Anticipation is a lovely word.
Anticipation is defined like so: an-"ti-s&-'pA-sh&n Function: noun 1 a : a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action b : the act of looking forward; especially : pleasurable expectation 2 : the use of money before it is available 3 a : visualization of a future event or state b : an object or form that anticipates a later type 4 : the early sounding of one or more tones of a succeeding chord to form a temporary dissonance -- compare SUSPENSION synonym see PROSPECT.
Say it. Anticipation.
In the right mouth, the word hangs on the lips. Rolls around the tongue. Caresses the lips that says the word. Suspension, expectation, desire.
Orpheus had anticipation for his wedding and for his bride Euridice. Now there is a word. Euridice. She of the black ringlet hair and flashing eyes. In Orpheus' mouth, her name was a paean, an ode, an epiphany of joy. But then Orpheus was a singer, a poet, a tenor with a very broad range.
Some say that he was the son of Apollo, god of music, among other things. Others say that he was the son of Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry. Others name him the son of Morpheus, god of dreams. But these are all lies.
In that, as the philosophers will tell you, all stories are lies. They would say there is only truth in fact and measurement. In the distance from the wrist to the elbow. In the speed that a rock falls to earth. In the way that the sun is just a burning flame in the heavens.
Anyway, there are just as many philosophers who say that truth and reality are subjective.
For the purposes of this story, this truth or lie, let us say that Orpheus was the son of a mortal man and a mortal woman. People who toiled in the earth and in their time died. In turn, let us say that Orpheus was like a nightingale among the pigeons. That throughout his childhood, Orpheus eagerly anticipated the day that he might be free to fly.
Yet a dissonance on this dream was the thought that he would have to leave the fair, the lovely Euridice. Euridice whose name lay like honey upon Orpheus' tongue. Euridice of the deep bosom and trim ankles. No nightingale she to fly away with Orpheus, but no pigeon either. To extend the metaphor to its farthest reach, let us call her a dove.
Orpheus certainly called her a dove and goddess and much more as he wrote songs and poems, paeans and odes to the wonder that was the girl next door.
And yet, Orpheus needed the story of the road. The quick adventure of this and that. Anticipation, adventure, release. So, as soon as he could, he did. It was as much his nature as his voice was tenor sweet.
When Orpheus left, the two lovers tremblingly clasped hands and lips. Swore on their honor that their love was eternal. That Orpheus would return to Euridice of the curling black hair. That Euridice would remain true to Orpheus whose music could make the Muses weep.
Parting seemed a torment to the young lovers and yet young love loves to feed on torment.
Orpheus set out on his road to the world and wrote sweet songs of his beloved, of their love, and of his sorrow.
Euridice in her turn put off her white clothes and wore black, which was quite becoming to one with such thick curling black hair, such pallor of skin, such flashing brown eyes. And so the dove became a raven and in so doing found that she liked being the black and moody one. True, an odd delight, but really not uncommon. She took to wandering the local graveyards and painting pictures of cypress trees while she thought of Orpheus far away.
Orpheus went into the world and had many adventures. He teased the Muses in their revels. He soothed dragons in their labors. He even accompanied Jason upon the Argo on the fateful quest for the golden fleece. And when they came to where the sirens sang upon the shore, the sirens paid tribute to Orpheus' voice be ceasing to sing, by swimming playfully along side the boat. But these are all stories for other days.
Now when Orpheus had traveled for a time, it came to him that his feet were weary, and that he was tired of singing love songs for his distant beautiful Euridice. So, he began the long journey home. Each step a little lighter, filled as it was with the expectation of seeing his love.
Around the familiar bend he came. Singing with joy, playing upon his lyre made from a tortoise shell. The rocks and trees swayed to the happy tune. Joyful expectation was met by joy as he saw her in a field. Dressed in her black, her face carefully shaded to preserve the pallor of her sorrow. This was not quite how Euridice had imagined Orpheus' return. Somehow it had always involved a pale and sorrowing Orpheus returning to find that poor faithful Euridice had pined away from loneliness. That on seeing her grave, he would fall to the earth weeping and in so doing die of a broken heart. Or that she would get some illness whose grip would leave even her paler yet and that as she lay dying, Orpheus would return. And that she would say this or that poignant thing and then die. Or perhaps his sweet singing would bring her back to life. Or still further, she had imagined that Orpheus himself would return, injured or sick. and that by her careful nursing, she would bring him back to life. And as a repentant and broken man, he would swear to always remain at her side and wander again no more.
She had not imagined that would she be plucking weeds in a field when he returned. She had not imagined him singing with joy.
She threw down her trowel. Gathered up her long flowing black robes, which were a little too long to run in and flung herself at him. For a little time at least, there was no singing.
And so we come to anticipation, expectation, and desire. They quickly planned a wedding feast. Oh, the torments they suffered, a whole week's wait to their wedding day. Although, it should be mentioned that they did in fact anticipate their wedding night on the very night that Orpheus returned. But that is as young love should be, a joy that cannot be delayed.
Then the day came. Orpheus, with his wine dark voice, and Euridice, with her face perfect oval pale and ivory smooth, plighted their troth in the temple to Hera. After the wedding, there was food and wine, music and dancing long into the night. And as soon as they could, which was very soon, the young lovers crept off to plight their troth in other ways. Here we leave them for a bit in the soft rich night with the moon shining down. For such are private things and do not concern us.
In the morning, Euridice woke and stretched. A haystack is only romantic by moon light and by morning it is an uncomfortable place to have slept. But she was young and Orpheus was young and they had all the time in the world before them. Orpheus had returned and she was done with waiting in the graveyard although possibly not black. For as has been said, it was a color that suited her and it was in her nature to be a raven.
These were her thoughts as she climbed down off the hay, tugging at Orpheus, who was not quite ready to get up.
The thoughts of the little green snake at the foot of the hay stack were likewise simple. It wanted a rat to eat and for the day to begin. Now when a girl meets a snake, several things can happen. In this case, she screamed and startled the little snake.
And so frightened, it struck. Biting her on one of her trim ankles. Frightened she fell and knew in an instance that she was dying. How odd. That this was all the time in the world that she was to have. No poetic last words, just sleep.
And Orpheus wept as Euridice had imagined he would. He lay across her weeping. And because he was a singer, he sang his tears and the sky opened up in sympathy. For in those days, the world and singers were on speaking terms.
He thought to kill himself with a knife, with poison, with something. But it was not in his character any more than he could have sung a note off key.
He considered potions and magic. But as the brown villagers told him, dead is dead and that all there was to be done was to bury her.
However, Orpheus was a poet and a dreamer. An adventurer who deeds were light quick. In a moment he decided. He would go to the realm of the dead and win the Euridice back to life. He gathered some food from the wedding feast and set off.
After Orpheus left, Euridice's parents buried their little raven in a quiet tomb with words and incense.
Orpheus traveled for many months in the direction that a door to the afterlife was said to lie. In truth, it was a very boring journey. He sang for his supper and slept in fields. He met no fierce creatures. Had no wild adventures. And since more interesting things lie ahead, we shall gloss over this part.
At the end of his journey, he came to a great black cave in scraggly brown scrub. Through this cave lay the world of the dead. The cave exhaled cold dank air into the late summer afternoon.
Orpheus did not stop. Did not hesitate. He strode into the cave. And quickly strode out again so that he could light his torch. When he was ready, he set out down the long narrow way.
After a time and a half, the cave opened up on a great vast cavern. It was somewhat brighter here. There was a strange glowing mist, full of voices and sighs. After a few steps, Orpheus came to a river. Well, actually, he tripped and fell head first in it. It was bone cold. He scrambled back to the shore.
He looked around. To his left, he could dimly see a small dock, with a little boat and a little man.
He walked briskly towards it. The man was old and bent. He had a long white beard, which is not all that unusual, and burning yellow eyes, which is. Orpheus walked up to the old man without a pause and asked if this was the way to the underworld? If this was the great wide river Styx. If the old man was the ferryman. The old man chewed on a bit of straw and allowed that yes this was the way to the underworld, although why a living man should care, he didn't know. That this was the river Styx, although whether it was great or not he couldn't say. And that yes he was the ferryman, although most people called him Charon, or old man, or you there.
Orpheus was excited, the real adventure could now begin. He told Charron who he was and how he had journeyed the wild world over. How he had loved the lovely Euridice, her name which rolled like blossoms off Orpheus' tongue. How they had been reunited after a long separation. How on the morning after their wedding, she had died. How he had come to the realm of the dead to seek her out and win her back to the warm world above.
Charron allowed that this was a very pretty story and very well told. Not like some poets these days who liked to tell stories that made no sense or in which everyone was ugly or philosophers ride around in balloons. No, an excellent story all around. But as he chewed on his bit of straw, he didn't quite see what it had to do with him.
And anyway, there were a number of things Charron didn't quite understand. If Orpheus had loved Euridice so much, why did he wait so long to marry her? Well, why did he have to go wander the world? Couldn't he have played music at home in his village? Well, why didn't Euridice go with him? Well, if you want one thing out of life and she wants another, then are you sure that you were meant to be together? Well, obviously a village wasn't all that safe now was it? And, what did a young man with a beautiful young woman want with danger? Why was he looking for Euridice now? Why couldn't he just wait to see her when he died? If he loved Euridice so much, why did he wait so long to marry her? And around and around and around.
Orpheus got a little agitated here. He explained in quick sharp words how he needed to cross the river. No good, Charron just chewed on his bit of straw.
Orpheus was ready to despair, which only made Charron tell him to buck up and here, have an onion. That it would make a man of him. Orpheus did not want an onion. He wanted to cross the river. To be with his one true love. He thought of her black hair, her flashing eyes and he was filled with anticipation, with desire, with despair that he would never cross the damned River Styx.
Charron told Orpheus not to get so glum so fast and anyway Orpheus should make himself useful and play an old man a jig.
So, Orpheus did and Charron listened. The sand of the shore began to jump with the rhythm. Charron allowed that Orpheus wasn't a half bad musician, but he still wasn't going to take Orpheus across the river. And today, he had things to do, important things. That Orpheus was just going to have to wait.
Now as you may have gathered, Orpheus wasn't good at waiting. But there wasn't much else that he could do. The river was too wide and cold and weird.
So, he ate his food and played jigs and cheery songs to lighten the wait in that cheerless place. The days past: one, two, three, seven, nine.
And then one day Charron said, as if he had never told Orpheus to wait, that he should get in the boat already. That they didn't have all day.
They set out into the mist in Charron's little craft. Charron pushing the boat with his long pole. Orpheus playing sea songs on his lyre. The sound of Orpheus' songs echoed on the still water. Hung in the wet white mist.
When they reached the far shore, Charron gave Orpheus directions. To the Elysian Fields, which were quite nice this time of year. To Tartarus, although he doubted he'd need to go there what with Orpheus' lady being so nice and all. To the House of Hades, because Lord Hades really would need to approve any dead people picking up and leaving and all that.
Orpheus shivered when Charron said the name of the Lord of Many. It was bad luck to say the name of the Lord of the Shady Realms, which is why he has so many names. On the other hand, Orpheus was alive and walking through the underworld, which some might say was bad luck.
Orpheus set off away from the river. He walked across vast howling plains filled with asphodel which blooms white and strange.
He walked through a dense forested thicket with black and gnarled branches. The leafless trees groaned and shrieked in the still air. Strange birds with maidens faces, covered in the foulest filth, crouched in the trees and rent the black branches with sharp claws. He played a soft romantic melody on his lyre, shiny with use, and they crooned to themselves and did not bother him.
He came to a small black bridge over an icy river. Quiet shades waited on either shore of the river. Translucent pale, like white shadows. They shifted and moved along the river banks. Murmuring to each other. To the river. And the river would answer in cracks and groans and trickles. White mist rose from the river into the air. As Orpheus stood on the lacquered black bridge, curved like an upside down smile, one of the shades stepped into the river. It, for Orpheus could not tell if it had been man or woman, ducked into and under the black water. It emerged dripping with ice. And then with a sigh, the edges of the shade blurred and spread. The white shade dissipated into the mist around it.
Orpheus shivered in the cold air and walked on.
He walked through groves of golden trees with round shimmering leaves like coins. The air was sharp and crisp and crackled. Leaves red and gold and brown drifted into the yellow grass and crunched beneath his feet. Shades wandered through the trees. They were more solid than the shades of the winter thicket. They had faces and features and gender. However, they walked in sighing contemplation of the drifting leaves and did not answer when Orpheus asked them if they knew of Euridice. He walked on.
The trees grew green the farther that he walked. The grass grew lush under his feet. The air warm and glowing, effulgent. Which was odd, since there was no sun, and yet everything had a golden glow. There was the sound of distant chimes. He walked on.
The meadows between the trees became flocked with flowers and busy scarlet butterflies. A playful breeze struck a copse of flowering trees and Orpheus was surrounded in a sudden drift of white and pink flowers. The air was sweet with visions of what might be. Surely he would find Euridice here. Orpheus walked purposefully along the wooded paths. Singing as he walked. Shades playing hide and seek among the ferns, rose up to greet him. But they did not know Euridice of the black ringlets and flashing eyes. Orpheus continued to sing. It was a vast wood and full of spirits. His song drew shades that skipped like butterflies and danced like children in the grass. But no one knew anything of Euridice of the deep bosom and trim ankles. He walked on and on.
And then there was an end to the wood.
He walked through misty fields where spirits tilled the earth as they had when they lived under the sun. Orpheus thought he saw his parents, but since he had had nothing to say to them when they were alive, he walked on.
Orpheus came to a great iron wall, red with rust. He walked along the edge until he came to a gate that lay open, broken at the hinges. There were four women standing at the gate. Although they looked nothing alike, they were somehow all the same. Four sisters with pale blue white eyes and wild icorous red hair. They wore red and black and blood. They each held a black scorpion flail. The Erinies, who torment the wicked.
They seemed to move oddly to Orpheus' eye. It was as if he could not quite perceive their motion. One moment they were standing at the gate and then, as if he had blinked his eyes, (although he had not) they surrounded him. The crone commented that he was a pretty chicken and pinched his arm. Stung him with her long, long nails. The warrior cinched tight in leather black ran her hand across his shoulders and asked him if he had come to play. The mother, who one moment seemed to be knitting, and then in the next had only a poisonous black flail, commented that he was a little lamb and that he would make good wool. The maiden in her stained dress asked him if he had been bad. And they all laughed together that everyone is bad.
Orpheus addressed them as politely as he could. Gracious Kindly Ones. Alecto, whose anger is unceasing. Tisiphone, avenger of murder. Nemesis, unceasing retribution. Megaera, jealous of the world. He tried to sing to them. Nemesis flashed and disappeared to his right. Megaera shifted in and out on his left. Alecto and Tisiphone circled around the edges of his eyes. They quieted him with fingers and hands and scorpion tips. Shhhh, for that was not the kind of music that they liked.
He pleaded for assistance in finding Euridice who had been killed so young. So, unfairly.
Megaera kissed the green hydra that suddenly appeared wrapped around her bent shoulders and smiled an old woman's mad smile. Leather clad Tisiphone flashed in front of him and cracked the air next to Orpheus cheek with her whip. Then just as sudden, she leaned over his shoulder and whispered in a voice of scratched dark delights that Euridice's death wasn't what she'd call killing.
He pleaded to Nemesis's mother love, for she had been the mother of the fair Helen and dark Clytemnestra. Nemesis replied with a mother's plump calm that she had driven her own grandson mad and she smiled a smile that was all quiet and reason and menace.
Nemesis shushed her and told Orpheus that of course he could go look in Tartarus and even come out again. But if he tried to take any of their little duckling, then they'd have to flay him stem to stern.
Little Alecto jumped up from the dirt and gripped Orpheus hand, dragged him through the rusting iron gate. She dragged him past Sisyphus and his rolling rock and Tartatarus standing in his lake. Past people that he knew. Past people that he didn't. People on fire and people encased in ice. Through shrieks and moans, which sweet faced Alecto called singing and pretty, very, very pretty.
However, Orpheus did not see Euridice.
Alecto dragged him back out the gate and she let go of his hand. They laughed and crackled at him as he walked as fast away as his feet could walk.
By the time he could feel his hand again, Alecto had had quite a grip, he could see a great dark shape in the distance. As he grew closer, he could see that it was great building of spires and sharp pointed gates and walls. Orpheus grew closer and he could see that the walls were covered with spikes and spines. Carrion birds sat upon the spires and the air was filled with the sound of raucous calls.
As Orpheus approached the nearest gate. A great black thing ran round the city. It was the size of a black bull. It barked and snarled from three dog's red mouths full of yellow teeth. Its coat was tangled and wild. All six eyes were red and burned with white flame. Its feet were the size of serving plates and its tail was serpent black and covered in scales.
Orpheus did not hesitate. He began a simple melody on his tortoise green lyre. Quiet and low. Soft and calming. The great beast ceased to bark. Orpheus walked closer. He began to sing a lullaby. The creature circled on itself three times and sat down. Its red eyes blinked at Orpheus. Once, twice, closed. The thing began to sleep. Orpheus could smell the stench of its fowl breath as he edged by it and up to the gate. He knocked softly, so as not to wake the beast. A little window opened in the wall and a little white head stuck out. Name. It asked. Orpheus explained that he was looking for his true love Euridice. Name? It asked again. Orpheus told the head his name. The head ducked in the window and there was a sound of scratching. The head reappeared. Occupation? It asked.
Orpheus replied that he was a poet. The head didn't seem to think very well of this answer. There was more scratching.
When Orpheus had answered a great many questions about his age, and favorite color, and demographic, and why he was there, and where he saw himself in five years...the mighty black gate creaked open. Orpheus glanced at the beast. It continued to sleep.
Orpheus was let into a great courtyard lined with black and blue stones. A little white man, attached to the question asking head, led him into the house of the Lord of Tartarus. He was assigned a room. Told not to wander from it. Orpheus had no intention of doing so. He tried to ask if he could see the Lord Clymenus which means the Illustrious. Orpheus could not bring himself to name Hades by his proper name, for it was bad luck.
The little man cut him off. He was told to freshen for dinner. Although, if he was mortal, he really ought not to eat anything. This was unfortunate. Orpheus had run out of food.
Orpheus sat on the edge of the black bed in the room furnished in teak with adamantine floors and walls. He played a simple melody and waited in hope.
In a few hours, the little man reappeared and brought him down through winding stairs and twisting halls to a great room. The ceiling was so high that it disappeared into the black. The walls were of black stone and decorated with hangings of spring fields and meadows and wood nymphs and children. They looked new. In fact, at one end of the room, Orpheus could see servants hanging tapestries and colorful draperies of green and gold.
In the center of the room was a great stone table, black and carved with scenes of judgement and death. It was piled high with fresh cut flowers. There was food hidden between the flowers and the scent was over poweringly sweet. Orpheus tried not to sneeze.
The room was filled with people in all manner of dress. Old and young. There were men and women. Humans, black and white. Satyrs drinking their wine. Fauns playing skipping games. Sirens practicing their singing. One of them waved at Orpheus. He waved back.
The noise was deafening. Orpheus felt dizzy and very, very hungry. He looked around at all of the crowding people. No one was watching. He had bit of bread and felt instantly better.
He looked to see if he could find the Lord Chthonios zeus. But no one looked godlike. Or those that did, did not like they were gods of a place like this. He approached one of the sirens and asked if they knew where the King and Queen of the dead were or when they would be coming. The siren giggled in her feathers and said that they would not be seeing them tonight. Maybe tomorrow. If they were lucky. That it had been a really long hot summer and fall. And then she fell to giggling with her sisters.
Orpheus could not get them to make any more sensible remarks and went back to surreptitiously grazing from the table.
That night he tried to sleep in the black bed, beneath black sheets, but he couldn't. He was full of expectation. Practicing the things that he would say and do when he saw the Lord Pluton, Pluto, Lord of the Dead, Judge, Lord Arbiter. His mind shied away from the name Hades. Better not to even think it. Better not jinx his chances.
The next day, he waited and thought. He was not good at waiting. He was a doer. So he practiced his many songs. If he had looked, he would have seen a small crowd gathered under his window. People dancing to the music. But he didn't look, so he never knew.
That night he went to another banquet. The same vast room. The same great table. The black walls with the same hangings and bright cloth. There were fresh flowers on the table. Orpheus had an odd sense that the house was happy. But he decided it was just the smell of the flowers getting to him. He nibbled on some more bread and cheese and chatted with mythic and mortal things.
The next day was the pattern of the first and the next. Orpheus would wait and practice. People would gather and dance. Orpheus went to the banquet. The crowds would gather and talk. But the Lord and Lady of the place never appeared.
On the fourth day, the little man came to Orphesus' room. He told him that the Lord Hades was seeing petitions today. And because his lady was in a mood for music and poetry, his name had been moved to the end of today's list.
And then the little man led Orpheus down more stairs and more twisty halls into a great oval room. The roof was a curving dome, painted blue and decorated with the constellations. The floor was decorated in tiles that were such a dark green that they appeared black. Except where the light struck the flakes of gold embedded in the tiles and then they flashed and sparkled.
Orpheus noticed that there was a great deal of light. On previous evenings, the rooms and halls had been lit with torches and candles. Red flickering light. But this room was glowing. The walls, which were of course black, somehow pulsed with a warm cool light. It was as if the moon were shining from every inch.
Orpheus was placed at the end of a great line of people. He recognized many of the people from the banquets. Each person came up in their turn and spoke their petition to the King and Queen of this place.
There was no question of who or which people were the rulers here. There were two great thrones on a dais that dominated one end of the room. But even if they had been sitting in camp chairs there would have been no mistaking them. The Queen, his eyes shied away from the King, was sitting in the throne on the right. She was a little thing. Her feet were curled beneath her and hidden beneath her green dress. Orpheus noticed that while her throne was the same height as her King's, there was an extra step to help her climb up onto her throne.
She was not beautiful. Not in the way Euridice of the carefully curling ringlets and ivory pale skin was beautiful. Her face was too sharp and yet too round. But it was alive in a way that Orpheus had never seen before. Her smile flashed and there were dimples. Her hair was corn ripe and wrapped tight in a braided crown around her head. Her green eyes would wander over the audience and she would lean into her lord and whisper in his ear. Then she'd laugh. Her laugh was low and rich. Orpheus the poet, the singer, could feel it in his gut.
As Orpheus grew closer, his eyes could no longer avoid the god of the Dead. He was almost twice the size of his Queen and broad in the chest. He sat perfectly still in his throne, watching each petitioner in turn. Speaking in a low baso voice. Sometimes, he leaned a little towards his Queen, and when she whispered to him, he would smile a little A very little. Like a crack in a dead tree.
His skin was white. Not pale, not ivory, not milky. White. The absence of color. His hair was short and thick and black and wild. Curling in every direction. His short black beard was a shock on his white face. And then there were his eyes. They were not black as dark brown eyes are black. As Eurdicie's flashing brown eyes were black. They were the black of emptiness. The black of a starless sky. Just. Absolute. Still. Quiet. Left and Right. Right and Wrong.
Orpheus came to the head of the line and looked into those eyes. Eyes that knew. That could see into his heart. That weighed him. And the young singer who had faced the sirens, and the harpies, and Charron , and the Kindly Ones, and Cerberus, all the underworld itself, was afraid. Looking in those eyes, he forgot speeches and words. Instead he began to play a melody that had been in his mind since he spoke with Charron on the banks of the river Styx. Since he had begun to wander through this land of sights and sighs.
There were no words. It was not a song of words. It was melody of dissonance. A song that spoke of wanderings. Chances not taken. Roads not followed. Opportunities cut short. The melody ended on a suspension, a broken note. Unfinished. Incomplete.
And he looked up at the great Lord of Dis, into his great and terrible eyes, now not quite so terrible because they were full of tears, and asked him how the story would end. If he would give Euridice another chance at life. Give them another chance at happiness.
Now at this point it should be said that Orpheus was very lucky. Well, not so much lucky as helped by the assistance of a good crusty kind old man. For you see, Charron had waited to take him across until the first day of fall. If Charron had ferried Orpheus across when Orpheus had arrived, then Orpheus would have arrived at the City of Dis and found only the Lord of the Dead making judgements in his hall. There would have been no colorful Queen of Springtime to lean to her husband and whisper that everyone deserves a second chance. Only a black and white King who can be moved to tears by songs but not to judgement.
But Orpheus was lucky and blessed and that was that. The King glanced at his Queen and smiled at little and then he spoke in his deep bass voice, deep as the earth, rumbling through every cell of Orpheus' body. He said that Euridice was lost to herself, but could easily be found. That in the morning, Orpheus should go out of the city and back the way that he had come. That Euridice would follow him from behind, back into the sunlit world about. That she because she was so lost, she would not be able to speak to him until they were in the sun again. That Orpheus should trust in his love and not look at her until he had gone back into the world of the living. That if he looked at her, (for in every curse or blessing there must be an if) if he turned around, then she would die again.
Orpheus was so happy that he forgot himself enough to smile at the dread King of Tartarus and stammered his thanks.
That night at the banquet, he played music all night long. He couldn't sleep. Happy songs, sprightly and quick. Slow songs, loving soft. He sang the song of the world with the sirens, he was interested to learn the words. Drinking songs with the satyrs. Sailing songs with the sailors, home from the sea. Hunting songs with the hunters, home from the hill. And everyone danced, even the King and Queen, he so big and deep slow and she so small and color quick. And the walls glowed with the light like the full moon.
And in the morning...although the quick witted will note that there really is no night or day beneath the earth, but for our purposes there was and is and are.
In the morning, Orpheus set out. He walked past the gates of Tartarus where the Erinies stood and called. He did not ask them if Euridice was there. They might lie. They might tell the truth. Was she there. Was she not.
He walked back through the tilled fields and toiling shades. And although he listened, he could not hear a single sound from Euridice. Her name like honey upon his tongue. At first he walked in silence, listening. Then he sang songs to her when he could not stand it. Was she there. Was she not.
He walked back through the spring time lush meadows and groves white with blossoms. Scarlet butterflies danced among the flowers. And shades skipped in and out of view. The air was rich with the song of sparrows and robins and cooing doves. Orpheus strained his ears for the sound of Euridice's footsteps in the grass, but he couldn't hear her. Was she there. Was she not.
He walked back through the glowing wood. Filled with golden light and drifting dust. He could hear chimes and birds and laughing shades, but he could not hear Euridice. He tried to feel her gaze on the back of his head, but he couldn't. Was she there. Was she not.
He walked back though the autumn groves with their drifting golden leaves. He passed a white crane by a still pond, reflecting in the water. He did not look. He was not sure if that would be cheating. Better not to chance it. But he could not help but wonder. Was she there, was she not.
He walked back to the curving black bridge over the ice white, water black river with its waiting, waiting shades. Back through the crackling wintry wood. He listened for her foot steps on the icy path. Nothing. Was she there, was she not.
He walked back across the howling plains of asphodel. He could not hear his own steps, much less hers.
He came back to the great river Styx. Its width so wide, none can see across. And there the old man waited, his red eyes glowing. The old man grumbled at him and told him to get in the front of the boat. Young people these days. Going in and out. In his day, the dead had stayed dead and the living stayed with the living. Orpheus took heart at Charron's words. Surely she was there, sitting at the other end of the boat. But he dared not ask, dared not speak. In silence, the old man pushed them across the great wide river.
Orpheus smiled at the old man and jumped from the boat. His feet light with anticipation. He rushed up the cavern and around the bend towards the light. He thought of her. Her face, her hair, her flashing eyes. He had to see her. And alas, as the story goes one step away from the cavern's mouth, Orpheus anticipated the light a moment too soon and turned to look at his heart's delight, her name a song in his heart.
And with a shriek and a moan and a sigh, she wept and turned to make the weary way back into the world of the dead.
Now if this were the end of the tale, it would be a sorry story indeed. Although, as in any story worth its weight in salt, it gets worse before it gets better.
Orpheus wept bitter tears, but he cried in silence. There was nothing left to anticipate. Nothing left to do. Well, there was one thing. Live his life and wait for them to be together again. And so he did his best.
He traveled the world again and saw many wonders and waited for age or some wild creature to end his life. Which taking for all in all was a pretty good plan, except of course for one thing. He had eaten of the food from Hades table.
Now, if an immortal eats the food in the land of the dead, it means that one day they will have to go there. That they too can die. But if a mortal man freely eats the food freely given from Hades' table, it means something else entirely. It means that like the dead, he will never grow old, never change. Part of that is that he cannot die.
Orpheus wandered and sang and adventured and eventually learned to wait. He learned to sit still. He grew wise. It could happen to anyone.
However, even the wise can be struck by chance, just as fools can rush in.
One day as he sat in his vineyard playing on a lute, which is like a lyre, but isn't, the Maenads came.
When in their wine drenched frenzy, they attacked him, he though that he might finally die. But no, the food from Hades is table is stronger, stranger magic than that. And as you will recall, he did fall head first in the river Styx.
They tore at him with screams and blood soaked fingers. And when they were done, as hard as it is to believe, all that was left was his head, which they tossed into the sea. And singing, he floated to the isle of Lesbos.
Now some will ask how he could sing without a body. But such questions belong in stories of math and figures and philosophy and have no place here.
When Orpheus' head, which we will call Orpheus, reached the shores of that fair island, a little boy with black curling hair found him. The boy picked him up and looked at this marvelous thing. Bragged to his brothers and his sisters that none of them had a talking head. Took Orpheus home to his father and his mother, who didn't want a talking head anywhere near their house. And after a time, Orpheus ended up the temple of Calliope, where he could be cared for. Where he could sing to the people who came to see him.
And they came from all over. Some came to see the talking head. An amazing wonder even in those days of sirens and dragons and dancing stones. The less said of these the better. Some came for song and poetry and to learn their craft. Like Vedek, and Lyona, and Homer, before he went blind. Some came to learn wisdom, for as has been said, Orpheus had learned to be wise. Like Gillia, and Imix, and Branoc, from the white cliffs of Morna.
Now, if the tale ended here, this would be a sad story indeed. However, for those who like truth there is a thing that should always be remembered. A song is only lovely because it strings notes together. Sometimes dissonant, sometimes sweet. Anticipation is only a lovely word because it promises something new. That even the song of the world ultimately has an end.
So, one day as Orpheus sat drowsing in the late summer heat, a flock of scarlet butterflies came up from the rich dark earth and came to the temple where he lay. They fluttered and danced and covered him like a drift of red snow. In their tiny hands, they each carried bread from a faraway table. So, he ate the bread and as you know, when an immortal freely eats the food from Hades table, that immortal can then die. And so he ate and drowsed and closing his eyes, he fell into that final expectant sleep.