A Long Lost Memory
Xanthus the Horse trotted over to Panacea who was spilling from her bag all her pastes, herbs and tinctures. The horse stood over her, eyes fixed on her in abject worship, trying to fill up his brain with her beauty and to shut out the ugliness overhead. Panacea, scrabbled through her medicaments for something that might salve the fearful gash in Prometheus’ stomach, ease the pain, repel the flies, at least - repel the vultures! But Pythia had helped herself to all the pacifying, pain-killing leaves: there were none left. Panacea begged Prometheus’ forgiveness. The fear in her hands made her pet snakes circle her wrists and cling there. “I will find something – I will heal you, Lord Prometheus! My father was Asclepius the Ever-Gentle!”
Prometheus bent is head awkwardly to pick out her shape among the rest. “I am glad his genius lives on in you… but please, do not trouble yourself. After all, it is only pain. A visitor told me that once - I forget who: I was in rather too much pain at the time.”
Arachne, the Sibyl and Tithonus the grasshopper crept together and pooled their wispy whispering. Even the giants, brute beasts who generally delighted in the thump of fist against flesh and the crunching of bones milled miserably about, looking at the ground sooner than look up at Prometheus.
Thoősa threw her arms around Pegasus and sank her face in the white mane and the beast’s wings half opened, trembling.
The Brass Man had been so smeared with camouflaging mud that only when he moved did his great bulk catch the eye. “If none but Zeus can loose the Maker of Man,” said Talos, “then must Zeus go on living until the Maker of Man is loose. Fate has decweed it.”
Typhon writhed with irritation. The very sound of the brass giant’s poetical voice fetched black smoke from under the scales on his lower body. But compassion, like some dismal head cold had infected most of Monstro, slowing them down, clogging their resolve. Immune to such feelings, Typhon felt only the slow trickle of time going to waste. “Speak, Lucky Boy. Tell what Fate you found in the Cave of the Three Hags.”
“Nothing! We found nothing!” said Thoősa, but hers was, as always, a voice of no consequence. All eyes turned on Hylas.
“I did,” said Hylas. “The Fates told me.”
Vile boy, thought Thoősa. Now he will tell them that the Os are going to lose the battle and Monstro’s going to win. Look at him revelling in his moment of glory.
Hylas hesitated. He reached into the back of his shirt, troubled by an itchy strand of loose wool.
Stheno mistook the pause for a cowardly small boy having second thoughts, playing for time, concocting some lie. “Why should we trust what a mortal child says? He won’t tell the truth. What reason does he have to hate Zeus the way we of Monstro hate?”
Hylas shuddered violently. Inside his head was a firestorm, a maelstrom that made thinking very hard. Faster and faster it circled, feelings and images whirling round a single new memory. “It’s the wool,” he said faintly. “It’s made me remember something... I never remembered back so far before.
“Or maybe I forgot on purpose. I must have been very small when it happened. This man came to my father’s house with a gang of followers. He wanted two oxen.”
And there it was. The unmistakable, irresistible intonation of a story. Ears swivelled towards it. Thoősa turned in utter surprise.
“Not ordinary oxen. They were a present from the gods in return for …something or other. I don’t know. Special, though. Magic oxen.”
Xanthus and Balius moved closer, flank against flank, Pegasus lifted a twitchy hind leg.
“This man I said about… he wanted the oxen so he could cut their throats – a holy sacrifice – a thanksgiving for some piece of luck... Something. Father said no; said he needed the beasts for ploughing – had people depending on him for food from his fields. He offered any of the other animals – the horses in his stable - said he would let his farm hands join the man’s following. But the magic oxen were a gift and, apart from anything else, you don’t give away a gift, do you? It’s rude to the person who gave it.
“So the bully punched my father. It was only one punch. But it only takes one. Father was dead. My master, you know… he’s a grown man. But he has this temper, you know? He calls it madness – says he can’t help it. Says he gets cursed now and then by the goddess Hera. But me I say his mother should have slapped him the first time he did it and told him to put his filthy temper down the privy… Children throw tantrums, don’t they? Children kick and punch and chew on the furniture, don’t they? But he’s a grown man. Men are supposed to know better. He was sorry after. (He’s usually sorry after.) Said Father shouldn’t have provoked him – it was the curse of Hera – all that, but he would make it right. ‘What a pretty boy. What a sturdy little lad. Be comforted, Mani… Meni…’ Look at me: I can’t even remember my mother’s name! ‘Be comforted,” says this man. “I’ll take your boy and train him up to be my armour bearer. Then your family name will always be linked to Heracles son of Zeus!”
“I don’t know what she said – my mother. It’s all mixed up. There was Father lying dead on his day couch. The servants all out hunting swans, needing swans. Why swans? I don’t remember why they needed swans. Heracles’ ‘followers’ helping themselves to everything in sight; and Mother… my poor mother. … Not a kindness, is it? To kill someone’s husband and then take away their son? Heracles killed my father. And I forgot. And I should be flogged from here to Hades for forgetting, but I was only four or five or something… And I’ll make up for it! I will! So you see, Stheno, I do have hate, me. Just as much as all you snakes and snarlers. And I can do temper and punching people and I will one day… I will…”
“Oh, Hylas…” said Thoősa, but did not know how to go on.
“Hylas, it’s all right…” called Panacea, meaning that he did not have to say any more.
“Hylas…” called Stheno, by way of salutation: one avenger to another.
“Hylas? You are Hylas, servant of Heracles?” The loudness of Prometheus voice, its urgent, altered pitch startled everyone, including the griffin vultures which started up, half awake, and fluttered from their perch on the Echidna’s shoulders to midnight-snack on their favourite food. “NO! It is not your time!” screamed Prometheus, “You fed today already!” But the birds had followed slavishly the instructions Zeus had given them; they often snacked between meals. Even given the marvellous power of the liver to regenerate itself, it was a wonder the vultures left enough for it to re-grow day by day, again and again and again and again and again and again. Monstro drew in a single breath, and held it until the appalling noise overhead fell silent.
“I had not finished,” said Hylas sharply. (It was as if he was annoyed by the interruption to his story.) “I hadn’t finished what I was saying. You want to know what I found out in the Cave of the Fates? So listen. Yes, I hate Heracles because of what he did to you. What he did to me. I hate Zeus - same vile temper - a family thing, it must be. How else could he do this – this thing – this up-there thing….” He glared around him, his face a snarl of contempt for the King of the Olympians. “But so what? So what? What do they matter? What do any of the O’s matter? What’s Zeus to me? What’s he to anyone mortal like me? He didn’t make us - didn’t have the skill. When did any of the Olymps do anything for anyone who wasn’t a Hero or a pretty girl or one of their demi-goddy sons? Zeus never cared a donkey’s whistle about me and you. This man here: he’s the only one we owe. He’s the only one we ought to… And he’s a Titan.” Hylas took a deep, deep breath, glanced across at Thoősa, and delivered his devastating lie. “You want to know what we found out in the Cave of the Fates? I’ll tell you. Talos was quite right. We found out that Zeus can’t be defeated. Not yet. First off, Prometheus has to be set free. Isn’t that right, Thoősa?”
“Exactly right,” said Thoősa, and took Hylas by the hand, and squeezed so hard that he whimpered.