A speck of light emerged from the blackness. It was small, distant, but at last he could see it.
“I see a light,” Orion said. It was early, the morning heat yet to warm the air.
“You see that?” Cedalion replied. “Good, there could be hope for you yet.”
“How much farther, do you think?”
“Another month. Maybe more, maybe less.”
Orion sighed. He was sick of this blindness and resented having to travel to the world’s edge to reverse it. The world was too big.
“I grow hungry. See if you can spot us some breakfast.”
Sitting above his shoulders he could feel the boy, his guide for the journey, twist as he scoped the land. “It’s getting more arid, we’ll probably be running into less wildlife.”
“Will have to look harder then, won’t you?”
“There’re shrubs to our right, we can find some berries there.”
“I eat the creatures that eat the berries.”
“Suit yourself,” Cedalion said cheerily. He rose to his feet on Orion’s broad shoulders, who stopped to help balance him. Orion too steadied his breathing and used his other senses. There was little smell of vegetation, which he was loathe to agree would mean less meat going forward. At least this was a sign of progress. There was a gentle breeze, making the only sound the ruffling of Cedalion’s tunic. And a rustling in the grass.
“Looks to be a hare half a stadion at a quarter turn to your left,” Cedalion said quietly in his ear.
“I hear it,” the hunter said, sliding the bow from his arm. Carefully he crept towards the animal, using the balls of his feet to check the ground for hazards. There was a slight incline as he flattened the dry, patchy grass underfoot. “How does this slope progress?”
“Upwards for twenty paces then drops more steeply at the other side. The hare is at its foot.”
Orion counted his steps, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and stopped before the hill’s crest, where his enormous figure would be less likely seen. Cedalion slouched low over his head, his arm grasping over Orion’s useless eyes. With fluid motion he reached for his quiver, felt the feathers between his fingers and nocked the arrow on the bowstring.
“Guide me,” he whispered to the boy as with controlled strength he drew back the arrow and aimed in the direction of the hare. He could hear the grass cracking as it paced lightly beneath him, its nose twitching as it scratched its ear.
Cedalion patted him on his right shoulder and he moved his aim to the right. Again. Again. Stop. He brushed his fingers upwards and Orion raised the bow to match. Stop. The only variable now was the strength to put in the shot. He had an idea of the distance, but remained unsure of the appropriate use of force.
He released the arrow and the string snapped the air as its feathers brushed his cheek. He followed the arrow’s flight as it shot towards his victim, flying, flying, stroking the creature’s head and burying into the ground behind it. Too much strength.
“Too high,” Cedalion said as the terrified hare bolted into the distance.
“Quiet!” Orion snapped, as he listened to recapture his target. The parting grass was moving rapidly away from him, tiny paws pattering the ground in a desperate race for survival. He took a breath and traced the hare’s path.
Ripping another arrow from his quiver in one move he cocked the bow and released it. Again it flew with almighty speed, before a soft thump brought it to a halt. Orion held still and listened. Silence.
“You got it,” Cedalion said.
Orion rose from his haunches and stretched his calves, striding down the hill to collect his breakfast.
“Made it hard for yourself missing the easy shot. Trying to impress me?”
“If I had my sight I would not need a second shot,” the hunter boasted. “The worst you can do from me is run, I always get what I want.”
Orion found the hare pinned to the ground, a clean shot through the eye. It wouldn’t have felt a thing. He pulled it from its skewer and looked upwards as he returned both arrows to his quiver. The dot of light in the distance continued its ascent to the sky. “We best make a move. The sun waits for no man.”
“Do you know what you’re going to say to him?” Cedalion asked, casually propping his head up on a arm draped over Orion’s skull.
“To whom?” Orion said, his great legs effortlessly eating up the distance.
“Helios. Surely you’ve had enough time to think of something.”
“What else? I will ask him to restore my sight.”
“And what if he asks how you lost it?”
“I’ll tell him a foolish old man took it from me, slashing my eyes when I was in no position to defend myself.”
“I see. Don’t worry, he probably won’t ask, he’s not much of a conversationalist. I guess he’s been alone too long looking down on us.”
“You’ve met him?” Orion asked.
“Once, when he came to see Hephaestus, my master. He didn’t stay long, it wasn’t the happiest of visits.” He paused, waiting for Orion to bite.
“Alright, you’ve intrigued me,” Orion conceded. “Why did he visit the smith god?”
“Well they don’t call him the all-seeing for nothing. And one day as he travelled across the sky he saw something he felt my master ought to know.”
“Don’t be coy, what did he see?”
“Only my master’s wife Aphrodite in a different kind of close quarters with the war god,” he teased. “Watch for the drop ahead.”
“Ha! That does not surprise me,” Orion said, his foot plunging over the ridge without breaking stride.
“Why not?” Cedalion asked, gripping Orion’s hair to steady himself.
“Without wishing to disrespect your master, the goddess of beauty will think herself above a deformity like Hephaestus. Vows of marriage mean nothing to women like that. They do what they wish without thought for their oaths. Many women don’t realise the power they have over men, that they hold their happiness in their hand. The dangerous ones do. I know.”
“So Merope was holding your happiness?” Cedalion asked glibly.
“We were both happy, until her father stole it from us!” Orion said, his voice nearly breaking. Cedalion felt the hunter’s shoulders tense, firm like iron, nearly casting him off. The ground, though never still, trembled with each thudded step.
“I see him now. His old, twisted face, bursting into the room we shared. The shine of malice in his eyes as he swung his knife to steal mine. Were I not hazy with wine he would have died on his daughter’s bed. I swear, once my sight is returned, Oenopion’s eyes shall be the place from which I begin to make him suffer.”
Orion looked skywards as Helios began his daily charge to the heavens. There was no doubt the sun god’s aura was larger, casting a brighter light on him, but still he seemed so far. The hunger was near constant now, and Cedalion was making little effort to talk. What he wouldn’t give for the touch of a woman.
He dropped his head, wishing he could see his feet to will them on. Sweat dripped from the ends of his hair, now they were walking through every other night. Inhaling deeply, all he could smell was the humidity. Even this early heat cooked his already exerted muscles. He tried to think how long since he left Hephaestus’s forge, but time had lost all perspective in permanent darkness.
Cedalion was busying his mind by drawing patterns on the hunter’s shoulder. Normally he paid it no mind, but he was picking for a fight.
“Stop that,” he commanded. The boy did so without argument, and they continued in unwelcome silence. “How lays the land?” Orion asked.
“Flat to the north. Flat to the south. Flat in front and behind.”
“Would you like a rest?”
“Not unless you do.”
Orion took a few more steps. “Then we continue.” He sighed and strode on. Putting a hand to his belt he pawed for the leather waterskin. Lightly he felt the weight to gauge its contents, though he had already checked it was empty.
“Any sign of water?” he asked, trying to sound offhand.
“None,” Cedalion responded curtly, also irritated by the heat. “Why not ask your father?”
“I may be Poseidon’s son, but he has given me nothing since my life,” Orion said. Ah, his father. He remembered when his mother told him his father was a god his heart nearly burst with pride, the self assurance he had always felt now justified. He always knew he was meant for more, even if he was only a demigod. Was his father looking down on him now?
He was snapped from his musing by a prickling in his ear. The faintest of grunts to his side. He turned to face the noise, his senses alert.
“What is it?” asked Cedalion, suddenly interested again. He strained to hear more, a heavy breathing that was not human. It was distant, nearing the horizon. He looked back towards the sun in the east, the path he had undeviatingly tread all this time.
“We’re taking a diversion.”
Swiftly he made in the direction of the noise. With every step it grew louder. It was big, bigger than anything they had encountered for weeks. Finally he caught it in his nostrils, the smell strong, foul, and he knew it immediately. Orion smiled with delight, breaking into a run.
“I see something,” Cedalion called, “growing in the distance.” He wrapped his hands in Orion’s damp hair to steady himself against his great pace. It appeared as if it had sprung from the ground itself, a mighty creature of muscle standing stark against the open plain, its horns glinting in Helios’s light. “A bull! It must be huge, near the size of you!”
“Tell me if it sees me,” Orion said without slowing.
“Why? There must be a herd nearby, easier targets.”
“The only target is the strongest. If you merely challenge the weak you have no right to them,” Orion growled. He began grunting like the bull, guttural, flexing his muscles and raising his blood. He beat his thigh and pounded his chest. He could near smell the adrenaline through the sweat and the heat.
The bull was almost in range as he pulled an arrow for his bow. Cedalion cowered as the hunter heaved the drawstring with biceps larger than the boy’s head. Sprinting now, he loosed the arrow, and chased after it. With terrific speed the arrow soared towards the bull and ricocheted off the tip of its horn.
“You missed!” Cedalion gasped.
“No,” Orion said, finally coming to a halt. The bull roared, snapping its head towards its aggressor. “Letting it know we’re here.”
The bull bellowed again as it slammed its foot and launched into a charge. The ground shook, stones trying to flee its path as it rapidly narrowed the gap. Orion planted his feet and pushed his strength through his legs, becoming one with the earth. He gritted his teeth and steadied his breath, anticipating the moment of collision. Cedalion was frozen in terror, his protector unable to see the beast’s flaring nostrils and the fire in its eyes.
Orion and the bull screamed their battle cries. Closer. Closer.
A titanic smash boomed as the bull met the hunter. His entrenched feet tore through gravel as he pushed against the raw force with all his might. A horn slashed his tunic as Cedalion cried, the razor end within inches of his chest. He held one horn underarm and one over in a mighty grapple, testing each other’s will. The bull tried to buck its head but was pinned by Orion’s weight. It started jumping side to side, weakening its opponent’s stance and with a final leap freed its head, making Orion stumble and sending Cedalion tumbling to the ground.
The boy landed hard, the air knocked from his lungs, before curling into a ball at the sight of four giant hooves hammering around him. Orion retreated to recover his step, but was body slammed by the bull’s side. Sensing the bull he caught its horns as it wildly swung its head, though not quick enough to stop one spearing his thigh. He suppressed the pain, gripping both horns and removing his leg, coated in hot blood. The bull again started bounding, carrying Orion with it. It tried to throw him. It tried to shake him. It tried to gore him, but the hunter kept his grip. He held, and held, holding for his moment, his opportunity. Another flurry of leaps and the bull again landed, wearied. Orion kicked with a strong foot, buckling the bull’s front leg and with all his power ripped the horns around, shattering the bull’s mighty neck.
Its enormous body crashed to the ground, next to Cedalion who lay motionless in a ball. Orion slumped to his knees, the pain from his leg stabbing him anew. He placed his hand on the wound as the blood wept through his fingers. Throwing his fist in the air he released his tension with a mighty roar. Once it was gone he began panting again.