Greek Missology #1: Andromeda and Persueus
Andromeda was feeling the strain. "Why me?" she demanded. She'd figured Zeus wanted something from her when he invited her up to good old Mount Olympus for the weekend, but she'd thought it would be something else. She'd been ready to play along, too-how did you go about saying no to the king of the gods? You didn't, not unless you were looking for a role in a tragedy. But… this?
"Why you?" Zeus eyed her as if he'd had something else in mind, too. But then he looked over at Hera, his wife, and got back to the business at hand. "Because you're the right man-uh, the right person-for the job."
"Yeah, right," Andromeda said. "Don't you think you'd do better having a man go out and fight the Gorgons? Isn't that what men are for? — fighting, I mean." She knew what else men were for, but she didn't want to mention that to Zeus, not with Hera listening.
And Hera was listening. She said, "Men are useless-for fighting the Gorgons, I mean." She sounded as if she meant a lot of other things, too. She was looking straight at Zeus.
No matter how she sounded, the king of the gods dipped his head in agreement. "My wife's right." By the sour look on his face, that sentence didn't pass his lips every eternity. "The three Gorgons are fearsome foes. Whenever a man spies Cindy, Claudia, or Tyra, be it only for an instant, he turns to stone."
"Part of him turns to stone, anyway," Hera said acidly.
"And, so, you not being a man, you being a woman…" Zeus went on.
"Wait a minute. Wait just a linen-picking minute," Andromeda broke in. "You're not a man, either, or not exactly a man. You're a god. Why don't you go and take care of these Gorgons with the funny names your own self?"
Zeus coughed, then brightened. "Well, my dear, since you put it that way, maybe I ought to-"
"Not on your immortal life, Bubba," Hera said. "You lay a hand on those hussies and you're mythology."
"You see how it is," Zeus said to Andromeda. "My wife doesn't understand me at all."
Getting in the middle of an argument between god and goddess didn't strike Andromeda as Phi Beta Kappa-or any other three letters of the Greek alphabet, either. Telling Zeus to find himself another boy-or girl-wouldn't be the brightest thing since Phoebus Apollo, either. With a sigh, she said, "Okay. You've got me." Zeus' eyes lit up. Hera planted an elbow in his divine ribs. Hastily, Andromeda went on, "Now what do I have to do?"
"Here you are, my dear." From behind his gold-and-ivory throne, Zeus produced a sword belt. He was about to buckle it on Andromeda-and probably let his fingers do a little extra walking while he was taking care of that-when Hera let out a sudden sharp cough. Sulkily, the king of the gods handed Andromeda the belt and let her put it on herself.
From behind her throne, Hera pulled out a brightly polished shield. "Here," she said. "You may find this more useful against Cindy, Claudia, and Tyra than any blade. Phallic symbols, for some reason or other, don't much frighten them."
"Hey, sometimes a sword is just a sword," Zeus protested.
"And sometimes it's not, Mr. Swan, Mr. Shower-of-Gold, Mr. Bull-plenty of bull for all the girls from here to Nineveh, and I'm damned Tyred of it," Hera said. Zeus fumed. Hera turned back to Andromeda. "If you look in the shield, you'll get some idea of what I mean."
"Is it safe?" Andromeda asked. As Zeus had, Hera dipped her head. Her divine husband was still sulking, and didn't answer one way or the other. Andromeda cautiously looked. "I can see myself!" she exclaimed-not a claim she was likely to be able to make after washing earthenware plates, no matter the well from which the house slaves brought back the dishwashing liquid. A moment later, her hands flew to her hair. "Eeuw! I'm not so sure I want to."
"It isn't you, dearie-it's the magic in the shield," Hera said, not unkindly. "If you really looked like that, loverboy here wouldn't be interested in feeling your pain… or anything else he could get his hands on." She gave Zeus a cold and speculative stare. "At least, I don't think he would. He's not always fussy."
A thunderbolt appeared in Zeus' right hand. He tossed it up and down, hefting it and eyeing Hera. "Some of them-most of them, even-keep their mouths shut except when I want them to be open," he said meaningfully.
Hera stood up to her full height, which was whatever she chose to make it. Andromeda didn't quite come up to the goddess' dimpled knee. "Well, I'd better be going," she said hastily. If Zeus and Hera started at it hammer and tongs, they might not even notice charbroiling a more or less innocent mortal bystander by mistake.
* * *
Just finding Cindy, Claudia, and Tyra didn't prove easy. Minor gods and goddesses weren't allowed to set up shop on Olympus; they lowered surreal-estate values. Andromeda had to go through almost all of Midas' Golden Pages before getting so much as a clue about where she ought to be looking.
Even then, she was puzzled. "Why on earth-or off it, for that matter-would they hang around with a no-account Roman goddess?" she asked.
"What, you think I hear everything?" Midas' long, hairy, donkeyish ears twitched. "And why should I give a Phryg if I do hear things?" His ears twitched again, this time, Andromeda judged, in contempt. "You know about the Greek goddess of victory, don't you?"
"Oh, everybody knows about her." Andromeda sounded scornful, too. Since the Greeks had pretty much stopped winning victories, the goddess formerly in charge of them had gone into the running-shoe business, presumably to mitigate the agony of defeat on de feet. Nike had done a gangbanger business, too, till wing-footed Hermes hit her with a copyright-infringement suit that showed every sign of being as eternal as the gods.
"So there you are, then," Midas said. "I don't know what Victoria's secret is, and I don't give a darn."
"That's my shortstop," Andromeda said absently, and let out a long, heartfelt sigh. "I'll just have to go and find out for myself, won't I?"
Thinking of Hermes and his winged sandals gave her an idea. Back to the high-rent district of Mount Olympus she went. The god raised his eyebrows. He had a winged cap, too, one that fluttered off his head in surprise. "You want my shoes?" he said.
"I can't very well walk across the Adriatic," Andromeda said.
"No, that's a different myth altogether," Hermes agreed.
"And then up to Rome, to see if the gods are in," Andromeda went on.
"They won't be, not when the mercury rises," Hermes said, "They'll be out in the country, or else at the beach. Pompeii is very pretty this time of year."
"Such a lovely view of the volcano," Andromeda murmured. She cast Hermes a melting look. "May I please borrow your sandals?"
"Oh, all right," he said crossly. "The story would bog down if I told you no at this point."
"You'd better not be reading ahead," Andromeda warned him. Hermes just snickered. Gods had more powers than mortals, and that was all there was to it. When Andromeda put on the winged sandals and hopped into the air, she stayed up. "Gotta be the shoes," she said.
"Oh, it is," Hermes assured her. "Have fun in Italy."
As she started to fly away, Andromeda called back, "Do you know what Victoria's secret is?"
The god dipped his head to show he did. "Good camera angles," he replied.
* * *
Good camera angles. A quiet hostel. A nice view of the beach. And, dammit, a lovely view of the volcano, too. Vesuvius was picturesque. And so were Cindy, Claudia, and Tyra, dressed in lacy, colorful, overpriced wisps of not very much. As soon as Andromeda set eyes on them, she started hoping the mountain would blow up and bury those three in lava. Molten lava. Red-hot molten lava. The rest of Pompeii? So what? Herculaneum? So what? Naples, up the coast? Who needed it, really?
But Vesuvius stayed quiet. Of course it did. Hephaestus or Vulcan or whatever name he checked into motels with locally was probably up at the top of the spectacular cone, peering down, leering down, at some other spectacular cones. "Men," Andromeda muttered. No wonder they'd given her this job. And they wouldn't thank her for it once she did it, either.
As Andromeda flew down toward the Gorgons with the spectacularly un-Hellenic names, Victoria flew up to meet her, saying, "Whoever you are, go away. We're just about to shoot."
Shooting struck Andromeda as altogether too good for them. "Some victory you're the goddess of," she sneered, "unless you mean the one in Lysistrata."
"You're just jealous because you can't cut the liquamen, sweetheart," Victoria retorted.
Andromeda smiled a hemlock-filled smile. "Doesn't matter whether I am or not," she answered. "I'm on assignment from Zeus and Hera, so you can go take a flying leap at Selene."
"Uppity mortal! You can't talk to me like that." Victoria drew back a suddenly very brawny right arm for a haymaker that would have knocked the feathers right off of Hermes' sandals.
"Oh, yes, I can," Andromeda said, and held up the shield Hera had given her.
She didn't know whether it could have done a decent job of stopping the goddess' fist. That didn't matter. Victoria took one brief look at her reflection and cried, "Vae! Malae comae! Vae!" She fled so fast, she might have gone into business with her Greek cousin Nike.
A grim smile on her face, Andromeda descended on Cindy, Claudia, and Tyra. They were lined up on the beach like three tenpins-except not so heavy in the bottom, Andromeda thought resentfully. Had they been lined up any better, she'd have bet she could've looked into the left ear of the one on the left and seen out the right ear of the one on the right.
They turned on her in unison when she alighted on the sand. "Ooh, I like those sandals," one of them crooned fiercely. "Gucci? Louis Vuitton?"
"No, Hermes'," Andromeda answered. She fought panic as they advanced on her, swaying with menace-or something.
"I wonder what she's doing here," one of the Gorgons said. She waved at the gorgeous scenery, of which she and her comrades were the most gorgeous parts. "I mean, she's so plain."
"Mousy," agreed another.
"Nondescript. Utterly nondescript," said the third, proving she did have room in her head for a three-syllable word: two of them, even.
And the words flayed like fire. Cindy, Claudia, and Tyra weren't even contemptuous. It was as if Andromeda didn't rate contempt. That was their power; just by existing, they made everyone around them feel inadequate. Zeus wanted me, Andromeda thought, trying to stay strong. But what did that prove? Zeus wanted anything that moved, and, if it didn't move, he'd give it an experimental shake.
Andromeda felt like curling up on the beach and dying right there. If she put the shield up over her, maybe it would keep her from hearing any more of the Gorgons' cruel words. The shield…!
With a fierce cry of her own, Andromeda held it up to them. Instead of continuing their sinuous advance, they fell back with cries of horror. Peering down over the edge of the shield, Andromeda got a quick glimpse of their reflections. The shield had given her and Victoria bad hair. It was far more pitiless to Cindy, Claudia, and Tyra, perhaps because they had further to fall from the heights of haute couture. Whatever the reason, the three Gorgons' hair might as well have turned to snakes once the shield had its way with them.
"Plain," Andromeda murmured. "Mousy. Nondescript. Utterly nondescript."
How the Gorgons howled! They fell to their knees in the sand and bowed their heads, trying to drive out those images of imperfection.
Still holding the shield on high, Andromeda drew her sword. She could have taken their heads at a stroke, but something stayed her hand. It wasn't quite mercy: more the reflection that they'd probably already given a good deal of head to get where they were.
Roughly, she said, "Stay away from Olympus from now on, if you know what's good for you. You ever come near there again, worse'll be waiting for you." She didn't know if that was true, but it would be if Hera could make it so.
"But where shall we go?" one of them asked in a small, broken voice. "What shall we do?"
"Try Sports Illustrated," Andromeda suggested, "though gods only know what sport you'd be illustrating."
"Been there," one said. Andromeda had no idea which was which, and didn't care to find out. The other two chorused, "Done that."
"Find something else, then," Andromeda said impatiently. "I don't care what, as long as it's not in Zeus' back yard." And mine, she thought. Thinking that, she started to turn the terrible shield on them again and added, "Or else."
Cindy, Claudia, and Tyra cringed. If they weren't convinced now, they never would be, Andromeda judged. She jumped into the air and flew off. That way, she didn't have to look at them any more, didn't have to be reminded that they didn't really look the way Hera's shield made them seem to. Plain. Mousy. Nondescript. Utterly nondescript. Her hand went to the hilt of the sword. Maybe I should have done a little slaughtering after all. But she kept flying.
* * *
She took the scenic route home-after all, when would she be able to talk Hermes out of his sandals again? She saw Scylla and Charybdis, there by the toe of the Italian boot, and they were as horrible as advertised. She flew over the Pyramids of Egypt. Next door, the Sphinx tried his riddle on her. "Oh, everybody knows that one," Andromeda said, and listened to him gnash his stone teeth.
She admired the lighthouse at Alexandria. It would be very impressive when they got around to building it-and when there was an Alexandria. Then she started north across the wine-dark sea toward Greece.
When she got to the coast near Argos, she saw a naked man chained to the rocks just above the waves. He was a lot more interesting than anything else she'd seen for a while-and the closer she got, the more interesting he looked. By the time she was hovering a few feet in front of him, he looked mighty damn fine indeed, you betcha. "I know it's the obvious question," she said, "but what are you doing here?"
"Waiting to be eaten," he answered.
"Listen, garbagemouth, has it occurred to you that if I slap you silly, you can't do thing one about it?" Andromeda said indignantly. "Has it?"
"No, by a sea serpent," he explained.
"Oh. Well, no accounting for taste, I suppose," she said, thinking of Pasiphae and the bull. Then she realized he meant it literally. "How did that happen?" Another obvious question. "And who are you, anyway?"
"I'm Perseus," he said. "My grandfather, Acrisius, is King of Argos. There's a prophecy that if my mother had a son, he'd end up killing Gramps. So Mom was grounded for life, but Zeus visited her in a shower of gold, and here I am."
"And on display, too," Andromeda remarked. Zeus had been catching Hades from Hera ever since, too-Andromeda remembered the snide Mr. Shower-of-Gold. But that was neither here nor there, and Perseus was definitely here. "The sea serpent will take your granddad off the hook for doing you in?"
"You got it," Perseus agreed.
"Ah… what about the chains? Doesn't he think those might have something to do with him?"
Perseus shrugged. Andromeda admired pecs and abs. The chains clanked. "He's not real long on ethics, Acrisius isn't."
"If you get loose, you'll do your best to make the prophecy come true?" Andromeda asked.
Another shrug. More clanks. More admiration from Andromeda. Perseus said, "Well, I've sure got a motive now, and I didn't before. But I'm not in a hurry about it. Omens have a way of working out, you know? I mean, would you be here to set me free if I weren't fated to do Gramps in one of these years?"
"I'm not here to set you free," Andromeda said. "I just stopped by for a minute to enjoy the scenery, and-"
Perseus pointed. He didn't do it very well-he was chained, after all-but he managed. "Excuse me for interrupting," he said, "but the sea serpent's coming."
Andromeda whirled in the air. "Eep!" she said. Perseus hadn't been wrong. The monster was huge. It was fast. It was hideous. It was wet (which made sense, it being a sea serpent). It had an alarmingly big mouth full of a frighteningly large number of terrifyingly sharp teeth. Andromeda could have rearranged those adverbs any which way and they still would have added up to the same thing. Trouble. Big trouble.
She could also have flown away. She glanced back at Perseus and shook her head. That would have been a waste of a great natural resource. And, no matter what Hera had to say about it, Zeus wouldn't be overjoyed if she left his bastard son out for sea-serpent fast food.
She drew her sword-Zeus' sword-and flew toward the monster. One way or another, this story was going to get some blood in it. Or maybe not. She held up Hera's mirrored shield, right in the sea serpent's face. It might figure it was having a bad scales day and go away.
But no such luck. Maybe the shield didn't work because the sea serpent had no hair. Maybe the serpent had already maxed out its ugly account. Or maybe it was too stupid to notice anything had changed. Andromeda shook her head again. If Cindy, Claudia, and Tyra had noticed, the sea serpent would have to.
No help for it. Sometimes, as Zeus had said, a sword was just a sword. Andromeda swung this one. It turned out to cut sea serpent a lot better than her very best kitchen knife cut roast goose. Chunk after reptilian chunk fell away from the main mass of the monster. The Aegean turned red. The sea serpent really might have been dumber than the Gorgons, because it took a very long time to realize it was dead. Eventually, though, enough of the head end was missing that it forgot to go on living and sank beneath the waves. If the sharks and the dolphins didn't have a food fight with the scraps, they missed a hell of a chance.
Chlamys soaked with seawater and sea-serpent gore, Andromeda flew back toward Perseus. "I would applaud," he said, "but under the circumstances…" He rattled his chains to show what he meant. "That was very exciting."
Andromeda looked him over. He meant it literally. She could tell. She giggled. Greek statues always underestimated things. Quite a bit, here. She giggled again. Sometimes a sword wasn't just a sword.
She looked up toward the top of the rocks. Nobody was watching; maybe Acrisius' conscience, however vestigial, bothered him too much for that. She could do whatever she pleased. Perseus couldn't do anything about it, that was plain enough. Andromeda giggled once more. She flew a little lower and a lot closer.
Perseus gasped. Andromeda pulled back a bit and glanced up at him, eyes full of mischief. "You said you were here to be eaten," she pointed out.
"By a sea serpent!"
"If you don't think this is more fun…" Her shrug was petulant. But, when you got down to the bottom of things, what Perseus thought didn't matter a bit. She went back to what she'd been doing. After a little while, she decided to do something else. She hiked up the clammy chlamys and did it. Though she hadn't suspected it till now, there were times when the general draftiness of Greek clothes and lack of an underwear department at the Athens K-Mart came in kind of handy. Up against the side of a cliff, winged sandals didn't hurt, either. A good time was had by all.
Afterwards, still panting, Perseus said, "Now that you've ravished me, you realize you'll have to marry me."
Andromeda stretched languorously. A very good time had been had by all, or at least by her. She wished for a cigarette, and wished even more she knew what one was. "That can probably be arranged," she purred.
"First, though, you'll have to get me off," Perseus said.
She squawked. "Listen, mister, if I didn't just take care of that-"
"No, off this cliff," he said.
"Oh." Andromeda dipped her head in agreement. "Well, that can probably be arranged, too." She drew the sword again and swung it. It sheared through the metal that imprisoned Perseus like a divine sword cutting cheap bronze chains. After four strokes-considerably fewer than he'd been good for-he fell forward and down. They caught each other in midair. Hermes' sandals were strong enough to carry two. Andromeda had figured they would be. She and Perseus rose together.
After topping the rocks, they flew north toward Argos. Perseus said, "Can I borrow your sword for a minute?"
"Why?" Andromeda looked at him sidelong. "I like the one you come equipped with."
"It won't cut through the manacles on my ankles and wrists," Perseus said.
"Hmm. I suppose not. Sure, go ahead."
Divine swords had a lot going for them. This one neatly removed the manacles without removing the hands and feet they'd been binding. Thinking about all the times she'd sliced herself carving wild boar-those visiting Gauls could really put it away-Andromeda wished she owned cutlery like that.
Perseus said, "Can you steer a little more to the left?"
"Sure," Andromeda said, and did. "How come?"
"That's Acrisius' palace down there." Perseus pointed. "Who knows? Maybe I can make a prophecy come true." He dropped the manacles and the lengths of chain attached to them, one after another. He and Andromeda both watched them fall.
"I can't tell," Andromeda said at last.
"Neither can I." Perseus made the best of things: "If I did nail the old geezer, Matt Drudge'll have it online before we get to Olympus."
* * *
The wedding was the event of the eon. Andromeda's mother and father, Cepheus and Cassiopeia, flew up from their Ethiopian home in their private Constellation. Acrisius' cranium apparently remained undented, but nobody sent him an invitation. Danae, Perseus' mother, did come. She and Hera spent the first part of the weekend snubbing each other.
Zeus dishonored two maids of honor and, once in his cups, seemed convinced every cupbearer was named Ganymede. After he got into the second maid of honor, he also got into a screaming row with Hera. A couple of thunderbolts flew, but the wedding pavilion, though scorched, survived.
Hera and Danae went off in a corner, had a good cry together, and were the best of friends from then on out. A little later, Zeus sidled up to Andromeda and asked in an anxious voice, "What is this First Wives' Club my wife keeps talking about? Do you suppose it is as powerful as my sword?"
"Which one, your Godship, sir?" she returned; she was in her cups, too. Zeus didn't answer, but went off with stormy, and even rather rainy, brow. Before long, he and Hera were screaming at each other again.
And then Andromeda and Perseus were off for their wedding night at the Mount Olympus Holiday Inn. In her cups or not, Andromeda didn't like the way the limo driver handled the horses. Perseus patted her knee. "Don't worry, sweetie," he said. "Phaethon hasn't burned rubber, or anything else, for quite a while now."
She might have argued more, but Perseus' hand, instead of stopping at the knee, kept wandering north. And, with all the gods in the wedding party following the limo, odds were somebody could bring her back to life even if she did get killed.
Ambrosia-Dom Perignon ambrosia, no less-waited on ice in the honeymoon suite. The bed was as big as Boeotia, as soft as the sea-foam that spawned Aphrodite. Out in the hallway, the gods and demigods and mortals with pull who'd been at the wedding made a deityawful racket, waiting for the moment of truth.
They didn't have to wait very long. Perseus was standing at attention even when he lay down on that inviting bed. Wearing nothing but a smile, Andromeda got down beside him. At the appropriate time, she let out a squeal, pretending to be a maiden. Everybody in the hallway let out a cheer, pretending to believe her.
After the honeymoon, things went pretty well. Perseus landed an editorial job at Argosy. Andromeda spent a while on the talk-show circuit: Loves Fated to Happen were hot that millennium. They bought themselves a little house. It was Greek Colonial architecture, right out of Grant Xylum, and they furnished it to match.
When Andromeda sat down on the four-poster bed one night, she heard a peculiar sound, not one it usually made. "What's that?" she asked Perseus.
"What's what?" he said, elaborately casual.
"That noise. Like-metal?"
"Oh. That." Elaborately casual, all right-too elaborately casual. Perseus' face wore an odd smile, half sheepish, half… something else. "It's probably these." He lifted up his pillow.
"Chains!" Andromeda exclaimed. "Haven't you had enough of chains?"
"Well-sort of." Perseus sounded sheepish, too, sheepish and… something else. An eager something else. "But it was so much fun that first time, I, I… thought we might try it again."
"Did you?" Andromeda rubbed her chin. You don't find out everything right away about the person you marry, especially if it's a whirlwind courtship. Gods knew she hadn't expected this. Still… "Why not?" she said at last. "Just don't invite that damn sea serpent."
And a good time was had by all.