Etwart has a good life as the only pygmy Cypriot hippopotamus in the world-famous San Diego Zoo. But every day he wakes up with a hole in his heart. He wants to know the story of his family and the deeds of his forehippos-- maybe even find some of his relatives. So with his friend junior zookeeper Katterly Meadows he sets out on a journey of discovery.
Marios, the minibus driver, whistled as he drove Kat, Ioli (their Cypriot guide), and Etwart into the Troodos mountains.
"Marios is happy whenever he gets to visit the mountains," Ioli explained.
They were passing in between hills covered in tawny grass. Etwart said, "I don't see any mountains. I thought you said Cyprus was a small island."
"It is," Ioli said. "You'll see in a moment. The mountains come up fast. And they are high enough that in the winter we can ski on their slopes."
"How tall is the tallest mountain?" Kat asked.
"Almost two thousand meters. That's over six thousand feet."
Etwart grunted with surprise and pleasure. He liked being from Cyprus. There was something new to discover every day.
In a few minutes they were winding up a steep grade, and the hills had become near-cliffs, clad in tall live oak, cypress, and pine trees. In the deep-cut valleys, plum, almond and walnut trees luxuriated in the sun.
"It's so much greener up here," Kate said.
"Look at the river," Etwart said as they passed over a narrow stone bridge. He smudged the window glass with his humid snout.
"And there are beautiful cascades," said Ioli. "But we're not here for that. Soon, we'll be at the home of the Mountain Lady."
When they reached the village of Galata, Marios parked in a gravel lot, and they passed in deep shade through the downtown district. It was warm, and quiet, and a few children came out to greet Etwart, who grunted to them with his mouth wide open. They screamed in mock terror, then came back to give him hugs.
They made a right turn onto a narrow street with two- and three-story buildings on each side. About halfway down, a sidewalk café had jars of wild capers for sale, and bottles of a liquid as clear as water.
"What is this? Mountain water?" Etwart asked.
"Zivania," said Ioli. "It's a strong drink made from grape stems. Almost totally alcohol."
An old lady was serving an older gentleman at a table. When she looked up, her weathered face brightened, and she cried out in delight.
"Geia sou, Ioli! Ti kaneis!" Which meant, hello, how are you, Ioli.
"This is the Mountain Lady," Ioli said. "She doesn't speak much English. I will try and interpret for you."
When the Mountain Lady caught sight of Etwart, she crossed herself.
"She can't believe she's seeing you," Ioli said.
"Has she seen any more of my type?" Etwart asked.
Ioli said, "We'll find out soon enough. Let's sit down. She wants to give us some lemonade."
The old man couldn't speak English either, but he was happy for the company, and he patted Etwart's snout.
The Lady poured lemon sugar syrup into glasses, then topped them off with spring water from the mountains. Etwart wanted to try Zivania, but the lady said it would make him crazy.
Kat said, "Mmmm, just right."
Ioli said, "It's a little sweet for me."
Etwart said, "More, please.
The Lady laughed.
Then they got down to business. Ioli explained that the Mountain Lady was a keeper of ancient lore. The Lady's mother had learned the ancient knowledge from her mother, and so on, for hundreds if not thousands of years. Most of the lore involved how to do things properly, such as making lemon sugar syrup, or canning wild capers. But some of it had to do with mysteries, and the secrets of the island.
Ioli explained Etwart's story-- how, as a baby hippo, he had been left on the beach in a basket, and must have come from pygmy hippopotamus parents, though there weren't any left on the island. Could Etwart's parents have come from a shadowy place like Atlantis?
The old lady nodded her head gravely, then told Ioli something.
"She says you are a sign of things to come," Ioli said. "St. John of Patmos wrote the Biblical book of Revelation, a prophecy of the future, on the Greek island of Patmos. There are many talking animals in that book."
The Lady then asked Kat a question in Greek, and pointed to Etwart.
"She wants to know if he is your animal," Ioli said.
"Well, he's more my friend," Kat replied, shrugging her shoulders.
Ioli laughed when she heard the Lady's answer to that. "She thinks you are an incarnation of the goddess Artemis, the mistress of animals."
Etwart snorted. "Incar-- what?"
"She thinks I'm a goddess?" Kat said. "That's kind of wild."
Ioli argued with the lady for a moment, who kept pointing to Kat.
"She says, you are the key, Kat," Ioli said. "She says you have the gift of far sight and friendship of animals. She says you will be able to see Atlantis at the time of the next full moon. We must go to Aphrodite's Rock after midnight, and from there you will be able to see Atlantis. Only you. And you may be able to speak with Etwart's parents."
"When is the next full moon?"
"It'll be full in a few days," said Ioli.
(Troodos image here)