“Nessus accursed by the gods, whose inex’rable nemesis, Zeus’ son,
Now has been set on his prey. Fate’s cold hand rests on your shoulder,
Rests too firmly on Heracles’ arm. Both carry a poison,
Venomous, fatal and fell. Both bring pain, torturous ag’ny,
Death to the other at last. This boon is the prize for your vile sins.”
Pythia, Becoming Jason, Chapter 58
The centaur skulked in the dense undergrowth of the wood, his overpowering stench masked by the apple blossom pendulously cladding the trees around him. A gentle zephyr wafted through the glade, the bright Mounychion sunlight playing with the shadows. Though it was still just after dawn, the air beyond the western edge of the glade, down by the River Evenus was already warm. But here in the shade of the dense blossom and foliage it was chilly. The centaur shivered from the coldness of the breeze blowing through his thinning grey pelt, not from any shame at the atrocities he was about to perpetrate. He was Nessus, child of Ixion’s rape of Nephele: he had no shame; atrocities and barbarity were the birthright of his clan. His clan. He felt a hint of sadness overwhelmed by a torrent of hatred and anger at the thought. His clan, who were all dead, slaughtered by the stinking humans, their fetid claims of civilisation putrefied in the acid of their actions. His clan was now one. He alone, the last centaur. That unnatural abomination – Cheiron – who could not even die properly, he did not count as a centaur. No, it was just him. Lonely. Alone. Disgusted. Disgusting. Hated. Hating. But he would have his revenge on the uncivilised humans.
Finally the ferryman came into view. He was whistling jocularly. The pleasant sound grated in Nessus’ ears and steeled his heart still further. The agonising moments during which Nessus had to endure that strident cacophony seemed to last forever until the ignorant fool came into range. Almost too soon Nessus galloped from the bushes, snarling through a filthy white beard. Though nearly sixty years of age he was more than a match for the young ferryman, on top of him before he could react. The poor man gaped at the rabid centaur through terrified, shocked eyes, his last vision being the centaur’s hooves as they dashed his face. The force of the assault shattered the poor man’s jaw, nose and skull, blood pouring from the split skin as he lay in the grass. Whether or not the centaur realised the ferryman was dead, he continued to beat the corpse’s body with his hooves. When the centaur’s fury was sated, his atrocities escalated. With calm, cold deliberation Nessus breakfasted on his victim’s flesh, caring naught for its pitiful soul. He rent the clothes from the body with bloodstained hands. He tore at the carcass, though there was scant meat upon it. This was not about the beast’s last meal. This was about an outcast defiling the world.
Finally, when at last the corpse was completely naked, its body ripped apart, the centaur discarded his prey like it was a worthless criminal, carrion for the vultures in wild dogs. Though to anyone foolish enough to pass by Nessus had demonstrated little concern, the body was well concealed in the deep undergrowth on the eastern bank of the River Evenus, a deliberate action. This was merely the beginning, by no means the culmination of the abominations he planned for today.
Copyright Paul S. Withers © 2010