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Galapera grimaced and slowly shook her head. “What a nasty old bastard.” She tutted and stood up. “And you’re sure he’s dead now?”
“Yes, I believe Zeus is dead,”replied Nadina.
“Good.” She picked up a wooden cup and filled it with some water from the earthenware pot. She took a sip and then handed it to Nadina, who gulped down a few mouthfuls. Telling her life story to the fake nymph had dried her mouth – not just by talking but also by reliving her sexual exploitation at the hands of the King of Olympus.
“And how long did all this go on?”
Nadina stared into the cup for a few moments. “I can’t tell. Time means little to me and probably even less to a god. I suppose it was many years, possibly many decades. I know that I changed from what I was into what I am now. Hera discovered me, moulded me to tempt and tease but also to deny Zeus. She wanted me to frustrate him.”
“And did you?”
“On occasion. More so towards the end.”
“Good,” she said again. “I don’t know how you put up with it all that time.”
Nadina shrugged. “I didn’t know anything else.”
“Hmm.” The older woman frowned, examining Nadina’s spear which was propped against the wall of the hut and touched the bronze tip with a grubby forefinger. “And now? What do you know now?”
Nadina cocked her head to look at Galapera but remained silent.
“This spear, this helmet,” said Galapera, “they’re not what you’d normally expect a nymph to possess. Did Hera give you these as well?”
“But you’re not going to tell me how you came by them?”
“Perhaps later. I’m sorry, but I’m still getting used to other people and am still not sure how much I ought to say. I feel like I’m peeling myself open.”
Galapera nodded. “Aye, fair do. No doubt you’d feel better if I told you something of my own story.”
“Only if you want to.”
The older woman sighed and sat back down onto the bed. “I might as well. I’ve had no-one else to talk to for the past twenty year.”
“What about Amykos and Sastrios?”
“Them? They don’t count. They’re harmless enough I suppose but at the end of the day they’re just a couple of gormless hairy blokes. They wouldn’t understand.”
Nadina raised her eyebrows and nodded for her to continue.
“One of the reasons I haven’t put them right on… on not being a real nymph,” she said, straightening out the fabric covering her legs, eyes deliberately averted, “is that there used to be nymph on this island. Her name was Euanthe. She…” Galapera paused and looked up at Nadina. “Let me go back a bit further. I were born into a noble family in a rich city; we had gold and fine clothes and slaves. I were happy enough. Then, when I were fifteen I were told I were going to be married off to an older man. I knew it were coming, I’d been prepared for it all my life but still…”
She shifted on the bed and pursed her lips. “There were this lad. A sailor, actually, following a bunch of his mates through the city. He were about my age and were clambering about on some walls, acting like a daft herbert, as is the way of all young lads, and he fell into our courtyard. I picked him up and helped clean a wound. We talked a bit. And then…” She fell silent.
“He had his way with you,” said Nadina flatly.
“No,” said Galapera, putting a hand on Nadina’s knee and looking her right in the eye, “I had my way with him. It were my choice. Here was a strong young man that I could manipulate with just a look. He had fine muscles and thick, dark hair. Sun-caressed skin.” She withdrew her hand and gazed down at her dusty feet. “The man I were marrying had rolls of fat with scraggy, white hair and wrinkled skin. It were my one chance to pluck the sweet fruit of the vine before being made to suck on dried prunes for the rest of my life.”
This was an entirely new concept for Nadina and she quietly digested the implications while Galapera continued her story.
“Anyway. He left, went back to his ship. I got married. For a few months I put up with how life were – utterly bloody miserable – until one day I caught sight of one of the trading ships in the harbour. I saw my sailor boy, standing on the deck. Smiling.” Nadina noticed that Galapera was smiling too, eyes focused on some moment decades in the past. “And I thought, ‘Fuck it’. So I pushed my way down to quayside and slipped aboard his boat, hiding m’self under some sails. When the crew discovered me out at sea I realised that my lover weren’t amongst them. I’d got on the wrong bloody boat. The next few days were… difficult. I suppose, in one way, I were lucky they didn’t take me back home to the humiliation and the inevitable beating that awaited me. Bastards. You can guess what happened, seeing as you had it from Zeus. I overheard them talking about me one night. They were going to slit my throat and dump me overboard before they reached the next port. I got in there first. Five throats sliced through. Five splashes into the depths. I’d seen enough of how to sail the ship to keep it afloat for a few days but one night while I slept I ran into some rocks. The ship sank. I… somehow… made it on to the rocks and stayed there until morning. The sun came up and there, right next to me were this island. And there she were, standing on the beach, watching me. Euanthe.”
“And you’ve been here ever since?”
Galapera nodded. “Aye. Twenty odd year together and another twenty on my own.”
“What happened to Euanthe?”
The older woman stared blankly at a wall, watching memories from years gone by. “She died.” She focused her gaze onto Nadina. “You do know that nymphs are not truly immortal?”
“I am aware of that fact.”
“Well, yes, of course. You would be.” She pulled the shawl tighter around her shoulders, as if the thought of mortality had brought a chill to the room. “She were already quite old when I met her. Not that you’d know from a first glance. She were still the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. It were little things; a few extra lines in the face, a glow that became more silvery than golden. Towards the end it were clear that she were just… fading away.” She stopped and pressed the back of her hand against her mouth. She took a deep breath and continued. “She would have gone sooner but she just had this need, a desire to live another day, and then another day and another. With me.”
Nadina could see the gentle glimmer of tears shimmering in her eyes. She moved from the rickety chair to sit beside Galapera on the bed, pulling her gently into a protective hug. After a few minutes, Galapera gathered herself back together. “Oh, what am I like? Stupid old woman. It’s not like it happened yesterday.”
“Like I said, I do not think that time is important. But it is important to remember. She meant a lot to you. And I am honoured that you told me her story.”
“That’s not the whole story, m’dear,” said Galapera with a half smile. “Yes, she saved me. Fed me, nurtured me, kept me alive. But she were the best friend I could ever have had. She were everything to me. Everything. Do you understand?”
Nadina looked back at her blankly. “You cared for each other very much.”
Galapera tutted. “More than that!”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“We were lovers, for pity’s sake. Do I have to draw you a picture in the dirt?”
Nadina looked confused. “But you were both… I’m not sure how…”
“Oh, give me strength,” muttered the older woman, raking her hands through her hair. “Look, you don’t have to be a man and a woman. I’m pretty sure Zeus had some young lads once or twice.”
“Yes,” said Nadina, nodding, “he told me once how he got Ganymede to…”
“I don’t want to know!” said Galapera quickly. “It’s always the same with men. It’s all about sticking things in holes. Actually, from what I’ve heard, it’s mainly about who is doing the sticking; the one with the hole is – unsurprisingly – considered the ‘inferior party’.” She pulled a face. “Anyway, we weren’t like that. It were love, not just sex.”
The young nymph stood up, mind reeling. “You had something I do not fully understand, although,” Nadina hesitated, “I think I may have an opportunity to discover it for myself… if I decide to follow that path.”
Galapera smiled. “I’m not sure if you’re referring to finding your soul mate or having a relationship with another woman. You should definitely consider both.”
“I will.” She paused again, fidgeting with her tattered cloak. “I have only known Zeus. I’m struggling with the idea of what and how…” Her voice trailed off and she swallowed. “Tell me; what was it like?”
The old woman’s eyes shone as she answered. “It were bloody amazing.”