To Be Loved

Part Two

By ArgoForg (ArgoForg@hotmail.com)


(Authorís notes and nonesuch: Thanks to all of you that responded so enthusiastically to the first part of this! Sorry this part has been so long in coming, but I hope to make it up by getting more stories out soon!)

 

With Laurel, Medusa mused one night as she lay next to her lover, nothing could have been more perfect.

The days and weeks they spent together stretched on happily. The two met every day and shared everything with one another: personal secrets, fears, hopes and dreams. They made love almost every night, as well, and there had even been several nights that Medusa stayed with Laurel in the glade-- which served as her loverís home-- rather than returning to the cave and her Ďsistersí. In fact, Medusa found that she knew more about Laurel than she did either Euryale or Stetho. And the more time that passed, the more Medusa discovered about her, the more the day she found Laurel on the beach began to acquire a surreal, dream-like quality. Even the idea that Medusa could turn the young woman into a statue with a glance had started to dwindle from being a pressing problem to being merely an easily sidestepped inconvenience.

It seemed impossible to Medusa that such a wondrous creature could simply have washed up on shore. Here was someone who loved her unconditionally, without bounds, even after learning what a monster she was. She couldnít ever remember saying that about anyone. Not her parents, who died before she really was old enough to know them; not the priests at the temple of Athene, whom she suspected really just lusted after her, despite their kindly words; not the sisters, who often times made no secret of their contempt for her.

Laurel stirred in her sleep, murmuring something just at the edge of hearing. Medusa smiled, and stroked her side lovingly. Moments later, her breathing became steady once again; she had fallen fast asleep. Medusa had become remarkably adept at gauging Laurelís body while still hampered by the blindfold that covered her eyes and hair. Of course, their frequent couplings had provided plenty of practice with that.

Medusa lay back on the ground, looking upward at the blanket of stars above, feeling the warmth of Laurel next to her. Nothing could be more perfect than how she felt right now. It was a comforting feeling, one that Medusa was not used to. But she would kill anyone or anything that tried to take it-- or Laurel-- away from her.

***

The Amazonís raft must have arrived just after dawn, shortly after Medusa had left the clearing to return to the cave for the morning.

She hated to leave Laurel, even for a moment, and she was even less thrilled to see the sisters, but it was a necessary ritual that she dutifully followed. If Euryale and Stetho did not see her at some point in the day, the two might become suspicious of why Medusa did not return home-- or gods help her, even worried that something had happened to her poor, mortal self-- and come searching for her. . . which may have led them to Laurel. So without fail, Medusa made a token appearance at the cave every day-- sometimes even partaking of a meal with the sisters-- and humbly took whatever insults or insinuations they cared to dish out.

This morning, they had both been surprisingly good-natured, even to the point of inquiring how ĎLaurelí was. Medusa had nearly spit out a mouthful of tasteless soup before she realized that they were talking about her supposed favorite statue. It had been a slight stretch of the truth to tell the sisters that she had, indeed, fallen in love with one of her own creations. . . if but to forestall questions of why she had been in such a good mood lately. She finally made it through the meal, just a bit impatiently, and told the sisters she was going to the beach and then to the temple, or possibly the lake. They both grunted their indifference, which Medusa had grown to expect anytime she said she would be doing anything. The sisters hardly went anywhere they didnít have to, and usually could care less where she went. She could almost picture herself saying she would be making a raft and leaving the island for Athens and them shrugging and saying, "Whatever passes your time away."

So Medusa had donned a new sarong-- her old one was ripped and torn from being used for a makeshift blindfold and went on her way. Before going back to the clearing, she did stop by the beach. There was a patch of wild berries on the path, near to the beach, which had smelled like they would be wonderful crushed into juice or wine. The fact that she even thought about such things was yet another marked change that her time with Laurel had brought about. Medusa had never been interested in bothering with making food; in the cave Stetho regularly cooked, and Medusa ate whatever it happened to be-- which was usually a bland, meaty soup disguised only by whatever name Stetho happened to call it. Since meeting the young woman, though, Medusa had become more in tune with creating new dishes for Laurel to try, and found herself to be more than a passable cook.

She plucked a few larger berries from the bush, placing them in the pouches in her sarong, and tasted one. She smiled at its sweetness as she gazed out at the sea.

That was when she first saw the raft, a small wooden craft that had been pulled ashore, large enough only for one or two. No larger ship lay out to sea; it must have come quite a distance. She looked up and down the beach, trying to spot a sign of movement, and saw none. She quietly crept to the raft and searched around. There was a small mainmast on the craft, but the sail on it was pure white; it had no crest to tell Medusa from where it had come. On the beach next to it, however, was a large, round shield. She picked it up. Displayed across the face of the shield were a number of women warriors, felling a boar.

An amazon, then, Medusa decided. Two of them, she amended, looking at the wet sand, where two sets of footprints led from the craft inland, toward the trees.

The sweet taste in her mouth turned to ashes. The footprints progressed in a meandering way toward a path into the overgrowth; a path that led past an alabaster statue of an old sailor, his mouth forever twisted into a scream of terror as he looked back toward the beach.

A path that would take the amazons right to the clearing.

Right to Laurel.

***

"I swear to you, upon all the gods I know, that I know nothing! Please let me be!" That was Laurel, cringing away from the two warrior women, nearly incoherent in fear. She was still nude, apparently having just awoke from the nightís sleep to find two newcomers to her glade. She was tied to one of the outlying trees, bound hand and foot.

Medusaís eyes narrowed as she watched the happenings in the clearing. From this vantage point, hidden in the trees and brush weeks ago, she had watched Laurel, had talked to her for the first time. It disgusted and appalled Medusa that this place, which had brought her such happiness, had now been desecrated by the coming of these two amazons.

Both were impressive looking in their tight-fitting armor breastplates and skirts, the latter slitted up the sides to provide ease of movement. Neither wore a helm, but both were well-armed-- Medusa noted that each wore a strapped gladius at her belt, and each carried a long spear with a cruel iron tip. Both had the dark hair and olive-tanned skin of Aegean islanders, and both were well-toned and obviously could hold their own in a fight. The taller one also seemed a touch older, though Medusa estimated that even she was barely five-and-twenty years if she was a day.

The taller of the two prodded Laurelís stomach with the butt end of her spear. "I find that very hard to believe, slave girl. Perhaps we should persuade you to tell the truth."

Medusa restrained herself by sheer will alone. She longed to leap into the clearing and turn her baleful gaze upon the two interlopers, but she dared not, especially with Laurel still in the clearing. There was no way to tell if Laurel might catch a glance of her face and share the amazonsí fate. She needed to find a way to get Laurel out of the clearing, or at least, make sure she looked away. . . Think, she chided herself.

The taller one grinned wickedly, in a manner that made her thoughts very plain. "After all, you are not wholly unattractive. . ."

"By Kerridwen, no. . ." Laurel whispered, her eyes wide.

The other amazon, younger but no less intimidating, quirked an eyebrow at her companion. "Amphrite, I donít think thatís wise. This island is not safe. The she-monster may be around anywhere."

The taller one, Amphrite, seemed to take this in. "Youíre right, Iodama. Time for that later. However, you have given me an idea. . . why not let the slave girl lead us? Should the beast find us, the girl will likely be the first to see her. . ."

"And be turned to stone. Not a horrid loss," Iodama agreed with a shrug, her lips curling upward.

"Giving us a chance to gather what direction to aim without fear for ourselves," the taller amazon smiled, leaning toward Laurel. "I think sheíll work nicely as our guide."

She set down her spear and started to untie Laurelís feet from the tree. At the same time she contrived to touch the young womanís naked breasts with her forearms. Seeing that, Medusa growled deep in her throat.

"Did you hear that?" Iodama said, readying her spear and looking in the direction Medusa was. Amphrite also turned, her hand on the hilt of her gladius. Laurel seized the opportunity while the amazonsí backs were turned and strained at her bonds once, to no avail. She was still tied tight. But her struggles and the battle-readiness of the women warriors gave Medusa an idea. It was a half-formed and chancy idea at best, but her choices were rapidly running out. If those amazons happened to come upon Euryale or Stetho while Laurel led them . . .

". . .nothing there," Amphrite was saying, getting back to untying Laurelís feet. "Next youíll be jumping at your shadow."

"I swear to you, I heard something. This whole cursed island is too quiet for my like."

Amphrite had almost completely untied Laurelís feet and set about tying one end of it to the rope around her hands. Medusa could see the plan from her vantage point-- apparently, she meant to keep Laurelís hands bound, and use the rope from around her feet as a sort of leash, as well. Medusa waited, digging a hand into her pouches and pulling out a few of the berries sheíd picked earlier.

Amphrite pulled Laurel up by the leash, letting the young woman kick free of the rope loosely binding her ankles. She led Laurel to her companion like a prized mare, one who glared at the two but otherwise said nothing.

"Now, let us find this ĎMedusaí," Amphrite sneered.

Medusa let loose the handful of berries, hurling them into the clearing. She wasnít expecting to hit anything; only by sheer luck did a couple hit the amazons, who whirled at the area from which the projectiles had come.

"What in Hadesí name?" Iodama said, glancing at a spot of berry juice on her shoulder and setting her spear. Amphriteís eyes widened, she reached for her gladius. Medusa prayed that Laurel took the cue.

Thankfully, Laurel was no fool. With a strength borne of fear, she pulled away from the taller amazon with all her might. Amphrite might have held the rope if she had not been preoccupied with the source of the unexpected fruit attack. As it was, the rope slid through the amazonís hand, and the suddenly freed slave girl stumbled forward and scrabbled on all fours toward the safety of the trees.

"Damn and blast you, bitch!" Amphrite spat, taking notice at her escape attempt immediately. With that curse, she picked up her spear and took aim at Laurelís back. The young woman was nearly to the treeline. Medusa could wait no longer.

With an animal-like scream, she leapt through the underbrush and into the clearing. Amphrite held her throw, and turned her spear at the commotion. She could wait, Medusa decided immediately. The one named Iodama was closer, and much more prepared to attack her. The snakes on her head writhed and hissed silibantly in anticipation.

Medusa looked at the younger amazon, and her lips folded back into a fierce snarl. "You wished to find Medusa, you have found her. Now look into the eyes of doom, foolish woman, and pay for your folly!"

Iodama backed up a step, dropping her spear, but it was too late. Already Medusaís eyes had sought out-- and caught-- her own.

"Gods, no!" She screamed, unable to budge from the spot, her voice starting to slow even in the span of those short words. "Am. . . phri. . ."

The last part of that name would forever go unsaid. A crackling sound seemed to emanate from her. The young amazonís mouth froze open, her frightened eyes glazed over, her lithe body became immobile and rigid. In slow movements, the color drained from her, sweeping upward from her feet and stealing the olive-tan from her legs, the crimson from her short skirt, the bronze from her breastplate, the red from her lips, and the black from her eyes and hair, and leaving only an alabaster white. In moments Iodama was a woman no longer, but an stone statue of a woman, destined to remain forever in a pose of shock-- her pretty face marred forever by a mask of unspeakable fright.

"Iodama!" Amphrite shrieked.

"And now you," Medusa growled, looking toward the remaining amazon. "Laurel, stay away!"

Having seen what happened to her companion, Amphrite was more prepared than Iodama for fighting. Already she had closed her eyes, and was pointing her spear at Medusa by using her hearing alone.

"So, the slave is yours, is she?" Amphrite taunted.

"She is no oneís slave," Medusa replied sharply as she circled the amazon. Amphrite lunged toward the sound, missing Medusa with the spear by at least two feet.

"So what is she to you, monster?"

Medusa dropped back a step, well out of spear range. "She is my friend, and after seeing how you treated her, I think you are the monster, not I."

Again Amphrite jabbed with the spear. Again her aim was far off.

"I am?" Amphrite acted amused at that, but Medusa saw sweat beading on the amazonís brow. "Ha! Do I turn all I look at to stone? Do snakes grow from my head?"

Medusa smiled and stepped closer to Amphrite. She judged herself to be just inside the range of her spear, now.

"No, you are much worse. Everyone can see what a horrible creature I am. You hide your monstrousness behind a pretty mask."

That blow told. The amazonís teeth clenched, her brow creased dangerously Grimacing, Amphrite thrust once more.

Medusa shrieked, grabbing at her midsection, and sank slowly to the ground.

***

Her eyes jammed shut, Amphrite was having to fight at a severe disadvantage. But having seen what happened to poor Iodama, she knew of no other way to fight. If she hadnít discarded her shield-- choosing instead to carry the long spear-- back at the beach, she might not have been at such a handicap.

She had very nearly succumbed the same way Iodama had; after seeing the effect the she-creatureís gaze had on the young woman, Amphrite had to force herself to quell the urge to stare down the monster-- as was amazonian custom-- and curse her name to perdition. Amphrite had known her companion since Iodama was an initiate in the ranks of the amazons; she had watched over her with pride when the younger woman collected her first kill, and when she had ascended to the order of Hecateís Circle. She had looked after Iodama like her own daughter, and now she could not believe the girl was now merely pale, lifeless marble. A part of her still wanted to open her eyes and glare at the beast that did it, to Hades with the risk, and shower it with a string of curses for daring to hurt her friend.

If she had done so, though, she would have turned to stone, as well. . . and Iodamaís death would be unavenged. So she kept her eyes tightly shut, jabbing at the monster with her ears to guide her. She tried to keep the she-monster Medusa talking, so perhaps she could strike from the sound of her voice. So far, she hadnít met with any success. Two such strikes had been clean misses.

The monster spoke again. It sounded nearer this time, maybe within Amphriteís spear-range.

"No, you are much worse," it said. "Everyone can see what a horrible creature I am. You hide your monstrousness behind a pretty mask."

Monstrousness? If the creature only knew! All it had to gauge her on was her slight mistreatment of and lust after a slave girl. And as far as that went, slaves deserved to be treated like that-- they should expect to be treated like that! Thatís why they were slaves in the first place, wasnít it? If the she-beast had seen her urge Iodama on during her tests of womanhood, it would have known better. . . if it could see the pain in her heart knowing that Iodama would never laugh or smile again, it would know. . .

Thinking of her companion lent Amphrite strength. Gritting her teeth and calling upon her years of training, she thrust at the area her ears told her the monster was. She felt it strike something and then catch. At first it didnít feel like a true killing thrust, but when the she-demon let loose a death-like screech and slowly crumpled to the ground, pulling the shaft with it, Amphrite decided she merely had been too focused to feel the spearhead punch home. For good measure, she twisted the shaft, reveling in the sound of the creatureís death-gurgles, which slowly stopped.

Keeping her eyes closed, the amazon listened. The clearing was all but silent. Behind her, Amphrite heard the slave girl sobbing, from a distance away. Presumably she had heard her Ďfriendí die, although how anyone could befriend a creature like this, Amphrite was unsure. Well, once she had been recaptured, Amphrite mused, she would fetch a fair price at a marketplace in Mycaene or Crete. That was, after Amphrite had taken her once or twice herself. She had already decided, upon seeing this Laurelís well-formed body and curiously golden triangle of hair, that should they both live, she would taste the slave girlís fruits.

But, again, there would be time for that later. For now, for the sake of Iodamaís memory, there was something she had to do first.

"I have claimed vengeance for you, Iodama. Your soul may join those of the other sisters who have fallen here. For I, Amphrite, daughter of Melinoipe, have killed the creature who took your life." She raised her arms in victory. "Let the word be passed on in the Elysian Fields, among the departed sisters, and in Tartarus, realm of the damned, that I have destroyed the she-demon Medusa!"

She opened her eyes, staring at the sky in exultation, and, drawing her gladius to remove the creatureís head, looked down.

And straight into the cocksure, grinning face of Medusa, who was holding Amphriteís spearhead with one hand and resting her chin on the other.

"Why donít you tell them all yourself?" She said, smiling sweetly.

"What? No!" Amphrite shrieked, as much in denial as in genuine fear. Her gaze had already fallen onto Medusaís glowing emerald eyes, which locked onto her own and steadfastly refused to let go.

"Tricked. . ." Amphrite gasped, as that green glow seemed to encompass the whole of her being. A tingling feeling that was advancing slowly up past her legs, then her sex and her stomach, told her that it was too late to turn away anyway. Already, she couldnít move her limbs, and she could see her left hand-- with its fingers spread in surprise-- becoming pale white and pebbled in the edge of her vision. Through lips that wouldnít move, she whispered, ". . .How. . .?"

She never heard the answer. Darkness descended over her eyes. Within scant moments, a second statue of an amazon warrior decorated the clearing.

***

Euryale had heard the shriek of pain from the mouth of the cave. "Sister, come quickly," she urged. It took much to surprise her, more to shake her, still more to actually worry for her other Ďsiblingí. This did all three.

Grumbling, Stetho joined her just outside the cave and looked around, squinting in the bright sunlight. "What is it, sister? See nothing, I do."

"See, no." Euryale said, frowning. "But I did hear something. I just heard the young one scream as if she were dying."

Stetho raised an eyebrow. "Another fool hero? Bested her? I think it unlikely."

Euryale continued to gaze toward the forests below, as if she could penetrate the trees and see what was happening by sheer force of will alone. "Unlikely, yes. Not impossible. As we so often point out, she is mortal."

Another shriek, this one ending abruptly, echoed below.

"The snakes have filled your ears again, sister," Stetho mocked. "The scream was not hers."

Euryale sent her a glare that could have melted iron. "I know what I heard. I know the younger oneís voice. She could be hurt, even so. We should see if sheís okay."

Stetho glanced over to her, surprised. "Why do you care what happens to her?"

Euryaleís gaze dropped to her feet, a little shamefacedly. She remembered a day, not so long ago, when Medusa asked her if it was all right for her to lust after a woman. After a long moment she spoke.

"Because blood, even mortal blood, is thick. And no matter how much I belittle her, I must remember that we are the only family she has."

Stetho considered this, nodded. "Aye. Let us go."

***

Medusa paused for a moment to study her handiwork before replacing the blindfold. Iodamaís alabaster form cringed in fear, her sightless eyes were as wide as the coins the mainlanders placed under the tongue at death, her pale, unmoving fingers still had the look of nervelessness. Quite unlike Iodama, who had been stilled forever with an expression of abject horror, Amphriteís stony face held more of a look of surprise. The eyes werenít nearly as wide; there was still noticeable resolve in the hand which gripped a gladius that would never be used.

Though Medusa despised her curse, she couldnít help but feel a sense of awe whenever she turned someone to stone, especially someone who had beauty in life. No artist could catch the subtleties of the body in stone as she could. From the miniscule creases in Amphriteís downturned lips and the pleats of her skirt, to the firm muscles in Iodamaís shapely legs and the gentle curve of her breasts, both stone figures were magnificent. Both were worthy additions to Medusaís collection. With one last look and a sigh, she replaced the blindfold and called out for Laurel.

***

"So you grabbed hold of her spear and pretended to be slain?" Laurelís voice was warm with fascination.

Medusa nodded. "I really wasnít sure it would work, but Iím a pretty competent fighter myself, anyway. If she had jerked the spear away, I could have backed out of the reach of her weapon before she could have struck again."

The two had left the clearing as soon as Medusa had assured Laurel she was all right. She didnít want the young woman to see the remains of the fight and be reminded of the amazons taking her prisoner. Medusa had already decided she would find Laurel another place to stay, soon. Tonight.

Now they were wading in the small inland lake-- which was another of their favorite spots on the island, especially in the heat of day. Medusa was in the deepest portion of the lake, which barely touched the underside of her breasts. The whole thing was just over fifty feet across at its widest spot, not even really large enough to deserve the name Ďlakeí.

"What about your hair. . . er, the snakes? Wouldnít the hissing give you away?"

"Youíd be surprised," Medusa answered, laving water onto her shoulders and then readjusting her blindfold. The strip of her sarong had started to become threadbare. "I have control over my pets. If I wish them to, theyíll be quiet and still."

"Oh." Laurel said, suddenly quiet herself. She was near. Medusa could tell that much by the proximity of Laurelís voice and the ripples of water that she felt on her breasts. "I was worried for you."

"As was I for you. . . as I always am for you." The last was very nearly an afterthought. Medusa was surprised sheíd spoken it aloud.

"Fie! What is that supposed to mean?" Laurel laughed and splashed Medusa playfully.

That Iím worried youíll get caught by some Ďheroí when Iím not around, Medusa thought. That Iím worried what such a Ďheroí would do to you, that Iíve started worrying again that you might someday catch view of my sistersí faces, or gods help me, my own. . . and end up like those amazons this morning.

All of that went through her mind, all of it went unsaid. Instead, she merely smiled disarmingly.

"Nothing," she said, splashing Laurel back. "A passing thought, nothing more."

After bathing, they made love and drank some olive wine Medusa had taken from clay jars in the cave. They then stretched out beneath the shade of a tree together to catch a nap. But even with Laurel snoring softly next to her and her warm arm crooked around Medusaís neck, those thoughts kept intruding and refused to be shaken.

Medusa shivered. It seemed like an ominous sign.

***

Euryale touched the face of the stony woman warrior, pensively. Two statues stood in the clearing, both were amazons, both were yet untouched by weather. She had tried to piece together a story to go along with the scene, but so far had come up with nothing.

Stetho was a far better tracker. She was investigating the ground and frowning quite a bit. At length she spoke up.

"I make little sense of it. She was on the ground here, of that I am sure, but I see no blood marking the grass; nor is the any on the lance-tip of the woman."

"Nor is there on the spear next to the other," Euryale commented, gesturing toward the statue of the younger amazon. The fear frozen on the face of that one made it seem unlikely she had struck a blow. The warriors who had ever tried to attack Euryale usually turned to stone with at least a glimmer of defiance on their faces. She saw none of that on this young amazon. She turned her attention across the glade. "Do you see the rope around the tree over there?"

"Aye," Stetho nodded gravely. "That I noticed first of all. What happened in this place I cannot begin to guess."

Euryale rubbed at her chin, trying to gauge their alternatives. "Can you find the path the younger one took leaving here?"

Stetho studied the ground where Medusa had lay, at the indentations that wer her tracks, leading away from that spot. She nodded at her sister. "Aye. And easily as well."

Euryale looked once more at the rope loosely tied around the tree trunk, worry creasing her face. "Let us find her, then."

***

When she awoke, Laurel was still napping. Medusa took a peek under her blindfold to re-orient herself-- and to catch a quick glance at Laurel, who was blissfully nude and innocently comfortable about it-- and sighed happily. She gingerly released herself from beneath Laurelís arm, smiling as the young woman groaned quietly and rubbed at her eyes.

"Whereíre you going?" Laurel asked, her words sleep-slurred.

Medusa motioned to her blindfold. "My mask is starting to fall apart. It could slip off if I donít make myself a new one."

"Mmmnh," Laurel responded.

"Iíll be over in the woods, okay? Should just take a few minutes." Medusa pointed toward a large grove of trees, closer to them than the forest they had come from to get to the lake.

Laurelís hand slid over and touched hers. "Nníkay," she smiled sleepily. "Be back soon."

"Always, my love." Medusa smiled again and leaned down, leaving a kiss on Laurelís lips.

She found her way to the copse without difficulty; it was becoming second nature for her to walk without the benefit of sight and made her way through the treeline by touch. As soon as she got past the first few trees, a branch caught the blindfold. The simple catch, combined with the thready fastening of the fabric, ripped the mask from her face. Medusa blinked, blinded by the sudden brilliance before her eyes, and as she realized what happened, breathed a sigh of relief that the fabric hadnít caught any branches earlier than this. Maybe, she mused, she should tear some extra length from her sarong and double the thickness of the blindfold. That would help to ensure it lasted longer this time.

She found a small clearing a short distance into the grove and sat down, letting her vision slowly return to normal. It would take only a few minutes to fashion another blindfold, and then she could return to Laurel. So she waited, letting her eyesight clear while her inner vision conjured up images of her golden-haired lover, waiting restlessly for her return.

***

The sisters reached the edge of the forest, after finding that not too far outside the clearing with the statues, Medusaís tracks had taken her to a small dirt path. Curiously, another set of prints seemed to accompany her. Wondering if perhaps a third amazon might have captured her and brought her along, the sisters followed it. The path had eventually led them here.

"Is this what she calls the lake?" Euryale asked, but quietly.

"Couldnít tell you, to be quite honest," Stetho remarked. "Never been here, have I."

"I donít see her yet." Euryale said. Her lips compressed into a thin line. "Come. Letís have a look."

"Bah, I think she is leading us around. Mayhaps we should call for her." Stetho raised her voice. "Come out, sister!"

"Oh, glorious." Euryale hissed, rolling her eyes in resignation. "If she was being held captive, youíve assured her a mortal blow now."

"Oh, right," the other said, having obviously not thought that far ahead in her plan. "Terribly sorry, I am."

"Fine. Now come on."

Quietly, with Euryale taking the lead, the two crept toward the lake.

***

A noise jolted Laurel out of near-sleep. She sat up, gasping. What had she heard? A yell? A shout? Sister? She brushed her hair out of her eyes and glanced around, fear-struck. Had more amazons returned, to avenge the loss of their comrades? Across the small lake, silhouetted by the late day sun, she saw two figures skulking, making their way around, to her side of it. They didnít appear to be amazons, Laurel thought; or at least, she would have assumed she could see the glint of sunlight off of bronze armor if they were. She looked again, closely. There was something familiar about them, though, like their cant, or the way they wore. . . their. . . hair.

Their Hair. Writhed. Like Snakes.

Not amazon sisters, she realized dimly, fear and dread beginning to wash over her in waves, but Medusaís sisters. . . And doubtlessly, they werenít wearing blindfolds.

***

The sisters, for all their immortality, were about as successful creeping around quietly in the wilderness as a herd of wild elephants. Part of that was due to the fact that they hardly left the cave to begin with, but that was only part. More of it was because slinking around silently simply wasnít the sistersí style. Being immortal, Euryale and Stetho had little reason to fear the hand of mortals. And to that end, they had no qualms about someone knowing they were there and they were coming; after all, humans were inclined to look at what they first heard. A great deal of the sistersí statues were of men and women who knew all too clear when the sisters approached, yet looked anyway. And besides which, the sisters, as they were fond of relating, enjoyed statues whose faces were caught in poses of abject fear.

Euryale, leading her sister, suddenly stopped and placed a finger to her lips. "Hsst! I heard something!"

"Again, yes?"

"Across the lake." She began to run, making her way toward the other side with long, loping strides. "Hurry, sister!"

Stetho blinked. And now, she was being asked to run? She followed her sister a little more clumsily, her feet catching here and there in the folds of her sarong or an opportune hollow in the ground. She shot a finger up, pointing at a form beneath the boughs of tree across the lake. "There! Someone there, I see! A woman, by her looks! A fair-haired amazon!"

Euryale spotted it as well and ran on, a scream starting low in her throat. None heard that scream and survived.

"Look! She flees! Give chase, give chase!" Stetho whooped, catching the spirit of the hunt. "Ah, what fools these mortals be. . ."

Euryale, beginning to outdistance her sister, nevertheless paused her scream long enough to glance back. "Shut up. Weíll have none of that now."

***

Medusa had told Laurel about the sisters, Stetho and Euryale. She had told Laurel stories of how dreadfully they treated her, how they delighted in their curse while Medusa had reviled hers. From the stories, they were spiteful, horrid creatures. Medusa had warned her explicitly never to gaze upon them. It was only by the happenstances of distance and light that she had seen them and survived. She had given momentary thought about pulling on her chiton and quietly letting them pass, but one of the two had seen her, forcing her to forsake decency for common sense. Naked, she had taken flight.

Laurel fled the two as she had fled nothing in her life. Her golden hair streamed behind her; she felt the wind whip past her, causing tears to burn in her eyes. Her chest felt as though it would burst as her feet pounded onward in the dry grass, but fear and love lent her legs strength.

She knew nowhere else to go; her knowledge of the island was terribly limited. So she ran, straight and true, into the grove of trees Medusa had pointed to earlier, praying to Epona that her lover could help.

***

At the look of what was left of her sarong, Medusa laughed as she hadnít in months. The new cloth robe was now in tatters on one side, a large piece of it having been ripped apart. One leg stuck out from the tear in a very risque manner; it would be weeks before she lived it down once the sisters saw it.

But the result was well worth it: she now had a piece of fabric to fold in half, or thirds if she desired, to use as a new blindfold. Maybe, she pondered, there would be some way to fashion a clasp on it, rather than merely tying it off behind her head. It would be something to consider, at least.

A noise off in the trees grabbed her attention. Branches cracked and leaves rustled, coming closer. Something was bounding through the grove, coming at her. It was crashing through branches without heed, either crazed, hungry or frightened. A stag? Medusa wondered. She didnít think any still lived on the island. A lion? Unlikely, but possible. Medusaís first thought was fear for Laurel. Hastily, she picked up the scrap of cloth to find the ends and pull it over her head if she needed to.

As she did, a figure broke through the treeline.

If, as the sisters often jibed, she was immortal, perhaps her reaction would have been different. Perhaps she would have thought her actions out better. But she was only mortal, only human. At the sound of what seemed to be a wild animal, crashing through the brush at her, Medusa had a human response. She looked up at what could cause such a commotion.

***

And Laurel, rushing into the clearing as if Cerebus himself were after her, glanced up from her pursuit and looked for the first time-- and the last-- into her loverís eyes.

"Oh. . . no," she whispered, words that sounded more like a sigh than a genuine denial. She felt her body begin to slow, and pulled herself to a halt before Medusa.

***

Medusa screamed in agony and lament as she realized whose eyes hers had locked with, and tried to tear her gaze from that of the young woman. She would have willingly torn her eyes themselves out if she could. But for the first time, she could feel-- to some extent-- what it was like for her victims. Try as she might, she couldnít wrench her stare from Laurelís. The young womanís blue eyes were large and love-filled, and glossy as liquid, shining with unshed tears. To Medusa, those eyes were the entire universe.

Finally, she did break her gaze free. It was too late, she knew. She ran to her lover, the woman who had come to mean so much to her-- the woman who-- in her mind-- had come to personify pefection-- and held a hand up to hold her. She couldnít bring herself to do it at first; she let it hover there, scant inches from Laurelís arm, as if the young woman was a bubble that would burst at her touch. Medusa tried to say something, anything. But all she could sob was "no," over and over again, like a litany.

Laurel couldnít move her limbs, but her lips still could. "I am. . . sorry, Medusa," she said. Her voice was her own, but Medusa could hear it slowing already.

"No, Laurel, donít be sorry. It was me. . . my fault. . ." Medusa moaned, grief-stricken. Oh, gods, she thought, knowing they had long ago turned their back on her, why her? ". . .My fault. . ."

She could not meet Laurelís gaze. Dropping her head into her hands and weeping piteously, she watched as Laurelís feet began to lose their color. Her supple legs slowly followed suit, becoming hard and infexible as their tan color faded to white marble.

Medusa had never before been in contact with someone as they turned to stone, and she had restrained herself from holding Laurel before, but she couldnít help but to touch her now. As stone replaced the flesh of her knees and worked its way to her thighs, Medusa lightly ran a finger through the hair of Laurelís golden triangle and softly caressed the lips below. Her vision blurred from tears as she felt the delicate skin harden beneath her fingers and watched the gold pale until it settled to the color of alabaster. The feathery hair became brittle and spiky.

Angrily, she knuckled the wetness from her eyes and looked back to her loverís face. "I am so sorry, my dearest. So very sorry."

Laurel could not even blink in response. Medusa sobbed again as she watched the young womanís stomach and arms freeze forever in marble flawlessness.

"I. . . know. . . be. . . be strong."

"Oh, Laurel. . . If this fate could be mine instead. . ."

Again Medusa drooped her head. Laurelís beautiful breasts had already begun to change. Within moments, they too had turned to stone: round, pure white globes, each tipped by a small pebble.

"Me. . . du. . . sa. . ." Her loverís voice was slow, thick. It sounded not at all like her own.

Medusa looked up into the face of the young woman, heartbroken. "Iím here, Laurel," she said in a voice that was so choked with emotion it sounded just as unlike her own as Laurelís did.

For a scant moment, Laurel could say nothing; for her to have spoken at all, Medusa realized, must have taken immense effort.

Laurelís lips quivered, barely noticeable. Her fair hair, disheveled as it was from running, would forever remain that way. Already, strands of it were taking on the hue of marble and blending together into one stony mass as they hardened. "I. . .Iíll. . . l. . . love. . . you. . . al. . ."

Her lips stopped moving, froze in place as they drained of color. But Medusa understood the last word she had been trying to say.

Always.

Medusa leaned forward and left one last, sad, kiss on the stony lips. "I will. . . I will love you always. . . as well, Laurel," She said, forcing herself not to sob until she had said it. She did not know if Laurel could still hear. But she would be strong.

Laurelís pretty blue eyes-- the last part of her to be changed-- lost their luster and glazed over, and became indistuingishable from the whites surrounding them.

But as they became stone as well, Medusa could not keep from breaking down and weeping again. She had seen the faces of men and women who had looked upon her, frozen forever in stone. She had heard countless last words, cut off as their speakers became voiceless; words of determination, anger, hatred, surprise, remorse, shock, sadness, fear and even pity.

Laurelís face was the first person sheíd turned to stone who would remain transfixed forever in an expression of love.

*****

Medusa watched from the cave mouth as the Hero padded quietly out of the forest, his eyes scanning the rocky hillside and caves farther above. Hidden by the darkness of the cave, she could not be seen-- as the sisters had slept she had extinguished all but one lamp. . . the one near her own bed.

What, she wondered vaguely, was this oneís name? What was the name of the man whom the bards would sing of in Athens and Thebes when this was finished? She would never know, in all likelihood. As the shadowy figure of the Hero began to make its way up the steep, craggy slope, Medusa turned and-- with another sigh-- entered the cave.

*****

By her pallet, lit by the flame of a single oil lamp, she whispered goodnight to Laurel. The nude alabaster statue had stood by Medusaís bedside ever since that day, flawless in its beauty and even more heart-wrenching because of its flawlessness. A morning never passed that Medusa didnít look upon the face of her enstoned lover, forever frozen in a sad mixture of pity and love, and remind herself what a wretched existence she lived.

The statue now also reminded Medusa what the price of love, especially for her, had been. It was odd, in a way, how the Fates worked. Because of her vanity, she had been cursed by the goddess Athene. Because of her humanity-- the very human urge to fall in love, the human feeling of enjoyment she received which kept her returning to Laurel day after day, and the human curiosity to look up when Laurel approached her-- she had turned Laurel to stone, and thus cursed herself again. Were many people cursed both by gods and men? She doubted it. If she knew now what she hadnít then, though, would she have changed her feelings for Laurel? Again, she doubted it.

She stepped over her pallet to Laurelís marble form. Tears formed in her eyes as she looked into the sightless eyes of her lover. Wiping them away, she kissed Laurelís stony, unfeeling lips and murmured the same phrase she had every night since that horrible moment in the grove.

"I will love you always as well, Laurel."

With that, she lay down upon her pallet and closed her eyes, waiting silently for the end.

*****

"Perseus, favoured by Minerva and Mercury, the former of whom lent him her shield and the latter his winged shoes, approached Medusa while she slept and taking care not to look directly at her, but guided by her image reflected in the bright shield which he bore, he cut off her head and gave it to Minerva, who fixed it in the middle of her Aegis."

- Bulfinchís Mythology