Soon after day broke through a cloudy sky, Loukas left the forest and moved on to the road that led directly to his village.
He came to the fork in the road where only a few days earlier he had puzzled over the direction he should take to find Destiny and cast his fate anew. Just as he was about to set off for his village, he was startled to come face to face with Keeper of the Forest.
“Well done, well done,” said Keeper, laying a hand on Loukas’s shoulder. “Thou most certainly tipped the scale in thy favor. Thou convinced Destiny, Sun, and Moon that thou deserved thar mercy. Oh and oh, they have offered thee the hope of a fate in keeping with the kindness sah thou lived by before a demon took hold of thee.
“Now hurry off to thy village. Abide dah by the plan given thee by Destiny, Sun, and Moon. Find a way oh to live out the rest of thy days close to thy family in peace and loving kindness. So, may it be.”
After thanking Keeper, Loukas bounded down the road. He looked neither right nor left, but only straight on until he arrived at Lambros’s gravesite. Years ago, Loukas and Thera had set the snake’s grave a short distance from their cottage on a bluff that commanded a view of the sea.
It was a blustery day, with strong rushes of wind tearing the sea’s surface. Loukas held steady against the trunk of the lofty chestnut tree that rose above the grave. Violent gusts caught the tree’s leaves in a frenzied dance.
“Lambros,” Loukas cried above the wind’s fury, “at Destiny’s bidding, dear friend, I come to you with great respect to seek your help.”
“Laaaam…bros, Laaaam…bros, Laaaam…bros,” Loukas called, competing with the wind’s mastery.
Loukas listened and prayed.
When the ground started trembling, Loukas knelt at the base of the tree. He pressed his ear to the ground and covered his other ear with the palm of his hand.
Soon, Loukas began to make out Lambros’s scratchy voice.
“Ah, the wonder of your return,” croaked Lambros, slowly drawing out each labored word. After a long pause, Lambros continued his gritty speech. “Destiny, Sun, and Moon alerted me to your fall from grace. They told me of your perilous journey to their palace to seek deliverance from your misfortune. From them, I learned of your plan to reclaim a life of happiness, of peace, of love.”
“They…may…save…me,” Loukas said, his voice vying with yet another angry gust.
“Aye, my friend, just as you once saved my spirit,” Lambros said, struggling to be heard. “Over time you consoled me with your soulful music. With dance, the loneliness that darkened my spirit slowly dissolved. With dance, my fears of the violent ways of the humans were soothed.”
Once again, Lambros grew silent.
When he was able to speak, he drew on a faint voice and directed Loukas to unearth a mass of coins by digging around the base of the tree. Before long, Loukas would come to a deep pit where he’d find the treasure he was seeking.
“Take what you need to bargain with your merchant,” Lambros said, his voice little more than a murmur, “then conceal the pit.
“May you win back your family. May the hidden riches keep you and your kin in good stead for many years to come.”
Tears welled in Loukas’s eyes as he took up a sharp rock and began scraping away layers of dirt from the tree’s base. He was halfway around the tree when a small patch of ground gave way. He raked away the loose dirt with his fingers and discovered a pit similar to the one where he and Thera had found Lambros’s dead body years before. This pit was crammed with bulging sacks. Loukas gasped and shook his head from side to side when he saw that each sack overflowed with gold coins.
“Take what you need,” Lambros had urged.
Loukas scooped up not one, not two, but three handfuls of coins from the nearest sack and put them in his satchel. Just the amount I need to convince the merchant that the bet could yield him a generous treasure, Loukas thought.
He covered the pit with loose dirt to conceal the sacks.
Before setting off to find the merchant, Loukas knelt at the base of the tree and thanked Lambros for the treasure. “Dear friend,” Loukas called with the wind seizing his words, “in gratitude, I vow to pray each day that your spirit may rest peacefully forever and ever in the comfort of your goodness. So be it.”
Instantly, Lambros called back to Loukas from deep within the earth. Once again, Loukas pressed his ear to the ground. He hoped to capture each faint word.
“Courage has served as your compass. Compassion has served as your guide. And now, my music master, may good fortune be your reward,” murmured Lambros.
Loukas stood, pressed his hands to his heart, and bowed to his friend. After that, he set off to put forward his wager with the merchant.
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