Athens; Medousa’s New Suitor

The weeks passed, and Medousa, Cynisca, and Helen, and the Salamites became companionable.  They spent days training together in athletics and combat, and reading philosophy. Sometimes, they would meet in the evenings either at their house, or at Ajax’s lodgings for a light supper and conversation. And when Ajax learned that Medousa was studying at the Parthenon, he made it a point to be on the Acropolis as often as he could, that he might catch a glimpse of the golden-haired Amazon. Sometimes, he loitered about the Agora, near the Spartans’ market stall. At first he was too nervous to make himself known to her, but as time went on, he began strengthening his courage.

Medousa often caused a stir in the Agora as she made her way back home from the Parthenon. She got many cat-calls as if she were a common harlot. Bad enough she, a woman, showed herself in public; but her flowing golden hair, and piecing, empyrean, cobalt eyes were a painful temptation to those around her.

After a while, Medousa became used to ignoring the cruder of the men, but one day, one of the young men in the marketplace actually reached out to grab her. Reacting swiftly, Medousa took his arm, bent the wrist in further than it was meant to go, while at the same time pulling his fingers apart and locking his elbow up behind his back.

The fellow squirmed and grunted in pain, trying desperately to flee as Medousa scolded him.

“How dare you? I should break your Athenian arms to teach you a lesson!”

While there was some laughter at the situation, most of the other men, indignant that a woman should not only show herself in public, but also attack one of their fellows with impunity, began to close in on her. Some in the crowd started calling for Medousa to be taken away. Medousa shoved the youngster away from herself toward his comrades. She smiled sweetly, but took on a ready posture, anticipating a fight. Ajax happened to be amongst the crowd at the time. He had been following her discretely, trying to work out something he wanted to say to her. Ajax remembered that smile, and decided that something should be done to de-escalate the situation.

He clapped a hand down on her shoulder.

Medousa immediately grabbed it, without turning to look. She twisted his fingers back, and spun around under his arm, twisting the elbow as well, until she was behind him.

“Medousa! It’s me!” Ajax cried, in some pain.

Surprised, Medousa released him, and allowed him to escort her away from the market crowds. As they descended to the residential areas of the city, Ajax shook his arm, flexing his fingers and massaging his forearm.

“That hurt!” He smiled at Medousa as they walked, but soon became serious. “You should be more careful,” he admonished her. “Athenian customs are different from Sparta’s.”

Medousa tilted her head up, looking down her nose, and laughing. “I should be careful?”

“I mean it, Medousa,” Ajax warned. “Even you couldn’t take on an entire crowd on your own.”

“I shall have to rely upon you to rescue me, then,” Medousa teased. “Don’t think I haven’t seen you sneaking around after me on the Acropolis.”

Ajax blushed.

Medousa laughed. “Well, I take your point; I suppose I should have one of our male Helots escort me about the city.”

 

#

Ajax walked along across the meadow toward the sea. At the near horizon, where the gentle slope of the field dropped off into the low cliffs over the beach, he saw an old man sitting on the ledge. He seemed to be intently watching the sea below him.

Ajax called out a greeting, but it went unheeded. Perhaps the man was deaf? As Ajax drew closer, he could see that though old, the man still had vigor in his limbs. He was broad shouldered and deep chested, and his dark, flowing locks were shot through with grey. His face was lined and weathered, and his eyes were grey-green. On the ground next to him, his belongings were tied up in a small fisherman’s net at the end of a trident. He looked up as Ajax approached.

“Sorry, boy,” he said, offering a cheerful grin. “Didn’t notice you there!”

Ajax returned his smile. “I was just taking a walk down to the sea,” he replied.

The old man rose, his smile becoming rather lascivious.

“You picked a good day for it, kid,” he told Ajax, laughing. He picked up his net and trident. “The scenery today is especially lovely.” He winked at the young Salamite noble and turned to go.

Puzzled at the old man’s words, Ajax went to the edge of the cliff and sat down, looking out over the sea. After a moment, just beyond the surf, he noticed a lightly tanned, golden-haired form swimming back and forth, limbs flashing in the sunlight.

It was Medousa.

Ajax leapt to his feet, and turned back to the old man, indignant. But as he turned, the old fellow was nowhere to be seen. There was no cover on the open plain, from there up to the City. How could a man simply disappear like that? Shrugging off the mystery in favor of Aphrodite, he returned to gaze at Medousa. He guessed that he was just above their training beach near Phalerum. He found the steep path down to the sands that they had used before when returning to the city. Spying Medousa’s clothes and towel, he sat down by them in the sand and continued to watch, lost in admiration of her.

Eventually, Medousa swam in toward shore. Even as she reached the shallows, and stood, and strode toward the beach, Ajax remained rapt, hardly even breathing. Ajax didn’t notice Medousa’s discomfort as she saw him sitting by her clothes, and she slowed, coming to a halt where the gentle waves licked at her ankles.

Ajax continued to stare at Medousa. Her tawny skin glowed, muscles rolling smoothly beneath. Ajax lost himself, transported by the swelling curves of Medousa’s hips and breasts.

“Aphrodite plucked from the waves,” he thought to himself. Medousa raised an eyebrow as a small smile brightened her face. Had he said that out loud…?

Ajax suddenly noticed that Medousa was simply standing there, not approaching. Blushing, he quickly got to his feet. He tried to avert his face, but his eyes remained fixed on her. Smiling, he bent down, took Medousa’s towel, and stepping forward, held it out to her.

Medousa regarded him, eyes narrowing, but still smiling. She tentatively moved toward Ajax and took the proffered towel. She seemed skittish, like a colt. Ajax stood back and continued to watch as she dried herself.

“How long have you been watching me?” Medousa demanded.

“Not long,” Ajax replied “I was taking a walk down to the sea, and I saw you swimming. From up there–” He gestured toward the plain above the beach behind him.

Medousa quickly rubbed herself dry, watching Ajax watch her, vaguely uncomfortable. As a Spartan athlete, nudity of either sex didn’t bother her particularly. But there was something about the way Ajax stared at her that confused her. He stared at her the way Cynisca might stare at her when they made love. But Ajax only looked, with longing. He didn’t try to approach her, or touch her. He wasn’t like any of the boys back home. Yet he still clearly wanted her. He didn’t speak to her roughly or coarsely, like the boys back home did. Medousa wasn’t sure how to react toward this young prince of Salamis. She almost enjoyed his attention.

No… Not ‘almost….’

And then Medousa noticed that Ajax was holding out her tunic to her. She said nothing, but handed him her towel as she dressed. And still, after she dressed, Ajax continued staring at her. Boldly, yet gently, she thought.

Medousa laughed nervously. “You act as though you’ve never seen a woman before,” she teased.

“You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” Ajax said softly.

Medousa blushed, but said nothing. She couldn’t understand why Ajax didn’t try to touch her. But she understood that she liked this kind of attention. Ajax obviously desired her. But he did not make her feel common or low. Ajax gave the impression that he found himself fortunate simply to be in her presence. Not even Cynisca seemed to look upon her that way.

“Cynisca and Helen will be busy in the Agora until the evening,” Medousa said, nervously trying to make conversation. “I finished my duties at the temple earlier, so I came to the beach on my own to train….”

“May I walk with you back to the city?” Ajax asked.

Medousa nodded, smiling.

They walked up the beach to the cliff. But as they began to ascend the path up to the meadow, Ajax gently touched Medousa’s arm.

“Medousa…?”

She paused in her step, and turned to him, warily.

“What is it?” Medousa asked.

“Would it be alright if I kissed you?”

Medousa stood a moment, shocked. She looked up at Ajax, nervous.

“I’ve never kissed a boy before,” she murmured. “None have ever– I mean– The boys I knew back home just tried to take what they wanted from me….”

“May I…?”

Medousa was frightened, but also curious. She nodded shyly, and Ajax took her in his arms gently and kissed her, softly yet hungrily, like a thirsting man sipping a cup of sweet wine. He broke the kiss after a few moments, and held her another moment longer. Then he released her.

Medousa could feel the blood singing through her veins, as swiftly as wild horses. And yet she could not feel her heart beating. It was as if time was standing still for her. She felt as though she were dancing in a bright fog, all of her senses only able to register the man before her. Only Cynisca’s touch had ever done this to her before.

Holding hands, Ajax and Medousa walked back to the city.

#

That night, as they lay together, Cynisca noticed that Medousa seemed on the one hand, especially affectionate, and yet on the other, somewhat distracted.

“What’s wrong, Medousa?” she asked.

“Oh, nothing, Little Puppy. I’m just in a strange mood.” Medousa smiled and held Cynisca tightly to her.

Cynisca purred as Medousa idly stroked her and kissed her shoulders, asking “What happened today to put you into such a mood?”

“Ajax,” Medousa sighed.

“Ajax?” Cynisca repeated, looking up. “What about him?”

Still caressing her lover, Medousa told her of her afternoon encounter with Ajax, carefully omitting the kiss.

“He wasn’t like the boys back home,” she sighed. “He wouldn’t touch me. He liked me, I could tell. But he never tried to take me, or shame me, or hurt me.”

“Good,” Cynisca said, laying her head back down on Medousa’s breast and twining her limbs tightly about her.

“That means I can trust him with you when Helen and I go home for the Hyacinthia.”

 

#

A few mornings later, Medousa took up her gear and went out to the olive grove where she and her friends were wont to train. Her duties at the Parthenon again put her own schedule at odds with her friends’ training schedules.

“Medousa!”

She looked over. It was Teukros, walking along with Ajax. They were heading toward the city even as she was leaving it. From the looks of them, they were just returning from a morning swim. They turned and fell into step with the Spartan woman, eliciting no small amount of head-wagging and tongue clicking from the thesmothetai as the brothers flanked Medousa on either side.

She looked from one to the other, smiling.

“And where have you two been already this morning?”

“Down to the beach,” Teukros said.

“We were practicing wrestling on the sand, and then we went for a swim,” Ajax explained.

“Well, I haven’t trained yet, and I have to get to the Parthenon later this afternoon, so….”

“Oh, come on,” Ajax protested. “You’re always training. Come have some fun with us!”

Medousa’s eyes narrowed.

“‘Fun…?'” she asked.

“Sure!” Teukros broke in. “Hey–Did you ever play ephedrismos when you were a child?”

Medousa laughed, nodding. “I used to play with Cynisca and Helen when we were at Agoge together in Sparta–Why?”

Ajax grabbed her hand, making Medousa jump. Ajax didn’t seem to notice.

“Come on,” he urged, laughing.

And the three of them ran out to the pasture land outside the city walls.

Ajax and Teukros found a large flat boulder in the corner of a farmer’s field, and started looking around for another, smaller stone to set atop it. The found several, and started to build a small balanced cairn on top of the larger rock.

Medousa smiled as she watched them, and set about searching for smaller stones they could throw at their target.

They spent the next few hours dashing about and laughing like children as they played. They lined up several paces away from their little tower of rocks and threw their stones at it. Because there were only three of them, the winner of the round of ephedrismos would then make the two losers play a round of morra to see which one would have to carry the winner about on their backs. So, if Medousa won, Ajax and Teukros would face each other, hands hidden behind their backs. At Medousa’s signal, her friends would extend their hands, displaying various numbers of fingers. Whichever one of them first called out the correct total number won the round, and the loser had to carry the victor of the current round of ephedrismos.

Teukros won most often, being the best marksman. But sometimes Medousa won, and sometimes it was Ajax. And then the loser had to carry winner about on their back as he covered their eyes. The winner of the morra round would stand by trying to verbally guide the loser toward the rock so they could touch base and start all over.

There was much laughter and silliness that morning, until finally, when Ajax was carrying Medousa on his back, he tripped over the target rock and fell, Medousa landing in his lap. They laughed, Ajax embracing Medousa about her waist as they sat. Catching her breath, she turned her face to Ajax’s. Medousa smiled shyly, and thought about stealing a kiss. Then Ajax surprised her with a soft peck on her nose. Blushing, she picked herself up and hurried to set up the target stones again.

 

#

On another day, Medousa and Ajax went out together to train at the olive grove as was the Spartans’ custom. Medousa noticed that Teukros was not with them that day. And secretly, she approved. She enjoyed having Ajax all to herself.

They began training, working on boxing and wrestling. It was during the heat of the day, so there were no prying eyes around. They both thrilled to practice with one another, their combat training giving them an excuse to touch one another without guilt– Although they both knew that Chionis would never have approved.

As they worked, Ajax suddenly asked “Show me how you beat me so easily, Medousa.”

“What?”

“On the day we first met,” Ajax said. “How did you do it?”

Medousa laughed. “It was simple, really. I got out of your way each time you tried to tackle me.”

“Yes, but how?”

“You figured it out yourself, eventually,” she told him. “You see, when your opponent is close enough, you step to the side, shifting your weight. If you do it properly, they go past you, leaving their back and side open to attack.”

She looked at him shrewdly. “But you know this already,” Medousa told him, a note of accusation in her voice.

“You do it so easily, though.”

Medousa laughed softly, knowing exactly what was happening. “Come on, then,” she said. “Try a few throws with me.” Cynisca had often used this ploy with her, before Medousa had understood Cynisca’s real feelings for her.

Medousa and Ajax spent the next couple of hours throwing each other to the ground, evading, and countering, and intercepting attacks.

Medousa noticed that Ajax would keep her pinned, when he won, for just a second or two longer than really necessary. She grew warm from the realization, and not the heat of the exercise. Ajax didn’t try to take advantage of her, nor did he touch her disrespectfully. But he did not have the air about him of a combatant. And as they continued, Medousa found herself growing more and more uncomfortable, but in a way that induced her to continue.

Eventually, Medousa, after throwing Ajax, simply held him down, without trying to rise. She trembled as she gently pressed herself up against him, trying to feel the length of Ajax’s body with her own. They clung to one another beneath the olive trees, not saying anything. His body didn’t feel at all like Cynisca’s. He didn’t have her combination of strength and softness. But it was very comfortable to lay upon him, feeling his warmth.

Medousa was puzzled. Ajax wasn’t trying to grope her like Agis had done. He wasn’t trying to take her like Gallus had tried. He didn’t even try to force a kiss from her. Ajax was certainly strong enough to do whatever he liked to her, if he wished. Instead, he simply reached up and ran his fingers through her hair. He was gentle. And he was kind.

And then Medousa leaned into Ajax, and kissed him softly. They lingered together for a moment. And the moment became several long minutes. They forgot about their training, and simply lay together, caressing one another and occasionally kissing, yet no more than that. Ajax did not stir up within her the passion that she felt for Cynisca, but he made her feel…comfortable…and warm…. Medousa admitted to herself that she enjoyed Ajax’s attentions, and idly wondered what it might be like to marry someone respectable like him, and raise a family of her own. And then she remembered Cynisca, and felt a twinge of guilt.

 

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a faceless drone in a corporate call center, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in my dead grandparents’ house, alone, with an impressive collection of martial arts weapons, where I practice and train daily. I am not currently on any medications.
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