CHAPTER FIVE

And he did. Peter asked about the island and its history was poured upon him like a deluge, like a monsoon, until his mind was so drenched he did not think it could hold any more, and still Clio went on. Pamphlets, maps, and ledgers seemed to appear out of thin air, slowly filling the room like an inexorable tide, up to his ankles, then his claves, then his knees and spilling into his lap. Ogygia's history, it seemed, was infinite, and Clio was anxious to give it all to him. The island itself grew and changed according to Calypso's whims, but not in a way that you could see from a balcony, for views from above always had a concrete shape. No, you had to go into the island, into the spaces between spaces, and they would open up into more of the city, into more of the forest. Clio stressed many times that it was quite easy to be lost, and that be must never go anywhere without a guide, though she also assured him that if he did stray it wouldn't be for long because someone would find him. "We are everywhere," she said, unfolding an illustration that showed human figures appearing from trees and streams, flying with birds and playing with mice. "We are in all things. If you need aid we will find you before you think to call."

"In the palace, too?" Peter asked, a bit intimidated by the thought of being watched by so many eyes.

"No. The palace is Calypso's only. No one may enter without her invitation."

"No one? Not even the big gods, like Zeus?"

"Only if he had very good reason to. The world may be Zeus's but the island is Calypso's."

Eventually he was allowed to leave, mercifully empty-handed though Clio assured him that she would have all of the materials delivered to his reception room. He almost asked by whom then thought better of it- everything Clio had said had been fascinating but he wouldn't mind a little more sightseeing.

Dexithea led him back through the library, where the air was still swirling and eddying in unpredictable ways and the bookshelves had obviously shifted into a new pattern. He ignored it all, keeping his eyes on the floor, trying desperately to sort important facts from trivia before everything he'd just learned dissolved away completely. Some things about the island were crossovers from the divine realm (it's infinite boundaries, for instance, or it's weather patterns that were controlled by Calypso), and some things were familiar from the mortal world (there were bears in the woods and if he annoyed them they would eat him). He hardly noticed when Dexithea led them outside and stopped only when he heard "Hie! Peter of New York!" He looked up and saw a man waiting for him, a young man leaning against the plinth the library was built on. He was dressed like a gladiator and had huge forearms crossed over his chest, a spear tucked into one hand. Even though he was roughly the same height and build as Peter, the hardness of his muscles and the powerful, almost threatening air about him made Peter stop dead, staring.

"Again you take him to Clio first, you witch!" the man said to Dexithea, shaking his spear at her in a mock-threatening way. "How is he supposed to learn with muscles as limp as frayed rope?" Without waiting for an answer he turned to Peter and grinned, an exhilarating light of promise and anticipation in his eyes. "Let me look at you," he demanded, circling without waiting for a response. His eyes roved up and down and Peter felt himself flushing again, though he tried not to look as uneasy as he felt. Finally the man stopped before him and stamped the ground with the butt of his spear. "Do you know who I am?" he demanded.

"Um, Ares?" Peter guessed, though he felt pretty sure.

"See?" Ares said triumphantly to Dexithea. "He knows everything important already! What do you know about war?" he demanded, turning back to Peter. Like a schoolboy in front of a demanding headmaster Peter was immediately tempted to exaggerate, but lying about war to the god of war would probably not be the smartest thing. Instead he shrugged, but this seemed almost as bad. "He shrugs!" Ares shouted. "He shrugs!" The words rang against the empty street and the pillars of the library, announcing the shrug to the whole island. "Answer like a soldier, answer like a man!" Ares demanded. "What do you know about war?"

"Nothing?"

"Nothing!"

"Nothing," Peter repeated with more certainty this time.

"Nothing?!" Ares repeated again. "Then we have a lot to do!" He switched his spear to his other hand and threw his arm around Peter's shoulders like they were the best of friends, propelling him forward and down the street, Dexithea following serenely. "Ever been in a fight? Ever used a weapon? Even a stick would do, eh, if the spot was tight enough? Come on, you must have done something!"

"Well, I do have brothers," Peter admitted, trying to keep walking without Ares pulling him over. Even the casual weight of his arm on Peter's shoulders felt like a small tree.

"Brothers?"

"Three. Big ones and older, you know. They tried to kill me a few times."

"Proper brothers, then!" Ares announced exultantly. "Well that's a start, a man's got to have some pull in his arms to survive older brothers. How'd you fight, then, didja wrestle? Box? Throw things at each other?"

"Yeah, all of the above. Mostly wrestling."

Ares beamed as they entered a tunnel into what looked like the Coliseum, and Peter craned his neck up trying to see all the statues tucked into their arches but it was too late and they were headed inside. They turned down a hallway and then rounded a corner into a holding area that looked like a loading bay. It was so empty it echoed but Ares steered them confidently straight across the middle of the room and down the side, where another door opened up into horse stables. The stalls were full but there were no doors. The horses stood in the stalls, on in the walkway, or by neighboring stalls as they pleased, whickering to each other in a horsey language and munching on hay.

"This one's mine," Ares said proudly, letting go of Peter at last and approaching a massive white stallion. "I'm the god of war horses, you know. This one's Flame." He patted the horse roughly, running his fingers through his mane as Flame snorted at Peter, looking very much like he'd like nothing more than to knock him over and stomp on him until he was a bloody pulp. "What do you know about horses?" Ares asked. If he noticed that Peter was trying very hard to inch out of biting range he didn't let on, for which Peter was grateful.

"Nothing," Peter said honestly.

"Good, we'll start from scratch, then," Ares said, leading him down the aisle. "Poseidon created horses, so even though they live on land they're like the ocean at heart. If you treat it right and you know what you're doing you and your horse can be a team, but if you're stupid or not paying attention it might be you your horse decides to put in the dust next, got that?"

"Yes."

"Pick a horse."

"Any horse?"

"Yes."

Peter looked around helplessly, aware Ares was watching him closely, feeling he was about to fail another test. Even the smaller horses looked massive to him, and he couldn't tell which might be friendly and which, like Flame, might hate him on sight. He wandered down the aisle, peering into stalls and edging around horses in the open, not sure if he was looking for brown or white, tall or short, feisty or sleepy. Ares followed him like a shadow, greeting each of the horses with a pat or a handful of some sort of grain that came out of nowhere and seemed to delight them. It was a long while before Peter realized he was being followed, too, by a white horse with brown spots like a Dalmatian, watching him with his ears pricked forward, stepping when he stepped, stopping when he stopped.

"Who's this?" Peter asked, tentatively reaching up to touch the horse's neck. It did not seem to mind and instead leaned into his hand, half-closing its' eyes and rumbling deep inside its' chest.

"He is Balios, immortal son of Zephyros, the West Wind. He and his brother pulled Achilles' chariot in the war at Troy. They even speak, sometimes."

"Is he a good choice?" Peter asked, rubbing his hand over Balios's spots as he continued to lean in to him. Achilles smiled broadly.

"There can be none better."

Next Peter was led to storage, where Ares helped him choose all manner of things he would need for Balios, from harness and chariot to saddle and reins. He then got to choose things for himself, breastplates and helmets and tunics that looked much easier to put on than chitons, luckily. Ares made him change into the lightest of the pieces, arm himself with several wooden practice weapons, and they trotted out onto the sandy arena floor. It was hot out here, the design of the Coliseum radiating heat at them from all sides like an oven, and Peter was immediately glad that Ares had told him to wear practice gear instead of proper armor. Then, without warning, Ares hit him over the head.

"Hey!" Peter shouted, ducking in case there were more unexpected blows to follow.

"Again!" Ares demanded, swinging the stick down like it was the real sword it was meant to represent. Peter dodged but not quickly enough and the blow fell on his shoulder, knocking him sideways, pain like fire suddenly flaring up along the line where the wood had made contact. "Use your sword!" Ares said, swiping from the side this time, and though Peter managed to get his sword up he wasn't holding it tightly enough and it flew from his hand.

Ares came on over and over again, shouting instructions as he went, and it was all Peter could do to block even his lightest swings. Offense just wasn't an option- he'd get himself killed if he tried anything fancier than blocking, he was sure. The worst part was the pain in his hand as, over and over again, Ares' blows jarred his poor wooden sword and Peter gritted his teeth against the vibrations. It bought him no time to fail to block something, either, for Ares seemed to take that as proof that he should hammer his sword down again in that exact spot until Peter learned to block it or broke something trying. By the time Ares decreed himself satisfied that Peter was indeed worthy of being trained Peter could only muster the energy to smile before sitting down, hard, in the dust and laying back, sweat streaming from his body and mingling with the dust. He'd be filthy when he got up but he didn't care. He didn't plan on getting up any time soon.

A shadow blocked the sun for a moment and he immediately flinched, jerking his sword into the air in case it was Ares launching a surprise attack to make sure his reflexes didn't need further testing or something, but it was only Dexithea, smiling down at him.

"Oh, hi," he said, laying back down. "Is he gone?"

She laughed quietly. "Yes, he is gone. And he's promised to send you some literature so you can take care of Balios and clean your equipment tonight. I believe his exact words were 'for every spot I find, I'll show him what an unblocked blade feels like.'"

Peter shuddered at the thought. "More books, great. I thought my room was too big for one person but now I think it won't be big enough to hold my first day!"

"Come," Dexithea said, and he got up and followed her into a shower room where water from the spring flowed out of the ceiling and he could stand under it and let it wash the dirt away like a heavy but gentle rain. Dexithea reached towards him, silently offering to help him undress, and he nodded without thinking. Who cared about nudity when everything hurt this much? If it meant cool water and dry clothes he'd stand naked in front of his entire congregation back home without flinching.

"Ares was impressed that you did not complain," Dexithea said, easing leather pads from his shoulders.

"Complain? I didn't have time to complain. One word and he would have stabbed me so hard with that thing I wouldn't be able to talk for days." Dexithea smiled but didn't say anything and he concentrated on the sweet relief as, bit by bit, his armor was removed. Then his tunic was gone and the water was rushing down his bare back. He moaned gratefully and felt fingers lightly skim his skin in response, fingers that were not Dexithea's. Euneicha the stream nymph, no doubt, and maybe her murderous sisters. He shuddered.

Once he was dressed and looking reasonably presentable he asked Dexithea to take him back to the library. Again they saw no one on the way, though the air seemed to swirling and eddying even more than before, but he stayed close to Dexithea and ignored it until they were in the library.

"How are you supposed to find anything here?" he demanded grouchily, glaring at the maze. It had moved yet again since the last time he'd seen it, and the nearest shelf was nothing but tiers and tiers of scrolls.

"It is said that those of pure intent will be given what they seek if they will but search for it," Dexithea murmured.

"And if I get lost?"

"I will ask Clio to find us."

Peter nodded and selected an opening at random, scanning the shelves for a book he hadn't opened since middle school, but if Clio said everything ever was hereā€¦ "What are we seeking?" Dexithea asked, close behind him as he took corners at random, the maze seeming to unfurl before him.

"A green spine, about, oh, an inch wide with gold lettering. 'Tales of King Arthur', or maybe 'Arthur's Heroes', I can't remember which." Dexithea nodded and they continued on together until at last they rounded a corner and saw it at the same time, stuffed into the shelf between a series of scrolls and a book as bit as a sidewalk slab. Peter pulled it out, amazed and a bit wrong-footed at seeing something so familiar in such an unfamiliar place. He opened it to the illustration he remembered best, King Arthur in the prow of a boat, a pale arm rising up out of the water before him, offering a bejeweled sword. "Look, this is even my copy!" he exclaimed, holding it out to Dexithea for her to examine, running his finger along a faint brown smudge at the top of the page. "I got this for Christmas when I was, oh, nine, maybe? I wanted to read it immediately but our dog bumped me and I spilled my hot chocolate on it." He stayed still and silent for a moment, remembering that Christmas, his Mom with the video camera, filming clouds of wrapping paper as they were thrown into the air, her four boys unwrapping presents as violently as only four boys can. After a moment he came back down to earth and started reading. The passage he was looking for was in the third paragraph, and he read it aloud. "'And that sword was Excalibur, a sword without any to equal it in the world, for it could slice through a single feather or a bar of steel and never be dulled. Its scabbard was equally marvelous, for it contained within it the enchantment that whosoever the wearer would be, he would be protected even in the heat of battle from all harm. And further, Excalibur would cleave to the hand of his owner and would not be dropped no matter how long the battle might stray.' I never understood that line," he remarked, running his hand over the picture. "Why would it matter that you couldn't drop the sword? Any idiot knows not to drop his sword! But now, I get it."

"A sword vibrates under the blows of its' brother blades," Dexithea said quietly. "This is well remembered, Peter."

"Yeah, well, I'm not likely to forget it, am I?" he said, tucking the book securely under his arm and turning back the way they'd come. "I'm training with Ares now."