The cargo of collectibles Polyxo had brought back from his sea voyage was delivered to the ship-shaped mansion by a convoy of carts: white bear furs, twelve-stringed instruments, ceramic tiles painted with strange alphabets, vases, stoves and the horns of gazelles. His collection was growing into the finest the world had ever seen. But the only eyes to see it were those of the Collector himself.
“Heracles will track me down! Then you’ll be sorry!” said Hylas with puny menace, while Polyxo installed more candle sconces in the wall, the better to illuminate Hylas’ beauty. As soon as he was gone, Hylas blew out all the candles again, and sat in the dark, sooner than be watched like a fish in a pond.
He grubbied his face, too: smeared his hair with food… but he only did it once. “The boy who was here before you,” said the Collector, handing him a bowl of water, “he reached the ugly age. His features got coarse. Spots. Blemishes. After that he was good for nothing but to feed to the Great Leeches of Po.” After Polyxo was gone, Hylas washed his face and combed the food out of his hair.
Polyxo was forever having to replace exhibits; sometimes it irked him how soon they aged and decayed. Captive nymphs pined to death, the hides of giraffes faded. The scalp of a dead Siren was bound to rot. Boys age. Even the index finger of the Brass Guardian of Crete needed polishing if it was to go on shining on its marble tabletop.
That is how it came to be lying in Polyxo’s lap, cushioned on sacking and covered in a paste of salt, flour and vinegar, when a splash of reflected sunlight danced across the house wall. Sitting under his vine, Polyxo pondered how he might capture such sunny flickerings and keep them in an aquarium… Then the source of the flicker came into view, crunching over the beach.
Talos the Brass Man.
Polyxo loosed the guard dogs, of course. He sounded the alarm.
No one came running. Polyxo lived alone, because he did not trust anyone near his priceless collection.
Talos moved haltingly. He was enfeebled, anaemic, his mechanical heart skipping the occasional beat for want of ichor to pump. But having woken from death and raised his hands to his face and found a finger stolen from his right hand, he had sniffed the air – the hunter snuffing up the scent of himself – and come in search of the thief.
After a short chase around the beach, he picked up Polyxo and held him close – a baby at its mother’s breast, a toddler’s ups-a-daisy. Polyxo struggled less hard than he might, because logic kept telling him that he was dreaming: he had seen Talos dead, and the Dead do not come back to life. The metal chest (he could clearly see his reflection in it) felt warm from the sun - well, warmer than that, actually. Bees that had nested in the great head during its ‘hibernation’ emerged from the ears at speed now – a hail of bees expelled by the heat. The delicate, dextrous brass fingers grew rosy at the tips; the whole giant grew hotter and hotter.
The cyclopses who forged Talos for the gods had sealed into him (in place of a spleen) a lump of larva from in the heart of a volcano. So now Talos grew red hot. He grew white hot. The metal of his body sang with heat. Metal bars in a nearby window softened, melted and looped downward like liquorice.
When Thoősa and Panacea arrived a two hours later, on their little short legs, there was no sign of the Collector. Talos was busy prising the roof off the various rooms of the mansion, surprising himself with sudden flurries of birds, butterflies and expected smells. His chest was stained with a patch of black soot which had not been there earlier, and he swayed a little with fatigue and heat exhaustion. In fact, when he found tanks of water set into the floors of the palace, he drank them dry, first lobbing the sea nymphs and mermaids far out to sea.
Hearing, from his prison cell, the noise, the screams, the guard dogs, Hylas thought that Heracles must have come to his rescue. “You found me, master!” he cried, as his room’s roof was peeled away plank by plank. He began piling up birdcages and a crocodile, to clamber out over the wall. But before he could do so, he found himself in the grip of a vast, maimed, metal hand as the giant lifted and lowered him clumsily to the beach.
“You left me,” said Thoősa coldly.
Only after he pleaded kidnap and imprisonment did she forgive him. Only after he thanked her for bringing Talos back to life and looked at her with open admiration did she decide she liked him again.
Together, they watched the Brass Man, on hands and knees, dipping into the separate rooms of the roofless mansion, like a child into a toy box. Finding it hard to pick things up, he returned to the shade under the vine, scratching about until he found his missing finger. Helplessly Talos held it out to them, in the hand that had lost it. He needed Panacea to screw it back into place.
While she did so (Hylas noticed), she talked to the monster, just as if it was a human and had feelings and could understand what she said.