There are some legends that seemed unimportant to the storytellers of old. For the likes of Homer, Aristophanes, and Sophocles these tales were too small, too meagre, and possibly contained too few demigods being heroic, to be of interest. But just because the great men of Greece considered them unworthy of ink doesn’t mean that the story didn’t happen.
With the heat of summer the ancient world chose to sleep rather than go to war. Athena was too tired, too hot, too drowsy to fight and sent her soldiers back into their tents rather than force them to attack the walls of Troy. On the other side her brother Ares had found a quiet cantina and was slowly sliding into his cup with the assistance of a helpful barmaid. Across the fields and through every city mankind felt the draining heat of summer and sought shelter from Helios’s bright gaze. Within her tower, Helen lay sleeping, drooling indelicately as she snored. Paris sat on his throne barely able to keep his eyes open as he listened to his generals who for their part could merely mumble of the glories they intended to achieve. Out on the plain Achilles nestled into Patroclus in their tent and dreamed of being back home and swimming in the ocean. Where men would normally be throwing their spears and loosing arrows in the air in acts of war a rabbit sat nibbling the grass in perfect peace. Peace, that is, until an eagle high above ended it’s life in a short scream. Up in the hills the shepherds were curled up with the nymphs under the trees, using a goat for a pillow. Everywhere on earth men slept and women slumbered. It was summer and it was what they did.
As below so it was above. Way up on Olympus the gods were finding their eyes heavy in the summer heat. Any effort to influence the lives of men was just beyond them. Aphrodite on her golden couch lay snoring loudly. Occasionally she would wave her hand in her sleep and men would fall in love, but they too were so tired that nothing ever came of the Goddess’s unintended attentions. As Hera turned over in her sleep back on earth wives turned to sleepily embrace their husbands and matrimonial harmony was ensured. Thunder rumbled up in the hills as Zeus slept on his throne. Only Hebe was awake and she trailed through the assembled gods lazily filling each goblet, only to watch the contents spill as sleeping hands tipped their glass. She felt frustrated. Her replacement, Ganymede, was sleeping on the job again and no one seemed to care. Having filled the cup next to Hermes only to watch him kick it over as he dreamed she gave up. Throwing the jug down she stormed to a couch and pulled the blanket over her head in disgust. Some jobs just weren’t worth it.
The jug span across the floor hitting the steps of Zeus’ throne and causing him to wake up spluttering. Out in the hills a lightening bolt ricochetted of a large bolder and narrowly missed a satyr. With a cry of “I’m awake, I’m awake” Zeus sat up and viewed the sleeping deities that were sprawled around him. Feeling slightly disgusted at the sight of his brothers and sisters sleeping habits he made his way through the palaces to try and find someone, anyone who might be even vaguely conscious. As he wandered through empty halls the only sound he seemed to hear were the snorts and snores of the terminally asleep.
Eventually he came to a balcony high up on the side of one of the towers. From here he’d always enjoyed the view of his kingdom. He could see Athens and Troy, gaze down at the Island of Crete to check on what Minos was up to, and see the coast of Egypt where the bones of the Sphinx were being picked clean by a couple of vultures. “Damn Oedipus. Need to find a replacement beast.” He thought. “Maybe an hydra, they’re always fun.”
He saw Iris laying lagged and beautiful in the tall, dry grass of a hillside. No doubt she’d given up waiting for the rains to fall. Over in a Spartan hedge the Teumessian Fox had collapsed exhausted from running and curled up with with her enemy Laelaps the hound. Together they kicked out as they slumbered, pursuer and pursued continuing the chase in their dreams. Even his brother Poseidon seemed to have been lulled into torpor and was cuddling a dolphin down in a bay. No one seemed to be up to very much at all. No hero, no demigod seemed to be doing anything other than napping. It seemed that summer had put the whole world to sleep. Zeus leant against the railing and cupping his chin sighed deeply. The king of the gods was bored.
Zeus hated summer with it’s oppressive heat. No one went on a quest, there were no wars, no slaying monsters, no one seemed bothered with worshiping him. Even the sky seemed lower on the horizon as his uncle Atlas slumped under his burden. Feeling his nephew’s gaze the titan nodded slightly and shifted his burden to raise the sky a little. As he did a cool breeze breathed across the land for a moment causing creatures everywhere rouse before sinking back into their dreams.
The king of the gods shook his head. Give him the cooler weather of spring or autumn any day. Then the swords rang out, men rose up against each other, and demigods remembered their duties in the universe. With the cooler weather the world would return to the normal, natural business of gods interfering with the lives of men.
As Zeus stood high up on his balcony his eyes took in all the world. He half heartedly flicked a lightening bolt at a passing harpy turning the dread of mortals into a deep fried chicken dinner that fell to earth. Normally this would have had the king of the gods roaring with laughter, but today, well today even unexpected food for the people below failed to raise a smile. A glint on the edge of his vision caught his notice. Far, far to the west, right on the edge of the world he saw the rocky outcrop where Medusa lived and remembered his brother’s unkindness. Zeus felt troubled.
“I always felt sorry for her,” said a gentle voice behind him. Anteros, the god of returned love, was standing behind him. The little god was leaning against the doorframe being cooled by the breeze of a butterfly’s wings. With a gesture he sent the insect to fan his lord and master who said nothing but was thankful for the butterfly’s attention. “Forgive me my lord, Anteros continued, “if I have spoken out of turn. But I always felt my Lady Athena was a little, shall we say, unfair in her judgement and your brother might, perhaps, have shown the behavior of gods to be better.”
“Gods, huh?” Zeus rumbled and found himself watching a glint that came from the distant island. Perhaps a scale of the monster condemned to live in isolation forever. He shrugged. “But what can I do?” he pleaded to the little god. “Athena would never forgive me if I interfered, never mind what my brother would say. I think both of them are glad the poor girl’s so far away. Out of sight, out of mind, and useful for thinning out the hero population. I can hardly change her back. If I tried I’d have to look at her and she’d make me a lawn ornament.” Fingers drummed on the balustrade in annoyance. “Damn it Anteros, wrong’s wrong but this is beyond me. Best just to accept things as they are.”
The little god smiled a gentle smile. “Not beyond you, my lord, not really. After all, if you command something it’s as good as done. So in a way even when others do the work you are still the one who achieves the goal. My lord forgive me but I need to be honest. My uncles and aunts would say there’s no one who could love Medusa, and in a way they’re right. If they tried they’d have some poor idiot march up to plant a kiss only to see him instantly turned to stone. But my lord, all men, and monsters, deserve happiness of some sort. Other minds, if turned to the task, might find a way.”
Zeus turned and looked open mouthed at the little god. Raising an eyebrow he looked at Anteros and smiled. “I speak and through the actions of others my will is done, huh? That’s how I remain glorious and praiseworthy?” Seeing the little god’s obvious discomfort he waved a hand and tutting said, “oh, settle down Anteros. It’s no secret that’s how it really works. Most of the time. It’s just others are perhaps a little less vocal about the truth around me.” With a laugh he turned and leant back against the railing. “I like your honesty and so I’ll reward it. Very well little Anteros. My will is this. That Medusa might find in some small way a happiness.” He fixed the little god with a mocking eye. “You’re job would now seem to be making sure my will is done. Call it the quest for the truest love.” With a nod Zeus walked back towards the throne room laughing heartily. He looked forward to seeing what such a little god might come up with.
The little god, Anteros flew through the palace as fast as his wings could carry him. His mind was blazing as the full reality of what he’d been told to do. Bring some peace and happiness to the reviled one? What on earth and Olympus had he been thinking? He shook his head. Perhaps it was the heat. His private thoughts had slipped out and became a command from Zeus himself. It was true though. In his heart of hearts he did feel sad for Medusa. Maybe it was because of her transformation. Anteros had always felt awkward around Athena and Poseidon. The way that Poseidon had used the poor girl and then done nothing when his sister freaked out. But it was always Athena who had disgusted him the most. As one of the “big twelve” she had stuck with family over what was right. In his position as the god of returned love, Athena’s behavior completely flew in the face of all that he stood for. She had denied Medusa the ability to ever find someone to love and who could love her. Anteros grabbed his bags from his rooms determined, somehow, to turn his lord’s will into a reality.
“Look at the facts and find the key.” Anteros kept saying to himself. To woo a monster, any monster, would have been difficult. But then Medusa wasn’t actually a monster. She was a mortal who had been transformed into one. Deep inside Anteros had always understood the difference between “born as” and “made into”. Had he been his mother Anteros would have waved his hand and caused hearts to melt, then sat back to watch the tragedy that followed with amusement. His older brother Eros, well he would have drawn his bow and seen mortal and monster lock lips only to laugh as the mortal turned to stone in an instant. That was typical of the god. With him it was shoot, enjoy and leave, never mind the consequences. So he, Anteros, according to his nature, would have to find the way that lasted. The lady beneath the snake-filled hairdo must find love and feel it returned to her. As he flew through the halls of the palace he kept repeating, “turns all to stone who look on her, all except her sisters.”
Before leaving Olympus he called in to the throne room. In the center the fire burned perpetually and within it sat Hestia, goddess of the hearth. The little god had always got on very well with her and as usual she nodded to him as he approached. Hestia kept quiet as Anteros told her all about his quest. She did smile a little when she heard the name of the recipient of his attentions though. She wasn’t a cruel goddess though. In fact where Anteros turned his attention she tended to find a home. But still, Medusa in love was uncomfortable as a picture.
Anteros smiled at her, reassuring her that he wasn’t asking for her help. Like any of Zeus’ quests or commands there was an element of danger for the person they were given to. It was like being given the ultimate, and potentially deadly, chance to see just how good you really were. His quest, in essence, was to prove the power of unconditional love. He wondered what a goddess who ensured the balance within households would make of such a match, how she would handle the aftermath of his work, so he asked her to be honest.
“It will be difficult,” she said, “but not impossible. After all, when you turn up then mortals tend to become not blind but accepting of their love’s imperfections. Just be sure you don’t get turned to stone yourself. The world would be a cold, sad place without you little god. I know I would find fewer hearths and homes to be honored in.” She raised a finger and one of his butterflies fluttered down to rest on it. As it’s wings wafted her, the flames that surrounded the goddess of the hearth flickered in delight. “Where you walk I follow.”
Down on earth not everyone was sleeping in the summer heat. Medusa was in a temper. Yet another hero had washed up on the shores of the island trying to remove her head, and so now she was stuck with yet another statue to clutter up the place. This one wasn’t even that handsome. Just some muscle bound schmuck who’d let himself go in his wanted to use her face to make himself king probably. It was always the same. They turned up wanting to kill her and she ended up killing them. They never thought it through. Didn’t they remember they’d have to look at her to strike for Zeus’ sake? It was always fun to watch their faces as they did remember, as everything became simple geology.
Sending the statue crashing to the ground with her tail she smirked. “Not today, big boy. No man is using me ever again.” As she slithered through the caves which had become her home she knew that one day she would become a trophy, the ultimate weapon in fact. But that day wasn’t today. She just hoped that whoever it was that killed her showed that damned Athena her face one last time too.
She made her way down to the beach where her sisters were sitting. Nodding to her as she settled beside them Sthenno smiled and offered her some wine. “How was it?” she asked. Medusa shrugged and hissed before taking a long drink. “It was the usual.” Medusa sighed. “Big idiot ran at me with his sword raised and I turned him to stone. This one couldn’t even become marble so what does that tell you about him? Calcium carbonate. Soft and useless! Really I don’t know where the gods are finding their heroes these days. Possibly in the outhouse of a tavern rather than the bedchamber of a queen, ha! I just wish they’d leave me alone.” The three sisters sat sipping into their wine as they laughed at the idiocy and geology of heroes these days.
Anteros was sitting on top of Olympus’ tallest tower. Below him he saw not just the faces of humanity but their hearts too. Each beating heart, filled with the light and dark of being human, lay before him. Every one of them was different. Here and there were bright lights that showed he had done his job well while others, dimmer lights, he recognized as being beyond his gifts. These were the ones that were too closed or twisted to be able to return love. He liked to think of these as the foot soldiers of his mother or his brother. The ones who sought pleasure or mere re-enforcement for their own inadequacies, the ones who twisted his work for their own benefit. Somehow it helped to think of them like that rather than as the users of others. The brighter lights made him smile though. These were the ones who when his lead arrows had struck found happiness. Lives that would one day feel his darts and never look elsewhere again. Far off on one of the islands, Tragousa maybe, there was one light that caught his eye. Unlike the other souls that slumbered in the summer heat it moved slowly but purposefully through the landscape. Perhaps, just perhaps, Anteros had found his mark.
Down on the earth a man walked slowly through his olive grove. He wasn’t a youth, but then again, he wasn’t ancient either. He was of that age where he knew better but could still manage to have fun. Demodocus had somehow never managed to find a wife, but that was ok. Here on the edge the island he had built a garden and had accepted that he would have to be content tending his bees. Deep inside he felt a keening for something he knew he would never have, but as his father had always said. “Better alone than a love unrequited or a stolen bride.” So Demodocus pushed down the feelings and focused on pruning his trees.
Dad had been so in love with mum until damned Poseidon had turned her head. Looking out across the water at the waves he still fancied he could see her, but deep in his heart of hearts he also knew the truth. His mother had drowned herself when the sea god had got bored and moved on. Demodocus could remember his dad’s face as they brought her body back to the house. A mixture of sadness and anger. Not at her though. No, dad had been angry at the deity who had ruined his family’s happiness for a moment or two of pleasure. Demodocus had been six when it happened and he could feel his dad’s hand shaking in his as they lowered her body into ground. After the funeral there were no more fishing trips, no more taking the boat to the next island to visit friends. Anything and everything to do with the sea was forbidden. Even fish was banned on the dinner table after that. His father planted his feet firmly in the soil of his orchards and turned his back on the ocean. When dad had been lying on his death bed he had begged his son to never look at the sea again and to remember how poorly the gods treated men.
Demodocus had tried to follow his dad’s wishes. At first it had been easy. The anger of youth is often unthinking and absolute, but as he grew older he found his rage at his mother and the sea god tempered by reality. Nothing would bring back his mum or dad. No amount of anger would stop the sea from lapping at the shore. Better to just get on with the act of living and accept what had happened. Deep in thought he kept working. Demodocus’ hands continued to graft and prune his bushes without him even needing to look at what he was doing. Watching him from a myrtle bush a butterfly flapped it’s wings excitedly as though it was clapping with joy. Anteros had found the one.
There was so much to arrange and Anteros’ mind was awhirl as he flew away from Demodocus and his island. He would need help. As he reached the coast of Karpathos he straight to the center of the island. There the tower of the winds stood, the palace of the great four. Landing softly he headed towards the central tower with it’s throne rooms of the four kings. To the north were gardens and rooms filled with ice and cold. Here the brute Boreas ruled and anyone seeking his help tended to find themselves frozen to death for their trouble. To the west was the door to the murderer’s throne room. Anteros couldn’t help but dislike him. Zephyrus might fill his gardens with flowers and pretend to be gentle and sweet ,but he was a killer and a servant of Anteros’ brother to boot. Poor young Hyacinthus, the little tease. Men died and gods mourned for a little while before moving on. Best to avoid that side of the palace all together. It was so typical of his brother’s handiwork. But Anteros couldn’t risk his brother finding out what was going on. As soon as he did then the arrows would start flying and everything would be ruined.
The door on the south side of the tower was open and led to the throne room of Notus the Destroyer. No doubt this time of year he was down in the Sahara gathering together a Sirocco to terrorize everyone with. He and Anteros were old friends, after all adversity tends to bring people together and show them in their truest light, but Anteros had no time to stop in for a chat. Instead he landed on the east side of the tower in the gardens of Eurus. As he squelched across the lawns he went over the plan again. Eurus, east wind and the bringer of warmth and rain was considered by many to be unlucky. This was, to be honest, in his favor. Of all the winds he was the least often approached for help by heroes and gods. As gods and heroes liked to abuse or forget to repay those that helped them Eurus might just be amenable to his plan. Especially as it meant a chance to pay back some of the big players on Olympus.
Eurus was in one of the courtyards overwatering his geraniums again. “I can never get it right,” he muttered not noticing that Anteros was slowly sinking into the lawn behind him.
“Perhaps a little less water your majesty?” Anteros asked politely. “Unless of course you were thinking of creating a water garden. Iris would be nice, may be a few goldfish?”
The East wind shrugged causing water to sluice down Anteros’ neck. “May be little god. I like geraniums though. So cheerful on a rainy day.” He sighed. “So what brings you to my court? Could it be the King of the gods needs something from me?”
Anteros bowed low, trying to ignore water that was running down his back.
“Great king of the Eastern Wind, Bringer of rain and warmth to mankind,” he began but got no further as Eurus laughed sarcastically.
“Little god be advised. I don’t do simpering and I don’t do brown nosing. If you want that, go see my brother in the west. Either say what you have to or go away. Either suits me just fine and some of us have daisies to drown.”
The little love god shrugged. The god of the East Wind wanted honesty then honesty he would get.
“Fair enough my lord,” he said and remembered not to bow. “The truth is I have been given a quest by Zeus and I need your help to see it completed. My lord, I have been commanded to see that Medusa finds happiness.”
“Happiness? Medusa?” It took a moment for Eurus to realize his mouth was still open and he shut it with a snap.
“Indeed my lord. The Lady Medusa has been spurned and abused for too long. My lord Zeus feels that she deserves some little kindness. The problem is that he can’t be seen to show his hand and so I was commanded to see what I might do.” Anteros was tracing circles in the mud with the toe of his sandal. “And that your majesty is why I must beg your help.”
Eurus sat quietly on a bench listening to everything that Anteros had to say. A man needed transporting west to meet and hopefully fall in love with Medusa, and Eurus was the only person who could move the boat fast enough. That seemed the extent of what was required and so the wind god nodded his approval once he was assured he wouldn’t be expect to attend the wedding. The date for departure was set for the full moon. Eurus had also agreed to visit Demodocus with all his force before hand so the plan was laid. Bowing low the little god Anteros took his leave.
The little god’s next call was more difficult. He needed to prepare the way for the arrival of his mortal and needed to ensure that Medusa didn’t immediately turn him to stone. It took a day to get there but his wings were strong and fast and brought him to the shores of Medusa’s home. Here at the western edge of the world there were no plants, no flowers, nothing living, just rocks, the massive labyrinth of volcanic walls that the owner called home, and a disturbing number of very life like statues. By the gods it was a desolate place and the statues were seriously creeping him out.
“Now what would a little god like you be doing in a place like this?” A voice hissed from behind him making Anteros jump and instinctive wrap his wings in front of his eyes. “Oh, relax. Our sister’s hunting in her gardens so you’re safe for the moment. Well safe might be a relative term, but why in Hades are you here?”
Anteros relaxed his wings and suppressing a shudder saw two hideous forms in front of him. Both tusked and with hands formed out of brass, their hair were writhing masses of snakes. Anteros bowed very low.
“Would I have the honour of addressing the lady Stheno and the lady Euryale?” He asked trying to keep his voice level and unwavering.
“You would,” said Euryale who mockingly bowed back. “Nice to see manners, even in someone who’s probably not going to make it to sunset. So what’s the plan fly boy? Come to exact some more nastiness for that bitch Athena? Or maybe you’ve been sent by that coward Poseidon to get rid of an inconvenient reminder of what a bastard he can be? What have the gods got planned now? Can’t they just leave us alone?”
Anteros smiled and gently shook his head.
“You misunderstand ladies, though I suspect you have good reason to. I come on Mighty Zeus’ orders alone. He has asked me to beg the lady Medusa for help.”
“Zeus?” Stheno spluttered. “Zeus needs our sister’s help? This must be a joke little god.”
“No joke my lady. There is a man. His mother was seduced by my lord Poseidon and regrettably when he became bored she drowned herself. I believe he had suggested that she would be transformed if she entered the water. She left her husband, her child and,” Anteros allowed his voice to trail off into silence. That way the Gorgons’ minds could be allowed to fill in blanks which weren’t there and he didn’t have to lie to them.
“Typical of the wretch,” spat Stheno. “But why on earth should the man need to come here of all places?”
“My lord Poseidon seeks to take a new consort and so, as you so succinctly put it, he wants to clear up inconvenient reminders as she lives quite close to where a man lives. That, my lady, is why I need to bring him here. The man may have a role to play in the future happiness of others and Zeus is keen to see him survive and fulfill his fate.”
The Gorgons must have believed his subtle readjusting of Demodocus’ story as their hair seemed to have settled down.
“Do not, I seriously advise you, turn around little god.”
The voice was beyond beautiful, it was seductive. It took every ounce of Anteros’ will not to spin round and look to see who had spoken. He bowed politely before raising up his wings to shield his eyes and only then did he turn around. Even through the colored shelter of his wings he could feel the force of Medusa’s gaze.
“How was the hunt, sister mine?” Euryale laughed.
“Another muscle bound hunk who didn’t deserve to live,” came a sigh as alluring as silk. “He turned out to be little more than chalk.” Medusa’s voice hardened as she went on. “So tell me little god. By what right does almighty Zeus or you to ask me for help? He’s never raised a finger to help me and you were conspicuously absent when I was being raped.” A strand of hair peeked over the top of Anteros’ wings and poked it’s tongue out at him.
Anteros let his mouth run free, desperate to catch his quarry’s interest and to try and save his own life. This was more than fulfilling an quest. It was his sacred duty to see this through and for the moment, at least, she hadn’t tried to turn him into a lawn ornament.
“I think you mistake diplomacy for indifference my lady. Great Zeus is not unkind, indeed he and I have often talked about your predicament, but the family is boisterous to say the least. If I may let me ask you this. How could he assist you while maintaining peace on Olympus and by extension here on earth? You, totally unfairly of course, know more than anyone know how unfair Lady Athena can be, and my Lord Poseidon is no better. If he comments publicly on their crimes, yes he sees them as crimes lady, they would lead a rebellion to muddy the waters. The would probably claim that all gods must remain unchallenged even by their king. I feel sorry for my king to be completely honest. As for myself? I was unable to be present. There was no love involved and that was the truth of it.”
Anteros paused to listen. The little god was acutely aware how vulnerable he was. Two butterfly wings were all that separated him from a marble eternity. Through the rainbow haze he could see the shadows of the three sisters moving. Medusa’s voice was beautiful, musical almost, and Anteros found himself wanting to weep at the loss of something so lovely. But behind the music there was a hissing. It had become low and soft, the sound of a snake tasting the air rather than one getting ready to strike but it was still there. Perhaps, just perhaps, she was going to let Anteros live.
“Lady Medusa. The gentleman in question needs to be moved quickly, so if you were willing.” Again, Anteros permitted the unsaid to weave it’s magic. Medusa was swishing her tail again and he could hear whispering between the sisters. It took a long time for the three gorgons to come to a conclusion.
“There would have to be conditions.” Medusa said finally.
“Of course my lady.”
“He could come, to the western beach at least. There he would be hidden from Olympus and there’s no way for him to hide from me. I don’t want him creeping around trying to see the “snake lady”. Should he take to wandering then he might cross my path, so tell him to stay put as though his life depended on it, because it does.” Anteros could hear the loneliness and sadness behind Medusa’s words. He could also hear the empathy of one celestially cursed soul for another. She didn’t want anyone coming to her island yet deep inside she was lonely. “How he survives is your business. I warn you little god, if he steps into my lair then he will become stone just like anyone else.” Medusa sighed and it sounded like she was tapping her tail on the ground. “You’re wiser than they give you credit for Anteros. Poseidon and Athena can’t come here, daren’t even look in my direction in case they catch my eye. But when they hear what you’ve done the number of demigods turning up’s going to go up. Don’t worry. My sisters and I can take care of them. He must be truly desperate to live if he chooses to die slowly here though.”
“As I explained, gracious lady. Lord Zeus has plans for him. I hope he will find and bring great happiness to the world. So thank you. I’ll make all the arrangements and have him here as soon as possible. His name is Demodocus. A gardener.”
“Very well Anteros. Bring your gardener to my island and may he find happiness here. Certainly I can cure him of his sadness if he doesn’t. Count to one hundred and you’ll be able to lower your wings. ”
There was the sound of a tail slithering away.
Anteros flew east as fast as he could. He alighted on one of the many balconies Olympus had and made his way to the throne room. From her hearth Hestia watched as the little god bowed to the sleeping Zeus who rumbled in his dreams. Then he walked quietly over to a couch where Hegemone slept. Beside the goddess of plants lay a sack filled with seeds and Anteros seemed to be filling his pockets with them. A note was written and placed in the sack then the god made his way back out of the chamber. As he reached the door Anteros looked back towards Hestia and winked with a huge grin on his face.
Down in the celestial stables Anteros found Chiron chatting with a couple of centaurs. Amongst the pleasantries and the gossip brief discussion of the nature of roots and their uses gave him the information he needed. He liked Chiron and trusted the trainer of heroes, but discretion has always been the better part of value so he made sure to ask questions about other plants too. Anteros knew better than to offer sugar lumps. The last demigod to try that had left the stables with an horseshoe shaped bruise on his forehead. Instead Anteros left a picnic basket that included a couple of bottles of Dionysus’ very best vintage by way of thanks.
His final visit was to the treasury of Zeus. Here, deep below the throne room Zeus kept those things which in mortal, or sometimes godly, hands might destroy the world. In the middle of the clutter of poisoned cloaks and bent thunderbolts there was a column. On top sat the home of Elpis. The little goddess leaned on the side of her jar and smiled at Anteros as he made his way carefully through the mess of treasures.
“Haven’t seen you for a while,” she said. “How’s the true love business?”
Anteros shrugged noncommittally.
“That good, huh? Need some hope?”
He smiled weakly at her.
“I rather think that I’ve made a huge mess my lady. I’m not sure how in Hades I can get out of this one.”
With Elpis, like Hestia, he was always truthful. The two of them had worked together many times and out of all the Olympians she was the one he trusted the most. Slowly the tale came out. How he had felt angry at Medusa’s fate, how he had wanted to see her happy. How Zeus had tricked him into accepting the quest.
“Perhaps tricked is the wrong word. I think my lord is bored and thought it might be funny to see if I was as good at my job as I appear to be, and I think he genuinely does feel sorry for her. But you know what the others are like.”
Elpis laughed bitterly.
“I do indeed. Athena will have your skin for this if she finds out, you do know that? Poseidon too. And what are your mum and brother going to say? Eros is going to have a field day when he finds out. You know he doesn’t like you that much. He calls you a party pooper. Says you don’t know how to have fun and just make men stodgy by making them love one person. Honestly Anteros, what have you got yourself into?”
“A mess, I guess, but it’s my job. Everyone deserves happiness and to have their love returned don’t they? At least everyone deserves more than heartbreak and games.”
“True.” Elpis nodded. “But Medusa? Seriously? You might as well have said you’d make Zeus declare his undying love for Echidna.” A rumble of thunder was heard outside and both gods flinched. Zeus returned to his dreaming. “OK, bad example. So what do you need me to do?”
Anteros smiled weakly.
“Just be your wonderful self. Please. If nothing else I could do with your favor Lady Hestia.”
There were so many things to do. A thousand little things that needed his full attention. There were conversations to be had, things to be collected, annoyances and blessings to be arranged. True, most of the conversations were designed to mislead, but that was all part of the little god’s plan. A group of hippocampus were told that the garden of Demodocus had been dedicated to Poseidon and so the vegetables that grew there were now fair game to them. A dryad had been convinced that Demodocus was upset with Athena and caused her to blight his olive grove. The small vineyard was trampled when a group of Maenads received an invitation to an unplanned get together that, though definitely unplanned didn’t include wine or cheese. The ladies were quite demonstrable in their disgust at the lack of catering. Right in the middle of the herb garden a couple of Telchines had begun to mine because of a rumor there was a meteor full of iron buried under the fennel. The easiest creature had been getting the Crommyonian sow who was promised a feast if she wrecked the compost heaps. In fact she didn’t just devour the compost, she managed to wreck the workshop very nicely as well. In three days Anteros managed to reduce the garden to a wasteland with a few hints and suggestions.
Eurus had performed the first part of his job extremely efficiently too. The lawns had been reduced to a quagmire. Even now a very soggy rabbit was looking bemused as the carrots floated away through what used to be the vegetable garden. Day and night, Eurus had unceasingly poured his rains down onto the island then retreated back to his throne room to wait for the full moon and the second part of his task. Sitting on his throne the wind god chuckled. Anteros was fun to work with. Plus if the little god was playing a trick or things turned sour he could always drown him like a geranium.
Each day Demodocus would walk out of his door and quietly begin the work of repairing his garden. Vegetables were replanted, the Telchines were politely but firmly evicted, the olive grove and vineyard pruned and watered in the hope they would recover. He was saddened by the damage but he had seen how poisonous anger towards the gods could be. His father had been angry, too angry. In the end he had been the one to suffer. True he had lost his wife but in raging against the nature of gods he’s also lost the joy of sailing and the taste of fish for dinner. Life staring inland and pretending that the sea wasn’t there was limiting at the very least. Words like insane could have also been used.
Demodocus, however, was determined to be happy. Just for a moment he had been tempted to curse one of the gods, but two things stopped him. Firstly he wasn’t sure which god he should be cursing. Get it wrong and he’d probably be turned into a petunia. Secondly Demodocus didn’t see the point. His bees were safe and it was the building of his garden that he actually enjoyed. Now he had a chance to do it all again. This time though he’d make improvements. His spade hit the mud and splashed it up his legs. Demodocus laughed with pleasure at the act of creation.
In fact Demodocus was so consumed with what he was doing he completely failed to notice the beggar walking up his garden path.
“What on earth happened here?” A voice asked behind him.
Demodocus jumped in surprise sending his spade into the mud and causing mud to splatter across the strangers face. Once he’d recovered from the shock he turned to take in the person who’s spoken. The stood an ancient man, covered in mud, even before the spade hit the ground. The clothes he wore were tattered and stained, the sandals were cracked and barely worth putting on, and the stench was beyond belief. Demodocus grinned. Putting his head to one side he looked straight into the stranger’s eyes.
“And what, might I ask, have I done to deserve a visit from a god?”
Anteros spluttered that he was a mere beggar seeking alms while trying to ignore the taste of mud.
“No, my lord.” Demodocus smiled. “This is an island. I know all the beggars, everyone of them. Help them as I can too. Besides there’s no one particularly rich here so we don’t get visitors. Ptokheia you ain’t, though that lady would find a warm meal if she came, and recent events would lead me to believe someone high up is angry with me for some reason. So please my lord, make yourself more comfortable and tell me what it is you want or need.”
“You speak very confidently for a man whom the gods are seeking to destroy.” Anteros remarked as he shuddered and became divine again. Standing there in a clean toga and winged sandals he had hoped he looked suitably awe inspiring but the man seemed unshaken.
“Have your mum driven into the sea by a god and tell me how I should be frightened of bullies. What is it you want? Thanks to your lot I have a pile of extra work to do.”
Anteros was truly flummoxed. He was being forced off script and needed to wing it.
“Demodocus. I know about your mother, know about how your father never used the letter C again because of the memories that it brought back. I’m sorry.”
It was all the little god could think to say.
“Kind of you, but it won’t bring them back. You better than any one should know Hades doesn’t offer return tickets to his realm.” The spade was jabbed into the mud a couple of times. “Look, just what do you want?”
Anteros shifted self-consciously.
“It’s true I am a god.”
“Unimportant for now. Look Demodocus I come from Zeus. I come with a warning.”
“Seems you sent your warnings before you arrived. Damned if I can work out what I’ve done that’s so terrible. Did you really have to send the pig?”
“You misunderstand me.”
“So make me understand.”
Demodocus was getting annoyed. He wasn’t a big talker at the best of times and this god with butterfly wings was getting on his nerves.
“Listen to me please. Poseidon is clearing a path. In months time he is to be married again and he remembers this place. He intends to build her a summer home in the bay there. It’s him who’s doing this. Him who sent all those creatures and ruined your garden. He doesn’t want inconvenient reminders on his doorstep when it comes to his new bride. I mean what if you met his wife and she learned of your history with him?”
The spade was thrown like a javelin and landed just in front of the little god’s feet. It vibrated in the mud.
“So let me get this right. I’m to be destroyed so a murderer can bed his wife in front of my home? He wants to make sweet love in the bay where my mum drowned? That it? Not happening. If he wants a fight tell old fish face he needs to come fight me himself. He’s killed everyone I loved so might as well let him collect the whole set of us.”
Anteros spoke not taking his eyes off the spade.
“Which is why my lord Zeus commanded me to move you to safety.” The little god spoke quickly and with passion. “You think Zeus doesn’t notice what his brothers do? You think it doesn’t make him sick to his stomach? Zeus may love mortals but he has never killed a family for a fling. My lady Hera is upset too. Poseidon has stepped over a boundary. He’s never going to face you, his ego’s too big for that. He’ll send monsters and demigods to kill you and claim it’s a quest. Even then he’s dishonoring his position. No, my lord and lady are angry with him, they both want to see you safe, but politics always gets in the way. So here I stand, a minor god trying to do what’s right and keep you alive. You have two days to decide whether you stand and fight and die horribly, or if you’re willing to trust me. A boat will appear in the harbor at dusk if you decide to live.”
Anteros blinked and became a butterfly wafting on the breeze. He was an angry butterfly. He left the garden as quickly as possible and eventually came to rest on a leaf. It felt like his plan was falling apart. Why couldn’t the man have just accepted what was going on as fate and agreed to leave? Damn it all. He kicked the leaf in anger which completely failed to change anything.
Close by a woman was gathering honey. Anteros watched for a while as she plunged her hand into a hole in a dead tree pulling out pieces of golden honeycomb. These she breathed on, sending bees flying away, and then placed them in a bowl at her feet. What was curious was that she didn’t seem to being stung. That could only mean one thing. Divinity was at work.
He changed to godly form and bowing low greeted her.
“My lady. How is the harvest?”
“Fine Anteros. The minotaur will have something sweet to keep him going for a few more years.”
She turned and smiled.
“How’s the quest going?”
“Oh, come on that’s not like you.” She put the last of the honeycomb into the bowl and allowed the golden honey on her fingers to drip slowly into the vessel. “He’s not interested in leaving?”
“No.” Anteros shook his head slowly. “I’ve tried everything, but how do you know? You won’t tell anyone will you?”
“It was Hestia. We were having drinks last night and she told me everything. Oh, relax. Remember it was bloody Poseidon who screwed things up for mum and dad. I was the one who left to muck out the labyrinth. I’m hardly going to rush off and tell him you’re putting things right. Personally I think he needs therapy for what he did to mum. Very unnatural desires that one. Want me to have a word with Demodocus?”
“It can’t hurt.”
“No, no it can’t, and possibly it might do some good. Leave it with me.”
Ariadne wiped her hands on her dress completely failing to make it sticky.
“I’ll speak with him tonight. You just make sure everything else is ready.”
With that bowl, goddess, and honey disappeared. All that was left was the drone of bees in the summer heat.
True to her word Ariadne made her way into Demodocus’ garden at dusk. He found her standing stroking one of the hives and singing softly to it.
“Can I help you?”
“Perhaps. Demodocus isn’t it?”
“Yes ma’am. Two deities in one day. Zeus must be desperate. I’m that valuable am I. Or am I just a useful in prodding seaweed’s conscience?”
Ariadne turned and smiled softly at him.
“All humans are important. We couldn’t exist if you lot didn’t let us.”
“So you’re here to convince me to leave too. The other one, the male, didn’t make much of a case.”
“Not convince, just tell you a story if you have time.”
Demodocus shrugged as if to indicate he didn’t mind.
“Very well then. I bear no love for Poseidon, men in general to be honest, though there are a couple who I think are ok. Poseidon demanded the very best of my father, held him hostage in fact by threatening dad with terrible consequences should he fail to deliver. One day dad had enough and decided not to comply. What do you think happened?”
“Don’t know. Drowned him?”
Ariadne laughed scornfully.
“Nothing so charming or quick. No the great god of the sea made my mum fall in love with a bull. So in love in fact that she lost all her senses and all she could think about was sleeping with it. Nice huh?”
Demodocus looked at her wide eyed.
“Anyway mum managed it and then gave birth to my half-brother. Half boy half bull, as I say really nice of Poseidon. I was the one who had to look after him when he got too much for mum to handle. Things were never really the same again. I mean dad was horrified. In the end we built him a labyrinth to play in and dad kind of lost it completely. Kept demanding virgins from the other kings to feed his stepson. It was a mess.”
“That’s not the worst part. I thought I found love with one of the men who was sent, well he said he loved me. Turns out he was a jerk too. Left me on an island with my sister. Hah! That was bloody Athena’s doing. But still. It led me to the love of my life in the end. Funny how a complete bastard can do that. Dionysus found me and married me too.”
Her voice became tender and soft as she talked about he husband. She described how at the very lowest point in her life he had lifted her chin and brought her to a new life where she found happiness. There was true love in her voice and for just a moment Demodocus could have sworn he saw a small lead arrow sticking out of her heart.
“I suppose what I’m saying Demodocus is that for you this may be an ending, but it might be a beginning too. You have two days until you have to decide whether you die unhappily or risk living and perhaps find greater happiness.”
“But who was the other god?”
She stood up and smoothed out her dress.
“If he didn’t tell you his name then I can’t. Rules are rules. But I can tell you that if he has become your champion with Zeus and Hera then I can think of no one who I would trust more. He is definitely one of the good guys. Be blessed Demodocus, and may you find the happiness I think he has in store for you.”
She turned and walked away without looking back but had Demodocus been able to see her face he would have seen both happiness and sadness in it.
For the next two days Demodocus worked like a fury. He had spent the whole night sitting and thinking about Ariadne’s story and saw the truth in what she said. This place was going to become to crowded to include him and the ghosts of his parents would be dragged out of Hades to haunt him if he stayed. It was time to move on and perhaps trust the stranger who wanted to help. So beehives were packed up with care. Straw was wrapped around them during the first night and then cloth to hold the bees safely inside. He dug up some of his plants to take with him too. Along with some flowers and herbs; onions, garlic, a seedling pear, and small olive tree were all carefully taken from where they grew and their roots were wrapped in damp cloth. Wherever he pitched up he would build a new garden and it would be beautiful. For himself he had far fewer needs. A couple of changes of clothes and blankets were stuffed into a bag along with a bowl, spoon, a couple of candles, and cooking pot. As he was traveling by sea he took some grease from the roast lamb and rubbed it into his iron tools. That should stop them from rusting until they could be used again. As he worked a butterfly sat amongst the roses and smiled. Ariadne had worked a miracle.
On the second day he went for a walk through the surrounding countryside. It took a while but he found what he was looking for. Growing out of a crevice in the rocks he found a seedling fig and carefully he lifted it. As he walked he also found a clump of violets, a rose, and a some acorns. With his arms full he walked back to his garden to ready his acquisitions for transport. In the end there only two things he packed that had personal meaning. The first was his mother’s brooch which consisted of a simple twisted pin with a lady’s head on it. The second was a small olive wood box that his father had made. It was simple, rough in it’s construction, but he had found a small pebble and set it in the lid. He carefully scooped a handful of soil up and placed it inside before tying the box closed.
The boat slid onto the beach at dusk, just like the strange little butterfly god had promised. The small ship had a dark red sail that was embroidered with an upturned vase that curiously seemed to spilling out raindrops. It’s wood seemed to glow in the dying light and there was a lantern burning softly on the prow. There was no crew and no pilot, but then again there was also no rudder. Somehow the ship had made it this far so Demodocus stowed his belongings on board and took a seat in the prow. He felt sad to leave the home that he’d known all his life, sad at the thought of leaving his garden behind. Staring down into the darkening sea he sighed.
“Now carry me through to distant shores, into the embrace of Nyx most beautiful. Let me meet with Hypnos or with Thanatos, but tell me not until I see him face to face.”
Unseen hands caused the ship to push out back to sea and suddenly the sail was caught by a wind from the east. Slowly his home disappeared into the darkness behind him. Seeing no point in looking behind him any more, Demodocus made himself comfortable and looked up at the constellations spinning above him. Eventually he fell asleep, his ship moving west through the night. As he dreamed a moth fluttered into the lantern and swore when it singed its wings.
Demodocus woke up to warm sun on his face and the smell of salt air in his nose. He stretched, yawned, and then realised something was different from normal. The seagull peering down at him was definitely a clue. Then groaning he remembered. He was on a boat.
“Not a boat, a ship, and a very fine one too.”
Demodocus looked up at the seagull confused.
“Are you reading my mind? Are you a god?”
There was a rich laugh and he suddenly realized the voice was coming from the other end of the boat, ship, whatever it was. Sitting up and scratching his head he saw the god who’d visited him in the garden.
“Oh, it’s you. When did you come on board.”
Anteros laughed again and indicated that breakfast was waiting.
“You really don’t care about being pious do you?”
Demodocus shrugged and helped himself to some bread and cheese.
“I arrived with the ship, but figured you might prefer some time to be quiet. Leaving and all that. So god here, hello, turned myself into a moth until it was time for breakfast. You’re welcome by the way.”
“Erm, thank you. Hang on a minute, why am I welcome?”
Anteros looked up and winked.
“For me giving you the biggest adventure of your life, the culmination of everything you were born to be. For me releasing you from the past and giving you a future. For me letting you have a chance at truly being you in fact.” Anteros was grinning madly as he spoke and seemed to be seeing into Demodocus’ future. It seemed like it was very rosy. “So you’re very welcome.”
Demodocus scratched his head.
“For now all you need to know is that you are headed west, very far west.”
“But I’m nobody.”
Anteros laughed rich and golden at the comment.
“My dear mortal so what? Do you think every hero has to have a divine mummy and daddy? Honestly you mortals are so funny. How easily you forget how the smallest stone can spread ripples across the largest pond.” He smiled kindly at Demodocus who was looking decided unconvinced. “Look I know you feel like a very little pebble and that this must feel like a very large pond but you are, will, make waves. It must be all very confusing though. I wish I could explain. But sometimes it’s better to discover rather than to expect.”
“Maybe. I just wish I knew your name.”
“If you knew that you’d know my purpose and that might lead to expectations.” The little god laughed. “But don’t look so sad. I’ll tell you something worth more than knowing my name. I’ll tell you a secret but if you tell Zeus I’ll have to strike you down with snakes.” Demodocus jumped spilling the bread and cheese on the floor. As he gathered it up Anteros wiggled his fingers dramatically. “Relax. See no snakes, not my bag.” He helped Demodocus to re-set the tables then looked him straight in the eye seriously. “You are the child of Prometheus. Not by birth perhaps, but because he claimed you as his own. He took humanity and saw how meagre the gods had made them. Oh, I remember how small and huddled you all were in the cold and the mud, and there we were warm and toasty on Olympus. It was Prometheus who tricked Zeus into letting you keep the meat from any sacrifices so you didn’t have to survive on the bones. That made the old boy made I can tell you. When he stole fire for you then he truly showed what side he was on. I visit him you know; when I can, and when my lord and master isn’t home to see me do it. It’s a horrid sight. Rather reminds me of the end of the day in a slaughterhouse, but he never complains. He did it to let you be what you were meant to and would do it again and again. Does in fact with that bloody eagle. So whenever you feel small just remember that you have something bigger than a god who loves you, you have a titan.”
The two sat in silence for a while and the little god watched as Demodocus seemed to try an process what he’d said. The mortal was watching the African coast speed past and seemed lost in his thoughts. For his part Demodocus was confused. He had lost his home. He had lost his life, small as it was, only to find himself sitting on a ship which managed to sail without a crew, alongside a god that had no name. That he was heading west was all he knew about his future. Nothing made any sense except one simple fact which was that the further he journeyed the closer he came to edge of the world. He could feel it sucking at him, pulling him into the dark abyss and it frightened him. But he was apparently also the child of a titan which felt interesting as the knowledge settled in.
Over the course of the day Demodocus tended the plants that he’s brought with him. He’d rigged a canvas to shade them in the prow but even so they were wilting dreadfully. No amount of water could counter the salt air and heat. He became worried that they wouldn’t make the journey and mentioned it to Anteros. The little god smiled and showed him the seeds that came from Hegemone’s bag. Demodocus dismissed the proffered bag with an angry glance and stormed back to the prow. His back turned on the god he stroked the leaves and poured sweet water from the barrels onto the fabric wrapped soil. When finally there was nothing more do he worked his way into the very front of the prow and sat glaring at the horizon daring the edge of the world to appear.
By evening the silence had become deafening and Anteros decided to get to the bottom of things. He walked to the prow and sat with his back to Demodocus. A bottle of wine was passed back to the silent mortal which was taken without a word. Selene was high in the night sky before Demodocus spoke and when he did it with passion and without looking at Anteros.
“It’s easy for you lot.” He said with quiet fire. “Easy. You think you can hand me a sack of seeds and I’ll nod and bow and tug my forelock. You gods. You play with our lives and forget it’s us who have to live them. Those plants mean nothing to you, nothing, but they mean everything to me. They’re all I have left of my home. That pear was the last thing my dad planted before he died. He plucked a pear and shared it with me, then he took the seeds and planted them. It’s all I have left that’s living of him, and you offer me a few seeds. You give nothing and take everything. I find myself wondering how much more you can take before you find this well completely dry.”
Anteros picked up the bottle and saw it were almost finished. Taking a small pouch from his pocket he poured a little powder into it, swirling it before he placing it next to Demodocus. He stood up and there were tears in the little god’s eyes.
“Life is precious to me Demodocus,” he said. “All life. I’ll make sure your plants survive and you have my pledge that I will always watch over you too. Look, I know we gods seem harsh and cruel, perhaps we are, but we are all merely our nature. I don’t offer that as an excuse, just a reason. True we take, but some of us try to give back more when we do. We should be make land by tomorrow night.”
With that Anteros transformed into a moth. He circled the lantern for a while before settling on the prow to watch as Demodocus finished his wine.
Soon Demodocus was snoring loudly thanks to a large dose of valerian and with the addition of henbane a confused state of mind would be ensured when he woke. The little god smoothed the man’s hair gently and gently opened Demodocus’ eyes. A little poppy juice made sure that no pain would be felt before he blew emerald dust onto the surface and allowed the eyelids to slide shut. Placing his hand on the sleeping man’s forehead Anteros pronounced the only blessing he could before turning into a butterfly to hide himself.
The butterfly found a space within a coil of rope and sat thinking about what he had just done. What he had done, everything that he was doing was for the good of others. He was a god after all and one of the few who’s soul purpose was the betterment of human existence rather than seek to rule it. Knowing what the morning would bring didn’t help Anteros feel either worthy or divine right at that moment though. He felt rotten for this last act against an already abused mortal, but he had to believe that the ends would justify the means. He fluttered out and down to the stern of the ship. There the little god landed on the rail and allowed the stars to reflect in his multifaceted eyes. Aiêtos the eagle passed from across his eyes and as Delphinus followed him. Eagles and dolphins. In the end it all came down to Zeus and Poseidon, only it was a little god who had been told to fix the mess. Butterflies cannot cry but their heart can feel like it’s breaking. The bad news for them is they have two.
When morning came there was no shout of anger, no crashing about. Demodocus awoke and blinking rubbed his eyes. He rubbed them again. Slowly he rose and made his way to where Anteros had laid breakfast. Sitting, he put out his hand and found a piece of bread.
“I appear to have gone blind,” was all he said before he began to eat. “I suppose I should have expected something like this. At least it didn’t hurt.”
Demodocus sat looking straight at Anteros as he continued eating. His face was empty of emotion and the little god could see his eyes had been scoured to milky white by the emerald dust. Around the lashes green carbuncles had formed.
“Can you see anything?”
It was a stupid but important question.
“A little, light and shade, shapes.”
“You did what you needed I suppose.”
Anteros was shocked to the core. He thought he had been so careful.
Demodocus laughed, he actually laughed at Anteros.
“You should have chosen a different wine, I could smell the henbane before I even took a swig.”
“But you drank it anyway?”
Shock turned fascination for the little god. Demodocus shrugged making a face suggesting it had been a stupid question.
“Could you pass the wine? I’m not sure whether I’m seeing a goblet or the cheese.”
Anteros placed a goblet in the outstretched hand and filled it. He was shaking and sent wine spilling across the boards.
“Relax little god. I figured you were going to kill me and last night I would have welcomed it. Blind is a challenge, I’ll give you that, but it’s not an end. I can still feel, still hear, still taste, still smell. I’m sure I’ll find out why you did it at some point.”
He licked some wine that had been spilled off the back of his hand.
“But tell me how you did it. Neat trick and it didn’t even hurt.”
“Poppy juice and emerald dust.”
Demodocus looked genuinely impressed.
“Interesting. I suppose a why is out of the question.”
Anteros had known the question would come, had rehearsed a thousand answers, now only one seemed to be right. The truth.
“The island you are going to has another inhabitant.”
“She, more than any other mortal, has been mistreated by the gods. Two in particular. Big ones.” Anteros placed a lot of stress on the word ‘big’. “Listen, the reason I had to do what I had to do was to protect you. She, erm.”
“Turns men to stone with a look.” Demodocus pursed his lips then nodded like one workman to another approving of a job well done. “Very neat solution. I suspect she’s unhappy to have company though.”
It was Anteros’ turn to laugh, but his was through nerves not with humor.
“Surprisingly she was actually open to the idea once I told her Poseidon was after you. She was happy to let you have the western side of the island. There are conditions, no wandering on her side and a few other things, but as I say once I mentioned Poseidon.” Anteros looked closely at the mortal’s face and saw amusement. “About that.” He said quietly.
“Poseidon doesn’t even know who I am does he?”
Demodocus snorted with laughter.
“It was the boat.”
“Sea god takes offense at me, sends storms to wreck the garden, dozens of creatures to make my life something resembling Hades, most of them didn’t fall under his authority with by the way, and then there’s this little god who turns up and says ‘I’ve been sent by Zeus to save you’. I’ve seen better plots at the theatre. Honestly? A boat!”
Demodocus exploded with laughter and it took quite a long time for him to stop. By the time he had finished Anteros was mildly annoyed with this mortal who was making fun of him. Words like “sacrilegious” were passing through his mind.
“What,” said Anteros very slowly and calmly “was wrong with the boat?”
Two milky eyes managed to look at him pityingly.
“If Poseidon is so angry with me he wants to kill me then answer me this. Just why would he let me cross his domain on a boat? Surely I should be walking there along that coast there?”
“Ah!” Anteros saw the flaw immediately. It was just so obvious.
“There we go!” Demodocus asked for more wine and then looked serious. “So why?”
“Because my lord Zeus commanded me to try and do some good for Medusa. That’s the truth. I may have spoken a little too passionately about her fate when we were talking one day, but I always felt so sorry for her. So Zeus told me to get to it. My lord Poseidon was less than gentlemanly with Medusa. As for my lady Athena.”
“Poseidon’s a jerk, we all know that. Don’t really know the lady.”
“She has a sharp side to say the least.”
“But why all this?”
“Because when I looked out over the world I saw a spark, a unique one. It was one that reminded me of your father Prometheus. My one chance.”
“I knew you had divinity in you Demodocus. You lost your mother horribly, and saw your father grow cold and bitter through the living of life after she was gone. Yet you hold no anger. It’s amazing.”
“What’s the point in anger? The gods do what they want and we just have to survive their moods. I’ve no doubt Poseidon would have remembered my existence if I made too much noise, but I suspect a tidal wave would have solved any guilt he felt.”
“If you’d told me the truth I might have said yes.”
“I couldn’t take the risk of a no. Demodocus, forgive me. Please?”
“Nothing to forgive. You’re giving me a chance to become something different aren’t you? It’s not like I could have stayed where I was once you’d finished. How long till we land?”
“We’ll be there in a few hours.”
High on his balcony Zeus had been watching the little god’s progress with interest. He found himself becoming impressed by Anteros’ ingenuity. The mortal was a problem though. Drumming his fingers Zeus pondered the human’s lack of awe at the gods. It was sacrilege to think Demodocus didn’t fear them or what they could do. He just accepted everything. “Mortals should fear the gods not love them Anteros.” Annoyed, the king of the gods decided it was time to go and see his daughters.
Beneath the palace, through the treasuries, in a small antechamber hidden away from celestial eyes there was a door. Standing in front of it Zeus inserted a lightening bolt into the keyhole and breathed a word very quietly. Behind him a section of wall slide away revealing a narrow staircase and releasing the smell of ancient tombs. The king of the gods descended. At the bottom of the staircase was a cave. It was clean and tidy, with a homely, lived in feel so long as you could ignore the smell of mouldering bodies, and in the center was a small table. Three sisters sat at it. They were laughing, making sounds like gutters on a rainy day, as the youngest described in detail just how bouncy Hercules’ bottom was.
“Hello daddy,” said the middle sister.
“Lachesis.” Zeus nodded to her. “Atropos, Clotho.” He smiled at his three daughters. “Daddy needs your help.”
Clotho, the youngest, made a face.
“You know even you’re not allowed to influence us daddy.”
Zeus grinned as fathers tend to when their little girl catches them doing something naughty.
“I know darling, daddy doesn’t want to change anyone’s fate, he just wants you to tell him about someone. Two people actually. A Greek man called Demodocus and Lady Medusa.”
The three woman shot back in their chairs when they heard the names.
Lachesis was the first to recover.
“What could we possibly tell you that you don’t know already?
Zeus was smiling softly. Though in the world of men his daughters were thought of as withered hags he could only see them as fresh faced and beautiful. True, they were the only beings that even he had to bow to, but they would always, always be his little girls.
“Daddy needs to know two things sweethearts. Tell me whether they both have long lives, and tell me if they are happy ones. I don’t need to know the details, just those two things.”
Lachesis dug into her knitting bag and started rooting through the balls of wool. Finally she found what she was looking for and set them on the table. Slowly and carefully she unwound each one, running the thread through her fingers as though feeling for imperfections. Both pieces looked identical.
“See here daddy?” She said pointing at the first one. “Where it turns from grey to gold? The gold means there’s true happiness on both threads. Sorrow then happiness. They’re long too. Oh!” Lachesis was looking at the ends. One was a soft black color but the other was bright red but there was a silver thread running through it. “One will die naturally the other, the other will die as a result of your actions.”
“Which ones which sweetheart?”
Lachesis shook her head and stuffed the wool back into her bag.
“I can’t tell you you know that. To know would be influenced. You might try to change fate.”
The oldest sister had been silent but she now turned to her father and smiled.
“Daddy, don’t make me have to snip your thread. Please.”
It wasn’t a threat it was a request.
“I know my darling and it’s all about the rules.” He stood up to leave. “Thank you Lachesis you’ve been very helpful. Now come kiss your old dad. I need to get back to Olympus.”
The ship had made land. It had skirted the northern coast coming to rest just as the rocky shore turned west. Anteros helped Demodocus to disembark then realized that he was going to be left to unload everything. “Really should have turned him blind after we got here.” He muttered to himself as he splashed shorewards with a tree under each arm. Sitting on a rock the little god watched astonished as the mortal made his way about. He seemed to stop every now and then to bend down, and yes, he was actually eating soil! Anteros threw the last of the bundles on the ground and marched over to see what in Hades the man was doing.
It turned out that Demodocus was tasting for where the salt splash ended. He explained that since a certain somebody had taken his eyesight he needed to find a place where he could plant his collection. Somewhere where the salt wouldn’t kill them. Eventually after a lot of soil tasting Demodocus demanded that the little god bring him his spade and also the plants. There was something in the way that Demodocus asked that had Anteros running up and down the beach to collect everything requested. By the time that he had finished planting it was almost the middle of the night. “Night means nothing to a blind man.” Demodocus said curtly as he kept digging and planting. While he dug, Anteros sheepishly saw to other things like shelter and a fire. Things that humans were supposed to need.
Over the next few days things settled into something of a rhythm. Once the basics had been organized Demodocus seemed to lose interest in the home arrangements. If Anteros had left him to it he was certain the man would have worked all day on his garden and then curled up under the stars in a blanket. Each time he tried to bring up the subject of homeliness he was met with a grunt that the garden needed to come first and calls to lug water round all of the plants. True the place was beginning to look beautiful but still. What good was a garden without a home in the middle to sit and enjoy it? Besides there was a lady he was eager to introduce him to and Demodocus was distinctly frosty on that subject. Even the gentlest suggestion he might want to meet the his neighbors caused the mortal to march off to some corner and start viciously pruning.
Each evening, once Demodocus had collapsed into the arms of Morpheus, the little god would creep up to the top of the cliff. Sitting within a bush he was able to talk to the other target of his attention. It seemed that Medusa was fascinated by the newcomer.
“So curious,” she said. “He cares so little about himself but his plants are looking more and more like they’ve been raised by the gardeners of Olympus. He definitely seems to be making himself at home.”
“He would tell you that he has nowhere else to go. It seems where ever he is though he gets horticultural. I suspect he’s one of Hegemone’s but there’s no proof of course. Perhaps you and your sisters would like to take a tour of his garden?”
It was an obvious question and one Anteros had expected.
“He’s blind my lady. Well unable to see more than light and shade.”
Medusa laughed sarcastically.
“He just happens to be blind as well as on the run from Poseidon. It seems a little convenient, no?”
“Not convenient, necessary. My lady I took precautions knowing that if the two of you accidentally met there would be, erm, complications.”
“You blinded him!”
“I kind of needed to!”
Anteros realized he was sounding a little petulant and under the circumstances he suspected he had no right to be. To blind a mortal so he can talk to a lady who in turn can him instantly to marble might be considered excusable, in certain circles. To drag him half way across the world so he can talk to her, and so that one can fulfill the wishes of one’s employer, is however more than a little questionable. Petulance when challenged on the details was therefore more than a little out of place. Anteros sighed.
“I suspect you think I’m something of a villain my lady.”
“Not at all.”
“And you’re not angry?”
A hand was run across the foliage and Anteros realized that at any moment he could be turned to stone. He found himself both sweating profusely and wondering if he should adopt a more heroic pose than the crouch he was in. It would never do for a god to spend a marble eternity huddled up. Everyone on Olympus would never stop laughing.
“Why should I be angry? It’s not like you made the whole thing up.”
“AH!” Medusa roared. “You mean this is all just a game?”
The bushes were torn apart and Medusa found herself trying to turn an earthworm to stone. The little god was gone.
“Come back you mongrel.” She screeched. “I told you what I’d do if you were playing games with me.”
In the next bush over a moth relieved itself through sheer fright. It had all gone wrong and Hades knew what she’d do to poor Demodocus. From the sounds of smashing statues that were coming from her caves the Lady Medusa was making room for a new statue. The rest of the night Anteros sat clinging to the back of his leaf, shaking at the thought of what he’d find in the morning.
Just before dawn Anteros bolted. Never had a moth flown so quickly or so low to the sea, but he was running away from what he knew would happen. Finally he reached the coast of Africa and sat watching the surf crashing against the rocks. High above an eagle circled, or maybe it was a vulture, he has never been good with ornithology. He felt dismal. The worst of it was that he’s failed in his quest. Gods may be cowards, they may abandon their favorites, they can be vengeful, disinterested, or vicious, they may even transform mortals into shrubbery; but when they fail to fulfill their purpose the question becomes why they’re a god at all? The trouble was he had nobody he could talk to. This was so political. Everyone on Olympus had an agenda, an allegiance to one of the top three. It’s how everyone survived. As you trickled down the pile you found other allegiances, secret deals being done, get in the way of one of the little gods or goddesses trying to claw their way up the pantheon and you could find everything from snakes in your bed to having to watch all your worshippers slowly dying of plague. In the end all gods felt they deserved a turn with the thunderbolt even if they wouldn’t admit it in public.
There was one person who he could talk to though. Among the celestial throng there was one person whom Anteros was in the habit of being truly honest with. The eagle had given him the idea. Prometheus lay on his rock watching the bird go to work on his freshly repaired stomach with a resigned amusement. It had gone on for so long that it had almost become a game. “Guess the organ” was a fascinating pastime when you finally were able to remember that it would grow back. Pain became duller too with repetition. You knew how much it would hurt when your gall bladder was pulled out, how much you would scream when the beak pierced your stomach, it became almost boring. Prometheus watched as his stomach was split and the eagle’s head was thrust inside. This morning it was the left kidney which was dug out first which was rare. He lost that day’s game as he’d bet it would be the liver. This seemed to be a new eagle too. Perhaps the Caucasian Eagle had died finally of greasy consumption. Prometheus could only hope that was true.
Around midday, while the eagle was going to town on his lower intestine, a butterfly landed on a rock by his head. Prometheus nodded to it and adjusted himself in his chains. He made the same joke he always did.
“Hello Anteros, forgive me if I don’t get up but it’s dinner time.”
The little god whispered a hello in the titan’s ear and told him everything which had happened since their last meeting. The titan listened quietly to everything he was told, wincing only once as a piece of lung was pulled away. It didn’t help that Anteros was blubbing like a schoolgirl as he told his story. That was hardly godlike. But the titan knew quite a lot about feeling like you’d failed and could forgive the little god his sadness. Prometheus extended a finger and invited the butterfly to sit on it. He brought it close to his lips and kissed it softly.
“Little god, listen to me. True, everything has gone wrong. You’ve managed to infuriate the most reviled woman on earth. Knowing the lady’s reputation it’s true she’s probably tearing a mortal, who you blinded to get what you wanted incidentally, apart. But do you really know for sure that he’s dead?”
“If he’s not it’ll be a miracle. She was so angry I think she’d have tried to kill Zeus himself last night.”
“Did you see a body? Of course you didn’t, you ran away instead. Listen my friend, everyone will tell you that it’s over when they’ve chained you to the rock and the eagle’s pecking at your kidney. The truth is it’s not. The truth, Anteros, is we never know how the Fates will play out. All we can do is our best and believe what we’re doing is right. Look at me.” Prometheus shifted a little trying to move the eagle’s attention to his liver rather than his diaphragm. “Thing is I’m going to face an eternity of this and the storytellers will say I deserved it. But I dare you to try and take fire away or suggest humans keep the bones and give Zeus the meat. See what they say then. It was worth this,” Prometheus gestured at where his stomach had been, “to give them fire and food. Even if they don’t appreciate it. Medusa’s mortal so she’s just the same. You tried to bring happiness and you failed, so what? You tried. Knowing her reputation I suspect that she’s finding some fun in smashing up the place. Go back, face your fate like I had too. I suspect Zeus has a robin or something to chase you all ready lined up. Maybe a marbled life among the petunias might be better. Now do me a favor. Pop my liver out and get Mr Beaky here to work on that for a while please? When he punctures my diaphragm I have to spend the afternoon unable to breathe. Nothing ruins a Thursday afternoon like having suffocated and still being awake.”
Anteros plunged a hand into the guts of the titan and lifted out the liver. It was disgusting and the eagle was giving him a hungry look but his friend deserved some help.
“Come on peck at this you buzzard.” He said pointing at the undulating organ. “Thanks old friend. For everything.”
“Welcome. Oh and Anteros? Remember your purpose not what other’s tell you it should be. Don’t be limited to happiness when you really want to give people love. Ah, that feels better.”
Shuddering at the sight of his friend’s liver being torn apart Anteros feebly waved and flew west to meet his fate.
Once the little god had disappeared over the horizon Prometheus looked up. The eagle fixed him with a beady eye.
“Perhaps you might like to stop now my lord?”
The eagle burped, shimmered, and then Zeus was standing in it’s place looking stern. He looked a little green around the edges as if something he’d eaten had disagreed with him but was managing to maintain a regal air for the main part.
“Your liver tastes disgusting Uncle,” Zeus said and tried not to burp. “However, I appreciate your kind words to my nephew. Deserting a quest, much like treachery, isn’t something I ever condone. You seem to have convinced to see this through to the end. As a token of my thanks you can have the afternoon off.”
Zeus began to turn into an eagle then became himself again.
“And for your information, it will be a small boy pulling his wings and legs off daily not a robin. If he fails that is.”
With that the king of the gods turned into an eagle and flew off towards Olympus leaving Prometheus to try and poke his organs back in.
Back on the island things were actually going pretty well. Medusa had come charging into the garden fuming and was about to strike Demodocus. Her well aimed clawing of his throat was stopped however by a watering can being thrust into her hand and a demand for more water.
“Oh, I’m sorry I thought you were that pest of a god.” Demodocus said as he turned and peered at the shape in front of him. “Would you please be kind enough to fill the can for me? The pear is wilting a little.”
Medusa blinked and her hair blinked too. Wordlessly she went to the well and returned with the watering can full. She handed it over and watched as the man carefully moved round pouring water onto the soil. Once done he reached out and started stroking a leaf with a worried look on his face. It was fascinating to watch this man worrying about a plant when clawing, biting death stood inches away from him. As she continued to watch him feeling leaves and flexing twigs she found herself drawn into the man’s madness.
“Will it make it?” She asked. “The plant I mean.”
“It shouldn’t,” grunted Demodocus. “Bloody little god forced me to have to lift it at the wrong time of year and don’t even ask me about the effect of salt water on plants. No it shouldn’t have but it will.” He smiled at her broadly. “I’m just that good. It’ll be another year though before I can offer you any fruit. Sorry about that. It’s nice to have a neighbor though, you must be Medusa or are you one of her sisters? Can’t see very well now thanks to a certain someone.”
“Anteros said he blinded you. I’m sorry. Your roses are beautiful.”
“I can smell them at least. It’s a shame though I remember the colors that they can be but don’t know what these ones are. I used to love rose time.”
Medusa felt herself softening to the man. She felt the sadness of his loss but not with any pity. After all she’d lost so much herself.
“Most of them are red but there’s one bush which is curious.” She said softly. “The blooms are white but there’s a line of red running down one of the petals. It smells wonderful. Like the roses back home when I was a little girl.”
It happens sometimes. The gardener says it should be one thing but it’s true, beautiful nature creeps through. A bit like you Lady Medusa.”
Medusa’s claws flew out and she caught him by the throat.
“What do you mean? Like me?”
“Merely that you were changed into something by someone else but that person couldn’t change the beauty inside. It creeps out in your voice.”
She released him and was dumbfounded.
“I was told that you were hideous to look at. I’m blind so all I can hear is your voice and that’s beautiful. Would you like some mead? I brought some with me to tide me over till the bees start producing honey again.” He walked away towards the hut leaving Medusa staring at the rose. Something that it shouldn’t be but it’s true nature crept through. A tear rolled down her cheek and landed on the bloom she was looking at.
As twilight settled the two were still talking. The conversation turned to the sadness of homelands that had been lost and Medusa told the story of her childhood in Athens. Demodocus listened to the beautiful, sad voice as it described the marketplaces and temples of Athens, how she had run through the olive groves, and sung songs with her friends as they played. It was obvious how much she missed her home and tragic to think of how far she’d been cast down. He asked her to sing and Medusa obliged. The song she chose was one that her nurse had sung to her. A song about a rose and a prince that plucked it, treasuring it for a moment before throwing it away for a new bloom.
“A sad song.” Demodocus said quietly. “But beautifully sung, thank you.”
“I don’t remember many any more. I’ve not sung for years, since before Poseidon ruined my life.”
“I hope you’ll come and sing to me regularly. Perhaps you’ll find you remember other songs, happier ones.”
“I’d like that Demodocus. For now though I need to sleep.”
As she rose to leave she kissed the man tenderly on his forehead and then slid through the silent garden her mind racing at the tender kindness she had been shown.
Each day she came and sat with him and each time she left he would cut her a rose to take with her. Slowly a romance of sorts blossomed and the two would lie curled in the grass singing softly to each other through the night. During the day she would help him in their garden, for it had become theirs. The reviled one became a wife and her husband adored her. He would trace her face with his fingers asking her to speak and felt the tusks recede. In his mind’s eye his fingers could feel the soft skin and shapely lip that had been hers before the gods had interfered. She was beautiful to him and that beauty could never be taken away from them.
Two years after their first night when his beloved had sung so sweetly to him about unreturned love Demodocus went out early into the garden. When Medusa woke up she went out to find him and saw the gift that he had created. A pear tree and an olive had been planted either side of the door to their house and bent over. The two trees were grafted together so that over the years they would grow into one tree that formed an archway.
“When I first came here you asked whether the pear tree would live,” Demodocus said quietly. “You showed concern for my tree even though you were angry. I think that was the moment I fell in love with you.” He kissed her cheek. “The olive is to thank Athena for giving you to me. She was wrong for what she did but if I’m honest I’m glad she did it. I would never have met you otherwise my beautiful love. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No,” came the whispered response. “I love it.”
Anteros had watched the two of them in the early days. Of course he was pleased that the mortal had survived but as he sat in a tree fluttering his wings he saw that there was something powerful happening. That first night as Medusa had kissed Demodocus good night Anteros had been tempted to appear and apologize to them. He hesitated though. Then in the firelight he saw something wonderful. A small lead arrow was lodged in both of their breasts. His work was done even without him drawing his bow.
Nothing was ever said on Olympus about the couple. When Anteros walked into the throne room Zeus raised an eyebrow and a quiet nod was given in response. None of the gods noticed. A firm decree was issued a few days later that no hero should be sent to the reviled one’s island until further notice the couple were able to live quietly and undisturbed. Gods and mortals seemed to forget the island at the western edge of the world and for Anteros that was reward enough.
The little god didn’t interfere again. Instead he took pleasure in watching from a distance and rejoiced as love blossomed in the garden that the couple built at the end of the world. In time he saw Hestia take her place in the couple’s hearth and knew that everything was in it’s proper place in the household. After that his visits became fewer but it was always a pleasure to quietly sit in one of the trees and see the happiness that the two of them nurtured in each other.
In time Demodocus grew old and his wife grew old with him. There came a day in autumn when they had been harvesting pears and Medusa went to the house for another basket. Returning she found her love seemingly asleep on the grass and a stranger holding his hand. Thanatos, the only being able to look at her, softly smiled and nodded in answer to her unspoken question. The body was placed in the ground by her with all the tenderness and love that she could muster in her sadness. There under the pear tree he slept the eternal sleep and she hoped he would be building them a new garden in the Asphodel Fields for when she joined him. Her love had died and so Medusa was alone once more.
On the first day of winter after Demodocus had died Anteros visited Medusa. She found him standing in the middle of the garden with his wings wrapped round him.
“I’m sorry,” the little god said. “He was a good man and you had a wonderful life together.”
Medusa was tempted to rip the wings away and turn Anteros to stone for a moment but there in the garden she remembered everything that had been given to her and she thought of something she needed more.
“He was the best of men, the best, and don’t ever say he was less.” She sank down onto the turf. “I need you to carry a message to Zeus for me.”
“Tell him that I am ready. It’s time for another hero to come. Ask Zeus to find the best.”
“Of course my lady. I’ll make sure it’s one of Zeus’ sons. You deserve that.”
With that she slid back to the house to sit and wait for her own death to arrive. It came in time and when the hero Perseus arrived he found her standing quietly holding a white rose with a single red stripe. He didn’t need his mirrored shield, though when he recounted the tale he made it a daring tale to please his audiences. In fact the reviled one simply turned away from him lowering her head to expose her neck. A single stroke removed her head and his place in history was assured. A son of Zeus kept the promise made by the little god of returned love.
When Thanatos unite Medusa’s shade with her beloved Demodocus she found him standing in a quiet corner of the Asphodel Fields. There under the ghostly form of a pear tree grafted into an olive tree the couple kissed and spent their time hand in hand. In death Demodocus had regained his sight and Medusa was once more the beautiful maiden he had always known her to be. The two were in death as they had been in life. Two lovers that the world never knew the beauty of. But that really didn’t matter to either of them.
© Peter C. Simms and Words from a Vivid Book, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Peter C. Simms and Words from a Vivid Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.