribe.”
I’d heard the klan name, from Frankish traders. “Mebby.” For moments the sea reigns calm as a Knossos temple in Juno fiery grasp. I cover the Amazon shoulders with my tunic. She pleases not. The ancient takes feet, trances, shudders, snorts, despises now and falling over into a bunch will not respond to Faelons sword-tip. “See to him.”
“My husbands druid. You will want for his care.” She bends to whip his drool with her tunic, I think a lithe catty bitch unchained by a dead husband and brigand pleasures.
“NaziBu, bind her wrists with wet leather.”
Amazon smirks. “Pleasure DAN,” and none too gentle. Then life appears. From below fists are beating against wood. Demanding water and … I struggle understanding words … tar-of-green … “Shall I put a spear through the hatch planking,” NaziBu shouts.
I ask Celtebex. “What of them?”
“The Cypriot flower,” she responds sharply.
“Revel or poison,” I ask?”
“Men revel as they will,” she snarks twisting against her bonds.
“And well I may revel you, as women poison so … why did sailing master leave shore with a fouled hull?”
Hesitation. “How would I know? The Captain my husband had been slaughtered in revolt. Perhaps the renegade Malaca slaves sought blood freedom at sea.”
Stuttering Percedon. “Sla.. sla.. slave to poppy will corrupt our own cre...cre… crew.”
“Slaves are they ...” I stand over Pames body. “Spare the blood. Let prisoners start begging. Then ale buckets convince better than iron.”
“What about these two? Both are glassy eyed and foul-breathed.”
Catching Faelons attention. “How do you understand ‘tar-of-green’ ?”
“Some say poppy. But, surely a poison, DAN! Anything from scorpion-venom to sour-rye.”
I turn on them, Celtebex and the druid. “We will not vex you,” I say to faces of spite. Nothing … then motion the two confined at the bow-rail.
Faelon passing flag signals over the stern. “Our Safana approaches, DAN. Shall we maneuver this barge into the lee?”
Bite my knuckles, for tis a long breath catches. Breath it! DAN. In action first ship taken, she whispers to me for a few heartbeats the master of her quarterdeck poor as it might. I pace that redwood plot. For we have eight men taken the decked galley and a fine piece of Spanish wood she be - - deck and masts and strakes all without rot. Her hemp lines and tension waxed, bollards and cleats well founded. Taken with the loss of my boon and the stripping away of a hoplites life. Two drops of blood to honor Cybelle.
All emotions overwhelm me rejoining our gentlemen boyos all, sailors and comrades, heart tones from deepest sorrow to unmeasured joy. “I expected whispers not a captured enemy, but well fought men of Cibias rank.” Cheers washed clean the bloody the sea.
I salute before DAN Itaji. “Deepest remorse for shades of Pame,” I just manage steeling voice. “He lunged ahead taking the bronze spear-point meant for me.”
A shout breaks over Itajis head. “No sadness this! Pame takes the joy of northman warriors. Tis the ” shout of a blonde pigtail giant from the bowhatch. “Woden rises! To pleasures gallant, burn him in the dory!”
With cheers and ale buckets our ships cohort envelop us. Jibes and praise DAN Itaji congratulates , fixes the rewarded vessel at 8 golden minae per man and releases the mangy prisoner pack from its bilge. Baal Icon is the captured vessels name, the owners Etruscan cotton merchants … but no longer. A plague took them off The Pillars and they beached; traded ; fought; stole; DANs brassy Amazon wife surprised. She hired crew rampant them murdering husband and officers and trading pirates along the Spanish coast. Trading cotton for Dionysian pleasures. An iron box under ballast rocks holds their pillaged lucre of 300 gold sesterces. Divided into parts ship, officers and crew the most sorrow oarsmen beams.
"Who would have more from this man," Itaja hurls?" Tis a curse he hurls. All this tale hot forge-irons extract from the scared, torque-bearing, cynical and DAN murdering captured mastman. Dogfish jaws end wails of his burned flesh.
Pame and the hoplite are buried at sea, as the norseman advised, weighed by lead horns to the bow of our dory. Fire-arrows spark a stern pith-keg and under glowing ash the lead horns send them deep. DAN shares his ivory hashpipe with me … he takes on my guilt and buries it with the bodies. I had gifted the Ferrymans silver coin to both. Cybelle comforts me not. I take to the sprityard in pain, desolate as a weir-trapped pike.
"His shade passes," comforts Tar, "as all our shades must pass from the living."
How bitter that passing makes a mans soul. I know not if the Norseman claims are true, to forever joy not a skulking grey aura, but lust in full blood battle forever while daylight passes, only to raise the meade-cup drinking full and whoring fat titted lusty maids till Helios returns another morning.
To Tar-of-Avelon who has remained close. “Better that fair Tar than a restless grey shade forever carrying a speechless soul through Hephastes smoky caverns.”
“Earths not so different without a womans ripe graces.” He is watching Celtebex writhe in her sleep-cloak beneath the mainmast.
“She’ll surely go to the slave block in Syracuse.” I have finished the wineskin only to hear our DANs call to order.
Men gather in evening torchlight about the Safana quarterdeck. DAN Itaji wears his traders staff and silver-woven vest standing above.
“Quiet for the DAN.”
“Who serve their vessel willingly under the new DAN?” Itaji formal speech to the captured Spanish crew. “Those sailors stand under the Laural branch.” He speaks Harbor Latium and near half understand. Twelve men respond. Celtebex smirking, her two maids and the druid join them and DAN waves them over against curses of Dianna-badged rope-boys.
Shuffling … “Quiet for the DAN.”
“Who will serve under me?” Itaji points to our bilge. Ten men choose the hold. Itaji has armed our oarsmen with short-swords and placed archers into the yards. Muttering runs among the twenty remaining unserved Spanish. Itaji has a wine-bowl brought to him and washes his hands with a passage worth of Marsaii red.
Drum-beats. “Quiet for the DAN.”
“I have served the goddess,” he shouts. Two prisoners look about wildly, then move from refusal to our Laural. I know not what to expect; Itaji proves himself a cold heart. “Enough! Cut their throats,” bellows DAN and the Safana crew plunges among the refusals, slaughtering to the left and to the right. Screaming chaos. Wounded are hacked to shreds even as they beg mercy. Boyos toss bodies overboard to waiting sharks. Idlers strew fatted ash and begin stoning the deck.
“Sail ho!” Zeus beard may the goddess be praised. “Sails to larboard!” At visions edge the pirates triangle sail intrudes.
Navigator. “Hard to see them bastards.” Lookouts scamper lines to the crows-nest and rocket in return. Chatter. Then navigators grind. “Best guess these pirates sail a NNE approach . Smarty sail, an over-reach course to intercept if we run downwind. Making seven marks they are not slow.”
Officers surround. I say formally. “With all speed DAN, we should run from them. If needed, tack returning to Marsaii.”
Itaji. “If our hull is swifter against the wind.” He grumbles to our sail-master. Then … “Coming on fast, three swift hulls and a larger bumboat. The pirates have returned to their vomit.” He wheels around to me. “DAN Cibias Min, the Kings corvette needs a distraction.” I bit my lip bloody not to speak. “The Trade Council will eventually decide galley ownership, but in a close sea-fight I can assign you as master. Doubly so with you merciful in victory. As DAN you will be less so ...”
I stiff my frame before him. “As the DAN wishes.”
Boyos are wiping away blood beneath his feet. “You can have the six men who joined you on this capture. Make them officers if you wish , but remember the best men will refuse privilege for the pleasure of skill. And Zeus beard change the feckin-A ship name … we favor no love of bloody Baal!” Itaji stands back waving his arm at the approaching pirates. “Play the fox. Cibias, save both our vessels for Hyrkon and Cybelles justice you save one for yourself.”
Diannes cold northern wind blows over my heart. I will stutter if I speak. Dazed. “Vixen, DAN … I rename this Spanish treasure Vixen for the love of Cybelle and service of Hyrkon.”
“Damme your eyes, Cibias save us the virtue! I am to you no longer Dan, but Itaji. Here, take this sword and plunge it into the deck. Yes, that way.” He stares at the Laural bound Spaniards. “Submit to your new DAN.”
Still formal, I take each mans knee and his oath. A mangy lot them, without the Hyrkon disciplines of self care or clothes fit to man a Kings ship. Celtebex nails on her turn dig into my wrist while eyes remain meek. She is the first women ever, I thin k, to do so. First act … have the Spaniards scrubbed in boiling soap, then fitted to linen drawers. Each takes a wool tunic and except for the Amazon submit hair cut round their ears … as Babylon ventures prescribe. I return their sailor blades of many shapes, and sharpened to the nearest stone nothing pleases them more.
“Tis men we’ll be now DAN, “ say many.
I snap sharply. “With blades these pirate boyos will query ye again. Remember your answer. Spare me DAN, if ye will. The modern Captain comes it fresh without democratical drool. Use the word Captain and we’ll make a happy ship.”
“Think naught of it . . . . Cap’N.” Three of the Spaniards have packed together. “We’ll set carving a traders staff for yee, of oak and damned be the boyo to disrespect. Cybelle is your Goddess and by silver inlay we’ll dedicate it to her - - blaspheme though it be - - before you attach feathers. May Baal-Astarte be praised!”
Kneeling before me, Celtebex. “All pleasures to the … for the Cap’N. May the swells ride him home.”
Twenty-four of us … altogether. Shipmates send us across to the Vixen with two barrels of ale, two kegs of smoked cod, a barrel of barley and basket of dried fruit. DAN Itaji and I walk together. “Mark this well … Captain Cibias. From now on we are comrades; I am Master Itaji - - that I have earned. If on some sweet together we carouse pleasure pits of Aleppo you may chose my cocksmans title. Fairwell and Cybelles good speed to that boarish Spaniard hull. Who rounds a bow? I’ve seen worse. Sail her away. Bene!
Horas light dims. Boarding poles separate the two vessels as they wish to bind. The Vixen sports room for thirty oar, a dory and masters cabin half-buried behind the main-mast. Behind … and before the tillar platform rises the quarterdeck with ladders reaching outside and down to the bilge. Weather4ly oak strakes need pumice and crack s show along moss-stuffing.
We repair what simple at sea, every man a carpenter with plank and cork and cotton batts. Lanterns lit. Bare feet patter the deck-oaks. For’ard mastmen throw our spinnaker catching first shouts of an evenings NE gale. Mastpole groans canvas drops and six men dash to hemp ropes confining the belly. It’s the Spanish way, with ropes not Hyrkon and now it’s ours. NaziBu and Percedon have lashed our ballista to the quarterdeck from which vantage it sweeps the sea. A bow-wave laces our sprityard lookout and ten men tack to the oars coming us by Venus sparkle ½ point north-of-east. Tillar-poles scotch a shank-blow and quivering our path returns. Sea-sparkle from the magic brine alight our stern-race.
“Stand to rest , boyos!” Very well. I have given no order, cursed no mans name, whipped no back and cracked-on none of the mainsail reefers. My wrist aches, which ax-bearer slaughtered the hoplite. I have breathed for nineteen summers. The Vixen leaps ahead!
“Nor-by-east, “ Cap’N.”
“Spinnaker jiffed, Cap’N.” I prod tillermans weighty left and right. The strakes seeth a response and the bow planes larboard. “Enough … ,” and I step away.
“Wetting the mainsail canvas, Cap’N. Pitched ho … ” and brine-water rains from the sheets.
“Sails at horizon on the starboard bow, Cap’N.”
“Say how !”
“A top-gallant ahead and foresail billow to lee.”
Bitch . We don’t run from or run-down a mizzen! Even so … “Will we catch one by morning?” Men must run to venture. Signal lights from the Safana call FREE RUN. Our hulls drift apart, each striving to a different spirit.
Ku. “Or them us! Perhaps we may turn before a fight?” He grumbles, being alone. “Cap’N sar I fixed my own northing to the stern hatchway bollard. Tis a poor thing, Lesbos made not Damascine or Tyre , and won from a whore at bones. Poor thing that shard , but found directions match star-plots I know and away from land it’s a storms port.”
“Thank ye, Ku. About a navigator I see, and it’s your post for the work.” Kus face lights bright as a hash-pipes glow. “ I found a papyrus book tacked beneath cabin floor. Four sheets are used, but the rest - - sketch us a star course to the western-most Baleric - - a traders route appearing, but near the pirates.”
“We lay, Cap’N at most seventy-leagues west of Sicily rocks. With the Levanter ...”
I know the fickle breeze … “Fear nothing of error. Make us look ripe for picking, Ku! As for a fight? Ha! Our ballista will shrive a pirate luggar.”
I step away from the tiller, up the redwood steps to the quarterdeck rail. Men behind listen and whispers fly. “Forge be lit, Cap’N. Carrots and peas boil, aside lamb on the spit. All to the Cap’Ns measure.”
“Toaste it well, Cookie for a hungry watch.” I’ve company. Celtebex wraps about the Captains chair as a winter lynx about a grouse. I push her aside and breasts nuzzle bare from beneath her tunic. “Is this also the Captains measure?”
“What do you feel, Cibias?” Her night-robe could grace a queen, and warm flesh of her belly presses into my palm. Brash for a young Captain … brazen for a female. “It’s cold for a May-day, when women share their blush.”
Warm spring air tousles my linen shirt. “Which master shares the blush?”
Icicle. “Take not share Cibias … he most ruthless.”