Legend, myth and fantasy blended into one story for the Magic Words contest.
List #2 (words in red and bold).
THE LEGEND OF PETROS AND HIRANA
Nothing mattered more to Petros than that he should rescue the one person that he most cared for in the whole world, and he dedicated his life to finding and saving her.
Petros never ceased to be amazed when he reflected on how he came to be in this situation. He was a tall, powerful young man with curly black hair and unusually deep blue eyes who was apprenticed in his father’s smithy in the village of Sopothia. One afternoon as he was taking a break outside the smithy he saw a young woman stumble towards him, and he caught her as she fell exhausted at his feet.
“Hold on, miss,” he said kindly, seeing how distressed she looked. “You can rest here a while and I’ll fetch you some water.” After she had drunk what seemed to Petros to be more water than anyone could possibly hold, he asked her name, where she was going and where she had come from.
“I think my name is Hirana, but that’s all I know. The only thing I remember was that yesterday I found myself on this road and I had a sense that I needed to travel in this direction, but that really is all I do know. I have no memory of where I came from or where I am supposed to go,” and with that, she burst into a flood of tears.
Petros was a kind-hearted young man and hated to see this young woman in such misery; besides, he thought that under all the travel grime and tiredness, she was most attractive. So he went in search of his father, a giant of a man who, like Petros, had a soft heart. When he met Hirana, he saw her despair and agreed that she could stay with them “until she recovers”. Hirana expressed her gratitude by taking over many domestic chores for Petros’ mother, who was also the community midwife and the closest thing to a healer that the village possessed.
Hirana soon became part of the family, and a friend to Petros’ young sister, who responded affectionately to the newcomer. Hirana’s past remained shrouded in mystery, although a strong attachment developed between her and Petros. They exchanged passionate kisses and expressions of love and devotion, although Petros seemed unable or unwilling to take the physical relationship further.
This idyllic situation continued for about a year until one afternoon, out of the blue a fierce thunderstorm erupted across the village. Petros and Hirana were out walking when the storm hit, and Petros was blown into the trunk of a large old tee and knocked unconscious. The storm departed as quickly as it had started, but when Petros recovered, Hirana was nowhere to be found. The whole village searched for her, but she seemed to have disappeared as unexpectedly as she had arrived, and Petros was heartbroken. He had already started to visualise a future for Hirana and himself, and this now seemed just a broken dream.
But dreams are strange forces. A few nights after Hirana’s disappearance, Petros woke with a start from a dream so vivid that it hardly seemed like a dream. There was no doubt about the message; Petros was to locate Hirana and save her from becoming a sacrifice to Hadistis, the god of the underworld at the full moon that would happen exactly on the summer solstice, a relatively rare occurrence. This gave him just four months to find Hirana, but almost no information about where she was being held, or how to rescue her.
Petros was in no doubt that he was compelled to undertake this mission. Leaving behind his apprehensive family, he set out in a positive frame of mind, convinced that he would be able to find his missing love. Over the first three months, however, he met with one obstacle after another and he became worn and stressed. His quest had gone on for too long, and he feared a disastrous end with the death and destruction of both himself and his beloved Hirana. His normally open and cheerful face had taken on a strained and almost defeated look.
One morning, Petros woke from another vivid dream that was more like a warning from the gods, a warning that opportunities to save his beloved Hirana were gradually disappearing. Petros groaned in frustration at the continuing series of dead-ends and trails that led him round in circles. Yet he knew that at the time of the next full moon, Hirana would become a sacrifice to the perverted demands of Hadistis.
He rested briefly and ate sparingly, eking out his food to avoid becoming sidetracked into seeking fresh supplies. Ready to resume his journey, Petros hesitated, uncertain of whether he had the courage and determination for a final but highly risky option. His last chance was to consult the Oracle of Calabus, hated and feared by his people, its use anathema to them, with the belief that its prophecies came straight from hell itself. Petros knew that consulting the oracle might result in an excruciatingly painful death not only for himself but also for Hirana if he got it wrong. He also knew that all his other options had been exhausted, and now was the time for a final throw of the dice, risking everything for one last chance to save his beloved from an eternity of misery and anguish.
The location of the oracle was a well-known secret; most knew of its whereabouts but few were prepared to admit to that knowledge. Petros had discovered this “secret” from the drunken priest of a minor god in a local tavern a few nights ago. At times he wished he had never heard about the oracle, but he also knew that this was probably his last hope of finding where Hirana was and how he might save her.
The oracle was half a day’s journey across rough and inhospitable country. There was little shade from the blazing sun, but Petros covered himself as well as he could and carried as much water as he could manage. By mid afternoon, he was worn and weary, and staggered up loose scree to an almost concealed cave close to the top of a hill. In spite of the sun, the whole area seemed cold and desolate, and Petros knew instinctively that he had reached the Oracle of Calabus. He scrambled to the cave entrance and was almost overwhelmed by the sulphurous stench coming from within. But he screwed up every last ounce of courage and entered the cave. Before he had a chance to speak, a voice demanded that he identify himself, on pain of death for a false answer.
“I am Petros of Sopothia and I seek answers to questions of life and death.”
The answer was a macabre chuckle. “There is much to know about death, which you will discover if you fail in your answers. You are permitted three questions, but you must answer a riddle for each question. If you answer correctly, the oracle will tell you the truth. If you answer wrongly, you will die a hideous and prolonged death. This is your choice and your consequences. Do you wish to proceed?”
Petros could barely stammer out his response. “Yes.”
“Very well, mortal, ask your first question.”
“Where is Hirana being held?”
“Your beloved Hirana is being held at Sparaxos by the demon Modo, the keeper of the gates of hell. Now you must answer the first riddle. Fail and you will be destroyed:
"The maker makes it but doesn’t use it. The buyer buys it but doesn’t need it. The one who needs it never knows it. What is it?”
Petros gave himself over to the riddle, allowing it to wash over him, resisting obvious but stupid answers. Then he had a flash of inspiration. The oracle had spoken much about death; yes, the answer was quickly clear. “A coffin,” he replied with a sigh of relief.
“Very clever, mortal. Do you wish to chance your luck again?” The oracle questioned with deep sarcasm.
“Tell me, how may I deal with Modo and rescue Hirana?”
“Modo may only be defeated with the golden arrow from the temple of Filumia a half day’s journey from Sparaxos. You must shoot that arrow through Modo’s guts; that will cause him to disintegrate and you will have no more than one hour to recover Hirana and escape before Modo reincarnates. Now for your second riddle:
“I am the black child of a white father, a wingless bird, flying even to the clouds of heaven. I give birth to tears of mourning in pupils that meet me, even though there is no cause for grief, and at once on my birth I am dissolved into air. What am I?”
Petros started to panic at this complex riddle, his mind blanking out with the fear of impending death. The foul vapours continued to swirl around him, making him choke, but at the same time giving Petros the inspiration that he needed. “Of course,” he shouted in triumph, “the answer is ‘smoke’.”
“Very clever, young mortal,” the infernal voice boomed from the depths of the cave. “As you have answered my riddles so well, I will give you one piece of free information. The journey to Filumia will take you four, maybe five days on foot and the moon is full in just three days time.” Cruel laughter echoed through the cave and Petros fell to the floor weeping tears of desperation. Then, grasping at one last straw, he demanded of the oracle, “I have one question left, and I want to know …”
Before he could make his demand, the voice cut him off. “For this last request you must answer the riddle first. It can hardly matter, of course; if you fail, you die either way.”
“Very well,” Petros croaked, “ask your riddle.”
“I never was and am always to be. No-one ever saw me nor ever will. And yet I am the confidence of all, to live and breathe on this terrestrial ball. What am I?”
Petros paused, again feeling as if a pit was about to open under him. Then, unbidden, as if in a dream or a visitation from angels, a quotation entered his head, complete:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And then he knew. “Yes, oracle, I have beaten you. The answer to your riddle is ‘tomorrow’. Now I can ask my question.”
“Ask, fool, for you have little time left.”
“So how may I get to Filumia in less than three days?”
“I know of only one way,” the oracle boomed, “but it is so dangerous that only a fool would undertake it.”
“You have already branded me a fool,” Petros replied, “so tell me.”
“Very well, you must pray to Xoros, the god of the winds to carry you there. A sacrifice will be demanded, and Xoros does not give his favours lightly. At the top of this hill is an altar to the god. Beg his intercession there, but you may bitterly regret doing so. NOW LEAVE,” the voice of the oracle screamed through Petros’ mind.
He staggered from the cave and lurched onto a sparse patch of grass, collapsing with exhaustion. Petros dragged himself to his feet, knowing that he could not afford the luxury of rest, let alone sleep, and stumbled to the top of the hill. Looking back as he did so, he saw that the cave had disappeared.
Petros struggled to the hilltop where he was greeted by a howling gale. He discovered a worn altar, hardly more than a stone slab with a rough inscription cut into the stone, “Sacred To The God Of The Winds.” He slumped to his knees, pressing his hands and forehead onto the cold stone and prayed fervently, “Oh Xoros, I beg that you should transport me to Filumia so that I may recover the golden arrow to save my beloved Hirana.”
A voice seemed to whisper through his mind, “A blood sacrifice is required, mortal, before any such boon can be granted.”
“I have no sacrifice to offer, Xoros, and no time to find one,” Petros sobbed.
“Then I cannot aid you in your quest, Petros, and you must leave here now.”
The gale grew stronger and Petros felt that he was being forced away from the altar. “WAIT,” he shrieked and, drawing his short sword, spread the fingers of his left hand and with one stroke, severed the last finger, causing blood to spurt over the altar from his damaged hand.
The voice returned. “An unexpected sacrifice. You are either a hero or a fool—or both! Very well, climb onto the altar and sit there, cross legged.”
As he did so, Petros felt an unexpected warm breeze across his damaged hand. The blood flow stopped and the wound healed over, although the pain remained. Xoros’ voice returned to Petros’ head, “You will be transported to Filumia, a journey of a few hours. During that time your eyes must remain closed; if you open them, you will fall to earth and be smashed out of existence. Do you understand, mortal?”
“Yes, Xoros, I hear and will obey.”
With that, Petros felt himself being lifted into the air, propelled by a powerful wind. He kept his eyes firmly closed, and his exhaustion gave way to a soft lassitude just on the verge of sleep, and as the journey continued, he experienced visions of his beautiful Hirana waiting for him and opening her arms in a warm and sensuous embrace.
More quickly than he had expected, Petros felt himself drop a short distance to the ground, and Xoros’ voice spoke one last time.
“You are outside Filumia, mortal. My blessings go with you,” and Petros felt a warm breeze flow briefly around him.
He stood, feeling unexpectedly invigorated and ready to face his next challenge—recovering the arrow. As well as feeling physically refreshed, he also felt much more positive. Yes, there were still hazards ahead, but Petros felt that he had left behind the mudflats of despair and desperation and was being buoyed by a spring tide of hope and optimism.
By this time it was in the early hours of the morning. Petros rested briefly, and then walked towards the town. There was no doubt as to the location of the temple; it stood on a hill at the centre of the town and was illuminated by numerous torches and fire baskets. Petros found a quiet place and ate sparingly from his dwindling food supply before continuing his journey to the temple itself, arriving as dawn was breaking.
Walking inside, he was greeted by a small round priest who demanded, self-importantly, “What is your business here, stranger?”
Petros looked at the priest with disguised distaste; he looked ragged and smelled unwholesome. To his surprise, the temple also looked unkempt; dusty with a debris of litter and dirt, not at all what Petros had expected from such a temple. The priest seemed to read his mind.
“Yes, I know it’s not what a temple should be, pristine and glowing with the devotion of thousands. But there’s only the three of us to look after this whole place, and I never have time to …”
Petros let him grumble on while he looked around for any sign of the arrow. Eventually, the priest ran out of steam and looked enquiringly at Petros. “Worthy father, while I have no wish to hinder your important work in the temple, I have travelled far to see the fabled golden arrow that is kept here. I should be so grateful if you can show me where it is.”
“Golden arrow?” responded the priest hesitantly. “I know of no such artefact.” Petros’ heart fell. He was so close to success and now it looked as if Hirana would be condemned to death because an incompetent priest couldn’t find his own relic. Petros was interrupted in his gloomy predictions by a sudden exclamation.
“Oh yes, now I know what you’re talking about. The so-called enchanted arrow that can kill demons. Complete nonsense, of course; demons can’t be killed by a mere arrow. I fear your journey has been in vain.”
Petros’ hopes rose again. “I have travelled a long distance, father, and even though its powers may be a fable, I would be most grateful if you can show it to me.”
The priest shrugged and led Petros to a dusty alcove. “There it is,” he said, pointing to an arrow resting on two brackets on the wall. It looked grubby and uncared for, but Petros was not about to be put off.
“Father, may I be permitted to hold it for a while, please?”
“Please yourself, but just put it back when you’ve finished,” the priest replied without further interest.
Petros took the arrow down and rubbed it on his tunic. Part of the dirt covering the arrow came away, and he could see the gleam of gold underneath. This was what he needed, but Petros was not prepared to take the risk of just walking out with it right now. He still had a little time and so sought out the priest again.
“Thank you so much, good father, this has been most interesting. Tell me, please, at what time do you close the temple doors at night?”
“Oh, that is a big part of the problem,” the priest grumbled. “We have to keep the temple open all day and all night for the convenience of passing travellers who wish to seek the blessing of the gods. Some nights we never see a soul, but we have to keep the temple open when it hardly seems worth the effort.” He continued his complaints until Petros was able to offer brief thanks and then slip away, knowing what he had to do next.
Petros returned to where he had earlier rested and took one of his own arrows and coated it with dirt and muck until he felt that it was close enough to the colour of the golden arrow in the temple. Then he rested until sunset and made his way back to the temple. Petros slipped into the dim interior and made his way to the location of the arrow. He quickly substituted his arrow for the golden one and headed back towards the entrance to the temple.
He was almost there when he was stopped by a voice behind him. “Good evening, stranger, what is your business here?” This came from another priest; this one similarly disreputable in his looks, but tall and thin where his fellow priest had been short and fat.
“Father, I am a humble traveller from far away on a pilgrimage to the shrine of my ancestors at Sparaxos. I stopped here to gain spiritual; sustenance for the remainder of my journey.”
“Sparaxos?” the priest queried. “That is an evil place, said to be the haunt of demons. What business do you have that is so important as to take you to such a place?”
“I am sworn under a vow to do penance for the sins of my ancestors at a shrine at Sparaxos.” Petros looked around furtively, then whispered to the priest, “They are said to have been devil worshippers.”
The priest jerked away from Petros and made a sacred sign in the air. “Go from here now before the gods punish you. I will have nothing further to do with you.”
“As you wish, father,” Petros replied, smiling to himself, and left the temple to catch a few hours sleep.
Early the following morning, Petros left the town by the north gate. He enquired of the so called “guard”, lounging in the shade beside the gate, about the road to Sparaxos. The guard scratched a straggly beard and replied, “Sparaxos? Why would any sane man want to visit that dreadful place?”
“Well, you see, I am under a vow to do penance at the shrine there. Not a nice place, I know, but my family expect it of me.” Petros kept to the same story he had told the priest the previous night.
“Well, that’s your problem, I guess,” replied the guard. “Take this main road that leads to the capital, and after about an hour’s march you will come to a fork in the road. Take the left hand road, although it’s really only a track. After another two or three hour’s march, you should reach Sparaxos—if the gods are with you,” he finished with little optimism.
Petros thanked the guard and went on his way. The junction was easily located and he turned left, following what was indeed little more than a beaten track. The countryside was bleak and windswept, with a few stunted trees growing in stony soil and a small number of sheep grazing what grass there was. After almost three hours march, Petros saw a solitary shepherd watching him from the roadside. “Am I close to Sparaxos?” he enquired of the shepherd, who merely nodded agreement.
Shortly afterwards, Petros reached what was no more than a small collection of deserted huts, a disused well and a small overgrown shrine. This was apparently Sparaxos, but he was puzzled as to exactly where Hirana might be held. This puzzlement did not last long as he heard a rumbling from a partially hidden opening in the side of a nearby hill. Petros decided to investigate, but as he got closer, an atmosphere of doom, despair and misery threatened to overwhelm him. He knew that under no circumstances could he abandon his quest just because the place felt bad. That would not only betray Hirana but would mark him as a coward for the rest of his life.
Feeling much as he had before entering the Oracle of Calabus, Petros passed hesitantly into the opening in the hill, which revealed a large cave in the centre of which was a rock slab. Held to the slab by some form of mysterious power stood Hirana. She was unable to move but, seeing Petros she screamed, “No, Petros, no—go; go now or you will die a horrible death.”
“Hirana, if we are both doomed then we will die together. I love you, and I have given all I have to find you, and I will not turn tail and run now. You mean everything to me, and if ‘everything’ includes death, then I shall have to face it, but I shall not leave you here alone.”
Tears flooded down Hirana’s face, but she made no further comment.
Then Petros heard a mocking voice from behind the slab, “How very touching. Two lovers reunited in death. I assure you, Petros that your death will be neither quick, simple nor romantic, and first I shall despatch Hirana in front of your eyes and force you to watch while she screams for release.”
Petros gathered all his courage and shouted as loudly as he could, “Show yourself, Modo, you skulking coward.”
A furious roar filled the cave, almost deafening Petros, and an unexpectedly small and misshapen individual emerged into the centre of the cave. Modo roared again and Hirana shrieked a warning; “Petros—lightning” which gave Petros just enough time to dodge the lightning bolt as it crashed into the cave wall behind him.
Petros had another problem; one of scale. He had readied his bow and nocked the golden arrow, but he knew he had to fire it into Modo’s gut, a very small target. Having heard the volume of the demon’s voice, Petros wondered whether he could be provoked into enlarging his whole body; maybe as an intimidating gesture, but providing Petros with a bigger target.
“Modo IS a coward; he shrinks into insignificance rather than display his real power. He hasn’t even got the courage to show himself as he really is,” Petros ridiculed.
A further roar, accompanied by another ill-directed bolt of lightning, revealed Modo in his huge savagery. But this was the opportunity that Petros needed, and with one smooth unhurried action, he drew the bow and aimed the arrow at the centre of Modo’s now expanded stomach, passing through where his belly button would have been, had he had a belly button.
Modo gave an unearthly howl and crumpled to the ground in a heap of dust. At the same time, Hirana’s restraints disappeared and she rushed to Petros, flinging herself into his arms and showering his face with kisses.
Petros returned Hirana’s blessing and then said, “Hirana, we must leave quickly. Modo will reincarnate within one hour, and he is unlikely to be happy to see that we have disappeared.”
They linked hands and ran from the cave, rushing down the hillside, through Sparaxos and out onto the road to Filumia. As they ran, a loud rumble issued from Modo’s cave and the ground shook with his fury, but they were safe from any reprisal, knowing that Modo could not leave the cave.
Their rush slowed to a walk, and shortly afterwards Hirana stopped and took Petros’ hands in hers. “First, my love, I must thank you from the depths of my soul for saving me from becoming yet another sacrifice by that depraved beast, Modo. I think the gods will know how to deal with him; I know they will, for I am of their number.”
Petros gasped, the more so as Hirana began to transform into someone or something astoundingly beautiful and seemingly unearthly. Her face, lovely as it had been, became almost impossibly beautiful to Petros. She seemed to glow with elegance and grace and possessed with large, bright blue eyes, hair that fell in a golden cascade down to the centre of her back, a soft, warm, intensely inviting mouth and skin that revealed an inner fire of passion. She was now dressed in a gossamer gown, seemingly comprised of the finest silk blended with light, and she smiled in a way that totally disarmed Petros. He also noticed that she was blessed with a perfume that seemed blended from all the flowers of the field and forest.
“Petros, my dearest love, you have saved my soul, but I have to tell you that my real name is not Hirana; that is my mortal name. I suppose you would call me a demigod; my birth name is Anthartis.”
Petros gasped again, “Anthartis, the goddess of blossoms?” he queried in a trembling voice.
“Yes, my love,” she smiled gently at his apparent confusion. “My father is Xoros and my mother a mortal woman who was transformed into a sea-nymph. I think, perhaps, that was why your journey to Filumia was so easy; my father knew of your quest to save his daughter. Those who beg his help for whatever reason almost always perish in gales that have caused their eyes to open and they have fallen to earth.”
“Anthartis,” Petros asked, “how was it that you became Hirana and appeared in our village? And how did you come to be a sacrifice to Hadistis?”
“That is a long story, Petros, but the short version is that Hadistis became obsessed with my beauty and abducted me to his diabolical realm. My father, Xoros, begged the other gods to demand my release. Hadistis only agreed on condition that I was transformed into a mortal with no memory of who I really was. I was to stay with mortals for a year and a day, and then be transported to the gates of the underworld to be guarded by Modo. During my time as a mortal, I had to find someone to search for and seek to rescue me out of a pure and unconditional love. If he succeeded, he and I could be together forever. If he failed, he would die, but my sacrifice would be to submit to Hadistis for all eternity. And Petros,” her smile was warm and surrounded Petros like a mother’s embrace, “you were my beloved champion.”
“Petros,” she continued gently, “let me show you my power and love for you,” and taking his left hand in hers, she stroked along its side with which his severed last finger regrew into its proper form. Petros stammered his thanks, and then Anthartis spoke again, this time with an undertone of uncertainty and almost of fear.
“You have to make a choice. You may return to your home as Petros but you will never more be with Hirana for she no longer exists. Or come into my arms and we will blend together as one in eternal bliss, knowing each other in the most intimate, exciting and unlimited ways. I love you, Petros, and I want to show you how much in all the ways open to me as an immortal. But you will have to relinquish your mortal form to be with me.” Saying this, Anthartis opened her arms, whispering, “Come to me, my love.”
Petros thought for no more than a split second and whispering, “I love you too, Anthartis/Hirana”, fell into her arms, holding her tightly to him.
With those words, the air was suffused by a potent perfume as the two lovers blended into a golden ball of light that rose into the sky, casting a radiance all around it, together with an ethereal music that told of bliss and eternal love. They left behind an awestruck shepherd whose story of gods and miraculous transformations was dismissed as fantasy by listeners. Nevertheless, a legend grew, as legends will, and spread throughout the countryside. Years later, the legend reached Sopothia, and Petros’ family finally understood.