The Poison of Memory
In the silence of an evergreen glade, the sound of fifty archers drawing their bows is a menacing war cry. However, on this day, the thrill of our advantage was fleeting. As the order to fire echoed across the clearing, we already knew our scouts had failed us.
The forest floor exploded upwards. Leaves and plant matter rained upon our heads. What we had thought were fallen trees arced above us, each one a colossal reptilian body supporting a fury of teeth and scales. The earth shook, knocking many of my soldiers to the ground.
What damage that initial volley caused remains a mystery. The Hydra moved without hindrance. The beast fed on my men. The brave died first, the cowards last; the rest of us fought with valour and only some survived.
To think we had started this day in glorious spirits, marching towards Mount Olympus. The Scythians, free of their urban shackles, were desperate to see the nymphs, Dryades and Oreiades. I fear they may now only hope to rest in Elysium.
The will to recount this day diminishes. However, the scene poisons my sleep. I remember one man on his knees, his bloodied armour fractured around his limbs.
‘You slay so many of us,’ he screamed at the mountain. Tears streamed across his face. ‘And then you are God of what?’
(Arrhidaios of Dion, Pieri. c. 8-5 BC)
No Hiding Place
I crouched beneath a copse of olives, my heart scalded by the sight before me.
With the wind at our backs, a merciful sea delivered us to Crete. Below decks, our oarsmen remained spirited. Until now, I considered this uneventful voyage to be a gift from Zeus; my errand appeared to have the favour of the Gods. Until now.
During our march from the port, I had admired the Cretan sand. The white grains heaved with shell fragments. My aid, Shedius, remarked that these lustrous remains were the dried tears of the naiad, Daphne. He said she had crossed this island while fleeing Apollo. As we neared the labyrinth, I hushed his fairy tales. Such talk of myth distracted us from our labours.
Through the foliage of the olives, I viewed the maw to Daedalus’s complex. Beset by pillars, sculpted with ill-omened carvings, the gloomy innards loomed like an entrance to the underworld. At the mouth of this horror, the shingle changed colour.
No longer bleached white by the sun, these sands were stained brown by spilt blood. Someone, or something, had attempted to hide these shades of violence with scattered olive branches.
‘Beyond, in the shadows,’ Shedius wept.
‘I know,’ I replied. Clutching Arrhidaios‘s journal to my chest, I stared at his broken helm. ‘He was the best of us.’
The baying came from behind, not from within. At once, it was clear we were snared. With no escape to the east or west, we ran into the labyrinth.
Shedius is dead. In this candlelight, I am forsaken.
(Thoön of Delphi. c. 6-2 BC)
The Mercy of Stone
My darling Thoön,
Thirteen nights have passed since you left and everywhere people are dying. The Gorgons walk amongst us like an embodiment of plague. Your townsfolk cower in every nook of Delphi. Those terrible sisters hunt us like rabbits, slip into our homes and curse us at a glance. We are beset by the petrified memories of our friends.
The calm of darkness is fleeting. The stars are sullied by the screams of the damned. As loved ones find their relatives frozen in stone, echoes of anguish soon follow. Then, like the snap of a noose, their grief is vanquished. The fate of these poor souls is always the same.
This evening, I heard the terracotta pot smash; I had set the trap using your methods. At once, fearful for our girls, I ran from the andron, through the courtyard, to the kitchen. Tanis and Danae were not to be found. Before I could search upstairs, the Gorgons blocked my escape.
In haste, I fashioned a hiding place beneath a hessian sack. I write to you from this desperate masquerade and expect that here, I may live the final minutes of a life I no longer care for.
It is from this cursed hiding spot I saw a shadow cross the floor. With a head shaped like a radiant sun, the silhouette slid across the ground. I could hear the venomous crown writhing above me. I swear the fibres in my shroud tightened as the thing cast her visage my way.
Expecting the canvas to be torn away, and my flesh turned to stone, I thought only of you and our beautiful family.
Alas, from the courtyard, I heard the patter of tiny sandals. My heart tumbled. I wished to shout a warning, but my lungs were barren. Tanis called for me. She was weeping. The shadow turned and our girl began to scream. The echo of her cries faded too fast.
Despite knowing she stands five feet from me, I dare not look.
Thoön, our girl is gone.
For now, I have life, but I too am petrified.
I beg Zeus to give Danae safe passage from Delphi.
(Leto of Delphi. c. 6-2 BC)