by John Nation
Medusa's story. How she was cursed by Athena and sentenced to eternity in Hell.
The Werewolf Chronicles
Athens, 420 BC
Athens was waking to another summer day. After the cool night, young boys raced up and down the streets of the city extinguishing street lamps to conserve the costly oil. Vendors opened shops to the sound of children playing in narrow lanes and clatter and clanking of goat drawn carts. The chatter of merchants arguing with potential buyers over prices ebbed and flowed with the shrinking and growth of the crowd. Citizens waited at the entrance to the court to have the judges hear their complaints and petitions. Soldiers carrying long spears patrolled the streets, prepared to stop any disturbance. The sky was covered in fluffy, white clouds. The imagination of the people could see great heroes and horrible beasts take shape in them.
Concrete structures covered the ground. The dominant feature was the Temple of Athena, visible from anywhere within the city. Perched high above the rest of the city, the temple looked down on the ones that worshiped the goddess within its walls. People coming to pay homage made their way along well-worn paths. Some carried sacks filled with grains or breads or fruits. Others palmed small bags with a few meager coins. Rich or poor, they made their way up the hill.
The citizens had long flowing robes made of satin and silk that helped them stay cool during the day. The upper class had slaves to do any heavy work. As a result, people could tell by looking if a person was rich. The richer someone was, the fatter they were.
Far from the temple, a man trod a worn path of his own making, carrying a sheaf of wheat across his back. Anyone seeing him would know at once he was not one of the elite. He was thin and his coat was nothing more than a goatskin, beginning to wear with time. He entered his small home and dropped the bundle at his wife's feet.
"Another bad year," Phorcys said to his wife, Ceto. "Will it never end? Why are we tormented like this? Never has a spring come that we have not offered gifts to Athena. Each year we do this and still our fields will not produce crops. Our nets never pull in fish. We are starving. If we cannot change our destiny, we will not live to see the harvest."
"Phorcys, not all of our fortune is bad. You have three lovely daughters. There are men that would pay you much to have them as wives."
"Yes, but would you have your daughters serving men that did not love them, but only wanted them for pleasure? What kind of life would you have them lead?"
"When you first purchased me, was it not only for pleasure? Yet here we are, deeply in love with each other."
"I hear tales of daughters sold into marriage. They end up used as whores, having to give all of their monies to the men they call husband. They spread their legs for any that can pay the price while their husbands drink and eat, living off the labors of the women."
"It has always been so."
"It will not be for our daughters! Stheno and Euryale should be wed to kings. They are fair to look upon and have the voice of angels. What of Medusa? The lass is only twelve. Would you have one as young as her serving the wants of the vilest of men? Her beauty is beyond compare. She should have a god to wed. She would walk among them as an equal."
Ceto stood in front of her husband and placed a hand upon his shoulder. "Is it as bad as you say?"
"Look for yourself." He hurried to the shelf they used as a pantry. The only item it held was a half loaf of bread. "The fields barely produce enough for bread. For five days now we have not had fish. The ocean is empty. We have six copper pieces. It will be enough to purchase food for a week, but when that is gone, we will die."
'"What would you have us do?"
"It might be possible to keep four of us alive. If there are five mouths to feed, the family will die."
''Then we must lose one of our daughters. Whom would you select?''
''I will not give my daughters over to a life of slavery. We must find a way to reduce our number by one, and yet at the same time not curse the one leaving.''
''How would you have us do this?''
''There is only one way. Athena seeks only the most beautiful and the most pure to be a temple maiden. Medusa can meet both of those qualities.''
''You would give Medusa to Athena? Was it you that said only moments ago the gods have turned their backs upon us? Why would Athena listen to your pleas?''
''My words she may not hear, but her eyes cannot look upon Medusa and deny she is all that is sought after as a temple maiden. If she sees her and learns she is pure, she will select her. Athena may even bless us with food and riches as a reward for bringing Medusa to her.''
''Then it will be as you say. It will better to lose one than all.''
Ceto hurried outside and called her children. The mother and daughters came in together. Ceto stood next to her husband as they looked upon their daughters.
The eldest was Stheno. At seventeen years, she was of marrying age. All the young men of the area courted her, but they were as poor as her parents and could not come up with the dowry to purchase her. The ones that could afford her were the ones her father would not have as her husband. She was five feet nine inches tall, statuesque for the people of her time. Her hair was dark as coal. Her brown eyes looked upon her parents with love. They had never harmed her or treated her unfairly. She was strong. Her arms and legs showed muscle from working in the fields all day.
Next to her was Euryale. Her hair was blond. The people of her village said the sun paled next to her. Her eyes were blue as the sky. She smiled almost all the time. Her heart was filled with the joy of life and she spread happiness whenever she could.
The last to enter was Medusa. At twelve years, she was not yet as tall as her sisters. Her hair was red, a rare occurrence for the citizens of Greece. There were times she stood next to the sea, letting the ocean breeze flow over her. From a distance, many believed her hair was fire, dancing in the wind. Some said she was blessed by the gods. Just as many said it was demons that sanctified her and she would live a life of misery. Her green eyes twinkled in the light.
Stheno and Euryale were beautiful and men dreamed of being with them. Both sisters realized the day would come when Medusa would be more favorable in the eyes of men. There was no jealousy or resentment because of this. The bond between them was strong and they cared for one another.
Phorcys looked his daughters over and wiped a tear from his eye as he said, ''Daughters, your mother and I are taking Medusa to the Parthenon. There, we will offer her to the goddess as a handmaiden.''
At once, Stheno and Euryale begged their father to take one of them and spare their younger sister.
''This is as it must be,'' Ceto said. ''It is better to have one as a temple maiden opposed to all of us dying or sentenced to bondage. If Medusa is selected, it will be a blessing to her. She shall never hunger again. She will not work in the fields but instead enjoy the fruits of being the handmaiden of a goddess." She handed three of the copper coins to Stheno. ''Take these and buy food until your father and I return. We should not be gone longer than three days.''
Medusa trembled in fear as her mother took her hand. ''It is for the best that we do this. Surely you will be rewarded by the gods this day.'' Her parents led her out of the house. Medusa glanced back and saw her sisters for the last time, holding on to each other and crying as they waved to her. They traveled until dark and slept at the side of the road. They were up early the next morning to continue the journey.
Medusa first caught sight of the temple when they rounded a bend in the road. It sat atop the highest hill in Athens. Even from a distance, she was amazed at how wonderful it appeared. Its marble pillars held the roof high above the floor of the temple. They were huge, dwarfing the people as they passed. Smoke rose from the center of the temple, where handmaidens placed the grain into the fire so that it might reach Athena. She could see worshipers as they climbed the hill, carrying baskets of fruit, grain, silver, gold, and other riches as offerings in hope of having their prayers answered.
It was mid-afternoon when they reached their destination. The entrance to the temple was crowded with people waiting to get in and others shoving their way out. When at the temple, a temple worker asked, ''What sacrifice have you brought to seek the blessing of Athena?''
Phorcys pointed to his daughter and said, ''We bring the gift of a child. This is our youngest daughter, Medusa. We would ask that the goddess select her to work in the temple.''
''There are many that seek to have a daughter be a handmaiden. Why would Medusa be favored over them?''
''Look upon her,' Ceto said. 'Can you not see that already her beauty is beyond compare? Each day she only grows more beautiful. She is as clean as the purest water. Never has a man touched her. She is strong and healthy. For many years she will serve the goddess of the temple.''
The handmaiden looked closely at Medusa. She put her hand under her chin and lifted her head so she could see her. She moved her fingers through her hair, feeling its texture and strength. ''I am Solaris,'' she said. She stroked her hair once again. ''Hair of fire,'' she said. ''Few are born with hair like this that are not cursed.''
''Even more reason to take her,'' Phorcys said. ''Surely as a faithful servant, Athena will protect her from those that would curse her.''
Solaris did not respond. Instead, she turned Medusa slowly around, looking for any marks or blemishes. She did not see any. ''Your skin is as smooth and perfect as flawless silk, your hair is fire and your eyes are emeralds. You are indeed beautiful.'' Solaris leaned in closer and whispered where only Medusa could hear her. ''You may become too beautiful.''
Solaris released Medusa and faced the parents. ''Only one out of a thousand that brings a daughter as offering gets past me to be tested of Athena. Medusa will be the first in two years to have done so.''
She placed an arm around Medusa and pulled her to her side before looking upon her parents again. ''You will wait here. We will be gone for a time. It may be as little as an hour or it might be the remainder of the day. Whatever the time, wait. When I return I may have your daughter with me. If that is so, it means Athena did not choose her and had me return her. If I am alone, it will mean your daughter is blessed as few are. She will be taken to the center of the temple where she will be taught the rules she must live by.''
''Let it be as you say,'' Ceto said.
Medusa was led across the temple courtyard. As she moved, she saw other temple workers pause in what they were doing to stare at her. She disappeared from her parents sight when taken to the center of the temple.
They stopped in a large room a hundred feet across. The walls and floor were made of marble. The ceiling was the sky. There were fewer people here, and all of them were female. They were dressed in the temple garb, pure white robes with a flower at one shoulder to fasten it. Medusa noticed all of them with the exception of Solaris had the robes pinned at the right shoulder. Solaris had hers pinned at the left. In the middle of the room was a forty foot tall statue of the goddess. The workmanship was beyond anything the young girl had ever seen.
Solaris led Medusa to a marble bench near the statue and set down. She ordered Medusa to stand in front of her. ''Disrobe,'' she said.
Medusa reached to her shoulder and unfastened the string that held her robe on. She was not embarrassed by what she did. It was not uncommon for the people of Athens to be nude. The garment dropped to the floor and she stepped out of it.
Solaris looked her over carefully, searching for any signs of scars or blemishes hidden by her robe. There were no bruises or marks anywhere on her body. ''Have you ever been with a man?', she asked. ''You must be honest. If you have been, tell me. I will take you back to your parents and tell them Athena did not select you and that will be where it ends. If you have been and lie to me about it, Athena will know. You will be cursed and die a slow death. Speak up now, the truth.''
''No, I have never been with another.''
''What of kissing? Surely one as attractive as you will have the young men after you. Kissing will not necessarily mean Athena will not choose you, but you must be honest with her. Lying to a goddess is not a wise thing to do.''
''I have never felt the hand of a man except for my father. I do not know why, but I would never touch one. If a male reached out to touch me, I pulled away. When working in the fields, I always moved from them so they could not bump into me. This has always been so.''
''What of your health? Does the cold air make you cough? Do you wake in the middle of the night with nightmares? Are your eyes clear and your hearing sharp?''
''I am strong. I sleep peacefully and I can see the tail feathers of the eagle as it flies. As to my hearing, I hear two of your maidens on the other side of the statue, wondering about me.''
Solaris leaped to her feet. Medusa watched as she hurried to the other side of the statue. Medusa heard her as she shouted out, ''Be gone, the two of you. This is not the time to play but a time to work.'' There was the sound of a slap and Medusa saw two young girls run back to where they were supposed to be.
A moment later, Solaris returned to Medusa. ''You appear to be fit to work here. I will give you one last opportunity to return to your parents. Life here can be wonderful. You will never hunger or grow sick. You will be given strength and wisdom. It can also be hard. You will be required to meet certain standards at all times. Failing to meet them can lead to punishments from as minor as a slap,'' she said while gesturing to where the two girls that spied on them were now hard at work. ''Or it can have consequences far more brutal, depending on the severity of the law you break.''
''Death?'' Medusa asked.
''Death is a minor punishment. If they are angered, there are things far worse than death the gods can do to you. If there is anything you wish to say, now will be the last chance you have. If there is any reason you are not worthy to be a Maiden of Athena, speak now.''
''I have spoken nothing but truth since you laid eyes on me. If I am selected by Athena, I will do everything required of me. I will retain my virtue. I shall never do an act that will displease the goddess.''
''You have convinced me. Now you must convince Athena.''
Solaris stood and called out loudly so all in the room could hear her. ''Leave here and work in the outer part of the temple. Do not return until I tell you to do so. Failure to obey will lead to more than a slap,'' she said while staring at the two girls she chased away a few minutes earlier.
In less than a minute, Medusa was alone with Solaris. ''Kneel with me,'' she commanded. She moved to her knees and placed her elbows upon the bench. Medusa copied her actions. Solaris stretched her arms out towards the statue. ''Great Athena, hear the words of your servant, Solaris. A young girl has come before you to offer herself as a maiden. I have found her to be pure. I ask you to bless us with your presence that you may decide for yourself if she is worthy of you.''
Medusa looked from Solaris to the statue. Then she saw a faint glow of light surround the figure. Before her eyes the light grew brighter and the statue began to shrink. Soon it was the size of a tall woman. Then to Medusa's astonishment, it lost its stone features and turned to flesh. Athena stepped from the pedestal and moved to them.
''Rise,'' she said to the kneeling women.
To Medusa, the voice of the goddess was as thunder, shaking her to her center. With quivering knees, she did as commanded. As Solaris did earlier, Athena placed her hand under her chin and lifted her head. Her touch felt like a steel sword encased in silk.
''I am Medusa,'' Medusa said.
Yes, I know,'' Athena replied. ''I have watched you since you were born and know all you have said to Solaris is true. It is not your past that concerns me but your future. You are beautiful and will only grow more beautiful with the passing of each day. Men will look upon you with favor, desiring your touch and your body. If I choose you, you must never give in to what they want. As long as you remain a virgin, I will bless you as few others have ever been. The day you lose your virginity, the curse will be beyond what you can imagine.''
''I swear my loyalty with my life. Each day I will pledge to worship you and obey every command you give.''
''That is the devotion I demand. Do as I say and you will have joy that will never end.''
She turned to Solaris. ''Teach young Medusa well. The day will come that you shall visit the highest plains of the Elysian Fields for your faithful service. On that day if Medusa has kept her pledge, she will take your place and she shall become my greatest temple maiden.''
''It will be as you command,'' Solaris said as she bowed her head.
Athena reached into her robe and pulled out a sack. Medusa could hear the coins jingle as she handed it to Solaris. ''Give this to Phorcys. Tell him for bringing Medusa to me, from this day forward his crops will grow heavy with grain. His nets will overflow with the bounty of the seas. He and his family will never lack for anything again.''
Before the two mortals, Athena lifted herself into the air and moved backwards as she returned to the base where the statue had stood. She turned to stone again and regained her size. With the exception of the bag of coins in Solaris' hand, there was no evidence the goddess had ever been there.
''Wait here. I will be back shortly.'' Solaris left to speak with the parents of Medusa.
She had not been gone long when the temple maidens began to return. All of them stared at Medusa as they went about their business. Soon after, Solaris reappeared. ''Follow me,'' she commanded. She led her to the two young girls Medusa heard behind the statue. ''This is Apollela and Geneatta. When they are not wasting their time, they are adequate workers. They will show you where you will eat and sleep.''
She looked sternly at the two young girls. ''Put her in the room across from mine.''
Both girls bowed their head. ''Yes, Solaris,'' Geneatta said. She looked at Medusa. ''Please, come with us.''
Medusa followed them to a passage hidden from the sight of the statue. She moved down a long corridor with halls branching off to the side. They turned down one of them and stopped at a room near the end.
''This is your room.'' Apollela said. ''Solaris is in the one across from you. Be careful not to disturb her.''
Medusa looked around the room. It was about the same size as the home she had shared with her parents and sisters. There was a bed in one corner. Coverings and blankets were on it along with a pillow. In another corner was a basin of water. A highly polished piece of metal hung on one wall to use as a mirror. Medusa thought it more pleasant than the home she left.
After her inspection she turned to the two with her. ''How will I be trained?''
Apollela answered. ''Solaris will assign a temple maiden as your mentor. This mentor will teach you the rules you must obey.''
''Is Solaris cruel?''
''No, not really. She is strict, but when she has to punish, she always chooses the lightest of the punishments listed for the offense.''
'She has a list of punishments?'
''Yes. Athena gave it to her on the day she became the senior handmaiden. It has an assortment of punishments for different sins. Solaris will never let an error go unpunished, but she will select the smallest penalty listed.''
''What tasks do you have?''
''We sort the offerings into different categories. The worshipers place their gifts into one of the offering chambers. We collect them and divide them into grains, fruits, gold, silver, jewels and other items,'' Geneatta said.
''It is time for dinner and evening prayers,'' Apollela said. ''We must not be late. Solaris would not look favorably upon you being late the first day you are here.''
Medusa followed them out of her room and back down the hallway. She took careful count of each hallway she passed so she could find her way back. She entered another chamber almost as large as the one holding the statue of Athena. There were many women in this area. Medusa and her two companions were among the youngest. Some were so old other temple maidens held their arms to help them to the tables.
There were a dozen lines of tables. Medusa counted eight tables in each line. Only one side of the tables had a bench, so all the people faced the same direction. At the front of the hall was a lone table. It was up a small flight of steps so it was eight feet higher than the others. It was as large as the rest, but only one person sat at it. Solaris faced the tables below her and kept watch as all her workers joined her for the evening meal.
Medusa followed Apollela and Geneatta to their table at the rear of the hall. Before Medusa could take her seat, the room grew silent as Solaris spoke. She called out loudly so none of them would have trouble hearing her, ''Medusa, come sit at my side.''
The entire hall swung their heads around to stare at her. At first, Medusa did not move, but then Geneatta gave her a small push. Medusa moved to the edge of the room and walked along the wall to where Solaris waited. She felt every eye following her as she did. She paused at the bottom of the steps and collected her courage before climbing up the stairs and moving to the other side of the table where Solaris waited. Solaris patted the bench next to her and Medusa sat down.
Solaris raised her hands like she did earlier when calling for Athena. She asked Athena to bless them that they might continue to serve her and keep her temple holy. She thanked her for the countless blessings bestowed upon them. She finished her prayer and lowered her arms. When she did, plates of food appeared on the tables.
Medusa took a deep breath as the most delicious aromas came to her. She ran her hand over the gold dish in front of her. Gold eating utensils and a golden goblet also appeared. Next to it were baskets of fruits and breads. There was a pot containing the most magnificent soup she had ever seen. Her goblet was filled to the brim with cold, fresh water.
She watched as Solaris broke a piece of bread from the loaf and handed it to her. ''Eat well,'' Solaris said. ''You will need your strength, for tomorrow the training will begin. Pray to Athena nightly that she will give you strength and wisdom to overcome the trials that await you.''
Medusa filled her plate. The food tasted as grand as it smelled. For the first time in over a year she could eat her fill. After the meal, the workers began to clear the tables. Solaris stood and said, ''You will take my plate along with yours to the cleaning room. After that, stay with Apollela and Geneatta. They will see you are cared for until it is time to sleep.'' She stood and walked away. Medusa watched her leave before gathering the plates.
She rejoined Apollela and Geneatta and followed them as they went to one more room. Medusa heard the sound of running water as she waited in line. When it was their turn to clean the plates, they moved to the stream flowing close to the wall. Medusa saw it enter the room under one wall and leave the room on the other side.
They kneeled down next to the stream. Medusa followed the example of her two companions and laid the dishes in the water. The stream removed all the particles of food. Once clean, they placed the plates and goblets on the other side of the water. Medusa watched as they vanished from sight.
Medusa did not move, frozen in amazement until Geneatta touched her shoulder. ''Come with us,'' she said. ''There are more things to learn.''
She went with them to a room filled with pools. The women undressed and stepped into the pools to bathe. The water was clear and warm. ''Let me wash your hair,'' Apollela said. She took Medusa's hair in her hands and ran her fingers through it. ''I have never seen red hair before. When I first saw it, I wondered if it was hot.''
Geneatta said, ''I find your eyes amazing. It is almost as if they are made of emeralds. You will be the most beautiful of all of Athena's workers. It is no wonder she selected you to be with us.''
After the bath, the girls left the pools and used towels draped along the wall to dry themselves. The tattered robe Medusa wore when she first arrived was taken away. In its place she was given a pure white robe of silk. Apollela used a small ruby in the shape of a rose to pin the garment at her right shoulder. Once dressed, they returned to the center chamber. The statue of Athena looked down upon them as they talked with one another. Medusa was at the center of the crowd that gathered around her. There were as many questions about the world outside the temple as there were about her. None of them had been outside the temple since the day Athena selected them as one of her workers. Each of them moved forward to stroke her hair as they spoke to her.
Medusa did not know how long she had been there when there was the sound of a bell in the distance. The women turned and walked away. Apollela took Medusa's hand. ''It is the time we return to our chambers to meditate and sleep. When the morning comes, you will be assigned a temple maiden to aid you in your training. Can you find your way back or do you need one of us to lead you?''
''I believe I know the way. Thank you for caring for me this first day.''
Medusa stayed with her companions until they turned down one of the halls. At each corridor, others turned away. By the time she reached her hallway, all the others had turned from her. She rounded the corner in time to see Solaris enter her room.
Medusa moved to her compartment, closing the drape behind her. She did not know the prayers she was to say, so she laid down on her cot and went to sleep.
#3. Medusa Chapter Two
ID #819700 entered on March 23, 2015 at 5:10pm
#2. Medusa Chapter Three
ID #819701 entered on December 4, 2014 at 5:05pm
#1. Medusa Chapter Twenty-Three
ID #819736 entered on April 3, 2015 at 2:23pm