The boat bumped at last against the island's only dock. Perseus alighted at once, making his way through the familiar smells of rotting seaweed, and drying fish, towards the village wedged in the little that existed between mountain and sea.
I'm finally here, he thought, excitement and trepidation churning in his stomach, his eyes eating up the village so like his own, but different in one very important way: this village was the gateway to Medusa's lair.
At the base of the cliffs, at the edge of the string of houses, he spotted a taverna. His approached was closely watched by two older men sitting at a table out the front, playing knuckles bones in the sun as they sipped their wine. The building was built straight onto the cliff, with rough rock walls facing the sea, blocking out the strong sunlight. It was the only one, leanly profiting from the isolation of its meager clientele, and they clung to its services like the village itself clung to the base of the sea-besieged mountain isle. Inside it was dark, and pulling off his plebeian cap, Perseus paused for a moment to get used to the dimness after the hours of ocean sun. The other customers studied him quietly, appearing out of the shadows as his eyes adjusted, til finally he could discern the barman and approached him, requesting aught to quench his thirst, and news of Medusa.
"Medusa." The barman spat at her name. "She's a vile witch. She'll steal your soul and turn you to stone. Many's gone to take her and none returned. What you want with her?"
"Her head," Perseus replied steadily, pride refusing to let his fear show.
"Brave lad," the barman said, raising his eyebrows, "Many's a hero gone to collect her head and none returned. Good luck to you."
"Nay, don't seek her out," an older woman warned, rising from her table, and Perseus tried not to shrink away from the force of her gaze, "Keep away."
"I'll not be turned from my quest" he replied quietly, but not quite managing to meet her eyes, and turning to the others, "What can you tell me of her?"
"She is monstrous."
"Everything she sees she turns to stone."
A drunk sniggered, and the barman's wife took away his cup.
"If you want her so badly, lad, head for the marble peak," the barman said, refilling Perseus's cup, "She is said to be found in a valley thereabouts."
"And here," the barman's wife added, polishing her round bronze tray with a rag, and handing it to him with a sneering smile, "Boy's got no shield. You'll need something to protect yourself with!"
He took it, silent amongst their laughter, drained his cup and went to leave. But the older woman barred his path.
"Do not continue on your quest," she said, her voice low as if cursing him, "It will only bring ill."
"Leave him be, woman," the barman interrupted, "the boy wants to try his luck; let him. Are you selling your wares or not? Show me your herbs."
Perseus stepped around her and headed for the light. The drunk followed him out.
"I'll tell you, boy," he slurred , "I'll tell you a spell, a little rhyme, to help you out."
Perseus paused, listening.
"There once was a girl called Medusa," the drunk started, grinning, "The king of the seas did seduce her-"
"Get away from me, you wretch," Perseus muttered, turning away from him in disgust, caring not for his doggerel verse. But the drunk sang after him, louder and louder, laughing.
"Not jealous by half,
Athena did laugh
To what monstrousness her wrath had reduced her!"
Perseus refused to be swayed by their jeers or their warnings. In appearance, at least. Inside, his heart beat loud as he faced the final leg of his quest.