WHEN THE GODS WERE WALKING THE EARTH, part 1
"Many, many years ago, when the gods felt bored at the Olympus, they descended to Earth to spend some time hunting or having love affairs.
One day, a son was born to the king of a mighty kingdom. The king was so happy that he decided to hold nation-wide celebrations. For the ordinary peasants, long wooden tables were set in the park by the palace. The gods, the kings and the nobles were invited to a feast in the throne-hall. Dozens of jugglers, dancers, fire-eaters and jesters were invited to entertain the noble guests. They started arriving from near and far: the kings of the neighbouring kingdoms with their retinues, noble knights with their pages, rich merchants from faraway countries, soldiers, adventurers and ordinary folk. To the king's amazement, even decrepit deaf dotards would mount their donkeys, lash them with their whips, stripping off enough hide for nine pairs of sandals, and head for the party. While the rabble were struggling to swallow the stale dark bread and the stringy meat, washing them down with the sour red wine, in the palace the kings and their noble attendants (strangely enough, the gods had not yet arrived, though usually they were the first to show up) were treated to a lavish dinner: steaming, fragrant bread, roasted piglets - no older than three months, with red apples stuck into their mouths, their tender meat melting on the palate, partridges stewed with mushrooms and quail eggs, freshly salted bonitoes, smoked herrings, spicy frog legs in salsa served with diced potatoes, delicious lamb brains, and even rarities such as caviar..."
"Listen," Dan put in, swallowing hard, "cut this part short, will you? You're killing me. Just go on with the story, okay?"
"Okay then," sighed Ivan, raising his spectacles. "So, anything you can think of, it was served at that abundant banquet. While the noble guests were feasting, skillful jugglers displayed their sleight of hand. The feasters gasped when the king's brother turned into a hog and came out of the huge garbage can in the corner."
"Next came voluptuous, lissome dancers in transparent veils. Those whose heads were not yet spinning from the wine went giddy with their graceful dances.
A group of fire eaters appeared next. They were so hungry they even ate the flames of the torches illuminating the throne hall.
When the dessert was served, a gang of jesters started throwing cakes at each other. It was the first cake battle in world history, later institutionalized by Hollywood.
When all feasters were stuffed with food, soaked with wine and smeared all over with icing, the king called a halt and collapsed under the table. His crown rolled down the thick carpet all the way to the opposite wall. A doltish servant thought it was a wheel and placed a tray on it. He rolled the tray up and down the table and the dirty dishes were piled onto it. That was the invention of the first rolling tray in history. The technology was borrowed 2000 years later by an unscrupulous American inventor who patented the conveyor belt.
In fact, the conveyor belt had been invented in ancient times as a dirty dish transporting device. Anyway...
Three days passed in eating, drinking and rushing to the Royal Evacuatory (a bucket of water with some soap of the Little Orange Riding Hood brand). Some of the guests complained and insisted that the finer brand Snow-White & the Eight Dwarfs be supplied. A real dwarf was supplied instead: the royal jester who was small and humpbacked; he boasted not one but two hunches. Some of the guests argued that dwarfs were not supposed to have hunches but the jester's ones were removable anyway. When he had been sent on a specialization to the dwarfs' house (learning how to polish diamonds on the job and pawing Snow-White in his spare time), he had equipped himself for a hunched image, should Snow-White's friends turn out to be hunchbacks. Double-hunch dwarfs were as rare as nine-headed dragons. Of course, the jester also had the option to throw off the hunches and join the dwarf socialist movement. Ever since King Baldhead had launched the perestroyka in the neighbouring kingdom, those dwarfs had suspended their communist party membership and had declared themselves socialists. Being a socialist was the latest fad there... Anyway, back to our story.
On the fourth day of the celebrations, the king organized a hunt. All noble guests as well as the gods were invited. The Minotaur was brought out of the royal zoo. It had the monstrous head of a wild boar with giant tusks, and human legs. He was closely related to the centaur: a half-human, half-equine creature. The Minotaur was the king's skeleton in the closet: having once overindulged in drinking, the queen missed the door of the royal bedroom and went to the royal sty instead. The Minotaur was the result of that unfortunate blunder.
"He who kills the Minotaur shall gain the hand of my daughter in marriage," the king announced.
All guests turned to gaze at Princess Pumpkin. Strangely enough, her name was Pumpkin, although she rather resembled a head of cabbage that had been kicked about quite a while. Anyway, the princes and the nobles started scratching their heads absent-mindedly, and picking their noses, probably in the hope of finding gold there. While they were probing their noble nostrils, the king realized he ought to boost Princess Pumpkin's market value.
"He who kills the Minotaur shall gain the hand of Princess Pumpkin in marriage, and a roasted pumpkin!"
The guests went on scratching their heads, for none of them was overly keen on pumpkins.
The king found himself in a quandary. Despite all his efforts to find a fiancé for his daughter, Princess Pumpkin was as lonely a bee as ever. Finding a drone had proved a hard task lately, for all drones were extremely busy. They were attending no less that half a dozen lectures on Marxism-Leninism daily. One of them had even embraced Stalinism and had attempted to install a dictatorship...
"Princess Pumpkin and a pumpkinful of diamonds, rubies and emeralds," the queen announced.
After that memorable night at the royal sty, she had become markedly more resourceful and sharp-witted. The king gave her the control over the Ministry of Finance and the Royal Reserve. The wise queen founded the Fist Trade Bank that later developed into the International Monetary Bank which granted loans to poorer kingdoms. If they failed to pay back, the Bank would send repo men with impressive midsections and impressive big clubs. They used their clubs to squeeze whatever they could from ordinary folk, and if someone failed to deliver, he was dispatched promptly by the Flying Dutchman express airmail service to Muka. Muka inhabitants were known for their attempts to build communism, but as they used sand as building material, their sand castles would collapse at the end of the day and they would start again the following morning... Hence the expression "Mukan sand castles", meaning something short-lived...
The Minotaur, who had never before seen such a crowd, was scared and started weeping in a human voice.
"Mummy, I want home," he cried, looking at Queen Pate, but no one actually guessed why. The noble guests thought the monster had wetted himself in fear, and needed to go to the royal bathroom. It was hunting time, though, and the poor Minotaur was refused even that minor earthly pleasure. The king, a secret admirer of the Marquis de Sade, kicked the Minotaur viciously, and his boot's high heel sank painfully in the beast's behind. The Minotaur gave an almost human scream and took to flight towards the forest. Before the stunned nobles had managed to mount their noble mares, the Minotaur disappeared in the thickness of the forest, never to be seen again.
Suddenly, shouts were heard in front of the palace:
"Don't torture the beast!"
"Don't kill the Minotaur!"
"Better naked than in furs!"
These were the nobles' wives, chanting and jumping around. They were naked except for the fishing nets wrapped around them.
The nobles forgot about the hunt and dashed in pursuit of the beautiful nymphs. The hunt was a complete failure, and the first ever movement of animal defenders had a smashing success.
"He who kills the Minotaur shall win the hand of Princess Pumpkin in marriage, and three pumpkinfuls of rubies and diamonds...," Queen Pate screamed in a desperate attempt to save the hunt.
"A-hem, and a kiss from Queen Pate," King Tubby put in.
"Three pumpkinfuls of gems and a kiss from the Queen's lips," the jester repeated, brandishing his sceptre.
The jester and the king were as like as two peas. The king sometimes played practical jokes on his nobles, they thought he was the jester and gave him a few good kicks in his royal behind. This is why the king was in the habit of padding his pants with a small cushion which acted as a shield when need be.
The new offer stirred the nobles to action. Their eyes brightened up; whether with passion or with greed, it was hard to tell. Queen Pate's lips had made her the winner of the prestigious Most Erotic Kiss pageant several years in succession. Her lucky husband was universally envied. Rumours went that the queen's lips were as soft as silk. Some said they were as sweet as honey; others, that they were as hot as flames; still others, that they had the flavour of wild mint and were as seductive as a nymph's…In reality, anyone who dared touch the queen's lips was promptly beheaded. Despite that, even many of the Olympian gods were secretly in love with Queen Pate. They had to be discreet about their feelings, however, because their wives the goddesses were extremely jealous and would fly into a rage at the news of such love affairs. Their eyes flashed lightnings no one could survive. The unfortunate womanizer was reduced to a smoking pile of ashes. After a few unfortunate gods had suffered that fate, the surviving fans of Queen Pate rushed to Hephaestus the god of fire and fell on their knees before him.
"We beg you," they pleaded with their eyes full of tears. "Make shields for us, or we're history!"
"What shall I get in return," the god of forge asked.
"Well,…" stammered the gods, unable to come up with a solution.
Being gods, they had everything one could possibly have… everything except the Hesperides' nine apples.
"Make us shields and we'll get you an apple from the Hesperides' garden!"
"Deal," the blacksmith god agreed and started hammering.
The apples from the Hesperides' gardens had amazing magical powers. They could transform the ugliest human or god into an exemplification of beauty, comparable only to Apollo. The god of fire had goat's legs, a hump and a horned head, and was invariably the other Olympians' object of ridicule. No goddess, no river-dwelling nymph, no mermaid in the sea, no fairy would yield to the goatish god's advances. Thus, when he was badly in need of a lay, he had to go down to earth and seek the services of harlots. A fine piece of jewellery would get him the desired female attention. This is actually how the first brothels were created. The god of fire was by that time fed up with paid love and dreamed of having a home and a family. His ugliness, however, was a major obstacle...
Queen Pate's admirers left Hephaestus busy with the forging of the shields, and headed for the Hesperides' gardens. They were guarded by the three-headed dragon Cerberus. One of the monster's heads was always awake while the other two were asleep.
"How can we get in," the gods wondered, plucking their hair in desperation.
"I know how," one of them exclaimed. "Eros the gods' messenger will help us!"
The naughty young god's arrows had unusual powers. Those hit by them fell immediately and desperately in love. The object of their feelings might be ugly, disgusting, with a foul breath, lame, one-eyed, hunchbacked, crippled or imbecile, but through the eyes of love he or she looked beautiful, with a breath of mint, a voice like the spring breeze, the body of Apollo and the wisdom of Athena. Anyway, after searching for a while, the gods finally found the mischievous archer and sighed with relief.
"Our sweetest, dearest friend," they began, falling on their knees before him.
"Okay, okay," the boy frowned. "How come that everyone asks for my services? Did anyone ever ask if I wanted anything?"
He raised his bow and shot an arrow into Cerberus' heart. It flared with love. The first creature Cerberus saw a moment later was a mare grazing idly by the Hesperides' gardens. In the eyes of the love-filled Cerberus, she looked like a magnificent dragon with scarlet scales and peacock-blue eyes.
"There goes the horsefly," laughed Eros and opened a small box. "Now watch!"
Eros was a mischievous fellow who enjoyed playing practical jokes on gods and mortals alike.
The mare gave a loud neigh and galloped off, the amorous three-headed Cerberus in her wake.
"Have no fear my love," the dragon guard cried out passionately and spread his enormous wings. "I won't hurt you! How could I ever hurt my sweet beloved with the bluest eyes!"
Indeed, to him she was the most beautiful creature there ever was, the most fragrant flower in all nature. Never for an instant did he realize that his sweetheart was a shortsighted, lame old mare with few teeth left. By the way, this is the origin of the phrase "love is blind".
While the amorous dragon was trying to catch his sweetheart, the gods who were in love with Queen Pate sneaked into the garden and stole a few apples.
When they went back to Hephaestus, their shields were ready and waiting for them. The gods gave Hephaestus an apple and he ate it right away. Ugly as he was, not even the magic apple could make him as handsome as Apollo, but at least it attenuated his ugliness and turned one of his goat's legs into a shapely human leg.
"What can I do about the other ugly hoof," Hephaestus asked himself.
He arrived at a solution quickly: he hid his ugly leg in the folds of a magnificent toga. He scrutinized his reflection in the mirror surface of a shield and, evidently satisfied, rushed out of his smithy and down to earth.
He spent a week spying on a mermaid who was swimming by the Isle of Bliss. His heart was overflowing with love. He finally appeared on the shore, covered by his toga, only his shapely leg exposed.
"Sweet Violet of the Seas,
My fair lady,
Come to the shore,
To your sweetheart's call," he sang.
His stance was later adopted by the priestesses of love.
Inexperienced readers, if you ever encounter a butterfly of the night with one of her thighs exposed, do not rush for her. You should first check in the folds of her skirt whether her other leg is not a goat's leg!
The mermaid responded to Hephaestus' love call and came to the surface.
"What are you hiding there," she asked, for she was an exceptionally curious mermaid, and before the god could stop her, she pulled off his toga.
"Oh no!" Hephaestus cried desperately and limped away. His toga fell off, revealing his hairy goat's leg.
"You hairy goat!" the mermaid laughed. "Baa-baa!"
She laughed and laughed and couldn't stop until her fish's tail split in the middle. She screamed and rushed to the bottom of the sea where her father Neptune, the god of the sea, lived in a huge coral palace. He stitched the mermaid's split tail with two crabs and she was again able to swim.
"Where is the chief security officer," Neptune shouted angrily.
"Here I am, Master," a jellyfish replied.
"Where have you been you scoundrel," the god of the sea roared. "What did I want you to do? You had a single job: the princesses' safety! How did you do your job? You left Princess Violet alone in the face of danger and see what happened! Death is what you deserve! Executioners!"
The sharks came up.
"You know your job."
"You," the king then addressed an elderly octopus, "as of today, you are appointed as chief security officer in charge of my daughters' safety. Remember what happened to your predecessor in this post and watch out, or you may come to the same end!"
"I will guard the princesses like my own tentacles," the octopus promised.
"You'd better do that," Neptune frowned. "You'd better do that!"
Back to our gods, they were trying to sneak out of the Olympus but their wives were on the alert. The flame of revenge flared in their eyes, and as soon as the first god had slipped out of the giant copper gates, a lightning hit him in the back. The adulterous husband was reduced to a pile of ashes.
Terrified, the gods rushed back to Hephaestus' smithy. They found him angry and frustrated.
"I want another apple," he demanded. "With this leg," and Hephaestus uncovered his ugly goat's hoof, "I'll be a laughingstock for all creatures of the sea!"
"Make us second shields to cover our backs and we'll give you another apple," the gods promised.
Hephaestus rolled up his sleeves and grabbed the bellows. An hour later the gods had the much desired shields, and the smith acquired another apple. Hephaestus ate it quickly and waited eagerly for the result. Indeed, his ugly goat's leg was replaced by a well-shaped one. Hephaestus now boasted perfect thighs that could make even the goddess of love Aphrodite green with envy. His only drawbacks left were his hunch and his horns. He covered his upper body with his robe, and headed for the shore where the mermaids were swimming.
"Star of the Sea,
My fair lady,
Respond to my call,
Come to the shore," he sang passionately, swaying his shapely hips.
Immediately, a curious mermaid came to the surface and swam up to him to take a better look. She was amazed by his graceful legs: herself, she had an ugly fish tail, and only in her dreams did she have such legs! She swam to the shore and they started kissing, Hephaestus melting like wax at the mermaid's passionate embraces, but she suddenly discovered his hunch.
"Hunchback! I thought I was kissing an Apollo but I was kissing a dromedaire instead," she laughed, and laughed, and laughed until her tail split right in the middle.
Frustrated, Hephaestus limped back to his smithy, while the mermaid rushed to her gather Neptune's coral palace. The king of the sea wondered why his daughter Star of the Sea had come back with her tail split just a couple of hours after the same had happened to her sister, Violet of the Sea. He promptly stapled her tail with three crabs and called the chief security officer in charge of the princess' safety. The unfortunate octopus was handed over to the executioner sharks.
"You good-for-nothing," Neptune thundered. "I entrusted to you my most beautiful flower, and what did you do? Executioners, you know your job!"
"Master, have mercy on me," the octopus begged but it was too late.
"You," turned Neptune to an old turtle, "As of today you are in charge of the princesses' security. Stay on the alert! If a hair falls off their heads, I'll rip your shell off and throw you into boiling water. Is that clear?"
Meanwhile, the gods who were amorous of Queen Pate were trying to sneak to the palace of King Tubby. Unfortunately, their wives were on watch and saw them file out of the copper gates. However, the gods were equipped with two shields each: one in front, one behind, and the furious goddesses could not hurt them. They showered lightning on the gods but could not penetrate Hephaestus' magic shields and hurt them.
"Aim for the heels," a nightingale chirped. "Aim for the heels!"
The gods' heels were naked and vulnerable, not protected by the shields. Diana immediately sent a lightning that hit the treacherous Achilles in the heel. Achilles screamed and collapsed, his shield fell. The goddesses were quick to act, they hit him with a few lightnings and turned him into ashes. Hence the expression "Achilles' heel". The surviving gods screamed in terror and rushed back to the smithy.
Curled up by the bellows, Hephaestus was weeping bitter tears.
"Those… mer-maids… they… don't… like me," he wept. "They hate my hunch! Oh please give me another apple! I'll do anything in the world for you!"
"You'll have it, but first make us something to cover our bare feet!"
"That's not easy," Hephaestus frowned. "It'll take three hours but if one of you is ready to help with the bellows we can manage faster."
"What should I do then," he wondered. Before long, he sank into deep meditation. In his youth, he had spent a few years with the billy goats in Tibet and had learned the art of meditation.
"So when do we start," one of the gods nudged him. "You've been sitting like this for two hours!"
"Leave him alone," said Ares. "I also do that meditation thing before a wrestling bout."
Ares had won no less than five medals in the Greek Olympic Games and had retired without a single loss. No man could ever defeat him in wrestling…
"Got it!" Hephaestus opened his eyes. "I'll make you metal shoes."
"What's this thing shoes," Ares asked. He was not too familiar with fashion and did not know the meaning of words such as "miniskirt," "bra" or "bikini".
"Shoes are a bit like sandals," Hephaestus explained. "Only they are not open at the back, and cover the entire foot."
"Oh I see," said Ares and pressed the bellows. The fire blazed.
Two hours later, each of the gods was equipped with a pair of metal shoes.
"I've got blisters on my hands," Apollo complained, waving his soft hands.
"But you do want to kiss Queen Pate's luscious lips, don't you," Ares laughed. "No pain, no gain!"
Anyway, Hephaestus also did a few more improvements, tied the two shields together and made some metal gloves for the gods' hands. He also made protective plates for their legs. The god of forge then stepped back and admired his work.
"Now give me that apple," he claimed.
The amorous gods put on their new armour and rushed to the copper gates of the Olympus, while Hephaestus ate the third apple.
A miracle then happened! His hunch began to shrink, his posture improved. Minutes before he had been stooping like an old man, and now he was as slender as a pine tree! His body was perfect; if it were not for his pointed horns, he would probably be more handsome than Apollo. The god of forge wound a turban around his head (this is actually how the first turban was invented: its purpose was to hide Hephaestus' horns), and headed for the shore. The Blessed Mermaid Isle was the favourite swimming place of Neptune's young daughters, and he was hoping to meet one of them…"
Ivan suddenly fell silent.
"Five minutes break," he said. "I'm tired of talking."
Dan sighed and waited patiently for his friend to go on with the story…