"Battle indeed they will feel if not see." My voice ought to crack and quiver ... it does not. "There's a pulse to it, these tendrils of fire some kind of rule or law ... do I see true or false Kalikrates?" ... answer me Zeus damn-your-eyes !
Then, in a hoplites clipped slur ... "Like fireflies Sar ..." Kalikrates finger tracing paths among the flames. " Ghosting ardour they mate in the hills of Amphipolus; August nights bring flickering hordes swarming onto the lush loamy fingers, blanketing trees and draining color from wild rose and grape ... Yet Gaia provides. Nesting redbirds and Jays rise from the swamps and annihilate them." He stands barefoot as a German oak in slush. A wooden brush lifts from his cloak and he runs the combs thru his hair. Without strain any of his words ... "Men too. When the King's afield, his orders pass to the hetmen long settled in his war-band each singing Mars hymns to their dragomen rugged and many-voiced whose bellow find Sergent of 10 or 20 men which scampering blades slaughter everything. "
"Does a man hurt when he dies?"
Cold ... cold ... cold hoplites guttural words. "Why ask my friend? Two fights in the Belisama and one in the shield wall pissing and shitting and driving bloody-bladed hate ... three battles you've fought already. Those and the single combat defending Yadini ... for which The King sought Delphic Oracle and blesses you. Search you heart for the pain and lonely as any man you know as much as any man."
Zeus beard we fight together ... and die alone; I understand. Looking up again, at the myriad weaving flames flickering on their downward paths ... how do you define lamp-lit men swooping the mountain air in all dense hostility to see you butchered ? "You must put on your moccasins, Kalikrates, keep cold away as our men will depend on your feet." A staunch man, a warrior to fight beside yet ... yet may weakness always defeat strength as my tutor believed, but could not prove? How clear approaching death marks the parchment. Crisply ... "I count 1200 flames ... and flicker from shields and helms."
Kalikrates raking hair newly grown from beneath his half-helm. He shivers, and campfire reflect his new hard smile. "Good young eyes Sar for these raiders dodge this-and-that. Iron shield boss does not reflect like polished bronze. Still so far away, joining also before they separate. Hard to track them ... mind ... with such strategy confusion would be their purpose." Kalikrates removes his beaver skull-cap. "With some error I make of these enemy 1194 ... and officers ..."
"Are those ivory tusks they slide on?"
"Cedar planks or slats most likely Sar ... leather strapped & waxed cedar slats. Favored also by the Italiot Celts --- crazy bugger bastards --- but these Hittites won't attack bare-chest and legs. "
Almost dreamy, the view and judgments and exchange. What a rabbit does staring into the vipers cold eye. Or not, as men differ approaching battle. Hawks view vipers as prey. Nettles stalk auroche. Rocketing down from his look-out perch, hemp-coils smoking behind him the rope-boy stutters stu...stu... stutters spitting and drooling ..."The Hittites sar ... they ca..cca...caught fire, their clo...clo...cloths Sar and are falling from the sky ..."
"From the sky ... eh," I say ruffling the boys hair him not 6 years younger than I ... smells of fear betray him. "You are Ta Alo from Egyptian Thebes."
"My faatter sailed from Crete ... a sailor boyo my mutter say. The sea took him ... "
"So Posiedon would do for us all. Brave up boyo, in your springtime and brave the enemy raw rattle so near. Does Zeus favor their spears ?" Bare-chested men spilling from the Mitanni bunkers listen close I believe to this raw oracle.
Shivers beneath the linen cloth trow and short-robe; eyes flashing 'round ... "Zeus dare not oppose Mars ... my faatter believed Juno fa...fa...favored Mars ..."
I chuckle. "As any woman Juno has taught jealousy among our gods. Does Dianna bless or curse these raiders?"
"Thas an easy one Sar ..." Snow-crusted, yet shocked to sense. "Sar ... Sar she curses them to Hades fire and ... and cu...cu... cuts their gizzards ..."
"Very well ... their gizzards you say ... " I leap to a near trotting horse and sky an ally. "Charmoda ... Charmoda ye faithless wench..." one of the whores who have hidden from me brazen as a silver corslet among the vans tillermen ... "look to the ropeboys! They fear us more than the gods." And wrenching about the bridle balancing gamely ... welling up shout to our entire van. "LARBOARD !"
Such a shout to battle I think has been waiting these 17 years. Its promise rings among the boyos. Kalikrates flashes an approving smile, for I have called our van to slaughter. Frozen to the hold-fast camp and rallying stunned companions, I have found the one word promising a warriors salvation. Any commander of fifty light armoured scouts will judge the same bloody resolve. We face death against 1000 enemy flames spilling down the treeless high-slopes of Mt Cerci and funneling .... that's the clue. In all caution the raiders order their scattered units funneling directly at our position and when they strike at the Mitanni holdfast we will not be there!
Too cold for frenzy, spurned men in all manner of dress set about trancing among their many gods with amulets, torques and rattle-shells ... trancing for battle. Yet who may live, speeds. "NaziBu ... to the ravine and form all at your shoulder. Teamsters ... bowmen ... trim yourselves, boyos and to horse as fast as ever ye may."
Icy Pedazzar, pointing his map skyward. "Bastards hid in caves just below the summit. Warm and limber they can afford discipline, as officers regroup, drain ale-bowls, burn hashish ... all patient tasks guided by power I do not understand and renewed at the tree-line."
Grim Kalikrates, struggling with his horses bit. " Long before sunrise they break through into this forest and come chanting the paeon. A boarshead will avalanche into us along this trail, all in a rush, binding our best swords blade-to-blade, removing their movement. Bowmen pickets will sift behind, working for the easy shot picking off loners . Then tusks of 200 iron-helmed hoplites will smash our flanks and we're a gonner!"
They will try I think gamely, shouting to the van ... "Teamsters snatch gear, but leave tents. Don't touch the fires they need to burn ..." Half-naked men rushing their snowy tasks find means to listen.
Navigators Faelan and Elisedd catch the flow ... hatchet-men NaziBu and Kalicrates the urge before breath from my mouth freezes. Commands are brisk. "Your seabags boyos, arms and vests. Alehorns do not stop arrows. Horses to me ... pickets on my shoulder ..." . "Don't let them run; strap sheep to the ox."
Dead-of-night I can hear above us the scratch and whosh of Hittite snow-slats. Clink of swords ... clash of shields ... breathing of Dark Yagas paeon yet sung ... how better to imagine life-takers. Winds carry these sounds and smells alight with battle-rage, a blood rage bright as Baals golden hammer ....
And to battle them and avoid slaughter .... we will become dim. "Take no fire with you boyos, but set all wood to kindling."
"No time. Burn the silks and linens and ferments."
"The Scythian bows?"
Each valued a seamans yearly wage ... "Strap one to each horse, and a dozen arrows."
"Burn the bread and ferment casks . Stuff barley-kakes in an ox hay-basket." Our van now dressed and scampering , oxen bellow, mules bray jaws wrenched along leather line, rope-boys gathering tools food and weapons, while feeding the campfires with the last of our wood.
"Ox in line ... mules aligned ... sheep bridled ... horse-packs ..."
"Lead them out, teamster. NaziBu waits!"
Slip the Hittite attack ... that's my plan. Let the Hittite flame-bearing attackers crash into an empty camp. Let them toss firelogs and crack bunkers with my van nowhere near. Let the Hittites destroy all traces of our movement in their attack. Soon enough they will find our trace, if their General leads the Boarshead, but some shy officers seek safety. And a grand thought has been brewing ... let them become blind before we fall upon their few masters.
Sik the pirate bastard. "Beggin yur pardon ... Cibias het ... I know your attack ... as a ranger we say myself it's worked before on fat traders."
"Fat? Not these ..." I shove my short hand-ax into his belly ... "Brave is as brave does ... Hittites will press you. Take my crow ... it pecks eyes so beware ... ride south to the tree-line and shimmy a tall cedar; hide among branches spread thick. When their shield-wall first presses near the Mitanni hold-fast slip a corn to the crow and release it. Then fast-as-ye-may slide to the ground and dash returning. If their picket engages , trapping you then dodge under his sword-swing and gut the first one with this ... by Diannas cold heart ye both become freemen under this labor. "
"Fear not Cibias. Beneath these rags rage Mars bastards." Ghosting a smile he slithers away chuckling into a snow-dune where his brother Sikk holds two ponies.
So all know, the boyos ... I need not cosset clever words or shout myself wretched. We will treat the attackers as an Egyptian war-hull thundering for'ard downwind and towering above the sleek Belisama bow-sprints. Run you down in a long reach and run over your bow ... that's the plan of the enormous Egyptian war-buss. I'd beaten that tactic before. First Belisama would hide under a swell. Then as the huge wickerd hull slashes close, we break to larboard, sailing under and behind its its steering planks, drive a bronze-head ballista through its stern planks and arising pepper the steering oars with slingers and fire-pots.
From pine branches wind rustles a mist of snow. Elisedd with a torch against two casks of unwatered Chian red ferment . "Tis blasphemy to the gods Sur ..." I crack a stave with my sword-hilt, swing a torch and purple flame shoots at the moon. "Pass 'round the other cask , lest men fight dry."
"Junos tit owes us," snipes Tar.
More blasphemy which the gods must forgive. "Move out, boyos and make the best of it! Twill be a near thing. How near I cosette; I don't believe enemy wise beyond the gods. They have neither the eagles eye nor falcons speed. Yet these before us .... intercepting ... targeting ... I believe we fight an enemy who by strategy manifest must already use the precious northing-compass for which this van of the Belisama has come venturing.
"They have it already, don't they Ka, the brass northing ...?" PaKo the grey-haired blooded Cretan who since his brothers death on a Sidonian spear never speaks.
"More of it than we do, but that will change!" Any master he will address as Ka. In times before our times Cretans had no master. What did we call them ... ancients ... mentaurs ... demigods ... "Raise your brothers spear in anger, " I demand.
"Spear Ka. Anger." He laughs ... and running over with joy turns about ... breaks the ash spear over his knee ... "see my spear Ka! How it fights ..." ... bellowing with a runic laughter wild beyond control he starts running away from me, dashing about and through our burning camp, snatching one torch then another ... and howling pain disappears into the steeply sloping forest.
Stop him, stop a coward ... stop insanity ... I watch him run away. Kalikrates has guessed, as well as Faelan. Men war on land as at sea. Faelan beside me newly enshrined a god of war . "Stay your hand Cap'N .... to mind the crew. I'll put an arrow into the next man that runs ..."
Strong words heard by all. Battle talk. A kings rude discipline. Yet now we run from our enemy without shame and noone call for my staff or logs or command stylus. Below us the winding backbone path to the sea. Above the Mitanni holdfast become our camp, the trail narrows between thick cedar and pine wood giants. It plunges into the lower slope of Mt Cerci and vanishes among Hephastus black volcanic swale. West the mountainside looking over Our Sea ... East ... a bushy ravine branching below this larger backbone. Tis our salvation this sidling ravine if Syrian gods intend any such saving and we enter it like a perch into the pikes toothy mouth.
I motion NaziBu to his crossbow. "Release you bird, Faelan."
"Nor, but one remains Cap'N. We become speechless."
"As well that may be, yet in Baals land blood must marry a venture." NaziBu has lit pitch along the arrow-tip of his crossbow. "Now ...!" The gracile dove flits from Faelans hand, hovers as might forest sprites attending a maiden. Fluttering wings beat icy air and feeling death-from-below the dove dives toward a firepit. Sparks before flame then ... NaziBu flaming arrow follows ... but beyond the blazing logs only the dove flits skyward. None, but the savage permits a second bolt, and knowing this the dove swoops through our ranks before vanishing into a grave of pine saplings. Rage ye gods ... a missed target .. no sacrifice ... the most dour of talis.
At the rear a teamster slave ... an Egyptian tax-collectors swordsman ... has broken his horses leash and whipping its flank dives for the uncertain safety of yesterdays trail. "The gods curse us," he shouts. No Hittite iron for him. He's stolen a wool robe and foxtail cap. His horse, a grey heavy-shouldered charger breathes white fire and racing downhill.
"The dove, the dove," shouts Isiah! Fellow slaves bellow courage which the dove cannot find; at 100 paces the goose-feathered hunting arrow that Faelan releases splits the foxtail in twain. Screams of pain seem never to end; a man should die better ... his unsaddled horse finds us later in deep brush.
"Weren't much of a fighter anyway, Cap'N squires Elisedd. More than one rider finds his mount unsteady. Elisedd joins Faelan visiting each one, with raw baudry or hashplug or nip from a ferment flask.
Returning beside me, Faelan unbends his bow, wrapping the waxed hemp twine about the handgrip . "Who wants a runner defending his back ..." he grunts , breaking the ice-crust that has formed above his eyes. "And we'll need the spare horse to bury our dead ..."
We carry no light, now moving away from the bright flaming camp. No torch no beacon no candle no lamp no fresh fuming red-glow evoking hash-plug. Cold and pure as the crystal air we breath our entire van become dim as breath. Trailing NaziBu we slide into the Easting ravine thus moving under the attacker path and becoming their attackers flank. Kalikrates pushes above us high on the gully sides with eight pickets ... his men form a wall, ever so slight providing a sudden ballista-strike should the enemy flank dip low and brush against us; Kalikrates has become dead men at the slightest error of silence.
"Strike fast, Kalikrates", I say. Smile he does and smile returns ... knowing well he will hold silence and with-hold betraying sword-thrusts beyond the last instant.
Wind whispers ... wolf howls greet a winters hare death cry so much like a womans sex it draws my blood. Horses pant to slow cold breath, their hoofs snow-muffled and whinnies snuffed by tree-trunks. So to with boyos own breathes and whisper ... our van breaks through a band of snow and breach of pine saplings ice crusted. Such temple quiet of the Goddess I think being carried away ... my tutor would have believed sweet Dianna visited his couch ... slipping the moons silver glow we march up the ravine so rock smoothed by the rains of Our Sea no silk cocoon may better it as an entry, a fragile beginning into the darkest of ancient forest night.
Walking men cling iced to their animals , shouldered aside, pushed for'ard bounced awry by cedar trunks thick as a temples column; their rough bark and rustling cones pepper our forest stew with scent and feeling and above, sound of the groaning branches. Snow mists through, and though invisible the spiral tops of the cedar lend a swirl to the snowflakes path that shines once in each breath only to vanish. I count mule-packs ... and count them again. Isiah and Pedazzar hiss noses apart, whether their gods can serve, but one klan while loving all. Horses walk nose-to-ass; bumping and biting each step yanks their human companion into a new country. Hawks and owls and elfin things wing above ... imagined ... unseen ... the overhanging cedar canopy paints black lost star-fields and the faint glow that my tutor discounted as fable, but a sentient few keen-eye navigators claim permeates the entire sky. When my vision crashes into a kaleidescope fracturing bright torment I can see that glow ...
Kalikrates has moved his picket-line in close. His metal scales now brush my arm ... muffling his destriers breath he walks beside me. "Well Cibias you've already guessed the conflict. Lutests never song a battle such as this with the clash of cymbals muffled. Bards scribe their shield-walls glistening in sunlight, horses prance beside bubbling meadow springs while archers lean into their war-bows shooting at targets beyond their vision. Kings command not only infantry and horse, but sights of home towers of their enemy; ballista sit as close as spires of their own temples for one always fights under stone walls of your own heroes grave." His hash-pipe dissolves fuming poetry in my glove. "And woman are never far ... Astarte bitching heat lends her tit at every excuse! What poet imagines Hector and Orestes hacking away shields in Stygian ice-caves of Cyclops!"
I know Kalikrates wants to see the warrior in me ... I say ... "Yet the shield-wall warriors shit and piss and vomit mead , lather hashish plugs and swill the poppy-juice only to spew it away at the first clash of spear-points. " Having twice and again walked my van of boyos I can feel their quiet iron. "When shield-wall warriors come lancing for'ard under the drum-beat and singing the paeon their merry lasts only to the first bronze spear-point chancing a leather corslet and ripping the boiled leather tearing the flesh bloody of the first unprotected gut." The ivory pipe-boul nestles in my palm. "I cannot remember the joy of those warriors."
Kalikrates chiding ... "You grip the ash spear-shaft Cibias. No need to wonder who meets the enemies first thrust."
"If we need meet them at all ..." I say as Kalikrates drifts away testing our rear pickets.
Cedar and oak trunks thicken , and snow deepens as we move up the swale-crusted ravine. Rocky ledges bear-in from the flanks , creating a gloom so deep and perverse our for'ard picket must crawl from trunk to drift to ledge. At a travel of only two bow-shots the gully supports an ox-girth only by pushing it through; desperate, our slow movement ... our fear of capture murmured by every chance shadow. I feel my own heart grinding down ... Zeus beard I grip the short-sword leather hilt wishing to be twice-the-man.
"Light Sar ... light Sar ... light sar whispers passing along our march-line. A pair of horses whinny, then as tree-trunks fall away our scouts gallop by spreading the talis. Fronting our van a windswept meadow appears and the gully flanks recede into darkness.
A torch catches the shadow ... "There, before us Cibias ..." windswept bare the limestone stella crusts a ledge dividing the meadow with a row of shaggy oak into three parts. Pickets rush the tree-line spreading 50 paces apart. There's hills ahead drift deep with snow, but for fear-of-discovery the scout did not mount them. Surrounding the stella it's warmer, far warmer than sixty paces away. Winter flowers bloom and the grass snuggles snow-free and green ... water trickles ... ox and mules and horses neck into the pasture. While they feed and teamsters snug packs we wary the pasture edge and march return toward the stella. Up close the three limestone surfaces bard its final story.
"Yes, mother-of-pearl ... or pearl"
No headless vagrant this! Bright pearl eyes of a clean-faced man , a lean boyo in vest and short-robe ... a sailor certain marks the 1st side, which carries a bold inscription. Why wait this long to boast a leader? The inscription knows , in Babylon script , but speaks instead of the sword-blade. The flaming sword-blade preens , but one leafed flame over the 2nd side as if tip and hilt of the sword become shy. Yet most strange and most telling a single eye and suckered tentacle of sea-deep squid crawl up the third.
"A conquerer , Sar ... from Babylon ...?"
"Sea people Sar ..."
"Certainly from the sea, Faelan. The conquerer ran up from the village and left his mark ."
"But, Hittites Ca'N ... they won't even salt their bread!"
"Unlikely them, for original man strode from the waters!" Faelan, a signals boyo of glass and sky speaks softly. "When pyramids rose, and Hittite suck at Babylons breast sea voyagers strode the blue waves. Thick as mid-summer swans they were;, breasting from cold Caucus to the Green Isles. We are their children. In times before this time they might have ... perhaps certainly did cut through to Aleppo. The silk yee know drove them ... silk and poppy and sparklers from its yellow eastern caravans."
A Sumerian slave traded from Egypt. "When Mr Faelan ... when and who?"
Time becomes such a tyrant if you ask! Rope-boys gather. "I seen them Sar ... the chivers so-called ... slimy bastards. Fishing deep my Cretan family caught them on gull-bones, cut the suckers away and ate them raw."
"Your family has a Median chef?"
"No Sar ... we ate squid when the Mysenii killed all the ox."
Kalikrates and NaziBu move near. I say. "Hills ahead, and by Junos bare ass I'd bet there's a temple just over the top ... pairs with one at the bottom ... forms a nest at the end of the stellas ..."
"Nest of ..."
"A nest of ancient dead, or a nest of fire."
Pedassar ... "The crow, Cibias ..."
Scarlet black wing fanning, its claws light on my shoulder ... beak drops a corn-kernal into my paw and sets to pecking my ear bloody. If I were enemy I would picket that temple and set my northing machine into its belly. If I were Argus of many eyes seeing before as well as behind ... What time to ponder with the rovers black-tar hull slashing at our bow. I swing to my prancing roan ... signaling duty-code for a column of venture. "To horse boyos," I hiss, " bright-lights are assaulting the hold-fast. Follow me into the temples flame!"
Far behind us, and now below the crashing cymbals , clanging blades and reckless chant of dark Yagas paeon shatter the nights ominous silence. Brave Teutor vomits and a ropeboy sobs. The sounds of a shield-wall assault ring through the wall of cedars. Our vans ox and mules and pack-horse are held by the few. All others to horse and to spear and shield, sword and bow. "Cover my shoulder, Kalikrates ... NaziBu, take bows to our flank!"
Torches flare and the broad path glows thin pine trucks leading out from the pasture. Riders push into the night. None know the path ... none know the temple ... clop-clop-clop horsing brushing side-to-side noone aware , yet all stepping-the-pace, racing new blood through tired limbs Dianna forgive us the lubricious fore-pleasure as women see it yielding before battle. We are , but men!
"Tighten the line boyos," I cry into the darkling passage , roans pacing bits swifter this stroke before sudden entrance of Sik and Sikk ... they bolt crashing into our line from brush cover, mounts frothing and leather armour sprouting goose-bolts.
Ragged voices ... "Junos tit ... tit and ass ... they spread our knees, but missed us!" They are yanking bolts from shoulder-mail and saddle and corslets. Their horses prance a battle-step ... bowing ... "Masters pardon ... Sar ... we had precious little space when the raiders come marching down. Half-helms and waist-leathers ... mailed-officers front and rear not Hittite Sar, but mercenary ... sell-swords ... plow-shaped helms ... Menelaus Spartans! They set a picket like you warned."
"Did any follow you?"
"Two ... with arrows in their throats." Sikk holds up a bare bloody paw. "That handax did wonder ... Sar ... for a slave."
"Slaves no more yee bloody buggers. If you live-the-day I'll grant each Hyrkon copper torques and a gold stator. If you die your whores get them!"
Wiping bloody smiling faces ..."Your men for the venture, Master ... Capit-tain ..." and whip their Shetlands for'ard. Holding my spear-point high I gallop front-line where cedar branches weep, the trail is mist and space a warriors dark snatching pit. We plunder among weeping pine. Behind me blades chatter against shield-boss ... men curse and hoofs skitter on the incline and finding the broad trail become an ancient cobblestoned roadway. How long has it waited? Surging a muffled battle-rage men blinded by snow and night and wind and darts of hot fear urge their mounts for'ard ... the horses race chattering a snow mist blinding all sparing only reckless riders galloping first. Thus appears to my eyes ... faint as a Gorgons mercy or the goddess blush a brow of light hovering the tallest of cedar canopy. I cannot trust ... yet light paints lower , shadowing brighter as we dive into the sharp sting of pellet-snow and straining plow over the last stony ledge ...
Leap to the broadening fore all five pounding destrier of our first line. Crest of a hill breaks open, like an egg blood yellow breaks over our quivering arms both up and down at the same instant. Prometheus mystery how a rider floats between those two. Ten-thousand stars ... Diannas silver blanket blaze in the clear night sky. Up and over three bushy pines we galloping five abreast run down a pair of sleeping hoplites. Plate metal guards their bones yet before weary eyes open and lips scream they become gore.
"To the right, Cibias," shouts Kalikrates. "Smash through them!" Not thirty paces beyond first killing the temple columns shine sandstone yellow, and between the fluted stone a brooding marble altar glows under a tallow-lamp mermaid green.
"Shields up, yee boyos arrows fly," I hear my own shout as a bolt creases my neck. The enemy bowman behind a column swallows my spear-point -- as I thunder past -- swallows bronze in a rush of white spattering brain and bone. My roan hammers biting and thrashing onto the marble floor; horsemen beside me sweep away bladed shields from either side. A spearshaft flies above my head, but takes the boyo Sikk behind me at the ruff of his half-helm dissolving brains and love, kindred and the smell of life in a howling bloody haze.
"Signal-men ..." shouts Faelan his Green Isle tomahawk lashing from breast to chin-strap and pointing at the temples far wall. Teknos makes the space glow fiercely, though above a naked goddess cavorts under Pan. Their carpentered jig supports a brace of slingers who defend at their back a quartet of lanterns --- dark or bright the jig shines from the temple wall. Protected by leather and mail hanging, four men slide open the iron muff to display a glass shell covering bright oil-lamps and I fain art within that bright could sweep the mountain.
"Sigal no more ye Helios bastards," I bellow. "Three hatchet-bearing riders in our second line bear across the temple floor to drive a clattering attack. Swing the iron mace their horse gallop into , over. thru and beyond the hatch of signalers and spilling the oil-lamp blazing into a frozen pool which signals I think noone , but the fish. So rapid and total the shattering a lone man staggers to his feet, into the pincusion of three arrows taking him down to the River Styx.
Our teamsters and slaves now pour into the temple, slaughtering wounded and seeking the singe combat that means liberty. A lead sling-ball clips my helm as a man rises ... his forehead sports a cross-bolt ... suddenly and Sik mindless now in red-faced hate is screaming hymns . "... plow the men down hearties plow the men down ..."
Yanking around my horse displays a temple floor still faire furnished in couches, benches and cots which furniture cozens a dozen cloaked men. Waiting they appear to be or shocked into an awaited invitation. Officers of this raiding party I believe they have planned the death of many men, but now the reality catches them by surprise.
I shout. "Are ye Priams men?"
A grey-beard flings open his cloak on a full leathered breast. "Depart sea-scum that your bones my scatter."
NaziBu close plunging horse scatters the log-fire and threatens them, but only their drawn blades respond. "Put them down!"
Legs move so cruelly slow ... arrow-bronze snatches one ... then another of the grey-hair men. I take them as officers though of what legion I do not know. One rough wood table holds amphorae, gold horns, parchment sheets and a lounging hoplite. Slab limestone ceiling covers both table and altar; weapons stack beside a braiser and a toasted loin spits above. So men unaware pray for battle. A whirling hatchet shatters the dolphin-bossed shield beside me , splintering willow-wood and crumpling the thin brass sheet ... a plank of oak remains on the riders arm ... Dolron-the-Rhode a scurvy idler first to ale and last to the bilge-pump damn-his-eyes , but they see well enough to run-through the dodging capeman a bronze spear-shaft and drag his boneless body howling behind the plow-horse.
Ash shafts arc from atlatls into two lookouts high on the temple walls; they are pinned spitting foam to their own ladders. "Behind you, Sar ..." A big man swings a bronze pike at me, but I have lost interest in battle.
"Damn the gold, NaziBu... to the altar!" Down from my horse I take the next blow on shield and ripping up with blue-steel gut the axman from waist to throat. Swirling about ... no threat , but the thrust of spear ... somebody special ... beat down grey-beard ... I jab a burning log into the old mans face and he screams. NaziBu fights beside me two men, an iron war-hammer against two thin steeled blades. NaziBu has crushed the skull of one cape, the other flees into a spear-point gutted slowly.
I throw my body over the brass bound northing. Tis for'ard, where all men might see direction. Iron bolts it to altar limestone and dares the next sword to snatch it. No owner comes for'ard in the bloody temple hall. The northing machine sizes as the large clam pearl-divers fear more than the dogfish ... a cup of quicksilver nestles within and the iron needle floats puckering upon its curve. In flames of the altars bright green oil-lamp I can see the needle magnified by the quartz shell pointing out from the altar, along a path inlayed to the marble across the temple floor and out under the north-star! A design so faire to the northing that I believe of-a-sudden this temple was designed as nest and mothers tit for a northing compass. She speaks truly, I see of this machine , this dumb oracle, Diannas quiet sage and I dare the next 1000 swords to snatch it from the Belisama heart !
"Gotchur brass me Cap'N eh how close Enlil watches, " NaziBu croaks through bloody lips. His iron hammer holds high and shielding the altar back against mine. No arrows fly ... no shafts dart. ... no stones sling. Four lines of our van stream behind us spears agape and blades hacking. The remaining cloaked enemy and their pickets become bloody slaughter before they are surprised!
"We have broken them, comes the shout. "Let none live ..."
"All men to fine steel."
"Strong arms to the altar." I shout, tearing at fingers bolting together the brass northing and altar. A slab of oily olive-wood drilled like a honey-comb fixes between them. Wood to stone altar bolts metal ... but wooden pegs bind wood to the northing machine brass shell. Two mastmen appear, whose arms move ships with a metal square that sits over bolt-ends. Attaching a fitted lever they break the nut free, first wood then metal; Our men shuffle among the dead looking for spoils ... 4 bags of silver coin then eight ... I can prepare the northing for travel. We are , but four arrow-flights from the ravening but unguided horde below who can obtain no orders and must I believe sweep even farther below the hold-fast.
So as wounds are dressed I prepare the device. Once removed the clear quartz bell finds a snug wool coffin inside a copper ball. Quicksilver pours into a cinched lambskin pouch born within a bulls-hide pocket. The needle ... how precious that sliver of tempered iron it finds a cocoon in Chian silk , that cocoon within a sheepskin bore hollow lemon-wood shaft and that wood within a sealed bronze tube. Most heavy, the amphorae-size brass and pearl mount are bound among green twigs and feathered within a solid box of waxed oak. All slung to our strongest best tempered mule and guarded by two sleepless mastmen .
Kalikrates bronze combs blood from my hair. "What has the battle taught you," he asks?
"Equal numbers of horse slaughter foot hoplites. Weapons don't matter. Surprised men die quickly. Guard your flank likes it's your life."
Face drawn in irritation. "Two are ill-learned, Cibias. Where will you take us now?" Others favor their own plans.
Faelon ..."To the Belisama , Cap'N returning our prize by whatever bayside route the enemy allows ..."
NaziBu ..."Through the Cilician Gates no man may lose his path or the blessings of Priam."
Pedazzar ... "Range Aleppo, Cibias where the King awaits and our victory fattens runes of trade."
Isiah ..."Least expected and most swift, we repay times ransom then retrace our steps."
Kalikrates ... "They will butcher our blood , these sell-sword enemies like tethered sheep when they discover officers dead and salary-coin stolen. We have heart-beats to move away ..."