Her name was Thoősa and she was one of the children Heracles had taken hostage. “I wish someone had found you earlier,” she said. “It would have saved a lot of trouble.”
“Where’s Heracles?” was all he wanted to know. “Is he still camped by the river? Which way’s the river? I can’t remember!” When he learned that Heracles had gone, he could not speak a word.
“He hasn’t stopped looking,” said Thoősa, “but you should be safe here. He looked so hard, this is the last place he will think to look again. You picked a stupid place to hide, though: the Dryopes never give anything back if they can help it.”
It took a while to untangle the misunderstanding – that Hylas was not running away from Heracles, that Heracles was the Hero of all heroes, and Hylas’ dearest friend. Thoősa nodded and shrugged. “It’s just that he took us hostage, all us children – and the old people – said he’d burn us to death if our parents didn’t find you. It didn’t make us exactly… Me I was all for burrowing out under the brushwood, but the old people said Fate was Fate and there’s no arguing with Fate.”
“But you did know it was Heracles, didn’t you?” said Hylas. “You have heard of Heracles?”
“Oh yes. Now he’s gone, everyone is so happy he came. Now they’re part of History. The bards have been making up poetry for a week: how Heracles came to Mysia and we all helped. By next year there will be roses growing everywhere his tears fell.”
Hylas gave a snort of disbelief.
“They will now we’ve planted them,” said Thoősa. “People like a good legend more than what’s true.”
Thoősa herself did not want to stay and see the roses bloom. Sitting in the hut, surround by flammable brushwood, she had given a lot of thought to the matter. She had come to the conclusion that she did not want to be burned to death, even by the Hero of all Heroes. Ten years of life had shown her nothing but how to cook and climb trees; how to annoy her parents; not to swim in the Pegae Spring… For Thoősa, it was not enough. “Where will you go now?” she asked.
“Oh, I have to find Heracles! Then we can catch up with the Argo. Hope he isn’t angry. A page’s job is not to be a nuisance. And no one else knows how to cook barley cakes the way he likes them. He can’t have gone far. I only have to ask people: people will have seen him. When Heracles passes by, people notice!” He said it with pride, feeling a little of the hero's glory fall on him, like water drops from a big splash.
“Can I come?” said Thoősa unexpectedly, eyes wide with eagerness.
“Of course not.”
“Why not? The men in the boat are searching. Heracles is searching. You’re searching. Why can’t I have a search?”
Hylas was bewildered. “Why? What are you looking for?”
“A story to be in, of course.” She looked at him intently out of eyes of indeterminate colour, set in a face remarkable for its ordinariness. Only her hair, as enthusiastic as she, had coiled itself tighter.
“What if everyone started travelling about?” said Hylas.
“Then there would be more stories! You have a story, don’t you?” retorted Thoősa. “You sailed with the Argonauts and fell in a pond.”
Put the way Thoősa put it, his did not sound much of a story. But then she did not know about the six-armed giants or the Nemean Lion. “The world is a very dangerous place, Thoősa,” said sage little Hylas. “You wouldn’t like it.”
Thoősa picked up a stone off the ground and threw it straight up in the air. Hylas watched it rise and rise, then stop and drop back down – almost did not step out of the way fast enough.
Thoősa, on the other hand, had set off to walk, complaining: “It’s all right for you. You got kidnapped and made Heracles weep tears. So why can’t I have a story too?” He was not sure which he resented more – the way she made light of those ghastly weeks underwater or the suggestion that nothing else would ever happen to him. Once he found Heracles who knew what adventures they would see together?
They had reached the river, where low tide had left little arcs of sandy mud between bank and water. So Hylas, to demonstrate what a dangerous place the world was, told her the story of the six-armed giants, drawing with a stick in the sand, as he did so. “We were at a wedding feast…they charged out of the darkness … great hairy brutes… pitching into the wedding feast …lashing out with their claws…and that’s just along the coast from here!”
Thoősa jumped down beside him and traced the shapes with her fingers. “Hill farmers,” she said. “There are lots in Mysia. They wear bear skins for cloaks. There’s their two arms, see? The rest are the legs on the bearskin. Six arms pwah! …Poor souls: they’re so big they’re always hungry. They invite themselves along whenever they smell cooking. No one minds them. People just cook extra. Guests are a blessing; that’s what my ma used to say.”
The wake of a little fishing boat sent water swilling over their sandals and into the outline of the giants, who dissolved from sight. Hylas did not mention the end of the story: how the Argonauts had massacred every one of the six-armed attackers, cut off the paws for trophies.
“It just so happens it’s my fate to be the armour-bearer of Mighty Heracles…. fate. Look, which way did...”
“Well I want a fate too!”
“You pulled me out of the pond,” said Hylas kindly, soothingly, and very nearly gave her arm a comforting pat . “I expect the gods sent you along to do it. Think of that. You are a little bit of an Argonaut’s fate Now. Which way did…”
Thoősa considered the possibilities for all of a heartbeat. “So I’m going to come with you and find out what my big Fate is.”
“Don’t be stupid. People can’t go looking for their fate. It just is.” Hylas was growing anxious. In his head he could picture Heracles loping away and away across the world, in those long strides no one could match.
“Well, it isn’t here,” said Thoősa. “Here I’m somebody no one was around to see not getting burned up by Heracles for no reason. Call that a Fate?”
“Might be,” said Hylas sulkily. “Look, do you know...”
“If that’s my Fate, I’ll change it.” Thoősa tugged two rolled fleeces from where she had hidden them, in the tree roots overhanging the shore. Luggage. They were green with moss. “Look: Thoősa-and-the-Mouldy-Fleece,” she said, laughing. “Do I know where Heracles went? Of course I know. We told him you had probably been kidnapped by raiding pirates from Crete. He’s probably gone to Crete.”
They put out to sea in Thoősa’s little bark canoe, hoping to intercept a boat sailing west. Even before Mysia was out of sight, a ship’s mast came into view.
“So,” said Hylas with casual carelessness and a thumping heart, “do pirates come this way often?”
“Oh no! We just told Heracles that to get rid of him.”