The Sword and the Crown
The Tales of Corona Borealis
Chapter 1: The Birth of Theseus
"Do not drink from that wineskin you carry
until you stand at the highest point of Athens, or one day you will
die of grief," advised the oracle.
Though Aegeus, King of Athens, had two wives, neither of them had
borne him any children. He was sure that the goddess Aphrodite was
angry with him, so he had gone to the temple of Delphi to ask for
children. These words were the only ones the oracle spoke. They
made no sense to him and sadly he decided to return to Athens. It
was on his trip home that he remembered Medea.
He thought back to when he had met her years ago, when the sorceress
arrived in Greece with Jason. Her name had meant "the cunning one"
but during her years in Greece it seemed that her cleverness was
lost through her emotions. Aegeus had heard that she and Jason were
once forced to leave the city that Jason expected to rule. Now he
was planning to marry someone else to gain a different throne. Knowing
Medea's temper Aegeus thought it wise to be wary of Medea and of
what condition he would find her in. Still, he could think of no
one else to help him so he went to visit her.
The compound in Corinth, where she lived, was filled with white
turbaned guards, their sabers glinting in the late morning sun.
He followed as one of them silently led him to her suite. A beaded
curtain was her only door and through it he could see only her back.
He stepped through the curtain as its beads crackled together announcing
"Aegeus," she called to him without looking, "you have come to protect
me. I thank you."
He approached her. "I have come from Delphi," he explained. "I wanted
a son, but the oracle's words made no sense."
Her body was curled protectively in a ball upon the cushions of
her chaise. "If you want an heir, you must agree to protect me always,"
she said, arching her back like a cat. Stretched out now, she turned
and fixed her gaze upon him. Aegeus silently nodded in agreement
to her terms. "You must visit your friend Pittheus in Troezen,"
"And do what?" he asked.
"You will know," she smiled. "I will see you soon in Athens," she
said as she stood and walked from the room. As Medea suggested,
Aegeus went to Troezen.
"Hello old friend." Like a delighted child, Pittheus ran and put
his hands on Aegeus' shoulders. "How wonderful to see you after
so long! Come in. You must be hungry. Bring us some wine," he called
to his servants and the two men shared memories and told lies while
eating a little and drinking a lot. When the first wineskin was
empty it wasn't that they needed to drink more, but somehow it never
occurred to either of them to stop. Aegeus absently untied the skin
he brought. He took a long drink and passed it to his friend.
It was passed back and Aegeus took another drink. From the corner
of his eye he saw a beautiful young woman watching from across the
room. He had no idea how long she had been there, but she smiled
as he noticed her. Laughing loudly, Pittheus continued with his
stories, oblivious that his audience was occupied elsewhere. The
wineskin continued to pass back and forth. Aegeus had been indirectly
watching the woman for a long time. Expecting to see her as usual,
suddenly she was gone. He was startled and stared blankly at the
spot where she had been.
"Are you all right?" Pittheus interrupted his story. "Maybe it's
time to get some sleep. Yes, I think we're both quite tired," he
continued, yawning, "and drunk," he added. "We'll pick this up again
tomorrow. Good night, my friend." With difficulty, Pittheus arose
and stumbled a bit as he wove down the hall, his laughter becoming
fainter as his feet found their way to bed.
Settled into the nest of cushions where he had been since long before
sunset, Aegeus tried without success to get up. The silence allowed
him to notice, for the first time, the fragrance of honeysuckle.
It was thick around him, wafting inside upon a warm breath of evening
wind. He looked through the pillars into open air. He could see
meteors streaming across a dark sky and winding recklessly through
the stars. It must have been well past midnight, for the half moon
had set half a wineskin ago. Everything close to him was a blur,
so he looked back outdoors and into the night where it was easier
to see. A small structure glowed scarlet as a fire burned within
it. He thought he remembered Pittheus mentioning a shrine to Athena.
That must be it.
Something touched his shoulder and, startled, he twitched. "My,
you're jumpy tonight," said the invisible stranger. "Are you always
this nervous?" Aegeus looked up to see a cloudy form. "Put a hand
over your right eye, Aegeus," the laughing voice suggested. Aegeus
The tall stranger wore a robe the color of the night sky. It was
embroidered with turquoise and green waterlillies. His chest, open
to the night, was covered with a thick mat of black hair, but his
waist was cinched tightly by a sash of magenta while a crown of
pearls adorned his curly black locks. With one hand he grabbed Aegeus'
arm and raised him to his feet. "So you enjoyed your wine tonight,"
he said laughing. "I see many who drink too much. I'm their companion.
You look a bit confused, maybe this will help." His other hand held
a trident, which he now stamped against the floor. The earth beneath
their feet shook. Even with his wits long abandoned, Aegeus recognized
Poseidon. "Follow me," said the god, leading Aegeus through the
night and into Athena's temple.
The red glow he had seen was indeed the fire of a shrine, but behind
the eternal flame hung seductive veils moving with the gentle breath
of evening air. The veils, fluttering over the cushions disclosed
a shapely curve of thigh. Aegeus watched hypnotically. Poseidon
shook his head, then laughed again and gave Aegeus a shove. Unable
to stop himself, he stumbled across the floor and landed in the
middle of the veil covered cushions.
The leg belonged to the smiling woman he saw earlier that evening.
"I am Aethra, daughter of Pittheus" she whispered. "I desire you."
Through the night they made love and in the morning, as Aegeus was
about to leave, he placed his sword beneath a stone outside the
"If you bear a son who can lift this stone and take the sword, send
him to me in Athens." He turned away and left Aethra forever. Aethra
did bear a son and she named him Theseus.
Theseus walked past the temple. Light glinted
off the intricate handle of the sword beneath the rock. He had tried
to free that sword so many times. It had become his standard good
luck ritual. Many years ago, when he was just a child, he had asked
his mother why it was there. "I'll tell you when you can bring it
to me," she said. Since then, almost every time he passed, he had
a habit of giving it a firm yank. As always, he stopped and grabbed
the handle. As usual, he gave it a sudden tug. Because it was so
automatic, he never paid attention as he did it. This time, however,
he found himself falling backwards and landing on his rear upon
the ground. The sword was in his hand!
"Why was the sword beneath the stone?" Theseus asked his Mother
as he lay the sword at her feet.
Aethra was shocked to see the sword, and saddened that her son was
now approaching manhood and must leave her. But she had made a promise
to his father and she now told Theseus the story. He made his decision
to leave for Athens the following day.
His bag was packed with clothes and food and he carried his father's
sword for his protection. Aethra watched her son as he prepared
to leave. Everything she could give him for success on his journey
was already his. If she hadn't given him what he needed by now,
he would have to find it on his own. Before her eyes he changed
from the boy she often thought he was, to the young man who now
prepared to begin his own independent journey. Tears fogged her
eyes as she embraced him, "Protect yourself from the dangers on
the road," she warned. Theseus hugged her, then turned and left.
the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl