Waiting At the Gates of Heaven

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Chapter 6

The sun was bathing the room in the reddish faint colour of the evening. Pacing restlessly the floor, Andromeda’s bare feet were gliding over the cold marble tiles, although the princess didn’t feel anything. It wouldn’t be the first time Andromeda affronted her father, but in the past their disputes had only been aroused by mere childish trifles. Nevertheless, the woman had woken up in Andromeda, and that new mysterious being kept whispering from within a truth as old as time, that what a father would forgive to a daughter was different from what a king would forgive to a princess.

Sighing, she took a seat on the windowsill. A flock of birds was now splitting the horizon, like feathery arrows brought to life by the breath of the evening wind. The eyes of the princess followed them longingly, until the birds disappeared from view, taking with them the sweet melody of freedom.

A tear dropped to the floor. She was not feeling okay. Her bones ached, as if her entire body had been broken limb by limb; and neither had she managed to sleep last night. Peculiar visions and nightmares had disturbed her rest. And now, the strong feeling that her entire happiness would collapse was towering above her, threatening to swallow her and bury her in the debris. She just knew the king wouldn’t accept her decision. How many times she had pictured the scene in her mind…She stood there, opening her heart to him, but her father’s face expressed nothing but wrath. Neither had king Cepheus shown more anger and contempt at his daughter than the day their different desires clashed violently. The audacious girl had just announced her firm and resolute decision of not marrying Phineus. The king had never thought that his daughter might want something different than him, her own father, in what concerns marriage.

She shook her head, as if wanting badly to cleanse her mind of all those negative thoughts. There is still one last hope…There has to be. Yes, she was capricious and stubborn, but when it came to what was best for her kingdom, the princess obeyed the royal laws. But now everything had changed, she was looking upon the world from a different perspective. All her life she had run away from truth, but now she was tired. Andromeda needed to rest herself, to sit close to Perseus, not like a mistress, but like his friend and wife. She loved Perseus, she had always loved him. Her love for the slave boy was as strong and true as King Cepheus’s love for Cassiopeia. Her father should understand that the Gods have planted inside her bosom the same flower that still grows even in her father’s soul. Of course, Andromeda wasn’t hoping all to go smoothly. The princess herself had suspected that she would arouse some sort of agitation but due to the charming naiveté of her youth, she really believed in a positive outcome. Therefore, weaving her hopes in a bright web, Andromeda had sent Lilytha to request in behalf of her mistress a meeting with both the king and the queen. The slave girl departed at once. And now, the princess was waiting for the doors to her room to open wide, revealing her parents stepping over the threshold.

Unaware of what was about to come, Cepheus was enjoying his evening stroll, pacing next to his queen.

Following the physician’s advice, they always took a long walk before dinner, believing that the exercise would raise their appetites.

“Better than the walk, the scenery is great”, the king smiled to his wife.

“Indeed, my king.”

The king was right. The Royal Orchard had always been beautiful to contemplate, but particularly on that evening it offered a magnificent view. Trees were in bloom, and the fragrance delighted the soul and invited the mind to dwell on poetry. Cassiopeia looked radiantly beautiful, and the king felt his heart throbbing with pride. She was his queen and the mother of his daughter. And again he fell in love with her, despite the gray hair and fine wrinkles. In the light of the setting sun, the queen looked younger, resembling the girl she used to be, and the king only saw the woman he loved.

When Lilytha approached them unexpectedly, the king was pressing his lips on the white hand of his wife, and the queen had lowered her eyelashes, recalling before her the lost dream of youth. They were both startled by the unexpected intruder, and the queen flushed when the slave girl surprised their intimacy. Smiling surreptitiously, Lilytha took a humble pose, and after she delivered her mistress’ message, she bowed till her locks touched the earth and retired quickly.

“I wonder what whimsical desire has urged our daughter to request our presence,” said the king, smiling proudly.

“I am sure Andromeda will surprise us as she always does.”

The queen was also proud of her daughter, maybe she was prouder than she should have been. And like any mother she had often boasted about Andromeda’s charms, even in front of the Nereids, the vestals of Poseidon. The vestals had warned the queen not to arouse the envy and fury of gods who never allow a mortal to claim his superiority on earth, but Cassiopeia did not listen.

“I am so glad your brother will honour us by marrying our daughter. When I think about it, my heart rejoices and ascends to the gods to give them praise for being so merciful. My daughter will shine like a jewel on Phineus’ crown. She is such a match for Phineus…Have you noticed,” she asked the king, “how beautiful our daughter is getting day by day?”

“That doesn’t surprise me. She has you for a mother, hasn’t she? By the will of gods, her beauty only matches yours, my queen.”

“No, no. I may have been beautiful in my youth. I don’t deny it, but no bud stays a bud forever, and till winter comes, the roses fade away, leaving behind the dry petals of their days of glory. My king, I am old now. Wrinkles have covered my face like blades of wrought iron and my movements have lost their agility. Nevertheless, even if I were young again, I would still have been overshadowed by my daughter. I believe that if all those legends that people tell about the sea nymphs were true, my Andromeda would be the fairest of them all. No daughter of the sea is worthy of one single comparison with the daughter of Cassiopeia and Cepheus. This is what my heart tells me, and a mother’s heart is never wrong.”

The king’s hand encircled the queen’s waist. She felt his caress, his deep love of a husband who embraced his wife, and when he whispered to her ear, a thousand butterflies rose in the air, filling the horizon of her soul’s enchanting meadow.

“You will always be my idea of beauty. Andromeda may be the idea of perfection, but our daughter is just the spring which sprang from the mighty mountain whose loftiness and mesmerizing alluring can never be shattered by the wavering of a little spring.”

Cassiopeia laughed enchanted by the witty speech of her husband. At that moment she looked younger and her beauty felt like a gust of fresh wind over the torrid desert of time.

The light of the evening sun fell upon them, as if the sky tried to hide them in a canopy of yellowish rays so that the gods above couldn’t witness how the love at the old age was as powerful and fresh as love at the young age.

They entered the palace together, the queen holding her hand over the king’s arm and the king pressing it gently with his caressing fingers. Passing the long corridors which had been illuminated by torches, Cassiopeia and Cepheus didn’t stop until they reached the suit of the royal daughter. Nimbly slaves, glowering in the light of the torches, opened the great oak doors, bowing before the king and the queen of Ethiopia. As they entered the chamber of their daughter’s like two forerunners of love who didn’t know what change lured in the shadows, another slave greeted them and called her mistress.

Meanwhile, Andromeda had left the quiet nook of the windowsill and resumed her strolling to and fro, nervously pacing on the floor. The princess was in a visible state of agitation and she kept rising her hawk-like eyebrows in a threatening frown.

“By the sun and the moon, and the heavens above, how long have I been waiting for you!” She shouted frantically when she saw her parents entering the room.

Forgetting all her manners and leaving behind the royal etiquette, Andromeda greeted the king and queen the manner a daughter greets her parents. She had ceased to be a royal subject and member of the royal family. She was just a girl who had discovered her womanhood and now wanted her parents to accept her independence, her love.

“What took you so long?” She scolded them. “Lilytha has long returned and I’ve assumed you would follow her immediately.”

“Come here, my precious sapphire... my beloved bat3.” The king opened his arms and embraced his daughter. Andromeda’s fury was dissipating in the air like the whiff of the erupted lava. Her tone too changed, growing softer and tender.

“I really want to discuss with you something very important and it cannot wait.”

“What is so important apart from the fact that you are now in the company of your parents?” the king jested.

“I am serious, A-ba4. It is a matter of life and death.” “Is it so? What do you know about life and death, bat?” The king looked at his wife with an amused smile

upon his lips, and soon they both began to chuckle. “Look at our daughter how serious she is. One may think her life hangs by a thread.”

Andromeda kept her pose and attacked the topic. It was no time for hesitations or drawbacks. She cleared her voice and proceeded.

“And it does, A-ba. My life does hang by a thread, and it’s up to you to decide if I go on living or die. Let me finish, A-ba. Father, I know that you have already decided

3 Daughter (hebrew)

4 Dad (hebrew)

whom should I marry. I respect your decision, because I know that the High Priest asked the gods who should be my husband, and Phineus was chosen. But A-ba, I think the Gods are wrong, or at least the High Priest has misinterpreted their answer…”

The king beamed at her, and abruptly interrupted her confession.

“How dare you speak ill of the Gods or of the High Priest?”

“I am not speaking ill. I am just…Oh, father, don’t you see? If I was indeed destined to Phineus, why would my heart not rejoice?”

Cassiopeia patted her daughter’s shoulder.

She looked as if she knew what was going on inside

Andromeda’s soul.

“Don’t you worry, daughter of mine. I think I know what you are going through. Just like any normal girl, you are afraid of getting married. But you will grow to love Phineus in time, just like I did with your father.”

“I am not you, mother. My heart tells me not to marry Phineus.”

“Look, Andromeda. Sometimes, even the heart mistakes…Think with your head.”

“I have thought, mother. The answer is still the

same.”

“Andromeda,” the king intervened in the discussion. “Listen to your mother. Love will come in time. Just like wine matures with every passing year, so your heart will grow fonder of Phineus.”

“A-ba, I am not a grape or a bottle of wine, waiting in the basement to be good enough to drink. I am a human being who can think for herself and choose for herself.”

“You are not wise enough, Andromeda. You don’t know anything about this world, about the dangers that lie hidden in the dark.”

“I am willing to learn, and I am not afraid to face the unknown.”

“You don’t know what you are saying.”

“A-ba, it is you who doesn’t know what you require of me when you try to force me into a marriage I do not wish for.”

Both the queen’s and the king’s heart filled with sadness. They were hurt by their daughter’s words. Still, the king kept trying to talk some sense into Andromeda.

“Bat, you are too young to understand the way things go in this world. I have fought battles that still haven’t finished. I keep hearing inside my mind the cries of the men I killed or left behind. I have done things that I am ashamed of and for which the gods will one day punish me. Nevertheless, what kept me strong through all these trials was the love for Cassiopeia. I knew I had to return to her, and the thought that I was not being alone in this world nourished my mind and soul. No man should be alone, bat. I wish you to get married because I know that there will come a time when you need someone to protect you and look after you.”

“My uncle will never be able to protect me, a-ba. He only looks after his petty desires. I have seen him loitering around with the slaves, and indulging himself in wine and spirits. He is not the husband I would look up to with pride. Being his wife will only make me lower my head in shame.”

“Give him a chance, bat. He will change.”

“Don’t try to impose me your truth or assume that you know better. Father, I understand you, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with you. Like a loving parent, you desire my happiness, and as a wise king you want the right successor to the throne of Ethiopia, a man fit to be my husband and future king. I respect your decision and I am glad to see how you strive to secure my future; but, my dear father, if I marry Phineus, neither will I be happy, nor shall Ethiopia thrive under his rule. I can’t love Phineus because he is a feeble and ignoble man who knows nothing on love or on how to rule a kingdom. He may be your brother, but that doesn’t make him the perfect husband for me. He has only the good fortune of having been born into a noble family, although he hasn’t done any noble deed in all his life. You must acknowledge, a-ba, he is not the man for your Andromeda. I cannot love a man whom I despise, even if that man happens to be my uncle.”

The queen grew pale and seemed almost on the verge of fainting, while the king scowled. Never had he imagined how unpleasant would some few words resound into the ear of a father when his only child uttered them. And for the first time, Cepheus felt the sadness of a father whose only daughter had proved a disappointment. The very thought that he had failed in his duty as a father filled his soul with unspeakable horror. Still, Andromeda didn’t see the storm that ravaged her father’s features. Blind to all but her love for Perseus, the princess continued her deposition.

“I know you mean well for me, but my heart belongs to someone else, a conqueror and a true man whom I respect and love deeply. This man is worth ten thousands Phineus-like men. Only with this man, I vowed before the gods to marry and obey, and only this man and no one else makes my soul sing and bestows upon my being a light that happiness has neither words nor sounds to recreate.”

Cassiopeia looked horrified at the creature she had carried in her womb and struggled to give birth to. This was not her daughter, her beautiful one whose beauty was far above the daughters of the sea. The girl in front of her was a stranger, a representation of a ghoul who had been summoned by an evil wrong-doer in order to disturb the quietness of Ethiopia’s rulers. It couldn’t have been her daughter, her sweet Bat. And her horror was shared by the king who stared enraged at Andromeda as if only then he saw the true colours of a venomous serpent.

The king’s chest was pierced by a savage cry and he sprang like a hungry beast, catching in his claws the arms of Andromeda. The girl’s eyes grew bigger with surprise, but she didn’t utter a word. She feared that she would be heard by Perseus. She had realized by then that if Perseus entered the room, the king would show no mercy.

I was behind the curtains ready to come out and, if necessary, kill the king and save her. But I knew she would never forgive me, so I resolved to stand still and wait to see the outcome. Moreover, I was convinced that the life of my beloved was not yet in danger. Although he was shaking her as if in his hands was no human being but a wax doll, I knew the doll wouldn’t break. And he shook her violently till Andromeda shouted enraged:”Enough!”, but he heard nothing. The girl then began to scratch and bite in her defense. Swearing violently, Cepheus let her go in disgust, but so unexpectedly did his firm grip released the princess that she lost her balance, and fell on the marble floor. Falling, she hurt her elbows and one knee, but she rose immediately from the ground, wildly gazing at her parents. Not a cry of pain came out of her throat. Proud and savage like a pagan deity she stood among her mortal parents and persecutors of her love.

“Look at her, Cassiopeia! Look at your beauty!” The king’s mocking tone cut through the heart of

the queen. Cepheus couldn’t care less. He continued to shout, maddened and afflicted by sorrow and grief.

“Tell me his name, adder! I want to know the name of the rascal you shared your bed with. You behaved the way a slave does. You’ve lain with him under my own roof. Cetus had been telling the truth when he told me he had seen you with a slave, in the forest. And I was blind. I refused to believe him.”

“Cetus is not telling the truth”, yelled Andromeda frightened by what might happen.

“Silence”, thundered the king. “You are not worthy to address me the word. You acted like a slave, and like slaves you and your lover shall both perish.”

“A-ba, please be reasonable. I haven’t done anything to be ashamed of.”

The king analysed her attentively. He seemed to weight her words in the scales of his reason.

“Yes, you might be telling the truth.” He started pacing the room up and down, talking aloud to himself. “Yes, it might not be all lost. The gods have mercy on me. I just wanted what’s best for her, and how cruel is she repaying my love. How cruel to dishonour my name and my house…”

He came to a halt and closed his eyes. Andromeda’s heart shrank to see him so battered by the rough winds of fate. Suddenly, he looked older and cowered by an invisible burden. And indeed, he felt older. The king kept his eyes closed, looking within the fountain of old memories when Andromeda was a little girl whom he held on his knees or rocked her in his arms. Then, she had not broken his heart.

When he opened his eyes again, he first looked at Cassiopeia, trying to recognize her features. It seemed as if a century had gone by since he last saw her. But there she was - his queen and love of his life. He smiled faintly but she didn’t smile back. She gazed gravely at him, not daring to talk or move. For a moment, Cepheus wanted to ask her what was wrong, but then he remembered, and the awful truth return to haunt his present reality. Andromeda was no longer a little girl. She had grown up, and now she was poisoning his old age.

“Tell me the name of the rascal”, he said, trying to control his anger.

“He is no rascal. He is as noble as you, dear father. I venture to add that he is even nobler than you, as he wouldn’t have caused so much suffering, hurting so cruelly the heart of a woman, of a daughter.”

“Do you dare to compare me with him?” The king’s face was contorted with rage.“Look, Cassiopeia! Where is now the beauty against whom not even the sea nymphs are able to stand? Where is the beauty with whom all the beauties fail to match? Look at her….She is a monster, a whore.”

“Yes,” cried Cassiopeia in despair. “I have been deceived. I have nursed a serpent. Kill her, my king. Crush the serpent.”

The words struck Andromeda heavily in the heart. Never had she imagined her own mother whose tongue had only spilt honey and appraisal, could now utter such things. The princess raised her head with dignity, restraining the tears from betraying her suffering.

“You’ve been deceived, haven’t you?” she retorted. “So have I.But life always deceives those who expect too much from it. Am I a serpent? Be it. I am a serpent. Therefore, I do not belong here. Your palace is all too mighty for an adder to nest in. Release me into the wilderness and erase the memory of Andromeda from your hearts. And Andromeda, too, shall forget about you. I will go among the heathen and dwell with the beasts, and I shall be happy and free.”

“How dare you speak like that?”

The voice of Cepheus blew the entire room up, like a ravaging hurricane pulling trees from their roots and thrusting its wrath against the jagged walls of the mountains.

“How dare you? Are you still not repenting? Why don’t you kneel and ask for mercy?”

“What harm have I caused to repent for? I haven’t done anything I should regret, and no need have I for mercy since I’ve only cherished your love. Your mercy is not coveted by me.”

Her reckless words increased the wrath of Cepheus, while Cassiopeia tried to steady her muffled sobs. But the princess remained up on her pedestal of majestic righteousness. There was in Andromeda something that reminded of a seagull whose wail and outspread wings hover over the clamor of the turbulent sea. Watching her, I knew. My sandpiper had for the first time found his wings…

The voice of Cepheus thundered through the

room.

“You shall marry Phineus or else you are no longer our daughter.”

“And you are no longer my parents…” she bitterly cried back, but her words faded away unheard.

“Tell me the name of the accursed. Tell me or I’ll slit your neck as if it were the bloody gorge of a wild beast. Or better, I’ll throw my spear into your chest so that it may pierce that evil heart of yours.”

The cries and curses were falling upon her like a shower of cold rain. She felt nothing. She heard nothing. The dying sun was rolling like a ball of fire over the earth, and his last embers slid along the marble floor, enfolding the veil of light to Andromeda’s feet. And she remained silent.

And I was silent too. I could see his name written so deep on her lips, but not a syllable was uttered. He was still there, hiding behind a colonnade of stone. Poor mortal, fearing to show up when the one he claimed to love was being tortured. But that is the way human beings understand love. Sometimes, I believe I am lucky not to feel, not to be taunted by this accursed fate of mankind who give over so easily to temptation and emotions.

The silk canopy trembled in Cepheus’ fists, and a vase scattered to pieces on the floor. But she who loved Perseus did not betray her heart. Outside, the wind had violently begun to blow, sweeping the dust in its way, making the orange branches shake like reeds; and from the bogs a sickening odour had risen up to the sky’s black canopy of freshly lit stars. And down on earth, the mortals fought their bloody and irresolute wars.

I fail to understand the meaning of the human love. People…ghostly companions of evil and good, skeletons covered in flesh and blood, and sometimes they have a brain, while others have more heart. They struggle in vain, for nothing, for just a moment of fleeting happiness. And look at him, the pitiful human slave, hiding in the shadows while his love is being offended. I may not have loved, but this I do know; if I were him, I would have gathered the world’s armies, dead or alive, and commanded them to battle. Yes, for the mortal with dark eyes like the darkness from where I have come, for the mortal with twilight hair.

Oh, it’s so sickening…I can hear his thoughts, I can hear her heartbeats. I feel her parents’ anger. I am glad everything will come to an end. The Vessel will soon be destroyed…and I’ll be here to see it happen…to make sure it will happen.

Lilytha rushed in to help her mistress, but the other slaves dared not to interfere. From my hiding place, I could see Lilytha was very much agitated and flustered, and I did not like the shrewd glance she threw to Andromeda. The king turned towards the slave who by the time he realised what was happening, had knelt before him, imploring forgiveness. Enraged by such an audacity, the king called for one of his guards and grabbing a knot he raised it in the air. Andromeda cried and ran to stop Cepheus, but the pitiless blow hit both the princess and the slave. A wild cry split my silent throat as I couldn’t contain myself anymore. Rushing from behind the curtain, I ran towards Andromeda trying to cover her with my body.

The horror that had spread over the king’s face was only matched by Andromeda’s surprised gaze. Her eyes did not reflect pain. She looked into my eyes, and for the first time I read in those black pupils the warm words she had never uttered in my presence. She was not startled to see me there. Perhaps she had grown accustomed with my following her everywhere. I had been her shadow ever since we were kids.

Many years ago, I was bought by her father from the bazaar one day when the royal family was passing through the market in a luxurious chariot. Andromeda had seen me and made king Cepheus to stop the chariot. She ran towards me. I can still recall her in my mind, a tiny speck of curly black hair, running to me in a white long dress.

“What is your name?” she asked me when we stood face to face.

At first, I did not want to talk, but she smiled and her smile reminded me of my mother who was the only person that had ever treated me with kindness.

“I am Perseus.”

“I have never heard of anyone called Perseus before.” She whispered.

“My mother Danae named me like this.”

“I like your name”, the little girl replied to the boy slave who stood before her in chains, famished and dirty. “Where is your mother now?”

“I don’t know. We were separated when she was bought by another slave master who did not want me.”

“I am very sorry”, she said saddened by my story.

“It’s ok”, I tried to comfort her. “When I miss my

mother I sing, and thus pain slowly fades away.” “Do you know how to sing?”

“Yes.”

“Who has taught you?”

“No one. I guess I was born like this.”

She looked at me with envy, and it was strange to see a princess who had everything looking longingly at a slave who had something she had never possessed.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked her.

“It’s just that I have always wanted to sing. But I cannot. I’ve been keeping all these songs bottled up in me, and I am not able to bring them to life.”

I laughed and she looked at me, waiting as if to witness the wander of me passing my musical gift to her.

“Don’t you worry”, I tried to comfort her. “One day, you will find your song.”

She looked at me in disbelief, and after taking time to reflect, she came with the proposal that would change my life forever.

“Would you like to come to the palace and sing to me? I would love to hear you sing.”

I looked at the little princess and for the first time I felt I was no longer alone. There was someone in the world who needed me, and who wanted my company and my music.

Now she is again looking into my eyes.

“Sing to me, harpist”, her eyes whisper, “sing to me of the places where people are free.”

And I sing to her with my soul as my hands are reaching for hers, taking them from the floor. They are covered in dust but how beautiful they seem to me. And she looks at me, penetrating with her gaze the hollows of my soul. I also look at her, and our souls mingle, meeting halfway. Her eyes speak of distant memories when I played my harp and she danced and danced. She would whirl and spin, fluttering like a huge butterfly. And I watched her mesmerized, as she changed the rhythm, flying passionately on the wings of music. That was long time ago, and now her flight had ceased and she lay broken on the floor. Surprise and disillusionment sprang from the dark pupils, but there was also sadness in her eyes; the astonishment spread wide like a bottomless abyss. And the king shuddered, for the first time frightened. But like a criminal who is only tormented by the first crime and grows accustomed with mischief, so did the king’s horror receded and turned again into fury. Cepheus pulled his sword out and threatened both girls and me. The slave known as Lilytha trembled and begged for mercy. Andromeda said nothing but her sadness was speaking for her.

“I will spear you, unworthy beasts.And you, harpist, how dare you interfere where there’s not your business? You shall perish as well,” shouted the king, and then again channeled his rage against Andromeda. “Tell me the name of the accursed one, you who were once my daughter.”

“The only accursed one is the man who spills the blood of his kin.” Andromeda replied calmly, although her face had a deadly paleness.

“You are not my kin, you serpent.”

“Then I owe you nothing. Not even the sacred

bliss of truth.”

“Speak. I command you as a king.”

“I am no longer your daughter. Neither is a serpent faithful to the kings of this earth. I belong only to myself.” Cepheus roared and cursed his daughter. The sword was about to fall and accomplish the abominable deed when Lilytha who didn’t want to die, cried sobbing:

“It’s Cetus. It’s Cetus…Cetus.”

The name seemed to have caught life and like a mysterious bird of prey it pecked with its beak the heart of all those gathered in madness and hate. Andromeda grew paler and blinked in astonishment.

“What?”

“Cetus?” the king kept repeating. “I can’t believe it…My own general…”

Andromeda rose from the floor, not looking towards Lilytha.

“The slave woman is mistaken. I was also mistaken. I thought I loved Cetus, but I didn’t. Believe me”, she said, clenching her fists, “The man I love lives in the Valley of the Kings, far away from here, closer to the Nile’s enchanting waves. He knows nothing of sorrow or pain, and like a sandpiper he flies with the storks and with the colourful birds of distant Africa.”

Both the king and the queen looked at her as if she had gone mad. The silence that ensued didn’t last long. A joyful roar of laughter seized the slave girl who had risen from the floor.

“It means the stranger was right.” “What stranger?” asked the King.

“He didn’t tell me his name. I met him at the fountain when I was filling the barrels with fresh water. Out of nowhere he appeared and asked me to give him water. He had addressed me as a royalty, and his handsome features and his attire that showed he was not of a humble condition, made me obey his command. I gave him water to drink. He just took one sip, and without thanking me for it, he urged me to fill the barrels and hurry home because my mistress was waiting for me. And then he sighed, pitying me for the bad mistress I had who wouldn’t even tell me the truth. When I asked him what truth he was referring to, he laughed. When he ceased laughing, his raspy voice spoke again: ‘The truth of the heart. What your mistress conceals from you is her love for the slave known as Perseus.’”

Andromeda cried enraged, losing all her control.If she had had a dagger, she would have pierced Lilytha’s breast before she could utter the name of her beloved and thus sentence him to death. She rose from the floor, pulling her hands from mine.

“What have you done, you fool?” she cried to Lilytha. Do not believe her, father. She is mumbling nonsense as slaves do when cowardly they seek to evade a punishment. I do not love Cetus, and surely I do not love a slave. The former is merely a general, while the latter is not even worth taking him into consideration. My heart yearns for more.”

Although, I knew she wasn’t telling the truth, her words saddened me. Unfortunately, neither did the king seem to believe. Cepheus grinned menacingly.

“Do not try, serpent, to protect your lover. By night fall, he shall die.”

Andromeda’s majestic calmness disappeared in a jiffy and in its place, a beast appeared. Shouting a wild cry, Andromeda attacked Lilytha.

“You’ve betrayed me.”

Her fingers coiled the helpless neck. Lilytha fought for air, beseeching mercy. But what mercy could a tigress show for the hunter who killed her tiger cub. Hot tears burnt the hands who were struggling, but the princess didn’t feel their fire. Lilytha panted and wept, tearing with her hands the attire of the princess. She couldn’t release herself, and Andromeda didn’t want to release her either. I got up and tried to stop her, but her fingers had clenched like iron, refusing to release the helpless prey.

“Please, my princess. She is worthless. Let her be.” Andromeda refused to listen, and vainly did I attempt to remove her hands from the slave’s neck.

Her grip was so firm and soon her attack proved to be deathly. When the final breath of life left Lilytha’s chest, Andromeda bent over the dead body and kissed the cheek imbued with tears.

“I have loved you, Lilytha. But never have I hated you more than in these last moments. Be cursed, Lilytha, for in betraying me, you’ve betrayed yourself. Gods show no mercy to traitors. Remember my words, Lilytha when you cross the roads of shadow.”

King Cepheus had watched the murder without any interference. He was fascinated to discover in his daughter a ferocious predator. The cruel scene had given him an idea. By this time, Cassiopeia, who had suddenly had a change of heart, reached her husband and implored him to spare Andromeda.

The king smiled cunningly to his wife. Andromeda didn’t see the smile as she was contemplating the lifeless body of Lilytha. She heard as in a dream the king’s stammering.

“My general involved in this…and my own slave has brought shame upon my house. All because of a whore…You…you serpent…”

His strong fist pulled Andromeda’s hair, and closed in a firm grip. Maddened, she scratched with her nails and tried to bite, but a heavy palm smartened her face, leaving red trails of fingers all across the cheeks.

“Be still, you harlot,” he spat out. “I notice you treasure the life of the rascal you pretend to love. I shall see you witness the show of his death.”

“Stop, king Cepheus”, I desperately shouted, and I knew what I had to say. “The slave lied. It is not me whom she loves.”

Andromeda stared at me in awe and the king froze, listening to my words with impatience.

“It is I who have threatened her and compelled the princess to say she loves me. The truth is she has always despised me.”

“And what power could a worm like yourself have had over my daughter, forcing her to lie to her own father?”

I stammered, but I knew there was no way out. “I dishonoured her one night, and out of shame,

fearing the results of my crime, she agreed to say she loved me. She couldn’t marry Phineus anymore, and I forced her to agree that marrying me was the best solution. But still, she had to convince you…”

“Stop lying, Perseus!” Andromeda shouted, trying to release herself from her father’s grip.

The claw-like fist finally let go of Andromeda’s hair. Pale as death, the princess leaned against a marble pillar. She was drawing her breath, trying to still her heartbeats. I did not know if I could make her father forgive her, but at least I could try to save her life, even if that would have meant my own death. Nevertheless, I was already sentenced to death.

“Why are you lying, Perseus? There is no need. Father, the slave is just trying to save my life.”

The king approached me, and when he spoke his tone was calm and a little bit ironic.

“And I believe that. He couldn’t have forced you. He doesn’t have the guts. Look at him, Andromeda, a pitiful creature. Is this truly the man worth ten thousand Phineus-like men?”

“Stop it, father.”

“If it is you she loves,” the king had now turned to me, “why has she stained her hands with blood? I have never seen her in such a fury. Are you so precious to protect?”

“She was afraid, sir”, I cunningly replied or better said fervently wanted to sound as convincing as never, “that Lilytha might change her mind and reveal the awful truth about the night the princess was dishonoured.”

King Cepheus looked at me incredulously, and then at Andromeda whose face had lost its colour.

“Why does this gnat keep parroting the same nonsense?” he asked of her.

Andromeda fell to her knees bowing her head before the king. She hadn’t implored for her life, but now she was praying for the one she loved.

“Perseus is not guilty of any crime. Spare his life. Not because I ask you, but think of all the times this pure soul has delighted our nights with the sound of his music. Father, you have known him since he was a child. He was raised here in this palace, and his only guilt lies in the friendship he has for me. And yes, I love him, king Cepheus. I have loved him ever since I saw him in the slave bazaar when I was a little girl. But my love for him is different from the love I have for my prince from the Valley of the Kings. I accept anything you consider fit to serve me as punishment. Even death… Still, I beg of you, grant me one single wish. Spare both the life of Perseus, and of Cetus. Cetus is guilty of no crime and his only misfortune has been the loyalty he has shown me. But he is not to be blamed. In being loyal, he has only done his duty. Please, my king, do not lose a good general. It is better to lose a bad and useless daughter. I accept anything you have in store for me.”

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