.......................Tales of Hyrkon: prologue ....


“Only kouros dare !”

We roaring in from Corsica doldrums. Canvas master clinging squall-ravaged to bollard-cleats . “Only the old live.”

Zeus beard tis a hard blow! I strain a mizzen-line with three ox-chest tiller-men whistling as the hemp strands sing. “Gauls a’belly fruit and jelly Marsaii shall have its sturgeon.”

Bow wave leaps high over the sprint-yard. Winds-water tattle-rattles our iron fire-pit ... a mad tambourine. Patches of foresail and mizzen pawled tight lean whistling against the Zephyrus. Steady now … pull both lines through boyo don’t foul the hawse.”

Trading … above a foam-fringed green swell clean-faced Inidiy cursing Ceberus lover … “Ream thee wise lifeslayer, mood-breaker, heart-taker Astartes sturgeon cunt!” Ocelot screams from its perch between boom and main-mast --- screams for a hares blood till a rope-boys leather vest cuddles fangs.

Interposing Telemydon … . “Yur a dim one boyo,” he lathers at Inidiy. “Styx would sail smoother, Ca’N we trade 10 efforts of Hercules against one damnable rocky Stygian league of Gaulish coast.”

Trade damnable stinking barrels of pickled Genoese ham to Nice, I think. A large profit and no risk from local priests … new wealth merchants drove Druids back to forests fringe. We for’ard, with 5 casks of smoked and peppered Black Sea sturgeon and eye for Marsaii ferment. Well enough; since shipping Nice Belisamas twin masts and ironwood keel has fought spring cyclones. They come against us roaring east from the Gulf of Lions. Against wind and waves we fight for the silver-coin a trading city promises.

“Another half-point Mr Frank. Watch Red_Faelins pennant for the mark.”

In retreat running south Belisama had turned to tack tailwinds northing the finger of Corsica. Etruscan diviners had warned us … sore bones on the elders I’ve never believed … yet the sturgeon, Hyrkon fish ferment, raw fruit, arms, armour and goose-feathered ballista-shafts marked a half-filled ships-hold bound tight as a simpering Silurian vixen and better set to weather storms than profit bankers.

“Plenty of those the next voyage if we survive this one,” rails the flags officer Faelin Red-hair. "Better set sail for the long reach with crew safely to port" Boyos grasp … once ashore future profits bring hope to both labor and wealth. Sea brine hisses along Belisama hull … red-beak terns dive on flying fish dancing porpoise have driven from below.

"Tis bride-price for me Ca'N should the barky sail home," sings a black-pitch Lagash mastman.

Profit, labor, ports … Hyrkon policy favors them through The Trade Council. By mate ... or by largeview I also; trade Captains become a pirates skeptic as crew attests. “Clew it tight Mr Frank … ,” or skate-the-keel shuddering and tits-over-ass we flip; Poseidons daughters will eat us.”

“Eye Cap’N Cibias women are like that.”

“Eat me … eat me,” cry two laughing rope boys dangling one legs over the wind-whipped mizzen-spar. They are 11 years old and know nothing.

Me shouting a false dismay. “Thread the leach-block youngling trollips or I’ll set sail-master on ye.” I am 19 enjoying command, treat my crew like demi-gods, never lost a wenchs tit and regards Rhodes mystre and Diannas oeuvre … I know everything. “That’s a boyos ...” I shout as canvas stiffens afore me. To ratline idlers. “Take another pawl or she luffs.” The blonde-hair Frank and his two brothers have taut the mainmast line like a Frisian cow-maids girdle; sails silent sing silver-notes afore-to-aft as Belisama approachs the barrier island.

Aspire … aspire the Belisama … she like the rope-boys a youngling Egyptian built, but newly fit with Gedes white oak; planed pegged oak-Ys braced and pegged triangulate across Belisams mahogany knees. Yet She’s not complete; we know bronze steerage must replace oak however firm and a thrust to Cyprus metal-castersforesees the future. Faire Dianna willing, and artful every throw of the boom.

"Pins to oarlock," comes the call and the click of sixty comes as one.

"Away-ho ye letchers and boil the sea."

As dancing hawks trundle sky-clouds afore then over we go; mainsail mast crosses the winds eye, ships keel riding up on its peculiar blade and bow bulbs … deck bending over to the islands sharp curve. Idlers and mastmen lay over the larboard stiffening mahogany struts … while drum-stroke hammers BALAM...BALAM… the oarsmen … “Backs into the yew, boyos … BALAM...BALAM...break yer backs damn-your-eyes … BALAM...BALAM… I can’t hear the oars moan ...”

Screaming ... "Pa-Ja-rEKI-rE-Ta-DI-NA-UNa"

Row-master Ellised huge voice booms from first seat … from where his yew-pole leads … Belisama hull comes rattling out of a big sea, across the Marsai narrows dodging sandy shallows to port and shaking green sea foam from the burrowing starboard bow. Poseidons spray shadows pale island sandstone rocks; they close and hungry tempt grit filled wet air riding yellow-beaked gulls to dive at our rowers eyes.

Twas Diannas gift of fortune to have Paphlaps , poor wretched Paphlaps-of-Jarf design our steerage … before the worms took him. “Pumps are manned, Ca’N, midships and aft.”

“Our docks three points north and a half,” Teutor my 2nd mate chortles.

“But, counting-houses another point west,” corrects NaziBu. He knows this quay better than any.

“You may count your purse NaziBu, but I shall see the whores first and wear them!”

Either commands Belisama without effort. Sailor boyos snap to the leveling deck, sail trimming forgemen strip their leather aprons and rush the bilge ladders. “Carry on!” And the stormy island passes into unblemished harbor peace. “Mates to the mizzen, retrieve storm spinnaker ...” Trident main-mast whines success though it has done nothing. Three times the Belisamas proud hull rocks before settling into bow-waves broad and smooth and confident. Oars pull us for’ard into Marsaii harbor so compelling in cloud-speckled breath of shimmering white sand beach and so lively in the dance of wavelets, breeze, sardine buss and longboats that Babylons Gardens of Eden might sleep under surrounding green oak forest.

Telemydon sees my rapture, as this be only my second visit to the harbor. “And the Druids gotta catcha if’fn they gonna eat’cha … Cap’N ...”

Sour grapes I think scowling … admiring a fine peaceful seacoast this, for a storm-worn hull. Sails reefed, Spondes watch posted ... ships dot the harbor beside two unfinished moles. Guards molesting a squat Carian bireme chew ivory pipes and piss over their stern-rail as we maneuver. The huge Egyptian grain-buss and its rakish 50-oar Carthage blackamoor seek no attention. Two Spanish bum-boats block our path, surveil our archers and move aside. A guards-barge poles by and salutes our streaming Hyrkon Dolphin.

“Nice fellas to sail with,” snarks Telemydon spitting a worn black-hashish chew into the oily brine.

“Which’un, marko well ...” Tar-of-Avelon cuts another plug. “Don let ‘em snark ya … Cartha hoes. ”. He’s an old salt and a pisser if you need to learn. “Only in Pharaohs harbors, Ca’N Cibias may foreign ships like us move unchallenged.”

Two fat-bellied grain-buss lounge beside their klans dug water-channels … testifying to local wealth. Fisherman skiffs and dorys lay-up east and west along the broad harbor beach. Huge Channel flounder dry on racks attesting to the long reach of Marsaii fleet. Cottages behind them scatter up the hills, where forest has been cut for vineyards. “What say you about harbor-master, Mr Brogue?” Harbor-master awaits us beside a smoking urn on the stone deep water dock.

Brogue … the tall marine-Captain calls himself Welsh and will hurt a man who naysays. “If you can’t eat, you can’t fuck and if you can’t fuck you can’t sleep and if ya can’t sleep then breakfast’s misplaced haha HA!”

Hummm … I think of doubling the sturgeons bill when negotiations begin.

“And them Cap’N ...” Far westing, among a patch of stately imported palms two long-nose 60-oar black-strake rovers have been pulled far up on the beach. Masts removed and hulls fresh tared, a coven of pirates make their mark. “I’d put the glass on them, if I wasn’t afraid of them thieving ...”

“Now that’s a long reach. Are they Gauls ?”

“Some say they are wild northlings come south for the vineyards. Their own ferment comes from bee honey and tastes like auroche liver.” NaziBu scratches a rough black beard needing attention. “But, as forgers of small blades none exceed them in single minded craft. ”

“Similar to Levintines, though Syrian guilds will steel a dildoe if the hetaera owns pearls to match her need. Yet why chase chimera? Perhaps they are warriors venturing a quest, Baltic Keltoi have the reputation and Marsaii hetmen could not chase them away.” Faelin pulls long on a twig of hash. “Then again Gaulish women have never minded a thief and ever favored long hair ...”

“Short-blades of iron are indeed their gift, well worked and slow to rust.” I scratch my shaven head. “A toothed wheel vanishes faster than the lumbermans daughter.”

“And hair on a Belisama mate, “ squeals a broken voice.

Since first day of my command I obeyed the practice of Erithrain-Sea-sailing Egyptian priests whose pewter-edged razors scrape crewmen hairless from Jarf to Padma. Hairless … liceless … wormless …

“Think of it that way” … I spit to noone. In clothing too, I have dressed crew in south Babylon style, of blowzy trousers and leather vests. Robes which catch mainmast wind and pitch sheets-men to sharks I forbid! “Then keep yer gobs closed and nothing escapes!”

Calls a rope-boy from his high perch. “Master’s hailing us Cap’N!” In front, docks tip, a garish specter in gold torques, pale yellow robe and blue tattoo awaits us beside a smoking urn.

Inidiy … wild-card … snaps anxious. “Have we every parcel & trade prepared that he wants?”

“Everyone that he gets,” I snap back.

“But, what faire greeting is ...” and Inidiy though royal beyond rank gasps shutting his gob and stares at our hotelier.

His greeting has formed up near the very tip of the stone deep-water dock. Perhaps a twenty men wait with him, beside a thin grey curling fire-plume. Nine hoplites stand out, armed in half-helms and leather & mail corslets. Very unlike prideful Gauls, known to fight bare-chested. They shame us: our bright-woven mainsail tattered, mizzen-boom cracked and hanging cross-wise and strake ripped away exposing … Zeus beard an ironwood-pinned ghost-oak strake chewed loose by a booming comber. We appear as beggars; our sixty oars pluck at brine-scum, marshaling the hull and sculling us toward the dock and its pair of cubits-thick pine binding posts.

Coiled lines await. A trumpet sounds and comes the call. “ Un passage difficile, le capitaine !”

Fucking French! Crew preparing to set anchor and hawz-lines swarm bollards, then hanging from hull cleats vomit over-the-side. My head bandaged , Captains tunic ripped at one shoulder … the purple forearm pleat of ships-master torn and hanging loose … “Kicked our ass from Fuflu to Sardinia … and then some,” I shout. Boarding-poles snatch at dockside cleats … stern anchor splashes into the brine as the unoiled pawl shrieks.

“Entrez, et peut guider votre fourche Demeter.”

Well … yeah … but my fork is empty! I leap to the dock, with Lieutenants NaziBu and Elisedd beside me, and Anandtatr a 7-cubit one-eye mast-mate broke with one-arm the necks of 3 Tzizeen cutpurses. “Your harbor honors us with its welcome,” I patter snapping a short bow. “We’ve had no water or stores since nightfall on the quarter moon.”

Unsympathetic, he’s tall, the harbor-master … perhaps half-cubit more than 6 and broad-shouldered, where long flaxen hair covers his neck and traces of battle-scarred torque. He examines my traders staff, tuts the unsoured silver inlays for three recent trades. “Ce qu'un homme mange alors il devient. La famine a attaqué votre navire, Capitaine ?” He extends an open hand. “LaForge.”

Cringe … hungry men are weak men … any Captain knows that. My open palm clasps his. “Cibias … Cibis Min of Hyrkon. Sincères ! Le vent est du pain et de l'ale de la mer la vie.”

A large iron kettle stands behind LaForge, prongs over the firebasket and a sheath of muzzin covers the broad oak-rim top . Beneath the muzzin comes the smell of rising bread dough. A white-hatted Druid stands beside mastering a pitchfork and long-knife. Harbor-master notices my eyes and chuckles. “ L'alimentation et de l'amour ... liées, en effet ! Une femme pas l'amour, mais une maîtresse courses !”

"Ne mâchez pas le splendide dauphin et la morue, avant de baiser un sceau."

Painfully. "Vous pourriez au moins leur sel. Les hommes désespérés goûts désespérée."

Blithely … “Mieux manger camel turd de poulet maigre ma pute dit toujours,” I sport with no great confidence in what I have said.

He pales, then gently ropes muzzin away and sniffs the air. “Food and love ... entwined, indeed! Can you smell it .. the spring onions mellowing our hillsides.” His eyes sweep his surrounding the harbor. It’s only a few days new onions push above the grass and rest so fragile, and only for these times can rising bread dough gather and share the savors of that fruit.”

Fruit? Onions ? Though I have docked Gaulish ports half-dozen times LaForges Hyrkon is better than my rude harbor lingo. A table snaps open before us, linen covered in a trice and outfitted with the finest tools of Gaul food worship: silver plate, bronze forks , bone-handle knives and Damascene gold spoons that Hellenes Athena would have coveted. Leather bound stools appear and we take them seated.

“Try one of these Captain?” Druid chef bows, spears a brace of bubbling sausage and snatches boar-ribs from a rack aside the red coals. “Dove breast and quail and bacon ground with fennel and poppyseed and … ahhh a secret grain … no? They make sausage sing! ” Cabbaged carrots share each plate topped by a rich crust of bread. Two mugs of red wine serve dry. His chefs well-stitched half-robe swings below his knees … exposing a small hand-ax ; white apron covering his tunic stains with the sauce of early breakfasts. “Millet, barley, oats, wheat … we grow them all ...”

“Excellent.” I finish the rib in one bite and chew into sausage. Dissembling … rye, you bastard and prepared well ahead … Hyrkon maids learn the chefs table early and quickly a mans pleasure follows. Another slice and my Lieutenants share. “Gaulish sausage and women should never be served alone,” I say with a quick finger-snap producing a small glass vial of Parthian cherry must. NaziBu undoes a satchel … and from it spring to the table tubs of fermented fish sauce, Egyptian barley wine and … cosseted in silk a fillet of smoked Parthian sturgeon. “You run a tight harbor, Master La Farge. Allow me to settle my share of the feast.” Knives flash at the food and forks run through fillets.

LaForges belly shakes and his eyes shine. “The Belisama Captain and crew have come well prepared,” and looking to his chef … “All will profit!” He raises the tub of barley beer. “Bastets cat-piss, do we agree moi-Capitaaan?”

“Cat piss and crocodile turds.” We drain the wine mugs … Marsaii reds pucker your face, then explode in pleasure like a Hebrew virgins cherry. LaForge brings the glass vial to his lips and shudders.

“Surely your cherry-wine cannot age to advantage … ” Then, scowling he forks a pate of Hyrkon fish-sauce onto his plate and rolling into it a slice of sturgeon … “When Baals lion-headed angels shit on a mans tongue they will shit sturgeon.” He cuts a slice for his Druid chef … “Better than ...” And Druid snatch-slams his hand-ax into the table … raving mock-talking stalks down the timbers with half LaForges picket and off to the quay.

Bread crust soaked in sausage fat … “Have I offended him?”

“He misses his right ear.” LaForge stands and gasping his wine-mug pushes away from the table. “Chefs are sensitive, no matter how wild their appearance. Most learn their craft as orphans, abandoned to forest and glen, food sorcerers by need of a next meal … and by life. He will work months to overtake Hyrkon fish-ferment with his own.”

“As he may by serving a city where no meal remains uneaten!” I stand beside him. “My crew needs food and Belisama needs clean bilges. Acte approaches. Then we’d be about your merchants business. ”

“Indeed. A score wait in our quay counting house.” He scans ...”Belisama you say. … it’s more an Italiot name than Minoan or Egyptian.” He finds a focus … “that reddish tint … African strakes?”

Information comes cpeaply, when it comes free. “Well now, the builders might know.”

Grump “And where lay your hulls hemp cordage … the binding ropes?”

“Ropes you say … we have plenty of those coiled upon the fore-deck.”

Impatient. “But … but not holding bow to stern planking !”

“Ah yes … that … the tensioneers … a funny business … between planks we use a few pegs and bisquits … but the carpenters know much more than I ...”

“Indeed.” Repelled in treason, LaForges scowl turns skeptical smile. “All hail Capitaain Cibias biscuit though of which flour we have no account.” He retainers smile gravely. Now he bows to the bringer of trade wealth and turns to his remaining companions … a factor, a scribe, two armed pickets and a young woman. His dragoman if I knew not better, she, breasts brazen tight silk-film yet yellow hair bunned close; arms clasp a pearl- buttoned abacus. “Please help Capitan Cibias bring his charges to port … assign a hull-guard and … indeed a tax collector for all exchanged merchandise.”

“You accept the Trade Council bond?”

“Yes .. but I see you as yet have not attained a bond-stamp.”

“A harbor-master has privilege of rank in such decisions.”

“Ah yes … yes indeed … the options of rank … ” His eyes sweep back to the Belisama and its anxious crew. They have begun spilling onto the quay. “No issue of plague I trust ...”

“We buried two feverish Syrians at sea, south of Sardinia weeks ago.” I allow time to settle in. “While we sailed, novel cherry wine aged. Months ago I sampled the barrel onloaded in Parthian Sinope. The finest of crush-cherry must. Twice relieved of gas pressure, the bunged barrel ages quietly. I trust Harbor Master has enjoyed the additional position of virgin taster.”

“Ah yes. And you have … have the … barreled sturgeon?” LaForge prattled at the tips of his moccasins. He consults the women. “Five barrels I believe?”

My eye itches and NaziBu passes his ivory hash-pipe. It blazes … “The fish barrels? Oh yes.”

“Sturgeon damn-your eyes Captain Cibias … smoked sturgeon as you served me in-the-small for my …. for our most delicate religious services performed only once every full moon.”

“Oh … those fish. I believe we packed most in stern bilge.”

“Not the bilge, damn you where the salt water rots ...”

I gasp. “How foolish of me. Oh yes I remember now. We planned trading some in Toulouse, whores you know promising a ship-wide revere … but the whores ate some bad Spanish pork and spent the night vomiting instead of eating. We kept all the sturgeon … so now I imagine we can negotiate for the product! Say thirty gold Damascus sesterces per barrel. And exchange for a dozen casks of sour Marsaii spring red.”

Sweat creases LaForges chin, forehead wrinkled, eyes narrow … a long pull from a wineskin does nothing to relieve his pain. “Tut tut my dear Cibias, no sour red wine will your find till approaching the Spanish border.” LaForge finishes lasts pits of toasted boar. “Now … my factor Anis and her dragoman will negotiate, when all reach the counting house.”

If , I think , reaching your counting house is so easy … “And the cherry wine?”

Clattering rush of bodies sweeps us away. Capping a harsh passage my entire Belisama crew has impatient and demanding swarmed the dock. Food flys! The poached sausage and full-pig of ribs vanish among the splash of ale. Wine? LaForges entire wine-rack of twenty Spain-corked bottles flits among the bosuns and masters-mates like flying fish flit from tunny. On the iron grill slabs of salt mutton replace pig and rising bread loafs enamoured: punched, floured, baked, toasted and buttered .

It’s a wild mele between my starving crew and LaForges unctious welcome food. Even the symposia of young men with whom I guide the ship has fallen into feast. “Chew not one bisquet when two are soft,” I spout.

“With us, Cibias ….” A prudent Gaul is a fat one! His party and my Lieutenants retreat along the dock to tables at the quays edge … while I post guards about Belisama, code messages to doves which Faelin releases and conceal Inidiy and Faelin to their mission.

My leaving catches the first unloading of Belisama cargo. Winches lift it from our holds directly onto the dock transport system. It’s a clever one. A metal rail extends from the ship-moles to quayside down the docks middle, centered by blocks and slathered with olive oil. Two wheels connected front-to-rear slot into the rail, and a pegged table balances on the wheels. Pushers balance the table which carries the boxes, barrels, pallets and planks supporting cargo. Instead of lifting cargo, the pushers guide the wheeled table rolling from vessel to quay. Even the steam engines at Heriklitus cannot match for speed the Marsaii wheel! Damned fast and clever … only the occasional tipped-table causes a problem and flogging causes careful pushers. Cargo flies from our hull to quay, and by wagon to Trade Council bonded warehouses.

Genius … bonded trade … that risk of lost, sunk or pirated cargo is removed from the ship Captain and accepted as shared by all cities in the Council. Failure ceases to become ruin! All pay for slippage, so noone desire it … the dock smells of onion and garlic and roast venison as I walk the length, and soft breeze carries the taste of Keltoi drums.

“We missed you, moi Capitaaan!” The groaning table-on-quey carries twice the dockside food, another wine-rack and a pair of grizzled apron-clad wine-makers from some local guild. LaForge hosts a newly basted pork-rib dripping with Hyrkon fish-sauce. “Fresh from a walk we should not deny fresh food.” At LaForges table, wine bottles appear again , as I return and pour no worse than the best Chian ros’e. “Surely another Capitaan Cibias!” Returning to dry land refreshes LaForge, as he cracks open a fresh rye loaf and pours yet more excellent red.

His wine-mug rattles and eyes flit harborwise to my tempesting rowdy crew. “Are they secure,” he wonders?

In all of our-Sea no May wind more faire than Marsaii breath. I have just cut and swallowed a dram of venison. “Safe as any crew of sailors fresh come-to-port. And Belisama is nearly unloaded. Are the seventy casked of Marsaii red prepared to go onboard?”

“Yesterday, moi Cibias had the storm not nettled your sheets. Seventy casks, and 600 white oak planks fit for ship-building.” LaForge preens and wobbles on his stool. He’s drunk!

“Then load before dark and a transport guard need not be hired. ” Then I cry ...”to your health, Sir and tight nipples of a high breasted woman !” Anis does not blush or stray her steel blue eyes from LaForges face.

LaForge eyes returns lust in kind. Father daughter. Lovers! Or factors if they be wise … Then he sniggers at me. “Try this new rinded cheeze, Cibias. Hard outside, mouldy inside, but between …! Some sheep-raising mountain peasants presume to pay their taxes with this … well they call it Roquefort. Presumptuous buggers I say, but mon-du when warmed and served over pot-au-feur roquefort will strip the girdle from Druids wife.”

Chuckling ... and raising high my wine-mug. “Likewise, Belisama officers trust Marsaii hateara will drain away any untoward sailor-boyo ambition and for the coin provide a breakfast.”

“How impudent Captain,” snaps Anis. “Marsaii workers specialize and the women no less than men. If we pleasure then we do not chef !”

Frow’ard wench, I think! And counter her glib. “Eastern society believes a mans body divides in two, above and below the chest. What our heart loves , mind understands. What our belly enjoys our manhood must possess.”

“Pigs, goats and sheep, Capitaaan Cibias are Mycenii & Levants shitpile,” she snarks. “Believe better of the Gauls.”

Aback … “Hyrkons have not the Hellenes social disease,” I sniff. “Yet I’ll note that, Froken Anis next time I need borrow a sheep … but, what do you make of the Parthian cherries?”

Anis rolls up the pink-laced sleeve of her chiton revealing a torque gold and convolved. “Of cherries, moi Capitaaaan you will find few here for the plucking.”

“Ha ha!” LaForge winks. “Always the trader I see, with another product. Ah yes, and Marsaii is kind to such attempts. Wine yes … yes talk foreign wine … and cherry juice at that to a Gaul of-course. But, afterwards … please” The last wheeled table carrying the last of Belisamas barrels crosses over from the dock. A wagoner snatches this last load and the quay goes silent. Kind of signal I think later; with a great effort LaForge leaves our table en-route he says to the counting house. In good time when barrels begin to flow into Belisama hold we ought to follow him.

A time passes … while barding lute and cymbal players entertain. Dockmen begin the Belisama loading, and its no slower, for the men are paid by hull and not by time. Whores and wine await their quick completion of a load. Our keepers busy amusements on the quay, while Anis and I … play numbers on her abacus and then relent. I say. “After … who knows the effect of aging on such a subtle ferment or when another buyer contracts for barrels you desire ? ”

“Rattle for’ard Cibias , even granting our uncertain calculations, but you’ve no virgins reputation. You would sell today what might be ready at the next full moon.” Anis fingers the near-empty vial of cherry-must and conjures a drop to her pink tongue. “Have you measured gravity,” she pipes , steel Celtic eyes shimmering ?

Evening draws in after Dysis sunset. “Do you mean sugar, mistress?”

Mistress … hair rushes back from her widows-peak and she blushes at the soft deferment. And coos ... “Might I mean Nymphe sprytes pissing on your tongue? Well of-course I mean the sweetness and a tool of weighted cork ! Has the must fermented!”

“Hummm indeed … in wine as in humans, age converts natures sweetness to devilish humors always athwart the senses and mostly aft of reason.”

“You digress Sir ...”

“I entangle affection, where all see the same measure.”

“Puff Sir … puff and sweet wind ... sophistry … such pessimism belongs to a mans providence … a mature glow equaling barkish resin?” Breeze rustles an elm branch; I seem not to understand. She must play the tutor. “Or consider cultures master Cibias, one old and stable, wise and productive … such as we ancient Franks while its young spleenish neighbor rails against fairies … did you know Celts hold a Burning Man festive every fall consuming sour rye & charity … and grunt ruffian threats among the forges fuming blaze! What have you of these master Cibias?”

“Well Mistress Anis we of the sailors life must take trade and repair where we find it. My father King … my father put me aboard sail before I could stand. Of lecherous ports and wild men few compare to Scythians and Argots … and viperous Carthage.”

Shaking her head … hair loosed by the grasshopper spilling in ringlets about her shoulders. “Carthage … how familiar yet distant. Phonecii perhaps ? I know them not.”

“A mad desert offspring. They have ships in your harbor and joined our Trade Council.”

“What is their product?”

“Product? Ha! Money … money and blood!” Belisama loading continues a pace, as rhemes of oak resin fresh flow by us. Trinkets scatter among tables now; with serious loading complete, a factor stops at out bench to give and obtain seals for due-measure logs. Ellisedds mark shows a full load of red wine, but shortage by 20 of oak planks. Twenty-four rounds of Roquefort cheese add to the bill and six cases of waxed prune bisques beloved by Pharaohs grandmother completes it. I sign and date commerce logs, tipping the factor two silver Theban sesterces. “Blood and money,” I repeat with a smile this time.

She shivers. “If Carthage know neither wine nor food nor … nor love then off with them!” We smile. More time enters as two traveling sophists argue the impossibility of round earth. The victor advises our earth sports eleven sides, but only three are visible. We laugh.

Rumbles seep among shadows and westing winds , from the Keltoi camp and we hear them not. “I find this vintage very very dry ...” How her voice laughs. Anis pours another deep bursting red. “From vines unlikely sown among hillside shale. Can you taste the grapes effort to excel, and the casks patience ?” Her eyes brush mine and her palm touches … as love flows first from Dianna-of-Snows heart, then the mind woe to me I have been stricken.

In that instant I seek the silver-words of Circe, that Anis be swept away by words gentle whorl-pool. Swift phrase and honey action those wo ... wor ... words in stutter must comply. Her pearl-crusted ears must tingle and I stutter ... "I must stink from the voyage."

Woe I am lost ... the braying of a goatherd. "Anis fingers cover full laughing lips and her nose tilts away. "Oh my dear Sir, that a sailor boyo should stink after a month at sea." Her head points toward a side-street, its public shower marked by bare-ass banners. "Spare neither pumice nor leaf nor sponge that Argus approves." She winks and send me off.

I am scrubbed raw. Pumice and ash and a sponge meant for hull-barnacles ... Fresh linen tunic and trousers await me, and I look about the drying room. Holes poke through high on the planks. Outside the hetaeras salon sailors are bashful sorts ... peeking ... who might? Returning to her bench ... she amused and face blushing as if she had become too close. Anis chirps. "I thought you fatter, Cibias, but surprised my women took a stitch at waist. You fit!"

Fresh sweetmeats and berries grace our bench. Clothes and food ..."Your husband must remain quite trim."

"Had I one indeed."

"Sharp wit, nimble fingers, ringlets teasing their grasshopper, eyes sleuthing and red lips ... Dear mistress I take you not for husk a-drying!"

Red lips purse. Sad eyes. "My dower grows with trade, and virgins dagger unused, but men seek children first, that they may mould."

She waves me, like wind a flag. "Have none clasped your knees in prayer? What fools most men are, and in time all mortal. Do men become so wedded to their gold?" I stumble back in rocker. "You are a mans gold!"

“Should we walk, Cibias?” Disbelieving I hold her hand --- dove-like --- and she brushes an unruly scrap of my beard. “LaForge will want you bouncing between a trice of factors.”

“Perhaps I should make a gift of the sturgeon .”

“Bumpkin! What man without business sense amours a maid?"

“Then the price by 10 I shall increase!"

“Impossible,” she gasps! Had she declared that second her flaming love my weak bones would have lacked the strength to possess her. Raising her ringlets and gazing ... “What’s that about dear lov ...” she nearly finishes.

A servant haughty in leather girdle and robe spills her wine-bottle; crepes tumble from a pastry-chefs tray; a spit turning venison-haunch does not rotate and a covey of mimes forget the wailing of Spartan women as abroad in Peleponese Hyrkon cavalry smash a weak hoplite flank. This play will never end!

And far down the quay LaForges hoplite pickets break running from a wooded commons. “Keltoi … Keltoi ... feckin-A Keltoi have rise from their nesting!”

Swift as a lightening flash …

I Cibias Min am bastard son of the Hyrkon King Minos … faithful son and servant to his realm. Belisama my vessel sails private venture under protection of the Trade Council, though I have not yet been formally bonded. That bonding requires Council approval and , as all Captains I get my chance trading success provides. We also provide eyes for the King. Minoans are a wealthy race, were … until Hephastus fire-mountains and lusting Mycenaii swept us away. In diaspora we have recovered as Hyrkons. A few similar island cultures exist, but none of our success. We have built and protected Hyrkon, an isle of middle-earth favored by Dianna and not five nights sail from ancient Utica. We have created the Trade Council, driven most Mycenaii from Crete and invested the Hellene homelands to the bloody dismay of Sparta and wonderment of Amphipolese, Egyptian and Parthian traders.

Though hardly born rude Carthage hates us. As we trade throughout Our Sea, Black Sea and through The Pillars Phonecii and their kin attempt to drive us away, isolating us to a single small isle and choke the life from a Minoan culture old, venturing and mindful before Egypt built its Sphinx. We taught them how to lay a triangle !

Gaul is our trading partner and Marsaii its prime port, as we trade Spain through its ancient city of Gedes. Phoneciis … Tyre and Sidon and Troy … and their servile upstart Carthage trade to both cities and would exclude our traders. Exclude the Belisama by contract striking to poverty its crew. Or strike us to enslavement in open battle. Here in Marsaii Carthage has turned resident Keltoi Gauls against Hyrkon … by force of gold … and the tribe now falls upon us with pillage and destruction their goal. I see this clearly, instantly and we Hyrkons believe otherwise. Belisama supporting … Yadini was tasked by Minos to palaver with Marsaii Keltoi; confuse and weaken or destroy their attachment to Carthage. At least prevent immediate attack! I believe he failed.

A metal and stone firestorm rolls toward us. The savage Keltoi berzerkers come roiling down the Marsaii quayside, a screaming wave of Keltoi broadswords and the best Phonicaii bronze Carthage money can buy. Anis finishes a last sip of sparkling red, and baring an annoyed smile she says . “You spy for the King,”


“And you … Hyrkon people are … are very modern.”

“Our word is teknos, but we are not alone.” People run about us in every direction. Even guards retreat to a high walled, moated watch-tower and bar the doors. Anis has apprised this or something similar , I believe. Perhaps she rules the Keltois … or perhaps she favors suicide? What to say … “Come to my bed Anis, and you need leave only upon your own boredom.”

Neither hesitate.

Running hard. West of the dock I can make the scull pitching out toward the Belisama. Oared smoothly it carries Yadini, NaziBu and Faelin . Negotiations failed, but heads in place they can ponder with our Corinthian sophist tomorrow. The two Celt monsters swimming behind can never catch them. A bow-shot before me, fencing the dock Belisama crew has set up a picket. The men wear full Spartan armour over a mailed leather coat; most bolt-holes have been mended with silver-leaf. Elisedds barrel-chested oarsmen have the duty; long spears and short swords make their interlocking nest of 30 helms invincible.

Arrows and sling-stones patter at my heels. Two bolts crease my leg bloody screaming like two banshees; beside Hyrkons cache and the three on Belisama the nearest cross-bows I know belong to tribes of Alpine Italiot shape-shift hunters; last spring we exchanged with them eleven silver Hebrew bolt-heads for six gold tuns. I laughed at them fools-of-trade until a 300 fist werefox attacked our raft on the Po; we put three 5-cubit ballistas into the red-fur bitch while it swam away howling victory with a throat-ripped crewman. What Carthage trader followed us, that a savage Gaulish tribe expends those bolts at us? Who can think, who has time yet now becomes so slow anything might be done. A weaving target makes a hard target at 75 paces, I think staggering left and right. Flights of ballista zing over my head. Tis heartbeats before I hear screams from behind. Yadinis scull has reached Belisama … and following swimmers become arrow-pocketed floating death. No Keltoi boats launch against us.

Suddenly the Belisama shield-wall comes afore, silver lambdas shining and rims aglow rising hurrays, cheers, ribaldry … and with Anis darting first among boyos I leave the last following arrow behind in a bronze boss.

To home Cibias to home Cap’N staunch that bloody leg physician she’s taken a stone to the arm get the aloe on it hurrah ...” We are does of the moment, among deadly hunters wielding terror while Belisamas stags herd us to safety. Pushed onto the covered ships gangway. Then with dock a-tremble a crash of metal like ship-beaks clashing and choir of cursing terror announce the Keltoi boarshead singing BAALS dark paean reel crashing into the Belisama picket.

Pickled on sour rye and ferment, without flank to turn and pushed by warriors behind the most brazen of 700 savages runs into the sulfur-spew, bow and ballista firestorm of Belisama slings & archers, and 18-cubit Macedon spears our Spartan-armoured oarsmen heft firmed by LaForges left-behinds. Cries of the unexpected wounded sound piteous while writhing death-twitch of belly-stabs can never be forgot.

In a space not 8-men wide every form of battle-raged horror spouts a truth, then gutters away making room for a hatchet to the spine kills so unlike bolt through the eye.

“Cap’N to the bridge … Cap’N to the bridge ...” comes the shout. I beat-down the arms pushing me cross-deck. Suddenly three pairs of arms clap onto me and a wineskin poked into my paw.

“We made it out,” chortles Yadini grasping my shoulders.”

“Twas a fierce play of heartbeats, let us flee the village,” gasps NaziBu.

“We beat them proper, Cibias,” shouts Anandtatr. He hefts a bloody ax. “Guarded we were, after the failed palaver , but guarded loosely and them drunk. When hetmen started singing dark Yagas paean, and swilling the ferment before battle we slew our guards and made for the walls. They didn’t know of our escape till we put scull to water.”

I pass over the wineskin to Yadini. “What did you learn of Carthage mischief? How can Keltoi people decide simply to destroy Hyrkons? Some reason or some pretense is needed, but for the most vile.”

He needs say nothing, as a Kings natural son speaks as the father. Yadini wipes away wine splatter. “Hyrkon policy missed a trick. We thought the issue only one of gold!”

“Isn’t it,” I spark? We hover under gangway leathers as blizzards of bolts & sling-rocks patter. Fear tells the story, but honey-sweetened hashplugs stiffen our reason.

Yadini shakes his leather helm. “No greater good exists beside peace … except war. Celts are warlike,” Yadini continues, “and their Druids bloodthirsty. They pillage as we would market. But, the savages prudence might prefer peaceful trade. Druids are wanders and scavenge peace may cozzen. Might that is without the gods interfering. But, Keltoi hetmen related Carthage captains boast. Boasts of dark yaga, boasts of ASTARTE … boast that their God BAAL caused the fire mountain destruction of Crete. Boast that BAAL plucked Minoan home isles from the sea and dropped them into ASTARTES flaming cunt! BAAL spattered the blood of Minoans and lay-them-low. BAAL, not Hephastus and certainly not Zeus natural rumbling. And whose god has bloodied a people … as Minoans by Phonecii BAAL … surely BAALS worshippers can drink that blood! Surely Druid priests who worship BAAL will find their iron roasting cages filled with enemies ! Thus Carthage justifies their war upon Hyrkon and pays past any Hyrkon outrage Keltoi pillage might endure.”

“And they bought it?”

Yadini I believe a faithful son, born to mercy and learned cynic. “Can’t you see it, Cibias? Wallowing beneath Gaulish indifference, Carthage gold, oceans of vile Rus potato-ferment which Utica imports and … and threats to their cod busses Keltoi hetmen chose the least danger.”

Chariot wheels rumble across the dock and the sound pricks me. “Get thee to safety, faire brother, and report the kings business. Best consult Faelin that the dove may fly.”

Yadinis strong clasp. “If this battle separates us, brother we’ll meet in the great palace for your Trade Council bonding. If Didikas is back from the Peloponnese , then we will drink and dance and sing and whore! And all three do stargazers numbers.” Anis he passes to shelter among rope-boy nurses. “Dianna willing,” he shouts and is gone.

Alone. Captain. Seeing the dismay among Belisama crew, l snatch a tunny harpoon and buckling on corslet and half-helm rejoin the melee. “Cap’Ns back … Ca’Ns back howls Anandtatr while a spear arcs above my shield and as life so fragile snips his spine into fragments.

Battle-line … bronze swords spar, shields buckle and spears ram home. Belisamas picket, in-good-order retreats on it’s own hull; air flames above them with the paths of lighted missiles. If a man could watch the battle from safety of the top-gallant, then what a paean to Mars will he see. Such a one might imagine strategy snipping his enemy chances. Such a man might imagine victory. But, dock-level mists of blood blind the warrior while clash of metals renders him deaf . The dock planking litters with every part of the human body and every death-curl beloved of the hopeless. The few running cowards are hacked to pieces by the nearest warrior. No man may avoid every spear-thrust and no seeing eye every bolt. In the grunting, guttering shield-wall front a ruthless thrust, rip and parry grind glues together the first six lines of fighters; short-swords first, reaching below then shields … then spears reaching above. Each bit of time marks with the groans of wounded and curse of killers.

We are holding, giving much pain for irritation --- as our personal defense becomes so effective --- on a few paces of dock before the gangways: thrust, parry, smash-with-shield, back-step & thrust … I think voices against us become less; and below dock near the licking waves sea-pillars burn with the heat of black tar. Above Belisama deck barefoot mastmen set mizzen and spinnaker canvas to pry us from the mooring. Anchors raise and I prepare for command; my fist leaves a dagger in a mans throat … and I turn only accepting a hatchet blow to the helm. How quickly … quickly … quickly it strikes me down. Knees crumble and my vision nought, but the jagged kaleidescope colored rainbow Dianna is wont to gift. Black.

“Time eh, we had the quarterdeck managed.”

“Now don’t you worry; and keep hands away. Get back to your top-gallant. The Cap’N have that quarterdeck shipped left & right afore the next squall.”

“Nasty head wound … some men never awake!”

“He’s breathing, the Cap’N is … let him sleep and let the woman feed him soup.”

“We ner killed the dove upon setting sail. That’s bad karma, no matter what the instance. No, we can’t just do it now, middle of the damned sea what’s the chance Aphrodite passes by? We’ll wait … wait on the Cap’Ns staff and then vote.”

“Democratical bugger ain’cha?”

“Well I’m a damned mind-reader knowing Cibias never minded.”

Cibias … I know that name. I shout ...”Yidini!”

“Anothers breath close to mine. “Kings cutter lifted him off yesterday. He left ye a bag of Sidonian gold stators.” Breathless … striding creaks hull-plank. “Ya hear me, Cap’N?”

I feel fog on my face. Dark. Dysiss rule. Mast? Sheets hang limp so we must have found a lull. A good excuse to patch canvas. “NaziBu … NaziBu …” damn my throat feels so dry. Anis .. Anis who is she? “Anis!” I must sleep. Deep black sleep.

“No … he needs to hear a voice reading. Matters not how old.”

He was merry living with the shepherds, till one day lifting his eyes he saw a man approaching. He said to the harlot, Woman, fetch that man here. Why has he come? 1 wish to know his name.' She went and called the man saying, ‘Sir, 
where are you going on this weary journey?' The man answered, saying to Enkidu, ‘Gilgamesh has gone into the 
marriage-house and shut out the people.

“Leave us be Elisedd. It matters not your ignorance. The Assyrians have taught all to all.”

Get up … so weak my legs will not raise … Oh damn what I thump. We pitch so back and forth. It’s raining ; I must have fallen off the cot and … and light? My head hurts. Are those gulls I hear? “Caw Caw bitch gull don’t bother the cat!”

A womans voice. “NaziBU … NaziBU it’s Cibias ...”

“Wotts this Sur out onyer arse and … Captain !”

Snatch of the hornpipe catches my eye. Not every young captain has one carved from walrus ivory. “Dyya see that-un?” A dozen eyes look back from my cabin. They disconcert in a riddling sort of way. “Honey jam fills Styx to its buttermilk bank.” HA! That stops the staring. Scared ‘em …

“Was yee on a long trip, Ca’N? Did ya fondle-see Dianna-O-North !”

NaziBus face hovers over mine. “What’s that’s Zeus-forsaken beard? Has Pileser become king of Hyrkon?” Men retreat. I know them, the morning deck-watch deserving better than a lay-a-bed captain.

“Help me up will ya now. Thank-ee.” Wobbly woot, and a sturdy oarsman sets me straight. Suddenly I remember Marsaii. “Belisama …?”

“We salved the barky, Ca’N! Running smooth as a milkmaids thigh and tight as her girdle.”


Shuffle among the crew, to find a voice. “Musica sings,” pipes Faelin. “By starlight Sardinia should come up over the starboard bow.”

Wind catches cabin door, a tough leather-shod wicker, creaking hinge and it swings open. Moon-lit night bright and star-studded. I take steps on the teak and all eyes watch. I steady, grab a rope ladder and up two steps. “How long?”

"Well Sar as sailor might count ... not long Sar ... if he'd drunk on the new moon and ..."

"... and slept on the old then, but two amphora of unwatered Chian wine did he drink." Stars blaze. "The bear and ... and the lion chasing .... and Daphne catching apples ... we guide south from her rush."

“Indeed we do Sar! Now, the lady, Sar … Anis … she kept you to cabin. Talking and feeding you apple-mush. Been … three nights. Betcha eat something … now.”

“Have we oranges?” Hemp ladder guides me to the foredeck, and the long train of hissing between waterline and strakes. They make love, water and wood on the line between Posideons cold realm and that of Dianna.

“Pottage and roast apples Sar … return your strength ...”

Anis stands beside me holding my arm, as if I might tumble into the bow-wave. She has pealed an orange. Zeus beard I do hate roast apples! Yes, not having eaten my stomach growls. Looking up. “Bit of luff to the staysail, Teutor. Teutor where are ya boyo …? Get a line to that canvas and jiffy it back.”

“Aye Cap’N!” A cheer bellows from mastheads and oarsmen pound decking with yew sticks. A pair of rope-boys towheaded and vile and frantic swing from the mizzen halyard after the loose line and the ocelot screams after them.