Like those islanders, he must gather his courage and go off to find Destiny somewhere deep within the island forest where she lived with her son Ilion, the Sun, and her daughter Luna, the Moon.
He would plead with Destiny for the right to salvage his honor, his fortune, and—“please, please, please,” he begged—his enslaved family’s freedom.
Just as twilight began spreading its melancholy glow over the island, Loukas stood at a fork in the road. He was pondering which direction he should take to find Destiny when he caught sight of a curious cart. It was parked near the path that led into the forest.
From a distance, Loukas could see that the cart was made of roughly-hewn crooked branches. Potted plants and an old barrel and trunk took up most of its bed. A wooden rake, a broom, and a shovel, each with a knobby handle were tied to a wooden slat attached to one side of the cart.
The cart was painted in dark red, blue, yellow, and purple. The bright colors reminded Loukas of carts he’d seen in carnivals and festivals throughout the island.
Loukas moved cautiously toward the cart to get a better view of it. A few steps later, he spotted a leather banner spread across a branch above the rear of the cart. A smile spread across Loukas’s face as he made out the words on the banner. “Keeper of the Forest,” he read and bobbed his head, amused.
At once, memories of Keeper of the Forest rushed through his thoughts.
Keeper was the brave character in age-old stories that had enchanted Loukas throughout his childhood. In an instant, Loukas pictured Keeper setting off on yet another exciting mission in the island’s northern forest.
Keeper was an adventurer who was known for roaming the forest to fend off wicked creatures and spirits. Keeper could also be counted on to come up with the best plans for settling conflicts among forest animals and for helping to keep the forest fertile.
And now Loukas stood next to a cart claimed by the story character he had come to idolize. Loukas’s smile widened. Could his fearless childhood hero be real? Flesh-and-blood real?
A high-pitched voice startled Loukas out of his musing. He struggled to understand the speaker’s peculiar drawl.
“Hey, yah, ho. You thar,” the voice called from within a stand of poplars. “On thees road forsaken thou art traveling. From whom or what ah do thou flee? Thees forsaken road whar even the seabirds rarhrley fly, thou boldly walk on by.”
“Honorable one, I mean no harm and bear no evil,” Loukas stammered while he surveyed the poplars.
“Hey, yah, ho. Looky thou up and up,” the voice squealed. “Heeee, heeee, heeee. Keeper of the Forest plants. Keeper of the Forest sows. Keeper of the Forest knows all. Heeee, heeee, heeee. Looky up and up ah.”
Loukas shrieked with delight. “Keeper lives. Keeper is real. Keeper’s stories are true.”
Loukas stepped closer to the poplars and gazed upward, trembling. He moved wide-eyed from tree to tree in the deepening dusk. His heart thumped hard on his chest.
Keeper’s whistling drew Loukas to one of the tallest trees. He steadied himself against the trunk and slowly gazed upward. As Keeper’s figure came into focus, Loukas let out a muffled cry.
“Oh, my, oh, my,” Loukas exclaimed once Keeper’s image cleared.
Keeper stood on a thick branch and whistled a string of high and low pitches. Up above his head, Keeper held an odd double-tiered umbrella mounted on a narrow pole. The umbrella’s large, open canopy topped the pole. Directly under that canopy there was a smaller canopy. It also was open. The ribs that supported both canopies were thin metal pipes. Puffs of colored smoke erupted from the pipes in rapid spurts.
“Poooofsss, poooofsss, pooofsssssss,” sounded the smoke at its release.
At the end of each pipe, there hung a tassel with a large bell attached to it. The bells rang when the canopies took to spinning; the top canopy clockwise, the bottom one counter clockwise. For both, it was a wobbly ride.
The spinning stopped abruptly. Keeper made a piercing whistle sound. At once, a volley of belches, hiccups, squeaks, hoots, and squawks came from somewhere inside the umbrella.
“Heeee, heeee, heeee,” Keeper sang. Like a high-wire performer, he teetered forward a few steps on the branch, stopped, and staggered backward. He soon came to a shaky pause, stepped off the branch, and floated gently downward, whistling. He landed in a clearing a few feet from Loukas.
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