The Ophagy, Part 29 – “A Safe Distance”

Sorry for more delays in getting updates to the story posted, I’ve been focusing on our collaborative project, a collection of Gothic short stories of magic, mystery and madness in a small English village. The final touches are being made and we hope to launch it very soon & I’ll post more details then. But in the meantime, back to The Ophagy!
To see all other parts of the story of two simple sailors who happen to have accidentally killed and eaten Zeus, please click here.

Eris had definitely had better days. The sharp point of the spear was kept against her throat even though she had pulled her head backwards and tilted over to her right. She watched as a shambling figure staggered over towards the helmet that was lying a few paces away, reached down with its skeletal left arm and retrieved the head that was still inside. The creature placed the head and helmet onto its torso the wrong way around and then shuffled  in a circle as it tried to make the head face forwards.

The point of the spear pressed firmer on her neck. “Who are you, daughter of Zeus?” asked the woman who wielded the spear.

The Goddess of Mischief flicked her eyes over to her. “You first, I think.” There was no trembling fear transmitted down the shaft; it was worryingly still. Eris considered slipping back to Olympus but wanted answers to an awful lot of questions. And although she didn’t think a mortal spear could really injure her she had no desire to find out for certain. She also had the feeling that the slightest twitch might turn out badly. She took a slow, deep breath and waited.

“I am Nadina,” said the woman with the spear, “a nymph who knew your father well.”

“Old friendships won’t save you. And what kind of nymph are you? I have never seen any nymph like you. Your arms deny your sex, my sister. Not even Artemis is as well endowed with the spirit of a young huntsman.”

Nadina acknowledged the goddess with the slightest of nods. “A gift from Hera.”

“Really?” Eris was surprised and annoyed that she had been kept out of this family drama until now. “And what does your robe hide? More manly attributes?”

The spear pressed firmer and Eris winced. “Your name, child.”

“I am Eris,” she spat, “Goddess of Olympus and you will release me or face the wrath of Zeus himself!”

“Yeah, well,” came another voice, “that’s not gonna happen, girlie.”

Eris’s eyes switched back to her right. The creature had managed to get its head on the right way around but the thing that made her head swim was the helmet. Now that she could see it clearly she recognised it as her brother’s. Her heart beat faster as she thought of the spear pressed to her neck. “Where did you get that helmet? And that spear?” she hissed.

“The previous owner met with an unfortunate accident,” replied the nymph.

“No-one can defeat Ares in battle! And he would never give these up to anyone. You must have murdered him as he slept, or… or… poisoned him somehow.”

“I saw it with my own eyes,” said Nadina. “A stone from a sling while he was disguised as a boar. It was unintentional.”

“And my father knows about this?” gasped Eris.

“Nah, he copped it a bit earlier,” said the creature. “Disguised as swan, apparently. Good eatin’ on a swan accordin’ to me shipmates.”

Eris’s mind tumbled into chaos. “You’re telling me that my father and brother are dead? Zeus and Ares?”

“Yeah, mental, innit?”

“I have to tell my mother. She’s been looking for them.”

“Oh, she already knows,” said Nadina. “She’s known for days.”

Her mouth had gone dry and her head swam. Eris slowly lay backwards, propped up on one elbow, her glazed eyes seeing nothing but images of her father and brother.

Galapera approached the goddess with tentative steps. “Are you alright, dear?”

“I feel sick.”

“Take some deep breaths, luv, come on. In… that’s it and out… there, and again.”

“Where…”, Eris swallowed and tried again, “where did this happen?”

“On my island,” said the nymph. “Zeus’s island.”

“Are they still there? We ought to build a pyre or something.”

“Nah, no point,” said Xanthius, “they’ve already bin cooked and eaten.”

What?!”

“Xanthius, luv,” said Galapera, “I think I need to tell you a few things about tact and diplomacy.”

The zombie sailor held out his left arm in exasperation. His right one did the same but as it was lying on the ground a few paces behind Nadina the overall effect was somewhat lopsided. “What’ve I done now?”

“Don’t tell young girls that their family members have been eaten.”

Xanthius  shrugged. “How woz I to know? All these bleedin’ social situation rules… I can’t keep track of ‘em.”

“Well you know now.”

“So I shouldn’t tell her that her uncle’s carked it as well?”

Eris gasped. Galapera groaned.

“’Cos I woz there for that one. Terrifying, it woz. If I’d’ve had an arse I woulda shat meself. But we stuck a spear in his ‘ead and got away.”

“Xanthius…” said Nadina.

“Oh, yeah, sorry. Nadina stuck the spear in his ‘ead. To be honest, I woz, erm, gettin’ a bit emotional. You know how it is, spend a lifetime prayin’ to the God of the Sea and then he tries to kill you and yer mates and you end up with confused feelings about it all.”

“Poseidon is dead too?” Eris collapsed backwards and then rolled onto her side in a loose foetal position. There was a roar in her ears.

Nadina had lowered the spear as the goddess’s distress had worsened but was unsure what to do next. She looked at Galapera who nodded and knelt down near to Eris, keeping what she hoped was a respectful but most importantly a safe distance. “I know this has come as a bit of a shock. I’m not certain I quite believe it myself. But from what I hear it were all a bit of a mistake. Micon and Philippus didn’t mean all this to happen.”

Eris lifted her head and looked at the old woman. “They did this? The mortals?”

“Oh, er, well,” said Galapera, “I suppose. They never meant any harm, I’m sure.”

“They will pay,” said Eris with quiet venom. “They will breathe their last on the dusty plains of Ilium and then their tormented souls will be chained in the darkest pits of the Underworld.”

“You need to learn some manners, young lady,” retorted Galapera, folding her arms in disapproval. 

“That might be so, but this is not the time for pleasantries. My mother causes me so much anger and grief that I burn in my heart.” The old woman could see the rage building inside Eris and leant backwards away from her. “And I need to speak to her now.”

Nadina raised her spear but the goddess rolled onto her front and disappeared before anything could be done.

They were alone on the beach in the twilight of dusk. Galapera looked up at Nadina. “What do we do now?”

“We need the lads back, pronto,” said Xanthius. “Then we bugger off before that mad bint comes back with her mum.”

“I think,” said Nadina, “that we need to leave this place right now.”

“But what about the lads?”

“Something’s happened to them, I know it. They’re not coming back here. We need to find them.”

“What makes you so sure?” asked Galapera, “Why don’t you think they’re on their way back now?”

“Because Eris wants them to pay for what they’ve done.”

“Yes, and?”

“She never asked where they were. She’s taken care of them already.”

Galapera put her hand to her mouth. “Do you think they’re dead?”

“No. Not yet. She said something about the plains of Ilium. Does that mean anything to you?”

Galapera shook her head.

“I know,” said Xanthius. “It’s Troy. But I can’t fink of any reason they’d be going there. Just another lah-di-dah city near the sea. Bit dull if you ask me.”

“Do you think they’re going to be taken there for some reason?” asked Galapera.

“P’raps they’ve bin captured and gonna be sold as slaves. Bit of a long way to go though.”

Nadina picked up Xanthius’s right arm and passed it back to him. “Come on. Back on the Sun Barge. We need to move away from here in case Eris returns with Hera. Then we try and find Micon and Philippus.” She frowned at the dying light. “And we might have to wait until dawn. I just hope there’s enough time.”

=====

Athena had finally left Hera in peace, satisfied for the moment that the queen was not involved in an attempt to usurp the king. Hera could now properly focus on the resulting grim headache that felt like someone was trying to squeeze her brain out of her ears. She wondered if she ought to go and see Asclepius and his wife Epione who were the Olympian deities responsible for healing, but no doubt she’d only be told to wash her hands, take plenty of rest and come back in two weeks if she was still feeling unwell. Besides, Asclepius was the son of Apollo and she’d rather not reveal any weakness that could get back to the Sun God.

Perhaps she should just get some sleep so that she would be refreshed in the morning. It was definitely time to switch tactics and put Olympus on alert for some suspicious mortals, a rogue nymph and a creature of the Underworld. She swept along the torch-lit corridors of Olympus towards her bed chamber, determined to fix everything in the morning. She pushed open the ornately decorated door to her room, wafted it shut again behind her and with a twitch of her fingers the oil lamps flickered into life.

For the second time in a matter of hours Hera jumped in surprise, heart booming in her chest and causing her forehead to throb. A figure stood in a dark corner of the room.

“Hello, mother.”

“Eris! What are you doing in here?”

“Waiting for you. I thought it best that we did this somewhere private. I think it may develop into ‘a bit of a scene’.”

Hera patted her chest in a vain attempt to calm her heart that was thumping like an angry, trapped ferret. She took a deep breath. “Did you speak to Hades? Is he going to look for his missing creature?”

“Yes, I spoke to my uncle. And then I dug deeper.” She stepped forward and Hera got a better look at her daughter.

“Why is your dress covered in mud? And what happened to your face?” Hera’s brow furrowed in concern and growing alarm. “What have you been up to?”

“What have I been up to? Ha!” Eris’s eyes gleamed wide and with worrying sparks of madness. “I should be asking the same question of you, mother.”

Hera stared blankly back. “What have you found out?”

“Questions, questions, questions,” said Eris, “but I think it’s time for answers, don’t you?”

Hera nodded and walked over to her bed. “Fine.” She sat down, carefully poised and in control. “What do you want to know?”

“I want to know how long you’ve known that Zeus is dead?”

Hera’s eyes widened in surprise and she opened her mouth to speak.

“Don’t!” shrieked Eris. “Don’t you dare say that you didn’t know. I spoke to the nymph!”

“You spoke to her? And she told you Zeus was dead?”

“Yes! And the undead creature was there and he confirmed it. He said that the mortals ate him! And they told me that you’ve known this for days!

“I suspected, but I didn’t know for sure. That’s why I had you looking for Zeus and getting Hades to search for the creature. I needed to know.” Hera hoped that she was laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s activities and with Eris on side, providing proof and a last-known location the whole thing could be neatly managed with a positive outcome.

“And what about my brother?”

“Ares? Again, I’m not sure.” Hera swallowed.

“She hit me with his spear! My own brother’s spear! She must pay!”

“And she will, my darling.”

“That monster said that those dirty mortals killed him when he was a boar and ate that too! And Uncle Poseidon, too!” Tears glistened in Eris’s eyes.

“I feared as much.” Hera stood and embraced her daughter. “Shhhhh. We’ll get them. They will pay, of that I’m certain.”

“Why didn’t you tell me what was happening?” said Eris, her words muffled as she nuzzled into Hera’s shoulder.

“Because I didn’t know for sure, truly. And what kind of deranged tale could I have told you? That I suspected that your father, brother and uncle were dead but had no proof? And the only link was some shipwrecked mortals who happened to have appeared around the same time? You would have laughed at me, especially if Zeus had turned up alive and well. I would be shamed for eternity.”

Eris nodded and pulled away to look in her mother’s eyes. “I’m sorry, mother. But you could have confided in me.”

A smile crept onto Hera’s face. “Thank you, Eris. But you are the Goddess of Mischief. You understand I had to be careful.”

Eris smiled and bowed her head in acknowledgement. “The nymph, Nadina, wields my brother’s spear like a born warrior. She says her physique is a gift from you.”

Hera shrugged. “She was your father’s whore behind my back. I decided to make things more difficult for him by favouring the nymph with attributes that would both attract and annoy him. Zeus always liked a pretty face above strong shoulders, but normally they were on male youths coming into their prime. And to add to your father’s confusion and frustration I made her stubborn too.” She clasped her hands together and sighed. “Perhaps that was a mistake.”

Eris looked down at the floor. Talking about her parents’ relationships in such candid terms made her feel uncomfortable. Hera noticed and changed the subject. “But never mind her. Tell me about this creature. You say you spoke to it?”

“Yes, it had all the coarse behaviour and language of a common vagabond, but I think it may have been a friend of the mortal sailors in the past. Other than that I couldn’t say. It didn’t look or sound like anything I’ve seen in the Underworld before.”

“But it was undead?”

“Mother, nothing could have been more dead and yet more full of flippant spirit. I think that perhaps it has decided stay on earth out of bloody-minded spite.”

“Hmmm. So, two stubborn accomplices to assist the mortal sailors.”

“Three. There was an old woman.”

Hera’s eyebrows reached up in surprise. “Where did she come from?”

“Their previous stop, I believe.”

“Well, tomorrow we put a stop to all of this. Now that you’ve located them we’ll gather the other Olympians to tell them that we must destroy these god-killers.”

Eris opened her mouth and then thought better of it.

“What, child? Is there something else?”

“Um, only that the mortal sailors have been separated from their boat and crew.”

Hera nodded. “That’s good. Divide and conquer.”

“And…”

“Yes?”

“… that Hades has dispatched Dionysus to capture the undead creature… in exchange for releasing his mother from the Underworld.”

Hera rolled her eyes and cursed silently. “That does not please me. Dionysus breezes in and out of trouble like no-one I’ve ever seen before. And I will not stand to see his whore of a mother released back into the land of the living.” She rubbed her pounding head. “Tomorrow. We will resolve this tomorrow.”

Eris slipped out of the room, thankful she hadn’t mentioned that the deal Dionysus had struck would also see Semele made an Olympian goddess. Her mother was, Eris thought, rather stressed by recent events and it would be a shame if anything else happened to tip her over the edge. She made her way to her chamber by the flickering torchlight that kept her face half covered by rounded shadows but which also briefly revealed a sly smirk.


Temple of Zeus by Miguel Coimbra

11 thoughts on “The Ophagy, Part 29 – “A Safe Distance”

    1. Thanks Diana! Yes, things had been put on hold while we worked on our Gothic project but I think I’m only about 7 chapters from the end so things are all starting to get a bit tasty. I’ve got a few threads to tie up but I think I know where I’m going – about time, I guess! It’s bizarre that this started as a few linked short stories with no plan at all, but here we are with several key characters, a plot (of sorts) and a destination in sight 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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