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 his arrival.

"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," she purred.

"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 obeyed.

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 temple door.

"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.

Myth Index | Chapter 2: The Road to Athens

Tales of the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl


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