The sun rising over the Aegean Sea was glorious, but Aes barely noticed the beauty. All it told him was that it had been many hours. The woman or Goddess had not returned, and he had not fallen asleep.
He felt conflicted. Part of him wanted to get back to Epione. If he had really vanished after Hippolytus's resurrection, she must be stricken with grief, thinking him dead. He should not be dallying here with Darla, whoever or whatever she was. His place was back at Epione's side in Tricca.
But a larger part of him knew that he could not leave. If the stars spoke truly, it had been months since he raised Hippolytus, so there was no rush to get back. By now she would be in grieving. Surely even the widowed daughter of a king would not be beset with suitors this soon after her husband's disappearance.
And if Darla was a goddess, he dared not risk her wrath by abandoning her. There seemed no way out of his predicament. All he could do was wait and hope to set things right when he finally got a chance to do so.
He stood up to go fetch more wood for the fire. Always more things to do. Time to change the heating rocks, as well. He should do that first, perhaps. Setting the end of a stick against one of the heated rocks, he pushed and rolled it into the cave's interior.
“Well at least you didn't build the fire inside my cave,” said the centaur.
Aes jerked, startled. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Oh come on, now, Asklepios. Don't you recognize me? Was my tutelage in vain, or have you forgotten all of those years?”
Aes stared at the intruder as his eyes narrowed. “You are not Cheiron,” he stated. “You think I don't remember my foster father? Cheiron had a scraggly beard and an old scar on his left flank that never healed properly. I always noticed it because it seemed odd that he could not heal it.”
The centaur laughed. “Always the stickler for detail. It's part of what made you such a great physician. But listen with your heart, Aes, and not your eyes, for I have difficult things to tell you.”
Aes forced himself to walk out and sit down by the fire. “Has Cheiron passed on, then?” he asked the stranger. “He was old even when he raised me, I know. Has he kept an appointment with the Ferryman?”
The centaur sighed. “Life is more complicated than that,” he began. “I'm not myself, you're not yourself, and even Hellas is not what is seems. But hark: I can tell you the truth of what has befallen you, though you might think me crazed. Truth is truth, after all, whether it springs from a friend's or a stranger's lips.”
“I cannot dispute that,” said Aes. “But I do not seek the counsel of those who hide their names. Who are you really?”
The horse-man shrugged. “Let that be for now, Aes. Cheiron is part of what I am, yet I am more. I mean no mischief here, son of Phoebus. You need the truth, and I felt that hearing it from one you knew and trusted would soften the blow. May the Gods themselves strike me down if I speak falsely to you.”
“As you say,” Aes said noncommittally, although he did not disrespect the oath. “What do you know of me and my situation?”
“To begin with,” the centaur said, “you're dead – sort of.”
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