Waiting At the Gates of Heaven

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Chapter 8

“I hear the crickets singing so joyfully while my heart is sad. They are singing the charms of nature and as they sing these little tiny insects are asserting their freedom, while I am confined within these walls of cold brick. I have nothing but a crack in the wall, the dividing line between the outside world and my confinement. It is night. I watch the clouds passing swiftly through the ivory threads of the sparkling stars. And it is only me who sees those dark riders…The rest of the Ethiopians are much too busy enjoying their life on earth rather than casting their eyes on the firmament above. It is cold. And the night air fills my lungs. Nature is so powerful while I am so powerless. And where are my songs? They do not longer resound over the valley of Ethiopia, and the strings of my harp lie broken in the dust. Where are my songs that once filled me with joy? Where is my strength? ”

Andromeda sighed deeply, lowering her head. Still, no tear fell from her eyes. She had decided not to cry, but it was so hard to refrain from thinking over her sorrows. Her wounded heart felt so heavy inside her chest, and the silence, the loneliness were unbearable. For three days and two nights, the princess had been captive in her father’s dungeon. The cell was small and musty, and it was cold in there. It had a small iron grate over which the moon glided majestically, without pitying the fate of all the mortals of this earth. Far away, the city of Ethiopia lay quiet upon the rocky hills, and only the roar of the sea fell like a thunder across the stillness of the night.

“How beautiful the crickets sing”, whispered Andromeda, “and tomorrow I shall not hear them anymore. Tomorrow there are many sounds I will cease to hear. I will cease to hear the murmur of the Jordan River as it wavers across the fertile bank of Palestine, or the slight somersault of the gnats. The lotus will bloom and other girls will admire its beauty. But that doesn’t pain me as much as the thought of never seeing…”

For a moment she had meant to say Cetus but that would be a lie. The face that had appeared before her eyes was not that of Cetus. It was Perseus who had protected her from her father and not Cetus.

“I wonder what has become of him. And to think that I have been the cause of all his misfortunes…”

Tears flooded the eyes of the princess and how she wept. She didn’t shed tears because she was condemned to death, she wept because she wanted Perseus to live and she feared he had already met his death. The horror of not knowing what happened to the man who had been her only loyal friend was unbearable. She was aware that on the following morning she was to be sacrificed to Keto, the shark whale that plundered the waters of the Jordan River.

“Will he also be sacrificed to Keto or the beast has already devoured him?”

But she didn’t know the answer and the guards who guarded her cell refused to tell her, having been forbidden not to address a word to the prisoner. Since the day her father had given the cruel sentence, Andromeda was no longer the princess of Ethiopia but an ordinary outlaw.


Deep in her heart, the girl was much aggrieved by the way her parents had reacted. She thought she was a loved child, but apparently power prevailed over her. It was all about the royal prestige. She even hoped she would be forgiven for her misconduct, but apparently her father wanted to set her as an example and to punish her like he would have punished a common slave. Andromeda had offended the crowned heads of Ethiopia. Her fists clenched and hit the hard surface of the stony wall. She couldn’t stand it any longer, and bitter tears fell from her dark pupils. She fell to her knees and cursed the lot of womanhood.

The guards didn’t hurry to rush in the cell. They might not even hear her or they pretended not to hear her. But at that moment she gave a shriek of surprise. A shadow had fallen unexpectedly over her. She thought she was alone and neither did she hear footsteps approaching her solitary confinement. But nevertheless it stood there behind her. A human being, illumined by the moonbeams... She turned in fright, fearing her time has arrived. Words died on her lips. She had meant to plead for her life, to request another meeting with the royal family, as she was not prepared for what was about to come. But behind the iron grate stood the figure of a most peculiar man. She hadn’t seen him before. Moreover, he seemed a foreigner and not an Ethiopian. He had a shaggy dark hair, dark beard, and very dark pupils. Everything was dark about him.

“Do not be afraid,” the stranger whispered.

His voice was strong and deep, and the way he pronounced the words was fascinating. It was as if fire melted into ice and the ice burst into a ravaging ocean. The princess was flabbergasted. Hypnotized, as if she were facing a snake, she remained glued on the spot waiting for his reaction.

“Do not be afraid,” he repeated almost hissing. “I have not come to hurt you.”

It could seem strange, but Andromeda believed him and came closer to the iron grate. Their eyes met, and in the stranger’s dark pupils there flickered a light the woman thought she had seen in another one’s gaze. Perseus would often look at her that way, but he was not Perseus. The man that was now standing in front of her, Andromeda had never seen before. He was so dark, yet his skin was olive or yellowish. And when the moon light fell over his visage, he became silvery white, as if he were an enchanted ghoul that had just risen from the mysteries of the Ethiopian night.She could not tell if he was human or a spirit. And his lips were curled into a rapturous smile. She could feel his breath. Dizziness, voracity, lust…It tasted like wine. But the man was not drunk. His gaze was clear and vigorous. He was piercing her soul. Literary…He was looking at her with the eyes of a lion. No one has looked at her like this. No one…

“Who are you?” she asked.

He grinned, trying to simulate smiling. Then, he sighed and his eyes shot arrows of fire. Andromeda felt in the heavy silence a difficult struggle that was taking place inside of him. When he decided to speak, he had regained his composure.

“It doesn’t matter who I am.”

“It matters for me.”

“You will not understand anyway.” “Try me.”

“What I am today, yesterday I was not, and tomorrow I shall never be. I always change in time, like the water which runs through the fingers, and in the process its streams break in thousands of rivulets which fall down. I have only come to tell you that I will always be by your side. Even when you do not see me…No matter what…”

She had listened, and yet she failed to understand. “You speak like Perseus. He also conceals his heart in a web of weird words. How strangely it is, but

you remind me so much of him, and yet there is nothing in you similar with him. His eyes are blue and green at the same time; yours are black as this night. His hair is like honey or like the autumn leaves; yours is as black as the deepest void. Everything is so dark about you, and yet I can see the light inside your human frame. I cannot understand you, but it matters less. So, you haven’t come to set me free? Perhaps I am dreaming, and right now, from moment to moment you are to fade away.”

The tone of Andromeda’s voice was now ironical. “I cannot interfere in things of men, at least not physically. I am only the keeper of God’s secrets and the key to your freedom lies in your power to produce. Even if I can’t unlock the doors that keep you in, I can show you the path outside. Still, you have to be on the verge of dying, when the human frame opens the gates to what lies hidden within. Then I would return by your side and you will have to make your choice. Till then, any change at all may alter the entire course of mankind. Even the fact that I am talking to you now may have serious consequences. I shouldn’t be here. But I couldn’t stay away. I was watching you and I heard you crying and the sound of such sadness tore my heart apart. And I have come, despite time and space. You must be careful. There is a shadow who lingers in the darkness, waiting to prey upon you. You must fight him. I have seen him in the forest and in the royal palace too.”

“What are you talking about? Who are you?” His expression got milder.

“I am here to bring you comfort, Alexandra. You mustn’t cry. Everything happens for a reason. Everything has a higher purpose.”

“You called me, Alexandra. My name is Andromeda.”

“Alexandra was the name of my wife. You look so much like her.”

“She is no longer alive?”

“No. She died. I guess all good things come to an

end.”

“I am sorry.”

“No, you shouldn’t be sorry. You see, when my Alexandra died, I was furious. I was mad at God for taking her away from me, I was mad at everybody. It only brought me comfort to witness her ghostly visits. Yes, I kept seeing her from time to time. And I swore that when my time of death would come, I would join her. And I did.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that life and death are just journeys through time and space, and we people are the travelers who wander on the dusty roads of fate.”

His speech made no sense at all and she couldn’t understand anything. But strange as it may be, Andromeda still believed him. She didn’t think him mad or drunk. She believed him. There was something in his eyes and in his voice, although she couldn’t quite tell, that reminded her of Perseus. Of course, in appearance the two men were very different like the sun and the moon, but there was something of Perseus in this man.

“Where have you come from?” she asked.

“From far away…From a world that has not yet been born, although it has always existed…”

“Is your world beautiful?”

“Beauty lies in the light of the soul. Just wait and one day you can decide on your own whether my world is beautiful or not.”

“Do you mean I will live there?” “I cannot tell you more.” “Will you take me there?”

“You have to find the path by yourself.”

“The only path I am taking soon is the path to death”, she said sadly.

“Yes and no. There is no death in this world. Our life is an eternal journey, like I have already told you. We wander from century to century, with no memory at all of what we have been in the past, but still the soul remembers. It only waits to be unlocked.”

“You are strange, foreigner, and your words creep upon my soul like the serpents of doom. How come you are here? How come the guards haven’t seen you?” she asked, controlling her heartbeat.

“I can’t be seen because I don’t exist in your time. I am just only a vapor, a representation of my future self.”

“It means that I am dreaming, doesn’t it?”

“No, it only means that I am here for your eyes and senses only. Besides, nobody can stand in the way of a strong willed man. I know little tricks. I can dodge unseen in any place if I want to.”

Andromeda smiled. Strangely, for the first time she had been in this cell she gave a beautiful amusing smile. He smiled back at her.

“Alexandra used to smile like that.”

“How funny it is that we are having this conversation. It’s just like being around Perseus. He keeps following me around and everywhere I go, I feel his presence.”

“You speak so much of him”, the stranger remarked. “Is he dear to you? Do you love him?”

Andromeda blushed and shook vehemently her

head.

“You are audacious, stranger, and you should learn from the owls to listen more and speak less.”

The stranger smiled again.

“My innocent girl, how precious is this thing called love for you. You are ready to die to defend this feeling, and yet you don’t even know what you are dying for.”

“I know what love is”, Andromeda rebuked him.

“What is it then?”

She thought for a moment then replied very sure of what she was saying.

“Love is like music. It appears out of nowhere, when you least expect it, and once you hear it, it never goes away. It stays with you, and when you don’t listen to its harmony, you are plunged into chaos and despair. And still, even amidst sorrow and pain, the music faintly echoes in the memory of your lost bliss.”

The stranger listened attentively. Then, a beautiful smile spread across his face.

“It sounds so beautiful when you say it. I almost wish I heard its music too. For me, love is like a canvas, where eternity paints the colours of a man’s soul in search of the truth. You see, for me, love is knowledge. I used to discuss with Alexandra all the secrets of this universe, and that was music for our hungry mind.”

“How was she like?” asked Andromeda, curious to learn more about the woman loved by the mysterious stranger.

“She was like an unusual and exciting spectacle. With a single touch, she would revolutionize my world, and I loved her madly, selfishly, and almost devouringly.”

Andromeda looked at him spellbound.

“Were there other women in your life after she

died?”

“I have never been interested in another woman. If I remarried, I had only done that to fool myself into believing that she was still alive, but enough talking about me. Tell me please, does that Perseus of yours love you, too?”

Glowering, Andromeda retorted.

“Have I said that I love him? No, I do not. I am in love with another man. And Perseus…I guess…Oh, you shouldn’t inquire further.”

The stranger laughed, spreading more darkness and more coldness around. Andromeda shivered. She began to like him less.

“This man you say you love, where is he now? Why isn’t he by your side?”

“The king has forbidden anyone to come near me. But I fear the worst. Perhaps he has also suffered the anger of my father, and is lying now in a dungeon, brokenhearted and embittered. Or perhaps he is already dead…”

Tears gathered in her beady eyes, and the words died on her lips. The dark man in front of her looked at her with interest, fascinated by the emotional reactions that had triggered the apparition of tears in her eyes. He was drawn by her sadness, and unable to resist any longer, the stranger thrust his hand between the iron bars and reached her cheek. He caressed her gently. His fingers felt like ice, as if blood had never flown inside his veins. The princess shrugged, but didn’t withdraw. She remained there, spellbound and fascinated by that mysterious stranger.

“Do not waste your tears on people who are unworthy of your heart.”

Andromeda pulled herself away from him, and when she spoke, all the dignity of her loving heart and the fury of hearing such words combined together into a harsh reprimand.

“He is worthy of my heart.”

The stranger smiled again.

“Thank you for feeling like that. All this time, I…I mean, he must have blamed himself for not succeeding in getting you out of this dungeon or for not keeping Cetus away from you.”

“Cetus? I hope he regrets his evildoings.”

“Trust me. He is well and safe, as he managed to extricate himself from this dangerous situation by denying any connection with you. Cetus couldn’t care more if you live or die…If I managed to find a way to get to you, so could he have found. Nothing stands in the way of a man when he has decided to see the woman he loves. But Cetus loves no one but himself…You should have known that by now.”

“Do you know Cetus?”

“I know every people alive, and all the people that are about to be born.”

“But how is that possible?”

“Many things are possible; it is only the human mind that has decided to consider them impossible.”

“How do I know that you are not telling lies?” “You don’t. You just have to take my word.” “Can you see inside people’s hearts and can you

read minds?”

“I can do many things. I can show you the Valley of Kings where the souls of all your ancestors wander between heaven and earth.”

“Show me your soul”, she softly required.

There was a moment of silence. Andromeda could feel his breath and hear his heartbeats.

“Look into my eyes and tell me what do you see.” Andromeda looked into the pitch darkness of his pupils. It was like being swallowed inside a marsh.

She was groping in that darkness, unable to take away her eyes, when she saw the pale figures of former kings of Ethiopia as well as peasants and slaves who were wandering across the green valley. They saw her gazing at them, and they all called for justice, accusing her of being alive. She felt horrified and closed her eyes, thus distancing herself from everything.

“I didn’t see your soul”, she whispered.

“Look again”, he ordered her.

And she looked, unable to resist him. This time she saw the stranger sitting on a bench. He was wearing a red blouse and dark trousers. He was looking at her and she knew she had been in love with him all his life. Then she saw him again in a luxurious mansion. They were alone, dancing in a huge room, under the light of a huge chandelier. And he was laughing and kissing her, and she was kissing him back. He called her Alexandra, and she knew that was her name. And the scene changed rapidly, and he was now sitting in front of a desk, writing fervently. She was gazing at him, like in a dream of heavenly bliss. When he finished, he showed her. It was a story he had just created. He read it aloud. It was a story about them, although he had used other names for the characters. And she kissed him happily. And then she saw herself giving birth, and she knew she wouldn’t make it. She felt his grief, his despair, his terror. And then, everything went black. And when she woke up, she was another woman. She was crossing a street and when she looked up she saw him. He was standing at a window, looking at her. He looked different, but she was different too. It was only his soul that never changed, the same soul she was contemplating now from behind the iron bars of her dungeon.

“What was that?”, she asked in awe.

“Did you like what you saw?”

“I am not sure what I’ve seen.”

“It’s okay. Your soul already knows.”

His voice was so comforting, so familiar, and yet so distant.

“Who are you?”

He smiled but didn’t utter a word.

“Tell me, please.”

“I have already told you.”

“At least, tell me who I am.”

“Haven’t you seen it already in my eyes?”

“I don’t understand what I’ve seen. Tell me who I am. You should know better. What do I feel right now and what am I thinking about?”

He looked into her eyes and his firm voice echoed in the air.

“You are scared because you are so close of death, and the Valley of Kings awaits your arrival. You will get there and then remember, you are to make a choice. Keep that in mind. Of course, you are also worried because you don’t know what morning will bring, and you are afraid you’ll die without knowing if the man you love is safe. Right now, your thoughts orbit around him, and the more you try to locate him, you fail.”

Andromeda leaned against the dungeon’s wall. She was tired even to question why Cetus and Lilytha had both acted so ingratiatingly. But the stranger was right. He had seen right through her. Yes, there was something more she desperately wanted to know.

“Stranger, if you know so much, please let me know! What happened to Perseus, to the poor harpist you must at least have heard of?”

“He will meet his fate.”

“Is it a good or a bad fate?”

“Meeting you was the best thing that could have happened to him.”

It was Andromeda’s turn to smile. The smile didn’t last long, as she remembered something the stranger had said.

“What is this shadow that threatens me?”

“My darling girl, when two people join in true love, something unique happens, something extraordinary good, and evil can’t stand to see that.”

“You mean the shadow is an evil god?” “You will soon find out. That is all I can say.” The princess understood he won’t talk more. “Thank you”, she said, “Thank you for coming.

You should leave now. The dawn is approaching and soon the guards will come to fetch me.”

“The guards have no power over me”, he said mockingly.

“What are you then?”

He didn’t reply.

“May I at least learn what your name is?” she asked him.

The shadow of a smile died on his lips.

“I’ve had many names. I even lost track of them. I was once named Perseus…”

Andromeda’s heart skipped a beat. A strange sensation seized her entire being, as if she was diving into a mesmerizing dream.

“Your name was Perseus?”

“It was, indeed.”

“Just like my Perseus.”

The stranger nodded gravely.

“What name have you had after being called Perseus?”

“Leonid.”

“I have never heard of this name before.”

“Do you like it?”

“Yes.”

“It means lion.”

“My name means ‘defender of men’ and ‘courage’.” “Your name means whatever you want it to mean.” “And after Leonid, how were you called?” “Uriah.”

“What does it mean?”

“It means God is my light.”

“What God is your light?”

“The God that made both me and you, and this world, and all the mysteries of life…”

“I see…How would you like to be called?”

“For instance, you could call me Perseus, if you

like.”

Andromeda was startled, leaping back with excitement, and she interrupted the stranger.

“My friend, the harpist, I was talking to you about is called Perseus”, she whispered. “There can be no other Perseus beside him. You do know him, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do”, he said smilingly.”I know him very

well.”

“I beg of you, you don’t have to tell me all, just something that would ease my mind and soul. Is he alive?”

The stranger scowled and his eyebrows rose menacingly as he frowned and kept silence.

“Please, tell me”, she implored him. “If you care for me, tell me.”

“All right”, the stranger agreed. “I will tell you. It has already happened and you can’t change anything. Perseus is about to die. His moments are numbered, and he knows it. Armed soldiers have searched the palace up and down, still they haven’t found him. They have placed two guards in the palace wing for slaves. The two officials are bearing a royal decree. Perseus is summoned to appear before the king of Ethiopia. Every slave who dared to say that Perseus was a faithful subject was speared, the soldiers following the royal command. He even lost his entire family.”

Bewildered, the princess was shaken by the news, but after a moment she sat on a stool near the iron grate.

“You are lying, stranger. Perseus has neither family, nor slaves. He himself is a slave.”

“Then you don’t know Perseus, for he has both family and slaves. Ever since he was bought as a slave, the only family he has ever had is you. And he appeared with you before the king. His slaves are all the feelings and thoughts he has for you. And he showed them to the king when he chose to protect you. And he is dead now because you are about to die and as you have been speared by pain, so has been his soul. He has been visited by the soldiers of death, and whatever fate awaits you he will always share it.”

Andromeda cried and collapsed on the floor. She was convulsively weeping. Through her clamorous sobs she heard the comforting voice of the stranger. He was trying to ease her pain, but her sorrow deepened until it turned into a fit of despair.

“You mustn’t cry. What have I told you? You shall see him again. Trust me.”

“But how if he is dead and I am to die tomorrow?” cried Andromeda in despair.

“Life is a mysterious thing. Soon you will learn its power. I am offering you the truth. You shall see your Perseus again. My eyes have seen behind the veils of darkness, behind the mysteries of your world. Soon you are to be reunited with your pair and step together in the light of your existence. Down you will descend into the Valley of the Kings, and when you arrive at the gates of a garden, the shadow I’ve talked to you about will be waiting. He will plead with you. Remember not to take him with you when the gates will be opened before you. The evil shadow will lie that he is too tired and wishes to see his Father. You mustn’t believe him. He’s just trying to stain the purity of light and to destroy God’s essence. Remember not to take him with you, or else everything we’ll be destroyed; and we shall never meet in any lifetime. Even if the shadow threatens you with his wrath, saying that he would have his revenge and you wouldn’t want to know how burning his hate could be, do not believe him. Remember my words. This comes from the man who was once called Perseus.”

“Once?” she whispered, still sobbing.

“Once”, he answered.

“You are him, aren’t you?”

He smiled again.

“I love you”, he whispered. “I have always loved

you.”

“I know. I love you too.” Andromeda rose to meet his eyes.

“But how do people call you now, under this form you’ve appeared before me?”

The stranger, who was once known as Perseus, smiled.

“Just think of me as a lion which came from the desert of eternity to see once again the face of the most beautiful flower that God created in all His mercy and glory.”

“God…? Who is God?”

“My father, as well as yours…You will get to know Him in the future.”

“But I have already a father.”

“He is not your real father. Don’t ask me more. The future will answer all of your questions.”

“I am afraid my future has gone shorter. My father is planning to feed me to Keto.”

“He won’t do that.”

“Still, I am going to die, aren’t I?”

“And I am telling you that it is only the beginning.” “But I will die tomorrow…” “Yes.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.”

The stranger fished a blue bird out of his pocket. It was made of a block of sapphire and its eyes were two beams of black amber. He slid the bird through the iron grate.

“Take it”, he said. “This is the secret of eternity.” “The secret of eternity?” she asked aghast.

“Yes. What you’re holding now in your hands is not an ordinary bird jewel. It wasn’t manufactured in your time and space, and yet it has broken the laws of time since it is resting in your palm. It shouldn’t have existed here, but there it is. And now it belongs to eternity.”

Andromeda didn’t understand a thing, but her heart confided in the stranger.

“It is beautiful’, she said petting the blue bird. “What kind of bird it is?”

“It’s a Lalage. The name means the song of the spring.”

“Thank you. It is very lovely.”

“I must leave you now”, he whispered. “But we shall soon see each other again, and when we do, remember to recognize my soul.”

“I will never forget you.”

“Farewell, my love, till we meet again.”

She believed him. Her eyes followed his silhouette dissolving into the night. The blue bird rested softly in her lap. Andromeda raised it to her lips and pressed one last kiss upon the tiny blue head. The Lalage reminded her of the sandpiper Perseus had brought her. A sharp pain pierced her heart, and the face of Perseus appeared before her eyes. It was as if she could touch him. His soft hair, those blue eyes, his smile, the melodies he used to play…Everything about him was so lovely, and yet, she couldn’t tell him how loved he was. Yet, his eyes seemed to understand what her heart was trying to conceal.

“Perseus”, she whispered his name.

In the dungeon, under the watchful eye of the distant moon, Perseus had come to stay. And his harp, invisible for the naked eye, sang about the Valley of the Kings. And Andromeda heard the fascinating tunes and fell back in time, revisiting the scene when Perseus had appeared before her the day she met Cetus for the first time. And Andromeda closed her eyes, recalling the ghosts of the past days to return and dwell in the house of her memory.

It was a day in July and the Ethiopian sun burned violently, rolling its ball of fire across the Jordan River. Andromeda was in the Royal Gardens throwing crumbs of bread at the storks.

“The poor creatures… Look how they’re craning their necks. It must have been a long journey and the food was scarce.”

Her father had told her that storks flew to Africa from their Northern countries where heavy snows fell and the wind could easily frozen even a stout man. She had listened spellbound, completely absorbed and trying to imagine the coverlet of sparkling snow. Andromeda had never seen snow and she thought that it looked like a white cold desert.

One stork came closer and the princess tried to touch it with the fingers but the bird opened its beak and hadn’t Andromeda withdrawn her hand the bird would have bit it.

“You naughty one”, the princess scolded the bird. “You bite the hand that feeds you. Just like a ravenous snake.”

“Perhaps she just wants to kiss your hand”, resounded unexpectedly a voice from behind her back.

Andromeda gave a short laugh. She had immediately recognized Perseus. She threw to the birds the last crumbs of bread and rose from the bench she had been sitting on. Then, on turning around, she saw him. Right before her the harpist stood proud and erect like a marble statue. In the morning light, his eyes were bluer than ever and he resembled one of the icy gods whom her father told her they were to be found in the Northern Countries.

“Have you also been brought by a stork?” she

jested.

“Would you feed me if I told you I was?” “What kind of food do you need?” “The music of your company…”

She laughed again, adding that the only music she knew at the moment would be the sound of her hands slapping his face as a due punishment for such an audacity. The slave joined his mistress in laughter, and they laughed as they used to do when they were kids. Unfortunately, the merriment did not last for long, and Andromeda ordered the harpist to return to the slaves’ wing of the palace. Perseus’ eyebrows rose menacingly, but he turned to leave. He always obeyed her, even though his soul was as untamed and wild as ever. Her eyes followed his tall silhouette until he was out of sight. Neither could she linger any longer there. The princess had to return in her chambers to get ready for lunch.

She was heading for the palace when she heard her father’s voice. She turned to greet him. The king was not alone. A young man accompanied him. Andromeda slyly scrutinized him. He was wearing a gauzy robe of white. The Roman style, she thought. And the robe had golden threads and a heavy sash girdled the waist from where a sword stood hanging.

A soldier, she thought again, he must be a soldier.

The soldier’s feet were stepping firmly on the ground, and he neither spoke nor looked around. He was respectfully paying attention to the king’s words.

He hasn’t seen me yet.

His eyes were fixed on the king and as His Majesty was speaking, the young soldier listened with deference.

Andromeda smiled and she advanced towards her father, wanting to greet him. When the princess reached the two men, she graciously bowed.

“Greetings, my king, and may the gods bestow their blessings upon you!”

Her voice had a majestic tone, and she spoke without looking at the young soldier, although she felt an irresistible wish to meet his eyes.

“Greetings, my child!” the king replied.

A warm smile had flourished upon the king’s lips. He was gloating in the beautiful scenery of his daughter’s beauty. With pride he presented Andromeda to the young soldier.

“General Cetus, this is Princess Andromeda, my one and only daughter!”

The general kneeled before the princess, as if it was then he noticed her. His ivory body bent like a triumphal arch over the dust which received his shadow. And in the sun his hair shone bright as if it were locks of golden amber.

Perseus’ hair shines the same, even brighter. And he never bows before me…Not like this…He bows in jest and he never means it. He is too proud and annoying...But if he were here, and if he stood beside Cetus, I guess Perseus would make an even better soldier. If he carried a sword, I could take the weapon and challenge him to battle. If I do this with Cetus, he will never fight me, but Perseus would fight me anytime.

Her mind was reeling. The hair of Cetus blinded her, confounding the image of two men set apart by social class and age. The heart of Andromeda stirred from the motionless of sleep, because a sleep her life had been till then. The stir went slightly dum-dum Dum, and then it was throbbing wildly filling the girl with awe lest it could be heard by unwanted ears. Her will was bent as if she were a harp just like those that Perseus would command to sing, and how loudly she was now singing.

Trying to compose herself, she bid the soldier to rise from the ground. Her voice had trembled a little but the two men didn’t notice. General Cetus rose. When their eyes met something peculiar happened. The dark pupils of Andromeda were suddenly flooded by the beauty of the sapphire blue pupils. The eyes of Perseus reflected the clarity of the sea which one can only admire on a sunny weather when the serene sky impresses the heavenly light upon the body of waves and foam. In a word, the princess of Ethiopia found herself mesmerized by the beauty of one pair of eyes, and that pair belonged not to a prince or a king but to a simple slave who hidden by a shrubbery, had carelessly trod upon a dry branch.

A flush of red coloured her cheeks and the princess turned her head towards a bed of lovely roses. She was furious with Perseus.

How dare he spy on me like that? He’s always prying. Yet, she couldn’t disclose him in front of her father and of the beautiful general. For several long minutes,

her gaze was fixed upon the roses and the flowers that were the only silent witnesses of her first symptoms of acknowledged love.

The King Cepheus resumed his walking and the general followed him, bidding goodbye to Andromeda who silently remained near the bed of roses.

When she was completely alone and no one could hear her, she whispered his name.

“Perseus…”

She sounded upset. Perseus did not reply. She called him again and again. A silence followed and in the distance, she saw the menacing shadow of the words she wouldn’t dare to speak aloud.

“Perseus”, she whispered again and the name fluttered like a flightless bird between the cage-like walls of her prison.

Andromeda felt a sharp pain in her heart, a sort of pain she had never encountered before. It was the horror of hopelessness. Despite what the stranger had told her, how could she possibly see again the one she loved when the one she loved was dead or at least about to die? Oh, how she wished to be free again, riding with Pegasus just like she rode the day she ran into the general a short time after her father had acquainted them with each other.

She had gone for a riding along the Jordan River, and Cetus was patrolling over the region. Her white Pegasus halted opposite Cetus’ dark stallion. The general lowered his head and Andromeda greeted him by raising her arm.

“Where are your guards, princess?” he enquired, noticing no one around.

“I always ride alone”, the answer came on a proud tone. “I am my own guardian.”

“I strongly recommend you to be more cautious. Does the king allow his daughter such a conduct?”

Andromeda laughed, and for the first time General Cetus didn’t know how to react. He was puzzled and taken back by that pearly laughter which rain on him like a shower of embarrassment. And for the first time, the general blushed.

“I forgive your ignorance”, the princess commenced, “since my father told me that you arrived here from Rome. But you are now an Ethiopian and what is happening in Rome may not happen at all in Ethiopia. I do not know how the Roman princesses behave but I am not afraid of anyone and I can defend myself in case of danger. Moreover, there is no man on this land who would dare to defy my father and raise his hand against him. Firstly, he would not live to see another day; secondly, I fight like a lioness.”

“Half Roman”, said Cetus softly.

“What?”

“I am half Roman. My mother is Greek.” Andromeda stared at him, and the pause of

seriousness was cut short by a healthy outburst of vigorous laughter.

“Well”, she began talking after she stopped from laughing. “It means you have known many princesses of Rome and Greece, and if they were forbidden to ride alone and enjoy their freedom, then I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but Ethiopia.”

“I have only offered a well intentioned piece of advice.”

Andromeda smiled amused. “Are you scolding me, General?”

“Pardon me, princess”, he faltered, breathing heavy. “I am only worried for your safety.”

“You don’t need to be. I repeat that the people of Ethiopia are my faithful subjects and mean me no harm. Even if I found myself in a perilous situation, I would know to fight with honour for my life. I am the daughter of a king and the future ruler of Ethiopia.”

The general nodded approvingly, and the princess read in his eyes the words he would not have dared speak aloud. In the turbulent sea of his pupils, a roaring flame of admiration had burst wildly. He was actually seeing her for what she was, not a girl, neither a woman, nor a rebel who likes to do things her own way, but a ruler to be. She flushed again, and in an attempt to turn the attention from her, she changed the subject.

“You have a fine stallion, General. From the Royal Stables, I assume. What’s his name, if I am allowed to know?”

“Pawn”

Andromeda laughed heartily. “Do you play chess, General?” “Yes, it’s my favourite mind sport.”

“Mine, too, besides reading of course. I would like to compete against you and analyse the skills of your brainpower, General. So far, no one has ever defeated me at chess.”

And then again the image of Perseus flashed before her eyes. They have often played together in the stillness of the summer evenings, and if he didn’t defeat her, she still didn’t win. All their matches had ended in a draw. But Andromeda couldn’t say to General Cetus that she had been playing chess with a slave.

General Cetus giggled merrily.

“It seems to me that you’ve found your match. No one has been able to defeat me either. Princess Andromeda, I will be honoured to play against you. I’ve been playing chess for as long as I know. Life itself is a game of odds and chances where only the fittest survive. I will take your king in a jiffy.”

“We shall see about that. Don’t count your storks until you trap them.”

The chess game began right on that day although both players were not even aware that the first movement had been done and an invisible hand had already set their pawns face to face. Next time the general went to the palace, the princess invited him into her chambers. And he went. General Cetus was a man of his word and he stepped over the threshold of Andromeda’s chambers with the sole intention of playing chess. And chess they played.

The game began in the evening and went on till night fell over the earth and torches were lit for the players to calculate their next movements. There was no winner that night and the game ended in a draw. But there were tremendous loses. They robbed each other hearts and they did not even realize. Neither Andromeda nor Cetus wanted to acknowledge the powerful sensation felt within. The game of chess fell into the pit of oblivion and Cetus only saw that all the stars of the kingdom of Ethiopia were shining in Andromeda’s eyes as jewels fit for a crown, and Andromeda trembled as the halo of the sleeping sun sent its rays through the mirror of Perseus’ blue pupils who was again behind a marble pillar, watching restlessly the movements of the chess players. He was always there, like a ghost one sees in a dream.

He is always on my tracks, hunting, lurking, protecting me…But never does he come near me…I wonder why.

She compelled herself not to think about him. His blue eyes dissolved in the air like fumes, and his presence grew encumbered by the other man’s presence. Cetus was laughing unaware of Perseus, unaware that Andromeda was listening to him like in a dream where she was hiding not to be spotted by the truth within her heart. The night continued in pleasant conversation and both of them indulged in drinking wine and feasting with fruits and smoked cheese. Sometimes their words got confused and they would burst into peals of laughter, and all the charms of youth floated in the air like a joyous giddiness.

Slaves were waving long palm leaves to keep the African gnats away from them, and other slaves kept bringing plates with more exotic fruits and exquisite deserts. In a corner, the melodious voice of an Egyptian lute player sang the delights of love and beauty. But the harp was silent, and only the eyes of the harpist were alive, hollering the cry of a soul reduced to silence. And the princess turned her gaze away in an attempt to forget the presence she again felt so near, the presence which burnt her heart leaving the scarlet letter of betrayal. More wine was brought, more fruit…

I want to forget, and I want to love…

And so it happened that a simple game of chess turned into a real banquet.

When daylight pierced the veils of night, the General’s pawns had not yet captured the white queen. A similar fate was also shared by the princess’ pawns. They were still brooding to find a way of taking the black king by surprise. But the white queen and the black queen remained unharmed. The players had decided to show mercy. The General rose from his seat and headed for the door and the princess accompanied him. Before he left the chambers, the woman took the man by the hand and she kissed him, sealing their fate with a fugitive token of affection at departure. He kissed her back and there they stood in a fierce embrace. Thus, the woman and the man faced the rising sun.

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