Demeter stayed because she had no where else,
in particular, to go and because Trip was enjoying
He entertained her with bright stories full of
his love of the earth and the sky. Stories that
made her laugh and cry and that filled her with
ideas and dreams. They were stories that didn’t
require her to dredge into her nearly empty well
for soothing words or sweet solutions.
As the days and nights rolled by her feet grew
used to leaping from rock to rock, her hair falling
freely down her back became wild and curly and
her heart remembered how to laugh and shout.
One day sitting on the soft grass surrounded
by daffodils and snowdrops she laughed carelessly
at the littlest goat’s attempts to catch
a butterfly and her laughter turned to tiny golden
birds that sang and swept the air before fading
into sunlight. Trip sighed happily with awe and
she blushed, suddenly acutely apologetic for her
“You were right,” he said, with a
voice like honey, “You were right to keep
it a secret that you’re Demeter, because
anyone else would have begged you not to stay
here. Not to let the rest of the world suffer
and go hungry. And you weren’t to know that
I wouldn’t.” She smiled with relief
and wonder. Her friendship, her salvation was
intact, but time collapsed and she drew breath
as her soul shifted uncomfortably within her.
It was time now to find out what was happening
“Is the world hungry?” she asked.
“Yes, just like before. I’ve walked
to the top of the hilltop and seen the land around
cold, hard and dry. Nothing is growing. The trees
are bare, but there is still sap in the small
Demeter shuddered. Images of hungry children flicked
through her mind. Her stomach felt like lead.
She drew breath and her dilemma stood blankly
She had quit in order to force the hand of Zeus.
If he wanted her to work he would have to order
Hades to return Kora to her. She had known that
quitting would also rest her soul, but she hadn’t
expected so much, she hadn’t known that
she would learn to laugh and swim and laze on
grass covered hillsides playing with goats and
flowers. She loved her work and her people, she
loved being the one who was responsible, who provided
for them, but she loved her freedom too.
And Zeus, what would it take to force his hand?
He hadn’t acted yet, and the land was dry
and hard. Did he not care? Would he wait for the
children to die? As she pondered, a cold thought
passed like a shadow through her heart. Perhaps
Zeus would wait. Perhaps Hades knew that Zeus
was too weak or stupid or distracted to act. Perhaps
Hades would fill his halls with children and win
twice. The game of strategy she was playing suddenly
skipped a level. She realised that she would have
to play smarter.
The people needed feeding. Zeus couldn’t
Trip had left her side, seeing that she needed
time to think. He called a goat and scratched
its bristly head, then placed placing a bowl beneath
it. He was squeezing milk from its teats. Milk
to drink. Demeter smiled. The answer was suddenly
clear ~ this boy was the key.
Trip poured the milk into two cups and offered
one to Demeter. As she sipped it she asked him
to go to his village, to find out how bad it was
there. She needed to know how quickly she had
to act, now that she was Demeter again.
The next morning she watched him walk out of
the valley, carrying a basket of goat wool he
had collected to give to his mother. She was restless
throughout the day and spent it examining and
re-examining her logic. She ate nothing and did
nothing except watch for Trip’s return,
but in the meantime she became more solid and
focussed, sharper and more potent. She rolled
her dilemma around in her heart wincing as its
sharp edges pressed against her flesh.
Trip arrived in the purple moments before moonrise.
His basket was empty and his face was grave.
Narcissus often sat with the sword on his lap
running his fingers over the strange patterns
on the hilt.
Holding it, he seemed to remember things that
he couldn’t see or think about. Things that
made him happier and more comfortable inside his
skin. Warmer. Older perhaps. He felt lucky to
have it. Blessed. It puzzled him though. He had
never owned a sword before. He had never trained
as a warrior. He didn’t understand wars.
He didn’t understand why people agreed to
participate in them. He thought too much, he could
always understand both sides of an argument and
he couldn’t understand why other people
would use swords and flesh rather than reason
to settle disputes.
He had heard from Hecate that Kora had gone again.
They had smiled together when she shared the news.
He understood why she hadn’t said goodbye.
They both did. They were both sure that her departure
was a step towards her destiny. Narcissus could
only guess at what her destiny might be, but he
didn’t doubt that it, and only it, would
make her happy. The image of Kora he held in his
mind sparkled and he wished magnificent things
Narcissus, like Hecate, trusted Kora’s good
sense and luck completely. He thought about her
often and wondered where her feet had led her.
He missed her but still savoured the time he had
to spend alone.
Since he had arrived in the village he had kept
mostly to himself. He had met Hecate at a crossroads
before he came to the valley. They had fallen
quickly into an easy, happy conversation. He had
told her that he was looking for a quiet place
to contemplate the greater meanings and she had
told him about the Old Dancer’s temple with
its sacred pool and mighty trees.
Thinking back on that meeting he remembered her
shouting “May Fortuna smile upon you”
as he left her and followed her directions towards
the small collection of stone and wood buildings
that was the village. His hand caressed the hilt
of Fortuna’s sword and he smiled in quiet
awe at the eerie foresight of his wise friend.
Walking into the village for the first time he
had met Ameni. He was handsome, athletic and friendly.
He had seen Narcissus wandering around looking
like a lost stranger and he’d offered help.
They’d walked together to the small dusty
house that visitors to the village usually stayed
in and Ameni fetched a bucket of water and brought
some bread and fruit and left them on the table.
He also sent word through the village network
that a new guest had arrived and would be staying
in the house, perhaps for quite a while.
Then they’d walked together around the
village and down to the edge of the water where
the stream that ran down from Demeter’s
house and through Echo’s pool met another
and made a deep clear pool fringed with graceful
willows. They threw stones skipping across the
surface while Ameni talked about his parents and
his brothers and then they’d pulled off
their robes and swum. Narcissus had felt Ameni’s
eyes running like finger tips across his body.
They’d raced each other across the water.
They were well matched at swimming. Though Narcissus’s
body was slim and elegant his grace made up for
the difference in their muscle shapes. Ameni’s
body was well formed and strong, his legs, chest
and shoulders shaped by heavy work and warrior
training. They paused panting by the distant bank
and slid somehow too easily, Narcissus later thought,
into an embrace.
Narcissus’ head was dizzy from the swim
and from his travels ~ he hadn’t quite arrived
yet. Perhaps, he wondered later, it was holding
and friendship that he had thought he needed at
Ameni had seemed to be offering this, but it
had turned all too quickly into something else,
something too intimate, rough and painful that
had left Narcissus wondering what had happened
and why. The thread of the growing friendship
had been broken, or lost or somehow forgotton.
Ameni for a moment had been something else, something
forceful and hungry, brutal and callous.
Then, just as suddenly, he was laughing again
like a boyhood friend with twinkling eyes.
But Narcissus was feeling differently. He swam
quietly back across the river and put on his robe.
Ameni followed and they walked together back into
the village. Ameni hadn’t seemed to notice
the change in Narcissus. He waved him a cheerful
farewell at the gate of the visitor’s house
and promised to visit him the next day.
Narcissus curled up on his new bed and cried
and knew that being completely alone and by himself
was what he needed. As he slept he pushed the
memory of what had happened in the river as deep
down in his mind as possible, in the hope that
it would never surface again.
He rose before dawn the next day and walked wearily
along the path up the hill, following Hecate’s
instructions to the Dancer’s temple. Pushing
open the soft rotting gate and breathing in the
damp air, he had smiled and tingled with relief.
He felt old, he limped to a moss-lined nook in
the arm-like roots of the huge oak tree beside
the pool and curled up and slept again.
He woke a few hours later with dappled sunlight
dancing on his skin, birds were singing in the
overgrown garden and dragonflies skated on the
weedy surface of the pond. He yawned and stretched
like a new born baby and started to explore his
soul’s new home.
He befriended the plants, clearing eager grass
from the roots of some of them and offering others
the support of climbing sticks and rough trellises.
Then he looked deep into the pond and reached
in with his arms to clear out the weeds that were
jamming the flow of water from the rocks at one
end. Stopping often in his labour to simply enjoy
the garden, he fell gradually deeply in love with
His hands touching solid wood and solid earth
became clear in their intention and resolve. This
would be the place where his greatest thoughts
would be given permission to soar as high as they
were able. It was a place of no limits, of delicious
Clearing away a rambunctious creeper, through
which he could glimpse white marble, he found
a statue of Dionysis, the Old Dancer himself.
He pulled off his light robe and dipping it into
the pond to wet it, used it to scrub the statue
clean. Then he bowed down before the marble figure
and asked it for sanctuary and solitude. Looking
up from the statue’s feet towards its face
glinting wet in the sunlight, he wondered if the
eyes twinkled for a moment and he smiled with
A few days later Narcissus noticed that the trickle
of water running through the temple pond was again
clogged with weed.
He stepped into the water and started breaking
the slippery stems of the water plants with his
hands, tugging them and tearing their roots from
the rocky bottom. He moved his feet carefully,
unsure of the depth in places where weed and mud
were thick in the water. He didn’t know
back then that all of the ponds in the valley
were linked by streams, sometimes above and sometimes
below the surface of the land. He didn’t
know that stirring up the silt in the temple pond
was clouding the water in a pond downstream, a
pond inhabited by a water nymph.
Echo was puzzled by the silt and the bits of
broken weed swirling in her water, so she stepped
up onto her bank and walked up the path towards
the temple. Her eyes bright with hope that perhaps
another nymph had come to live nearby, she had
peered through the gateway and gasped at the sight
of Narcissus’ smooth back glistening white
and wet in the sunlight.
He was a vision from the deepest depths of her
secret longing. She held her breath and was mesmerized.
Her spine tingled with excitement. At last she
had found the One she had imagined for so long.
The One who would dive and play with her, who
would stroke her face and hold her hand while
she explored the terrible crevices in her soul.
The one who would smile with her while she watched
her children grow. She wondered, since she had
never met another nymph, whether all male nymphs
were as beautiful as this one. But this shining
figure was so perfectly formed, so much like she
was herself, that she was certain that they were
two of a kind, a pair destined to be together.
Smiling blissfully, she arranged her body carefully
and coughed gently to attract his attention.
Narcissus, startled, dropped the armful of weeds
he had carefully gathered. He groaned inwardly,
slapped by the invasion of his sanctuary. His
manners were well trained though and so he turned
and smiled and said hello.
Echo’s face coloured, her chin coiled downwards
and her eyes flashed. “Hello”, she
whispered with a tremble in her voice, “are
you a nymph? ~ I saw the silt in my pool downstream
and came to meet you.”
Narcissus stopped working and sensing Echo’s
eyes on him he reached for his robe and slipped
it on even though it was wet and dirty. He was
still shaken by the memory of Ameni and his greedy
gaze. He sat with Echo and talked about his plans
for the garden and solitude and other things,
until the shadows grew long and it was time to
walk back towards the warm dry comfort of the
Echo, like Ameni, had babbled about the village
and its rhythms and routines. She asked Narcissus
where he had come from and he told her about his
childhood in a city far away, where he was the
son of a warrior who had wanted him to learn to
trade and a nymph, from whom he had inherited
his love of twilight, bright new leaves and running
water. He told her that he was torn by his understanding
of his own nature and the knowledge that he could
never please his father, and that he had chosen
to leave. He told her about his search for somewhere
soft and quiet where he could learn to listen
to the whispers of his soul and find the answers
to the questions that made his life impossible.
Echo had sat twisting a flower in her fingers
watching his face move, lost in thought about
how splendid he would look with a child in his
arms and yearning to lean over and kiss his soft
Narcissus had drawn his ramble to a close and
Echo, snapped from her reverie, had giggled nervously.
Narcissus sighed, and ached with loneliness for
someone who could travel with him through the
narrow passageways of contorted thought. Looking
back towards the pond he glimpsed his own reflection,
and resolving not to let his lack of a connection
with her dampen his love for his new home. He
smiled at his own face reflected in the pond and
winked at it, feeling somehow less alone in its
Chilled by the coming evening they stood and
gazed at the garden for a moment before heading
back down the path towards the village. Narcissus
farewelled Echo where the path branched off towards
her pool and he slipped unnoticed into the visitor’s
house in the village, where he ate fruit and bread
and slept deeply.
Narcissus fell into a routine
of daily life. Each evening he walked down the
hill to the village to eat and sleep and each
morning, with some food for lunch in his bag,
he walked up the hill, to spend his days by the
old temple. He was relaxed and contented tending
the garden and sitting by the pond watching the
reflections of the clouds on the glassy surface.
Three people sometimes visited. Hecate was the
only one he felt comfortable with. Ameni and Echo
both made him uncomfortable, but in different
ways. Ameni’s talk circled always on tales
of victory, tales that involved the use of force
by someone over someone else. They were tales
about how greatness could be achieved by increasing
the number of people who feared one’s anger
or madness. They were told in a cheerful childish
way with delight at the brashness and impudence
of the various heroes. The stories horrified Narcissus
but he couldn’t begin to express why. To
begin would have started something and he didn’t
want to take on the task of changing Ameni.
Sometimes he enjoyed the change in his quiet
rhythm that Ameni and his tales brought but usually
he sat quietly listening, hoping that Ameni would
soon run out of things to say and go home. When
the visits got too long Narcissus took to explaining
that he was working hard as a philosopher, and
that his important work required solitude and
discipline and that he therefore needed to be
alone. Ameni was intrigued and puzzled. He had
tasted heaven that day in the river when he first
met Narcissus. It was more than he had ever felt
before and he wanted more of it. He told himself
that he needed more. He was drawn to Narcissus
like a moth to a candle, against his own will
and better judgement. He knew that Narcissus could
make him die nobly of happiness like no one else
Ameni was the youngest of three sons, he knew
what it felt like to be smaller and slower than
his brothers, he knew how to run to catch up.
The bliss by the river was sparked by their evenness
in swimming speed, and Ameni guessed that evenness
was the key. He decided to run to catch up with
Narcissus and loved him for setting a challenge
unlike anything his brothers had presented him
with. Philosophy was something his family knew
nothing about. Matching Narcissus would mean outpacing
the brothers who had always outdone him. As weeks
passed his respect for Narcissus’ dedication
to his task grew and he started to regard him
as a teacher and an inspiration. His simple lust
for the young philosopher’s smooth body
consumed him while his respect and awkwardness
kept him silent about his feelings. In an effort
to express his unspoken emotions he started to
bring offerings. At first simple gifts of food
and wine, then other things, treasures from home
and tools he made himself carefully and beautifully,
to demonstrate his skill.
Echo also brought gifts. Usually flowers but
sometimes plump grapes or small watermelons. She
said little, but unsettled Narcissus with her
long gazes and dreamy smiles and the awkward pauses
in what could have been conversations.
He also spent quiet afternoons looking at his
own reflection, sometimes trying to see his own
soul by gazing into his own eyes, trying to catch
a glimpse of it so he could interrogate it. Sometimes
he looked at his whole body and tried to understand
what it was about it that other people thought
was beautiful. Some days he agreed with them and
smiled at the sight of himself, privately running
his fingertips over his own smooth skin, appreciating
the curves and angles of his form. On other days
beauty seemed like a meaningless abstract concept
and his body like a strange and distracting burden.
He shared the gifts he was given with Hecate
when she visited, and sometimes he visited her
in her tiny old house with her dogs and Galinthias
the wily old cat. The old woman smiled when the
dogs loudly heralded his arrival and she ruffled
his hair as he sat at her table. Unlike the others
she seemed not to notice his body at all. She
addressed her attention instead to the quavering
core of his being. He relaxed and laughed in her
kitchen and drank in her tea and advice.
She counselled him to work hard at his self appointed
task and warned him that the price he would pay
for his solitude was being misunderstood by others.
With a loving laugh she shook her old head and
said: “This misunderstanding may make you
unhappy eventually, but I’m not sure that
you can find your happiness without solitude and
Narcissus appreciated her doses of encouragement.
He spent many hours sitting alone by the temple
pool, gazing at the ripples made by the breeze,
at flowers that drifted on the surface and at
the reflections of the clouds.
Sometimes when the light was soft, and the air
seemed for a moment to hold its breath, Narcissus
thought that the temple and the statue of Dionysis
reflected in the water looked crisper and newer
than the temple and the statue in the garden.
Sometimes he thought he saw figures moving about
among them with bright faces and shimmering robes.
He wasn’t sure, perhaps it was a trick of
the light. It happened at odd and unpredictable
moments, sometimes twice in a day for as long
as he held his breath, sometimes only once in
a week for a fleeting moment, but the thought
of it delighted and entranced him. It kept him
gazing at the surface of the pond and the layers
of image he saw there ~ his own face, the leaves
above it, the clouds above them and the reflected
statue, closer but further than the clouds.
He told Hecate about his visions and she raised
her eyebrows and smiled at him, nodding and mumbling.
One day he complained to her that they were frustratingly
brief, he wanted to be able to look for longer
at them. She counselled him to breathe through
the visions and not to clench his mind with excitement.
He practiced breathing and looking at the same
time and gradually the images opened themselves
to him, he was able to watch eternal and ancient
dramas play and replay themselves in the sky above
the pool. He watched and learned and his soul
He knew for certain that there was no where else
he would rather be than in the valley, in the
temple garden, living and learning.
It was when he had reached this stage that Hecate
had told him that Kora might visit. She told him
that Kora wasn’t like his other visitors
and that he might find her to be a good friend.
He drew the sword out of its scabbard and watched
it catch flashes of sunlight. It whispered cleanly
as he waved it through the air. Its weight reminded
his shoulder of its lack of training. He wondered
what to do with the beautiful weapon. Perhaps
he should have given it to Kora, maybe it would
have been useful on her travels, he doubted though
that her shoulder was any stronger than his. No
~ this sword, to be properly used, would need
a shoulder like Ameni’s. Ameni had brought
so many gifts, perhaps giving this one to him
was the right thing to do. He didn’t visit
as often as he used to anymore. He was becoming
somehow heavier, more serious or perhaps sadder.
Narcissus worried about him. He had changed so
much, but unlike Kora who had changed a lot too,
he didn’t seem to fit his new self very
well. Perhaps the sword would remind him of the
happy warrior he used to be.
Kora kissed the sleeping brow of Hades and smiled.
His face looked so innocent and relaxed against
the soft pillow, his mind afloat in the world
of dreams. She was glad to see him rest, he was
exhausted from his long years of work alone, and
although she could now help him and ease his burden,
he needed time to recover, time to become young
and fresh again. So that he could smile and laugh
and be happy with her.
She had lost track of how long ago she had walked
away from Charon’s boat hand in hand with
Hades. It had been so different from the last
time she’d been with him. Then she’d
been like a shade herself, shadowing him, waiting
for him, with nothing to do without him. This
time she was beside him, working with him. He
took his usual position at the far end of the
great hall and she stood by the door, speaking
to the trembling shades in a clear, comforting
voice, reassuring them and guiding them towards
Hades, who in turn ushered them towards the light
in the west.
As she worked the light around her grew stronger.
One day he commented on it and she told him that
Charon had called her Persephone because of it.
He kissed her and said that she had brought light
into his heart and that he would use the name
While Hades was sleeping or busy in other ways,
on other errands that she couldn’t help
with, she walked the dark corridors and explored
the open spaces of the deep kingdom. Last time
she had crept timidly along, like a stowaway,
afraid of meeting anyone. Now she walked calmly
and confidently, knowing that her heart, her voice
and her eyes were up to any meeting. She was curious
to learn more about the realm and she knew that
her happiness and her smile were warming the chill
air and her steps were a pulse where none had
been heard for aeons.
She rediscovered the dark chamber where the three
fates sat spinning, twining and cutting their
luminous threads and she saw them with new eyes.
They no longer seemed savage and sinister. She
saw instead a patience and a grace in their movements
and a loving acceptance of the burden of responsibility
in their ancient eyes. They smiled at the sight
of her and without breaking the rhythm of their
work they invited her to sit and talk, to tell
them tales from beyond their room.
This time Persephone spoke like a storyteller,
enriching her anecdotes with the colours of sunsets
and the soft fragrances of wild herbs. The fates
laughed and cried at her sagas and blessed and
thanked her for bringing them. She left feeling
awed by their beauty and glad that her offerings
She also visited Aeacus standing guard by the
bronze gates and sometimes she went further and
roamed the desolate moors. There were rocks, water
pools and pockets of mud, but apart from that
the land was nothing but stark, dark and vacant,
draped in flimsy clouds of mist. Walking through
its heartland she imagined that it could be beautiful
in its own still and pensive way. She imagined
flowers tall, white and elegant reaching up into
the mist and graceful trees bending and sighing
into the pools of water. She wondered if one day
she would be able to bring these things to the
underworld, to make it softer and less frightening,
to make the task of moving from one state of being
to another less daunting. She’d mentioned
the idea to Hades but he had shaken his head apologetically
and said nothing grows here.
Hades reached out with a sleepy hand and looping
it around her waist pulled her close. She pressed
her face against his chest and breathed in the
smell of his warm skin. She was happier than she’d
ever been, so happy that she knew absolutely that
she would not have chosen to be anywhere else.
She lay against him while he drifted back to
sleep and thought that she was dozing and dreaming
herself as she watched a large graceful ibis glide
slowly into the room on outstretched wings of
black and white. She watched it settle on the
end of the bed and preen itself balancing delicately
on its long red legs. She only realised that she
was still awake when Hades suddenly sat up looking
shocked and asked it abruptly what it wanted.
The ibis responded by ceasing its casual preening
and transforming itself into a golden-haired young
man, who smiled and warmly hugged Hades in greeting.
Persephone was still looking perplexed when the
youth bowed low and introduced himself as Hermes.
He appeared to already know who she was. He then
cleared his throat and with an air of officialdom
blended with mischief delivered his message, the
essence of it was that Zeus had ordered her return
to her mother, on the grounds that Demeter’s
duties among the people on earth were being neglected
in her absence.
Persephone felt Hades flinch. She felt simply
numb. She looked from face to face, they in turn
looked at each other, Hades with eyes full of
sadness and anger, Hermes shrugging with impotence
She drew breath, summoned her courage and asked
for three more days. Hermes nodded and said he’d
be back for her on the day the sun next crossed
the heart of the earth and swung light and dark
momentarily into perfect balance.
The last three days were sweet tainted with sorrow.
Their hands and lips were never far apart and
their work together was masterful, a celebration
of the harmony between them.
In the hours before Hermes came to take her,
they walked together out across the sad land,
they paused by a circle of sleek dark stones and
Persephone opened her heart and wept. Letting
her tears fall freely down her face, down her
chest and arms and onto the earth, Hades held
her close and wept, his tears mingling with hers.
The tears sank into the soil and sank through
the rock beneath it, hanging for a moment on the
ceiling of an underground cavern before dripping
down onto a thread. Lachesis paused and smiled
and watched the tears colour the thread of Persephone’s
destiny, her sisters noted the smile and in strange
synchronicity they began a new song.
As they chanted a small leaf pushed its way through
the tear-stained earth at the lovers’ feet
and struggling towards the warmth of their embrace
it became a small tree. As they bent over it smiling
with awe and wonder it pushed forth a flower,
that changed before their eyes into a fruit. Not
a soft fleshy fruit like Persephone had seen before,
but a hard woody fruit, rich red and when it split
like their breaking hearts they could see it was
full of pink seeds.
Persephone reached out to the fruit and it fell
from the tree into her hand. Touching the seeds
they too fell into her palm as if tasting them
was her destiny. She heard the word destiny rustle
in a far corner of her mind and suddenly she understood.
It wasn’t something she needed to wait for.
With all her heart and soul she yearned to be
part of this dark world, to be partner to Hades,
Persephone: The Bringer of Light. That was the
destiny she wanted, the seeds, like pink pearls
in her hands, were the first food she had seen
since she entered the dark kingdom. Taking them
into her body seemed like a magical idea.
She turned her eyes to Hades’ tear-stained
face and said with solemnity, I take this land
into my body and doing so become part of it. Then
she placed nine of the seeds into her mouth and
Hades kissed her softly on the lips and whispered
with equal solemnity that he wished she could
stay forever and be his queen. The seeds in her
belly felt warm as hand in hand they walked to
the bronze gates, where Hermes stood waiting.
The golden boy held out his hand and Persephone
left Hades’ embrace and took it. She heard
a rushing sound, and lost her bearings for a moment
and then found herself blinking in the light of
a bright day, looking out over a town she didn’t
know from an unfamiliar hillside.
Ameni spent many hours thinking about his visits
to Narcissus. There was a restlessness in him
whenever he was away from Narcissus’ side,
yet when he was there he seemed hardly able to
breathe. He had tried to fathom the world of thought
that Narcissus lived for but couldn’t. It
made him feel smaller and sadder than he could
He saw his mother wince each time he left the
house to visit Narcissus. Sometimes he heard her
crying at night. He wanted to return to her, to
become her little son again, but he couldn’t.
He had reached out for something and failed. He
wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t worthy
of Narcissus or of her love.
The shadows were beginning to grow long as he
walked up the hill towards the old temple. He
knew that he’d be greeted with a bitter
blend of welcome and disappointment at the invasion
that he represented. He walked up the hill because
he needed to spend some time with the part of
himself that he left there at the feet of Narcissus.
With a timidness awkward in a body so agile and
strong he paused at the gateway.
Narcissus, in his usual place by the pool, sensed
his presence and looked up and smiled. Not the
usual weary strained smile, but an open, enthusiastic
smile. It was the greeting of Ameni’s dreams,
his head swam. Beaming, he walked in and sat on
the soft moss.
“I’m glad you came,” said Narcissus,
“I’ve been thinking about you.”
Ameni’s senses tingled, the air was full
of fragrance, the whispering breeze and the humming
insects were harmonising melodies. Narcissus’
face filled his vision, exquisite, chiselled,
soft, strong and lovely. Every pore and dimple
“I have a gift,” Narcissus was saying,
“a gift suited to a warrior such as yourself,
I’d like you to have it.”
Ameni dragged his eyes from Narcissus’
beloved face and turned to the gift that was being
held towards him. He had seen it before. It was
the sword that Narcissus often held in his lap,
gently stroking. He had asked Narcissus about
it before, but never received an answer that made
sense to him. Narcissus had said it was an instrument
of destiny and a token of his impending good fortune.
Ameni took the sword from Narcissus, graciously
with both hands and a small bow.
It was a valuable weapon. Well-made of costly
metals, set with large well-cut stones. He stood
up and held the sword upwards in a noble pose.
Then, with practiced grace, he ran through a series
of movements, a training routine that his body
remembered as well as it knew how to breathe.
The sword performed beautifully. It was precisely
balanced and weighted for deadly efficiency. It
would kill quickly and elegantly.
Ameni performed the long version of the routine
for Narcissus, suddenly proud of his physique
and his skill. His parched soul guzzling the attention
it had yearned for, he closed his eyes and lost
himself in the movements of thrust and slice,
step and parry. Lost in his bliss.
Narcissus watched him with many mixed feelings.
There was much that he liked and admired about
Ameni. In many ways he had forgiven him for what
had happened on the day they first met. He knew
now that it was the teeth of the beast within
Ameni that he’d felt. A beast that was wild
and sad and hungry but also brave and generous.
But Narcissus would never fully trust it, having
brushed against it once. He felt like a rabbit
spending time with a friendly wolf. He was polite
and engaged in conversation but he was also careful
would never show his tender underbelly to Ameni
and his beast.
Despite this, he had often enjoyed Ameni’s
humour and company. He’d been honoured,
flattered even by the gifts and the attention.
It had confirmed his opinion of himself as beautiful
and fuelled his quest for an understanding of
the point of his beauty. But he saw too that Ameni
was not happy or comfortable ~ he didn’t
seem to understand why Narcissus could not let
him come close. The incident by the river had
never been discussed. Narcissus remained simply
wary and he shuddered at the way Ameni sometimes
looked at him with parted lips and his tongue
resting softly on his teeth. He knew that Ameni
hadn’t forgotton that day, and that his
memory of it was different.
Narcissus wished Ameni well, but also wished
to be free of him. Perhaps this gift would bring
them into balance and free Ameni to explore other
horizons, to rediscover his own path and his own
happiness. Ameni seemed happy with the sword.
It was clear that he knew how to use it. Realising
this Narcissus felt a quick stab of vulnerability.
Ameni’s dance with the sword drew to a
close. He stood and bowed with both hands clasped
about the hilt. Then he raised his eyes to look
at Narcissus. His heart fell. Narcissus’
eyes had resumed their usual coolness and distance.
There was no smile, no loving applause. “I’m
glad you like it,” said Narcissus, exhaling
his words carefully.
Standing he added, “Come it’s getting
cool, we’ll walk down to the village together.”
Ameni’s heart had been primed for warmth
and praise, his skin, sweaty with exertion wanted
to be touched, held or honoured. Not dismissed
like this. Numb he consented and dumbly he walked
behind Narcissus out of the temple garden down
the path to the village, carrying the sword stiffly
by his side.
As they walked Narcissus chatted cheerfully,
like a schoolmaster, about the turning of the
stars in the sky. Tonight he explained would be
exactly the same length as the day had been, because
the sun had touched the earth at its very centre,
radiating a blissful balance between warm and
cool and dark and light.
At the door of the visitor’s house, Narcissus
said a casual goodnight and ducked inside, closing
the door behind him. Ameni was left alone on the
quiet street with his sword and the setting sun.