With the early summer came the Hyacinthia festival in Sparta. One of the most important festivals for the city, most Spartans, no matter where they were, would try to return in time to participate. That included Medousa and her companions. But Medousa herself, was preparing to take part in the Athenian festival of Plynteria–When a sacred wooden image of Athena was to be taken to the sea and ritually bathed by young virgins in the service of the Goddess.
And so, for a few weeks, most of the Spartans left to return for the Hyacinthia. Medousa was left alone with just a few Helots.
And when Ajax saw that Medousa would be on her own for some time, he decided to approach her formally. He did so shortly after the Washing Festival. He waited until after the ritual processions were completed late that afternoon, and caught Medousa on the Acropolis by the shrine of Athena Polias as she walked along with her teacher, the high priestess.
Ajax called her aside, embarrassed to be seen by the high priestess. He drew Medousa to the low wall by the iron chariot where they would have a small amount of privacy.
–Though Lysimache kept an eye on them from a distance.
“What is it?” Medousa asked.
“Well,” Ajax began, haltingly. “Well, I–I like you Medousa,” he said. “I know we haven’t known each other that long, yet, but–”
Medousa quirked an eyebrow at him, puzzled.
“Well. I’d like to get to know you better.”
Medousa was all at once surprised, embarrassed, and delighted. She also was unsure of what she thought she was hearing from the Salamite noble.
“Ajax? What are you saying?”
He looked down, smiling, suddenly shy. He took her hand, drawing her closer. Medousa smiled, but slipped his grip when he tried to put his arm around her waist.
“You…like me…?” Medousa asked, teasing Ajax, and enjoying his discomfort.
Ajax was surprised at her resistance.
“Medousa? I-well. Yes. –I wanted to ask….”
Medousa grinned, and folded her arms. “What? What is it you want to ask me?”
“Well, I was wondering what you could tell me about your family, and, ah, background.”
“Why? Why do you want to know about me?” Medousa asked.
“Well, if it’s not improper, I want to… Well. I would never do anything to shame you. But, I’d like to–”
Ajax heaved an almost exasperated sigh, and before Medousa realized what he was doing, he drew her close and kissed her.
“Medousa,” Ajax said. “I think by now you know how I feel about you. I want you to be my bride. I want to talk your family–”
“But– Ajax…. I have no family….” Medousa stammered.
“Then I will talk with your guardian,” Ajax replied. “And I will send my brother back home to Salamis, to speak to my father King Telemon–”
Medousa backed away slightly. “Ajax,” she began. “You don’t really know me. If you are truly a prince, I am not a suitable bride for you. You– You don’t know who and what I really am.”
“I don’t care,” Ajax retorted. “I know you well enough. Who and what you think you are is irrelevant. I know what you are to me.”
“Ajax…” Medousa trembled.
“I love you.”
Medousa suddenly saw Ajax with new eyes, the realization dawning on her that he wasn’t just teasing her. In the next moment, Medousa cleared her head; surely this could not be happening.
Blushing, she ran back to Lysimache’s side, hoping the high priestess hadn’t seen that kiss. She began regretting her time dallying with Ajax.
Ajax, glancing after her, turned, and went down to the lower part of the city.
“Who was that?” Lysimache asked.
Medousa smiled a wistful, brittle smile. “His name is Ajax,” she said. “We met him and his brother a few weeks after we arrived. They happened to interrupt us when we were training at the olive grove outside the city.”
Lysimache looked after him. “He’s young, and good-looking,” she said. “Is he interested in you?”
“Yes, I think so,” Medousa said. “He said– He told me he loves me.”
“Do you know anything about his family?”
Medousa looked up. “Not really, apart from what he tells me.”
“And that is…?”
“Well, he’s from Salamis, and he’s a prince…he’s wealthy….”
“Ha! The usual, then, eh?”
Medousa laughed with her. “I suppose so,” she answered cautiously.
“What? Don’t you know?”
“Not really. I’ve never been courted before.”
Lysimache laughed again, as they strolled back to the temple.
“I think you’re joking with me, Medousa.”
“I’m not!” she protested.
“A woman as beautiful as you?”
“As common as me…” Medousa muttered.
“What do you mean?”
Medousa lowered her voice. “Mistress, you know; I was once Cynisca’s handmaid. I used to spend all my time with her. The well-born, well-bred fellows never paid me any mind, except to use me for their own pleasure. Were it not for Cynisca, I’d have been–”
“So–You’ve never been with a boy before?” Lysimache interrupted.
“No,” Medousa replied. “But Cynisca and I used to daydream about raising families of our own together. …Being aunties to each other’s children, and so…” She trailed off, smiling at the memory.
Lysimache shrugged. “And why don’t you?”
Medousa stopped in her tracks.
“What?” she asked, startled.
“Why don’t you?” the high priestess repeated. “What’s stopping you from raising a family of your own?”
Medousa was at a loss for words. She gaped dumbly at Lysimache for a moment, and then, collecting herself, answered “I thought I had to remain a virgin as a priestess of Athena.”
“Well, I have to remain a virgin, because I serve Athena Parthenos. But Kosmo, priestess of Athena Polias is married. And so is Trapezophoros, priestess of Athena Nike–”
“So, in Athens,” Medousa pondered aloud, “I could marry and raise a family? Even as a priestess of Athena?”
“Why certainly!” Lysimache laughed, surprised. “Of course, while you serve here at the Parthenon, you must remain chaste, and I don’t know what the customs are for the Goddess in Sparta, but here in Athens, we are quite civilized.”
“But– I’m only a freedwoman. I’m not really a respectable woman, like Cynisca or Helen.”
“Nonsense, my dear. Your past is irrelevant. You are free, and a full citizen of your own polis, yes?”
“Here in Athens, we attach no stigma to your past as a slave. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Medousa.”
Medousa began to feel as though a nest of serpents were squirming around in her belly. She felt at once numb and yet frightened. Here in Athens, no stigma would be attached to her past, and even as a priestess with a respectable position, she could also have a family of her own? She needed to get away someplace quiet to think. Medousa was terrified. Lysimache noticed her change in pallor.
“Are you feeling alright, my dear? You suddenly don’t look well.”
“I–I’m fine,” Medousa lied. “Just a little tired. I–I’ll see you tomorrow…?”
Lysimache smiled and dismissed her. Medousa ran almost blindly to her house and spent the rest of the day curled up in bed with Alala, shaking, unsure as to whether she was feeling ill, or excited. She couldn’t tell. “May your graceful form glimmer close to me as I pray, Athena,” Medousa murmured. “Oh, Goddess, beseeched by scholars and warriors! Release me from confusion and this dreadful agony!”
For a long time, Medousa’s mind and heart skirmished. And while there was no clear victor on the battlefield of Medousa’s heart, while her friends were gone, Medousa began spending much more time with Ajax.