Nearly at a run, Loukas hurried southward. Sometime later, he came to a sudden stop just short of the valley shrouded by a thick curtain of vapor. He recalled coming upon this ghostly place on his way to Destiny’s palace. The memory set his heart pounding and pressed him to focus all of his attention on the trials he would have to endure along the path before ever making his way back to his village. When the rising vapors caused Loukas’s eyes to sting, he forced himself to sprint past the valley’s poisoned air.
Much later, he again came to the stretch of ravaged countryside. As before, he wondered if this horrid wasteland was a harsh omen. Was this place a warning that fate would once more oblige him to forfeit his honor at the hand of the merchant? He shuddered to think of a life bound by fate’s whims.
Not long after clearing the wasteland’s stench, the path’s quaking warned Loukas that beyond the next bend he would find the furious pair of bewitched mountains.
All unfolded according to Ilion’s plan. Loukas stumbled off the path and took shelter in a stand of firs where he had a clear view of the mountains’ strained movements. As soon as they were wrenched backward, grumbling with each labored thrust, Loukas sprinted through the path’s opening.
Loukas’s breath came in short bursts as he scuttled to safety. From there, he shouted out Destiny, Sun, and Moon’s warning above the mountains’ frightful din.
“Listen well, beleaguered mountains of Meander Pass. Destiny, Sun, and Moon have cautioned the two of you to hold to their decree, saying: ‘If the pair of you ever again expect to be admired by humans and creatures that come your way, you must weaken the power of your brutish storms, rockfalls, and tremors.’”
“So be it, then,” spluttered the mountain on the right, plodding forward.
“Once again that rogue Destiny and her tricksters Sun and Moon have determined to deny us the wonder of satisfying our bold and daring feats,” roared the mountain on the left with a lurch.
Relieved to leave the mountains behind, Loukas ran down a steep incline that took him far beyond the pair’s hideous struggle.
Later that day, when Ilion had passed his summit, Loukas knew from the ugly stench drifting toward him that the river giant Kimon was close at hand.
As soon as Loukas reached the desolate riverbank, Kimon charged out of the woods and settled on the crest of a steep embankment. His grotesque hulk loomed above Loukas.
“Now then, make haste and come out with it,” howled the giant. “What judgment did the cold-hearted tyrants send my way this time, eh?”
“Standing before Destiny, Moon, and Sun, I pleaded for you with the sincerity of a priest,” Loukas called at the top of his voice.
“When they came to their decision,” continued Loukas as he stumbled up a sheer slope and onto the forest pathway, “they told me to report that the saving rains you crave will once again come your way when you calm your mighty surges and control the currents racing through the lowlands.”
Kimon flailed his flippers. He let fly a painful wail that shook trees and sent a tremor through the ground.
Loukas felt the shaking earth as he bolted down the path that took him far from Kimon’s madness.
As daylight edged toward dusk, Loukas wended his way through a grassy meadow. A veil of dense fog suddenly shrouded the path.
From within the fog came the voices of the three sisters—ethereal, melodious, inviting.
“Fearless pilgrim, come linger awhile with us. Fear not,” the sisters sang in unison. “Oh, do tell the fate Destiny has assigned our desire for blissful love.”
Loukas screwed up his face in fear and peered into the fog. “When I told Destiny, Sun, and Moon of your yearning for love, they came together to judge your plea,” Loukas cried. He took wide steps backward with the hope of escaping the fog and the sisters’ temptation.
“Destiny came forward with a verdict about the love you seek,” Loukas said as he tottered into the waning light of the setting sun.
“Truth be told,” Loukas called to the sisters, “Destiny issued this decree for you to obey: ‘Tell those beguiling enchantresses that enduring love will be theirs to cherish once they cease haunting humans with terrifying enchantments.’”
By the time the sisters’ menacing cries caught up with Loukas in a language he did not understand, he was tearing down the path. At that very moment, daylight was seeping from the countryside and the moonless sky was darkening.
Throughout the night, Loukas’s heavy footfalls startled creatures he could hear but not see in the darkness. Whimpering critters scampered across his path. Nighthawks screamed as they flew out of their nests. Bats circled overhead, their chirps recalling high-pitched flute vibes.
As dawn moved in, owls’ cries drifted through the stillness of the countryside. “TOO-WHIT, TOO-WHIT, TOO-WHIT, TOO-WOO,” they called.
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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