The fires were not meant to summon me, as I had thought, but the result of bandits, who came to rape and pillage. Even as I arrived, women were being dragged from their homes by the hair, mothers and daughters alike, as fathers and husbands were forced to watch. Truly, this was the work of savage men. And in seeing these things, Lyssa possessed my soul, the goddess which drove my cousin, Heracles, to murder his own family in a fit of rage. But under Olympus, my murderous rage was justified, and I was to avenge.
I came upon a woman, at the feet of an armored bandit, who was brutally beating her with a cudgel. No sooner than when he noticed me, did I catch his arm before his weapon could fall again, and break his limb in my grasp. He dropped to his knees in agony, and I finished his life with a kick. She gazed long upon me, with swollen eyes, had I been the very avatar of Zeus himself, and kissed my feet, muttering words of blessing. But I, deep in my wrath, shoved her aside.
Pressing onward, I turned my ring into a great scythe, sharp enough to raze the grass. In the village square, a horde of them were gathered, each wearing dark leather and wielding curved swords. Like the breath of Aeolious, I blew through them, and made them feel the edge of my blade. By the time they were aware of me, six men lay dead or bleeding at my feet. Quickly, they turned their arms to my demise, and yet, before their bronze could penetrate my naked skin, I rent their skulls in twain, and as they fell, I could hear in their screams their dread of Hades. Throughout the melee, I went untouched, as invincible to them as Achilles at Troy, fighting with the strength of the Nemean Lion, lashing against them with the speed of the Hydra. All were slain but those who fled. And yet I was not sated, thirsting for blood even as I spilled it. Already, my countrymen were singing my praises, as I pursued the bandits, high upon Thunderfoot, to the harbor at Gythio, where Helen of Sparta, born of a swan egg, was abducted by Paris of Troy.
It was here that I met the bandit leader. To look upon him was to be filled with dread, for he was monstrously adorned, with the skull of a great beast upon his head, with horns like that of the Minotaur; and on his shoulders, pauldrons of bone; and about his loins a skirt of human hands. And also, he held a great ax without equal, topped with a skull, with an edge like a great serpent’s fang, as long as his head to his abdomen, with a hilt of scales.
At the sight of me, he showed no fear, but said, in a broken approximation of my tongue, “Fools go where gods dare not tread.”
“Villain!” I answered him. “I fear nothing! And we shall soon learn who is the fool!”
“So you believe, because you do not know of Trax the Torturer.”
“And who is this swine you speak of?”
“It is I, who will pull from you your heart, and take your fingers as my trophy!”
With little effort, I swatted his ax away, and suspended him from the ground, and squeezing the life from his throat, I said to him, “Know that it is I, Dynotus, Son of Zor, whom you have insulted! I could break your spine like the cock’s, and end your pitiful life here and now, but I will not do you the honor. Rather, I will have you suffer defeat, to forever lament this day, the day you dared to plunder these shores and met Dynotus!” With that, I severed his arm, and tossed him with his men into the sea, whereupon he boarded his ship.
When he landed, he stood in a fury, crying, “You know not what you have done! I shall return to my home, to bring a great legion, with the aid of my father. You know him not, but all in Assyria cringe before the name of Iuz, Iuz the Cruel!”
“Go find him then, and let him know that I shall sever his arm as well!” This I replied, before his ship left for its distant realm.
That day, there was a great feast in the halls of King Demaratus. He showed me his gratitude, as always, by offering the things I loved most: wine, women, and food. I rendered Thunderfoot unto a servant, to be escorted to the royal stables, and continued on under the pediment of the king’s palace, across rows of fluted Dorian columns. The mosaic patterned floor was cool and smooth against my dusty soles, where I was gingerly greeted by three maids, stripped bare, who bathed and oiled me.
In the afternoon, I did rest, and in waking was greeted by four women in rich white himations, their hair laced in gold, their earrings of precious lapis lazuli. Only one of them appealed to me. I was sure to remember her name, to include her with the bathers I fancied, certain they would come to my bed that night.
As the royal feast was a formal affair, I was required to don clothing, much to my displeasure, with a lion skin for my loins; and a cloak of royal purple fastened by a brooch from Crete, engraved with the bull of King Minos; and a gilded laurel wreath upon my brow. Entering the great hall, I came upon a festive crowd. There were breads, eggs, and freshly caught squid; meats of heifer, swine, lamb and poultry roasting; and olives from neighboring Kalamata. We drank mead and milk and listened to the lyre and the pan flute, and watched the dancers’ careful choreography, as performed by the most talented Athenians. Among those in attendance, were the landed classes, aristocrats and men of the phalanx, and the revered members of the oligarchy. And yet, despite their number, I recalled no one and favored none. Only the king himself, could I call friend, and it was for him that I remained. My true friends had not been allowed attendance, though they lived no differently than I, those who had suffered the most from the attack, their homes now in ruins and their women violated. Richly dressed as I was, in that assembly of riotous and pompous people, I was most uncomfortable.
Demaratus carried himself well, dressed in a simple purple tunic. As Sparta was ruled by the oligarchs, he was less a supreme ruler, and more ‘first among equals.’ Lifting his wine goblet to me, he said, “Today, my friends, we celebrate yet another victory, as Dynotus, Son of Zor, our blessed centurion, has vanquished the marauders from the South! Let us drink, in honor of our beloved Dynotus!” They cheered, every face turned to me. Modestly, I made way to the king’s side, whispering to him, “The bathing girls were very beautiful. I liked Ellena, Astymeloisa, and the maid servant, Clytemnestra.”
“Dynotus, my friend, you remain quite the hedonist! I am certain they will be eager to . . . share themselves with you tonight!”
“You are so very generous, as always, your highness.”
“It is all in gratitude, my good man. Now sit, for tonight we revel in Dionysus, and in all his delights!”
A girl showed me to my seat, where a jeweled grail awaited me. When I looked across the table to greet my neighbor, I noticed another young girl, who looked no older than seventeen. For long minutes, I stared dumbfounded. Hers was a beauty like no other, her hair cascading gracefully to her mid-back, in two braids like golden silk threads; her nose broad yet small; her lips pink as saffron. When my eyes caught hers, I was smitten. Deep and blue as the Aegean, they were, glittering in the flame like polished silver, and I remained transfixed by my own reflection, by the meager visage mirrored in her eyes, my divine beauty made lesser in the beholding.
All through the night, Fate entwined us in her thread, yet it was like a bolt from the hand of Zeus. It was a feeling quite foreign to me, for it was most unlike what passions I had known for other women. Stranger still, she hid behind the table, so that I did not see the contours of her body, and yet this did not seem to matter. At first, I thought to add her name, to the bacchanal planned for me, but the thought of her in my bed, with three others, was repulsive in a way I could not understand. Was I, perhaps, in the presence of some goddess, Aphrodite herself? Or had her servant, Eros, driven me to madness?
I thought to ask the king for her alone. And yet, I did not desire it. Finally, I chased such foolish thoughts, and resolved to ask her name, so that I might tell the king to send her to my room. In answer to me, I was further amazed, that her voice did justice to her beauty, and like Apollo’s harp, did soothe the stirrings of my tumultuous soul. So mesmerized was I, I was compelled to ask again, making myself look the fool.
“Seline,” she repeated. “My name is Seline.”
“Is it Hellenic?” I muttered oafishly, the sound of my own voice harsh, and grating.
“It is a Dorian name,” she replied, “it means princess. My mother hailed from the North, where came the ancient Dorians. But I live with my father now. He brought me here to live in Hellena.”
“And do you . . . live in the palace? Are you a servant?”
She smiled, as if to laugh, and replied, “I live in the palace, yes, but am no servant.”
“Oh, then are daughter to the oligarchs?”
“No, I am born of Demaratus.”
A chill ran across my spine. To think what would have happened, had I coerced her to my bed, or have let the king know of my lust for his daughter! Learning of this, I abandoned any future thought of her, replying, meagerly, “Princess, I am delighted to make your acquaintance. I knew not who you were. Forgive me.”
Later, King Demaratus called his people to attention, to make an announcement. Half drunk and lifting his spilling chalice, he proclaimed, “Dynotus, my good, good friend! To show my appreciation for all you have done, I grant you one wish. Any single thing you desire, whatsoever I possess, shall I give freely, if you indeed wish it.”
I stood to respond. “There is no thing under Olympus which I desire, that you have not already given. I am grateful, nonetheless.”
“Come now, Dynotus, do not be so modest. I know you’ll find something that you desire of me, and on that day, let me know of it, and it shall be yours!” Afterward, the crowd of voices drowned my own, and I returned to my seat, humbled for the remainder of the banquet. And then a strange impulse moved me, to look where Seline had been, hoping in my heart to see her once more. But to my dismay, she was gone, with nothing but her memory to linger in my mind. All the while, a young orator was reciting,
Let us fight with courage for our country, and for our children
Let us die and never spare our lives
Young men, remain beside each other and fight,
And do not begin shameful flight or fear,
But make your spirit great and brave in your heart,
And do not be faint-hearted when you fight with men;
Your elders, whose knees are no longer nimble,
Do not flee and leave them, those who are old.
For the young boy, there was much applause. With great conviction, he had spoken the well known words of our people, a poem by my stepfather, expressing the creed and ethos of Sparta. But his voice was a distant echo to me, for I cared only to hear the princess again.
That night, as I began to undress, there came a tapping at my chamber door. The three maidens stood before me, clad as they had come from their mother’s womb. I gazed long upon Clytemnestra, beautiful as I remembered, but when I reached to kiss her, was unable. Instead, I took hold of Astymeloisa, and tried to make love to her, but alas, the power was not in me. Finally, I told them to leave.
They were discouraged, but quietly did as they were told. I shut the door to my room and laid myself down. From the West, moonlight filtered through my window. But as I shut my eyes to sleep, I could not part the face of Seline from my memory.
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