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Generated: Dec 07, 2020 12:19 PM
Post last updated: Dec 07, 2020 12:19 PM
The unfathomable whims of gods
James is left for dead on a deserted island right before the Trojan War
Permalink Mark Unread

The ways of the gods are mysterious indeed, and mortals are but motes caught in the gales of their fickle whims. Dragged into a judgement of the fairest between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, Paris of Troy did not realize just what kind of storm would ensue when he handed the golden apple marking the winner to Aphrodite. He might have started to realize when Aphrodite stole Helen, demi-goddess and widely agreed to be the most beautiful woman in the known world, to be his bride as reward for his good judgement. Or when he realized that she was already married, to King Menelaus of Sparta, also known as the one city-state most devoted to martial arts and warfare. Or perhaps when he realized the oath sworn by everyone that had petitioned to marry the most beautiful woman in the world, to defend anyone that tried to cheat her father's decision of who she would marry. Being the most beautiful woman in the known world, that was approximately every single vaguely important of-age man on that side of the Aegean Sea. Who were now honor bound to go put their many differences aside, and go attempt to retrieve Menelaeus's prize of a wife from the villain that had her now. That being, naturally, Paris. It didn't help that the two goddesses proclaimed to be not the fairest, Hera and Athena, also had reason to be very, very upset with Paris. Those being the queen of the pantheon of the gods themselves, and the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and a smattering of warfare, respectively.

Suffice to say, quite a storm of shit was about to ensue, with lots of the meddling of the divine, and lots of blood and battle and many chances for dashing young men to prove their valor and heroism in what would no doubt be a very one sided war that would be over in a year at most, certainly. Maybe two.

Complicating this for any dashing young men looking to make some kind of name for themselves, apparently Hera holds grudges about one's choice in friends. She would not like any friend of the recently deceased Herakles, especially not one that is as... himself as this man is, to gain glory and fame and have anything to do with any war that she means to win. He is summarily bitten by a snake. On the ankle, so he would have time to think about his mistakes. Like not immediately renouncing all loyalty to the dead bastard son of Zeus and throwing the bow and arrows that were a keepsake from him into the sea the minute he saw Hera's instrument of wrath. Maybe then she'd have spared him.

Well, this man's comrades have decided not to make the same mistake. At the wise counsel of Odysseus of Ithaca, they summarily dumped the young man on the nearest available uninhabited island, to sort out his divine snakebite problem on his own and not drag his fellows down with his clearly cursed nature. They were kind enough to leave him the bow and ten arrows of Herakles, since he was so attached to them, and since they want absolutely nothing to do with anything that might upset Hera. Nonetheless, this likely wouldn't feel like much of a kindness, to someone waking up from a drugged stupor, watching the ship that once held him sail off into the horizon without so much as a parting word or apology.

Permalink Mark Unread

His first thought is that this is a very unpleasant dream.

His second thought is that he does not usually realise dreams are dreams while they're going on and also he is in quite a lot of pain.

His third thought is to remember the fucking snake. That bitch.

His fourth thought is best summarised as a howl of pain and rage. And they took his horses.

He does not have a fifth thought as he returns to Hypnos immediately after.

Permalink Mark Unread

The ship that abandoned him (and took his horses) does not make any attempt to turn around. It disappears into the horizon while he is indisposed in the land of oblivion.

His ankle is kind enough to wake him just as dusk begins to fall. At least the pain is useful? And also killing him?

Permalink Mark Unread

Yeah fuck that. "Ow," he complains to, uh, literally no one. Then he opens his eyes and looks around to take the island in more properly.

Permalink Mark Unread

The island had been one they'd stopped at in order to get fresh water, so it's likely got that going for it, at least. It's definitely a proper island, not a glorified sandbar. There are trees, and it sounds like there are at least some birds on this island, for game. If he'd like to find or make some arrows that haven't been dipped in very deadly hydra blood and would therefore actually be safe for eating.

Permalink Mark Unread

Game has to wait until he can figure out whether he'll even be able to survive the snake bite. Water is a higher priority. How bad is the wound, can he stand at all?

Permalink Mark Unread

If he puts as little weight on it as possible, but it really hurts. It's looking uncomfortably swollen. Also yellow, it's looking very yellow.

Permalink Mark Unread

...okay, change of plans, he'll see if he can suck the venom out himself, at least a little bit, before he goes looking for water.

It's probably been long enough that that will not do anything but.

Permalink Mark Unread

He does not get a mouth full of venom! He does get a mouth full of pus, though! It is even more disgusting than it sounds! This is probably a step in the right direction, though, this looks like it's helping with the swelling.

Permalink Mark Unread

Okay? Okay. Okay. That... is probably better than nothing. He has put his mouth in much more disgusting places and put much more disgusting things in his mouth, this doesn't really compare, so he'll keep doing that for a bit.

Permalink Mark Unread

Eventually the injury drains a mixture of blood and pus, and a little more eventually after that it's just bleeding. That seems like something of an improvement; it certainly hurts less, now. It's less swollen, too.

Permalink Mark Unread

Some water to wash all that yuck off will probably be useful. He'll try the walking thing again, mostly resting his weight on his good leg and hands, finding places to hold onto - trees and rocks and the like - wherever he can. He's not above just crawling for a bit if he has to.

Permalink Mark Unread

He can in fact walk! It still hurts a bunch, but it hurts less than it did! Progress.

It might not be immediately obvious where the fresh water on this island is, except for the fact that there are all of these tracks left by his former comrades. There is a very large set of them going back and forth in a very purposeful direction. Water is probably that way.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yeah he has any sense and follows those tracks as best he can. Though his vision darkens a few times, he stops to catch his breath and will himself awake whenever that happens.

Onwards.

Permalink Mark Unread

Onwards!

The tracks lead deeper into the trees for a while, and then down into what looks like more of a glorified muddy hole than a spring. There's a pool of very muddy water, if he'd like some.

Permalink Mark Unread

...is this better than seawater? He's not sure. But he's come all this way.

No tracks leading anywhere else, perchance?

Permalink Mark Unread

Nope. Just the very muddy water. It looks like it might have been less messy at one point, but has been dug up in order to get at as much water as possible.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well.

He's here anyway.

He'll try to use his hands to sieve as much of the mud out as possible then with the rest of the muddy water he will try to rinse off the disgust out of his mouth, spitting it away from the muddy hole. After doing this a few times, he will wash his wound- damn Hera to the pits of Hades that bitch is going to get what's coming to her fuck fuck fuck-

Permalink Mark Unread

- okay. He's okay. It just hurts like a motherfucker but he's okay.

Mostly.

He should probably drink some of that water. He leans closer to it and tries to sieve the mud away again but the movement causes his pressure to drop and he's again out like a light.

Permalink Mark Unread

Plop. Into the mud goes the wayward Spartan.

Permalink Mark Unread

 


When he next wakes, he is.... no longer in the mud. He's back on the beach. There's some sort of seaweed wrap... thing... around his injured ankle. Next to him is a ceramic pot of some kind, filled with clean, fresh water.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What.

.....he only "what"s for a second though because water and he is very careful not to drop a single drop because he wants all of it and he mostly manage to not drop a single drops so he's satisfied. "Thank you!" he calls out loud, raising the ceramic pot to the air, hoping whoever did this is still around.

Permalink Mark Unread

No reply. They might be around, or they might not be. It's very mysterious.

Permalink Mark Unread

No looking at gift horses in the mouth (until he's back home and can inspect said gift horse thoroughly to see whether it's worth bringing to battle).

How does his ankle feel?

Permalink Mark Unread

It still hurts a bit, but it hurts less. The seaweed wrap thing looks like it's doing its job.

Permalink Mark Unread

Okay! Maybe he is not in fact meeting Hades today! ...if it even is the same day. It might well not be.

What other signs has his mysterious benefactor left him?

Permalink Mark Unread

It looks like it's probably the next day. Light's returned to the sky, and it had been getting dark when he collapsed into the mud.

The beach around him is an absolute mess. It looks like something vaguely the size of a small man was dragging itself, and also him, across the beach, then somewhat ineptly tried to disguise this fact and gave up midway through.

It also looks like someone made some kind of sacrifice here. There's a little bit of stray blood on the sands, and flowers that look like they'd been carefully arranged around whatever (small) animal had been sacrificed. There's no sign of a fire, nor of most of the animal itself, but its bones and entrails have been carefully gathered into a pile. Next to the pile is some wood that looks like it was directly ripped from the trees it came from. Uh. Actually, now that he looks at it, that.... looks like a hint. He might want to finish the ritual his mysterious benefactor started and burn those properly.

Permalink Mark Unread

...okay, whoever this is saved his life, he's fine doing weird things he's requested. He's no stranger to making fire in less-than-ideal conditions, and although that wood is not if great quality and the proximity to the salt air and - they're kinda damp? - he can improvise and get some other drier branches and some stone or something he could use to get a spark going and fire!

Permalink Mark Unread

Fire! The entrails and bones of the animal (identified as some kind of fish, now that he has a closer look at the bones) look good enough to be sacrificed to.... whichever god his mysterious benefactor was making this sacrifice to. So he should probably just get to burning those. Without knowing which god it's to. He could try to make it a sacrifice to a god of his choice, but that might offend whichever one this ritual was actually meant for, so uh. It's probably just better to burn them and intend to be the instrument of his benefactor's will instead of meddling and possibly getting another god's ire.

Permalink Mark Unread

Yeah and he's had his share of gods anyway. For now.

He burns the fish. He is not so weak that he will be defeated by the remains of fish, even if it is very very large fish like this one.

Permalink Mark Unread

The remains of the fish burn just fine, and no gods or snakes pop out of the ocean to make their wrath known!

It doesn't look like his mysterious benefactor left him anything else. Though.... hm. They'd moved his bow and arrows away from him while he'd been unconscious. There's clearly a trail of his benefactor dragging themselves a reasonable distance away, and leaving Herakles's bow and arrows there in the sand. Looks like they've been moved back next to him, though, so the intention clearly hadn't been to steal them, just to keep them out of reach.

Permalink Mark Unread

...okay. Weird. But okay.

And now he's really hungry. Has the mysterious benefactor left him a fish he can actually eat?

Permalink Mark Unread

Not that he can see. Apparently he's been left to figure out food on his own.

Permalink Mark Unread

That's still eons better than he was before so he's not complaining. He can fashion himself arrows and go looking for game.

Permalink Mark Unread

Larger game isn't making itself readily apparent, but that doesn't mean it's not present on the island. It would just take time and work to catch. If he's feeling impatient, or if he'd like to show off his archery skills, he's free to shoot at some of the doves and pigeons, they're reasonably numerous.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's mostly hungry and expects it will be better to start off with small game so he can recover any energy before going after big stuff, yeah.

Permalink Mark Unread

His makeshift arrows are a little bit wonky to shoot, or maybe he's just tired and injured and hungry and that's dulling his shooting skills a little bit. Which is to say, he shoots at several pigeons, misses two entirely, neatly kills one, and clips another that needs to be given a cleaner death up close, but it is in the end dead all the same. Maybe this isn't quite up to his standards of fantastic feats of archery, but it's still food. Not a lot of it, but more than he had before.

Permalink Mark Unread

He does not have that large an ego; his pride is intact. And he can work with dead pigeons to get literally any food into himself.

Permalink Mark Unread

He can make a new fire to cook his pigeons, return to the firepit he made earlier to see if it's still salvagable, or he could eat them raw here and now if he's feeling really impatient.

Permalink Mark Unread

Old firepit is better. Maybe he'll meet his mysterious benefactor there.

Permalink Mark Unread

The old firepit hasn't spluttered out yet! It looks like it could use some more fuel, but it's still warm and can be stoked back to a proper fire without too much trouble. No mysterious benefactor was present, though it does look like they were here while he was away. The pot is missing, and in their place are a couple of fish and one large shell that has a few gulps of water in it. Not as much as the pot, obviously, but maybe that was taken away to be refilled.

This time his mysterious benefactor made little to no attempt to disguise its tracks. It looks like it dragged itself out of the sea, then dragged itself back into the sea once it was done dropping off the fish and new water receptacle and retrieving the pot.

Permalink Mark Unread

...the sea? They swam here??

He can start cooking stuff - fish included, "Thank you!" he shouts out to the sea - and seeing if maybe he'll catch a glimpse of said benefactor out in the water at some point during that.

Permalink Mark Unread

There is no answer, and almost no sign of anyone while he's making his meal, but at some point while it looks like he's looking somewhere else...

Permalink Mark Unread

There is just a tiny hint of red-orange near the surface of the water, floating just a little too gracefully on the waves. He could, if he looked, see a pair of eyes peeking out of the sea.

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh! He's looking. He waves in their direction!

Permalink Mark Unread

Nope hint of red-orange is gone now.

Permalink Mark Unread

...huh. Maybe whoever that was had somewhere to go very fast for some reason.

Well. He'll keep preparing his food and eat.

Permalink Mark Unread

Nothing disturbs his meal. There is no sign of any further hints of red-orange on the waves.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Meal" is perhaps an overstatement but honestly he's ravenous.

He finishes eating, and... decides to inspect his ankle again now that nothing very pressing is happening.

Permalink Mark Unread

It hasn’t turned black and started threatening to fall off, which is probably a minor victory. His veins are a dark blue-black, but the swelling isn’t too bad, and it doesn’t look like it’s filled with pus again. So... progress?

Permalink Mark Unread

Progress! And hopefully it won't spread to the rest of him, either!

He examines the bandage more closely. Is it... just a bandage? He thinks not, unless it's some magic bandage.

Permalink Mark Unread

It... looks like just a bandage, yeah. Made of seaweed. If it has any magical properties they're not making themselves apparent.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well. Maybe Hera's snake just doesn't have very powerful venom.

That's actually kinda hilarious. He laughs to himself, then sighs. He's got food and water, although he's still depending on his mysterious benefactor for the latter. He should probably not walk much but he has ever met himself and he's sure he'll die of boredom if he just sits still there all day. Maybe what he should do is locate cover in case it rains or something.

Permalink Mark Unread

There are the trees! Those are available to hide under, if it rains. If he'd like something a bit more sturdy, he'll need to make it or make a more concentrated effort to search this island for shelter.

Permalink Mark Unread

That sounds like such a terrible idea. "I don't suppose you have an axe?" he calls out to the sea.

Permalink Mark Unread

Silence! Silence is his only answer.

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Shame. He supposes he'll have to stay here by himself and hope it doesn't rain. At least until his leg is sufficiently well that he can afford to go out walking and fashion himself his own axe.

Permalink Mark Unread

He is entirely free to continue to sit on this beach dubiously by himself but definitely without an actual conversation partner. At least it's the dry season, rain's unlikely to happen for months. So he's got that going for him.

...

Is his leg better yet? No, it's still about the same. What about now? ... Still no.

What would he like to do with his copious free time?

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

 

 

"Come on at least introduce yourself or I'm going to die of boredom here!" he says, flopping back onto the sand. And now the sand got into his clothes, which are also kinda rancid but it's not like he can wash himself anywhere, not while his leg isn't better anyway.

Augh!

Permalink Mark Unread

His mysterious benefactor apparently declines to introduce themselves, because there is no answer except the sound of waves against the shore.

Permalink Mark Unread

He sighs, shuts his eyes, and attempts to take a nap.

...but he has to shield them first so he drags himself to somewhere with shade and then covers his face with the fold of his elbow for further protection from the sun.

Permalink Mark Unread

His afternoon nap is undisturbed.

 

While his mysterious benefactor does not come anywhere near him, when he next wakes and/or gets too bored to stay prone with his eyes closed, it's obvious they were around. The pot has been returned, refilled with more water. Some more fish have also been laid out, next to the pot.

Permalink Mark Unread

...red-orange flicker in the water perchance?

Permalink Mark Unread

Nope, not a sign of one.

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Well. Okay. Water is good, and he's not particularly hungry right now so he'll leave the fish for later. His bow and arrows are still right where he left them, next to where he was lying half-awake, so he shakes some of the sand off his clothes and half-walks half-crawls over to the water to drink it.

He looks down at the trees' shadows to gauge the time and then down at his ankle again to check how well it's doing after however much time he's been there.

Permalink Mark Unread

It looks like it's been about three, maybe four hours since he first started attempting to nap. He has several more hours until dusk will start to fall.

His ankle is... well, it's not much worse. But it's definitely not better. It hurts more, and it's starting to swell again.

Permalink Mark Unread

Ugh. "You know, it'd be useful to know where you got this water," he says conversationally as if it was not that important. "Especially because I'd love to wash my ankle in anything less likely to kill me than seawater or mud. Although I suppose the mud will do in a pinch."

Permalink Mark Unread

 


".... So help me, if you wash it off in mud, I will actually just leave you lying in it, next time. Seawater is better by far," grumbles a very soft feminine voice.

Permalink Mark Unread

"- hey! You are around!" he exclaims, looking in the direction the voice came from.

He was not expecting a woman but whatever, he wasn't expecting to be alive either.

Permalink Mark Unread

Nope, apparently he is not allowed to look for her, because there's a splash and she's disappeared back into the water. ... There's a suspicious bit of floating woven kelp and what looks like some stray bits of mud, floating where her voice came from.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Okay, okay, I won't look," he says, flopping back down onto the sand and shutting his eyes. "I am pretty sure if I tried to wash an open wound in seawater I'd lose the leg or worse," he observes, continuing his previous musings. "Mud, though, might have some of those curative herbs witches are always using. Better gamble by far."

Permalink Mark Unread

 


There's another pause, but apparently she actually cannot resist correcting him, because:

".... No! No, that's not how mud or herbs work, at least the salt in the seawater would help keep it clean!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"What about everything else in the saltwater, though?" He does not open his eyes.

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you ask nicely, a nereid would likely chase away anything you might not want in an open, infected, and cursed-by-a-goddess leg wound. Mud holes do not have this quality, I do not know any nymphs that reside over mud holes, you'd be relying on sheer luck."

Permalink Mark Unread

He takes a moment to mouth the words "ask nicely" in incredulity before retorting with, "Maybe you're close enough friends with nereids that you can ask that, but where I'm from they're as like to ignore a request as they are to poison me." Not literally. Probably. He has admittedly never personally asked any nereids for anything. But he's heard stories.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Excuse me, nereids are a bunch of sweethearts who wouldn't poison a venomous snake if it bit them, if this is how you talk about them then no wonder they've never helped you. Have you even asked?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not personally," he is unashamed to admit.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Uh huh. And has anyone you personally know asked a nereid for something and been poisoned?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not that either," he says, with what a trained ear might catch as some forced levity inserted into his voice. "Naiads did kidnap a very good friend of mine." The smile disappears from his face. "He might be dead now. Or not. So I am a little wary of asking nymphs for favours."

Permalink Mark Unread

".... Okay, a reasonable precaution, but naiads are not nereids, would you also blame and insult Hestia for the things Hera does?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I did not blame nereids for anything, nor did I insult them, I merely said that asking them to clear water so I could wash my wound would not previously have occurred to me," he replies simply, his joviality all back. Then he gets to his feet (or mostly just the one foot) and starts limping towards the ocean, eyes still shut.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It is in fact insulting to imply that a nereid would poison you," informs his mysterious benefactor, a little tartly. "Don't try and do something stupid like drink seawater and expect them to aid you, but every single nereid I've ever met—and that number is many, before you ask—has not meant anyone any permanent injury at all. Ever."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Very well, I apologise for my poorly-thought-out joke," he says, grinning in the direction of the ocean that he still cannot see. "Might you instruct me on what one would do to ask nicely? Beautiful nereids, sea nymphs full of kindness and joy, I would request your aid in cleansing the water of whatever foul humours and toxins it might contain that I may clean my wound once more."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's the right sort of tone. Pretty things are more likely to draw their attention, so—songs, or flowers, or poetry if you know any that's not particularly bloodthirsty. They despise violence and bloodshed, tales of battles are likely to scare them off."

Permalink Mark Unread

He has long since removed his shoes, so he notices when his toes reach the wet sand and halts his advance there, settling back down onto the ground. He crosses his legs, using his hands to carefully position his hurt ankle so that there is as little pressure on it as possible, then straightens his back and, eyes still closed, starts reciting:

"By waves haloed, immortal nereids!
Children of gods kind, I implore you,
Slay me not in this distress and anguish,
Ladies of beauty.

"Hither come as I wish for you to join me,
As from afar you hear my voice lamenting,
Hear and come, leaving your glorious patron's halls blue,

"Gliding the currents, true their aim,
Swift to the darksome earth their course directing,
Weaving the seas from deepest ocean,
Up through the waters.

"Quickly they bear you. Then you, O joyous nymphs,
All in laughter wreathed your faces immortal,
One of you shall bid me tell thee the cause of my suffering,
Why now I call you.

"What for my maddened heart I most was longing.
'Whom,' you cry, 'dost wish that sweet Persuasion
Now win over and lead to thy love, my Zotikos?
Who is it wrongs thee?

"'For, though now he flies, he soon shall follow,
Soon shall be giving gifts who now rejects them.
Even though he love not, soon shall he love thee
Even though thou wouldst not.'

"Come then now, dear nymphs, and release me
From my anguish. All my heart's desiring
Grant you now. Now too, and forevermore,
Be you my allies.
"*

The poem is meant to be sung along with a lyre, but lacking that he just sings and hums, and every now and then softly hits the sand or the pants of his legs following the rhythm. His eyes remain close throughout, but the cast of his face and the movement of his body could fool one into believing he was gazing upon the most beautiful face he'd ever seen. The poem dies down, and he hums it to its end, but his smile remains and he continues to sway lightly from side to side as if influenced by an unfelt wind.

* Adaptation of an English translation of Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite.

Permalink Mark Unread

There is a splash of sea water, accompanied by the soft and sweet sound of unfamiliar feminine laughter. Weighing on him as softly as a cool breeze, there is a feeling of something with just a little bit of power being present. A wave catches his ankle in a small tide of motion. Just above, on the uninjured skin of his calf, there is a faint wet touch of soft lips giving him a quick mischievous kiss. With another faint giggle, the sea’s water recedes, and the presence is gone.

Permalink Mark Unread

He still does not open his eyes, but he grins more widely. "That was nice. Thank you!" he calls out.

Permalink Mark Unread

There’s a little happy splash from the sea that might be an answer, or might be imagined.

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His mysterious benefactor is completely silent, of both praise and critique.

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"So now can I wash the wound properly, do you think?" he asks, turning his head in the direction the mysterious benefactor's voice was coming from before.

Permalink Mark Unread

“Mnrmhmm,” hums the more familiar voice, sounding somewhere between choked, pained, and sort of like she’s on the verge of tears. “Yep, good job, you charmed them like a champion.”

... something in that last sentence sounds kind of harsh. Bitter, maybe.

Permalink Mark Unread

...eh? "Are you alright?" he asks as he starts undressing both his wound and his self.

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“I’m fine,” lies the voice, and not even very well. “I-I’ll be back at dusk, if you fall unconscious in another mud hole in the meanwhile you’re on your own.

Then there’s a splash, and then silence.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

He is very confused by this person. And he did not even get her name.

Also how obvious should it be that she's not human by now? Because the answer is "quite". Well.

Since she's gone he can open his eyes and then finish undressing and gingerly submerging his ankle that's gonna hurt a lot isn't it he braces himself -

Permalink Mark Unread

It does turn out to hurt a lot, actually. A lot, a lot. But it’s cleaner, now, that’s something.

Permalink Mark Unread

He hisses but otherwise doesn't make any noises, and once it's gotten dull enough he rubs the ankle with his hands and tries to squeeze out some of the pus and blood. When he's done with that, he submerges himself more fully and tries to do his best at cleaning himself up in salt water. Once he's done with that he walks back to the beach, thinks about it for a second, then grabs his chiton and rips a long strip of it to rebandage the wound. Then he finds a likely-looking stone where he could sit while tending to a fire, and he goes about making a new fire there for the food. He drinks some more of that clear water and waits for the fire's heat to dry him and cook his food.

After he's done eating, he drinks the rest of the water and then fetches his undergarments. He shakes them as free of sand as he can and then puts them back on, trying not to get too much more sand in them in the process. With the limp, the whole setup will probably take longer than it otherwise would, but it's good to have something to occupy himself with.

And that's only until his wound is healed enough that he can get to work on making a boat.

Permalink Mark Unread

It'll likely take longer than two days to heal, so he's got a while to plan what sort of boat he'll be making, and which direction he'll be taking it. Maybe his mysterious benefactor can help him with directions to the nearest inhabited island?

Permalink Mark Unread

Maybe, when she shows back up at dusk. For now he'll just sun himself.

Permalink Mark Unread

The sun is nice and warm, and the island is very peaceful and idyllic. Also boring, it's also boring.

Dusk is a while away. Is there anything he'd like to do with his time until then?

Permalink Mark Unread

Nope! He'll just nap again. Or try to. Rest is good for injuries right? Maybe if he sleeps a lot he'll recover faster.

That's his theory and he's sticking to it.

Permalink Mark Unread

Time crawls by at the fast-paced, breakneck speed of a galloping, drunken snail. Auuuuughhhhhh he's just sitting here waiting for the sun to set, Helios hurry it up, whyyyyyyy.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 


After what is almost certainly a subjective eternity, dusk falls, and a head of red-orange hair pokes out of the water. It's hard to make out the details at this distance, besides the pale skin and hair color.

"You know," she calls, sounding less unhappy than she had been, if a little... tired and resigned, "it would be a lot more comforting to strangers trying to help you if you didn't constantly have your very deadly ranged weapon at hand all the time."

Permalink Mark Unread

He does not open his eyes. Was he asleep? Who knows.

"It was a gift from a dear friend. And now, apparently, my only possession other than my clothes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not saying throw them in the sea and be done with them, I'm saying maybe just, just—put them more than an arm's length away so I have some warning and can dive away if you suddenly decide to shoot me."

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"- you saved my life why would I shoot you?"

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"I wouldn't say it'd be reasonable! Or that it'd be smart! I'm saying I'd be dead!"

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"It would be dishonorable," he says, curling his lips in disgust when he utters the word, but he does get up on one foot and gets the bow farther away from where he was than it was before (opening his eyes with his back to the ocean so he doesn't look), then returns to his rock. "And anyway," he adds now that the bow is pretty far, "under less adverse circumstances I would be a good enough shot to hit you even with my eyes closed."

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"Truly, you are a master of reassurance," she deadpans. "... But thank you."

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"I do not want to shoot you, and I am under adverse conditions. I could barely hit the pigeons I was hunting earlier for food."

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"... Okay. It's silly to keep your eyes closed all the time, you know."

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"It's silly to disappear whenever I look in your direction," he counters easily.

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"Is not, you have a ranged weapon and the skill to use it, and I have very good reason to suspect that a strange man might use it on me. Not staying where you can see me is perfectly logical."

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"You... what very good reason could you possibly have to suspect that? Other than, I suppose, that being at all possible for him to do"

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"The one time my sister went in reach of a man," she says in a dead sounding monotone, "he dragged her up the beach by her hair, then bashed her head in with a rock."

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"...what? Why would - I am so sorry -" He opens his eyes almost accidentally and moves in a way someone might recognise as the start of a hug offer, except he's sitting down and there's no one to hug so he just settles for looking very forlorn and sorry.

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She shrinks away a little, in the waves, but doesn't quite flee.

"... She might have deserved it. I don't know. We did essentially get him and all of his crewmates killed."

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"I - why - that is not important. I am very sorry for your loss."

The red-orange thing was her hair? That's a peculiar colour. Very pretty, though.

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"... why? It didn't affect you at all. You didn't know her, and you barely know me." She sounds sincerely confused, not bitter.

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"...I am not sure how to answer that. I do not like it when other people suffer."

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".... okay."

She doesn't say anything else, just. Floats in the ocean. Looking at him.

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"Well. I am not going to shoot you. The only person I would like to shoot is the queen of gods. ...perhaps Odysseus, too."

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"Don't," she hisses, horrified. "I mean, maybe Odysseus, I don't know him at all and he might be fine, but don't even say that, you idiot."

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"I did not use her name," he says, shrugging. "And she already hates me, for the sin of befriending one of her husband's bastards. Who has been dead for a while, I should add."

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"If she hated you, you would be dead, do you have any idea how hard that was to prevent even though she was just mildly annoyed with your existence?!"

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"...no, I do not," he admits. "If this is her mild annoyance, then I gather she is also only moderately annoyed at all the bastards."

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"Compared to her feelings for her husband, yes, that's accurate! I begged for your life and she agreed to let you off with an incurable cursed wound that will never heal! You were very lucky and if you are very stupid you will get us both killed!"

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"Wait back up what do you mean by never heal?"

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"It will never heal. As it is now is as good as it will get without major, probably divine, intervention. Without agonizing daily tending, it will get worse and worse, until eventually it will kill you if you stop. It will never stop hurting."

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"Well if that's the case then I might as well start building my boat right now," he says, insanely cheered up by the news. He jumps to his feet and his hurt ankle immediately causes that leg to buckle under him and he falls to his knee, but he makes his way back up to his feet.

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"That's what you're taking away from this. Really. That."

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"Hey, I was waiting until it healed but if it isn't going to then there is nothing to wait for, is there?"

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She stares at him.

"Do you know anything about sailing. Do you have an idea of where to go. Do you have any kind of plan for when you get there. Do you have a gods-damned thank you in there for risking my life to save yours before you go off to do the nearest available option to throw it away!"

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"Yes, some, yes, I was pretty sure I had thanked you already many times before you were acknowledging your own existence but thank you again, you are plausibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. And for that matter, I have not properly introduced other than the poem; I am Zotikos, and it is an unutterable delight to meet you."

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That shocks her into silence.

 


After a long pause:

"You thanked me for the water, then the fish, then not at all for instructing you how to win the favor of the nereids," she corrects awkwardly. "Not wanting to reveal myself is not the same as pretending I don't exist, the poem was not towards me and should therefore not be taken as any kind of introduction to me, and I am Eutelia, mortal daughter of Poseidon, and I would be delighted if you do not get me killed."

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"I do not want to get you killed either," he agrees. "You are half god? Good on you. I appreciate your father, too, very much; horses are a very good thing."

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"I've never seen one, have only met my father once, and think if you put very much stock in who my sire was you'll be very disappointed by my mother."

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"Not that much stock, no, but now I am curious."

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"Too bad for you, then, because I don't want to talk about it right now," sniffs Eutelia.

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"Alas," he says, not sounding very disappointed. "Anyway, thank you again for all that you have done to help me. I swear on my honour as a Spartan soldier I will repay you for it."

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"... Okay. I don't know how much honor Spartan soldiers have, though, your oath could be worth nothing at all."

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"I suppose you shall have to wait in suspense until I find the way to repay your kindness, then, or until I disappear never to be heard from again and you discover that Spartan soldiers are actually not that honourable in the end."

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"If you think it is very wise to injure a daughter of Poseidon while you're stuck in the middle of the Aegean Sea, then I suppose you are actually stupid enough to deserve whatever horrible fate you'll get."

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"My options were 'repay your kindness' and 'flee', which of those is injurious?" he asks, sounding merely curious.

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"Disappearing never to be seen again, after I risked very much to help you is, in fact, injurious. And rude. Unless it somehow wasn't your fault, but I might not know that and neither would my father."

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"When you put it that way, I believe I had better rethink my sinister plan to make a boat in secret and sail off into the unknown while you were sleep. Assuming you do sleep."

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"I do not see why it is in my best interests to confirm or deny that."

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"I like you."

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She gives him a very wary look.

"... Okay," she says, eyeing him suspiciously.

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"You are very fun to talk to. I'm glad you decided to break your vow of silence, this is much better than the boredom."

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"I didn't make a vow of silence," she snorts. "I just didn't want you to know where I was or know any characteristics about me."

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"And now I know that you speak Greek and have the head of a human female and are friends with many nereids and the daughter of Poseidon. Also your name."

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".... Yes," she agrees, a little warily.

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"Who knows what other wonderful things I will find out." He starts limping towards the nearest source of wood to inspect it.

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Eutelia looks at him with even more suspicion, and sinks a little further into the water, so only her eyes are visible above the waves.

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The wood itself looks like it'd do okay for sailing; it's a bit small and thin for it, so it'll be a pain to get enough wood to actually make some kind of raft, and whatever he makes won't be very sturdy or good for maneuvering without something very clever.

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He's clever. He'll figure something out.

"You didn't answer me earlier. I don't suppose you have an axe around?"

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"I don't know what an axe is. So probably not."

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"Sharp thing to cut wood with? I'll make my own, then."

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"... I have claws, do those count?"

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...she has claws.

The loincloth he's wearing tied around his hips is not tight enough to prevent evidence of his interest from becoming apparent. "They don't, not for this. I'll make one and show you what it looks like." He makes no movement to hide said evidence.

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Eutelia shrinks in the water again.

".... Okay," she says, and then decides that, actually, she would like to flee. There's a splash and a flash of what looks like a red-orange fin, and then she's gone.

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...she is still a very confusing person.

But fun.

Anyway. A sharp-looking rock can be a first step in turning a particularly thick branch into something like a handle, and he's sure he can find another big enough rock to shape into a blade. He gets to work.

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Rocks are available for this purpose! It's a pity that he wasn't marooned on this island with a knife or something, it'd make this whole thing so much easier, but his former comrades were not very thoughtful in the way they left him for dead.

After a couple false starts, including some rocks that are on one side or the other of 'too sturdy' or 'too fragile,' one scraggly looking bush that dies a noble death to attach a makeshift axe head to his handle. Success! He has an axe. It's not a very sturdy axe, but it will almost certainly fell trees much better than hitting them with his fists.

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Yup. And if this one breaks then he can just make a new one, eventually he'll run into good enough materials.

Zotikos can start felling trees, although it will soon be getting dark. He's not tired, though; probably due to all that napping.

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Trees are felled! He manages to fell a fair number before darkness begins to properly fall. Would he like to keep felling trees until the very last light leaves the sky, into nightfall itself, or stop and do something else?

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He's going to keep doing this until either he is too exhausted, too in pain, or too impaired by darkness to do it.

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Then lots of trees will be felled! But eventually, yes, the darkness makes it rather hard to fell trees safely. How would he like to deal with this problem?

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Probably by returning to the beach and seeing if he got a food offering again.

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He did! There are several fish available for him, next to some sort of flat slate rock that looks like it has... something carved on it, but it's impossible to tell just what in the darkness.

And sitting on one of the rocks near the beach is a slight, feminine figure, just visible against the comparably lighter, but still meagerly moonlit sky. She has something in her hands, and is doing something with it, but it'd be much easier to tell in any actual light.

".... Hello," she says. It's hard to tell, but it seems like she's looking at him.

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"Hi again! Thank you very much for the food." He drops the lumber on a pile next to his designated sleeping area then gets started on a fire. "How has your evening been?"

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“Fine. I made you a map of the island’s coastline, and marked the spring I’ve been getting water from. And now I’m trying to make a basket. How do you make fire?”

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"Ooh, a map, thanks!" So that's what the flat slate of rock is. "For fire you want something to start it, so something that will produce a spark, as well as a pile of easily flammable things and a pile of more durably flammable things. Some kinds of rocks and stones can be hit together to produce the spark, and then dry leaves and twigs are good for catching fire really fast but they also go out fast, while the thicker sturdier wood on top here," he gestures, "needs more work to catch fire but when it does will keep it up for a while. It is customary to surround fire pits with rocks," another gesture, "although that is less of a problem here since sand itself is not flammable so there is no danger of the fire spreading."

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“I see. Thank you. And surrounding the fire with rocks is to prevent it from catching something else and burning out of control? ... it seems like a lot of trouble to go through.”

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"Well I have ever eaten raw meat but it was under strenuous circumstances and I would not want to make a habit of it."

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“... why? I’ve only ever eaten my food raw.”

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"Probably a half-god thing. ...although I think Herakles also ate cooked meat, so maybe a Poseidon thing?"

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“I don’t know. It wasn’t among the things he said to me and my sisters, when he found us. We’d eat whatever we caught or found when we found it if we were hungry, and give it to another if we weren’t.”

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"We can eat raw meat but it does not tend to taste very nice and makes us feel more full than we really are and then we get hungry again sooner. There are also some diseases that get burnt by the fire."

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“Hm.” She tilts her head. “Then may I try some?”

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"Of course. I'll be done in a few minutes."

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“Okay. Thank you. ... why did you say ‘of course’? What made it so obvious?”

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"...well, if by 'try some' you meant you want to have half then we would need more food but I would think you did not mean that? And it is not very bad to lose a little bit of food, especially given that you gave it to me and I am not currently starving."

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“I didn’t mean half of it, no. And... yes, I did catch them, but I have a much easier time catching fish than you would, and wouldn’t have trouble catching more, and you mentioned you had trouble shooting pigeons. I wouldn’t be insulted if you were protective of the little that you have.”

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"Not that little. And I will have to figure out how to catch pigeons in pain anyway, since that's going to be the rest of my life, so." Shrug.

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“A fair point.”

She resumes attempting to weave a basket, still watching him tend to the fire and cook fish.

While she’s well out of reach of him, even if he were to lunge at her, the firelight is enough to pick out some detail. From the waist up, she looks like a young (and rather beautiful, and also completely naked) woman, if a little unnaturally slender. Not the slender of malnutrition, the hints of muscles in her limbs attest that she hasn’t been starved, just of someone that is a bit smaller than human women tend to come in. From the waist down, though, she’s something else entirely. A long fish tail replaces what would be her legs, mottled between shades of pale cream, brown, and a red-orange that matches her hair. She has many spine-like fins, arranged almost like the folds of a long chiton, but from the way they occasionally move without any sort of wind or rustle, they’re definitely another sort of limb, not just mere decoration.

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Kinda hot.

...scratch that, very hot. He gets yet another quite involuntary erection from whatever he's thinking, and smiles to himself but reminds himself that now is not the time. By the time he has some of the fish done he mostly does not have much leftover evidence of any excitement. He grabs a couple of pieces with a stick he's been using as a fork, then walks over to where she is to offer her it.

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She straightens and tenses a little when he stands and begins making his way towards her, looking at him warily.

“... throw it?” she requests, after an uncomfortable pause.

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"- sure," he says, after he's stopped walking. "It is a little bit too hot still, though." He brings the meat closer to his lips and blows on it to get it cooler.

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“This seems very impractical,” she observes, dryly. “The fire building, then the cooking, then the waiting for it to cool, and then at last the eating. I’d have caught several fish by now, if I were hunting.” But her lips twitch, and she smiles a little through her clear anxiety, and adds, “But thank you.”

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"I think the overall time taken is still less, if I would have had to eat ten times as much." Once it is cool enough, he throws her the piece of fish underhand. This may not be an arrow from a bow but he still has exceptional aim.

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She watches its trajectory with a predator’s gaze, and then snaps forward and catches it out of the air with her teeth. And then swallows it whole, looking thoughtful.

“... interesting,” is her judgement.

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.................

He walks back to the fire and when he sits down he once again has a raging boner. He does not pay attention to it and resumes his cooking.

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Eutelia doesn’t immediately flee this time, but she’s back to being tense and watching his every move. It’s clear she’s ready to flee, if his attention turns a bit too much towards her.

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Either he doesn't notice (maybe it's too dark?) or doesn't react to this, but regardless he merely continues to prepare and eat his food and not give his penis any more attention.

"We also usually add spices or salt to food to add some flavour," he says as if nothing's the matter, "so this is only really half as good as it gets."

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“Hm. I see.”

Yep, still watching him warily and not relaxing, but still not fleeing! This is progress, right?

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Who knows! Maybe he hasn't even noticed.

"So... half fish, huh? Can you breathe underwater?"

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“No. I hold my breath.”

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"So you have to come up to the surface whenever you need to breathe?"

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"Correct. More like a dolphin, than a fish, though—yes, you guessed correctly, my mother was a fish."

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"She must have been a very pretty fish," he replies instantaneously and unselfconsciously. "How long can you hold your breath for?"

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She doesn't seem to know how to respond to that first part, looking a little confused. Then she seems to decide to ignore it, and answers: "... Longer than humans."

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"Never timed it?"

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"Or unwilling to tell," she affirms, a touch teasing.

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He laughs. "Of course, of course, no sharing too much information with the dangerous limping archer."

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She doesn't reply to that, she just goes back to attempting to basketweave and watching him warily!

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He chuckles to himself a little bit and watches the fire with a half smile on his face.

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Basketweaving, wary watching of the dangerous limping archer, basketweaving, wary watching, basket—

"Rrgh," she growls at the apparent failure of a basket, and then she shreds it with a mix of teeth and claws and proceeds to... pout. That's definitely pouting that she's doing.

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"- something wrong with the basket?"

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"Yes." Eutelia clearly makes the attempt to leave it at that, from the pause, but she actually cannot resist explaining: "The weave pattern isn't itself complicated, but finding the correct material is, if I get something too stiff it's too brittle and snaps, and if I get something more soft and pliable I inevitably tear it with a stray claw and the whole thing unravels. I had thought that something that was more pliable when wet that would harden to something more stiff would split the difference, but apparently not."

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"Who taught you to weave, and what materials did they use?"

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"No one, and I don't know. I got the idea by watching your unfaithful companions. They had baskets."

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The corners of his mouth twitch down minutely for a second, but he's probably too far away for her to see that.

"I see. I think straw is the typical material people use for anything that does not have specialised needs."

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If she notices, she doesn't comment.

"Straw. From.... stalks of grain?" she confirms.

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"Right in one."

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"Hrm. So... some sort of grass, then. Do you know if it needs to be dried first?"

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"I believe so, but I am admittedly no expert."

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"Hrmmmmm," she grumbles, scraping doodles into the rock she sits on. "... Thank you. I'll figure it out."

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"Good luck!"

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...

She seems a little distracted by his smile.

But she does smile back. A little.

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She is also very pretty.

Shut up penis your opinion has not been requested at this time.

He flops onto his back and stares at the stars, resting his head on both hands and sighing contentedly.

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Eutelia studies him for a little while, with an inscrutable expression. There's certainly still a wariness to her, but also just a trace of fondness, or at least something that looks very much like it.

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"The friend who gave me the bow," he says, after a while longer of looking at the stars, "was a son of... you know. That one god. His mother was Alcmene, and although I never had the pleasure of meeting her, she is told to have been wiser than any other human born of mortal parents."

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"Sounds lovely. I bet she was very proud of her son. ... I hope that that god was... kind to her."

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"He disguised himself as her husband, to whom she had ever been faithful and honourable. He could not have been too out of character, or she would have noticed, so I believe so."

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She makes an unhappy sound, and droops a bit onto her rock.

“... Some comfort, I suppose,” she murmurs. “Though I don’t know if that’s worse or better, in the end.”

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"They were together until her husband, who was a man named Amphitryon, died; he did not blame her, it seemed, and they raised Herakles as one of their own. He was, in effect; he had a twin brother, but his twin's father was the real Amphitryon."

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“Blaming her for being tricked and used by a god would be stupid and cruel. I’m glad he didn’t. And I’m glad the children had parents that looked after them.“

She sounds a little wistful, at that.

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"They were loved, or so I am given to understand. He was born over three score years hence; I was not yet even a dream."

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She huffs a little laugh. “Nor I, but I’m not sure I was ever a dream, precisely.”

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Zotikos looks at her from a corner of his eyes, but then returns to staring at the sky. "He was a willful child, and needed to be taught to control his temper. He had learnt, by the time I met him."

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“Are you sure?” she teases. “His temper was legendary.”

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"You have heard of him?"

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“I live in the sea, not under a rock. Of course I’ve heard of Herakles. Though I expect you have me beat on stories.”

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"He might have made some of them perhaps grander than they actually were. Humble, he was not."

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“I also imagine the tales grew after telling, too.”

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"He would never tell me which, and I suppose it does not matter."

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"Why not? I like finding the differences between the way the world is and the way people say the world is, even if it's not immediately relevant. Otherwise I'm coming to false conclusions with incomplete information."

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"The kinds of embellishments stories get over the years do not tend to be of kind, merely of magnitude. And whether the magnitudes of his feats were as big as he said, well, he is a god now, so it seems not of extreme consequence."

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She gives an annoyed huff. "I... suppose. But what if I like accuracy anyway?"

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"Then I am afraid I am not going to be able to be the one to satisfy that particular urge."

But he turns his head slightly in her direction to look at her out of the corners of his eyes when he's saying that.

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"Mm?" she squeaks, going very still and flushing.

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He turns his head to look at the stars again, but he's still visibly smiling. "I'm just saying that I will not be able to fulfill your desire for accuracy in stories. That particular skill and knowledge gap is not one I have sought to improve."

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"B-but—No, do not just pretend you didn't, didn't just, just imply things, you absolutely were!!! You said one thing and meant something else and, and, and. What did you mean."

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He sloooowly sits up and then turn to look at her properly. "What do you think I meant?" he asks plainly.

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She squeaks again, and then promptly hops off her rock to... hide behind it. And peer at him, her eyes poking over the rock.

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...wait that's not what comes next what.

"That was not what I was expecting to happen next."

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"... No?" she wonders, poking her head over the rock a little more, and furrowing her eyebrows.

"Well, okay."

And then there's a splash and: Eutelia appears to have fled!

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.......wait that was not it either!

"What," he says softly to no one.

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Nnnnope she still seems to be gone!

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He looks down at a random spot on the sand and sees a little crab walk a couple of steps before it burrows itself into a hole. "Yeah, me, too, little fella."

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And here is a daughter of Poseidon again! Poking her head around her rock and looking confused and a bit exasperated.

"..... Well..?" she says, leadingly.

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Zotikos looks up at her again and blinks in surprise. "- I think I should be the one asking that!"

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"Well I can't really hop on land and make any kind of sport of it, obviously you'd just catch me!"

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"What????"

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"Look I know I'm not as, as, pretty and perfect as a nereid, and I'm part," she looks away, ashamed, "you know, but I'm not just. Not worth any effort at all...."

Something in her voice cracks on the last syllable, and it sounds like she kind of wants to cry.

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"Okay back up like twenty steps here because I think something has gotten lost in translation."

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".... Nevermind," she murmurs, and then she releases her rock and disappears into the water.

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"Wait! No, come on, damnit -"

He gets to his feet and limps over to where she dove into to try to see if he can see where she went.

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Nope! Nope, she seems to be gone. Again. Maybe she'll pop back up again...?

...

Nope, she's actually just gone.

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"Come on! Eutelia!" he calls.

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There is no answer.

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Godsdamnit.

He goes back to the beach and sits at the edge of the water then says, "O beautiful nereids, hear my plea and offer me your succor in this time of need.

"I can't tell you which way the gale has turned
for waves crash in from west and east, and I
am tossed and driven between them, my black ship
laboring under the giant storm.

"The sea washes across the decks and maststep
and dark daylight already shows through long rents
in the sails. Even the halyards slacken as
windward waves coil above the hill.

"What sore labor to bail the water we've shipped!
But though I heave and try to ride out the storm,
ride it through to the end of dawn,
still the storm evades me
."*

He keeps his eyes open and waits.

* Adaptation of an English translation of A Nation at Sea.

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There is a long pause, and then a gorgeous (and very naked) young lady made out of pure water rises up from the waves.

"You beg aid to find a lost child,
raised a pearl among glittering diamonds,
heartbroken at why she shines not
the same as the gems around her.

"You rush forward as if a storm,
is something to be strangled,
like great Herakles and his
fearsome Nemean Lion.

"It aids neither to intercede,
and lead a hunter his quarry's den,
if he stops not to consider why she fled,
or what he'll do once he finds her."*

Her form dissipates, with the parting words, "My answer, and the answer you will hear from all of my sisters, therefore, is no."

*Badly translated from Greek to English by an intern; we are trying to find a translator that will not butcher the original poem while still conveying its meaning.

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He slumps down at that. What!!!!

"I - once I find her I will ask her why she fled, that's the point!!!!!!" he yells. "Eutelia!" he yells again, expecting no response.

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That is precisely what he gets.

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Zotikos growls, and waits a little bit longer, and then leans forward to rest his forehead on his hands.

He was flirting! She noticed he was flirting, didn't she? She blushed, he saw it, and then she asked him, and he asked her, and then she - hid? Why would she hide - and then she - left and then came back and... said she... wouldn't be much sport inland...

"Oh, for the love of -"

Well. That has killed his mood and his boner. And he can't very well look for her while limping in the dark. So instead he goes back to his spot and tries to get to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It takes him a very, very long time.

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He is rudely awoken by a very loud thunk of a large slab of slate hitting the beach, in the morning.

"So," says Eutelia, loudly and in a no-nonsense and business-like tone. She points at things carved onto the surface with her claws. "Here is the island you're on, here are the closest nearby islands, and a rough estimation of the direction of the nearby tides, the closest inhabited island is Lemnos, you'll likely want to aim for it..."

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Zotikos opens his eyes and sits up immediately, all sleep-induced grogginess completely absent. He looks at her, looks down at the map, then up at her again, and says without preamble: "Did you want me to chase you? That was incredibly not obvious and I still do not understand why you would want that but I assure you the fact that I did not has nothing to do with how desirable you are. Which is very."

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Something in her face contorts at the word 'very,' and she looks away.

 


"... Damn it, I was trying to pretend last night didn't happen and move on with both of our lives, and then you went and addressed it directly." She huffs, and crosses her arms. She's still not looking at him. "... I don't know how else it's supposed to go."

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"...well, uh, the way it was going? You know, how I said something vague that you could have pretended meant something else, and then you did not, so I made it a little bit more obvious, and then you...

"Hid behind a rock!"

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"Mocking me for the incomprehensible nature of my actions does not help either of us understand the disconnect between our two worldviews."

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"I'm sorry, it was not meant as mockery, it was - I was so - confused, it completely broke my flow.

"The way it goes can - well, it can go many ways, really, but given the way you had previously acted shy and coy it seemed like the way it was supposed to go was that I would make casual remarks of interest in your general direction as we got to know each other better and you would either eventually decide that you wanted none of it and make it clear or you would start following one of the lines I threw at you. There might have been intermediate parts where you followed the lines a little bit further than the last time, both because it's fun and to see where exactly my lines are leading and how I react to that.

"How were you expecting it to go?"

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".... The... normal way it goes when men see a pretty woman and lose their minds to lust...?" She waves a hand, vaguely. "Like Poseidon and the nereids. You know, chasing them to the furthest reaches of the sea, trying to win their hearts with songs or poetry, or... something. To either catch her directly or persuade her to let herself be caught."

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"...so, gods are very, very different from normal men. - not that there aren't any men like that, but I personally find that being with someone who may not want to be there is not actually that fun, especially if afterwards they hate you. Some men do not mind it but I do. And poetry and songs are another way to do it, sure, and sometimes just saying you want it but - for people who are not gods there is always something to lose, or at least the risk of."

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"If I really wanted to get away from you, I would jump into the sea and swim elsewhere and you'd likely never see me again," she points out, reasonably.

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"Sure but it did not occur to me that you wanted to be caught, most women who run don't actually."

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"And this actually matters to you in more than just a tactical 'will it help you get what you want' sense," she says, understanding dawning. "Oh. Okay." Pause. "I don't see how that would result in as much sex as men seem to want, though...?"

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"...I can just have sex with other men if I'm feeling the lack, men are easier."

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"... You are stuck on an island with no men, though."

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"I am not feeling the lack that badly." Pause. "And even if I were I still have any self control and would not want to have sex with you if you did not want to have sex with me."

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“... Huh. That’s kind of... sweet. Thank you.”

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"You're... welcome?"

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She snorts. "You sound so confused about that."

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"Women are usually aware that lots of men will just take what they want when they want it but I am pretty sure they still think that that's not great, not that the other way around is particularly praiseworthy?" he tries.

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"It's... not that I thought it wasn't not great. Just... that it's not great in a predictable way I should not expect better of, and instead just work around."

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"Well. Unless you're dealing with gods, you should expect better of, yes."

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She nods, then starts fidgeting.

".... Well." Fidget fidget. "I... think I'm flattered that you want me, but while you're very pretty, I..." Fidget fidget fidget. "... I think I should probably have a better grasp on how I don't need to conduct myself like a nereid and act like anyone and everyone is going to jump out from behind something and pin me to have their way with me. Before I go..." She waves a hand. "... doing things."

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"That seems like a very sensible idea!"

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Eutelia beams and then squirms, pleased.

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"Well, now that we have gotten this out of the way and determined that neither of us wants the other to flee the island as fast as he or she possibly can, the morning has begun and I should resume my work. ...but I should probably begin by finding that stream you mentioned and going through that excruciating process with my ankle."

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“Yes. You should probably tend to it at least twice a day, more if you do things that are likely to get it messy. Like frolicking in mud puddles.”

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"Twice. What a gods damned waste of time," he says, sighing long-sufferingly but hopping onto his feet anyway.

He flinches as he does that and stumbles a bit, but doesn't let that stop him and doesn't actually fall this time.

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Eutelia winces. "... I'm sorry. Do you want help?"

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"I'm fine. Just a flesh wound."

He starts limping over to where the stream is.

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It's not hard to get to in itself, though it's a little bit secluded, and far enough inland that Eutelia probably had a lot of trouble getting to it regularly. There's less overall water than what had been in the mud hole, but it's definitely flowing water, not stagnant.

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...did she seriously drag herself here? No other easier paths from the sea?

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Hmmm, well... if she took the somewhat meandering path he took, it'd be a long way to drag herself. But if she instead climbed up that sheer, rocky cliff with her claws, that cuts the distance down significantly. It just implies that she can climb up and then down a cliff while carrying a pot that's filled with water on the return trip.

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He'll ask later.

And even a little bit of a stream is still clean water and he feels much better to wash himself in it. He washes his wound, and manages to keep his sounds to small grunts and hisses as he squeezes all the pus out and rubs the cloth he was using to bandage it against it. He rubs his own skin and hair with his loincloth, and washes the loincloth by rinsing it and rubbing it against itself and nearby rocks.

After he feels properly cleaned and cleansed, he stretches the loincloth and the bandage over a particularly clean-looking rock under the sun so they can dry, and stays there waiting for that and just relaxing for a little bit.

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It's a rather nice day. Birds sing lovely songs to each other and to him by proxy, the sunlight is warm, and the occasional breeze is pleasantly cool and refreshing.

Eventually, everything is properly dried.

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And he can use his loincloth to pat his ankle dry and then use the other cloth as a dry bandage.

Back to the beach he goes.

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Eutelia's not immediately available, but she left him food in the form of quite a lot of scallops! And it looks like she's gathering firewood, because there's a pile of wood that wasn't there before, and signs of a daughter of Poseidon lingering on land to rip branches off of trees. From the distant sound of cracking branches, it sounds like she's up to that sort of thing right now.

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He laughs to himself a little, replaces the current bandage with a freshly ripped part of his chiton (he should've remembered to bring that with him to the spring), and goes looking for her.

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Here is Eutelia! She is up a tree, and is being a menace to the tree's foliage. Which is to say, digging in to where branches meet with her claws, and tearing the smaller ones free to drop to the ground below. She's surprisingly high up in that tree, actually, and seems less awkward than one might expect someone who's half fish to be. Apparently she's very flexible? Not quite to the degree of a snake, but something in that vein.

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...man she needs to be less hot. Or alternatively not that.

"You seem to be having fun."

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"It's sort of viscerally satisfying! Also much easier than trying to drag myself over land, since most of my ability to move is in my upper body anyway."

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"Any particular reason for the sudden interest?"

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"I," rip, followed by a crash of a branch falling below, "would like to learn how to make fire! It seems like a terrible waste for Prometheus to go through all that trouble of stealing it from the gods, only for me to refuse the opportunity of learning how to make it." Pause. "Assuming you're willing to teach me, anyway."

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"Naturally."

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"Great! Experimentation from theoretical first principles would have been much more annoying!" There's another crash as the latest branch meets doom at the hands of a demigoddess.

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She is far far far too attractive. Herakles would have liked to have met her.

"Well, for a lesson I wager we have enough wood and I hunger."

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"Okay, hold on." Descending is significantly more awkward than ascending, but she manages to make it look almost graceful. Just falling out of the tree is apparently not as much of an option when one... doesn't have legs.

"Can I persuade you to carry the wood?" she wheedles, pointing her pretty smile at him. "I am awkward enough over land without it, I think."

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"How could I possibly refuse?"

Wood! In perhaps more than just the one sense.

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"Well I hear it starts at 'no,' and from there can escalate to running away, but honestly I'm really not an expert on the subject!"

Moving out of the water and over relatively flat ground: it still involves a lot of dragging herself around. Her tail is pretty flexible, but not really built for this; while it's better than literal dead weight, it's only just.

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"Want some help moving around?"

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Eutelia tilts her head and eyes him. She's clearly still a little bit twitchy, but she's at least attempting to follow the premise that he does not in fact have only his own best interests in mind.

".... Maybe? That depends on the kind of help."

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"I was going to suggest carrying you but if you still feel unsafe I will not feel slighted."

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"I think... not yet. But thank you, and maybe eventually." She sounds like she means it!

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He's sure his wood did not help matters but it's not like he has volitional control over it.

Back to the beach!

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To the beach!

"I didn't gather the quick-but-easy-to-burn stuff, I don't think I understand the criteria well enough to pick it out on my own."

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"Very dry, very thin, that should be an approximately good enough criterion." He has spares because he comes prepared!

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Hooray!

He has a rapt audience who is excited to learn about how to turn sparks and tinder into fire.

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Zotikos gets rid of the already too-burnt-out stuff, mostly piles of ash, and then shows her how to set dry leaves and twigs and the like around evenly. Some sturdier pieces of wood go on top of that, crossing over each other and with space for the lower fire to reach up. He adds some more dry leaves on top of those bits of wood, as well as between and around them, and then more sturdy wood piles up. At the end he has a fairy respectable unlit fire pit, most of its mass concentrated in the slow-burning pieces but with enough of the faster ones to keep everything going until the fire is steady.

He explains everything he's doing and why as he does it, and if she wants to participate in the process he'll absolutely let her.

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She absolutely wants to participate in the process! Though it all seems pretty straightforward to her, so far, it's a matter of making sure the fire has the right kind of fuel in the right kind of place for when it's starting. But what about making the baby fire itself?

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He can show how to do that, too! The rocks he's been using for the initial spark aren't proper flint but they're good enough.

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... Okay, this part's harder. Not impossible, but harder, at least when you need the sparks to light and then nurture the fragile ember into a proper fire. Eutelia's actually kind of insistent about being the one to get to do this, this is the sort of thing she needs to learn by doing instead of by watching. She's going to get it, okay, she will not be beaten by fire!

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...she's adorable. He'll try to point to what she needs to adjust to the extent he can but mostly leave her to figure out the muscle memory for it.

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Rrrrrgh she will not be beaten!!

And she isn't. The copious smoke and dull orange light eventually gives way to the first tiny, fragile tongues of flame.

"Ha!" she exhales triumphantly, then resumes gently blowing on it so as not to lose her precious little proof of victory.

Soon enough, there is a little fire that doesn't need her constant, unwavering attention to avoid spluttering out. Eutelia sits up, beaming and looking pleased and proud.

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"Congratulations!"

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"Thank you!" She gives a little happy squirm, still grinning, then pauses and gives him a contemplative look. ".... Does touch make, er, it harder? Can I hug you without making things difficult for you...?"

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"- hm? Oh, no, not particularly. Or, maybe, but I do not think this is the kind of thing where it becomes difficult or uncomfortable."

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"... Really? But you do the whole..." She motions downward. "... Thing. Isn't it supposed to be maddening and uncomfortable and, uh," she's blushing a little, "like a sword that very much wants to be sheathed?"

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"...it is a little bit uncomfortable but mostly to move, and it draws my thoughts to certain places more insistently, but it's not any harder to ignore than... than the heat if I were walking barefoot on sand that's very hot but not hot enough to actually burn."

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"Huh. Okay. Then, in that case!" She scoots closer to him, holds out her arms for a hug and smiles at him.

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Awwwwww she is too adorable help. He hugs her back, leaning down as she is smol and does not have legs.

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Hug! She is very little, and also a little chillier compared to a similarly sized human. ... Her skin's also a strange sort of texture, which is interesting.

"Mind my spines, I'm keeping them tucked in but they're still a bit sharp," giving a little happy squeeze, "but also eeeee I made fire!!"

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"Congratulations," he repeats, grinning and very very deliberately not thinking about the sharpness.

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Huuuuuuuggg!!! Hughughughughug actually this is kind of a surprisingly snuggly and insistent hug for someone that's as apparently as twitchy about being sexually accosted as she is, she kind of seems like she wants to curl up in his lap? ... In a platonic way, she does not seem anything more than just an ordinary sort of happy.

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"You sure seem happy," he comments, not letting go of the hug.

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"Mhmmmmm," she hums. "I've missed hugs. ... And now I'm also kind of about to cry because apparently I'm complicated! Um. Hold on, let me get the fire more wood so it won't die out while I'm being complicated."

Fire! Wood! Studiously keeping emotions in a little jar until they are convenient to deal with!!

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He watches her with some bewilderment.

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She very carefully makes sure the fire will not die out while she's busy being complicated. It is very methodical and systematic.

Then she takes a deep breath and gently flings herself back at Zotikos for more hugs.

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Okay yeah sure hugs.

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Yep she's now crying on him. That's a thing that's happening.

"... Sorry," she mumbles. "I um. I miss my sisters."

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"Oh. Oh, Eutelia... I'm sorry..."

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"They're, um, probably fine? Except, um. Chrysanthe. Chrysanthe is not fine. Obviously. She's the um, one who had a bad encounter with a man and a rock." Sniffle. "I was just upset after, uh, things, and got into a huge fight with Zosime about, uh, related things, and. I-I left. Is what happened."

Yep back to crying on him.

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That's okay he can hug her for as long as she needs him to.

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Apparently she needs a lot of hugs!!!

"That explanation was probably, um. Very confusing. Sorry. There's kind of a whole set of nesting cause and effect going on and it's. A lot. I'll um. I'll try to start explaining." Huuuuug hughughug. "So when we first tried to meet people, we uh, popped out of the water near a village and tried to say hi, and that worked for a little while? And then someone had the bright idea of trying to catch us, so they made an ambush with nets. It didn't work, and nobody was hurt on either side, but it was terrifying and we decided not to do that again without a better plan besides just.... popping out of the water to say hi."

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"...what. Was going on. Through their heads. Why did they want to catch you."

Zotikos is Judging Some People here.

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"They didn't exactly say, it was just kind of. Surprise! But with nets."

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"I have seen people make some very, very stupid decisions in my life but this one seems pretty up there."

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"They didn't realize there were as many of us as there were, because not all of us thought it was a good idea and we're not all the same level of social, and we hadn't mentioned who our father was, and. It was still pretty stupid, yeah."

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"It just seems... so senseless? Why would you meet new people and then suddenly decide to trap them in nets?"

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She snorts. "If I see them again, I will point you to them, and you can ask them, hm?"

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"Sure, I suppose that will have to do."

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"We had competing theories, but without the ability to prove any of them, we decided to drop it for the sake of peace among sisters," says Eutelia, a little amused. Then the mirth fades and she continues her tale. "... So after that, we tried saying hi to a couple of fishermen on their boats, with presents of fish. That went better, but they were uh, more scared than willing to talk so we decided to leave them alone. But it did go better."

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"Did they think you were nymphs?"

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"I think so? Or something like them. Definitely the sorts of scary things one tries to avoid if one is trying to live a boring life without any divine nonsense."

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"I would not know what that's like."

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She snorts. "Not even a little tempted, with the ankle?"

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"Nope."

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".... Really?"

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"Really."

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".... You have a cursed injury and you're stuck on an island with only me for company! I wouldn't be insulted if you said, 'Actually, I'd rather not this.'"

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"Your company is a delight, and I do not regret any of the choices I made that led me to here."

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"... A delight?"

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"I am sure I have said this before."

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"You did, it's just. I-I mean I understand why you'd be glad that I'm here, what with the life saving and feeding you and, whatnot, but. A delight." She gives a little happy squirm, and decides to hide and smile into his shoulder.

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He laughs. "Yes I am very thankful for the life saving and the company but you actually also turned out to be very good to have around."

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"eeeeeee."

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He laughs some more and pets her.

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She gives a little happy hum and nestles into his arms.

"Well now I don't want to continue to talk about my sad personal history, I kind of just want to snuggle and be told I'm a delight!! .... Probably we should multitask a little and eat while doing this, at least! You can eat scallops, right?"

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"I can," he agrees. "I might need hands to prepare the food, though."

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"Hmmmm. This is true. Well, first, are you able to open the scallops on your own?"

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"I would probably figure it out but something tells me you want to show off."

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"Actually no, I just open them with my claws and you don't have those, so. Continue hugging me while I open them for you."

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"Oh, I apologise, so you mean that the fact that you have claws and can easily use them in feats of strength and dexterity was not showing off?"

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Giggle. "Correct. I'm being pragmatic."

She pulls the scallops closer with a scoop of her tail, and then gets to displaying feats of strength and dexterity with her claws! ... Mostly that second one, it's more of a matter of leverage than of strength.

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"Not showing off at all, I see."

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"If you are impressed and delighted it is a nice bonus, but not the reason for my actions," she says loftily. Scallops: get opened. "Do you need to cook these, because I just eat these raw and don't see.... how.... you'd cook them."

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"Inside their shells, usually. One would fill a container with water and then boil them in it."

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"Oh. Oops." She has not actually made it through all of the scallops; she stops. "Should I eat all of these opened ones and let you boil the unopened ones and then open them?"

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"That would probably work better, yes."

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"Okay." She gives him a last affectionate snuggle, then she scoots away to give him room to do cooking things. And for herself to do eating things.

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He does cooking things! She can try some if she wants.

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Sure! If he has enough to eat.

"Though if this isn't enough I can go hunting more. These, or fish, or crabs or lobster, or some other edible sea creature, probably, as long as it's not a shark or a dolphin or something."

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"I would not have expected dolphins to be a problem."

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"They are actually way scarier than sharks, because they work together! I could maybe ambush a shark and avoid the mouth of sharp teeth, but it's much harder to outwit an entire pod of dolphins. Besides, they're too smart to eat, so I refuse to figure out the trick to it. I won't ever bring you an octopus, either, for similar reasons. They're not as dangerous and I think I'd win, but they're very clever."

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"Huh. Clever how?"

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"Mmm. So I've seen young octopi, and they're all.... confused about their many limbs and kind of overwhelmed? But they're very methodical about figuring things out. The older, bigger octopi show a lot of awareness of themselves, and memory of what works and what doesn't. They're curious in a 'how does this work,' kind of way, not in a 'can I eat this,' kind of way, like you see with fish. Mostly fish just want to see if they can eat things. There are exceptions, but they mostly sort things into the categories of 'will it eat me' and 'can I eat this.'"

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That description makes him giggle. "I suppose you have met many more fish than I have and would know better."

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"The bigger ones like to be pet," she informs him, grinning. "The little ones might too, but I'm big enough that they generally want nothing to do with me because I might eat them. Which is pretty fair, really."

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"Bigger fish or bigger octopi?"

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"Fish. I don't know if big octopi like being pet, I haven't tried it. I probably won't, they're the sorts of things that seem dangerous to get that close to. If I wanted to beat them in a fight I'd stay back and try to take advantage of my longer reach and see if my venom slows them down a little."

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"- your venom?"

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"Oh. Right. I hadn't been mentioning that because it seemed like a smart thing to keep to myself in case you were lying. Oops. I'm venomous, I'm pretty sure it's not deadly to humans, but it works fine on little fish and stuff. The guy Chrysanthe got lived through it, he just seemed to find it really painful."

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"...how do you apply this venom? And how painful, exactly?"

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"Little glands underneath my claws! See?" She shows him her hands, and... huh, yes, there's a little ridge in the middle of the sharp claws on the ends of her otherwise mostly-ordinary looking hands. Eutelia gently squeezes the claw and the tip of her finger together, and a little clear droplet of venom leaks out. "I have some degree of control over it, I don't gush venom when I'm using them to climb things, but it's not completely under my control. And the spines on my back are more potent but I have even less fine control over it. And... I don't know, I'm immune."

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"oh."

He is perhaps very very fond of this little bit of information.

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She looks up from educating him about her physiology and actually spots the look on his face. Among other things. Once she sees it, she blinks several times, then flushes. "... why, did you want to use it on arrows or something...?"

This is not the question she wants to ask, but. It's the only question she feels quite brave enough to ask.

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"...that is also a possible use, yes."

Yep. He is quite very fond of this little bit of information. He is not doing anything about this fondness right now as he is making food but gosh he is so fond.

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"I... don't know what else you would use venom for?"

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"To cause pain."

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This is the uncomprehending and slightly concerned stare of a person who does not know why someone would want that!

".... It wouldn't work on me, because it's my venom and I'm immune?" she attempts, going with the first applicable reasoning her worldview understands.

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"Oh, I got that part. It's not you who would be feeling the pain. And before we go down this little rabbit hole of a conversation I want to give you the option of not doing that."

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"If we don't go down this little rabbit hole of a conversation I will continue to be very confused and thinking you'll have all of the worst intentions about it because that keeps turning out to be smart with my interactions with people that aren't my sisters! I'd like to give you a chance to prove my flinch reaction wrong! So thank you but no actually please explain, this is a bit alarming."

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"Pain can feel really nice during sex. Or outside of sex. For many many reasons but I just thought about fucking you while you scratch my back with those claws and..."

His fondness twitches a bit.

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Well now she's blushing very very much!

"Oh. That. Um. Oh. Okay."

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"So your flinch reaction was probably wrong," he concludes.

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"Yes, yes it was very wrong! I thought you wanted to use it on other people! Not. Have me use it on you."

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"Well, I'm sure there are war applications," he concedes.

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She snorts. And also blushes. There is so much blushing. She realizes this and covers her face with her hands and giggles into them.

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He laughs. "You look very adorable when you blush."

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Giggle. "Thank you. I didn't. I didn't know that was a thing!! Is. Is that a common thing? Pain feeling really nice during sex?"

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"I don't know how common it is in general but I think it is more common amongst soldiers and fighters than other people? And I am the person who enjoys the largest variety of things in sexual ways that I have ever met."

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Eutelia snorts again. "Oh, I see. Okay."

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Zotikos should perhaps focus on cooking but his mind keeps being drawn places. He has to stop his hand from accidentally wandering down himself; he expects that would be definitely going too far.

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And meanwhile, she eats the opened scallops!

 

"... You keep almost touching yourself? Are you okay?"

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His hands immediately find something food-related to busy themselves with. "- I was going to apologise but maybe what I would instead do is take two steps back and ask if you know what masturbation is."

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The blank, uncomprehending stare of someone who thought sexual pleasure for women was a little bit of a dubious prospect, definitely didn't know that sexual pleasure was a thing that could not involve other people, and furthermore grew up in constant contact with eight sisters and not very much privacy or alone time.

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Hoo boy.

"You can simulate feelings of sexual pleasure by rubbing certain body parts. Men can do that with their penises, anuses, nipples sometimes, or sometimes other sensitive areas like armpits or the back of the neck. Women can do that with their vaginas - human women, I suppose I don't know exactly how it works for you," and boy exploring that sounds like a real exciting prospect lemme tell ya, "and anuses and very often nipples and also other sensitive body parts too.

"I would offer to show you how it works on me, but..."

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"I... don't think that will be necessary," she says, smiling and flushing a little. "Yet, anyway, I..." Eutelia trails off. ".... I think I'd like to figure it out on my own? Without anyone else's involvement, so it's... mine?"

But she does look very gratified and a little smug. ... Also just a little teasing, like she's enjoying driving him just a little bit crazy.

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"That," he says, hands still busy with the food, "is entirely reasonable."

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"But I can go collect more scallops, or some other things if you'd like some variety. While you cook."

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"That sounds like a splendid idea!"

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"I'll see what I can go find, then!"

Fortunately for the pacing of this conversation, she has finished all of the opened scallops and can just immediately go dive back into the sea to give him some space. For cooking.

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And by the time she comes back, his little bowl with the scallops will be resting on his loincloth's fabric to cool, and his fondness will no longer be so apparent.

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Eutelia returns with a few more scallops, and one rather large crab! She seems a little bit exasperated by the crab, which is ineptly trying to make its displeasure known with its claws.

"You can eat crab, right, it's not inedible...?" she confirms, dumping the scallops immediately so she has one hand free to drag herself a bit more securely onto the beach while the other hand is busy with the crab.

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"Yep, also boiled in its shell. You seem to be having fun with it."

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"It is very spirited!!" she says, dodging an attempted pinch as she flips the crab over. With a neat little jab of her own claws to a vulnerable part of the crab, the crab gives a final twitch, and then falls still. Eutelia breathes a sigh of relief and relaxes. "But if you couldn't eat it I was going to let it go."

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"I think I eat the same things you do? Maybe you can eat more things because you're a half-goddess but Herakles ate the same sorts of things we did."

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"Even if we do eat the same things, we don't eat them in the same sort of way, and I imagine we have different tastes. And since I seem to be your major source of food, I'd rather check than not. Otherwise I might show up with a surprise, and the surprise turns out to be 'you do not get breakfast.'"

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"You will be surprised to hear that I have had many days without any breakfast at all in my life."

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"Are you complaining about someone trying to reliably provide you with breakfast?" she wonders, archly. Since the crab is now dead, she can bring it and the scallops over to the area where they will be cooked. She does that.

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"Not at all, not at all. Maybe I should hunt for something and see what you think of food that is not from the sea."

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"I'd like that!"

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But since he can eat crab and scallops and whatever else, breakfast will be had by all.

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Breakfast!! With a fire she made! It's very exciting, and Eutelia's happy to sample this strange mystery of 'cooked food.'

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And once they're done:

"I should go fetch more wood. - oh, did I ever actually show you the axe?"

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“You haven’t,” she says, smiling at him expectantly.

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Axe! "This is very rough, of course, professionally-made ones are better, but this is the general shape of one."

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"Huh! That does look better for chopping down trees than menacing them like I do. ... Possibly less fun, though."

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"I think you would probably not find it that fun after your fifth tree."

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"Well now I'm going to do my best to have fun every single time, just to spite you."

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"Be my guest, more wood is always better."

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"Are there other ways I can help with you making your boat?"

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"Once I have secured sufficient wood I'll still need to shape it into planks, and then figure out a way to get it all together - I figure there's a reason I have never heard of anyone using stone nails but if I had to actually smelt them out of iron I might take years so I'll try to use straw rope first."

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"That dovetails nicely with my basketweaving side project, how do you make straw rope, and do you very much mind if rope making up your boat to escape is made by a novice?"

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"I will show you how to make rope, and so long as it does not break I have no reason to mind."

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"I will do my best to not accidentally sabotage you with my inexperience! .... Or purposefully sabotage you, actually, I just realized that some nymphs might try to keep you if they liked you, so."

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"I am not a pet best kept, unfortunately. But nothing's stopping you from coming with."

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"I don't think people make very good pets, or that I'd... want one. And yes, I can! At least until you reach civilization, anyway. I kind of imagine you'd want to have me along until you reach civilization, if nothing else I'm a better swimmer than you are and have more practice hunting in the sea."

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...oh, right, she would probably not come with him back to civilisation, would she. This is not an "obvious in hindsight" thing, this is just an "obvious" thing.

He's not sure why it hit him like this right now.

"If only I could ride you instead of needing a boat," he says wistfully after a pause.

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Eutelia sporfles.

"What, just pick you up and carry you off wherever you'd like to go? That sounds exhausting, and I need to sleep. Not to mention swimming on the surface is more tiring than swimming under it, and one of us needs to breathe more than the other."

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"Maybe the solution is a raft, but you pull it."

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"I'm willing to help pull your boat, but it would be very dumb to have a boat that only moves under its own power by me pulling it. You'd be stranded if something happened to me."

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"I will probably need oars and maybe a sail, yes."

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“Mhmm. And stores of fresh water.”

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"Those too!"

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She beams at him, then: "Okay, go chop down trees, you won't get yourself off this island just by talking to me. And I'll see if I can scrounge up another water vessel."

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"Yes, ma'am."

Chop chop!

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And she heads off to look for things that could be scavenged in the shallows of the islands! Fortunately for her, humans are notorious litterbugs, and this island is a known fresh water source for sailors, so this is not a hopeless endeavor! ... Still pretty difficult, though.

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The trees fall before Zotikos! All trees will bow before his might!

.... are those olives? Those look like olives. They don't look very ripe, but they do look like they'll be edible at some point. Dietary variety!

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Huh. Actual olives and not weird suspicious probably-poisonous lookalikes?

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They look like actual olives to him, but he can always eat one and see if it makes him sick if he's not sure! Would he like to test them, by that method or perhaps by a method that won't potentially lead to puking his guts out or killing him?

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He can lick one.

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It tastes like an olive! A very unripe one, though, so it's not precisely delicious.

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Well, he'll pop it into his mouth and eat it and if it's poisonous at least it was his own stupidity that killed him instead of any gods. He'll memorise this location for future foraging.

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While the taste of an unripe, raw olive is quite bitter, it is at least a change from the unseasoned cooked meat he's been eating. So it has that going for it.

The small tree is certainly not going to get up and walk away from him.

Other small trees are still available for chopping!

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And he's probably going to need quite a lot of wood if he wants anything more useful than a raft. Which he will, because it would be the height of idiocy to try to go all the way to Troy on a raft.

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Lots of trees fall before him. His ankle hurts the entire time he does it, but the swelling and the painful throbbing increase over time. It may or may not start to become distracting after long enough.

He can keep at it until he thinks it needs tending, he starts to feel hungry, dusk, or presumably until he collapses from utter exhaustion. It's up to him.

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Hunger or tending, whichever happens first.

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Hunger! How would he like to handle this? Eutelia is absent and has yet to leave him any gifts of fish.

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Well, archery practice, probably. He'll have to deal with the pain forever anyway, so he might as well figure out how to become the best archer in the world again while in unreasonable amounts of pain.

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Small birds are available for shooting! The principles of archery are the same, but there is something of a trick to standing and moving and firing in a way that doesn't cause flareups of agony. Also something of a trick to ignoring agony. It's somewhat predictable agony, at least. Flareups only happen when something touches the area directly, or he puts too much weight on it, or he moves in these particular kinds of ways....

His archery skills improve with practice, and soon enough he can (mostly) avoid missing small, swift moving birds. How many would he like to acquire before he goes to cook them? They're plentiful enough that they're not going to run out anytime soon. The challenge of sneaking up on and then shooting either a small target through a lot of brush, or a small moving target through a lot of brush, is at least more interesting than chopping trees.

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And it's not something he's exactly unused to. Depending on how small these "small targets" are he'll get something between four and seven of them.

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They're pretty small; probably best to go with the full seven, especially if he decides he'd like to share with Eutelia. Who is still absent, even after seven birds have been felled.

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Huh. Wonder what she's up to.

Well, he can start making food out of the birds.

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Birds are plucked, cleaned, and after a fire is made, cooked!

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Eutelia returns midway through, dragging some sort of ceramic pitcher that looks intact, if a bit chipped.

"I return triumphant! I see you went hunting as well."

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"Welcome back! What was the triumph?"

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"Must I only have one? You wound me with your lack of faith. But the relevant one is this," she motions dramatically to the chipped pitcher. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find ceramics in the sea?"

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"I admit I do not. What were your other triumphs?"

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"I don't want to tell you," says Eutelia, brightly. While smirking. Apparently she's in the mood to be playfully disagreeable.

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"Is that so," says Zotikos, an eyebrow quirking up with mirth. "No hints either?"

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"Nope. And I will neither confirm nor deny guesses. You'll just have to live in ignorance."

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"Maybe I am very sure of my guesses."

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"You'll just have to live in ignorance," she repeats. Is that a hint of a blush on her cheeks? It looks a bit like it. She studiously changes the subject. "But it's actually very difficult to find lost ceramics in the sea, it's a rather big place. So you're welcome."

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"Thank you," he trills.

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She beams at him, sets the pitcher down, and looks curiously at the dead birds becoming dinner.

"Oh, you need to get the feathers off before you cook them. ... This continues to seem like quite a lot of work just to get food."

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"And yet it continues to be the case that it's tastier and in the end takes less time than if I had to eat enough raw food to survive."

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She giggles, apparently delighted by the banter.

"How do you know? Have you systematically compared the two methods?"

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"Not systematically, only anecdotally whenever I got stranded with no access to cooked food for days at a time."

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"Hmmm. Very well, you have more experience than me at this, so I suppose your logic gets a pass."

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"Also it's harder to chew," he adds as an afterthought. "And this is the time you tell me you have fangs."

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"I think you would have noticed if I did! Do I look like I have fangs?" She opens her mouth demonstrably; she looks to have a perfectly ordinary set of human teeth, no fangs in sight.

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"Maybe your teeth are sharper, then. Or maybe not, since you mostly eat fish."

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"Hm." She thoughtfully presses a canine with a thumb. "Maybe? I don't know how to judge the sharpness of one's teeth without sticking my fingers in your mouth, which I think doesn't seem worth the trouble."

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"When I've properly seduced you and we finally kiss I can test it empirically."

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"Properly seduced me?" she giggles, delighted. "You've been planning to?"

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That throws him for a loop. "And here I thought I was being too obvious about it!"

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"Well there's," she waves a hand vaguely, "trying to have sex with me and there's trying to romance me, I knew about the former but the, phrasing of 'seduce me' implies, um..."

She suddenly looks a little bit nervous and unsure, fidgeting with her hair and not looking at him.

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"Well, sex is way more fun with romance, as you put it. I suppose I had not given the idea of anything very long term too much thought but..."

He does not look mispleased by the thought.

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She peeks at him from behind her hair to look at his expression, and fidgets more.

"Oh," she says, for lack of a better idea. She doesn't sound unhappy, just. A little overwhelmed.

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"Good time for you to say you hate the idea, by the way."

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"No," she blurts, immediately. "I don't hate the idea, I just. Um. Are you... sure?" She motions to herself, as if expecting this to... explain anything.

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"...are you trying to point to the fact that you are really hot as if that is somehow related or...?"

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"Wh—" Well, now she's blushing a fetching shade of red, "I'm half fish! I have no legs!!"

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"...legs are not typically a focus of either sex or romance. I mean, there are some people, and they can be strong and attractive, but..."

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"I mean, yes, but. Realistically speaking I can't just go with you anywhere, I won't be any good inland unless I suppose you found me a very large pond or perhaps a lake, and probably human civilization would be a bit... alarmed. At your lover being half fish."

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"They are already annoyed at me for being such a young boy," he says, scratching his cheek. "- I should shave. This is not gonna grow nicely."

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She blinks at him in confusion.

"... What?"

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"It is unmanly to have a soft boy's unbearded face. And it is unmanly to be unwed, and not leave a horde of children for your woman to take care of, and so on so forth. What's one more disappointment to add to their list? It would make me even more special."

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Eutelia tilts her head. "Oh. I see. I suppose that explains all of the hair on all of the other men I've seen. ... I think I prefer your unbearded face, I could tolerate something neatly kept but it's so." She waves a hand, vaguely. ".... Fuzzy. Like algae, except on a face."

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"And mine grows terribly, I tried having a beard like Herakles's and it just did not work."

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She giggles. "Was it all wispy and scraggly and sad?"

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"Yes."

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"Aw." Eutelia looks terribly charmed. "Well, I like you better without a beard. And... siring a lot of children isn't appealing?"

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"I do not want to leave the raising entirely for someone else, my heirs are mine and I want to have a hand in their life. And I do not have time to have a hand in the lives of many children."

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"Oh."

It's not hard to tell that, despite the one syllable reply, she is very delighted by this answer.

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He beams at her.

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Eutelia apparently needs a little while to just be pleased before she can start saying words again, but soon enough:

"... So, um," she begins, returning to fidgeting and smiling shyly at him, "should we decide to, er." She doesn't seem to be able to say the next part, and instead waves a hand vaguely and skips over it so as to manage to say anything at all, "I think it might be smart to leverage the opportunity to try and gain some generosity from Hera."

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His eyebrows raise up very slowly at the mention of the goddess. "Go on."

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"S-so," she repeats, more than a little nervous, "It occurs to me that Hera is the goddess of, of marriage, and that it might, er, explain our transgression," she's clearly being very careful with phrasing, concerned that the queen of the gods might be watching, "if it were for love and duty of a wife towards her husband. If we showed all, um, respect possible towards her domain and kept all vows made and were loyal to one another, it'd be... deferential towards her position and power."

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Zotikos swallows his first reply. And his second. And another three of them. Instead he furrows his eyebrows and inhales deeply. "That... is not a bad idea," he says carefully. "I do not know if I will want to marry you. But the possibility has crossed my mind." Pause. "And before you misinterpret me please note that my reluctance has nothing to do with you and everything to do with..." And he gestures at his ankle.

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"Being... injured?" she says, blinking.

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"The person who caused the injury," he tries.

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"Oh! Right. Sorry. Well. I don't know if I want to marry you, either, I just. I like you enough that it's..." She fidgets with her hair some more; a small, neat little braid is coming along nicely. "... I wouldn't immediately flee into the sea at the prospect."

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"I certainly aim to at least meet that bar."

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Giggle. "Well, it was honestly what I was planning to do if anyone tried to take me as their wife. Play along, bide my time, flee into the sea at the first opportunity. Steal any resulting children and try to give them a better childhood than what I got."

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"Well I will only take you as my wife if you want me to, of course."

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"Yes. And if I agree, I don't expect I'll want to steal your heirs away to raise them where you will never find them."

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He laughs. "I am sure you could get children without having to be wedded to someone for it if that were what you were looking for. I would hope you would prefer to stay with me and them if we get married."

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"I hope I would, too. It wouldn't be for me, parenting by myself sounds exhausting. It'd be for them."

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"How do you mean?"

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"If... you weren't a capable father, some flavor of cruel, abusive, inept, or likely to get them hurt, cursed, or killed, it wouldn't matter what I felt about you, or how I felt about the prospect of raising children alone on an island somewhere. If it'd be better for them, I'd do it." The absolute certainty in her voice is perhaps a little jarring, especially after all of her self-conscious anxiety. "But I have no desire to bear a child alone just for the sake of it, I just, er, didn't expect I'd get much say in that side of things. Only the after."

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"Chryseis is a pretty name for a baby girl, I think."

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“After... oh. Yes, I think I agree. A nod to my poor sister without actually stealing her name.”

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Well he really wants to kiss her now, what do.

Whatever he was doing before, he guesses.

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She tilts her head and looks at him fondly.

“That’s it? No concern or desire to talk me out of potentially stealing your children?”

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"Not for the stated reasons."

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"The stated reasons being such that you immediately move on to talking about baby names."

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"No comment."

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"No comment? Really? But Zotikos, it goes against your stated goals to sire children with a woman who admits that she might very well steal them and run off to raise them on an island if it's the best thing available for them, what changed?"

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"Does it?" he wonders. "Maybe I misspoke. Or perhaps I had a divine revelation."

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"Well if you had any revelations, divine or otherwise, please share them, because if you misspoke I'll be terribly disappointed."

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"Perhaps the revelation is that my actual goals with respect to children is upstream of what I previously stated, and your solution fits them just as well."

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"Hmmmmmmm," she hums, dramatically. "That doesn't seem like much of a revelation, it seems like you'd already know that..."

The birds are all about ready, by now. ... A little crispier than they perhaps should be, actually, since they were a bit forgotten about in favor of banter.

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- oh right yes, he notices the smell and gets them out of the fire.

"We can go with that, too."

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"But you would not immediately flee inland at the prospect of marrying me, or having children with me."

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"Indeed not."

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"I aim to at least meet that bar."

She eyes the (burned) birds. ".... Are those supposed to smell quite so unappetizing?"

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"Nope!" he says cheerfully before taking a bite. "The smell is quite indicative of my fuckup."

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"That's possible? You are not selling me on this whole 'food preparation is worthwhile' thing."

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"Chryseis will hopefully inherit your ability to eat raw thing, so that will not be a problem."

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"That's quite a lot of assumptions packed into one sentence, I'm impressed."

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He grins again, then takes another bite from his burnt bird.

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"You know, I'd been planning to try cooked bird, but I think I'll pass for now until it's less.... icky smelling."

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"That is a reasonable choice," he agrees, munching away.

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She spends a little while gazing fondly at him, then scoots closer and (tentatively, slowly) wraps her arms around him to snuggle him.

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He perks right up at that and wiggles a bit into her arms.

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Eutelia makes a little pleased hum, resting her head on his shoulder and giving him an affectionate squeeze.

“I have the strangest urge to declare mine! keep you in my arms forever, and perhaps growl at anyone that looks at you strangely. It’s very weird. ... Promise that I won’t go mad with jealousy if you take another wife, and do something crazy like kill our children or give you a cursed tunic in a bid to magically attract you or try to get my father to avenge me or... something.”

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"Yeah, please do none of those things. Especially the tunic thing."

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Absolutely not. ... I’m sorry, I’ve upset you.”

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"- don't worry about it. Just a little bit of a sore spot. I was the one who... lit his pyre."

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“Oh. Oh, I’m so sorry, I. I’d heard a bit about his death, but. I didn’t know.”

She gives him a little squeeze, again.

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"I suspect he's a god now though so all is well that ends well."

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This earns him a little giggle-snort.

“Quite. Congratulations to him if he managed it.”

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"There was a whole light show! It was impressive."

Om nom burnt bird.

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“Sounds it!” She nuzzles him and makes another happy little hum. Apparently someone is enjoying the snuggles very much.

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Zotikos sure ain't complaining.

And then he is done eating.

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Snuuuuuggle.

“Hmm. I think I don’t want any... I don’t know, promises of fidelity or that I’ll be your only wife, or that you’ll never tire of me or. Something. Or to be specific, I think those would be monumentally stupid and that I’d rather we just trust each other instead of getting all hissy about needing promises that could very well come back and bite us in the... ankle. Or fin for me, I suppose.”

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"That... seems like something rather likely to happen to ones such as us, doesn't it? I would not be surprised if the Moirai were just watching us right now and laughing."

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"Quite. ... Also, I should mention, ah. There's a... an incentive, I suppose, for I and my sisters to win the hearts of mortal men. I... don't think I can be any more specific than that, because you know. Prophecies."

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"O...kay? That sounds ominous."

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“It’s not, I’m the only one that benefits. Possibly any children I have? But it’s not so much a proper prophecy as just... a weird half god quirk. A good one.”

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"Well, we are already discussing the likelihood that you are my muse, I suppose it cannot hurt."

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“Yes, but it’s the sort of thing I want to tell you about in advance so you don’t think I’m using you for... your muse?”

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"The one who will inspire my art, my music, my poetry. The one I will write and sing about. That's how you know you should marry someone."

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“Oh,” she murmurs, very quietly. She fidgets with his hair a bit, then turns and presses a gentle kiss to his cheek.

“I think I’m flattered that I even maybe qualify?”

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"Well of course you do!"

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"You say 'of course,' but I don't know any better. Do you find muses often or easily?"

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"Well, no, otherwise I would be married!"

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"Well, in my defense you didn't definitively say you didn't already have a wife! ... That's admittedly a bit flimsy, I assume you'd mention her if you had one and cared about her at... all..."

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"I definitely do not already have a wife or a muse."

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"And if you did you would mention it!"

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"Naturally."

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This earns him another cheek kiss! Along with a little squeeze.

"You're such a good man."

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"I like to think I am!"

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She makes a little hum and nuzzles him a little.

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... Then she goes still and buries her face in his shoulder.

"I'm maybe not a good woman," she blurts, in a rush. "I mean, for reasons besides being half fish, I-I, the thing I hadn't gotten around to telling you, um. I'm. I'm a siren, and I and my sisters sort of accidentally lured a ship of men to their extremely unpleasant deaths on a deserted island. I mean, the luring was on purpose, we didn't realize it would kill them because w-we didn't, uh. We don't need to drink fresh water? At all? And. And. Humans do. And." She whines, then attempts to hide from the world in his shoulder, somehow. "I-I, we wouldn't have if we'd known..."

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...well that was sudden.

"Oh, Eutelia, no, don't - don't worry, ships crash all the time and you did not know, it wasn't your fault..." Okay yep hugs.

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Huuuuuugs.

"It objectively kind of was!!"

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"You didn't know."

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"It's kind of on me to know things before I go doing freaky song mind control to people to strand them on islands, Zotikos!"

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"- well, yes, okay, I suppose it is."

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"See! I'm a bad person," she says sagely, then resumes hiding in his shoulder.

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"Do not think that's how it works." Pet pet pet.

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"Oh, well, if you have the rulebook for what makes one a good or bad person, please let me peruse it sometime soon..."

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"I don't think there's such a thing."

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"Yes, that was my point. You have no basis to say it's not how it works!"

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"I have a basis that is not a book!"

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“And what would that be?”

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"Your heart?" he tries, lamely.

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Eutelia cracks up with laughter that's just a trace hysteric. But also sincere? It's a rather complicated laughter.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know you meant that sincerely, but that answer was so, so... so narratively disappointing, especially after all of the build up! It's just. It's a little ridiculous??" Lean, snicker. Then she calms down and her voice gets more serious. "I—I actually more wanted to tell you than get reassurance from you about it, I. Am going to try to figure out how to, to atone or something? It's more. I didn't... want you to not know. And also some wallowing in how I am not very okay with myself. On account of what basically amounts to murdering some people."

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"Well, everyone murders someone accidentally at some point, the backstory needs some tragedy."

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".... I mean, yes, that's how it works in all of the songs and poems, but. It. Shouldn't."

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"I am pretty convinced it is the gods' fault somehow."

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She huffs a sigh and leans on him.

".... Yeah, probably," she agrees, grudgingly.

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Hug hug. He doesn't have much to say to that.

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Snuuuuggle.

"Sorry I'm so, uh. Temperamental?"

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"I do not particularly hold it against you." Pet pet.

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"I'd find it kind of upsetting if my only company kept crying out of nowhere, personally!"

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"I don't think I'd characterise this as 'keep crying out of nowhere'!"

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"From this side it feels a bit like it keeps being out of nowhere!!"

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"It is not that frequent."

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"It also doesn't feel like it from this side," she grumbles into his shoulder.

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Pat pat pat.

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Grumble grumble grumble snuggle.

 

"So you picked out a daughter's name, are you so opinionated about a son's?"

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"Somewhat less. Do you have thoughts?"

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“No, not really, it’s just unexpected? The impression I had of men was that a daughter would be, maybe not a waste, but less important than a male heir. So it’s surprising that you’d have a name for a daughter before a son.”

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Shrug. "Maybe outside Sparta that's how they think."

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"And what do they think inside Sparta?"

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"Women who die in childbirth are as heroic as men who die in combat. Women have their own battles they fight, no less important than men's."

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"Aw! Kind of grim and fatalistic, but aww!"

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He laughs. "Well, that was just a way to explain it. Everyone is important, regardless of their gender."

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"Huh. Well. That's sweet and I approve. Though, are there only those two - heroic ends? That seems rather, uh. ... Reducing people to what they provide."

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"What... other heroic ends are there?"

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"Uh..." She stops to think. "A physician, dying of the plague they'd been fighting after saving as many lives as possible. A, an old king, dying in his bed after a long life dedicated to his people, with an heir he taught ready and able to take up his mantle."

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"Those... would be honourable, yes," he agrees, after a pause. "And heroic. It is true."

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"You sound surprised!" she says, amused.

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"I had not really... thought... of it before."

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"Oh, I see." She beams, then gives a little self-satisfied hum.

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Zotikos laughs and pets her some more. "Everyone is important, is the point," he repeats.

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"Agreed! Which is why I poked at the gaps in your logic for you. You're welcome."

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"Thank you!"

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Snuggle!

 

"... Okay I do admittedly want to sing about you. Or possibly at you? But I don't actually think I should. ... Maybe a lullaby."

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"What would that... do?"

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“Make you sleepy. Eventually it’d put you to sleep. Though if you’re not already tired you can wake up pretty quickly, and it can screw up your sleep schedule. But if you have trouble falling asleep when you mean to, it’s lovely.”

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"Huh. That would be useful for soldiers."

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“Really? Oh, I suppose sleeping when you’re expecting a battle the next day is difficult.”

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"That is one case, yes. We want a lot of discipline with our sleep schedules all the time, though; a tired soldier is a liability."

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“Oh, that makes sense. Though I think continually being lulled to sleep by magic mind bending lullaby makes it harder to get used to falling asleep without, so I don’t think it’d be the sort of thing that would scale without loss.”

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"Could be good for the occasional major battle, then, when we get the jitters."

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"That'd be fine. Maybe for injured as well, while they're recovering?"

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"Yeah, good idea."

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She beams at him, gives him another nuzzle, and then hums thoughtfully.

"Honestly, I don't see why it couldn't do something to relieve pain in general. On principle, anyway, I don't know how I'd do that, but logically speaking if sleep and mind bending lust are both possible by song, the relief of pain or at least ability to, hm, not pay attention to it, seems quite possible. It seems like the same sort of imparting a state of mind on someone."

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"You going to run tests on songs or something?"

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"Well if they would not do horrible things to people, I would," she grumbles. "To a certain degree they do work on myself, there's an element of being able to tell what I'm doing, but. Yes I'm a little limited." Huff.

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"You could test them on me first."

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“I... no. You’re a person, not a test subject.”

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"...sure, and I'm a person who wants to be tested on."

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"But I'm really uncomfortable with testing magic that could break someone's brain on people. Even if they want to be tested on."

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"Well, start slow? Small things? Little limericks maybe?"

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Her argument against this point seems to be an unhappy whine. And snuggling him closer.

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Snuggle snuggle. "Limericks not your style? Maybe short poems."

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"I am not upset at the prospect of reciting limericks, Zotikos."

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"I know, I'm trying to insert levity into the conversation." Pat pat pat.

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She gives an exasperated huff, not dignifying that with an answer.

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He laughs and kisses the top of her head.