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A Lesson Well Learned

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July 15th
Home of Alexios and Lykaon
Chora of Delphi
Ancient Greece
3:30 P.M.

The lone figure stood behind a table underneath a sheer blue fabric canopy that was hung over the area behind his house that doubled as his apothecary, the heat from the afternoon sun beating down upon him despite the cover.

I think that I must be one of the most foolish men alive to be making my medicines and poultices at this time of day.

Lykaon, physician in the Chora of Delphi, glanced at the sky from his work through the thin veneer of the fabric, wiping his glistening brow with the back of his hand as he stood by the table outside of his house. He squinted in the bright sunlight, raising his hand to shield his eyes from the glare. By Helios, its hot.

He heard a soft snore coming from somewhere down by his feet and his eyes flickered downward to see Hyperion, the wolf-dog pup that they had found a year ago, curled up fast asleep, his head resting on his crossed paws. Lykaon was quite fond of the animal although it seemed that both dog and Alexios had differing opinions on certain subjects, particularly feeding time and chewing of leather sandals.

Time had smoothed out the rough edges between both human and pup which was all to the good as far as the Physician was concerned. The children loved their new pet and Lykaon had had more than one occasion to appreciate Hyperion's presence in the thwarting of thieves who had tried to break into his and Alexios' home.

The pup has more sense than his master, it seems. Lykaon couldn't help but chuckle softly, looking skyward once again, a trickle of sweat slowly coursing down the back of his neck. Ah, the trials and tribulations of being a Physician.

He reached for the black marble kylix cup that lay to hand nearby and lifted it to his lips, taking a large swallow of clear, cold mountain water that Alexios had brought back with him from one of his jobs. He replaced the cup on top of the table, herbs of every description strewn about over the top, looking them over with a critical eye. A Healer's work is never done.

After a few moments he nodded in satisfaction and then, with a deft hand, placed different kinds of herbs into the mortar-and-pestle that lay on the table in front of him and crushed them before adding a touch of sweet red wine, olive oil and various kinds of sweet flowers, breathing in the wonderful scent with pleasure.

He knew the recipe by heart, having made it several times, and it was one of his favorites since it smelled just as sweet as it tasted; it was also very simple and a pleasure to make which allowed him time to think about things while he worked.

He heard a soft growl emanating from below and he looked down once again to see Hyperion stir, opening his amber eyes, his mouth wide in a yawn that showed a row of formidable teeth that had sent more than one thief scurrying, before he got to his feet, shaking himself.

He has grown so quickly over the past year; it truly is amazing.

The pup yawned once more as he stretched, his back arching, his blackish-grey fur seeming to ripple as he did so and then sat down on his haunches, his large head tilted slightly to the right as he looked at Lykaon, a goofy canine grin on his face.

“Silly pup,” Lykoan said with affectionately. Hyperion woofed softly and Lykaon reached down, ruffling the dog's fur with affection, scratching him behind his ears. The pup sighed in pure, canine bliss as he leaned into the caresses, his long, pink tongue giving loving licks on his hand while his tail wagged so hard that he literally vibrated.

After a few moments, Hyperion stepped away, shaking himself and stretching once more before he turned and loped into the house, presumably to seek a much cooler place to continue his afternoon nap.

Lykaon looked affectionately after him as he watched Hyperion disappear into the house, noting again how much the pup had added to their lives even if he did chew up Alexios' sandals on occasion and get on the wrong side of a neighbor for rolling in her flower beds.

He may get into trouble every now and then but its hard to deny that he hasn't brought more joy into our lives.

He watched until he could no longer see him; once he was lost to sight, he paused a moment, took a deep breath and resumed pounding and grinding, being careful not to let the liquid splash over the side as he did so.

Again, the dog shows much more sense than his master.
He looked longingly at the house as he worked, sighing somewhat ruefully at his own lack of foresight. Well, there is no help for it; now that I've started, I must finish.

He could hear the dim chirping of crickets in the surrounding area around their home which sounded more muted than it normally did and he couldn't help but wonder if the blistering heat had something to do with that.

It was hot this afternoon, more so than usual, and he couldn't help but wonder again why he was out here, mixing poultices and herbal medicines when he should be inside in the cool interior of his family's home at this time of day.

Not that all the members of my family are present at the moment, however. Alexios is out on a job in Achaia, Elektra and Hektor are with Praxithea, Hippolyta is with Agave and Ajax is prowling around somewhere.

Lykaon smiled as he thought of them. He had to admit, as he reached for another mortar-and-pestle that lay on the opposite end of the table and began to pound and grind the herbs within before he added the minced rose petals, that he and Alexios' lives were certainly much more full, not to mention busy, since their arrival.

It's astounding how life could be so busy and yet so full of joy. He continued his work, watching carefully as he mixed all the ingredients to make one of his famous lozenges, his cheeks coloring slightly. Word had spread beyond the Chora as to the efficacy of the tablets; people here swore by it and he couldn't help feeling somewhat embarrassed-which he always took pains to hide-whenever a satisfied patient offered him profuse thanks. Much to his surprise, he found that people, from Elis to as far away as Kythera Island, had come to the Chora of Delphi to purchase his lozenges.

It was truly uncanny how well they did work for such a simple recipe. Not that he was complaining. It surely must be the hand of the Divine Asklepios guiding me. He paused for a moment, clasping his hands together and bowing his head in heartfelt gratitude. May He be praised!

Lykaon aid another short prayer before he lifted his head, opened his eyes and then returned to his work. He smiled softly as he carefully mixed the ingredients, forming them into small multicolored pills, his fingers deftly squeezing and shaping the delicate tablets, taking care not to pinch them too tightly before setting them down on a black, oval ceramic platter.

I couldn't imagine my life being happier, or more fulfilled, than it is now with Alexios, Ajax, Hektor, Elektra and Hippolyta. They truly have made our lives complete. He chuckled as he put down the lozenge on the platter, making a few more. Gods know that they can be a handful at times; each has their own personalities and quirks but the happiness that they have brought to us is incomparable. Ajax is definitely one of the most lively children I've ever come across.

A quick scan of the area showed that there was no sign of his scapegrace son in the present vicinity and he wasn't certain as to his whereabouts. I should call him; he can't be too far away, not in this heat. And we don't need him wandering off. The Physician nibbled his lower lip, his eyes narrowing in concern. Whoever is responsible for the abduction of the children is still out there and the last thing we want to have happen is for him to be taken, too.

He lifted his head, staring off into the distance. I wonder if Alexios has found poor Athena, Basil or Deon yet. She went missing at the same time as her brothers and nothing has been heard from them since. A chill ran down his back, despite the heat of the day. Poor Desmothenes; he and Artemis are so despondent over the loss of their children. I pray that they may be found alive and well. Speaking of which, I wonder where Ajax has gone off to? I'll need him to run an errand for me later on this today.

Ajax!” Lykaon shouted, leaning out from behind the table, his brown eyes narrowed.

“Yes, Pater?” Ajax's black, curly head popped out from behind the wooden front door where he stood, his crisp blue chiton dotted with smears of dirt on his clothing and a smear of mud across his brow, startling his father for a moment at his sudden appearance.

Once the initial surprise had passed, Lykaon also noted that both his leather belt and sandals were covered with dust, his emerald-green eyes lively with curiosity as he stood looking at his father, one hand boxed on his hip, the other hanging motionless by his side.

Lykaon motioned to him to come over to him and the boy obediently did, grinning as he saw their scapegrace son as thread his way past the tables set up underneath the canopy and coming to stand in front of the table, wincing as he thought of how Agave would react when she came to gather their laundry for the weekly wash the following morning. He could all but hear her loud voice in his head complaining.

Apollo knows she's complained of Ajax's temerity in getting dirty often enough and I wish that he would take it to heart. I suppose in one sense I can't blame her for feeling that way but, on the other hand, he is merely a child of eight and all children of that age are prone to getting into mischief, as I well know from my time here in the Chora. He felt the corners of his lips twitch with amusement as he reached over, tumbling his son's curly raven black locks affectionately, the latter giving him an impish grin. And dirt.

“You wanted to see me?”

Lykaon nodded. “I need you to go to the village to pick up the herbs I ordered from the farmer a week ago.”

Ajax nodded, eagerness sparkling in his eyes. He was bored hanging around the house with nothing to do and longed for some excitement. “All right, Pater. When will I go?”

“After lunch. Hippolyta and Hektor are over at your Grandmother's for a few days and Elektra is with Agave so this will be the perfect time to go over to pick them up.”  Lykaon couldn't help but grin as he winked, Ajax chortling in response as his father looked on with bemusement. He knew full well that his son and his sisters were at odds with each other most of the time; even Hippolyta with her quiet, stolid nature could be a handful on occasion. Still, it didn't stop either Lykaon or Alexios from hoping that one day the siblings would get along and become close to one another.

Much like Agave and myself. Hopefully, one day, time will smooth out things between them, gods willing.

Ajax had pivoted on his heel and was about to take a step when his father stopped him. He turned, his eyes quizzical.

“I've also made arrangements with Timon to be your chaperone.” He didn't miss the sudden, sullen squaring of his shoulders. “He is expecting you and will accompany you to the farmer's home a little outside the Chora.”

“Pater...” Ajax's voice was terse, his tone biting. He opened his mouth to say that he was old enough to be able to take care of himself without an adult present but, before he had a chance to say a word, his father beat him to it, shaking his head. He pursed his lips. “When will you start treating me like a man and not a witless child?!”

“When you start acting like one.”

His son glared daggers at him as his face turned red, his hand curling into a fist at his side while Lykaon stood in silence, his face expressionless. The boy was a little too argumentative these days-as he knew that most boys his age were-and he wished he knew how to impress upon the boy that he wasn't trying to be unkind in being more harsh than he meant to be; he, and Alexios as well, were simply trying to ensure that he was kept safe from harm.

They both knew that Ajax had his own ideas about certain things and felt that both he and Alexios were a little too overprotective when it came to him and his younger brother and sisters. Some days, admittedly, were better than others but his son's frequent backchat both troubled and annoyed his paters in equal measure.

Perhaps we are being more mindful than we need to be but, given the disappearances of children in and around the Chora lately, one can't really blame us for wanting to be careful and make sure that our children are safe.

As they stared at each other, Lykaon thought again of the slate of children that had vanished from around the area in and around the Chora, he and Alexios had both taken what steps they could to try to keep their children safe. Ajax was the only one who actively argued with his paters on this subject.... as he was so eloquently proving right now; his expression was stormy with his face turning even redder with the exertion he was employing to keep from having a temper tantrum which, as he well knew from past experience, didn't work with either of his paters.

Gods grant me patience.

Lykaon took deep breaths, letting them out slowly. “I don't want to hear another word about this, Ajax.” His voice was hard, cutting off whatever it had been that the boy had started to say, the latter falling into a sullen, angry silence. “You're too young to wander around the Greek countryside by yourself and I, and Alexios as well, would feel better if you had a chaperone with you.” He gave him a hard look, trying to impress upon his son the seriousness of the perils he faced. “It's dangerous in the outskirts of the Chora and I don't need to tell you what could befall you if you wandered off on your own.”

That hit home; Ajax's eyes widened and he shuddered, Lykaon nodding solemnly, their minds traveling back to two weeks earlier remembering the job that Alexios had been hired to do and what he was presently engaged in. Three children, two boys, ages seven and five, and one girl age three, had gone missing when they had left the safety of the Chora and had wandered off by themselves.

Near as anyone in the Chora who knew of the event could tell, they had all headed toward the river for some reason, perhaps to pick up some stones on the riverbank, and all three had disappeared somewhere in the woods that surrounded it.

At first, their parents weren't too worried since they had gone off into the woods by themselves many times before in the past and had always returned some time later but, when the minutes had stretched into hours, a general hue and cry had been raised.

No trace of them could be found, despite diligent searching, and no one had seen them since. Their poor parents, Desmothenes and Artemis, were beside themselves with worry when they had come to their home three days after they had disappeared, begging Alexios to help them find their children.

Lykaon had soothed her as best he could and Alexios agreed to take on the task of finding their children. There had been some promising leads to date; much to Alexios' dismay, nothing solid or concrete had been found despite the massive effort he put into trying to find them.

Alexios had left no stone unturned in his quest to find out what had happened to the children; he questioned all who had witnessed the children's disappearances carefully, trying to glean any information, no matter how small or insignificant, that might help him in his search. All of the witnesses had said the same thing, one after the other: they had seen all three of the children wander into the woods but none of them had seen them come back out.

Lykaon offered up a quick prayer. Apollo, guide Alexios in his quest to find the children and I pray that he will find them all alive soon. And please protect my scapegrace son; he's a good boy at heart but too impetuous and impulsive for his own good.

Ajax remained silent, the toe of his sandal scraping the dirt in front of him. From the expression on his face, Lykaon knew that he was fighting the urge to restart the argument but he also knew that he was also thinking very seriously about what he had said about the disappearances of local children. He had good sense, when he chose to employ it, and Lykaon hoped that this good sense would ultimately win out.

I do regret speaking so harshly to him but I really want to impress upon him just how serious this is. He needs to understand the dangers he faces wandering about on his own.

“Very well, Pater,” he said with a resigned sigh after some moments had passed, his shoulders slumping, “I'll... go with Timon to the farmer's home.”

Lykaon let out his breath, realizing just how tense he was by the ache in his shoulders and neck that he hadn't noticed until now.

Perhaps I sounded a bit too harsh but its for the boy's own good. He's too headstrong and impulsive and I don't want him getting into trouble because of it.

Lykaon nodded, lifting his hand to rub the back of his neck. He wasn't fooled by the apparent submissiveness; he knew his son too well for that.

“Good. I expect you to obey Timon's every instruction; he's there to keep you safe and I don't want to hear from him that you've raised Tartaros.” He raised an eyebrow. “And I expect you to be on your best behavior.”

“Yes, Pater.”

“I know that you think you can take care of yourself out there but you're too young. If someone wanted to get back at Alexios, you, and I as well as your other siblings, would be prime targets. You, especially, since you're a child.” He sighed. “I can't help but worry about that.”

Ajax couldn't help himself. “But, Pater, you don't have to worry so much about me! Pater Alexios has been giving me some instructions on how to protect myself.” Ajax spread out his hands, a smug grin impressing itself onto his face. “If something happens, I know what to do! See?” He patted the leather pouch that hung at his waist and Lykaon noticed that it was full to the point of splitting; exactly what it was filled with, he didn't know.

“What do you have in there?” He was genuinely curious as to the pouch's contents.

“It's a pouch full of colored stones, just like Pater Alexios told me to always carry with me; I can leave a trail if I get lost.”

Lykaon frowned. He wasn't sure that he entirely agreed with Alexios on this subject but he knew that their children (as he had just explained to Ajax), or even himself if it came to that, could be a target for a disgruntled person (or group of people) who had issues or desires for revenge against Alexios. And while they couldn't take him on directly (only a fool, or someone really determined or fanatical, would attempt to take on a battle hardened misthios), they could, and would,  go after members of his family. And, as he had seen to his sorrow far too often for his liking, with others as well caught in the middle.

It wasn't, as he noted mentally, much of a problem with Stantor, Nikolaus or Kassandra who were warriors and could protect themselves quite well against attack but the children, Agave, Praxithea and even himself were prime targets. They had no military training, they weren't warriors, and this left them at a serious disadvantage when it came to a coordinated attack.

Lykaon himself, on Alexios' advice, had, with great reluctance, taken to concealing a dagger discreetly on his person beneath his chalmys both inside, and outside, of his home, whenever he went about his business in the Market in the Chora and even when he went to visit patients.

It's unfortunate that it has come to this but I agree with Alexios that its better to be careful than not and be left open to the tender mercies of someone trying to get back at him.

After a few tense moments of silence, he shook his head and stared hard at Ajax who was stood there uncertainly, his smile of triumph slowly fading.

“The discussion is finished, Ajax. I don't want you going off by yourself because you're too young and-” he lifted his hand to forestall any further argument when he saw Ajax open his mouth but snapped it shut when he saw the look on his father's face -”you will have a chaperone.”

Ajax pouted, his eyes snapping green sparks, kicking a pebble angrily with the toe of his sandal and watching as it skittered down the path. “Very well,” he said crossly, “I'll go with Timon.”

Lykaon nodded, hearing “But I still think that you're wrong and I can take care of myself” underneath the words but he didn't mind. He had done his best to impress upon Ajax just how serious he was on his safety and he fervently hoped that his son would take it to heart. The boy did have common sense, when he cared to use it, and he trusted him to make use of it.

I know that he's angry with me right now but I do hope that he will realize that I'm only doing it out of love for him. I don't want anything happening to him, or any of the children, and these disappearances have everyone in the Chora on edge.

“Thank you.” He smiled, reaching out to touch him on the cheek affectionately, with Ajax grimacing slightly and pulling away, muttering under his breath. Lykaon didn't take offense; he knew what boys were like at his age, eschewing tender caresses from their mothers because they felt it made them look less like a man.

Ajax had had a double burden in this respect and one that his father wished he could have spared him: he didn't know his mother having been left exposed on a hill outside the city and Lykaon couldn't help but wonder if this might explain the sudden hostility that their older son was showing these days, along with his outbursts of anger and hotheadedness.

Thank Aphrodite that Praxithea found him; I shudder to think what would have happened to him if she hadn't.
In fact, there seemed to be something divine at work in his grandmother's finding of Ajax; he'd thought as much but kept it to himself, reflecting within at how Fate seemed to be at work and happy that he and Alexios now had a child of their own to raise.

We were ready for a family when she found him so I would say that everything worked out well for us all in the end, thank the gods.

Lykaon and Ajax stood in silence for a few moments more before they heard a shout, both of them glancing upward to see Timon walking toward them, his weathered, brown face wreathed in smiles, lifting his hand and waving to them.

“Chaire!” he called out as he came up to Ajax and ruffling his hair, the latter rolling his eyes though he didn't pull away from the old gentleman.

“Chaire, Timon,” Lykaon returned, extending his hand and taking Timon's in his own, grasping it before he released it. “How are you this afternoon?”

“Quite well, Healer, thank you.”

Lykaon smiled. “That;s good to hear. How is your lady wife?”

“Fit and fine, thanks to you, Healer. She sends her grateful thanks.”

Lykaon's cheeks colored slightly but nodded. This never ceasing praise always embarrassed him but he was happy that the lozenges seemed to work well for so many, sending a silent prayer of thanks to Asklepios who, he had no doubt, had inspired him in the creation of the recipe. He made a mental note to go to the temple of his patron God later on in the week to offer a sacrifice in thanks.

“I am happy that they worked so well for her,” was all he said in reply and quickly changed the subject. He and Timon chatted amiably for a few moments more before Timon looked down at Ajax, a wide smile on his face.

“And you, young man, are you ready to go to the farmer's farm to pick up the herbs your Pater wants to get?”

Ajax nodded solemnly, his mouth turned down at the corners, his arms crossed defiantly across his chest.

“I am, Timon.”

Timon didn't miss the hard look that the boy shot at his father and instantly deduced the reason, his lips twitching as he tried not to grin.

Ah, it appears that the boy and the Healer have been having another disagreement about wanting more freedom, I see. Ajax is too impetuous by halves but I can understand that boys his age think they can tackle the world without anyone's help, especially his fathers'
. He chuckled softly, drawing a curious look from Ajax. I was once like that and I suspect that Lykaon was once himself that same way as well.

He grinned as he put a hand on Ajax's shoulder, giving it a friendly squeeze before releasing it, the boy's sullen look disappearing to be replaced by an impish grin.

“Then we'll be off.” He looked at Lykaon. “Take good care, Healer; we'll be back before sunset this evening.”

Lykaon nodded in acknowledgement.

“And you as well, Timon. I'll see you again soon.”

Timon nodded and waved once again before both he and Ajax turned and walked away down the road, talking animatedly about something. Lykaon watched them until they were swallowed up by the crowd that was passing by in front of the house on the road.

It's a good thing that Timon likes Ajax and doesn't mind a spirited boy or else he would run rings around him in a very short time.

Lykaon chuckled at the mental image that this conjured up and set back to work on another batch of lozenges.