"Sir, why do you keep asking after my identity?" queried the woman. "I will tell you, though it may double my pain, that I am from a rich household on Krete in the town of Knossos, where Minos was once king, once built twisting labyrinths and spoke with the deities. Minos was my father's father. I am Deukalion's daughter, Aithon. I do not know what that will tell you of me, but there you have it.

"Perhaps of more relevent interest to you is that only slightly more than a handful of years ago I saw with my own eyes that Odysseus for whom you pine. Gales had driven her up the south coast of Krete until she had to port at Gobo near the holy bell cave. She travelled inland asking after my brother Idomeneus who she said was a friend. Ido was off on business, so I entertained her for a couple of weeks. I made sure she had a good place to sleep and requisitioned food not only for herself, but for her crew as well. When the weather became fair, Odysseus once more took to the winedark seas.

"Sadly between now and then I too took to the waves and in that voyage was taken by pirates. I was sold into servitude and have been passed from owner to owner until only recently when my most current owners docked here and I escaped my bonds."

Penelopos leaned back in his chair at this report, his face contorted in anguish. "I cannot tell you how much I want to believe you," he said, "You seem genuine enough, but I have had others come who have tried to use false reports to gain benefit of my gratitude. Can you tell me something that might prove your tale? What she looked like, perhaps what she wore, anything distinctive?"

"It has been some time since I saw Odysseus," said the woman, "I cannot say how well or how much I will remember with any accuracy. Nor that what I say will lend any credence to my report. Nevertheless, what I recall of Odysseus' attire is that she was wearing a rich deep purple cloak with an unusual but uniquely beautiful texture, with wool of varying tightness running through the cloth. Holding the cloak about her throat was an even more stunning brooch of gold, depicting a pair of hunting hounds leaping over one another in the chase. I could even see their sparkling eyes rolling in the excitement of the moment. She was a tall woman and a strong one, but her shoulders were slightly rounded and her forehead creased in her own longing for home."

Penelopos blinked hard a few times then lowered his gaze toward the woman. "Before I felt sympathy for you, now I feel I should embrace you as an honoured guest and friend. I in fact made both cloak and brooch. I gave those to my love, my Odysseus, the day she left for Troy. I only wish your words meant that I should see her before long, but after so many years, I cannot bring myself to believe it."

The beggar cocked her head to one side and earnestly replied, "You know, I have heard reports that she is nearby and so will surely be here soon."

"Thank you," said Penelopos with a smile, "Your words are kind, even well intended, and maybe you are right. Yet, I cannot allow myself to expect such an event, but rather accept it if perhaps it does come. Meanwhile, I would ask our nurse Eurykleia to bathe your feet and find you a place to sleep." Penelopos gestured to Eurykleia who started from a doze. She rose and swept up the empty glasses of mocha, then sent for hot water.

When a maid came back with a bronze tub filled with steaming water, Eurykleia directed the maid to place it at the woman's feet. The nurse bent down with towel and soap, and began her gentle work. The woman sighed at this comforting luxury, then realised too late that this was exposing an old scar on her thigh.

Eurykleia's hands reached up to the woman's knee and felt the mark, an unmistakeable wound. She narrowed her eyes and wrinkled her forehead recalling how once young Odysseus had gone hunting with her uncles in her grandfather Autolykos' domain. As a teenager she had tracked down a large boar. The sound of hounds baying and people tramping caused the boar to charge, tusks gleaming, from the shrubbery within which it was hidden. Odysseus had spear at the ready, but the boar moved sooner than expected. So, by the time that deadly stick left her hands, the boar was already upon her and managed to drive one sharp tooth deep into her leg, only just missing the bone. She was well cared for by that part of her family and was sent home with many gifts, but retained evidence of the gash on her left leg thereon in.

Eurykleia barely closed her eyes letting her fingertips remember when she dropped the woman's leg so that it fell into the basin with a clang, nearly overturning it and sloshing water all over the floor. Eurykleia burst into tears, "By the Deities, how could I not have seen it? My dear child, you are Odysseus!"

Penelopos leapt to Eurykleia's side wrapping his arm around her as she wept tears of joy. "Penelopos," Eurykleia repeated, "That is Odysseus, that is your wife." Penelopos at first looked suspiciously at his guest, then after some careful scrutiny he gazed in wonder, stupified.

"Do you recognise me?" asked Odysseus.

Penelopos could only nod.

"I'm home," she said.

Penelopos fell to his knees before Odysseus and grabbed her by the waist. Great tears rolled from his eyes. "Why didn't you tell me it was you? It doesn't matter, just hold me."

A Cunning Plan.

Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps