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THE BEGINNING TO THE EPIC SERIES, THE CHILD OF THE ERINYES
by Rebecca Lochlann
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The Year-god’s Daughter
For time beyond memory, Crete has sacrificed its king to ensure good harvests, ward off earthquakes, and please the Goddess. Men compete in brutal trials to win the title of Zagreus, the sacred bull-king, even though winning means they’ll die in a year.
Two brothers from predatory Mycenae set out to thwart the competition and their deaths as they search for exploitable weaknesses in this rich, coveted society.
Hindering their goal is the seductive and fearless Cretan princess, Aridela, an uncommon woman neither man can resist, and ancient prophecies, which predict that any threat to her people will spark Goddess Athene’s terrible wrath in a calamity of unimaginable consequences.
The sequel to The Year-god’s Daughter is now available as well, and Book Three, In the Moon of Asterion, will arrive soon.
The Thinara King
Goddess Athene’s white-hot rage incinerates the isle of Callisti and inflames the seas. Crete is left in ruins.
Ash, earthquakes and tsunamis devastate Crete. The will of the survivors fades as the skies remain dark and frost blackens the crops. Aridela must find a way to revive the spirit of her people along with rebuilding her country’s defenses.
More threats loom on the horizon. Greek kingdoms see a weakened Crete as easy prey. And now Chrysaleon, he who carries the ancient title of Thinara King, feels the shadow of Death over his shoulder.
Will he thwart his fate? No other man ever has.
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From Chapter Seven:
Slinging a bow and quiver of arrows over one shoulder, she scraped snow from the trunk of a cypress, clearing a bare strip all the way around. Barbs of gale-driven ice lashed her eyes and cheeks as she found what she was looking for, evidence of frozen lichen on what should be the north side. She staggered into the blizzard, hoping she’d successfully determined east, and Knossos.
I do your bidding, Athene. I follow your will. Please, please—
The plea died before it formed. Menoetius would never forgive what she had said. There was no use asking.
Snow fell like a cold white ocean from a darkly overcast sky. All sound was muffled. There was no way to be certain she’d chosen the right direction. If only the sun would come out, even for a moment.
Menoetius’s warning returned. What if this reckless escape sent her straight to enemy search parties?
Surely they wouldn’t be looking for her in such a storm.
She closed her eyes. Show me the way, my love.
But there was only the swish of snow eddying in the wind. Only Menoetius’s face when she called him ugly.
Then she heard it. The crunch of deliberate steps. She opened her eyes and stared into the face of a large wild goat, its long, arched horns almost invisible under a coating of snow. It stood the length of a half-grown fir tree from her, staring back, perhaps trying to understand the sight of a motionless human transforming into a snow-drenched pillar.
Its meat would provide food for a month. But something stopped her even as her half-frozen fingers felt for the bow. Athene. Lady of the wild things.
Losing interest, the ibex turned and lumbered away. Aridela followed, trying to keep a discreet distance.
It came to a steep hill, dotted with mounds of stunted juniper bushes and a few twisted pine trees. The beast climbed effortlessly, crossing beneath a curious rock formation that rose high and curved into an arch, like a doorway. Aridela craned her neck to see the rough crown, half hidden in storm fog. Forced to use her hands as well as her feet, she scrambled then slipped backward, unable to secure footing in the slick snow. Within seconds the animal had disappeared. “Wait,” she cried. “I can’t walk as fast as you,” but wind and a wall of snow stuffed her words back into her throat.
Iphiboë materialized before her, arms extended. “Aridela!”
Shock drew Aridela up short. She tried to blink the snow from her lashes, fighting hope and disbelief. “Iphiboë?”
Before she could begin to accept this miracle, the image disintegrated into the dark, solid form of Menoetius. Snow caked his hair and beard. He squinted. His mouth lay tense and severe.
“What are you doing?” Without waiting for an answer, he picked her up like a twig and flung her over one shoulder. “Two more steps and you would have been over the edge. How much would that help your people, you lying dead at the bottom of this gorge?”
Thanks to all who entered my Goodreads giveaway, lovely people who are willing to take a chance on my books.
These days, the definition of “cabal” is:
1. The artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government); also, a group engaged in such artifices and intrigues.
Merriam Webster gives these examples:
1. a cabal plotting to overthrow the government.
2. a conspiracy theory about the existence of an international cabal devoted to world domination.
I thought it would be interesting to have “cabal” in the Bronze Age Mediterranean mean something else, very different yet somehow linked to its modern-day definition.
In The Greek Myths, Robert Graves has these things to say. He uses the word tanist the same way I use “cabal.”
“Once the relevance of coition to child-bearing had been officially admitted, man’s religious status gradually improved, and winds or rivers were no longer given credit for impregnating women. The tribal Nymph, it seems, chose an annual lover from her entourage of young men, a king to be sacrificed when the year ended; making him a symbol of fertility, rather than the object of her erotic pleasure. His sprinkled blood served to fructify trees, crops and flocks, and his flesh was torn and eaten raw by the Queen’s fellow-nymphs – priestesses wearing the masks of bitches, mares, or sows. Next, in amendment to this practice, the king died as soon as the power of the sun, with which he was identified, began to decline in the summer; and another young man, his twin, or supposed twin – a convenient ancient Irish term is ‘tanist’ – then became the Queen’s lover, to be duly sacrificed at midwinter and, as a reward, reincarnated in an oracular serpent.
When the shortness of the king’s reign proved irksome, it was agreed to prolong the thirteen month year to a Great Year of one hundred lunations, in the last of which occurs a near-coincidence of solar and lunar time. But since the fields and crops still needed to be fructified, the king agreed to suffer an annual mock death and yield his sovereignty for one day – the intercalated one, lying outside the sacred sidereal year – to the surrogate boy-king, or interrex, who died at its close, and whose blood was used for the sprinkling ceremony. Now the sacred king either reigned for the entire period of a Great Year, with a tanist as his lieutenant; or the two reigned for alternate years; or the Queen let them divide the queendom into halves and reign concurrently.
The title Hecate (one hundred) apparently refers to the hundred lunar months of the king’s reign, and to the hundredfold harvest. The king’s death by a thunderbolt, or by the teeth of horses, or at the hands of his tanist, was his common fate in primitive Greece.
The twins’ mutual murder recalls the eternal rivalry for the love of the White Goddess between the sacred king and his tanist, who alternately meet death at each other’s hands.
The column, on which the Death-in-Life Goddess perches, marks the height of summer when the sacred king’s reign ends and the tanist’s begins. (At the heliacal rising of two-headed Sirius.)
This combat is mythologically recorded in the story that the Olympic Games began with a wrestling match between Zeus and Cronus for the possession of Elis, namely the midsummer combat between the king and his tanist; and the result was a foregone conclusion – the tanist came armed with a spear.
The historical setting of the Scylla myth is apparently a dispute between the Athenians and their Cretan overlords not long before the sack of Cnossus in 1400 BC. The myth itself, almost exactly repeated in the Taphian story of Pterelaus and Comaetho, recalls those of Samson and Delilah in Philistia; Curoi, Blathnat, and Cuchulain in Ireland; Llew Llaw, Blodeuwedd, and Gronw in Wales: all variations on a single pattern. It concerns the rivalry between the sacred king and his tanist for the favor of the Moon-goddess who, at midsummer, cuts off the king’s hair and betrays him. The king’s strength resides in his hair, because he represents the Sun; and his long yellow locks are compared to its rays.
In The Year-god’s Daughter, The Thinara King, and In the Moon of Asterion, the sacred king has a tanist, but I didn’t want to use that term. In my timeline, the word is “cabal.” At Mycenae, it simply means “brother,” but on Crete, the word “cabal” has twin meanings: brother and killer. The cabal is the king’s “tanist,” or symbolic “brother,” who also kills him, thus turning him into a god.
In the course of the series, the word “cabal” gradually and eventually transforms into its modern definition, which plays a part in the story.
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Yet in his youth, he spied on the Mysteries and learned a few women’s blood secrets. He’s never revealed this forbidden knowledge to anyone, but he is willing and able to put those blood mysteries to use if it will assist Chrysaleon, whom he loves and fantasizes about in ways that would sentence him to death were Chrysaleon to get any whiff of it.
Magic. Enchantments. Alexiare knows too much. Once, long ago when he was not so cautious, he shared some of his knowledge with a young protégé, a handsome youth he fell in love with. But his lover betrayed him and ran off to offer allegiance to Harpalycus, the prince of Tiryns, who hates Chrysaleon and Mycenae and longs to destroy both.
His name, pronounced “Chris-aa-leon,” (long a, like in “A day”) means “Gold Lion.”
The shallow, spoiled heir to Mycenae’s throne is determined to crush Crete, for his own glory and to impress his father; he also desires nothing more than to see the bastard half-brother he hates humiliated and thrown out of favor–maybe even killed.
Many famed city states exist at this time on what is now called the Peloponnese. Mycenae, Pylos, Gla, Tiryns, Sparta, Troezen, Argos–all are in the height of their power at the time of the series.
Athens at this time in history hardly exists. It’s no more than a small village and carries no weight or importance.
But back to Chrysaleon. Four words perfectly describe him: angry, arrogant, entitled, selfish.
His blond hair and green eyes come from his ancestors, tribes from the Northern Steppes. This will become important in the story and influence the success and/or failure of his plots on Crete, where almost everyone is dark skinned, dark haired.
Chrysaleon’s purpose as one point of Athene’s sacred triad is to “fulfill his obligation.” What is his obligation, you might ask? You’ll have to read the books to find out. But you knew I’d say that!
From The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves:
14: Once the relevance of coition to child-bearing had been officially admitted, man’s religious status gradually improved, and winds or rivers were no longer given credit for impregnating women. The tribal Nymph, it seems, chose an annual lover from her entourage of young men, a king to be sacrificed when the year ended; making him a symbol of fertility, rather than the object of her erotic pleasure. His sprinkled blood served to fructify trees, crops and flocks, and his flesh was torn and eaten raw by the Queen’s fellow-nymphs – priestesses wearing the masks of bitches, mares, or sows. Next, in amendment to this practice, the king died as soon as the power of the sun, with which he was identified, began to decline in the summer; and another young man, his twin, or supposed twin – a convenient ancient Irish term is ‘tanist’ – then became the Queen’s lover, to be duly sacrificed at midwinter and, as a reward, reincarnated in an oracular serpent.
15: The number seven acquired peculiar sanctity, because the king died at the seventh full moon after the shortest day.
18: When the shortness of the king’s reign proved irksome, it was agreed to prolong the thirteen month year to a Great Year of one hundred lunations, in the last of which occurs a near-coincidence of solar and lunar time. But since the fields and crops still needed to be fructified, the king agreed to suffer an annual mock death and yield his sovereignty for one day – the intercalated one, lying outside the sacred sidereal year – to the surrogate boy-king, or interrex, who died at its close, and whose blood was used for the sprinkling ceremony. Now the sacred king either reigned for the entire period of a Great Year, with a tanist as his lieutenant; or the two reigned for alternate years; or the Queen let them divide the queendom into halves and reign concurrently. The king deputized for the Queen at many sacred functions, dressed in her robes, wore false breasts, borrowed her lunar axe as a symbol of power, and even took over from her the magical art of rain making. His ritual death varied greatly in circumstance; he might be torn to pieces by wild women, transfixed with a sting-ray spear, felled with an axe, pricked in the heel with a poisoned arrow, flung over a cliff, burned to death on a pyre, drowned in a pool, or killed in a pre-arranged chariot crash. But die he must. A new stage was reached when animals came to be substituted for boys at the sacrificial altar, and the king refused death after his lengthened reign ended. Dividing the realm into three parts, and awarding one part to each of his successors, he would reign for another term; his excuse being that a closer approximation of solar and lunar time had now been found, namely nineteen years, or 325 lunations. The Great Year had become a Greater Year.
23: The queen-mother of the state, as Ngame’s representative, performs an annual sacred marriage with Odomankoma’s representative: namely her chosen lover whom, at the close of the year, the priests murder, skin, and flay. The same practice seems to have obtained among the Greeks.
38: 6.3: during the king’s sacrifice, designed to fructify the cornfields and orchards, the goddess’s priestesses wore menacing Gorgon masks to frighten away profane visitors. His genitals were thrown into the sea to encourage fish to breed.
52: A hero, as the word indicates, was a sacred king who had been sacrificed to Hera, whose body was safely under the earth, and whose soul had gone to enjoy her paradise at the back of the North Wind. His golden apples were passports to this paradise.
57: Dionysus began as a sacred king whom the goddess ritually killed with a thunderbolt in the 7th month from the winter solstice, and whom her priestesses devoured.
93: the title Hecate (one hundred) apparently refers to the hundred lunar months of the king’s reign, and to the hundredfold harvest. The king’s death by a thunderbolt, or by the teeth of horses, or at the hands of his tanist, was his common fate in primitive Greece.
108: Dryas (oak) was the oak-king, annually killed. The trimming of his extremities served to keep his ghost at bay, and the wanton felling of a sacred oak carried the death penalty.
114: As sacred king, he was struck by a thunderbolt – that is, killed with a double-axe – in an oak grove at the summer solstice, and then dismembered by the Maenads of the bull-cult, like Zagreus; or of the stag-cult, like Actaeon.
115: A sacred king necessarily suffered dismemberment.
126: In pre-Hellenic myth, the goddess chases the sacred king and, although he goes through his seasonal transformations, counters each of them in turn with her own, and devours him at the summer solstice.
138: the twins’ mutual murder recalls the eternal rivalry for the love of the White Goddess between the sacred king and his tanist, who alternately meet death at each other’s hands.
138: the twins’ mutual murder recalls the eternal rivalry for the love of the White Goddess between the sacred king and his tanist, who alternately meet death at each other’s hands. The column, on which the Death-in-Life Goddess perches, marks the height of summer when the sacred king’s reign ends and the tanist’s begins. (At the heliacal rising of two-headed Sirius.)
176: The oak-king met his death in Athene’s honor, and all oak-kings fell beneath the double axe. Their bodies were usually roasted in a bonfire.
204: it was a widespread custom to bury the sacred king’s head at the approaches to a city, and thus protect it against invasion.
205: The Thesmophoria were agricultural orgies celebrated at Athens, in the course of which the severed genitals of the sacred king or his surrogate were carried in a basket; these were replaced in more civilized times by phallus-shaped loaves and live serpents.
209: As an oak-king with mistletoe genitals, representing the thunder-god, he ritually married the rain-making Moon-goddess; and was then scourged, so that his blood and sperm would fructify the earth, beheaded with an axe, emasculated, spread-eagled to a tree, and roasted; after which his kinsmen ate him sacramentally.
211: myth showing how an Aeolian chief invaded Elis, and accepted the consequences of marrying the Pelasgian Moon-goddess Hera’s representative. When his reign ended he was duly sacrificed and awarded a hero shrine at Olympia.
255: Wild Women maddened with hippomanes, either a herb, or the slimy vaginal tissue of a mare in heat, or the black membrane cut from the forehead of a new-born foal closed in on a sacred king by the seashore at the end of his reign. Their skirts were hoisted as in the erotic worship of Egyptian Apis so that when they dismembered him, his spurting blood would quicken their wombs.
267: The sacred king’s death at the onset of a boar – whose curved tusks dedicated it to the moon – is ancient myth. There was a widespread custom of sacrificing a royal prince at the foundation of a city.
268: an icon showing the doomed king, with golden apples in hand, being chased to death by the goddess. A companion icon will have shown Artemis supported by two lions, as on the gate at Mycenae, and on several Mycenaean and Cretan seals.
275: vase picturing the Moon-goddess presenting the apple of immortality to the sacred king. Also another showing a new king about to ride through the streets of his capital after having ritually hacked his predecessor in pieces with an axe. The frequent murders, accidental or intentional, which caused princes to leave home and be purified by foreign kings, whose daughters they then married, are an invention of later mythographers. There is no reason to suppose that Peleus left Aegina, or Ththia, under a cloud; at a time when kingship went by matrilineal succession, candidates for the throne always came from abroad, and the new king was reborn into the royal house after ritually murdering his predecessor. He then changed his name and tribe, which was expected to throw the vengeful ghost of the murdered man off his scent. The old murdered king often became an oracular hero. It was found convenient, in more civilized times, when much the same ritual was used to purify ordinary criminals, to forget that kingship implied murder, and to suggest that Peleus, Telamon, and the rest had been involved in crimes or scandals unconnected with their accession to the throne.
Erich Neumann, in The Origins and History of Consciousness says this:
“The womb of the earth clamors for fertilization, and blood sacrifices and corpses are the food she likes best. This is the terrible aspect, the deadly side of the earth’s character. . . . Everywhere blood plays a leading part in fertility ritual and human sacrifice. The great terrestrial law that there can be no life without death was early understood, and still earlier represented in ritual, to mean that a strengthening of life can only be bought at the cost of sacrificial death” (54)
In Greek mythology the Erinyes (pl. of Erinys; literally “the angry ones”) or Eumenides ( pl. of literally “the gracious ones” but also translated as “Kind-hearted Ones” or “Kindly Ones”), or Furies or Dirae in Roman mythology, were female chthonic deities of vengeance, or supernatural personifications of the anger of the dead. A formulaic oath in the Iliad invokes them as “those who beneath the earth punish whosoever has sworn a false oath”. Burkert suggests they are “an embodiment of the act of self-cursing contained in the oath”.
When the Titan Cronus castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitalia into the sea, the Erinyes emerged from the drops of blood, while Aphrodite was born from the crests of seafoam. According to variant accounts, they emerged from an even more primordial level from Nyx, “Night”. Their number is usually left indeterminate. Virgil, probably working from an Alexandrian source, recognized three: Alecto (“unceasing”, who appeared in Virgil’s Aeneid), Megaera (“grudging”), and Tisiphone (“avenging murder”). Dante followed Virgil in depicting the same three-charactered triptych of Erinyes; in Canto IX of the Inferno they confront the poets at the gates of the city of Dis. The heads of the Erinyes were wreathed with serpents (compare Gorgon) and their eyes dripped with blood, rendering their appearance rather horrific. Other depictions show them with the wings of a bat or bird and the body of a dog.
HOWEVER, Barbara G. Walker has something else to say in her The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.
ERINYES: “‘Avenger,’ title of Mother Demeter as the threefold Furies, who punished all trespassers against matriarchal law. In her fearsome avenging aspect, the Goddess sometimes appeared as the Night-mare, with a black horse head wreathed with snakes.”
She goes on to say:
FURIES: “Also called Erinyes or Eumenides, the Furies personified the vengeful moods of the Triple Goddess Demeter, who was also called Erinys as a punisher of sinners. The three Erinyes were emanations of her. “Whenever their number is mentioned there are three of them…But they can all be mentioned together as a single being, an Erinys. The proper meaning of the word is a ‘spirit of anger and revenge’…Above all they represented the Scolding Mother. Whenever a mother was insulted, or perhaps even murdered, the Erinyes appeared. Like swift bitches they pursued all who had flouted blood-kinship and the deference due to it.
Greeks believed the blood of a slain mother infected her murderer with a dread spiritual poison, miasma, the Mother’s Curse. It drew the implacable Furies to their victim, and also infected any who dared help him. In fear of the Furies’ attention, lest they might have inadvertently assisted a matricide, people called the Furies “Good Ones” (Eumenides), hoping to divert their wrath.
Aeschylus called the Furies “Children of Eternal Night.” Sophocles called them “Daughters of Earth and Shadow.” Their individual names were Tisiphone (Retaliation-Destruction), Megaera (Grudge), and Alecto (The Unnameable). Some said they were born of the blood of the castrated Heavenly Father, Uranus; others said they were older than any god. Their antiquity is demonstrated by the fact that they were invoked against killers of kinfolk in the female line only: a relic of the matriarchal age, when all genealogies were reckoned through women.
Aeschylus’s drama The Eumenides presented the Furies pursuing Orestes for killing his mother, Queen Clytemnestra; but they cared nothing for the murder of the father. He was not a real member of the clan. When Orestes asked them why they didn’t punish Clytemnestra for murdering her husband, they answered, “The man she killed was not of blood congenital.” Orestes inquired (as if he didn’t know), “But am I then involved with my mother by blood bond?” The Furies snapped, “Murderer, yes. How else could she have nursed you beneath her heart? Do you forswear your mother’s intimate blood?” In short, the Furies harked back to a matriarchal clan system like the one in pre-Christian Britain, where “the son loved the father no more than a stranger.” Indeed the name of the archaic Triple Goddess of Ireland, Erin, or Eriu, has been linked with the triple Erinyes.
The Furies were also “fairies,” identified with witches because of their ability to lay curses on any who transgressed their law. Such “fairies” may have been real witches who tried to defend the rights of women against encroachment by Christian laws. Their modus operandi could have been similar to that of the Women’s Devil Bush society in Africa: if a woman complained to this society that her husband abused her, he soon died of a mysterious dose of poison.
Christianity adopted the Furies, incongruously enough, as servants of the patriarchal God. They became part of God’s penal system in hell: dog-faced she-demons known as Furies Who Sow Evil, Accusers or Examiners, and Avengers of Crimes. Their duty, as always, was to punish sinners. As “grotesques” they appeared on the tympanum of Bourges Cathedral, with large pregnant bellies bearing the full moon’s Gorgon face, and pendulous breasts terminating in dogs’ heads. Greek art, however, depicted them as stern-faced but beautiful women, bearing torches and scourges, with serpents wreathed in their hair like the Gorgons.
Although classical tradition understood the Fury as a symbol of the impersonal functioning of justice, yet she came to represent men’s hidden fear of women, an image apparently still viable. Psychiatric Worldview says:
‘To those men who are aware of contemporary changes it becomes abundantly clear that there are a number of openly angry women around….Men trained to recognize and enhance their own anger and aggressiveness in a society where rape and revenge are commonplace view angry women with alarm….Men see women project onto them the full extent of their own potential aggressiveness. The spectre of an angry Fury or Medusa’s head strikes fear in men, which is then often awkwardly handled because men are not supposed to display fear. A woman seeking only reasonable social or vocational equity may be perceived by a man as being out to get the kind of revenge that his pride would require had he experienced the narcissistic and practical wounds that she has sustained.’”
Current dating at the time of this publication places the construction of the cyclopean walls and lion gate at Mycenae in either the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. These dates often change; long ago I began viewing “secure” dates with suspicion. When Mary Renault wrote The King Must Die, then-current dating placed the Thera eruption in the fourteen hundreds quite confidently, but with better technology, that date has moved backwards to the sixteen hundreds, about 300 years before Theseus. At any rate, I decided to include both the walls and gate, as they are familiar to modern readers.
An intriguing theory is the possibility of a link between the lion gate at Mycenae and the “Lady of the Beasts” on Crete. A seal ring found at Knossos shows two lionesses in an identical pose as at the lion gate, with their front paws on a central pillar. The seal also contains a goddess, standing atop the pillar holding out a spear, and a youth, saluting her. Current dating shows the seal ring to be about the same age as the lion gate.