Aegeus, Bion, and the Sacred Flower PART 1

Submitted into Contest #96 in response to: Write about someone welcoming a stranger into their home.... view prompt

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Adventure Fantasy

STAGE ONE

When the gods of ancient Greece ruled the sky, earth, and waters of this world, there was a man

who governed a small village. Now, some towns, like the cities bordering Mt. Olympus, flourished with

the favor of the gods. Their trade thrived, food was rich, and the people happy. But this humble village

was about as far from the mountain as they could get, and their lack of wealth stated as much. But good

hearts still resided there, and one such soul was a man named Aegeus. Aegeus, meaning protector, was

the village leader, and was always trying to better the lives of his neighbors. Yet he longed to be like the

larger, godlier cities, so his beloved wife and unborn child could live carefree and lavishly.

One day, when Aegeus was out walking alone, Zeus, King of the gods, appeared to him, hovering

in a ray of light.

“Greetings, humble ruler.” His voice was like the clap of thunder as he addressed the young

mortal. Hair as white as a cumulus cloud fell like snow from his head and face, gently waving as if blown

by a soft breeze. “You have been fortunate, for I have selected you for an honorable quest. Riches and

fame await you if you do exactly as I say.” Aegeus was speechless, both by the appearance of the

celestial being before him and the abruptness of his announcement. He fell to his knees, his mouth and

nose filled with grass and dirt as he sucked in the earth.

“Hail, mighty Zeus.” Aegeus’ voice shook as he spoke. “What would you have your humble

servant do?”

“It’s seems that, once again, the gods have become divided over a certain… issue. Hera is the

deciding vote, and I want to persuade her to my side. But to do so, I need a… rare flower. Retrieve it for

me and you shall be richly rewarded. “

Aegeus was dumbstruck by this offer. “But, with all due respect, why couldn’t your lordship just

retrieve the flower yourself? Surly your power exceeds any other in this world and beyond.”

The celestial king sighed heavily, shoulders slumping. “God’s cannot steal each other’s symbols

of power directly. What I desire is one such item, a poppy from the god Thanatos.”

“Well, when would I go on this quest?”

“Three days. Enough time to plan, pack, and anything else you mortals do before a quest.”

“And when would I return?” Aegeus wanted to be home with his wife for the birth of his first

child.

“Who knows?” Shrugged Zeus. He casually picked at a nail, propping himself up on an elbow.

“Mighty one,” Aegeus began, “Your offer is tempting and generous, but,” He paused, not sure

what to say. Zeus sat up.

“You want to refuse my proposal? Riches? Fame? A way to raise your family safely and in

luxury?”

“No, sir, I want to accept, but my wife is pregnant with our first child and I want to be with her

for the birth.”

“I see.” Zeus placed a withered hand under his chin, thick eyebrows drawn together and forming

a straight line across his forehead. He liked the mortal. Aegeus was respectful and humble, not jumping

into something without considering the options. And, the god was in a merciful mood.

“You have 48 hours to decide.” Said the god decisively. “You may give me your answer then. But

if I do not hear from you, the deal is off and you can live the rest of your miserable life saving kittens

from trees and trying to make crops grow where there is no rain.” There was a clap of thunder, and Zeus

disappeared, leaving Aegeus alone and conflicted.

----

“Are you okay, honey?” Elene’s asked, her voice thin and delicate. “You seem distracted this

evening.”

“Hmm? Oh, I’m fine.” Aegeus moved from where he had been standing by the window and sat

on the edge of the bed that held his wife. “I’m fine. How are you feeling?” He placed the back of his

hand against her forehead, though he knew she was as healthy as a horse.

“Aegeus, I know you and I know when your thinking about something important. Now tell me

what happened to you in the field’s today!” She grasped his hand and held it against her swollen belly.

“I… met someone.” He began, taking his hand from under hers.

“Really? Well, that puts my mind at ease. I thought you got attacked by a minotaur.” Elene’s

smile was soft and humorous.

“It wasn’t just any visitor, Elene. It was Zeus.” The playful look on his wife’s face vanished and

was quickly replaced by confusion. She opened her mouth to interject, but Aegeus put up his hand,

signaling for quiet. “He said he had selected me for a quest, and, if I succeed, I will be greatly rewarded.”

Elene’s face broke into an excited expression.

“Aegeus, think about what this could mean! wealth, comfort, prosperity, a place to raise our

child in happiness!” The more she spoke, the more Aegeus heard the enthusiasm in her voice.

“But, Elene, are we not enough? For years we have lived happily and contentedly in this village.

Why can’t we fill our child’s life with love instead of stuff? I mean, I know life could be better, but is it

worth me being gone when you need me?”

“You need to evaluate your priorities, Aegeus. This could be a big change for our family. I hope

you take the wellbeing of your child into account, not just your own pride!” And with that last biting

comment, she turned away from him. Try as he must, the young husband could not make his wife listen,

so, after stoking the fire, Aegeus went for yet another walk through the fields. But this time, he was on a

mission.

“Lord Apollo!” Aegeus shouted into the sky. “Lord Apollo! Come down to me so that I may gain

wisdom from your words!” He waited, hands outstretched. And Just as he began to feel as if there

would be no answer, the sweet sound of an expertly played lyre filled the air around him. Apollo flew

down from the heavens on a chariot of sun, the golden light accenting his perfect physique and silky hair

in the dwindling twilight.

“Greetings, mortal!” Sang the god. “Why have you called upon me this fine evening?”

“Lord Apollo, you are the god of prophecy, are you not?”

“Why, of course I am! Also, music, poetry, truth, medicine, archery, dance…”

“Yes, oh Apollo, you I am aware of your many talents, but I wish to take advantage of your

foresight. I have been offered…”

“A quest, yes, yes, you are not the first young hero to call upon my services before a perilous

journey. Too few are interested in much else.” The beautiful god sighed, absently strumming his golden

lyre.

“So, can you help me? Is there success in my future?” Aegeus was beginning to feel anxious, but

he knew that rude abruptness would only set him back with Apollo.

“I will tell you the same thing I’ve told all the other un-imaginative heroes I’ve seen. Knowing

one’s fate does nothing to change it. The path a man might take to avoid his fate is often the path that

leads him right into it.”

“But I’m not looking to change my fate, only to gain wisdom from what could be!” Aegeus

pleaded.

Apollo glared at him, gaze intense, his gaze penetrating the young ruler’s soul, as if examining

his inner-most intentions.

“I can’t tell you whether you’ll succeed in your journey,” The god began. “But I can tell you that,

after your first child is born, your wife will die.” Aegeus was horrified by this prediction.

“What? But my wife is healthy and young! She cannot die in childbirth! Please, what can I do to

save her?”

Apollo thought on this a minute. “My son, Asclepius, is the god of healing.”

“So, can he help my wife?”

“I do not like to be interrupted, mortal!” A fire blazed in the prophetic god’s eyes as he rebuked

Aegeus’ outburst. The flames calmed, and Apollo continued. “But yes, he can perform such a task.

However,” Apollo paused. “he requires a price, a poppy from the god Thanatos who lives in the

Underworld.” Aegeus’ heart fluttered with hope. That was the same assignment given to him by Zeus!

Now all I must do is retrieve two of these sacred blossoms, and I will have both pleased and saved my

beloved Elene!

“But be warned,” The handsome god said. “many trials will come your way on this journey. You

cannot do it alone.”

“But I have no one except my wife, and she surely cannot come as my companion.”

“Never the less, alone a man suffers, together men thrive.”

----

“Lord Zeus? I shall accept your offer!” After packing a simple knapsack, Aegeus was ready for his

journey. Elene had been thrilled at her husband’s decision, and had showered him with her blessing as

he kissed her goodbye.

“Wonderful!” Aegeus jumped at the thunder god’s sudden appearance. “You shall leave at

once!”

“Any… blessings for the road? Perhaps a magical token?” Asked the mortal hopefully. Zeus

though for a moment, gnarled fingers worrying through his long beard.

“Walk swiftly. Don’t die.” The celestial god nodded decisively, then disappeared in a puff of mist,

leaving only a small scroll in his place.

“Great. Thanks.” Muttered Aegeus sarcastically. He walked over to the scroll and stooped to pick

it up. It was a map, with a line connecting two points. One was marked ‘Mortal’s Village’, and had a

small drawing of a man with a walking stick. To Aegeus’ surprise, the little man waved to him from the

parchment.

“Are you supposed to be me?” Aegeus asked. The man nodded. “Can you speak?” He shook his

head sadly. “Well, I can’t give you my name. What should I call you?” The drawing shrugged, hands

outstretched. “How about…” Aegeus thought for a second. “Bakchos? It means ‘To Shout’. It’ll be a

joke!” Bakchos crossed his arms, clearly not happy with the nickname, but Aegeus thought it was fitting.

“Bakchos it is.”

Aegeus continued to survey the map. His final destination was marked with big, bold letters:

THANATOS’ GARDEN above another picture of hills full of flowers. But between the two points, there

was a line of dashes that snaked through a village and a long stretch of desert.

“Well, I guess we’d better go.” Bakchos nodded and mimed a walking motion. Aegeus sighed. No

better time than the present. This was going to be a long trip.

STAGE TWO

Not much time had passed before Aegeus came up to the village marked on the map.

“Do you know where we are, Bakchos?” The little animation crossed his arms, giving the hero a

You really expect me to know? But as he approached, a sign made itself visible from the weird haze that

seemed to blanket the area. WELCOME TO CYANEA: A TOWN WITH THE BLUEST SKY AROUND. Aegeus

scoffed. Blue sky my foot. He thought. You can’t make out a thing in this fog. he checked his map.

“Well, the map says we need to go through this town but,” he hesitated, a shiver coursing up his

spine. “this place gives me the creeps.” He looked back down at the map. Bakchos waved his arms

frantically, trying to get his attention. “What?” the mute companion motioned forward with his hands.

“You’re saying we have to go through?” Bakchos nodded and Aegeus sighed. “Then in we go.”

As he immersed himself in the vapor, he felt a weight on both his body and his mind, like an invisible

hand slowly pressing him into the dirt road that ran through the middle of the town.

“This feels so weird.” He shuddered. Houses and shops emerged from the mist as Aegeus

continued down the street. Why have you come to my town? Aegeus jumped. The raspy, feminine voice

had just spoken in his mind. Well, not really spoken. It wasn’t a sound, more like a feeling.

Who are you? He thought back with surprising ease.

I am Aleta, holder of truth and knower of riddles. Why have you come to my village?

I am just a passerby, not looking for any trouble.

We shall see. And with that, the odd presence retreated from his mind. No matter how hard he

tried, Aegeus could not bring her back.

“I will feel so much better when we’ve left this place.” Bakchos nodded in agreement, shivering

slightly. “Let’s just…press on I guess.”

He continued to walk, and noticed something eerie about the odd town other than just the

haze. The streets were empty, windows dim, and doors bolted. It looked abandoned. Then, abruptly, the

fog opened into what seemed to be a tightly packed square. This must be where all the people are.

Slouching women clutched wailing children, old men with sagging faces hunched over walking sticks,

and bedraggled, defeated men fought to look courageous. And in the center of it all knelt a boy before a

beast. He was young, about 12, and thin with malnourishment. His once blonde hair was filthy and

matted, his exposed arms and legs covered in bruises and sores. The creature before him was a sphynx,

an animal with the head of a beautiful women and the body of a ferocious lion. And she was about to

strike down the boy.

“No!” Instantly, Aegeus reacted. The look of absolute terror mixed with admirable defiance in

the youth’s eyes had urged Aegeus to move. He bolted across the square and put his body between the

kneeling pre-teen and the sphynx’s vicious paw.

The monster paused mid swing, then, lowered her claws to the ground. Stand aside meddler. It

was the voice again, as husky and chilling as the first time.

You can’t hurt this boy. The hero thought back.

“He failed the test.” Said the sphinx, switching to oral communication instead of the mental

connection. “The punishment for failure is death.”

“I didn’t fail.” Muttered the kid. “I know the answer to your stupid question.”

“SILENCE!” The beast bellowed, raising on its hind legs. “YOU CHOSE YOU’RE FATE!”

“What has the boy done?” Aegeus demanded.

“Every week, the whole village is gathered in the square.” Said the boy calmly. “Then Aleta will

pick someone from the audience who has to answer her question. If they guess correct, the village is

free. If they’re wrong they are killed.”

“And has anyone guessed right?” Asked the hero. The boy motioned around him with his hands.

“What do you think?”

“Is there a way for the boy to live?” Aegeus addressed Aleta.

“If there is a willing volunteer, they can take his place and answer the question.”

Aegeus looked down at the boy. The fear he so obviously felt was masked by a wall of

rebelliousness. He felt his heart break for the youth, but could he really risk his life for someone he just

met? He thought of his wife and unborn child. This was for them. But then he looked back at the boy

kneeling before death, and he knew he couldn’t just walk away.

“I’ll do it.” Alta looked at him, surprised. “I’ll volunteer.”

“Really?” gasped the boy.

“Yes, now ask me your question.”

The sphynx smiled slyly. Aegeus expected a question about the gods, or the adventures of

Perseus and Hercules, or even an unsolvable equation.

“What is the longest one syllable word?” Okay, that was unexpected. Thought the warrior. It

was a deceptively difficult question, and Aegeus thought about his literally life or death answer.

Thought. It was definitely an option. Strengths. That was a good one too. The mortal looked down at the

boy, his face scraunched in frustration.

“That’s it!” Cried Aegeus. “The answer is ‘Scraunched’. The beast’s face slackened in shock. “So,

by your own decree, you must leave this village to be in peace!” Alta roared, rearing up on her hind legs.

“I will NEVER!” She stomped down hard, causing the ground at her feet to split. Aegeus lunged

towards the sphinx, pushing with all his might, causing Alta to stumble and slip, eventually plummeting

down into the ever-widening crevasse she herself had created. Her screeches could be heard minutes

after her bulk disappeared from sight, growing fainter and fainter until they faded into silence.

The crowd was motionless, you could have heard a drachma hit the ground it was so still. Then

someone started clapping. Just one solitary person, which turned into two, then four, then ten, and

suddenly, the whole square was filled with rigorous applause. Aegeus blushed and reached out the boy

who was still kneeling on the ground in shock.

The haze lifted from the town, and a bright blue sky beckoned their eyes upward.

“You have saved us, mighty hero!” Shouted a person out of the din. A bedraggled woman came

rushing from the crowd and collapsed on the ground in front of the boy, wrapping her arms around him

in a tight hug. The boy leaned down a whispered into the woman’s ear. she shook her head vigorously,

cause dust to fly off her tangled locks. The two continued to whisper, until finally, she nodded, giving

the boy one final, longing hug before disappearing into the crowd once more. The child stood before

Aegeus, obviously wanting to speak with him. He waited for the ruckus to dial down, then addressed to

the hero.

“Sir, you have saved my life, and for that I owe you my undying devotion. Please accept my offer

by allowing me on your quest.”

May 31, 2021 06:43

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