If you haven’t come across this series before, it sort of happened by accident. I wrote a short story for my writers’ group on the theme of “Swan Song” and I’ve just continued the adventure of two Greek sailors and their interesting interactions with the Gods of Olympus, adapting it to each monthly prompt. I won’t lie – this has been pretty difficult at times, but it’s also a great challenge to deliver an on-going and developing story that is literally seat-of-the-pants stuff, with only a vague idea of where it’s heading. And people seem to enjoy it, so I shall continue as long as I can. I might get a novella out of this baby!
Micon set off after Nadina, his mind reeling from the sudden appearance of this beautiful and commanding nymph. He was uncomfortably conscious that she was also naked and hurrying behind her wasn’t helping his brain to concentrate on what had happened. One minute he’s spending a boring afternoon trying to improve his terrible sling technique and the next he’s accosted by a local deity who promptly tells him they have to head off back to see Philippus.
Nadina’s bronzed back and buttocks pushed on ahead and Micon lost his thread again. “Hang on! Wait a minute! Slow down a moment, I, er…”
The nymph stopped and glanced back at him, copper hair flowing down over her shoulders. Her fiery eyes pierced him as she raised an eyebrow, the only indication she was paying him any attention.
“I just thought,” said Micon, “that perhaps I should go first. Philippus has a habit of cutting off the heads of people he doesn’t know.” And, he continued in his head, if I don’t have to keep looking at your naked backside I might just be able to gather my thoughts long enough to start working out what in Hades is going on.
She stepped aside to let him pass. Micon straightened his tunic and strode off with purpose towards the copse of trees where Philippus had been optimistically attempting to build a raft. With any luck his efforts to cut down a tree would have blunted his knife and he wouldn’t be able to decapitate Nadina without a lot of sawing and hacking. Micon wondered what Philippus would make of her. Hopefully not another meal. They’d already killed and eaten Zeus and most of Ares and, if they could ever escape from the island where they’d been marooned for the best part of a month, Micon was looking forward to a simple dish of bread and cheese. And some nice wine. It would be great to eat something that wasn’t a dead god. Nothing was more down to earth than a nice bit of bread and wine. But first they’d have to get off this damn island. They hadn’t seen any sign of a ship in the weeks after the storm that had shipwrecked them, suggesting that rescue was highly unlikely. The two sailors had had four visits in recent days from interfering immortals and none of buggers had used any kind of sea-going transport, so stealing a boat wasn’t a possibility either. He hoped Philippus had made some progress with his raft.
The tree trunk lay on the dusty ground next to the jagged stump to which it had recently been attached. It was not a clean cut. The bark had been stripped around the area that had been subject to Philippus’s knife attack. He had launched his assault early in the morning and after initial surgical strikes he had resorted to a grim war of attrition as his knife slowly broke through the tree’s stubborn defences. By early afternoon he had deployed sharp language, eventually resorting to increasingly desperate bombardments with a large rock interspersed with sawing and stabbing with his knife. The final hour involved bending the tree over at ninety degrees and jumping up and down on the trunk in a vain attempt to snap it, before the mission was ultimately achieved by further slashing with the knife. Philippus sat on the ground, blank faced and exhausted. He stared at his newly severed trunk and realised that although one end looked like it had been chewed by Cerberus, the other end was still full of green leaves and a multitude of branches and twigs. The first battle may be over but the war was not even close to being won. He knew building a raft was going to be a mountainous task but he just hadn’t appreciated how big mountains were until you started climbing one. And his knife, sticking out of the stump, was now blunt. He was in a bad mood.
He glanced up as Micon appeared through the trees. On the one hand he was pleased to see him (because he needed cheering up, and some food, but mainly because even though Micon was at times as thick as two short planks, he wasn’t actually a bloody tree), but on the other hand Philippus was a little embarrassed about his lack of raft progress.
Micon wandered up, hands on his hips and stared at the tree trunk lying on the ground. At one end its trunk was as thick as his thigh, whilst a dozen paces further along it thinned to a sprawling mass of branches, twigs and leaves. Philippus waited for him to say something.
Philippus raised his eyebrows in warning.
“It’s a lovely tree. It looks very…” Micon’s brow furrowed as he searched for the right word, “…woody. And horizontal. It definitely looks good down. It’s already looking more… rafty.”
“Thanks,” said Philippus.
“Are there any more?”
“Where are they?”
A puzzled look briefly flapped across Micon’s face before he understood. “Oh,” he said. “Um…?”
Philippus sighed. “I don’t want to talk about trees and rafts right now.”
“Ah, well, that’s good because, um, I need to talk to you about something else.”
His friend looked up at Micon and for the first time noticed the nervousness that was radiating out of him. “Oh grief, what now?”
“It’s nothing bad. Well, not like the bad things we’ve had to put up with recently. Although, it might go bad, I don’t know. So, one minute it’s just me and froggy and the next, well, she’s just there, getting up from under the tree.”
“Who? Is Hyperia back?”
“What, the posh totty you spoke to the other day? No, it’s… she’s…” Micon shrugged, “I think it’s best if she tells you herself.” He reached over and pulled the knife from the stump. “And I’ll look after this to make sure you don’t accidentally cut her head off.” He turned and gestured back towards the gap in the bushes he had passed through.
“I doubt I would accidentally cut her head off,” said Philippus as he stood up.
“Well, she’s rather striking and you might get a sudden rush of blood that would leave you confused.”
“Surely a rush of blood to my head wouldn’t make me confused.”
“No, it’s the rush of blood away from your head that worries me.”
Philippus frowned. “I don’t understand. What do you… Oh, holy shit.”
Striding towards Philippus was a glorious vision, her bronzed skin reflecting the afternoon light, her copper hair wafting along in her wake. And she was totally naked. Philippus considered himself a man of the world, a confident young sailor who had experienced the delights of female company in exotic ports but he had never seen such raw feminine power. He was used to seeing naked men; they often worked, wrestled and swam together unemcumbered by clothing. Greek women, on the other hand, tended to be more modest, avoiding full exposure to both sun and eyes. With their pale fleshy lumps and bumps, they were nothing like the person approaching him, her subtley muscled shoulders and limbs moving with the smooth flow of a predator. He was dimly aware that there was a rushing of blood somewhere in his body.
She stopped in front of him. “Hello, Philippus. We need to talk. But first, let’s deal with the situation that appears to be arising.” She bore into his soul with eyes of amber and Philippus felt a fear and anxiety that caused his blood to turn around and dash off somewhere less dangerous. It was as if his testicles had just been hollowed out with a small icy spoon. He dropped his hands protectively in front of his rapidly shrinking tunic bulge.
“Who are you,” he gasped, “and what in Hades did you do to me?”
She smiled and looked down at his hands. “I’m Nadina, nymph of this island, kept here by Zeus for his entertainment. Dealing with sexually voracious Olympians gives one certain… abilities.”
Nadina smiled. “No, not ‘another’. The only.”
Philippus looked confused. “But surely you’ve met Hyperia? Aristocratic type, said she was a freshwater nymph, a Naiad. This isn’t a big island, you must have bumped into each other before now?”
“There is no other nymph on this island.” She turned to Micon. “What did I say to you two days ago?”
Micon jumped and a panicked expression darted across his face. “Eh? I don’t know.” After a moment’s thought he frowned. “Hang on, I’ve only just met you. I would have definitely remembered if you’d spoken to me a few days ago. I mean, you make quite an impression, what with being, you know, nude.”
“I was completely unclothed when I spoke to you previously, but I admit I was somewhat smaller than my true form.”
“What?” interrupted Philippus, “were you a child?”
“Or,” said Micon, “a pygmy?”
“No. I was a frog.”
“Gosh, that’s a coincidence,” exclaimed Micon, “because we had a… ah… oh… I see. So my little orange froggy was really you all the time?”
“Yes. You were able to feel some of my emotions and heard the words that I said. You heard a name.”
Philippus snorted. “Well, Micon thought he heard you say ‘Hera’.”
Nadina turned back to him. “Indeed. What did you think of her?”
Philippus blinked. “Oh shit. It was her, wasn’t it? Hyperia was really Hera. Oh bloody hell, we’re dead meat!”
“Perhaps,” said the nymph, “but then again, perhaps not.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She paused to collect her thoughts and walked over to the fallen tree. “I have been the only nymph on this island since Zeus created me to be his pet.”
”He created you?” said Philippus doubtfully. “How?”
She sighed. “You don’t want to know.”
“Very well, if you insist. He basically raped the island. I was the result.”
After a moment’s silence Micon said brightly, “Yes, that sounds like Zeus, alright.”
“I am unique,” continued Nadina, “an island nymph, not merely a spirit of the trees or water or mountains. I am all of the island, all of the island is in me. And so Zeus began to have his way with the island once more.”
Micon wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Can I just say, Phil, that for the first time since all this chaos started, I’m glad you killed Zeus.”
“Thanks, but now we’ve got his missus sniffing around. I doubt that she’ll share your sentiments.”
“Indeed,” said Nadina, “but she was always a jealous wife. She discovered Zeus and his little island and decided to drive him mad with frustration. She increased my physical assets to lure him to my side, even to the point of giving me the strong muscles of a youth, for Zeus had been smitten by Ganymede, son of Tros.” Despite themselves, the two sailors drank in the view.
“And yet at the same, she increased my ability to refuse him, to confuse him with logic, to sap his spirit and bend his rod.”
The men winced.
“I was his desire and I was his tormentor. He, meanwhile, was my jailer. He would never leave me alone and never let me leave. That all changed a few days ago when you cut off his head.”
Philippus stepped closer to her. “You saw us?”
Micon groaned. “That wasn’t my finest moment.”
She turned to him with a reassuring smile. “You may have pissed yourself with terror but I also saw you bring down Ares, God of War.”
“Never mind all that,” said Philippus, “why were you disguised as a frog?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t disguise myself, Hera came looking for Zeus and finding intruders on the island decided to keep me out of the way by casting a spell that turned me into a frog.”
The sailors looked at each other and then back at the decidely unfroglike vision before them. “So,” said Philippus, “what changed?”
The wind charged through the tree tops, adding an ominous whispering background to their conversation. For the first time, Nadina looked unsure of herself. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Either Hera has ended the spell because she has lost interest, or more likely she intends to use me to extract information from you.”
“Information about what?” said Micon, perplexed.
“About how you kill gods.”
Philippus began to pace around them, one hand scratching his head. “If she’s after that kind of information, what do you think she’ll do to us once she has it?”
The nymph smiled. “She can’t allow such knowledge to be held by mortals. You will be eliminated.”
“Oh great,” muttered Micon. “So we’re to expect a visit from her Highness and then it’s ‘good night Sparta’?”
“Perhaps. But there is one other explanation for the breaking of the spell. What if something has happened to Hera?”
“Such as?” said Philippus.
“Who can tell? But the winds are changing. You can hear it in the trees, the whisperings of dire warnings. We must be ready.”
“Ready for what?” said Micon.
Nadina turned and once again fixed her copper-coloured eyes on his. “Ready to leave.”