Ink Incurable (VIII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

One by one the girl climbs the steps.

The orderlies behind her push her up. A crowd has gathered deep below.

That she is sick is clear. The crowd chants it: “Sick. Sick. Sick.”

They call her perverse. They call her degenerate. They chant of her sickness. But you do not need to trust the crowd.

The nurses have confirmed it. They were mercenary nurses, five to a drachma, and four of them hadn’t even bothered to look—

“All the signs of moral decay,” they’d said, and bobbed their heads—

But the fifth had taken her vitals, looked into her mouth, and listened to her heart, and she had agreed with the greatest vehemence of them all.

The girl is sick. That much is clear. The peak of Sarous’ ziggurat draws near.

“I wish I knew whether I were to offer a denial or a bribe,” says the girl.

Something small and black scuttles into the cracks of the stone of the steps and it is gone.

“It’s too late, innit?” says one orderly. “Now you’ve been properly diagnosed.”

“It can’t be too late! I haven’t done anything immoral!”

The orderlies behind her push her up.

Sulks the girl, “Yet.”

The leftmost orderly’s heard it all before. He’s heard it all, right down to that last “Yet.” He’s a ziggurat orderly. He knows his business, right down to the bloody nub. Yet somehow he’s kept a good heart through it all. Somehow he’s good enough to love her for being human even as he shoves her upwards towards her doom.

So he says, “You oughtn’t worry so much about what to say or what not to say, what you do or what you don’t do, you.”

“Eh?” says the girl.

“Well, what you say,” he says, “see, what you say? What you do? Those’d be symptoms, wouldn’t they? Just symptoms? Patient reporting? And a real doctor goes by signs.”

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Rhea: In the Golden Age that preceded the Titanomachy nothing happened that was not correct.

Such was the imprint of this time upon our world that even the richest, even the wisest, and even the greatest of us still look back with wistful sorrow and remember it. The world was in harmony. Morality dominated in every portion. And no man or woman could rightly say that the chains of Necessity upon them were a burden. The behaviors that those chains compelled were virtuous, honorable, and good; save from one.

In all the world only the titan Cronos was free.

He ruled nobly and justly, one must assume, except for that incident with Hestia, and one day Rhea approached him with Demeter in her arms.

She was tentative and hesitant.

“Lo,” said Rhea. “The Great Goddess.”

Cronos judged Demeter.

“She, like Hestia, is food,” Cronos said.

“Not every goddess is food,” Rhea said. “Demeter is a marvel of the world.”

“Is she?”

“She is the goddess of the harvest,” said Rhea. “Of the bounty of the earth. Of grain and green and growing things—“

Cronos had a wry look.

Rhea cleared her throat. “Observe her nose,” Rhea said.

“She has a nose,” allowed Cronos. He lifted Demeter from Rhea’s arms with great gentleness. He looked at her. “And she is the harvest. But she is also a princess.”

The Great Goddess wriggled, and offered, “Goo?”

“To put it another way,” Cronos said, “‘an asset to my throne.'”

He bit off Demeter’s nose. He swallowed it. Then he ate her head to stop her wailing. He bit the rest of her in half. He swallowed her. His stomach grew bloated on this flesh.

He ate Hera too. And Hades. And Poseidon. He ate them all when their presentation came.

Rhea’s life became a horror to her.

Once she had loved him. She no longer recognized in him the person that she’d loved. Once she had lain with him gladly, and found in the straining of their sex an emptiness to cultivate with child. Now she resented their union. She lay with him only because she was his wife. She resented his seed inside her womb.

The chains of Necessity bound her.

She could not do otherwise than serve him. She could rage against him. She could question him. She could hurt him in small, petty ways. But this was the Golden Age, the Age we wistfully speak of, when things were better, and she could not defy him.

To defy him would not have been correct.

In all the world only one creature was free, and it was not she.

Riffle watches from the crowd. From behind his left shoulder he hears a voice.

“Found you, sir,” the creature says.

Riffle glances sideways.

It’s Smith, this one. Looks like a webwork of cracks in the air. It had been a webwork of cracks in the air, once, before it evolved and joined his crew.

“The girl’s name is Ink Catherly,” Riffle says. “But everyone calls her the imago. Just another sign of moral degeneracy, the nurses’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.”

“Yes, sir.”

Pushed by the rightmost orderly, the girl takes another step upwards towards her doom.

Smith clears its— well, it clears its something, anyway. “Will you be coming back, sir?”

“I’m done with scaffolding,” Riffle says.

“Oh.”

“It just didn’t seem the same once she left,” Riffle says. “Seemed—off. Futile, somehow. If you follow.”

Smith scrapes one toe-like crack along the ground.

“It seemed to me like maybe she had something after all. Potential. She could save us all, Smith. She could be a legitimate God-damn savior, and me, me, pulling on her strings.”

Ink stumbles up another step.

“Looks like she’s going to get kilt, sir,” Smith reports.

“You always kill saviors,” Riffle says.

“Oh.”

“Wouldn’t be people, now, would we, if we didn’t kill our saviors? Just rats and cracks and worms and stuff, if we weren’t at least evolved enough for that.

“Will you be needing us labor, sir?”

“No,” Riffle says. “No, but thank you. You may tell the others. I don’t need you any more.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

Ink reaches the top step. She stumbles to a halt. In front of her there’s an altar with a blackened trench for blood. On the other side of it there’s Sarous, the doctor of the deeps.

Sarous looks to the orderlies. He says, “Condition?”

“Wounded hand,” says the rightmost orderly. “Bit of a bloody throat. Claims she’s going to kill whomever’s on the throne of the world and doesn’t quite get just how that’s morally depraved.”

“Hyperrachia,” says Sarous. “No doubt.”

Ink licks her lips. She looks up. She says, “What are you going to do to me?”

Sarous looks to her.

He says, “You understand, my dear, that to murder someone, much less God, cannot possibly be correct?”

This is a bit of a toughie.

Ink hesitates.

“That it is, perhaps, the definition of immorality?”

“Won’t make excuses,” says Ink.

She’s noticing just how dark the altar is.

She adds, “Will you?”

“You’re sick,” the doctor says.

  • Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history in this sixteen-part series:
    INK, UNLEECHED!

“The Lord of Misrule” – From the Journals of Ink Catherly (V/XVI)

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: When Riffle’s sword touched my neck, I saw a bit more of Cronos’ history. It was from earlier than before, again. The Titanomachy hadn’t happened yet. Zeus was free but the others were still engulleted.

It made me angry.

I scolded it.

I said, No, world! I do not need the history of Cronos right now. If anything, I need the history of Riffle!

This was actually a mistake on my part. I should have blamed myself because it is, after all, my very own power that gave me, perversely, this insight. But blaming oneself is very hard. I’m not sure it’s something people can do.

So I scolded, instead, the world.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

Cronos slouched on the throne of the world.

He was contemplating a sickle. It was a really big flint sickle and it was grey.

Zeus entered.

“Son,” said Cronos. O my love.

That was the weird thing about Cronos. When you’d hear him talk, the world would echo with that in the background: O my love.

Anyway.

“Son,” said Cronos.

“Dad.”

It was an awkward moment.

I thought I’d eaten you, but maybe it was a rock.

I had that thought once, on Floor 93-GA. It was the suckiest eating contest ever.

“You’ve been eating everybody,” said Zeus. “Poseidon and Hera and stuff.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I did not ask to rule a Golden Age,” Cronos said. “Rather I wished to dominate a freakish carnival of horrors. A masque of the imperfect. A world of people with the bones of their pain jutting out so that you can hardly talk to them without saying, ‘O my love, why are you broken?'”

Zeus said, “I understand.”

I don’t know much about Zeus. There’s a bias in the history—a sense of focus to it. Zeus is important, but it’s Cronos whom this history is about, down here in the crust of the world. So I don’t know much about Zeus or what was going on in his head, but I think that he was telling the truth.

He had that Martin sound, all serious and like it’s perfectly natural, of course, who wouldn’t prefer to rule a world wracked with sorrow and pain and full of monsters?

And Cronos smiled, like it was a joy to hear.

Zeus continued.

“I am going to cut your stomach open,” said Zeus, “and spill out my brothers and my sisters, and a rock.”

“And if I forbid it?”

“In this world,” said Zeus, “we bring forth children in sorrow.”

Cronos had trouble finding an answer to that one.

“It’s the rule,” Zeus explained.

This would appear to be one of the Man Laws, like in those Miller Lite commercials. You poke it, you own it. We bring forth children in sorrow. Entropy always increases. Don’t shoot food. Leave the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil alone. Castrating your father and taking over his throne is a punishable offense. Sharing is caring.

Stuff like that.

Not even Cronos can really argue with that kind of rule; but at the same time, he didn’t rise and hand Zeus the sickle.

Zeus waited.

“Who are you, my son?” Cronos asked.

“I’m the Lord of Misrule,” said Zeus. “I’m the answer to your prayers. I’m the one who’ll bring this whole world down around your ears.”

Cronos’ heart fluttered in his chest. It’s weird that he’d never taken it out—you’d think that he would have, since there’s nothing so dangerous as a heart. But he hadn’t.

“Show me,” he said, and his voice was desperate with hope.

Your authority has no foundation,” said Zeus, “for you have done a wicked thing.

It was electric. It cut through the air. But it didn’t impress Cronos.

“More,” Cronos said.

The dog that carries a serpent on his back is vile; the tiger that carries a dog, we call a saint.

Cronos mulled that one over for a while.

Then he shook his head.

He stood.

The sky gathered behind his shoulders and the stars burned bright with Uri’s fires and the world grew heavy as a woman carrying her child and he said, “You are not equal to this task.”

Dread was the nimbus of Cronos at that moment. The power of him held Zeus still. Cronos was Ge’s son in that moment, strong as the earth, unsurpassable, indestructible, horned and terrible, and free—as only one creature in all the world could be—to act accordant to his desires.

Ink’s hand hurts quite a bit more than her neck. The sword has cut her hand deeply. It is still, and thank Heaven for the pathetic muscles of the little rat, no more than skin-deep in her neck.

But it’s the blood that runs down her neck that scares her.

She finds herself wondering, “Is it possible to die?”

She will probably have a choice in the matter. She is the imago and she has been to Hell and back and it seems likely that she would have a choice. But it is also probable that something would be lost. If nothing else, her sense of her own humanity. At worst, the value of the sacrifice of her life, with which she is hoping to carry past any final obstacles that stand between Ink Catherly and God.

I think that I will describe the terror that was Cronos in that moment like this.

We are in ourselves the actual and the ideal. And the actual is all that moves, all that acts, all that speaks. We cannot really demonstrate that there is more: but there must be more, or we are in Hell.

Where is the fire of our intention?

Where does it move upon the earth?

It does not, and in that respect Earth is very much like Hell, and yet, and yet, and yet the difference is that we are here. Hell is to live without experiencing our life. Earth is life knowing our own presence. It is life, flush with our ideals.

But Cronos knew a thing that I did not know.

He wore it like a blaze.

It was the terror of the flesh, the power of the actual, the aura of the substance of him. That with his hands and with his fingers he could move, and Zeus could not stop him from moving; that that substance was raw, unconstrained by Zeus’ volition or the limits that Zeus would rather have put on it, and capable in its action of dragging Zeus’ ideals down.

Those dirty fingernails could break Zeus’ virtue. Those bloody hands could kill him. Those great arms and those great teeth could put a stop to the ideals of the lord of all the gods.

Flesh has that power.

It obliterated the thoughts of Zeus. It held him still.

But Zeus had trained for this.

He had spent years in empty meditation and practice and taught his flesh to act when his mind could not.

The world swam with the blinding rapture of Cronos and it drove away the thoughts of Zeus and the will of Zeus and the fire of him flickered and went dim beneath the wind of all that power, and the flesh of Zeus stepped forward and took the sickle in his hand and cut his father’s stomach open to bring his brothers and sisters into the world.

It seemed impossible to Zeus that it did not hurt Zeus; that the opening of the wound in his father’s stomach brought Zeus no pain, burnt none of Zeus’ nerves; that he could see and hear and smell the wound but he could not feel it.

It seemed a thing that should wound, instead, the all of world and sound.

Out fell the stone; and Hades and Poisedon; and Hera and Demeter and Hestia; and great snaky loops of titantestine too; and Cronos looked down at his stomach and Zeus could hardly see his face through the blindingness of the reality of that moment when he cut his father open at the throne of all the world.

Cronos staggered. The storm shifted at his back. It loomed upon the world and in that moment it seemed very possible that the world would end and there would only be Heaven and Hell forever after, amen—

Somehow, Cronos held it back.

Somehow, Cronos balanced himself and held aloft the burden of all pains while his innards snaked themselves back in.

The fingernails on his hand were cracked and dirty. His hair was wild. He reached for his son with hands soaked in everybody’s blood.

Cloud-shouldered Zeus, the son of Cronos, born in the fullness of Tyranny to bring justice to the world, seized five babies and a stone and fled.

  • Saturday:
    THE HISTORY OF THE SWORD

Because “Nil Sine Numine” Was Too Ironic

As the imago matures, there are legends that we do not see.

Meredith runs away from the glorious germ cycle.

Run, Meredith, run!

The germ cycle works like this. First, someone sneezes. This is probably because they’ve been mentioned.

For example, Meredith was sneezing just a few minutes ago. She was mentioned as part of this ongoing legend!

Later, Martin will talk about infinite forces, unknowable, imperceptible, transcendent to the circumstances of his life. Then you’ll sneeze! It’s not that he doesn’t know you’re there, but there are light cone and timing issues that make you ineffable unto him. Your germs will get everywhere.

Meredith is fleeing the sneezing because she doesn’t want germs on her. She’s getting in a boat. She’s sailing away!

Once people sneeze, the germs are “in play.” They rotate around the immediate environment vigorously germing. Once they’ve infected everyone they can, they evaporate upwards into the sky.

Meredith pulls a sweep of storms over the sky. The clouds seal away the germs behind a layer of mystery.

The germs seethe around in the sky. Then they come down as divine vengeance!

You can’t escape divine vengeance just because there’s a storm, but you can sometimes sail away from it if you’re a very good sailor. That’s why Odysseus kept surviving, even though his shrimp-eating ways angered both God and Poseidon. Everyone stuck on land, however, gets the plague and runs around sneezing right and left.

Look! Sid’s illustrating this. He’s running around sneezing right and left—one sneeze in each direction, like the waving of a baton!

People wonder why the Heavens are so angry. They look around. They find someone to blame. Often this is just someone running around sneezing, like Sid, to whom they impute grave moral failings. Sometimes it’s someone terribly unrighteous like Tantalus or that girl who had sex that one time. Personally, we recommend Tantalus! If God is going to send down plagues every time people have sex, you’re going to have to live with your sneezing.

Once people have blamed someone to clear their consciences, they begin the hard work of reforming themselves. This step is optional but an important part of the germ cycle. Meredith’s sailing away mostly so she doesn’t have to do it!

Reformation leads to a quelling of divine vengeance. Virtue appeases God or the gods, as appropriate to the plague in question. The germs dry up and the germ cycle begins a new revolution.

Meredith pulls up her boat on the docks of a distant land. She sags in relief. She’s escaped the sneezing and the vengeance!

A sign next to the docks reads, “Sodom and Gomorrah. Population 40,000.”

And the city motto, “Ad astra per aspera,” or, “Through difficulty, to the stars.”

Pelops (II/IV)

Persephone stands at Tantalus’ side. “What is the secret of the gods?” she asks him.

“They are born, ” he says, “to fill emptiness.”

“You are empty, ” she says cruelly. “You stand in a land of plenty, but when you reach for fruit, the wind whips the branches away. When you reach for water, it drains into the parched earth. Are you, then, a mother to gods?”

“I am dead,” he says. “Else I should craft such gods as to sunder the world.”

“I hate you,” she says.

It is 1308 years before the common era. Sunlight floods the surface world. Oenomaus of Pisa cannot appreciate it. His mortality worries him. He summons the oracle of his house.

“Oracle!” cries King Oenomaus. “Speak unto me of my death.”

“You shall have a daughter,” the oracle says. “Hippodamia by name, and of all the girls in mortal Greece, she shall be the most beautiful and the most empty. Many men shall vie for her.”

King Oenomaus wrinkles his nose. “Is this going to be a kissing destiny?”

“Pardon?”

“When a King asks about how he’s going to die, he wants a rip-roaring story. You know. Swordsmen. Cyclopes. Suicide. Horses and princesses with inconceivable names. Miracles. Pain beyond endurance. True love and cold callous betrayal in about a two-to-one mix. Not kissing.

“It has all these things,” the oracle says. “And kissing too.”

Oenomaus sighs. “Speak on, then.”

“The guy who marries her kills you,” the oracle says sulkily.

Oenomaus laughs. “Then she shall never marry,” he says.

Time passes.

Hippodamia grows older. She speaks to the oracle. “Will I know true love?” she asks.

The oracle stares at her for a long time. Then he shakes his head. “It would take a miracle.”

It is 1290 years before the common era. The hills are green. The sky is blue. Princess Hippodamia has many suitors, each a handsome Prince. She walks alone in the woods, thinking on their virtues.

“Marmax,” she says. “He has the quality of promptness. If I married him, he should never be late. Acrias has a true kingdom, and Eioneus might be Zeus’ grandson. Erythras has credentials that I do not entirely understand, but that seem to involve society connections; and Cronius is handsome quite.”

Hippodamia sighs. She holds up a hand. A bird flutters down to alight upon it. She rubs its head.

“None of them,” she tells the bird, “compare to Pelops, to whom my heart is given.”

The bird chirps.

“It’s a sad story,” she says. “We might have had true love. Then someone stole Pelops’ heart. His father boiled Pelops down for stew. Afterwards, Pelops was buried alive and finally drowned at sea before getting captured and killed by pirates.”

The birds sings for a moment.

“That’s true,” Hippodamia says. “If he had no heart, he couldn’t have given it to me. But he could have given me something else.”

The bird tilts its head to one side.

“I don’t know,” she says. “Whatever he had handy?”

Someone clears his throat. The bird startles and flies away. Hippodamia turns. She sees a cyclope, a charioteer, and a hero. Then she sees the cyclope’s fist and all goes black.

She awakens on a boat.

“What do you want?” she asks.

The cyclope speaks:

“Unwelcome in Poseidon’s palace,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf Olympus with my bootless cries,
And kidnap princesses, and curse my fate.”

The small man at the front of the boat turns and sneers. “He fancies himself a poet.”

The cyclope says, mournfully:

“Tell me, where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?”

“I am Myrtilus,” the small man says. “I am kidnapping you and taking you to the Cliffs of Insanity, where I will kill you. This is Phisixus, my cyclope, and Pelagon Montoya, my hero.”

“My father will save me!” she declares.

“Perhaps,” Myrtilus says enigmatically.

“We’re being followed,” Pelagon says laconically.

Myrtilus turns to look. Phisixus turns to look. Hippodamia dives into the water. There’s a shriek. An eel devours her.

Back in the palace, Oenomaus speaks to his oracle.

“My daughter has been kidnapped,” he says. “I hired a charioteer, a hero, and a cyclope to kidnap her, take her to the Cliffs of Insanity, and kill her.”

“My prediction stands,” the oracle says. “I suspect she will have a marvelous adventure and wind up married instead of or immediately before her execution.”

“I had not thought of that,” Oenomaus admits. “Perhaps I should fetch her back. Where is she now?”

“She has just been eaten by an eel.”

Oenomaus frowns. “Hey! I thought she was supposed to get married!”

“You sound upset,” the oracle says, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m not upset,” Oenomaus says. “I wanted her to die. I just, you know, an eel? That can’t be right. Read the portents again.”

The oracle shrugs. “Maybe it wasn’t fatal.”

Elsewhere, Myrtilus frowns. “All right,” he says. “We’ve lost the princess, and there’s a boat behind us with a man in black in it, and he’s gaining fast.”

“He’ll be on us before we reach the Cliffs of Insanity,” Pelagon says.

“Inconceivable!”

“Pardon?”

Myrtilus stands. He shouts. “Inconceivable!”

“I do not think—” the cyclope begins.

The water stirs. A chariot drawn by a white-crested horse of the tide charges up to the ship.

“It’s the name of my horse,” Myrtilus says, caressing the horse’s mane. “She’s from Poseidon’s own herd.” He climbs into the chariot. “Phisixus. Come with me. We shall scale the Cliffs of Insanity. Pelagon, turn your boat around and meet this man in black, and defeat him with your swordplay.”

Phisixus leaps and lands atop the chariot, which sways precariously. An eel screams. Myrtilus turns the chariot, cracks the whip, and gallops off across the waves.

“I’ll do it,” Pelagon says. He dances on the deck of the ship, waving his sword about. In short order, the two ships converge; and Pelagon goes still.

“Pelops,” he says, and sinks to one knee.

Myrtilus looks back. He leans down to touch the horse’s mane. “Inconceivable,” he whispers. “Run faster; he has tamed my hero.”

The horse breaks upon the cliffs of insanity, dissolving into the surf. The cyclope clings to the cliff with Myrtilus on his back. He climbs. They reach the top.

“Still he follows,” mutters the cyclope.

“Unacceptable!” cries Myrtilus. In the sky above him, the horses of the sun writhe within their harness, and the horse Unacceptable burns down from the sky to strike like a meteor at his feet. He speaks three words, and a burning chariot forms behind it.

“Phisixus,” Myrtilus says, “hold him back, I pray.”

The horse gallops away; and the man in black climbs; and Phisixus kneels before him. “Pelops,” he says.

“Where will he go?” Pelops asks, looking at the scorch-mark trail Myrtilus has left.

“To King Oenomaus,” Phisixus says. “There to report on the failure of his crimes.”

“I am a fool,” Pelops whispers.

King Oenomaus looks to the sea; and the sea rises like the anger of the gods; and a great wall of it crashes down upon his keep. His guards wash back into the walls. His fortifications creak. King Oenomaus tumbles back. Yet the sea is gentle, and does not kill, and the water recedes again. In the courtyard he sees a flopping eel; and when his men gut it, his daughter emerges.

“Hippodamia,” he says, and embraces her.

“Father,” she says. She holds back tears. “I was kidnapped. And then an eel ate me. And then I was here! It was awful!”

Oenomaus considers. “But did you get married to anyone?”

Hippodamia looks at him blankly. “. . . I think you have an overglamorous notion of what goes on inside an eel.”

“I had rather expected you’d be digested,” he says.

She looks down at her untarnished skin. “I suppose this is Poseidon’s work,” she says neutrally.

“Aha!” he says. “You’ve been dallying with Poseidon!”

“Father!”

“Well?”

“There wouldn’t’ve been room in the eel,” she says. “It wasn’t like getting eaten by the kraken, you know.”

“Oh.”

Oenomaus looks up. He can see the galloping horse of the sun approaching. He turns to his daughter. “Go to your room and rest. You’ve had a busy day.”

“That’s true,” Hippodamia admits. “It’s naptime!”

She runs off.

A few minutes later, Myrtilus reaches the castle. He releases the horse, which begins a searing ascent into the sky. “I’m sorry,” he says. “An eel ate her. Then a man in black came after us and somehow subverted both hero and cyclope.”

“No doubt a suitor,” Oenomaus says. “He wanted to catch her and marry her while she was out of my sight; but he’ll come here next.”

Myrtilus considers. “If you tell him ‘no’, he’ll kill you. He’s that fierce.”

“Then what can I do?”

Myrtilus shrugs. “Hold a contest. If a suitor wants her, he has to race you to the Isthmus of Corinth. If he loses, you get to kill him. If he wins, he claims her hand. With our horses and my charioteering skill, there’s no way you can lose.”

“There are far too many suitors about,” Oenomaus admits. “Very well. Post the proclamations.”

The man in black reaches the castle. He eyes the gates. He sees the posted proclamation. He thinks for a time. Then he waits. He waits and watches as Oenomaus races and kills eleven suitors; and when the last one falls, he sneaks past the gate and into Myrtilus’ room.

“Pelops,” Myrtilus gasps, and falls to one knee. “But . . . you died!”

“So I did,” Pelops says evenly.

“Your father boiled you down for stew. He added an onion.”

“The gods grieved that Tantalus had slain me. They reconstituted my flesh and bones and returned me to life.”

“You were buried alive,” Myrtilus points out.

“My shoulder was,” Pelops says, “for it was eaten by Cybele, Demeter, the lady of the harvest; and it slept under the earth for full measure of winter before she crafted me a new shoulder of iron and ivory.”

“And drowned.”

“I was an ugly and resentful child,” Pelops says. “But these things were boiled away. I came out of the stewpot beautiful and confident; and Poseidon took me down into the sea, and filled my lungs with water, and I carried his cup and served at his side for many years. That is why when I spoke to the eel, it consumed Hippodamia but did not harm her, and delivered her here on the crest of the sea.”

“You were also captured and killed by pirates.”

“Come now, Myrtilus. You must not believe every rumor you hear.”

“Then what shall you do, my lord?”

“I shall race,” Pelops says. “And you shall rig Oenomaus’ chariot to kill him.”

“I will do this thing,” Myrtilus says, “if only you shall allow me to remain by your side.”

Morning dawns, and Pelops and Oenomaus enter their chariots side by side.

“You have no horses,” Pelops says.

“You will note,” Oenomaus says, “that the harness hangs upright in air; so I shall say, not that I have no horses, but that the horses of this chariot are the north and south wind, and they shall not fail me.”

“Don’t fall too far behind!” Pelops says, and cracks the reins, and his horses charge away.

Oenomaus smirks. “He’s so going to get it,” he says. He wraps the tethers to the wind, one around each arm. He cracks the reins. Behind him, the oracle shakes his head sadly. The tethers snap tight. One wind blows north. The other, south. In an instant, Oenomaus rips himself apart. Leisurely, Pelops turns his chariot around and parks it by the gate.

“I declare victory,” he languids.

From the crowd behind, he hears a scream. Hippodamia races through the press of people. “You’re Pelops,” she says. She takes his head in his hands. She kisses him, full on. “Oh, do. Do be Pelops. And not dead.”

“As you wish,” he says.

“But how?” she asks. “I’ve only been asleep for a few days!”

“I have come here to marry you,” he says, “and give you three things.”

“Oh?”

He gestures. Myrtilus and Pelagon approach. Phisixus emerges from behind the castle walls.

“These,” he says. “A charioteer, a hero, and a cyclope.”

Hippodamia recoils. “Why?”

Myrtilus goes pale.

“When my father tossed me in the pot,” Pelops says, “he took my heart from me; and my mind; and this left me empty. Then my ugliness boiled away, and left me emptier. Taking pity on this emptiness, Poseidon inspired creatures to fill it: a woman beauteous and kind, to be my wife; a charioteer that could tame even the horses of the sun; a hero of surpassing prowess; and a cyclope out of legend. Some of my mind has returned to me. But I have no heart and cannot give you love. I can only give you the creatures of my emptiness.”

“I am called empty,” Hippodamia says. “I show limited concern when eaten by eels and nap for days at a time. Yet I manifest no such creatures.”

Pelops shrugs.

Myrtilus says, trembling, “My lord, I am yours. Not hers. I have killed for this, and now you toss me away.”

“Peace, Myrtilus,” Pelops says. “It is not so great a change as that.”

The castle goes quiet, and waits for the wedding. In the night, Myrtilus walks down to the sea.

“I am his heart,” Myrtilus says. “Part of his love. Yet is there no love that he shall retain for himself? Shall he thus casually toss me away? A curse on his house, and all of his descendants; I shall not live to see her service.”

The horse Inconceivable comes to his side, and he mounts the white creature, and he rides until he drowns.

In the watchtower of the castle, Hippodamia watches. She makes an unhappy face for a while, and then she smiles. “Well,” she says, “A two thirds true love isn’t so bad.”