It was a day for glory.
Of course, it had been a day for glory for quite some time. In fact, Sophus had been hunting for a suitable opportunity for himself and his boon companions Tisander and Tanileidas for several weeks, ever since that night when they decided (over a cask of wine) to sally forth and begin new lives as heroes. But nothing had happened. No monsters terrorizing the countryside; no bandits seizing the road; no damsels in distress to . . . er, rescue. Nothing at all. Where were all the baddies when you needed them?
So far today was shaping up to be no better than the preceding days. Perhaps, Sophus thought, they were doing too much of their searching at the bottom of a flagon. Even now, with the sun high overhead, Tisander and Tanileidas were abed recovering from last night’s strategizing. He decided to venture out to the agora.
Strolling down the way, he cheerily greeted several other citizens who were headed to the agora for lunch and gossip. As he came into the market, he immediately spotted a tall, wiry outlander attempting to ask questions. Naturally, he was being ignored; he was obviously an Arcadian.
Sophus suppressed a sneer. Arcadians! Though Greek, they were little better than barbarians. Arcadia was a rugged wilderness region in the heart of the Peloponnese, mountainous and heavily forested, home to outcasts and outlaws. The Arcadians frequently raided Argos and the other nearby poleis, who returned the favor with gusto. Sophus had killed more than one Arcadian in his time . . . and doubtless this Arcadian had killed more than one Argive. In spite of that, Argos and other poleis didn’t hesitate to hire Arcadian irregulars for their wars against each other, for they made superb scouts and skirmishers.
Sophus crossed the distance to the stranger, putting on a friendly smile. “Greetings, good sir,” he said. “What brings you to Argos?”
The stranger turned to look at him. He was a large man, wiry and tough, obviously a veteran of many nights on the trail. He had short sword and dagger at his belt, bow and javelin case on his back, and all had seen hard use.
“I seek work,” the man replied. He straightened proudly to his full height. “I am a ranger and pathfinder, and a hero of my clan.”
“Work, is it?” said Sophus. “Perhaps I can be of assistance. My companions and I plan to sally forth to win prestige at the earliest opportunity. We could use a pathfinder.” He stopped suddenly as he spotted another stranger entering the agora. “And this may be just the opportunity we seek. Unless I’m badly mistaken, this man is a sea captain. Let’s see what news he bears.”
The mariner was gazing around the market with a practiced eye. Sophus shifted his stance, and the Arcadian stared at the seaman with interest. The stranger noticed their attention immediately and walked over to them.
“Good day to you,” he said. Sophus noted the accents of Aegina. “You seem likely lads. Might you be seeking prestige and fame?”
“Indeed we are,” said Sophus, his eyes lighting. “Do you bear news of such?”
“I do. I am Cyrus son of Cyrus, Captain of the Lady Marine. A great serpent is ravaging Athens, and the assembly has put out a call for heroes to come forth and slay the beast. I am headed there at best speed.”
“Are you, then? I am Sophus Rhodius, son of Onesiphorus.” Realizing he didn’t know the name of the Arcadian, he smiled and paused politely to allow him to introduce himself.
After a moment, the ranger said, “I am Korax, a hero of Arcadia.”
Sophus spoke quickly before Korax could continue. “We are interested in accompanying you, as are my companions Tisander and Tanileidas. When do you sail?”
“On the morning tide,” replied Cyrus. He eyed them sternly. “And not a moment later. If you wish to accompany me, be there at first light.”
Sophus winced. Awaken both Tisander and Tanileidas before first light? Could he do it? “We will be there,” he said quickly, seeking to cover his hesitation.
“See that you are,” said Cyrus, and strode away.