Thursday, October 23, 2014

Medea's Disciple

           Greetings, Everyone! It's Cybelle here on this gloriously chilly Friday morning! As some of you know, Halloween is my favorite day of the year, and I like to celebrate it for the entire month of October. Therefore, I am delighted to offer a small contribution to this year's Heroines of Fantasy Fright Fest: a slice from my novel in progress, provisionally titled Medea's Disciple. It is graphic--consider yourselves warned!


In ecstasy, Alphonse embraced the book tighter still and sniffed its ancient pages. A sweet, heady fragrance blossomed from it. What’s happening?

Wild-eyed Erichtro turned her face to the moon and issued another command. “Hide yourself, Artemis!” Clouds raced to cover the lunar profile of the goddess, and a luminous mist wrapped itself around the sorceress. Thus attired in rags and borrowed moonlight, the Thessalian led Sextus and his men across a field of fallen soldiers until she spied the perfect vessel for prophesy: a young soldier whose throat had been cut. She tied a noose around the dead man’s neck and ordered the Romans to drag him over crags and rocks until they reached a mountain cave consecrated to her rites. At the mouth of the cave, Erichtho further mutilated the corpse’s chest and filled the cavities with her own blood. The hardened Roman soldiers shrank back in horror, and even Sextus Pompeius began to tremble. 

The sorceress chided them, “Put aside your terror, cowards! Soon life will be restored to this body. You will hear him speak, though you yourselves are turned to stone. I could show you the Stygian lakes, the Furies and mighty Cerberus, so why should you fear the pitiful shades that quake before me?” The witch returned to her work, rinsing the entrails of their filth. Once finished, she poured a noxious potion over them, and uttered an invocation to all the gods who rule over the dead. “I do not call upon a soul long accustomed to the darkness of Tartarus, but one that still lingers at the edge of the abyss. If he heeds our wishes and drinks of these potions, he will only join the other shades once. Let this former soldier of Pompey prophesy to the great general’s son if you are honored by civil war.”

 Momentarily, the soldier’s ghost appeared beside her, his pallid features contorted with terror at the prospect of reentering his putrid, broken body. The shade gestured soundlessly for mercy, but Erichtho cared not. Enraged that the gods had allowed the fallen soldier such a timorous display, she beat his corpse with a live snake and threatened the Furies with all manner of punishment if they did not force the dead man to do her bidding. Soon dark blood began to drip from the wounded body, and it warmed to life. The dead man’s limbs shook violently as his muscles tensed and flexed. At once, the corpse shot up from the earth, its eyes wide and mouth contorted in a grimace. "Soldier," she said, "I give you my word that you will never again be forced to return to the living if you speak the truth to Pompey’s son." Yellow tears poured down the dead man's battered face, as he told Sextus of Roman ghosts in turmoil. The gods of the underworld were preparing to welcome the Pompeians, father and son alike. When the prophesy had been spoken, the witch constructed a massive funeral pyre. The corpse strode into it with gratitude for his final death.

Stroking the book's soft cover, Alphonse changed the course of his reverie to follow Sextus on his journey back to the camp. In the dark hours of early morning, the general shivered uncontrollably with the knowledge of his certain death. Watching the doomed man drift into a fitful sleep, Alphonse succumbed to a nightmare landscape of his own. In the aftermath of the ancient battle, the young nobleman found himself navigating a path through the field of fallen soldiers. In the sweltering heat of the August sun, rotting bodies emitted a foul stench and flies swarmed over the remains. Then, in the distance, he saw a strange animal trotting toward him at a rapid pace. Though the beast had a distinctly canine aspect, Alphonse realized that it bore little resemblance to any dog he had ever encountered. Far larger than a wolf, the creature had a curved muzzle and the long pointed ears of a donkey. Its tail arched high over its back and terminated in a pointed tuft. As it approached, the beast looked directly into Alphonse’s eyes and grinned, revealing a mouthful of sharp, white fangs in a set of powerful jaws. Though Alphonse had no doubt the animal could rip his throat out in a matter of seconds, he felt no fear and returned its smile. Seemingly encouraged, the beast began a joyful dance over the bodies of the dead, springing wildly from corpse to corpse. At the sound of snapping bones, the creature emitted a high-pitched giggle that both horrified and delighted Alphonse. He found himself laughing with it, hands over face in an unconscious display of embarrassment. As the creature raced around him, cracking ribs in a frantic finale, the corpses began to wail and grunt in ghastly imitation of life. In the rapidity of its circular dance, the beast became a giggling whirlwind of noise and filth. It came to a rest only when the last corpse had been exhausted of its ability to produce pleasing shrieks and snaps. Alphonse applauded in sincere admiration, and the beast nodded and bowed in recognition. At length, it grinned again and walked toward him. Rubbing seductively against his legs, it spoke in a honeyed masculine voice, “You’re a handsome one! Our sorceress chose well.”

“What sorceress is this? And for what purpose have I been chosen?”

“Come see,” the beast whispered, rising on its hind legs to lick Alphonse’s ear. “Climb on my back. I’ll show you.”

As the beast spoke, Alphonse became aware of the same heady fragrance invading his nostrils. He recognized it now as the lovely warm scent of lotus blossoms. Waves of desire flooded his young body. He looked into the creature’s crimson eyes and caressed its curved muzzle with the tenderness of a lover. “Yes,” he said, “Show me.”

The beast returned to all fours, and Alphonse wrapped himself around it, pressing his face into the shaggy fur on the back of its neck. Instantaneously, the beast leapt forward and bounded across the length of the battlefield. Over hill and stream it ran until it reached a stony mountain, which it scaled with the agility of a mountain goat. When it came to a recess in the jagged rocks, the beast stopped moving. “Inside,” he whispered.

Alphonse had no desire to let go. “You’ll take me, won’t you? We’ll go together.”

“No, handsome one. I have other affairs.”

“Will I see you again?”

“Very soon.”

“How will I find you? I don’t even know your name.”

“I am Seth, who killed Osiris and stole the eye of Horus. I am Chaos and Destruction. And I will find you, handsome one. Do not delay.”

Reluctantly, Alphonse climbed off Seth and made his way into the cave. Inside, the dying embers of a funeral pyre illuminated its ancient walls. Beyond it, he saw a small woman seated on the floor of the cave. Dark eyes glittered in a flawless, unlined face framed with thick, black hair. She rose as he approached and addressed him in Greek. “Welcome, Alphonse! You’ve found your way to me at last! But you look surprised. Am not as you expected?”

“Oh, forgive me. Somehow I thought you would be older.”

“Well, sometimes I appear so. But why are you blushing? We’re old friends.”

“How can you see me blushing in this light?”

“Your discomfort would be obvious even under the moonless sky. Come now, this timidity doesn’t suit a handsome young soldier such as yourself.”

“No, I suppose it doesn’t. What must you think of me? But how can you say we’re old friends? I would certainly remember a place like this and a woman like you.”

“We are near Pharsalus, in the region of Thessaly. Caesar, though greatly outnumbered, is about to defeat Pompey’s army. The latter will sneak out of camp in the clothing of a civilian and make his way to Egypt, where he will meet his fate. Thence the winding waterways will carry his soul to the shades of his ancestors. I’ve seen you watch the dead man speak his prophesy a hundred times.”

“But you can’t be Erichtho, she’s…”

“A wild hag? Now you see me clearly, and not through the eyes of a hostile Roman. You know me by another name, too. Come closer. Look at me!”

As Alphonse studied her face in the flickering light, he began to recognize the calm determination of an older woman and gasped in recognition. “Daphné!”

The sorceress nodded. “I need your help, and you will be greatly rewarded for it. Now, go back!”

On her command, Alphonse awoke with a start and found himself in the library once more. The scent of lotus permeated the room, forbidding him to dismiss the experience as dream. He put the book aside and went in search of Daphné.


Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, this is so compelling! I would really like to read the whole story. Keep us posted on its progress.

Unknown said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Of course I'll keep you posted!