“For your sake, he’d best come back quick, that runty little wheelering dealer,” said the pirate Captain, with unnecessary menace. He need not have put himself to the effort of being nasty: Hylas and Thoősa were quite scared enough. The Captain was a little drunk. “Is he telling true? Do these monsters exist? Will he come back?”
They did not answer. Hylas knew from experience not to speak to fighting men when they are drunk. The Laelaps growled, and the Captain thought better of launching a kick at the children tied to the mast.
Hylas asked himself if he believed Xyno would come back carrying Poseidon’s treasure, but not liking the answer, he tried to take his mind off it. “Do you suppose Abaris is dead now? Do you think the dragon …digested him.”
“Which would be worse?” Thoősa replied. “To be dead or to be trapped inside a monster’s guts? How could he breathe? Poor Abaris! He just wanted everyone to be happy,” and she began to cry.
Hylas, with something new to take his mind off, asked Thoősa about the Laelaps: the dog’s story, its lost Past. At least dog stories are cheerful. Largely.
“I don’t recall the names… who he belonged to. Some king,” said Thoősa irritably, and sniffed. She was not in the mood for storytelling. It did not seem the right time. She stroked the great hillock of a dog slumped across her legs. “Laelaps is a hunting dog. The best ever. He was a present from the gods. Whatever he hunted, he caught: guaranteed. One day he was sent to catch the Teumessian Fox. The-Fox-no-one-can-ever-catch. That’s an impossibility, see? A dog that always catches what it’s after, a fox that can’t ever be caught. Impossible. If the dog ever caught the fox, then the impossible would have happened. And the impossible can’t happen, or it would be possible, wouldn’t it. Kplaxity!”
“Kplaxity?” said Hylas.
“Kplaxity. The sky falls in …I don’t know why. Anyway, Zeus was so kplaxxt – everything was so kplaxxt by it – that Zeus turned them both to stone so as not to have to think about it any more.”
The female rescue teams, out looking for fellow casualties on one of their nightly missions out of Monstro, must have found the two animals-turned-to-stone, and lugged them both back to the shelter of the cave. Quite a feat, given the weight of the flesh-and-bone dog on her lap.
“But now they have met. Back inside the Monstro City they stood right next to each other!” protested Hylas. “Why didn’t the sky fall in?”
“Because they had both forgotten their stories, I suppose. The Laelaps forgot what he was supposed to be hunting, so he couldn’t hunt it, could he? He’s like an assassin who’s met his victim but doesn’t realise who it is. If he ever did…” The Laelaps twitched in its sleep. Thoősa, as a nervous afterthought, put her hands over its ears. For once, here was a creature that must never be told its story. Woe betide everybody if the Laelaps remembered what he was hunting when Zeus turned him to stone.
Hylas thought about this story for fully an hour before saying, “So it used to find whatever it was told to hunt down?”
“Every time. Never failed. Over clouds, across water. Nothing could stop it. It could run at the speed of wind. Though that was years ago, I suppose. Centuries.”
“Across water?” said Hylas.
Numbness was setting in to Thoősa’s legs. Hylas heaved the heavy animal on to his own lap and went on stroking it. Awake or asleep, it did nothing much but lie on its side and breathe noisily. Panacea’s anointing of its stony body had hardly changed the lazy Laelaps’ day-to-day habits.
But it was worth a try. Hylas told himself, it had to be worth a try. When Thoősa curled herself small and went to sleep, Hylas, too, lowered his face in an imitation of sleep, until his brow was resting on the dog’s head. Damp, bound, and held hostage far from home, he was about as miserable as a boy can be with a sleeping dog on his lap.
So he whispered it.
Not a command so much as a wish, a whispered wish.
“Find my master, Laelaps. Please. Hunt down Heracles and fetch him here!”
His head slumped, unsupported. Thoősa woke up with a start – “Who trod on me?” – and looked around, bleary with sleep. “Where’s the dog?” she asked.
“No idea,” said Hylas, which was true: the hound appeared to have melted out of existence. Perhaps it had been a ghost dog, after all - the ghost of Laelaps who had drowned in the sea.