The Cavern of Serpents
by Janel Brubaker
Table of Contents|
Chapters: 1, 2 3, 4, 5
This tale takes place in a magical world called Avalon. The country is Estera, a land of merchants and seafarers. The story begins in a maritime city known as Petra. Its people are of the sea, worshippers of the god Poseidon.
Phoebe, the curious daughter of a farmer, is the opening narrator. She is a woman who does not fit inside of the social role assigned to her. She disregards the expectations of society and, in doing so, sets herself on a path of suffering.
The second narrator, a woman who calls herself Python, meets Phoebe under the worst of circumstances, but helps to awaken a shared destiny neither of them could have anticipated.
Chapter 5: Phoebe
When I awoke I was no longer in the cave. I could tell because the cave had a distinct smell, one I had come to hold dear to my heart. It was the smell of aged stone and dirt, of the clear water that ran through the heart of the cave, of the many plants that blossomed at various intervals. The desert smelled of warm sand and hot, thick air. I could hear the crackle of a fire next to me, and I smelled smoke and cooked meat.
I sat up quickly as soon as my mind was clear enough to realize I had been taken from the cave. But how had I come to be in the desert? I thought back to when the intruder had entered the cave; I had been sitting with Viper, Cobra, and Boa after stretching in preparation for my morning exercise.
I had felt an increasing sense of worry in Python that I didn’t understand and, not wanting to be caught completely unprepared in the event of something threatening, I had taken up the habit of stretching and building strength and practicing the little I had been taught of hand-to-hand combat. That was when I heard a strange hiss and a moment later, I was struck in the shoulder with an arrow.
I recalled, too, the sound of footsteps coming closer to me. I heard a man curse, and then he rushed to me. “Where’s the Gorgon?” he asked.
I wrestled away from him, distracted both by the excruciating pain in my shoulder and my sheer surprise that someone else was in our cave. When I didn’t answer him, he said, “Where’s Medusa? The Gorgon with the snakes? The one who turns to stone anyone who looks on her face?”
I shook my head, not understanding. He sighed in frustration and left me in confusion and disbelief. I had heard of Medusa as a child. I had never given much credence to the myths of poor country folk with little better to do than warn children of the dangers in the nearby mountains and caverns. Moreover, Python had never seemed like anything more than another woman banished to the caverns for her sins. I realized then that she had never told me much about herself and, especially, about her past. Could I really have fallen in love with a Gorgon, the monster cursed by the gods? And why would she not tell me the truth?
I reached over to my left shoulder where the pain had lessened. The muscles were stiff and the wound itself was tender, but I found the arrow gone.
“You’re welcome for that,” a male voice said across from me. “Took an awful amount of time to remove that arrow and sew up the wound. I almost let you die, but I figured anyone who’s been in that cave for any amount of time and is still alive deserves to at least experience the open air again.”
“Well, if you hadn’t shot me, there wouldn’t have been an arrow to remove in the first place,” I replied, sitting up and trying to work some of the pain from my shoulder.
He chuckled. “True enough.”
He introduced himself as Perseus, son of the mighty Zeus. I couldn’t decide if I believed him or not. I thought it likely for a demigod to search for monsters to destroy, and I thought it very likely, indeed, for one to brag about his lineage. Not that I knew much about gods, whether demi or thoroughbred. I know more now, and it was Perseus who set me on the path to that knowledge.
He asked me how long I had been in the cave. I chose not to answer him.
“I almost left you there, but you looked so thin and you seemed a bit delirious, mumbling on about something I couldn’t really understand, so I decided to take you with me. You passed out from the pain as I was leaving the cave,” he said.
I said nothing. I couldn’t stop thinking about Python, or Medusa, as I knew her then to be. I had heard the heartbreak in her voice. I had sensed the growing disconnect and the regret inside of her at the moment of her confession, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I didn’t understand how she could keep her identity from me if she loved me as I’d believed she had. I knew she wasn’t an open or vulnerable person, and I knew Python wasn’t her real name, but I had assumed she had only called herself that because her real name didn’t matter. I had assumed that, in keeping the secrets of her past locked away, she was seeking to remake herself rather than hide herself. Why hide from someone she loved?
And yet, knowing the truth made her secrecy all the more understandable. Admitting to being the subject of a myth who has, intentionally or unintentionally, caused the deaths of dozens of people wasn’t something I would be quick to divulge. I couldn’t blame her for being cautious. Moreover, I realized that I didn’t blame her. Any anger I had felt upon uncovering the deception had vaporized almost the moment it manifested. Now I had been taken from her, and I had no idea how to get back. I was about to interrupt Perseus’ incessant rambling to ask him how to get back to the cave when something he said rang in my ears.
“And thanks to this sword here,” I heard him tap on the hilt, “I can bring an end to that monster who held you captive.”
“What?” I asked, trying not to reveal my concern.
“This sword is made of a certain metal known for its incredible strength and indestructibility. It’s only one of five known to exist that can kill a god.”
“Medusa isn’t a god,” I said, my ears filled with the sound of my heartbeat.
“Then that should make her all the easier to kill,” he said. He sounded as if he were smiling when he said it, as if it were all a great joke.
“She’s not a threat to you or anyone else, so long as you stay out of the cave.” I shook my head, my chest tightening as it had the day Serpent was stoned to death. “Why kill someone who isn’t dangerous?”
“Isn’t dangerous?” I could hear in his voice that he thought I was insane. “Those caverns are filled with hundreds of statues of those she’s turned to stone. If she were to ever escape, she could turn whole cities to stone.”
I suddenly noticed the soft slither of snakes inside of my clothing. Viper, Boa, and Cobra were still with me, coiled against my warm flesh. I heard them hiss at Perseus’ threat against Medusa, and I knew then that my life would take a very different path than any I had anticipated.
I thought back to when I married Belen and how innocent and naive I was. I hadn’t a care in the world; I was provided for and looked after. I had servants and a home and clothing finer than I ever would have had as a farmer. I didn’t even recognize the girl I used to be from the woman I was in that desert. It was strange to see how my life had led me to that moment, to see the path unwind before me, revealing a destiny greater than I had ever imagined. For the first time, I knew that I had been born with a purpose. For the first time, I recognized what that purpose was. And it would begin with Perseus, the son of Zeus.
I was going to kill a god.
The story is not yet finished. This is the turning point, where the reimagining splits even further from the old tale and creates for itself something different, something imbued with strength and vengeance and power. This separating from the old represents a transformation of place, time, and identity. In the old tale, the monster is destroyed. The hero proves his worth, his bravery, his godlike strength.
But this is not where Medusa meets her end. She is not vanquished by the demigod; her head is not his trophy, her life is not a conquest. The real monster here is not the woman who is angry, but rather the god who violated her and the demigod who hunted her.
In the rewriting of Medusa’s story, the threads of fate weave a new tapestry, one where Medusa doesn’t wait in the caverns for her demise, but seeks to enforce justice on her own. Here, she takes control over her life, over her choices. In this tale, she is empowered and assisted by other women, rather than abandoned. And in this tale, the farm girl is more than she seems. The salt of the ocean runs through her veins, though she doesn’t yet know it.
This isn’t the age of gods and men. It is the age of the oppressed and the marginalized, and it is just beginning.
Copyright © 2018 by Janel Brubaker