Kalliste Periakes was humming to herself as she pushed through the door of the bar. "The Cubs need pitching," she announced to everyone in the bar... She was a young-looking woman with a thick mass of black hair, wide eyes and a generous mouth. Today she was wearing a Chicago Cubs jersey and jeans, not the usual attire for a graduate student at Northwestern University.
"Amen, sister," one man said. "The starting pitching looked pretty good, but the relievers..." He shook his head sadly and took another drink.
"Sosa can hit the long ones," Kalliste said as she headed towards the booths in back. Caroline and two other girls from the Women's Co-op followed in her wake. "But hitting can only take you so far. You need pitching."
"I thought it was pretty exciting," Courtney said. She was the youngest of them, but she and Kalliste had bonded when Kalliste learned that Courtney liked baseball. "I know they can't rely on Sosa to carry the team, but you have to admit there's something exciting about a walk-off home run."
"It should never have gotten to that point." Kalliste slid into the booth and pushed all of the empty glasses to the edge of the table. "Pitching, defense and hitting--you've got to have all three. The Cubs have hitting, but this year their defense and pitching are erratic. When that improves they'll have a chance."
Caroline was standing next to the booth, looking at the television at the end of the bar. "I like that show," she said, and slid into the booth.
"Which one?" Kalliste asked. "There are only one or two shows I watch."
"Hercules, The Legendary Journeys," Caroline said. She watched the show for a moment. Hercules was fighting somebody, who knocked him down, then threw him against a wall. The camera zoomed in on the actor's face just before fading to a commercial. Caroline was startled by the sudden harsh laugh from Kalliste.
"I know it's kind of stupid," Caroline said when she saw Kalliste's face, "but it's about one of the few authentic heroes the world has seen."
"How much do you know about Herakles?" Kalliste asked very quietly, looking down at her place setting.
"Uh, he lived in ancient times, he was a big man, a demi-god, a son of Zeus, and he had a bunch of things to do, the--."
"The Twelve Labors," Kalliste said, nodding.
"Uh, yeah. Oh, and he didn't carry a sword. I read somewhere that he carried a club. You aren't going to tell us another story, are you?"
Kalliste shrugged, smiling thinly. "We have enough anecdotal information about the legendary heroes that we have to believe some of them existed. If you haven't read Mary Renault's wonderful books you should. She was a shrewd judge of character. I think she got a lot of the story of Alexander the Great right, and I think she was close when she told the story of Theseus. The point she makes is that the truth of a person is often vastly different than the legend that survives them. That is an important part of the myth-making process.
"Look at your own Davy Crockett, for example. By all accounts he was a rough, unpolished, but shrewd frontiersman. But the image most people in your country have of him is from Walt Disney. I think it is the same with Herakles. We have the legend that says he was a mighty hero, but the times he lived in were when piracy, rapine and plunder were common. One of the great heroes of the time boasted that his nickname was 'Sacker of Cities'. Think about that. This man boasted of destroying civilized places, enslaving the survivors and plundering them of all of their valuables.
"'Might Makes Right' is a concept as old as the human race. By all accounts Herakles was stronger than most of the men around him, and he used that."
Kalliste glanced at the menu. "The shrimp appetizer for me," she told to the waiter, "and óuzo to drink. Bring the bottle."
Caroline and Courtney ordered before Caroline looked at Kalliste. "So you're saying Herakles was all muscles and no brains? A Conan type?"
"Not in so many words." Kalliste took the drink the waiter put in front of her, tossed it off as if it were water, and slowly refilled the glass.
"To some, to most, he is a national hero," she said. "He's certainly seen that way in Greece today. If you say otherwise you would get an argument about it, maybe even a fight." She took the next drink and downed it as well. "You wondered if I was going to tell you a story, all right, I will. It's not much of a story, just one person's view of Herakles, and I'll warn you in advance, it is not a very flattering portrait."
"Is it going to be a happy one?" Courtney asked. "So many of the stories you tell are sad stories. Don't you know any happy ones?"
Kalliste started to say something, then stopped with the glass halfway to her lips. "This one has a happy ending," she said at last. "At least I think it is a happy ending. You might not."
A woman never forgets being raped. Suddenly you have no control. You are nothing but a piece of meat for someone else's lusts. You are no longer a person, you are a thing.
I remember the first time I was raped, I even remember his name.
Herakles the Hero.
Herakles the Pirate.
Herakles, who held me down with one hand while he ripped my clothes off with the other. Herakles who forced himself on me while stinking of blood and smoke and wine. That was the Herakles I knew.
My view of him was not the stuff of legend. Would you praise the man who forced himself on you? Would you praise the man who became father to your unwanted child? He thought it a great jest that a Priestess of The Lady was mother to his child. He told me it was like he had gotten a child on Her.
I bore him that boy child. He was a large baby and it was a difficult birth. There was much bleeding, the midwife said she was lucky to save me. In the end, despite the pain, I recovered as I always do--Her blessing seemed a curse at that time. As the boy-child grew I served as a slave in the household of Herakles. It was hard, watching him boast nightly as he tried to tear down what had taken a thousand years to build. He would come back from raids, women cowering at his feet, the loot of entire cities carelessly strewn about his ship. He was a vain man, bigger than any around him, mighty as a warrior, but as gifted with brains as the strap on my sandal. No, he had an animal cunning, but he was touchy of his honor, and cared little for those weaker than him, which included almost everyone around him.
It was that pride that led him to raid Miletos.
He had once raided Illios, finding a way in and capturing the palace. He thought all of the city garrisons were as weak as that of Illios--something that the King of Illios changed after Herakles left, but that is another, well-known story.
Two years before he landed on the peninsula next to Miletos the city had been ceded to the Khatti by the terms of a treaty. The Khatti were very little known in our part of the world, though a few people traded with them from time to time, but only in the port of Alaysia. We knew their past, their Labarnas, their High King had actually captured Babylon many years before; it was said that the booty of Babylon filled a train that took days to pass a single point. We knew that the Pharaoh of Egypt counted himself the equal of the Labarnas, and that they quarreled over the same cities. Those were the Khatti everyone knew.
Herakles thought little of them because they wore no beards. "Women," he called them contemptuously, and planned his raid accordingly. He took three ships and 50 men on this raid, three ships, 50 men, and me. I was along to tend any wounded, cook their food and tend to Herakles' physical needs at night. I was also supposed to tend to any women they took as slaves.
Darkness was still wrapping us when we landed on the beach a short distance from Miletos. The men ate a quick breakfast before setting off to attack the city. They were in high spirits, anticipating a pleasant day of casual murder, plunder and rape. I watched them go and then hung a robe between the boats so I could bathe in private. I prayed Herakles would return with his lusts sated so I would be left alone. As I bathed one or two of the guards tried to watch me. They were pulled back by the others. To Herakles I was a slave, but to most of his men I was still a priestess of The Lady. Those men thought Herakles risked divine wrath when he took me, and was risking more by taking me every night. But they were not going to say that to him; the last one who had tried had not even had a funeral pyre--Herakles had left his body to be picked apart by crows.
Before the sun was more than a finger-length up the sky I heard a great tumult. A handful of Herakles' men spilled down the hillside above the beach, running as fast as they could, weapons lost somewhere behind them. They were bloodied, soot-stained and wild with panic. Close behind them were Khatti chariots, and such chariots as I had never seen. These weren't the light chariots I was familiar with, but chariots with a boxier build. And each chariot looked exactly like the others as if the same man had made them. There were two men in each chariot, a driver and a man wielding a bow. As I watched, Herakles' men were falling, arrows bursting through them as if the men were bales of straw. A few arrows came my way, passing close by overhead with a fearful hiss, or landing in the deck with a loud thunk!
Another group of chariots, these carrying three men each, appeared at the west end of the beach. They swept toward us across the hard gravel like an unstoppable wave of horses and bronze. Men jumped from these chariots as they swept by. They quickly formed up and ran toward our boats uttering war cries. I crouched down below the side of Herakles' boat as the fighting drew near.
The men guarding the far boat were cut down in a flurry of axes and spears, their blood staining the water red. It was over so fast that I could scarce believe it.