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“You’ve got a nymph on this island?” asked Micon. He glanced at Nadina with concern. She suddenly looked very vulnerable and confused.
“Yes, she’s a Dryad, I think,” said Amykos. “Very into trees.”
Nadina took a step towards the centaur. “Take me to her.”
The two sailors looked at each other in alarm. Philippus shrugged. “It’s her choice, Micon.”
“Nadina, don’t listen to them,” said Micon. “What if it’s a trap?”
Amykos chuckled. “Why would we want to trap you? You’re our guests. But I understand; you’re concerned about your friend’s safety. Two of us, potentially a third, against one beautiful nymph.”
“Yes,” said Philippus, “just enough for you to think that it’s possible to over-power her but not enough to come back alive.”
Sastrios looked up at the centaur with a frown. “I think I’d rather stay with the men. You can take the nymph to Galapera. As much as I’d love to see her face,” the satyr added, “I’d rather not get impaled on that spear due to a silly misunderstanding.”
The centaur nodded. “Splendid. As wise as ever, eh, Sastrios? Now then, dear lady, if you’d like to follow me?” He turned and clopped quietly through the trees. Nadina placed her helmet back on to her head, adjusted her spear and tattered cloak and set off behind the centaur.
“Why can’t we all go together?” asked Micon.
“Ah, well,” said Sastrios, “Galapera doesn’t really like blokes. Amykos gets on alright with her but she used to throw stones at me to keep me away. I mean, we’re fine now but it took ages for her to even talk to me. Not really sure what her problem was.”
Philippus glanced down at the satyr’s permanently erect, uncovered member. It was as long as his forearm and curved cheekily back towards the creature’s chest. “No, I really have no idea what could have made her so wary of you.”
“I know, right? Some people are so uptight.” The satyr sighed. “Story of my life. Anyway, let’s get back to the house and sort you out with some refreshments.”
“I don’t suppose you have any wine, do you?” asked Philippus. “It’s just that we haven’t had a drop in about a month.”
Sastrios looked away, shoulders stiffening slightly. “No. No wine. Sorry.”
“Oh well, never mind,” said Philippus, “lead on.”
The satyr nodded and began to make his way back along the faint path he and Amykos had been walking along before coming across the travellers. Philippus followed behind, knife in hand, casually swiping at vegetation with an implicit indication that he wasn’t entirely at ease and was not the kind of sailor a lone satyr should try and attack. Micon took one last glance at Nadina as she disappeared amongst the foliage and considered praying to the gods to ensure her safety. Realising the foolishness and hypocrisy of that thought, he set off after Philippus with anxiety biting into his heart.
The route Amykos led Nadina along climbed steadily as they headed further inland. She noted the flora and fauna of this island was very similar to her own which she found reassuring. A home from home; perhaps life away from her birthplace might, in the right circumstances, be tolerable. Perhaps enjoyable. Her thoughts were interrupted by Amykos who felt a need, as host, to make polite conversation.
“So, have you come far?”
Nadina had very little concept of how big the world really was nor of how far they had travelled. She decided that telling a little of the truth as she understood it was probably the best answer. “A couple of days’ sailing.” She knew that the Sun Barge had travelled faster than a normal boat and so doubled the time they had actually spent at sea.
“Oh, so not too far. We must be almost neighbours. We’ll have to arrange a return visit at some point.”
Nadina remained tight lipped.
“Or not,” conceded the centaur. “We rarely get out and about these days, anyway. I’ve got four strong lower limbs and none of them are sea-legs; I’m afraid I’m just too clumsy to be a sailor. And Sastrios gets seasick stepping in a puddle.”
Nadina maintained a dignified silence in relation to her own sailing skills, merely tramping along behind.
Amykos continued with his chit-chat. “But it’s nice to have visitors. Don’t get enough, to be honest. The occasional merchant ship blown off course… that’s always entertaining. We have to dress up to look more human so that we don’t scare them off. Easier for Sastrios than me, obviously. The last time we wore a disguise he tied twigs and branches all over my lower half so it looked like I was perfectly normal human standing in a bush. I’m sure they didn’t suspect a thing. Well, they didn’t until I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to move. I can laugh about it now but I was absolutely mortified at the time, hahaha!”
Nadina wondered if Amykos ever managed more than a minute without inane chatter. She began to feel sorry for Sastrios.
“But we’ve never had a nymph visit before. As I said, I believe Galapera is a Dryad. Do you belong to any specific branch of nymph-hood, Nadina?”
“No,” said Nadina.
Amykos nodded, thoughtfully. She was a strange old stick, and no mistake. Very sparing with her words, very serious in her mood. Very well muscled, especially for a nymph. And armed too. They were usually pale and flighty gals, prone to episodes giggling and what-not. Not really his thing. But then again, Galapera wasn’t your average nymph either, he thought with a smirk. They rounded a bend and he spotted Galapera tending her plants, as usual. He called out to her and waved.
Nadina took in the scene with a keen eye. A sheltered glade, fed with fresh spring water that bubbled quietly from the rocky outcrop to her right, the higher than usual number of saplings that formed a shield to the prevailing wind on the left, the carefully nurtured vegetable plot that took up the majority of the glade, and the small hut made of wood and earth that sat in the background. But her attention was drawn to the figure slowly rising from her knees; sun-worn shoulders and bare chest topped by short, greying hair above a surprised face.
“What’s all this, Amykos?” said the weathered gardener, sharply. “I won’t be doing with any warriors that you’ve found, no matter how heroic they claim to be.”
“Relax, my dear,” the centaur boomed with a smile, “don’t be fooled by the helmet and spear. This isn’t a soldier; this is Nadina, a nymph. Like you.”
“She don’t look like it.”
Nadina removed her helmet and pushed her pale cloak over a shoulder to reveal her very female body.
“Bugger me,” exclaimed Galapera. She brushed dirt from her hands and strode towards her visitors. “Let’s have a look at you.” She stopped a few paces short of Nadina and squinted into the young nymph’s face. She grunted and span on a dusty bare heel and stomped back towards her hut. “Come along, dear, let’s have a drink and a chat in the shade.”
Nadina looked at the centaur and raised an eyebrow. He gestured for her to follow the older woman and Nadina stepped forward.
“Erm, Galapera?” Amykos called out.
“Yes, thank you, Amykos, but this is going to be woman’s talk,” said Galapera without breaking stride.
“Piss off, Amykos,” she reiterated.
“Right you are,” agreed the centaur with noticeable disappointment. He turned and, with a sigh, began the walk back home.
Galapera was waiting in the doorway, observing with a critical eye when Nadina reached the dwelling. “Come in, lass, make yourself at home.”
Nadina had never been inside a house of any kind before and was uncertain of what was expected of her. She ducked her head and tentatively stepped inside. The hut was a little stuffy but pleasantly cool; a small wicker-work bed topped with old blankets sat in one corner with a rough wooden table in another. An earthenware pot of water sat on the table alongside a couple of small bronze knives. In the middle of the leaf-covered earth floor stood a slightly wonky wicker-work chair, tied together with rough vine-based string. Galapera stepped around her and positioned the chair so that it faced the bed. “Go on, get yourself sat down,” she said bluntly as she lowered herself onto the bed and wrapped a fraying shawl around her shoulders.
Nadina tested the chair’s stability with her hand and then copied Galapera’s actions, carefully settling down onto the seat. She looked at the older woman. The older woman stared back.
Nadina took a deep breath. “Have you met any other nymphs before?”
“The odd one,” said Galapera, cagily.
“Then that’s more than me. I have had, let’s say, a lonely upbringing.”
“Aye. I can see that you’ve got a lot of weight on your shoulders.”
“And I can see that you’ve had a turbulent life,” replied Nadina.
“Oh, you can, can you?” said Galapera, crossing her arms.
Nadina looked around the room before resting her eyes back on the older woman. “You’re not a nymph, are you?”
“All this. I never needed any of this on my island. I was born of the island and took everything I needed from it directly.”
Galapera didn’t bat an eyelid. “Well, la-di-bloody-da.”
Nadina stared back at her, waiting. Galapera slumped backwards on the bed and waved her hand dismissively. “Fine. Yes, you’re right. I’m not a nymph. I’m as mortal as they come. But don’t tell that pair of hairy pillocks.”
“Amykos and Sastrios?”
“Yes, they’ve been under the illusion that I’m a Dryad ever since they arrived here about five year ago.”
“Why did they think that?”
“I dunno. I think Amykos said that I must be a Dryad because I were always tending my plants and trees.”
“Perhaps he was just making polite conversation. He does like to talk.”
“That he does,” agreed Galapera. “But now I’m stuck living another bloody lie because of stupid men.”
Nadina nodded. She knew something about that herself. Even though Galapera wasn’t a nymph, she was the first straight-talking woman she’d ever met. To be fair though, she conceded, she was actually only the second woman she’d ever met, the first being Hera who had manipulated her upbringing, her outlook and her physiology and then turned her into a frog. Galapera had a lot going for her in comparison.
“Come on then, chuck,” said the not-really-a-nymph, “I can see you’ve had a torrid old time; tell me all about it.”
“She’s not really a nymph,” said Sastrios as he poured fresh water into some wooden cups for the two sailors. “She’s just some daft old bird we found on the island when we came here. Harmless enough but very direct and no-nonsense. And stubborn. Amykos called her a nymph when he first started to talk to her and she’s clung to the story ever since. Perhaps she thinks she’s safer with a supernatural persona. I know a lot of humans get a bit freaked out when they’re confronted with centaurs.”
“You think it’s just centaurs? Not satyrs too?” enquired Philippus innocently.
“Nah, it’s definitely the barbaric strength and bloodlust of the centaurs. They’re well known for it. Not Amykos, obviously, he’s as calm and charming as anyone I’ve ever met, which is one of the reasons we’re living out here, away from all that prejudice and name-calling.”
Philippus nodded, encouraging him to continue.
“But satyrs? We’re just playful woodland folk who like music and dancing.”
“Who chase nymphs for hedonistic sex,” added Micon.
“Who told you that?” said Sastrios with a frown.
“I thought it was common knowledge,” said Micon.
“Yes,” agreed Philippus, “even I had heard that. I mean, one of the most obvious things about satyrs is… you know…”
“What?” asked Sastrios, puzzled.
“Your old man? The soldier permanently on duty? The ever-present salute?” said Philippus.
Sastrios blinked with incomprehension. Micon didn’t know where to look and was glowing bright red in embarrassment.
“Your cock,” explained Philippus.
“What about it?”
“It’s, well, it’s a bit noticeable, isn’t it?”
“Not the thing,” explained Micon, “that will encourage people, especially women, to come closer.”
“I’ve never had any complaints before,” said the satyr folding his arms defensively.
“And yet you told us that Galapera threw stones at you to keep you away,” reminded Philippus.
“I don’t see what that’s got to do with it. Amykos has a bigger one than me. He’s literally hung like a donkey.”
“But,” said Micon, “it’s hidden by a forest of legs. It’s not the first thing you see, is it?”
“And,” said Philippus, “it’s not ready for action, primed for immediate use. Whereas any female looking at your sturdy implement will assume that she’s about to get ploughed. If I was a woman I’d throw stones at you. Actually, I’d probably keep a knife handy, too.”
The stayr’s eyes widened as realisation finally dawned. “You think she thinks I’m…? That I would…? But I… Oh…”
“Exactly,” said Micon.
Sastrios glanced down at his lap. A single eye on a long stalk winked back. “Oh, dear.”
The mortals glanced at each other, not sure how to proceed. Fortunately, they heard the soft scuffling noise of approaching hooves and looked up to see Amykos enter the rough-hewn wooden house.
“What ho, fellows!” he declared. “I’ve left Nadina with Galapera and I’m sure they’ve got many nymph-related tales to tell.” He knelt down so that he could rest his elbows on the table the other three sat around. “So, tell me all about yourselves. Is it just the three of you, out on the high seas?”
One of the sailors nodded whilst the other shook his head. They looked at each other again.
“It’s complicated,” said Philippus.
“Everything is, these days,” muttered Sastrio, still looking down at his lap.
“We’ve left a crewmate down with our boat,” explained Micon.
“Oh, the poor man. Well, you should definitely bring him up for some jolly refreshments.”
“Um, he doesn’t really need them,” said Micon.
“I told you it was complicated,” said Philippus.
“Nonsense,” said Amykos, “he should come up and we will enjoy his company.”
“I’m not sure you would,” said Micon, “he’s a bit of an acquired taste”.
“Yes,” added Philippus, “mainly seaweed and gristle.”