A Beauty and a Beast
Echidna smiled fondly at her clutch of three eggs. The half-snake woman slithered around the small grouping, coaxing her husband into admiring her brood. Typhon, dragon husband to a half-serpent, was trapped beneath the mountain Echidna called her own. Typhon had been trapped by the Olympians, but that didn't stop him from being Echidna's husband in the most primal of fashions. The gods had created this mountain around him, made to keep him hidden away where no man would ever go. Twists of passages led to the subterranean cave, where horrors of all sorts were born. Echidna was not at all broken-hearted when he only grumbled, making the surrounding lands shake. She hadn't chosen him for his conversational skills.
Her third to hatch from this cluster would live on in legend. Three of her other children, the Graea, had said that it would be. These were born ancient, with a single tooth and eye between them. The one eye could see Past time, and told what has been, is now, and will be. They had said that the last of these would be more famous in name than Echidna, feared by the mere recitation of her name.
Echidna watched as the first egg shuddered. The woman gave a maternal smile eerily out of place on her, the monster too frightening to venture outside. Instead, she would create havoc for gods-blessed heroes with her children. She did not help the struggling hatchling. The weak were eaten, not coddled. She would never help a child. It would make them only more vulnerable to the murderers the clay-men of the earth called heroes. She did not understand why they should rule the world, mortal and with no weapons but what they made, and pass judgment on her children.
The first child stood after a lengthy struggle. Echidna noted all distinguishing characteristics with a proud smile, an expression that could curdle fresh hearts' blood.
"Stheone," Echidna intoned, naming her daughter.
The newly christened Stheone stretched her wings. She had brazen wings with sharp feathers that could cut through any mortal's armor, giving weapons as well as flight. Her neck was armored with scales harder than diamonds, and her golden hands ended in wicked talons. The tusks of a boar protruded from her face, the unnatural appendages somehow right for her. Most noticeable of all, even against the wings glinting in torchlight, were the snakes that she had in place of hair.
Her sister Euryale was the same, but her snake-tresses were different. Stheone's serpents were small and quick and bright, venomous snakes with sharp fangs and slender bodies. Euryale's hair was of the larger snakes, crushing and constricting serpents that moved more slowly than the quick jerks of the vipers.
"Stheone, Euryale- both of you shall guard your sister. She shall be named for Metis, forgotten goddess of the matriarchy and times of old. Metis, the Destroyer, who controls life, death, fertility, and the moon-cycle of bleeding all clay-women have. Men fear it, and justly so, just as they shall fear your sister. Medusa!" Echidna's voice had risen to something terrible that was almost beautiful, and the sheer wonder of what her daughter would become took the harsh tone from a hissing voice for a fraction of a second.
The sisters, identical in all but the snakes, nodded as one. They were born for the sister named after Metis, goddess of old. They were Gorgons, immortal beings who could petrify men with a glance. The men would freeze, helpless in terror, until one of them finished off the victim, as they discovered in years to come.
The last egg took long to hatch. Finally, the blunted nails of a human emerged, pale and soft. They were followed by a smooth arm, and then a bare body with no threatening appendages. The name of Medusa sprang from Echidna's lips in disbelief, and the sister of the Gorgons was named. Medusa took the last of eggshell from her hair. Echidna saw this last feature and shrieked, making even Typhon forget his grumblings for an instant to look at her.
Medusa's hair was beautiful. As golden as a perfect sunbeam, the hair fell down her back in gentle waves. It shimmered even in the darkness, beauty in a place of gloom that absorbed the scant light and coyly danced with it. For all the attractiveness a human could have, the hair was her glory, what made her dazzling instead of pretty.
"Medusa," her mother said distastefully, an anticlimax to a speech that had died in her mouth leaving only a sour tasteat the sight of the girl. This pretty would be feared? Men would build wings from feathers and fly before this girl learned to terrify.
"Yes?" Medusa's voice held no harshness, no bitter undertone, and no aura of hidden malice. It was sweet, innocent, naïve, and as pretty as anyone could ever hope for. This was not expected from a daughter of Echidna.
"Go, child," Echidna snapped. The Graea would pay for their deception. She would grind their tooth to powder, eat their eye whole. No one tricked Echidna. Looking with the girl and shuddering, she wondered if the girl had a chance. Some human hero would spot her and want her for a bride, or Zeus would watch her as she ran along some shore. The Gorgons would protect her, but for how long?
Medusa left the cave. Her sisters, silent as the shadows they walked through so confidently, showed her the way through the many passages they each seemed to know. Medusa finally found herself in sunlight. She didn't blink more than twice at the beaming light, though her sisters eased into it slowly. Instead, Medusa looked around with wide eyes at the ocean that a cliff looked out to. Without a second thought, she jumped from the ocean and into the water twenty feet below.
She landed neatly, as if she had been born for the water. Dolphins surrounded the daughter of Echidna, playfully butting her with prolonged noses. She swam with them, not lagging behind except for when she stopped. Medusa was not at all tired in her woman's body, but her child's mind was distracted by every glint of a shell, every new creature, every new sight in the shallow ocean.
Stheone and Euryale flew. They followed, eagles' vision letting them watch their mortal sister. She was young, and defenseless. Even if her beauty repulsed them, they would do what they were born for. Such a sister required protection.
Years passed. Medusa grew only lovelier, but kept her child's love of all new things. Euryale proved herself to be the stronger of the two Gorgons, and would blow entire ships of sailors away from where her sister frolicked with a gust of air scented with dried blood, or shove them off course in the dark. Stheone, cunning and quick, kept her sister from the more populated areas of the sea with words and dropping trinkets into the water, shining shells and silver coins. There was only so much Stheone's cleverness and Euryale's strength could accomplish. The fragile peace would not last, and both Gorgons knew it.
The day they had dreaded came. Poseidon, god of the seas, sought a bride. Every maiden within his waters must race for the prize of being his bride, unless they already were wed. Medusa heard from all sea creatures, and instantly wanted to race. She fell in love with the unseen god, imagining childish fantasies where he would love her with a single glance, or at least after watching her swim. She spoke only to the dolphins of her dreams in squeaks and whistles, as her sisters hated to hear such thoughts voiced.
Medusa looked around and around before the race, smiling so happily one would guess that she had already won. She wished good luck to all other maidens, and danced in the water for the new tunic her sisters had found for her. They had insisted that she wear one just days after her birth, trying to save her from the eyes of sailors, but had not found a new one until today. Medusa met another girl who she befriended easily. Her name was Amphitrite, and she was a sea nymph who served in Athena's temple.
Stheone had a plan. She knew that Medusa was the fastest, but her sister was easily distracted. If Medusa stopped, she and Euryale could frighten the others away. Stheone had spoken to Echidna while Euryale kept close watch, and the mother of monsters would not mind at all for a daughter of her and Typhon to marry an Olympian. She could use more power, after all. Stheone shared her plan with Euryale, who agreed. Euryale secretly wished that she could Plan, as well, but Stheone was much better at such things. Stheone, guessing her sister's thoughts, mollified her easily by talking of Euryale's superior strength, and tales of how the two had defeated the last few heroes who wanted their pretty sister for their own.
Poseidon rose to start the race in all of his glory. He held a charged trident in his hand, which he used to calm the waves, and his tunic was covered all over in the small rare creatures that shone a gold that was as bright as Medusa's hair. He looked over all the maidens, all mortal, all beautiful, all with the look of swift swimmers. Medusa smiled at him, a child's innocent smile on a woman's beautiful face. Her hair, undimmed by the years of saltwater, was a mass of burnished gold and silk beneath the clear water. He looked at her longest of all. Medusa Goldenhair, speaker of Dolphin, would make a fine bride. His assistants already clamored for her to win, as they longed to braid her golden hair. He tore his eyes away- he had proclaimed a race, and he would wed the bride.
The race began with a flash of power, a lightning bolt that traveled below the waves in a bright jolt of light. Medusa flew through the water instantly, as if the winged sandals of a messenger god helped her to swim. After just a mile, only Amphitrite was still close behind her. The others had given up good-naturedly, accepting wedding gifts from the bridegroom-to-be. At weddings of gods, the god would give away good-will presents to all who attended.
Medusa paused near the end of the race, when the finish line was in sight. She sighed happily as she watched a pod of dolphins executing aerobatics that she could not hope to duplicate. Medusa did not notice Euryale diving at Amphitrite, driving her towards the starting line. Medusa only saw Stheone urging her to finish the race, that she would win if she hurried.
Medusa nodded quickly, setting off at a pace faster than before. She asked where the other girl was, easily accepting an explanation that she was somewhere else. She was still thinking of how she could win the race, which seemed to be very important. Medusa was not mature at all, but the mind of a child in her fully grown body.
Medusa crossed the finish line alone. Stheone had retreated, out of sight. A trusted underling of Poseidon put a necklace of black pearls around her neck, the choosing-gift a husband would give a wife. The god would see her tomorrow at the ceremony, after she had been properly attired. Other attendants rushed forward when the necklace was in place, braiding her hair loosely, so that it would keep its shine, as they coaxed her to come with them. She had to prepare for tomorrow's wedding.
Amphitrite was left alone in the water. By the time she reached the end of the race, dodging away from Euryale only after Medusa had won, there was no one left but a half-blind old mermaid who announced in a sing-song voice that Poseidon would marry the maiden of golden hair. Amphitrite, reckless and angry, grabbed the god's amulet at her throat. She was a temple-guard of Athena, and could call on the goddess once. She had only one wish.
"Make Medusa pay," Amphitrite yelled, ignoring the wizened old mermaid who collected oyster shells with the care another would give to golden goblets as she sang of court business in nonsensical rhymes. "Athena, wisdom-keeper, let Medusa show to the world that she is a Gorgon, pretty face or not." Anger was useful, Amphitrite reflected, swimming for the wedding pavilion without fatigue. It left no room for tears.
Athena heeded the nymph's bitter cry. It would be a small price to pay, for an opportunity to show the world how faithful she was to her subjects. Poseidon would not know who won the race. Amphitrite would have Medusa's choice-gift necklace, and Athena would use an old gift to show the world what Medusa was. It was favorable for all, except for she who had unknowingly cheated to win a race.
Eos, goddess of the dawn, found Medusa sitting on the finish line's marking point. The rocks were almost like a flat surface topped with a stool, just the right height for a seat. Stheone and Euryale were visiting Echidna, as her mother still would not see her pretty daughter. Medusa combed her bright hair with her fingers, humming as the goddess of dawn created yet another masterpiece of a sunrise. A dolphin would come to fetch her in time for the ceremony. Medusa needed time to remind herself exactly what was happening, to dream. Her husband, hearing of this but still not seeing her, had laughed at her ways, but found them a change from most. She would mature, he knew, but he loved how children faced problems of the world.
Medusa was in her wedding gown, fit to marry a god in. It was blue and green and black all at once, rippling and constantly shifting in color. She twirled happily, dancing around her seat and watching the colors flash. She laughed, the pure laugh that only children can make without any falseness to it, or the bitterness only the old at heart can have.
Athena stood on the stood-rock, tall and foreboding with her round shield, mirror bright and with an empty space for a design. She was wisdom born from Zeus's head, quick to act and slower to react. Medusa noticed her after another twirl, and saw that the goddess of wisdom held a comb in her hand, golden and glittering in the dawnlight.
"Good morning, wise one," Medusa said cheerfully, using the title any mortal maiden would be expected to know. She curtsied prettily, and there was no fault to be found in the gesture.
"You use your fingers for a comb. Did your mother teach you that?" Athena asked, knowing the answer.
"My mother hated my hair," Medusa said quietly, forgetting that she had laughed for joy just a few moments ago. She wanted her mother to approve of her, to like her, to find her worthy of being called daughter.
"Use this," Athena said, giving Medusa a comb. "Take off your necklace first. The tines will catch the string, and the choice-gift will be ruined."
Medusa knew nothing of deception or trickery. She undid the small clasp in the back, accepting Athena's silent offer to hold the present. She took the comb with a bright acclaim of gratitude, running it through her hair without hesitation. The golden comb was dim beside her hair, which was more beautiful than ever before in the fair morning's light.
Medusa found too late the flaw in the comb. It glittered with malice she had not identified before, wicked and biting. Medusa let out a bemused cry to see something so malevolent in her hand, but Athena had gone, snatching away the bespelled comb before retreating to her temple. Such artifacts were hard to find and harder to obtain, after all.
Medusa raised a cautious hand to her hair. She never had felt a need for caution before, though her sisters had always spoken of it. "Be careful, Medusa." "You really should be a little suspicious, sister." Her hair moved. She watched, trapped, as a poison-green snake wrapped itself through her fingers. It had golden eyes, and a forked silver tongue that tasted the air as it regarded her.
Medusa jerked her hand away from the snake, scrambling to look in the water. It was as smooth as the magical new stuff she had found on a shore, what Stheone had called glass. Poseidon had stilled the waters for her wedding day. Seeing what had replaced her hair, Medusa knew that it was no longer to be the day she was wed.
She still wore her wedding dress, shimmering and blending in perfectly with the water in her reflection. Her arms were still tanned from her long days swimming in the sun, and her hands were still, as Stheone and Euryale would say, disgustingly weak. The dress made her look older, and would have set her hair off to an advantage.
Her hair was now a mass of snakes, like her sisters'. But Stheone had only bright snakes with poison teeth, and Euryale had only the darker constrictors who crushed all they could eat. Medusa had a myriad of snakes, with no species duplicated twice. The golden-eyed green snake's silver tongue flickered close to her heart, and she shoved it away.
Medusa realized with a start that she had serious thoughts. She no longer was a silly maiden. She was a monster. She threw the comb she did not have at her reflection, bitterly kicking the water when she saw her folly. Athena had not even left her a cursed comb, and she had foolishly trusted the vengeful goddess with her necklace.
Athena had the comb. Athena had the choice-gift, and it had been taken without any fight from Medusa. Medusa had been a foolish girl with pretty hair, but her ignorance had been bliss. Opening one's eyes to the world revealed many things that were better left hidden from sight.
Medusa dove into the water, much neater than she had done on her day-birth. She would find Stheone and Euryale in their mother's caves. Echidna would finally be satisfied with her mortal daughter, now that she had the look of a monster. Yesterday she would have been happy with her mother's approval. Even this morning, the thought still would have pleased her. But snakes, reviled as they were in lore, were hated for a single fact. They let people know that no one was exempt from the bad inside all, mortal and god alike. Not even the most innocent.
A dolphin streamed through the water. Medusa recognized him instantly. He was Wavesong, in the clumsy speech of men, and the highest of jumpers among dolphins. Medusa cried for him to stay away, a harsh sound the likes of which she had never made before. No one could see her like this, not as a monster. She would disappear, a mystery to ponder on nights when waves were calm. Where had she gone, the girl they had named Goldlight? They had not seen her since the day of her wedding.
Instead, Wavesong swam only faster, hearing her distress. When he caught up to her, she finally turned, knowing that he would not leave unless she explained what had happened. He was stubborn. She knew him well, as he was her closest friend. Stheone and Euryale were too close to each other, as they were twins born minutes apart.
There was no response. Usually, he spoke first, faster than she ever could. He slowly sank, eyes suddenly gray instead of their usual oil-drop black. Medusa swam to his side easily holding her breath, and grabbed a flipper. It was stone, solid granite. With a scream that left a trail of bubbles to rush to the surface, she fled.
The snakes still slithered across each other, and she felt them connected to her head. They had not drowned. She would not have minded if they all did die. They had ruined her life as she knew it. It was a silly girl's response, to drown what had hurt her, but she still was partly a silly girl, or at least she had been this morning. The green snake that seemed to be the representative of the mass shifted, leaving its perch on her shoulder for once. She ignored the gesture.
She knew that the gazes of her sisters petrified men, and made them so rooted in fear that they dared no move. Athena had made a play on words. Medusa truly would petrify all who looked upon her. She had left one friend as stone, and would not do it to another. The Graea would help her. They would know where some forsaken island no one could ever reach could be found.
No one could know. Poseidon would think his bride had deserted him, taking dress and choice-gift with her. Medusa had a thought, a quick one that she never would have dreamed of having. Athena had taken the necklace to give to Amphitrite, who had some connection to the goddess. Remembering the events of yesterday through more world-weary eyes, she saw a flash of copper as Amphitrite was ahead. Medusa didn't deserve to marry Poseidon, then. Amphitrite would have won the race. With a frown, Medusa discovered that she was clever. She would trade it with Euryale for strength. Once word spread of a mortal monster woman with snakes for hair, the heroes would come, no matter how far she fled.
She considered her options. She could wander the countryside, turning all who looked upon her face to stone. She could try to petition the gods for a reversal of the curse, but Athena likely would not admit to her part in the scheme. The word of a cursed mortal against the least of goddesses was nothing, and Athena was far from least. Neither fate sounded pleasing. She would flee to a deserted island, then, and hope that no man was fool enough to chase her. Decision made, she began the journey to her mother's cave.
Stheone was waiting for her. She flew down to the water, and picked up her lighter sister with a gentleness Medusa had never expected from the quick and sometimes vicious sister. Medusa smiled weakly, what had always made Stheone grimace. Her sister didn't seem to mind the expression, and was not surprised that her hair had been changed. It had been predicted long ago by the Graea, the only reason that Echidna had not done as she had threatened.
Stheone set her down on the ledge. Medusa straightened her gown. Her chin rose, and the green snake curled around her neck like some priceless piece of jewelry. This time, Medusa led the way through the twisting passages. She found Euryale in the main cavern, ignoring her for the moment to look at her parents. Typhon glanced for a moment before continuing to fight the mountain, his unrelenting struggle that would not end until someone fought past Echidna and her current children to slay him, still able to breathe fire and crush opponents with his tail.
"So, my child, you are a daughter of mine after all," Echidna said, her long snake's tail coiling around Medusa's feet in a cold gesture of approval. "Which city will you terrorize, then, now that you are someone to be feared?" Her eyes widened with anticipated joy, as she knew how much more power her name would gain as Medusa, daughter of Echidna, turned entire cities to stone.
"None," she said firmly. Yesterday, she would have been swayed. Today, she knew much more. The snakes had given her a reason to take away the rose tints she had always given the world. She saw that her mother only wanted more power, her father didn't care, and her sisters only were fulfilling some promise made before they were even born. She truly was alone, and it had taken the loss of her only friend to realize it.
"What?" Echidna, Stheone, and Euryale said as one.
"You heard me. I'm finding my sisters the Graea. They can tell me where to find an island near impossible to get to, and I shall go there. I'm not hurting anyone else." Seeing that Echidna was too shocked to respond, she turned on her heel and made an exit with as much dignity as she could muster. Dignity was another new thing, one that seemed a bit too much like the pride her mother was full of.
Stheone and Euryale were not happy with her choice. But as Medusa stole a sharp copper feather from the slow Euryale's wing and threatened to kill herself before harming anyone, they had no choice. The Graea were not happy to help. But Medusa would not be moved, and threatened the trio with gruesome deeds she could never carry out. But the three only saw a snake-haired maiden, a monster surely capable of such feats. They gave the winged sisters direction to an island seven years away by boat. Medusa thanked them, even as Stheone and Euryale promised the same acts should the Graea tell anyone else the location of the isle. Unlike their sister, they could and would carry out the promised punishments.
The journey to the isle would have been remarkable, if Medusa had not known that she had exiled herself. Euryale carried her, strong enough for the long journey. Each day of flight was two years of sailing, but it still took longer than a water-swimmer would like. The thin air made her sick, and it was not nearly as welcoming as the clear shallows she always had inhabited. Euryale was not gentle, and nicked Medusa a few times with sharp feathers. She was unhappy about the entire idea, even more so than Stheone. The cleverest Gorgon knew a hero would come, eventually. It happened to all mortal monsters, and would happen to their sister.
Medusa explored her island. Stheone looked from the air at the dead seas that extended in all directions, gray and without life. Euryale scorned the island that had only a few fruit trees and berry bushes, with no thorned briars to drop victims into from the air. Medusa alone did not pass complaints about the place. Instead, she pruned the trees with the bronze feather she had stolen, planted herself more trees from tender snippets of trimmed branches with the green still inside them, and made cuttings of berry bushes. She was mortal, though she would not age, and needed food to survive.
Gardening became Medusa's pastime for the time on the island. It was lonely. Stheone tried to keep speaking with her sister, but could not understand what made Medusa choose such a hard life for herself. Euryale didn't bother, and instead disappeared for longer and longer flights away, coming back with bloody talons and red-tainted lips and daring someone to comment. Stheone never left Medusa alone, remembering her promise. She would guard her sister for as long as possible, but she knew that no mortal would ever live for eternity.
Medusa had made the island a place of beauty in just a year. The trees bloomed vigorously, and her saplings stood straight and strong. The bushes produced more than she could eat, and she stored some dry, though her island had no winter season. She grew flowers from the few buds that tentatively poked out of the soil. A few cautious schools of fish danced in the shallows, too small to eat but large enough for bright colors to be observed. Medusa tamed a few with tit-bits of fruits, and they would come when they saw a delicate foot step into the water with hardly a ripple. She never submerged her head, or let her longer snakes touch the water. She would not let her almost-friends be eaten by an overzealous part of her hair.
The first hero came while she was tending her sprawl of garden. She had a fairly large island, a mile and three quarters by a half mile. He was within her flower garden before he saw her. He had been staring, awe-struck, at the flowers that decorated a monster's island when he saw her. He froze before nothing but a small shift of the eyes betrayed his fear, standing amid the purple blooms with a hand on his sword-hilt. He was a handsome lad, as heroes so often were, and now was stone.
Stheone and Euryale began their crusade with a vengeance. They tried to stop all who set foot on the island before Medusa changed them to stone. The Gorgons preferred to take all spoils of war, and their sister had asked nicely enough to not harass the passing sailors that Stheone had agreed. They only would set themselves on any man, or the rare woman, fool enough to come to her island.
Medusa then had a terrible choice to make. Finally, she forbid Stheone and Euryale from attacking those who would kill her. She hated to kill those who looked at her, but could not bear to hear them scream in pain as they died through the more violent ways of the Gorgons. She had learned responsibility, and another emotion a naïve maiden had never felt surfaced quickly to follow this new feeling. Guilt haunted her dreams, and made her sleep uneasy and uneven. Guilt was worse than the feeling of betrayal she sometimes had, remembering what Athena had done to her.
Many heroes came. Their stone corpses littered her island, often in the way of her garden. She ate dried berries and fruits, hating to pick fresh ones amidst the stone warriors who were frozen, sometimes in midstep or while thrusting a blade at her. Medusa cried for each, when no one could hear. She had discovered a quiet cave a long time ago, but had stayed away. She disliked the dark, as it reminded her of Echidna's home. But as room became scarcer, she moved to begin sleeping there. The cave was shallow, but had room for the three sisters, even accommodating the two with wings.
As always, one came who would succeed. Medusa knew that it would only be a matter of time. He was brave, this youth, and handsome and valorous.A son of Zeus, he was gods-blessed more than even Medusa would have guessed. He held the Aegis, Athena's mirror-bright shield that was polished to reflect all, and a sickle sword Athena had taken from Ares, her brother the god of war, long ago. He wore a Cap of Darkness that came from Hades, god of the underworld, that would fool all but the keenest or most knowing of eyes into not seeing him, and carried a satchel that would hold any dangerous thing, taken from the nymphs who guarded the golden apple tree of Hera, wife to Zeus. Winged sandals from Hermes, messenger god, made him swifter than any winged beast.
Medusa was sleeping when Perseus, the man who would be sung in countless ballads praising his heroic nature, stepped onto her island, invisible. The Graea had told him the location, after he had stolen eye and tooth to coerce the information from them. He knew where to find the island, thanks to the Gray Sisters' information, and how to kill the mortal Gorgon based on careful instructions from Athena. He was to look at her through the shield's reflection, strike true, grab the head, and then flee as quickly as the sandals would take him.
Perseus, who could face any challenge and do any deed, paused when he stood in the entrance of the cave. The sun set behind him, framing him with muted color as he looked upon the sleeping sisters. The two Gorgons were hideous, and had smiles encrusted with dried blood. If they were not immortal, he would have killed them without hesitation. He was not here for them. He was looking for Medusa.
She did not look like the monster he sought. Her body was purely feminine, slender from a meager diet. The dress she wore was like nothing he had ever seen. It shimmered in the light, catching his eye for a hazardous second. He focused on her snakes, instead, building up the hatred he had always been able to find while voicing her name. He had made this promise. He had no wedding gift for the king. Among mortals, the bridegroom takes presents instead of gifting them. Instead, he had boasted before an entire room of people that he would bring the king the head of Medusa, a hot-headed boast made in the heat of the moment. Athena had whispered the idea into his head, and helped him in every way. All he had to do was strike once.
He looked closely at the snakes. One of her hands, rough from work in a garden, was caught in her hair, and a single emerald green snake twined around a finger. The golden eyes of the snake were filmed over in sleep, but he could tell that they were bright. He had to kill the monster now, before she or her sisters were awake. They seemed a likely trio to prowl the night, looking for victims. He had looked at the statues, but had chosen to ignore the painstakingly kept garden. A hesitant sword's cut meant a dead man.
Perseus made a mistake. Instead of looking in his shield at a reflection of her pale neck, for once free of snakes, he looked at her face. Her brow was creased with deep lines, making her young face look much older. She turned in her sleep restlessly, and was trapped in some nightmare. He glanced at her sisters, who slept soundly as they savored the taste of blood that was still on their lips.
Medusa sat suddenly, not at all surprised to see a hero standing there. He looked at her through a reflection. She saw him, even though he wore Hades' cap. She knew why she could see the invisible man. She was about to die. Hades had more power over her, and she could begin to see the one wearing his cap more clearly as her death drew nearer. Medusa stood silently, watching the hero take a few quick steps forward in fright. She exited her cave, not trying to turn him around. Instead, she stared at his reflection, wondering what her killer would look like. He grew clearer by the minute, the cap losing its power against her. She saw a handsome face.
Perseus knew that the two Gorgons could be awakened with a single sound. He swallowed harshly, wondering why he had made such a problem. He watched, waiting for the monster to sound out a cry of warning to her immortal guardians. She remained silent. Instead, she drew her snakes away from her neck suddenly with a hand. The green one he had noticed remained, silver tongue fluttering. Medusa shook her head slightly, and it too withdrew.
"I do not fear death," she whispered. Awake, the small line of sorrow on her forehead was less defined. Her eyes were noticed, for the first time. Dolphins never much cared for eyes, her husband never saw her, her mother saw only the snakes, her sisters only thought of the weakling they had to protect, and all those she killed when they glanced at her thought only of their terror. The eyes were as blue as her dress, the color of the sea, and showed no regrets. She had wondered of her death for a long time, and had no real reason to fear dying.
"Medusa," he said, testing the name on his tongue. "But why?" he demanded. The question was one every mortal had. What was death, and why did some not fear it? Perseus could find the answer, if he ever told anyone that the monster he had slain had been a girl his age unfortunate enough to have snakes in the place of hair.
Medusa gave a small smile, a sad remnant of what it once had been. "I died a long time ago, hero. All you can do is fulfill your quest, whatever reason brought you here. If I may make one request?" she asked, for a fraction of a second a happy young girl who wanted some trivial favor.
"What is it?" He knew better than to answer such a question without knowing what she would wish of him.
"Put my body in the ocean. Take my head where you will, as the snakes never belonged to me. They are Athena's. But I have always belonged to the ocean." She turned, and saw that clever Stheone was waking, even as Euryale slept on. She raised her chin to stare at the last rays of sunset, and her eyes were damp but wouldn't drip tears. She had cried for most everyone else in the world. For herself, she had no sadness left. "I have none to mourn for me." Her last words before a strong slash of a sword swept her head from her shoulders. He caught the head in his bag. The feat was difficult, as he was swinging a sword while doing so, and all from a reflection. But he did catch the head, closing it in the satchel. A headless stone body stood where Medusa had been, transformed by her own power.
Stheone woke with a harsh shriek of anger, and that sound woke Euryale. Forgetting her request, he fled. They could not see him, but could hear his breathing. The smell of their sister's blood called them. Drops fell, red teardrops that hit the ocean. Somewhere in Poseidon's palace, an intricate sculpture of a dolphin too perfect to have been made swam from its place beside the throne of Amphitrite, wife of the god of the sea. Wavesong was alive again, with a story to relay to dolphins that all openly scorned and secretly believed. Why he was released and no one else was never explained, except that he had never gone to slay a monster.
Poseidon had touchedMedusa's hair before the race. Gods are not as mortals- that was enough. Two drops of Medusa's blood hit the sand. Chysaor, the golden warrior, emerged from one, solemn-eyed and carrying a sword greater than even the weapon of Ares. Pegasus, winged horse and later steed of a hero, sprang from the other, eyes wild as he wheeled away, free. Years later, he would be tamed by a bridle given by Athena to a young hero who tried to ride his mount to Olympus. Their stories belong elsewhere, but their mother was known to few.
Perseus escaped his pursuers. His later exploits are another tale, of how the head of Medusa saved a young beauty named Andromeda from one of Poseidon's creatures, how Perseus saved his mother from a marriage she did not want, and of how he presented the head to Athena. He remembered Medusa's words, that the snakes had always been Athena's. Fixed in the empty spot of her shield, the head filled the gap perfectly, and the Aegis, shield with Medusa's head staring from the central gap, became something even Zeus liked to borrow.
Many years later, Medusa's wish was granted. Her body was washed into the waves by a changing of the waters when her island was washed over, and little fish nibbled at wild-running berries that had climbed over stone warriors. The currents rocked the statue gently. Poseidon didn't recognize the girl who would have been his bride. Instead, he took the statue to his palace. Many such sculptures were made without heads. Years passed again, but not a single detail faded. Amphitrite would not enter the room the statue was kept in. She had known long ago that Medusa had not truly been at fault, but her own pride had seen a wrong to be righted.
The gods were old. Few recognized them any longer. Poseidon was not called upon as much as sextants and compasses, folk found other causes for lightning than Zeus's anger, and Athena's wisdom was guarded by monks in libraries only the clergy could access. One day, she glanced at her shield, and at the resolute young girl who stared straight ahead, not at all afraid of death. She thought of one thing she could do. It would be a far cry from restoring all she had cost Medusa, but it would be a start.
Poseidon was surprised that his sister visited his worn palace, and even more surprised she carried the shield she called too heavy to bear. He and his pale queen, both growing older as the castle lost its brilliance, watched as she found what she sought. Athena did have some advantages that came with wisdom. She stood before the statue that Amphitrite hated asthe nymphhated herself.
Athena drew the head from the shield gently. She ran her fingers through the mass of snakes. A few squirmed through reactions, but the green one that Perseus had noted was still. Athena placed the head onto the body, making Medusa whole again. Her neck fused seamlessly and without any real flair, instead fitting like liquid into its container.
The snakes disappeared slowly, transforming into golden-bright hair that was a beacon in the dim palace. Only the poison-green snake remained, now a deep shade of emerald that matched and contrasted her dress at once. It slithered down her arm, curling around her left wrist to become a bracelet. Its golden eyes were the same shade as her hair, a comparison hard to make before seeing the two shades next to each other. The worry in her forehead disappeared, and she gave the impression that if she wasn't frozen, she would be breaking into a perfect smile. She was a stone statue, a young girl ready to be a bride of a god, with a serpent for a choice-gift in place of the pearls that felt like lead to Amphitrite.
"Medusa," Athena said, truly looking at the girl for the first time. "A maiden made a monster, but who was the monster here?" The shield was laid at the feet of the maiden, a victim of wisdom. The snake had tempted, but this time the maiden was not to blame. The quickness of wisdom born from the head of a man to condemn the woman along with the snake had been the downfall of Medusa. There was no apple, but the temptation of the easy way out is always present, and a little knowledge of humanity's flaws is a dangerous thing. But which is worse, to be happy in ignorance, or to know and be unhappy? Medusa would tell, but statues never breathe a word.