Chris followed Barbara and Lotte out into the street and they started running down the road to Mystras.
"You didn’t disable their car?" said Chris.
"Uh, no, I didn’t think of it until now."
"She is very professional," said Lotte.
"Oh shut it," said Barbara. "We've got your boyfriend back, haven't we?"
"I am not sure he can be described as my boyfriend."
"Ladies, please," said Chris. "These are questions we can settle at some other time. Right now we have to escape from those people. Do you reckon they have guns?"
"Almost certainly," said Barbara.
"OK, we can't run away on the road. We'll have to run through the woods. We should be able to lose them and sneak back to - to where are we anyway?"
"Explanations later," said Barbara. "Come on, into the woods."
They ran into the forest, but it was hard to make good progress through the undergrowth. And they kept hearing the frantic barks of the corgis behind them, telling them that their pursuers were still on their trail. There was no point trying to hide, the dogs would just sniff them out. They had to keep going and hope that somehow they would outpace the others or that they would give up and return home. It was not really much to hope for, but it was all they had.
The ground levelled out, but was still wooded. There was less undergrowth now, so they could run more quickly. Maybe this would give them the chance to throw off their pursuers. Chris hoped they came across some kind of easily fordable stream, as he had some recollection that such things were ideal for masking their scent from dogs. But there was no such stream to be found.
What they did find was a forest grove in which a load of women in faux classical garb were lying around in states of inebriation, all looking somewhat dishevelled. They came upon them so suddenly that Chris nearly tripped over one of them. It was all rather odd, especially to Chris who had not previously met the Maenads.
"Jesus Chris, what the fuck is this?" he said as he came to a halt.
"Please," a voice said, "do not invoke the Nazarene in this sacred place."
A slim man in a white suit came towards them from behind a tree. His hair was long, golden and delicate. Despite his slim frame he was effortlessly carrying a gallon bottle of wine in one hand, several glasses in another.
"Welcome, friends. You look like you are in need of some refreshment. Can I offer you a glass of wine?"
"Well we really would love to stay and have a drink," said Chris, "but we are kind of running for our lives from some guys who are planning to brutally kill us if they catch up with us, so I think we should be going."
"Oh I don't think so. Stay and join us for a drink, I'm sure your troubles will seem far less troublesome when you sampled the fruit of my vine."
"I really don't think so…" said Chris, but the man sounded so convincing, and he was already pouring out a glass and handing it to Barbara. She took it, drank from it and smiled.
"I suppose one quick drink can't do any harm," said Chris, not really convinced of the logic but feeling that he could not refuse a glass from this man.
He took a glass and Lotte did the same. They drank together and Chris was struck by how he had never tasted wine of such exquisite quality, with different flavours appearing and disappearing in his mouth like rays of the sun reflected in a fast flowing stream.
"Oh my God," he exclaimed. "This is incredible."
The stranger smiled again. "Blessed is the fruit of my vine."
"And what a charming scene this is," another less than welcome voice called out. It was Costas. He and Marcel came bounding into the grove, the corgis beside them.
"Welcome, friends," said the stranger. "You too look like you are in need of refreshment. Would you care to try my wine?"
"Not now, faggot," said Costas, punching the wine bearer full in the face and knocking him to the ground.
"Now I got you, you shitbag," said Costas to Chris. He leaped at him and seized him in a vice-like grip. Marcel grabbed Lotte and Barbara, one in each arm, each of them effortlessly held by his brute strength. They struggled but they could not escape. Their faces were ones of hopeless despair.
"Here comes the old man," said Costas. "I reckon you're going to give him the memory stick now, eh?"
"Let me go, Costas, we've never done you any harm."
"Apart from breaking that chair over my fucking back."
"OK, apart from that, but you were strangling Lotte."
"I'll make you watch me slit her throat. Then I'll skin you alive."
"That really would be a bit uncalled for."
"Uncalled for, you say," said Marchand, who had now joined them, together with Marie. He held a pistol in his hand. "But I think entirely deserved. We do not tolerate traitors. We had an arrangement and you let the side down. So yes, now we will take the memory stick from you and then you will die. Slowly and in great - what?"
The dogs were barking frantically. The stranger in the white suit had risen up again. His face showed no sign of having been struck by Costas. His expression was enigmatic. The corgis barked at him but then he threw a look at them that somehow disconcerted them. They ran off into the woods howling.
"What have you done to them?" said Marchand.
"This man who struck me, he is yours?" said the stranger.
"He works for me, yes."
"He should not have struck me."
"Oh really? Well you should not have angered him. Costas has a short temper."
"He should not have struck me."
Chris found himself abruptly released by Costas. Costas was screaming, clutching his right hand, from which vegetable matter seemed to be sprouting. He started trying to brush it off with his other hand, taking clumps of skin and flesh off while doing so, but the plant kept erupting from his hand.
"I don't understand," said Marchand hesitantly. But then resolve returned and he pointed his pistol at the stranger. "I think Costas did not hit you hard enough. I think I should kill you now."
"I don't think so," said the stranger.
The gun quivered in Marchand's hand.
"Women! Awake!" called out the stranger. Around them the drunken women roused themselves into something approximating to wakefulness, but they still seemed like they had not completely escaped dream's clutches. To Chris they looked like people in a trance.
"Look what has come among us," continued the stranger. "A lion, a monstrous beast intent on despoiling our revels and feasting upon us. Fall upon this monster! Kill him before he can kill us."
With a sudden fierce glint appearing in their eyes the women moved towards Marchand. He looked baffled and terrified at the same time. Throwing the gun to the ground he tried to run, but the women were upon him. They pulled him to the ground and savagely pulled at him, pummelling and striking him with their fists and with any stone or lump of wood at hand. There was a terrible fury to their work that left Chris mesmerised.
Marcel released Lotte and Barbara. He shrieked and ran off into the woods.
"Make it stop, make it stop!" screamed Lotte.
The stranger looked at her as though she was a terrible spoilsport and then sighed. "Very well." He addressed the women. "Leave him, the brute has suffered enough." The women retreated from Marchand, who lay whimpering on the ground. The stranger looked at Costas, whose hand was no longer sprouting vegetation, though it was now not much more than a bloody stump. "Take your master away."
Costas helped battered Marchand to his feet and then supported him as they limped away into the wood. Marie watched them go.
"You're not going with them?" said Chris.
"No. I'm free now," she replied.
"It's nice to be free," said the stranger. They laughed. "So now let us celebrate our freedom. And what better way to celebrate with wine! Who's for another drink!"
It turned out that everyone was for another drink. They crowded round the stranger, who poured a glass first for Marie and then refilled everyone else's glasses. They drank deep and then he filled their glasses again. There seemed no end to what his bottle had to offer. The Maenads became inebriated once more, which made them decide that it would be a great idea to sing one of their polyphonic songs. Unfortunately, in their drunken state they were quite unable to manage the harmonies, but no one seemed to mind, least of all the stranger. The music was well-intentioned and that was enough. The party went on into the evening until they all passed out from the potency of the stranger's delicious wine. Chris fell asleep snuggled up against Lotte, her scent now merged with that of the divine nectar. When he woke in the morning the stranger was gone. Only Lotte's head on his shoulder and the sight of the unconscious Maenads all around testified to the reality of what had gone before. That and the cold metal of the memory stick in his pocket.