The Arms of Hercules (Book of the Gods, Volume 3)

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The seer did not really want them, or believe he needed their protection, but the old king insisted that they always go with him; and this morning Tiresias had made sure they were alerted for his foray. The morning's journey was only a few miles. Less than an hour after it began, the chief of the armed escort reined in his own much smaller mount, an ordinary cameloid, and turned closer to the mastodrom to tell its passenger that they had reached their destination.

The estate on which I was conceived and born was a large and important one. The manor house was only a few miles outside the seven-gated city wall of Cadmia, whose massive stones were just visible in the distance from our own front gate. The blind old man seemed somehow to know exactly where he was as well as anyone.

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Even before the soldier began to speak, the prophet turned from the public road to face the great ornamental gates of the estate, lifted his chin and called out loudly: "Open, Alcmene, lady of the manor! I bring you marvelous news!

Amphitryon, who for many years was called my father, was a nephew of the late King Electryon of Megara, and had been banished to Cadmia, as a result of one of the intrigues afflicting that royal family like so many others. According to family tradition, Zeus was his great-great grandfather; and a similar tradition in my mother's family gave her the same god as male ancestor eight generations even farther back; in truth almost every family aspiring to high social status claimed divine blood.

There was a pause, while the gatekeeper inside sent some junior servant running for instructions, up the long hill to where the big house stood amid its ornamental plantings. Meanwhile, out on the road in the sunlight of the summer morning, Tiresias waited patiently, still singing.

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There were moments, even epochs, in which Tiresias seemed but little aware of what was going on in the world around him. The special seats with which his howdah was equipped were shaded by a canopy, and insured that the waiting would be comfortable. His armed escort, taking their cue from him, were patient also.

Series: Book of the Gods

But what they thought of the quality of his song could be seen from the expressions on their faces. Tiresias was by far the most famous prophet in Cadmia, or for many and many a mile around. Some said he was a child of Zeus, one of the Thunderer's uncountable bastards who were scattered all around the world, and that this explained both his deformity and his occult powers. Whatever the truth of that theory, I do not remember that Tiresias ever denied it.

The seer did not seem to object to being kept waiting in this way. Every minute or so the mastodrom swayed restlessly, treating its passengers to a soporific rocking. Meanwhile the tuskless creature groped about with its trunk, which was shorter than an elephant's, but bifurcated for half its length, and therefore almost as handy. When the time came, the mastodrom would use its flexible trunk to help its passengers dismount. On that summer morning Alcmene, she who was to be my mother, awoke stretching on rare and expensive silken sheets, her body luxuriously sated by a night of tempestuous lovemaking, the like of which she could not recall.

Somewhat to her surprise and disappointment, she found her bedpartner gone when she turned in the direction of the empty pillow beside her own. Her dreams, when at last her husband's importunities had allowed her to fall asleep, had been vaguely disturbing. At the time of which I write, my mother was still considered a remarkable beauty, though the first years of her youth were past. Pulling on a robe, a thin wrap designed to display her superb figure, she went out into the hall. The first servant she encountered was actually on his way to tell her of the unexpected caller at the gate, but she brushed aside this news and demanded: "Where is the master this morning?

The question earned her a blank look. Still a great many miles from home, I fear. My mother's protests died on her lips, even as she heard the news of the distinguished visitor; already a fearful suspicion had been aroused in her heart. There might be something seriously wrong. But what could it be? She knew, unquestioningly, that her husband had come home quite unexpectedly about midnight, and had been with her through the remainder of the night, joined to her very closely most of that time. But now his familiar presence had vanished, completely and unaccountably.

Alcmene looked into room after room, but there was no sign of Amphitryon anywhere, nor of his weapons, nor of the clothing and the armor that he must have been wearing when he came home from the wars, must have discarded before coming in to her. She could clearly remember hearing his weapons and his breastplate clang together when they were thrown down on the floor. Another servant, hurriedly dispatched to reconnoiter, came swiftly back to report that the cameloid Amphitryon always rode was not in the stable.

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Now the Lady Alcmene had to put her uneasiness momentarily aside to greet her illustrious caller, as Tiresias, the king's adviser, was being conducted to the house and offered refreshment. When she entered the room where he was waiting, the eyeless man turned his pale face toward her. If he was aware of what effect his appearance could have, at close range, to one who was not accustomed to it, he made no allowance for it.

He said: "I wish to speak to your husband, my dear, as soon as he comes home. That should be soon. Despite the servants' evidence, Alcmene was on the point of correcting her visitor, telling him that her husband had been home for many hours. But she remained silent, remembering how the servants had already started to react to that claim, absolutely refusing though silently and subserviently, of course to believe her. She never even considered the possibility that the events of the night just past might have been a dream. Whatever else might have happened to her, it was not that.

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Dreams did not leave the dreamer's body pleasurably sore, and bedsheets stained. While servants spread through the household in a futile, half-hearted search for a master they knew could not possibly be there, old Tiresias began to explain to my mother the reason for his visit. I saw the Thunderer enter your bedchamber, and what transpired there, between the two of you.

His voice, though, was horrifyingly reasonable. But the lady was spared any effort at deception. The seer had turned his blind head and was listening to sounds from another direction. A moment later, the unexpected return of Alcmene's husband was announced, by a servant who at least pretended to be joyful as he proclaimed the news.

The fact was, of course, that until the night when my true father first visited my mother, Alcmene had enjoyed a justly deserved reputation for chastity.

The great god Zeus knew this, of course, and so for the duration of his visit, which lasted only a few hours, he had assumed the likeness of her husband. If you know anything of the history of Zeus, in legend and in fact, you will not be surprised. The legends will tell you also that to make sure Alcmene was thoroughly deceived, Zeus gave her a gift of a golden cup, which Amphitryon could have captured from his chief opponent in the war, and also told her of many thing that had happened on the battlefield.

Later, when Amphitryon tried to tell her of his adventures, she amazed him by filling in some details he had forgotten. But on the truth of these particular stories I make no judgment. Usually Alcmene was genuinely glad to welcome her husband home. But this time it was with a heavy, sinking feeling, that she first saw Amphitryon, as he came riding in with two or three companions, all of them dismounting from their cameloids with weary groans.

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Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. The dust jacket is missing. Light rubbing wear to cover, spine and page edges. Very minimal writing or notations in margins not affecting the text. Possible clean ex-library copy, with their stickers and or stamp s. Seller: Main Street Books.

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