Walking through the streets of Mykonos, I could feel the sunlight reflecting off the whitewashed buildings and the road. I knew it was just my imagination, but sunlight and heat seemed to affect me differently when I was on land. What was warm and comfortable walking the deck of my ship was somehow more oppressive ashore.
This was the part of my job I hated the most. It was bad enough when I lost a sailor, but having to visit an entire ship’s worth of widows and children and explain to them that their husband or father was not coming home ever again—I’d never gotten used to it. I knew I could assign one of my officers this task, but I was the one who sent them to sea, so the ultimate responsibility was mine.
But I still hated it.
“The house you want is the second one on the right,” Captain Dellis said, waking me from my reverie. I glanced around and was glad I’d brought him along. I’d been so busy thinking about what to say, I had no idea what street we were on. I nodded brusquely to hide my embarrassment at being caught wool-gathering.
“Please wait on the street, captain. I think it would be best if I spoke to Mrs. Cirillo alone.”
“As you wish, sir.”
I approached the sparkling white building and knocked on the door. It opened, and a middle-aged woman stepped out. To my surprise, she dabbed away some tears and tried to put on a warm smile for me. “May I help you?”
“Mrs. Cirillo, I am Alexandros Korias. Your husband worked for me.”
“Ah, Mr. Korias. Yes, Johnny spoke of you often. He was proud to have served as first mate on one of your ships. I know he dreamed of getting his own ship…that is before the accident.”
I did my best to keep my features still, but I was taken aback. I insisted no one at the Bounty of the Sea contact any of the relatives before I had a chance to speak to them. Someone was going to answer for disobeying this request.
“I apologize for not arriving earlier. I wanted you to hear from me how much I appreciated Johnny’s skill and loyalty. He was an honorable man, and I enjoyed the time I got to spend with him on the Azure Sea over the years.”
“As I said, he also spoke highly of you and how your presence was a good luck charm for the crew. They never caught as many fish as they did when you were sailing with them. He also said you enjoyed singing with the crew in the evening. He never understood how you knew all those old sailing songs.”
I smiled at the memory. “A good ear and a lot of time on the sea. My father and his father owned the company before me, so I grew up on the ocean.”
There was no point explaining how I’d been leading fishing fleets in these islands for a few thousand years. One of the gifts given to the gods had been to modify our bodies, so I aged, and then my son appeared to command the fleet while my older self retired. I was just not quite as comfortable as my relatives about announcing my divinity. I’d been in retirement for so long; I’d let them keep the spotlight.
We spoke for a while longer before I reached into my inside breast pocket and pulled out an envelope. “Mrs. Cirillo, I know this will never replace your husband, but this is the first of several payments you will be receiving. I hope you will accept this in the spirit in which it’s given.”
She took the envelope but stared up at me in confusion. “Mr. Korias, I don’t mean to be unappreciative, but isn’t this a bit excessive?”
I looked down at her, as confused as she was. “Excuse me?”
“Your company officer who came by to tell me of Johnny’s death, he already ensured I would be receiving a monthly stipend. I’m flattered by your generosity, but a second payment isn’t necessary.”
“One…of my officers? Well, let’s not worry about it. Keep this, and I’ll take care of the payment issue back at the office. Have no concerns. I’m certain it’s just a clerical error.”
She glanced down at the envelope and then up at me. “As you wish. Thank you for coming by. It helps to know he worked for such an honorable man.”
After she shut the door, I retreated to the street and motioned for Captain Dellis to follow me. I walked almost the entire block before I trusted myself to speak. “Captain, did I or did I not use your radio room to contact base after we dealt with the Azure Sea incident?”
“You most certainly did, sir.”
“And did I or did I not make it crystal-clear that no one was to contact the family before I did?”
“Then which of my employees sipped from the Lethe and forgot my explicit orders?”
Captain Dellis rubbed a hand on his forehead before answering. “You’ve lost me, sir.”
I explained the conversation I’d just had with Mrs. Cirillo, and I saw the captain’s jaw slacken in disbelief. “Sir, something is wrong. I’ve sailed with you a long time and your feelings on this subject are well known. It’s something we impress on any new sailor who joins the fleet. Could something have happened at the main office?”
“I have no idea, but I’m going to find out.” Pulling out my cell phone, I contacted the main office of Bounty of the Sea. After the initial squawk over the office manager’s phone, I waited as he rushed around trying to find the culprit. After a few minutes, he came back, and I could hear the nervousness in his voice.
“Sir, no one from the office here knows anything about this. I specifically spoke to the radio operator. Besides your accountants, him, and myself, no one else in the office even knew the Azure Sea had been lost. I also spoke to the foreman in the cannery, but no one there knew of the loss either. None of them could have been the leak.”
It was easier to read mortals when you could see them, but from my office manager’s voice, I could tell he believed he was telling me the truth. I decided that was good enough for now and continued on my duty. However, at each house we stopped at, this mysterious messenger had arrived before us.
Three hours later, I was hot, angry, and more than a bit frustrated. I made a call to the Bank of the Aegean. I verified some unknown party had made arrangements to have money deposited into the accounts of the crew of the Azure Sea for the next two years. That was in addition to the money Bounty of the Sea was going to deposit.
That did it.
I motioned for the captain to follow me. Someone or something had just earned a visit from a very pissed-off sea god, and whatever steam I hadn’t blown off dealing with the pirates would get a good work out with this interloper. We made a beeline for the main marina in Mykonos, where the Aegean Star was currently undergoing a refit. I had to slow down a few times to allow the captain to keep up with me, but the fire in my belly drove me to move as quickly as I could in my current mortal form.
When we reached the entrance to the marina, I sent the captain off to check on the status of the repairs to the Star as well as the ships we’d acquired from our visit with the pirates. I wanted to be certain the trawler we picked up could be converted into a fishing vessel as soon as possible. Once the captain was well underway, I headed toward my yacht to acquire the Trident of the Aegean and see if I could divine the location of the interloper.
As I turned the corner and the Aegean Star came into view, I felt the presence of another powerful being and slowed down. There, sitting on a piling near the gangway to the yacht, was the Russian I’d met at the pirate bar…well, the merman who appeared to be a Russian in his mortal form.
“Dobryj dyen, Old Man.”
The smile he gave me was so oily, I wanted to slap it right off of his face, but I decided to wait and see what had brought him to Mykonos. I reached out with my senses but didn’t detect any of his men in the area. He smiled larger and waved a hand around him.
“No, I am here by myself. I am a mere messenger this time. Come, let us sit down and talk like civilized beings. Unless you’d be more comfortable in the sea?”
I shook my head. “No, my shoulder is still a bit sore. I think keeping you in plain sight is safest for me.”
We walked away from the yacht to a small cantina attached to the marina. He ordered two glasses of ouzo and waited until the waitress had left before rotating his own right shoulder and speaking.
“My master has instructed me to apologize. He explained to me in a most pointed fashion why my actions were inappropriate.”
“Your master’s interests in my business are somewhat disturbing in themselves. Your presence is even less welcome. I’m going to assume you were the messenger I’ve been a few steps behind all day.”
“My master’s instructions were quite clear. He wishes to apologize for the Azure Sea incident and to make amends. Since he has no way to raise a mortal from the dead, this seemed like the most efficient way to compensate for choosing to work with incompetents. He has taken your warning to heart, and any ship sailing under the aegis of Bounty of the Sea is strictly off-limits. He bears you no enmity, and he hopes you bear him none either. He has, shall we say, other fish to fry.”
“And what might I call you?”
“I am a mere merfolk, albeit one not aligned with the current Lord of the Sea. For purposes of this conversation, you may call me Ixion.”
I recognized an alias when I heard one, but was willing to let it slide for now. “I’m surprised ol’ Polybotes is as active as he is. After all, can’t be that easy to get around with an island resting on your back.”
For an instant, there was a hardening around his eyes. If he were not under orders, I suspected he would have come across the table after me, but it passed, and a wan smile settled onto his face. “Let’s just say, things change over time. The Lord of the Sea should have made sure my master was dead. However, he has spent many millennia finding a way to the surface. Surely you’ve noted the earthquakes affecting the eastern Aegean lately.”
“So you’re saying he’s free?”
“I say nothing. He could be free. He could be free any day now. He could even be still stuck beneath his island and merely able to communicate with those dissatisfied with the Lord of the Sea’s abandonment of his duties. Many are tired of waiting for Poseidon to return from wherever he has been. That is, unless you are making a play for the throne again, Lord Nereus?”
I shook my head and waved my hand in an arc in front of me. “You see my kingdom these days, Ixion. I am a fisherman and a cannery owner. When I passed the Trident to him, we came to an agreement. The Aegean and the waters that touch it are my playground, but he is the lord of all the world’s oceans, seas, lakes, and so forth. I don’t get involved in his affairs, and he stays out of mine. I like being retired, Ixion. Perhaps your master should consider it as well. It would be a lot safer.”
The oily smile returned to Ixion’s face. “I’m afraid he doesn’t see it that way. However, he will be pleased with hearing you are still retired. His advice to you, Old Man, is to stay that way. His business is strictly with Poseidon, and he’d like to keep it that way.”
I snorted, which was a mistake. Getting ouzo up your nose is a bad thing, even when you’re a god. Once I had recovered a bit of my dignity, I gave Ixion a steely glare. “I’m afraid Polybotes is wasting both his breath and his time. Poseidon doesn’t require my aid and never has. But, know this; I didn’t relinquish my trident to him out of fear. I am no Titan. I am a Prime. It was simply time for another to take the mantle. Tell your master, if he doubts my prowess, he’s making a worse mistake than when he fought Poseidon.”
Ixion started to speak again, but I interrupted him, my voice dropping a few octaves to ensure he didn’t miss my sincerity. “Also, remind your master Poseidon’s consort is my daughter. Threaten Amphitrite at your own risk.”
Ixion raised his glass in salute. “As one warrior to another, I shall pass your advice on to my master. I don’t know what his response will be to that, but I know he’ll study your words carefully before he acts.”
I silently lifted my glass to him and drank. He left the cantina without another word, and I felt his presence traveling northeast before it disappeared completely. I ordered one more drink for myself and pondered the events of the past couple of days.
Nereus, you old fool, what have you gotten yourself into?