The Trials of Meleager
By: Mark Kodama

I.

Plague had descended upon Aetolia, killing man and beast alike. Someone had offended the god Apollo. Now there was hell to be paid. The divine archer rained plague’s arrows upon the kingdom, killing the strong and the weak, the good and the bad alike. It seemed no one – not even the king – could escape the fury of Apollo’s arrows.

King Pelops lay in bed, head propped up by purple-dyed silk pillows. The Thracian slave girl changed his linen cloak and washed his feverish body. Red pustules marked his face, and body. The large orange flames from the hearth in the center of the master bedroom leapt to the sky.

King Pelops spoke to his son Meleager. “Go to the Black Mountain,” he urged. “There you will find the old hag. She will tell you what to do. Carry the magic sword with you.”

Queen Althaea, Meleager’s mother, took Meleager into the forest, outside the walled town. She opened a great stone slab under a great oak tree with steps leading down into a stone chamber. On a stone table in the middle of the stone underground chamber was the magic sword in a gold-plated sheath. The hilt was crafted of lion skin and inlaid with gold, silver and precious stones. The steel blade was forged by the god Hephaestus from the finest metals known to the Olympian gods.

When they returned to the castle, the queen showed Meleager a piece of charcoal she kept in a fine jewelry box. “You see, my son, as long as this never burns, you shall never die.”

Prince Meleager, accompanied by his servant Heraclides, saddled his white horse and buckled his magic sword. Both men said their farewells to their wives and children. “I love you,” Arachne the weaver, Heraclides’s wife, told him. “Come back soon,” she said and embraced him.

The people lined the street, cheering and throwing flower petals in his path as Meleager rode his great white steed though the cobblestone street. Meleager lifted his visor and smiled and waved to his subjects as he passed by them, his gold and silver plated cuirass gleaming in the sun. As they left the town, they could see and smell the funeral pyres of the dead.

Prince Meleager, and Heraclides walking beside him, set out for the Black Mountain to see the old hag. That night as the two men camped in the mountains, the god Hermes with his winged sandals appeared to Prince Meleager in a dream.

“In the morning, find the plant with the milk-white flower,” the messenger god said. “Drink the tea brewed with its roots. You will be protected against her magic spells. Unsheath you magic sword and hold it to her throat and she will tell you all you need to know.”

In the morning, Prince Meleager and Heraclides found the milk-flowered plant and brewed its roots into a tea. Heraclides shot a wild pheasant with his bow that they roasted and ate for breakfast. The great prince drank the tea.

The two men then climbed the mountain. After traveling all day long they came to a gold brick road that led to a great marble castle set on the mountain top.

When they came to the drawbridge that spanned the moat surrounding the castle, they stopped. The guards demanded the two men identify themselves.

“I am Prince Meleager from the great land of Aetolia in the south,” Prince Meleager announced. “At my home, I have a thousand horsemen at my command and ten thousand foot. We eat the finest venison from gold plates and drink the finest wines from silver chalices.”

“And I am Heraclides, a mere man and servant to the great prince,” Heraclides said.

“We are here to see the old hag,” Meleager said. “A great plague has descended upon my people. The gods have sent me to seek answers.”

“You may pass,” said the sergeant at arms. The soldier lifted the iron portcullis.

The two men crossed the drawbridge and entered the marble castle.

II.

When the two men came to the palace, Prince Meleager dismounted while Heraclides held his horse.

“Wait outside,” Meleager commanded to his servant. “Guard my horse with your life while I see the old hag.” Heralcides nodded and unsheathed his bronze bodkin.

Prince Meleager entered the high ceiling great hall of the palace. Great arrases depicting the war between the Olympian gods and titans hung from the great stone walls.

The great hall was lit by the great red and orange flames rising from the hearth in the center.

Standing in front of the great bonfire was the old hag, dress in old rags and supporting herself with an old wood cane.

Her face was wrinkled and she had a large wart on the right side of her nose. Her back was bent in a hunchback.

She looked at Prince Meleager with her sunken yellow eyes and “Sweet Prince, for what do I owe the honor of your presence?”

“A plague has laid waste to my lands, killing the strong and the weak, the good and the bad alike. It seemed no one – not even the king – could escape the fury of Apollo.

“I came here to find the causes of the great god’s anger and what we need to do to life the curse that now darkens our land.”

The old hag laughed. She disappeared in cloud of smoke. A beautiful young woman with fair hair and blue eyes dressed in the finest silks of Asia stood in her place.

“Many years ago,” the young woman began, “your father conquered the Pelagasian people. He slew the men and sold the women and children into slavery.”

“Now, the gods demand satisfaction for his injustice.”

“What must we do to appease the gods?”

“That’s not my problem,” the beautiful woman said.

At that, Meleager drew his magic sword and charged.

The woman changed into a fire breathing dragon and shot flames at the prince.

Meleager deflected the flames with his magic sword.

The woman then changed into a cobra and tried to turn Meleager into stone with her stare.

Meleager again deflected her stare with his magic sword.

The woman then became naked and tried to hypnotize Meleager with her blue eyes.

Her eyes had no effect on the great prince.

Meleager pinned the woman to the ground.

“Now, tell me old hag, what must I do to break the curse?

The woman turned into the old hag again. Meleager held the blade of his magic sword to her throat.

“You must free the Pelagasians from the warlike Myrmidons,” she said. “Do not underestimate them. They are savage and do not tell the truth.”

III.

Prince Meleager and Heraclides journeyed to see King Myrmidon of Thessaly. When Meleager met with the king he demanded that the kingdom free its Pelagasian slaves. King Myrmidon agreed to free his slaves if Meleager killed the great Calydonian boar that was rampaging across the land.

So Meleager and Heraclides set out to kill the boar. When the men found the boar, the boar charged them. Meleager threw a spear which bounced off the boar’s hide. He then cut the boar’s head off with his magic sword.

But when he brought the boar’s head to King Myrmidon, the king laughed at him. “Did you really think I was going to keep my promise? Meleager you are a fool.”

At the Prince Meleager drew his sword and Heraclides his bow. The Myrimidons charged the two men. Meleager and Heraclides slew many Myrmidon warriors.

Finally, the great Myrmidon warrior Gigantus challenged Prince Meleager to single combat. Meleager drew his magic sword and brought it full force on Gigantus’s broze helmet. The sword shattered. Gigantus thrust his spear into the prince’s breast, piercing his armor and killing him.

Heraclides shot Gigantus through his heart with an arrow and seized the Princess Eurydice. He threatened to kill her unless King Myrmidon let him take Meleager’s body and leave.

Heraclides put Meleager’s body and the princess on the white steed and left the city. After he left the city, he set Princess Eurydice free, but the king’s daughter refused to leave.

“You are a good and brave man Heraclides. I choose to remain with you.”

“I am married young Eurydice,” he said.

“Then I shall be your servant,” she said.

“But I have no servants,” he said.

“Then I shall be your friend.”

IV.

Heraclides prayed and sacrificed to the gods before he burned Meleager’s body and saved his ashes and bones in a ceramic urn to take back to their home. That night, Heraclideds had a dream.

In his dream, he traveled to the underworld. When Charon, ferryman to the underworld, demanded payment, Heraclides replied: “Since when have to refused to ferry someone to Hades too poor to pay you.” Charon grudgingly ferried him across the river Styx.

When Heraclides arrived at the land of the dead, he found Prince Meleager. Not only did he find the prince, everyone he knew was there. His wife Arachne was there and his children, all his neighbors, the king and the queen. Arachne embraced her husband.

“Woe is our city,” Meleager said. “When King Myrmidon sent us to kill the wild boar he led his army to our city and razed it to the ground, killing all.”

“What?” Heraclides said.

“We were fooled,” Meleager said.

“I will make a plea to Hades himself for justice.”

Heraclides came before Hades and his queen Persephone.

“Approach mortal,” Hades said.

“Thank you my Lord,” Heraclides said.

“Why are you here,” the King of the Dead asked.

“To ask for a favor,” Heraclides said.

“What favor is that?”

“Justice,” the servant said, kneeling down and bowing his head. “I ask you to restore Prince Meleager and our people who have been greatly wronged by King Myrmidon.”

“I’m not in the business of justice,” Hades said. “Do you have a magic sword, some prophecy or at least a song for me? What will you offer me?”

“I am no great prince. I have no wisdom. No magic sword. No song. I only have my life. If you so wish take my life for it is all I have to offer.”

“I cannot help you, Heraclides,” Hades said and looked at his wife.

“You come here with nothing and offer everything you have,” Queen Persephone said. “For that we will give you back your life but nothing more.”

She stood up from her throne and took off her gold necklace with six pomegranate seeds and placed it around Heraclides’s neck.

“We cannot grant your request,” she said. “Everything has already been decided by the three fates.

“But I can give something to you important nonetheless,” she said. “You are a brave and good man who relies on himself and his own mortal power, not magic and false prophecies from the gods. Therefore, I give you hope.”

With Heraclides awoke from his dream. He put more wood onto the dying fire, reigniting it.

He looked at Princess Eurydice, peacefully sleeping. To his surprise, he was wearing the gold chain with the golden pomegranate seeds around his neck.

In the morning, Heraclides set out for home. He put the princess on the white steed and journey to Aetolia.

V.

When Heraclides and Eurydice returned home, they found that his town and been leveled to the ground. In the ruins of the palace, they found the queen’s jewelry box undamaged with the piece of charcoal inside. The dead remained unburied where they were slain.

“We will rebuild,” Heraclides said, tears streaming down his face.

“I will help you,” the princess said.

Heraclides and Eurydice burned and buried the dead. The next day, five children emerged from the woods to help them gather the stray sheep. The following day, five escaped slaves and three Myrmidon soldiers from the land of the Myrmidons came to help rebuild the town.

Soon, people from the surrounding lands, Macedon and the land to the west came to Aetolia to rebuild the town.

Heraclides and Eurydice became the first citizens of the new city. They were never famous but were known to those that knew them as good and honest people. They prospered and lived in happiness to a ripe old age.

The End

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