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.
At sunup, the same trio of attendants returned to the room. They bore Loukas’s satchel and the clothes he had worn on his journey to the palace. One of them stepped forward and gestured Loukas to sit. She set about replacing the bandages that protected his feet with fresh bandages. Another attendant laid before him a parcel of rusks and cheese to take on his journey.
Once the attendants left the room, Loukas dressed and dropped the parcel of food into his satchel.
Moments passed before the bearded attendant returned to the room and beckoned to Loukas to follow him. He led Loukas down a narrow corridor to a massive wooden door. The door was embellished with replicas of the medallion with the silver wings and red glass eye. The bearded attendant knocked once.
“Enter,” called Destiny. Loukas grew wide-eyed the moment he stepped into the room. He found Destiny standing in the path of Sun’s early morning brilliance filtered through a tall stained glass window. She was bathed in a wavering stream of glowing colors. She invited Loukas to draw nearer.
Loukas struggled to catch his breath as he looked intently at Destiny while moving within her reach. Once he stood before her, he yearned to thank her, Luna, and Ilion for allowing him the hope that some day soon he might once again be blessed with all that he treasured and loved.
When Loukas realized no words could ever express the depth of his gratitude, he held Destiny in a fervent stare. He sighed deeply and raised his palms toward her to show his indebtedness.
“O, mortal wanderer, fare thee well,” Destiny said. She placed a hand on each of Loukas’s shoulders and met his stare with serene certainty. Loukas would forever hold close to his heart the surge of compassion he felt at Destiny’s gentle touch.
Moments later, the bearded attendant returned and dropped to one knee before Destiny. Once he stood, he waved Loukas to follow him. Loukas bowed grave thanks to Destiny and left the room on the heels of the attendant.
Loukas soon stood with the attendant at the head of the path that would lead him back through the forest and then onto the road that would take him to his seaside village.
As Loukas started off, he heard Destiny, Ilion, and Luna singing to him in one compelling voice:
“May trust light your way.
May courage be your guide.
May victory be your reward.”
At once, a palace steward poured a bucket of water onto the path to wish Loukas a journey as peaceful as a gently flowing river.
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