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“Are you sure this will work?”
“Of course it’ll work. I’ll stroll into town, trade a few wine-skins, offer a few sips, find out where your boys might be and bring them back. No worries.”
“So why this?”
Hera gazed out at the dawning sun, her face cold and stony despite the golden rays that would normally lift her spirits. She had had enough of all of this. Enough of being belittled by Zeus, her husband and her brother. She never wanted to be ‘his queen’. As an offspring of Cronos she should have had as much power as her three brothers. And, having conceded to Zeus in order to claim her throne she then had to watch as he ruined that contract, cavorting after other lesser goddesses and even mortals. Well, no more.
Today brought a new dawn for the gods. She will gather the Olympians together, break the news that Zeus, Poseidon and Ares have been killed and raise an army of divine retribution on the mortals and the nymph responsible.
By dusk she will be Queen of Olympus in her own right and bring an end to the chaos and uncertainty. A smile flickered at the corners of her mouth. It was time to begin.
She swept towards the door, commanded it open before her and almost collided with the figure waiting patiently on the other side.
“Going somewhere, Hera?” asked Artemis.
“I was just about to call a meeting- ”
“Good. Because a little bird tells me that my father is dead and you’ve known for days.”
“Whatever you’ve heard- ”
“Save it for the Council, Hera”.
Hera glared at the Goddess of the Hunt. Curse that Eris, she thought. Mischief over loyalty every damn time.
“Whatever did you expect, Micon?”
The sailor sat on his wooden bunk examining his bent bronze pin. Behind him, a small section of wall had been gouged out below the tiny window. It was just big enough to place his inflamed nose into.
Philippus grunted as he eased his legs into what he’d wrongly hoped would be a less painful position. “Face it. We’re not getting out of here. We’re off to Troy for a quick and bloody fight. Perhaps if we get chance we might be able to leg it in the confusion and hope that we don’t get killed by the Trojans.”
Micon sighed, glumly. “Have you ever been in a battle, then?”
“No, not really. There was a bit of a scrap a few years ago when our village had to clear some buggers off our grazing land. I was about fifteen, so just about old enough to join in. Sticks and stones mostly. Lots of shouting. A bit of blood. Not sure you could call it a battle, though.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember my uncle telling us about that. They were from Astakos, weren’t they?” Micon threw the pin at the door of their cell. “So, this fight, was it quick?”
“It didn’t last long at all. Once their leader had been clubbed on the head they ran off. I don’t suppose the Trojans are going to be quite so easy.”
“So it might take days?”
Philippus snorted. “Could be weeks, mate.”
Micon said nothing but slumped back against the wall, hands on his head.
“Yep,” continued Philippus, “even if we survive and escape from Silichtypo’s army we’re facing the prospect of losing a huge chunk of the year. In a few months’ time we’re into storm season. Fewer traders out and about. I doubt we’ll be back in Kefalonia soon.”
Micon stood up and leant his forehead against the door, palms splayed on the rough wood, his longing to be outside clear. “I don’t care about Kefalonia.”
Philippus ran his tongue over his swollen lip, wondering what to say. Micon was dangerously obsessed with Nadina but he wasn’t sure how to tell him to forget her and try to get on with life as best he could. He decided to try a different tack.
“Yeah, stuff Kefalonia. Hey, remember when we saw you staring at our ship? And your uncle cuffed your ear for having flights of fancy about trading knick-knacks instead of landing fish. You still ran away with us to see the world, though. Mycenae… Knossos and that weird bull market. Nafplion and Argos – hey, we got some great deals there, didn’t we? And still more to see. Remember those stories old captain Iason kept telling us? Warriors from dragon’s teeth! Honestly, I didn’t believe a word of it at the time but after what we’ve seen over the past week I’m having second thoughts.” He smiled and shook his head. Micon turned and slid down the door to sit on the bare earth of the cell. “There are still places to go, Micon, people to meet, fortunes to be won.”
“People to save.”
“Yes, exactly.” Philippus frowned. “Well…” He could see where this was going. “Look, mate, she’ll be fine. She doesn’t need you to protect her, she’s more than capable of looking after herself. If anything, we need her more than she needs us.”
“Yeah.” Micon picked up the bent pin and scratched into the dirt.
“And she’s a nymph. She’ll be around long after you and I have crossed the Styx. I know it’s difficult but you just need to move on.”
“Yeah.” Scratch scratch scratch.
“Plenty more fish in the sea, eh?”
“Yeah.” Scratch scrape stab.
“I mean, a mortal sailor and a supernatural spirit that was the daughter of Zeus and an island? It couldn’t work, could it?”
“I don’t know.” Micon threw the pin across the room. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!”
Philippus took a deep breath and decided to say nothing with it.
Micon thumped the wooden frame of the bed. “What I do know is that I want to be with her. And I think she wants to be with me.”
“I don’t know!”
“This is the point I’m trying to make, Micon. She’s been a captive on that island for years and suddenly she’s experiencing an enormous new world. She might not want to hang around with us, with you, for the next gods-knows-how-long. She’s free. Let her stay free.”
The silence swirled around the two of them for a while, a charged atmosphere of longing, frustration and pain. The morning sun shone through the tiny window and struggled through the cracks where the timbers were not covered in mud and plaster, picking out floating motes of dust.
There was a cough from the other side of the door. “Umm, knock knock?” said a voice.
The two sailors stared at each other in the gloom. Micon got up and sat on the bed next to where his friend remained sprawled on the floor. “Yes? Hello?” he answered.
There was the sound of a metal bolt being removed and the door slowly swung open. A head surrounded by dark, curly locks poked through. “Alright, you blokes?”
The sailors gawped at the head.
“For what it’s worth,” continued the head as shoulders and an arm followed it around the door, “I think you need to get back to Nadina and ask her what she thinks about it all, instead of just making wild assumptions.”
“You’re Dionysus,” said Philippus.
“Yeah, hi. Umm, about last time, I’m sorry things got a bit out of hand. I realise now that it’s all a bit more complicated than I thought. So, anyway, I’m here to get you out and back to your freaky boat and your odd-ball crew.”
“How did you find us?” asked Micon.
“Well, I loosened a few tongues but to be honest all I needed to do was follow the sound of your whinging.” He squinted at the shapes cowering at the end of the cell. “Cripes, you’ve had a bit of a going over. Here, take a sip of this.” He held out a small wineskin. The sailors stared at it.
“How do we know we can trust you?” said Philippus.
“Ah, give a fella a break, can’t ya? I messed up but now I’m here to do the right thing.”
“And what about Xanthius?”
“We’ll work that out later. He’s a top bloke, no mistake, but you’ve got to admit he looks a bit… off colour. Here, drink this.” He chucked the wineskin at Micon who caught it and carefully pulled out the stopper. He gave it a sniff.
“I don’t know, Micon. It could be a trap.”
“We’re already trapped, Phil.”
“Hey, this should convince you,” said the young god stepping fully into the cell and pulling a bag off his shoulder. He put the bag down and removed a wooden box, placing it in front of Micon. He lifted the lid and the sailors peered inside.
A tiny satyr and a miniature centaur waved up at them.
“Oh – my – gods!” gasped Micon. “What in Hades have you done to them? You monster!”
“Ah, no, look, you’ve misunderstood…” said Dionysus, trying to calm the enraged mortals.
Micon grabbed the box and held it close. “Don’t worry Amykos, Sastrios, we’ll find a way to get you back to normal.” He glared at the god. “How could you? They gave you hospitality and you do this to them?”
Philippus was fascinated by the diminutive duo and squinted at them through blackened and bruised eyes. He tapped Micon on the shoulder. “They’re trying to tell us something. Perhaps we should listen to what it is.”
They carefully leaned their ears towards the box. A tiny, high-pitched voice came from the micro-Amykos. “It’s alright, my friends. We agreed to do this to help you escape. We’re all here to help.” The mini Sastrios nodded and gave two thumbs up.
“Hmm,” said Micon, grudgingly. “They say that we should trust you.”
“Finally.” Dionysus rolled his eyes and raked a hand through his hair. “Great. Now drink the bloody wine. It’ll make you feel a lot better.” The god sat on the bunk next to Micon while they quaffed. Philippus could feel the pain draining away, replaced with a warm contentment.
After a few minutes of slurping and stretching they were almost back to normal, facial aesthetics not withstanding. Dionysus had discovered that alcohol was curiously effective at making other people look attractive but did little for the beauty of the imbiber.
“So,” said Philippus, “what’s the plan?”
The god shrugged. “Walk back to the boat. Simple as.”
“Is that it? Don’t we have to be carried out in a basket or something?”
“I can shrink you if you want?”
“Um, does it hurt?”
Philippus looked at the tiny figures in the box. They waggled their hands to express that it wasn’t entirely without discomfort. The god tutted and put the lid on them.
“I’ll walk, thanks.” A thought occurred to him. “What about guards? There’s bound to be a guard.”
“Right, fine. After you, then.” He opened the door for Dionysus who put the wooden box in his bag, slung his luggage over his shoulders and strode out. The sailors followed him up a few stone steps and came to a snoring soldier curled up on the floor. Philippus glared at the guard. “Can I kick him?”
“Best not, eh?”
“He’s got your knife,” said Micon pointing at the battered long bronze blade propped against the wall.
“Right, well I’m having that back for starters.” He tucked it back into his belt. “And I’m having his spear and shield as well.”
Dionysus shook his head. “You’re not making it easy to be inconspicuous.”
“Neither is his face,” said Micon.
“Have you seen your nose?” asked Philippus with a scowl.
“I’m having difficulty seeing anything but my nose, thank you.”
“Have you two finished?” The wine god gave them both a hard stare and turned to the exit. “Mortals. Tsk. Bloody nightmare.”
They slipped out of the doorway into a narrow street lined with high walls. Across a junction a be-cloaked beggar was sheltering in the shade, bent over a short staff. There was no-one else in sight. Dionysus set off around the nearest left turn but immediately halted and they collided into his back. “Soldiers!” he hissed over his shoulder. They shuffled back into the narrow street. “They’re marching around the marketplace.”
“How many?” asked Philippus.
“About a dozen. Fully armed.”
Micon looked over his shoulder. King Silichtypo had appeared at the other end of the street chatting to what looked like a couple of his lieutenants, the Upastraptos. They hadn’t yet noticed the escapees but all they had to do was look up. “We can’t go the other way either,” he whispered.
“Back inside, quick,” said Dionysus.
“I say, you there!” An aristocratic cry came from the top end of the street. The king and his henchmen were pointing at them.
“Shit,” said the god. “Look, keep them busy, I just need a moment.” He ducked back inside.
“Keep them busy?” gasped Micon. “What does he think we can do? Ask them to put up some shelves?”
“I’ll have the bastards,” said Philippus grimly. He passed the spear to Micon, drew his long knife from his belt and positioned his shield against the king. “It’s payback time.”
Micon looked up at the advancing trio and the memory of a shield crunching into his face swam before his eyes. He lowered the spear and was reassured that the sharp end was pointing towards the enemy. A ‘moment’ was what Dionysus needed. Micon wondered how long a ‘moment’ was, whether a battle could be won and lost in that time and whether he was going to survive to find out the answers.