Aoli poked the fire, settling the glowing coals around the pot of monkey stew. An enticing fragrance swirled from the caldron, mixing with the salty tang of sea carried inshore on the whispery breeze.
The huge merchant ships of Tarshish were floating heavy in the harbor, ready to sail on tomorrow’s high tide with a favorable wind. Few sailors would sleep much this moonless night. Some, if Aoli had his way, might not be aboard when it was time to hoist anchor.
Every three years the vessels completed a circuit to gather goods, this voyage to fill an order for Solomon, the Hebrew king. Peacocks, ivory, apes, gold, grains and woods were securely stored in the holds.Their safe delivery promised a tidy profit.
The merchants were preparing to send the ship’s crew away with full bellies, expressing their appreciation for the haggling, shoving, lifting, carrying, sweating work it took to clear the docks. Between two swaying palm trees the master cook was supervising the carving of donkey meat from a carcass. Closer to Aoli peacocks basting on spits dripped their juices into numerous smokey fires. These unsold fowl were being put to good use.
For those with less adventurous tastes, vessels filled with leeks and lamb and melons of all sorts, an abundance of everyday fare were piled high on makeshift tables. The staple of all meals baked in the community ovens, its fragrance rich and heady.
Until the order was given, two watchmen made sure lids stayed on the wine and beer pots. Before the sun rose, over indulgers would be unable to walk a straight line. Aoli was counting on it. Sailors carried few coins, but tonight they would be festively dressed with rings and knives and other tokens that an enterprising young man could relieve them of for resale.
Aoli would be watching, waiting with a piece of zebra gut filled with sand. Swinging the sap against the target’s neck from behind would remove any objection to donating their prizes to him.
“Get away from that fire, you crippled son of a shamed woman” screamed the chief cook at Aoli. “That stew doesn’t need your sweat. Get me logs, and make sure it’s oak.”
And so it went throughout the afternoon, the cooks yelling instructions, the lackeys hopping to. As the evening cooled toward pleasant a crowd swelled, anticipating a gluttonous evening. After speeches by the city’s elders, the tops on the jugs were removed, the bread torn, and serious eating commenced.
Much later the boisterous shouting subsided. Two men Aoli had been watching wandered off toward a brothel, thwarting his plans for them. They would have nothing of value when they returned. The best prospect, a heavily tattooed Greek, was nibbling on date-sweets and refilling his cup. Something not easily noticeable bulged slightly beneath his tunic. Perhaps it was a money belt, or something valuable folded into a sash. Aoli intended to find out.
When the Greek finally stumbled into the darkness to relieve himself, Aoli swung his weapon.
Whump! The Greek fell to his knees. Aoli had missed a telling blow, clubbing the tall man’s shoulders. He wheeled to flee.
“Wait, thief,” the Greek commanded, clutching Aoli’s ankle “If you’re going to rob a man, pick on someone your size.”
Aoli trembled exceedingly, fearful of what this giant was going to do to him.
The man drug him into the light and squatted before him. “Tell me little one, why are you so desperate?”
“I…I…my mother is a shamed woman,” Aoli stuttered. “She cannot find work. The landlord is kicking us out tomorrow. I thought…”
“What is your mother’s name? What did …”
“Sedona.” Aoli hesitated, mumbling “She refused to throw me on the trash heap when I was born.”
The Greek stared at Aoli a long time, his eyes dark and penetrating. Finally he said, “You’ve been honest.” He removed a pouch from beneath his tunic. “This will not be safe on the ship. Hide it well. Keep it until I return.” Handing Aoli a small bag that jingled he said, “This will pay your mother’s rent, and give you money to live on.”
“Honesty pays, crime doesn’t.” The Greek stood. Snatching a peacock drumstick from a table he strolled toward the harbor singing a lusty sailing song.
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