“Let’s stop; I need a drink.”
They were close to the highest point on the cliff, after climbing up a sometimes steep path composed of flagstones, concrete and loose pieces of white volcanic ash and black lava. A blindingly white miniature chapel—almost all the buildings on Santorini were white—stood here, isolated, its sun-bathed walls in sharp contrast with the barren landscape all around them.
Mason wiped his sweaty face with his arm. He took off his day pack, extracted a water bottle and thirstily sucked the cool liquid. Matthew did the same. He gazed down at the sea-filled caldera far below them and felt exhilarated.
“This is a historic place, Mason. Before the volcano blew up over thirty-five hundred years ago, a thriving Minoan population lived here. They were rich sea captains who traded all over the Mediterranean. We’ll see their houses tomorrow when we go to the archeological dig at Akrotiri. They had running water—”
“What’s thriving now is the volcano. What I want to know is when it’s going to blow again.” Mason had a pair of binoculars trained on the center of the caldera where he could see steam rising from the water. “I don’t want to be here, that’s for sure.” He examined pieces of lava and ash he’d picked up along the path, and then wrapped them carefully in a handkerchief he placed in his pack for further study.
Matthew let out a yelp and leaped up from the concrete steps of the chapel where he’d been sitting. He frantically tore off his T-shirt as the startled Mason ran over to see what the problem was. A large lizard jumped off Matthew’s back and disappeared among the rocks. Mason couldn’t help laughing.
“I’ll bet it’s one of the Greek gods who’s mad at us for invading his sacred turf.”
Matthew was shaking. “You wouldn’t think it was so funny if you had a lizard on your back. Besides, the gods hang around Mount Olympus, not here.” He calmed down a little. “We’d better hit the road or we’ll never get to Oia. Mom and Dad will wonder where we are.”
Matthew put his T-shirt back on and the boys picked up their packs.
“Wait.” Mason thought he saw the door to the chapel swing open a little. Could somebody be inside? Not likely, but the door did appear to be ajar. Maybe the breeze had moved it. Curious as to what the interior of the chapel looked like, Mason walked up the steps and pulled on the door handle.
It gave a little but then stopped, as if somebody were pulling on it from the other side. Startled, Mason let go of the handle. The door shut with a clatch. The boys heard a thud and a muffled expletive, and then the door opened slowly. The most beautiful young woman they’d ever seen peered out at them.
She looked them up and down and then stepped out of the chapel. She had red hair down to her waist, and was dressed in a shimmering gown. “You two don’t look like spies for Hera. It’s like a tomb in there—dark and crowded. I couldn’t stand it any longer.”
“It’s not a tomb, it’s a chapel.” Mason liked to have things called by their correct names.
“How long have you been here?”
She looked confused. Finally she said, “What are you guys doing here?”
We could ask you the same question, Matthew thought, but he was too awed by her beauty to say so. “We’re hiking from Fira to Oia along the edge of the caldera.”
“I figured I’d be safe here. Not many people come by. It’s pretty wild. You’re the first ones I’ve seen. You guys are cute. Too bad you’re not a little older.” She smiled a dazzling smile that encompassed both of them.
Mason liked her. “I’m Mason and this is Matthew. What’s your name?”
A memory stirred inside Matthew, but he didn’t want to appear stupid. “Uh, Echo, you don’t live near here, do you?”
“Yeah, well, I’m originally from Arcadia, but I get around a lot.” She laughed; it sounded like the tinkling of the bells Matthew played in church. “You might say I’ve got friends in high places.” She sat on the steps of the chapel, pulled a comb out of her gown and started combing her hair.
“Right, but in addition to that, aren’t you a bit out of your time period?”
Echo’s face grew cloudy. “Are you sure you’re not a spy for Hera?”
Mason wasn’t certain what was going on, but he didn’t want to see Echo unhappy. “We’re not spies; we’re on vacation. We live in the United States.”
Echo’s blank look at Mason’s mention of the United States told Matthew what he wanted to know. “You keep talking about Hera. Hera is the wife of Zeus, the king of the gods. Is Hera mad at you?”
Echo gazed at Matthew with new respect. “You’re smarter than you look, kid. That Hera, when she gets a bug in her ear, you can’t get rid of her. I’ve had to come to this god-forsaken place to avoid her.”
Mason was beginning to catch on. He knew something about Greek mythology, although perhaps not as much as Matthew. “Echo, are you a nymph?”
Echo laughed her tinkling laugh. “You know what? I like you two. Do you want to hear my story?”
“Yes.” They both spoke at once.
“Sit down and take a load off.” She indicated the steps on either side of her. “I love to tell stories.”
They sat. Matthew was close enough to Echo that he smelled some sort of perfume she was wearing. It made him a little dizzy.
Echo leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and stared out at the caldera. Then she started speaking in her silvery voice. “As I mentioned, I get around a lot. I’m friends with most of the immortals. Almost all of them like me. Zeus wanted me to be his girlfriend. Of course he’s married, but it’s mostly a marriage of convenience. However, I wasn’t interested. Have you seen him, lately? Excuse me, but he’s getting fat.”
“In the paintings I’ve seen of him he looks good.” Matthew couldn’t picture Zeus as fat.
“Yeah, but remember, since he’s the boss he can dictate his public image. You don’t think he’s going to let anything get out that isn’t favorable to him, do you? Anyway, I didn’t want to lose him as a friend, for obvious reasons. He’s got the power. So I told him there were some particularly beautiful nymphs in Arcadia. He liked the idea of going there, but he’s afraid of Hera, if you can believe that. She’s very jealous.”
“Have you ever been to Mount Olympus?” Mason knew it was the home of the gods.
“Like I said, I get around.”
“Don’t interrupt,” Matthew said. “Let Echo tell her story.”
Echo thought for a few seconds and then continued. “I arranged to be with Hera on the day Zeus went to Arcadia. I was trying to keep her away from him, but she must have gotten wind of where he was going because she wanted to go to Arcadia. She asked me to go with her because I came from there and could show her the sights. Arcadia is a beautiful place, with mountains, grassy fields and bubbling springs.
“I pointed out all the beauty spots to Hera. I tried to keep her away from the pools where the nymphs hang out, but she kept heading in that direction. I talked faster and louder, telling her fantastic stories about the area. I talked loudly enough that Zeus heard me, and by the time we got to the nymphs he’d taken a powder and disappeared.”
Matthew had a good idea of what came next. “So Hera got mad at you for warning Zeus.”
“Not at first. She thought she’d been wrong about Zeus being there. Sometimes she’s not too sharp. I knew she’d figure it out, eventually, so I got away from her as soon as I could. Later, I heard from some of my friends that she was after me. I tried to think of a place she’d never look.”
“Like here.” Mason nodded. “You’re still in Greece, but you’ve traveled through time. How did you do that?”
“Zeus taught me. He’s very wise. That’s one reason I want to keep him as a friend.”
Matthew was thinking ahead. “What are you going to do now? You can’t stay here, forever, away from your friends and your home.”
Echo looked sad. “I feel like an exile. I don’t belong here. I miss the nymphs. I miss the gods. Maybe not Pan—he’s a creep—but the others. I want to go home.”
She put her head in her hands and sobbed. Mason couldn’t stand to see such a beautiful girl crying. He put his hand on her shoulder. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
Echo snapped her head up. “Everything’s not going to be all right. This is the pits. I’ll never be happy again.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
Matthew was trying to think of a solution. He knew from a previous adventure the dangers of trying to change history. He wondered if that applied to mythology also. At least they should do something. Like Mason, he couldn’t bear to see Echo so despondent. He gathered his thoughts.
“Uh, Echo, if you went home do you think you could get Zeus to protect you from Hera?”
“Ha. Zeus the almighty. He puts on a big show. He’s great with a thunderbolt, but he’s scared of Hera. Fat chance.”
“Well, maybe Hera will forgive you.”
“She never forgives. She’s as mean as they come. She’s jealous and vengeful. Still…by now other things will have happened to distract her. She hates Paris because he said Aphrodite was more beautiful than she was. The list goes on. If I go back to Arcadia and keep a low profile, maybe she’ll forget about me.”
Matthew and Mason looked at each other. That seemed to be the only solution.
Echo was looking at them with a gleam in her eye. “You boys come with me. You can be my bodyguards. Warn me if Hera’s coming. You’re young enough that nobody’s going to suspect you’re up to anything.”
Mason thought about Mom and Dad. “We’re supposed to meet our parents in Oia for lunch.”
“You can always have lunch with your parents. This is more important.”
Matthew was tempted, but he wanted to establish some boundaries. “How long are you going to need us?”
“Until I’m safe from Hera.”
That could be forever. Matthew looked at Mason and inclined his head toward the path. They had to get out of here. He started slowly and had taken a several steps toward Oia when he saw a woman walking toward them along the path. If possible, she was even more beautiful than Echo. Her hair was a lighter shade than Echo’s, but just as long, and she wore a gown similar to Echo’s and sandals on her feet.
When Echo saw the woman she raced over and threw her arms about the lovely image. Mason figured that’s what it must be—a digital image. It couldn’t be a real person. Two women so beautiful? Impossible. Perhaps this whole morning was a fantasy.
“Aphrodite. Thanks for coming. It’s so good to see you. I’ve missed everybody so much…” Echo chattered away, not bothering to take a breath.
Aphrodite? Goddess of love. Matthew was in love. What was going to happen next?
Aphrodite held Echo at arm’s length and shushed her. “I’ve been worried about you. Nobody knew where you were. I’ve had such a difficult time finding you.”
They talked back and forth, completely engrossed in their conversation. As much as Matthew was entranced by them and wanted to see what would happen next, he figured this might be a good time to exit while the getting was good. He motioned to Mason and started along the path for the second time.
“Wait.” Aphrodite’s voice was musical, but it had the force of Olympian authority behind it. Matthew and Mason reached the same conclusion independently; it wasn’t a good idea to disobey a goddess. Besides, they were thrilled she’d noticed them. They stopped.
“Who are you?”
Matthew figured that as the older brother he should answer. “I’m Matthew and this is Mason. We’re on the way to Oia to meet our parents.”
Echo cut in. “They’ve been very nice to me. At least they’re not plotting mischief against me like some people.”
Aphrodite nodded. “I know about Hera. She’s barely speaking to me. She’s still mad that Paris said I’m more beautiful than she is. And now she’s out to get you. I’m not only more beautiful than she is, I’m smarter, too, but eventually she’ll figure out where you are. You can’t stay here.”
Mason got up his courage and spoke to Aphrodite. “Can’t you protect Echo from Hera?”
Aphrodite shrugged. It was obvious that even her powers were limited, although she hated to admit it. Echo asked for Aphrodite’s advice about where she should go. Aphrodite gazed down at the caldera, just as they all had. This place was as magical as any in the world.
“Go back to Arcadia. That’s where your friends are. They’ll help to protect you. I’ll tell Hera you’ve disappeared and I don’t know where you are. That should buy you some time.”
“I’d like to take them with me.” Echo indicated the boys. “They’re young enough that they won’t arouse suspicion. They can be my spies.”
Matthew had been afraid of this. He pleaded with Aphrodite. “We have to meet our parents in Oia. Arcadia isn’t our home.” He rambled on, but he could tell she wasn’t listening.
When he ran out of words she looked at him with a cool expression. “I need you to protect Echo. You’ll have time enough to do these other things.”
Easy for her to say. When you were immortal, time wasn’t an issue.
Mason whispered to Matthew. “She’s beautiful on the outside, but her heart is a block of ice.”
Matthew put his arm around Mason and wondered what was going to happen next. He didn’t have long to wait.
The scene changed, abruptly. They were on a hillside, not the barren rim of the caldera on Santorini, but a lush green hillside covered with flowers and trees. Birds and bees zoomed by and they could hear running water in the distance. Echo was kissing the ground and laughing. Aphrodite was nowhere to be seen.
“Where are our backpacks?” Mason was trying to figure out what had happened.
“We weren’t wearing them when we were transported. They didn’t make it.” Matthew hoped they wouldn’t lose them. He noticed the binoculars were still around Mason’s neck. They might come in handy.
They heard laughter coming from behind a row of bushes. Echo stepped between the boys and took each of their arms.
“Come on; I’ll introduce you to my friends.”
They walked around the bushes into a level clearing. A mountain rose in front of them, overlooking the spot from a majestic height. A stream rushed down the rock face and emptied its sparkling water into a crystal pool.
A number of nymphs sat around the edge of the pool. Matthew took a quick survey and decided none was as beautiful as Echo. Several nymphs were in the pool. Matthew spoke to Mason behind Echo’s back.
“Don’t look at the girls in the pool. They aren’t wearing any clothes.”
Mason ignored him.
When the nymphs saw Echo, the ones who weren’t in the water rushed over to her and hugged her, telling her how glad they were to see her. Echo hugged them back. They danced around in a circle with their arms around each other, laughing and singing. The boys watched the frivolity and wondered how anything bad could happen here.
After a few minutes of this, Echo introduced Matthew and Mason to the nymphs. She rattled off the names of a number of them, but they looked so much alike Mason wondered how he’d ever be able to tell one from another.
The girls surrounded them, touching their faces and arms, and oohed and aahed.
“They’re so cute.”
“Where did you find them?”
“Are you going to keep them?”
Mason liked the attention. This place must be paradise. It was all right with him if they stayed here for a while.
Matthew admitted to himself he was having fun but his conscience told him it wasn’t their purpose to enjoy themselves. They were supposed to be protecting Echo who seemed to have completely forgotten about Hera in her joy at being home. If they were ever going to get out of here, he and Mason had better come up with a plan for her security.
The nymphs fed them a lunch of nuts, fruit and honey, waiting on them hand and foot. Mason leaned back against a tree, acting like a king and enjoying life. Matthew looked for an opportunity to talk to Mason alone. When many of the nymphs lay down to take naps, he motioned to Mason and led him out of sight of the others.
“Nobody’s paying any attention. Hera could sneak up on Echo and she’d never be the wiser.”
“Maybe she’s forgotten about Echo.”
“You heard what Aphrodite said. I don’t think Hera ever forgets. We have to mount a guard, at least during the day. When Aphrodite and Echo were talking, Aphrodite said Hera doesn’t travel at night because she’s busy doing other things.”
Mason had surveyed the area. He was always looking for interesting rocks and crystals. “There’s a big rock up there on the mountainside. From the top we could see anybody coming from any direction. We’ve got the binoculars to help.” He held them up.
“Good. One of us will stand guard on top of the rock at all times during the day.”
“If we see something, we need a signal. I found this on the ground near the pool.”
Mason picked up what looked like the horn of a ram. It curled around and was hollow inside. He put the small end to his lips and blew. No sound came out. Matthew took it and experimented with it, placing his lips in different positions. He found one that made a noise when he blew. With a little practice he was able to produce a loud note that carried for some distance. He showed Mason how to do it.
Mason took the first shift. He headed up the mountain to the rock. Matthew went back to the pool and looked for Echo. She was sitting in the shade, chatting with two of the other nymphs. Matthew waited for a break in the conversation, trying to be polite, but after a few minutes he realized they could talk forever without taking a breath. He interrupted.
“Echo, Mason and I are standing watch for Hera on that rock.” He pointed up the mountain to where the rock dominated the landscape. “Do you have a place you can hide if she appears?”
Echo had been acting carefree ever since they’d arrived, but the mention of Hera put a scared look on her face. She thought for a bit. “There’s a cave near here. Only the nymphs know about it. I can hide there.”
“Good. If the horn blows, go into the cave. In addition, I’d like to train the nymphs to take the watch. Once we have them trained, then Mason and I can go home.”
Echo looked uncomprehending. Did she think they were going to stay here forever? His spirits sank. Whatever he and Mason did to arrange their departure, it was obvious Echo wasn’t going to help.
“Try blowing again.”
Mason adjusted the horn slightly, and Chloe let out a mighty gust of air, but no sound came out of the large end of their makeshift instrument.
“I can’t do this. It’s too hard.”
Chloe pouted and Mason felt frustrated. For three days he and Matthew had been trying to train the nymphs to pull guard duty and watch for Hera. They didn’t mind standing on the rock with the boys, and some of them, like Chloe, were good about scanning the horizon, but on the whole they were failures. They had no concept of keeping a schedule. They came and went as they pleased. And none of them had been able to successfully blow the horn, which was the only way the boys had come up with to signal Echo fast enough so she’d be able to hide.
Mason put down the piece of mica he and Matthew were using as another signaling device during the training. If Chloe had successfully blown the horn, Mason was going to use the mica to reflect the sun down to the pool where Matthew was lounging with the rest of the nymphs. Three flashes meant they were practicing and it wasn’t an actual alarm. They had considered using the mica as the warning signal instead of the horn, but the nymphs didn’t see the flashes unless they happened to be looking toward the rock. It wouldn’t work on cloudy days, either. The method wasn’t reliable, just like the nymphs.
Mason liked Chloe best of all the nymphs because she worked the hardest. The fact that she was very pretty didn’t hurt. He took the horn from her. “I’ll demonstrate how to do this. Watch how I place my lips.”
Chloe fluttered her eyelids at Mason. “Oh, Mason, you’re so good at everything. I’ll hate to see you leave.”
Mason managed to keep his composure and blow a loud blast. He quickly picked up the piece of mica and signaled Matthew it was a test. He gave the horn to Chloe again. She tried to make a sound several times, but the only sound that came out was a sad whine. It didn’t carry ten feet.
Now Chloe was the one who was frustrated. “This isn’t fun anymore.”
Before Mason could stop her she threw the horn down from the rock. He watched in horror as it crashed on the smaller stones below and broke apart. It was all he could do to keep from yelling at her. However, what she’d done didn’t seem to bother her. She sat down and lifted her face to the sun.
It occurred to Mason he hadn’t been paying attention to the rest of the world for the past few minutes. He looked to the right. All clear there. Then he looked to the left. He saw several figures coming around the mountain. They weren’t that far away. He should’ve been more alert. He looked at them through the binoculars.
One of them was a woman. Several men walked in front of her or behind her, as if she were in charge. Chloe had her eyes closed and was basking in the sunlight. Mason shook her by the shoulder. “Look over there. Do you know who that is?”
Chloe sleepily opened her eyes and followed Mason’s pointing finger. “Give me the magic eyes.” She looked through the binoculars and gasped. “Great gods. It’s Hera.” She stood up.
They had to warn Echo. The horn was useless. “Maybe they’ll see the flashes.” Mason picked up the piece of mica and flashed a continuous stream of light beams at the nymphs and Matthew, hoping Matthew would see them and know something was wrong. They were too far away for Mason to recognize individuals. He took the binoculars from Chloe and focused them on the pool. Matthew wasn’t moving or showing any sign of concern. Neither was anyone else. The signals weren’t working.
“We have to run down there and warn them.”
Mason slid down off the rock and reached up to help Chloe. She was a fast runner. They ran side by side down the rocky surface of the mountain, being careful not to fall. Chloe’s gown billowed behind her.
Mason glanced toward Hera and her retinue. Two of the young men were running to cut them off. They were young and athletic and had the angle on Mason and Chloe. The first one to reach them grabbed Chloe. She hit him with her fists and tried to get away, but he was stronger than she was.
Mason suppressed a desire to help her. The other guy was almost up to him. He tried dodging, but the fellow tackled him. Mason went down with a loud grunt. That hurt. The man sat on his chest. He was considerably heavier than Mason, and there wasn’t much Mason could do about it. He turned his head to try to see the pool, but the curvature of the mountain hid it from his view. Matthew and the nymphs couldn’t see Chloe and him either.
Matthew was lolling by the pool, dabbling one hand in the water, idly eating some grapes fed to him by Echo who was seated beside him. She was telling stories about Zeus and the other gods. This was the life. Surrounded by beautiful girls, plenty to eat, warm weather. It sure beat doing schoolwork.
He glanced at the sun. At noon, when the sun was overhead, he was supposed to relieve Mason on the rock. He was going to take one of the nymphs with him to attempt to continue their training. So far that had been largely unsuccessful, but he wasn’t terribly worried about it at the moment. What difference did a few more days make?
As he looked away from the sun to keep from being blinded, he saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. He sat up as he realized somebody was approaching the pool at a fast walk. She was a woman—a stranger, older than the nymphs, with a regal bearing.
Echo looked up and also saw Hera. A horrified look distorted her face. She stood and tried to run. At that moment, two young men converged on Echo from different directions. They’d apparently snuck around either side of the pool, ahead of Hera. They grabbed Echo and held her fast.
Matthew tried to pull one of the men away from Echo, but he hit Matthew in the face with a backhanded blow that sent him reeling. Matthew landed on his back in the pool with a splash. When he came to the surface, snorting and blowing, he noticed the water was red in front of his face. His nose was bleeding.
Several of the nymphs pulled him out of the pool and, against his wishes, laid him on his back and pressed pieces of cloth against his nose to stop the bleeding.
Hera strode past him without a glance in his direction. Her eyes were on Echo. In addition to a gown similar to that worn by the nymphs but more luxurious, she had a silver crown on her head. Her face would have been beautiful, but her frown added ugly wrinkles to her smooth skin. She stopped in front of Echo who was still being held captive by the two men.
Hera looked her up and down. “Ares isn’t the only one who knows something about military tactics. And your protector, Aphrodite, underestimated me.” She smiled grimly. “So, Miss Echo, we meet again. Last time, as I recall, you were chattering to me about the beauties of Arcadia. Perhaps some of these beauties are near us right now. Beauties that my husband might have an interest in.” She swept the nymphs in and around the pool with a fiery look, as they stared at her with fear and awe, not daring to move.
Echo tried to say something, but Hera shushed her. “You’ve already said too much, my dear. Enough so I wasn’t able to catch Zeus at play. For that you will pay. Since your voice is what foiled me, I’m taking it away from you.”
There was a collective gasp from the nymphs.
Hera wasn’t through. “You always liked to have the last word. I don’t want to silence you completely. You’ll still have the last word. Or maybe two or three. But…”
There wasn’t a sound except for the gurgling of the stream running into the pool.
“You have to repeat what you hear.”
Echo said, “You hear.”
Hera had a satisfied look on her face. “Release her, boys. The deed is done. Let’s get out of here and go someplace where we’re more welcome.”
Echo said, “Welcome.”
Hera did an about face and strode away with the young men trailing behind her.
“Let me go.” Mason hated to sound like a bratty kid, but the fellow holding him down was too heavy and strong for him.
The handsome lad smiled. “Echo recruited you to be her bodyguard, eh? Tell her next time she’d better pick a man for the job.”
That hurt Mason’s pride. “In a few years I’ll be able to beat the snot out of you.”
“Yeah, well, let me give you a piece of advice. When you’re looking for a female companion, you can do better than a nymph. The nymphs have looks, but goddesses have power.”
Mason wanted to tell him there wouldn’t be a next time, but flat on his back, he wasn’t in a position to tell anybody anything. His tormenter looked over at the man who was holding Chloe down.
“Hey, Shilo, I see Hera heading back. We can let these two go. They can’t do any damage.”
“Do we have to?”
Hera waved to them to join her. They released Mason and Chloe and followed their goddess. Mason got up slowly, testing his bruised body and asked Chloe if she were okay.
“Yeah, sure, I’m fine. He was kinda cute.” She stood and looked after his departing form.
“We’d better get down to the pool and see what Hera did to Echo.”
“Why didn’t you give the signal?”
Those were Matthew’s first words when he saw Mason. Mason gave a quick explanation of what had happened and asked about Echo.
“Hera took her voice. She can only repeat the last words of what somebody says.”
Echo was sitting beside the pool looking despondent. Tears flowed down her cheeks. The other nymphs were trying to console her.
Matthew figured they might as well face reality. “I don’t think there was anything we could have done about it. We did our best. Now we’ve got to figure out how to get back to Santorini.”
“When we were transported to the fifties, we went home after we fell asleep.”
“We’ve already slept here for two nights.” Matthew was skeptical. “I supposed we could tap our heels together and say, ‘There’s no place like home.’ Except that we don’t want to go home.”
“Don’t worry, brother.” Mason put his arm around Matthew’s shoulder. “Something will happen. We’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
“I hope so. This place was a lot more fun when everybody was happy.”
They were still there the next morning. Matthew opened his eyes to see the rising sun and hear the rushing water of the stream. Even so, the area near the pool was strangely silent. Maybe the nymphs were still asleep. He looked around. He only saw one nymph—Echo. She was asleep beside the water. The others were gone.
Matthew poked Mason and woke him up. When Mason opened his eyes, Matthew pointed. “The nymphs are gone.”
Mason rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “I bet they went on an outing.”
“Why didn’t they take Echo with them?”
“Because…because she’s different than they are now.”
Matthew was impressed. “You know, sometimes you’re very wise.”
“I’m afraid whatever wisdom I have isn’t going to help Echo get her voice back.”
They tried to console Echo, but she was inconsolable. They tried to figure out how to get back to their parents, but they didn’t have any bright ideas in that area. They became bored. They swam in the pool and ran around, playing tag and hide-and-go-seek.
About noon, they saw a young man approaching the pool. He was handsome, with blond hair, and he walked with a jaunty step. Echo saw him too. She grabbed the binoculars from Mason and stared at him for a few seconds, and then she started fixing herself up. She quickly washed her face in the pool and combed her hair. She brushed the leaves off her gown.
Matthew watched her and spoke to Mason in an aside. “She likes him.”
“Maybe he’ll take her mind off her problems.”
He came to the little waterfall where the stream flowed into the pool, cupped his hands under the sparkling shower, using them as a bowl, and drank the sweet liquid. When he had his fill, he sat down on the other side of the pool from the three and began combing his hair, just as Echo was doing. However, he completely ignored Echo and the boys.
Matthew was about to approach him and find out who he was when Echo stood up. She walked around the pool slowly, hesitantly. She was acting shy, which wasn’t like her. She went up to the lad and looked down at him, a half-smile on her face.
He continued to ignore her for what seemed like an eternity, but finally he looked up at her. “Who are you?”
Echo said, “Are you.”
He repeated his question and she repeated her response. She had a frustrated expression. The young man stood up and faced her. He looked annoyed.
“Look, can’t you do anything but repeat what I say?”
“What I say.”
“This is ridiculous. You are a silly girl.”
He laughed at her and said things that when she repeated them came out as disparaging remarks about herself.
Matthew and Mason stood and went around the pool. Enough was enough. Just then, Echo threw her arms around the lad and started kissing him. Surprised, he untangled himself and shoved her hard. She stumbled backward and almost fell. Matthew and Mason caught her. Tears appeared in her eyes. She tore herself away from them and ran into the woods.
“What did you do that for?” Matthew was livid. He was ready to punch the fellow, despite the difference in their size.
The man held out his arms, palms up. “Hey, she deserved it. She was making fun of me.”
“She was making fun of you?” Mason stood beside Matthew. “She was cursed by Hera.”
“I don’t care who she was cursed by.” He looked at the two of them and apparently decided he didn’t want to fight them both. “Look, I’m sorry. I understand she’s got a problem, but it’s not my problem.”
Matthew was remembering things. “What’s your name?”
Of course. Now he remembered the whole legend of Echo and Narcissus. “What are you going to do now?”
“I’ve been looking for a friend. I’ve come a long way. I’d like to take a nap.”
Matthew changed his voice to sound conciliatory. “You can take a nap beside the pool. The sound of the water will lull you to sleep.”
Narcissus looked at them suspiciously.
Mason knew he should back up his brother. “It’s all right; we won’t hurt you. We know what you did to Echo wasn’t malicious. Here are some grapes to munch on.”
Narcissus took the grapes and started eating them. He relaxed and prepared to take a nap.
Matthew pulled Mason away from the pool. “We need to keep him here as long as possible.”
“What’s up, bro?”
“If we concentrate hard enough we should be able to send a telepathic message to Aphrodite. She’ll want to know what happened.”
“All right, I’m willing to try anything, but can we also check on Echo? It looked like she was going to the nymphs’ cave.”
Echo had showed them where the cave was. They walked through the trees and found the entrance, hidden by some bushes.
Matthew called. “Echo.”
The answer came from deep within the cave.
“She’s in there.” Mason called. “Come on out.”
“Come on out.”
They shouted some more. Echo answered, but it was clear she wasn’t coming out of the cave.
Mason felt sad. “Can’t we go in after her?”
“It’s too dangerous. It’s pitch black and we don’t have any kind of a light.”
They reluctantly headed back toward the pool. As they came near it, Matthew saw somebody approaching from the other side. Aphrodite. They hurried forward to meet her. She was as beautiful as ever.
When she came close to them she spoke. “You were supposed to protect Echo from Hera.”
“It’s my fault.” Matthew didn’t want the blame to fall on Mason. “The lookout system I set up didn’t work properly.” He briefly told Aphrodite what had happened, minimizing Mason’s part in it.
She listened in silence, a black look on her face. She sat on a rock and thought for a while. Matthew and Mason looked at each other, not daring to speak or run away. Finally, she spoke.
“I’m not sure what to do with you. Turn you into frogs or just make you guard the pool forever. Where is Echo?”
They took turns explaining what had happened between Echo and Narcissus. When they were finished, Aphrodite looked around.
“Where is that egomaniac now?”
Matthew pointed. “Asleep by the waterfall.”
Mason spoke up. “We lulled him with grapes and got him to stay. We hoped you’d show up.”
Aphrodite looked at them with new respect. “Because you kept Narcissus here, I’m not going to punish you.”
She walked over to Narcissus and stood looking down on him. She made movements with her arms, like an orchestra conductor. The boys followed her as she walked some distance away from Narcissus.
“I’ve taken care of him. He won’t hurt anybody else.”
“Can you help us get back to Santorini?” Mason had a pleading expression on his face.
“The next time you jump in the pool you will return to Santorini. However, I advise you to wait until Narcissus wakes up to see what’s going to happen to him. I know you both liked Echo, and his fate will help you bear hers.”
Aphrodite turned and walked away. Soon she was out of sight around the mountain. The boys didn’t have long to wait. After a short while, Narcissus started to stretch and opened his eyes. When he was awake, he went to the pool to drink instead of using the waterfall. He looked into the pool and saw his reflection. He stared at the face in the water, not moving.
Matthew nodded and spoke to Mason. “It’s working. He’s fallen in love with his reflection.”
“What? Aphrodite was right. He really is an egomaniac. What will happen to him?”
“He won’t be able to pull himself away from the pool. What happens to people who don’t eat?”
“Exactly. Now let’s jump in the pool. That will destroy his reflection and he’ll freak out, but as soon as the water becomes calm he’ll see it again.”
Mason was horrified at the fate of Narcissus, but after what he did to Echo, perhaps it was some sort of justice. The boys held hands and jumped into the pool. The last thing they saw above the surface was the startled expression on the face of Narcissus.
They were sitting on the steps of the chapel on the island of Santorini. Mason looked at the sun.
“I’d say no time has elapsed since we’ve been gone. Let’s just hope it’s the same day. It must be. Here are our backpacks, right where we left them.”
Matthew picked up his pack and put it on. “We’re in good shape. Mom and Dad won’t have missed us. Let’s get going. We have to meet them in Oia.”
They stood up and started walking along the volcanic path. Mason was thinking about their adventure. “Too bad about Narcissus.”
“At least he got a flower named after him.”
“Echo was such a nice girl. I wish we could have helped her.”
“We can still speak to her.”
“All we have to do is find a cave or canyon. When we shout into it, she’ll answer us.”
“On Google Earth, it looked as if there were some canyons around Oia. Maybe we can talk to her there.”
“Sounds like a plan.”