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SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS (Part 2)

Under the roof of Kyanokhaitis, Scylla peered, looking for a corpse. When her tentacles hit the seafloor, she thought the only corpse here was her. Charybdis was gone. Scylla had joined her despite protestations, but it was too late.

Part 1

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The sea was silent for three long days.

On the first, Scylla looked straitwards with curiosity, thinking of Charybdis holding her breath. The second day was wretched, all six heads pointed towards Sicily, tentacles twitching in agitation. The third day, Scylla began to call. Her voice brought forth gallant lamentations.

Scylla called to Charybdis all day long. The townspeople stopped and stared at her agony, startled that she might have a soft heart in her ribcage, still beating with hot blood.

When the day ended with the Strait of Messina undisturbed, Scylla ended her song. A young fisher came closer than anyone else dared, to see what the monster might do now on this strange day.

Scylla clambered down her rock, frightening the people that ran home and waited to be eaten. The younger fisher, hidden from sight, saw her splash into the sea until the waters closed over her head.

Under the roof of Kyanokhaitis, Scylla peered, looking for a corpse. When her tentacles hit the seafloor, she thought the only corpse here was her. Charybdis was gone. Scylla had joined her despite protestations, but it was too late.

She looked up at the moon, dancing above the waters, and closed her eyes.

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Fishing boats set out when Nyx yet veiled the heavens. In the darkness, under constellations of nymphs and mortals that had been loved by gods, the people of Scylla’s town cast their nets with shouts that resonated across the sea. They sailed the thinnest part of the Strait, bold now.

When the first nets tugged too strongly, the fishers looked at each other. They knew what lay below. For a moment the question lingered: to cut loose and leave? Or to dredge up Scylla from the deep?

The young fisher that had watched her drown spoke of the big people that had wanted to rule them, and Scylla declining their offers. They still had their labour, and their fish, and royal protection happily remained out of their reach.

More boats gathered and pulled towards the shore, nets straining with their ungainful catch.

Scylla came to on her own shallow rocky shoals. Blinking, she saw fishing boats in retreat. The sun smiled down at her as he rushed past in his phaeton. She climbed her promontory slowly, with aching limbs, and set her eyes to the West.

Then, Scylla began to sing like a siren.

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Her mother answered first. Crataeis left her river for her daughter, consoled and coaxed her: the gods have always blighted mortals, even nymphs, and Scylla you are still here.

But the daughter would not cease her song. The dam*, afraid of what she would awake, returned to her river, and sang her own plea.

Scylla would not shut her mouths. Though the fishers brought her precious cattle in appeasement, she would not stop to eat. Amphitrite and Thetis, glorious Nereids, came to scold her; to teach her silence was safety, to invoke Aglaotríaina was high hubris. Scylla, already out of favour with the Olympians, sang to the Nereids about their sons until those mothers’ hearts melted.

Thetis turned away. Amphitrite warned that Scylla might not appreciate her consort’s attention, if Anax indeed paid her any. Still, Scylla sang, reproachful as only a child can be.

Then came Hecate, goddess of the crossroads, and Scylla’s other mother who sired her. Summoned here by the river nymph Crataeis, Hecate’s form appeared to their progeny in wroth, but cooled quickly when she heard the plaintive notes issuing from her daughter. Scylla, who knew the goddess was of necromancy, wailed for succor, for relief, for the return of a lost nymph.

Hecate, goddess, not nymph, could not sing to Scylla. She could not speak to her in the tongues of mortals or Olympians, of which Scylla was neither. Hecate, of sorcery, light, and magic, communicated with visions: she showed Scylla Charybdis, alive on the seafloor, having crawled out of these waters herself. She showed Scylla the townspeople that had dragged her from the sea, now regretting it bitterly as her songs invaded their dreams and soured their every joy. She showed Scylla her dam, Crataeis, singing a song Scylla knew well.

A naiad, the song said, who left her lover’s arms for freedom, to seek love and freedom, who swam all the oceans until exhausted, and learned that the only freedom was death. So the song went.

When Scylla saw this, she stopped her song to snarl. Hecate, goddess with dignity and honor, jumped at the rancour in her daughter’s voice. She left her there with an image of Charybdis seeking freedom from her painful curse, and finding it only in Tartarean lakes.

Scylla, more mournful now, sang.

At last, her song raised dreaming Poseidon Nethuns, Nymphayaetis, Kyanokhaitis, Aglaotríaina, Anax from the titanic ocean. His abyssal eyes watched this puny child, his indigo hair was matted with salt, his dark hands flexed powerfully at his side. Scylla, undeterred, sang of Charybdis: his most loyal daughter, who had battled his brother and submerged his lands in the name of her father.

Charybdis, Scylla sang, Charybdis. Golden-eyed Charybdis, whom the bearer of the Aegis put under punitive measures for your war, your greed, your cause, your ingratitude that killed her. She is gone, Charybdis, and I am alone in the Strait of Messina.

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Poseidon reached out to Scylla, who could not even flinch away from his majesty, her grief was so gnawing at her. The god gripped her jaw gently, and closed it.

            Her song turned into silence. Scylla waited for her curse.

Instead, Poseidon drew out another hand, in which lay a defeated animal, an enormous floppy bladder with fins and gills and golden eyes. Poseidon deposited Charybdis on Scylla’s promontory with a splash of seawater for a trousseau, and returned to his wife.

Scylla stared at her neighbour, but looked away quickly, unable to meet her eyes for a moment longer than a breath. Charybdis, exhausted, lay back, and sang her a song.

A sweet naiad, the song said, that travelled the oceans. She was looking for love and freedom both, only to realize they are two very different things. Having made her choice, the nymph returns triumphant to her lover’s arms. It is the happiest cage she will ever inhabit. So the song went.

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In the predawn gloom, when the boats went out, the promontory stood empty and silent. The fishing people murmured about the two neighbours they had left there last night, singing softly to each other.

The nets were cast. Fish came in, fat and plentiful. Scylla’s rock lay empty for long years and eventually, a castle was built where the monster had sat. The fisher folk came under new rule, finding it sometimes tolerable, other times best forgotten. They never, however, forgot the first Lady of the rock. Sometimes their children clambered her promontory looking for traces of her as if they feared she was a dream they had all had.

Yet there was no gainsaying the whirlpools that sometimes still were seen on the Sicilian coast. Small eddies that may suck down a stupid craft.

Scylla and Charybdis were never seen again. Sometimes, the fisher people swore, they could be heard: singing each other sweet songs when the tides were low.

END

*’dam’ – here in reference to Craetis, the river nymph and also Scylla’s mother; female parent of a domestic animal

This story was about: Gender Sexuality

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Nam Perugu is a doctor and writer from Hyderabad whose short story "Liturgy for the Apostate" was published in Chandrayarn, an anthology that went to the moon. She likes to write stories that give her comfort, especially stories with a queer perspective, and she hopes to share that comfort with her readers. Once, she accidentally procrastinated her way into learning a whole new language. To see more of her work, find her on Instagram @poetry.penguin.
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