As fate would have it one stormy spring day, Loukas met up with his friends for a game of cards at a local seaside cafe.
Joining the game was a crafty merchant. He was a hateful man who took great pleasure from spreading rumors about islanders he despised. The merchant was fond of telling his patrons that Loukas, their wealthiest neighbor, gained his riches from illegal trading off the island.
As the card game wore on, Loukas and his friends kept losing their bids to the merchant’s winning hands.
“My luck is down,” his friend Demetri said upon showing his third losing hand to the merchant’s straight flush. He bowed out of the game and left the cafe.
“I haven’t a chance of breaking even,” said Nikos, Loukas’s other friend. When the merchant won the pot with a royal flush, Nikos quit the game and walked out of the cafe without a word.
Loukas stayed on. His rage mounted as he brought to mind the merchant’s lies about trade deals that called into question his honesty.
“Well, my good man, I see you have more faith in your skill than those two cowards,” the merchant said. He nodded toward the cafe door with a sly grin.
“My turn to deal,” Loukas muttered. He glared at the merchant. His cheeks flushed. He was short of breath, and he was working up a sweat.
The game soon heated to a fierce contest.
I must defeat this scoundrel, Loukas thought. He has disgraced me and defaced my family’s name.
“Play on, play on,” the merchant urged.
The merchant stood. He brought his fists close to his face. He narrowed his eyes to stare at his opponent.
The bets increased with higher stakes, and Loukas kept losing.
Loukas’s desire to turn the game to his favor blurred his thinking.
He soon began gambling away the many riches Lambros’s generosity had brought into his family.
He lost his treasured cottage and the large tract of land on a hillside that opened to a view of the sea.
He lost the goats.
Next, the statue-laced fountains and lush gardens that surrounded the cottage went to the merchant.
In the next round, all that remained of Loukas’s treasures were his wife and children.
He could see the madness in sacrificing his family to satisfy a hunger for defeating his rival.
He could flee from the game if it meant saving his beloved Thera and their
What should he do? What did he do?
Loukas worked himself into such a frenzy over crushing the merchant that he lost the will to quit the game.
When he laid down his next hand showing two pairs of aces over tens, the merchant trumped him with four of a kind.
Loukas had no choice but to hand over the lives he loved.
Dazed, he forced himself from the table, nearly toppling it.
Shame blazed through him.
He navigated a clumsy about face, grabbed his satchel, and staggered out of the cafe.
The merchant’s shrill laughter followed Loukas as he stumbled onto the rugged roadway that led from the harbor up into the forested highlands.
Like a sleepwalker, Loukas trudged on. He was nearly bursting with anger over his recklessness.
With his heart breaking from his losses, he came to an abrupt stop and raised his fists skyward.
“Before God, the saints, and the sacred spirits that rule the Earth, I vow to free my family from the curse my madness has inflicted on us all,” Loukas cried out in anguish.
At that very moment, he recalled a legend that told of islanders going in search of Destiny to seek release from the suffering fate had handed them to test their will to survive.
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.
Keeper looked just like the character Loukas had imagined many years ago in stories told of Keeper’s daring deeds.
Indeed, Keeper was the same earthy character in tales Loukas and Thera now enjoyed telling Sophie and Petros, their own children.
Keeper was muscular and squat. His skin was the color of spring fern, and he had very large hands and feet from which sprouted weeds and grasses. A patch of moss covered Keeper’s head. Out of the moss grew berries, buds, and blossoms.
Keeper wore clothes styled with wide, horizontal stripes in shades of leaf greens, earth browns, and sunlight yellows. Leafy vines trailed out from underneath a loose-fitting jacket and pants.
“Whar art thou bound dah?” drawled Keeper.
“Venerable Keeper, I have taken to this road in search of Destiny,” Loukas said. “Now that my foolishness has brought me down, it is her wisdom I am seeking to show me how to mend my broken heart and turn my ruined life around.”
“Ah, ah. Destiny, Destiny,” Keeper cried. “Oh, har favor not so easily gained dah. Mortal upon mortal have passed thees way desperate for Destiny’s cure,” continued Keeper. “Just as many have returned more, oooh, more and more wretched than when they set out tah. Crestfallen wahr they for having failed to receive Destiny’s guidance to change the course of thar tormented lives sah.”
Keeper drew closer to Loukas, and with deep-set eyes studied Loukas’s expression. The adventurer knew at once that no warning could ever dampen this mortal’s desire to find Destiny and plead with her to free him from his misery.
“To gain Destiny’s patronage, thy request must first be judged dah worthy by har son Ilion, the Sun, and har daughter Luna, the Moon,” Keeper confided while moving within inches of Loukas’s stunned face.
“Only then will a decision be made if thy fate deserves the attention thou crave. Oh, and oh, and oh,” said Keeper, sighing.
Keeper warned Loukas that he must tread cautiously if he should ever come into the company of Destiny, Luna, and Ilion.
“But why, honored Keeper?” asked Loukas.
“Ah, young mahn, many are the tales Highland folk tell of Ilion’s unpredictable mood when he returns to the palace from his daily rounds at day’s end dah,” Keeper said.
“If Sun returns troubled by what has happened among the mortals that day, you had better bewhar. Oh and ah, Sun might just as easily consume thee with a hellish fire than urge his mother to take notice of thy petition,” Keeper predicted.
“As far Luna,” cautioned Keeper, “if she becomes troubled from witnessing the mortals immersed in strife, har wrath ah could force har to bewitch thee with a horrifying spell. Woe, woe, woe.”
That said, Keeper pointed his umbrella toward the forest and directed Loukas to follow the path northward.
Well into his travels, Keeper told Loukas he would come to a radiant vermilion palace where Destiny and her son and daughter have lived since the beginning of earthly time.
“Along the way, thou will arrive at a steep bluff Highlanders call Ravens Peak,” Keeper said. “A short distance from thar, be prepahred to meet up with anguished souls. Sad, so sad. Like thee, my good mahn, they are in need of Destiny’s help. Yes, so it will be.
“Oh, spahr thyself a pound of grief, oh, so, by consoling these suffering creatures. Leave them each with a promise. Tell them thou will lay thar requests at the feet of Destiny, Luna, and Ilion. Thou will beg the all-knowing, all-wise Mother, Daughter, and Son to help these needy ones endure their struggles.”
Loukas gave Keeper a quizzical look while he gestured his agreement.
“Go, now, go on and on. Follow the pahth ah into the forest’s depths. May courage be thy compass, caution thy guide, and good fortune thy reward,” Keeper sang.
Keeper tossed the umbrella onto the bed of the cart and took hold of the cart’s handle. “Heeee, heeee, heeee. Keeper of the Forest plants. Keeper of the Forest sows. Keeper of the Forest knows all. Heeee, heeee, heeee,” the adventurer cried.
Keeper then steered the cart down the forest path at a quickening pace. Soon the cart rose inches above the ground and drove Keeper into the darkness. Seconds later, the moon rolled out from behind a cluster of clouds, offering Loukas a shaft of eerie light to guide him onto the forest’s pathway.
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