At the trail’s summit, the ground’s violent quaking pitched Loukas forward. He fell headlong onto the rocky terrain and crawled along the shaking path until he came to a stand of trees.
Once he steadied himself against a tree trunk, he searched for the source of the tremors.
When his vision cleared, Loukas drew in a heavy breath. At a stone’s throw beyond him, he saw two facing mountains groaning from a clumsy move to reach each other across the path. The second they came within inches of colliding, they backed off a short distance only to start heaving themselves forward for another face-off.
Loukas staggered across the trembling ground, eager to make a mad dash through the narrow opening the mountains left in their retreat.
But, no! Just as he was about to make his escape and avoid being crushed, the mountains yelled to him above the steady rumble of their unstable movement.
“What brings you to this dismal place where even the gull rarely flies?” cried the mountain to the left of Loukas.
“Your majesties,” shouted Loukas, cupping his hands over his ears to weaken the harsh grinding, “I am roaming the highway in search of Destiny; her son Ilion, the Sun; and her daughter Luna, the Moon. It is their wisdom I seek to show me how to mend my broken heart and turn my ruined life around.”
“Just as you are desperate to be delivered from your pain,” shouted the mountain to Loukas’s left, “we long to put an end to the humiliation of this ceaseless heaving forward and backward, backward and forward, again and again and again.”
“We have appealed to that merciless mother time after time, pleading with her and her son and daughter to show us the respect we have earned,” yelled the mountain toiling to approach from Loukas’s right. Its scratchy voice rankled with smoldering rage.
“Time and time again, we’ve asked to be released from our hideous confinement and restored to our renowned place within nature,” the left mountain moaned. “But nothing! Never does relief come our way!”
Loukas called out to the pair at the top of his voice, asking for a safe passage so he might try his luck at winning over Destiny’s pity.
Like the other tormented souls Loukas had met since entering the forest, the mountains told him he would find that family of unpredictable fortune tellers by traveling northward to their dazzling vermilion palace.
Once there, Loukas should remind Destiny, Sun, and Moon that the desperate mountains at Meander Pass yearn to stand serene and majestic once again.
Joining together, the mountains rasped the prayer of desire Loukas should recite to the infamous mother, son, and daughter when he stood before them:
“Would that your plan our dignity may favor,
Standing firm and noble, admirers of every breed may savor
Our bountiful valleys, woodlands, ancient mythical streams,
Our scented meadows, our craggy cliffs, our mystical fields of dreams.”
As Loukas prepared to resume his journey, a spray of purple amaranth flowers floated downward within his reach. He put the savory gift in his satchel and waited for the mountains to retreat. As soon as they began to teeter backward, Loukas ran at breakneck speed through the gap they left in their wake. His feet ached from the sandals’ growing discomfort.
“May courage be your compass,” called the mountain on the right.
“May caution be your guide,” cried the mountain on the left.
“And may good fortune be your reward,” howled the mountains in unison.
Without glancing backward, Loukas hurried on down the path as dusk was settling in.
Yet again, the night forest slowly came alive with a steady ruckus of yapping, hissing, and hoot-hoot-hooting.
As the moonless night wore on, Loukas took up courage in both hands and played on his flute the ballad of a legendary sailor’s return home after months of hardship on the high seas—yet another song his friend the snake had taken to with great charm.
At dawn’s first light, Loukas plodded wearily up a steep ridge. A clot of black clouds rolled in from the north on a gust of foul-smelling wind. Coming to the summit, he stopped and cringed at the sight of the blighted countryside below him.
Squinting, Loukas gazed upon fields of rotting cypresses looming over groves of grotesquely withered olive trees and the stumps of fallen palms. Skeletons of birds lay strewn about the cracked earth from which rose a vapor so putrid that Loukas was forced to press his hands over his nose and mouth. He feared this dreaded wasteland might be an omen foretelling Destiny’s refusal to help him bring order to his sorrowful life.
A dreadful thought crossed his mind: Should I abandon my quest and turn back now and live the rest of my days lonely and grieving my losses?
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