Seeing the little boat’s sail fill and carry Polyxo and Hylas out to sea, Thoősa was more angry than frightened. She even picked up a stone to pitch at them ...but found it was not a stone at all but a stub of shining metal. Beside her, the head of the brass giant also looked out to sea with eyes even death could not shut, because they had no lids. When she could not pretend any longer that the noise of crying was a trick of the wind or a bird-cry, she went to look inside the cave.
In the dark her eyes only grudgingly revealed the figure of a woman. “It’s safe to come out, you know? The giant is dead,” Thoősa ventured, thinking this woman must have hiding a whole month from the terrifying violence of Talos.
The other only wept more loudly. “I should have saved him! I should have tried! Poor soul. Poor creature. Poor used creature!”
Panacea had witnessed the fall of Talos a month before. At least she had heard it from within her cave: the banshee yelps, the thunderous clatter of the Brass Man falling on to the beach. “I should have gone out to him! I should have tried to save him. My father would have! My father always said, ‘Every time something dies the world darkens at the edges… But I was too afraid they’d see me!”
“The Argonauts?” said Thoősa.
As Thoősa’s eyes adjusted to the dark, she could see that the cave had been the young woman’s shelter and hiding place for a good while. More than a month, certainly. Years.
A cooking fire, blankets, a pile of utensils created from shells, a pail of goat’s milk, containers woven from sea grass. Even so, it made a dismal home, water dripping from the roof, the rattling scuttle of crabs in the deeper recesses. When Panacea told Thoősa her name, it was as if she was confessing to a crime for which she might have to pay with her life.
“I am daughter of Asclepius the Healer, the All-Gentle. Apollo’s son? Talos is lying just where Orion did. On his back, almost the same way. Almost the… Orion the Hunter, yes? You have heard of him? Of course you have. Everyone has heard of Orion.” As she told her story, she plucked leaves from a pocket and twisted and crushed them under her nose, as if prescribing herself a perfume that would take the pain away.
“We were out with my father – my brothers and I - collecting herbs, when the hunter-goddess came. Artemis. All silvery. I don’t know why I remember her that way…. maybe it was the tears... She was frantic – beside herself. ‘Come and help him! Come with me! Please help him!’ she said, clutching at Father. “I’ve shot him. I’ve killed him. No! I mustn’t have! I mustn’t!”
Her brother Apollo – a great joker; such a tease - had pointed to this tiny speck out at sea and said, ‘Bet you can’t hit that’, and so she had taken aim on it. To prove him wrong. To show off her skill. She had fired her bow. Can you imagine? She fired an arrow…. ” Panacea’s eyes were full of distant, uncomprehending sorrow. “She didn’t realise it was Orion, swimming. Her brother’s idea of a joke: he had tricked her into shooting Orion. The love of her everlasting life.”
“I know the story,” said Thoősa.
“Ah! Is that what it is become? A story? A story sounds so painless…. Anyway, Artemis came for help to my father – came looking for Asclepius the Healer. He was such a famous doctor, you see – for all he was mortal - even a goddess came to him for help. Father told my brothers and I to stay home and behave ourselves while he was gone… But I followed. Secretly. At a distance. I wanted to see if it was true – if the Hunter really was dead: the wonderful Orion. When I saw him, lying there, Artemis kneeling over him, washing a dead man’s face with her tears… well, all I wanted was for Father to make him well again – to bring him back …And he would have! He could have! Even though Orion’s heart had stopped and he wasn’t breathing. Even though he was lying there dead… Things newly dead, they hold on to their beauty, you know…” Panacea struck a flint against the wall of the cave and made a spark, catching it with a whisker of goat-wool. She lit a pile of herbs on the cave floor and held her face over the smoke. Her hair almost caught fire.
“ ‘It’s just a door. Death’s just a door.’ I remember: Father kept saying it, over and over, all the time he was laying out his herbs, his wallet of herbs. “It’s a door. It’s just a door.’ But I knew he was frightened; his hands were trembling. No one had ever brought a mortal back from the dead, you see.
“I remember the noise of the sea: like all the ghosts in the Underworld standing on tiptoe, to see if he could do it, all of them saying Me next! Me Next! HE must have heard them, too. HIM up there.” Unable to bring herself to speak the name aloud, Panacea wrote it in the wet sand with a stick:
Z E U S
Then she gouged it to pieces, the stick held in both fists, scratching and digging the name into extinction, grunting with the exertion of it.
“ ‘Save him! Please save my darling!’ Artemis kept saying.
‘It’s a door. Death’s just a door’, Father kept saying. And the sea whispered and Orion lay there, handsome as ever … and the clouds came herding overhead like stupid black sheep… Father put a pellet of herbs against the Hunter’s lips and began to squeeze…
Panacea recoiled, closed up, drew back inside herself like a sea anemone poked with a stick: her eyes into slits, hands into fists, body into a tight coil of limbs. “Mustn’t save a life, you see. Mustn’t fetch the Dead back to life, do you see? That would have made Asclepius the Doctor cleverer than all the gods, wouldn’t it?” Panacea’s lips curled back, and Thoősa could see that her teeth were worn from chewing on the coarse valerian leaves, chewing year after year, in hope of tasting peace. “So HE threw down a thunderbolt – killed my father before he could heal Orion…” Her stick gouged again at the the name in the sand.
“When the Brass Man fell off the cliff last month, the noise was so loud. I thought: Another thunderbolt! I thought: HE has done it again – looked down from Olympus and killed Talos the same way he killed my father. I ran out to see. The poor creature was still alive, groping about with his great brass fingers, scratching at the pebbles.” In her agitation, Panacea grasped Thoősa’s wrist tight, very tight. Her tears were as silver as any Artemis ever shed. “I did nothing, you hear? I stood by and watched Talos bleed to death! Father taught us - as soon as we could walk, my brothers and I - Father began teaching us: about the plants, the healing sciences. But the Immortals killed him for it. So when my turn came, I did nothing. I just stood by and I watched Talos die. Because I was too scared of THEM.”
Scouring about for something comforting to say – feeling her hand would wither if Panacea squeezed any tighter, Thoősa blurted out that Talos did not count as a person: he was just a metal monster. It was the wrong thing to say.
“He had blood in him, didn’t he?” raged Panacea. “The gods put ichor in his veins – the same stuff that flows through their own! So that he’d last! Every day I’d hear him pounding by, running, always running; built to run always and never sleep. He knew I was here. Oh he knew. I thought no one knew where I’d hidden myself, but Talos knew. Last autumn, at wasp time, he came to me. His nose holes were clogged with wasps he had breathed in as he ran, and I cleaned them… he was a friend, almost. Like a friend. Almost a friend.” The tears streamed out of Panacea as though some screw had been dislodged, and her life was leaking away through her eyes. “Now people come along and steal his fingers for souvenirs.”
Thoősa said, “I thought I had a friend too, but he went without me.”
When Thoősa accidentally came across Panacea’s two pet snakes at the back of the cave, she promptly decided she preferred the sunny outdoors, and went to sit on the beach, with the dead Brass Giant. His left leg, not lying flat along the sand but comfortably bent at the knee, gave him the restful air of a sunbather lazing on too small a patch of beach. Except for his staring, empty eyes, Talos might easily have been dozing.
She scraped a hollow and felt for the hole in the back of the right ankle, tracing its circular emptiness with the tip of one finger. She noticed that there was no such screw-hole in the left foot; the ichor had all drained out through Talos’ right heel. A thought took shape.
Panacea came to the mouth of her cave, shielding her eyes against the sun.
“If he was lying like that when the juice drained out,” said Thoősa, thinking aloud, “the body emptied – so did the right leg – but the left one - bent up like that…” Just possibly, the upright shin of Talos’ left leg was still full to the knee with ichor. “If we could just lift that left foot…”
“It would trickle as far as the hip, then run away down the right leg and out of the heel!” said Panacea more agitated than ever by what Thoősa was suggesting.
“Not if we put back the screw,” said Thoősa producing the shining stub of brass from her pocket.
Panacea screwed it back into place in the right heel. Then they lifted the heel – both heels - in easy stages, propping them up with drift wood, resting their muscles between each attempt. They could hear the liquid inside, trickling. It welled into the pelvis - and there it stayed, with no reason to flow uphill towards Talos’ mechanical heart or brain.
“He’s dead! He’s been dead for a month!” Thoősa told herself angrily, for since when had she become a mender of metal monsters?
“But he’s not flesh-and-blood!” Panacea gasped. “There’s no decay with brass!”
So they scraped the sand and shingle from under the brass head, the shoulders, the back, gouging it clear with their hands and with Panacea’s milking pail.
“But there’s so little of it!” cried Thoősa, sweat-sodden and aching. “What’s a mug of blood in a body this size? It was a stupid idea! Why did you listen to me?”
“Not blood. Ichor. God-blood. Human blood replaces itself: you lose some, the body makes more. Why shouldn’t god-blood be the same?” So they went on digging. Gradually, hour by hour, the torso sank down, until Talos lay with his hips higher than his heart. The liquor inside – was it ichor, or just a slop of seawater that had leaked in? – trickled with syrupy slowness through the brazen pipework of his bowels, his diaphragm, his chest.
“And if it works?” said Thoősa , holding her aching spine, backing away. “What’s to say he won’t kick us to death or squeeze us like lemons?”
“Every time something dies, the world gets darker,” murmured the daughter of Asclepius obstinately. She fetched from the cave the wallet of medicine, her most precious possession, taken from beside the lightning-scorched body of her dead father. Within minutes, like a child holding buttercups under a grown-up’s chin, she was holding a posy of herbs in front of the boreholes in Talos’ face: smelling-salts for a dead monster. “Never again,” she said, making a vow of it, turning it into a solemn oath: “Never again will I stand by and do nothing while a living thing dies.” Her voice was harsh and bitter, but one hand was stroking the brass man’s temple, while the other, with its bouquet of herbs, coaxed him, pleaded with him to draw…
Somewhere inside Talos, the valves and tappets of a dozen intricate devices – a clock, a hygrometer, a hive of octagonal chambers - felt the lubricating magic of god-blood. A tin millwheel turned. Talos the Guardian of Crete, forged in volcanic furnaces at the command of the gods, sat up and coughed till sand ran out of his no-ears.
Left behind with the Brass Man, Thoosa meets the Doctor’s daughter