The fire quietly crackled away to itself whilst emitting embers that swirled up into the darkening sky. Molten fat dripped off the roasting carcass and sizzled into the flames. Philippus stood poised above the spitted swan, knife in hand. He glanced at Micon.
Micon shrugged. “Me, you or the dinner?”
Philippus licked his lips, mostly due to the combination of hunger and anticipation but also because of the trepidation of carving into what may have been an actual god. He tossed the thought to the back of his mind and began to carve into the huge headless bird, removing a couple of slices from one of the legs and then handing one to Micon. The two sailors stared at each other, saliva gathering in their mouths as they prepared to eat their first proper meal in weeks. With unspoken synchronisation they slowly raised the meat to their lips and tore a mouthful each.
“Mmmm, hmm-hmm hmmm!” declared Philippus.
“Ahumpff, mmm, hmm hmm!” agreed Micon.
For the next minute they were completely absorbed in the sweet, juicy delicacy of eating something other than roots and insects and, despite being shipwrecked on an uninhabited island for the best part of a month, there was nowhere else they would rather have been at that moment.
Brandishing his knife with a flourish, Philippus proceeded to hack the legs off the swan, presenting one to his friend. Then, squatting down close to the fire, he launched into his own meal with gusto, gnawing and tearing at the precious protein. He glanced up in between mouthfuls and noticed Micon sat against a rock, still holding his untouched leg of swan, a troubled look on his face. “What’s the matter? Is that leg still a bit raw?”
Micon looked up at him. “No, it’s fine. It’s just…”
“Are we actually eating Zeus? I’m pretty sure the priests back at my local temple would have something to say on the subject of eating the flesh of any deity, let alone the All-father.”
Philippus remained silent. He didn’t want to think too much about the moment he decapitated the large swan that Micon claimed was the King of Olympus in animal form. He glanced at the rest of the roasting swan. It was quite impressive but didn’t conjure up thoughts of deities or immortality. Eventually he came to a conclusion. “Even if it was Zeus, I guess as soon as I sliced its head off it reverted back to just a normal swan. You can’t very well be an immortal if you cark it with one slash of a sailor’s knife. I bet Zeus is back on Olympus wondering what happened.”
This seemed to satisfy Micon. He grunted and gingerly bit into his over-sized drumstick. It was, he thought with some irony, heavenly.
Philippus had resumed his carnivorous assault and was making rapid progress. A thought struck him. “It’s very sweet, isn’t it? I hadn’t expected it to taste this good.” He checked that Micon was still tucking in. “What do you think? Does it taste like you expect. For a swan.”
Micon stared at him whilst chewing and swallowing. “Does it taste like I expect swan to taste?” he repeated, with just a touch of sarcasm. “Firstly, I’ve never eaten swan before and secondly I’ve got no preconceptions as to how it’s supposed to taste.”
Philippus shrugged. “I’ve had goose a couple of times and this is much sweeter than that. I’m going to have to hunt a few more in the future if all swans taste like this.”
Micon pulled a sceptical face. “If all swans taste like this, don’t you think we would have heard about it? ‘Meat of kings and heroes’ kind of thing?” He stopped chewing as an alarming thought barged into his head. “But I do have to admit that it does taste… divine.”
They both turned to look at the remains of the King of Olympus made flesh. Roasted flesh. Tasty, sweet, roasted flesh.
“Maybe,” said Micon, slowly, “swans don’t taste sweet. But gods do. All that eating ambrosia and nectar is bound to make them taste like honey.”
Philippus remained tight-lipped. As a child, he wasn’t much interested in what the local priests had had to say about the gods. He found the whole thing faintly ludicrous and irrelevant. He hadn’t believed Micon about the swan being Zeus but rapidly changed his mind when Ares appeared and transformed into a series of ferocious wild animals right in front of his eyes. The fact that they had accidentally slaughtered two deities, popped one in the larder and were scoffing the other, had been suppressed under the desperate need to feed. He really didn’t want to think about the potential consequences. “It’s not Zeus, it’s just a big, stupid bird. Stop talking and eat.” He threw his finished drumstick over his shoulder and went to slice some breast meat. Micon watched for a few seconds before any qualms were over-run by the forces of hunger. He tore another mouthful.
The spit-skewered remains of the roasted swan was propped up by the side of the gradually waning fire. Micon sat slumped against his rock, too full to even think. He could hear Philippus groaning nearby. After weeks of starvation rations their stomachs were now issuing formal protestations about lack of notice and, more importantly, space.
“I want to lie down,” mumbled Philippus, “but every time I get horizontal bits of swan rush back up my throat.”
“That,” gasped Micon between huffs of breath, “is what comes of eating Zeus. He’s still trying to get back to Olympus.”
Philippus snorted in derision. “He can bloody well wait a bit longer and come out the other end.” Hauling himself back into an upright sitting position, he gathered his tattered cloak from the ground behind him and draped it over his shoulders. He burped and gazed into the flickering fire as it slowly died down. Their eyes were as heavy as their stomachs as they began to doze.
From across the freshwater pool another set of eyes watched the two castaways drift off into a well-fed sleep.
The tweeting of sparrows woke Micon from his bloated slumbers and he opened his eyes to see Philippus already washing the sleep from his face in the crystal clear water of the pool. It looked like it was going to be another baking hot day on the island, but at least they weren’t in danger of starving in the immediate future. There was still a lot of swan meat left on the carcass and they hadn’t even touched the wild boar that was currently stored under some leaves in a cool cave. The wild boar that he had killed with the best sling shot of his life. The wild boar that had turned out to be Ares, the God of War. He shuddered at the thought and got up to join his partner in god-butchery; it was, after all, Philippus who had started it.
“Good morning, Fatso,” said Philippus, drying his hands and face on his cloak.
“Morning. And you can talk; I’ve seen smaller stomachs on pregnant cattle. Did you, erm, sleep well?”
Philippus returned his gaze. “Not so bad. You?”
“Like a baby,” replied Micon. “And I mean that in the sense of having some really disturbing dreams, waking up terrified and generally wanting my mum.”
“Hmmm.” Philippus pursed his lip. “I had some odd dreams too.” He stared out across the water before shaking himself free of the reverie. “It was probably just indigestion. Our bodies have become used to starvation rations and so we’ve gone slightly mad.”
“Nothing to do with the trauma and excitement of yesterday? Or eating a god?”
“Perhaps for you, I guess.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Micon, somewhat affronted.
“Well, you are very easily influenced.”
“Am I? Says who?”
“Says everybody. It was a well known fact on the ship that the captain could wind you around his finger.”
“Rubbish!” scoffed Micon. “I was just being respectful, that’s all.”
“There’s a difference between respect and gullibility. You gobbled up every salty sea dog tale he fed you. Like that one about the time he stole a silver sheep.”
“It was a golden fleece.”
“Whatever. He made it all up. Although, hats off to old Iason, he did have an incredible imagination.”
Micon snorted. “You’re just a jaded, bitter old cynic. You don’t even believe your own eyes. We were visited by two actual gods and you don’t want to even acknowledge the fact.”
Philippus took an aggressive step towards Micon and jabbed a finger at his chest. “That’s because we attacked them and probably killed them. I don’t want to think about it too much because then I start to panic. If we did kill two gods and anyone finds out, we’re in shit so deep it’d make the Kraken retch. On the other hand, if we attacked two of the most powerful deities on Olympus, but they survived…”
“What?” asked Micon, wide eyed.
“Well, they know who we are and where we are. I’d be a tad peeved if some scruffy little git chopped my head off. And Olympians aren’t known for being laid-back about perceived slights. ”
Micon swallowed. His mouth had gone dry. “But we didn’t mean it!”
“Oh, well, that’s alright then. I’m glad I can stop worrying about it.”
Micon rubbed the back of his neck. He felt a headache coming on. “What are we going to do?”
Philippus shrugged. “The best I can come up with is basically hope that no-one finds out, hope that we aren’t visited by any vengeful gods, and hope we find a way off this island soon.”
“So you’re quite hopeful then?”
Philippus stared at him. “No, Micon. Mainly, I’m just trying to ignore the whole damn thing.” He turned and walked over to the remains of their feast. “This meat isn’t going to last long on a hot day. We’re going to have to get it into the cave to keep it cool and away from the insects. And finish it off once we’ve got room.”
Micon shuffled uncomfortably. “I’m not sure I want to eat any more of Zeus. I couldn’t help myself last night because I was so hungry. But after what you’ve just said about vengeful gods…”
Philippus sighed. “Okay, look. Let’s just try to forget about them being gods and get on with some jobs. It’ll help take your mind off things. You get the swan tidied away into the food cave and I’ll go down to the rock pools and scrape some salt for preserving Ares. I mean… the boar,” he said, hastily correcting himself.
He strode off to the cave they used for shelter and selected their least-broken small jar, one of several barely-useful items they had recovered from the beach after their ship was wrecked on the rocks. Without pausing to discuss things further he headed up the track that led across the small island and down to the rocky shoreline. Micon sighed and began to remove the swan carcass from its spit.
He’d been busy for several minutes, placing the remains of their meal into their larder cave and then clearing away gnawed bones and gristle when he felt the uncomfortable sensation of being watched. He span around and looked at the path Philippus had taken, then scanned the whole clearing and across the water into the bushes and trees on the other side. Nothing moved. He tutted quietly to himself, wondering why he felt unsettled.
By the time Philippus returned with a tiny amount of sea salt painstakingly scraped off rocks, Micon had passed ‘unsettled’, worked his way through ‘spooked’ and ‘agitated’ and was peering wide-eyed from within their cave with a look of a man getting full use out of ‘rattled’.
Philippus’s eyes darted around the clearing but saw nothing obviously alarming. He hurried over to join his friend. “What’s the matter with you? You look like you’ve caught sight of a gorgon.”
Micon jolted and stared nervously at him. “Gorgons? You think they might be here too?”
“What? No! Look,” Philippus drew a deep breath and started again, “have you seen something?”
“Well,” he replied, falteringly, “not as such. No. But I’ve got a really strong feeling I’m being watched.”
“Hmmm.” Philippus wasn’t convinced. “Alright, so we’ve killed a couple of the most powerful beings in all of creation and now you’re feeling a little guilty. It’s probably perfectly normal post-deicide paranoia. It’ll probably kick in with me later. We just need to keep calm, occupy ourselves with a few chores and we’ll be fine. I’ll look out for you and you’ll look out for me. There’s nobody else here to worry about or cause us any problems.”
“Okay. That’s fine. I’m in total agreement,” whispered Micon hoarsely, “but could you tell her that as well?” He nodded his head towards the trees beyond his friends shoulder.
Philippus span around and saw a woman dressed in flowing white drapery pause in mid-stride as she stared at them with a shocked look on her face.
“Who the bloody Hades are you?” exclaimed Philippus.
The woman’s mouth was a perfect circle. She slowly looked around her, almost expecting there to be someone else that was the subject of the question.
“Come on, stop playing the fool. Who are you and where did you spring from?”
The woman closed her mouth and looked at the two sailors with narrowed eyes. “Can you see me?” she asked in a rich voice that seemed to play harmonics off the inside of their ears.
“Of course we can bloody see you, you’re standing right there. What kind of stupid question is that?”
Micon tugged at Philippus’s tunic. “Erm, it’s the kind of question a goddess might ask.”
Philippus blinked a couple of times while his brain caught up with events: an unnerved Micon, the sudden appearance of a stunningly beautiful woman, a question about whether she was visible to them. Oh bugger.
Micon began to groan and whimper behind him. “This is it. We’re for it now. This is what happens when you start killing gods and eating them for supper.”
“Shut up, Micon,” hissed Philippus out of the corner of his mouth, “let’s just take things nice and easy. Don’t mention gods. Or animals. Or eating. Or anything, actually. Let me do the talking.”
“You go for it, Phil. But can I just ask if your plan of ‘talking to her’ might end with you cutting her head off? You’ve developed a bit of a decapitation habit over the last day or so.”
Philippus turned his head to look at his friend who had the demeanour of a condemned man, resigned to his fate. “Look, I can’t promise that I won’t cut her head off, but it’s not going to be my opening gambit.”
“That’s probably for the best; we haven’t even been introduced yet so it would seem a little presumptuous to start sawing at her neck.” Micon gazed at the woman’s dark hair, hanging in perfect ringlets, her golden earrings and necklace, her re-acquired composure. She was well out of his league, even if she wasn’t a goddess. “So what are you going to say?”
“I was thinking about being friendly, find out who she is, chat about the weather, perhaps ask about a boat, that kind of thing.”
“Good plan. Off you go. I’ll stay here and watch.”
“Thanks. Good to know you’re right behind me.” He turned back to the woman who was watching them with her arms folded and a sharp look in her eyes.
“Sorry,” said Philippus, “you caught me by surprise. My name is…”
The woman stepped towards him and cut him off. “It’s because you’ve consumed Zeus, isn’t it?”
His mouth dropped open and his hand reached for his knife.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a wry smile, “I’m on your side.”
[ to be continued! ]