Of course, if you can’t be bothered to read the previous chapters (or have forgotten what happened) you can make do with this synopsis before launching into part 4.
Philippus and Micon are two shipwrecked sailors who killed a swan when it visited their island. Unfortunately for them, it turned out to be Zeus, King of Olympus. They then managed to kill the God of War, Ares, when he transformed into a wild boar. Due to being on a starvation diet they have roasted and eaten swan-Zeus and were planning on preserving boar-Ares for further sustenance when they were once more interrupted; a mystical female appeared and was shocked that the sailors could actually see her… She assures them that she is on their side…
Philippus stared at the mysterious woman, his hand staying close to the knife tucked into his belt, his mind reeling with what she’d just said. “What do you mean, ‘on our side’? Who are you?”
She ignored him and looked at Micon who was peering anxiously from within their cave some twenty paces behind Philippus. “Is he staying there?”
Philippus didn’t want to fall for any attempt to distract him so kept his eyes on the woman. “Yes, not only is he crushingly shy, his manners around noblewomen are appalling. So he’s agreed to bravely hide in a cave instead.”
The woman returned her gaze to Philippus and raised a shapely black eyebrow. “You think I am a noblewoman?”
“Well, you’re clearly not a fisherman’s wife.”
The woman took a casual step forward, causing Philippus to shift uneasily. She smiled at his discomfort. “Please, relax. I mean you no harm.”
“That’s what’s worrying me.”
She tilted her head to one side and frowned. “I’m sorry? I’m not sure I understand.”
“I’m a strong, young sailor with a big knife. You are apparently an unarmed, refined lady. Yet you tell me to relax, that you mean no harm. Which means that there is probably good reason for me to start worrying that you may spring more surprises. Unpleasant surprises.”
She smiled again. “A sharp knife and a sharp mind. One should always be careful around sharp things.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” said Philippus. “Perhaps if you explain who you are and how you came to be here we could avoid any unexpected injuries.”
“I’m sure you have some ideas. Who do you think I am?”
Philippus huffed in exasperation. “Can we stop playing games? We’ve been on this island for three weeks and haven’t seen a soul. Then you turn up out of nowhere, looking like you’re the queen of Olympus or something. You must be a goddess, but please forgive me for not recognising you; my mother always said I should have paid more attention to the priests when I was a lad.”
The woman bowed her head in acknowledgement. “Very well. I apologise for causing unnecessary annoyance. My name is Hyperia and, as you have guessed, I am not of mortal stock. Although,” she sighed, “I can’t count myself among the great goddesses of Olympus. I am merely a local deity, nymph of this most blessed island, a Naiad of this pool and the spring that feeds it.”
“I am Philippus and the hero in the cave is Micon. We are sailors, originally from Kefalonia, recently shipwrecked. Perhaps, my lady, you can assist us in leaving your island?”
Hyperia narrowed her large, brown eyes. “Leave? Dear Philippus, why would you want to leave my beautiful island?”
He snorted. “Beautiful it may be, but there is nothing to eat here!”
The nymph nodded and smiled wolfishly. “Which brings us rather neatly to your last meal.”
“Ah.” Philippus swallowed and felt his heart start to hammer above his full stomach.
“ ‘Ah’, indeed. You appear to have consumed the vast majority of a large, white swan.”
He nodded, seeing no point in denying it, particularly as she had probably watched Micon clearing away the remains of last night’s feast.
“Tell me,” she continued, “was there anything… unusual about the swan?”
His mouth was dry but he spoke as normally as he could manage. “Other than being the biggest animal we’ve seen on this island since we were shipwrecked? No.” He hoped she couldn’t see through his lie, that he knew it was actually Zeus himself, transformed into a huge bird and, according to what Micon had told him, fresh from a sexual encounter with some queen.
Hyperia stared at him and he felt himself being scrutinised down to his very core. She tutted and continued the questioning. “How did you capture and kill it?”
“Micon distracted it and I ran up from behind with my knife,” he answered, grateful to be able to throw at least one truthful answer her way.
“Is it a magical knife?”
Philippus shrugged. It was just a large bronze knife, with a blade as long as his foot. “Not that I’m aware of. I bought it in Corinth a few years ago. What makes you think it might be magical?”
“Because the swan you killed was actually Zeus, the All-Father, son of Cronos, King of Olympus.”
Philippus had been ready for this and had decided to play the sceptical angle. He pulled what he hoped was a disbelieving expression and snorted. “Get away with you. Don’t be daft. How could I kill a god?”
Hyperia gazed coolly back at him. “That is precisely what I would like to know.”
“What on earth makes you think that it was Zeus?” he asked.
She paused, giving him the distinct impression that she was deciding how much to reveal. “Zeus was last seen in the form of swan with,” she said, with what he thought was some bitterness, “Queen Leda of Sparta. Apparently he was likely to come here. He came here a few times in the past.” She shook her head imperceptibly, caught in disturbing memories.
“But… but surely that’s just a coincidence?” argued the sailor.
The nymph’s brown eyes flared. “Coincidence? You eat a swan and are then able to see me? When I am normally invisible to mortal eyes, unless I wish otherwise?” She pointed at him and Philippus flinched as she continued. “No. You have killed and eaten the king of gods and now you are changed.”
Philippus glanced uncertainly down at his hands. Changed? Into what? He looked back at Hyperia who was almost visibly flickering with emotion. He walked slowly over to the freshwater pool that had kept them alive for the past few weeks. If Hyperia knew about Zeus then perhaps others would too. But what if Hyperia was the only one? He subconsciously patted his knife.
The nymph drew alongside him and stared across the water. “You’re safe. For the time being,” she said. “I can protect you.”
He smiled bitterly. “As much as I appreciate your offer, you said yourself that you are only a minor deity. How are you going to stop the gods of Olympus from punishing us?”
She turned to face him. “Not all of the facts are known… yet. And don’t even think about using that knife on me because I will snap your neck before you can blink.”
He forced himself to relax. “So what do we do?”
“You follow my rules. Firstly, report any unusual creatures you see on this island.”
“What do you mean by unusual?” he asked.
“Anything at all that you didn’t see in your first few weeks on the island. From a gryphon down to a slightly different type of worm.”
“Secondly, don’t kill or eat any animal without my permission.”
Philippus laughed. “Even insects?”
She pondered this for a moment. “Alright, you can eat those. You may as well finish off the swan as well.”
“I’m not sure if I fancy it any more,” he muttered, staring at the water.
Ignoring him, she continued with her list of rules. “Thirdly, don’t even think about leaving this island.”
“Don’t worry, without a boat it’s impossible.”
“And finally, ignore any copper-coloured frogs you come across. Definitely don’t talk to them.”
Philippus slowly rotated his head to look at her. She appeared to be completely serious. “Okay, fine, no conversations with orange frogs.”
She turned away from the pool and looked back at the cave. Micon still loitered nervously at the entrance. “Please make sure that your friend understands. Things may go badly if you disobey.”
As much as he didn’t want to know the answer, he couldn’t help himself. “How badly?”
“It might start with being forced to eat each other’s entrails for all eternity, and then work up to something really unpleasant.” She glanced over her shoulder at him. “I will speak to you later.”
Philippus jolted back from visions of everlasting torture. “Where are you going?”
“That is my business, mortal.” She stretched her arms into the air above her and then she was gone.
He looked around but there was no evidence of any transformation into another creature; she had just vanished. He saw Micon cautiously walking over towards him, so sat down and flicked pebbles into the pool until he arrived.
“You didn’t cut her head off then,” Micon noted.
“Well observed. I do have some manners, you know.”
“So… tell me everything. Who is she?”
“Her name’s Hyperia, she’s the local nymph and she knows that we killed Zeus.”
“You killed Zeus.”
“Yes, while you pissed yourself in terror. You killed Ares.”
“Does she know about that?” asked Micon anxiously.
“No. It’s weird. She knows that we killed and ate a swan, but not how we did it, nor that we knew it was Zeus. And she knows nothing about Ares or his final form as a boar. But she said that she was the nymph of this pool and the spring that feeds it – and all of our god killing took place right next to it. If she wasn’t here, where was she?”
“Did she say anything else?”
“She gave us four rules to obey. Report any sightings of unusual creatures; don’t kill or eat anything without her permission; don’t try and leave the island; and don’t talk to orange frogs.”
“Right…” said Micon slowly.
“As I see it, we’ve broken Rule One already by failing to tell her about Ares. I have no intention of starving to death so the chances are we’re going to tuck into tasty boar at some point and so break Rule Two. And I’m more determined than ever to leave this sodding island and get as far away as possible.”
“Okay…” replied Micon.
“So,” continued his friend, “that’s Rules One, Two and Three either broken or in danger of being so. All we have to do now is chat to an orange frog and that’s a clean sweep.”
“Will this one do?” asked Micon.
Philippus looked at Micon and the shimmering copper-coloured frog that was sitting next to his leg, apparently listening in to their conversation.
“Hello,” said the frog in a reedy croak.
“Oh, for Cronos’s sake,” sighed Philippus.