It is approaching dusk when Hera comes upon the caravan. A long procession of people and wagons and horses, dotted with little spots of light. Lanterns, Hera realises as she walks closer. The leader calls for them to halt and camp is swiftly assembled. They build a bonfire and settle around it to eat and share tales. She comes then, into the firelight and tells her story of a woman with an unfaithful husband and children who she fears will never forgive her. The elderly woman beside her pulls Hera into her ancient arms, lets her cry as she strokes her hair. And just like that she becomes one of their own.
They are refugees fleeing from war, women and children and men who have lost husbands and fathers, sons and brothers. They have left behind their homes and all they know but they are alive and grateful and they sing and dance and laugh and Hera laughs with them. They travel south, stopping along the way to take odd jobs or sell wood carvings and needlework. By the time they reach the southern ports there is enough money to buy everyone passage on a merchant ship to Troy.
Hera wishes she could blanket them in blessings and protective charms but she does not want Poseidon to find her, she has done well evading the gods thus far. She watches over them instead, pacing the deck well past the midnight hour. She sits with Agapios the caravan leader who also refuses to sleep.
"I made a promise to look after my people and I will not break it." He tells her. They talk about politics and war and the men who play those violent games.
"My son," she says, "is a warrior."
He is surprised, eyes wide, mouth hanging open and she laughs when he stutters his apology. "You do not look like a woman with a son old enough to fight in wars."
"You do not look like a man who fights in wars." And he doesn't. Agapios is tall, much taller than Hera, but where Ares is muscular and battle hardened, he is soft lines and lanky limbs. Agapios, Hera decides, must have been a scholar. He smiles when she tells him. "A very poor one," he says.
He asks Hera about her life before the caravan and when she is reluctant to share, divulges a secret of his own.
"I killed a man." He says, staring into the moonlit sea. "A soldier, he charged at me and I stabbed him." He takes a deep breath to calm himself but his hands are shaking. "A man who might have had a family, a wife and sons waiting for him." Agapios drops to his knees gasping for air, reaching out blindly. Hera grabs his hands and kneels beside him, she runs a soothing palm over his brow and waits for him to calm.
"Are you sorry?" she asks, "Do you feel remorse for what you did?" He nods weakly. Hera smiles at him and gives his hand a comforting squeeze. "Then I'm sure you will be forgiven."
They sit in silence until the sun rises. The rest of the ship rouses slowly and eventually Hera is called to help with the children. She takes Agapios' face in her hands and looks into his eyes. "You are a good man." She says before she goes.
They meet again at night and Hera tells him about Zeus.
"The man who never loved me." She says.
"Your husband." He says.
"Not anymore." She says.
They are good friends, Hera the beauty who ran from a fickle marriage and Agapios the tortured scholar. The elders share wise looks and amused expressions and secretly begin wagering on their growing friendship. "You two would make a charming couple." Agathe tells Agapios one night as he helps the elderly woman below deck. He blushes and excuses himself but finds his eyes lingering on Hera for the remainder of the trip.
The ship docks on the shores of Troy and the caravan sets out once more. One by one their numbers dwindle as caravan members decide to settle in the villages they pass. Agapios always makes sure they have all they require before moving on, climbing roofs to check for leaks, cutting up extra firewood. Hera cannot help but admire his dedication.
"I made a promise." He reminds her when she scolds him for nearly falling off the roof.
Finally there is no one left but Agathe the old woman who lost her sons, Agapios the lonely scholar, and Hera.
"Ask her." Agathe urges pushing Agapios to Hera. He stumbles forward and clears his throat, nervously wringing his hands. Hera hides a smile behind her hair. He's not sure what to say, how does one ask a woman, a friend, if she would like to live with him without sounding forward and presumptuous?
Hera's eyes are twinkling and she giggles into her hand. "Yes." She says before he can ask.
The three of them move into a small house on the edge of the village. Agathe sets up her spinning wheel in one room and leaves the rest of the house to the young ones. Agapios chops firewood and fixes up the roof and Hera hangs lanterns in every window.
They are the family that lives in the little house of light.