Wordy Wednesday (“Nisus and Scylla”)

After going to see The Hunger Games a second time, I must amend my previous statement: While I still maintain that it left out a lot of the subplot stuff from the novel, the movie in itself was really good, and I’m glad I got to see it again because now I’m sort of in love with it. 🙂

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote for mythology class last semester called “Nisus and Scylla” — it’s a retelling of the classic Greek myth. 🙂

 

**********

Six months. It had been six months since the Cretans first arrived in the port of Megara, and six months since Scylla first laid eyes on King Minos as he leapt off the side of his ship, straight into the frothing blue ocean waves. Six months since he and his men surged towards her kingdom’s walls, and her people screamed and hid in their homes, and the Megaran soldiers sealed shut the gates.

Six months since the war began. Six months since Scylla had last been free.

Scylla hadn’t loved King Minos at first. No, definitely not. At first, he appeared to her a foreigner; frightening and exotic. But over time, frightening gave way for intriguing, and exotic became something unique to behold rather than to evade. Being shut up in the small kingdom with the Megarans for those six months had made them seem drab in comparison and only fostered her growing feelings for the invading king.

But what to do about these feelings? Scylla wondered. The Cretans had made no progress in the breeching of Megara’s walls and Scylla’s father King Nisus didn’t seem the least bit worried about them.

Sighing, Scylla leaned back against the tall stone pillar from the base of which she watched King Minos. It reached up from the walkway atop the outermost siege wall as if whatever ancient Megaran who had built it wished to reach the heavens with his creation. What freedom must there to be had up there in the sky?

Freedom. It had been six months since Scylla last was free.

She tilted her head and held her slender fingers against the sun, squinting in the direction of the invaders’ camp beyond the walls. Once again, King Minos and his men could be seen making and breaking and making and breaking their plans to bring down the siege walls. He seemed so intelligent, shouting out orders to the soldiers and drawing diagrams in the damp sand along the shore, but none of it would help him.

As the daughter of the great King Nisus, Scylla was privy to the knowledge that the Cretans failed to conquer the kingdom simply because of a magic purple lock of hair that grew from her father’s scalp. If it were to be lopped off, whoever possessed it would take Megara without folly, but for as long as King Nisus still had it on his head, he would never lose his throne.

It will be difficult, Scylla reasoned, to gain King Minos’s affection while locked up here in Father’s kingdom. She already was as close as she could get while the gates were closed, huddled atop the massive walls where the archers often stood during battles. She shivered despite the sun.

Because Minos cannot reach me in here, I must find a way to reach him beyond the walls… but how can I gain his trust? The king of Crete is not likely to receive the princess of Megara well if I should invade his camp, she thought to herself. And once again, I’ve led myself back to Father’s hair. She bit her lip.

For weeks Scylla had considered the various ways she could gain the trust of King Minos, and always she came back to King Nisus’s magic purple hair. King Minos would be delighted to have the chopped hair, because it would mean a near-spontaneous victory over the Megarans. But she couldn’t take the hair from her own father, could she? The man who had raised her?

But Scylla was drunk with love, and no matter which way she looked at her problem, the only obvious answer seemed to be to take her father’s hair.

Okay, she decided, getting to her feet and brushing the sand dust from her elaborate gown. She glanced once more down upon the Cretans and felt her fingers weave themselves into knots as she thought of what she was about to do. Okay, I’m going to finally do it. Tonight, I will steal into Father’s bedchamber and cut his hair.

 

Midnight came all too soon for Princess Scylla, but she had made up her mind, and so – when the fires burned low and the kingdom was quiet – she took a knife from the kitchens and scurried up the stairwells to her father’s room, careful not to alert the servants to her presence.

Scylla was a ghost as she practically flew up and down the halls, around corners and through passageways. Her heart thudded with fear, so loudly she was afraid it would alert her father to her presence before she could even reach him, but the sound was only in her ears, and despite her fear, Scylla felt freer in those moments than she had since the gates first clanged shut six months before. There was a certain wildness in the feel of the cool, damp air rushing against her cheeks and the clamminess of her palms.

Six months. Freedom. A life after this with King Minos, as he will surely be pleased with my offering.

These were the thoughts that kept her from stopping and turning back. These were the thoughts that made the uneasiness dissipate.

Finally, the princess reached her father’s chamber, and she pushed the door against its hinges, as gently and slowly as she could. As she slipped through the doorway, the softly burning candles in the bedroom caught her in their light, throwing her sleek black shadow across the grand bed of King Nisus, and Scylla stopped, horrorstruck. Her blood pounded in her ears. Her knees knocked together beneath her splendid dress.

But the old king did not stir.

With her last ounce of courage, Scylla pulled the knife from where she’d hidden it amongst her skirts and held it, shaking, to the glittering lock of purple hair that splayed out across her father’s pillow. One sharp snip and the hair fell free.

She stepped hurriedly back, half expecting guards to rush in and bind her hands, to put her to death for her treachery, but no alarms sounded and no one took notice as she slipped back out of the room and away from her home.

Still dark. It was still dark as she raced up the steps to the walkway along the top of the walls and ran for her favorite stone pillar. She quickly tied a length of ribbon she had brought from her chambermaid’s sewing things and lassoed it around the pillar. With frightened fingers, she tied the noosed end into knots, and without testing it to see if it should hold, she took the other in her hands and slid her feet over the barrier, so that they dangled over the edge of the wall, over the beach. With her back to her kingdom, to her home, she pushed off.

The night was silent as she fell from the siege wall, ribbon tangled in her hands and the whistling wind tangled in her hair. The ribbon ran out a length before the ground, and when she let go the beach raced up to meet her.

Scylla lay there for a moment, coughing the sand from her throat. Well that was an unpleasant landing. But when she stood, she found she was not injured, and the confiscated purple hair was still safe where she’d hidden it.

Remembering her mission, she took one last glance back at her kingdom walls, and then darted away towards the camp of the Cretans.

She disappeared into the night.

 

“What did you do?”

Scylla could not understand why King Minos’s handsome face was flushed with rage.

“I brought you the key to winning the war against my father, my love!” she exclaimed, giving him her most radiant smile. While that smile could win over the heart of any man back within the safe walls of Megara, it had a vastly lateral effect on the foreign king. With an anger so fierce and indifferent Scylla could not understand it, he lashed out at her. Her cheek stung from the blow.

“Do not call me your love, you filthy vermin,” he spat. Her smile faded. “This is treachery, and I will not win a war by treachery! I’ll win it by skill and determination. How else should it be known that I am the better king?”

“But my love –” she began, but then bit back her words. “King Minos, you could not win without my help. The purple hair is magic. While my father possessed it, no one could take his kingdom. Surely you must be grateful.”

“Grateful for a spineless fool who cheats and then thinks she deserves a reward?” he growled. His dark eyes flashed and Scylla involuntarily took a step away. She knocked into the cloth side of the tent and a whimper escaped from her lips as Minos approached her again.

She had never felt so trapped.

“Get out of my sight, you arrogant princess of Megara.” He said it with contempt. “I will win this war my own way.”

“Well it’s too late,” Scylla was in tears, “because I’ve already given the magic hair to you. No matter how difficult you try to win the war by your own cunning, it will now be impossible. It’ll appear as sheer dumb luck.”

“Fine then.” King Minos turned to where his advisor stood cowering in the corner. The poor old man looked nearly as afraid as Scylla felt. “We take the kingdom at dawn and then leave to go back to Crete at sunset.”

Crete, Scylla thought to herself wistfully. The exoticness of it all still haunted her. How lovely it would be to travel to that faraway place. “Please, sire!” she found herself bursting out. “Please, take me with you! I love you!”

The glint in Minos’s eye was murderous. He looked down upon her like she was a poorly behaved dog that he wished to beat. “There is no room for love in war.”

 

Scylla was crying. She knew she should keep quiet, if she should be able to sneak aboard King Minos’s ship, but she could not help herself, and the tears came and came.

She loved him. She loved him so. For six months, she had been trapped and she had loved him, and for what? The handsome king scorned her. Hated her.

But Scylla would rather his hate than his indifference, which she was sure to receive if she remained in Megara.

With light footsteps, she journeyed across the sand and, wiping her tears with her trembling hand, grasped onto the side of the ship. She meant to pull herself onboard and to sneak into some nook or cranny where she could hide until they were too far out to sea to send her back to her father’s now burning kingdom, but it wasn’t to be.

“I see you there.” King Minos spoke in a deadly calm cadence as he stared down at the princess, clinging to the side of his vessel. “Get off before I have a soldier slice you off with his sword. I promise it will be the one we used to kill your father.”

That hit her then. Father? Scylla thought. Father is dead? I didn’t think that would happen… I didn’t think they would do that… Surely they could have allowed him to live on as a beggar, at least!

But in her heart, she knew they never would have. Leaving the old king alive would have shown weakness on their part.

The Cretans never would have taken the kingdom if it weren’t for her treachery… Oh! She truly was unworthy of Minos’s affections! She had been so blinded by love that she had caused the death of her own father!

The weeping commenced again, and unable to stand it any longer, King Minos shook his head and left her there to cling to the side of the ship. “If she’s still there when we reach Crete,” he shouted to his men, “feed her to the palace hounds!”

She continued to snivel. “Father, oh father!” she whimpered.

Scylla was so lost in her misery that she was unaware of the great eagle swooping down towards her until his talons clenched around her shoulders and ripped her from the side of the ship, and then they were flying up, up, and up. Down below, the soldiers shouted and pointed, but now Scylla and the eagle were too high up to be properly seen.

She was numb, then. Locked away. Unsure what to do or how she’d gotten to where she was. All she was aware of was the way the setting sun flashed in her eyes, temporarily blinding her, and then, as the eagle’s wings flapped and they swooped away from the sun, the way she could just make out a stilted purple feather that grew twisted among the shining brown and grey plumage.

A purple feather that was shorter than its neighbors, stunted like a lock of hair fresh chopped.

The realization came into her mind all at once. The gods most have made him this eagle when they saw him dying by the Cretans’ hands! They had saved him!

“Oh father!” she shrieked with joy… but the eagle that once was a king was not there to rescue her. With a sound like laughter emanating from his beak, he opened his talons and released his daughter to the air.

She was so far up in the sky, she could see to the edge of the sea.

I am going to die, Scylla thought as she fell. I deserve to die, because I sinned. I sinned greatly.

“But princess Scylla,” the wind seemed to be saying, smiling, whispering to her as she fell like a rock, “you sinned only because of love, and one may be forgiven for mistakes made in the heat of affection.”

Involuntarily, Scylla felt her arms lift up, then, battle against the air rushing all around her. She would not die. She flapped her arms like wings, attempting to gain air resistance and slow her fall. The water grew closer and closer. And then something miraculous happened. The more Scylla flapped, the more her arms worked, until she was genuinely gliding along the blue waves on feathered wings. Looking down at her reflection in the last rays of sunset, she saw that she had become a bird also.

Panic first seized her heart, but then the wind caught under her wings and lifted her up, up, up, and she found herself soaring. It was breathtaking, up there in the sky. Such freedom.

One glance back at the eagle that was King Nisus told Scylla that he would never abandon his quest for revenge; he would always chase her, no matter if she was a human or a bird. But in that moment, she did not care.

For six months, Scylla had been trapped. For six months, she had not been free.

But at least now she would always be free, for forever more.

**********

What sorts of things would you all like to see in future Wordy Wednedsays? More short stories? Poetry, novel excerpts, songs? Let me know in the comments!

Also: I’m going to be on vacation this weekend (spring break whoohoo!!), so I might not be able to post until next week. My apologies if that happens!

Love you guys!!

 

~Julia

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6 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday (“Nisus and Scylla”)

  1. I’ve just read the Odyssey (where there’s a monster named Scylla but I don’t think this is the one you are portraying, haha) and somehow stumbled into your blog and this story which I thought was funny. I really enjoyed this though I am pretty awful with Mythology and all the names and actions and all that. But you really seemed into it and I liked the story although (in my opinion) I think you could have omitted the first section and jump right into action with the second one. This is only an opinion, though and every writer has a style so I still liked it because it explained and gave us some backstory. Anyway, I really enjoyed the ending, it was sweet and satisfying.

    Like

  2. Oooh, I liked this!!! (I always wondered where Scylla’s name came from XP) This was great, especially the end where she turned into the bird 🙂 Oooooh, ummmm….more short stories!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Like

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