Medusa and Andromeda of Aethiopia

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by Darling

The original tale of Medusa, Perseus and Andromeda has long held problematic themes. It paints the victim of many crimes, Medusa, as a villain while ignoring the vile acts of her murderer, Perseus. Long have some dreamed of a better version, one in which the famous gorgon is no longer a monster but a valid person with feeling and substance. To this end, some of the unsavory tropes and themes of the original story are found within, such as rape and misogyny, but these are now properly cast as the immoral acts they are. The gods no longer get a pass.

 

 

Medusa and Andromeda of Aethiopia

By Ishtar W.

February 20, 2020

 

The original tale of Medusa, Perseus and Andromeda has long held problematic themes. It paints the victim of many crimes, Medusa, as a villain while ignoring the vile acts of her murderer, Perseus. Long have some dreamed of a better version, one in which the famous gorgon is no longer a monster but a valid person with feeling and substance. To this end, some of the unsavory tropes and themes of the original story are found within, such as rape and misogyny, but these are now properly cast as the immoral acts they are. The gods no longer get a pass.

 

Around and around the spindle twisted. Each length of thread wrapped around the last as she spun. As half of the world fought and died for power, tin, and gold, the other half created and sustained what they could. The light in the room danced across the rustic cavern walls dazzling her serpents into a rhythmic cadence. Medusa spun her flax to a rhythm she tapped with her foot as she imagined the final garment she would weave, a chiton for her sister Euryale. She had planned to bring her garment to meet with a good friend in the kingdom of Egypt to apply lapis lazuli beads by the next moon, though the journey was rather long. Her serpents watched with mild interest as the spindle filled with flax thread and the promise of what was the be created.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the distinctive sound of bronze scraping across the stone floor in the main room, just adjacent to her room of retirement. Had she left the door to the cavern open when she had returned from fishing? Surely the harpies would have noticed a boat arriving? Cautiously, she placed her spindle on the pillow next to her and adjusted her perizoma, a simple linen loincloth, to ensure it was tight. Her feet bare upon the cool stone floor, the gorgon quietly approached the entryway. Anticipation tingled down her spine as she edged closer. Could it be one of her sisters sneaking upon her as a trick? Smoothly as possible, she glanced around the corner and into the main room. Calm permeated her as her eyes met the mundane familiarity of her empty room. Only her reflection returned a smile as she noted the obsidian mirror on her vanity table. Above, her serpents tasted the air with their tongues, as was their nature.

"Monster!" Adrenalin flashed through her body at the sudden fiat, from her left. Turning, she saw what could only be described as a gentle mist playing with the light from the oil lamps much as the heat from a summer's eve made the Sun dance on the horizon. Her serpents suddenly tugged, causing her to instinctively leap backward just as the edge of a hooked blade emerged from out of nowhere. The harpe blade sliced cleanly through the air, which had been her abdomen a breath before. Catching her balance, Medusa lept backward and to her right, dodging attack after attack from her unseen assailant.

Dog skin of Hades, she thought, knowing of such an item of great power which might grant someone the ability to pass by harpies, her sisters and even her own gaze, unseen. Even now, her serpents could barely sense the creature until it was moments from striking. Rolling backward to avoid another slice, she realized that the physical limits of her chamber were exceeded – she was abruptly cornered. She waited for the killing slice, almost screaming in expectation of pain, but it did not come. Oddly, the attacker had been much slower to advance than they should have been, she realized. Suddenly, the blade sliced again, but this time not close enough to even require her avoidance.

"You can't see me... your eyes are covered," she breathed. The realization was shortlived as the blade quickly struck at the source of the revelation, but once more caught only air. Medusa came out of her roll at the center of the room. Taking a moment to catch her breath, she made herself still, as quiet as a windless night. The invisible creature continued to stalk, it's footsteps barely audible but for the sound of sandals. Medusa was again thankful she was barefoot. Glancing around, she noted a wool chlamys she wore on chilly mornings. It was old and tattered, but it would serve her now as it always had. Moments later, she stood at the edge of the cavern, chlamys in hand, and ready to end this. One by one, each forked tongue flicked, smelling the air. Medusa closed her eyes and let her serpents guide her toward the source of the odor, the vile scent of a hero.

In a single throw, honed by years of casting nets, the chlamys sailed through the air and landed upon the form of a hero. Medusa made to grab her bronze dagger on the table behind her, when suddenly the chlamys was cast aside, replaced by her own reflection. Before her stood a young man brandishing a supremely shiny shield with a hooked sword in his right hand, winged sandals adorning his feet. To his side, the helm of invisibility lay where it had fallen in his rash act to remove the cloth. As she stood there, Medusa gazed back at her own intense visage. She was a magnificent being with a gaze of striking certainty, powerful enough to turn any man to stone.

 

***

 

Perseus cast the cloth aside, brandishing the Athenian shield at the monster. He would avert his gaze until the abomination was destroyed, likely turned to stone by its own hideous face. He had stolen the eye shared by three old women, the Graeae, and forced them to tell him where to find the creature. He had even been gifted by the gods with the tools he needed, and now he stood before the vile beast in triumph. As a man, it was his birthright to destroy monsters, to become a hero, to be remembered, and that he would. Prophecy be damned. When no sound was heard, the young hero lifted his head to witness the creature safely as stone. To his surprise, she was no longer before him. Instead, he was greeted by his own reflection in a tabletop obsidian vanity mirror on the table just before him. His blood ran cold as two feminine arms grasped his head, forcing it forward. Behind his head, serpents rose in all directions, and he knew she was right behind him. The last thing the hero saw in the mirror was a pair of gorgon eyes as they rose from behind him.

"Fool. It isn't my gaze which turns men to stone, but my will," she muttered as she stepped back from her new main chamber decoration. The boy's magical items remained unchanged, as was their enchanted nature. The helm, sword, and shield were of no use to the gorgon. She did not defeat her enemies with brute strength or skill in battle, but through cunning and intellect. She would leave them by the water's edge for their respective owners to collect if they wished. She returned to her bedroom carrying the golden winged sandals, a price she would exact from the gods who enabled the violent home invader. Besides, she had been considering visiting a friend in the kingdom of Egypt, and winged sandals would turn weeks of sailing into hours of flight.

 

***

 

Andromeda's eyes were sore from tears, and her mouth was dry. She had been cursed with a beauty beyond that of average mortals, something sought by many women and yet frightening to possess in a world of violent gods and men. How had her fool mother been so shortsighted? Why had she boasted of her daughter's beauty? If only her uncle Phineus had taken her as his wife, as was arranged. It was not that Andromeda wished to marry a man, nor was she keen on the presence of a husband. At least it would have saved her from the dangerous limbo of being the daughter of a prideful mother who didn't know when to keep her mouth shut, or an autocratic father without the wit to have prevented this. As a woman, her will was that of her father's whim. Unfortunately, any hope for even a mundane life had ended when her mother had boasted of her beauty and sealed her fate.

"Why have you forsaken me?" she breathed to the gods on dry lips. Her wrists were bruised and bloodied by their restraint. Against a rock by the main port, near the capital city of the kingdom of Aethiopia, Andromeda's own father had stripped her body bare and chained her to a rock. Her feet pruned from the ankle-deep seawater she stood in while her body baked dry in the hot sun. Her beautiful golden jewelry remained, an offering to ward the sea creature Cetus, the horror of Poseidon, against destroying her kingdom. Not far away, local people had gathered and now leered at her gold-adorned form as she awaited sacrifice. She kept her head down in shame at her condition. Andromeda consoled herself in the knowledge that her death would at least save the lives of her people, sadly a price to be paid for her mother's boastful pride. Offhandedly, she wondered if the curious onlookers would brave climbing down the rocks to loot the very gold from her body, even as she gave her life to save them. It was just absurd.

The screams of the spectators broke her stupor, causing her to look up. Her vision was blurry from thirst and tears, but even her affected vision could make out the giant creature rising from the water. At first, she stared at it as though it would disappear or become whatever mundane object it must be. But her eyes refused to admit trickery. The monster was taller than any building, longer than any ship, and it had eyes only for her. Her awe quickly turned to fear. She tugged as hard as she could at the adamantine restraints, but her weakened arms could do nothing against their hold. Her fear quickly became a panicked horror as she tugged at the chains like a wild animal willing her body beyond its normal limits. Metal cut into flesh as she screamed, yet the chains would not give. Andromeda began to slip into unconsciousness as horror overpowered her mind. Just as her vision darkened, she saw something above the monster, something descending... and then only darkness.

 

***

 

Medusa dove through the clouds flying toward the creature, her linen chiton in hand. By the look of it, the beast was likely the sea monster Cetus, a wicked creation of Poseidon. She despised any creations of Poseidon, though her curiosity had overpowered her categorical aversion to anything the rapist god had created. She had spotted the beast as she flew past the kingdom of Aethiopia, near Egypt. The air warmed as her altitude fell, though the blissful feeling of freedom from soring threw the clouds urged her on. A thin wisp of cloud vanished, and the scene was brought into full clarity. Frightened people running away from the shore, they had so obviously crowded moments before. The monster had driven them away, though its focus appeared to be a singular figure who appeared to be chained to a rock – a sacrifice.

More than a little interested in this most unusual behavior from the people of Aethiopia, the gorgon descended farther until the true nature of the monster's focus could be seen. She was a young woman adorned from head to toe in every sort of royal jewel and gem that could be fastened to her bare, painted body. Much work had gone into her presentation for the beast. Her tear-streaked kohl eyeliner did little to hide the true beauty of the woman, nearly as beautiful as Aphrodite herself. Anger arose deep within Medusa, a deep hatred for what she saw. There had been a time when her beauty and place as a woman had seen her raped, then punished for the act by the very goddess she had pledged her life to. But was this not always how the story went? Persephone, Leda, Demeter. Were women only the measure of their appearance to the gods, to society? Was the world really so shallow? Were women no more than jewels themselves?

“This shall not be,” she spat, and dove, placing herself between the monster and the woman, her chiton tossed carelessly upon the rocks. Cetus came to a halt as the beast took note of a god touched creature standing between him and his prize.

“What is this, gorgon?” Cetus spoke with a deep voice.

“Why is this woman made to lay bare? Why do you come at her now, beast?” the gorgon called out. For a moment, the monster hung motionless, as though sizing up the unusual serpentine headed woman before him.

"She is my gift. She is payment for her mother's boasting. No mortal shall claim to be as beautiful as their betters," he replied after a moment. It was as she thought, and it was happening again. The gorgon narrowed her gaze, her serpents hissing and flailing wildly. Her eyes held the promise of mortal peril.

“She has committed no crime other than to have been born beautiful to the eyes of men. Whoever chained her is as wretched as your master, but know this... if you advance, you shall face mortality,” she spoke softly. Cetus glared at the gorgon briefly before bursting into deep laughter.

"Foolish woman. The lamb is born to be slaughtered, the fruit is grown to be eaten, the slave lives to serve. This is the way of things, the way of the world. If you wish to stand in the way of the gods, you shall suffer the wrath of Poseidon as you have suffered his will!" A dark mist formed around her body as her anger burned. Righteous indignation filled her like a fire consuming a forest. Her skin burned, her eyes began to glow, and her hatred began to culminate. Long ago, she was this girl; she was cast aside by her goddess, by a world that regarded her as nothing more than her body. Now that same world would feel her will, a force far beyond petty beauty, beyond any measure. She let loose her magic with all of her might, but the power was deflected by Poseidon's mighty Cetus, his skin being too strong to succumb.

Cetus lurched forward to bite the gorgon with his mighty jaws, but Medusa willed the sandals to stop flying, causing her to fall into the water. She dove into the depths trying to swim free from the rising beast above when the force of Cetus's lunge blasted her sideways, nearly scraping her body across the coral. Above the water, the mighty creature arched his head, gulping a vast swath of water where he expected the gorgon to be. Suddenly, the serpentine woman burst from the sea, blasting every inch of the monster with her maximum petrification, and yet the beast resisted. Time and time again, the creature lunged, each time just barely missing the fast, but tiring gorgon.

"You cannot win! A woman of power is like a fish on the land, fleeting... Poseidon may not have taught you that lesson well enough, but I will," he bellowed. His words stung like vinegar in a wound. Medusa hung in the air, recognizing that she could never hope to penetrate the creature's mighty hide. Each attack had drained her power to the point where she now felt lightheaded. Would he catch her this time or the next? She realized that there was only one way to save the woman, the sacrifice. It was a risk, but someone had to take a stand.

“Mighty Cetus... wait...” she spoke. The creature paused, hearing the despair in her voice and yearning for order to be restored, at least to his specification. If she lied, the mighty beast would likely detect it, and so he would hear her out.

“I cannot defeat you like this... I cannot defeat my enemies with brute strength or skill in battle... Please mighty Cetus, will you accept my life in exchange for the life of the woman chained to the rock?” For a moment, the monster floated motionless in the sea, perhaps pondering her request. After a time, he spoke with a deep foreboding voice. Behind the gorgon, the weakened princess Andromeda stirred, perhaps semi aware of what has happening but too exhausted from a day of struggle to do anything.

“Why do you wish to spare the life of a worthless woman you do not even seem to know the name of?”

“Because no one would stand up for me, I will stand up for her. Because no one cared for me, I will care for her. Because even if I die, I have died for a far greater purpose than you could understand,” she spoke softly. The monster glared at her in what might almost have been pitty.

"So be it," he spoke and opened his mouth to swallow Medusa whole. The monster consumed the gorgon in a single bite, swallowing her without mercy or word. After that, he returned his attention to the woman on the rock. Just as Zeus tricked Metis, so have I you, he thought with little further regard.

The sound of battle had stirred Andromeda to semi-consciousnesses. She had heard the words of the gorgon but barely realized what was happening. She now opened her eyes as her strength returned, slightly. Before her, she made out the shape of the beast once more as it opened its great maw. She winced as it came, and then there was nothing.

Had the Moirai, the weavers of fate, continued her thread when surely it should have been cut? Her breathing slowed, and she once more dared to look. Where there had once been a mighty monster, now a lifesized stone replica stood, frozen not but an arm's length from her body. Andromeda was unable to reconcile anything. How could this be? Never had she heard of the gods granting such mercy. Never had she heard of the maiden surviving. Words crept from within the beast, a sweat yet fierce sound. It was the voice who had spoken on her behalf moments before, but surely nothing more than a dream.

"I defeat my enemies through cunning and intellect," the voice spoke. To Andromeda's shock, none other than a gorgon climbed from within the stone monster. Its armored body had repelled any attack she could throw from outside, but under every warrior's armor lay his soft and vulnerable breast. Her honeyed words had let her slip within the beasts hide. Just as Metis caused Zeus pain as she forged armor for her daughter within his belly, so too had Medusa caused Cetus a sudden shock. Andromeda once more fell into slumber, now finally overwhelmed and exhausted.

 

***

 

Andromeda awoke. She lay on soft linen sheets upon a large kline (bed), her head resting on feather down pillows. Her wounds had been tended, and her body had been cleaned. Her skin was anointed with scented oils. Her jewelry had been cleaned and neatly arranged beside the kline with great care. Beside this, a freshly woven linen chiton lay awaiting her. Though still stiff, the princess propped herself up on her elbows and gazed around the room. Oil lamps illuminated a beautiful natural cavern. Tapestries adorned the walls, and beautiful works of art surrounded her, creating a very safe and cozy looking environment.

The cavern had been decorated with marvelous stone statues of warriors in the most realistic poses she had ever seen. It was a room full of stone warriors from many lands, each a man in the pose of battle. Oddly, each hero was dressed in armor and cloth, an oddity as warriors were commonly depicted heroically nude, however unrealistic this was. She knew she had been rescued, but as quickly as the relief of being saved washed over her, she realized that she had not seen her rescuer. She had a vision of a mighty gorgon woman who spoke beautiful words, but surely that magnificent creature had been a dream. Such a woman could never be a part of her life.

Glancing around at the magnificent artifacts and decorations, she felt a great sadness. Only a mighty warrior, a hero blessed by the gods, could have defeated Cetus. Now, he had come to claim her as his prize. She would live, but she would never love. She had felt different from other girls about men, even as a child, but she had never expected to escape her fate. At least she would no longer be a prize to be had, a thing to coveted. She lay back and closed her eyes, hoping the hero would not come for his prize too soon as she was still quite sore. All she could think of was the courageous, mighty gorgon. She had stood radiant with fiery eyes and wildly dancing serpents. Andromeda wanted nothing more than to be held by someone like that, a woman of such depth.

She heard footsteps approaching. It would be the hero coming for his prize. Would he wait until their wedding or take his reward now? Did it even matter to her anymore? She could see the firelight light through her eyelids change and knew the man was leaning over her. She winced as his hand brushed her braids from her eyes, though not as roughly as she had expected. With a sigh, she opened her eyes to see the face of the man who had won her life as his property, the way of every such story she had heard as a child.

 

***

 

Medusa gazed at the resting woman. She was still injured, but her magical healing salves would repair most of the damage by the morning. Like most of the people of Aethiopia, her skin was a beautiful soft dark brown framing strong features, a lovely contrast when wearing her gold. Her rich dark hair was fastened into dozens of arm length braids and held against her head with a golden crown. Medusa brushed the long braids from her face as her eyes moistened. She had saved the woman from her fate. It didn't change the system, but she had stared into the world of gods and men... and they had blinked. It wasn't much, but she had changed the outcome, and now this woman lived. She would fly her to wherever she would feel safe once she was fully healed, but until then, she would tend to her. Suddenly, the woman opened her eyes and gazed into the eyes of the gorgon. Medusa turned away at once, worried that she might frighten the Aethiopian woman.

"When you are healed, I will take you to wherever you wish and let you be. My heart is gladdened that you are well," Medusa spoke quickly. Andromeda recognized her voice, the voice who had spoken on her behalf before Poseidon's monster. At that moment, she realized the gorgon had been real. Her champion had been no illusion. The words came back to her in a rush.

"No..." the princess whispered, raising her now free hand and placing it against the gorgon's cheek.

"Do you not fear me? Do you not fear that my serpents will strike you," Medusa whispered in return. The touch of the soft hand was the first true willing human contact she had felt since she had been cast from Athena's temple. It was like the most delicate silk, and yet it meant so much more.

"Because no one would stand up for you, you stood up for me. Because no one cared for you, you cared for me. Because you didn't die, you've lived for a far greater purpose than Poseidon could ever understand," Andromeda whispered. Medusa swallowed a lump in her throat as her lips trembled. She had felt like a warrior before the monster, and yet this weakened woman who could barely whisper held her soul like the hand of Zeus. She could barely hold her composure as the realization overtook her. What was beauty but a mere shadow of love?

"Why should I fear you when you are beautiful inside? Why should I fear my hero," Andromeda spoke, her voice still weak from the exertion. Medusa's striking appearance meant nothing compared to the beauty of her spirit. Andromeda had only caught a glimpse, but she knew the gorgon had faced down the beast of Poseidon to save her. How could she not accept such a pure act of compassion? Slowly, the princess lulled the gorgon's face toward her own until their lips met. She was still too weak for anything more than merely touching, but she felt the overwhelming need. All around her head, she felt the serpents gently caress her, but she felt no fear. It was then that the warm drops of water fell upon her face, each droplet a release, an acceptance, a feeling which needed no sound to speak.

As the years passed, Andromeda of Aethiopia and Medusa lived together on their island in peace, their love growing from those first teardrops into something beyond the experience of most mortals, an odyssey of love.

 

 

Medusa Graphic by Alexandra Filipek - Copyright © 2020 EmberofaNewWorld (owned by Ishtar W.)

The story is Copyright © 2020 by T. Watson

All rights reserved. This document or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

This work is purely and entirely fiction. Names, characters, events, and places, other than major geographical regions, e.g. Ancient Greece, portrayed within are imaginary. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, events or places, or previous fictional works is entirely coincidental
 


Submitted: February 22, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Ishtar. All rights reserved.

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Darling

How lovely.

Sat, February 22nd, 2020 4:24am

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