Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Adventures of Heracles Mendoza: The Golden Lion, Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The feeling of liquid running over his teeth, around his tongue, and down his throat brought Les back to consciousness. His mouth grew warm and began to tingle, touched by a certain sweetness, something like honey, but deeper, richer. The way whipped cream is deeper and richer than air, he thought, still very groggy. A feeling of warmth trailed in the liquid’s wake, moving down his throat and into his stomach. Once there, the tingling fire began spreading through his body. His heart responded with a quickening, strengthening beat.
There had been pain in his head, though he had only been dimly aware of it till just then. Now it was lifting, dissolved by some effortless power. Relief flooded through him, sweeping away all the pain and discomfort like so much floating debris. The effect was so powerful that he thought he was going to melt, and slide off the table into a grateful puddle on the floor.
When the surge finally receded, it left him empty and cavernous and hollow inside. The sensation was brief, reminding him of that hanging moment he always felt just before an elevator would stop. It was supplanted by a growing sense of renewed energy and strength. Expanding rapidly, his entire body was soon alive with fresh vitality and a raw, wild sensation of power. He reacted by jumping up from the table on which he lay, even before he opened his eyes. Only a hand restrained him. A very large hand.
“Do not try to stand quite yet,” a reassuring voice said. “Allow the initial effects to run their course. It won’t be long.”
Les blinked, trying to focus. The giant was standing beside him. His name was Polydeuces, Les remembered with a clarity that surprised him. Pol, he had said. Something was different, though. His overwhelming fear of the man was missing. “Where am I?”
“The Portalhouse, young master.” Pol replied, smiling down at him.
Les blinked and stretched his eyes until the room around him came into dazzling focus. It was large and open, and lined with a dozen long, gleaming silver tables, arranged like a dining hall with a wide aisle down the center. The walls were made of seamless panels, silvery-steel, laden with beautifully inscribed patterns. A large landscape picture hung on the opposite side, the green of its meadows, and the blue of its sky ridiculously bright against the metal wall. To his right, a high counter ran the breadth of the room. Behind the counter, extending all the way to the softly glowing ceiling, were shelves crowded with bottles, jars, and bowls of various sizes and shapes. At the opposite end of the room stood a pair of very solid-looking metal doors.
“Young master,” Pol said, “I would like to introduce you to ’Dora. It is she who prepared the elixir which restored you to health.” Les looked around in confusion. He didn’t see anyone else in the room.

From behind Pol, a long, lithe figure stepped out. She came nearly to Pol’s shoulder, which put her close to seven feet tall by Les’ calculation. The woman was dressed in light, flowing robes, delicate folds draped over her shoulders and arms, the hem just grazing the shiny black floor. Only her hands showed, and her face, and an astonishingly alluring portion of her neck. But when he met her soft, unflinching gaze, he was instantly snared. She possessed dark, almond-shaped eyes, deep brown in color. They radiated with inviting, overpowering warmth. The finely sculpted features of her face, the lines of her eyebrows and her lashes, the way her hair swept in a lustrous golden wave up and around her ear, the pink in her lips, all of it was beautiful beyond reason. But it was the eyes that held him fast.
Perhaps it was the extraordinary way he could see things more vividly than he ever could before, or perhaps it was the thrilling sense of vitality pulsing within him, but she was, he thought, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Even Vanessa Orozco, his secret crush, was a distant second. Who am I kidding? he thought. She’s been lapped.
“Th-th-thanks,” Les stammered. He had forgotten just what he was thanking her for. For existing?
She nodded, and gave him a small smile. His heart swooped joyously at the movement of her mouth. The feeling was like what he thought love was supposed to feel like. “I love you!” he blurted. Pol laughed, and the sound broke Les’s trance. His eyes darted to the giant, whose forgotten hand was still resting – a little more heavily now, he noticed – on Les’s shoulder.
“I would say the young master’s recovery is complete, wouldn’t you?” he said, tipping his head at Les.
The woman moved her languorous gaze to Pol. She smiled and nodded, and Les’s skin burst into flames of burning jealousy. Don’t look at him. Don’t smile at him. Look at me! Pol moved a half-step, eclipsing his view of her, and Les’ anger flamed higher. Before he could voice a protest, however, the giant said, “Our young master is well out of danger now. Thank you, ’Dora. It would be best if you left us.”
Wordlessly, ’Dora retreated, moving fluidly through a swinging half-door at the end of the counter. Les struggled beneath Pol’s restraining hand, striving to follow her, hoping for one last glimpse of her face. But the woman did not look back; he only saw the back of her robed form as it disappeared through the wide central opening between the shelves of jars and bottles.
“Wow,” Les said breathlessly, “Wow.”
“Yes, that is the standard reaction.”
“She’s beautiful,” Les said, still staring at the empty doorway. “Doesn’t she talk?”
“Yes,” answered Pol, “though rarely in the presence of males.”
“How come?”
“Mmmm. You saw how beautiful she is?” Pol said, raising an eyebrow. Les nodded, vigorously. “Imagine a voice that rivals her appearance in beauty. Men have been known to fall helplessly in love with her just from hearing her speak. You combine the woman and the voice, and, well, let’s just say we cannot afford such distractions.”
As ludicrous as the man’s claim seemed to be, Les sensed he was telling the truth. Even now he was still struggling to hold fast to the retinal image of her in his mind. “Is she a nurse?”
Pol chuckled again. “Only when necessary. Mixing elixir, especially the particular kind you required, is very delicate work. And these,” he said, holding up his massive hands, “are far from ideal for delicate work. Primarily, though, she assists those females whom the Olympians summon, just as my brother and I assist the males.”
“Olympians?” Les’ attention shifted at the word. His memory was sharp and clear, unbelievably so. He immediately recalled that Pol had mentioned the word before, while they were inside the plane. “Who are these Olympians? When you say that, all I can think of are runners and swimmers and the Dream Team, that kind of thing.”
“Mmmm. Yes, we have heard that the Olympiad has recently returned to Gaia.”
“Recently?” said Les, surprised. “I’m pretty sure the Olympics have been around for, I don’t know, like a hundred years. Maybe more.”
Pol chuckled. “Yes, well, we have a somewhat different view of time, young master. Still, there is a connection. The original purpose of the Olympiad was to honor the very same Olympians of whom we speak.”
Les’ face wrinkled. “I don’t get it.”
The giant man gazed down at Les. His expression was serious, but there was a knowing sparkle in his eyes. “They whom we call Olympians,” he said slowly, “were then called gods.”
“Gods?” Les’ mind raced. Olympians? Gods? “Wait,” he exclaimed, “Are you talking gods as in Greek gods? Greek mythology gods?”
Pol nodded. “The very same. This is a fact that you must now begin to grasp: The Olympians did once exist, and they exist still.”
Les stared back, struck dumb at the absurd words spoken by the gigantic man in a business suit. While the idea that the Greek gods still existed – ever existed – was beyond crazy, he could tell that Pol believed what he was saying. Les supposed it was his heightened awareness that made him so sure the giant was being truthful. He hesitated, unsure how to respond. He didn’t want to challenge Pol, or call him a liar and risk angering him, but he also couldn’t accept such a far-fetched idea simply because this strange man believed it. He needed proof. “Well,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “and I mean no offense, but how do you know that again?”
Pol laughed. “Young master, we were there.”
“What?” Les stammered. “What do you mean?”
“My brother and I lived the early part of our lives in your realm, the realm of Gaia. We were born in the city of Sparta more than three thousand years ago. Our fathers were King Tyndareus, and Zeus himself, lord of Olympus. Together we were called Dioscuri, my brother and I. ‘Zeus’ lads.’ I assure you, back then the Olympians were very much a part of that realm.”
“Three thousand years ago?” Les gasped. How can he expect me to believe these things? “So you’re three thousand years old?”
Pol shrugged. “Thirty-three hundred, give or take. At some point, you find there is little sense in keeping count.”
“But how can that be?” Les protested. “How can anyone be that old? To be that old, you’d practically have to be…”
“Immortal?” Pol offered. “Mmmm. Precisely so.”
“But…but,” Les sputtered.
“Do not worry, young master; all guests struggle with these things at first. This is the dawn of a new reality for you. It will take time to adapt.”
“So,” Les said, “You’re telling me that the Greek gods are real, and that when you were young…you lived in the same, uh, what’s the word? – realm? – as me? And these gods, these Olympians, they lived there too?”
“Yes,” Pol said. “Although I must hasten to add that the Olympians have always had the realm of Olympus for a home, and that has not changed. But it is true that they spent much time in Gaia. After all, it was their birth-realm, just as it was ours, and yours.”
“I don’t believe it,” Les said, shaking his head. “It makes no sense.”
Pol nodded with understanding. “Much has happened in Gaia’s history that has been lost to those who remain there. Tell me, do you know of the Trojan War?”
Les thought for a moment. The entire vast library of his memory was available to him, thanks to the effects of the elixir. But after skimming through it, all he could think to say was, “Is that the one with the horse? The Trojan horse?”
“Mmmm, Odysseus’ infamous gambit. It finally ended the war, so they say. But,” Pol added, raising a finger, “that was only after ten years of hard fighting and a great deal of spilt blood, mortal and immortal alike. There is a document called The Iliad, which is said to tell part of the story, though not the end. I have heard that this document still survives in your realm.”
Les thought for a moment, and shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Pol nodded. “Well, it hardly matters now. I only mention it because the Twin Wars – the Trojan War and the war which followed it, Poseidon’s War – mark the end of the Olympians’ reign over Gaia. Within a mortal lifetime of the fall of Troy, they had abandoned her for a new realm, fashioned in secret. Zeus named it the Kainos, ‘the new realm.’” He paused for a moment. “Unfortunately,” he added, “my brother and I were already imprisoned in Tartarus by the time the siege of Troy began. We missed everything.”
“In prison? How come?” Les asked.
“Mmmm,” he said, smiling wryly, “That is a story for another time. The only reason we aren’t still there is because Zeus needed someone to run the Portalhouse.” Pol nodded towards the far doors. “You’ve seen what lay beyond those doors. It is a lifeless place, existing in its own solitary realm. As you might expect, there weren’t a whole lot of volunteers to come here. So he offered us the job, on the condition that we promise never to escape.” The giant man pulled up the sleeve of his suit jacket, revealing an intricately carved golden band that ran from his wrist halfway up his forearm. “If we ever try, or if we ever set foot inside the actual Portalroom,” he said, tapping the armband, “this would transit us right back to Tartarus again.” Pol seemed to be on the verge of drifting into thought, then he abruptly smiled. “But we truly have nothing to complain about. A hundred years here is better than a single day there. You can trust me on that.”
“Well,” replied Les, “that explains why you’re here. But it doesn’t tell me anything about why I’m here.”
“You’re right! Here I am rambling on, while you must be nearly bursting with questions! Shame on me.” Pol looked down at Les, an almost sheepish expression on his face. “My apologies, young master. I’d be only too happy to answer any questions you might have. However, I’m afraid we don’t have much to offer on that particular one. All we can say for certain is that one or more Olympians have requested that you be summoned to the Kainos. Beyond that, we know little. And by little,” he said, lifting his hands helplessly, “I mean nothing.”
“Me?” Les said, pointing at himself. “They wanted me specifically? Or they just wanted someone, and I just happened to be the one, out of all the people in the world, unlucky enough to get picked at random?”
“Oh, no,” Pol said. “Mortals are not summoned by chance. No, not ever. You were chosen. By name. Les Mendoza. This is the name we have been given.”
“But how do you know that’s me? There must be lots of Les Mendozas in the world.” He paused. Mendoza was a common enough Spanish name, true enough, but Les was not a common first name amongst any ethnic group that he knew of. Any group, period. “Okay, maybe not lots. But I can’t be the only one, can I? Isn’t there a chance this could all be a mistake?”
Pol gave Les a sympathetic smile. “We have a saying that goes back to our youth: The gods do not make mistakes, it goes. And if they do, good luck getting a confession.
Les, however, was in no mood for humorous sayings. “I just don’t understand. Why me? It doesn’t make any sense. I know nothing about Greek gods or mythology. I’m not even Greek. I’m half-Mexican and half-Polish. What would they want with someone like me?”
“It is not only Greeks, as you call them; mortals are chosen from all over Gaia. I have met many from places I have never heard of, places I never imagined existed. I had always known the world to be a vast place, but I had no idea just how vast, how truly vast, until we arrived here.”
“I just don’t get it,” Les moaned, oblivious.“Why me? Why me?”
“I swear to Zeus,” a loud, coarse voice said, “if I hear another shunt ask Why me? I’m going to hurt someone.” Les whipped in the direction of the voice and found another giant of a man, this one standing behind the counter. Les gaped in astonishment. The second giant looked exactly like Pol, except for the angry scowl half-hidden by a thick black beard. He stood with his bare, thickly muscled arms folded over his chest, and seemed to be wearing some kind of a garment hanging diagonally from one shoulder. Aside from those differences, however, the similarity of the two men was uncanny.
Les looked from one to the other. “Oh, I get it,” he finally said. “You’re twins, right?”
“Oh, he’s bright,” the bearded man sneered, his sour expression unchanged. “I was afraid we wasted our mead on an idiot.”
Pol gave his brother a sharp look, “Now,” he said, “there is no call for rudeness towards our guest.” Turning to Les, he said, “Les Mendoza, this is my twin brother, Castor.”
“Call me Cas,” said his brother. “We keep things simple around here. We find that shunts tend to be easily confused.” After another pointed look from his brother, he added, “Generally speaking, that is.”
“Oh, hello,” Les said hesitantly. He didn’t know what the word shunt meant, but it certainly didn’t sound like a compliment.
Cas stepped forward. Planting his hands on the countertop, he said, “You want to know why you’re here?” His expression was vaguely menacing. “It is really very simple. You are here because an Olympian decided that you should be here. Now you know as much as we do.”
“I know. Pol already told me that. But what I don’t understand is-” Les caught himself, seeing Cas’ face, which looked about to explode.
“Listen, shunt. From this point on, there’s a lot you aren’t going to understand,” Cas snapped, “In fact, almost everything. Get used to it.” His continued staring at Les for a few moment, then cocked his head slightly to the side. “Just how old are you?”
“Fifteen.” Les answered.
“You are young,” Cas replied. “Young shunts are usually the most stupid.” He glanced at his brother, ignoring his admonishing look. “Probably safe to rule out a Trial, eh?”
Pol’s displeased expression slowly faded. “I would expect so. It would be highly unlikely.”
Cas waved his hand dismissively. “Probably just one more Gaian summoned to play the role of temporary companion to a homesick Olympian. They never seem to tire of the novelty.” He locked his eyes on Les. “Though with this one,” he said, the contempt is his voice unmistakable, “novelty appears to be the only thing he’s got in his favor.”
“Brother, curb your anger,” Pol replied sternly. “He is our guest, and he did nothing wrong.”
Cas scoffed. “Oh no, the shunt did nothing wrong. He only panicked when you tried to help him. He only fell and nearly killed himself. Would of, too, had we not given him mead in order to save his miserable hide. I do not need remind you that we will be the ones to pay the price for his mistakes, do I, brother? But no, he did nothing wrong. Nothing wrong at all.”
“Enough,” Pol said, his tone sharper than Les had heard it. “We are the hosts of this house, and he is our guest. We will abide by the law of xenia.
“We are not in Gaia, Pol. We’re not even in the Kainos. There is no xenia here.” He cast a glowering look at Les. “We don’t owe him anything.”
“Wherever I am, whichever house I inhabit, there the law of xenia shall always prevail,” Pol recited.
The two brothers glared at each other, as if engaged in a silent argument. At last Cas broke the tense stillness. “Ah, bowlstones! Forget it,” he said, turning away. He began to rearrange an assortment of bottles on one of the shelves.
“I’m sorry,” Les said to Pol. “I didn’t mean to start anything.”
Pol smiled. “Don’t worry, young master. My brother often loses his temper. He forgets the true object of his anger, and instead seeks to brook it against the innocent. It is I who must apologize for my brother’s rudeness.”
“Don’t apologize for me,” Cas growled over his shoulder.
“What is xenia?” Les asked.
Xenia is the law which governs the behavior of guest and host. Simply put, it says that guests are to be treated with the utmost kindness and generosity. It was Zeus himself who made the law, and it is Zeus who commands our obedience to it.” He directed the last part at his brother, and his gaze lingered there until shifting back to Les. “Now then,” he said, “we must begin preparing you for your next transit. We don’t know how much time we have.”
“Transit?” asked Les.
“Mmmm,” said Pol, “That’s what we call the act of passing from one realm to another.”
“Where am I going?”
“To the Kainos, of course.” Pol answered. To his brother, he said, “I will escort the young master to the readying room. Can I trust you to select the proper garb, or must I send the ’pods?”
“I’ll do it,” snapped Cas. His eyes scanned over Les, taking his measure. “I don’t know how much we have that will fit such a…body,” he said, “but I’ll find something that’ll do.”
“Thank you, brother,” Pol said.
Cas’ grunted in return. With one last scornful look at Les, he wheeled around and stomped off through the central doorway, his heavy footsteps shaking the entire room.
When Cas had gone, Les remarked, “I get the feeling he doesn’t like me.”

“Don’t take it personally, young master,” Pol replied brightly. “My brother doesn’t like anyone.” He gestured towards a door standing in a corner behind the counter. “If you please, the readying room is this way.”

No comments:

Post a Comment