It’s been quiet since my cousin’s demise at the hands of a “hero.” Medusa was felled by Perseus’s sword. He was the real monster, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He came in without invite, just like all the rest, and killed her. She did not ask to be a monster, to be an outcast hidden away on this island. Gorgons were meant to be protectors, not monsters, but somewhere along the way the story got twisted and defiled to fit the human’s perspective. What is not beautiful to them is monstrous, yet I have seen more monstrous acts performed by their race than mine.
I was a queen once, beautiful and loved, until I was cursed to slither among the monsters. I am the first of my name, Lamia, outcast queen of Libya. I was punished by Hera for the atrocities of her husband; she slayed my children and turned me into a snake-like beast scorned forever by my people. I was hoping to find refuge here on the island with others, but when I arrived Medusa was dead, and her sisters were out for blood.
I suppose now that word has spread of her demise no one will come looking for a reward…
What in the underworld? I must be losing my mind, I thought I heard…
“Hello? Is there anyone there?”
Why in the gods would a human be here, and a girl at that? Well, she is no hero that’s for sure, announcing her presence like that. Does she not know who lives here or should I say lived here? Does she not see the statues of the dead army that surrounds this island? I mean it’s a bit flashy for my taste, but whatever gets the job done. My cousin was a bit over the top with her decorating. She is still coming closer, maybe it’s time to give her a bit of a scare to send her on her way.
“Look I am really sorry to interrupt you but…”
“LEAVE. NOW!” I shout, revealing my form from the shadows.
“I can’t.” she replied hesitantly as she stood rooted to the spot she was occupying.
Well, that should have worked. Most grown men flee at the sight of me, but this girl didn’t even flinch. I must admit, my ego is a bit bruised; I am not ugly by any means, but my form is intimidating to say the least. At my full height I am well over nine feet and can easily take down a centaur. The blue-black of my hair, matches the blue-black iridescence of the scales on my lower body; it gives me the ability to become one with the shadows. The smoothness of my rosewood skin and the emerald of my eyes distracts so I can ensnare my victims into one final, crushing, embrace. This girl didn’t even bat an eyelash.
“What do you mean you can’t leave?” I ask, “You just turn around and go back down the trail you walked in on and go,” I tell her with a dismissive gesture.
“I CAN’T!” she screamed at me. And then almost inaudibly, “I don’t know the way.”
I laughed; this girl was something else. She showed up out of the blue and now she doesn’t know her way back down to the beach. I am sure she must have wondered away from her party and got lost. Now that my cousin is dead, they must think that they can just take over and do whatever they please… well, they can’t.
“What do you mean you don’t know the way, what are you blind?”
Oh… by Hades I am an idiot. I look at the girl, actually look at her. She has maybe seen twenty summers and is far too well dressed to be a fisherman’s daughter with a black cloak that covered her face. “Who are you and where did you come from?” I asked, squinting my eyes.
“My name is Hero, and I am the oracle of the temple of Dione. I was brought here after I received a vision.”
Ironic that her name would be Hero, and she’s an oracle. This is just what I need. “So, you just had your party leave you here unprotected, from Hades knows what, to just, what… fulfill a vision?” I say as I slither around her, poking her in the sides to make her jump.
“Exactly, the vision told me that there would be a woman here who could help me,” she replied as she smacked my hand away.
As quick as lightning I circled her petite body in mine holding her close and whispered in her ear, “you’re too late, the woman who lived here was murdered by a monster.” The words felt like venom as they left my mouth. My heart was filled with rage at what that boy had done, and this girl was standing in its way. A sharp gasp pulled me back into the present and I realized I was now face to face with this girl. The cloak that had been covering her features had fallen to her shoulders and in its place where beautiful chestnut locks held with a laurel of gold and silver. Her skin was sun kissed with full heart-shaped lips, but it was her eyes that caught my attention the most. Her eyes were the color of a clouded sky, clear with a tinge of white, and all around them scar tissue. Right now, those eyes were looking into mine like they could see the depth of my soul and I have never felt more like a monster in all my life. I loosened my grip and turned as she collapsed to the ground. I listened as she pulled in gulps of air, while tremors racked her body and traveled up my tail and into my very being. This is not who I am, I thought to myself.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered in shame as I turned and reached out a hand placing it on her elbow. “I didn’t mean to hurt or frighten you. I just wanted to be left alone.”
“No, I’m sorry for invading your space without an invitation. I didn’t expect your tail to be that strong.” She said as she grabbed my offered hand and stood to face me. To say I was shocked is an understatement. Was this girl for real? I almost killed her, and she is the one apologizing to me. What in Hades?
“Wait what? You know about me? How, you said you came to see the woman who lived here, but Medusa was killed by Perseus almost three months ago. Word must have spread by now, right?”
“I never said the woman who lived here, I said there would be a woman here who could help me and you’re the only woman I hear. Sorry, bad joke.” She said with a twitch of the lips.
“Right… just how did you get all the way up here, if you don’t mind me asking?” I wondered as I coiled myself up and sat down in front of her.
“Oh, right… all the statues face the same way, all I had to do was follow them until I got here. I mean it’s not like there aren’t plenty of them. It also might just be me, but could you tell me, are they all men?” She asked with a look of curiosity.
This girl was smart, I’ll give her that. I still have some questions to ask her, but for now I will humor her.
“They are. Medusa was sought after for her ability to turn people into stone. Many warriors from all over the land came to seek their fortune, only to find doom. As you can see, or not, Sarpedon is as far away from civilization as one can get but they just kept coming. Medusa, just like many of the rest of us, just wanted to be left alone. She was only the monster men made her out to be,” I conveyed with a long-drawn-out sigh. “So, instead of standing outside all day why don’t we go inside, and you can tell me about this vision,” I say as I uncoil myself and start to head inside the cave entrance.
“Wait! I know I followed the statues here, but I don’t know how far in the cave goes or if it drops off. I just don’t want to slow you down is all. And by the way you never did tell me your name.” She stammers out with a bit of a huff at the end. “Lamia at your service, little Hero. All you had to say is that you needed my help,” I smiled mischievously as I bent down and picked her up bridal-style in my arms. “You’re right. The caves are far too dangerous for a human, so I will just have to carry you. I hope you don’t mind. You also might want to hold on to me, I travel faster than you think.” I felt heat rise to my cheeks as she placed her arms around my neck and leaned her head against my chest. I will just have to revisit that later, its nothing, I thought to myself as I took off at speed to the lower chambers of the caves.
Sarpedon was a volcanic island far to the west of Greece. It was the perfect atmosphere for gorgons and creatures like me as the lower chambers stayed tropical all year round. Hero was the first human (to my knowledge) to be let inside. I might get in trouble if any others stop by, but that is a future problem. We have gone about a mile and a half down when the lava tube we have been traveling in opens up into a large interior room. There is a natural hot spring that runs through here that causes plant growth and flowers I have never seen on the mortal plane. Every now and then Hermes comes by to grab a bouquet of flowers for Persephone to take to the underworld. His visits are nice, and he always pays for the flowers with a scroll. I like to read about the outside world. We also take care of the animals here. There are several different varieties. Including the hind. That giant beast all on her own is something to behold, and when her golden antlers catch the light cast by crystals in just the right way you can understand why she is a thing of legend. At this moment I wish Hero could see this sight as I place her on the grass.
“What… how is this possible?” as her feet hit soft grass instead of the hard rock she expected.
“The steam from the hot spring allows the plants to grow, crystals filter in light, and the lava allows this place to stay warm. For us, it’s paradise. You can understand why we would want to keep it a secret,” I say as I watch her enjoy the smell of a flower she found.
“I can understand that,” she said as she removed her cloak and placed it on the ground beneath her so she could take a seat. The paleness of her arms contrasted the dark blue of her tunic as she placed her head upon her knee. She seemed lost in thought as if she were miles away from this place, in another time with other people she too wanted to keep secret. I cleared my throat to break her of her trance and mine.
“Right!” Hero exclaimed. “I need to tell you of my vision!”
“Yup, that is why you came all the way here,” I slid up to a rock to sit down.
“Well, visions can be tricky sometimes and…”
“I knew it!” I proclaimed with a shout “I knew you were lying all along!”
“What!? You did not, and I was not lying I did have a vision, but it only got me so far,” she said, suddenly bashful.
“I did know, I can feel it through my tail when another creature is lying. Their heart rate changes, muscles tremble, and their breathing changes. I am part snake you know.” I say sarcastically, “What do you mean your visions only get you so far?”
“Ever since I was a child” Hero explains, “my visions were only about fifty percent accurate. My father, thinking that he could improve them decided to pour scalding hot water in my eyes one day. The damage was permanent, but the visions were more defined if that’s what you want to call them. I was noticed and taken to Dodona to be the replacement for the oracle when she passed. The temple only has male priests, and I failed to see an impending attack by the Mycenaean army. We barely escaped with our lives, but many others did not. The priest decided it was best to find a new oracle and left me on this island to die. They did not know that Medusa was dead only that all who came ashore did not return. The priests also did not consider the sirens that live nearby as we lost several on the way in. The vision I had was while we were traveling here. I knew you could help me; I just don’t know how.”
I sat thinking about this woman in front of me who had had so many of her choices taken from her in childhood to the point of facing death. This woman, who is no longer a girl in my eyes, walked like royalty into a monster’s layer and faced her fate with dignity. It’s more than that, she made room for a conversation. All those statues out there came with one thing in mind and the end result was the same. I now have the opportunity to do something that would make my sisters proud. I am going to give her a choice, I think as I reach out and grab her hands and bring them to my face.
Startled by the abrupt action Hero asked, “What are you doing?”
“Letting you feel what you cannot see that way you can make your decision with sound judgment.” As I run her hands from my face down my neck to my body, she understands that there is a part of me that is human. It’s when she gets to my hips that she lets loose the slightest of gasps as she feels my scales under her fingertips. Her breathing has picked up as I let her hands explore the length of my tail on her own. In this moment, I decide to tell her my plan.
“Hero, if you ask it of me, I will travel back to the temple and lay waste to every man I come across before I move on to the Mycenaean army. I promise you no soldier will set foot in his homeland ever again. I can make no promise that innocent lives won’t be lost… or you can stay with me.”
“What?” Hero said as she pulled her hands away from my tail as if they had been burned. “I don’t want any deaths on my hands, I never did. I just… want to be left alone. By the gods! Is this why I was sent here, to spend my days alone?”
“Well, I guess I’m just the snake in the garden… look, there is more to this place than solitude. If you need more time, I understand,” I got up off the rock and started to move away. A delicate hand reached out and grasped at mine as I passed by. I looked down into a face that was scared of the unknown but too proud to say it.
“I will be in the hot springs by the waterfall relaxing; all you have to do is call out for me and I will be by your side,” she nods and lets go of my hand only to let hers drift down my tail. The action causes a shiver to run up my spine, but I brush it off. It was just an accident, I think. An hour passes before I hear what sounds like… laughing? I make my way back to the clearing to find Hero sitting on the ground and the hind getting head scratches as every now and then the big oaf lifts up and licks Hero in the face. The sight itself is something else, but her laugh should not make me feel this warmth in my chest as if a lava tube is trying to burst free. I should just take her back to the mortal realm; it will be safer for her.
“You’re kidding yourself right now if you think I can’t see what you’re thinking,” exclaims a voice from above my head.
“Hermes! Where in all of Hades did you come from?”
“Well, if you’re going to be like that, I’m not going to give you what I brought… No, I’m just kidding!” Hermes digs around in his bag and pulls out a vial filled with a liquid that swirls amber and gold.
“Is that ambrosia!?”
“Yup!” Hermes exclaims, as he hands over the precious cargo and taps me on the cheek. “Now when you give it to her make sure that she’s near a bed, she will need a lot of rest because she’s going to sleep for a long time, three days at least. Then what you wanna do is take a drop and rub it on each eye and the rest of it goes in a drink OK? OK. Oops, almost forgot, gotta grab some flowers… bye.” Just like that Hermes was off like a flash. Here I was holding the elixir of the gods and with an even bigger choice to make. No, it’s not my choice. It’s Hero’s, and I will stand by whatever she decides.
Several hours have passed when Hero finally calls out to me. I’m nervous, and I don’t know why. It’s not like I like her. What am I saying? Yes, I do. Well, it’s not like she likes me. Who would like a half-snake woman with a bad reputation?
“I would,” Hero said. “I would like a half-snake woman with a bad reputation.”
“I’m sorry. Did I say that out loud? Cause… I thought I was arguing with myself. It was a private berating,” I exclaimed, sounding a bit shocked.
She laughed before she turned her head in my direction and pointed at herself before saying, “Oracle.” She then turned her head back to the sky as she sighed and said, “I know you think I pulled my hand away earlier because I was disgusted or scared of what you said, but that’s not true. I pulled away because I liked it. I liked the way your scales felt under my hands. You’re a lot softer than I could have imagined. I don’t think you’re a monster.” She took several deep breaths before she sat up and reached out for me to take her hand before she continued. “I don’t want revenge or more innocent blood on my hands. I just want to stay here… with you.”
I smiled as I placed the vial in her hand. “I am happy you said that my little Hero. Hermes stopped by and left something for you… if you choose to take it.
Three days later…
Green… the first color I see is the green of her eyes, and they don’t disappoint.