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My fingers itched to pull back the pavilion flap so I could go out and explore. The makeshift village buzzed with people from all over Greece visiting Olympia for the competitions.

“Come back before sunset, Zoe.” Dad rested his intertwined fingers on his wide belly. “Or I’ll turn your slice of cake into gold.” His brown eyes twinkled like the gold rings on his hands. His guest, the noble from Elis, snickered under a thick black beard. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at this old joke. Besides, I was too worried about Dad to find anything funny.

“Yes, sir”

I looked at Nicholas, my favorite chaperone, to make sure he was ready to go with me. Just before we stepped out into the intense sun, I heard Dad’s guest say, “Midas, your majesty, you must demonstrate that amazing gift to us tonight.”

Once outside, I looked out at the village with its swarms of people, tents facing every which way, awnings, and vendor booths. I glanced back at our pavilion draped in lavender and yellow tapestries dwarfed by the sanctuary behind it that housed the colossal gold-and-ivory Zues. When we first arrived, I counted 13 immense columns on the side facing our tent. 

Once we started walking around, I was overwhelmed by all there was to see. And smell. Vendors in wooden booths sold figs, olives, dried fish, and cheese pies, or small souvenir statues of past champions. Men stood on wood boxes spouting philosophy or poetry. Women worked at spindles or looms under awnings, sometimes looking up at passersby. 

When I saw some athletes showing off, I started to worry about Dad again. A couple of men flexed a discus or javelin. Another did squats to show off his muscular thighs. Two large men were chest-to-chest, legs bent and strained as they pushed against each other to knock the other down. 

“What is Dad thinking? He could get hurt. Or worse, humiliated.”

“I’m sure he will do great,” was Nick’s safe response. 

Dad was old. Old enough to have me, a thirteen-year-old daughter. He went to the gym all the time like all decent Greek men, but he didn’t run or throw heavy objects or wrestle large men. But Dad thinks he’s superior at everything. He thinks he’s a superior king, a superior host, a superior artist. He even thinks he knows music better than Apollo which I think will get him in big trouble someday. Anyways, when he heard about the competitions in Olympia, he set his mind on participating. Then he procrastinated on training until 10 months before all athletes had to go to Ellis. That was the minimum required training time. He wasn’t worried because with unlimited gold, he had the best trainer in the land, first-rate equipment, and an ideal diet. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t helped him keep his power.

The smell of food, sweat, garbage and latrines wafted through the village. Then a new smell caught my nose. Horses! 

“That must be the stables for the chariot horses.” I pointed at a long wood structure and smiled at Nick. “Let’s go!”

We entered the wooden structure which felt muggy and smelled of hay, horse hair, and poop. Several horses bobbed their heads up or to the side to look at me. Horse tails were in constant motion swatting away flies. They were magnificent animals, taller than an adult, with shiny coats, and necks I could barely wrap my arms around. A few stalls down, a woman fed a horse from her outstretched hands. Her arms were muscular. She looked at me cooly and seemed to ignore Nick.

“You look puny, like a rich Athenian’s child.” She changed to petting the horse on its snout. 

“I am Zoe, daughter of King Midas from Phrygia across the sea.”

“I am Cynisca, daughter of king Achidamus from Sparta.”

“Is this your horse? He’s handsome.” I took a step forward. “Can I pet him?”

“Yes, and yes you may. He was a yoke horse for one of my chariot teams but was injured on the journey here from Elis. It's a shame that one of my chariot teams will go to waste, but I have another one. I hope you will get to see me beat all those barbaric boys out there.” She jerked a thumb at the stable entrance. 

“I didn’t think women… are you driving the chariot? Are you competing in anything else?”

“Here I’m only the trainer for the chariot team. But, back home I compete with other fine women in running and archery.”

My mouth came open in awe. I decided I wouldn’t mind if this woman’s team beat Dad.

“Is he your chariot driver?” She jutted her chin at Nick.

“No, my father will be driving the chariot and competing in various other sports.”

Her eyes went wide. “He’s both your chariot driver and your prime athlete? He’s either amazing or crazy.”

I felt my face warm in a flush. He’s crazy. 

“It was nice to meet you.” I walked past her to find our four horses and spotted Korax, who snorted and seemed to nod hello to me as I approached. Nick and I gave each of our four horses several gentle strokes on the nose then left.

On the way back to our tent, we passed a group of wrestlers again and a young man caught my eye. Curly bangs swept across one side of his forehead. Big tawny eyes under long lashes watched the wrestlers. He was twisting and twitching, as if imagining himself in the match. Then he turned his big tawny eyes toward me. My face warmed, but then I realized he was gazing past me at a man who had just started reciting poetry.

Nick and I returned way before sunset, unable to take the heat and crowds much longer. The guest from Elis was still with Dad. I sat in the tent section that served as my room looming and thinking of Mom while Agathe, a maid, fanned me. 

Four more guests arrived for dinner. Before I joined them, Agathe helped me wash up. 

Each guest had their servants bring a couch and three-legged table. I quietly sat in my kid’s chair as Dad introduced the adults to each other. 

My ears perked up when one of the guests was introduced as Cleo from Sparta.

“Do you know Cynisca?” I blurted as the guests took to their couches. Heat rose in my face; I knew better than to talk when not spoken to. Cleo’s black eyes moved slowly to me.

“Yes.” Cleo shifted against the cylindrical cushions behind him.

Other guests raised questioning eyebrows.

“Our chariot team coach,” he said in answer to them. “She is my cousin. She is a credit to Spartan athletes. Quite cutthroat.”

Everyone began helping themselves to sausage, goose, beans, olives, and barley bread from platters passed around by the servers. The guests made various comments that the food wasn’t too bad for foreign village food. 

The Elisian echoed what he’d said earlier: “King Midas, please demonstrate your amazing gift to us.” He raised an olive and popped it in his mouth.

“You know, it was supposed to be a curse.” Dad lifted the gold gauntlet-like glove covering his left hand as if in explanation.

“That’s what I heard.” The noble from Lepreum took a big bite of sausage that left grease on his curly beard. “In fact, I heard you turned your daughter into gold,” he said through a mouthful. Then he suddenly stopped chewing and glanced at me as if he just remembered I was there. 

I slumped in my chair and focused on the gold bracelets on my wrist, one mine, one my little sister’s. Mari died from sickness, not from Dad’s power. I regretted how much my fidgeting had misshapen them. Two years ago, before she had gotten sick, I wrapped sprigs of flowers around my wrist and hers and asked Dad to change them. 

“Nonsense!” Dad spurted, abruptly putting his flatbread down. “I’m not that stupid or careless. In fact, witt runs in the family. My dear Zoe is the reason I have this curse under control.”

I felt my face grow warm.

“Tell us how you got this ‘curse’ and your daughter’s part,” the Lepreumian said.

Dad swallowed a mouthful of food, leaned back, and cleared his throat. 

“You know how much Bacchus loves Silenus, his old foster father and tutor?” Dad began.

The other men nodded or shrugged from their couches.

“One evening,” Dad continued, “I found Silenus wandering around lost after drinking too much wine. I gave him a dignified recovery in my palace and pampered him for ten days. When I brought Silenus home, Bacchus was so grateful that he granted me a wish.” Dad paused and I could see him soaking up the guests’ anticipation.

“I wished for an end to wars.” His lips pressed together as he glanced at each furrow-browed guest. Then he erupted into laughter and the others followed suit. “No, no.” He held up his gloved hand. “I wished that everything I touch turn to gold. I tested the power right away in Bacchus’s garden. I touched a rock, then some long-stemmed roses. They all turned to solid gold! Before getting in my chariot, I stopped once to lean on a pillar, and the whole thing turned to gold. I accidentally turned my chariot seat to gold. My butt was sore for a week!”

The fascination on the guests’ faces remained as they chuckled.

“It wasn’t until I got home and had my servant feed me a snack that I realized I was in trouble. As soon as he brought the piece of bread to my lips, it turned into a nugget of gold. I grabbed my goblet and tried to drink wine from the now gold cup, but only got a golden sludge I spat out.”

Dad’s guests leaned forward from their reclining positions in awe. The Elisian held a piece of bread suspended at his mouth, frowning at it.

“I rushed to an isolated room and cried out to Bacchus, humbling myself, admitting that my wish was foolish. Bacchus heard my cries and materialized. He said to me,”

Dad made his voice slightly deeper.

“‘I hope you realize how foolish and thoughtless you were. To rid yourself of this charm, you must soak in the Sardis River’.

“When he disappeared, I yelled for my servants to prepare the chariot again. My wife and daughter rushed in, wondering why I was acting strange. I just said, ‘I’m cursed! Don’t touch me! Those are for you.’ I waved at the gold long-stem roses and ran out.”

I smiled a little, remembering when Mom told Dad that giving us gold gifts was now cheating. I gazed at the silver jewelry on my wrists and fingers, which clashed with the flower bracelets.

“But Zoe jumped in the chariot after me and begged to know what was going on. After I told her, she said, ‘You should have wished that whatever you touch with your left hand turn to gold. When you go in the river, hold your left wrist up out of the water so you can still turn stuff to gold with that hand.”

I told her I needed two hands to do many things, including hug her. That’s when we came up with the idea for this.” Dad held up his gold glove again. “It's already gold so my power won’t work through it.”

The guests stared with wide eyes and slack jaws.

“Honor us with a demonstration.” The guest from Tegean said. 

Dad tugged off his glove and shook his freed hand. “Gets sweaty in there.” He drew his magic finger slowly toward an olive on his table, tapped it, then drew his hand back quickly, a dramatic flair I knew well. Instead of dark green, the olive was now shiny yellow. Dad tossed it  to the Tegean.  As it arched in the air, the guest’s eyes widened, but he held out a hand in time to catch it. 

“Oh, ow, that’s heavy” he said when it thunked in his hand. It reminded me of how surprised I was when I felt how much heavier the gold versions of things are. The Tegean rotated the golden ovoid back and forth between his thumb and forefinger, his dark eyes seeming to shine with it. The other men clamored to hold it themselves. Smiling, Dad turned four more olives and tossed them to his admirers. 

“Do something bigger!” The man from Lepreum spread his arms.

Dad looked around. I followed his gaze but didn’t see anything he could change that wouldn’t become unusable or uncomfortable.

“A servant.” The Lepreumian gestured a limp hand at a server holding the jug of after-dinner wine. “Turn him to gold.”

I gasped, horrified. The server, standing in a corner with his head down, stiffened.

“No, no.” Dad said in a diplomatic tone. He turned to the server. “Purchase a goat and bring it here immediately.”

The server abruptly set the jug down and hurried off.


While we waited, Dad talked with his guests about what they missed from home. When the server returned, he had a small goat by a rope, struggling to both pull it and avoid its head butts.

“Ah.” Dad stood. “Are you ready?” He removed his glove again and walked toward the agitated goat. He put his left hand on the goat’s back. It looked like gold was pooling from under his hand like spilled cream, taking on the texture of fur. When it spread to the goat’s sides, the animal let out one last strangled bleat and collapsed to the floor. The servant let go of the rope and scurried back to a corner. Though Dad was no longer touching the animal, the transformation continued to spread to the tips of its tail, hooves, and horns. 

I cringed but told myself this was no worse than the goat’s original fate, which was to get sacrificed to Zeus.


Four of the guests gasped and got up to touch the statue form. One guest, the lean Spartan, remained on his couch appearing unimpressed. I noticed he had barely touched his food and his wine goblet was full.

When the guests were leaving, Cleo leaned into Dad and said, “Everyone involved in these competitions must be strong in mind and virtue: the priestesses, judges, and athletes. This is no place for liars, cheaters, thieves, or…” He paused, his dark eyes looking piercingly at Dad. “The foolish and greedy.”


Chapter 2

Our dinner guests and their furniture were gone. Outside, the continuous hum of people was replaced by punctuated shouts from parties. I stood watching Dad pace back and forth in the space that had just served as our dining hall.

“Did you hear that Spartan?” Dad glowered at the tent exit. “He implied I shouldn’t be in the competitions because I’m feebleminded and greedy. What, he thinks wishing for the power to turn anything to gold is stupid? He thinks he wouldn’t accept the same gift? What does that have to do with anything in these competitions?”

“He’s just jealous, Dad.” I crossed my arms over my chest.  “Like anyone here would say no to huge amounts of gold! Just think about how many more guards you have around the palace now because of people trying to get in.”

“And all the powerful rulers around me who want to become my allies now - for a price.” Dad grumbled.

And then there was the physician. I kept silent as I thought of him. He had promised he could cure my sister if he had enough gold to obtain the right ingredients and equipment. Dad gave him what he wanted. He would have given him anything. The physician left and never returned. He didn’t care that we waited for him as my little sister died.

That Cleo had no right calling Dad greedy. Twisting my bracelets, I paced the rug that covered the bumpy ground in counter directions to Dad. Perhaps Dad was feebleminded for coming here as an athlete, but not for wanting gold. 

I thought about the contests Dad had entered. The first event, tomorrow, was the chariot races. Then he would do the discus and javelin throw, wrestling, and a foot race. There was no way he could win any of them because of his health, but would people, like Cleo, think he lost because he lacked virtue

“The other guests appreciated my talent.” Dad continued to pace.

I thought about our other four guests’ amazement and excitement at Dad’s demonstrations. The Legean was caught off guard by the heaviness of the gold olive. I pinched a leaf on my bracelet, remembering again my own surprise when I first felt how heavy and squishable pure gold is. 

I had the spark of an idea - an idea that would not only prove the Spartan wrong, but give Dad an advantage.

“Dad, remember what happened when you turned some of your practice equipment to gold?” I couldn’t hold back the smile tugging at my lips.

“How could I forget?” He grunted.

“I have an idea.”

Submitted: December 15, 2021

© Copyright 2023 LaVonna S.. All rights reserved.


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