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Authors: Ralph Hardy

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The Boar Slayer

onight, as I lie down near the sheep paddock, I hear through the open window of her room my mistress crying. I had heard a servant girl earlier say that this was the twelfth anniversary of my mistress's marriage to my master Odysseus, and they had roasted a goat in their honor, but my mistress refused to eat it. Instead, according to the servant girl, she shut herself in her room and spent the evening praying to the gods. Now she weeps.

I enter the house and climb the stairs to my mistress's room. To the left I smell Telemachos in his bed, and I hear him snoring gently. He had spent the day practicing archery and wrestling, so I know he sleeps deeply. At the other end of the hall I hear the muffled sobs of a woman crying into her pillow.
It is my mistress, my queen. The hall is dark, but I can see that her bedroom door is closed. I lift my paw and scratch the heavy oak door. Three times I scratch, and then the door opens.

“Come, Argos,” my mistress says softly. “I would enjoy your company tonight.”

She is wearing a simple bed tunic and her long black hair is plaited, nearly reaching her waist. She has not cut it since my master left. Even in mourning, her beauty outshines every mortal I have seen.

My mistress no longer sleeps in her wedding bed, which my master carved out of a living olive tree as a gift to her. Instead she sleeps on a low pallet covered in thin fleece, which lies next to it. The pallet is hard, and many times I have heard my mistress's servants beg her to sleep on her own bed. “Your husband would want you to sleep on his bed, my queen,” they say. “He carved it for you!”

“And does my husband sleep on a soft bed at night?” she would reply. “Or does he sleep on a ship's hard planks or beneath Luna herself, on a bloody battleground?”

To this they have no answer. So for more than ten years she has slept on this hard pallet, and tonight I lie down beside her on it.

“Argos,” she says, stroking my forehead. “You think my husband, brave Odysseus, lives, do you not?”

I lick her hand.
My master lives. I am certain of it. Even that wretched seagull could not convince me otherwise.

“I do also,” she says. “But why have we heard nothing from him? Is he a prisoner of some terrible tribe of men? Is he stranded on an island, shipwrecked and thirsty? Does he lie wounded on some battlefield, surrounded by his fallen comrades? Every night I pray to the gods for a sign that he lives, but they answer me not. Every sound of thunder in the summer sky makes me think that Zeus is answering me, but what mortal can divine a thunderclap? I cannot. Outside my window a dove has built a nest. What does this portend, if anything? I know only that a dove mates for life, and I too shall never wed again unless by force.”

She begins to weep again, and I nuzzle her cheek. After a few minutes she sighs and speaks again, but her tone is lighter, as if I have given her some comfort.

“If only you could talk, brave one,” she says. “What stories would you tell? What fearsome beasts have you hunted? How is it that my husband, brave Odysseus, found you, the handsomest dog on Ithaka, in a cave?”

Then she rubs her fingers along the scars on my face. I
once a handsome dog, if I may be immodest, but now my muzzle is scarred, my ears are torn, and on cold days I limp. My fur, once as black as a volcano, is flecked with gray, as if snow had fallen on that black peak. The shield on my chest, a patch of white, is matted with burrs and nettles. Still, my teeth are sharp, my back is straight, and my tail curves like a flashing sword.

I grow drowsy under my mistress's caresses. How sweet it is to lie next to her, far from the braying of sheep and goats and the squawk of hens. I am nearly asleep when I hear a sound: footsteps. Quick and soft footsteps. I sit up. I know who is coming. Telemachos.

The boy knocks softly and enters the room. He is nearly twelve years old, neither a child nor a man, but simply a boy who misses his father.

“Mother, do you sleep?” he whispers.

“Come to me, my son,” my mistress says, sitting up. “Were you having bad dreams?”

Telemachos sits on the bed next to his mother, and he also rubs my head and ears.

“I dreamed I was drowning, Mother,” he says after a moment.
“I was swimming and Poseidon was angry and sent wave after wave crashing over me. Why would I dream this? What does it mean?”

Mistress Penelope puts her arm around the boy. “It means you ate too many figs for dessert, my brave swimmer, and your stomach is upset, that is all.”

“But father is a sailor, is he not, Mother? Could this dream be about him? Perhaps his swift black ship is in a storm. What if he has been thrown overboard?”

My mistress hugs her son, who has begun to cry.

“Your father is a sailor, it is true, Telemachos, but he is also a warrior and a king. The gods would not let him drown at sea. His fate is not that of sailors and fishermen, but that of a hero. Did he not conquer Troy, my son?”

“Then why has he not returned?”

“He is on his way.”

“Soon? He comes soon?”

“That I cannot promise. All we can do is pray to the gods and wait. And in the meantime, I must run the household properly, and you must be a good student and bring honor to our family by your deeds and actions. Can you do that?”

“Yes, and what of Argos? What must he do?”

“Argos has the most difficult task of all. He has to guard all
the livestock and keep us safe too. Do you think he can do it?”

“Of course he can,” Telemachos says, putting his arms around my neck. “He is the Boar Slayer, is he not?”

And then mother and son lie down and cover themselves in a warm fleece while I curl up beside them to sleep for a few hours myself. Even a boar slayer must rest now and then.

Among the Lotus Eaters

long the beach I find what I am looking for: sea-turtle tracks. The gods favor these strange creatures with long lives, which they spend swimming across the blue sea, stopping to lay their eggs on the many islands that Kronos made before he was overthrown by Zeus. I knew that some sea turtles lay their eggs on that cursed land of the Lotus Eaters, and I thought perhaps one had seen my master. I find the turtle that night, digging with her strange paws in the moonlight, preparing to lay her eggs. But she had not seen my master.

“Others will come, Argos, who have seen that land,” she says, flicking her black tongue. “On the next neap tide, return here, and you will find my sister turtle. She will know of your master's fate.”

“Thank you, Mother Turtle. Good luck to you and your offspring.”

She regards me for a long time with unblinking eyes.

“Argos, of the hundred eggs in this clutch, perhaps two will live. Most will die in their shells, eaten by seabirds. A few will hatch and point their beaks to the sea. In those cold waters swim sharp-toothed fish, which will swallow them whole. One or two will hide in the seaweed and live. That is our fate. Zeus has cursed us twice: we live too long and our children die before us. So speak not to me of luck. Now return when Luna wanes, and you will find your answer.”

“Thank you, sister,” I say gently. Though I have no offspring, her story tears at my heart. Then she resumes her digging and I take the trail that leads up to my master's home, more desperate than ever to learn of his fate.

Apollo's chariot has carried the sun through the skies twenty times while I herded goats and sheep. Some days I followed young Telemachos on long walks into the pine-covered hills. His servant, Dolios, knows that my master Odysseus would want his son to grow strong legs, so as a young boy, Telemachos spends many hours outside, running, climbing, and playing with the other boys from the nearby village. This will prepare
him for the time when he will have to lead his companions into war, for there is no escaping that fate as an Achaian. I spend the evening snarling at the suitors, dodging their kicks, barking when they insult the servants.

In this way the days passed. Now is the evening of the neap tide, and I again take the path down to the shore and wait for the turtles to emerge from the waves. I wait for many hours, watching the endless waves come and go. Finally, when I am about to give up hope, I see three she-turtles blasting through the foam. I wait for them to crawl into the moonlight, and then I approach the one closest in size to the turtle from before, and it is confirmed: they are sisters. And she had laid a clutch of eggs on the island of the Lotus Eaters.

“Tell me what you saw there, Sister Turtle,” I ask. “Were there six ships in the harbor? Was one black and swift keeled?”

“Aye, Argos,” she says, stretching her wrinkled neck. “Your master was there. His ships had been docked for some days before I arrived.”

“You saw him? My master?”

“Yes, I saw him. His fools nearly trampled my nest while they were carrying their shipmates back from the Lotus Eaters!”

“Was my master being carried? Had the Lotus Eaters stolen
his mind? Tell me, ancient one!”

“Patience, Argos. When one has swum the seas for as long as I, one learns to develop such a virtue,” she says. “I am tired and hungry after my travels.”

I watch as she unhurriedly chews a piece of seaweed, the slimy green grass slithering into her sharp beak. My master once said that a great ruler does not lead his people with force, but with patience and wisdom. And so I will wait; there would be no rushing her.

“Thank you for allowing me that brief respite, noble one,” she says finally, with a long gulp that travels the length of her neck.

At last I will hear my master's fate.

“Your master is alive and as shrewd as ever, having sent his men ahead to meet with the Lotus Eaters. But no mortal man is as strong as the great Odysseus, and those he sent were weak and ate the sweet fruit they were given. Your master had to rescue them and bring them back. Oh, how they wept, those piteous men! But he tied them to the rowing benches, and soon they raised their sails.”

“So he left the island! He returns soon?”

This news makes me twirl around on the sand like a young pup!

“But how is it that you, a turtle, arrived here before my master?” I ask.

“You have many questions, loyal Argos, and they are insolently framed, but I will grant you an answer. I swim day and night without stopping, whereas no man can row for too many hours, nor does the wind always favor a ship. That is why I have arrived here so swiftly.”

“Pardon me, ancient one. I may appear rude, but I am only anxious for my master's return. Now that I know it is imminent, let me show my respect by guarding the eggs of your sisters here. I promise you that their offspring will encounter no predators as they return to the sea. I will guard them with my own powerful jaws, and no bird will dare snatch one in its beak, so I swear.”

“So it shall be, loyal one, and I thank you. They will hatch in two moons' time. Guard them well on this lethal shore, and your pledge will be filled. I return now to the sea. I feel its pull, and I have many more miles to swim.”

The ancient turtle begins her laborious trek back down to the shore. When she reaches the edge of the foam, she stops and turns her head to me.

“Farewell, Argos, and remember your pledge.”

“I shall. And good swimming to you, sister. Mind my
master's ships as they approach Ithaka.”

For a long moment she says nothing. Nor does she enter the sea. Then she turns to me and blinks her glassy eyes several times, as if she is trying to decide to tell me something or not. Finally she says, “Foolish pup! I never said your master's ships were steered toward Ithaka—only that they had left the land of the Lotus Eaters.”

The fur on my back rises. “Where did they sail then, ancient one, if not back here to their home?”

“They were sailing toward the island of giants. The land of the Cyclopes, Boar Slayer,” she says, making her way toward the crashing sea. Then she stops and turns to look me in the eye once more. “Only Father Zeus can save them now.”

The dread Cyclopes

una is round tonight, as she was when I last learned about my master from the deceitful sea turtle. I have never heard much of the Cyclopes, or of their ways, only that they are giants. Perhaps they are gentle, though, for often a small man is cruel and vicious, while a large man is careful and prudent with his strength. It is that way with dogs too: the small ones bite, while the large ones need only bark. Is this not so?

But I am not content to merely hope that my master is safe; I must know with certainty. There is a marsh in the south of Ithaka where flocks of teals lay their eggs after their long flights east from Aoia.
Surely they know of the Cyclopes,
I think as I make my way along a goat trail that winds its way toward that marsh.

After several hours, the terrain begins to change. The pine trees make way for junipers and the hills grow less steep. Soon I'm walking along flat earth, and I find a small pool from which to drink. After easing my thirst, I stop to listen. A thousand teals can drown an army's noise. Never have I heard such squawking and quacking!

The marsh is easy to find. My paws begin to stick in the muck, and soon I am trotting through reeds as tall as spears. After a few minutes I reach the small lake where the teals nest. There are hundreds of them swimming in sharp deltas along the water, occasionally ducking their heads and lifting their bottoms out of the water. Near the shore, fledglings follow their mothers along the bank, learning to paddle their flat feet. I have come just in time. In a few weeks the flocks will have left Ithaka, flying farther south in their restless way.

I sit down at the shore and listen for a few minutes. Their language is incomprehensible. My worst fear has come true: I don't know their tongue. A large teal waddling along the bank approaches me as I sit wondering what to do.

“I am Argos, the Boar Slayer,” I say slowly.

The teal says nothing.

“My master is Odysseus. He is known throughout the world as the Wily One. Do you know him?”

This time the teal quacks once, then stretches his curved neck, turning his head nearly around.

“Do you know the land of the Cyclopes?” I ask.

Again the teal quacks and twists his head impossibly.

“Save your breath, loyal Ar-Ar-Argos,” a voice says from above me. “The teals do not speak the common tongue. After Father Zeus took Leda as his mate, no long-necked water fowl would speak it, and now they have forgotten it completely.”

I look up. A crow is perched on a juniper branch. It was he who had spoken.

“Cousin Crow, wisest of birds,” I call up to him. “I thank you for your assistance. Tell me, can you speak to them? Surely you know their language, master of all voices.”

The crow hops down to a lower branch. “Yes, of course I know it. What do you wish to ask them?”

“I seek news of my master Odysseus. He was last seen sailing toward the land of the Cyclopes. I thought these high-flyers might have seen him and know his fate.”

The crow alights on a fallen tree next to me so that we are eye-to-eye.

“I will ask them for you, Boar Slayer, but it may take some time to get the truth. These are the most disagreeable of birds, and they interrupt one another constantly. Go back to your
master's home and return to your herding. I will seek you out tomorrow with the news, if there is any to tell.”

“I thank you, Cousin in Black. It is true that while I am away, the herds wander afield, the sheep particularly.”

The crow bobs its head. “They are-are-are quite stupid. I will come at dusk tomorrow,” he promises.

Hearing these words, I turn around and begin the long run back to our home to the north. I arrive just as the sun falls below Mount Nerito and the shadows begin to creep over the fields. One ewe has wandered off, but I bring her back quickly to the fold. In my master's house torches are lit, and the nightly revelry of the suitors has begun. Oh, the shame they bring to the house of Odysseus! Surely my master will return soon and drive those hateful men away. Even the Cyclopes could not be worse than these insolent men.

At dusk the next day a shadow falls over my shoulder as I lead the sheep into their paddocks. How long this day has felt while I wait for news of my master! I cannot even be certain that the teals saw him, though they fly from the east, and giants and teals both need fresh water. If the land of the Cyclopes has lakes on it, then surely the teals landed there. Yet how flimsy my logic seems as the day passes slowly by.

Seeing the shadow, I look up and watch the winged crow alight on the roof of the paddock. When the sheep are bedded down, I rush back outside. The crow is waiting.

“Welcome to the home of Odysseus, Sir Crow,” I call up to him. “Do you bring news of my master?”

“I do, Boar Slayer. If the teals can be trusted, I have your story, though it is a terrible one.”

I feel as if a spear has passed through my heart.

“My master lives, does he not? Tell me that at once, crow!”

The crow lands on a low branch.

“Sit back on your haunches, Ar-ar-argos,” says the crow. “I will tell you what I heard.”

This is the teals' story.

My master and his men landed on a wooded island, as strange a land as any teal has seen. There the people of Cyclopes live not like other men, for they neither plow nor plant, and they live in the many caves that dot the island. They neither farm nor fish, because the immortal gods watch over them and give them their needs. There are many goats on the island and the wheat and barley and grapes grow with no hindrance, so the people of Cyclopes plan little and live apart from one another,
needing no counsels, and each one is his own law, and thus they are lawless.

A short flight beyond this island was another island, where the teals saw my master and his men find harbor. It was full of wild goats and there was bright water to drink; yet again no men had farmed its pastures or planted crops, neither did they cast nets, so the ponds were full of fish for the teals to eat.

There brave Odysseus and his men from the twelve ships spent the day and the night, feasting on meat and drinking sweet wine. The next morning the Wily One took only the twelve men from his own ship and sailed round the island to learn of its natives, whether they were savage and violent or hospitable to strangers. The teals followed his ship, hoping to steal fish from their nets, but after my master had sailed a short distance, he spied a cave hidden with laurels, and there were great flocks of sheep and goats behind a high wall, built among large boulders strewn about. Herding the great flocks was a one-eyed monster.

The teals say this monster had but a single eye in the center of his face and was as tall as the peak of a mountain, so that my master and his men seemed to shrink in wonder at his great size. But brave Odysseus fears no one, and so he and his men
lightly made their way to the cave.

When they arrived, the monster had left to herd his fat flocks on the range, so my master and his men entered the cave unbidden to see what manner of man this monster was. Inside the cave were giant baskets of cheese, and there were pens crowded with lambs and kids, as well as cisterns overflowing with milk. My master's men wanted to take the lambs and kids back to the ship and sail away, but the Wily One thought the monster might have more to give them. So they made a fire and waited for the monster to return.

He arrived carrying a heavy load of firewood, which he threw onto the floor of the cave with such force that it sent the men scattering into the dark recesses of the cave to hide. Then he brought in his giant flocks and put them in pens, and finally he rolled a giant boulder across the door to keep out intruders, though what manner of intruder would dare enter that cave, one can only guess. Then he milked his flock and built a fire, at which point he saw my master and his men.

“Strangers,” he asked, “who are you? Are you lawless pirates, bringing evil to this land?”

“We are Achaians coming from Troy, driven off course by the winds, and making our way home as best we can,” said brave Odysseus. “We are followers of Agamemnon, whose
fame is great throughout Achaia. Through the will of Zeus, we have landed here, and we ask on bended knee that you give us a guest present, as men do in our land, in honor of Zeus. That is what the gods demand of all, O mightiest of men.”

But the monster was pitiless to their plight. “Stranger, you are a fool. The Cyclopes do not fear Zeus or any of the gods, for we are better than they. I could kill you now and think nothing of it. But tell me, is your ship near or far off? I ask so that I may help you get aboard it and leave us in peace before my brothers learn of you, for they shall show you no mercy.”

No man or monster is more cunning than my master, who replied, “Alas, no. Poseidon, shaker of the earth, drove my ship against the rocks, and we are stranded here for a time. Only my men you see here survived.”

But instead of showing brave Odysseus pity at his tale, the monster suddenly snatched two of his men and hurled them against the ground, killing them. Then, to my master's horror, he tore them limb by limb and ate the remains, washing the terrible meal down with great buckets of goat milk. Brave Odysseus and his men cried out to Zeus in despair, but the god answered not, and they could do nothing but wring their hands in mourning while the monster lay down to sleep, sprawled out among them.

Once the monster began to snore with deafening rattles, my master took out his sword and thought to stab the great beast in the heart, but just as he was about to strike, he realized that the great boulder blocking the entrance to the cave was too large for his men together to roll aside, and they would be trapped in the cave. So they could do nothing that night except pray to the gods and wring their hands in mourning until the dawn came.

“But how did the teals know this?” I asked the crow when he told me his tale. “Were the teals in the cave with the monster and my master?”

The crow had asked that also. He said that the teals had told him that the monster kept chickens in his cave and the small ones passed in and out between the giant stone and the cave's entrance. It was they who told the teals of the events inside.

“But perhaps it isn't true,” I demanded, fearing for my master. “Surely no such monster exists!”

Then the crow turned his head to look at me, and I could see in his black eyes that this was no lie.

The teal's story continued. As dawn's light crept through the cracks of the Cyclops's cave, the monster woke and made a fire. After that he milked his goats, and then, just as my master hoped he would roll aside the great boulder, the monster
snatched up two men and ate them for breakfast, ignoring the screams of despair and outrage of my master's men.

After he had dined, the monster rolled aside the great boulder so that he could let his sheep out to graze, but he stood by the door watching to make sure that Odysseus and his men did not escape. Then he rolled the boulder back across as he left, leaving them trapped inside.

My master was left with his black thoughts of how he might avenge his men while the monster whistled to his flocks, guiding them to the pastures beyond the cave. Before the fire that had been lit could burn out, brave Odysseus found a wooden club the monster had left to dry. It was nearly as long as the mast on a ship of twenty oars, but my master and his men chopped it until it was the height of a man so that they could lift it. Then my master set to sharpening its end into a fine point while the rest of his men made it smooth.

When that job was done, the men, fearing that the monster might return at any moment, put the point of the spear into the fire to harden it. Finally, when the tip had turned black, they hid the spear and prayed to the gods they would have the chance to use it. As the men rested from their labors, they drew lots to decide who would help brave Odysseus spear the monster while he slept that night.

When the evening came, the monster rolled back the stone carefully so that no one could escape, and he brought in his goats and sheep from their pasturing. After that, he milked the goats and sheep, filling his great bucket, and when his work was done, he snatched two of my master's men and ate them. Then did my master approach the monster and say, “Here, Cyclops, now that you have committed so terrible a thing as to eat human flesh, drink this wine from our ship. I brought it for you as a gift yesterday, before your cruelty, but now drink of it and take pity on us.”

So the monster took the great wine skins and drank them dry, and he was terribly pleased at its taste, for he demanded more.

“Give it freely,” he thundered, “and tell me your name so that I may also give you a gift.” But my master, the Wily One, did not trust the monster; instead he gave him more wine, until he was certain the monster's brain was addled with it, for no five men could drink that quantity and still stand. Then my master spoke. “Cyclops, you ask me my name and I will tell you, but you must then give me the gift you have promised.
is my name. My father and my mother call me Nobody, as do all my companions.”

So the Wily One spoke, but the monster was pitiless and
said, “My gift, then, is that I shall eat Nobody last, after I have eaten his men. That is my gift to you!” He laughed, and his joy was terrible to behold. And after he said this, the giant lay back and then slumped onto his bedding, asleep.

Then brave Odysseus brought out the great spear from its hiding place, and they heated the tip in the fire until it glowed bright. After speaking words of courage to his men, my master dragged the spear from the fire, and together they lifted it above their shoulders and charged, thrusting it into the monster's eye, where it sizzled with the sound of a crashing wave.

The monster gave a horrible cry and flailed his massive arms, but my master and his men ducked his grasp and hid in the shadows. With a groan the monster tore the timber from his eye, and it bubbled with blood. Then he cried out to the other Cyclopes who lived nearby, and they came running to his cave.

BOOK: Argos
8.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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