Continuing on with National Novel Writing Month… I’m way behind, but that’s pretty typical for me at this stage. I’ve cleared 5000 words but should be around 12K. 🙂 We’ll see, but for now, here’s chapter 3.
The clamor of battle echoed through the fog all around Peleus. Shadows of men with swords and spears appeared and disappeared in the thick mists, illuminated by unseen firelight. Above, a baleful moon glared down, larger than Peleus thought possible. Cool air caressed his sweat-slicked skin, and as this realization crossed his mind, he saw that his own sword was drawn and covered in bright red blood.
“A dream… this must be a dream,” he said, and it seemed to him that the mists devoured his words, lending truth to them even as they did.
The shouts and warcries changed to shrieks and screams. A terrible cracking sound that seemed to belong between the horrific sound of a snapping mast, the terror of all sailors, and Zeus’ fearsome thunderbolts made him whirl about and set his heart racing.
Someone cried, “Nooooo…” until the word died in the wet noises of the red ruin of war.
His hair stood, and his muscles tightened. His fingers grew white around the hilt of his blade. With his left hand, he drew his shield up and felt a sense of hope from it. “Helios, protect me from this nightmare,” he whispered.
The sounds and images continued, but slowly, ever so slowly, he heard the clamor grow quieter. As it did, it sounded less like war and more like torture. Peleus swallowed hard, then forced himself to inhale and exhale slowly, willing his heart to slow.
He tried to concentrate on battle, turning, keeping his weight on the balls of his feet, shifting to confront whatever enemy would step from the shadows to face him. He reminded himself that his armor was strong and blessed by the gods. He had trained for war, he had fought in war, and he would find courage to face whatever was to come.
The cracking sound occurred again and again, growing louder with each strike.
The wait seemed to take hours. He constantly kept up his guard, even as the sounds of terror grew louder. Men cried for mercy, begged for their mothers and pleaded for their lives, yet he saw nothing of them, not living hoplites or dead corpses. He moved cautiously, always at the ready, through the fog, hoping that he would come to an end of this field of battle. He hoped all the more that he would wake up, for this dream was unlike any he had ever known.
Finally, as all about him fell silent, even the horrid cracking sound, he found his own courage. He knew Achelos would call it foolishness, perhaps hubris itself, but he could no longer endure waiting. If he was to die in this place of nightmare, he would do it with honor as a warrior of Corinth.
“I am Peleus, son of Helios, soldier of Corinth, face me, vile spirits or begone!”
The shadow of a hoplite appeared with shield and blade, and when he saw the image, Peleus’ heart rose. He was willing to face a foe on the field of battle, even if it was one of the greatest warriors of Sparta. As the mists parted before him, he faced no son of Sparta, Athens, Thebes or any other city-state.
A tall helmed woman stepped from the fog. She wore the armor of a hoplite, but instead of fabric or bronze, it was a metallic crimson set off by her ivory skin which caught the strange moonlight and seemed to glow. Her shield was mirrored and within the reflection, Peleus saw not himself, but the image of his blade driving into Iphicles. The woman’s sword shifted into a long barbed whip, or perhaps it always had been a whip – Peleus couldn’t be sure. Her eyes burned with rage and anger. She shook the whip, and he heard the terrible cracking noise. Blood red lips parted and she spoke, “Peleus, you slew your own father. You belong to us.”
Peleus stepped back as she advanced on him. The whip lashed out, and he barely brought his shield up to deflect the strike. Although his shield took the strike, he felt pain tear across his left forearm. It was as if his muscles had torn away from his bones.
“Fight,” she hissed, “try to win. Struggle and hope. It will make your defeat all the more painful.” She laughed coldly. She lashed out at him again, and this time he stepped to evade the lash, but he was too slow and it caught his thigh, flaying the skin and leaving a bloody gash.
The pain made Peleus clench his teeth to avoid crying out. He channeled the agony into action and thrust his sword at her chest. The point of the blade hit the center of her chest, but as it struck, a shock carried back through his arm, knocking his backward. The suddenness caused him to yell out, his voice now sounding like so many of the other cries that he had heard before.
His mind raced as fast as his blade struck and his shield blocked. Each of her blows sent pain through him even as he deflected them, yet none of his strikes, even one that should have cut open her pale forearm did anything to her. He had never fought a woman, but during the briefest of thoughts that he had as she advanced and he retreated, he thanked the poets for singing tales of fierce Amazons battling heroes in the days of Troy. Those prepared him, though he had never met any of that legendary people, so he didn’t hold back or struggle with guilt, though this certainly wasn’t an Amazon he faced.
He knew that she was one of the Furies, seeking vengeance for his terrible crime.
Suddenly, it didn’t matter that this was a dream. If this was a punishment from the gods, surely it could kill him in a dream as easily as the flesh. As his blood continued to flow and the pain from each lash of the whip that he blocked became worse, he imagined himself, dead in his barracks, Achelos shaking him, trying in vain to wake him. His blade, coated in the blood of his own patricide, did no harm to the spirit of justice before him.
He threw his blade to the side and caught her whip arm with his bare hand. With his shield, he smashed his body into hers and the two of them fell into the dirt stained with his dripping blood. Peleus let rage fill him – the rage of the pain he suffered, and the rage that he had always kept inside, the rage that came from being a boy without a father. She fought back with a terrible ferocity, but he had the advantage and the pain he felt was so great that nothing she did seemed able to increase it. His forearm pressed against her slender throat. She gasped.
Peleus hesitated, and the rage ebbed. He didn’t want to kill her. The pain stole his strength and his head swam. He blinked.
“I told you that you could win,” she taunted. “And you almost did.” Her eyes reflected the full moon above.
A lash wrapped around his neck. He wanted to scream, but no sound could escape his throat. He was pulled backward and off his foe. He saw two other women, clad in the same blood red armor as the first.
“We are sisters,” the three said as one.
He managed to pull the whip from his bloody throat, cutting open his fingers as he did. Peleus gasped as he struggled to regain his feet and stand. He choked out, “I did not kill my father. My father is and has always been Helios.”
The Furies hissed and each one cracked her whip. The one which he had fought stepped in front of him, but she moved slowly. “Now, it is time for your defeat. These are your last agonizing moments, your punishment for your crime.”
“Helios is my father. Father, save me!” he tried to shout, but he wasn’t sure if he was even coherent. The bitter taste of blood filled his mouth.
A faint rustle came from behind him, the sound of metal on metal as though the wind blew through the leaves of a bronze tree. A bright warm light shone from that direction and the Furies moved away from him as their faces contorted in anger.
A woman spoke, “He is mine.” Her words were in the language of the Egyptians.
“We claim him in the name of Olympus. He shall be punished for his crime.” The Furies spoke as one using Greek, but seemed to have no difficulty understanding the Egyptian.
“I speak with the authority of Ra, god of the sun, a power far older than your Olympians. This one fought for the treasures of my people. He claims to be the son of Ra, invoking the name by which he is known among the Hellenes. We claim him.”
“If your god claims this one, let him speak.”
The light became blinding, and the Furies shrieked. Peleus heard no words. Instead, he felt as if the light itself was the god’s response. The warmth gave him strength and at some point he realized that the pain he suffered had subsided.
He looked up and the Furies were gone.
“You must come to Khem, the land you call Egypt, if you wish to be free of them. Ra needs you. I need you. You must find me.”
Peleus turned his head to see the outline of a woman with massive wings for arms. He couldn’t make out her features, as the brilliant light behind her left her in shadow.
“Wake now, and find the priest who you defended. He will help you voyage to Khem. When you find me there, the will of the gods will be revealed.”
Peleus lowered his head. “Thank you, my father.” He lifted his head to look up at the woman. “You saved me. I will find you.”
“It is the will of Ra,” she said, and with that, everything became far too bright for Peleus’ eyes, and the world grew to a dazzling white.
He woke up.