“Our mother has told us all we need to know about the life you plundered with your arrogance,” announced Ilion. He startled Loukas with a voice as agitated as his movements.
“About how you failed to give any thought to the tragic losses pride and greed were leading you toward,” Luna sang, grimly.
“About the victims you made of your beloved children and wife,” Ilion stammered, suddenly jerking his legs forward and leaning closer to Loukas.
“About your loss of honor,” sang Luna.
Had Loukas sensed a hint of sorrow competing with Luna’s disapproval?
No, he came to think. No mercy to be shown me here. No pity.
Remorse and shame were taking hold of Loukas when suddenly he was wrenched from the brink of despair by Destiny’s verdict.
Had he heard a call that rescued him from the misery he had brought down on himself and his family?
Loukas froze in disbelief, his heart thudding.
“Pardoned, because you attempted an uncertain journey to seek a renewed fate,” Destiny said.
“Pardoned, because you have awakened to the error of your ways in placing greediness above love of life and family,” Ilion called out, his words a stream of rapid staccato beats.
“Pardoned, because before your fall, you loved the snake that befriended you,” sang Luna, rising from her throne.
“A creature reviled by some,” Ilion said, “but by you, honored with vibrant harmonies.”
“You blessed the snake with the joyfulness of dance and an eternal friendship,” said Destiny.
Loukas pressed his hands to his heart. “That snake honored me and my family with his loving concern for our survival,” Loukas said, solemnly.
“Now then, return to your village,” Destiny advised, “and go directly to the snake’s gravesite.”
“Dig below the chestnut tree that rises above his grave,” Luna sang with a quickened tempo. “There you will find a vast supply of gold coins.”
“Take up a hefty amount of the coins, keep the others buried, and then go find the merchant,” urged Ilion, pacing vigorously in front of the thrones. “When you come face-to-face with the merchant, stand tall and firm.”
Ilion stopped pacing and narrowed his eyes. “With a will sure and steady,” Ilion said, his jittery voice stepping over each word, “ask the merchant the direction the Sun takes each and every morning as it spreads its rays.”
“‘The sun is first seen in the east, of course, where else but in the eastern horizon,’ the merchant will surely reply,” Ilion predicted. “Now, you sir,” continued Ilion, planting himself directly in Loukas’s line of vision, “you will contradict the merchant.
“‘Oh, no, esteemed merchant, you are sadly mistaken,’ you will tell him. Then you will say, ‘So certain am I that we can catch sight of the sun rising in our western skies, I am ready to challenge you to a bet to prove the truth of what I am promising.’”
“When the merchant dismisses your claim as nothing more than the blather of a village idiot,” Ilion said, twitching, “snare your opponent with an enticing wager. You should jingle the coins in your bag, lean in close to the merchant, and announce: ‘You say east, and I say west. Let’s put a bet on who is right about the sun’s direction, you or me.’ And wasting not a minute, you must seal the bet. You must tell the merchant that if he wins, he will receive enough coins to fill a goat’s feeding trough. But if you are the victor, you will gain back the entire fortune you had handed over to him at the card game.”
“Settle the contest in the village square at dawn on the first cloudless morning after your return,” counseled Ilion as he staggered back to his throne. “With your rival by your side, watch for my appearance,” Ilion said, slumping into his throne, “the merchant pointed due east, you due west.”
“Merciful Ladies, kind-hearted Lord, I lay before you my deepest gratitude,” Loukas said, spreading his arms outward.
He then turned and looked for an exit out of the room.
He would begin his journey back to his village.
He would challenge the merchant.
He would win back his blessed life.
No sooner had he started walking toward the wooden door near a set of arched windows than he suddenly stopped.
“The needy ones. I must not forget the pleas of the needy ones I met on my journey to this place,” he whispered to himself.
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