Andromeda allowed the crystal, clear water to wash over her feet. She giggled as the waves crept seductively past her deep brown calves, only to rush back towards the sea, called away by a faceless authority. She closed her eyes and tilted her head to the heavens, allowing the warm sun rays to soak into her rich skin. Andromeda took a deep breath just as the playful breeze ruffled through her coarse jet black hair.
I could stay here forever, she thought wistfully to herself. Her heart felt light and her fingers tingled.
“You again,” she murmured as a familiar sensation writhed through her body. She gently opened her eyes and marvelled at the curled beams of bright light that had suddenly escaped from her palms, soft like curls of smoke. The light beams grew brighter and brighter.
Andromeda had been doing this more often, releasing these beams of light with nothing more than her bare hands. A fact that she hid desperately from her austere mother. Whilst Andromeda had fancied her beams of light to be nothing more than tender gifts from the gods, her mother, Queen Cassiopeia, thought otherwise. She saw it as a disease, a sign of weakness and an ailment that needed to be tended to. She would snarl and hiss whenever she had caught sight of the wispy curls of light. Queen Cassiopeia had once locked Andromeda away in the cellars for a whole week, after she had caught the girl attempting to display her gift to her friends.
You are already far too beautiful. They will tear you down for this, Andromeda’s mother had once told her after striking her glowing hands. Andromeda had nodded along, but she had never been entirely too sure who “they” were. The mysterious, shadowed people who, according to her mother, would one day come and shred her to pieces. Perhaps they were the herds of common folk who would stare openly as she traversed through the marketplace, their faces plastered with an increasingly ravenous look. Or the snake-like members of the court, whose eyes lit up with the promise of opportunity whenever she walked past them. Or…she shuddered. She hated thinking about the other set of monsters who thirsted for her downfall. Even the mention of their name struck fear in her heart.
“Andromeda,” a low and slimy voice said from behind her. Andromeda clasped her hands together, abruptly ending the display of bright light. Her heart, once comfortably settled in a sublime rhythm, now slammed against her chest in shock. She gently turned her head towards her Uncle Phineus. She let out a slow and cautiously low sigh before turning her whole body around to face him. He stood before her, a small, thin man, almost matching her in height. His brown face lit up in the sun, still smooth and clear, the only real markers of his age were the streaks of sprawly, white hair embedded in his long neat dreadlocks.
How did he find me here? She thought to herself. The dibik’i cove had always been her place of calm and solitude. Andromeda would look out at the endless sea, and perhaps even prop herself on one of the large majestic boulders that bordered the quiet cove. Only there could she truly be completely alone, a gift worth more to her than all of her worldly possessions. Most people feared the dibik’i cove, chased away by rumours that it was home to the grotesque sea monster, Cetus. Andromeda did not believe one word of it. She had spent countless hours in the hidden cove, and had not once come across any signs of Cetus. Besides she had always been far more afraid of the people roaming the land, to ever worry about the mysterious sea beast.
“You better be careful about venturing out here all on your own,” her uncle said as he flashed a manufactured smile. His eyes twinkled with the strange delight that one might imagine on the face of a sadistic killer as he cornered his latest prey. “Cetus is not one to play with. In fact, I think it is best for you to come inside,” he said sickly sweet.
I’d rather not, she thought to herself. He watched her silently, reading her disregard. Rather than succumbing to rage, his eyes twinkled brighter. He knew that she could not refuse. Phineus was not only her mother’s brother, but he was also her father’s most trusted advisor. As such he was the second, if not the most, powerful person in the kingdom. His cunning tongue dripped with manipulation, and on a number of occasions, he had used his poisonous words to sway her father’s mind towards his own agenda. He loved wielding this power whenever he could. Practising it daily as a soldier might do with his favourite weapon. He was particularly fond of using it on Andromeda. Trapping her in a well-engineered web, as punishment for disobeying his covert orders. She had long since learnt her lesson: he always won.
“Yes, uncle, you are right. I will come back inside — but perhaps I could just have a moment out here — just a little longer? I would like to clear my head,” she replied cautiously. He nodded, his eyes brightening further as she spoke.
“I think it would be best for you to come back now. You can clear your head on our walk back to the castle,” he said with a smile. Andromeda’s heart dropped uncomfortably into her stomach and she took a deep breath and followed him towards the towering cream castle.
“It’s not good for an unwed woman such as yourself to be out here,” he continued. I’ve already agreed to follow you, must we continue to talk about it, she sighed to herself.
“Mmm,” she murmured
He looked at her sternly and she dropped her gaze. His frown quickly turned into a small smile that twitched at the corner of his lips,
“No wonder the Nereids envy you. I see it more and more now, your beauty. Yes, I must say, it certainly helps to mask that nasty attitude of yours,” he noted. At the mention of their name, Andromeda’s heart squeezed frantically. She clenched her fists tightly and took a deep breath in.
The Nereids, the sea nymphs who tormented and punished her for a beauty that she herself could barely see, were the source of her greatest fear. Their power was undeniable, as was their abhorrence for Andromeda. For as long as she could remember Andromeda had been showered with compliments on her perfect face, her soft eyes and her clear, dark skin. For as long as she could remember those comments were met with the increasing rage of the Nereids. Soon enough Andromeda had grown to hate her compliments as much as the sea nymphs themselves.
“Yes. You should think more about finding a husband,” her uncle continued. Andromeda said nothing in return. She was not looking for a husband, she was looking to survive.
“Ahh I see you scoffing, but you must not. You are going to be queen one day and so you need a king,” he added. To that Andromeda laughed. Queen? Her? Never. Her father despised her. He would never allow the throne to fall into her hands, closest blood relation or not.
“Sorry,” she said shyly, catching herself mid-laugh, “It’s just, father would never — he, I’m sure he has other people in mind for the job,” she said, like you, she thought silently.
“So you have not heard the news,” her uncle said after several minutes of uncomfortable silence. They were fast approaching the castle and the tall pillars were starting to weigh heavily on her. You know that I haven’t, she sighed to herself. She didn’t care to know either, statements such as these were usually followed by draining news that always seemed to impact her negatively.
“Your father has signed an unbinding document. No one can bypass you, your husband and/or heir to the throne,” he said coldly, his jaw tensing as he spoke. Andromeda stopped in her tracks and squinted her eyes in confusion. What? She thought incredulously. Her father rarely spoke to her. When she was younger he would at least greet her in passing. Nowadays he would storm past her as though she didn’t exist.
Andromeda had always felt the heat of his disappointment that she, his only child, was a woman. The strapping sons that he had dreamt of in his youth had all died in the queen’s womb. But Andromeda had survived. King Cepheus was tired of being reminded of his loss, and Andromeda was tired of apologizing for something that was out of her control. So they both kept their distance. Andromeda had always imagined that her uncle would snatch the throne out from her father’s dead hands when the time came. After all the king had far more affection for the slimy man than he had ever had for her.
“I imagine that you are pleased,” her uncle said smiling. A sudden flash of raw anger momentarily glimmered across his eyes. Andromeda flinched for fear that he might slap her right then and there. Instead, his sugary smile returned back to his face. “Yes, it is good for you. Or perhaps it is not. Who knows what suitors might creep out from the shadows and claim you as their wife. Perhaps your wanderings around dibik’i will finally come to a complete stop.” he murmured as they entered the castle entrance. Andromeda took a deep breath as his comment washed over her, he smiled and feigned a look of surprise,
“What is that look? Surely you’re not shocked at my comments?”
“I’m not. I just — well I don’t see the rush to get married right now,”
“How absurd. Did you not you hear what I said? The king has bequeathed the kingdom to you, and as such upped the urgency of you being betrothed. What if the king were to die today? You with no husband, no son, you will take the throne?” He sneered as Andromeda looked back at him silently.
She wanted to punch him. She wanted to scream at him. His syrupy words trickled down the back of her neck, cold and uncomfortable. Andromeda slowed to a stop, they had finally reached the resting area of the vast castle. She needed to get away from this man.
“Yes…I understand uncle,” she said carefully, “I’m…feeling rather faint. I might be coming down this something — sorry for having to leave so abruptly but I really must head back to my quarters. I hope you don’t mind. Thank you for escorting me back,”
Phineas looked back at her sternly for a minute longer than was necessary, before breaking into a soft smile.
“Yes. Yes, you should get some rest, my dear. Beautiful girls like you should be in bed at all times,” he said as he took a calculated step closer to her, “waiting dutifully for their husbands,” he added with a wink.
Andromeda soothed the bubbling rage within her and smiled before turning her back on him and walking towards her quarters. Don’t run, don’t run, don’t run — she repeated frantically to herself in her head.
After several strides, she was starting to feel as though she had put a sensible distance between herself and her uncle Phineas. She turned yet another corner before sneaking a look behind her. She exhaled loudly. The coast was clear and she could breathe again. As always conversations with her uncle left her feeling low and subdued. She did far more with her time than daydreaming and sleeping. She read furiously, she volunteered around the kingdom, she studied independently. Why did he always have to catch her when her guard was down? When she was finally taking a moment for herself.
“Why are letting him get to you,” she murmured to herself. She sighed and looked out of the wide pillars that bordered the walk to her room. The scene before her was magnificent. The castle stood on the edge of a cliff and Andromeda’s quarters overlooked the wide sea. Rows of endless blue extended below her, carrying with it a wide array of promises and hopes. Suddenly she felt her palms warm and playful beams of light encircled her. Andromeda skipped towards her door, allowing herself to giggle once more as she entered her room.
Andromeda let out a silent scream as the shock of her mother waiting calmly on her bed grounded her. Queen Cassiopeia sat coldly before Andromeda, her full lips pursed tightly as she watched her daughter tuck her dimming palms towards her back. Queen Cassiopeia’s hair was braided extravagantly as always, adorned with golden trinkets that perfectly framed her dark sepia face.
“Where have you been?” She said furiously.
“Sorry I didn’t know that you would be in here,” Andromeda murmured, her face warm with shame.
“We don’t have much time.” Her mother said as she rose from Andromeda’s bed. “Your senseless beauty and your father’s foolishness has landed us in a predicament,” her mother exclaimed as Andromeda looked at her confused. She had expected her mother to be pleased with the news. After all, her mother had always feared that she had failed the kingdom by failing to produce a ruling heir, surely she should be happy now, knowing that her grandchildren are still in arms reach of the throne. Instead, Queen Cassiopeia’s eyes roamed frantically over Andromeda, burning with rage and mania.
“Is this about the throne? Mother surely this is a good thing,” Andromeda murmured as Queen Cassiopeia looked back at her with unbridled disgust.
“A good thing? A good thing! My brother has requested to marry you and your fool of a father has accepted. There’s nothing good about this,”
The words slammed into Andromeda’s stomach so hard that she had to bend over. She struggled to take a breath in. Waiting dutifully for their husband — Her uncle’s words burned furiously in her mind. A wave of nausea overtook her body, as her world crumbled apart before her,
“It. Can’t. Be,” she sobbed as her mother drew her back up.
“We do not have time for this nonsense. Get up,” her mother roared,
“What will I do Mother?”
“What will you do? What will I do?! My own brother. I cannot be witness to that abomination. Never. As such I have been forced to make a difficult decision, and I have acted, right or wrong, I have acted and now we do not have enough time,” the queen said as Andromeda’s head spun.
“I cannot marry him, please — I cannot,”
“You will not marry him, but you will not survive if you do not remain strong,”
“I will not marry him?”
“No, you will not.” Queen Cassiopeia said, but deep beneath her cold dark eyes, lay a deep river of sorrow. Andromeda looked back at her mother as fear gripped her soul,
“What did you do?”
“I…,” Queen Cassiopeia started, her eyes lowered in what appeared to be shame. Andromeda had never seen her mother lost for words. Her throat suddenly felt tighter,
“Mother, what did you do?” Andromeda whimpered. Her mother held her head back up and took on a sterner expression,
“I’ve bated the gods,”
“I don’t understand,”
“I have announced, publically, to the nation that you are far more beautiful than the Nereids,”
“Mother,” Andromeda gasped. It was blasphemy. Thoughtless blasphemy. Everyone knew of the Nereid’s infamous rage. They could and would have the queen killed for this. The Nereids did not heed disrespect of any kind, particularly surrounding their beauty, which they claimed was their most prized possession. Every time someone mentioned Andromeda’s beauty, she was terrified of the consequences of their words. She feared that the Nereids would snap one day, and a well-meaning passerby would be struck down because they dared to compliment her. Andromeda looked at her cold mother wordlessly. Why would she sacrifice her life? And for what? How would such a comment stop the sickening marriage?
“Why? — they, they will have you killed,” she finally managed.
Queen Cassiopeia examined Andromeda’s beautiful face, her striking eyes were bordered with a flush of full, tear-soaked lashes. Her smooth black skin sung of the sun’s praise. Her round and perfectly shaped nose, her full supple lips. There was no doubt that Queen Cassiopeia had bore a masterpiece of a child.
“No, they will not, for I did not tell a lie,”
“I don’t under — ,”
“I cannot see you marry my brother.” the queen said harshly before a flash of sadness came across her face. Soon enough it was chased away by something hard and inexplicable, “but I can see you die if needs be. Your beauty has demanded a price, and only one of them I can pay,”
“Mother, I don’t understand,”
“The Nereids have called on Poseidon and he has spoken,” her mother said calmly and Andromeda shook her head. Her eyes now pricked with tears. “He has ordered that you be sent to Cetus as a sacrifice. Your fate is now in the sea monster’s hands,” Queen Cassiopeia said as Andromeda collapsed on the floor.