A Change of Direction
Abaris the Priest, affable little visitor from a far-off land, swooped about among the citizens of Monstro. The golden fletch of his arrow stuck out behind him like the sting of a bee. “Northwards. North!” he tried to tell them. “Travel not toward strife and discord, but turn thy faces north towards peace! For whence cometh sorrow but from Hate? And whence cometh chaos but from War?” He came into land alongside the children.
Thoősa thought it wise to keep her opinions to herself. “Let’s go. Come away, quick,” she told Hylas under her breath. “If we go now, we won’t be missed.”
Hylas did not answer. His face had flushed so red that even in the dark his agitation showed. She took hold of his hand.
“You’ll come too, won’t you,” she whispered, and touched Panacea’s hair which was trembling like water in an earthquake.
Panacea, daughter of the Ever-Gentle doctor, turned on her the almond-shaped eyed that had wept for Talos and Artemis and Echo and for cranes and trees and pirates. “You heard Orion. They lost the right to live the day they killed my father.”
Thoősa stepped backwards in shock. She stumbled up against the Oracle sitting on the ground, paler even than on the day they had first found her fleeing Delphi. “Pythia. Pythia it’s all right. You can come with Hylas and me. We’re still going to Hyperboria. Abaris will show us the way, won’t you Abaris?”
“Indeed, indeed,” said the mild-mannered priest. “I abhor war.”
“There, you see!” Thoősa put a hand under Pythia’s armpit to help her to her feet.
But the Oracle needed no help to get up. She rose with pliant grace and stood a head taller than Thoősa, now that she had raised her head high. “I have a story for you, Storytelling Girl. Something and nothing, but so. When Apollo stole Delphi away from the Earth Goddess, he knocked down her temple and wanted one his own built on the ruin of hers. He chose the very finest architects the world could offer: Agamedes and Trophonius - told them to name their price. They were honoured. They were devout. They were terrified. ‘Pay us whatever is best for Man,’ they said. (A little fawning, I thought, but diplomatic.) They built Apollo a temple so lovely that the morning glories in my garden clambered across the ground to climb its milk white pillars. On the day it was complete, the architects presented themselves for payment – so bright eyed! so excited! I wish I had turned my own eyes away, but I was intrigued too. They wanted to be paid ‘Whatever is best for Man’. What is best for Man?
“Apollo struck them both dead. Then and there. On the steps of their own temple. Their bodies lay rotting in my garden for months. I have the smell here, still, in my mouth. That, you see is what the gods of Olympus think of Humankind. Better off dead than living. They are bullies, my dear, and bullies must be faced down sooner or later. That time has come.”
Thoősa would not give up. She was determined to rescue Hylas, at least, from the vortex of hate dragging everyone down to destruction. An hour later she was still urging, cajoling, nagging him to come away with her: now, while everyone thought the two of them were asleep; now, while Monstro was drinking itself blind; now, while it was still dark; now, while they still could. “You’re Typhon’s Luck: with you gone, Typhon might think twice. He might! Storm Olympus? It’s mad! It can’t be done. Not by a bunch of old giants and a few walking-wounded. What would Heracles say? What would your friend Heracles say if he knew you were part of a Titan coup? Against his own father? Let’s you and I go. We’ll go and find Hyperboria, yes? Or Heracles! I’ll help you find Heracles. He must really miss you….”
Hylas came at her straight from his bed, scrabbling, awkward, digging for purchase with the toes of his sandals. He flung himself on her as the Lamia had, pulling her hair and banging her head on the ground. His sharp knees knelt on her. His spit hit her in the face as he hissed, “Shut your mouth! Stop talking! Leave me be! Go and get yourself a story. Go on. Get out! But leave me be!”
Abaris, small but wiry strong, succeeded in pulling him aside. “Strike me, I beseech you, child! But do not strike your friend!” Hylas squirmed free of them. He sat panting on the ground, hands in his hair.
He told them how, aboard the ship, he had sent the Laelaps to fetch Heracles to rescue them. He had sent the dog-who-could-hunt-down-anything, so Laelaps must have found him. But instead of Heracles, the Laelaps had fetched back Typhon and an army of miscellaneous monsters. “He didn’t come, you see? I sent for him to come and help me, and he didn’t come. He didn’t care what kind of trouble I was in. He doesn’t want me back. Well to Hades with him. The ‘Great Slaughterer’. Kill monsters and chase women, that’s all he ever does. Who needs him? Who needs Heracles?”
Thoősa held her breath. Abaris muttered a prayer in his obscure mother tongue.
Laelaps the Dog, being dumb, of course, could not tell thing the way there were. Hylas got to his feet and went to join the dancing.
The war-dance soon became a riotous and drunken orgy of stamping and yowling. The noise woke peasants in their huts, moles under the ground, birds in their roosts.
On Mount Olympus the nine gods and goddesses stirred in their sleep, woke and lay awake for a while, resolving to take a look when daylight came. Reaching indolent hands through their palace windows, they plucked tufts of cloud to stuff in their ears.
Queen Hera, finding the pillow beside hers empty, ground her teeth and passed an hour knotting triple strands of her hair into curses against her unfaithful husband.
Somewhere warmer, the lecherous Zeus scaled the wall of an African palace and, peering in at the windows, decided to fall in love again. Love affairs killed the boredom. A warm, sandy wind brought him the rumble of distant drums, but he put the rumbling down to indigestion.
Abaris, the man of peace, arranged his robe with care and remounted his arrow. With great courtesy he took his leave of the women sitting aloof from the party. “Each must act according to conscience. But I am very grieved that you will not see the kindly ream of the North Wind and taste the stillness of peace.” And away he sped, into the night sky, a golden flicker like a shooting star. Thoosa watched him with an aching sadness, telling herself that parting from a friend was ‘pain, only pain’ and that it would pass.
Nearby, Xyno the Fixer squatted among his treasures, calculating his next move. If Monstro toppled the Olympians, the market would be gone for god litter. Who wants souvenirs of a dead regime? There again, if Monstro captured Mount Olympus, Xyno might yet nose his way to the spring of hippocrene, elixir of the gods. Think what people would pay for a sip of Paradise! The main thing was to make his loyalties plain. From today onwards, anyone who was not with Monstro would be one of the Enemy.
Pocketing only the smallest of his treasures – the arrowhead – Xyno kicked the rest down a rabbit hole and jumped to his feet. He cleared his throat with a barking cough. Pocketing only the smallest of his treasures – the arrowhead – Xyno kicked the rest down a rabbit hole and jumped to his feet. He cleared his throat with a barking cough.
“Look there! Up there! The priest! The priest’s getting away!” His gloved hands were cupped round his mouth, his head was tilted back. He bawled it from the bottom of his lungs. “He’ll fly to Olympus! He’ll warn the Os! There he goes, look!”
The dancing monsters were already tottery and befogged. The lapiths had been drunk dry and lay on their sides like empty flagons. Monstro frowned and bleared at the little man jumping and yapping around their ankles.
“Abaris the Priest! Look there! He’s getting away!” shouted Xyno.
Thoősa laughed with disbelief. The priest was heading due north, towards the land of his birth and not towards Olympus at all. And how did Xyno think Abaris was to be fetched back from the far end of the sky? She was filled with wonder as his single golden streak was joined by other shooting stars. However many Hyperborians were up there tonight, roaming the world?
But the lights were not golden arrows catching the starlight. They came out of the corner of the sky where that hooligan Perseus kept his collection of pebbles for throwing at Night’s windows. The meteor storm overtook Abaris like cavalry chasing a foot soldier – overtook him and spilled him out of the sky.
“Why?” Thoősa screamed up at the constellations. “Why? What did he ever do to you? He never hurt a soul!”
Some of the spent meteorites clattered against the constellation of Libra and set the Scales of Justice wobbling. A regrettable death – probably unnecessary - but once War is joined, everything must be done to ensure victory.