Chariot of the Sun

Submitted for Contest #41 in response to: Write about an animal who causes a huge problem.... view prompt

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Submitted on 05/15/2020

Categories: Historical Fiction Fantasy

Phlegon was wide awake in his grand stable. The darkness of Nyx and the brightness of Astraeus and his cloak of stars was blanketing the world, the mortals below oblivious to the beauty of it.

He would soon change that.

Phlegon sensed the coming of Eos, the Dawn, saw her two steeds Lampos and Phaeton being harnessed to their beautiful, pink-silver-azure chariot. They stood there quietly, nickering softly at the young nymph that put their harness on. Phlegon snorted. He would let none harness him to his golden chariot unless it was the great god Apollo himself. No other immortal, or mortal, would be tolerated.

Phlegon sensed his great Lord coming and he impatiently pawed the ground.

“Yes, he is coming,” said Aeos from the stall beside him.

Out of the four great stallions, Aeos was perhaps the most chilled. But it was hard to be chilled when you were the most magnificent of beasts both in the mortal and immortal realm.

Phlegon and his three brothers were the most glorious sight to behold. Their coats were a gleaming golden colour, their hooves like polished bronze, their manes and tails yellow-red-orange like flickering flames and eyes that blazed red when they were spirited and dark when they were content. Their teeth were white and sharp to bite those who dared approach them.

The tall, muscular shape of Apollo appeared at the entrance to the huge, heavenly stables.

“Hail dear sire!” Phlegon neighed.

Apollo reached the stalls of the four brothers and patted each one of them firmly. Phlegon allowed himself a small nicker.

“Today is going to be a longer day, boys. My head hurts very much,” Apollo said, slightly disgruntled.

“Is my Lord well?” Phlegon asked.

“Aye, just those nymphs certainly know how to keep a God busy,” he said.

Phlegon snorted.

“Flighty creatures, nymphs,” he huffed.

“But beautiful, especially this one last night. The fairest I have ever seen,” Apollo said, leading the brothers to the open yard where Apollo’s golden chariot lay.

It was a masterwork, forged with a splendour worthy of the Sun and the God that carried it. Its frame was golden with swirling embers and haloed suns, interspersed with a myriad of Greek symbols. Phlegon was proud to carry such grandness behind him.

They all stood patiently while Apollo harnessed them with their silver bridles. Pyrios pawed the ground impatiently. He was the swiftest of the brothers and would’ve raced the sun across the sky as fast as he could if not held in check by Apollo’s hand. Aethon was the quietest, the most observant of the lot. It was he, who had eagle-vision like Zeus, that relayed to Apollo the happenings of the world below.

Then he, Phlegon, was the leader, who kept all his brothers in line.

Apollo finished harnessing and stood on his golden chariot, waiting for his sister Selene to land and Eos to take flight, signalling the beginning of the day.

Soon, Selene landed in her delicate, luminescent chariot, her pale, creamy skin haloed by her black hair. Phlegon and his brothers neighed a greeting to the two snow-white pegasi that pulled her chariot, both delightfully female. As was a result of their mistress’ influence, they firmly ignored the gorgeous stallions.

“Safe travels, dearest brother,” she said to him.

“There isn’t much in the sky to cause trouble for a God,” Apollo replied.

“Except, of course, for Father,” Selene said. “He’s in quite a mood at the moment I’m told.”

“Father is always in a mood. He’s King of the Gods,” Apollo said offhandedly.

“I believe there is trouble afoot with him and Hera. Apparently, he has been pursuing some nymph or other, an extremely beautiful one,” she said sedately, but her eyes were bright with knowingness.  

Apollo stiffened slightly in the chariot.

“Do we know who this nymph is?” he asked calmly, too calmly.

Before Selene could reply, Eos began her flight, all the colours of the dawn trailing behind her chariot as she began following the faint silvery trail that all the chariots took to cross over the world.

Apollo quickly straightened up and clucked the reins, moving us into position to follow Eos.

“Safe travels, dearest brother,” Selene repeated.

Phlegon felt a strange sense of foreboding.  

“Come on, boys. The worship and veneration of the mortals await,” Apollo said.

“Let us go, let us go!” neighed Pyrios, eager to start his journey.

When Eos had faded away into the distance, Apollo started his chariot on the faint, silvery trail.

Pyrios surged forward beside Phlegon and Phlegon nipped at him.

“Do not go any faster than his Lordship demands,” he scolded.

Pyrios calmed his feet.

Slowly, slowly they left the heavenly stables and the Sun, Apollo and his golden chariot, began its slow acscent across the sky. Phlegon could see the golden tinge they were adding to Eos’ Dawn and he waited to see the world below.

The land of Ancient Greece spread out before them, some of it still bathed in shadows, their sunlight reaching the highest peaks and moving down slowly to the small, sleeping villages and cities, the royals and the peasants. The morning prayers had already begun in some of these cities and Phlegon could smell the incense and the burnt offerings. He heard his Lord sniffing delightedly as he received them, and his sharp, Godly eyes picked out those who honoured him as he started the journey, and blessed them with good health – for that day at least. Phlegon wished sometimes that the mortals would burn some hay or grass with their incense, as he and his brothers also deserved praising. Still, their Lord was the most beautiful, most vibrant so he deserved their prayers.

Phlegon urged his brothers to keep climbing, up, up into the heavens, high into Zeus’ domain. When they reached the peak of their ascent, they mellowed out and Apollo slackened his grip on the reins, settling in for a relaxing, uneventful day.

Pyrios and Aethon did not concern themselves with the world below. They simply focused on the barely visible path ahead of them and the silent stamping of their hooves.

Phlegon and Aeos watched the world below them.

“It seems there will be war for the mortals soon,” Aeos commented.

Phlegon looked down and saw indeed, that two of the greatest cities in all of Greece were mustering troops. It would not be long before their troops met on the fertile land and upon the swelling sea.

“The Spartans will win, I think,” said Phlegon. “They believe in strength and order. Their patron is Ares, and there is nothing Ares likes better than winning wars.”

“I think the Athenians will win,” Aeos argued. “They have Athena as their patron, and she is far shrewder and more cunning than Ares. She uses her brains, not just her brawn.”

“But strength is what is needed most to win a war. If you pit a weaker man against a stronger one, the stronger one will always win,” Phlegon reasoned.

“Did you learn nothing from watching the Trojan War?” Aethos snorted. “The Greeks won because of Athena’s shrewdness when she blessed Odysseus. She is a far more competent commander than Ares.”

“Hush, Aethos. Do not speak so loudly. Ares is unpleasant when he feels he is insulted. I don’t think he has ever quite forgiven Athena for encroaching upon his area of expertise,” Phlegon said.

There was a smart silence as they continued to examine the world below them.

Suddenly, a thunderous roar surrounded them, startling the four brothers so they stopped midair.

“APOLLO!” roared Zeus.

Phlegon turned to see his Lord jerk upright in his chariot and look, wide-eyed around, fear in his eyes.

“Father?” he asked uncertainly.

“KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF!” he bellowed.

A huge, crackling lightning bolt streaked down and struck Apollo. Phlegon and his brothers reared in the shock and violence of the master lightning bolt. Phlegon saw his great Lord Apollo falling through the cloudless skies, gave a determined neigh and shot downward to try and catch Apollo, dragging his brothers with him.

“My Lord!” he shouted as Apollo fell.

“Phlegon, no!” his brother Aeos shouted as they hurtled down. “You will burn the mortals!”

Phlegon was oblivious to his brother’s shouts, and Pyrios and Aethon followed Phlegon, Pyrios eager to run as fast as he could.

The mortals down below looked up in amazement, then horror, as the Sun began to crash down to the earth below. The snow and ice on the tallest mountains instantly melted and began rushing down the slopes causing floods; the trees on the highest places instantly burst into flame; the wind turned hot, Zephyrus and his minions yelling at the sudden heat that blazed through them; the crops below began wilting.

Screams of panic and terror began in the mortal world below and their fervent, terrified prayers notified all the Gods and Goddesses that all was not well with Apollo and his chariot.

“Phlegon!” Aeos bellowed. “You are hurting the mortals, Apollo’s worshippers. STOP!”

Phlegon screeched to a halt at his brother’s words and to the mortals below, the sun simply stopped moving and hung there, much closer to them than ever before, the land above where they were hovering instantly turning to desert.

Phlegon did not break his gaze from Apollo’s fall, and he winced when he saw, and felt, Apollo hitting the ground beside a mountain. Such was the impact that the mountain shuddered and a rockslide engulfed the entire city at its base.

“The world is on fire. Up, up, we must go back up to our path!” shouted Aeos.

Anguished at the loss of his great Lord, Phlegon neighed and began heaving himself back up onto the diaphanous path.

The mortals below breathed a sigh of relief that their prayers had seemingly been answered.

However, the mortals below grew concerned once again when a cold wind swept across the whole land and the Sun seemed to get further and further away.

The water in the rivers froze, even parts of Poseidon’s domain which made him both angry and confused in his underwater palace. The fires were now extinguished and snow began to fall in Ancient Greece.

Phlegon could not find the path he had travelled on, and his brothers could not see it either.

Finally, roused by the keening of the mortals, and deeply concerned at the anarchy on the ground and amongst the Olympians who were always so quick to blame, Selene flew upon one of her milky white pegasi and landed in her brother’s chariot.

For a brief moment, it seemed the Sun and the Moon met in the skies.

“Phlegon, Aeos, Aethon, Pyrios. I am here! Let me guide you back to the path!” she shouted to them.

Panicked and confused, Phlegon and his brothers let Selene guide them back to the path.

When Phlegon’s hooves touched the almost invisible path he calmed down and even his swift brother Pyrios slackened his speed.

“My Lady, I am very sorry,” Phlegon said, hanging his head in shame.

“What happened, Phlegon?” she asked in her commanding, yet sweet, voice.

“I am not sure your Ladyship. We were pulling the chariot as we have always done, Apollo behind us, when suddenly Zeus’ voice rent from the sky and a lightning bolt threw Apollo from the chariot and towards the ground. He landed near a mountain. I am not sure of its name.”

“Zeus shot my brother out of the sky?” Selene asked incredulously.

“So it would seem, my Lady,” Phlegon said.

Selene was silent for a moment as she pondered.

“That does sound like my Father, always with his temper, especially when concerning nymphs he has an interest in. I will speak with him about this,” she said.

“My Lady, is Apollo alright?” Phlegon asked nervously.

“Apollo is an immortal, one of the twelve. He will recover,” she said, not overly concerned for her brother.

She knew he often had a habit of bringing these things upon himself.

Phlegon’s ears drooped and his proud stride lessened. He looked down at the devastation he had caused, still hearing the frantic cries and prayers to all the gods, especially Apollo who, for the moment, would not be hearing them. The pride with which he had carried the chariot behind him now transformed into shame. His brother Pyrios nudged his shoulder gently to offer him comfort but Phlegon could not be comforted.

He had tried to save his Lord and in doing so had damaged his Lord’s worshippers, could have potentially wiped away all of the worshippers. He did not deserve to carry the chariot, or Apollo.

Finally, finally the day ended, the day that the mortals would forever remember as the day of almost doom.

Phlegon watched as Astraeus and Nyx began blanketing the sky with their dusk, darkness and stars, looking questioningly at them. Phlegon landed in the stable yard, weary both body and soul. Selene hopped down from the chariot and came up to Phlegon.

“Do not fret, my dear Phlegon. Everything that lives and breathes, including us immortals, fear Zeus’ thunderbolts. It is no wonder you panicked so,” she said, patting his fiery mane and nose.

Phlegon still hung his head in shame.

“I am the eldest of my brothers. It is my job to lead them in the path across the heavens. It is my job to make sure that Apollo is honoured for leading us across the skies. I failed, and nearly brought about the destruction of the mortals and all of my Lord’s worshippers. I am not worthy to draw the great Apollo’s chariot,” Phlegon said.

His brother Aethon spoke up.

“You are the only one worthy to lead Apollo’s chariot, brother. Perhaps you made a mistake, but you were only trying to save your Lord, as any brave, noble steed would do. It is not your fault.”

“Your brother speaks truth, Phlegon. And the world is still there, and the mortals are still worshipping all the gods. In fact, they are honouring Apollo more than ever now, fearing they have offended him. Apollo will return soon,” Selene said soothingly.

“Will he return to guide us tomorrow?” Phlegon asked. “I cannot fly the chariot through the skies without him.”

Selene was silent for a moment, then heaved a large sigh.

“If you would consent, oh great Phlegon, I will guide your chariot along the path until my brother recovers. It would be my honour,” she said, and gave a very slight bow.

Phlegon huffed.

“I will let none but Apollo guide me, for he is the most splendid.”

“Brother, let the swift, fair lady of the Moon and Wood guide us. For she is Apollo’s sister, and is perhaps the only worthy one. And let us show her how the stallions of Apollo fly, as opposed to those dainty Pegasi,” Pyrios announced.

Selene hid a smile, her brief irritation at the slight to herself fading.

“Ah. Yes. Of course, the Lady is splendid too. I suppose it would be a great honour to fly Apollo’s sister,” he conceded, further ashamed at himself for slighting his Lord’s beloved sister.

Besides, at the moment he didn’t feel quite proud enough to carry Apollo until he had made up for his error.  

“Then it is settled. I will see you at Dawn,” she said, and bowed to her brother’s haughty horses.

Phlegon then allowed some minor deity to lead him back to the stables, as Apollo would not be able to. After such a shock, he allowed such behaviour. He needed someone to give him his food so he could properly carry the Selene in the morning.

“Let us hope tomorrow goes more smoothly,” Aeos commented as they settled down to sleep.

Phlegon sighed heavily.

“So long as no more Gods or Goddesses fall out of the chariot and smash into mountainsides, I am sure we will be alright.”


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4 comments

Bonnie Mcd
01:49 May 21, 2020

I really loved the setting in Ancient Greece and the parts where you described the Trojan war and Peloponnesian war from the perspective of the horses! I'm curious about why you chose to use "Selene" rather than Artemis?

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C. jay Loren
04:36 May 21, 2020

Thank you ! :) Yeah, I kept researching who the moon goddess was, as I’ve always known it as Artemis, but it kept coming up as Selene. And then Stephen Fry’s “Mythos” often references Selene as the moon, especially in the story of Phaeton, Apollo’s unfortunate son who tried to drive the Sun chariot, so I was like okay. I’ll use Selene then.

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Bonnie Mcd
02:30 May 24, 2020

Your story made me look into Selene more - I have always assumed she is the Roman counterpart to Artemis - oh how wrong I was - I also read that she became conflated with Artemis in later myth and previous worship. I love your depiction of her!

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C. jay Loren
17:40 May 24, 2020

Yeah it's certainly an odd thing that happened with them as they did almost become interchangeable, Selene and Artemis. But that's one of the good things I like about writing - it makes you research and explore the world. And thank you. I've always thought of her as Apollo's keeper almost - sweet but stern when needed.

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