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The Medusa's Head
By Alan Gibbons

Perseus' heart slammed in his chest as he approached the great bronze doors. Already he could hear the noise of the King's feast: the clatter of plates and goblets, the guttural laughter of the guests, the sounds of flutes, drums and harps. Any minute now, Phineas, Perseus thought, any minute now I will have my revenge. In his right hand he carried the razor-sharp sword that had slain Medusa. In his left he bore the monster's severed head. Perseus smiled at the irony. King Phineas had sent him on a fatal quest, knowing Medusa would destroy him. But the Gods had favoured him and he, Perseus, had killed the monster. Soon he would use its hideous stare against the man who had plotted his death.

The boy warrior eased open the blood soaked bag that contained Medusa's head. The creature was dead but her hair, made of living snakes, crawled with life. The serpents slithered around Perseus’ wrist. The eyes were alive too, alive and waiting to chill the blood of any who met their gaze. Perseus sucked in a deep breath and set his shoulder against the bronze doors. With a low groan, they yawned open. Immediately, three of the King's bodyguards spotted him and strode forward to oppose him. Perseus was ready for them. Thrusting his left hand into the writhing, twisting nest of vipers, Perseus pulled Medusa's head from the bag.

"Behold!" Perseus yelled. "This is the monster that lived at the ends of the Earth. Look upon her face."

A gasp of horror rolled around the banqueting hall. The three warriors were the first to succumb to Medusa's stare. Their skin crackled and stiffened. Their faces became rigid and grey. The fists that gripped swords, shields and spears turned to stone. The grotesque transformation continued until all three had become statues fixed in a moment of terror.

The metamorphosis of the palace guards into statues provoked panic. Dozens of guests screamed and raced for the exits. Some stumbled and fell, only to be trampled by those immediately behind them. Others glimpsed Medusa’s nightmarish eyes and were themselves turned to stone. This added to the mayhem. Tables crashed to the floor. Wine gushed onto the stone tiles. In desperation, some of those closest to King Phineas attacked Perseus, shielding their eyes with their hands. Perseus cut them down with his gleaming sword. One man tumbled to the floor, a slash of scarlet across his scalp. Another slammed into an upturned table, his lifeless eyes gazing up at the ceiling.

Having repulsed his attackers, Perseus swept the room with a fierce gaze, looking for the man who had tried to send him to his death. Perseus' anger was all the stronger because the King had dared to propose marriage to the boy's mother. He tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword and marched through the carnage he had created. In his blood rage, Perseus roared a challenge.

"I will spare anyone who shows me where to find the King," he roared.
His voice echoed round the room.
"Show me!" Perseus cried. "Do it, or I will slaughter every last soul in this hall."

Finally one wretched, sobbing courtier pointed across the hall to an open door. Perseus saw the golden-crowned King fleeing into the heart of the palace. Grim determination was etched on the boy's features. He didn't hurry. He knew it was only a matter of time before he discovered Phineas cowering in some recess. He was about to have his vengeance.

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Image of 'Perseus Turning Phineas to Stone' by Giordano, early 1680's.Click here for About the Painting.
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