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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Love in the Age of Heroes: Ubiquitous Legends of Unrequited Love (7th Installment)

Part 7: Avenging Aesacus

Slowly the golden light faded into darkness, and evening followed cool and clear. The caravan had arrived at the river Granicus. A wind blew from the east, and one by one the stars emerged from behind the dark veil of night.

      “From here, the river will lead us to Propontis, my lady. When we arrive at Abydos, we may attempt to find passage across the straight to Sestos.” Said Coroebus.

      “Will it be possible to remain undetected?” Said Cassandra.

      “That may prove difficult, because it is a busy port.” Said Coroebus.

      “Then let us take a different path.” Said Arisbe. “We cannot risk detection, otherwise we will be captured and taken back to Troy.”

      “She is right, Coroebus.” Said Cassandra.

      “With all due respect, my lady. While I can appreciate the need to avoid detection, time is not our ally, and for the sake of expediency it is imperative that we cross from Abydos to Sestos.” Said Coroebus.

      “I agree.” Interjected Calchas. “We must make it across the Aegean as quickly as possible, or our efforts to make it this far will be all for naught.”

      “Why must you insist on this port?” Said Cassandra.

      “Because it is the narrowest point.” Said Coroebus.

      Cassandra considered his counsel as Calchas removed their equipment from the horses to erect the tents. Coroebus moved to assist him, and Arisbe gathered wood to build a fire.

      “Will it be possible to remain undetected?” Said Cassandra. “Will you give me your word?”

      “It is possible, my lady, but regardless of what happens, I give you my word that I will get you to Sestos.”

      “Very well.” Said Cassandra. “We leave in the morning.”

      After they had set up camp, Cassandra walked to the riverbank to retrieve a pail of water. The moon lingered higher into the sky, and swayed on the surface when she knelt and submerged the bucket. She heard the water splash. It rose and foamed at her feet. At that moment the water roared and rushed and an unseen force shoved Cassandra away. She fell onto dry land, but saw a light rise from the depths of the river. The waters fiercely rolled this way and that, and looked like white flames, as the light beneath the surface grew more intense.

      Cassandra’s companions approached and pulled her away as a mysterious figure rose from the waters, surrounded by angry foam and blinding light.

      “Who dares disturb the waters of my father?” Said the voice of a woman, clear and musical. She looked grave and beautiful; clad in white with long silver hair, but no sign of age was upon her save for in the depths of her eyes.

      The companions stared in awe at the lovely creature that illuminated the darkness. The waters subsided, and she glided toward the shore, but her luminescence maintained its brightness. Cassandra stood and stared at the stranger, but before she could utter a single word the newcomer reached out and caressed Cassandra’s red hair.

      “I have never seen such a lovely color in a woman’s hair.”

      “Who are you?” Demanded Cassandra. “What are you?”

      “Oh, but these eyes are familiar. I recognize their shade, and their sadness.” Said the stranger. “They are much like those of your brother.”

      “My broth—“ Said Cassandra, but her words trailed off.

      “You are a daughter of King Priam of Troy, are you not?”

      “How do you know who I am, and who are you?”

      “I am Alexirho, daughter of the river-god, Cebren.”

      “You are a nymph?” Said Arisbe.


      “How do you know my father?” Said Cassandra. “And to which of my brothers do you refer?”

      “I knew your father long ago, in his youth, before he met your mother. I knew him, and loved him when he wandered through this countryside as a prince while Hercules attacked Troy, and killed your grandfather, King Laomedon.”

      “Do not speak such blasphemies about my father!” Said Cassandra.

      “It is not my intention to upset you, dear child, but clearly there are things about your father that you do not know.” Said Alexirho.

      “What do you know about King Priam that compels you to say such things?” Said Coroebus.

      “No, I do not want to hear it!” Shouted Cassandra as Arisbe embraced her.

      “Oh, but you must, dear child. For you and I share a common enemy, and I am inclined to assist you on your endeavor.” Said Alexirho.

      Cassandra turned away from Arisbe’s shoulder and gazed upon the nymph with tears welling in her eyes. A thunderous silence echoed between them.

      “Speak.” Said Cassandra.

      At length Alexirho spoke again. “I met your father when he approached the dawn of adulthood. Not much older than Paris was when he returned to Troy from Mount Ida. And like Paris, your father fell in love with a nymph who bore him a son.”

      “What?” Said Cassandra.

      “Yes. Eenoni, who is also a daughter of the river-god Cebren, bore Paris a son. Whom he chose to abandon for the prize that Aphrodite has promised him.”

      “And who is this son of Priam that you speak of?” Said Coroebus.

      “Aesacus.” Said Alexirho.

      Cassandra caught her breath.

      “I don’t understand, my lady. What is the problem?” Said Coroebus.

      Cassandra sat and pondered the gravity of the revelation. She reminded Coroebus that Aesacus had been the one present at her birth, when she had been brought into the world with Paris. Aesacus had been the one who interpreted the dream of Queen Hecuba as a prophecy that Paris would be the one to bring about the fall of Troy.

      Coroebus’ eyes grew wide as realization dawned on his face.

      Alexirho proceeded to reveal that Priam raised Aesacus in Troy, but that Aesacus left for the countryside after Hecuba berated him for his prophecy about Paris. And like the other men of Troy, Aesacus too fell in love with a daughter of the river-god, Cebren when he met Hesperia.

      “Wait a minute.” Said Cassandra. “That would mean—“

      Alexirho interrupted her with the remainder of the tale. The nymph clarified that while Aesacus fell in love with Hesperia, he did not know the truth of his lineage.

      “You never told him you were his mother?” Said Cassandra.

      “No.” Said Alexirho. “I could not tell him, because I had to protect him. I could not bear the pain he would feel if he were to learn that I, his mother, allowed him to live beyond my embrace.”

      “So, all his life, he believed that Queen Hecuba was his mother?” Said Coroebus.

      “Yes.” Said Alexirho. “However, Hecuba could never feel the grief I felt when Aesacus died.”

      “How did that happen?” Said Cassandra.

      Alexirho knelt before the Trojan princess and told her of how Aesacus pursued Hesperia. He followed her into the woods, chased her into the mountains, and rushed after her into the river. Regardless of her effort to elude him, his devotion remained unwavering.

      Word had reached Mount Olympus about the unconditional love that Aesacus felt for Hesperia, and they watched with wonder and amusement as he pursued the predilection for his passion. Soon, even Zeus was inclined to urge Aphrodite to fulfill the young man’s desire. But the goddess grew enraged with the mortal for he appeared to love a nymph more than he loved her, and furthermore, he had failed to call upon the goddess of love in his endeavor.

      Aphrodite asked that Ariadne, the goddess of snakes, have a poisonous serpent strike Hesperia and kill her. Ariadne agreed after Aphrodite promised to permit her to return to the Earth where she might walk on the land of her father once more.

      Ariadne did as Aphrodite requested, and to ensure that none of the other gods knew what she did, Aphrodite cast Ariadne into a maze of tunnels beneath the surface of the Earth to wonder for eternity.

      “What became of Aesacus?” Said Cassandra.

      After Hesperia died, Aesacus could not bear to live without her, and leapt from a high cliff into the sea. However, as he plunged to his death, Tethys, a Titaness and aquatic sea goddess took pity on him and changed him into a bird.

      “My son was forever lost to me as a mortal, but I watch him as he lives in the form of a diving bird.” Said Alexirho. “Still, I mourned them both, and wish to exact my revenge on Aphrodite in any way I can.”

      “You do realize the danger of such actions, do you not?” Said Coroebus.

      “Do you?” Asked Alexirho.

      Coroebus nodded.

      Cassandra stood. “How do you intend to help?”

      “I can take you by river to Abydos.” Said Alexirho.

      “We can travel to Abydos by land.” Said Cassandra.

      “Yes, that is true. However your absence from Troy has not gone unnoticed, and there are many in the service of your father roaming these lands. Emissaries also venture to and fro with tidings of the comings and goings between kingdoms. It would be to your advantage to accept the safe passage that I offer.”

      Cassandra considered Alexirho’s offer.

      “Time is of the essence. You cannot lose, even a day.”

      “I agree, my lady.” Said Coroebus.

      That night, the company slept beneath the stars. Alexirho kept a watchful eye from the river, and cast a blanket of serenity over them to sleep without fear. They had grown weary in body and in mind, and quickly fell into a long sleep.

      No sound or dream disturbed his or her slumber, save for Cassandra, whose thoughts remained on her brothers, who journeyed to Sparta, and her family in Troy.

      She thought of her mother, Queen Hecuba, and how the Queen had dealt with her father. Surely, King Priam would be furious with them both, but they had no other choice. He wouldn’t listen!

      Her mind wandered to Troylus, her youngest brother. He had risked exposing his secret love affair with Cressida by helping them escape. And what would King Priam say of the involvement of his trust priest, Calchas?

      Nestled in the comfort of her wool blanket, she finally drifted to sleep.

Cassandra felt her eyes open, but could not move. There was a silence, for unexpectedly the darkness pressed upon her, full of secret purpose. She struggled to remain calm as her eyes darted to and fro while an unseen entity held her body still. Her breathing quickened. Her voice failed her, and remained lodged in her throat when she attempted to scream.

      The shadows danced, and filled her with fear before she felt the familiar touch of Apollo. His gaze fell upon her and morphed into an intense stare. He lifted her, and cradled her protectively in his arms. Her heart pounded against her chest as she stared at him, trying to gauge his mood and feelings, but the Sun god remained impenetrable.

      “I’ve missed you.” Apollo whispered tenderly.

      Cassandra tensed as he placed her on the altar of the temple that rose around them. And when he placed his hand on her lower abdomen, she felt a sensation she could not describe. Without realizing she had been disrobed, she lay naked before him. His long graceful fingers caressed her skin, and she moaned. When she felt his fingertips circle her nipples, she felt as though he strummed the surface of the sea with as much care as he played his lyre.

      No longer paralyzed, she turned slightly to face him. His hazel eyes studied her; he looked into her deep blue eyes as if he was staring into her soul, into her heart, searching for a place within where he might belong.

      As she stared at his perfect lips she remembered the desire that dripped from his kiss when she surrendered herself to that moment when he ravaged her mouth with his tongue. A raw, untapped passion rose from the depths of eternity, and seared her soul.

      “I would forego my seat on Mount Olympus for the honor of your love.” Said Apollo.

      Cassandra turned away from him with tears welling in her eyes. She wanted to love him. If it meant that Troy would be saved, and her family would be spared. If it meant that she could end his suffering, and they would be together until the end of time. Cassandra would love Apollo as he longed to be loved.

      “Why must you ask of me that which I am unable to feel?” Said Cassandra.

      “The heart wants what the heart wants. Even that of a god.” Said Apollo.

      “But for what reason?” Said Cassandra. “There are many others from which to choose. Many who are lovelier than me; many who possess the capacity to fulfill your passionate proclivities.”

      “I find none to be lovelier than you, Cassandra. And to know that you love me the way the heart is intended to love would be the fulfillment of my greatest desire.”

      “I cannot grant you what I do not possess.” Said Cassandra.

      “I have all of eternity to wait.” Said Apollo, and he vanished.

Cassandra woke with a start. The cold morning air blew on her face. She was lying on her back, and turned to see her companions also rousing from their sleep.

      They ate a little, and after packing their belongings prepared to set off down the river.

      “What about the horses?” Said Arisbe.

      “They are of no use to you now. You would risk being discovered if you tried to cross Propontis with them, and even then, they would be a burden you cannot afford to bear when you reach the Aegean.” Said Alexirho.

      The nymph fashioned a boat out of a log that bobbed on the surface of the water near the wooded north bank of the river. The branches waved gently in the breeze of the grey morning as the company climbed aboard.

      The boat drifted with the current of the river as Alexirho commanded, aware that time was pressing, and that fate had not been idle during the hours they slept.

      The lands gradually changed: the trees thinned and disappeared completely. The mountains on the horizon fell in the distance, and the landscape stretched far and wide into various shades of green.

      “When you arrive at Sestos, it is imperative that you go with caution to the temple of Aphrodite.” Said Alexirho.

      “Why?” Said Cassandra.

      “She will sense the presence of this,” said Alexirho as she brandished a sword. “It is the sword of Ariadne, and it is the only blade strong enough to free the tortured and captured soul of Hero. You must free her, and she will guide you across the land to the shores of the Aegean. After you cross the Aegean, go to the labyrinth where Ariadne is held prisoner. Present her with this blade, and she will lead you through the maze of underground passages to find the entrance to the Underworld where you will find the assistance you seek.”

      They gazed upon the sword with wonder. Its splendor accentuated by the elegantly carved hilt, masterful design of the blade, and the placement of colorful, shinning stones.

      “When Aphrodite discovers what you have done, she will enlist gods, creatures and mortals to seek you out and punish you.” Said Alexirho. “You may fear the goddess, but you do not yet fear her enough. And where until now you have merely ventured beyond the high walls of Troy, once you cross Propontis there will be no turning back.”

      There was a heavy silence. Cassandra gave no answer, her mind puzzled with fear and doubt. Coroebus pursed his lips, but said nothing and looked out at the horizon. Arisbe frowned, and worry filled her eyes as she turned to Cassandra and touched her hand. Calchas fidgeted and looked uncomfortable. His eyes darted back and forth between his companions, and then his eyes fell on the nymph who studied him carefully. She squinted at him with suspicious eyes, and he turned away quickly.

      The boat continued along the river, carrying the caravan to the dark destiny that had been chosen for each of them without their knowledge.

To be continued…

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