Waiting At the Gates of Heaven

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Chapter 4

The ivory bath had been filled with warm water by ten slave girls with hair as dark as night. They were all beautiful but not as beautiful as their mistress who had just entered the room. I watched her moving majestically across the richly adorned chamber. She was heading for the bath, just like a gazelle that would approach a running water stream in order to quench its thirst. Clouded in shadow, I followed her every movement, mesmerized by the contour of her body and noble figure. She had an outstanding appearance, proud and haughty, and yet all her features emanated an unspoken chastity that was heart-rending because it made her untouchable, almost like a holy olive branch. It was possible that others wouldn’t have found her as beautiful as I did. But she was my idea of beautiful, and even if she were limp or disproportionate, it wouldn’t have matter. I would still have found her beautiful, because I knew her soul.

Unaware of the nature of thoughts that were crossing my mind, the princess did not even cast me a glance. Neither did she turn her head in my direction, although she was aware of my presence. My fingers were joyfully caressing the strings of the harp, and I sang. I closed my eyes, and darkness fell upon the chamber. She was still moving, sliding on the walls of my mind, creeping inside my every thought. My voice rose softly in the air, hovering over my beautiful one. I was singing about the Valley of the Kings were a wild rose grows and blue birds soar to the sun.

She had paused, listening, enraptured by my voice. Then, as if recovering from a spell, she called her servants. Smiling to the ten slave girls, she let herself attended by them. She was well aware of her beauty and proud of it.

The princess was soon disrobed of her beautiful garment which slid down her shoulders till it rested on a mould on the marble tills. I did not dare to watch, but my mind was busy painting the outline of her body. It was as if I had gone blind and she was the only light that filled my hollowed pupils. Her human flesh spread before my imagination, like a canvas of mysteries and beauty, and I was both the wanderer and the outcast, stopping to quench my thirst for beauty on the shores of a river bank. But doomed were my lips not to touch the fresh water stream, and doomed was I to forever behold the one I would have given my soul just to call her mine. Mine… Mine…Mine…

My fingers trembled but never ceased making the strings vibrate, and my song became the song of the sandpiper which finds its freedom in death. She was listening attentively. A thought crossed my mind, a deep buried hope. Perhaps she still remembered. Perhaps, she hasn’t forgotten what was once and what shall never be.

“What is that you are holding in your hands, Perseus?” she had asked me one day.

We were both thirteen years of age and free to wander together and play the games of our innocent youth. On that day, however, I had wandered alone through the rocky fields and valleys, and thus I brought with me a sandpiper that I had found on the ground with a broken wing.

“What do you care?” I retorted. “Go and play with the other girls.”

She scowled, beaming at me.

“I am the Princess of Ethiopia. I demand complete submission or else….”

“Or else what, feed me to the crocodiles?”

She pinched me, and a sharp pain crossed through my arm. The sandpiper struggled in my hands. I had tightened my grip onto it because of the pain. I relaxed my fingers, and pushed Andromeda away. She lost her balance and fell on the ground. She didn’t cry. She never cried. Instead, she stood there, fixing the earth with her gaze. Neither did she speak nor attempted to move. My first reaction was to run away from her and leave the little princess prostrated but undefeated on the ground. But I didn’t run away. Something happened in that moment. It was then when the light of the afternoon sun fell upon her, and her black hair shone like heated amber. The colour was fascinating and I found myself getting near to her, wanting to touch the amber tresses. Her voice stopped me.

“Why do you have to be so mean?” she whispered.

I sat down next to her, holding the bird before her

eyes, so that she could take a good look.

“It is a sandpiper”, I replied. “It is sick. It can no longer fly.”

Her eyes rounded with sadness. I remember never having felt keener the desire to comfort someone.

“Don’t worry,” I promised to her, whispering into her ear. “I’ll make it fly again for you.”

Don’t worry…I will always keep my promise. The princess ordered the slaves to resume their

positions by the bathtub.Like a cat, she descended the few stairs that were slightly visible under the water. I heard her light steps. I felt their weight against the coldness of the ivory. Her hips were swaying gently amid the veils of whitish vapours that were coming out of the water. Even though my eyes had been sealed by the vow not to look at the princess while she was having her bath, I broke the constricting law. Had she been miles away, I would still have seen her as if she were an inch away from me. My fingers were wildly running upon the strings. It was my music that caused the princess to allow me to stay in the room. I was supposed to play and entertain the atmosphere while Andromeda was bathing, although I was strictly forbidden to even dare rising my eyes to her. But it was impossible to avoid not throwing furtive glances at her.

The harp trembled in my lap while my fingers were trying to take hold once more of the strings. I changed the tune and began singing a love song, and yet it echoed sadly in my heart. A painful pang pierced my heart. Suddenly I felt I did not belong there. I was a stranger, an intruder. Everything was so beautiful and lofty, while I…Well, I am nothing more but the harpist, the slave musician who dreams of freedom and love, and is doomed to mourn in fetters his unrequited feelings. Even the bathtub itself was a true work of art in comparison with my insignificant person. It was shell shaped, spreading across the entire room, while I had donned the gray robe of a slave, and I had no space where to unfold the vastness of my spirit. So sadly to find myself envying the unanimated matter only because it enjoyed the pleasure of my beloved’s company. And the water was so clear and mirror-like, spreading aromatic fragrances in the air. The slaves had perfumed the water and scattered wild and exotic flowers. It was all so luxuriant, so magnificent, and yet, had Andromeda not been there, the opulent royal bath chamber would have appeared poor and devoid of luxury.

A lotus flower, delicate like the ivory mist of dawn, was floating around the royal body. Petals of roses caressed the olive skin, bestowing fragrant kisses upon the hips, shoulders, and upon the swan-like neck. The princess did not observe the roses. Her eyes followed the sway of the lotus flower. When it got near her, she lifted the lotus and carried it to her lips. What roses had done to her body, she was now doing to the lotus. Gentle but firm kisses, the princess hid beneath the white leaves, as if she were kissing not a flower but a lover.

“You are special”, she whispered to the lotus. “Although you are born from mud and ugliness, you rise from the bottom of the pond purer and cleaner than the world’s finest pearl. And for that I love you.”

Then she let the lotus return to the water where it came from. If I were the lotus, I would rather have faded on her lips than to abandon the warmth of her gentle breath.

As if called by my thoughts, she threw me a furtive glance. Our eyes met. She frowned, upset by my audacity, whereas I seemed to look through her and not at her. I turned my gaze away, and as I did that, I knew my inner self was smiling sadly in the mirror of another life. Had I been free, I would have been an eagle and no chains would have held me on earth.

I began another song about a man who was searching for truth, and instead of completing his quest he found the truth of deception. After my song was finished, I looked at her again, while my eyes were crying to her that she was my deception, as well as my truth. The princess didn’t bid me to take my eyes off her as that would have meant my death, but she frowned again. My inner smile had died on my lips, and I lowered my eyes. There was a time when she didn’t meet my eyes with a deranged look upon her face, but that was a long time ago.

Andromeda looked around the room, and when her lips did move, it was not my name that she called.

“Lilytha!” she beckoned to one of her slaves.

A dark green-eyed slave answered the call, approaching meekly.

“Yes, my princess Andromeda. What can I do to please you?”

I frowned. I didn’t like Lilytha. How dared she besmirch with her traitorous lips the name of her mistress Andromeda? Andromeda…Her name resounded in my soul, like the remembrance of a sacred lullaby. How many times have I not pronounced it at night, with the piety of a priest uttering the holy name of his goddess...How many times have I not cried it loudly in the silence of my slavery condition… I am calling her name right now, only that there are other lips who give life to each letter of her name.

Andromeda thrust proudly her gaze into the eyes of the slave, and Lilytha shivered fearing she had unintentionally wronged her mistress. The princess was capricious and spoiled, and yes, sometimes cruel. I admit and forgive each flaw and each wrong she had ever done to me. Lilytha was also well aware that Andromeda had the temper of a wild adder, and one never knew when she would be gentle or simply mad. Just then, the face of the princess lost its gravity, and Andromeda splashed the girl with water.

“You are very naughty, Lilytha, and that hurts my feelings. I’ve told you so many times to call me by my name. Is it so hard? What is this annoying ‘my princess’ that you keep repeating? Please, for the last time, I may be the Princess of Ethiopia, but before you I am Andromeda, your friend and playmate. Or have you forgotten our salad days, a-khot1?”

The cunning slave faltered. I could see and understand her hesitation. It was not that she had been warned by the slave’s superintended to show the princess the due respect. Lilytha feared that one day the princess would realize what was going on behind her back.

“No, prin … I mean, Andromeda.” “You see, it is not so difficult, silly girl.” Andromeda sprang from the water, throwing her

beautiful black and curly hair over the waist that was still girded by wee drops. The sun was bathing the entire room, falling in a shower of rays over the statuary frame of the Ethiopian princess. Immediately, two other slaves with tiny bottles in their hands ran to anoint the royal body. After completing that task, they brought Andromeda a delicate and soft white robe for her to dress. It was made of pure silk which gave the princess a translucent appearance. She looked like a cloud that is formed in the pure oyster of the sky as a glittering and moving pearl.

After having being dressed in a new clean attire Andromeda seated herself on a mattress covered with a palm leaf blanket and bid Lilytha to approach. The latter obeyed the order. The princess took the slave by the hand and invited her to have a seat by her side. Lilytha flushed but didn’t dare to upset her mistress. Andromeda kissed her cheeks and called to the other slaves to play their harps. I noticed the princess hadn’t passed the command to me as well. She was avoiding the only man who had

1 Sister (hebrew) ever made her soul sing. I know that I wake up something inside of her, because every time I sing, she is different. It is as if she is brought to life from a heavy slumber, and her eyes catch fire. Whereas when others sing, she doesn’t even bother to listen, like she is doing now. She called for music, but not a sound stirred her attention. The slave girls obeyed and soon my music was accompanied by their harps, quickly brought to life. In a crescendo of notes, the music resounded in the room like a clamorous sea.

My fingers had ceased their activity long before they started playing their instruments. I could not sing any more. Quitting my shadowy seat; I drew nearer to where the mistress and her slave were standing. I wanted to know how much the princess would disclose to the slave. I feared the day Lilytha would use Andromeda’s secrets as weapons against her innocent mistress.

I approached them, holding my silent harp in my arms. Being so deep in secrecy, they did not notice me.Andromeda had lowered her voice and only to the ears of Lilytha did she whisper. With my back glued to a marble pillar, I was standing an inch away from them, and as I have a keen hearing, I perceived their entire conversation.

“I had a dream last night, Lilytha, a most wonderful and peculiar dream which the gods must have sent me. I saw myself, and yet I was not myself. I don’t know how to put it for you to understand me, but I looked different. It was as if someone else had possessed my body, yet it was I that my gaze beheld and at the same time a completely different character appeared in the distance of the unknown time and space.

I was wearing strange textiles. Very strange textiles… I can’t describe them to you because I do not have the proper words. Also, I was speaking a different language. I haven’t heard anyone speak it before so I am clueless to what people does the language belong. Perhaps, it doesn’t belong to any people at all and my soul painted it on the canvas of my imagination. It happens sometimes, both the king’s and the queen’s nights are often disturbed by odd fancies.

And there was something about the land and the weather. It was not warm like here, in our country. I was so cold. I have never felt like that. There was no grass growing from the ground, and no earth at all. In fact, I have never seen that type of soil, dazzlingly white and soft, crunching beneath my feet, which were covered up to the knee in some warm and resilient piece of clothes. Perhaps, it was the snow my father often talked about, but I wouldn’t know. My eyes have never rested upon the beauty of the Northern Countries. But, Lilytha, what most impressed upon my mind and soul, it was a feeling of complete loneliness. How lonely was I, my beloved friend, how lonely and miserable… Neither Perseus, the slave, was there to play his harp in comfort; neither Pegasus was there to stand by my side and breathe his fiery air in my cheek, nor you to prattle and divert my thoughts. Then I realized the General was nowhere near me. Frantically, I began to look for him. I needed so badly to tell him something.”

Andromeda blushed, but Lilytha pretended not to

notice.

“How I called Cetus by name, but only the savage wind blew into my face its mocking laughter. I kept calling, although I knew not whom I was calling. The horror that filled my soul with awe, when I realized I couldn’t recall the General’s features, was unbearable. I failed to tell him the truth. Lilytha, I haven’t loved any one as much as I love him, and I love him not because he is the most handsome or honest or the strongest, I love him because I must love him. I know I must. This unwritten law has been embedded into my being by my own free will. From all the men, it was him I singled out. And I couldn’t tell the General how I felt. He had disappeared before learning the truth.”

“But, Andromeda, General Cetus knows you love

him.”

Andromeda blushed even more powerful than before, but didn’t utter a word.

A smile flew over my lips. For one splitting second, I thought she might be speaking about me, about not being able to tell Cetus the truth about her true feelings which didn’t involve him, but then it couldn’t be. The smile spread broader on my face, and my eyes lowered trying to hide the sadness under the mask of gaiety. I was looking around myself, realizing I was in a chamber filled with dancing slave women and harpists or lute players. They were having fun, reveling in each other’s company. And unlike them, I could only think about her words. No, she can’t love Cetus, she simply can’t. She loves because she must, not because she feels that within her being a mysterious fire has been started by a greater force than the human mind’s poor understanding.

And Cetus doesn’t see you for who you are, Andromeda. Unlike me, he observes only the princess, while I observe the soul with which I meet so often in thoughts and feelings; and moreover, he can never make your soul sing the way my harp brings you joy. And you don’t love him. I know you don’t. You are just fooling yourself, trying to run away from your true self. But I know you, Andromeda. You can’t fool me. I will always see you for who you are.

The feet of the dancers swayed on the floor, and dangling jingling bracelets filled the air with mirth and melodious laughter. I only saw her, I only heard her. The other noises were just faint echoes of a different world. Soon Andromeda concluded her confession.

“I am happy, Lilytha, happy just to know he’s close. I could live without addressing him the word, and I’d be happy knowing that my heart speaks only to him. But the thought of losing him pierces my senses, like the apprehension of a death-in-life sentence.”

“But you’re not going to lose your General, prin… Andromeda.”

A red tinge of annoyance passed over Andromeda’s face. Lilytha didn’t seem to observe. She was sheepishly looking at the dancing slaves around her. Silence ensued, as the princess observed the damp stare of the slave. Lilytha couldn’t understand love. Her heart had never been touched by the loftiest of human feelings. The princess sighed.

“Oh, I wish you understood my heart but you

don’t.”

“But, I do, Andromeda. I do understand. It is normal to fear your lover could be taken away from you. Your union still depends on the king’s consent.”

“You don’t understand, Lilytha”, said Andromeda sadly. “It is plainly written on your face. But I don’t blame you. Only when you have loved at least a quarter as I love now, you will be able to understand me.”

Andromeda bowed her head to the inevitable, as if down at her feet a gulf had opened its hungry maw, and now she was beholding the monstrosity of the bottomless pit. Something lurked in the darkness of the unknown, waiting to devour her entire being. And the abyss kept opening before her, lest she should fall into, although she would never let herself slip of the safety boundaries of her royal etiquette. Meanwhile, silence had divided the mistress from the slave. The stillness of the moment laid its leaden shadow between a woman who wanted to confess her feelings and another woman who seemed not to understand, but the awkward moment didn’t last for long, and soon Andromeda raised her beautiful eyes and addressed to Lilytha.

“What do you think, Lilytha? Do you consider my dream to be a sign from the gods? Am I to lose Cetus?” Andromeda’s voice almost seemed cheerful now.

Lilytha, who had listened attentively, nodded ominously her dark head.

“My mind is poor and unworthy to see into the future, but even if my eyes pierced the veils of the unknown, I would only see what the gods allow me to see. One thing I know for sure and that is the certainty that the will of Fate leads us all towards our preordained path, and every dream has a mysterious meaning which will be revealed at the right moment.”

The slave spoke wisely. Even Andromeda understood the meaning of her words. Feeling her chest heavy, the princess closed her eyes. The music of the harp floated around the room like the fluttering of a swan in its majestic flight, and the fragrance of the rose petals brought forward visions of lofty gardens suspended in the air by invisible strings. She opened again her eyelids. Then our eyes met again. She saw me and blushed. This time, I turned my head around, while my hands were again running across the strings of my instrument. But I knew she realized that I heard everything. Nevertheless, not a word of remorse did she cast me. Instead, she urged her slave girl to leave.

“Lilytha, thank you for lending me your ear! Now go and tell the stable man to saddle Pegasus. I feel like riding with the wind and clear my mind. Go.”

The slave girl bowed and departed, leaving her mistress alone and at the same time so close to me, yet so distant.

“Your song is sad, musician”, she addressed me. “You are not listening attentively”, I retorted as the

song I was then playing had a cheerful tune.

“Yes, indeed, you are right, eavesdropping is not my specialty.”

I pretended not to notice the remark. She resumed her talk.

“When I said your song is sad, I didn’t mean this song”, her voice lowered. “I meant the song you sang when I entered the bath.”

“I sing many songs. It’s hard to keep the count.” “Don’t mock me, Perseus. You know very well

what song I have referred to.”

“Do I? Since when a slave thinks like his mistress?” “Since when am I your mistress? You never obey

my orders.”

“You are free to feed me to the crocodiles and get yourself a better slave.”

“Perhaps, I will.”

She threw me an angry look. But she wasn’t the only one who had a bad disposition at that moment. I attempted to stand up and leave but she blocked my way. Without a hesitation, she caught me by the arm and forced me to stay.

“Why don’t you say anything?” she asked, shaking me.

“Let go off me.”

“Not until you answer.” “What do you want me to say?”

“Forget it!” she cried indignantly and let go of my

arm.

The light of the burning torches were kindling her hair. The same amber tresses shone in the light, resurrected from the lingering memory of the past. I knew that she remembered. I smiled and she saw my smile. We looked into each other’s eyes, and clouded in silence our souls were unfolding the veils of a distant existence when we were only a boy and a girl.

“I promise I will make it fly again.”

The sandpiper was feebly fluttering his healthy wing, holding still the injured one.

Her eyes rested with hope upon me. “Do you think it will fly again?” “Of course, I do.”

“What makes you say that?”

I blushed, groping for the adequate words.

“Do you not trust me?’

Andromeda smiled assured.

“What has happened to him?” she inquired.

I told her how I found the little sandpiper on my lonely strolling on the rocky fields. It couldn’t fly and I took pity on the helpless orphan which like me was facing alone the mighty world. If I hadn’t taken it, a hawk would certainly have prayed on him. I had returned with the sandpiper to the palace and showed it to Andromeda because I wanted to offer her something…something of mine.

“Are you sure I can have it?” she asked.

We were walking side by side in the Royal Orchard. The sun was gently setting, and her hair had the appearance of velvety amber.

“The sandpiper is yours.”

From that day on, Andromeda and I took great care of our feathery companion. Especially Andromeda spent a lot of time, talking and fondling the bird. She was fascinated by our new friend.

“Don’t you worry, birdie,” she kept talking to the bird. “You will fly again. Perseus will provide you with new wings. “

Soon our efforts gave results. The sandpiper was slowly but surely recovering. When the wing was entirely mended, the bird grew restless, chirping loudly in its cage. One of the older slaves advised us to release the bird because the sandpiper can’t survive in captivity. Longing for its freedom, it would rather pierce its chest with its beak than live in a cage. I would have released it but Andromeda refused to believe the story.

“We simply can’t leave the poor bird by itself. It will die. We need to make sure that we have indeed fixed its wings. You have promised to make it fly again.”

She kept repeating this, and so the sandpiper stayed with us in a cage that she herself had requested from the king for her bird. Things went well for a while and then everything changed. Hardly had a fortnight passed by when we found the sandpiper dead in its cage. The bird’s chest had been pierced by the sharp beak. It had killed himself just like the older slave said it would do. For the first time Andromeda cried a lot, and I tried in vain to comfort her. She pushed me aside, blaming me for not keeping my word. No matter what I had to say in my defense, she was deaf and blind. And she went on sobbing and sobbing till her face got swollen.

“I understand the sandpiper,” I told her when she was calmer. “I would have done just like him hadn’t been for you.”

She looked into my eyes and again tears came into her dark pupils.

“You are not living in a cage and neither have you suffered any injury.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Show me then,” she challenged me.

“Show you what?”

“Show me how it’s like.”

I rose from the cushion I was sitting beside her. There was a tablet in her room and a lump of charcoal. I took the tablet and returned to my seat. Deftly, my fingers drew what looked like the Royal Palace. She was watching me attentively. I knew she found very hard to believe that there could be one single person unhappy in Ethiopia.

“This is my cage”, I said when I finished. “Although no harm has been done to me, I am not free.”

Sadness filled her soul.

“You know I cannot free you, don’t you?”

“I know”, I nodded. “Only the king can free me.” “And if one day the king decides to free you….”

The question died on her lips.

“I would not go.”

“Even if you are not happy living in the palace?” Her whole fragile girlish body trembled, waiting

for my answer.

“You make me happy” I said almost inaudible.

She blushed and kissed my cheek.

“I forgive you, Perseus”, she whispered into my ear. “And you will keep your promise. You are going to make the sandpiper fly again.”

“How will I do that? The bird is dead.”

“No, it’s not. It will live on in our memory. Whenever you sing his story, the sad bird will fly again. It will come back to us.”

And thus I sang. A second later the shadow of the sandpiper had fled by, leaving no trace behind. But now, after ten years, it has returned. The sandpiper was again hovering over us, over our twain memories, and over our souls.

“I don’t want you to be sad”, she whispered.

“I am not sad anymore”, I replied curtly.

“But you were sad. Why is that? Have you been wronged by someone or have I been a cruel mistress?”

“Sometimes, sadness burdens the mind and soul of a man, like a mystery which seals with a leaden siege the lips meant to confess their woe.”

“Today, you are speaking in riddles, musician.” “Life itself is a riddle.”

She seemed again upset by my answers. However, I remained silent until Lilytha returned to announce that Pegasus had been harnessed. I felt her eyes hovering over me, searching to read something in my countenance. My face was impenetrable. I kept playing my harp until she left the room. Then the music stopped and no harp was heard. Still, there were still the other harps and lutes and the dancing that went on, like a never-ending procession of ghouls. Unnoticed, I crept outside. Andromeda had mounted Pegasus, the horse I helped to be brought in this world when his mother, the pearl-white mare, gave him birth. I tamed him, and I was the one who first rode on his back. And indeed, this horse has been my gift for her. Just like the sandpiper…


The evening grew colder, but I didn’t feel the chillness of the coming night. I was running nimbly to keep up with her, and sometimes I had to hide behind trees or to throw myself flat to the ground, lest she would discover me. Andromeda was riding across the green meadows. Her white dress fluttered like huge wings; so that whoever saw her thought that the princess was riding a winged white stallion which had just descended from the sky.

But the end of the journey was getting nearer than ever. I recognized the place. When the beautiful rider came closer to a little orange grove, Andromeda dismounted and propped Pegasus from a tree. Her hand caressed the mane and the long nimble neck of the horse. The horse neighed and shook his head. His nostrils were foaming fire.

“How much you resemble Perseus! Your gallop is like a song I never seem to understand, although I feel its vigor and beauty. Wait here, my friend. I’ll be back soon.” The horse looked into his mistress’ eyes and neighed slightly. The princess turned around and walked ahead. Was she smiling with anticipation at the sweet encounter with her paramour? I was trying hard to get a good view but the branches were heavy with fruit. Nevertheless, I didn’t see any trace of serenity. Her face was expressionless, like that of a marble statue that cares not if her master comes or not to admire its beauty. She always smiled when she met me. Yes, we were kids, but her smile was always there, impressed on her lips. For

me…Now she smiled no more.

I followed her further into the grove. He was there, a heartbeat away. I knew. I had seen him before in this forest.Cetus practiced his military exercises in a little gully near the Plain of Sharon. It was his favourite spot, far from the agitation of the city. As a general commanding the king’s army, Cetus had proved more than once his courage and war craft. He had the courage to kill and spill blood, and he owned the craft of handling his sword with the cruelty of a war lord. Nevertheless, he himself was conquered by an arrow swifter than any spear and lance. The moment he had seen Andromeda, he felt within his soul the rapture of an unknown spring wavering its streams towards the mysterious shores of fate. He saw the princess that would make him a king. Cetus knew it was a love doomed to end in tragedy, since she was a princess and he a general, a merely soldier, unfit to crown her with jewels and place a kingdom before her feet, but that did not make him love her less. Yes, love her, because in his selfish desire for power, he loved her as a means to an end. Moreover, he failed to understand her soul. If he had any warm and genuine feeling for her, he would have known that Andromeda didn’t want precious gems and political power, nor to rule over Ethiopia. She only claimed the right to grasp happiness and have a pleasant company by her side. I know her heart as I know mine. That is why it is so hard for me to understand the reason why she picked him. Far from catching the eye, he also has a questionable character which makes him disagreeable.

This array of sad thoughts was passing through my mind. He would be happy if she were the throne of Ethiopia itself, while I only coveted the light from her eyes whenever we were together. Yes, we were together, even if separated by caste and distance, I was always in her shadow, meeting with her in the one glance she accidentally let it fall on me.

“Your eyes shine like blue sapphires when they reflect the light of joy, and they are green when the shadows hide the day in their cape of darkness”, like in a dream she would tell me.

I could see myself laughing, while passing playfully my fingers through her hair.

“Because they reflect the sapphire of my soul which is now smiling before me,” I would reply, basking in the sun of her merriment and pleasure, “and the twilight of my nights spent in dreaming about you.”

Andromeda pressed her lips gently upon my eyebrows. They were thick and scarlet like a rough fire line. Her lips went down and kissed my eyes. But no, there weren’t my eyes. They were the other man’s who was now standing by her side, while I was hiding nearby.

“I wish I were not a princess and you were not a general”, I heard her saying to him. “Then we could have been friends.”

“I want to be more than friends,” he hissed into her ear. She seemed not to notice. Her blank gaze was travelling far away, searching hungrily in the horizon.

“Everything would have been so simple if I hadn’t been a princess. Sometimes I dream I am a simple girl and you were there by my side.”

“I am now by your side”, he interrupted her again. “I keep imagining it…How beautiful would have been if we had been born free to choose the right path

for us. I envy the simple life of the fishermen or the mountaineers. I wish we were poor, you a fisherman, and I your wife. We would live in a cozy hut on the West Bank of the Jordan River and feed our hunger with fish and quench our thirst with simple water. And I would be the happiest woman alive because I would have all the wealth in the world, you.A-ta…a-ta…2” she repeated frantically. “I would stay by your side while you play your harp.”

My heart started pounding in my chest.

“Softly, my fingers would play in your hair, and despite the fishy smell you would take them to your lips.” “Like this?” asked Cetus, trying to seize her fingers and take them to his lips, but she snatched her hand away. “You would play the story of the sandpiper as I

listen to the voice within, and in the distance of time and space, the bird will find his wind and fly to freedom.”

“What are you talking about? What sandpiper? I don’t even know how to play the harp.”

“And you would play for me”, she feverishly continued. “You promised to make the sandpiper fly.”

One hot tear rolled from her eyes, and my front leaned against the solid bark. Everything was spinning around me. All this time…All these years…

“Do you know how to play the harp?” she asked Cetus. “I love its music. How it makes my soul sing… My song, my most precious song, you fill my being and complete me,” she frantically entreated. “Sing to me the quake of the earth and the mad fury of the waves. I don’t need the serenity of royal happiness. I want the thunder and lightning of the gods.”

He looked at her in awe, confused by the new Andromeda who was standing in front of him. She seemed different, changed. When Cetus tried to embrace her, she avoided his touch.

“What is going on with you?” he sounded exasperated.

“Cetus”, she turned to give him a harsh but decided look. “I’ve tried. The Gods are my witnesses. I’ve tried, but you can’t make my soul sing.”

2 You (masc., hebrew)

“By the fury of the underworld, what is this nonsense?” he thundered. He clutched her in a firm grip. She struggled to escape.

“Let her go”, I yelled, leaving my hiding place. Her eyes met mine in terror and she tried to

speak to me but Cetus’ heavy palm fell over her face. Fury seized me and I threw myself at him. We fought, but unfortunately I was no match for a skilled general. Andromeda tried to intervene, but he pushed her to the ground. I was soon defeated. He gave a long whistle and several of his men ran to obey his orders. He had me tied to the bark of a tree, and after his men left the area, Cetus roared with laughter pulling Andromeda closer.

“How dare you?” she madly yelled at him. “I am the princess of Ethiopia. I will tell my father about your conduct. Release me and Perseus, immediately.”

He roared louder. A putrid hatred was gnawing at my loins. I wished to annihilate him, to tear him into pieces, but not for the pain he had caused me, but for having disgraced Andromeda.

“You can tell your father what you please, and I too will tell him how I caught you bedding a slave.”

“You liar”, she screamed in fury.

“Tell me now, my pretty; am I making your soul

sing?”

And he sang to her the accursed melody of his lips as they passionately touched the olive skin of the beautiful princess, of my beautiful one. I tried to release myself, but the ropes had strongly coiled around my body. The ropes cut my cheeks and my lips, leaning against the wall of teeth that tried to bite and cut the rough folds.

You fool, I silently yelled at him, my mouth being gagged; I could have sung her the colours of eternity and not the fleeting moment of a kiss in time and space. If only she had allowed me…If only she had told me sooner.

My fingers clawed the bark of the orange tree until splinters of wood remained stuck behind the nails. I did not want to see her with him, but neither did I want him to hurt her. And I had known he did not love her. I had seen him kissing Lilytha and other slaves, while Andromeda was not with him. And I tried to tell her, but she refused to believe me and accused me of being jealous, while I only wanted her to be happy. If she could not love me, at least she should give her heart to a worthy man, but not to Cetus. Not to a man who would betray her as soon as opportunity arose. And to this man, Andromeda had been running to. Like a wife hurrying to greet her husband, so did she, being no longer a princess but a woman who compelled herself to be in love. And now after embracing the truth, she had put herself in danger.

“You see, puppy,” Cetus mockingly hurled the words to me, “love bears the same power as death, joining all mortals in equality.”

Provided it was true love, I added in my mind. Andromeda kept fighting to keep Cetus at a

distance. Tired, he yawned and let her go.

“Women”, he muttered between his teeth. “I’ll see you tomorrow, my gazelle.”

“In your dreams, perhaps”.

He didn’t bother to answer and he passed by me as if I was invisible. The moment we were alone, Andromeda ran to me, fighting to untie me. After long efforts, I was released. We didn’t say anything to each other. She was embarrassed and I was at a loss of words.

The day was approaching its end, and the feeble sun rays grew dimmer, subsiding into the reddish hue of the twilight. The first stars of the night appeared from beneath the screen of the passing clouds, illumining like vivid torches the path of our human hearts. We were walking through the forest, I holding Pegasus’ reins, and she following me submissively. In my chest still beat the heart of a watchman unable to cut the ties that bind him to the secret duty of watching over his most valuable assets. The Evening Star seemed to bow before the princess of Ethiopia, bestowing upon her the sacred light of nocturnal mysteries. And Andromeda kept walking by my side; seeing neither the sky above, nor the branches of the rustling trees which swayed in the breeze. But her thoughts stormed inside her mind, like firebirds darting through mazes of twisted corridors and halls.

The branches’ gnarled leafy fingers caressed our shadows, keeping pace with us. The shadow of the wanderer had tied our fate. Wanderer… She was wandering down a dangerous road, a beautiful dangerous road.

“How much have you heard from what I told Cetus?” she asked me.

“Enough.”

“Why did you follow me?”

“Because I don’t trust Cetus.”

“I am glad you’ve come, and I am glad you’ve heard everything.”

“So am I.”

“What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to return to the palace”, she fiercely said, turning to me.

I looked her in the eyes.

“Even if your run away from home will cause pain to your parents?”

My question upset her and reduced her to silence.

“Andromeda… Andromeda…”

I caught her chin into my hands and forced her to look at me.

“If you want, I will stay forever with you in this forest. You just have to say the word.”

She lowered her head, and I understood.

Just then, the spell was broken by the sound of hooves running into our direction. There were soldiers calling the princess, and we also heard the worried voice of the king himself. The princess quickly embraced me.

“Go, hide yourself!” she commanded me.

“I am not leaving you.”

“This is an order, Perseus.”

“I don’t like orders.”

“Not even my orders?”

“Are you ashamed of being seen with me?” “I want you to be safe.” “I am only safe with you.”

The horse riders were getting closer.

“Please, Perseus.”

“Are you sure?”

“Go!”

The soldiers accompanying the king were getting nearer and nearer.

“I am here”, she called them.

The stars seemed motionless and so far away, as the king’s silhouette appeared mounted on his black stud. Andromeda had ceased dreaming awake of happiness and simple life. She turned around to face her father. I hid myself carefully, cursing my folly of whispering her name. I heard King Cepheus’ glad voice as he dismounted to embrace his daughter.

“Where have you been?”

“I have been riding Pegasus.”

“I was afraid. General Cetus came in a hurry, crying that he spotted you in the forest with a slave.”

Andromeda’s fists clenched tightly to her father’s

arm.

“General Cetus was wrong. He must have confounded me with someone else.”

“But still what happened to your lip?” Andromeda realised that her lip was still a little

swollen after Cetus’ blow.

“I was stung by a bee.”

“You should be more careful. I had gone mad only thinking that something bad might have happened to you.”

“Don’t you worry, father, there is always someone to watch my back.”

“There is no one besides us here.” The king looked at her astonished.

“You can’t see it. It’s like a spirit…”Andromeda paused, trying to remember something, and then the word from her dream came softly. “Angel…”

“What?” asked the king.

“Angel”, she repeated. “I have a guardian angel.” “What is an angel? A new God?” “In a way…”

And a sharp laughter echoed sinisterly across the

forest.

“Strange birds must be hiding in this grove”, the king said, shivering, and he and Andromeda mounted their horses, ridding back home. After they took a few strides away, I followed their traces.

The voice that called Andromeda, that tall silhouette glued to the bark of a tree remained unknown.

Later, when the princess was deeply sleeping, another mysterious apparition greeted her dreams. Andromeda shuddered. For a splitting second, she thought she had recognized his voice, as no voice resembled to the one she always heard echoing in her memory and thoughts.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Do you not recognize me? Do you not see the vestiges of my royalty? Just like you, I am a prince.”

“Then why can’t I see your face clearly? Am I dreaming?”

The man who had hidden himself behind a tree, laughed maliciously. And soon he stepped into the dim light.

He smiles and she feels compelled to smile back. He steps forward and she steps towards him. It is a dance of bodies and souls, a dance of the immortals that will never cease. Thus it was and thus it would always be.

“You wanted to hear the thunder of gods? Don’t you know that only I can play it?”

His strong arms wrapped themselves around her waist, and she placed her hands on his chest. They were two and they were one. And thus it would always be.

The cry of a bird pierced the night. It was the mighty call of triumph. The king of the sky, the eagle was hovering over the earth, in a last flight of that day. The bird of prey would soon ascend to the summit of the mountain where a nest awaits its arrival. The eagle knows not about the problems of the earth, and the earth knows not the true happiness of freedom, and the bliss of a wish a heart makes.

Andromeda sadly sighed as her visions of living free in the forest faded away. She didn’t know who she was anymore. The strange prince kissed her forehead, and she closed her eyes. The shadows of last night’s dream passed over her, but she banished every bad memory to the realm of oblivion. She wanted only to feel and taste the presence of another human being. It was a feeling she had no words to describe. She had never wished more to be utterly and profoundly loved by someone, and this was a truth more powerful than a thousand odd dreams. The prince ought to love her as much as she tried to love him back, and no matter what her father said, she would marry no man but the prince. Strangely, she was wrapped in his arms, and still she was standing far away. From behind the bark of an orange tree, Andromeda read the determination on her other self’s face.

Soon the sky shone under the burden of the night. The coverlet of darkness had spread above the black marble of the heathen temple of stars and nocturnal mist. Like bacchants, the stars jumped with glee and danced, at the same time praying for the life of man on earth. The strange pair was now sitting on the grass, watching wistfully the flickering of nocturnal sky; while the veins of a vigorous river that run nearby crept under the earth which sustained the embraced human form. Resting her body in the embrace of her beloved, Andromeda felt herself to be a star, a part of that incomprehensible mystery.

“So you have decided to tell your father?”

His voice thundered, echoing far into the distance.

“Do you fear for my life or for yours alone?”

“I fear nothing in this world”, he answered. “But I will be furious if you choose a slave or a petty general over a prince.”

“But I love Per…”

“Hush, you despicable creature… What do you know about love? That little ticking container of yours doesn’t have the capacity of holding love inside.” “You are wrong, and I don’t like your tone.”

He laughed. With his cold fingers, he drew circles over her forehead.

“Do you give up on Perseus?”

“Yes. But my father still wants me to marry Phineus.”

“It only matters what I want.”

“Yes,” came the boldly answer. “I will never consent to marry my uncle Phineus. I belong to you, body and soul, and no one on this earth, has the right to claim me his own.”

Perseus’s voice passed through her like an inner gust of wind that only she could feel. “Liar…Liar…I am accusing her of lying in front of all nature, and in God’s presence as well.”

“Swear you will love no other girl but me when we grow up.”

The voice of a little girl echoed through the forest. From the spot Andromeda had remained in the shadows, watching her other self abandoning to the prince’s power, she could feel another presence. Slowly,

she now turned towards her memory.

Perseus tried not to laugh. They were both hiding in the greenhouse. She had run away from the slave nurse who had attempted to force her to go to bed. Andromeda never liked being told what to do, and on that night she didn’t want to go to sleep. She had run straight to her boy companion, urging him to follow without delay. He had come with her, following her like a faithful dog. The boy didn’t know what she wanted to tell him, but most surely he hadn’t expected to hear those words. She was serious and he had to bite his tongue not to laugh. A sharp pain contorted his face as she caught his arms in a firm grip.

“If you don’t tell the truth, the gods of the sandy desert will punish you. You’ll forever wander away from the Valley of the Kings, without finding the red rose of bliss.”

A faint trace of sadness spread across his face, and she noticed it.

“What is the matter with you? Tell me plainly. You don’t love me, do you? ”

“How can you ask me something like this? And there is nothing wrong with me,” Perseus lied. He couldn’t tell her the real reason so he ended up by confessing her a different truth.

“It’s just it pains me even to imagine you’re thinking that I could love another human being more than I already love you. There is only you, and there is no end to love.”

Beaming, she kissed his lips and quickly ran away, leaving the boy behind. It had been their first kiss. The slave boy stood there rooted on the spot. The last image Perseus saw that night was her white nightgown fluttering on her trail, like a dream’s silvery veil. He watched her disappearing from his view until there was nothing left of her.

“I have never broken my oath”, Andromeda whispered to the silence of the surrounding night. “I have never loved anyone the way I love you.”

The cry thundered across the Plain of Sharon. “Interesting memory”, the strange prince laughed

with mirth. He was no longer embracing the other Andromeda. He was now beholding the real Andromeda.

But she didn’t hear his histrionic laughter. And now her lips were touching other lips than Perseus. The prince kissed her and she let herself to be kissed, not knowing that the man’s kiss was bearing the burden of unspoken restlessness and fear for his plans.

“Why can’t she see the snake? She takes the cobra for a lion when in fact he is only a spiteful deceiver.”

From within, Andromeda warned her spell bound self about the dangers of one night’s kiss.

His maliciousness disgusted her, and that night, in a dream, Andromeda knew that there would come a time when Perseus would have to fight to protect her, to save the princess from the rage of her father, the king of Ethiopia, from Cetus, and from the unknown forces, the greedy so called prince who kept hissing in her ear.

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