Stories of Ithiria
By: April Wahlin
Edited by: Talese Shertzer
Cover Art By: Rob Shields
These stories contain strange references to things best hidden in the depths of a late-night Google search. People occasionally die. There is some crude language as well as the occasional provocative circumstance. All and all, this work should be safe for the kiddies, but I recommend skimming the pages before handing this book to anyone under 13.
You have been warned, so please no angry emails regarding the use of blood, death, the “B” word, and so on.
~ Medusa’s Reflection ~
Thais, a small island off the coast of Thasos, was renowned for its beauty and serenity, often attracting visitors from the mainland of Greece. These mainlanders frequently made the watery journey to lounge on the island’s white-sand beaches and bathe in its aquamarine waters.
Thais also attracted Greece’s most devout, as the island was home to an illustrious temple of Athena which sat back from the pristinely sparkling shore, its grounds covering nearly a quarter of the tiny island. It was said to be the most extraordinary of all Athena’s temples—a vision of such wonder, the likes of its magnificence could only be matched in Olympus.
As an infant, Medusa was left on the temple steps and raised in the care of the priestesses. The high priestess favored the child and doted upon the girl as if she were her own. Stern, yet giving in nature, she made sure Medusa was taught the finer nuances of the duties, ceremonies, and songs necessary to worship their beloved Goddess. In short, all the knowledge Medusa would need to become a magnificent High Priestess of Athena’s most favored temple.
An astute acolyte, Medusa blossomed into a devoted neophyte and a beautiful, well-mannered child who delighted in singing and playing in the sea. There, in the splendor of the rolling surf, the girl often saw faces in the waves. Calm watery faces who welcomed and beckoned her to splash in their midst. But no matter how they called, Medusa would swim no farther than the wake.
The island’s inhabitants adored Medusa—cooing over her magnificent golden hair and aquamarine eyes as she passed to collect tributes for their patron goddess. Her beauty grew so with each passing year that the people of Thais gathered in the streets when she walked for alms, just to catch a glimpse of her flowing hair and sparkling gaze. They believed any person lucky enough to catch her eye would be blessed with beauty and good fortune. A more loved, more revered apprentice to Athena’s high priestess there never was.
As she aged, Medusa’s talents grew to exceed those of any priestess in the temple. Her singing was the most melodious, her dancing the most lithesome, her charms the most beguiling of all the girls. Many said her beauty surpassed even the goddesses of Olympus.
Gods’ Harvest was the tiny island’s annual festival. The celebration lasted nearly a month, marking the spring’s first full lunar cycle. Throughout the year, the islanders eagerly anticipated the ceremonies honoring their beloved Goddess. During the great celebration, the people of Thais ate heartily of the island’s yield and quenched their thirst with Ambrosia, a sweet wine boldly named after the food of the gods.
The festival concluded with a spectacular night of celebration: the Goddess’s Gala. The pinnacle of this evening came during their annual Eclipse, which the islanders referred to as the God’s Eye. It was not a full eclipse, just a brief shadow creeping across the moon’s gossamer surface. It could only be seen from the small island and it was said that whosoever dared stare into the eye of the eclipse might catch a glimpse of the gods dancing in Olympus. However, custom dictated all revelers look away the moment the eclipse reached its zenith—if a person was so bold as to stare too long, he or she could be abducted by any god who looked back, or worse, earn the wrath of Athena herself and be struck blind.
In Medusa’s sixteenth year, she entered adulthood and could now assist the high priestess in preparing for the Night of the Goddess ceremonies. The winds raced along the water, the moonlight danced upon the shore, and the sea rose and fell with a grace never seen anywhere else in Greece. As always, Thais gathered at the great temple for the extravaganza of feasts, performances, libations, and general merriment.
Since the time she was a small girl, Medusa had looked forward to this day. She had prayed to achieve the position of high priestess—thanks to her diligence she had secured the apprenticeship. Medusa had practiced the ceremonies a hundred times in preparation and was resolved to be the most accomplished apprentice in the temple’s long and illustrious history.
Finally, in her grand headdress of owl, raven, and robin feathers, Medusa stood atop the sky-scraping steps of the Athenian temple. She was a vision beyond compare in flowing robes of emerald, amethyst, and sapphire. That night, Medusa was officially presented as the high priestess’s apprentice. The people were elated: they cheered, threw flowers, and stood in line to hang garlands round her neck.
Medusa shone under the honor and praise. Yet, as the night wore on, and the hour of the eclipse drew nearer, she grew distracted. She was fidgety and anxious, unable to pinpoint the cause of her discomfort. She felt ill at ease as she led the revelers in a song of sea sprites and mysterious waters.
As she gave voice to the verses, she felt her eyes drawn to the moon. From then on, she was only half present, as though some force beckoned her gaze toward the sky. As dusk stretched into night, the pull only grew stronger. So strong, the young apprentice could hardly concentrate on the ceremony—the moon demanded her attention. Splendid and full, beautifully poised above the curling sea, its radiance entranced her like never before.
Despite her distraction, Medusa dutifully and gracefully continued to lead the songs and conduct the rituals of the evening. However, in the midst of the wine rituals the high priestess noticed her faltering attentions.
“Child? You are distracted,” she said pointedly as they spread flower petals and poured wine at the blessed feet of Athena’s great stone likeness.
Medusa looked to the priestess and smiled in embarrassment. “Yes, High Priestess. Perhaps . . . perhaps I am just a little flushed from the excitement.”
After studying Medusa’s face a moment, the priestess offered a comforting smile and turned away, seemingly satisfied with the answer.
Determined not to interrupt the ceremony or incur the dissatisfaction of the high priestess, Medusa took slow breaths to calm her nerves before returning to her duties.
The moon now hung full and robust in the night sky. The Eclipse would soon be upon them. Medusa, her fellow priestesses, and the sea of people below gazed into the face of the radiant moon. Its majestic luster was truly stunning.
Medusa stood as though made of stone, staring helplessly. Silence fell among the islanders as they watched the dark shadow slowly encompass the brilliant white-blue of the moon. The richly glowing face grew smaller and smaller, until naught but the faintest sliver remained.
“The time is here!” the high priestess called, signaling the people of Thais to look away.
The crowd turned as one, shielding their eyes. Medusa’s fellow sisters also shifted, bowing their heads.
Even the High Priestess averted her eyes.
Medusa did not.
Brazenly she stared on, entranced by the faint glimmering whites and pale blues of the moon’s silvery face. She knew she should look away, but try as she might, she could not. A force stronger than her young will kept her pliant eyes locked on the moon’s shimmering surface.
A brief eternity passed and the eclipse was complete. The blue-white contours were sunk in shadow, the face completely enveloped by the dark. Though the ache in her eyes was terrible, she could not turn. The moon was dense and beautiful in a way she had never known. In this darkness she witnessed an entirely new array of colors, bursting across her vision so quickly she hadn’t time to think names for them. The moon was somehow every color at once.
Medusa wondered why such magnificence—such dark splendor—was forbidden. Then, its new onyx surface deepened and took form. She beheld the glimmer of a face, lips curled, smiling down at her. For a moment she thought the visage was Athena’s, but it was too masculine. Never before had she seen such an enchanting smile.
Suddenly, Medusa was pulled toward the moon. For one exquisite moment, exhilaration encompassed her, an elating warmth. As suddenly as it began, the sensation ended and Medusa fell back to the earth.
With a sharp intake of breath, the young priestess’s eyes finally closed. When she reopened them, she was surprised to be standing exactly where she had been when the eclipse began. Looking out on the mass of people with heads still reverently bowed, she was dizzy and displaced. Had anyone seen her transgression?
Yes. Someone had. The high priestess stared at Medusa, her face a mask of severity and disapproval—emotions Medusa was unaccustomed to seeing on the priestess. Medusa’s blood ran cold; she had been caught violating their customs. Her gaze had betrayed her. The priestess turned to the moon and then to the crowd, in dismissal of Medusa and her abominable act. Arms raised to the crowd, she announced the end of the eclipse in her strong, radiant voice. Medusa joined the islanders in their cheering, but she knew there would be repercussions for her insolence.
As the festivities continued, Medusa tried to distract herself with the wonders of the occasion and the excitement of her new role as apprentice. Unfortunately, neither song nor dance could cheer her completely. Dreading her next encounter with the high priestess, Medusa was more disturbed by the disorientation she’d felt: the sensations of floating, then falling, and the bizarre invigoration. Try as she might, she could not erase the imprint of that prolific smile in the moon’s face, the warm rush she’d felt upon seeing the man in the eclipse.
The revelries had finally concluded and the villagers had gone home to dream their mornings away. Medusa placed her feathered headdress in the ceremonial chamber next to that of the high priestess. She had not seen her mentor since the festival ended. Part of her was relieved: another part desperately longed for a glimpse into her thoughts.
Medusa headed quickly to her modest quarters. Turning the corner near her room, her heart sank. The high priestess loomed at her door. Medusa was flooded with a strange sense of dread and relief. She shifted her gaze to the floor and walked forward, already condemned. A rigid hand held the door for Medusa who walked past, not daring to meet her gaze. Brusquely, the priestess followed and shut the door.
“It is a foolish thing. Flirting with the gods.” The priestess’s voice was cutting, direct, and wrought with disappointment.
“Flirting?” Medusa gasped, her face flushed with embarrassment.
“I saw, Medusa!” The priestess hissed in her anger. “True, you are most beautiful, but do not dare think yourself beyond the rules of the gods.”
“I would never--”
“I would not have you taken!” Taken? Medusa thought in confusion. “We do not look into the eclipse for many reasons, child. The eclipse grants us a window into Olympus. Mortals are not allowed this intimacy with the gods. With that one look, you may have been blinded. You may have opened yourself to become prey for any god who had a whim to hunt. We are but playthings to the gods, girl. You know this!” the priestess yelled, then quickly calmed herself. “Medusa, you are truly one of Athena’s most blessed priestesses. Her rival—Poseidon—would delight in snatching up such a prize.”
“I understand,” she replied dismally.
“I don’t think you do. What if you had called down the wrath of Athena herself? She may cherish your beauty and grace, but she would just as easily delight in the power of destroying it! Of seeing those qualities so loved crushed. You endangered us all.” The priestess’s yell surprised them both. “These rules cannot be ignored,” she continued with a strained calm. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I...I don’t know what came over me.” Tears formed in Medusa’s eyes as she attempted to explain the inexplicable restlessness, the unavoidable pull toward the moon’s shining eye.
The high priestess sat, her demeanor softening. “The lure of the gods is tempting,” she whispered, pushing the thick, golden hair away from Medusa’s face. “I cannot express how terrible it would have been if you had been taken. Our mighty Goddess would be most displeased.”
“Yes, High Priestess.” Her reply was no more than a whisper.
“You have done a terrible thing. However, I am prepared to be lenient on you.” Medusa’s shoulders relaxed in relief. “No one ever need know of this offense as long as we have no more of this misbehavior. I admit I too have felt the temptation of the gods. Their power and might are wondrous.” The priestess sighed wistfully. “You must not be fooled. To pursue the gods would mean to tread an unstable path, riddled with emotion and power we cannot begin to comprehend. We are truly blessed to have the favor of the Goddess; it is something we cherish and must never lose. Anyone could have witnessed your blasphemy. You do know the punishment?”
“Yes, Priestess,” Medusa replied, her thoughts flooding with the horrible stories she had heard of disobedient acolytes.
“Good. Let me never see you disobey again,” the priestess warned with a strained smile. “I would be most heartbroken to choose other than yourself to take my place. You know I look upon you as my own.” With that, she briskly stood. “Now, take your rest and let us forget this incident,” she advised, turning to leave.
“I saw something,” Medusa blurted suddenly.
The priestess rested her hand on the doorknob to the chamber. “What would that be?” “A man. In the eclipse. I was pulled upwards. It was dizzying. Then it just . . . stopped.”
All warmth evaporated from the priestess as she looked down upon Medusa now. “Let us count you lucky then, that whomever, or whatever, had you lost interest. You must forget what your eyes have beheld. Never speak of this again.”
“Good night then,” the door snapped shut behind her.
“Good night, High Priestess.”
Medusa sat with her thoughts as the dawning light warmed her room. Try as she might, she could not dismiss all she had felt tonight, all she had seen. A deep yearning grew within her, a yearning to see the brilliant face in the moon. She could not shake the curve of that smile, the depth of those eyes.
That night, Medusa’s dreams were restless—full of the dark shimmering depths of the moon and the inviting smile therein. She slept fitfully, but after some time found herself on the brink of rest.
Just then a soft voice—a masculine voice—called her name. It was soothing, gentle, and all too alluring. Medusa woke with a start. She sat up in bed, still half in dreams as she looked around the room, listening. There was nothing but the sound of her startled breath. Confused, she lay back, sure it was only a sleepy illusion. No cause to be alarmed.
The voice from her dream was quick to wake her anew. Again she sat straight and listened. When it called once more, she knew it was not Morpheus’s doing—this voice clearly beckoned from the hallway outside her room. A chill rippled down her spine as she opened the heavy wooden door, cracking it just enough to peer out.
Medusa began to close the door when she heard it again. Flooded with the same exhilaration she’d felt during the Eclipse, she did not allow herself to consider her actions as she slipped quietly from her chambers.
There, in the silent hallway a long silvery strand of moonlight cut through the dark, sparkling through the shutters. The beam seared a luminous path to the end of the hall and into the great room of the temple.
Medusa’s curiosity urged her forward. She walked alongside the beam, playfully running her fingers through its brilliance.
The moonlight led her to a basin nestled in one of the temple’s many recesses. From this miniature, trickling spring the beam bounced to a sculpted vase eternally pouring water into a basin. Medusa followed the thread of light to a third pool, only to see the light bounce to yet another shining water source across a marble chamber, where it bounced and danced again, and again.
The gleaming, shimmering sliver lured Medusa through the great hall, skipping by sculptures and skirting along the marble floors leading her out onto high steps at the back of the temple.
Medusa looked out over the vast labyrinthine gardens. The moon shone crisp and vibrant in the sky, illuminating the night’s moisture upon the statues and flora. The gardens sparkled brilliantly and Medusa could only marvel at the magnificence. She had played in these gardens many times—it was one of her favorite places—but she had never seen it in such splendor.
A deep voice pulled her from her reverie. “Medusa.” The call came from behind her and a warm breath on her ear sent shivers down her spine.
She turned, to find nothing. To her amazement, not even the temple. In its place stood a luminous marble wall covered in ivy. She placed her hands upon the stones in disbelief. Had she somehow gotten turned around in her own home? Medusa spun, her mind scrambling for an explanation aside from madness. Could staring into the eclipse have truly addled her mind?
Medusa turned again to look out over the garden, but instead found herself standing in the garden. She stood deep in lush growth and foliage she had never before seen. It was a place of high ivy hedges and blankets of flora spreading as far as her eyes could see. Delighted by these surroundings, Medusa took in the moonlit splendor, breathing in the crisp air and running her fingertips along the hedges at her hips.
Suddenly, the deep green gave way to well-sculpted marble. Medusa gasped: not ten feet away sat a magnificent fountain, gleaming and shimmering before her. She had never seen this fountain on the grounds. Was she even on temple grounds anymore? Her mind reeled as she walked around the lip of the fountain.
Something about its churning waters reminded Medusa of her forbidden glimpse into the face of the moon. Water in the upper bowls flowed and spilled over finely-fluted white marble into the greater basins below, moving in cascades of liquid silver. Intricate swirls and waves danced with a life of their own—trickling forever over and down.
Hesitantly, Medusa gazed into the fountain’s pool. The surface of the water was mirrored glass as she stared down at her own unwavering reflection. Next to her image floated the moon, a perfect miniature replica. She gazed on in wonder, feeling as though she were somehow looking down into the night sky. It looked so real, Medusa was compelled to touch the moon’s reflection. As she reached, the reflected stars seemed to shift and move, making way for her hand. She touched the surface of the small moon, and in an instant, it was gone—fractured into tiny ripples which swam away.
Medusa leaned back, laughing at herself. Had she actually thought to touch the moon? What a silly girl she must be; she had nearly forgotten she was looking at a mere reflection. Still, she could not help the sadness she felt. The vision had been such a lovely one.
She watched at the fountain’s edge, waiting as the moonlit ripples returned, desperately hoping to see the beautiful vision once more. After a few minutes the water settled and the surface was a mirror once again. However, instead of the brilliant moon, she found her gaze locked on the stunningly bright blue eyes of a handsome young man.
Medusa flew from the side of the fountain, frantically looking at the garden around her. She was met with nothing more than lush greenery. Once she was thoroughly convinced she was alone, Medusa returned to the fountain, breathing deeply to calm her fluttering heart. There, she glanced back into the pool. Nothing. No reflection. No man. No magnificent moon. Just the pale, hazy image of the night sky. Medusa took a long, steadying breath, shook her head, and slowly rose to her feet. She paused, taking one more moment to enjoy the splendor of the hidden garden surrounding her before heading back to her room.
That is, if she could find her room.
What a strange evening. Perhaps this was some illusion, a mysterious dream caused by the Eclipse. But if it was, how would she ever wake? Though, she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to wake from this vision.
Smiling sadly to herself, she turned to search for the staircase leading up to the temple, but was stopped by a presence before her. Medusa looked up and there stood a man. Startled, she nearly jumped into the fountain. Catching herself on its marble edge, she looked back up to discover an impossibly tall man. He made no move toward her, but she hurried to the opposite side of the fountain all the same, keeping its rippling waters between them. Ready to take flight if the need arose.
The man stood almost as tall as the garden statues and looked to be just as strong. His hair fell in light waves to his shoulders and his eyes were the brightest blue she had ever seen. They practically glowed against the moonlight. He was her age, perhaps a little older, with well-defined shoulders left bare by his blue-silver tunic. The line of his jaw was firm and strong—he possessed the most graceful and attractive face she had ever seen. Medusa’s cheeks flushed—she had never thought so well of a man before. As a priestess of Athena, she was not allowed to be in such close proximity to men. She really only ever saw them while gathering alms in the city.
“I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you,” he apologized, his voice direct and calm, and completely soothing. It was liquid silk, and though familiar, she knew she had never heard anything quite like it. It made her think of clear waters flowing over smooth stones.
Medusa struggled to find her voice. When it finally came, her words sprang out like coiled metal.
“Who are you?!”
“Pardon my intrusion.” His smile came as easily as waves upon the shore and his teeth were pure as white sand.
“Who--why are you here?” she stuttered in confusion.
“I saw you at the festival and had to meet you,” his smile was pure charm. “I thought you a muse, come to bring inspiration to this beautiful island. Yet, here I see, you are mortal.”
Medusa gaped. “Men are not allowed within these walls so late at night,” was all she could think to reply.
“Do you wish me to leave?”
Unsure what she wished, Medusa stood unmoving. She had never been alone with a man. She had been warned of their beguiling ways her entire life. And yet this man seemed no harm. He appeared soothing and wondrous. Whatever he was, Medusa could not ignore the strange curiosity uncoiling within her.
“Yes,” she managed unconvincingly.
“Then I will go.”
His words ignited a small pain within her. She did not wish him to leave, but remained silent. He turned away and Medusa’s heart sank.
Abruptly the man stopped, as though he could feel her wishing him to stay. “Before I go,” he turned back. “May I ask of you one thing?”
“You may,” she replied with false confidence.
The man smiled broadly this time. It was a smile she somehow recognized. “How is it that a woman as beautiful and talented as yourself is bound to such a subservient existence?”
She could not hide her surprise as her cheeks flared pink. “You flatter me, sir.”
“I have looked upon you from time to time in your years here,” he continued. “Every year I am astonished. You have only grown more beautiful, more exquisite. You take my breath away and I wish to know how.” His voice had dropped to something more than a whisper.
Medusa’s cheeks turned scarlet. She had been complimented before, but it had never set her pulse to fluttering so. “I am but a girl. Surely you exaggerate.”
“Might I ask you one more thing?”
Medusa smiled a little at his candor. “Ask,” she replied, still maintaining a healthy distance between them.
“Would you sing for me?”
“Sing?” she asked in surprise.
“I have only heard your beautiful voice from afar,” he coerced her. “It is so lovely. Might I sample it up close? Just this once? Then, if you still wish, you shall be rid of my presence.”
“I cannot sing at this time of night. I might wake one of the sisters.”
“No one can hear us here. What better time to sing than under a full moon?”
Medusa considered. What harm would come from singing for the young man? He seemed of good intention. “You will leave then?” she asked. “No more questions?”
“Yes. If you wish.”
Medusa smiled, he was too polite and cordial to be a danger. “What shall I sing?”
“I believe I once heard a song of a young nymph and her flirtations with a fountain. It would seem fitting here,” he replied, gesturing to the elaborate fountain.
“Love of the Water Nymph?” she asked.
“Is that the one?” he asked playfully. “Well, it is so lovely.”
“I am not sure this is proper…that song is only sung on the Night of the Goddess,” Medusa whispered hesitantly.
“Ahh, yes. That must have been where I heard it. Beautiful melody. Though not as beautiful as you. It is still the night of the festival. Please, indulge me.” He moved around to her side of the fountain and sat on its ledge.
Though unnerved by his proximity, she did not move away.
Once settled, he motioned for her to sit next to him. Medusa blushed again and smiled shyly. The handsome stranger had persuaded her.
“It is a lovely song,” she smiled. “I will sing it for you. Though I confess, I have never sung it by myself before.”
“All the better, for yours is the most beautiful voice.”
Medusa flushed. “Thank you, sir.”
“Please, do not allow me to distract you. Sing. Fill the air with beauty.”
Medusa’s lips curled into a smile. The man held out his hand and she hesitantly accepted.
Luminous in the light of the moon, he sat in content silence, as Medusa’s voice—sweet as harps’ cords—rang out through the dewy night. As she sang, Medusa’s gaze fell to the fountain pond where, to her surprise, she found the very same water nymph she sang of. Medusa became lost in the song as she watched the beautiful nymph prance upon the mirrored waters.
The nymph danced gracefully about the water, when she stopped, having caught a glimpse of her reflection. Thinking her reflection a partner, she danced along as Medusa’s voice unraveled the melody. The nymph pranced and pirouetted, becoming so excited she touched the water’s surface.
Her reflected dance partner shattered into hundreds of racing ripples. Sad and disappointed, the nymph retreated to the fountain’s edge and wept.
Unbeknownst to the nymph, she had an audience. A god looked down upon the sweet, sad creature, and had become so enamored of the nymph’s dancing he decided to appear to her, emerging from the fountain as a water sprite. The sad little nymph looked up in surprise, smiled merrily, and with a twirl, began dancing with the cleverly disguised god. There they danced together joyfully on the pool’s mirrored surface.
Medusa sang the final chords of the song as the scene slowly faded away. She turned to find herself in the arms of the young man, mid-dance. She hadn’t even noticed they had left their seats at the fountain’s edge. She had never danced with a man. He was warm and strong, yet the pressure of his arm around her waist was slight and delicate. His blue eyes drew Medusa in. He was unlike any man she had ever seen.
Medusa felt frightened and yet strangely secure as he leaned in close to her, his lips inches from hers.
His soft breath fell upon her cheek and she looked down to hide her blush. However, in looking down, she found the garden was now far below them. Medusa and her dance partner hung in the air, far above the twisting gardens of the Temple! Medusa’s grip on the man’s shoulders grew tight.
“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered to her, lightly brushing his lips against her ear as he spoke. His soft words inspired a strange exhilaration within her, as though he could breathe away her worries.
She could feel the heat of the stars reeling past them as he wrapped his arms firmly around her. His hand gently stroked her hair and he pressed his lips to hers. Medusa’s body was afire with a myriad of unknown feelings. Her breath came faster and she hoped beyond all hope the moment would never end.
He gently pulled away, gazing down at her with a smile. Medusa opened her eyes to find she was not flying at all, but standing on the ground at the fountain’s edge, in the arms of the tall stranger. She blushed yet again as she pulled away.
“What is wrong?” he asked softly.
“What just happened?” Medusa asked, gazing at the garden in a daze.
“Love,” he replied. “Is that such an unknown concept to a priestess of the goddess of wisdom?”
“I know of it,” she replied with worry. “But I am to stay--” the words stuck in her throat. “Untouched until I become High Priestess.”
His lips curled into the slightest hint of a smile. “Do not fret. You have done nothing wrong, broken no vows. It was but a kiss.”
Medusa smiled sadly. “You seem a nice man…but I think...I think you should go now,” she insisted, shocked by her own words.
He stood—disappointment and understanding written on his face. “I will go, but be assured…I will return. The next full moon, if you wish it. We will meet here.”
Medusa looked to the ground. If she were caught with a man, she would be disgraced and banished from the temple. However, the thought of turning him away forever was impossibly painful.
When Medusa raised her head to respond, he was gone. She looked everywhere but he was nowhere to be seen. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
As she opened her eyes to search for the temple stairs, she found herself not in the garden, but lying in her bed. She bolted upright and stared around the room in disbelief. Could it have been a dream?
A faint glimmering caught her eye. There, on her bedside table lay an elegant silver medallion enveloped in moonlight streaming in from the window. Medusa pulled the necklace closer: on one side was engraved a fountain, on the other a curling wave.
The next morning Medusa woke to larks singing outside her window. She sat up and stretched—memories of the night before slowly flooding her mind. She searched the bedside table, but the silvery amulet was gone. It must have been a dream after all.
Medusa stretched a little more, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and reluctantly went to her armoire to ready for her daily duties. Gazing into the mirror as she brushed her long golden hair, she caught a glint of light peeking from beneath her robe. Stunned, Medusa moved the robe aside and there, to her amazement and delight, was the amulet, its tiny engraved fountain reflected before her. She smiled brightly. The events of the night before had been real. She would see her handsome young man again.
Medusa tucked the amulet back into her robes and continued about her day, lost in dreams.
On the night of the next full moon, Medusa waited anxiously for the other priestesses to retire. Once the temple was dark, she snuck out to the gardens. Try as she might, she could not find the mysterious fountain. Disappointed, Medusa returned to her chambers, awaiting her handsome stranger. Her heart fluttered as she thought on their last encounter. So many questions reeled through her mind. She fidgeted with the silver medallion as the night wore on. What if he had forgotten her? Full of hope and worry she tried to stay awake, eager for a sign. However, despite her best efforts, her lids fell heavy with sleep.
She was immediately awakened by his voice. Medusa leapt from her bed in search of the silvery moon beam which had guided her at the last full moon. Finding it, she happily followed its glinting light through the hallways and out to the luminous gardens.
Her steps led her directly to the edge of the beautifully engraved fountain. Elated, she sat and ran her hand playfully through the waters, impatient for him to appear. Medusa’s heart calmed, her breathing finally slowed, and suddenly, he was there. Smiling down at her as she sat on the cool marble rim of the fountain.
The two spent the evening at the fountain’s edge, wrapped in each others’ embrace while she sang.
~ Medusa’s Downfall ~
Once again, it came time for the Night of the Goddess. The last full moon before the night of the eclipse, as each full moon before it, Medusa awoke and followed the silvery beam to the moonlit fountain. She awaited her beloved, but somehow, this night felt imbalanced. The waters of the fountain never settled, the moonlight was dim, the garden less lush, and a strange chill hung in the air.
Medusa sat at the fountain, immersed in uneasiness. Fretfully, she waited.
Suddenly, strong arms wrapped around her and she leapt away.
“I did not mean to frighten you,” his voice was calm and soothing, as always. Medusa flushed with relief and rushed into his arms. “What is the matter?”
“Do you feel it?” she asked warily.
He stopped and went suddenly rigid. Medusa pulled back to look up at him. His demeanor had shifted so suddenly she nearly gasped.
“I missed it,” he cursed himself. Medusa could see the worry in his eyes. “She wouldn’t dare harm you.”
Medusa’s heart sank. “She?”
“Athena has followed me.” Medusa’s eyes grew wide with fear. She always knew her moonlit paramour was not a common mortal, but she never dreamed this would involve her beloved goddess.
“I know you are here,” he called to the gardens.
There was a shift in the ivy draping the wall opposite the fountain and Medusa could not stifle her gasp as a tall, impossibly beautiful woman stepped out from behind the wall. She was the very same figure immortalized in marble on the central pedestal of the temple’s great hall. Medusa’s breath caught in her throat as she stared at her patron Goddess and quickly shifted her eyes to the garden floor, humbled to look upon her.
“So! This is where you disappear to, Poseidon?” Athena’s voice was thick with scorn. “You have been so scarce in Olympus. I should have known you would be trifling in my affairs.”
Medusa stared at her beloved in astonishment. She had thought him magical—a muse or a sprite perhaps. But not the Poseidon.
Poseidon glared at Athena coldly, keeping Medusa protectively behind him. “I have broken no rules,” he told the goddess. “I have not stepped foot in your temple.”
“You have my priestess!”
“She is here of her own accord. I have not bewitched her. She has been neither harmed nor sullied.”
“This is my island. Zeus will have your head when I tell him of your indiscretion.” Athena was almost hissing in her anger.
“King of the gods or no, I have no fear of my brother. I have not set foot on your land. What I do here and with whom, is no business of yours.”
“You have made a grave mistake going against our understanding for the sake of this little snake,” the Goddess sneered.
“Athena, please,” Poseidon’s voice was calm. “You are overreacting. As the patroness of wisdom, you should see I have crossed no boundaries.”
“Your mere presence on this plane is an infraction. I may be the Goddess of wisdom, but I am also a proclaimer of warriors. This disrespect will not stand. She is mine! I took her in when your ilk rejected her,” Athena glowered and then looked to Medusa who stood frozen in fear. The poor girl felt as though she might catch fire under the goddess’s gaze. “You are a beauty—no mistake—but you dare to think yourself above my rules?” Athena’s wrath was truly petrifying.
“No, my Goddess! I would never--” Medusa pleaded.
“You are but a toy to him!”
“Leave her out of this,” Poseidon demanded.
“She is prettier than the last one you stole, I’ll give you that.” Medusa felt she might crumble to the ground. Could Poseidon have been using her to get to Athena?
“Leave us!” Poseidon roared, truly angered now.
Medusa stood shocked by the force in his voice. Even Athena seemed shaken, but she recovered quickly.
“You will be punished for this,” Athena glared at Medusa.
“You would not dare,” Poseidon warned.
“Wouldn’t I?” The goddess’s voice was ice.
“If you harm so much as a hair on her head--” The sky churned and grew dark, as if in response to his anger.
“You’ll what?” she laughed. “She is mine and has been since she arrived here. You have no choice in her fate!” Athena took a short breath, calming herself. “However, I am not above mercy. I will not harm her as long as you agree to never interfere with her again.” Athena’s voice deepened. Her breathing slowed. “If you choose to betray our pact yet again—mark me—it will be she who pays the price. Now, son of Cronus, say your farewells to this slip of a girl. This is the only warning you will receive.”
Medusa hardly glimpsed Athena’s cold scowl before she disappeared.
Poseidon stood rigid a moment longer, only relaxing once he was sure Athena had truly left them.
“She is gone,” Poseidon assured her, guiding Medusa into his arms. “She will not harm you.”
Medusa felt naive suddenly. “So, you are Poseidon,” was all she could think to say.
“I am sorry I did not tell you. I did not want to scare you,” he told her softly.
“I think I already knew, or at least some part of me knew.”
“I suppose you did,” he replied with a slight smile.
“It doesn’t matter to me who you are. If it turned out you were a great sea monster, I would still love you.”
Poseidon stroked Medusa’s pale cheek admiringly. “I am so sorry for this. I never dreamt she would follow me. Athena is jealous and vengeful, but if she says she will not harm you, she will not. Rest assured.”
Medusa’s smile faded as she recalled Athena’s words. “She called me a ‘toy.’ What did she mean?”
Poseidon looked away then. “Medusa, I am older than this temple. I have had many lifetimes. This is one of the burdens of immortality. When one loves a mortal…they have a set amount of time.”
“I see,” she answered.
“Medusa, please believe me when I say I love you.”
“I do,” she replied sweetly. “But why did you come to me? I am nothing more than a lowly priestess. You, who has the very sea to command.”
“Because you have enchanted me,” he told her. “I have lied about nothing. Your song and your beauty are beyond that of any goddess.”
“You must not say that.”
“I will not lie.”
Medusa’s kiss was gentle. “Am I ever to see you again?”
Poseidon chose his words carefully. “If she catches me here again, she will make good her word. Though I am only partially here, and not on her land. Because of Morpheus’s help, I have been able to appear to you in dreams.”
“You mean, I am dreaming now?”
“Yes. I cannot reach you physically, not as long as you reside on Athena’s island. However, there is one way.”
“How?” Medusa asked, unable to mask the hope in her voice.
“My alliance with Selene. During the full moons she is at her most powerful. Unfortunately, with the preparations for the festival, Athena grew strong enough to sense me. If I could, I would take you away with me right now, but what she has said is true: being her priestess, I cannot just take you with me. That, Zeus would punish. It is complicated. However, if you were removed from this mortal coil, you would be beyond Athena’s reach.”
Medusa looked away sadly. “So, I would have to die.”
“No, not at all dearest, you will be removed from this mortal land. With Selene’s help, I can take you during the eclipse on the Night of the Goddess. It is a night unlike others. All gods are welcome to view and partake of the festival. Zeus decreed it so. That is why no one is to look into the eclipse. Any god who has a mind to can take a mortal and be within their right. This is what we will do. As soon as you are in my care, she cannot touch you.”
Medusa sat considering his words, everything was happening so fast.
“It is also possible, because of your blood.”
“I am not sure I understand.”
“Have you not wondered how you arrived at this temple? About your origins? You are mortal, yes, but you are not human. Your beginnings lay in my domain—with the creatures of the sea. There are very few like yourself. You do not age as a typical mortal. You are truly a unique creature, my darling. Zeus cannot condemn you for returning to my province. It is Athena who will not allow you to go.”
The truth played at the edges of Medusa’s mind: the flowing forms she often glimpsed in the crashing waves, the absolute ease and comfort she felt while swimming along the island’s shore. The mornings spent singing to the faces curling about her in the surf. She had been convinced these inviting sprites were simply figments of her imagination.
“That is why Athena said she took me in,” Medusa reasoned. “My parents rejected me—my differences.”
“Your form was more fitting in the human world. So they left you at the temple stair.”
“Why did you never say?”
“Would it have made a difference to you if I had?”
Being raised under the tutelage of the Athenian priestesses, Medusa was taught to hold reason before feeling, but now she felt so flooded with emotion she did not know what to do or say.
“It is too much for you,” Poseidon sighed, holding her tight.
“How will it be done?” There was a newfound steel in Medusa’s voice.
“You would still be mine?”
“My love. I am yours already. The sorrow of never seeing you again far outweighs the sorrow of leaving this island forever.”
Poseidon smiled down at her brightly, his eyes shimmering as though created from the sea itself. “It is agreed. Come the eclipse, I will take you away from here.”
“We will be together.”
“Yes. Forever. I will lay you on your own island where you may but flick your eyes to the sea and I will come to you. You shall be lavished with gifts, never want for anything. You will be mine and I will show you the mysterious depths of the sea itself. Places only I have seen.”
“I require no gifts. Just you.”
Poseidon smiled, but the curl of his lips faded quickly. “You are sure this is what you want, Medusa? My love. Once you go with me--”
“There is nothing for me here. I have never been more sure of anything.”
“Then it will be done.” In Poseidon’s arms, all worry was washed from her. “On the Night of the Goddess, watch the eclipse and do not turn away. Selene will assist me in taking you.”
They kissed and held one another until the sun rose, shattering their dream world. Poseidon bid her farewell, and though he was confident in their plan, Medusa could not shake the ominous feeling permeating the garden air.
Medusa was uneasy as she went about her chores. In past years, assisting the high priestess in readying for the Goddess’s Gala was an all-consuming task, one which Medusa relished. This day, however, was blanketed in foreboding. At every turn, she felt daunted by the statues of Athena glaring down at her as she worked.
The night before, her dreams had been filled with terrible visions, visions of Athena’s wrath should Medusa continue her meetings with Poseidon.
“What is the matter, child?” The high priestess called, startling Medusa. “You look terribly pale.”
“I am sure it is nothing,” Medusa replied, busying herself with arranging flowers in the vase before her.
“Perhaps you should lie down for a while. I will have one of the sisters finish your work.”
“I am well, Priestess. Please do not concern yourself.”
The high priestess nodded and turned to leave when Medusa heard her inhale sharply. Turning, she found the priestess staring up at the statue of Athena in horror.
“What is it, Priestess?” Medusa called, almost too nervous to ask.
“Blood,” she replied in shock. “There is blood!”
Streams of red broke from the statue’s eyes, trickling down the marble contours of its face.
“Athena weeps blood!” the high priestess wailed as she fell to the ground in supplication.
Medusa stood terrified—the weeping marble eyes bore into her own. Were Athena’s tears of rage, or grief? Whichever they were, Medusa knew her transgression was the source—and she trembled in fear, there at the marble feet of the Goddess of Wisdom.
Soon all the priestesses in the temple gathered round, weeping and praying as they lay offerings at the foot of the statue.
The priestesses worked diligently to appease their angered goddess. They brought forth baskets of their choicest crops, anointed its pedestal with the finest perfumes, burned their most fragrant incense, and chanted their most revered songs and hymns. It was not until they drained the blood of their most virile ram that the statue finally ceased its weeping. No one in the temple knew the source of the
Goddess’s anger. No one but Medusa.
After long preparation, the day of the Gala finally arrived. Medusa’s heart fluttered and her fingers faltered as she readied herself for the ceremony.
In all the days before, her nightmares never truly left her—not even in her waking hours. They were a wretched plague causing her to wake screaming in the night, her mind wracked with visions of snakes,
Thais in ruin, people slaughtered, and the expansive blue sky riddled with black clouds. She could not shake the horrible images, even now as she stared at the pristine and untarnished scenery outside her window.
Her hands grew clammy as she thought on all this night promised. Tonight she must decide to stay in the temple or leave with Poseidon forever. Unfortunately, Medusa knew she had little choice in the matter. Athena would never permit her to maintain her role as a temple priestess. Her only option was to leave. Though she truly loved Poseidon, the decision pained her: she could never return to the only home she’d ever known, never realize her dreams of becoming a high priestess. Medusa tried to be enthusiastic, but her nerves prevented her truly reveling in this evening’s many joys.
The door to her room flew open, startling Medusa from her somber thoughts. She was barely able to hide Poseidon’s amulet beneath her robes before the high priestess flew in.
“Medusa, here you are! What is the matter with you, child? It is a most joyous day, come enjoy it with us!” Medusa had never heard the priestess so carefree—she all but sang as she spoke.
“I am sorry, I was just lost in thought,” Medusa’s voice quavered.
“You are not feeling ill again, are you?”
“No, no I’m fine,” she replied uneasily. “Just relaxing before the ceremonies begin. You are in good spirits today.” Finally looking up, Medusa was bowled over by the priestess’s seemingly unshakable good mood.
“It is the night of the eclipse! How could I not be excited? The mighty goddess was merely testing our faith with her weeping statue. We are her favored once again!”
“Yes, it would seem so,” Medusa replied half-heartedly.
“It is time we dance and sing! Time to rejoice!” The priestess grabbed Medusa’s hand, pulled her to her feet, and twirled the girl in circles until she finally smiled. “That’s it Medusa, priestesses must inspire joy!”
Medusa spun out of their merry circle and dropped onto her bed. In doing so, Poseidon’s amulet slipped from the neckline of her robe.
“What a lovely amulet,” the priestess smiled, taking hold of it before Medusa could stop her. The high priestess froze as recognition flooded her face. “What is this?!”
“These are Poseidon’s markings, Medusa! What have you done?” Medusa strained against the chain as the priestess tightened her grip on the amulet.
“I have done nothing, I swear it,” her voice was wracked with fear.
“I warned you against flirting with the gods! You have brought danger upon us all! Athena is not a forgiving goddess! You careless fool!”
The priestess ripped the amulet from Medusa’s neck and threw it to the ground. Medusa wailed as she lunged after it, but the high priestess stood firmly in her way.
“Please, he loves me!” Medusa sobbed at her feet.
“Loves you?!” the priestess scorned her. “Is that what you think?! Gods do not love! We are but pawns to them! Playthings!”
Tears flowed freely from Medusas eyes. “He swore to me.”
“Ignorance! Athena will raze our temple to the ground to get to you! I will not tolerate such defiance!” she screamed as she ripped at Medusa’s ceremonial headdress.
Medusa shrieked as locks of golden hair were torn from her scalp.
“From this day forth, you are banished!” the priestess bellowed. Medusa clutched at her hair, whimpering as the high priestess loomed over her. “I will not have you upset the night’s activities. You are not worthy of these ceremonies,” she hissed. “You are to stay in your chambers. On the morrow, you will be sent from this island never to return. To think I once thought to call you daughter.” The disgust in her voice bit into Medusa.
She sobbed desperately as the priestess left, slamming and locking the door behind her. Medusa ran to the window and looked out at her sisters preparing for the ceremony. The sun was setting and the eclipse, Medusa’s only hope, would begin in a few short hours.
A sea of people gathered at the steps of the great temple. The islanders held their breath in anticipation as the sun descended into the dull and lackluster sea. When the sun was finally extinguished, the dark sky hung clouded, as though readying for a storm.
The people waited for the warm winds to rise, the stars to shine, the light to skip across the sea. But the wind never stirred, the stars never gleamed, and the light never danced. The people of Thais were left alone in their uneasy silence. They could not ignore the sense of something ominous lurking on the horizon.
“The Goddess is displeased!” A voice rang out from amidst the crowd.
The panic spread until the crowd roared with fear.
Looking out from the towering steps of the temple, the high priestess knew exactly what caused her beloved Goddess’s displeasure.
“Calm, my people!” her voice rang out over the ensuing mob. “Someone has displeased our goddess. I know what must be done. The Eclipse will take place and the festival will go on! Follow me and all will be well!”
The people cheered, rallied by the high priestess’s confident words and followed her into the temple.
Forlorn and bereft, Medusa stared out at the moon from her window, practically vibrating with anticipation. Eventually, the door to her chambers flew open and the priestesses she had once considered sisters—her friends—burst into the room, dragging her roughly into the hall.
Medusa was pulled screaming down the ornate hallways of Athena’s most majestic temple and tied between two pillars in the great room.
The priestesses and people of the island flowed into the hall in a tidal rush of anticipation, eager to catch a glimpse of the perpetrator. At first, the people of Thais could not comprehend what they saw. Before them hung their cherished Medusa—bound and trussed as if she were to be sacrificed.
Murmurs of disbelief rippled through the hall.
“People of Thais! Here is the blight on our fair island!” the high priestess’s voice carried, loud and clear, over the crowd. “Athena has punished us for this ignorant girl’s lurid transgressions with her nemesis, Poseidon.” Gasps of outrage circled through the crowd. “Tonight she will be punished. Athena will be appeased!”
The people roared their approval as one. Adored as Medusa may have once been, Thais would not risk the wrath of their terrible and beautiful Goddess.
Medusa sobbed as she hung, painfully strung up by her arms. The eclipse was moments away but the people had blood on their minds. She had been so close to being with her love forever. Medusa prayed they would wait until the eclipse was full so Poseidon’s power would be at its height and able to release her from this madness.
Time, however, was not on her side. The sky grew dark as the priestesses prepared a basin to catch
Medusa’s blood. However, none of the onlookers noticed the first dark sliver fall across the face of the moon. Had Selene somehow heard her plea?
Medusa watched as a young novice presented the ceremonial dagger to the high priestess, who began the chanting required of a sacrifice. Her words echoed off the walls of the great room and the crowd chanted in unison. The anticipated bloodletting lifted their voices to a frenzied pitch. This would be the greatest Goddess’s Gala ever witnessed.
Medusa’s heart raced in terror as she glanced at the dagger approaching her chest. She began her own chanting: a beseeching prayer to Poseidon.
The shift in light was nearly imperceptible—yet it was enough to make the crowd turn from Medusa’s sacrifice to the eclipsing moon. At that moment, the eclipse came to full cycle. Everyone, including the high priestess, bowed their heads away from the sight.
Eyes wide with relief, Medusa stared into the darkened face of the moon and felt herself lifted. Her heart leapt as the ropes unbound themselves and she floated, unhindered, away from the pillars. Her prayers had been answered.
Then, there was a jolting flash of light and Medusa fell roughly to the ground. She screeched in pain as her head and hands slammed into the cold marble floor. At her scream, every head in the hall jerked up from its reverent bowing. The high priestess glared and called for her priestesses to grab Medusa.
Her yell was cut off by a hideous noise from the rear of the temple.
Turning, the islanders were appalled to see fissures crackling their way down the largest and most magnificent statue of their beloved Athena. The marble flaked and chipped, falling away to reveal a beautiful woman—fierce and more magnificent than anything the people of Thais had ever seen.
Priestesses and villagers threw themselves to the ground in the presence of their mighty Goddess.
Athena paid them no mind. “How dare you!” Her voice filled the hall and sank into the very hearts of the people, shaking the temple walls.
“Please! I meant no harm!” Medusa begged, terrified and pained as she looked up at the mighty Athena.
“You and Poseidon will pay for your insolence!”
Outside, the wind howled and the sea roared. Torrential rains soon drenched the smooth temple steps. A hurricane was brewing.
“I do not care how you roar, Poseidon! This is MY temple!” Athena’s voice thundered strength and defiance. “Sink this island to the depths of the sea if you will, but this creature shall not be yours.”
The high priestess threw herself at the goddess’s feet, pleading for her to spare the temple. Athena only swatted her away, sending her flying into the temple wall. Athena’s eyes never once left Medusa.
“I would kill you, but death is too good for such a treacherous snake!” The island itself trembled with the storm outside.
“No! Please!” Medusa begged—but there would be no mercy.
Athena thrust a hand forward, her eyes alight with power, and Medusa was pitched to the floor. There she screamed in agony as her flesh twisted upon her very bones.
People fleeing from the temple were immediately swept from the steps into the sea. Those who remained inside scrambled to the corners, praying to avoid the rampaging goddess’s wrath.
Athena’s laughs echoed and rumbled through the temple, causing the marble walls and statues to tumble upon the terrified worshipers.
On the temple floor Medusa continued to writhe. Her once alabaster skin grew patchy and rough as scales pushed to the surface. The flowing tendrils of her golden hair twitched and coiled, twining and untwining with a life of their own. Terrified, she now looked out through a tangle of long slim snakes.
She felt her teeth elongate and curve into fangs. Her cries became even less decipherable as her tongue lengthened and forked. Panicked, she looked down to her legs upon the floor behind her. In their place lay a thick coil of green: scaly and sinuous in the torchlight. Medusa’s screams were beyond sanity as she looked to her deformed figure in disbelief.
“You have all disgraced me by keeping this wretch!” Athena called, turning her wrath upon the women and girls of the temple. “You are no longer priestesses of mine!”
With a twitch of her hand, the priestesses screeched in anguish and burst into flame. The people of Thais panicked anew as they beheld the ire of their Goddess. They tried to run, but all were trapped between the clashing gods.
“A final touch for the fearsome gorgon,” Athena’s laughter was piercing as she turned her attention upon Medusa once more. Raising her hand to the wretched girl, Medusa’s eyes were forced to look upon the enraged goddess. The second their gaze met, Athena disappeared.
Medusa’s screams heightened as a searing pain exploded in her skull. She grasped and clawed at her eyes which felt afire, sure the goddess had stricken her blind. When the torture finally dissipated enough for her to open them again, she found her clawed hands drenched in blood. Medusa shrieked in panic as she searched the room for help, struggling to move her new horrifying body.
The same people who had once competed for a glimpse of Medusa now pushed and shoved one another to escape her presence. Medusa blindly lunged at a man, pleading for help, but when she looked at him, her terror turned to confusion: she was not holding a man, but a statue. There had never been a statue like this in the temple. Looking closer, she realized she recognized this man, she had seen him on many occasions in the village. Slowly, the truth took hold: the statue had once been a living, breathing man.
Throwing herself back in revulsion, Medusa stumbled to the floor, cracking her head on the unforgiving marble. The snakes crowning her brow nipped her face, hissing in anger. She slithered across the floor frantically, unable to control the direction. Everywhere she looked there were tumbled statues and fleeing people. Grabbing wildly for someone, anyone, she was consistently met with the unforgiving stone of statues. She screamed wildly as people ran from her, trampling one another and throwing themselves into the storm outside just to get away.
“Medusa! Where are you?” It was her Poseidon. “Come to me!”
Medusa sobbed and turned, in search of her love. But all that lay before her was a great puddle of water.
“Poseidon?!” Medusa bellowed in her distress and clumsily slithered toward the water. Looking down, she was shocked to see Poseidon’s likeness, blurry and undefined. “What has she done to me?!”
“Athena will pay for this!” His voice, watery and distant, was pure wrath. Medusa touched the water, but the vision only rippled away. “Where are you?”
Poseidon bowed his head in the settling reflection. “If I were to look at you in the flesh, I would be turned to stone, as all the others.”
Medusa looked around at the terrifying statues surrounding her, all frozen in fear, all because of her.
“How can that be?”
“The curse Athena has placed on you is forbidden by the gods. There is nothing I can do to remove it. She ensured we could never again be together.”
“No!” Medusa had never experienced such agony. She buckled under the pain. With her body disfigured and her being shattered, Medusa’s heart felt as though it would burst from the weight of such misery.
“Medusa, I must leave. I will see she is punished for this. Athena may be Zeus’ favored daughter but this brazen misuse of our laws will not be ignored.”
“Wait! Poseidon!” she cried, scratching frantically at the floor as the puddle dissolved. “Help me!”
“I am,” he replied sadly and the waters dried up, taking Poseidon with them.
“No!” she screamed, fumbling after the diminishing pool. He was gone. “Please! Don’t leave me here! Don’t leave me alone!”
The storm outside ceased and the sky cleared. Looking up to the moon, tears spilled from her horrible eyes.
Surely this was the end of her.
The next day Medusa awoke—bruised, battered, and beaten—on the steps of the temple. She tried to stand and quickly stumbled. Looking up from the horror of her body, she gave a cry at the sight of her surroundings.
“It can’t be,” she stammered.
The wreckage and devastation would haunt her nightmares forever. Above was a blanket of thick dark clouds, a pallid gruesome fog lingered in the air, bodies littered the shoreline, and the land was awash with broken flora. The dead strewn upon the temple steps were gray and bloated with sea water. In the night, most of the island had been consumed by the sea. Naught but a small patch of land surrounding the desolate temple remained.
Medusa wept as she pulled herself along the rubble-laden steps. There was not a soul left on the land.
Struggling to control her new serpentine tail, she used her arms to pull herself into the temple. She crawled over fallen statues, pillars, and the bodies of the dead to the center of the once great temple where she resigned to weep. All Medusa had wanted was to leave the island so she could live a life of love with Poseidon. Now the island stood as an eternal testament to the death and destruction of all life on Thais.
All life but her own.
A year passed and Medusa saw nothing of Poseidon. She spent her days clearing the destruction of her temple and tending to what was left of the formerly magnificent gardens. Occasionally, as she worked she would discover an unbroken mirror and catch a glimpse of her horrible reflection. It was strange: though her skin had turned scaly and her golden hair transformed into a bouquet of ill-tempered serpents, her face had been left untouched. Despite the wretched changes wrought by Athena’s wrath, she still had the same soft features, the same clear eyes and shapely cheeks—her face was still beautiful to behold. Medusa could not help but resent her unchanged features. No one could ever look upon her and live—her beauty was purely an added torment, a reminder of her former self.
In a fit of anger, Medusa smashed every mirror within the temple walls to obliterate every reminder of what had once been. However, when she came to the full-length mirror in her former chambers, she hesitated. The longing for her old life was too strong, too sharp. Medusa hung a long sheet over the thing and left it in peace.
She never entered that room again.
Over the days which stretched into months, the locked away mirror became a comfort to her; it was a symbol of her sanity. As long as she had the strength not to smash it, she knew there was something of her old self beneath her hideous serpentine shell.
Medusa often thought of the events leading up to her new life—if life was the name for this wretched existence. She had been such a fool. How could she believe Poseidon had really loved her? He told her he would take care of her and not once had she seen even the slightest sign of his return.
The only life remaining on Thais—aside from her self—was a small patch of garden. Though she grew bitter and depressed as the months stretched on, her small garden never failed to fill her with a sense of solace—to provide her a tiny moment of peace. The flowers did not turn to stone at her gaze. They had no eyes to see her.
Occasionally, adventurers from the mainland landed upon the shores of Thais. Medusa hid at first, fearful of the men looking to hunt her as game. As if she did not have enough heartache, now head hunters came in Athena’s name, or simply for the prestige of killing a monster.
Medusa used her accursed stare to defend herself, but found as she tended her wounds that it could not be her sole means of survival. So, she harvested the weapons left by those she had killed: bows, swords, javelins, morning stars, anything intact. Deciding that close quarter combat was not for her, Medusa found archery the most appealing of her available defensive options. However, she worked to perfect her hand at each weapon all the same, readying for the next attack.
Thankfully, those who came for her head were ill-prepared to fight a beast such as she and Medusa defeated them with some little effort. Had they thought she would give up her head willingly? As disheartening and dismal as her days on the island proved, they continued to move forward; thus it came time again for the night of the lunar eclipse. It would be the first since the destruction. Medusa was not sure the eclipse would occur now that the gods had abandoned this place, but curiosity tempted her all the same.
She had slowly grown accustomed to her new body, and with relative ease, Medusa slithered through the halls of the temple, making her way across the cool marble floors to the garden. As she went, a glint caught Medusa’s eye. She searched for its source and there, beneath a toppled pillar, lay the amulet Poseidon had given her. Medusa stared in disbelief. It was perfect, not a scratch on it, so unlike everything else in the temple. Including herself. She thought of her lost love, but did not weep. Medusa had shed all the tears she had for him, having wept a lifetime of tears in a single year. She considered tossing the beautiful thing away, but somehow could not bring herself to do so. Instead, she hung the gleaming charm around her neck and made her way to the garden.
Medusa coiled herself upon a low broken pillar in the midst of her flowers to gaze at the moon. She watched patiently, when to her surprise, a shadow crept across its silvery surface. Her heart fluttered slightly as she stared on, unblinking. She could not believe it had actually come. Some part of her—a not-so-small part—still hoped she might see Poseidon again. Despite her dismissed hopes, her heart raced as the moon grew dark and brilliant.
Medusa felt strange then as she stared into the moon, it was a pleasant and familiar sensation. Suddenly she heard a voice and her heart leapt anew. She looked to the garden wall; the voice came from behind the hedges. Medusa slithered quickly toward it, nearly stumbling with an excitement she couldn’t control. She hurried through a maze of plants and flora which now extended far past the little acre of land she had been tending.
The hedges twisted and turned until she came to an ornate iron gate. Medusa had never seen such a gate before—it seemed wrought of moon beams. She pushed it open and moved cautiously down a long aisle of tall shrubs, eventually spilling out into a fragrant and lush garden. There, in the center, was the fountain where she and Poseidon had met. Medusa spun in disbelief, her heart pounding. It was as beautiful as ever.
“Come to the fountain,” the voice was muted and distant.
Medusa pulled herself onto the side of the fountain, unable to suppress the foolish hope she felt.
“Poseidon?” she called, timid and fragile with sensations she thought lost.
Her voice sounded so foreign, having gone rusty and ragged with lack of use. Medusa watched as the waters wavered and a face formed in the ripples. When they finally stilled, she saw him. She turned, hoping he was there, hoping to embrace him. But she was alone. She turned back to the fountain, searching for his image, and there was her love’s perfectly reflected face in the silvery water.
“My darling Medusa,” Poseidon’s voice rang through the waters.
“Where have you been? Why did you leave?” she was unable to keep the wrath from her voice.
“I could not come back to you until now,” he replied sadly. “It was difficult to find a way to see you. I can only look upon you with Selene’s help and the protection of these waters,” he told her. “No one can survive your sight: mortal or immortal. The gods have determined you too great a danger to be freed. I prevented them from sinking the island entirely.”
“What do I do?” her plea was nearly a wail.
“You must stay here, for eternity,” he replied shamefully—his helplessness and anger caused the waters of the fountain to froth.
“Here?!” Her heart sank in despair. “Athena has been punished many times over. For her insubordination, Zeus has even taken away her ability to bare children,” he replied, but this was no comfort to Medusa.
“What will happen to me?”
“I wish I knew, my sweet.”
“Is there nothing you can do? Are you not a god?!” she cried desperately.
“Once a curse is placed, it cannot be reversed.”
“But you must take me away from here! I cannot stand it!”
“I am sorry, my love. Zeus demands you stay here. As lord of the gods, his word is law. You will live here, like this. Until the end of time.”
Medusa choked on her ire. To spend eternity on this desolate, lifeless island. “How can this be?!” Her reptilian eyes watered for the first time in months and she found she had not shed all her tears, as she had thought.
“I will find a way for us to be together,” Poseidon soothed her.
Medusa laughed bitterly. “How could you want me anymore? I am hideous!”
“Though I cannot look upon you in person, I can see you,” he replied softly. “Your golden locks and porcelain skin are gone, but your face, Medusa, is beautiful as ever. Your soul will never be tarnished in my eyes.”
Medusa wanted to scream, wanted to cry, wanted to tell him he was foolish for seeing her as anything but a monster.
“Will you sing for me?” His voice was full of the same fervent adoration as the first time he had made
Medusa stared to the broken stone flooring of the garden. “I cannot.”
“Please, Medusa. Sing for me.” The tenderness in his voice cut through her like a knife.
She could hardly speak anymore, let alone sing. But she could not bear to deny Poseidon. Reluctantly, she attempted to sing. It took time to figure how to form the melody with her forked tongue. She began with a series of hisses which slowly turned to words. After a few frustrated moments, her voice flew out over the gardens—as full and rich as ever.
“You are still enchanting,” Poseidon’s smile was heavy with admiration. Medusa sang for him until the dark sky grew light.
“I am afraid I must go now,” he told her.
“Will I ever see you again?” Medusa asked, terrified of the answer.
“On the nights of the full moon, my love. I will come to hear you sing,” he replied.
“But once a month?” she sighed in disappointment.
“It is the night the moon shines brightest and the waters are at their clearest."
Medusa stared at the waters of the ornate fountain, attempting to memorize every beloved detail of his face. “Until then,” she replied sadly.
“A parting gift, my sweet,” Poseidon added to her surprise, and disappeared from the waters.
Looking up, she found herself surrounded by lush greenery, the small patch of growth around her having expanded and tripled. Her sad little plot had turned into a beautiful and exotic garden bursting with flowers of every kind and color.
“Until the next moon,” Poseidon’s soothing voice called once more and was gone.
Poseidon, as promised, appeared every night of the full moon, looking up from the fountain as Medusa sang. It was the only bright moment in her dark world.
Medusa continually marveled at how much she missed the contact of others—the touch of a hand, casual conversations with patrons, the camaraderie she had shared with the other priestesses. This dreary life continued month after month, year after year. Her only joy was in sitting beside the fountain to gaze upon a love she would never again hold. She grew strong, ruthless, resilient, and stayed as such. Except in those few hours when she closed her eyes and was allowed to live as she had once been, dancing with her love next to the sparkling light of the silvery fountain.
And so, there was no one left to remember the beautiful young girl who had once been so adored and cherished by her people; so lovely the gods themselves envied her. All that remained was a story which took shape on the mainland. Mothers told their children, generation after generation, of Medusa, the fearsome snake-haired gorgon, who—peeking from beneath her hair of hissing, writhing asps—would turn a man to stone with one thoughtless bat of her terrible eye.
~The Love of Medusa~
People had once flocked from all over Greece to see the magnificent Temple of Athena. The temple had lain in a virtual paradise, that is until Athena razed the island and its inhabitants to utter oblivion. Now, the island lay barren, the trees leafless—naught but a forest of skeletal silhouettes starkly etched by the setting sun.
Ancient abandoned vessels lined the tiny coast, marking the waters where they rose to the shallow’s edge. The ships, once the pride of their various regions, floated desolate and dead, nothing more than additions to a cryptic collection. Much as their masters to Medusa’s ever-expanding Stone Garden.
Medusa slithered across the deserted ruins which served as her prison. Squinting against the sun, she gazed down at the shore, recalling the island’s former glory. Lately, the threat of a new ship on the horizon seemed ever-present. The one now was just a speck in the distance. Soon enough it would breach her shore and a new horde would disembark, in search of her head.
Medusa picked at the statue of her latest victim. He wasn’t much older than she had been when cursed to this wretched existence. She longed to trade places—he was free to run in the Elysian Fields, eternally happy. She, on the other hand, was cursed with Immortality. True, on a few occasions, she had been close to death; yet each time, when she thought release would finally be hers, Hades sent her away—eyes averted from her petrifying gaze. She could die, she could be slain, but Athena’s curse kept her soul rooted to her serpentine body. The afterlife was forever out of her reach.
There were no Elysian Fields for Monsters.
Gingerly, Medusa touched the fresh scar on her cheek. The last ship to visit had brought Spartans onto her shore—brave soldiers come to conquer the Mighty Snake-Haired Gorgon. Vicious and vile men, the lot of them. If not for her cursed stare, they might have gotten her. In the end however, victory had been hers. Another fleet turned to stone. Trinkets for her Gothic gallery of failed heroes.
The great screeching of her sisters drew Medusa’s attention to the sea. They cried warnings of the oncoming ship, which advanced faster than expected. Why her sisters cared whether she lived or died,
Medusa did not know. Even they, her own blood, could not meet her deadly gaze. They kept their distance, protecting her from afar.
Medusa did not know of her monstrous sisters until after she had been cursed. Nor did she know her parents were great sea creatures. In hindsight, this lineage made sense. The priestesses of the temple had raised her. However, she had always been drawn to the sea. Perhaps that was why he had taken an interest in the first place.
Her former life seemed a pleasant dream. So many years had passed on this desolate island. Had her face ever been framed by golden locks instead of hissing snakes? Had she ever danced on white sand shores with adoring patrons? Had she ever been surrounded by anything but death? Her old life seemed so silly compared to this harsh reality; yet she would give anything to have it back.
Tonight was the full moon. Her one night of peace every cycle—the night the sea was at its most beautiful.
As she made her way across the vast temple, Medusa found her reflection in a shard of mirror. She could just make out her face: still young, still cruelly beautiful despite the scars and snakes of her hair. It was an evil joke that her face had not changed—Athena’s constant reminder of what Medusa had once been, of her former humanity. Without this face it would be almost easy to forget she was ever raised as a human, so easy to be lost beneath the snakes and claws and scales.
The serpents crowning her head curled around her face, as if to comfort her. It was painful even for Medusa to look into her own eyes. They seemed every color at once. It made her temples ache, yet it was difficult to look away. She suspected this was how the warriors felt: compelled to look into the eyes of death, to peek into Pandora’s Box.
Medusa slithered solemnly toward the back gardens of the demolished temple. There thrived the only life left on the miserable island. This place was her sanctuary: beautiful grounds fed by the waters of a spring fountain, the only bit of the island untouched by Athena’s wrath. The garden was a gift from her beloved, a place teeming with flora and light. Here, there were no eyes to see her, no flesh to turn to stone. Flowers of every kind grew—their colors so vivid, so full of life. It was the one place Medusa felt a connection to her former self.
At the edge of the fountain Medusa coiled and waited, watching the shifting colors of the sky as the sun sank beneath the sea. Finally, the moon rose in its brilliance causing the ocean to sparkle. She sat, entranced by this beauty while behind her the waters of the fountain stirred.
The spring rose, gently frothed, and shifted as a flowing form emerged. Strong, wet arms wrapped around her shoulders. With a sigh, she settled back into their embrace.
“How are you this evening, Dearest?” a strong voice echoed.
Her heart leaped; gently hissing, the snakes of her hair calmed, her eyes closed, and she smiled.
The fluid figure rose up to sit next to her on the fountain’s ledge. She gazed at the translucent liquid version of the man with whom she’d fallen in love so many years ago. His cool lips brushed hers, his waters calmly washing over them. He tenderly returned her gaze.
Even in this form, her eyes had the power to bring him pain. Medusa’s heart sank; she could see the hurt reflected in the pools of his eyes. She quickly looked back out to the sea.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked her.
“You know it is,” she laughed lightly.
“It’s all for you,” his cool hands ran down her arms, sending shivers through her. “Sing for me.”
“No, my love,” she replied solemnly. “My voice has gone to rust with misuse. I have no time for such frivolity. Warriors come by the dozens to cut me down.”
“Your voice is sweet as ever,” he sighed, kissing her cheek. There he noticed the fresh scar. “They have marred your beautiful face.”
“You are a fool to call me beautiful,” she hissed sadly. “These Hunters, they grow in number and strength. Or perhaps I grow tired. I have been here too long.”
“I have pleaded with Zeus to free you. However-”
“I am a danger. He will not let me go. No living thing can survive my gaze—not even you.”
Medusa continued to watch the approaching ship. There was nothing he or anyone could do to stop this newest onslaught. Athena decreed anyone looking for Medusa’s head would find calm waters and a favorable wind between their ship and the island. Her love had argued with Zeus, but Athena would not be reasoned with—not even by the King of the Gods.
“They are coming for you, my dearest,” he told her suddenly.
She wasn’t surprised. He always tried to warn her when danger was nigh, but never so bluntly. “I saw the ship on the horizon this morning,” she told him, staring at the daunting silhouette in the distance.
This one made her uneasy; there was something different about it. In all her years she had never seen a faster ship. “Let them come,” Medusa told him with false confidence, “I will be ready.”
“Not this time,” he replied, to her surprise. “He is a son of Zeus.”
Medusa looked to the flowers of her garden. She had lived here so long, wishing she could leave, wishing she could put an end to this gruesome imprisonment. Now her love said she would soon be conquered.
“You can try to fight him, but he will win,” he told her sadly.
“You wish me not to fight? You want him to take my head?”
“I want nothing of the sort. But there is nothing you can do.” She could feel his grief. “Athena has shown him how to defeat you.”
Medusa sat silent. Many times she had longed to die, longed for the afterlife, whatever it held for her. Now, hearing she would be dead upon the ship’s arrival, she was not sure what she wanted.
“Then let me die,” Medusa sighed. “Perhaps I will finally find my peace in the Underworld.”
“Athena will not let you go so easily.”
“Easy?” Her snakes hissed and recoiled. “You call centuries of entrapment on this island, of being tangled in this body, easy?”
“Steady, my love,” he soothed. “Athena has decreed you will be defeated. But she has bound you in this body, and so you will remain. Zeus’s son wants your head to defeat the Cracken, and Athena wants it as a trophy. There you will be captive. Forever looking out from her shield.”
“Dreadful!” Medusa hissed. “This is to be my fate?”
“I have a solution,” he replied. “I cannot keep him from slaying you. However, I can keep you from an eternity of service to Athena.”
“How?” she asked, her snakes’ tongues flickering. All their eyes turned towards him.
“Sleep, my love. Morpheus will keep you in dreams until Athena has done with you. You will not wake.
You will not feel the blade. Nor any other torment.”
Medusa rested against him once more, his rippling waters soothing her angst. She only ever felt at peace when she slept, when the sighing and susurrations of the snakes were finally silent. A far more agreeable fate than the alternative.
“Then I am to remain that way forever?” she asked.
“Faith my love. I will come for you, as I have come every waxing moon,” he smiled down at her, softly placing his cool, damp cheek against hers. “Until then, be steady. Sing for me. Sing, and think of what sweet dreams await you in Morpheus’s care.”
Poseidon wrapped his aqueous arms around her. Enveloped in the lapping tranquility of his embrace,
Medusa sang sweet songs of Water Nymphs and Sea Creatures. Her voice was rough, but her songs could still tempt the Gods down from Olympus.
She and Poseidon lay together by the fountain until the sun rose. There she remained when Zeus’s son claimed her head.