“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.
Soon enough, Loukas was standing at the entrance of the cottage he had shamefully gambled away. He raised a trembling hand ready to knock, but suddenly stepped away from the door. He drew in a deep, quivering breath, stepped up to the door, and pounded on it three times. Each blow was louder than the one before it.
Loukas smiled at the lady who opened the door a few inches at a time. She narrowed her eyes to scrutinize the caller and returned the smile to see Mr. Loukas standing there. Mr. Loukas was the gentleman she had worked for before becoming the property of the ill-tempered merchant.
Seconds later, the merchant’s portly presence filled the doorway as a blast of wind rushed by. The merchant steadied himself, tilted his head slightly to one side, and gave his visitor a devious grin.
“What’s at stake?” the merchant asked as he directed Loukas to enter the cottage.
“At stake?” Loukas asked, distracted. He caught himself scouring the entranceway and beyond it for any sign of Thera and the children.
“A bet, sir, a wager,” the merchant insisted, “for what other earthly reason would you have dared to pay me a visit if not for—”
“Me to take my chance at winning back all that I have lost to you?” Loukas blurted. His anger about his own foolishness took him off guard. He tamped down the feeling with clenched fists.
“Ha! We shall see, sir,” said the merchant. A smirk creased his face. He led Loukas to a cushioned wooden chair next to a table and invited him to sit. He took a seat directly across from his visitor.
Loukas placed his elbows on the table and glared at the merchant. He leaned closer to the man and laid out the terms of the wager.
“If I win,” Loukas proposed, “everything and everyone I gave over to you will roll back to me, of course.” He spread wide both his arms as though embracing all that he had lost in that devastating card game.
“Of course, of course. And if I win?” the merchant asked.
“You keep all that I handed over to you and as many gold coins as will fill a goat’s feeding trough,” Loukas said while jingling the coins in his satchel. “And sir, you’ll take me for your servant to boot.”
“Am I to believe you are a man of means so quickly acquired following your loss?” asked the merchant, facing Loukas down with suspicion. He slowly rubbed his palms together.
“As befits my honor,” replied Loukas.
“And what of the contest?” asked the merchant. “At cards, no doubt.”
Loukas looked fixedly into his rival’s eyes and asked, “Sir, from which earthly direction does the sun first appear each day?”
“Pardon?” the merchant responded, shrugging his shoulders and cupping a hand to his ear.
“The sun, sir, from where does it rise?” repeated Loukas.
“Why, do tell, sir, where else, but from the east?” responded the merchant, smugly.
“You see, esteemed merchant, it has been revealed to me by powers far beyond my own that we will see the sun begin its journey from the west on the next cloudless morning,” Loukas announced in a firm and steady voice. “So sure am I that the sun will make its appearance from the west, I am prepared to prove myself right at the risk of losing a hoard of gold coins to win back all that you have rightfully seized from me.”
“Well then, if you truly believe you have gained the wisdom to question nature’s laws,” asserted the merchant, “I’d be a fool not to play along with this preposterous scheme of yours, wouldn’t I?”
The merchant leaned in closer to Loukas and spoke. “Yes, yes, of course,” he said, “Let’s settle this ridiculous wager in the village square the next day that dawns with clear skies. Indeed, we will gather to watch the sun spread its first rays across the eastern horizon, of course.”
The merchant stood, grabbed onto his chair, and shoved it aside. He pointed Loukas to the front door, opened it, and motioned him to leave. As soon as the door closed, Loukas heard the merchant roaring with deep-throated laughter. Loukas cringed at the sound and took a few brisk steps away from the cottage.
Once outdoors, Loukas wandered awhile through the grounds. He prayed to catch even a glimpse of Thera and his son and daughter. When he found not a trace of them, he moved on down the path with an aching heart.
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