Moments later, Destiny rose from her throne and made her way to the door through which she had entered the chamber. Ilion and Luna soon followed their mother. When the door opened, all three took their leave.
At once, a tall, bearded man entered the room. He wore a belted tunic of grey cotton that fell to just below his knees. A soft close-fitting black cap covered his head. The large pendant that hung from his neck on a silver chain was a copy of the medallion with the silver wings and red glass eye Loukas had first seen on Destiny’s scepter and the sleeves of her tunic.
Loukas was puzzling over the meaning of this curious jewel, when the man gestured for Loukas to follow him.
With long, firm steps, he led Loukas down a wide curving passageway. The sound of their sandals hitting the white marble floor resonated a hollow echo. Loukas’s attention was soon drawn to the movement on the domed ceilings. Each dome contained illuminated images of suns, moons, stars, and planets crisscrossing one another in perpetual motion. It dizzied Loukas to stare at them.
Further on, Loukas caught sight of brightly colored tapestries gracing the walls. Each was about the size of the woolen shawls worn by shepherds who tended their flocks in the windswept highlands. The tapestries revealed copies of the playing cards and images found on the drapery that lined Destiny’s throne. Placed alongside the tapestries were large versions of the medallion. The medallions’ glowing red eyes spread a soft warm light onto the passageway.
The bearded man stopped at a curtained doorway, drew open the curtains, and stepped aside, motioning Loukas to enter a brightly lit room. There was a clear glass table in the center of the room. The table had four stained glass legs in the shape of uncoiled snakes that rose up from the marble floor. The tabletop was set on the heads of the snakes’ thick bodies. A black marble chair had been placed next to the table.
A bed made of black wood was set against a white wall to the left of the table. The bed had been made up with several large pillows and a thick, red bedcover. When Loukas finished surveying the room, he noticed that the bearded man had left. Once Loukas settled into the marble chair, fears about his journey back to his village drifted through his mind like gruesome wraiths.
What if the mountains at Meander Pass refuse me a safe passage until I reveal Destiny’s decision about their petition? he wondered. What if River Kimon thrashes me about with deadly gales once he comes to understand the changes Destiny is commanding him to make in his behavior? And the sisters, the three crafty sorcerers. They have the power to trap me in an enchantment so bewitching, I could lose any sense of peace, of direction, of myself.
A sudden sound at the doorway startled Loukas out of his dread. A trio of tunic-clad attendants strode into the room with platters of food. The pungent aromas spiked Loukas’s hunger. He closed his eyes and savored the scents. The smells wafting through the air summoned images of joyful family gatherings where delicious meals brought folks together to celebrate their blessings.
In silence, the attendants served Loukas a meal of traditional island fare. They offered him a mixture of fish and greens in a spiced sauce and grape leaves stuffed with rice, dill, and mint. Another attendant entered the room with a bowl of black and green olives, slices of crusty wheat bread, goat’s milk cheese, and assorted fruits.
“Friends,” Loukas said to the attendants as he finished the meal with a piece of savory cheese, “I thank you for honoring me with such delicious foods.” He reached out to them with open palms.
Several attendants cleared away the remains of the meal. Another poured a sweetly scented drink from an earthenware pitcher into a pewter goblet she had placed on the table.
Then the attendants left the room.
As soon as Loukas swallowed a mouthful of the drink, he grew drowsy. The moment he reached the bed and laid his head on the musk-scented pillow, he drifted into a fitful sleep full of grim visions.
In one dream, Loukas watched his wife Thera scrubbing a floor on her hands and knees. The merchant stood nearby. He contorted his face into a sneer, threw back his head, and let out a grisly laugh. In one swift pivot, he leaped into the air and flew out of the room, waving his arms and cawing like a hawk. Still on her knees, Thera covered her face with her hands and swayed slightly from side to side.
In another dream, Loukas found his children, Sophie and Petros, sitting on the ground in a closure that looked like a cage. They held hands. Loukas could hear them sobbing. At the cage’s entrance, a uniformed guard stood rigid and expressionless.
When Loukas’s mother and father entered his dream, they stood on a steep hill above the island’s harbor with their faces pale and pinched. His father wrung his hands. Not once did they cease scanning the landscape and seascape. His mother called, “Louououououkasssss, Louououououkasssss, come home, our dear son, come home.”
Loukas now saw Lambros lurching, twitching, and shaking as he moved to the grating sounds of harsh and jarring music. “Help me, oh, pity me,” Lambros cried each time the music thrust him into a ragged dance.
In the depth of the night, Loukas heard a voice calling to him. He sat bolt upright, trembling, and squinted into the darkness.
Slowly, a shimmering presence came into focus in the center of the room. Its glow radiated a pleasant warmth that drew Loukas toward it. When Loukas came closer, he found himself standing before the specter of Keeper of the Forest. Keeper placed both hands on Loukas’s shoulders. At first Loukas thought he might keel over and fall to the floor. Just as quickly, a surge of courage blazed through him once he met Keeper’s warmhearted expression.
As Keeper started to fade, the specter blessed Loukas in a calming voice: “May courage be thy compass, caution thy guide, and good fortune thy reward.” Loukas took great comfort from Keeper’s fervent words. He gazed at Keeper until his spirit vanished.
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