Posts Tagged ‘Greek mythology’

It did not take long for Acheron to prepare himself for the journey. He had but a few belongings and, as he did not foresee the task taking more than a day, he chose to keep his packing light. Just a few loaves of bread and water made up the contents of his bag and a small dagger with a bone handle was thrust inside his belt, away from prying eyes. He did not expect to use it but his years as a thief and rogue had taught him to prepare for danger. Maybe if he had had it with him on the day he died the scorned husband would not have thwarted him so easily.

They journeyed in silence, the men moving quickly across the barren landscape and dust billowed around them as their leather-clad feet disturbed the sandy ground. The sun was hot and Acheron could feel the perspiration forming a glistening shine on his tiring body. He longed to rest but his companions, used to the exhausting heat, obliviously marched forwards on the unrelenting flat landscape.

Acheron trudged behind them, each mile becoming increasing difficult. Lykos, the taller of the two men with long, boney limbs that dangled freely as he loped across the sand, occasionally turned to check that the man was still following him but Dareious, who was much more thickset, trudged forward oblivious of their entourage. His balding head was developing a red hue as the sun beat down on to his exposed skin, creating white lines as he grimaced through this unwanted task.

“We’re here.” Lykos uttered suddenly, stopping swiftly making Acheron stumble behind him.  Picking up a jagged rock he etched a circle into the dusty sand with an embellished horizontal line at the centre that was curved at either end forming the capital letter Theta. In a hushed voice he whispered “Domos Haidou”. Beneath Acheron’s feet the ground began to vibrate, increasing in intensity until he lost his footing and hurtled to the floor. A deafening sound filled his ears; a high pitched squeal piercing through the low rumble echoing across the land. Acheron’s head ached from the sound and, although he struggled to stand, his legs could no longer bear his weight and he crumpled back to the ground.

Acheron screamed with the pain and clutched his ears in a futile to attempt to block out the sickening noise. His mouth tried to formulate the word ‘help’ but no matter how much he tried he couldn’t summon the breath to speak. High above black shadows began to form, moving with stealth across the otherwise clear skies. Drawing closer they began to reveal the terrifying silhouettes of huge winged creatures twisting above him, weaving between each other getting closer towards Acheron. Stymphalian birds swarmed overhead, the sunlight glinting off their metallic bodies making Acheron squint as he struggled to watch them gracefully glide through the air. Their bodies entwined into a perpetual ball of twisting metal, ever moving but never colliding as if their paths had been preordained. With a powerful beat they simultaneously pointed their huge wings downwards and launched a rain of metallic feathers that fell to the ground like a shower of daggers towards the paralysed Acheron. He tried to move but the high-pitched squeal had taken away his energy and all he could do was watch as the razor sharp spikes cascaded all around him.

A bright glint passed across Acheron’s eyes as one narrowly missed his face, but others sliced into his arm and thigh and he felt a burning pain course through his body as the red hot metal seared into his skin. The smell of smoldering flesh filled his senses as his skin blackened around the wound and tiny white blisters began to form. The world began to cloud into an agonizing darkness and, as his eyes began to close in defeat, he felt a hand clasp his arm firmly and the sound disappeared into the distance leaving behind it the loud hum of his reeling eardrums.

“I apologise for that, a little deterrent for disobedient souls.” Dareious laughed with an evil callousness. “We are immune as gatekeepers but you were not so lucky.”

Acheron looked down to examine his wounds but there was nothing there; his tanned thigh appeared to be undamaged except for a graze from a rock when he fell. “But…my leg…the birds…” He stuttered.

“Ah, it appears you were subjected to the most horrifying of illusions, the Stymphalian birds; horrid creatures with beaks of bronze and metallic feathers that they launch at their frightened victims. Quite the worst of Hades’ visions but you are safe, they reside in the marshes and one hasn’t been seen near here for thousands of years.”

“Visions?” Acheron asked.

“Visions…hallucinations you might say. Hades plays tricks with your mind to make you believe you are in peril. Men have been known to go insane as the fear consumes them and they are forever haunted with paranoia of its return. Many have endeavoured to leave the Underworld once but none twice.”

In the empty prison only a low growling remained, strangely quieter than usual as if a sense of acceptance had been reached. Hades listened for a while, unconsciously matching his own breathing to the fierce exhalations of his captive and his body calmed in the hypnotic rhythm.

It stopped. Hades held is breath waiting for the sound to return…10 seconds, 30 seconds, maybe more. The silence was excruciating. Slowly Hades edged closer, approaching the door with trepidation and fear. He raised his now shaking hand towards a small steel hatch and listened carefully as he rested his fingers on the handle. The smallest noise and he would turn away, assured that the occupant was still alive. But it did not come. Gently, he slid across the hatch.

A ferocious snarl broke the silence as the creature’s body hammered against the door and long claws thrust out of the hole, slicing into Hades face. Throwing himself backwards onto the hard ground he clutched his face, feeling the warm blood flow through his hand and down his sun-beaten skin.

“You bastard, Hades.” The voice bellowed from inside the cell, “I will kill you, finish what I should have done when you were born. The end is coming my boy, The Furies have foreseen it. You and your pathetic empire will fall.”

An eye peered through the hatch, burning red with a ring of gold. It stared, unblinking, at the cowering God, its menace piercing Hades normal self-assured disposition. The demon’s words had chilled him to the core and a sudden weakness overcame him. “You’re wrong,” He shouted with hatred, “I will endure, there is nothing you can do to hurt me anymore.”

“I am but frail and old, you are probably correct. Just one question, how is your mother, Hades?” The corners of his eye creased up into a callous smile.

“Do not utter her name, she is no longer of any concern to you.”

“You have grown into such strong rulers, more than I could have ever imagined.” The eye, still transfixed on Hades, became a gentle blue-green and the pupil widened as he spoke with gentility. “I’m proud of you and your brothers.”

“We do not need the admiration of a tyrant.” Hades replied coldly and slammed the hatch shut sealing him in once more. Turning his back on the door he began to walk away.

“Thank you for our conference, Hades,” The creature shouted through the stone wall, “I do look forward to our discussions.” His bellowing laughter echoed through the corridor and Hades left him alone to his own amusement.

“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, drenching his white robes with a cascade of red wine. “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 who stared distantly 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.  I allowed it to continue despite my disapproval of this pairing owing to her friend’s well-known indiscretions outside of her marital bed. 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.”

Deep in the chasms, far below the surface of Tartanus, Hades hastened to replace the chain around the stone door, sealing the unfortunate inhabitant inside the windowless prison. Once closed the cell offered no light and many prisoners had become blind from the complete devoid of light. Hades reserved these imprisonments for the most repulsive creatures, left to rot inside their own minds and slowly deteriorate into an internal madness as a fitting punishment for their heinous crimes. Although he rarely interacted with his prisoners Hades visited this one frequently; this one was different.

“Hades,” a soft voice whispered from behind him.

A swell filled his stomach as he recognized the sweet sound of the person behind him. “Persephone,” he exclaimed as he turned to see his beautiful wife standing before him in a long, red velvet dress. “You have returned to me, oh my love you have returned.”

“I could no longer be away from you; I should never have left.” She replied, a small smile escaping from the corner of her mouth. “I was wrong, I should have obeyed you and kept my attention solely focused on my husband.”

For a moment Hades stared at the beauty of the woman; her smooth, pale white skin and her deep blue eyes that twinkled in the candlelight made her glow with a warmth that drove many a man to madness as he became lost in her allure. He walked towards her and held her softly by the waist, the tips of his fingers gently caressing the contours of her lower back and gradually moving up her spine until he reached the petite nape of her neck. He cupped her face tenderly, caressing her lips with his fingertips and she looked at him with lustful eyes, moving her mouth upwards to meet his expectant lips. Hades paused and smiled as she passionately hung in the promise of his embrace, her eyes widening with every minute as her increasing desire grew. But in a moment his loving smile transformed into an angry grimace, his face contorting with vehement hatred. With his large hands he grasped her throat, squeezing his muscular fingers into her windpipe and lifting her from the ground by her neck. “You contemptible hag, how dare you try to trick me? I should have you tortured for your insolence you contemptible vile creature. Which one are you? It matters not, all three are equally as repulsive and not fitting to impersonate one so pure.” Her body now hung limply and she made gurgling sounds as she desperately tried to beg for her freedom.  Her eyes, which were now an oily black across the entire surface, began to lose focus he propelled her body, limp with fear, across the corridor and left her in a crumpled heap against the stone wall.

“It was but a mere jest, my Lord.” Her voice, once sweet, had dissolved into a high-pitched rasp and her lungs rattled as she panted for breath. No longer wearing the elegant velvet dress she was now attired in a blood soaked dress that barely covered her sore covered skin that oozed with pus as she writhed quietly on the wet floor, soaked with the urine of terrified prisoners. Wrapped around her cowering body were black wings of translucent skin stretched across a skeletal frame.

“So it is you, Tisiphone, you vengeful disgrace for an immortal. I suppose your sisters are near to watch your amusements. Show yourselves to your master, Furies.” Deep inside a blackened corner two rocks began to move, elongated shapes protruding out and unfurling into the shapes of two more females. Both were grotesque like their sister and wore the same haggard faces with skin that wrapped itself tightly around its boney surface. They wore cloth around their middle, torn and bloodied from their hunts but their legs and torsos were uncovered except for snakes that weaved between their breasts and around their small waists as if searching for prey.

“How did you uncover our ruse?” One crone said as she stretched her wings after her recent confinement. Her bright red hair fell in large, messy curls and swept across her face covering her oily, black eyes like deep pools of nothingness; the soulless void where emotion had been sucked from her and her sisters when they grew from the blood of the castrated Uranus.

“Although, Alectro, your sister looked every bit the image of pure perfection she forgot one small detail. Persphone is a strong willed woman and would never admit such shortcomings in her nature. In future you must observe your characters more closely for looks are not the only perception of character.” Hades replied, his tempers waning slightly. “Now, tell me what purpose you have here, did I not give you a task to complete?”

“We have done what you asked. We are merely here to check upon our captive, my lord.” Megaera, the quieter of the three Furies, uttered her reply softly. Her head bowed down towards the floor, unable to look directly at the God, and she flicked her wings nervously.

“For your sake I hope so. Now leave me, find some other unfortunate soul to inflict your distasteful trickeries on.” Hades heard the women scurry away up the corridor, their long nails tapping on the stone floor as they scampered on all fours like animals and their callous cackles disappeared on the windless air.

 

The girl sat huddled alone on the edge of the cliff overlooking Tartanus, the gentle curves of the small figure creating a silhouette against the turbulent sky that was streaked with purple in a stormed fury. The moon shone down like a spotlight highlighting the girl and her luscious, curly hair, that fell carelessly down to her waist, shimmered in the silvery light, the colour of which Acheron had never before seen. The left half of her thick locks was a bright white that shone with a luminescent glow but the right side was a deep black that absorbed the light around her.

Acheron, you must not do the dark lord’s bidding, he has a darker purpose for you and I mean to warn you.” She said, her voice soft and lilting like a well-known melody sung sweetly flowing from the lips of a nurturing mother.

Who are you?” He took a step forward and tried to peer around the girl to catch a glimpse of her face but she drew herself closer, wrapping her arms around her knees tightly.

I am recognized by all men but known by none. Through your dreams I twist my spirit, tormenting your unconscious musings with dark lust and regretful fantasies. But now I carry a crucial message, one you must heed or great peril lies before you. The young child, Adonis, is treasured amongst Gods and men alike. Do not meddle in divine disputes for Hades is an unforgiving man.”

I am grateful for your concern but he holds no fear for me. Whatever threats Hades feels he has to unsettle my existence he has none, for I have nothing left to lose.”

You have more to lose than you yourself can comprehend…where is your brother, Acheron?” She paused to allow him to speak but no words came to his lips. “He is in grave danger; don’t turn your back on your flesh for a truth that is better left lied buried in your past.” Without looking behind her she arose, walked forward and, in a moment, she disappeared, her spirit dispersing into the night sky.

 

The table stretched the entire length of the room, which was larger than most men’s entire abode and reached up further than Acheron’s eyes dared to venture. The wooden clad walls, which at first glance appeared sparse, were actually filled with intricately carved designs and dotted between them were images of men; one stood halfway up a steep incline and another was shrouded by a large bird like creature. At the head of the table hung a painting of a woman, bathed in a glow of orange sunshine and sitting on a meadow of rich green grass and small wild flowers. Acheron found himself unable to tear his stare away from her deep blue eyes, mesmerised by her kindly beauty and happy exuberance.

I see that you too are lost in her charm.” Hades said, snapping Acheron away from the painting. “She is my wife, Persephone, and many men, like you, have become enchanted with her.”

I meant nothing…I mean…I apologise if I have offended you it’s just, I’ve never seen such a bewitching beauty.” His attention was once again drawn to the image and he became aware that his jaw was dropping as his eyes widened to absorb more of her allure.

Hades laughed at the young man as his natural desires overcome his manners. “I am not offended but I will if you do not address your expression.” Acheron snapped his teeth together but still found himself unable to look away. “I used to spend hours watching her in the meadows, surrounded by her close friends and I vowed then to make her my wife. Of course, her mother Demeter was not overjoyed with the relationship; as the Goddess of nature and fertility she cast the world into eternal winter until she agreed to return to the Earth.”

My Grandfather used to tell me folk tales as a child about the years the land laid barren, not a single stem growing in the dusty soil. Many people lost their lives through drought and starvation but I never realized it was just a family dispute that destroyed generations.” Acheron replied with an air of condemnation.

Hades chose to ignore this affront and continued with his story. “Fortunately my brother, Zeus, was able to sway her mother’s mind and agreed to let her stay with me for half of the year. Of course, without the nurturing power of Persephone, the Earth falls once again into darkness while she resides in the underworld and a harsh winter covers the land but at least I can lie in the arms of my true love once more. She is there now and man can once again bask in the warm sunshine and fertile lands that my vegetation goddess provides for you.” He smiled broadly with joy at the thought of his wife and closed his eyes as if to capture her image in his mind.

It must be difficult for you. I am yet to take a wife and now, it looks like my opportunity may have waned.” Acheron joked, trying to quell the uneasy feeling that arose as the God revealed the intensity of his relationship.

You are yet a young man and many a handsome maid resides in the meadows. You may still find your consort but come, let us not dwell on maybes, we should eat before this great feast gets cold.” Hades gestured towards the table that was now laden down with more food than Acheron had ever seen in his life.

Whilst they had been talking the room had been filled with a large array of huge dishes containing enough food to feed a hundred men. Enormous platters were heaving with strange meats sitting on a pool of multi-coloured juices. Bowls of freshly baked rolls, great wooden slabs covered with an array of cheeses and vast jugs full of red wine were laid out, designed to be no more than an arms length away no matter where at the table you were seated. Adorning high metal stands, making it difficult to see across the vast table, were exotic fruits from distant lands, and Acheron marveled at the sight, as the weird colourful shapes fascinated his unworldly mind. Standing proud in the centre of the table was a roasted black boar; its razor-like tusks still protruded menacingly from its mouth but it stared vacantly at the man. Acheron wondered, as he cast his eyes over the steaming mountains of meats and breads, if more people would be joining them but there were only two places set.

Please, eat.” Hades said, grasping a huge leg dripping in a thick, syrupy sauce. “These are particularly good, a cinnamon bird. Very sweet and succulent.” He took a generous mouthful and ate greedily oblivious to the sauce dripping from the side of his mouth and coating his usually white beard with a bright orange hue. “I said, eat.” He repeated, more sternly.

Acheron obeyed and, without looking, scooped up a selection of meats with a long pair of ornate metal tongs and placed the food carefully on to his plate. He tore off a small piece of dark brown flesh from a hunk of meat of unknown origins. A green, gelatinous liquid oozed out of the succulent morsel and dripped down his fingers and, with trepidation, Acheron placed it into his mouth. His tongue instantly exploded in a carnival of tastes, his saliva glands tingling frenziedly as the sweet and blissfully tender meat dissolved effortlessly. Without waiting to swallow he snatched a larger piece and thrust it into his still chewing mouth, relishing the unfamiliar flavours that were dancing on his tongue.

It seems you are enjoying that! It’s drakon meat, a colossal serpent that lives in the depths of the lakes, but probably the most delicious creature to reside in the underworld. Mighty hard to catch, especially with its numerous rows of jagged teeth and deadly venom. However, Charon is very adept and he never seems to disappoint me.” Hades replied before washing down his mouthful with a gulp of red wine.

They sat and finished in silence, Acheron sampling everything on the menu until his stomach was fit to bursting. With a heavy sigh he leant back on his chair and let out a satisfied groan. “I can eat no more or I fear I will explode.” He laughed. “Never have I sampled such wonderful food and I thank you for your hospitality. However, you asked me here to discuss your offer and I am keen to hear it.”

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.”