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The Harrowing

Orpheus in the Underworld

By John CoxPublished 3 months ago Updated 3 months ago 25 min read
9
Pity alone compelled me to meet his pathetic eyes ...

It seems an eternity since I last saw Selene shining above me in the night sky. Remembering her pale light often reminded me of dear Mamah with tears in her eyes, her hands tenderly clasping a sprig of laurel. The Laurel in the little glade beyond the village gate always robbed her of joy. Her face wilting in sorrow, she would complain, “Just look what wicked Apollo has done to thee.”

Pulling at her hand, I would try to coax her away from that unhappy place, and beg her to run with me round the merry garden, or to hold hands and skip as we sang:

Where is my lovely parsley, say?

My violets, roses, where are they?

My parsley, roses, violets fair,

Where are my flowers? Please tell me where?

But happy memories did not follow me as I descended into the deep. A ghostly image of the village priest covered in ash appeared instead, his gnarled arms stretched pleadingly heavenwards. The gods answered his prayers with a plague of locusts. The roar of their wings and the grinding chatter of their jaws filled the darkness surrounding me as if following me, images of the spring wheat disappearing with the thatch covering of the village rooftops.

The plague followed as if unleashed like golden arrows from Apollo’s terrible bow, the sick soon outnumbering the living. But Mamah’s medicines and potions were no match for the buboes that swelled on the flesh of our infected neighbors. In former times they had tolerated our presence because of her healing gifts. But when Mamah’s medicines no longer restored their health, her usefulness ended.

Standing over me as I stood trembling in the blackness of the deep, the priest tossed the red veil at my feet, just as he had the night they murdered Mamah.

The vision slowly dissipated, my heart continuing to pound long after her forlorn figure slipped away with the hallucination. Only then did the god appear in all his spiteful glory, his skin silvery and sparkling with light.

"Wicked girl! Where is thy red veil. Thou dare mock me?"

"Buried," I replied, "mingled with the ashes of my dear friends."

"Did we not forbid thee from removing it till the answering of the riddle? If men call the sons of women and gods hero’s, what do they name their daughters?"

I laughed, like the blasphemer I am … low and ugly.

"I have known the answer for many years. What do they call their daughters, you ask? Whore, slut, vixen, witch and any other vile thing that pleases them. Men truly were made in thy image, god."

"You forgot slave. Kneel, slave."

Gritting my teeth savagely, I slowly pulled the Iberian from its scabbard. "Apollo has already taken everyone that I love." I spat. "For that you expect obeisance? If I prick you with my sword, will you bleed, I wonder?"

Giggling like the trickster he is, Hermes vanished into the darkness as I stood trembling with rage, the Iberian still drawn and at the ready.

How many stadia have I traveled into the Earth since I last saw bright Helios ride across azure skies? How many days have passed since I beheld the wheelless chariot that would lower me into Tartarus’ depths? How many years older have I grown since I held Tiresius in my arms and he whispered that my pathway led to the deep and secret places in the Earth?”

"First the visions will come, worse than any memory, all that you ever have tried to forget in your life relived."

“And then?”

"If by some miracle you are still sane when you reach bottom, you will not remain sane for long," he whispered hoarsely. "Deep in the belly of Gaia, Tartarus has only a single purpose – to punish as only the God’s can punish. You may not die there but you will soon wish you had."

How many innocents have suffered for the sin of treating me kindly? How many others have died by my sword? Better madness in the terrifying darkness of Tartarus than any others forced to suffer on account of Apollo’s curse.

"How can I break the curse?” I had whispered through my tears.

“The harrowing," Tiresius gasped as death rattled in his throat. He did not speak again.

The mighty drum now lowering me into the abyss is wrapped by thousands of stadia of chain, each link the size of a large man’s hand. Before my journey began, the chain on the opposite drum was completely unspooled, its links disappearing into the vast depths below the iron cradle upon which they both rested.

Staring at the immense machine above the pits, I said hoarsely –"Men did not forge this." For the first time in my life, I felt awe of the Gods rather than simply hatred and fear.

The woman in white who led me to this place answered "No," with a thin smile, "men did not. But it is the only pathway open to the living. No mortal can enter Hell through its gates without dying first."

"But Orpheus and Odysseus …." I murmured.

"Athena favored Odysseus. He would never have entered save for her. Hades has sworn that no one living ever shall again. And Orpheus," she paused as if lost for words, "Orpheus was … well, Orpheus. We shall never see his like again."

Bending over the shaft’s opening, I felt dizzy with terror. Tiresius told me that Tartarus was as far beneath Hell as Earth was beneath the heavens. "No other way?" I asked in a whisper.

"No other way." She gestured at the mighty drum above us, the great shadow it cast in the late evening light hiding the chariot hanging below it. "You can only descend into the well-shaft one turn of that mighty gear at a time. Do you see the device fixing the gear in place?" She pointed to a large, curved bar wedged between two of the teeth of the monstrous gear. "Once you enter the chariot and add sufficient weight to lift its twin hanging at the bottom of the right drum’s chain, the gear will begin to slowly turn and the curved bar will rock back on its axis and slip from between the teeth before reengaging with the next ones and so on, slipping between the rotating teeth of the gear again and again. Without the bar engaging the gears and slowing its turning, the drum would soon spin out of control and send you hurtling to the bottom."

My heart skipped a beat as I imagined the heavy chain attached to the drum above slowly lowering me into the terror waiting for me below. "How long?"

"Days? Weeks? Only the gods know."

At first light the following morning when I awoke, a stranger had joined us. I hesitate to call it a man. Severely disfigured, it looked as though some cruel god had taken body parts from a dozen men and had haphazardly sewn them together before animating its rotten flesh with life. Answering the silent horror in my expression the woman in white explained – "Two must make the journey to keep the chariot balanced."

The golem stared at me vacantly as the chain jerkily began to lower us into the shaft. Bereft of gums, his teeth and bone were exposed by the twisted opening of his crude mouth. Each time the chariot paused, the chain controlling our descent snapped a little harder than the time before. But never blinking, his haunted gaze held mine, my grip on the chariot’s sides growing tighter and tighter as the light that initially brightened the stone walls of the shaft began to slowly slip away. Pity alone compelled me to meet his pathetic eyes, my own wet with helpless tears before the darkness mercifully hid his tortured features and only his silhouette remained.

By the time the shaft had darkened so greatly that I could not see at all, we began to gently sway, the repetitive snap of the chain growing fainter and fainter till it ceased altogether. The temperature dropping, I began to shiver, partly from the fear that the chain would break, and partly from the growing cold. By then, the darkness was so absolute that it swept away all meaning of time. Had an hour passed? A day?

The first memory to return was Mamah. She had always seemed more like a sister than a mother and for a very long time that was fine. I liked nothing better than to play hide and seek after helping her gather berries and mushrooms for our lunch, her musical voice as she spoke as pleasant to my ears as the chatter of the woodland birds and the buzzing of the cicadas in the mid-day heat. We would only return to the village once Helios disappeared below the western horizon and depart again the next morning with His dawning. When heavy rain confined us to home, she would be ill-at-ease till the weather changed and we could return to her beloved trees.

Unfortunately, the scowling visage of the village priest appeared next. Mamah held my hand as our neighbors carried a struggling man to a rope nailed to lintel above his door and pushed his head through the loop at the end. Mamah tried to turn me away, but I continued to watch in horror as he furiously kicked and then shook violently in the air till his eyes bulged and his tongue dangled crookedly from his mouth. When I ask her if the priest might do that to us, she shook her head.

“We don’t have anything he wants.”

“Why not?”

“We don’t have anything he wants,” she repeated as if no other answer would suffice.

But she was wrong. When the priest wanted a scapegoat for the famine and the plague that came the following year, he chose us. After our neighbors hung Mamah from a gibbet outside the village gate, he commanded me to cover my face with a scarlet veil before they chased me weeping out of the village with stones. “Thou art forsaken – outcast,” he cried out. “Any who offer thee succor shall die; any who offer thee welcome shall be hung like a common thief.”

Chased from village after village, the woodcraft that Mamah taught me was the only thing that kept me from starving. In the weeks following, I did not eat a single meal that filled my belly till the day I ran headlong into Tiresias’ arms as two ruffians chased me through the village where he and Celia lived.

“Is it the custom in this village to chase young women with cudgels?” he asked the two men as they paused uncertainly.

“Let’s even the odds a little. Take my sword, Lassi," he said as he offered me the hilt and stepped aside. “Carry on,” he said with a smile as I stood looking perfectly ridiculous with a sword that I could barely hold above the ground let alone swing at my tormentors.

But standing there, I felt the energy of unexpected hope buoy me up. Almost instinctively I planted my left foot to brace for their attack and stepped forward on my right, the sword lifted at the ready as if I was born to wield it. It was enough to turn my tormentors sheepishly away.

After many weeks in their care, Tiresias began teaching me basic sword drills. Once I learned to parry, block, slash, and thrust we began to mock fight with wooden gladius. We walked, marched, and ran with the sword held at the ready for seeming hours.

Finally, the day came when he surprised me with a true sword. It was lighter than his spatha and curved.

“This is an Iberian sword. It’s deadly sharp. But it’s not a blade for thrusting. It’s single edged – made for slashing, used mostly by cavalry. But it serves well enough in the light infantry if a soldier is nimble enough. And you are nimble, Lassi. As quick to exploit a weakness as any soldier I have ever trained.

“Try on the scabbard. You wear it perpendicular to your body rather than parallel like the spatha. That makes it easier to draw and therefore a little faster. This should give you an edge in a fight with any man armed with a double-edged weapon. I’ll teach you how to draw and slash in a single motion and the two places on a man’s body to kill him with a single cut.

The good news was that a curved blade enjoyed several advantages over the straight and I quickly recognized it as the superior weapon. By the time I finished my training the muscles in my arms and legs were lean and hard, and my stamina surpassed his own. Then we said tearful goodbyes to Celia and began a fourteen-day journey to join a Greek company at Delphi. But once we arrived the commander curtly refused to accept a woman in his company.

“We have whores a’plenty,” he said as his soldier’s snickered, “take off that veil and you can join them.”

When I gripped the hilt of my sword and planted my feet in the battle stance, half of the company burst into laughter. The commander, his face darkening with rage, said through gritted teeth, “You draw that blade, I will disarm you and then give every man a turn on your belly.” His men roared their approval.

He leapt forward while pulling his spatha from its scabbard faster than I had ever seen Tiresias draw his own. But I drew the Iberian with a fury I did not know I possessed and met his first blow with such power that sparks flew as our blades met above our heads. He jumped back just in time to avoid a slash aimed at cutting the straps to his breast plate.

When he renewed his attack, he fought more guardedly to deny me any opportunities to exploit mistakes. I could hear wily Tiresias’ voice as if whispered in my ears, ‘He thinks he can wear you down. Let him think he has.

But our hard training had given me sufficient endurance to trade blows long enough that I could see that the captain was nearly as winded as I. When the time seemed favorable, I invited him to attack by lowering my sword in feigned weakness. He aimed a double-handed blow at my neck giving me the opening I desired. As I ducked his sudden swing, I passed the Iberian from my right hand to my left and slashed at his throat so quickly that he could not completely duck my blade. Half of his right ear dropping to the ground brought him to his senses.

“Tiresias, are you responsible for this hellcat?” he groused as his aide wrapped a bandage around his head.

Tiresias shrugged. “I asked her to join me so that I could have someone to watch my back.” Scratching his head sheepishly, he said, “I thought of warning you, but I didn’t think you’d believe me.”

The surrounding darkness swirling with fog, I felt the Alps rising within me before seeing them anew. The remembered snow shone so brightly that even in the darkness of the shaft it stung my eyes. I struggled for breath much as I had in the mountains, life slipping from my throat in small, terrified bursts. Hannibal’s elephants trumpeted with the same fury that had once terrified me, their massive bodies moving slowly before us as I trudged once more atop the snowy heights.

“Do you think Gods live in these mountains like the ones in Greece?” I had asked as we began to climb. But Tiresius did not answer me until days later when those same Gods robbed him of his sight. We had rubbed ash around our eyes to help dim Helios’ terrible reflection. But it did little good.

Those of us not killed by the cold or buried under the crush of snow and ice careening down the mountainsides suffered blackened ears and noses and lost toes. When sleeping, Tiresius and I clung to one another like lovers, our thin blankets and shared body heat the only defense against dying in the night.

After a week had passed, I no longer noticed or cared about the beauty of our surroundings or experienced the awe that I felt in the foothills when the distant mountains meant something to me other than death. Poor, blind Tiresius staggered behind me, a rope tied around each of our waists the only thing holding us together save for love.

After leaving the alps we met the waiting Romans in the Po valley, the sound of fierce battle horns the music leading to the terrifying frenzy of hand-to-hand combat. Our swollen ranks charging into the heavy shields of the legions, brother soldier and enemy alike collapsed under the crashing of sword, spear and shield, each rank surging mindlessly over the fallen only to disappear in their turn under the ranks pressing closely behind.

My shield long since shattered under the punishment of a thousand blows, I blindly slashed my way through a howling mass of men, no longer cognizant of why I fought or able to distinguish between friend or foe. Even after my arms turned to lead, with paroxysms of terror and rage I felled men like children before a giant, soldiers on both sides retreating from the blows of my blood-soaked sword and spear till I found myself at the river’s edge surrounded by a sea of the dying and the dead.

Men who had marched and fought with me for weeks before the battle stared at me with the same horror as the few Roman’s still living, my armor as red with blood as the veil that marked me with Apollo’s curse. “Thanatos,” a soldier muttered as I walked slowly through the fallen, fellow Greeks moving cautiously out of my way. Even with the Iberian returned to its scabbard and my spear strapped again upon my back, they avoided me as if my touch alone might send their souls down to torment in Tartarus.

In the terrible darkness of the shaft, I witnessed the haggard, ghostly faces of the dead, the airy vacancy in my chest giving silent voice to the terror of that day as if words unspoken remained lodged in my throat.

How many men died at my hand that day? How many have died since? Like fellow wanderers, their faces have long haunted my dreams, some crying out to their mothers, others cursing me once they knew that Thanatos had drawn near.

As we descended deeper into Tartarus, the ghostly faces of the slain staring out of the darkness into mine, I knew that this was different than any dream. Surely, I would meet them again in the great host of the dead far below.

The chariot loudly banging as it struck the side of the shaft almost jolted me from the enveloping vision. The expressions of the dead surrounding me altering, the cruelty that once masked their fears and hopes fell away, the remaining anguish in their expressions imbuing their loss with unexpected meaning. My shoulders shaking, I fell to my knees, and wept harder and longer than I had ever wept for Tiresius or Celia. As the Golem placed his hand gently on my shoulder, I felt compassion even for him.

Strangely, his touch briefly chased the fog away that had reawakened the Alps and the great battle that followed. Zeus knows I have experienced both fear and terror in my life, but the slow descent as the chariot swayed further and further made me physically sick with terror. For fear of further unbalancing it, when I began to vomit, I did so at my knees rather than over the side. In spite of the stench, the golem did not complain. I would not hear his voice until we touched bottom. After I shakily stood, he removed his hand from my shoulder, the returning memory of the terrible battle redoubling.

I found myself walking again across the bloody field of battle as fellow Greeks and other mercenaries with swords or spears in hand stabbed and robbed Roman soldiers on the bloodied ground where they lay. Only the tribunes were spared for ransom. But what waited for me on its far side was crueler still. I found Tiresius where I had left him, with the porters and the supplies, lying in a pool of his own blood, speared by retreating Roman’s as he waited fearfully to learn if I had lived or died.

“Bring my ashes home,” he whispered, “ bury them with Celia’s.”

“But surely Celia lives?”

He weakly nodded, death rattling in his throat. “Not for long … I have seen it.”

How often I have wept at this memory in the years following his death? And yet, as I descended deeper and deeper into Gaia, I felt the sorrow of it as freshly as if I had never grieved him before.

Tiresius and Celia loved me like the child they never had, and I loved them as much as the Mother I lost. They opened their home and arms to me when everyone else treated me with fear and contempt. They saved me but I could not save them, my face wet with helpless tears at the memory of their loss.

The memory of the flames of the burning dead through that long night filled my darkened eyes even as the smell of roasted flesh tormented my nostrils. When I left with his ashes the following morning, I knew in my heart long before I arrived at their gate that I would find Celia hanging from their tall Platane behind the little house. For this crime alone, I am justified in hating every god atop wretched Olympus.

At the following dawning the smoke from Celia’s pyre eddied above the still glowing embers of her ashes. By the time the grave was filled and three memorial stones stood atop the upturned earth, Helios had begun his long journey across the brooding skies.

Celia’s killers had stolen her pigs and goats. But rather than entering the house to see what other mischief they had done, I sat wearily on the bench outside their front door, the rope used to hang her still suspended from the Platane.

When a group of villagers approached Tiresias’ gate, I got to my feet and drew the Iberian halfway from its scabbard. But when I recognized the two men who had chased me through the village a scant year before, I returned the sword home, my eyes shining with the prospect of vengeance.

The priest leading them stepped forward and demanded “What did you do with the body?”

I smiled broadly. The gods had brought the man who had killed my mother and cursed me as if a votive offering. “I made sacrifice to the mighty Sky Father,” I replied with my hands piously raised, “and placed coin on her tongue for the ferryman before burning her body as is right and proper for the honored dead.”

“She was a witch. We hung her as a warning.”

“By who’s authority?”

“Apollo’s.”

“You hung a servant of Zeus’ on the oracle of a lesser god?”

He stared at me open-mouthed.

With the Iberian still safely within its scabbard, I turned and spoke directly to the curious villagers. “I have seen this imposter before. He had a man hung in our village because he coveted his gold. But Apollo was very angry at us for murdering an innocent man and placed a curse on the village.

“Did the village finally come to its senses and drive you out, priest, or do you have the blood of other rich men clinging to your dark soul?”

“Blasphemous fool, you’ll hang for that.”

“Not today. You’ll never hang another innocent – that I can promise.”

“We outnumber you twenty to one.”

“A soldier never draws a sword save to paint it with the blood of worthy enemies. I see only farmers, goatherds, and a couple well-fed boys pretending to be men. Where are your warriors, priest?”

“You would not dare defy a priest of Apollo.”

One of the men who had chased me through the village held one of Tiresius’ blunt training swords. As he approached me, I laughed out loud. When he awkwardly swung the blunt at my belly, I easily dodged the blow before swinging the still scabbarded Iberian down with such force that it knocked the sword from his hand like a little boy’s stick. My attacker gingerly held the hand bruised and bloodied by the blow before looking at me with sudden recognition.

“It’s her,” he blurted to his companion, “the girl with the red veil.”

But his friend was already cowed. “Not … you dumb sot. That’s no girl,” he said pointing at me.

“I’m tellin you . . . it’s her.”

“His hair’s short and white,” he replied with exasperation. “Remember the curls? Black curls? She was jes a slip of girl. His arms are as hard and muscled as a woodcutter’s.”

The priest regarded me warily. I could not tell if he recognized me or not. But the expressions of the villagers who were goaded through Tiresias’ gate to confront me had changed, the easy confidence of the mob blunted by suspicion and my lack of fear.

I casually hung the still scabbarded Iberian at my side.

“Where do you think you are going?” the priest hissed.

“Somewhere else.”

“Stop her,” he ordered, but nobody moved.

“You know,” I said casually, “the plague would not have come if the villagers had done the right thing and hung you instead.” As I walked past the priest the mob separated cautiously to let me by. Since they could not hang me, the cowed priest would have to do. I did not need or want to see that again, not even for him. In the distance I heard him threatening the wrath of Apollo and then pleading for his life.

And then, I did not hear him at all.

As the chariot continues its slow descent in the darkness, memories of the years I spent wandering continue to assault my senses as if made real in this terrible place. Only now do I understand that I am slowly going mad. What follows is not vision. Not even close.

Rather than retreating years into the past, I return impossibly to the highway that led me to the shaft for my descent into Gaia as if I had never wandered from it at all. Standing beneath bright Helios, I cover my eyes with my arms. And Tartarus? Had it ever been real or was it another cruel trick of the gods?

My eyes finally adjusting to the light after the long darkness in the shaft, I begin to walk again as if my journey into the depths was no more than a passing dream. Late in the afternoon, the road ends at the edge of a dark wood.

Stone sits in unruly heaps as if the engineers who built it had simply disappeared. But there are no shovels at the site, no evidence of encampment, no slit trenches or fire pits, no evidence that humans have ever worked here save for the highway’s end and the quarried stone. Only a path remains that I follow till it too ends later that day deep within the wood.

Even though I know to continue without a path is madness, a voice felt in my bones rather than heard with my ears seems to call me into its fastness. As I continue onward, the surrounding trees grow thick and tall, the deep hush of the wood filling me with awe.

The first night in the quiet woodland, I light no fire to avoid attracting bandits. But I needn’t have bothered. As days and nights slowly pass, I soon realize that men have not wandered this forest for generations. I know enough woodlore to find food in almost any wood in the Greek lands, but not here.

I see no game larger than squirrel and fail to forage even a single edible berry or root. I find deadly night shade, henbane, and wormwood aplenty. But nothing I can eat. I ration the dried fish I carried into the wood as best I can, but by the tenth day I begin to imagine roasting and eating my leather greaves.

Scouring the wood for something I can eat, my limbs gradually weaken, my flesh growing hot with fever. After finding a pond fed by a spring of fresh water, I strip off my armor and splash the cool water on my face before filling my empty wine bag. Shaking with fever, I wrap myself in my camp blanket and lay upon the ground.

As I shiver, I feel the loss of Tiresius and Celia more than I ever had in the past. Remembering brings tears to my eyes. They would die exactly as the priest prophesized, their only sin taking pity on me when every else had treated me with fear and scorn. It was I who sinned by entering their home and eating at their table.

Why does this all seem so familiar? I long for death. But like every other thing I have ever prayed for it seemed too much to ask of the gods. They have already slain all those whom I loved and who loved me in return. Only my flesh remaining, I am ready to surrender it to them at any time. But even burying the red veil with Tiresius and Celia’s ashes failed to provoke them.

In the delirium of the fever, I see Tiresias again as he lays dying and Celia hanging from their plantane, the divide between vision and the ground where I lay seems so small, that weeping, I hold him a second time. The weight of his body sagging in my arms is so painful in the present, I beg the Queen of Heaven to spare his life a second time. His eyes bulging with effort, he coughs wretchedly, and tells me “Look to the red stag.” Closing his eyes for the final time, he whispers – “Your pathway leads to the deep and secret places in the Earth.”

By morning the fever has broken. Although still weak from hunger, I strap on the Iberian to continue my search for food, leaving my armor, spear, and shield behind me. Later that morning, I chance upon a lavender glade where I notice parsnip blooms and dig up a bag full of the roots before returning to the spring fed pond to clean, cook, and eat them.

The following day I feel strong enough to don my armor and weapons. But once I reach the lavender glade a second time, I feel the need to rest, and fall asleep among the fragrant blooms with the Iberian resting atop my belly. Half memory, half dream, a vision of the god I had once spied as a child reappears as I rest sleepily in the glade, his skin and raiment silvery and sparkling with light.

“If men call the sons of women and gods hero’s, what do they call their daughters?”

I had forgotten how beautiful he is, my skin tingling with remembered wonder as a bird mockingly echoes his words above me.

What do they call their daughters? What do they call their daughters?

My eyes slowly focusing, the vision disappears as the surrounding lavender waves in the breeze, its perfume acting strangely upon my senses. I should shake off my drowsiness and don my armor, but something has bewitched me as I rest, my usual caution abandoned for the comfort of this enchanted place. I lazily watch a fat bee as it visits the purple flowers, its sagging legs swollen with pollen.

At the sound of a branch snapping, I sit abruptly up. A large stag stands at the edge of the wood, his red fur gently dappled by Helios’ rays as they pierce the waving, leafy branches overhead. As he moves majestically into the glade, I mark the scars defiling his proud head, each unhurried step rippling his shoulders and flanks with power and grace. His eyes shine in the morning like a god’s.

The sight of him brings tears to my eyes. “Look to the stag,” Tiresias once whispered. I sit, still as death, expecting at any moment that the stag will see me or catch my scent and bound suddenly back into the trees. But he grazes placidly instead, slowly moving closer to the flowers where I wait in wonder. ‘Look to the stag,’ I whisper sleepily, a sudden yawn breaking my curiosity and I slowly lay back down as if the stag had never entered the glade at all.

I do not awaken until the return of Eventide and the rising of queenly Selene in the night sky. Sitting slowly up I realize that I am not alone. A woman draped in white reclines across from me, her gray eyes gazing alertly into my own. “Wake up, Daughter of Zeus,” she abruptly commands, the sound of her voice like water rushing over stones in a stream.

“Wake up, Daughter of Zeus," a strange male voice commands, and I find myself on the floor of the chariot now strangely still. We have reached Tartarus. A man bends over me in the dim light with concern in his eyes.

"Where is my companion?" I whisper hoarsely. The man smiles but does not answer as he pulls me to my feet. Stepping over the side of the chariot with him he takes my hand.

As we enter the great halls of Tartarus, he opens his mouth and sings, the music from his lyre and the lilt in his voice bringing me like a child to my knees. His voice stripping me bare, I lean heavily upon the scabbarded Iberian as an old man leans upon his staff.

The walls of Tartarus begin to glow, faintly at first, slivers of white veins spidering from the ground under our feet to the sculpted vault of its ceiling, as if it is not a cavern at all but a gargantuan, living womb. In some distant passageway the hound of hell in agony roars, but even the terror of its voice is no match for the music of falling waters emerging from immortal Orpheus' sweet lips. Save for Phoebus Apollo himself, he can be no other.

I too would sing of thee as thou once sang of fairest Euridice. But alas my voice is one that commands – better suited for the noisy disorder of battle than the sparkling courts of gods and kings.

Since your song pierced my heart, my childhood seems more misbegotten dream than the horror that once haunted my memories, my adulthood a riddle hidden behind a veil until your voice stripped it bare.

Daughter of Zeus, I sit on imperious Hades' throne now. He dare not return. Long since departed he has joined the Olympians for the last war of the Gods.

Orpheus, denied burial and passage across the River Styx, rests now with his beloved, his song echoing across the joyful expanse of Tartarus.

Tiresius sits at my right and Celia at my left. Mamah, proud Dryad, reclines at my feet in honor in my house. None who once treated me with cruelty and contempt dare approach my throne, not men nor gods.

This is Hell no more.

Short StoryHorrorFantasyAdventure
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About the Creator

John Cox

Family man, grandfather, retired soldier and story teller with an edge.

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  • Hannah Moore3 months ago

    Oh that last exchange with the priest must have been gratifying to read. I found this hard to get into at first and then I drifted like in a fever myself, a proper myth, built and delivered superbly.

  • L.C. Schäfer3 months ago

    I've been putting off reading this because it's a longer read and I wanted to concentrate properly and give it the time it deserved. I'm so glad I did! I got really invested in this badass MC 😁

  • “You hung a servant of Zeus’ on the oracle of a lesser god?” “If men call the sons of women and gods hero’s, what do they call their daughters?” These two dialogues were my favourite! They just seemed so powerful! Your story was so epic and phenomenal! I agree with Lacy, this should be made into a movie!

  • Lacy Loar-Gruenler3 months ago

    Well, John, you never cease to amaze me. This is a monumental piece of work and should be made into a film. I waited until I had sufficient time to read it leisurely, and you do not disappoint. Kudos, my friend!

  • An epic mythology worthy of Homer himself. Completely engaging, engrossing, compelling, from beginning to end.

  • Andrea Corwin 3 months ago

    Some descriptions in this story are really good, like roasting and eating my leather greaves. I don't know the entire story of Orpheus and Athena. This tale is woven well, and I have looked up references, but is she Athena? This must have taken you quite a bit of time, and I see you created another one of your amazing drawings for the entry to the story!

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