Apotheosis; Cast Out

Helen, Cynisca, Ajax, and Teukros entered the shrine. As they came in, Medousa caught a glimpse of the Helots and Acropolis guards ringing the Parthenon. It was night, and the fires were lit. Uncomfortable silence filled the air.

“Medousa,” Ajax spoke. “Did Helen and Cynisca tell you what we have arranged?”

“Yes,” Medousa replied sadly.

“I’m sorry,” Ajax answered. “I had wished that–”

“Please, Ajax. Not now.”

Helen noticed Medousa’s serpents were focused on Cynisca. She tried to ease the tension. “The clothes fit you well, Medousa,” she offered.

“Yes,” Medousa replied, forcing a small smile into her voice. “The merchants must have wondered at the amount of cloth you were buying.”

Helen laughed politely.

Medousa sighed deeply. “It will feel good to finally leave this place,” she said, looking around her at the shrine. “I suppose they’ll be about cleansing and restoring it as soon as I go.”

“Actually, there’s talk of razing it,” Teukros answered. “Phidias is going on and on about making a huge new image for the new temple as well.”

“Well, he’s welcome to it,” Medousa said, sparing a serpent to spit at the wrecked image of Athena lying on the floor behind her.

“Indeed,” Helen sighed in agreement. “Did you know,” she said to Medousa, “There was talk about sending to Thebes for a champion to come and ‘deal with the monster?'”

“Was there-?”

Ajax spoke “Yes, the archons were afraid.”

“Who were they going to get?” Medousa asked.

“Heracles, I think.” Teukros said, looking to Ajax who nodded in confirmation.

“Heracles?” Cynisca said. “Heracles-? The drunken lout who got lost while carousing around Phrygia last year, came back wearing women’s underwear, and claimed to have stolen the girdle of Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons? That Heracles?”

“That’s the one, yes.” said Teukros.

Cynisca snorted.

Helen laughed. “Remember when he said he’d been to the gates of Hades and took the three headed dog there for walkies?” They all laughed, briefly. Then the silence descended again.

“How long have I got?” Medousa asked, her throat tight and dry.

“You leave with the morning tide,” Cynisca said, sniffling.

“You bought me those jewels, didn’t you?”

Cynisca nodded. “The gold is for your hair,” she said. “The sapphires, for your eyes.”

“And she bought you the clothes,” Helen interjected. “She wouldn’t let me help with them.”

The girls moved toward one another and stood, casting about for something to say. Then Ajax stepped forward.

“Medousa. You know how I felt– I mean, ‘feel’ about you, and….” He dropped his eyes, ashamed. “I have something I want to give you.”

Ajax reached into his purse and withdrew a gold necklace, large and cunningly wrought, and adorned with rubies. He approached Medousa with it. “Here, let me put it on you.”

He suppressed a shiver, reached up under her cloak, but atop her veil, and fastened it around Medousa’s neck.

Medousa felt the weight of it, and was speechless.

“It’s practically a breastplate,” noted Helen, impressed.

“I brought you your things, from home,” Cynisca said. She handed a small pack to Medousa, who put it down beside her on the pillar where she sat.

Helen approached Medousa and clasped her hand tightly. She tried to smile for her through her tears. “Winter approaches. It’s a poor time to be traveling. You must look after yourself. Here–” Helen gave Medousa her own hunting bow, made of ash wood and goat’s horn, and inlaid with silver. “Take these. You may need them one day…You may need to hunt for your food one day.” She gave her a quiver of fifty bronze tipped arrows with it. She attached them to her broad leather belt.

“I have something for you, too,” Cynisca said. She gave Medousa her own silver hilted kopis with the black iron blade, fastening it in its gold-studded leather sheath to her belt. She brought out three small, thick rolls of parchment and pressed them into Medousa’s hands. Medousa looked down at them–Love poems. Medousa sobbed briefly and put the books in her purse. Then, she paused. She opened the small pack Cynisca had brought her from home and rummaged around in it quickly. She reached in and withdrew Alala. She brought her little stuffed wolf-puppy up to her veiled face and cuddled it. Then she gave it to Cynisca, who clutched it to her breast, now openly crying. Medousa took her into her arms and held her, saying nothing.

#

The five friends sat by, speaking hardly at all. No one was hungry. No one was sleepy. They simply stood by, waiting. Dreading.

At last, as the suns first rays began to shine, there was a call from outside the temple. Medousa, Cynisca, and Helen looked up nervously at one another. Medousa adjusted her cloak and veil. Ajax and Teukros went to the door and opened it. A delegation from the archons stood by.

“It is time!” they called.

Medousa cast a last glance back at the statues of Chionis, and Lysimache, and Thaleia. Then, trembling with fear, she haltingly followed Ajax and Teukros to the temple porch outside. Cynisca and Helen supported Medousa on either side, and as they exited, their Helots fell into formation around them.

“Little Puppy- I am afraid,” Medousa whispered through her tears. Cynisca squeezed Medousa’s hand tightly.

The party descended from the Acropolis down into the lower parts of the city, and then to the city gates. All around, Medousa could hear the subdued roar of a vast crowd. She surreptitiously took peeks via her serpents. The entire polis must have been out to watch her be taken from the city, she thought. Medousa shut her eyes tightly as the sights and sounds threatened to overwhelm her with fear. A sob caught in her throat, and Cynisca slipped an arm around Medousa’s hips, continuing to guide her along.

Before long, there was taunting. And then cursing. And then some of the people even began throwing things; rotten food…small stones…shards of broken pottery….

The Helots around them caught most of the material against their shields. But Medousa was badly frightened. She clung to Cynisca and Helen as they continued on, Ajax leading the way, his brother Teukros at his side.

When they left the city, Medousa tried to concentrate on the feel of the earth beneath her feet, and the scent of the air. She shuddered at the sound of the surf, as it reminded her of Poseidon. Slowly but steadily, they made their way down to the sea port, the forty stadia passing by quickly.

 

All too soon, they reached the docks of Piraeus. There was a large cargo vessel preparing to set sail with the morning tide. Ajax and Teukros went with two of the archons to the ship, and looked to be in conversation with the ship’s captain. Medousa could feel elemental fear pouring off of her, and she knew how it would be affecting those around her. She fidgeted nervously as she stood waiting.

Helen turned to Medousa. “The ship’s captain and crew have been commissioned by the archons,” she told her. “They have been paid an exorbitant sum to take you as far from Athens as possible–”

“Where? Where are they taking me?”

“Beyond Patara, I think,” Cynisca said sadly. “In Lycia.”

“Keep this,” Helen told Medousa, and she began putting large handfuls of gold and silver into Medousa’s pack. “It’s to bribe the sailors. Don’t give it to them until they get you safely to shore.”

Medousa closed her eyes briefly and tried to remain standing. She was lightheaded with fear. Presently, Teukros signaled Medousa to come forward. The small phalanx of Helots around her parted, and still leaning on Helen and Cynisca, Medousa approached.

“I’m sorry, Medousa,” Teukros said. “It’s time.”

Medousa bit her lip to keep from crying, but her frame shook with deep sobs. She turned to Cynisca, and held her fast.

“Oh, my Little Puppy!”

The two wept together, for long minutes, until Helen gently took Medousa by the arm and led her away from her lover to the ship. Cynisca took a moment to gather herself, and then followed on their heels.

The crew looked on in resentful unease as Ajax and Helen took Medousa aboard and settled her below decks, a little distance off from the oarsmen.

“Take this, Medousa,” Ajax said, handing Medousa his glittering bronze spear.

Medousa regarded it appreciatively. “And what will you do, now?” she asked.

“I will go to north, to Thebes, to continue training. I am to study with a fellow named Cheiron. He is supposed to be a great scholar and warrior. He’s a horseman of some note, I hear.”

Medousa nodded and turned to Helen.

“I shall be sorry to miss your wedding, Helen. I shall be sorry to miss…To miss….” She stopped, unable to continue. “Oh, Helen! What have I done…?”

Helen cried quietly and kissed Medousa’s brow through her veil.

She tried desperately to find something comforting or hopeful to say, but before she could speak, the captain called to cast off.

And then her friends were gone.

Medousa’s stomach sank as she felt the ship putting out to sea.

“Farewell, my love, my Little Puppy,” Medousa whispered.

And Medousa was now alone.

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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