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Authors: Ann Halam

Snakehead

BOOK: Snakehead
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For Philip Sinclair-Jones

CAST OF CHARACTERS
On the Island of Serifos
Figures from Greek myth

Danae
The only legitimate daughter of the Achaean king, Acrisus of Argos

Perseus
The son of Zeus and of Danae of Argos
Diety
The rightful king of Serifos (sometimes spelled “Dictys” in the classical sources)

Andromeda (Kore)
The brilliant and beautiful daughter of Cassiopeia, great queen of the Phoenician city of Haifa

Polydectes
The tyrant king who rules Serifos from his citadel, “the High Place”

Fictional characters

Taki
A shipping magnate with connections everywhere and a heart of stone

Anthe
A talented young cook at Dicty’s taverna
Palikari
The cocktail waiter and bar manager at the taverna

Aten
A resident foreigner on Serifos
Moni the Naxian
Aten’s wife

Koukla
The taverna’s housekeeper and laundrywoman
Kefi
A timid but faithful mule boy
Mando
A famous singer

Bozic
A smuggler and part-time secret agent
Balba
A Serifos matriarch and renowned weaver
Yiannis
An old sea dog
Sika
The captain of the
Octopus

[Yacht Club Kids:] Kia
of Keros,
Gliko
and
Niki
from the Twelve Islands, and others (young adventurers traveling around the Middle Sea, looking for fun and trouble)

More figures from myth
On board the
Argo
(a famous ship)

Jason
The favorite of the Goddess Hera; leader of a crew of half-immortals and heroes

Members of his crew include:

Heracles
The strong man

Castor and Polydeuces
The twins

Atalanta
The fleet footed

Orpheus
The musician

In the Phoenician City of Haifa

Cassiopeia the Ethiopian
The great queen and mother of Andromeda

Kephus
Her consort and father of Andromeda
Phineus
A suitor for the hand of Princess Andromeda

Gods, Goddesses, and
other Supernatural Beings

Zeus
The king of the Olympians and Perseus’s absentee father; chieftain of the gods; a magnificent big shot with the attitude of a gangster, serious superpowers, and surprisingly good manners

Poseidon/Melqart
The god of making and breaking, of earthquakes and the ocean; known as Poseidon to the Greeks, Melqart to the Phoenicians

Athini
The goddess of wisdom and woman warrior; known to the Greeks as the daughter of Zeus; Perseus’s half sister and patroness

Hermes
The divine messenger and Perseus’s half brother

Hera
Zeus’s estranged wife, liable to make trouble for any of Zeus’s half-mortal children

The Graeae
Three hideous old women, with one eye and one tooth among them, who feed on the flesh of drowned sailors; also known as the Gray Sisters; the pitiless seas, personified

The Stygian Nymphs
(Minthe, Orphne, Eleione, Lethe, Styx) Not your average wispy airhead spirits of stream and grove, these immortal maidens from the court of the king of the underworld are very cool, excellent company, and highly dangerous.

Medusa
The only mortal of the three Gorgons. Her hair is a nest of living serpents, her blood is deadly poison, her glance turns anyone she looks upon to stone. Once the most beautiful woman in the world, she was turned into a monster by Athini.

Pegasus
The winged horse, the opener of the springs, and child of Poseidon and Medusa

Great Mother
The single deity worshipped all over the Aegean before the Great Disaster

M
y mother and I emerged from the tumult of rich smells, from the dark, narrow alleys of Naxos market into bright sunlight. We saw the crowd of refugees and recoiled in horror. Just for a moment both of us were convinced that half the population of Serifos had arrived, destitute, while we were trading (and spying a little, on the side). We’d only been away four days, but war had broken out. These were the survivors, which meant that everyone we loved was dead or enslaved. It was all over.

A second look reassured us. The people clogging up the busy waterfront had come a long way; they didn’t even look like islanders. We grinned at each other ruefully, sharing the shock and the guilty relief. Oh good, not us this time. Some other poor victims of hateful injustice, divine displeasure or a pirate raid. Moumi and I had been making this trip together, twice
a shipping season, since I was a little boy. I had loved the whole thing, in those days. The market stalls where I got spoiled rotten. The quiet times when I would sit under a tree or by a fountain and think while Moumi talked to merchants, and other, shifty-looking people. Everything was different now that I was almost a man. I understood what was going on at home, and that knowledge had opened my eyes to the state my whole world was in.

“The trouble is,” said Moumi, “too many refugees have been dumped on the Naxians, and it’s mostly the worst off. The ones who have nothing: no relatives who will take them in, no trades. Oh, I hope the town doesn’t turn the soldiers on them.”

Naxos isn’t the richest of the islands we call the “Turning Islands,” which is “Kyklades” in Greek. It isn’t the one with the most sea-route connections either; that’s Paros. But it’s the biggest. Penniless refugees tended to end up here as a last resort, on the grounds there was always room for a few more.

We were blocking the alley. We led the mules along the colonnade and stopped by a drinking fountain to regroup. We had laden animals. One of them—dear Brainy—was liable to panic in a noisy crowd. We shifted Music to the back and Brainy to the middle place (which he usually didn’t like), beside a group of men who were muttering about Trojans and Achaeans.

Troy ruled the far-distant east end of the Middle Sea. The Achaeans had taken over on the Greek Mainland,
which lay to the north of us, a little too close for comfort. These two Great Powers (or bully gangs, depending on your point of view) were in a continual state of undeclared war, always picking on each other’s so-called allies. The men thought one or the other of them was responsible for the new influx, but they couldn’t decide which. I asked a Naxian matriarch, who was standing there frowning darkly at the scene, accompanied by servant boys and a heavy handcart full of oil jars.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Do
you
know who they are?”

The lady looked us over, noting our coloring: Moumi’s hair, coming out from under her scarf in ringlets of pure gold. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously between the lines of Egyptian-style kohl. “You’re Achaeans, aren’t you?”

“Not anymore,” said my mother, without taking offense. “We were invited to leave, by the king of our former country, shortly after my son was born. We were castaways ourselves once; that’s why we feel sympathy for the refugees’ plight.”

My mother looks like a teenager. Strangers often take her for my sister. But when she feels like it, she can take on the hauteur of an Argolide princess, because that’s what she used to be. Also, we had three fine-looking mules in tow, which made us respectable even if we weren’t Naxians.

The lady changed her tone. “They’re not from the Turning Islands, madam. No one can understand the language they speak. The sailors say they’re from the south,
Libya or somewhere like that. Apparently, there’s been a quake and tidal wave; it wiped out a whole coast.”

A shiver went through me. A big quake is a fearful portent—but it wasn’t fear I felt, not exactly fear. “Was there a Supernatural involved?” I blurted. “Who was it?”

The woman took a second look, her eyes widened and I suspected she’d recognized us. Our story was old news, but it had been spread all over the place by tale tellers, and people tend to remember gossip about the god-touched. We still got that spooked reaction occasionally. I didn’t like it, but sometimes—I have to admit—it was my own fault. At moments of stress I tend to forget that normal people don’t talk about the Achaean Divinities as if they’re disreputable family connections.

“It’s none of my business,” the Naxian lady muttered, fearful and wary. “Excuse me, my lady, er, young sir. I must get to the dock.” She hustled her boys and her cart away.

“Don’t
do
that, Perseus,” said my mother (whose name was Danae, of the shower of gold: the famous imprisoned princess who had once been visited by the chief of the Achaean Gods, my father).

“Sorry. I didn’t think.”

I saw that the nymph of the fountain, barely visible in the sunlight, was watching me. I wondered what that fragile creature made of our tragedies and disasters, and all the human bustle that had grown up around her timeless little world.

Meanwhile, my mortal mother, who could not see the spirit of the water as I could, had forged off on her own with the mules, into the churning crowd. I hurried to catch up.

BOOK: Snakehead
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