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The golden sunlight filtered in through the window, bathing the room in a warm glow. The air was cool and moist, and tinted with the scent of flowery perfume. The wooden floor beams, cloaked with a thickly woven rug, began to creak as the world warmed to the touch of the sun rising over the hills. A large and majestically proportioned bed sat in the middle of the spacious room, tenderly carved from wood and smoothed to perfection. One post of the bed did not end flatly like the rest, but had bent and gnarled roots that descended deep into the floor.
A man and a woman lay sleeping in the still hours of the morning. Soft beams of sunlight slowly made their way across the floor, dancing in a way that only light can. The spicy scent of roasting meat began to waft up from far below, and a peal of laughter sounded in the distance. The man stirred, and opened his eyes. Rustling the sheets, he rose slowly from the bed, slipping out from underneath the dark purple covers, and turned to face the window. He glanced back at the woman, who was still sleeping. His eyes grew soft, and he turned back to gaze outside. The sky was growing lighter, the stars fading from the horizon. A bell chimed in the distance, and the city slowly began to wake up around them.
The woman began to stir. Her skin was smooth and white, as if made of china. Her hair spilled over her shoulders in a golden waterfall of curls, and her lips were twisted into a faint smile. The man watched her as she slowly opened her eyelids, revealing a pair of pale blue eyes. Seeing him, she sat up suddenly, and whispered, “Odysseus, is that you?” The man walked over to the bed and smiled from beneath a thick beard, which was only beginning to be streaked with grey. “Of course it is”.
The woman smiled in relief. “I was afraid you had left me.” The man half-grinned at her reassuringly, and began to dress. Reaching for his sandals, he tied them to his feet and rose. The woman knotted her eyebrows together as she watched him. “Where are you going?” The man pulled on his cloak. “I must go inland.”
“But you’ve only just returned!”
The man turned to face her. “I must do it.”
“But Odysseus…” The woman’s face had crumpled, and she stared at him now in disbelief. “Why must you leave me again so suddenly? You were also gone yesterday, and were with your father. Now can you not be with me? After I have waited a lifetime for you, hoping and praying for your return, you come back to me only to go again?” The man reached for his cloak and slipped a small stone dagger into his sleeve. “Penelope, understand. I must go to make peace with the gods.”
The woman was fully awake now, and slipped out of bed. “Why did you not tell me of this? I had expected you to come, and stay! Do not leave me now, not again! I have been faithful. I have waited, and raised our son in your absence. Do you wish to leave him now, too?” The man stood by the door. “Telemakhos is a man now. He will be king, and rule wisely. I trust in him, and you as well.” They stood face to face, the woman’s chest heaving as she fumed. The man reached for her and pressed his mouth to hers, then turned and opened the door. “I must go,” he said apologetically, and then closed the door behind him, leaving the woman alone. After a minute, she sank down onto the bed, listening to the silence as she blinked back the tears that never failed to come.
Odysseus burst into the Great Hall, where maids and servants scurried to get out of his way. Large chunks of meat lay roasting on spits over a roaring fire, and the air was rich with the smells of food cooking. A male servant rushed to Odysseus with a goblet of wine. “Master Odysseus,” he said, and ushered him over to a table. Odysseus waved him away and kept walking. He spied Telemakhos seated at a long banquet table, and made his way over to his son. When Telemakhos saw his father approaching, he rose in greeting. “Father, where are you going so early? Come, sit and eat.” Odysseus shook his head. “I must go inland to sacrifice to Poseidon. You must take care of things while I am away.” The young man was confused. “You are leaving?” Odysseus nodded. “But how long will you be gone?” Telemakhos tried to push a steaming dish of food towards his father, but Odysseus refused. “I do not know. But I must go, and you must take care of your mother and your people.”
“My people? But Father-“
“I do not know when I will return.”
Telemakhos stared at Odysseus, and finally nodded. Odysseus smiled and put a weathered hand on his son’s shoulder. “I trust in you.” Then Odysseus turned and strode out of the Great Hall, shutting the large iron doors behind him.
The air was warm and smelled of the sea, salty and sharp. The crimson clouds of sunrise had begun to fade into light blue, and gulls circled the sky and called to the water below. Odysseus made his way to the stables, and untied a young bull calf and led it out by a rope into the sunlight. The calf bellowed for its mother as it was led outside, attempting to break away, but eventually succumbed to the rope’s pull. The two journeyed down to the harbor, where the hefty ships lay tethered to the dock in rows. An old man sat bent over some pieces of rope, tying thick knots with frail and trembling fingers. Three oars lay stacked beside him, carved out of honey-colored wood and glistening in the sunlight.
Odysseus, leaving the calf tied to a tree trunk, reached down and picked up one of the oars and several pieces of rope. He shifted the paddle back and forth in his hands, feeling the worn texture beneath his palms, and then swung it over his shoulder. Ignoring the cries and protests of the old man, Odysseus trudged back towards the bull calf and untied it, and the two went on. The salty wind whipped through his hair and his clothing, sending shivers down his spine.
The sun was high overhead as Odysseus walked, never stopping to answer the calls of the many people who recognized him, never paying attention to the small crowd of admiring children and barking dogs that followed him like a shadow. They followed him up hills and down hills, over creeks and through thickets. Eventually they trailed off, and Odysseus was once again alone. He came across a flock of sheep in a small valley, tended by a small boy. Taking a ram, he bound it with rope and led it willingly beside him, as the bull calf loped behind.
The smell of the salted sea and the coolness of the ocean spray was long gone and forgotten. Odysseus walked with bleeding feet on hard, dry ground, baked by the sun and never touched by seawater. The people that passed him were not seafaring people; they gave him odd glances as he strode by with the oar over his aching shoulder and a ram and bull calf trailing behind him. As he was walking, a young man carrying a clay jug of water called out to him inquisitively, “What winnowing fan is that upon your shoulder?” Odysseus stopped walking. Lifting the oar from his shoulder, he drove it deep into the dry, cracked earth with such force that the people around him stopped and stared wide-eyed in astonishment. Taking the bull by the small horns budding out of his head, Odysseus unsheathed the small knife he carried in his sleeve and slit it’s throat, crimson blood spilling onto the dirt. The young bull fell to its knees, and was quiet. Turning to the ram, he did the same, and soon they both lay as sleeping in a scarlet bath.
Suddenly, there was a rumbling clap of thunder that shook the earth and caused the mountains to tremble. Odysseus and the stunned townspeople looked up to a cloudless sky, clear and blue. The clusters of men and women whispered amongst themselves, casting fearful glances at Odysseus, who stood with knife in hand, gazing into the skies.
I am released, he thought. I am free from the wrath of Poseidon.
Just then, the cry of a seahawk sounded high above his head. The people of the town were deaf to the cries of the bird they had never heard of or seen, and carried on just as before. And Odysseus knew it was Athena, for when it landed it was no longer a bird, but a boy, and Odysseus was glad. The boy approached him, saying,
“Odysseus, you have done well. Poseidon is pleased with you. Now, you must choose: you can go home to your Penelope, who has waited and been faithful all these years, and your son Telemakhos, who is of age to rule but still may need the guiding hand of his father for some time. Or you can follow this road until you meet a woman cleaning the shards of a broken clay pot, and ask her if she needs assistance. She will lead you to adventure.” The boy’s eyes glistened. “Odysseus, you will control your destiny. You are no longer following a path chosen for you by the gods. What do you choose?” Odysseus’s mind raced. He could almost see the woman; he could almost taste the adventures Athena spoke of. Then, in the midst of it all, he saw Penelope’s face- filled with worry, streaked with tears. The boy stood watching him closely, waiting. Odysseus put the knife back into his sleeve, and without looking back, turned and began the long journey home.
He could almost smell the ocean.