Disclaimer: This is an original X&G era story written for Bard Challenge #11. Salmoneus, as everyone knows, belongs to someone else and I've borrowed him without permission. All the other characters and events are mine. With that said; I hope I have spelled the names of the towns correctly, my map was a little hard to read. Or, I'm getting old and my vision isn't what it used to be. Anyway, here's my story.
"Hey, what do you call this again?" a skinny man asks as he examines a small, round, squishy sack.
"Cheese Squeeze," a rotund merchant stands in front of a small handcart placed strategically in the middle of the square where an open market is in full swing. In front of him sits a portable table with neat rows of similar small bundles laid out to attract customers. He picks up one of the bundles and squeezes it, forcing it's contents onto a cracker.
"It's easy to use and makes a convenient snack," the merchant shows the newly adorned cracker to the petite woman standing next to the man. "And, it can be easily carried when traveling. But, best of all, children love it," he smiles at the half dozen small heads that surround the pair.
"I don't know," the man hesitates.
Sensing a sale to be lost, the merchant quickly offers, "buy two and I'll throw a third one in for free. Special family introductory offer," he adds cheerfully as he addresses the growing assembly of curious villagers gathering around his table.
"Alright," the man says as he looks at the hopeful faces of his children. He reaches for his coin purse.
As the merchant picks up three of the Cheese Squeezes, a commotion is heard near the entrance to the market.
"Who did you buy this from?" a loud, angry voice is heard above the hubbub of market vendors trying to appeal to the shoppers.
"There," a woman's voice is heard to answer. "From that man."
The merchant looks up to see a tall, barrel-chested man charging towards him. He shoves the Cheese Squeezes into his customer's hands at the same time he takes the coins being offered.
"Sorry, I have another market to get to before sundown," the merchant hastily explains to the other villagers around his table. He quickly scoops up the displayed bundles and tosses them into his cart. He folds up the table and drops it into the cart even as he starts to push it away from the rapidly approaching angry man.
"Oh, no, you don't," a large, beefy hand grabs the side of the cart and yanks it to a stop. "You aren't going any where until you give my wife her money back."
"I'm sorry but you must have me confused with another merchant," the merchant exclaims, almost tumbling into the cart that has been brought to a stop so suddenly in front of him. As he tries to wrestle the cart free, he tells the man, "I've never seen your lovely wife before."
The man hesitates just long enough to give his wife a questioning look.
"That's him, Clevus," the wife insists. "He sold me this."
What once had been an intact squirrel bladder full of softened cheese was now a gooey, slimy mess of ruptured bladder and melting cheese.
"You told me that I could heat this over the fire. Look what happened when I tried," the woman howls as she throws the exploded Cheese Squeeze at the merchant.
The bundle of goop hits the merchant square in the face and half-cooked cheese drips off his nose and chin, and down onto his chest.
"My good woman, you misunderstood my instructions," he begins but before he can say anymore a hand encircles his throat.
"She paid you two dinars for that mess," the man glares at Salmoneus. "Give it back to her," he demands.
The skinny man who had just paid for three Cheese Squeezes is listening to the exchange while carefully examining his recent purchases. "Maybe, this isn't a good idea," he starts to hand the bundles back.
"No," the merchant protests as best he can with a beefy fist tightening around his throat. "She misunderstood," he squeals.
"What's going on here?" a soldier wearing the sash of an officer asks as he approaches.
"He's disrupting the market," a town elder tells the officer as he points at the miserable merchant. "I knew this would happen if we let him sell those... those," the elder sputters, not quite sure how to describe the cheese filled squirrel bladders. Frustrated, he gives up and commands the officer, "make him leave the square. At once!!!"
"Alright," the officer gestures to a couple of soldiers patrolling the market. "Let's go," he tells the choking merchant and the man doing the choking. "We can discuss this at the magistrate's office."
"Not until I get my money," the large man tightens his hold on the merchant and his cart.
Starting to see stars, the merchant decides that, under the present circumstances, a refund might be the best course of action. "Here," he pulls the requested amount of coins from his pocket and thrusts them at the man.
Taking the coins, the man releases his grip and the merchant sinks to his knees, gasping for air.
"I suggest you leave Messene, post haste," the officer informs the merchant. "And, my suggestion is that you don't return." He motions for the soldiers to escort the wheezing merchant to the city's boundaries. The soldiers help him to his feet, being careful to stay clear of the cheesy goo covering him. They push his cart before them, leading him away from the square.
The skinny man watches them go and shrugs as he takes one last look at the three squirrel bladders he holds. Then, he turns to follow his wife and children already looking at another merchant's wares.
The merchant follows the soldiers to the outer wall of Messene, where they dump his cart of squishy bundles outside the entry gate. As they turn to return to their posts, one stops and looks hard at the goo covered man.
"Do what the captain said, stay away from Messene," the soldier commands before disappearing back into the town, his head shaking at the sight he has just left.
The merchant kneels in the dirt to retrieve the bladders that have rolled out of his upturned cart and, now, lay scattered in the dusty road.
A young man approaches.
"Sorry, I'm closed for the day," the merchant mutters without thought. Then, thinking he might be turning away a potential customer, he looks up and smiles a cheesy smile at the young man. "However, if you would like to accompany me away from this gate, I'm sure that I could accommodate your needs."
"Are you Salmoneus?" the young man asks, ignoring the kneeling man's comments.
"Why, yes I am," Salmoneus beams as he stretches his arm towards the stranger. "I see my reputation for quality goods has preceded me."
"This is for you," the young man tosses a rolled up parchment into the outstretched hand, carefully avoiding the cheesy goo covering it.
Salmoneus looks at the parchment, "what is this?"
"I just deliver 'em," the young man says over his shoulder as he is already leaving to deliver his next parchment. "I don't read 'em."
Salmoneus unwraps the parchment, unable to avoid smearing cheese on it. He wipes at the goo as his eyes follow the words on the paper, a smile slowly spreads across his cheese splotched face. "The Committee requires my presence in Orlandopolis." He slowly stands as he re-reads the parchment before carefully re-rolling it.
"Now, I wonder how they heard about my Cheese Squeezes," he asks no one in particular as he tucks the parchment into his cart for safekeeping.
To follow the Committee's instructions that all speed be made to reach Orlandopolis, Salmoneus decides to take the road from Messene through Sparta and, then, to Helus. At Helus, Salmoneus is sure that he will be able to buy passage on one of the many merchant ships that sail to Orlandopolis. And, if he is really lucky, he will find a captain willing to give an old friend a berth on their ship. At no cost, of course.
He leaves his cart hidden in a small cave just outside of Messene and, with the mistaken knowledge that the reason he is being summoned by the Committee are his Cheese Squeezes, he has placed the bladders of soft cheese, along with his invitation, into a canvas sack which he now carries slung over his shoulder. As he walks, the mid-day sun beats down on him and his sack.
Salmoneus has been walking for five days and hopes to reach Sparta by sunset and get a room for the night. With no inns between Messene and Sparta, he has been forced to sleep on the cold, hard ground. And, now along with his many stiff muscles, he is suffering from a nasty cold and a very stuffy nose. A warm room and hot bath is just what he needs, he thinks as he trudges along the road to Sparta.
A little after sundown, Salmoneus enters a tavern on the outskirts of Sparta. A sign on the front of the wooden shack advertises rooms for rent at reasonable prices. And, since he needs to save as many of his dinars as possible to buy passage to Orlandopolis, Salmoneus decides to give the ramshackled building a try. He pushes open the inn's door and makes his way between the tavern's many occupied tables to the bar. Salmoneus wonders why many of the tavern's patrons hold their noses and wave their hands in front of their faces as he passes. His blocked sinuses preventing him from noticing that after baking for five days in the hot sun, the sack of Cheese Squeezes he carries now reeks.
"Excuse me, kind sir," Salmoneus addresses the man serving drinks behind the bar. "Would you, perhaps, have a room I could rent for the night?" he snuffles, his nose so stuffed he has difficulty talking clearly.
"Whoa," the man holds his nose as he scrutinizes the smelly traveler. "Just how long have you been on the road?" he asks, blinking back tears that start to form in his stinging eyes.
"It has taken me five days to walk from Messene," Salmoneus apologizes. "As you can tell, I am in need of a bath as well as a room."
"Plenty of creeks between here and Messene," the tavern-keeper says. "Maybe, you should have jumped in one or two on your way."
"Maybe we should just throw him into the horse trough out back," one of the men sitting at the nearest table offers. "He smells too bad to let him use the only tub you have in this dump." His tablemates quickly agree, as do several other diners.
Sensing the growing hostility directed his way, Salmoneus pleads with the tavern-keeper, "please, sir. Direct me to a room and bath and I will leave these good men to their meals."
"Who can eat with that stench filling the room?" a second diner protests.
"That's right," the first man rises from his chair. "I'm ready to lose what I've already eaten. To the horse trough, I say."
Several other diners leave their meals and surround Salmoneus. Rough hands grab him and his sack of sun-heated, cheese filled squirrel bladders, carrying both out the side door of the tavern. The men lug their load through a narrow alley to the stable behind the building. Several horses, that had been enjoying their evening meal of oats, whinny and shy away from the stench that evades their stalls as the men enter the stable. Salmoneus is unceremoniously dumped into the horse trough, his sack of bladders falling with a thud onto the muddy ground next to the him.
"Don't come back inside, if you know what's good for you," one man says as the group turns to go back to the tavern. Unfortunately, it would take most of the night for the smell of Salmoneus' sun-ripened bladders of cheese to clear from the tavern. Only generous amounts of ale provided by the innkeeper keep the men from returning to the horse trough and scrubbing Salmoneus within an inch of his life.
Since he is already drenched, Salmoneus remains in the dirty water long enough to wash the dust and sweat from his body. He even takes the time to give the clothes he wears a quick cleaning. When he is finished, he climbs out of the trough to check the contents of his sack and he is happy to discover that the Cheese Squeezes seem no worse for wear. He pulls his sack of precious cargo back up over his shoulder and sets out to find a safe place to spend the night. As he carries his sack back past the occupied stalls, the horses rear and snort.
"Wonder what has them so worked up," he mutters as he blows his nose on a still dripping hanky. "Must be a full moon or something."
After his hot walk to Sparta, Salmoneus is glad when high clouds begin to gather in the morning sky. It will make the day's journey to Amyclae less of a strain as the clouds will block the searing sun. The smell emanating from his pack has lessoned somewhat in the cooler weather, a change that goes unnoticed by the sinus-stuffed man carrying it.
Salmoneus walks into the small village of Amyclae and looks for an inn to spend the night, hoping he would not have to again sleep on the ground. Salmoneus stops at inn after inn to inquire about a room but the answer is always the same... NO VACANCY. Which surprises him since there are few travelers on the village's streets.
He has almost walked the entire length of Amyclae when he spots a small inn half hidden in the shadows of an alley. Moments later, he enters the mud-brick building and is confronted with a tiny, dimly lit lobby. A woman, well past her 60th summer, sits haphazardly in a badly made wooden chair next to a equally poorly constructed table from which a single lamp gives off more oily smoke than light. The woman's head bops as she attempts to fight off sleep. Startled by Salmoneus' unexpected arrival, she jerks awake.
"May I help ye?" the woman smiles at Salmoneus and, even in the bad light, he notices she is missing most of her teeth.
"Yes, please, dear lady," Salmoneus smiles back, trying to ignore the woman's dental situation. "I would like a room for the night."
"Ah," the woman smiles again. "We have jus' one left. Be five dinars, for ye," she holds out a dirty hand, fully expecting it to be filled with the requested funds.
"Five dinars," Salmoneus snorts. "For one night!"
"Yep," the woman's hand never wavers.
"Must be some room," Salmoneus says, incredulously.
"It is," the innkeeper grins. "Come's wit' me," she giggles.
Salmoneus eyes grow wide. Dumbfounded, he stares at the woman standing before him, grinning like she has just won the Athens lottery.
'Oh, no......... Absolutely, not.......... Surely, she couldn't mean...........'.
"Come on," the woman is getting impatient. "Gimme me me dinars so's we can gets on wit' it," she thrusts her hand at Salmoneus. "You's wastin' what time we's got."
Salmoneus begins to back towards the inn's door. It had been a pleasant day, maybe another night sleeping under the stars wasn't such a bad idea after all.
"Sorry," he stammers as he reaches behind him trying to find the door's latch. "I don't have five dinars. Maybe, some other time."
"Wait," the woman cries. "How's 'bout four dinars and we can share a bath?" she offers to keep from losing the only business she'd seen all day.
"No, sorry," Salmoneus breathes a sigh of relief as his fumbling hand finally locates the latch. "Just had a bath last night. Nice offer, though," he calls over his shoulder as he runs out into the night.
"Hades," the woman watches Salmoneus disappear. "Probably, a good thin' tho. He sure didn' smell like he bathed las' night." she grumbles returning to her chair to wait for the next traveler to stumble into her inn.
When Salmoneus crests the hill and Helus spreads out before him, he almost kisses the ground in relief. It has been twelve days since receiving the Committee's parchment and he is tired and sore from his travels. His only disappointment upon reaching the port town is that his cold and stuffy nose are still very much with him.
Salmoneus surveys the harbor, grateful to see several ships at anchor. He quickly envisions the remainder of his trip to Orlandopolis being spent in a warm cabin and soft bunk. Thinking his days of walking dusty, hot roads and nights sleeping on cold, hard ground were soon to be put behind him, Salmoneus almost skips into town.
As Salmoneus makes his way to the waterfront and docks, more and more activity bustles around him. He spies a market in the village square and thinks of stopping to sell some of his supply of Cheese Squeezes. But, remembering the parchment's instructions to hurry to Orlandopolis, he continues to the docks. After his visit to the Committee, he would have plenty of time to stop at markets, he tells himself. He smiles while he thinks that with the Committee's endorsement of his Cheese Squeezes he will be able to sell many more and at a much higher price.
Many people stop to stare and point at Salmoneus as he passes. He smiles and waves cheerfully back at them, though, he isn't sure why his passing seems to create such interest. Maybe, he ponders, word has gotten out about his invitation to Orlandopolis. After all, it is quite an honor to be summoned by the Committee.
Salmoneus arrives at the docks and begins to search the many ships loading cargo and preparing to set sail. Finally, his eyes fall on a ship he recognizes as belonging to a trader he has done business with many times before. Salmoneus is sure the ship's owner and captain will provide him passage to Orlandopolis.
"Kelopus, my old friend, I haven't seen you in a while," he reflects as he approaches the ship's gangplank.
"Hold there," a sailor carrying a barrel of ale up the gangplank stops midway between vessel and shore and turns to face Salmoneus. "No one come's 'board withou' the capt'n's say."
"It's alright," Salmoneus tells the sailor blocking his path. "I'm an old friend of Captain Kelopus. I'm sure he'll be happy to let me on board."
"Maybe," the sailor makes no effort to move. "Maybe, not. Capt'n has to make tha' say-so."
"Well," Salmoneus smiles his most engaging smile at the sailor. "Perhaps, you would be so kind as to ask the Captain for me."
"Nope," the sailor spits into the water below his feet. "Me job's carryin' thes' barrels. Not botherin' the Capt'n. You best wait on shore 'til Capt'n comes back from town."
"But, I'm sure," Salmoneus protests.
"Nope," the sailor re-adjusts the heavy barrel as he turns to complete his journey. "You stay put or I'll put ya in the water, meself. Ya smells like that mightin' not be a bad idea," the sailor adds more to himself than the offending man.
"Alright," Salmoneus ignores the sailor's insult and looks around for somewhere to wait. He spots a crate resting on the dock out of the way of the men loading the ships. After crossing to the crate, Salmoneus carefully places his sack of squirrel bladders on the rough, wooden dock surface at his feet before making himself comfortable to wait.
Salmoneus notices that the men loading the vessels take a wide berth around him anytime they passed near. Knowing that it had been some time since he had had a real bath, Salmoneus raises his arms and smells his armpits. He smells nothing bad enough to cause the men to avoid him, he believes, and goes back to his waiting. In fact, he can smell nothing, his nose too stuffy to let any odors through.
"Something must have spoiled in this crate," he tells himself as another sailor walks out of his way around him.
Pulled from his musings, Salmoneus looks toward the voice.
"Kelopus," Salmoneus quickly stands and extends an arm to the man approaching him. "It's been a while."
"Yes," Kelopus smiles. "It has surely been." He sniffs the air, wondering what cargo he might have agreed to carry that could smell so bad. "I've been told that you tried to board my ship."
"I was hoping that you might be going to Orlandopolis. I need to reach there as soon as possible."
"What business could you possible have on Orlandopolis?," the sea captain asks, still searching for the source of the offensive odor.
"I received a summons from the Committee."
"A summons? What would the committee want with you?" Kelopus seemed disinclined to believe Salmoneus. Of course, having done business with the slick salesman before and not always coming out on the positive end of the transactions, meant that he didn't exactly hold Salmoneus in high esteem.
"I think...," Salmoneus is about to tell Kelopus about his recent innovation, Cheese Squeezes, but pauses while he considers that might not be in his best interests. After all, Kelopus was known to take the creations of others and claim them as his own.
"I think," Salmoneus begins again, "that I don't possible know what the Committee wants. Except that they want me there quickly. Are you going that way?" Salmoneus asks hopefully as he picks up his sack.
"Yes, I'm sailing to Melos and then Hermione. I could drop you at Melos and you can catch the ferry to Orlandopolis," Kelopus takes a step backwards as the stench on the air increases suddenly. "If you wish to buy passage..."
"Buy?" Salmoneus coughs at the unexpected comment. "I thought as an old friend that I could..."
Kelopus shakes his head, where is that smell coming from, he wonders.
"Yes, we've done business before," Kelopus agrees. "But, on my ship, passengers pay their way. Or...," he hesitates, "or, they work their way. I'm in need of a cook for this voyage. My regular man took sick and I don't have time to look for another before we pull anchor this evening. Seems I recall you do a fair job of cooking. You want the job?"
"How much for passage?" Salmoneus doesn't savor the thought of having to spend the voyage to Orlandopolis cooking over a hot fire in a cramped, smelly galley. Not that he'd be able to smell anything, but he still doesn't relish the idea.
"Twenty dinars for passage to Melos. Another twenty if you want to be dropped off directly at Orlandopolis," Kelopus answers, knowing the amount would most probably be well out of Salmoneus' ability to pay.
"I'll cook," Salmoneus grunts after mentally counting up the dinars hidden in various parts of his clothing for safe-keeping.
"Good," Kelopus smiles. "Stow your gear on board and get started. We pull anchor as soon as the tide comes in and the men will be hungry after spending the day loading cargo. Too bad we don't have time for you to bathe," the captain adds as Salmoneus walks past him to his waiting ship.
"Well, I was hoping to get a bath," Salmoneus quickly says.
"Be time for that after the men eat," the captain says as he continues to search for the source of the disgusting odor.
"But, after we eat, we'll be at sea," Salmoneus whines.
"That's okay," Kelopus motions to a passing sailor. "Open that crate and see what died in there," he instructs before turning his attention back to his new cook. "We'll tie a rope 'round you."
"Oh," Salmoneus says absently, as he starts up the gangplank. "Wait a minute," he cries as the meaning of the captain's words sink in.
"Go on," Kelopus laughs, pushing Salmoneus onto the ship, "being towed behind a ship is a great way to take a bath. You don't have trouble rinsing. It's a pain to hold on to the soap, though." Before Salmoneus can respond, Kelopus orders one of his sailors, "show our new cook to the galley."
"Aye, capt'n," the sailor points Salmoneus to a small doorway and the blackness beyond.
"Sure hope he cooks bett'r he smells, capt'n," the sailor says when he comes back on deck.
"If not, he'll be swimming to Orlandopolis," the Captain guffaws, the sailor joining in.
"What do ya thin', Capt'n?" a sailor asks as he and Kelopus scan the horizon.
"Don't know," the captain looks up to a sailor who has climbed as high as possible on the ship's mast. "Can you see anything?" he shouts.
"No, Capt'n," the sailor shouts back.
"Well, keep looking," Kelopus turns his attention back to the horizon. "I'm sure I saw a ship out there."
It is just past sunrise on the third day out of Helus and all the sailors not busy with keeping the ship sailing are searching the sea's vast surface. Kelopus believes he has caught a quick glimpse of another sail on the horizon before it suddenly disappeared. This area of the sea was used by many merchants and traders, so another sail was not that unusual. But, it was also prowled by pirates looking for easy pickings and Kelopus wasn't taking any chances. His ship was fast but it was also heavily loaded and outrunning a pirate vessel was a situation to best be avoided on this voyage.
"Ho, Capt'n," the sailor atop the mast shouts. "Due east, comin' outa' the sun."
Kelopus and all the other sailors look in the direction the lookout is pointing. A ship is on a direct path for them and coming fast.
"Hades," Kelopus slams his hand on the deck railing. "Steer away from them," he yells at the helmsman. "Our only chance is to reach Melos first. Get all the sails up," he commands his crew.
As the helmsman yanks the wheel to change course, the ship tilts sharply causing Salmoneus to crash into the wall of the galley. He looks around at the recently cleaned dishes and pots now strewn about the small room. He bends to pick up the mess when the ship lunges in the opposite direction. Choosing to ignore the growing collection of broken pottery and scattered pans, Salmoneus decides to find out what is causing the ship's odd behavior.
"What's going on?" Salmoneus asks as he reaches the deck.
"Get below," Kelopus orders. "We've got enough trouble without worrying about you."
Indignant, Salmoneus turns to confront the captain when a sailor shoves him back through the doorway he has just exited.
"Pirates," the sailor tells him before racing away.
"Pirates," Salmoneus repeats. His hands start to shake as the word registers and he quickly makes his way back below deck to find a safe hiding spot.
Salmoneus returns to the ship's galley only long enough to grab the few items of value to him, his sack of squirrel bladders and his invitation from the Committee. He quickly searches the cargo area of the ship for a suitable hiding place and settles on a far, dark corner. He pushes several barrels and crates into the corner until he is satisfied that no one would suspect anyone of hiding behind them. Then, he crawls into a small opening he had left for himself and pulls his sack in after him.
The ship pitches and rolls as Kelopus tries to outrun the pirates to the small island of Melos. Salmoneus doesn't know how much time has passed since being told of the pirate threat. Nor, can he tell what is happening above him on the ship's deck. Periodically, he hears Kelopus shouting instructions to his crew and, occasionally, the sailors can be heard shouting back. Suddenly, Salmoneus feels the ship's maneuvering stop and it becomes very quiet.
After several minutes, he hears renewed shouting. Next, he hears the sounds of several pairs of feet thumping onto the wooden deck's surface, then running in all directions. His interest is quickly drawn to the sound of a single set of footsteps descending the ladder into the ship's cargo hold. A sound that causes sweat to break out on Salmoneus' forehead and run down his face. He pulls the sack of squirrel bladders close to his chest, as if it will protect him from the unknown danger.
Salmoneus listens as the unseen person slowly searches the cargo hold, moving purposely around it's many barrels and crates. As he listens, the footsteps stop near him then, slowly, begin to move away. Just as he is sure his hiding place has gone undetected, the pile of barrels and crates stacked around him are suddenly torn apart leaving him exposed.
"Now, wha' do we hav' here?"
Salmoneus looks up to see a pirate standing above him. "I'm not part of the crew," he begins to blubber.
"Oh, you's a merchan', then," the pirate sneers. "Good, means ya hav' lots a dinars on ya."
"No, no," Salmoneus instantly realizes his mistake. "I mean I was hired just for this voyage. As a cook. I have no dinars," but as he utters the words, his hands feel for the pouch he had sown inside his shirt soon after the ship left Helus.
"No, dinars, eh?" the pirate slaps Salmoneus' hands away and tears the pouch free. After inspecting it's contents, he pushes it inside his own shirt. "I'll takes that. Now, on your feet." The pirate sniffs the air, "how'd ya stands this place? Smells like a family a' squirrels died in here."
Salmoneus feels himself being pulled upright and tightens his hold on his precious sack. Before he can protest, the pirate shoves him towards the ladder leading up to the deck. The sun is sinking in the western sky when Salmoneus steps out from the ship's interior. This surprises him as he now realizes that the attempt to outrun the pirate ship has taken the whole day. He looks around the deck and sees Kelopus and his crew crowded together under the watchful eyes of several pirates.
"Here's 'nother one," the pirate pushes Salmoneus in the back causing him to fall on the deck. He is yanked to his feet and thrust in the direction of Kelopus.
"That's it?" a man asks. Though his back was turned to him, Salmoneus can see that the man is better dressed than the other pirates and Salmoneus assumes him to be their captain.
"Yea," the pirate tells his captain. "Found him hidin' in the cargo. Says he's not one a 'em but claims to be their cook."
"Oh," the pirate captain looks suspiciously at Salmoneus. "Merchant?"
"Don' thin' so," the pirate answers. "Didn' hav' any money on 'im."
Salmoneus looks up, startled at the statement from the pirate who had stolen his money pouch.
"Cook, eh?" the pirate captain steps closer to the shaking merchant.
Clasping his sack against his chest, Salmoneus tries to shrink back into the group of sailors but Kelopus blocks his way.
"I knew it was bad luck to take you on board, Salmoneus," Kelopus pushes him back towards the pirate captain.
"Salmoneus," the pirate captain examines his new prisoner. "The Salmoneus that sold Thetus new and improved battle shields for his attack against the Amazons?"
"Thetus?" Salmoneus tries to act innocent. "No, I don't think I've had the pleasure."
"Oh," the pirate captain laughs, "somehow I don't believe you." He turns to his crew, "seems we got lucky this trip, boys."
"What did he do, capt'n?" one of the pirates asks.
"Seems he told Thetus the shields were covered with a newly discovered tree sap that was supposed to make the arrows bounce off of them. Instead, the arrows stuck in the shields like they were pin cushions, and the soldiers had to abandon them when they became too heavy to carry. Thetus' army was overrun by the Amazons. Wasn't pretty, I hear."
"I should have thrown you and that smelly sack overboard as soon as we cleared the strait," Kelopus sneers.
"Yes," the pirate captain smiles. "Thetus will pay us a handsome reward for Salmoneus, here. Seems he hasn't been too happy, especially now with traveling bards telling stories about his defeat. Why, even the standup bards are telling jokes about his rubberized shields."
The pirate captain reaches to pull Salmoneus from the other captives, "whoa!!" He blinks his eyes as an overwhelming awful stink attacks his nose. "What in Hades are you carrying in that sack?"
"Refuses to show it to anyone," Kelopus offers. "Said it was a 'secret' he was taking to the Committee on Orlandopolis."
"Orlandopolis," the pirate captain opens the sack and looks inside. "What would the Committee want with some rotting squirrel bladders full of moldy cheese?" he chortles as he holds one of the offending items up so everyone could see it. "Throw this overboard," he hands the sack to the pirate who had captured Salmoneus. "And, let's hope Poseidon doesn't hold us responsible for frightening his fish."
Both pirates and sailors cheer as the reeking sack of cheese filled squirrel bladders is thrown into the sea. Salmoneus watches the sack slowly disappear beneath the water's surface, a look of dejection covering his face.
"By the Gods, this stinks" the pirate captain flings the squirrel bladder he has been holding aside. It flies across the width of the vessel and strikes the opposite railing, then bounces over the side of the ship and disappears. Salmoneus watches, his hopes disappearing with it.
"Wha' do we do with the prisoners, capt'n?" a pirate asks.
"Throw them overboard," the pirate captain commands. "If they're lucky, they can swim to Melos before the sharks eat them." Seeing Salmoneus caught in the crush of prisoners being pushed towards the railing, the pirate captain adds, "not him." He indicates Salmoneus and orders, "tie him to the mast."
After forcing Kelopus and his crew into the water, the pirates set about ransacking the merchant ship. They rifle through the crew's belongings and break into the cargo. Items of no value are tossed into the sea, the rest are transferred to the pirate ship. As they worked, the pirates celebrate their victory with the barrels of ale that make up a good part of the merchant ship's cargo. As the night lengthens, drunken sailors began to pass out and their sprawled bodies soon cover the decks of both ships.
Salmoneus watches and waits. The moon is starting it's descent in the west when the last pirate collapses from the ale he has consumed. Salmoneus eyes scan the ships looking for any movement from the pirates supposed to be guarding him. Luckily, his guards have celebrated side-by-side with the other pirates and now join them in their slumber.
Salmoneus decides to make his escape.
While the pirates were busy looting the merchant ship and not watching him, Salmoneus had worked the ropes around his wrists loose and he now slips them free. Gingerly, he makes his way around the sprawled pirate bodies to the ship's railing. He can see lights twinkling in the east and guesses them to be on the island of Melos. He says a silent prayer asking the Gods to safely guide him to the island before he drops over the side and into the cold water. He begins to swim for the lights.
An exhausted Salmoneus is treading water in the sea's gentle waves. As he rides each wave to the top of it's crest, he can still see lights in the distance. Far in the distance. Discouraged and unsure if he has the energy to continue swimming, Salmoneus contemplates the irony of escaping sure death with the pirates only to drown before reaching the island. As he struggles to keep his head above the waves, Salmoneus is suddenly struck in the back and pushed below the waves.
"What.... was..... that??!!" Salmoneus sputters as he breaks back through the water's surface. His arms swing wildly about in the darkness trying to locate what had hit him. His hand comes into contact with a large, hard object also floating on the sea. He feels along the object's side and recognizes the familiar feel of wood planking. Further investigation reveals the object to be a small dingy.
Salmoneus had noticed a dingy on Kelopus' ship before leaving the harbor at Helus. Maybe it had been dropped overboard with other non-essentials to lighten the load and give them a better chance of outrunning the pirates. How it had arrived at the exact same spot of sea that he now found himself floating was of little matter to the tired man.
"Saved," Salmoneus exclaims pulling himself aboard the small vessel. Exhausted, Salmoneus falls to the floor of the dingy, his arms flinging out from his sides. He takes a few moments to rest and enjoy the motion of the waves with something solid between himself and them. He is startled when, as the dingy rocks on the gentle waves, something rolls into his hand.
"Ugh," Salmoneus pulls back his hand in surprise, disgusted at the way the unseen object feels. His nose, though still stuffy from his cold and not aided by his hours in the cold water, somehow detects the faint aroma of cheese.
'Oh, no......... It couldn't be.......... He had seen it bounce over the railing of the ship...........
"My Cheese Squeeze," Salmoneus cries as he seeks out the squirrel bladder he had only seconds before recoiled from. "I don't believe I found you," he carefully cradles the offensive object in his hands.
Salmoneus is happy that he again has a sample of his innovation to present to the Committee. He places the bladder, now swollen with rotting, putrid cheese and close to the bursting point, inside his shirt for safe-keeping. His strength instantly renewed, Salmoneus gathers up the dingy's oars and begins to row for Melos.
Luckily for Salmoneus, the current is with him. By the time the sky begins to lighten with the rising sun he is well on his way to Melos, the pirates, no longer a threat, their ship having drifting in the opposite direction.
Shortly before nightfall, a weary and sunburned Salmoneus rows into the protected cove harbor on the island of Melos. Having spent the better part of the day watching the small dingy make it's way slowly toward the island, there were several island residents waiting when it finally reaches the shore. The waiting residents grab hold of the small vessel and pull it safely up onto the sandy beach. A drained Salmoneus collapses against the side of the dingy, careful not to crush the bladder cradled inside his shirt.
"Water," Salmoneus requests, the word barely making it's way over of the man's cracked lips. A water-skin is handed to him and he drinks thirstily, instantly gagging.
"Slow down," one of the islanders surrounding the dingy advises. "Take slow sips."
Salmoneus does as he is directed and quickly feels cool liquid trickle down the inside of his parched throat. "Thank you," Salmoneus tells the man between sips.
"What are you doing out on the open sea in this?" a young boy asks as he inspects the leaky boat that has brought the stranger ashore.
Salmoneus hesitates before answering to take another sip of water, "pirates attacked the ship that I had taken passage on. They forced us to abandon the ship. I was lucky enough to find this during the night."
"Where were you going? the boy asks.
"I have been summoned by the Committee to Orlandopolis," Salmoneus states proudly.
Murmurs pass among the gathered crowd, it was indeed a great honor to be summoned to Orlandopolis. But, somehow, this half-drowned, sun-burned, smelly man didn't quite look like the kind of person the Committee was generally interested in.
"Why?" the boy questions, looking quizzically at Salmoneus. The boy rubs his nose and before Salmoneus could answer his first question, he asks another. "Why do you smell so bad?"
Several other noses in the crowd have also begun to twitch and sniff the polluted air. A few of the islanders standing closest to Salmoneus take a couple of steps back from the growing stench.
"Well," the man who had offered the water-skin holds his nose, "you do seem to be a bit ripe for only one day adrift at sea. Didn't you have time to wash on the ship?"
Salmoneus is curious as to why people keep telling him that he stinks. Of course, his persistent blocked sinuses have prevented him from smelling very much but, generally, he is a rather clean man who tries to bathe regularly. Yet, he has to agree that since receiving the Committee's summons, baths had been few and far between.
"I had been on the road for several days before boarding the vessel. Kelopus had kindly offered me a bath at sea but the pirates attacked before that could happen," Salmoneus explains to the islanders.
"Kelopus?" the man asks. "It was on Kelopus' ship that you sailed?"
"Yes," Salmoneus nods. "Do you know him?"
"Anchored here many a time," the man responds. "You say the pirates put them to sea?"
"Well, we best see if we can find any of his crew," the man turns to leave. The others, except for the young boy, turn to follow.
"Wait," Salmoneus cries out. "I must get to Orlandopolis."
"No problem," the boy informs him. "Ferry leaves at sunrise."
"Ahhh," Salmoneus relaxes, he had forgotten about the ferry that Kelopus had mentioned. "Is there somewhere I can get a room for the night? And, a bath."
"Sure," the boy nods. "There are several inns in town. You do have dinars, don't you?"
"Alas, no," Salmoneus sighs. "The pirates stole what few dinars I had."
"Too bad," the boy snickers. "Innkeepers won't give credit."
"I will gladly pay after I return from Orlandopolis. I'm sure the Committee will reward me for my invention...," he quickly stops talking, afraid he has already said too much.
"What invention?" the curious boy asks.
"I'm sorry," Salmoneus tells him. "I can't discuss it until I meet with the Committee."
The boy snickers at the smelly, sunburned man before him. "Ha. I've heard that one before. So have the innkeepers. That's why they only take dinars for their rooms. Guess you'll be sleeping on the beach tonight," he calls out as he runs away from Salmoneus.
"Nooooooooooooooooo," Salmoneus moans as he slumps back against the dingy on a now deserted beach.
Salmoneus is first in line for the morning ferry to Orlandopolis. The next person in line waits several paces behind the very odiferous and offensive man.
"Two dinars," the ticket taker again tells Salmoneus.
"But, I've explained many times that the pirates stole my dinars. Please, I must get to Orlandopolis to see the Committee," Salmoneus explains for the umpteenth time.
"Let's see your summons, then," the ticket taker tightens his hold on the rag pressed against his nose.
"It was in my sack that the pirates threw into the sea. Please, let me onboard. I promise I'll get the funds from the Committee to pay you," Salmoneus pleads.
"Move on," the ticket taker tells him. "Can't let you onboard if you don't have a ticket."
"Please," Salmoneus tries again. "The Committee is expecting me."
"You have to have a ticket."
"Here," a man steps forward and hands the ticket taker the requested dinars. "I'll pay his fare."
"Oh, thank you," Salmoneus reaches for the man's hand only to have the stranger yank it out of his grasp.
"Don't thank me," the man grumbles. "I just want to get you off this dock. You smell worse than week old fish and you're chasing my customers away," the man complains before returning to a small hut where he sells fresh fish.
"Here," the ticket taker thrusts a ticket into Salmoneus' hand. "Get on board."
Salmoneus grabs the ticket and hurries up the gangplank.
"And, stay down wind," the ticket taker calls after him. "Don't want to be giving any refunds because the other passengers got sick from smelling you."
"Yes, sir," Salmoneus cheerfully agrees. "I'll pay you back, kind gentleman," he shouts to the fish seller.
"Don't bother," the man shouts back. "Just don't come back."
As soon as the remaining passengers board, the ferry sets off for Orlandopolis. When the island is reached, Salmoneus is hurled roughly off the ferry by the other passengers. He falls to the dock's surface a few paces from three men wearing beautiful silk robes. The squirrel bladder he has carefully protected during the ferry's voyage drops from his hands and rolls away from him. As the three robed men watch the object come to a stop at their sandaled feet, the men begin to sniff the air and hold their noses.
One of the men looks down at Salmoneus and then at a parchment he is holding. He whispers something to the other two men who also look at the parchment, then study Salmoneus' features.
"It can't be," one of the robed man murmurs to his companions, shaking his head.
"He fits the description," the robed man holding the parchment states as he pulls a silk hanky from his sleeve and covers his nose.
"We need to ask," the third robed man decides, "just to make sure."
The other two men nod their agreement.
"Excuse me," the third robed man addresses the smelly, dirty, unkempt man kneeling in front of him and his companions. "You aren't Salmoneus, are you?" he asks hoping for a negative response.
"Why, yes I am," Salmoneus beams at the men. "Did the Committee send you to meet me?"
"You're late," the first robed man grunts. "The Committee expected you days ago."
Salmoneus begins to explain all the hardships he has had to endure since receiving the Committee's summons but the man cuts him off.
"Did you bring anything?" Salmoneus is asked.
Thinking that the men are asking about his invention of Cheese Squeezes and not any possible luggage, Salmoneus scrambles on his knees to recapture the item resting against at the robed men's foot. "Here," he proudly holds the cheese filled squirrel bladder up to the men.
"What is that!!!" all three men retreat from the object, clasping their hands hard against their noses.
"Cheese Squeeze. Let me show you how it works," Salmoneus offers.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" all three men hold up their hands to stop Salmoneus from squeezing the rancid bladder.
One of the robed men beckons a young boy to his side.
"Take that," he points at the disgusting item, "as far from town as you can run and bury it in a hole as deep as you can dig." The boy nods and immediately runs off.
"Wait," Salmoneus protests. "What will I show the Committee now?"
All three robed men look at Salmoneus quizzically.
"You brought that for the Committee?" they ask in unison.
"Yes. I thought they had heard about my Cheese Squeezes and that was why they had summoned me," the distraught man explains as he noisily blows his incessantly runny nose.
"That," the first robed man hisses, "is not why the Committee summoned you."
"We must go, the Committee is waiting," the second robed man declares.
The three robed men begin walking and Salmoneus drops into step with them causing the robed men to immediately stop.
"You are to walk behind us," the first robed man instructs the dejected salesman.
"Far behind us," the second robed man says.
Salmoneus drops back a few paces.
"Very, far behind us," the third robed man adds when he can still smell the merchant.
Salmoneus waits until the three robed men have walked halfway to the gate of the Committee's haven before he follows.
"I believe a detour to the wash house is in order," the third robed man suggests to his companions. "I must wash this smell from my hands."
"And, a bath for him is a pretty good idea, I'm thinkin'," the first robed man injects.
"Yes," the third robed man agrees. "And, his clothes need to be burned."
"What was the Committee thinking?" the second robed man whispers. His companions quietly wondering the same thing.
It wouldn't be long before Salmoneus and the three robed men had their answer to that question.
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