Immortal Journey
The Tales of Heracles, Leo, Cancer, Sagittarius, Centaurus, Draco, Sagitta and Cerberus

Chapter 1: Revenge

As the red mist of dawn lit the land of Mycenae, it shrouded a blood-soaked beach and the bodies of a hundred princes.

On one side were the fifty sons of King Pterelaus of Taphos. They came to Mycenae to reclaim the land of their grandfather, Taphius. On the other side were the fifty sons of King Electryon of Mycenae. "We're here to reclaim this territory," the Taphian princes said as they visited the court of King Electryon.

"Nonsense," responded the laughing king. "I'm the son of Perseus. You're only the sons of Pterelaus." The Mycenaen princes joined their father's enjoyment of the pompous princes and mocked the young men. The Taphian princes, their egos wounded, devised a plan to get even. They waited until the middle of the night and herded Electryon's cattle to the shore where they planned to sail the herd back to Taphos upon their ship.

Electryon's sons woke to the racket made by the mooing herd. The brothers jumped upon their horses, their outstretched swords shaking above their heads as they rode straight to the beach. Their bronze blades slashed through the Taphian princes' bellies while their brothers grabbed their swords and shields to defend the honor of the dead. The battle continued until dawn and, as light spread across the beach, both sides had all been killed. After the battle, each king had only a single son left alive. King Electryon's son Licymnius didn't fight because he was just a child, and King Pterelaus' son Eureus had been aboard the ship. After the battle, Eureus sailed home to Taphos with the cattle, but it was a poor replacement for his brothers.

After the death of his sons, King Electryon was lonely and adopted a young man named Amphitryon. The adopted son wished to please his new father and went to Taphos, paid a ransom and returned King Electryon's cattle. To Amphitryon's surprise, the king was displeased. He didn't care about the cattle. What he wanted was revenge.

"I will go to Taphos myself," said the king. "I will get my revenge. Take care of my kingdom and my daughter, Alcmene, until my victorious return." Not only did Electryon not return in victory, he never even left. He idly threw a stick at a cow and it bounced off her horn, hitting him in the head and killing him instantly. No sooner had the king died, than his brother Sthenelus seized power. As soon as he became king, he banished Amphitryon and Alcmene from Mycenae.

The exiles lived in Thebes and, shortly, Amphitryon asked Alcmene to marry him, which she agreed to if first he would avenge the deaths of her brothers. Amphitryon reluctantly agreed, but he knew he needed help, so he went to Creon, king of Thebes, for troops. "Yes," said Creon, "but first you must rid my land of the child-eating fox." The people of Thebes sacrificed one child each month so the fox would leave the rest alone. The people were angry and King Creon had vowed to kill the fox. First, Amphitryon went to Crete and borrowed King Minos' dog, which was the only dog to catch whatever it chased. Amphitryon let the dog loose at Thebes. The dog chased the fox and Zeus turned both the dog and the fox to stone. Though this was not how he had planned to do it, he rid Thebes of the fox so King Creon fulfilled his bargain and gave him the troops. Amphitryon was ready for his war of revenge.

A battalion of kings led the expedition to Taphos, for joining Amphitryon were King Creon, King Cephalus, King Panopeus, and King Heleius along with all their armies. King Pterelaus was powerful and even with such an army Amphitryon knew he could not win as long as King Pterelaus was alive. He went to Tiresias, the blind seer, who said, "The king is kept alive by a single golden thread. Remove the thread and he will die." What was the golden thread? Amphitryon disguised himself as a fisherman and went to the market of Taphos to find out.

As he wandered through the market stalls, he noticed a young woman watching him. She dressed in fine clothes and her maid stood next to her, whispering behind a fan. "Who is that young woman?" he asked the flower vendor.

"She is Comaetho, the daughter of King Pterelaus," the woman responded. Amphitryon bought a bouquet of white roses and honeysuckle blossoms and boldly took them to the princess.

"A girl as lovely as you should have fresh flowers every day," he said, presenting them to her and bowing. He stood and smiled, then walked away.

The next morning, Amphitryon was at the market again. When he saw the princess, she smiled and waved and he brought her a bouquet of lilies and iris. Once again, as he presented her with the flowers, he bowed and left. On the third morning, he hid and watched as she anxiously searched the crowd for him. He brought her a bouquet of gardenias and cherry blossoms, but this time he picked one of the gardenias and pinned it in her long brown hair. "I think I love you," she whispered to him. "I have never been in love before."

He smiled at her and said, "If you love me, you will bring me a golden thread from your father." Again he bowed and left.

That night at dinner, as she sat next to her father, she noticed a single golden hair on his head. "Maybe this is what my young man wants," she thought and she plucked it out. Her father immediately fell dead.

Bells rang and the people cried, "Our king is dead." The news spread quickly as Amphitryon and his warrior kings lost no time descending on the island, killing the noble families and stealing their possessions. In his single-minded treachery, Amphitryon killed the innocent Comaetho, and left King Heleius and King Cephalus to rule Taphos while he returned to Thebes to claim the only prize he sought.

On the night before Amphitryon returned to Thebes, Zeus disguised himself to look like the triumphant warrior and went to Alcmene's bedroom. "Your brothers are avenged," he said. He told her details of the battle as he removed his armor. He climbed into her bed and made the night three times as long as normal.

On the following day when Amphitryon returned, Alcmene did not seem surprised to see him. "You were here last night," she said. "Surely you remember last night."

Amphitryon was angry. After all he had done for her he didn't expect this type of homecoming. There was something confusing about it all, for Alcmene told him the details of battle. "How could she have known this?" He asked himself. "I will go to Tiresias," he decided, "the seer will know."

"Don't blame Alcmene," Tiresias said, "she was tricked by Zeus. He disguised himself to look like you and told her of the battle." As Amphitryon turned and took his first steps to leave, Tiresias added, "a child will be born who will rule Mycenae. He will be a descendant of Zeus and Perseus."

Amphitryon soon learned that Alcmene was pregnant and kept thinking about the seer's words. Would their child rule Mycenae? He was not the only one anxiously awaiting the birth. Hera watched too, for she knew about her husband's trick. "That child won't be king," she said, "I won't allow it." Then she noticed that Alcmene's uncle Sthenelus, who had stolen the throne of Mycenae after her father's death, had a wife who was also pregnant. "Perfect," Hera said, and she held back Alcmene's labor while forcing Stenelus' wife to give birth after only seven months. Sthenelus' child was a boy named Eurystheus and would become king of Mycenae. Then Alcmene gave birth to twins. On the first day of her labor she gave birth to Zeus' son, Alceides, and on the next day to Amphitryon's son, Iphicles.

Amphitryon always suspected that only one of the twins was his, but he was never sure which one it was until one night, when they were eight months old, Hera sent two giant snakes to the infants' bed. Alcmene screamed when she saw them and Iphicles cried and crawled away, but Alceides grabbed one snake in each hand and squeezed them both to death. Amphitryon heard his wife's cries and came running into the room. There, he saw Alceides shaking the dead snakes like toys. He knew immediately that this was no mortal child, but was instead the son of a god.

Accomplished tutors trained Alceides in chariot-driving, wrestling, archery, and armed fighting. He enjoyed these sports. But when Orpheus' brother Linus tried to teach him how to play the lyre, he was anything but obedient. One day, frustrated with Alceides' disobedience, Linus spanked Alceides and the child hit him back with the lyre. Alceides swung the lyre so hard he killed Linus instantly.

"The boy committed murder," his tutors said. "He must be punished."

Alceides checked the laws and said in his own defense, "There is a law that a person is innocent of murder if they are resisting an unjust punishment. This man was wrongfully punishing me, therefore I am not guilty of murder." Legally there was no recourse but to let the boy go free. He was already so uncontrollable that many in Thebes, including Amphitryon, were afraid of the boy. They sent him to the hills to care for the herds. He grew up like a wild animal.

By the time he was eighteen years old he had grown to seven feet tall and he still lived with the animals. At that time a lion regularly came out of the mountains to raid the herds of both Amphitryon and Thespius, King of the Thespians. With a gleam of fire in his eyes, Alceides wished for nothing more than to track and kill the lion and he went to King Thespius with a plan.

King Thespius listened patiently to the savage young man as he detailed how he would track and kill the lion. Although the king nodded in agreement every few minutes and said that he would give Alceides a comfortable home while he tracked the lion, the king was primarily impressed by the young man's strength and good looks and he came up with a plan of his own.

Alceides was given a room in the palace, where he was given fine food and elegant clothes. Then, each night, under the veil of darkness, a daughter of Thespius appeared at Alceides' bed and made love with him until sunrise. Exhausted, Alceides slept through the day. When night fell, she again came to wake him with her kisses. Night after night the same thing happened, but some nights the princess was shy while on other nights she was like a wildcat. "She must be the most incredible woman on earth," he thought.

After fifty nights had passed, she didn't come to him again. "This must mean I now have to kill the lion if I want to see her again," he thought. Rebuilding his strength over the next few days, Alceides went to the mountain where he tracked and found the lion and easily ripped its jaws apart.

Throwing the carcass over his shoulders he carried it home to Thespius and asked the king for his daughter in exchange. The king replied, "Which one? I have fifty daughters and every one spent a night with you so each could have a child."

Alceides, disappointed and upset with being tricked, left dressed in the lion skin, with the lion's skull as his helmet and the jaw as his mask. Meanwhile the people carried stories of wild young Alceides who could kill any animal and make love to any woman.

Alceides took the road to return to the herds but he soon learned that once you go away, the road home is never the same again. Upon the road he met the Minyan heralds of King Eriginus. They were going to Thebes to collect their king's yearly tribute of one hundred head of cattle.

Years earlier, King Eriginus' father had been watching a chariot race at the Games of Poseidon when a stone from a Theban charioteer hit him in the head and killed him. "Promise you will avenge my death," he said to his son as he died. Eriginus sent an army to Thebes and after beating the enemy, he made them sign a treaty paying him one hundred head of cattle a year for twenty years. Now, the heralds were doing their yearly job of collecting his debt.

"Stand aside for the heralds of King Eriginus," they said.

"Stand aside, indeed," grumbled Alceides. "I won't stand aside for any king!" Alceides stood firmly in the middle of the path.

The heralds kept marching as though he wasn't there and his anger grew. Grabbing his sword, he started slashing off their ears, noses and hands. He met with no resistance for they weren't prepared to fight. Then he strung their body parts on cords and hung them like necklaces around their necks and said, "Take these to your king as his tribute." Alceides didn't look back at the injured heralds, but changed his direction and went to Thebes to see his mother and Amphitryon, still living there in exile.

He had been in Thebes only a month when King Eriginus arrived at the gates of the city. He had an army at his side. "Give us our hundred cattle and the man dressed like a lion," Eriginus yelled. "Why do they want you?" King Creon asked.

Alceides told him how he had encountered the heralds and what he had done to them. "They want me," Alceides said, "so let me fight them. You won't need to pay them tribute anymore."

A flash of light appeared between the men, and Athena materialized in her golden armor. "Even you cannot defeat an army alone," she said to Alceides. "First, you must have proper weapons." On the floor in front of him appeared a sword and shield, a golden dagger in a scabbard, a javelin, and a bow and arrows. "Then you will need protection," she said as a beautiful suit of armor materialized before him. "Finally, even all of this will not be enough. You will need to lead a well-trained army," she said, looking at King Creon.

"I'll supply the army," the king responded, and called his guards to make the preparations as Alceides dressed in the armor and strapped on his weapons.

The gates of Thebes opened and King Creon's army, led by Alceides, poured into the enemy ranks. The battle lasted until dusk, but when it was over Eriginus' forces were massacred and Alceides himself had killed the king. He made the Thebans sign a treaty with the Minyans paying a double tribute to Thebes of two hundred head of cattle per year for twenty years.

As the treaty was signed, Alceides became the hero of Thebes and Creon gave him his eldest daughter, Megara, for his wife. The king also gave Alceides' brother, Iphicles, his younger daughter as his wife, even though Iphicles already was married to Automedusa and they had a son named Iolaus. But Alceides' mother, Alcmene, was dressed in black and watched all the ceremonies from a distance, for her husband, Amphitryon, had been killed in the battle.

In honor of his wedding, the gods bestowed gifts upon Alceides; Hermes gave him a magic sword whose blade would never dull, Apollo gave a bow light as air with arrows that would never miss their mark, Hephaestus made him golden armor etched with pictures of his deeds, and Athena gave him a shield that would deflect any arrow, sword or evil word.

Through the next few years Alceides and Megara had three sons named Therimachus, Creontiades, and Deicoon. Even Alceides' mother, Alcmene, was happy for she married a son of Zeus named Rhadamanthys, who loved his step-son and taught him the finer points of archery. With three young sons, a new skill to learn, and the adoration of all of Thebes, Alceides was busy and content. But Hera jealously watched her husband's son and decided to give him her own belated wedding gift. "I will give him something that none of his other god-given gifts can protect him from," she said maliciously. Then she planted the evil seed of jealousy deep within his heart.

Alceides wife, Megara, was a graceful beauty who drew men's attention whenever she passed. She was always faithful to her husband, but year-by-year as Alceides watched the men as they watched her his jealousy grew until it's thorny vine strangled his heart. The moon was full on the night he went mad, for he built a fire and while his children and those of his brother slept, he carried them from the safety of their beds and threw them all into the flames.

Watching the fire consume his sons and his nephew and niece, tears broke through his icy rage, melting in his eyes and through their cloudy drops he witnessed the distorted images of reality and emotion. Screaming like a mortally wounded animal, he banished himself forever and went to the Temple at Delphi to seek the oracle's advice.

The sky held a new moon by the time Alceides reached Delphi and in the total darkness he saw a fire burning in the distance. It was the temple fire and his arrival was announced by the sentinel owls. As he stood before the open pillars of the temple and the torches flickered in the gentle night breeze, he read the inscriptions above the doorway: KNOW THYSELF it said, and NOTHING IN EXCESS. He walked through the portal and his nose burned with the pungent incense filling the temple air. With his head bowed, he approached the flame. Behind it sat the Pythis, the voice of the oracle.

"Be seated, Alceides," she said calmly.

He sat down opposite her as the fire burned between them. The flames lapped at the air and through their rough tongues he gazed into the oracle's all-knowing eyes.

"Look into the fire," she said.

The events of his life appeared in the dancing flames and as he watched, separated from emotions which he saw himself enact, he could see the distortion those emotions caused. "What can I do?" he asked the oracle.

"To find redemption you must be reborn and act in service to humankind. You will relinquish your former life and now be known as Heracles. The name means 'Hera's Glory' and it will remind you that Hera wishes to control you through jealousy and rage. It is your mission in life to learn to control yourself.

"You will travel to Tiryns where you will be in servitude to King Eurystheus for twelve years. He is your cousin and became king of Mycenae in your place. He will be your master and you must complete ten labors that he assigns you before your sins are forgiven."

The sacred owls of Delphi led him to Tiryns, to the gates of the palace of Eurystheus. "Welcome to the house of Eurystheus. I am Copreus, his herald," a young man at the gate said. "I understand the importance of your mission as I, too, was sent here in atonement for murder. My master awaits with your first labor."

Heracles followed the herald through the gate and into a garden, where a man with clear ice-blue eyes was seated in the arbor, eating a pear and listening to the morning worksongs of doves and canaries. Copreus motioned for Heracles to be seated on a bench next to a basket of freshly picked fruit. Heracles selected a plump fig and ate as his new master addressed him.

"You will be in my service for twelve years," began Eurystheus, "and in those years you will complete ten labors of my choosing and to my satisfaction. There will be no argument. My word is law. You will either complete your assignment in its entirety or your mission will be unsuccessful." Heracles gave no response but to grab an apple from the basket and he listened and continued to eat.

"Your first labor is to bring me the skin of the Nemean lion," Eurystheus said simply, then rose and walked out of the garden, leaving Heracles with the herald.

Copreus' face went pale while Heracles registered no emotion, but continued eating grapes. "The Nemean lion is an invulnerable beast," Copreus said excitedly. "They say neither metal nor stone can kill him. His father was the Titan monster Typhon, and some people even say that he came here from the moon! You have been given an impossible assignment and it will probably kill you. You must have committed a terrible crime to be given such a task." Copreus watched Heracles, but no emotion betrayed Heracles' secret. Without even looking at the herald, he picked a plum from the basket and silently walked toward the gate, stopping for a moment to grab a limb from the pear tree and tearing it off as though it were a twig. Copreus watched as Heracles took his sword and hacked at the wood until he formed a club, then he slung it over his shoulder and calmly walked away. The frightened herald quickly locked the gate behind him.

Myth Index | Chapter 2: The Nemean Lion

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


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