The sight of a giant wolf, ten feet from nose to tail tip at least, lying on a patch of lawn in the morning sun was not in the least shocking to Percy – which said some more things about his life – but the fact she had rug-rats climbing all over her did surprise him quite a lot. Quintus waved to him from high atop the wolf's back then returned to fending off the kids trying to pull him off, and little Claudilla was sitting cross-legged right between the huge paws looking gravely and attentively up at the wolf's face.
The wolf herself seemed totally okay with it all. Every now and then she would reach out and nudge a kid with her huge nose or blanket one with a pink tongue the size of a beach towel and once she picked up a kid up by the scruff of the neck lifting him right out of a developing fist fight and dropping him next to Claudilla.
Percy gulped. "That's Lupa, right?"
"Right," Cory looked at him curiously. "She was in human form when you met her I guess?" Percy nodded. "She usually does that when she first meets a pup. You don't speak Wolf yet."
"Speak Wolf?" Percy looked at him to see if he was serious.
"Yeah, they got a whole language of signs and gestures. Believe it or not, you'll pick it right up – everybody does – but it'll take a few days."
At that moment Lupa emitted a sharp bark that required no translation even to Percy. Cory urged him forward to join the little kids forming neat ranks in front of their lupine guardian and looking up at her expectantly.
Percy looked too. He guessed she was addressing the kids in Wolf: She didn't make any sounds but her ears flicked and whiskers twitched. The skin above her eyes worked like she was raising and lowering non-existent eyebrows and her lip curled once or twice to show some pretty impressive teeth.
Kids started leaving the clearing in pairs or groups heading out in all directions in a purposeful sort of way. The Claudias came to collect Percy.
"Avia says to find you some sneakers then take you fishing in Mill Creek," the elder informed him.
"That should be right up your alley," Cory commented, his eye still on Lupa. "I'll see you later okay?"
"Sure, fine," Percy followed the girls around Lupa and through a big triangular opening in the cliff behind her.
The passage inside was impressively high and wide but then it would have to be wouldn't it? There was no light at the end of the tunnel but a sense of vast space and a smell of redwood mulch and animal musk. The older Claudia took his hand and led him along the left hand wall through an unseen opening and down a much longer tunnel that twisted in a hair-pin turn about midway. The pitch darkness didn't seem to bother either little girl but Percy kept stubbing his toes on the uneven floor and it hurt. Suddenly Claudia stopped and let go of his hand. He heard the scratch of a match and the frail little flame grew to a warm yellow glow as the girl lit a kerosene lantern.
"This is the wardrobe," Claudilla said rather unnecessarily. The room was a rough stone cell with a pile of sneakers, pairs tied together with their laces, on one side next to a multi-colored heap of t-shirts which was next to a no so colorful pile of shorts and jeans. And there were white heaps of socks and of four different kinds of underwear against the opposite wall.
"You've got awfully big feet," Claudia said casually swinging the lantern towards the shoe pile. "But then so do the Heraclids. There'll be a pair that fits you but we'll have to dig for them."
"Heraclids?" Percy asked uncertainly.
"Descendants of Hercules' mortal sons," Claudilla explained. "They're always huge."
"Mark Antony was one of them," Claudia added. "Here, try these."
It took a while but they finally did find some sneakers that fit. Percy tied the laces and Claudia blew out the lantern. "What did you do that for?" he demanded as the pitch black closed in.
"No light except in the wardrobe and armory," Claudia answered. "We have to train our other senses. Humans rely too much on their sight. Speaking of the armory you should have a weapon, Percy."
"I do," he didn't need to see to find the pen and uncap it. The glowing golden blade expanded into view casting a dim light over the two girls' faces.
Tiny Claudilla studied the sword with a critical eye. It was about as long as she was. "That doesn't look like a Trojan blade."
"No," her sister agreed. "It looks Greek. Where did you get a Greek sword?"
"No idea," Percy answered, frustration simmering.
"The ambrosia didn't help at all, huh?"
"Not much," he answered.
"Probably spoils," Claudilla said. "You must have killed a monster with it in its horde or something."
Claudia patted his arm in a reassuring way. "Try not to worry about it. You've found Lupa now, that's the important thing."
"Right," said Percy, unconvinced.
The little girls guided him through the pitch blackness back through the hairpin tunnel and along the wall of the big cavern to another opening. "Careful, there are steps." Claudia said just a second too late.
"Thanks," said Percy rather nasally feeling his nose to see if it was bleeding.
They felt their way up three flights. "Now close your eyes," Claudia directed. "The sun is going to seem very bright after the den." She wasn't kidding. When the spots went away Percy saw they were standing between a pair of Douglas firs looking down a steep slope into a narrow ravine. "Wolf Pass," said Claudia, "it leads straight to Mill Creek.
There were two real wolves waiting for them with two pair of tiny white sneakers and two short swords or long daggers in leather scabbards. The Claudias put on their shoes and Percy picked up one of the dagger-swords for a better look it had a plain grip of molded black leather above a boss decorated with the figure of a wolf. He drew it. The blade was the same deep golden color but otherwise quite different from his Riptide. It was broad and flat with a curvy shape like a woman's narrowing to a waist just above the long, sharp triangular point.
"You see the difference?" said Claudia, holding out her hand for her weapon.
"Yeah," said Percy, "but why do Romans use Trojan weapons?"
Both girls looked at him in disbelief. So did the wolves. "Because we're descended from the Trojans of course," Claudia answered. "You know, Aeneas!"
"He's forgotten that too," Claudia said to Claudilla. Then back to Percy; "Aeneas was a son of Venus and prince of Troy. He led the survivors to Italy where he married the king's daughter and founded the kingdom of Latinium. Centuries later his descendants Romulus and Remus founded Rome."
"Oh, okay," said Percy. He had a distinct feeling that history had never been his thing even when he'd had his memory.
There was a creek at the end of the ravine running through a deep canyon of its own narrower than the one that held the camp. Girls and wolves waded right in and started catching fish with their hands or mouths. Percy imitated the former, tickling the trout till they stiffened in a sort of trance then snapping their necks and tossing them on the bank. They worked their way from brown pool to brown pool ankle deep in the water running over the pebbled bed in between. They had turned back, collecting the dead fish on the bank as they went, when the snap of a twig in the undergrowth froze them all in their tracks and sent their heads swiveling towards the sound, the children as alert as the wolves.
Something shambled out of the brush and reared up to stand eight feet high on its hind legs. For a split second Percy thought it was a grizzly then he saw the blue-jeans and the almost human if hairy face breaking into a gloating smile.
"Perseus Jackson," it said/growled, "now we will have our revenge!"
"Yeah!" a second bear-man emerged from the underbrush licking his chops. "Ooh look, brother, sweet little tenders!"
"Run!" Percy yelled uncapping his sword.
Little Claudilla ran all right, but not in the direction he'd intended. Instead she made this running start then launched herself right at the first bear-man hitting him feet first at high velocity – but not enough to knock him over. She did this sort of back flip, landing on her feet, and while he was staggered shoved her blade up under his ribs and he exploded, showering her with golden sand.
The second bear-man howled in fury, flailing frantically as he tried to dislodge the wolves attached to his left shoulder and right thigh. Claudia danced lightly around him looking for a good opening, found one and buried her blade to the hilt at about kidney level. The second bear-man went bye-bye.
Percy was about to cap Riptide, feeling pretty useless, when he saw the bear-men hadn't been alone. Suddenly the canyon was full of howling, hair covered monkey-men waving spears and clubs and showing sharp canine teeth. "Okay, now run!" Percy yelled and this time the girls obeyed, practically flying up the canyon, while the wolves ranged themselves beside him.
The fight was pretty intense but – and this was the weird part – the clubs bounced right off him and so did the spears, it was like his skin was made of iron or something. He heard one of the wolves squeal in pain but the other kept right in there with him and pretty soon the monkey-men decided they'd had enough and ran off leaving little piles of yellow sand all over the canyon floor. The wolf still on its paws started licking the wounds of the fallen one and after a minute it got up apparently sound as ever.
They found the girls waiting for them at the door to the tunnel alongside two big, damp, burlap bags. "You got the fish?" Percy asked in disbelief.
Two pairs of big greeny-pale eyes gave him identical looks. "It's food!"
"Sure, right. So, do you always get attacked when you go fishing?"
"No we do not. Not by so many monsters anyway," Claudia frowned. "We've got too tell Lupa."