Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Chapter 1 of Antigone: The True Story

I've decided to share Chapter 1 of my work in progress, Antigone: The True Story. I'm having trouble finishing off this book - I hurt my arm a little while ago and couldn't type much and lost my writing flow. But not I'm determined to get back into it.

I'd love to hear any thoughts about this. It's a young adult historical mythological fantasy type. It takes place in ancient Greece about 1400 BC. Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus (the one who killed his father and married his mother.

One of the pieces of feedback I have received so far is about the dream that Antigone has. The person thought that dreams should be more random, so I am thinking of calling it a vision.

Here goes:

The dreams started when I was sixteen. That first one is etched in my mind, like it was yesterday, even though it was over three thousand years ago. The hair on the back of my neck still tingles when I think of it: how the gods manipulated me, how the snakes reached out to me, how I learned about the curses that plagued my family, and how I came to realize my true power. The dreams signalled a turning point in my life, both thrilling and horrifying.
    In that first dream, I approached the temple of Apollo with a modest offering, some cakes, fruit and a small jug of wine, the usual. The gods were a big part of our lives back then, and giving regular offerings ensured they looked favourably on us. They had a nasty habit of making life miserable for those who displeased them.
    As I made my way to the temple, the hill suddenly grew steep, far steeper than normal. The walk became a treacherous uphill scramble as my sandals slipped on the well worn path and I lost my footing. I didn’t think I would make it, but I knew I had to present this offering. I was determined. The gods demanded their due and it was my duty to deliver it.
    The temple became virtually unreachable, and I was forced to my hands and knees, crawling up the hill, clutching the offering basket in one hand and pulling myself up with the other. I scratched and clung to the rocks until my nails broke and my hands became raw and bloody. My peplos robe ripped; mud, blood and sweat stained the white, intricately embroidered fabric. Branches tugged at me, scratched me, and yanked at the jewelled combs that held my hair in its neat knot. I heard the combs clatter down the steep slope as my dark curls fell in my face and blinded me, but, even so, I knew I had to continue. I had to get to the altar.
    Struggling, I reached the bottom wooden step of the temple as the hill became a nearly vertical rock face. I managed to grasp the step just in time, avoiding a tumble down the cliff after my combs. I swung my arm to fling the basket and heard it crash as the offering hit the unforgiving stair. I used both hands to drag myself the rest of the way up. As I caught my breath and examined my torn nails and dress, ran my hands through my dishevelled hair, it crossed my mind that Sandrine, my personal slave and nurse, would kill me when she saw the state of me.
    I looked down to see a snake slither through my spilled offering. I gasped as I recognized the temple python immediately. I had only ever seen it inside the temple, its massive bulk stacked in lazy, heaping coils. Now, the unmistakable albino python, white with caramel and burnt orange coloured markings, stretched out to its full, muscular twenty feet. Its body was thicker than my legs. I froze and stared into the cold, reptilian eyes. Nothing moved. I didn’t blink.
    Gradually, the snake’s eyes changed. The albino pink darkened and turned rich brown, and would have appeared human if not for the long dark slits of the pupils. The snake looked into my soul for a dream-like eternity. I knew, somehow, that it was Apollo himself who looked at me though those emotionless eyes. Terror ran through my body, from my toes to my scalp, electrifying every nerve ending, yet keeping me rooted, unable to move.
    The snake broke our connection first. It hissed and flicked its forked tongue, smelling my fear. “You dare to ruin my offering,” the sacred snake spat. It swung its tail through the smashed cakes, spoiled fruit and shattered jug, scattering the contents. 
    “I-I-I,” I stammered, panicking. Beads of sweat dripped down through the dust on my face and I had to hold my hands together to stop them from trembling. I knew better, even then, than to argue with the gods or to come up with excuses, no matter how valid. The gods don’t care and I knew that I could be punished for this insult. I fell to my knees in front of the snake, not even trying to protect myself. “I didn’t mean to, Apollo. Please forgive me. I will replace the offering, double it even.”
    I bowed my head, eyes averted from the snake. My stomach fluttered anxiously and I inhaled deeply, terror stealing my breath as I braced for the worst, expecting the snake to strike me at any moment. The floor before me swirled and my chest screamed for fresh air as I knelt there, not daring to move. I exhaled deliberately to steady myself. The snake remained statue still for another full minute before I sensed it stir. I looked up. It nodded then turned and slithered past the stone altar toward the inside of the temple.
    “You recognize me and are pious. Come,” it demanded.
    I followed the snake. As we entered the cool of the temple, the imposing statue of Apollo loomed over us, its colourfully painted, wooden form standing at least twelve feet high. The life-like brown eyes stalked me as I made my way to the hole near the base of the statue the sacred python called home. It was silent in the temple, not even any of the normally ever-present priests hovered around. Still, I felt a sense of comfort, like I belonged in the empty temple.
    The python curled up lazily then looked at me. “Do you know why you are here?”
    “To bring an offering from my household.”
    “No, why I summoned you.” The snake sounded impatient.
    “Your family is the subject of many oracles. Do you know what happens when humans try to defy the gods?”
    “Nothing good,” I replied, brows furrowed. If the gods had seen fit to give prophesies about my family, I didn’t know anything about them, which was strange because usually predictions from the gods were well known and celebrated. I couldn’t imagine an oracle ever being hidden. A shiver wound its way up my spine, chilling me to my core at the implications.
    “Exactly.” The snake contemplated me for a minute. “You may be able to help.”
    “How?” The question escaped my mouth. Me, help the gods? My chest burst with pride at the prospect.
    “I expect obedience.”
    “I will serve the gods however I can.”
    “Everyone says that. But do you mean it? Really mean it?”
    I opened my mouth to answer, but Apollo interrupted me. “Do not answer too quickly, girl. Think on this. The stain of blood on your family’s hands is substantial. I may ask something considerable of you. You need to listen to your heart. Are you strong enough? Others will have to live with the consequences of your actions, just as you have to live with the consequences of others’ actions. I am giving you a chance to back out now.”
    I shook my head. I didn’t know what he was talking about. What blood was on my family’s hands? This was the god, Apollo, the oracle himself. How could I refuse anything he requested? What would happen to me if I did?
    I looked up and glimpsed the laurel branch encircling the head of the statue of Apollo. That is what happened to those who spurned the gods. When Daphne refused Apollo, she had been turned into a laurel tree, a symbol Apollo now used to crown himself. Then there was Cassandra. He gave her the gift of prophesy but when she rejected him, Apollo cursed her so that she could see the future, though no one would ever believe her. Instead, everyone thought she was crazy. Our history was full of stories like this, the gods punishing mortals for their misdeeds. The lesson was clear: do not trifle with the gods. Who was I to deny Apollo?
    Sweat dripped down my back. I clasped my hands together to keep them from shaking. My knees nearly buckled as I knelt down so that I was eye to eye with the colossal snake. “I-I-I will do what you ask, though I don’t know how I could possibly help one as great as you.”
    The snake inclined its head. “Bring me a proper sacrifice tomorrow. Something fit for a snake.”
    The giant python blinked and its eyes returned to their albino pink. The god was gone.

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