Sastrios galloped up the well-worn path to the hut he’d shared with Amykos for several years. He’d only been away for one night but that was enough to make him realise how much he missed his bed and the warm comforting smells of home. He trotted into the clearing outside the hut and was just reaching for the door when he noticed the spears propped up against the outside wall. Bronze-tipped war spears. A belch and laughter came from within.
A voice followed the laughter. “Well, that wine was very nice, but it looks like this turd of an island has no-one here to tell us more about Menelaus and Troy. Grab anything you fancy and let’s get back to the ship.”
“Are we heading back to Thessaly then, sir?” asked another voice.
“We need answers before we can return to Phthia. We keep looking until we find out what’s going on.”
The satyr backed away and sprinted down the path to warn the others.
Voices filtered through the trees causing Galapera to stop dead. Male voices, close by. “No sign of anyone,” said one. “Looks like they saw us coming and ran off to hide somewhere.”
“Just as well, I suppose,” said a second voice. “Saves a lot of bother.”
Galapera peeped through the bushes surrounding her garden and saw two soldiers poking through the soil and extracting anything that looked edible. She pushed through the foliage. “What in bloody Tartarus are you buggers up to, eh? Get tha’ thieving mits off me veg.”
The two soldiers squatting in the soil looked up in alarm. A third stepped out of her hut, holding one of her knives. “Looks like we’ve found the resident. Bit of a crone, eh, lads?”
“Piss off,” said Galapera striding up to him. “You don’t scare me. I’ve seen off better men than arse-wipes like you.”
The soldier grabbed her by the throat and pointed the knife at her face. “And I’ve shagged better women than you. And thrown their screaming bodies from cliff tops. But I’ll still make time to do you as well. Get some rope, boys. There’s some in the hut.”
“Yes, Cradeus,” said one of the vegetable-gatherers and scrambled off to look in the hut.
Galapera opened her mouth to shout but Cradeus clamped his hand over her mouth and swung her around into a choke-hold in the crook of his arm. As he dragged her towards the hut she kicked a heel backwards, as hard and as high as she could manage. The soldier collapsed in agony, testicles throbbing. As Galapera tried to scramble away she was grabbed by the third soldier who made sure to keep away from the old woman’s vicious feet and nails.
“Tie her up and gag her,” ordered Cradeus in between gasps and groans. He took a deep breath and winced. “I just need a minute or so. You can both have a go after I’m done.”
The sound of scampering feet pattered down through the trees causing Amykos to pause and look up with a frown. Sastrios skittered to a halt in front of him, panting heavily. He pointed a finger back the way he’d come. “Soldiers,” he gasped. “In our hut.”
Micon and Philippus looked at each other. Philippus shook his head. “They can’t be the ones we’ve just left. There’s no way they could have beaten us here. They have to be a different bunch.”
“From Thessaly,” said Sastrios, gulping in air. “Said something about Troy.”
Micon shuddered. “I don’t care who they are, but I don’t want any more weapons pointed at me.”
“I concur,” said Amykos, “let’s withdraw and wait for them to leave.”
“I’ll check on Galapera,” said Nadina and ran back down to the path to the fork that branched up the hill to the old woman’s hut.
“I’m comin’ too,” growled Xanthius as he shambled off after her.
The others watched them go, wondering what to do next. Dionysus took the initiative, following them. “Probably best to head back to the ship, yeah?”
Micon and Philippus set off down the path while Amykos and Sastrios looked the other way, in the direction of their home.
Amykos put his arm around the satyr’s shoulder and hugged Sastrios to him. “We’ll be back soon. We just need to wait until they’ve gone.” Sastrios nodded and they plodded off down the track.
The nymph slid her war helmet over her head as she strode towards Galapera’s hut, spear gripped in the other hand ready for any trouble. Xanthius caught up with her, his bones and remaining cartilage softly clacking under his black cloak. Neither of them spoke, hoping that Galapera was alone and unharmed but ready to take action if not. They slowed their steps as they approached the top of the hill and could hear men talking.
“I’m going to make her wish she’s never been born,” snarled one voice.
“Perhaps we should just take this stuff and go, Cradeus,” said another.
There came a whining imitation of the second voice followed by the sound of a blow. “Call yourself a soldier? You soft piece of shit. You’re going to rape that old whore while I watch and then you’re going to slit her throat.”
Nadina stepped into view. “Leave now or die.”
The large soldier called Cradeus looked up at her and grinned. “Now that’s more like it. Proper flesh upon which to feast. And she’s come in fancy dress too.”
Another figure appeared behind the warrior nymph, head covered by a black cloak. Cradeus laughed. “Is that your dad, chicken? I’ll make him watch.”
“Where’s the woman?” asked Xanthius with a voice as cold as the deepest ocean trench.
Cradeus flicked his head at his soldiers who stepped forward, swords drawn. Nadina whipped back her arm and let fly. Within the blink of an eye one of the soldiers was knocked backwards, impaled by her spear. His brain had yet to keep up and he waved his sword weakly and tried to continue walking forwards. After one step he sank to the ground, surprised to see a spear shaft sticking out from his body.
Xanthius strode towards the other soldiers, bony fingers reaching for the cloak that hooded his face. “I asked you, where is…” he pulled the cloak away to reveal a skull of hellish fury, “…the woman!”
The remaining soldier staggered and backed away, keeping his sword pointed at the demonic apparition. Xanthius kept going, walking onto the weapon with no effect other than barely audible gratings as it passed through him. He placed his skeletal hands onto the terrified soldier’s head and hissed once more, “Where?”
The soldier had just enough control to stutter the word ‘hut’ before his knees, bladder and bowels all gave way. The undead sailor threw him aside like a soiled rag doll, rage giving him a strength he never possessed in life. He turned towards Cradeus, who had opened the door to the hut and stood defiantly, sword in hand, facing his would-be assailants.
“Take one more step and I’ll kill the old woman.”
Nadina and Xanthius glared at him but halted. “Leave now,” commanded Nadina.
“No, you back away. I will leave but I’m taking the old woman with me to stop you from trying anythi- ”
His voice was cut off by a long thin knife being thrust through the nape of his neck and exploding through his throat. Eyes bulging, he dropped his sword and reached up to his throat, blood spurting down his chest and over his hands. As he began to stoop over a foot pushed hard against the small of his back and he crashed face first into the earth. His legs cycled a few times and then lay still.
Galapera walked out of her hut, bloodied knife still in her hand, and spat on the body. “Threaten to rape me, tie me up in me own bloody bed with me own bloody rope and not check to see if you’ve left any of my own bloody knives lying around? Especially the one I keep under my pillow. Dickhead.” She spat on him again.
She looked up at her would-be rescuers. “So. More sodding soldiers, then. Happen we ought to get back to the boat before we have to kill more of the bastards.”
Eris stood inside the king’s palace in the guise of the herald, Mataki. The hall was deserted, Silichtypo having scuttled away. Eris strode through the building, which didn’t take long, it being barely bigger than a Cretan merchant’s house. She found an anxious guard outside one of the doors; he tentatively raised his spear to block her progress.
“I am Mataki, herald of Menelaus. I wish to see the King.”
The guard swallowed. “The King is in his bedchamber and will not be disturbed.”
“Well, who is next in command of this accursed island?”
“That would be the Upastraptos,” said a voice behind Eris. She turned to see the elderly servant, Matinus, holding a tray of refreshments for the King. Eris eyed the tray and considered taking the servant’s form to press the King for answers. But then she remembered that Silichtypo was an idiot. Perhaps his lieutenants would be more useful.
“And where can I find them?”
“They are recovering in their quarters, a house in the palace gardens.”
The goddess-in-herald’s clothing pushed past the servant and headed out into the bright sunlight that enveloped the gardens. A few strides later she was at the open door of a small house, evidently the palace barracks. It looked like any more than six men would have to be very good friends indeed to stay here for any length of time. Eris stepped inside and sniffed; despite the open door the room smelled of sweat and vomit. Three of the rudimentary cots were inhabited by men stripped of clothing, although each had a cloak or blanket over their head to protect their senses from outside assault, there being plenty of banging going on inside their skulls already.
Eris used her herald’s staff to prod the closest figure. It took three attempts before the man groaned and tried to waft the offending interruption away. The Goddess of Mischief was thoroughly enjoying herself. She took a jug from a table in the corner and splashed the dregs of water onto the groaning man. Once that was depleted, and with the man still not properly awake, her eyes fell upon a piss-pot full to the brim. Her instinct said, Yes! Do it! But the more rational part of her mind realised that she still had to question the man and she absolutely did not want to do that if he reeked of stale urine. She made do with a satisfying kick to his ribs.
Little Upastrapto threw his blanket from his head and glared, somewhat blearily, up at his assailant. The handsome herald who had led them to the sailors smiled down at him. “My apologies,” said the herald, “but you were very hard to waken.”
The soldier rubbed his side, and tentatively swung his feet to the floor. His head pounded with every beat of his heart, which was currently racing thanks to the sudden assault.
“ …” said Upastrapto, due to his mouth being drier than sun-scorched sand. He reached down the other side of the bed and retrieved a cup of water that still contained a warm mouthful. He swigged it down and finally managed a husky, “What?”
“I am Mataki, herald of Menelaus…”
Upastrapto nodded (delicately) and waved his hand to hurry up the explanation.
“… and I want to understand what happened this morning. The sailors escaped, yes? How? Who came for them?”
As the soldier groggily recounted the events that ended with several soldiers being incapacitated, one thing stood out to Eris. The sailors and the skeleton were accounted for, but there was no mention of the warrior nymph nor the old mortal. And how had the satyr and the centaur got here? She was sure that they had not been aboard their bizarre boat.
And someone else had been present as well: a tall young male. Could the nymph have changed her shape? Eris doubted it. So who was it? She questioned the soldier further, concentrating on events prior to the escape.
“I don’t know all the details,” said Little Upastrapto, massaging his temples, “but I heard that there was a man asking questions early in the morning and giving the townspeople some wine… and the guard on duty was so drunk he was asleep. Come to think of it,” he continued, rubbing his face, “this sickness feels more like a hangover than anything else…”
When he opened his eyes the herald had gone.
“Dionysus?” spat Hera. “What’s he got to do with all of this?”
“I did mention it to you last night, mother. He was sent by Hades to capture the undead creature but it appears that he has allied himself to this strange band of misfits.”
“He himself is a misfit, apparently a god but with a mortal whore for a mother. He has done this to spite me, I’m sure of it.” Hera paced her chamber with fists clenched. “I will have my revenge… if only I can lay my hands on them. We still don’t know where they are.”
Eris gazed out of the window at the marbled courtyards and gardens of Olympus. “I have a hunch I know where they went.”
The young goddess turned to look at her mother with a smile. “It pays to listen to that inner voice sometimes, the one that subconsciously connects other people’s emotional impulses to potential outcomes. It’s what makes me good at what I do.”
“Stop crowing about your powers of insight and tell me where you think they are.”
“They only fled the island of the centaur and satyr because they were pursued by Dionysus. If he is no longer their enemy…”
“They will go back home.” Hera smiled. “Thank you, child. We will descend upon them and they will feel the wrath of Olympus. Gather the others in the hall. Conditions are finally perfect to end this nonsense.”