To Be Loved
By ArgoForg (email@example.com)
(Author’s Note: I have taken a few creative liberties with the mythological themes in this story. I hope no one will take offense or anything silly like that.)
It was sometimes called the Isle of Gorgos, in deference to the island’s only living residents. The name alone would call up horrible images in the minds of any who’d heard of it: images of a barren, rocky land, perpetually dark and littered with the broken remains of those residents who no longer lived,’ as it were. That is how legends sometimes get their credence, through the minds of those who have never seen the truth.
In reality, with the exception of the beaches and the mountains adjoining them, the rest of island was green and thriving. Gorgos had seen no civilization for many years, so the surrounding plant life had flourished without the constrictive hand of man; quite unlike Athens and Thebes, where people trampled it down to make room for buildings and roads and (worst of all) more people. Gorgos, contrary to the fables told to children, was a place of lush beauty by day and even more enchanting by night.
At night, the island’s simple, tranquil beauty was a wonder to behold. Gorgos was almost always quiet. Few animals called from the wilds beyond the beaches, having learned over generations to remain silent or risk their lives. It could even be said that that message was passed along to the birds and even to the crickets. The silence on land was only broken by the splash of the surf as it rolled onto the beach, and the whisper of the wind through the trees. It was, to any who cared, truly paradise.
The man who made his way along the silent beaches this night, however, was interested neither in the tranquillity of the island nor its beauty. He was the Hero, dressed in the garb of a warrior, with the bronze breastplate and greaves that so many other men with ludicrous visions of glory wore as they descended on the shores of Gorgos. It was not the beauty, therefore, but the legend then. . . that was what called him to the isle, as surely as the call of the sirens.
The man moved quickly inland, toward the wild overgrowth of trees and shrubs, with a demeanor of single-minded purpose. Moonlight glinted off the crested helm he held under one arm and the large round shield held fastened to the other. Through even that dim light, it was easily perceivable that no ordinary smith created these marvels. The relief work on the face of the shield and the delicate latticework along the helm’s crest were designs which no man could hope to copy.
He stopped only for a moment, as he noticed a man-like shape in the nearby treeline. Quickly, he swung around, facing away from it. He dropped his helm and drew his sword. It seemed a curious and foolhardy tactic, but as the man raised his shield, the polished inside caught the moonlight, giving him a mirrored view of his surrounding. Quietly, he backed up until he was nearly upon the shape, and then exhaled heavily. He turned and removed the branches that obscured the shape, having finally seen it for what it was: a statue. It appeared to be an alabaster sculpture of a older man, a sailor, caught in mid-turn as he looked back toward the beach. It was extremely life-like; if it had been created by an artist, he would have been acclaimed as a master. But as the man looked at the statue’s face-- eyes wide open in horror, mouth caught in mid-scream-- he realized that no artist created this work.
The look on the statue’s face and the knowledge of what had befallen the old sailor was enough to make the man cringe in horror and revulsion. He took a step back, whispering a prayer, and nearly tripped over his helm. He righted himself, but even so never took his eyes from the terror-struck face of the statue. With another murmured prayer, he sheathed his sword and picked up the helm, and, steeling himself, followed the slim path next to the statue. In moments, he was gone, disappeared, swallowed by the dense foliage.
And hidden in the treeline a little farther down the beach, unseen by the Hero, Medusa watched him and breathed a heavy sigh.
Yet another one had come, she thought as she made her way back to her home in the cave, ostensibly to dispose of her. To rid the world of her vile presence, to claim the glory that killing such a horrible monster would most certainly reap. She sighed again at the thought. What was it with people that they constantly felt the need to destroy what they could not understand?
Perhaps she should tell the sisters, she mused as she neared the cave entrance. Almost immediately she discarded the thought. Stetho had the annoying habit of constantly making Medusa feel inferior simply because ambrosia didn’t flow through her veins, and Euryale didn’t like to be bothered with petty details like another hero showing up on the beaches. Neither of them had anything to worry about, anyway. Neither of them could be killed. As much as Medusa loved her sisters’, she never felt loved by them in the way that she thought a true family would. In fact, she scarcely had ever felt loved at all, for that matter.
Not since. . .
The burden on her heart at the simple thought overwhelmed for a moment, and she stopped a few steps from the darkened entrance to the cave. There she knelt, remembering the last time she’d felt loved.
She found the girl unconscious on the beach. Medusa went there often, many times just to think and reflect on how different her life could have been. Today was one of these times; she had even brought a sampling of fruit to pass the time while letting the sound of the waves tell her what a fool she’d been for defying Athene. When she first saw the girl, sprawled on the beach, it had surprised her so that she dropped a pomegranate she’d been nibbling as she walked. She quickly dropped back into the safety of the trees, thinking at first the girl might have been an Amazon. The snakes atop her head writhed in anticipation for that conclusion. She’d seen a few of those come to the isle, looking to claim the kill no man had yet been able to; in fact, the latest had taken up residence in the ruins of the Temple, forever poised in the act of hefting a spear.
As Medusa looked closer, though, she decided her original assumption had been wrong. No weapons lay on the beach, and the woman wore no armor-- merely a the ragged remains of a short white wraparound garment the mainlanders called a chiton. A victim of a shipwreck, she wondered, as no wreckage had floated in with the tides. What could she be doing here?
Curiosity got the better of her, and she slowly laid down the basket of fruit and cautiously made her way to the girl. What she saw confused her even more. The girl had the ruddy tan of one who worked the fields, but it was a more true brown than the olive-cast skin Medusa had seen on the sailors and warriors who usually came to the island. It reminded her more of the light brown coat she’d seen once on a doe before it met her eyes. Then there was the hair. Medusa had scarcely even heard of anyone with hair the color of burnished gold, even bleached in the summer sun.
She couldn’t have been more than twenty summers. Her hair and simple chiton had been wet at one time, but were dry now in the warm afternoon sun. The last beads of water had long been drained away from the surface of her smooth skin. The girl was not drowned; her full breasts rose and fell in slow rhythm with her breath.
Staring at her, Medusa suddenly had a thrill of desire that she found horrifying. She quickly turned away, stung by what she’d felt, and almost decided to wake the girl up so that she could be turned to stone and be done with it. The snakes again hissed their agreement.
Something stayed her hand, though. Perhaps it was merely curiosity, perhaps it was seeing the innocence in the girl’s sleeping form. Against all sense, Medusa picked the girl up and slung her over her back, so that a chance awakening would not prove fatal. She warned off the snakes on her head, as well, telling them that she would cut off the first one that dared bite the girl. Muted hissing conveyed their grudging agreement.
Slowly, Medusa made her way away from the beach, starting along a path that by chance passed by a pale statue of an old sailor, half-turned toward the beach, his eyes and mouth eternally frozen in fear.
The girl woke up slowly, her eyes adjusting more quickly in the shade of the trees than they ever would in the glaring sunlight of the beach, even though evening's shadows were already beginning to fall over the island.
She bolted to a sitting position, gasping, a reaction that caused her to immediately start coughing violently. Medusa was hidden well within the trees in a position where she could see the glen she’d left the girl but could not be seen. She watched the girl’s coughing fit with interest.
The glen was a remote locale that Medusa had found while exploring the woodlands around the temple, before she’d been cursed by Athene. It was a small clearing where no trees had yet grown, letting in the warmth of the sunshine while still having enough shade to cool down even the hottest day. She had many times eaten her evening meal there during her servitude in the temple-- it was much more preferable to dinner on the temple grounds, where the old priests would cast lustful looks at her when they thought she wasn’t looking.
Once the girl had gotten over her spasms, Medusa cleared her throat and spoke:
"There is fruit in the basket by the tree, enough for you to regain your strength."
The girl nearly jumped out of her skin, looking around at the circle of trees with terror in her eyes. She darted glances from tree to tree, looking for the unseen speaker.
Just as well she can’t see me, then, Medusa thought. She spoke again, using the same voice she would when she ministered to the sick in the temple, so long ago: "No harm will come to you, I promise."
Still, the girl circled watchfully. Twice already, her gaze had passed over the spot where Medusa stood, hidden by trees and shadow.
"Do you speak Achaean?" Medusa asked. "Can you speak?"
The girl looked around once more warily, squinting at shapes in the brush as if they would suddenly become more clear. Then she nodded, slowly.
"Yes," she said, in passable but heavily accented Achaean. "I can speak. Who are you? Where am I?"
"All answers in good time," Medusa answered, caught between wanting to move toward her to get a closer view and wanting to be careful not to move close enough for the girl to see her. "But for now, eat and rest. You are on my land, and the questions should be mine."
Slowly, Medusa saw the woman relax her guard a little, hope in her eyes at the re-introduction of food. She found the basket of fruit where Medusa had left it and selected a few ripe figs. Sitting down with her legs beneath her, next to the basket, she began to eat with great relish-- almost as if it had been years since she last ate.
"What is your name?" Medusa asked, moving slowly around the clearing, careful to remain out of sight.
The woman followed the movement of her voice and swallowed before answering. "I am called Laurel."
After the prize of victory, Medusa reflected as she found a space between two trees that allowed her a better look at the girl. Her slender body was a wonder to gaze upon, even in such a restful position. Medusa found herself admiring the tone of Laurel’s legs and the gracefulness of her arms as she reached for another handful of figs. Truly a prize, indeed. For a few moments, Medusa forgot she was had questions to ask.
"How did you come to be here, on this island? I found you on the beach."
"I am on an island? Where?"
"As I said, all in good time," Medusa hedged. After a thoughtful pause, she added: "I will answer your questions if you answer mine."
Laurel closed her eyes, as if calling back particularly bad memories. Medusa felt her heart melt as she watched the girl struggle to speak.
"I was taken at a young age from a land far from here, along with my mother. We were sold off as slaves in Mycaenae. My master was a harsh man. He. . . felt nothing for us. My mother was used for one thing only. In time, so was I."
Medusa felt her blood heat at the thought. She seethed at the thought of men and their needs.’
"Go on," she said, not unkindly.
"As he grew older, he grew more and more displeased because. . . we. . . we had not yet bore him a son. He took us with him on a trip across the sea to Athens. He intended to sell me. My. . . my mother pleaded with him. . . but he was firm. But she. . . kept pleading.
"One night on the ship. . . she pleaded again. He was drunk. . . he beat her until. . ." Laurel choked at the memory, making her words unintelligible. Medusa was afraid she knew what those words were. She waited silently while Laurel composed herself.
After a while, she did. Her voice strengthened. "I found out, and I was so enraged. . . one night, while we lay in his cot, I broke a wine jar over his head and stabbed him in the heart with a jagged piece. I was thrown off the ship to drown."
"But how I got to this. . . this island," she finished, "I do not know."
Medusa nodded, although Laurel could not see it. It was a tale worthy of Orpheus, and if it was true, then this girl should have been applauded for living to tell it. It was often said that the gods took pity on those who were thrown into the sea unjustly. If they had indeed brought her here, however, they had merely kept her from one fate in order to hand her another.
"I see," Medusa said, considering. "Did you pray to Poseidon as you were thrown from the boat?"
"I do not know what you mean," Laurel said with a quirk of her eyebrow. "Who is Poseidon?"
"You are joking," Medusa laughed. "You have grown up in Mycaenae and have not heard of the Earth-Shaking God, the Lord of the Seas?"
The girl blinked. "The gods and goddesses I know are not yours. My mother taught me the stories of my homeland, and my master did not bother to teach me anything." She paused, as Medusa contemplated that, and hesitantly asked, "Will you answer my questions now?"
By Zeus, she was forward! Medusa smiled grimly at the look on Laurel’s face as she nervously scanned the trees, waiting for an answer.
If she’s nervous now, Medusa thought, somewhat bitterly. Finally, she answered. "Very well. You are now on what the mainlanders call the Isle of Gorgos."
She expected Laurel to start screaming incoherently at that, wailing and bemoaning her fate. It shocked her when she saw the girl merely mouth the name silently-- as though she’d never heard of it-- and then shrug as if it made no difference one way or the other.
"I am called Medusa," she continued, awestruck.
Again, the name apparently did not mean anything to Laurel. She shook her head, her golden hair falling before her eyes. She brushed it away, giving Medusa a view of her profile. Laurel had high, soft cheekbones, blue eyes, and a nose that was a few shades short of perfect. They were certainly not the classical, chiseled features of the faces of Achaen nobility, yet they combined in a manner that she found very alluring. The girl sat silently, stretching those tanned, well-toned legs in front of her.
Medusa felt another surge of longing, and touched herself, wishing it was Laurel’s hands gliding along the surface of her coarse sarong, touching her breasts.
All at once, to her embarrassment, Medusa saw what she was doing. She silently chastised herself and cleared her throat.
"All will be well if you remain here, in this glade. But the island can be dangerous. I would suggest you do not leave this clearing." Much as she did not want to leave her here as a prisoner of sorts, Medusa knew it was much safer this way. The sisters did not know of the glen; or at least, they’d never mentioned it to Medusa. For Laurel to go gallivanting around the island, especially if she was not aware of the danger, there was too much chance of eye contact that would leave her a statue. Let alone, being spooked by the other stone images that stood all around Gorgos.
"You have had quite an ordeal," she continued. "Rest, and I will return later." Not that you'll see me when I do. Or at least, I hope not.
Laurel nodded and lay down on the ground, slowly extending herself, resting her head on her crossed arms. Again she looked out into the foliage where Medusa sat hidden. She seemed to guess Medusa’s unspoken thoughts. "Why do you talk to me and yet remain unseen?"
"My reasons for doing so are well-founded," Medusa chuckled. "Trust you me."
Laurel colored, and sat back up. "I am not a murderer," she protested. "You have nothing to fear from me!"
Medusa was startled. She thinks I don’t trust her because she killed a man! The irony of the situation made her shake her own head.
"Rest at ease, Laurel." How the name seemed to caress her tongue as she said it! Slowly the girl followed her suggestion and lay back down.
"I have no fear of you or your past. In fact," Medusa smiled, sadly, "that was the furthest thing from my mind."
"The younger one returns," Euryale said with a laugh as Medusa stepped into the main cavern, their home. The cavern was well-lit, as always, so anyone stepping in could see the cave's residents. For most, it was the last thing they saw. Medusa was immune, as part of her curse, or she wouldn’t have lasted a day on Gorgos.
Stetho looked up from the cookfire to notice. "Aye, and finally," she said shrilly. "Did the waves berate you worse than usual today, sister?"
Medusa colored and made her way to her corner of the cave, skirting around a couple statues that the sisters kept in the cave for purposes of decor. "No, I just went for a walk afterward. . . I-- I lost track of time."
Stetho seemed to accept the statement and went back to stirring the cauldron over the fire. The dung-colored contents of the cauldron smelled like stew. Medusa wasn’t about to ask how she had gotten the meat from the animal without it looking at her. After years, one began to expect the unexpected from immortals.
Euryale, however, gave Medusa an appraising glance.
"Where did you go, sister? And why do you blush so at such a simple question?"
Medusa choked a response. "Just to the-- the temple grounds." She quickly changed the subject to cover her blush and her lie. "Euryale, is it wrong for me to lust after a woman?"
Euryale laughed, a sound like two rocks grating together. She turned to Stetho. "Sister," she said to the other Gorgon, "I think our young sibling has fallen for one of her creations!"
Stetho smiled. The snakes on her head wove around hypnotically, apparently aroused by the news
Medusa let her head droop, let her own serpentine locks cover her face. "I have not," she said, but forced herself to say it weakly.
"Nonsense, sister," Euryale continued, her tone as warm as Medusa had ever heard it. "It is not an easy thing to admit, of course, but is it not natural for an artist to fall in love with her work?"
"Take my sweet exiled princess, my marble maiden, Alisandra." She stepped over behind one of the statues in the cavern, that of a barely-clad woman. The woman was young, her body lithe. Her long hair was thrown back, and she had a proud, haughty bearing, offset by the skimpiness of her dress and the surprise etched permanently on her face. One erect nipple peeked around the stony folds of her bodice, and her pert lips were trapped in the shape of an O-- if an artist had sculpted it, it would have been hard to tell if he was suggesting a surprised purse of the lips or a kiss.
"When I saw this delicate flower set foot on the island, I knew I must have her forever." Euryale snaked a hand around the waist of the woman, pressing and stroking along the inside of the thigh, where the marble chiton barely covered her stony sex. "And as you see, now I do."
Her sister slowly circled the statue of the princess and looked back to her. "So which one was it, pray tell, youngling? The amazon, by the temple fountain, perhaps? Or another priestess?"
"Yes," Medusa whispered, to forestall other questions. "The priestess in the archway of the old temple. The one with the braided hair."
Euryale glanced at her with narrowed eyes, and Medusa was afraid she had seen right through the falsehood. But then she made what passed for an affirmative grunt and grinned
"Unh. Never quite fond of that one, was I. The robes left too much to the imagination. But if you like her, then I have no cause to remark. She is yours. Take her in earnest, sister. Feel the cold, hard stone of her body and visualize it as the flesh it was. Become familiar with every curve, every nuance, every hairlike crack and pebbled surface. . ." With practiced ease, Euryale trailed her fingers up, along the smooth alabaster of Alisandra's chiton, and cupped the peeking breast with a loving hand.
"Ad think to yourself," she smiled, her tone dropping to a silibant hiss that seemed to mimic the snakes writhing on her head, "that she will be yours, for all time."
With her parting shot, Euryale leaned to Alisandra and kissed her face. Her tongue darted into the gap between the statue's stony lips.
Medusa closed her eyes, not wishing to disturb her sister; and for that matter, not wishing to see the display of affection Euryale was giving to a woman who would forever remain unresponsive. Even stone eventually crumbles to dust, Euryale, she thought. Nothing is forever. Although how would you know? You’re immortal. I am certainly not.
She imagined Laurel looking at her and suddenly transforming from flesh to stone, eternally rigid and unmoving. The image seemed to pale to the one she had seen minutes ago, that of a living, breathing, moving woman. A woman who could pleasure her and could be pleasured in return.
She opened her eyes. Euryale was feeling her own body as she caressed the statue of the maiden, doubtlessly imagining that it was Alisandra's hands that touched her instead of her own. Stetho watched her sister with a wicked gleam in her eye as she licked her lips; she then flicked her gaze to another statue in the cavern, this of a muscular, bare-chested man.
Medusa lowered her head to her hands. If the gods show me any justice, she silently vowed, Laurel will not end up as this!
Laurel was already awake and reclined by a tree on the edge of the glen when Medusa returned in the morning. The talk she'd had with Euryale the evening before might have strengthened her resolve, but at the same time, it had sorrowed her immensely. It was patently unfair that she should go through the rest of her life being denied the simple pleasure of another's touch-- real touch, the feeling of skin against skin, not unyielding stone.
One of her first thoughts, when she first understood how Athene had cursed her, had been, Okay, so I'll never be able to look someone in the eye again. It had seemed such a silly, intrusive thought then, but at the time she'd never stopped to consider what not being able to look a person in the eye had taken away from her. She'd considered it quite a lot since, especially lately, since Laurel had washed up on shore. And lying in the cave last night thinking about it had done nothing to brighten the grey mood that Euryale's conversation had started.
Nonetheless, when she greeted Laurel from the trees, she had strived to mask the feeling from her voice. But years without social intercourse-- except for with her sisters, who seemed to know her innermost feelings, anyway-- had seemingly rusted her skills.
"You sound very sad this morning, Medusa. What is wrong?"
"It is nothing," Medusa responded. "Did you sleep well?"
She stood, stretched and yawned. "Very well. I never got a chance to thank you yesterday, by the way."
"What? Thank me?" Medusa was entranced by the girl's beauty. It was likely she could have said the sky suddenly turned green and Medusa wouldn't have noticed. Or cared to.
"For saving me. You said the island was dangerous. If you took me from the beach to this safe place, you must have done so at great peril to yourself." Laurel smiled gratefully, although she could not see her hostess. "I did not think to thank you properly earlier."
"Oh." If only she knew the what the danger really was. Somewhat more subdued, she remarked, "It was my pleasure."
Laurel inclined her head in a thoughtful manner. "Medusa, you do sound so mournful. . . like you've lost a good friend. Will you tell me what is wrong?"
Medusa laughed mirthlessly. "If I told you, you would likely run screaming into the wilderness. I see no need to make my morning any worse."
"Nonsense," Laurel said, raising her chin indignantly. "You have pulled me from the sea and saved my life. You have offered me food and respite and shown me nothing but kindness yet. Nothing you could say will change that, and nothing can take away my appreciation for your actions. I would like you to consider me a friend. Someone you can talk to."
"I have no friends." Her tone was flat. "I can not."
"I can’t believe that." Laurel smiled warmly. "Why wouldn’t you?"
Medusa made an instant decision, one that she was almost sure she would regret. Yet she had to show this girl the truth. Slowly, she leaned down and ripped a strip of fabric from her sarong, and tossed it into the glen.
"I will show you why," she said. "But you must promise first to wear this over your eyes."
Laurel picked up the scrap and then looked at the area in the trees where it came from, her eyebrow quirking. "Why?"
Medusa smiled thinly. "On this, you must trust me."
For a few moments, Laurel stood there. Then, hesitantly, she looped the strip around her face, over her eyes, and knotted it behind the back of her head.
"All right," she said.
Medusa cautiously made her way into the glade, fearful still that the blindfold might slip.
"I will have to lead you," Medusa said. Laurel jumped at the voice suddenly next to her ear. And at something else as well
"Is there a nest of snakes around?"
Medusa winced. "It is all right. They are. . . pets."
She gripped Laurel’s hand and led her slowly through the trees, being careful to make sure she did not misstep. But paying attention to the warmth and softness of the girl’s touch caused Medusa to stumble three times herself before they arrived at the path to the temple.
Looking at the ruined temple always brought back a host of memories to Medusa. Most of them were bad.
She remembered the first morning she had awakened after the curse of Athene had taken effect. A priestess about her age had entered her room, where Medusa lay wrapped beneath her covers in her pallet. Frightened by what she thought was a snake in the pallet, the priestess had hurriedly roused Medusa. Medusa jumped from up, looking down at where she’d been sleeping, and then at the priestess, who had suddenly begun to scream all the more hysterically.
At the moment Medusa locked eyes with her, she noticed something wrong. The priestess’ scream began to choke off, and her face slowly drained of all color. This wouldn’t have been quite so odd, except for the simple fact that the rest of her slowly drained of all color as well. Even her dark hair and the light blue trim of her robe faded into the uniform, sudden white cast of her skin, marred only by whorls of grayish mineral streaks and hairline cracks.
The priestess was the first person Medusa had turned to stone. The first of many. As if to remind herself, Medusa had placed the statue of the woman next to the entryway of the ruined temple.
It was here that Medusa led Laurel, and after hiding herself behind the remains of a large column, told her to remove her blindfold
Laurel did so, looking about at the ruins. The temple had not seen repair much while Medusa was a priestess, and it certainly hadn’t since. Ivy nearly covered the entire front wall, and curled its way around the standing columns on the front side like tiny snakes trying to climb to the sun. The temple was made of an earthen-colored marble, so the scattered alabaster statues paticularly stood out against the greens and browns.
The first Laurel noticed, naturally, was that of the priestess. She let out an astonished gasp and immediately moved to inspect it more closely. She touched unsteady hand to the statue’s mouth, frozen open in mid-scream.
Medusa watched Laurel’s fingers linger around the stony face; again she was filled with longing. She made another split decision.
"This is what you wanted to show me?" Laurel’s voice was laced with admiration. "That you are an artist? A sculptor?"
Medusa sighed audibly as she ripped another, larger strip from her sarong. More of it was tore away now than what still covered her. "If only that were the case."
"I don’t understand," she said, looking toward the broken column for the first time. By that time, fortunately, Medusa had finished wrapping the garment around her head, concealing both her serpentine hair and her eyes.
The makeshift blindfold would not hinder her much. She knew the temple and its grounds intimately, even without sight to guide her. Medusa had spent the first couple years with the curse walking through the halls and chambers every day, glancing at statues of people she once knew and who would never talk to her again. A few of them she scoffed at; most she genuinely felt pity for. Most of the priests and priestesses who had the misfortune to look into her eyes had done so when she ran screaming into the temple proper after turning the young priestess to stone, still unaware that she had caused the change. Even now, she found it hard not to pity those poor souls who had done nothing more than turn to see what was the matter with her. . . and had never again moved.
She heard Laurel, padding lightly around the column, catching her breath as she first saw her benefactor and 'friend’.
Medusa forced a smile and a light-hearted tone. "Didn’t the tale of Eros and Psyche teach you anything?"
"Of course. You wouldn’t have heard of them, either. Well, the moral is that curiosity often leads to ill fortune."
"I-- I just wanted to ask you. . . ask you what you meant, when. . . when you said If only that were the case.’" She stammered the words with a small voice. Medusa felt her heart sink into her stomach. Of course Laurel would be frightened, maybe even revolted, when she finally saw her. Medusa berated herself silently for believing it could be any different. Her self-control began to shatter.
"What did I mean?" Medusa asked in a low voice.
"What did I mean?" She asked again, louder, and walked around the opposite side of the column, stamping up the steps to the temple entrance.
"Look at this woman!" She cried, gesturing to the statue of the priestess. "This was once a living, breathing person! Now what is she?"
She threw her arms wide. "All of these, and those inside, too! All living, breathing people with hopes, and dreams, and fears! How many of them had families? How many had children? How many were children?"
"These. . . were people? And you turned them. . . into stone?"
She heard Laurel coming up the steps behind her, she didn’t care. Years of grief and regret that she had kept capped deep within her were exploding to the surface, and she had no wish to stop. "Yes, damn it! Anyone looking upon my face suffers that fate! Athene may have cursed me, but how many of these people were cursed far worse than me just for making the simple mistake of looking at my face?"
She felt warmth on her shoulder; Laurel’s hand, touching her in a calming, comforting gesture. Her voice was filled with pity when she spoke, but there was something more. Something Medusa couldn’t identify. Blind, she stopped in awe.
"By Rhiannon and Epona. . . I never imagined. You really are all alone, aren’t you?" The hand slid down her arm and found its way to her hand. Medusa paused in shocked silence as she felt Laurel’s fingers intertwine with hers.
"As alone as I. . ." Those were the last words she heard before Laurel’s other hand reached up and caressed her cheek, drawing Medusa’s mouth to hers. Laurel’s lips were tender but hungry, forgiving but passionate. She swept Medusa into an embrace that warmed her to the core of her being; her fingertips searched and probed in such a way that made it impossible to misunderstand the intent, yet at the same time made it impossible to consider it vulgar.
Medusa was at first tentative, but soon she began to return the kiss with Laurel's passion. She found her fingers mimicking Laurel's movements, blindly stealing touches of her breasts, hovering within the width of thin material of the chiton of her sex. Who bore who to the ground first, Medusa could not tell, but soon both were lying there, struggling with garments that had become far too constricting to wear any longer-- the lone exception being the wrapped cloth around Medusa's eyes and hair.
As she continued to kiss Laurel, Medusa felt the girl's hand waft around her pubis before stroking at her sex-- not at all roughly, as though she was coaxing the petals of a flower to open. The feeling was pure ecstasy. Medusa moaned and arched her back; she felt as if her loins had suddenly caught fire, and that all the water in the sea couldn't put out the flames. And when Laurel finally ceased teasing the surface and inserted herself, it merely made the blaze burn that much more fiercely.
Medusa, having been a priestess, had never lain with anyone-- let alone another woman. It seemed as though Laurel realized that early on in their lovemaking and never once pushed or forced herself enough to hurt her. She did, however, do so just enough to bring Medusa quickly to an orgasm-- the first she'd ever had. She cried stridently as the feeling of bliss overwhelmed her. Medusa had never felt anything so marvelous; never even imagined such a wonderful feeling could be possible.
And it was all thanks to the wondrous woman beside her. For the first time in her life, Medusa felt as though she knew the meaning of the word love. And as she let her hand languidly, and felt Laurel's hand catch it and give it a reassuring squeeze, she knew that the feeling was returned.
They made love twice more in the temple sanctuary that afternoon, amid the silence of the statues and the cool shade the crumbling roof provided. Despite her inexperience and the natural clumsiness that came with being blind, Medusa brought Laurel to the peak of climax the last time. She herself reached every time, and twice on that last occasion. All in all, it was an experience she would never forget.
The two walked back to the glade, hand in hand, talking and laughing as though they'd known each other for years rather than days. Medusa left the glade that night with a inner light in her soul that she hadn't known in years. A genuinely happy smile, a rarity to her face since childhood, stayed there without the slightest effort. Even Euryale and Stetho had little to say when she returned back-- which was fine, as Medusa told them nothing anyway-- and certainly could not find a way to break her good mood.
Over the next week, she met Laurel at the glade every day, invariably spending the day with her. They walked to different places on the island-- careful to stay away from the sisters-- and conversed on all manner of subjects. Laurel talked about her former master and the hard life of a slave in Mycaenae. Medusa told Laurel the stories behind some of the statues she knew. They bathed together in the inland lake and shared stories of their homelands.
It was a week that made Medusa feel the most happy-- and the most normal-- she'd ever felt since Athene cursed her. And as one week spread to two, the wary and cautious part of her nature slowly began to give way. She and Laurel made love in the wilderness within earshot of the sisters' cavern. She once partially removed her mask in order to see as she was pleasuring Laurel with her tongue. The two went for a walk on a path along which Stetho had been known to hunt before. Medusa even once mentioned Laurel's name to the sisters, though she did so by saying that was what she had named her 'stone' lover.
She might have known she was treading thin lines-- between her sisters knowing and not, between Laurel seeing and not seeing her face-- but she didn't care. That carefree nature might have changed if she realized the last time such a thin line existed, it was the one between her and Athene.
End Part One; Continued in Part Two