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


How madly  the flaming streams tumble. "Zeus beard Kalikrates  ... they intend to kill us. What say you?"

An icy detached silence. High on Mt Cerci  a ring of  molten pitch drips springs of fire which were they not liquid sparks scatter hissing bright  flaming rivulets.  This starlit  silver slope gathers smooth pouring light only to fracture kaleidescope sparkling and split again. What evil do they want?  Sound of quivering horn drags faint as pine cinders  behind the fire. We cannot find words ...

My tutor would have claimed Hephaestus has beaten daemons from his forge-coals and  red-eyes blazing they now scamper to shred my soul.  "Styx  Daemons ..."

"Battle is such Cibias."

Zeus beard  at the Niles 2nd Cataract I spent my twelfth summer  with Dydikis, the Kings eldest son sporting among ibis, lion, gazelle ,  jaw-bellowing crocodile and the most succulent of nubiles. Palace daughters of no restraint ... scribe, priest, royal  ...  flaunting breast and loin they  taught a lubricious  sex that ruined the timid.  Yet the most worthy of hunters proved to be the ever-marching  almond-size army ants. From colonies bore into the wet river silt they ventured into dune and barley-field, chasing venomous cobra from their tunnels and  fearless badger from  high ledge burrows. Woe to the animal that challenged their marching columns longer than a barley-field.  Each ant a throw-away, each column a victor ... I look above into the downward stream of enemy flames.

"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."

"Trades, Cap'N."

"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."

"Food ...?"

"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.

"Clamshell, Cap'N!"

"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."

"CAW! ...REEE"

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."

"Snatch ruby!"

"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 ..."

Snow swirls now, in heavy clouds  from high mountain around the  green cedar crowns  and through the glowing temple.  Our teamster-train has come over the crest, and packed all spoils.  We have buried six men, each with  their silver coin; the two worst wounded and helpless  we fed the poppy and put to a merciful sword.

Passing teamsters  heads follow me and I hear whispers  ..."So young, the master and so bloody his hands. What mercy can we expect?"

What the King commands, I think, tis what I do and whatever the Goddess allows.  Am I young? Bitter ... am I more wise than my enemies?  Around me  men vested and robed with captured bloody wool capes take to horse gathering upon the temple stone.  Our men carry away war-spoils and odd trinkets of gold from the temple statue. Well enough, I think, but time forgets glory and for my own peace the squid may have it.

"Ready for orders, Sar" pipes Faelan.

I have scribed code, clamped  thin gold disk to the crow leg and fed him the corn.  Releasing the leg-strap the crow flaps wildly in strange freedom,  rises to circle our van then rockets down a steeper side into the clear fathomless beyond.  Belisama will claim him and officers tuned on sparkling blue combers and dolphins belly curse my pride.  Some mages claim a raven vanishes from reality, when not observed and reappears only upon reaching its home-cage. I don't believe this, as  beyond their cages ravens mate and nest to Diannas  true pleasure, while  lost ravens  in extreme would fill the world-sky to the dome of Zeus.

"Zeus beard get a corn-bag on the ox lest it betray us to the entire Syrian coast."  Every mans belly filled by mutton and wine and the hoplites barley-bread. Trumpets blare far away. Noise of the raiders below comes in fitful gasps ... trumpets and flutes, cymbals and  hateful thrumming drums  and wails  every notice more violent and sharply tuned ... much anger and much closer.

"Strap the night on, boyos, we have  not-the-first a wild venture."  Tomorrow : Hades cold River Styx or the harems sweet  charms I know not. Our bowmen have already shot dead two Syrian pickets. To guide I have the officers maps of Mt Cerci , and  choosing a goal, marked  however lonely a likely trail. Pedazzar curses most foul, for going lost  this night means going dead.

"Not the mens choice Sar," grunts Faelan, "but their swords will never desert yee."

"As that may be. Move out!" We sing Diannas paeon to the lost sailor , and  Siks torch  beside me lead our van of boyos teamsters and mules  off the temple stone and into a night brooding silence and crouching terror.