"That’ll be 1 mina and 5 drachma,” the salesman said, holding out his hand for payment. Xan placed a medium sized sack into the man’s hand, waiting patiently as the man counted out all 75 of the shiny metal coins.
“Alright, you’re good to go. I’m assuming you have something to pull this cart?”
Xan nodded and pointed to his mule. “That brute right there.”
“Bring it around back and I’ll hitch up your cart.”
Xan thanked him and led the animal around the side of the building to where the cart was sitting. The salesman pulled the cart behind the mule, attaching a harness to it and lashing the back of the harness to the cart. The mule shook its head and tugged against the harness.
“You have my gratitude sir.”
“Think nothing of it, you’re an easy customer. Good luck with your business.”
Xan climbed on top of the cart and prodded the mule forward, headed away from town. As the cart bounced back and forth over the rutted road, he thought to himself about this turn of events. He had finally made enough money to begin his own merchant business. He finally had an excuse to travel and see the rest of Greece. He knew that his family would be proud of him, if they were still alive to see him. Things were at last looking up.
He watched the horizon, getting occasional glimpses of farms and homes as gaps in hills allowed. He stopped at a dilapidated sign, jumping off of the cart to examine the faded lettering. He brushed his thumb over the moss, finding the dips in the wood where words at once been etched. Slowly, he made out the word. “Corinth.” So he was on the right path. He remounted the cart, keeping a watchful eye on the sides of the path. If the directions the merchants back in Tiryus had given him were correct, then the inn he was planning on staying in that night wasn’t too much further down this road. He looked up at the sky, shading his eyes before locating the sun.
“Apollo, please give me the light I need to make it to safety.” He wasn’t worried about traveling during the day, but there had been rumors of bandit clans attacking caravans and lone travelers at night. He reached for his kopis instinctively, running his finger over the blackened leather of the hilt.
The light was fading from the sky as Xan stopped his mule and cart at a small inn just off the main road. A young boy ran up to him.
“Sir, would you like me to take your mule to the stable?”
Xan tossed him an obolus and nodded. If you could feed him as well that’d be great.”
“That’ll be an extra triobol sir.”
“That’s fine.” He took out the three coins and handed them to the boy, who promptly began unharnessing the mule from the cart. Xan walked to the door of the inn and stepped inside.
The inn was virtually empty. The innkeeper sat on a low bench next to the hearth, cooking a large hare over the fire. He straightened and turned his head as he heard Xan’s footsteps on the stone floor.
“Ah good. Someone came to keep me company. My name’s Ophelos. Welcome to my inn.”
“Thank you. I’m Xan.”
“Good to meet you. Care to join me? Dinner should be ready within a few minutes.”
“Absolutely. I’m starving.”
As the two men ate, they made small talk, not delving too deeply into each other’s lives. Finally, Ophelos look at Xan and asked, “So, what brings you to this inn in the middle of nowhere?”
Xan chuckled a little and leaned back in his seat. “Headed for Corinth. Trying to obtain some goods and become a merchant. I’ve already got a way to transport the goods. I just need to find someone to trade with.”
“You shouldn’t have much of an issue with that. Just be careful if you trade with merchants in Athens. Their prices and values tend to be different from the surrounding areas. Don’t let them gyp you.”
“Thank you for the advice.”
“Not a problem. Now, I’ll show you to your room for the night.”
They walked to a small room in the corner of the building. Ophelos lifted a curtain of fur out of the way and motioned to the bed. “It’s not much. But it’s warm and relatively comfortable. Set your things down and we’ll have something to drink before I retire for the evening.”
He placed his small pack on the bed and followed Ophelos back to the main room of the inn, sitting back down in his seat as Ophelos poured two tankards of mead. He accepted the tankard and sipped the brew, letting the liquid flow over his tongue before swallowing it.
“This isn’t bad at all. Where did you get it?” he asked.
“Nephew of mine makes it. Ships me a few casks of it every year or so for the festival of Dionysus.”
“It’s good. And getting better the more of it I drink.”
“Careful with it. It’s stronger than you think.”
Xan felt his head getting heavier as Ophelos spoke. “You weren’t kidding. It’s just so hard…to stop…drinking.” His head sagged and the empty tankard hung from his fingertips. Ophelos shook his head with a knowing smile and carried him to his bed.
In his mind, Xan was not in the inn. He was in another place entirely. As he looked around, he saw streets of marble and buildings of marble and gold, with shining beings walking around. The gravity of where he was struck him. Olympus. The home of the gods. He sat up and realized there was one sitting in a chair in front of him. In his hands were a glass of wine and a bunch of grapes.
Xan spoke, quietly, unsure of himself. “Lord Dionysus?”
“Ah, so you recognize me. You’re probably wondering what you’re doing here. Don’t worry, your body is still safely in Ophelos’ inn. Someone here wished to speak with you, and since you drank the mead from my festival, I had the strongest link to you.”
“So this is all in my mind?” Xan looked a bit puzzled, but Dionysus laughed.
“In simple terms yes. However, it is more that your mind is in Olympus. Now, have some grapes, get your wits together, and be prepared to listen. The reason you’re here will be revealed soon enough.”
Dionysus dropped a smaller bunch of grapes in Xan’s lap. Xan hesitantly ate it, his eyes going wide at the taste. “Are they supposed to taste this good?”
“I should hope so. I grew them myself.”
“Thank you.” He continued eating, occasionally looking around at his surroundings. Down the road, he saw a thin figure with wings on his shoes walking towards them. “Is that…Lord Hermes?”
“Indeed it is. Running late as he usually does.” Dionysus laughed again. “I swear, as much as you mortals prize him on speed and quickness, that boy never seems to be in a hurry on Olympus.”
Hermes stopped next to Dionysus and leaned on his staff. “What was that Dionysus?”
“Oh nothing. Just some good natured poking fun.”
“At my expense.”
“You will get over it. It was nothing serious.”
Hermes let out a grunt of acknowledgement and turned to Xan. “Ah, Xan. The would-be merchant on a journey of self-discovery.”
Xan bowed his head and replied, “Yes my lord.”
Hermes shook his head. “You can look at me. You’ll probably need to in order to believe what I’m about to tell you. It’s a lot to stomach, even for the gods.”
Xan looked up at him. “That big?”
Dionysus nodded as Hermes continued. “Do you know what your name means?”
“No my lord. My mother never told me.”
“Xan. Defender of mankind. Do you know why your mother gave you that name?”
“No my lord.”
Hermes leaned forward and looked him right in the eyes. “Because Xan, I told her to. She told you that your father was a traveler, correct?”
Xan nodded, his eyes growing wider as the realization of what Hermes was saying began to dawn on him.
“That traveler was me. You Xan, are my son. And the coming months are going to be trying at best, and downright hard at worst. The Fates have foreseen it. You will be the in the center of several disasters. We cannot intervene. But you can save people. You will save people. And if you succeed there, you will be successful in whatever business endeavors you happen to be involved in afterwards.”
“And what if I don’t succeed?” Xan asked.
“Then you will be dead.”
Xan choked on a grape and looked up at Hermes. “So, I’m your son, a demigod, and I have to go save Greece or I will die?”
“Not all of Greece. Just the parts you’re in when disaster strikes.”
Dionysus interrupted. “You may want to hurry this along. His body is starting to wake.”
Hermes acknowledged him with a nod and looked back down at Xan.
“In your supplies, you will find a few things to help you. Good luck.” As he finished speaking, he placed his hand on Xan’s shoulder. “If you are ever in need of help or advice, call upon Iris. She will allow us to talk, although briefly. Do this in private. It would not do for someone to interrupt us.”
Xan watched as the marble began to fade, becoming transparent. Stars shone through the gold of the buildings. Last to fade were the two gods. Dionysus held up his cup as if to toast, then disappeared entirely. Hermes simply smiled, the last of the images to fade.
Xan woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in bed. He pushed himself off, standing up and gingerly holding his head. A slight hangover, nothing a good breakfast wouldn’t cure. He gathered his things and walked back to the main room. Ophelos sat by the fire, cooking broth.
“Ah, good morning. Enjoy your rest?”
Xan nodded again. “How did I get to the bed?”
“I carried you there. You passed out after only a tankard of that mead.”
“That’s a bit…embarrassing.”
“Not at all. I’ve seen men twice your size pass out from only half a tankard. You weren’t impressive by any means, but you certainly weren’t the worst. Now, I’m guessing you want some food. Your eyes say you have quite the hangover lingering around.”
Xan sat on the wooden bench and nodded gratefully as Ophelos poured the broth into a bowl and handed it to him.
“Now, I’d imagine you’d want to get back on the road pretty soon. It’s a good distance between here and Corinth. You can make it if you leave after breakfast though.”
“Thank you sir.” He reached for his coin pouch, but before he could open it, Ophelos smacked his knuckles with a wooden spoon.
“No, this stay was on me. I can tell when someone has been touched by the gods, and I’d say you’re about to have quite an adventure. All I ask in return is that you refer people my way, and if and when you do come back through here, visit me and tell me your stories.”
“Thank you Ophelos. I appreciate this very much. I hope I have stories to tell when I come back.”
“You will. You most certainly will.”
Xan walked out the door of the inn and into the yard. His cart and mule were already hitched together, and the stable boy sat on the side of the cart.
“Good luck sir. Everything should be ready to go, and your beast has been fed.”
“Thank you.” Xan flipped him a coin and winked at him. “Keep it. You’ve earned it.”
He set his bag down underneath his seat and pushed him mule onward. Once he was out of sight of the inn, he pulled his bag out and opened it. Inside, three new things had been added. A map that was written as he traveled, with everything he could see already on the parchment. A golden dagger, somehow harder and sharper than his kopis. He hooked this to his belt, making sure its sheath hid the golden metal. Lastly was a single gold coin. Under it was a note that read,
“Use this coin to contact me through Iris. You can never lose this coin, and when you use it to contact me a new one will appear in your pocket. Good luck.
He placed the coin in an inner pocket in the waistline of his pants, tucked his map back into his bag, and continued forward down the road. He didn’t know what these disasters and calamities were going to be, but he knew for certain that things were going to be changing. And despite his worries, he knew that he was ready.