5. Hermes

The rain fell on and on, as if the heavens contained the ocean's endless fill. Beseiged inside the cave, they filled their time telling stories.

"Tell me how you found me," Medusa asked Perseus as he played gently with the tiny infant, "You must have travelled far, and seen much?"

He handed Chrysoar back to her, and leaned back to start on his tale.

"I left Seriphos, oh, it seems an age ago now. I could run as if my feet had wings, but I had no weapons, no idea how to find you…" he laughed. "It seems a reckless quest now, but I set out in all confidence. I had my youth and strength and pride, and that seemed enough. I suppose I thought the gods would provide.

I wandered for a long time. Sometimes I got work in a farmer's field, and bread to fill my hunger, but I couldn't stay anywhere long: I had to find you. One day I was working in a field, felling wheat, and I saw a messenger coming down the road. Out of nowhere, he was attacked. Well, messengers are inviolable, everyone knows that, so I went to his aid."

"But you had no weapons!" she laughed, shaking her head at his recklessness.

"I still had my hands, my strength, are they not weapons? And I brought the scythe with me, unthinking. I probably looked like death – perhaps I frightened him half to death, and my punches only helped him on his way."

"Well, between the two of us we bested him. The messenger, he said his name was Hermes. Ah, he had a golden tongue that one. I was at the end of my confidence, but he encouraged me, convinced me to go on, telling me if I could best an infantryman I could surely best a woman. He said my hat made me look like any old field worker or fisherman, invisible, and that was the best disguise for travelling. But he too noted my lack of weapons."

"Apart from Death's scythe!" she noted, jibing him.

"Well, that did not belong to me. Hermes said no hero was without a sword. He told me to take the soldier's sword, seeing as he didn't appear to be coming back for it. "

"Spoils of war!" she cried, delighted.

"I suppose," He smiled at her responses, wonder how long it had been since she'd had company, that his poor tale caused her such amusement.

"So you had your weapon then, but how did you find me?"

"Hermes knew the whereabouts of a lot people – he has to, to get his messages delivered - but he didn't know where you lived."

"No, thank the gods, he works for Athena," Charis murmured.

"But he had his contacts, and through them I found the Graea. I stole their seeing-crystal, and they'd tell me anything to get it back."

"Oh, the dears, they can see nothing without it. You did give it back?"

"Of course, what do you take me for?"

"Aren't Heroes supposed to be too strong and superior to care about the needs of poor old ladies? Especially handicapped ones."

"Well, perhaps I'm not as much of a hero as I make out," he murmured a little self consciously, and was surprised to hear the women hooting with laughter.

"No, please, go on!" Medusa, gasped, trying to sound contrite.

"Well, that's it really. I came here, and you know the rest." He shrugged a little self consciously.

"That's not much of a story," Charis noted, stirring a pot of soup, and Medusa had to look away to hide her smile.

"Well, it's the truth," Perseus muttered, hunching up against the wall and frowning out at the rain.

***

After days of constant rain, at last a morning dawned clear, but Charis glared at it like a bad omen as she washed the babe.

"Take the child away," she told Perseus perfunctorily, wrapping and pushing the child at him, "Poseidon will land again soon, now that the weather is in his favour. If he finds it, it will die."

"Call him by his name, mother, he's no more an it than you," Medusa called from her place by the window, smiling though her eyes were sad. Perseus glanced back and forth between them, seeing that this was something they had agreed on, him taking the child. He knew Charis spoke the truth; it had no chance here. It would solve their problem; they could say they had abandoned him, and all could assume the child had died, the tale protecting him while he grew up in anonymous safety. Perseus looked at the small wrinkled face, a kindred spirit, thinking he badly needed protection of some sort. But he shook his head.

"I would take the child if I could, but I am just as homeless as he. I cannot return-"

"Here," Medusa said, handing him a rough woven bag, dripping with dark fluid at one corner. He opened it carefully, and she drew out a head. It was a stone head, the head of Euryale that he had cracked off the statue before the birth. She had chipped off the stone braids and polished it so the marble was as translucent as real skin, and attached her own locks to crown it, so they fell forward and half-covered the face. He parted the snake-like bodies of hair gingerly, and gazed upon a face so hideous and so realistic it stilled his heart.

"Now you can go home," she smiled, pleased at his reaction. "See if that doesn't petrify them; it is not me, but like enough I think."

"Your hair…" he pulled at the shawl she wore over her head, and she revealed her shorn head.

"And my own flesh and blood for its neck." She had attached the first few inches of the goat's neck, the vertebrae stick out from the drying muscle. "It is a Gorgon still anyway; you'll speak the truth when you say you have the Gorgon's head."

"And it was me that severed that neck," he said softly, touching the stone cheek in amazement, half expecting it to feel warm, so lifelike did it look.

"Aye, there's no lie there, either," she agreed.

He grinned at her in delight "I can go home!"

"Spread the news well, boy," Charis advised, "so we have no more visitors coming to try their luck."

"Aye, spread the story til Athena herself hears of it," Medusa said, "then we need fear her no more."

"And take him," Charis added, indicating the horse who approached tamely, anxious to join the crowd.

"The horse?" Perseus asked, feeling overburdened with his tasks; a child, a tale that was almost, but not quite, a lie, and now a stolen horse?

"He's no use here, he'll not go near the dock again," Medusa said, "Take him for Chrysoar then. They arrived on this earth on the same day. They are born of the sea. They are brothers."

"Nay, he loves Perseus more, look!" Charis said, and truly, the horse pressed its nose to his arm like it would rather die than leave him.

***

Seated on Pegasus' back as if born there, Perseus cantered down the valley to the start of the steeper slope. But there the horse shied, seeing no reason to leave the grassy highlands for the uninviting slope nor the strip of rocky village at its base. And no matter how he turned him, Pegasus continued to baulk at his request. Finally Perseus dismounted, the stone head heavy in its bag at his waist, the babe in his arms, and gazed at this unexpected difficulty. The horse would go forward if led, but, unbalanced by the head, Perseus feared hurting the child if he slipped. He did not care to leave the babe on the horse, as the rough saddlecloth was not stable without his weight holding it down. Finally he sat down, gazing at the ocean, and prayed for divine inspiration.

It came to him in an unprepossessing form, a small grubby goatherd boy, his goats milling about his legs, all gazing at the stunning horse on the clifftops, like at an angel descended from heaven.

"Hi, boy; take the babe down the cliff for me," Perseus called, hoping to be able to concentrate on leading Pegasus downwards.

"Let me ride the horse first," the boy bargained, his eyes quick and his brain right behind them. Pegasus's ears flattened, but Perseus held him steady and helped the boy mount. Then he let the boy go, racing back and forth across the valley, goats scattering madly. Finally Pegasus seemed to realize he couldn't unseat him, and returned to Perseus, breathing hard. The boy jumped off, landing shakily, but grinning like he had ridden to the heavens and back.

"He is an angel," the boy whispered, eyes glowing, taking the swaddled babe.

"He's called Pegasus," Perseus told him, amused at his unthinking, but sincere hyperbole, "it came from Medusa's head." The boy jogged sure-footed down the slope, and he followed more slowly, the horse grudging him every downwards step.

People crowded into the street as Perseus rode into the village, the boy running ahead like a herald.

"What horse is this? He is beautiful!"

"He runs like the wind," the boy was telling anyone that would listen, "He flies! Did you see me on the cliff tops?"

"Our brave lad returned," the barman noted, eyeing the bag at his waist, "Successful, then?"

Perseus took the head from the bag, holding it high over the crowd, keeping the dreadlocks covering the face, and was rewarded with gasps of fear and horror-filled cries.

"She did not turn you to stone then?" they asked.

"Nay, I saw her in a reflection first," he replied carefully as he dismounted, unused to weaving such stories.

"Tell us how you cut off her head!"

"Yes, tell us!"

Perseus sat down, settling comfortably b y the tables in the sun, accepting their offerings of food and drink. And with a smile, he began to spin his tale.