The Lorelei Signal
Written by Maureen Bowden / Artwork by Marge Simon
I am Euterpe, the musician’s Muse. My protégé, Orpheus, petitioned me. “Madame Muse, my brother Linus and I have been called upon by King Minos of Crete to perform at a soiree in his palace at Knossos, and we are lacking in inspiration.”
“What’s the gig?” I asked.
“It’s a betrothal party for his daughter, Ariadne, and Theseus, Prince of Athens. He assassinated the Minotaur and she assisted in the navigation of the labyrinth.”
“Ah, the old cliché, the hero wins the heart of the princess, but I didn’t consider Ariadne the marrying kind. How do the young couple feel about it?”
He sniggered: not an attractive sound. “Unenthusiastic but it would be a valuable political alliance.”
“No doubt, and the party should be a lucrative little earner for you and Linus.”
“I know. The problem is, Theseus is allegedly Poseidon’s son, so the Olympians are invited. Zeus, Hera, the whole rabble, and they’ll expect something spectacular in the way of entertainment. What would you advise?”
“Form a boy band.”
His eyes sparkled with the peculiar madness I can instil in all musicians while they have breath in their body. “Great. I knew you’d think of something. Will you help me to round up some candidates?”
“That’s what I’m here for. Let’s do it.”
We recruited the singers, Demodocus and Thamyris, to make up a quartet with Linus and Orpheus who would also enhance the vocals with his lyre. Pan on pipes and Marsyas on aulos would provide additional musical backing. The boys hired a gymnasium for rehearsals. “Something’s missing,” I said. “You need a female chorus.”
Thamyris affected a typical boy band drawl. “No worries. Leave it with me.”
Next day he brought along a trio of sirens. One of the songstresses simpered, “Hi, Lady Muse, I’m Aglaopheme, this is Leucosia and that’s Parthenope. Call us Aggie, Lucy and Patti.” That’s a relief, I thought.
I sat in on the audition. They looked like night-time nymphs with a price tag and they sounded like intoxicated whales in three-part harmony. “What do you think?” Orpheus asked.
“Fine, as long as there are no sailors at the party.”
“Will you be there?”
“I wouldn’t miss it. I’ll be unobserved but observing.”
Party day dawned. I arrived early, while the household slaves were covering tables with platters of fruit, meats and unidentifiable fancies for those with strong stomachs.
The pantheon arrived in their finery, accompanied by assorted dryads, naiads, fauns, other immortals, semi-mortals and mortals.
Dionysus staggered in with his consorts: a pack of young women with sharp teeth, long talons and, no doubt, a taste for the blood of male sacrifices. They carried crates of liquid refreshment left over from the Spring Equinox Fertility Rites, and their lack of balance suggested they were already somewhat refreshed.
A battalion of female warriors made an entrance, bedecked in tattoos and black leather. The patches on the back of their jackets identified them as ‘The Amazons’. Minos approached them, trying in vain to suppress a nervous cough, “You’re welcome, of course, ladies, but could you please confirm who invited you?”
Athena, goddess of War, Wisdom, and several additional portfolios beyond the mental capacity of the other deities, glowered at him. “I did. You have a problem with that?”
He stuttered and wiped his brow with the sleeve of his chiton. “No, no, not at all, Lady War. Any friend of yours…”
One of the battalion approached him, her long, golden braids swinging around her shoulders. She held out her hand. “Hippolyta, president of the Amazons. We’re prepared to offer our services to police this gig and hopefully, prevent any fatalities.”
Minos accepted her handshake. “Thank you Madam President. Do what you must.”
He withdrew his hand, and after examining his fingers for bruising and tendon damage he turned his attention to his wife, Pasiphae, whose penchant for four-legged friends had resulted in her giving birth to the Minotaur. What an embarrassment that poor beast had been. Pasiphae was already draining her fourth goblet of Dionysian wine. Minos beckoned to Ariadne, who was staying as far away from Theseus as possible. “Watch your mother,” he said. “Prevent her from scuttling off to the stables and forming a meaningful relationship with any of the guests’ horses.”
When he was out of earshot she laughed. “I’ll watch her, Daddy. It should be fun as well as educational.”
While Ariadne was watching Pasiphae, Dionysus was watching Ariadne. Theseus was watching Dionysus watching Ariadne, and I detected a flicker of hope in his eyes. I guessed he’d seen a way out of the betrothal without offending Minos and causing an international diplomatic incident. He asked, “You like what you see?”
Dionysis said, “No harm in looking. Pity she’s spoken for.”
“She isn’t, yet.”
Dionysus raised his eyebrows and filled up their goblets. They clinked them together and drank.
After sunset the lanterns were lit, and the musicians boarded the performance platform. Silence fell and anticipation rose.
The boys began to sing, a heartfelt little ditty complaining that they can’t obtain no physical gratification (note the double negative) although they try and they try. Or something like that. Orpheus and Linus’s tenor warbles and the sweet notes of the lyre soared above Demodocus and Thamyris’s baritones. Marsyas’s aulos wailed like the wind when storm clouds gather over the Aegean Sea, and Pans’s pipes were merry. Aggie, Lucy and Patti, wearing fragments of fabric pretending to be chitons, swung their hips and screeched like ghostly gulls surfing the breakers on the rocky shores of the Styx.
The Olympians whooped, yayed and swayed. The dryads, naiads and fauns, with arms, legs and hooves flying and stomping, gyrated in a weird woodland jive. Erato, the Muse of erotic poetry, to use the polite term, hurled a gossamer-trimmed undergarment at the band. It landed on Demodocus’s head. I scowled at her. She shrugged, and mouthed, “What?”
Dionysius’s slavering consorts attempted to invade the performance platform, possibly to devour the boy band; and the gate-crashing crew of a docked trireme, driven mad by the trio of sirens, joined the invasion. They were repelled by the monstrous regiment of leather clad Amazons who formed an arm-locked line facing the onslaught, and head-butted them back. Hippolyta aimed a leather-booted kick at a sailor’s groin. Theseus murmured, “What a woman!”
Aphrodite draped her arms around his shoulders and whispered in his ear “She certainly is.”
I noticed Minos’s younger daughter, Phaedra, in her nightdress, creep into the hall and climb onto a table littered with empty platters and goblets, to watch the band. Minos lifted her down and ordered her back to bed. “This is no place for a child. Soon enough your day will come.”
The Oracle of Apollo nodded, and said with a sad smile, “It will indeed, and it can’t be prevented, but that’s another story.” Not for the first time, I was glad I’m not an oracle.
Hermes fluttered in with the news a chariot full of nymphs on their way to the party was stuck in a mud patch at the foot of Mount Juktas and required assistance. “Their scanty party clothes are no protection from the evening chill,” he said. Zeus and Poseidon volunteered and made a hasty exit.
After the noble rescuers had left the building, Hera sought out Poseidon’s wife, Amphitrite. “Now that those two are out on the nymph hunt,” she said, “we can get acquainted with Orpheus and Linus when they climb off the platform, and help them obtain some physical gratification.”
Amphitrite gasped in mock horror. “Are you suggesting we should be unfaithful to our spouses?”
Hera patted her hand. “Listen girl. You don’t take your own cake to a party, and our nearest and dearest will be up to their elbows in mud and floozies for the rest of the night.”
Amphitrite chuckled. “Let’s do it.”
And they did.
The festivities proceeded in the usual fashion and an hour or so before dawn many of the guests were unconscious or otherwise unavailable. Pasiphae was missing. Minos interrupted Ariadne who was engrossed in intellectual conversation with Dionysus. “Where’s your mother?” he shouted.
Ariadne sighed. “She’s in the courtyard chatting up an embarrassed-looking centaur. If you want her get her yourself. I’m busy.”
Minos groaned and held his head in his hands.
Dionysus patted his back. “Relax, old man. The chappie’s been gelded. Have a drink.”
Minos accepted the goblet and wandered off, looking for something else to worry about.
Dawn was breaking when those who were still standing began to make their way home. Minos approached Theseus. “I’m afraid I have dreadful news. My wayward daughter has absconded with Dionysus. I’m so sorry.”
Theseus grasped the king’s hand. “You mustn’t blame yourself, and I must accept that she wished to follow her heart. Remember, Dionysus is a powerful god, and it wouldn’t be wise to antagonise him.”
Minos looked more cheerful. “You’re right, of course, and maybe when Phaedra comes of age we might renew negotiations.”
Theseus, like a true diplomat, procrastinated. “Whatever the future holds, Sir, you may depend on it that there will always be a special relationship between Athens and Crete.”
I glanced at the Oracle of Apollo, seeking confirmation or denial, but she was too drunk to respond.
The Amazons were leaving. Hippolyta had a dead sailor, the only fatality, slung across her shoulder. She saw Theseus watching her. He winked. She winked back. I didn’t need an oracle to tell me this was the beginning of another story.
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had 137 stories and poems accepted by paying markets, she was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize, and in 2019 an anthology of her stories, 'Whispers of Magic', was published and is available from Hiraeth Books.
She loves her family and friends, rock 'n' roll, Shakespeare and cats.