Christopher S. Ledbetter
Young Adult Fantasy
I trudged back up the sandy beach, digging my toes in with each step. Visions of pearl-skinned sea nymphs still danced in my head. I closed my eyes to savor the images. Just a moment more.
“C’mon, Zeus,” Anytos called.
Life was easy. All except the hard runs every morning. Hated them. I couldn’t wait to get back to the goats I tended with my mother. Against her wishes, I’d named each one. That’s why she never let me slaughter them for food. Or rather, why I never participated. My heart broke every time I thought of eati… Oh, nevermind.
Other than, ick, the slaughter, there was nothing too terribly stressful about goat herding. They were a self-sufficient lot. Sometimes watching them was like watching the sun crawl across the sky. And, it had been in those moments that my mind wandered.
I’d always felt like I could do more. Be more. But what? Something inside of me clawed for the extraordinary. Yet I had to face that I’d likely never leave Crete.
My friend Anytos stood at the top of a dune calling down, “Sometime today!” He looked into the sky. “Sun’s high. We don’t have much time!”
I joined him, looking across the dusty Cretan expanse that reached into low-lying hills. Tos turned to me. “All right. You ready?”
“Let’s do it…”
Before I’d finished, Tos had taken off running, like being shot from a bow. His feet pounded the path as he gained an early lead.
As I crested a high ridge in pursuit, a burning sensation spider-webbed through my lungs. Pushing onward, I strained to keep pace with Tos, whose legs moved at a pace I simply couldn’t match. Not yet anyway.
“Faster, Zeus. Run faster,” he yelled.
I stopped and clutched my chest, ragged breaths coming in gasps. “We’ve been running non-stop since the southern coast.” Resting my palms on my knees, I inhaled deeply. I knew that the daily running regimen would benefit me at some point. But, that didn’t mean I had to like it. And besides, today’s strenuous run was a punishment of my own design. “Let me walk a few steps to catch my breath.”
Anytos turned abruptly. “Whose fault is it we’ve been running such a distance, huh? I promised Amalthea I’d keep you safe, Zeus,” he responded. “You. Here. Not safe. Let’s go!”
"Hmmmph." I stood upright, stretching to one side then the other. I clasped my hands behind my head and took another deep breath as I stared into the vast sky above.
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you talk me into going to see those sea nymphs again,” Anytos continued. “Shoulda known better than that. You always keep us on the edge of trouble.”
“Don’t act like you didn’t have a good time, Tos.” I managed a half smile despite my fatigue, rustling fingers through my hair.
"That’s totally beside the point. The longer we’re away from the cave, the less safe you are."
I totally resented not being safe. I’d watched my mother’s pained expressions over the years. Stress from living in constant fear. Sometimes I wished to be the most powerful man in the world. Hiding from no one.
"All right." Rocking back on my heels, I resolved to finish. One last push for today. Come on. Dig Deep.
I lunged forward. Chasing Tos up the next incline, my feet barely touched the ground. I ran so fast, I didn’t even feel the rocks. As I crested the next ridge, I forced my stride farther. Wider. My arms whipped the air at my sides. I grinned as I closed the gap between us.
Ahead, the cave opening beckoned. The Cave. My home. I knew the drill. Get to the cave before someone sees you. Someone like who? I always wondered who’d ever come looking for me?
I saw my mother sitting on a hillside just above the cave, surrounded by lightly grazing goats. Her weathered face warmed as I came into view. Crouched, her right hand gripped a hooked staff, on which she counterbalanced her weight. Her gray tunic rustled gently in the thick, salty breeze.
In the foreground, my guardians, the Kouretes danced and chanted. Fully armored, they jumped and twirled. Their tunics flapped around their frames as helmets clanked atop their heads. Shouts echoed across the pastoral calm, punctuated by the clashing of spears to shields. They always said that they danced and sang to ward off evil spirits. To protect me. All I heard was constant noise, really.
I drew closer to the cave. My mother stood suddenly, turning toward the sun. The sky brightened, and the sun’s brilliance grew more insistent. I shielded my eyes but the heat nearly burned me. I watched my skin darken by the second. Sweat beaded all over my bronzing skin at once.
My heart began to race wildly. “What’s going on here? Why is the sun falling?"
“Remember how we kept telling you someone might see you if you’re out too long?”
I nodded nervously.
“Hyperion is descending!” He pushed my shoulder. “Get in the cave!”
“The Sun Deity? Why is…?”
“Don’t ask questions. Just do it. Now!”
The Kouretes’ noise grew louder. But, I still didn’t understand. My mind clouded with confusion and anxiety. And yet more impatience at more hiding. I wanted to turn and stand my ground.
Tos pushed me. “Hurry!”
I took off running with Tos close behind. We’d just reached the cave when I heard my mother yell. We stopped in our tracks and turned.
Fear spiked inside of me. My breathing shortened. I turned to head back into the brightness and searing heat. Tos grabbed my arm to pull me back.
"I can't leave my mother out there!" I yelled, yanking my arm from his grasp. I placed a helmet on my head, grabbed my shield and spear, and ran into the clearing outside the cave.
"Well, you’re not going without me!"
The fiery orb hovered close to the earth. Flames grabbed at the atmosphere in every direction.
"Mother!" I called. She scampered down the hill as fast as she could. The goats scattered in front of her.
The Kouretes took up battle stances, shields folded across their chests, spears ready to throw. A loud explosion erupted in the sky that shook the ground with its force.
Hyperion, the Elder Sun Deity, emerged from the freakishly large ball of fire. A mountain of a man, his immense black chariot came to rest on the ground, its wheels scorching the soil. He stood behind the monstrous, fiery stallions. Flames leapt off his muscular arms as he held fast the reins.
I was sure none of us had ever seen the Sun Deity this close before. Was this who I’d been hiding from all this time? Uncertainty quaked through my limbs. Fight or flight?
Hyperion nodded his head forward. Two smaller guys jumped off the back of the chariot. Both young men were blond and muscle bound. Both brandished long black spears.
The Kouretes took aim and began launching their javelins. Hyperion waved his hand dismissively. They all missed. All twelve javelins. I stood slack-jawed at the display of power.
Fright gripped me. My chest heaved like I was hyperventilating as I gripped my shield and spear tighter. White-knuckled. Sweat pooled in my palms and ran down my forehead and into my eyes.