The Oracle of Delphi (Greek Myth Fantasy Series) (19 page)

Eighteen

 

 

Andromeda woke from her dream with a start, calling Perseus’s name aloud. She sat up in her bed and looked for him, taking a moment to remember she had been napping in her own bed in her father’s castle. She did not want to be back in Thessaly. The mere thought had her stomach rolling. She wanted to be by Perseus’s side. After her dream, she knew she had to do something to help him.

The door to her room banged open, and the steward, Klaus, rushed in with Queen Cassiopeia on his heels. He carried a platter of fruit and bread, with a flask of ale under his arm. His eyes showed concern but didn’t reveal his part in helping her escape. She was glad to see he had been able to maintain his cover. If anything had happened to Klaus, she’d never forgive herself for leaving.

“Princess, we heard you scream,” he said, leading the way. Her mother rushed past the man, wrapping her arms around Andromeda in a hug.

“Daughter, my heart cries out for you. You must be dreaming of your sacrifice to the sea serpent. I only wish I could ease your discomfort.”

“Oh, Mother,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “My dream was not of the sea serpent. But it was so horrible, I can’t help but feel it was real.”

“We heard you scream out the name of Perseus,” said her mother. “Was your dream of the son of Zeus?”

She nodded her head in agreement, but could not find the words to speak.

“What is it, Princess Andromeda?”

Klaus’s tall form leaned over as he set the tray of food down at the foot of the bed. The concern in his eyes was real, and she couldn’t help but wish she could thank him again for helping her escape. Now it was even more important to keep his secret safe. Since she had come full circle and returned to Thessaly, her life was doomed. 

He fingered his dark mustache in thought, twirling the ends like he always did to amuse her as a child. “Tell me. Where is this man? If he has harmed you, we will find him and punish him for what he has done.”

His hand moved to his sword, and she couldn’t help but find his loyalty admirable. Even when he knew her life was to be taken, he still thought to try to protect her from Perseus, not knowing the truth of her love for her husband.

“No, Klaus, you don’t understand. No one must lay a hand on Perseus. He is my husband. He doesn’t intend to hurt me. He is the one who can kill the sea serpent and save the village. He will come,” she answered softly. “He has to.”

“He had best come soon, or you will die at the jaws of the beast,” retorted Klaus. “Are you sure you are all right, Princess Andromeda? You look pale.”

“Klaus, I appreciate your concern, but it seems almost amusing that anyone should care for my well being in the situation I am in. Or is it that people worry I will sicken and die before I can be chained to the sacrificial rock?”

“Andromeda,” her mother scolded, smoothing down her daughter’s hair. “Klaus cares about you just as everyone else in this kingdom does. No one wants to see you die at the jaws of the sea serpent.”

She sat up on the bed, pulling the coverlet toward her.

“That is a lie! If it were true, I would not have my own father searching me out only to bring me back to carry out my death sentence.”

Queen Cassiopeia looked to the steward and nodded her head. “That will be all for now, Klaus. Please close the door on the way out.”

He bent over in a quick bow and left the room, a soft whisper of air the only sound as the door closed quietly behind him. Her mother looked back toward her, clasping her hands over Andromeda’s.

“Your father really does care about you, Andromeda. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but it is true.”

“How can you speak such lies and expect me to believe them?” She pulled her hands away.

“He has tried everything possible to save you from this terrible fate,” her mother explained. “He has even chained himself to the rock, hoping the sea serpent would devour him in your place.”

“No!” Andromeda pushed away the covers and exited the bed. “I don’t believe it. If it were true, he would be gone by now.”

“The sea serpent would not have him,” her mother continued. “The god Nereus truly wants your father to suffer for comparing your beauty to that of the sea nymphs.”

“I don’t understand.”

Andromeda held onto the post of the bed for strength. Could her mother’s words be the truth? Her father was always a stern man, but to sacrifice himself in her place? Mayhap his gruff composure hid the soft heart of the man she had learned to love as a child.

“The sea serpent will only be stopped by consuming you, Andromeda. It is our punishment from the gods for being so vain to think our own daughter more beautiful than even the nymphs.”

Andromeda saw the tears in her mother’s eyes and went to her. She placed her arm around her shoulder, comforting her just as her mother had done for her so many times in her own life.

Queen Cassiopeia continued, “Nereus wants us to live with the guilt of sacrificing our own daughter. To him, cruel god that he is, that is the only just punishment for our crime.”

“But seeing the beauty in one’s child is not a crime,” Andromeda rallied. “After all, that is exactly what Nereus does when he glorifies his own fifty daughters.”

Andromeda couldn’t help but remember the way the sea nymph’s jealousy had almost cost her her life. Her stomach churned once again and she sat on the bed, her hand nestled against her abdomen to calm her inner turmoil.

“You are hungry, aren’t you?” asked her mother, handing her the platter of food.

“No, I’m not.”

Andromeda held her hand out to stop her, the thought of eating food right now only making her feel more ill than she already felt. She lay back upon the pillow and closed her eyes.

She could not help but think of Perseus, and her heart called out to him. If the Gorgons didn’t turn him to stone, she still may never see him again. By the time he returned from his trip to Seriphus to deliver the head, she would be already settled into her new home in the dark caverns of the sea serpent’s stomach.

“You are thinking of him again, aren’t you?” the queen asked.

Andromeda’s eyes popped open to see her mother’s kind gaze.

“Yes, I’m thinking of Perseus,” she said. “Are you saying you believe me that I didn’t make up his presence for my own benefit?”

“Of course I believe you,” her mother laughed. “Everyone knows the story of Perseus and Danaë. Her father, King Acrisius, did what he thought he had to do, just as your father does.”

“But if everyone knows about Perseus then why didn’t I? And why doesn’t father believe me?”

The queen’s face turned solemn, and she once again held Andromeda’s hands while she talked.

“When you were a baby, we were summoned to bring you to the oracle. We thought the oracle had planned on training you to be its channel, but we found out this was not so. Instead, we were told you were to marry and have children.”

“You knew?” Andromeda gasped. “You knew all along and yet you stopped me from marrying and kept me a virgin for five and twenty years? How could you?”

“I never wanted to keep anything from you, Andromeda. It was your father’s fear of going against the oracle that kept us from telling the truth. We were told you would someday meet a man named Perseus. We knew you would eventually marry him, that was evident.”

“I don’t understand. What is so awful about this prophecy that you couldn’t tell me?”

“We didn’t want you to even be tempted to marry anyone else, for fear the oracle would have revenge upon us. So we kept you close and watched over your virginity, waiting for the man named Perseus. But after awhile, we started to hope you would never meet this man.”

“Why? Why didn’t you want me to be happy?”

“It’s not that, child. It is just that the oracle also spoke of danger and death in the same breath. We feared for your life and thought by keeping you from meeting Perseus, we would be saving you from death.”

“Did the oracle say I would die because of being with Perseus?”

“The oracle speaks in riddles sometimes. We did not understand and did not want to take the chance. Just like now. When your father went back to the oracle to seek help in slaying the sea serpent, it was suggested we use you as a sacrifice. Though it tears him apart, he knows one cannot go against the oracle. The Oracle of Delphi is never wrong.”

“This may be true, Mother, but one must also listen closely to the oracle’s words to decipher them. I’ve heard the same prophecy as father, after I fled the village and went to seek the oracle myself. ’Twas only suggested I be the sacrifice, not foretold. The oracle also said a demi-god can kill this serpent. Perseus is that demi-god. He has agreed to slay it for us.”

“Oh, Andromeda, I can only hope that is true. But if it is, why isn’t Perseus here now? If he is to save your life, he needs to make his appearance soon. But if you say he is coming, then I will believe you.”

Andromeda thought back to her dream, her hopes dashed. “I am not certain he will come, Mother. He has gone to the isle of the Gorgons to slay the one called Medusa.”

“But no one has been able to slay Medusa,” her mother said. “Even the bravest, strongest warriors have fallen under her spell and looked into her eyes.”

“I know,” said Andromeda, feeling the ever-present roll of her stomach more now than ever. “I saw him in a dream. That is why I cried out. My husband Perseus had looked into Medusa’s eyes and turned to stone.”

 

*   *   *

 

Perseus couldn’t help but look into the eyes of Medusa’s reflection upon his shield. Her face comely, her features more beautiful than the gods, he could see why men gave up their lives just for a glance. But her hair writhed with snakes of every size and color, all sniffing his scent in the air by their tongues lashing out, wanting to taste him. Her gaze looked right toward him, and her eyes turned a bright red. Fire lapped forward in a stream so intense he knew his blood would turn to rock from the weakness that betrayed him. He pulled his shield backward to protect himself, trying to step away from the flames. His head hit against the wall and his helmet of invisibility once again fell to the ground exposing his identity. It clattered against the rocks as it made its way to the floor, announcing his presence.

He froze in place, wondering just how many warriors made of stone it hit along its journey. He had looked into the eyes of Medusa, and now as his punishment he would be turned to stone. He’d be just another defeated warrior succumbing to his weakness, just one more hero-in-training dashed in his youth before he had attained his goal.

His body stiffened and he felt his blood thickening. He thought of Andromeda and wished he could have experienced a peaceful life married to her. He waited for his heart to stop beating within his chest. He waited to die a stone death against the wall of the cave, but it never came.

Instead, he heard Medusa’s laughter from below.

“Don’t think you can hide from me now, Perseussss. You’ve lost the helmet of invissssibility. Zeussss’sss sssson issss mine now.”

He grabbed the shield and held it in front of him, seeing her reflection as she came toward him from below. He was still alive! He had cheated death. Her gaze when seen only as a reflection had no power. He now had a way to kill her. Her eyes may turn a man to stone, but as long as he used the shield of Athena as a mirror, he could slay her without ever having to look her way directly.

He studied the polished surface of the shield, seeing her grab a snake from her hair, tossing it towards him. He moved out of the way quickly, watching the snake slam against the wall and hit the floor of the stone ledge before slithering toward him. Its tongue lashed out wildly while Medusa’s laughter unnerved him from behind.

“If you won’t look at me, then die by the poisssson of my ssssnakessss.”

He stepped backward as the snake came toward him. His foot slipped off the ledge. Rocks tumbled to the cave floor beneath him. Medusa’s laughter grew louder. He had not counted on having to ward off poisonous snakes on his mission. Medusa had more ways than one to kill a man, and he had no doubt she would try every one of them on him.

But he was a demi-god and would fight her to the very end. He would find a way to defeat her and save his mother’s life. He would fight off all she threw his way and still survive. He had no choice, for too many people were counting on him to return as a hero. He could not let them down. He would prove to them as well as to his father, Zeus, that he was worthy of being the son of the most powerful king, even if he was only a demi-god.

He heard Medusa’s tail slithering over the ground as she now stood directly beneath him. He saw her eyes in the shield. The fire burned in them again, and she meant to cook him right there on the ledge.

He looked down toward his foot dangling off the edge, and a smile lit up his face in triumph. He still wore the winged shoes of Hermes. Things were not as bad as he had thought. Just as her eyes blasted a bolt of fire towards him, he stepped off the edge and flew over her head to safety.

This only angered her more, and Perseus hid behind her stone throne for safety, watching her reflection in the shield. He could not help but feel repulsed when he saw the stone men in crouching positions, horror upon their faces, that made up the base of her chair. Two more men in sitting positions made up the arm pieces, and one horrifying ogre that looked to have troll in his features made up the back and where she rested her head.

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