The Love of Medusa
People had once flocked from all over Greece to see the magnificent Temple of Athena. The temple had lain in a virtual paradise, that is until Athena razed the island and its inhabitants to utter oblivion. Now, the island lay barren, the trees leafless—naught but a forest of skeletal silhouettes starkly etched by the setting sun.
Ancient abandoned vessels lined the tiny coast, marking the waters where they rose to the shallow’s edge. The ships, once the pride of their various regions, floated desolate and dead, nothing more than additions to a cryptic collection, much as their masters to Medusa'ʹs ever-expanding Stone Garden.
Medusa slithered across the deserted ruins which served as her prison. Squinting against the sun, she gazed down at the shore, recalling the island’s former glory. Lately, the threat of a new ship on the horizon seemed ever-present. The one now was just a speck in the distance. Soon enough it would breach her shore and a new horde would disembark, in search of her head.
Medusa picked at the statue of her latest victim. He wasn’t much older than she had been when cursed to this wretched existence. She longed to trade places—he was free to run in the Elysian Fields, eternally happy. She, on the other hand, was cursed with immortality. True, on a few occasions, she had been close to death; yet each time, when she thought release would finally be hers, Hades—eyes averted from her petrifying gaze—sent her away. She could die, she could be slain, but Athena's curse kept her soul rooted to her serpentine body. The afterlife was forever out of her reach.
There were no Elysian Fields for monsters.
Gingerly, Medusa touched the fresh scar on her cheek. The last ship to visit had brought Spartans onto her shore—brave soldiers come to conquer the mighty snake-haired Gorgon, vicious and vile men, the lot of them. If not for her cursed stare, they might have gotten her. In the end however, victory had been hers. Another fleet turned to stone. Trinkets for her Gothic gallery of failed heroes.
The great screeching of her sisters drew Medusa’s attention to the sea. They cried warnings of the oncoming ship, which advanced faster than expected. Why her sisters cared whether she lived or died, Medusa did not know. Even they, her own blood, could not meet her deadly gaze. They kept their distance, protecting her from afar.
Medusa did not know of her monstrous sisters until after she had been cursed. Nor did she know her parents were great sea creatures. In hindsight, this lineage made sense. The priestesses of the temple had raised her. However, she had always been drawn to the sea. Perhaps that was why he had taken an interest in the first place.
Her former life seemed a pleasant dream. So many years had passed on this desolate island. Had her face ever been framed by golden locks instead of hissing snakes? Had she ever danced on white sand shores with adoring patrons? Had she ever been surrounded by anything but death? Her old life seemed so silly compared to this harsh reality; yet she would give anything to have it back.
Tonight was the full moon. Her one night of peace every cycle—the night the sea was at its most beautiful. As she made her way across the vast temple, Medusa found her reflection in a shard of mirror. She could just make out her face: still young, still cruelly beautiful despite the scars and snakes of her hair. It was an evil joke that her face had not changed— Athena's constant reminder of what Medusa had once been, of her former humanity. Without this face it would be almost easy to forget she was ever raised as a human, so easy to be lost beneath the snakes and claws and scales.
The serpents crowning her head curled around her face, as if to comfort her. It was painful even for Medusa to look into her own eyes. They seemed every color at once. It made her temples ache, yet it was difficult to look away. She suspected this was how the warriors felt: compelled to look into the eyes of death, to peek into Pandora’s Box.
Medusa slithered solemnly toward the back gardens of the demolished temple. There thrived the only life left on the miserable island. There she surveyed the beautiful grounds fed by the waters of a spring fountain. This place, the only bit of island left untouched by Athena’s wrath, was her sanctuary. The garden was a gift from her beloved, a place teeming with flora and light. Here, there were no eyes to see her, no flesh to turn to stone. Flowers of every kind grew—their colors so vivid, so full of life. It was the one place Medusa felt a connection to her former self.
At the edge of the fountain Medusa coiled and waited, watching the shifting colors of the sky as the sun sank beneath the sea. Finally, the moon rose in its brilliance causing the ocean to sparkle. She sat, entranced by this beauty while behind her the waters of the fountain stirred.
The spring rose, gently frothed, and shifted as a flowing form emerged. Strong, wet arms wrapped around her shoulders. With a sigh, she settled back into their embrace.
“How are you this evening, dearest?” a strong voice echoed.
Her heart leaped. Gently hissing, the snakes of her hair calmed, her eyes closed, and she smiled. “Better now.”
The fluid figure rose up to sit next to her on the fountain’s ledge. She gazed at the translucent liquid version of the man with whom she’d fallen in love so many years ago. His cool lips brushed hers, his waters calmly washing over them. He tenderly returned her gaze.
Even in this form, her eyes had the power to bring him pain. Medusa’s heart sank; she could see the hurt reflected in the pools of his eyes. She quickly looked back out to the sea.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked her.
“You know it is.” She laughed lightly.
“It’s all for you.” His cool hands ran down her arms, sending shivers through her. “Sing for me.”
“No, my love,” she replied solemnly. "My voice has gone to rust with misuse. I have no time for such frivolity. Warriors come by the dozens to cut me down.”
“Your voice is sweet as ever.” He sighed, kissing her cheek. There he noticed the fresh scar. "They have marred your beautiful face.”
“You are a fool to call me beautiful,” she hissed sadly. "These hunters, they grow in number and strength. Or perhaps I grow tired. I have been here too long.”
“I have pleaded with Zeus to free you. However—”
“I am a danger. He will not let me go. No living thing can survive my gaze—not even you.”
Medusa continued to watch the approaching ship. There was nothing he or anyone could do to stop this newest onslaught. Athena decreed anyone looking for Medusa’s head would find calm waters and a favorable wind between their ship and the island. Her love had argued with Zeus, but Athena would not be reasoned with—not even by the king of the gods.
“They are coming for you, my dearest,” he told her suddenly.
She wasn’t surprised. He always tried to warn her when danger was nigh, but never so bluntly. “I saw the ship on the horizon this morning," she told him, staring at the daunting silhouette in the distance.
This one made her uneasy; there was something different about it. In all her years she had never seen a faster ship. “Let them come,” Medusa told him with false confidence, “I will be ready.”
“Not this time,” he replied, to her surprise. "He is a son of Zeus.”
Medusa looked to the flowers of her garden. She had lived here so long, wishing she could leave, wishing she could put an end to this gruesome imprisonment. Now her love said she would soon be conquered.
“You can try to fight him, but he will win,” he told her sadly.
“You wish me not to fight? You want him to take my head?”
“I want nothing of the sort. But there is nothing you can do.” She could feel his grief. "Athena has shown him how to defeat you.”
Medusa sat silently. Many times she had longed to die, longed for the afterlife, whatever it held for her. Now, hearing she would be dead upon the ship’s arrival, she was not sure what she wanted.
“Then let me die.” Medusa sighed. "Perhaps I will finally find my peace in the Underworld.”
“Athena will not let you go so easily.”
“Easy?” Her snakes hissed and recoiled. "You call centuries of entrapment on this island, of being tangled in this body, easy?”
“Steady, my love,” he soothed. "Athena has decreed you will be defeated. But she has bound you in this body, and so you will remain. Zeus’s son wants your head to defeat the kraken, and Athena wants it as a trophy. There you will be captive. Forever looking out from her shield.”
“Dreadful!” Medusa hissed. "This is to be my fate?”
“I have a solution,” he replied. "I cannot keep him from slaying you. However, I can keep you from an eternity of service to Athena.”
“How?” she asked, her snakes' tongues flickering. All their eyes turned towards him.
“Sleep, my love. Morpheus will keep you in dreams until Athena has done with you. You will not wake. You will not feel the blade. Nor any other torment.”
Medusa rested against him once more, his rippling waters soothing her angst. She only ever felt at peace when she slept, when the sighing and susurrations of the snakes were finally silent, a far more agreeable fate than the alternative.
“Then I am to remain that way forever?” she asked.
“Faith, my love. I will come for you, as I have come every waxing moon.” He smiled down at her, softly placing his cool, damp cheek against hers. “Until then, be steady. Sing for me. Sing, and think of what sweet dreams await you in Morpheus’s care."
Poseidon wrapped his aqueous arms around her. Enveloped in the lapping tranquility of his embrace, Medusa sang sweet songs of water nymphs and sea creatures. Her voice was rough, but her songs could still tempt the gods down from Olympus.
She and Poseidon lay together by the fountain until the sun rose. There she remained when Zeus’s son claimed her head.
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