Cloaked Revenge – chapter 1

Posted: October 17, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Hades sat on the high precipice, his furrowed brow buried deep in his weather beaten hands. The waves that crashed violently against the jagged rocks a hundred feet below mirrored his tormented mind…no matter how long he contemplated the events he failed to comprehend. For millennia they had been secure but, with one sentence, his entire existence had dissolved into confusion and misery.

He cast his eyes over the vast landscape of Tartanus.  Usually the land where the souls of the wicked were condemned to complete insurmountable tasks for all eternity brought him comfort but not even the trials of Sisyphus, forced to continually push a boulder up a steep mountain only for it to return to the bottom, brought a smile to his face.  He had spent many a happy hour watching the man’s joy as he reached the top for the twentieth time that day only to see it slip from his grasp, but now he pitied him. To devote so much time to something for it to turn to dust in your hands made Hades mourn his pointless reality.

The deep red sun fell as Hades continued to sit alone in the empty mountains.  The orange sky turned to black and a blanket of small stars appeared above the troubled soul. Below, the water shimmered under the moonlight; a blackened glass, still and calm. Hades stared down remembering how he had looked at Persephone through the water, an image of pure perfection within the murky seas.  She had been his world; despite the misgivings of her mother Demeter she had given her life to him and they had ruled the underworld together…as one. Through his philandering and infidelity she had remained by his side, endeavouring to keep their relationship whole but then Pirithous came to steal his wife’s heart, a bitter recompense for Hades’ life of sin.

******************************************

Acheron barged his way through the busy market, naked except for his robe, which he clutched to his front to cover his genitals.   Despite the screams from the women and the shouts of the scorned husband running closely behind Acheron laughed loudly, his large, well defined chest struggling for breath through his perceived hilarity.  Gracefully navigating his feet over the rough cobbled surface he squeezed between the overladen stalls, ducking under hanging cloths and, choosing his moment, he slipped down a small alley and disappeared into the shadows.

Crouching down next to the white stone wall he wiped the sweat from his neck and his long brown hair stuck to his face, forcing him to sweep it back with his hand.  It was the third time that month he had been caught in the bed of another man’s wife but it wasn’t just for sexual gratification, although that was always an advantage; for him it was revenge.  Choosing only the wives of the most significant Greek officers he relished in their fury at his dishonorable deed, their reputation destroyed by an absconding soldier.  He knew that his crime was punishable by death but that was a small sacrifice to avenge his brother.

The commotion had begun to die down in the market; sellers had resumed their touting and two children played close to where Acheron was hiding, betting who could throw a stone closest to the wall.  Peering out he watched the boys, the joy of winning flashing across their faces and the inevitable jibes to the cursing loser that would ensue.  Acheron used to play the same game with his twin brother when they were children; he often won but now and again he’d deliberately throw the stone wide in order to watch Kratos’ little face light up.  Despite them being the same age Acheron was always much stronger and appeared older than his weakly brother who was plagued by illness and fatigue. As he remembered his brother fondly a stone struck his knee sharply.  Picking it up he moved out of his shelter slightly to throw it back.

“Thank you, sir.”  The oldest boy said nervously as the younger boy whispered into his ear and giggled.  “Shush.”  He replied, tapping his brother sharply on the arm.

“Don’t worry young sir, I too would be asking why a grown man was crouching naked in an alley.”  Acheron smiled but he noticed that the boys’ attention was no longer on him; they were staring behind with fear in their eyes.

“Run along boys, this is military business.”  The deep voice from behind boomed and the boys fled, stumbling into the crowded marketplace.

Acheron turned slowly to see a large, bearded man standing over him brandishing a dagger.  “Ah, thought this was a dead end.” He joked.  With a string of obscenities the man lifted the weapon above his head and, with a loud grunt he thrust it down into Acheron’s naked flesh.

A cold shiver rippled over his body but he didn’t feel any pain.  As his body collapsed to the ground and the world around him darkened, Acheron’s blood spilled over the stones; a slow trickle meeting the feet of the oblivious citizens of Agora.

********************************************

“Do you have any proof of her infidelity?”  Poseidon asked his brother.  He supped his deep red wine from a highly ornate chalice, letting the flavour dance on his taste buds for a moment before allowing the warmth to slip down his throat.  “Are you not judging her unfairly?  She did, after all, defy her family to be with you and it would seem curious for her to succumb to some second rate mortal.”

“I saw them together on the morning that he travelled here with Theseus; she was laughing so gaily, the like I had never been able to yield in her.   Also, Charon overheard the men whispering…”

“Charon?” Poseidon laughed, “You are basing your surmises on the word of an insidious ferryman that would betray you as quick as look at you?  Please Hades, think about what you are suggesting or it will be your downfall.”  He stared forlornly at his older brother; Hades distantly stared across to the lands beyond the rivers, clutching to the vain hope that Persephone would return to him.  “She will be gone for many more months yet, not to return till autumn turns the green leaves to gold and things will feel different then.  Time is a great healer; if you truly love her and her you, then you will cast aside all jealousies and your relationship will be subsequently stronger.  Now is not the time to act whilst tempers boil high and all reasoning is lost in the clouds of your betrayal.”

“So you too believe I was betrayed?”

“Honestly, no, I do not believe she has done anything more than enjoyed the company of another man, although with your frequent transgressions she had more reason than most.  You have to remember that she was an earth dweller, her mother Demeter bathed her in the all the beauty that the world had to offer. To leave that to spend a third of her year residing in such a barren wasteland with only the most loathsome characters of the earth to provide her company left her frequently very lonely.  This Pirithous fellow told her tales of her home and her beloved ward Adonis and it brought her comfort.”

“This is her home!  I never once denied her visitors; she used to spend hours with Aphrodite ambling along the banks of the river conversing about earthly affairs and,  although I disapproved of this pairing due to her friend’s well-known indiscretions outside of her marital bed, I allowed it to continue.  No, I do not accept that she was lonely.  I gave her everything she needed, made her queen of the entire underworld.  What need would she have for such base trivialities?”   Hades turned his head from his brother not wishing to witness his disapproving gaze.

“You allowed her?  Oh my dear brother, if you have any chance of winning back her love you must cease referring her to a possession as you would a servant or that pesky dog of yours.” Poseidon laughed. “And what of the other matter, is that now resolved?  Zeus gave you very clear instructions…”

“I am very aware of the task Zeus bestowed on me and I will not fail him.  One is captured and the other is unaware, that will suffice for now while I deal with more pressing matters.”  Hades replied viciously.

Knowing the conversation had drawn to a close Poseidon finished his wine in one large gulp and offered the chalice back to the contemptuous God.  “Failure will affect us all, do not forget that, however, it appears once more that you are not prepared to listen to my guidance so I shall go.  It looks like you have a visitor anyway.”

Hades turned to see a small, wiry man breathlessly running towards them.  “Sir, I am sorry to interrupt your conference but an incident is occurring down on the shores of the river.”

“The river is within Charon’s jurisdiction, let him deal with the issue.”  Hades replied dismissively.

“But sir, it was he who sent me to you.”  The messenger replied cautiously as he knew it was unwise to rile the God.  Normally, Hades ruled fair and justly over his land, never abusing his power, but word had reached the ears of the men of Persephone’s possible unfaithfulness and he knew that hurt could drive a man to make irrational decisions.  Not wanting to catch eye contact with him he bowed his head submissively waiting for his reply.

The God sighed loudly, “Tell him I’ll be there directly.”  The man bowed deeply and ran back down the undulating hills towards the River.

“Hades, do not act rashly; she is a good woman. We will meet in a few days when your tempers have waned and we can discuss things further.”  Poseidon raised his trident high into the air, instantly summoning a strong wind that swept back his white hair.  The water below began to ripple, each swell increasing until a wave sixty feet in the air balanced motionlessly on the writhing sea.  He stepped out on to the foaming water and, with one last acknowledgment to his brother, he disappeared into the depths of the brine.

“Braggart!”  Hades mumbled under his breath as he picked up his staff and strolled towards the river that separated the underworld with the earth.

The noise of the ado reached his ears long before he saw the commotion. The sounds of barking, interspersed with heated shouting from a number of voices echoed across the vast land, each intertwining making it impossible for Hades to decipher what was being said. As he reached the brow of the hill he began to see the scene that was unfolding.

“Acheron, you have been told to go to Asphodel Meadows and you should be grateful with the life you’ve led.”  Charon, the ferryman who guarded the river, stood aggressively in front of the man clutching a thick leather lead that was holding back a large, three headed dog.  He was a withered man with a dark, twisted appearance.  All of his facial features were present but none were in the place you’d expect; his eyes drooped heavily with the right one hanging several centimeters below the left and his nose was so crooked that it almost sat horizontally above his lipless mouth.  It was believed that he once had teeth but now his mouth was full of dark holes and even his tongue was covered in a thick, black phlegm.  His clothes echoed his disfigurement; a threadbare full-length robe concealed his head and Acheron could only suspect of the horror that lay on his skeletal head.

“But I need to go to Elsyian Fields, I have business I must address.” Acheron pleaded.

“Don’t we all son but I’m afraid your fate has been chosen.”  Charon replied, his cavernous mouth erupted into a laugh and a wisp of green smoke bellowed out.

Acheron winced as he inhaled a lungful of the foul breath that smelt of a thousand deaths.  “You don’t understand.”  He said, taking a step forward in an attempt to pass the man, his large frame towering over the grotesque creature but as soon as his first foot struck the floor the dog lunged at his throat, each of its heads snarling a mere inch from his terrified face.

“I wouldn’t try that if I were you; just one word from me and he’ll rip your face off.  You see, I am his master…”

“Oh you are, are you?” Hades interrupted causing Charon to lose his words.

“Sir, I was just…you see…my lord.”  He ceased trying to continue and instead fell to his knees, the dog pulling hard at the lead as he had caught sight of his master.  His tail, like a serpent’s, licked furiously around and whipped the legs of Acheron who was still frozen to the ground.

“Cerberus!”  Hades shouted, throwing his arms open.  The dog leapt forward pulling the lead sharply from Charon’s grip and jumped up, his front paws resting on Hades shoulders.  The God roughly stroked the beast as each head slobbered over his face and neck. “Enough boy, enough!” He said, trying to push him away but the paws dug in deeper, reluctant to let go.  “Cerberus, I said enough!” Hades repeated powerfully to which the dog obediently responded and sat panting at his feet.  “Good boy.”  He said quietly, patting Cerberus firmly on the back.  “Now, what disturbance has dragged me from my recreation?”

“It’s this soul sir, he is refusing his allocation.”  Charon reported, now standing upright again but his short stature made it difficult to tell.  He has been assigned to Asphodel Meadows although, with his shameful life, I feel this may be insufficient.”

“And what, may I ask, is so displeasing with this? Would you prefer to toll in the dark realms of Tartanus instead?”   Hades asked.

“No my lord, I would not but…”

“But nothing man, it is not your place to question.  Minos, a trusted friend and son of my own brother Zeus, judges every soul that enters the underworld and I have faith in his decision.  In the meadows you will be able to wander freely; a pleasant end for an earthly soul. Take heed for unless you desire to wander these shores for a hundred years I advise you to accept your good fortune.”

“My lord, I am most appreciative of your generous offer and, in time, would be honoured to reside in your kingdom but for now I have a greater purpose that I must fulfill.  I wish to find my brother and I believe that he will be in Elysian Fields so that is where I must go.”  Whereas other men would bow their head and never dare to speak so frankly to the God of the Underworld, Acheron raised his eyes to his face, meeting his stare with a cold determination.

“The Elysian Fields are reserved for the most noble, mortal heroes whose actions mirror the gallantry usually only seen in the Gods themselves.  What makes you think that your brother, no more than peasant if your clothes are any judge of character, would be worthy to tread the same footsteps of Odysseus or Atalanta?”  Hades found himself laughing at such a preposterous notion but not even his flippant disregard forced Acheron to lose his insistence.

“With respect, my lord, do not surmise on my upbringing from my garments as this will lead you to inaccurate conclusions.  Besides, parentage has no bearing on the valiant and we cannot be judged by it, living or dead. My brother was a great hero, a high ranking officer who led his army into battle courageously and protected his men through his own bravery.  On the battlefield he stood shoulder to shoulder with his comrades, never using his status to escape bloodshed.  Many wives have their husbands today because of my brother and for that he is a hero that mirrors the gallantry of any God.”  Acheron clenched his teeth half expecting to feel a sharp strike from Hades staff but the old man just stared in disbelief.

“Are you aware of whom you are speaking to boy?” Hades asked after a long pause.

“Yes, my lord.  You are the God of the Underworld and are well reputed for being fair and just to the souls that cross your path so I am throwing myself on your mercy.  My brother Kratos resides somewhere in your kingdom and all I ask is the opportunity to find him.  Grant me this one request and I will forever be in your debt.”

“If you know me as well as you claim you would also know that I do not make bargains with mortals and will punish any who try to undermine my authority.  What is your name, boy?”

“I am Acheron of Agora, son of Hesperos, my Lord.”  He replied, slightly bowing his head.

“Well Acheron, son of Hesperos, I admire your tenacity and will consider your request but you will have to reciprocate the favour.”  Hades glanced over the water to the land of the living where Persephone currently resided.  “I have a grievance that must be resolved but it would be unwise for me to do it myself.  Agree to do my bidding and I will give you the access you require.”  Hades leaned in close, his hands clutched so tightly around his wooden staff that his knuckles shone white in the hazy sunshine.

“I will not kill.”  Acheron replied quickly.

“No…no, that will not be necessary.  Come, take some supper with me and we will discuss it further.  If, when you hear the full proposal, you wish to decline I will bring you back to this place and Charon will take you to the Meadows.”  Hades smiled through tight lips and his eyes widened in anticipation.

Acheron waited before he responded, considering the offer. What task would a God as powerful as Hades need a mere mortal to complete and could he trust this dark lord? But he knew this was the only way to find his brother so, reluctantly, he replied, “I will come and hear your council.”

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