Athens; News from Home

“Medousa!” Cynisca cried. She ran at her friend, leaping into her arms.

“Little Puppy,” Medousa stroked Cynisca’s hair as she buried her face in Medousa’s neck. Helen laughed.

“Someone’s happy to see you,” she teased her friends.

“I have so much to tell you,” Cynisca said excitedly as Medousa put her down.

“I want to hear it all,” Medousa enthused. “Oh, I miss Sparta!”

It was a fine and pleasant day in mid-summer. Medousa’s friends had returned from Sparta, and Medousa, having finished her duties at the temple that morning, ran down to the city gates to meet them.

“Everyone was asking about you,” Helen told Medousa as they reached their house. “Khalkiope…Clytemnestra…Agesilaus…. We can hardly wait for you to return to us.” She beamed at Medousa.

The three girls went to their room to talk as the Helots unpacked and tended to their affairs. They settled down on Cynisca’s bed to talk, Cynisca settling into Medousa’s lap as they chatted. Medousa hungrily ate up the latest news and gossip from home as they sat and talked.

“Oh, and guess what?” Cynisca declared.
“I don’t know– What?” Medousa responded.

“We got to meet our betrotheds this year,” Cynisca said with a wide smile.

Medousa smiled in return, but felt a slight chill in her heart. “Tell me about him,” she asked, betraying nothing.

Giggling, Cynisca said “His name is ‘Lykourgos.'”

They all laughed.

“He seems a good man,” Cynisca continued. “He’s not as tall as you are, and his eyes are dark, and he has fair hair.”

“And he’s good-looking,” Helen added. Cynisca rolled her eyes.

Medousa put her arms around Cynisca as her green-eyed friend snuggled deeper into her lap.

“He’s from minor nobility,” Cynisca continued, “And he hasn’t much wealth; but he is from a respectable family. And wealth won’t be a problem for me.”

“He’s good-looking, too,” Helen chirped in. “He’ll give you strong, beautiful children.”

“And Helen’s going to marry Menelaus,” Cynisca announced. “They formalized their betrothal at the festival.”

“Menelaus?” Medousa replied. “Oh, that is a splendid match!”

Helen nodded proudly. “He’s wealthy, handsome, and already a great warrior. And he will be a king.”

“We were afraid at first,” Cynisca said. “So many powerful and wealthy men were seeking Helen’s hand! We were all afraid that whomever King Tyndareus chose, the rest would have declared war on the Agiads!”

Helen laughed. “Oh, it wasn’t that bad, Cynisca!”

“How did your father decide on a suitor?” Medousa asked.

“Father was reluctant to choose this year,” Helen confessed. “So many fine young nobles; He didn’t want to offend anyone, or give grounds for a quarrel….”

“But what did he do, then?” Medousa interrupted.

“It was Odysseus,” Cynisca told her. “He thought of a way for Helen’s father to keep his peace of mind.”

“Odysseus suggested that before Father gave his decision, he make a grand sacrifice and have all the suitors swear an oath to defend the selected husband from anyone else who might attack him.”

Medousa chuckled. “Clever Odysseus,” she laughed. “Wasn’t he also one of your suitors, Helen?”

“Yes,” Helen smiled “But the poor fellow didn’t really believe he had a chance. So he offered his plan to Father in return for his help to court Icarius’ daughter, Penelope.”

“Oh! And guess what else?” Cynisca said, practically bouncing in Medousa’s lap. “Clytemnestra is going to marry Menelaus’ brother, Agamemnon!”

“One, big, happy family!” Helen laughed.

Cynisca twisted herself around so that she sat face to face with Medousa, and put her arms around her neck. “And so you must hurry up and become a priestess, so you can officiate at our weddings!”

“Yes!” Helen cried, still laughing. “Me, Cynisca, Agesilaus, Clytemnestra, Khalkiope…”

Medousa laughed with them, but felt a shard of sadness within. She loved her friends, and was truly happy for them, and yet, she herself felt lost. Medousa felt as if she were being left behind somehow.

But then, Cynisca had already begun nuzzling her Medousa. Helen smiled and rose.

“I’ll leave you two alone for a while,” she said as she left the room.

 

#

With her friends’ return, Medousa’s life in Athens returned to normal– That is, she no longer had so much time to spend with Ajax. The thought saddened her. She knew that one day soon, her friends would leave her, moving on to the next stage in their lives. And what would be left for her? She thought of Ajax at those moments of realization, and wondered what it might be like to be wed to a man who treated her as kindly as Cynisca. She wondered what it would be like to be the matron of her own household, to have children of her own, and grandchildren.

Medousa was happy with Cynisca’s return. But she began feeling oppressed with the realization that the idyllic life they had had up to that point could only continue, at best, for another four years, when Cynisca would marry. And what then would happen to her? What would Medousa do, without her Little Puppy?

 

#

One afternoon, Cynisca and Medousa went for a walk down to the beach, not far from Phalerum, to their training beach. Where Medousa and Ajax had shared their first kiss. They sat down in the sand, holding hands and leaning up against each other as they watched the surf and soaked up the warmth of the sun.

“Little Puppy…” Medousa began, uncomfortable.

“What? What’s on your heart?”

“What do you think of Ajax?”

Cynisca looked at Medousa quizzically.

“What do you mean, ‘What do I think of Ajax?’ What kind of question is that?” Cynisca laughed a small laugh, amused.

“Oh, nothing,” Medousa said, trying to brush it off, now that she had mentioned it. “I was just wondering.”

“Is something wrong?” Cynisca asked. “What’s going on with him?”

Medousa sighed.

“Well….” She tried to begin.

“Well, what?”

“He’s nice to me. Not like the coarse, common boys back home. I think he likes me.”

Cynisca smiled. “Well, that doesn’t sound so hard.” She gave Medousa’s hand a squeeze as they sat together. “It sounds like it bothers you, though. Do you want me to say anything to him?”

“No, no!” Medousa replied hastily. “It’s just….”

“Just what? Oh, for Gods’ sakes, Medousa! Out with it!”

“Remember when we used to try to think of someone I could marry? That I might have a family of my own, like you? And we would raise our children together?”

“Of course,” Cynisca smiled.

Medousa was a bit perplexed at Cynisca’s reaction.

“Well, Ajax seems to be of respectable lineage. He’s wealthy. He’s certainly handsome enough…. And…He likes me.”

Cynisca’s expression slowly changed as she realized what Medousa was driving at. She became uncomfortable as she thought about it.

“But–Medousa…. You–You’re going to be a priestess of Athena. You can’t marry. …Can you…?”

Medousa tightened her grasp on Cynisca’s hand.

“Lysimache told me that in Athens, only the priestess of Athena Parthenos must forgo marriage. She said that many of the other priestesses were married, with families of their own.”

Cynisca shivered and snuggled close to Medousa.

“Would you consider marrying Ajax?”

“I was just asking what you thought of him, Little Puppy.”

They sat quietly for a while.

“You can’t marry him,” Cynisca thought out loud. “You’re going to be a priestess of Athena, and you’re coming back to Sparta with us to serve in her temple at home.” There was a nervous, worried edge to her voice.

Medousa put her arms around her and hugged her tightly.

“I was only thinking about it, Cynisca. I’ve never had a boy like him interested in me before.”

Cynisca returned her embrace as they sat in the sand together. She buried her face in Medousa’s luxuriant golden hair, working up the courage to ask a last question.

“Would you really consider giving up your vows to Athena for him?” she asked quietly.

Medousa laid her head atop Cynisca’s and sighed. “It’s tempting,” she considered out loud. “He’s handsome…he’s wealthy…he could give me children…he treats me with respect….”

“And what about me?” Cynisca asked. Would you…? I mean, what would…?”

Medousa lay back in the sand, drawing Cynisca down atop her, and kissed her. She ran her fingers through her dark tresses and caressed her face.

“Don’t be silly, Little Puppy. He probably wouldn’t want to marry me, anyway. Not if he really knew what I was.”

Cynisca looked thoughtful as she laid her head on Medousa’s chest, letting her friend’s hands gently stroke her body.

“It should be an arrangement that brings you a measure of honor and position,” she mused.

“And it must keep me close to you,” Medousa added lazily.

“Of course.”

“I wish I could marry Agesilaus. That would be perfect.”

“I know,” Cynisca responded, sadly. “But our parents would never have allowed it.”

“I know it,” Medousa acquiesced, kissing Cynisca’s throat.

They sighed together.

Medousa laid her head back down in the sand, frustrated at her situation.

“The problem is, who would want me for a wife?”

I would,” Cynisca said, bending down to Medousa’s lips.

Medousa smiled, and they fell lightly asleep in the sand together, luxuriating in the warm embrace of the sun’s rays.

 

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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