This Week’s Prompt is: 1.Demophon shivered when the sun shone upon him. (Lover of darkness = ignorance.).
The Research:Beginnings and Demophon
Demophon walked across the port to the rotting planks of his long abandoned vessel. From Thrace to Troy to Athens to Cyprus it had traveled, battered by wind and sea. Its sails were now in tatters, the captive gusts howling free. The smell of mold burbled up from below, where the lively sea had brought sea urchins and kelp nested.
Such decay he had not seen in many years, not since the day after Troy burned. Visions of bygone Illium appeared before his eyes, its cities a blaze and its women weeping. From inside Odysseus’ scheming horse. The people cheering their last. Helen coming in each wives voice, silencing every man who made to leave. The terror of the Trojans caught sleeping, the shining of his bronze. Like Ares he came down on them, the sureness of his sword.
His grandmothers gasp as he freed her from the fire that consumed Paris’s palace. His brother Acamas struck down by men of Priam’s blood. It ran down his hands from his spear, it stained and stuck to his limbs. The sweat had blurred his eyes. Demophon had struck out at faceless men, and seen their homes set a blaze. And this ship had taken him out to sea, when all was said and done. It was then and there, with Troy won, that he recalled growing fond of wine.
A torch, a torch would be of use in the night. But he feared the rotting wood would break and burn, and then a doom would come onto him. As he strode across the ship that could have been some strange hairy beast, it groaned and creaked beneath his feet. Its wood had turned pale green with mold that felt soft to the touch. He recoiled and recalled her form, his lover Phyllis.
Phyllis was a wilder beauty than Greeks would boast of. Odysseus’s circumspect Penelope may rival wise Athene, and if Menelaus’ blasphemies were believed the Helen of Sparta would stand above the rest. But for Demophon, it was Phyllis who stirred his chest. Her hands were tanned, her eyes matched the birds, and her hair so pale as to nearly resemble the green of the trees. Yet the greatest was was her voice, which bore a song worthy of a self-made muse. Demophon smiled at the thought of bygone Phyllis. He now thought fondly of their wedding night and their wedding day, and of how on the next morning he stood atop this ship, to sail away to Athens again. His father now doubt wished to hear news of his bride and of Troy.
“Do not fret, do not cry, I shall be gone but a while. In a three years time, from Athens I will set sail, to your arms again,” he had said, smiling his veins red with wine.
“You promise too much, you are drunk with joy. Yet, if your hand is mine, let me send you with a gift,” she said, laughing in her flowing gown.
“A gift? Oh, you have already –-”
“Save your flattery, husband, and let me fetch my offering,” she said, touching my for head to silence him. Before he could speak she left. He and his crew stood waiting, gathered to see what the Princess of Sithion would send to him. Gold, perhaps, or well made furs, or perhaps some great bow or sword of her father.
When she returned, it was with a pair of short men in heavy barbarian cloaks and faces hidden behind masks. They carried over their head a casket, with a pair of golden lions engraved. The men of Cyprus, wise Egpytians, had told Demophon later that it was Rhea’s sign. Rhea, mountain mother, who bore all the gods. A good omen, they had said.
“If fate scorns you, and forbids you to return, then open this casket. But only when all hope is lost, and all things are sure. If you return as you say, then I shall bury it that very day,” she said, her face now grim and wild. Her eyes seemed swollen and her mouth crooked for just a moment. But Demophon swore, never to once glance in until all was set in the stars. And his men swore likewise.
Down amongst the broken oars, a single rusting blade caught the son of Theseus’s eye. Demophon bent down and among the decaying timbers did examine for a time the blade of his navigator, lost at sea. Fallen over board in the storm that drove his ship from its Thrace bound course. Here it had landed, on the Cyprian shore, far from Hellenic lands. And it was a pleasing place for a time, as Dionysus himself seemed to walk these shores and water the city with wine. And with his navigator gone, he had resolved to stay for the time.
“We must wait a while,” he said to his gathered crew, “until another man can be found. Let us enjoy respite and rest for a time and then, in a month, be Thrace bound.”
A month became a year, a year a decade. Brick by brick his men raised houses of stone along the shores, to see the luxurious sea. For a time all was bliss, for a time all was grand. They forgot the fall of Illium, they forgot their native land. And in time, even Phyllis and her casket Demophon’s mind abandoned. Until a swift Thracian ship was seen on the shore.
A quick footed messenger came up from the sea, speaking to no one as he went. He was thin and frail, a man only by perhaps a year or so. His eyes were faded green, like the moss of the ship. But his voice recalled to Demophon’s mind a woman he had once worshiped.
“My lady Phyllis lies dead beside the waves. She grew wise to your intentions and could not bear the pain. Know this, you are not welcome in Thrace. Return again, and you find armed against your grace. Know the Furies will come upon you, having seen your oath betrayed,” the messenger said to Demophon in his many pillared hall. And Demophon stared back, confused at his words for a time, until a searing pain began in his mind. His hand were not his own, he said, his sight gone and confused. A spear had flown from his throne, and struck the lad through.
And now he beheld it, a black casket with moonlight gold, in a jungle of decay and life. It almost seemed to float atop the sea itself, so weighed down was the ship. As he pulled, he felt the touch of a thousand small fingers, coiling and squirming within. Crawling across the body, the coffin was filled to the brim with maggots and fungi, excepting the face. It stood firm against the tide of chaos and decay, almost admirable in a way. Demophon smiled from a distance.
And then rosy fingered Dawn came from the east, down into the ship. The lights fell upon the squirming mass of limb and bone, revealing all to Demophon. And with a shout, he fled the ship. Up to Cyprus, shouting like a wounded bird ran Demophon. When he reached his marble hall, he grabbed his shepherd by the shoulders.
“Fetch me marble, velvet and fur! Quick, quick, the sun must not shine. Banish the musiscians, castrate any who say Apollo’s name! Make my hall a tomb, let the neither torch or star shine! Burn every book, destroy every map, cast out anyone who would claim to know anything,” he shouted, trembling and wet.
A monument now stands in Cyprus in defiance of the sun. Demophon has not left in all the years that have come to past. Yet those who ventured to his hall, to see his regal grace, found a creature pale and eyes plucked out and tears red still running down its face. The ship was burnt and sent below, its cargo never seen. Yet Demophon could not rest, nor sleep, nor dream. For even in dream, the gods gave him no peace. That wild Thracian maiden called to him, and the thing within the coffin wrapped around his mortal form. Shouts would echo down from his place into the Cyprian streets. But three years past when the deed was done, the noise ceased at last. Pale and blind, died Demophon of Athens mewling.
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