Medusa - A tale of fatal attraction
One of the best things about organizing 'The Indifiction Workshop' was gaining acquintance of numerous talented writers. Rubina Ramesh was one of them I met as part of the group. Very soon the tables were turned - I became a member of her book tour group - The Book Club. However not before I got a glimpse of her passion for mythological fiction. So when I started a series on mythological fiction, hers was one of the first names that came to my mind. And thankfully she agreed to gift me one despite this being the national novel writing month. Read on this beautiful tale where she combines her two favorite genres - romance and mythology. if you like this story, you can check out more of her works here.
The air crackled with a sudden change of temperature. Some kind of energy had suddenly engulfed the Temple of Athena. The young maiden, arranging the morning blooms, stiffened. Her delicate fingers crushed the innocent petals mercilessly. She wasn’t sure what it was happening – but the rage on the Goddess Athena’s face was palpable.
“What’s wrong, my lady?” she asked, a slight fear gripping her mortal heart. “Are you displeased with any of the arrangements for our prayers tonight?” The young maiden tried to sound brave but history had taught her and her people that when Gods go crazy, the mere mortals must pay.
“Hush, Medusa,” Athena’s voice was strained. “Go inside and stay there.”
Medusa didn’t need a second invitation. She clamored back to her antechamber, tucked at the back of the Old Temple. She almost prayed that whatever Athena was busy about would give her,Medusa the chance to go and visit her parents. It was almost a year now since she had last seen them.
But that hope died soon.
“Medusa! Come out now,” Athena bellowed. For a petite woman, she sure had a commanding voice. None of Medusa’s thoughts showed on her face as she willed herself to mask her feelings. She had learned how to keep herself always calm and placid as her position as the High Priestess of the Temple demanded. Moreover, showing any of her personal fear in front of Goddess Athena was nothing but pure torture. That the very reason why she was in this position, away from her family.
But Athena was not alone. Medusa gasped at the tall stranger standing in front of Athena. No wonder the Goddess was so furious when she had sensed his arrival much before any mortal could. From what Medusa had head was that these two were once-upon-a-time lovers-turned-enemies. Poseidon, the God of the Sea was not someone whom you would have as an enemy. But then, Athena was not a small goddess herself.
Poseidon gave Medusa a fleeting glance as she swayed into the main hall. Her natural grace seemed more pronounced now to an onlooker, but it was not contrived. Athena always teased her that she swayed like those weeping willows near the lake, as they swayed with abandonment in the breeze. But Medusa knew why she did it. To control her nervousness. To stand in front of two powerful Gods, one needed a strong heart.
“Aha..!” Poseidon’s eyes held a strange glint. He took in her golden long hair, held by a mother-of-pearl hairclip – her only ornament. Her flowing white robe, which she had to wear as a High Priestess, made her look like an ethereal being. “The lovely Priestess, of whom I’ve heard so much about, the praises were certainly well deserved.” Poseidon was a gentleman personified.
“My Lord!” she curtseyed deep, “it’s an honor to be in your presence.”
She was cut short by an unladylike snort form Athena. “Pleasure seeing the water bearer, girl?” she smirked.
“Careful, Athena,” Poseidon grinned, “or I would think you’re still in love with me. “
Medusa gasped. She certainly didn’t need to be privy to such information. Such knowledge would haunt a mortal all her life.
“How dare you?” Athena thundered. “You know that the Temple is my sanctuary – my solitary refuge. Yet you come here, for reasons unknown, just to irritate me? Mock me?”
“No, darling Athena,” Poseidon looked shocked at Athena’s words; or at least pretended to be shocked. “I come here bearing gifts. Call it a truce, if you must, but Zeus is after me to bring you back home.”
"No," Athena was horrified, "never. But out of curiosity, what kind of truce are you offering?"
"Anything you want from the depth of my oceans, sweet Athena."
"Aha! That sounds big. In exchange to what?"
"I haven't thought about it, but if you insist....," Poseidon looked around, looking innocent and confused at the same time and then his eyes fell on the temple priestess, Medusa.
"Medusa. Give me Medusa. She'll be an asset to my water kingdom with a lovely voice, she can soothe the fiery creatures in the ocean."
Silence. No one spoke after this blatant declaration by Poseidon. Medusa stood rooted to the spot. She knew that her life had now changed forever. A low rumbling sound had started from within Athena. Only Poseidon looked unaffected.
"How dare you, you vile God?" Athena was shaking in her anger.
Medusa gasped, for the Earth Mother Gia had already warned them that she couldn’t bear Athena’s anger and Zeus too had warned her not to display her anger while she was on Earth. But Athena was past caring.
“You’ve been lusting after my maiden Priestess?” she asked nastily. “How long? Tell me how long have you been watching her?”
Poseidon didn't look unperturbed at all. Now that Athena already knew, all his attention was focused on Medusa, gauging her reaction.
Medusa's face was unreadable. One would think looking at her that she was not even aware of his presence. This irked Poseidon. He was never ignored. Especially by a mere mortal, whose only two qualifications were that she was very beautiful and Athena would fight with thunder and bolts and if need be, unleash all her power on him if she was crossed. Just what he had intended. But Medusa didn't seem at all excited by the attention she was getting and this intrigued Poseidon.
"Get out of my temple. NOW," ordered Athena.
Poseidon lowered his head and looked straight at Medusa's blank eyes, "I'll come back for you, sweetheart." He then merged in the thin air, the only trace remaining of his presence were a few drops of water scattered on the floor.
After Poseidon had left, Athena turned towards Medusa, "did you know about all this?"
"No, my lady. I'd never even seen the mighty Poseidon before," Medusa said quietly, her huge eyes shimmering with unshed tears. But, Athena didn't notice anything for anger consumed her. The warmth of the temple was gone. Medusa was afraid of this precisely when Poseidon was declaring his affections. She knew hell hath no fury when Athena was crossed.
"Please calm down, my lady,” she pleaded. "I have no interest in Poseidon. My only duty is to serve you."
"Don't you dare forget that, Medusa."
Athena had started breathing normally again, "I gave you a second lease on life, an identity, even when your own parents wouldn't have you – for you don't have any godly powers like your parents and sisters."
"I remember," Medusa whispered, turning away, too hurt to control the tears any more. But, Athena was relentless, cruel.
"Don't ever forget how you were mocked by your sisters. How embarrassed your parents were when you were born an ordinary mortal."
Medusa hung her head in shame, her golden tresses shielding her from Athena, protecting her from further humiliation.
Athena's rant continued, "it was I, who gave you the position high priestess. Today your sisters have to bow down before you, when they come to this temple."
“I know, my lady," Medusa interjected quietly, "it's something I've never forgotten."
Seeing her easy compliance to the situation, Athena cooled down. Her bright smile returned. Medusa let out a breath of relief.
Life continued and this incident became a distant memory. Poseidon's name was never mentioned again. But in the wee hours of night, Medusa couldn't stop her mind from conjuring up the image of the handsome god. The proud stance emoting confidence, his wicked smile always accompanied by a twinkle in his eyes. But, most of all, his devil may care attitude towards Athena's wrath. To be so free must be so exhilarating.
But Medusa didn't let any of these thoughts to resurface in front of Athena. There were her companions in loneliness.
A few months later, after this unfortunate incident, Medusa was gathering flowers for the temple decoration. The early blooms where specially designed for the temple's garden by none other than the nymph, Flora. They never wilted. Medusa loved the blue orchids the most - the colour of water. She was stunned at the stray thought that suddenly flashed in the mind. The orchid slipped through her nervous fingers.
As she bent down to pick it up, strong, masculine fingers reached it first. Startled, she stepped away and almost fell off the ledge, had not strong arms grasped her. She couldn't look away. Were there waves in those light blue eyes? Like in a stormy night those white foam lashes against the stones. Dangerous yet fascinating!
"Watch out, pretty maiden," Poseidon said smoothly, "We can't have the High Priestess of Athena roaming about with a broken leg, now can we?"
Medusa felt like thousands of drums were beating in her heart. Her cheeks felt so hot. Involuntarily, she touched her face but the smile on Poseidon's face made her quickly drop it by her side. She steadied herself, not wanting to appear weak in front of the mighty. Poseidon There was a look of open appreciation in his eyes. Appreciation and a tinge of regret. Regret? Her heart started beating faster. Something was not right. Even without powers, like her sisters had, Medusa had one gift – a sense of intuition. Her intuitions had never failed her. The best thing would be to escape into the walls of the temple which till now had kept her safe. But, Poseidon was not in a mood to let her go.
"Spend some time with me," he said in a commanding voice. His voice was gentle but the steel in his eyes couldn't be ignored.
"Athena would be waiting for me." Medusa knew that either way she was dammed. Caught between two gods was not a great position to be in. They often treated mortals like mere play things or chips on a game of draughts. She gathered up her small basket, full of the new blooms and started walking towards the temple. But Poseidon had other ideas. In a flash, he was in front of her. She just told there quietly.
"You've been thinking about me, haven't you?"
Medusa was startled. How did he know? She hadn't told anyone about it. Unless.....
Her eyes flashed anger. "You. You are the one who had been putting those dreams in my head." Now she understood why they always felt so real. The red hue on her face deepened, "were they dreams at all?"
Poseidon laughed - a roaring laughter, full of mirth. "One of the perks of being a God!"
Medusa was aghast. All the time she had been berating herself for the dreams, she was being actually used by a God as a toy for his own amusement. But as with all the mortals she too felt helpless; a feeling that she had always hated for all her life when her sisters had played tricks on her using their magic powers mercilessly toying with her. Today all her hidden anger and fears came to the surface. She felt that she had become the favorite punching bag of the divine powers.
"You make fun of me, for you've all the powers." Her voice was clear and bold. "You say that you love me. Why? Why do you love me? Just to challenge Athena? Am I nothing but a piece of flesh to be played with?" Her clear, round eyes look straight at Poseidon; her anger had made her bold enough to look directly at his face without being cowed down by the power of his divinity.
Poseidon had stood rooted on his spot. Medusa's anger made her look radiant. Like a halo it surrounded her, giving her a divine aura. Marveling at the creation before him, Poseidon walked up to her. Against his will, his fingers trace the counters of her face, stopping near her soft lips.
"Such beauty shouldn't be locked up due to Athena's madness."
"I'm happy as I am," Medusa said stiffly.
She didn't reply but turned to go, deciding then and there that she could tolerate his anger but not his love. For gods were known to be generous in love and fickle in commitments.
But Poseidon wasn't let her go just like that. Like a man seeking desperately for the taste of ambrosia, he spun her around and claimed her lips. No magic, no divinity must have felt as real as the moment when Medusa's heart accepted her love for him.
"Have you enchanted me?" she asked in a whisper when he finally released her.
"No, my lady. But you have."
His eyes were shining brightly and the waves she had seen in them earlier seemed to have quieted down. Medusa couldn't help but pride herself on the fact that she was witnessing something very few women must have witnessed before: a calm Poseidon - for he was always on the rampage.
"Till we meet again, my darling," said Poseidon's sweetly and merged into the thin air.
Suddenly everything looked different to Medusa. The colors looked all brighter, the birds chirpier and even the way to the temple witnessed her carefree steps. The quiet, obedient Medusa had today found a reason to live. She had finally fallen in love.
Her Rhapsody with her Poseidon continued. He was a great listener, an admirer, a lover. Soon she started visualizing their future together. Poseidon had promised her divine powers, so that she could live in the underwater palace of his.
The only fear that gripped her heart was how Athena would react to this. She dreaded even to think of it. Athena had not visited the temple after she had left for Olympus. Medusa almost hoped that Athena had forgotten about her. But like every good thing must come to an end, so did this.
Poseidon had not visited her for three days and she wondered if the gods were at war again. Feeling restless, she decided to go out for a walk. The sun had just gone down and the orange hue in the sky was breathtaking. Near the white lilies, Medusa saw a baby rattlesnake struggling for its life. She gently disengaged it from the branches and was about to lay it down on the ground when the chill in the air warned her about Athena's arrival.
She stiffened and whirled around. Athena stood silently under the Olive tree. Medusa shivered for even from a distance, Athena anger could not be ignored.
"What have you done, you foolish girl?" Athena screamed.
Medusa took a step back for in fear. In a flash, Athena was in front of her.
"I'm so sorry, goddess." Medusa was trembling in the wake of the goddess's anger but she had hoped that like everyone has a soft corner for love stories, so would she. Moreover, Zeus had been against this relationship between Athena and Poseidon. Poseidon in one of their pillow talks had imparted this particular piece of information.
"My lady," she continued hoping against hope to pacify Athena. "Poseidon loved me and I too have given my heart to him without taking your permission."
Athena burst out laughing hysterically. Her tinkling sound reverberated against all the bells around the temple. They all started swaying and seemed to have taken a life of their own.
This also confirmed what was in Medusa's heart all along – being at the receiving end of Athena's anger was not a good position to be.
"You foolish girl, do you think he was ever in love with you?" Athena raged. "No. Never! He's not capable of that tender emotion. He used you, like he uses anyone who serves a purpose in his life at that point of time."
Medusa closed her eyes. Her ears refused to hear what her heart always knew. But Athena was not going to stop. "We had a treaty, Poseidon and me. He would not take my temple of a till the grounds of my temple was kept pious and chaste. YOU, YOU have given him what he wanted. You have sinned on this very ground, bringing him inside this sacred temple to give into your animal needs. Now, because of this, the temple will be destroyed forever – he will take over the power that resides in the grounds of this temple thus become stronger than his brothers."
Involuntarily, Medusa clasped the little rattlesnake near her heart. Athena's eyes fell on the hideous reptile and the slow grin spread on her face.
"Aha!" Athena licked her lips, "my dear, sweet Medusa. How your beauty attracts even animals."
A mighty wind started roaring around her. Medusa stood in the midst in a trance, powerless in front of the angry goddess. Athena’s lips were curled up in an angry snarl. “From today any man or beast who sees you, will feel only revulsion. Only revulsion! Your beautiful golden tresses will turn into thousands reptiles like the one you hold in your hand, all vying each other to bite anyone who comes near you. No one will survive who dares come near you will ever survive. “
“No….” whimpered Medusa.
But Athena was not done yet. “Not only will anyone living being come near you. No being will even be able to come under your seductive gaze. Anything you love or find pleasant to look at will turn into stone the moment your eye falls on it. No man, demi-god or God will be spared from this. You will be loathed by one and all.”
Medusa heard no more. The sheer terror of Athena’s words had made her slip into oblivion.
Coming up next week - As the river flows - a tale based on Indian mythology - yet another guest post