In the days that followed, Medousa noticed a certain coolness settle in between herself and the other household slaves. She was puzzled, and a little upset. Since she had begun undergoing the Agoge with Cynisca, the other servants were already jealous of the place Medousa held with the princess. “Above her station,” they would say, or “arrogant” they would call her. Medousa had tried to make friends over the years, but none of the other Helots seemed to like her.
And yet for all that, Medousa was now noticing her relations with the other slaves becoming even worse. She started noticing sidelong glances being directed at her, and whispers of “whore” and “slut” being aimed at her. The male slaves behaved rudely toward her, though they never touched her, and the female slaves would have nothing to do with her.
One evening, when Medousa was preparing to help wait on the family at supper, she asked Ligeia, one of her fellow handmaidens, what the cause of their enmity was.
“As if you didn’t know, you conniving whore…!” came the answer, spat back at her.
Medousa felt as if she’d been slapped in the face.
“What do you mean?” she demanded.
Ligeia snorted. “We all see how the princess favors you. You’ve got her wrapped around your little finger, haven’t you? She can deny you nothing, can she? We’re on to you, you trollop; you’d just better stay away from my man, or you’ll be sorry!”
Medousa was stunned.
Over the next several days, Medousa worked to track down the source of these half-spoken rumors. It was Melantha, one of the kitchen maids. Medousa followed her around the house one day, secretly. She finally cornered her in a small storage room by the wine cellars. It was the heat of the day, and most of the other residents of the palace were taking their afternoon rest.
Melantha had gone into the room to fetch some sacks of flour, when Medousa slipped in behind her, unnoticed, closing the door after her. Melantha looked up to see Medousa suddenly standing over her.
“Chrysanthe-!” she noted, alarmed.
“Melantha,” Medousa greeted her in low tones.
The smaller girl appeared nervous. Medousa reveled in her fear, finding a perverse pleasure in being the cause of someone else’s fear, rather than being herself fear’s victim.
“I have been hearing things around the palace, Melantha,” she said. “You’ve been telling tales about me.” Medousa fixed her with what she hoped was a withering stare. “I don’t appreciate it.”
Melantha drew herself up as tall as she could, sniffing at Medousa. But she made no answer. Frustrated at her lack of response, Medousa cried out “Why?”
“You bitch!” Melantha snarled, backing up against the wall. “Where is my Gallus? Where is he?”
“What do you mean, ‘Where is he?'”
“You killed him!” Melantha cried out. She stepped forward and slapped Medousa across the face, leaving a bright red mark. Medousa stood frozen in shock.
“You tried to seduce my man, you filthy slut! And when he refused you, you had the princess send him to the iron mines!”
“But–But–He attacked me!” Medousa stammered in reply.
Melantha struck Medousa again.
“Liar!” she spat. “Gallus loved ME!”
Medousa stood, open mouthed.
“Weren’t Agis and his friends enough for you, you whore?” Melantha sneered. “You think that you’re untouchable because the princess is your mistress; But just you wait until she learns the truth about you! You’re nothing but a bitch in heat!”
Medousa’s eyes narrowed. She could feel rage building up, like hot coals in her belly. She scowled at Melantha as the smaller girl continued to heap abuse upon her. And then, Melantha flew at Medousa, trying to rake her nails across the taller girl’s face.
But Medousa had reached the end of her patience. She extended her hand, gripping Melantha by the throat. She squeezed. She walked forward, banging the back of Melantha’s head against the wall. She enjoyed watching Melantha’s eyes bulge with panic as she tried desperately to slip Medousa’s grasp. She was strong, but Medousa was stronger, and well trained. Bracing her fingers under Melantha’s jawline, Medousa lifted her off the ground, squeezing even tighter. Medousa considered that she could easily kill her fellow slave if she didn’t let go. Just as Melantha’s eyelids began to flutter, Medousa flung her to the ground, striving to bring her anger under control.
Melantha struggled to her knees, coughing and sputtering. “BITCH!” she hissed. “I’ll see you sold off as a pornai!”
Medousa’s fists clenched.
“We’ll tie you up in the stables and let all the men have you!” Melantha staggered to her feet. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Melantha started trying to inch her way around Medousa to get to the door.
“We’ll bring dogs to rape you!” she shouted. “We’ll spit you on stallion cocks! And I’ll make sure your precious princess and her friends see you-!”
And then, with a feral growl, Medousa fell upon Melantha. She rained savage blows down upon the kitchen slave. She would not let Agis touch her again. She would not let brutal clods like Gallus hurt her again. She would not let Melantha drive a wedge between her and Cynisca.
Medousa enjoyed the hollow thumping sound her fists made against Melantha’s body. She wept in fear of Melantha’s threats, and also took joy in the kitchen slave’s cries of pain. She would make sure that Melantha would never be able to hurt her. She would silence the vicious tales being told about her amongst the palace Helots. She would make sure no one would try to harm her, or take away from her the only person who had ever treated her like a friend.
All of Medousa’s anger and fear burst forth and added terrible fury to her attack. She no longer saw just Melantha under her fists, but Gallus, and Agis. She saw old Megaera. She saw the young men who had raped and murdered her mother.
Finally, Medousa lifted Melantha up by the front of her ruined tunic, ready to dash her to the floor. But as she looked into the eyes of the barely conscious kitchen slave, she suddenly realized, with nauseating clarity, that she would indeed kill her if she didn’t stop now.
Afraid, Medousa dropped Melantha atop some of the stacked bags of grain on the floor. Melantha stared up at Medousa, unable to speak, her eyes filled with terror, already slipping in and out of consciousness.
Medousa fled back to her room, frightened of her own anger and at how easily it rose in her. She spent the rest of the day in bed, shivering as waves of fear, anger, sorrow, and regret washed over her. She tightly hugged Alala and tried not to cry. She whispered over and over to herself, making supplication to Athena;
Oh, Athena Polioukhos! Parthenos! Tritogeneia! Whose shield is thunder,
I beg you– Do not crush my spirit with anguish, Lady,
But come to me now, if ever before you heard my voice in the distance!
Come to me now, please! Release me from my fears! Release me from my anger!
Fill me with your wisdom and strength, and fight for me!
Fight at my side, Mistress!
The next day, relations between Medousa and the rest of the palace Helots were far worse than before. While things seemed quiet for her, Medousa gradually realized that no one would speak to her, nor would anyone even look at her. If there were necessary tasks that had to be performed, they were done in tense silence, without anyone looking Medousa in the face. A few of the males were openly resentful, but afraid. None of the females would acknowledge her presence. Medousa was now isolated by others’ fear of her.
The talk around the household was of poor Melantha. She was quite badly hurt and was on her sickbed. The doctor said she would be at least a week recovering, perhaps longer. Although there had been no witnesses, the other Helots knew it had been Chrysanthe. But without any kind of real evidence, no one dared to make accusations against her. The household managers were annoyed at the loss of work from the kitchen slave, but more than that, they were concerned about the incident itself. They couldn’t afford to have any Helots about who would so violently assault their fellows in the palace. It would be bad for morale, and bad for discipline. But again, the fear with which Medousa was now regarded ensured the silence of any who might have spoken up.
Maia, who tended the battered and broken girl between visits from the physician, pieced together what had happened. She had gotten a little of the story from Melantha herself, and for the rest, listened carefully to the talk amongst the other slaves. She could hardly believe it.
Maia, her face creased with worry, went to see Medousa in her quarters.
“Chrysanthe. What happened? What did you do to Melantha?” Her gentle voice betrayed horror.
Tearfully, Medousa tried to explain and apologize, terrified of being formally accused to the chief servants and stewards.
“Oh, Chrysanthe!” Maia cried sadly. “Melantha was a child like you, once. How could you have done such a thing?”
Medousa felt sick with regret and shame. Her anger had not only failed to accomplish anything, it made her situation even worse than it had been before. Medousa had thought to silence the vicious gossip about her. She had thought to stop others from trying to hurt her. But not only was she even more isolated than she was before, Medousa knew she was in danger of being found out and severely punished. Her fear kept her to herself, and she went about her duties as meekly and quietly as possible. And the other Helots’ fear of Medousa kept them from speaking out against her, or trying to injure her reputation any further. Indeed, Medousa had already done that far more thoroughly than any of the other Helots could have done.
She knew that not even Maia would love her anymore as she once did. And worse–She once caught Megaera’s eye as they passed each other in one of the common rooms. The old woman smiled and nodded at her, a brief glint of respect in her eye, as if proud. Medousa shuddered then, feeling suddenly very cold. She couldn’t bear to imagine what Cynisca might think of her now. She grasped her amulet, begging Athena for forgiveness.
Over the next several weeks, Medousa performed her duties as efficiently and as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. Gradually, relations between her and the other slaves became less raw, but never was Medousa forgiven. The chief stewards eventually decided that the incident with Melantha was an isolated incident, and since no one came forward with any reliable information, it was eventually forgotten. The nobles of the palace were aware that something had disturbed their community of Helots; but they did not bother themselves about the affairs of slaves. As long as the household continued to function smoothly, they saw no reason to lower themselves.
Medousa took care to suppress and control her feelings. She shepherded her anger and despair carefully, letting it out only in her training at the Agoge. She became both fearless and merciless in combat, not through any kind of bravery, but through the kind of fearlessness that comes from emptiness. The numbness that comes from having given up, from counting life as no better or worse than death.
Chionis approved of Medousa’s new warrior aspect, though he did not suspect the cause of it. He would refer to her as a “miserable bitch” in combat, as a mark of honor. Medousa no longer cared one way or the other. She became formidable and cold.
Cynisca noticed the change in her Helot and did not like it. She knew something was wrong. She decided to take Medousa riding so that she could talk to her alone, away from everyone.
Cynisca loved horses. She loved caring for them and riding them. Her parents had given her a magnificent, unbroken, bay colored horse for her to keep and train. Cynisca always felt peaceful and meditative when she worked with her pets. One day, after they finished their Agoge and headed home, Cynisca decided to go to the palace stables before returning home to wash and prepare for dinner. She ordered Medousa to attend her. Medousa followed after her mistress obediently. Medousa remained silent, and appeared uncomfortable. Cynisca was concerned, but held her question for the moment.
They reached the paddocks, and Cynisca approached the stables.
“Wait here, Chrysanthe,” Cynisca ordered. Medousa stood as Cynisca went to her stallion. She spent a few moments soothing the high-spirited beast, and smoothly fit a set of reins on him. She led him out into the paddock where Medousa waited for her.
“Be careful, Chrysanthe,” she lectured, “Don’t approach him from the back or front directly, cos he’s strong, and you could get hurt if he gets scared.”
Medousa simply stood, waiting quietly. She barely reacted at all. Cynisca started to feel frustrated. “Follow me,” she ordered her slave.
Cynisca led the horse out of the paddock, keeping to its side. “Isn’t he a beauty?” she sighed. She mounted him in one swift, powerful movement. She rode him around the small enclosure briefly, using only the reins and her knees. She didn’t bother with bit and bridle or a saddle.
“Come on, Chrysanthe.”
Cynisca reached down, and grasping Medousa by the arm, swung her up across the steed’s broad back, right behind her. Medousa was startled. Though she was not a gifted horsewoman like her mistress, Cynisca still insisted on teaching Medousa how to ride, and would often bring her along when she would tend her stallion. But never had she ridden with Cynisca like this.
Now, with Medousa in place behind her, Cynisca rode out into the fields around the palace. Medousa noticed that they were following almost the same route they took when Cynisca took her for that run two or three months ago.
They rode on in silence for a while. Medousa felt vaguely uncomfortable. The rhythmic rolling of the horse felt queer between her legs, though not unpleasantly. And she had to hold on to Cynisca firmly if she didn’t want to fall from the animal. Between the rocking gait of the horse beneath her, and being pressed up against her young mistress, Medousa felt as if she had crickets hopping around in her stomach.
“Medousa…?” Cynisca began, using her real name.
Medousa felt the crickets in her stomach become sparrows.
“You don’t have to call me ‘mistress when it’s just us, you know. I keep telling you– ‘Cynisca.’ Call me by my name.”
“I’m sorry, Cynisca.”
“What’s wrong, Medousa?”
Medousa sighed, hesitant. Cynisca continued.
“You’ve changed recently. You’ve gotten cold and hard, like iron. I don’t like it.”
Silence, as Cynisca awaited a response. She felt a drop of water trickling down her back, and realized Medousa was crying. “Medousa…?”
Cynisca brought her mount to a halt by the same pool she and her slave had run to before. She hopped down and tied up the stallion’s reins to one of the trees, then helped Medousa down. She drew her to the grassy bank by the pond and forced her to sit with her.
“What’s wrong, Medousa? What’s troubling you?” Medousa stood and began pacing, tears falling, but her face a mask.
“It’s not the men-folk again, is it?” her mistress asked.
“No…Cynisca…. Not exactly.”
Cynisca, frustrated, stood. “Well, what, then?” she demanded. “I’m worried about you.”
Medousa’s throat caught in a sob. “About me…?”
“Of course, about you,” Cynisca replied. “You skulk about at home like a mouse, you’re as vicious as a wolf at training, and the rest of the time, it’s as if your spirit has left you.” Cynisca paused as she watched Medousa pacing. “Medousa… I like you. I–I think of you as more than just my Helot. Seeing you like this, I’m worried.”
Medousa suddenly stopped, and turned to look at Cynisca. Her tears flowed freely, and her composure rapidly dissolved.
“Mistress… Would you ever…? I mean, you wouldn’t–”
“Medousa, you’re trembling like a leaf in Autumn– What’s the matter?” She stepped forward and grabbed her Helot by the shoulders.
With a wail, Medousa fell to the ground and grasped Cynisca around the knees. “Please don’t sell me, Mistress! Please! Please! Don’t send me away!”
“Please don’t sell me off, Mistress,” Medousa cried. “Please don’t get rid of me!”
Cynisca pulled Medousa off with some difficulty and knelt down in the grass by her. She put her arms around her handmaid as Medousa babbled. She told Cynisca of her treatment by the other servants after Gallus had been sent away, and of her confrontation with Melantha. Shaking and crying, Medousa told Cynisca of Melantha’s threats and accusations.
“I never meant to hurt her so badly, Mistress! I was angry and afraid. I didn’t mean it–I just wanted her to stop! I didn’t mean it! Please don’t send me away!”
Cynisca sat quietly, holding her shaking and crying slave.
“Medousa,” she whispered to her. “I would never send you away. Everything will be alright. I promise.”
Medousa cried herself out, clinging tightly to her mistress. She and Cynisca sat together in silence for a long time. As the sun began to sink low in the sky, Cynisca and Medousa began their ride home. On the return ride, Cynisca put Medousa in front of her as they rode home, her arms around her Helot as she handled the reins.