When Ixas saw the stream close to the camp he immediately pushed Perseus towards it.
"You could do with a wash, scorpion fodder", he laughed.
"You don't smell like a bunch of flowers either", Perseus grinned, already throwing his lot down.
"Never said I do", Ixas grinned back. Turning to the others he asked, "Are you coming?"
But Eusebios was fast asleep with his head on his pack, Draco was discussing something with Io too far away to be heard and Solon just shook his head and muttered something under his breath.
Ixas shrugged. "Looks like it's just the two of us."
"Yeah?" Perseus grinned. "Last one to the water", he challenged, pulling his chiton over his head.
"You'll lose", Ixas replied, following suit.
"We'll see", Perseus answered.
He did lose.
"I didn't tell you that I won twice at Olympia, did I?" Ixas called from where he was standing waist deep in the water when Perseus just reached its edge.
"No, you didn't", Perseus replied. He shivered when he waded in. It was a mountain lake and much colder than the sea.
Ixas laughed at his hesitation and let himself fall backwards into the lake with outstretched arms. Perseus waded slowly closer. Ixas' mane flowed around him like a dark pillow of seaweed and his eyes shone even more startlingly bright blue than usually. He might as well have been the god of this lake. Whatever of these thoughts had shown on his face it made Ixas grin again, his eyes sparkling with humour. "What are you looking at?"
"And what do you see?"
Ixas laughed softly and sat up. "I might as well be. Whichever god owned this place once he died when the people left and no one remembered him. I might as well claim this lake for myself and make myself immortal."
"I thought you were fighting the gods."
Ixas shrugged. "I never cared for them one way or another."
"Then why are you here?" Perseus asked with genuine curiosity.
"I want to see how this story ends." Ixas held Perseus gaze and Perseus felt the need to reach over and touch him.
"If you two are done you can get your arses over here and set up the tents", Draco yelled.
The spell was broken and Ixas said, "You better get those guts out of your hair or you'll have to sleep outside tonight."
Perseus laughed and rolled his eyes but he did duck under the water's edge. When he came back up Ixas had already left the water and was wearing clothes again, unfortunately.
Over dinner Ixas was sitting next to the djinn and was asking them about their stories. It seemed to be an engrossing subject because he ignored everyone else around the campfire until Eusebios asked Perseus about his parentage.
"Who was your mother? She must have been very beautiful."
"I suppose", Perseus shrugged. He hadn't really thought about it. Despite everything he was still thinking of the people who had raised him as his parents and not Zeus and a queen who had lived in some faraway place.
"Don't push him", Ixas said. "Most of Zeus conquests are quite embarrassing or haven't you heard of Leda?"
Solon groaned but both Eusebios and Perseus were shaking their heads.
"Leda was a princess as beautiful as the setting sun and as virtuous as princesses always are. Zeus lusted for her like he had for many women before her and many women after her. But she refused his advances. However Zeus, knowing that a virtuous princess could never refuse to help beautiful creature in need, turned himself into a swan and hid in her arms, pretending to be hunted by an eagle. Considering Leda lay two eggs later I will leave the details of that encounter to your imagination which I'm sure is fully capable of filling in the blanks, isn't it, Solon?" Ixas finished with a wink.
Solon glared at him.
"An egg, really?" Perseus asked with a laugh.
"Don't believe a word of what he's saying", Solon told him. "Calliope weaned him on stories more than on milk."
"Your mother is a muse?" Eusebios asked, sounding put upon that Ixas hadn't shared this fact before.
"So people say. Better than to say she was fed up with my father and left to find her fortune elsewhere, is it?" Ixas grinned. "Or rather she had to go back to the arms of her husband, the King of Thrace. You see my brother Orpheus was getting married back then to the most beautiful woman in the world."
"That seems to be the only description you have of women", Perseus noted.
"The person you love is always the most beautiful in the world." Ixas' blue eyes flashed in the firelight and Perseus thought he agreed with him.
"Have you heard how my brother's story goes?" Ixas asked. "It's a quite romantic story and like every good romance it ends in tragedy."
"So a good romance can't end well?" Eusebios asked.
Ixas shook his head. "Every romance is a tragedy. Some just end before they get there. But let me tell you about Orpheus and Eurydike and how they started a war." And with these words Ixas launched into a tale of love and betrayal, of overcoming impossible odds only to fail in the end and how the spark of Orpheus grief had lit the world around them on fire.
"You're a good story teller", Perseus said once Ixas was finished. They were the only ones left around the fire, the others having gone to sleep.
"Thank you. If the great Perseus, son of Zeus says so it must be true." Ixas' mouth was curved into a mischievous smile underneath his sparkling blue eyes.
Perseus picked up a pebble and threw it lazily at him. It missed him by a mile, bouncing off one of the scorpions which lay at the edge of their camp like overgrown dogs. "Shut up", he added good-naturedly.
"I'll tell this story once we come back. No one will believe me but then they never do."
"Why shouldn't they? The gods – "
Ixas shook his head. "We prayed to the gods but we never saw them. No one ever walked the streets of Troy or defeated a one-eyed giant. A city guard doesn't walk in and out of Hades like he's going to the market and a fisher doesn't ride a Pegasus."
"We do", Perseus replied, propping himself up on one elbow to watch Ixas who shook his head again.
"No, the great Perseus, son of Zeus, does, not Perseus the fisher. Once this journey is done and Argos is saved, sooner or later it will be as if it has never happened. It will be a myth, handed down from one generation to the next until it's unrecognisable anymore. Kings and queens will claim they're your descendants to hide the fact that they came to power through violence and scheming like everyone else."
"I will have never existed. The narrator is not part of the story and does not have a name except that: the narrator. I will be one of many." Ixas smile suggested that he was not unhappy with his role and had long since accepted it.
"And Ixas the city guard?" Perseus thought that the fire light made Ixas' blue eyes shine even more like the sun that changed the sea from blue to aquamarine and sapphire, teal, cobalt, ultramarine and zaffre. And just like the sun shining on the sea it hurt to look for too long but Perseus couldn't glance away.
"What do you want him to be?"
Perseus was not a man who was afraid of asking for what he wanted so leaned across the distance between them and pressed his lips to Ixas'.
"Here", he whispered. "I want you here."
Ixas kissed him back and laughed softly. "It will be terribly boring story: the cityguard and the fisher."
"Yeah? Does it end well?"
"Let's find that out, shall we? I'm a storyteller, not an oracle."
"Neither am I but I'm fairly certain we will all be dead if that is how you stand watch", Solon said.
"Then it is good that you're here to relieve us, isn't it?" Ixas asked brightly before Perseus could say something rude.
"Keep it quiet. I don't want to hear either of you. Especially not you." He narrowed his eyes at Ixas.
"No promises", Ixas grinned as Perseus tugged him into an empty tent.
"Piss off", Solon growled and turned his back on them, more than intent to ignore their laughter and any other noise coming from their direction.