Eleanor lay on the damp sand in a bedraggled heap. The waves licked up the shore, covering her in a blanket of foam that would occasionally push her and her companion a little way inland. The day had dawned clear and sparkling fresh. The sea was a jewel set into the planet in a glittering ribbon of deep blue. The only remnants of the storm were the jelly fish and tumbled piles of seaweed which littered the beach.
A particularly large wave gushed up the sand and moved Eleanor so far that she rolled over and opened grit-filled and unfocused eyes on the bright morning. Squinting around, she tried to sit up only to cough and splutter and found a large stream of water pouring from her nose and mouth. Spluttering, and swiping at eyes that were crusted with sand and salt she peered around. The sea was lying calmly not three yards from her. She scowled at it, wondering how it could act so innocently after the raging turmoil of last night. And to her right lay the man. She looked over at his supine body, and then quickly away. The rags that had been covering him had disintegrated into threads under this final onslaught. He was naked! A giggle threatened to be torn from her throat, but she held the hysterics down, with an effort. It was just a man: a very muscled, well-built and beautiful man, but who hasn't seen one of those? She tried to reason to herself. Her mind finally kicked in. She got up and stumbled a few paces before she gained her equilibrium, and fished for her glasses. Her top had a large slash down the front, and she saw her stomach peaking through. Thankfully, her glasses had remained safe, caught in her bra strap. Her trousers had also suffered, and now resembled highly fashionable cut-off shorts. She put her glasses on. The coat was hanging off her shoulders, limply, but it appeared to have weathered the onslaught and seemed to be in one piece. And it was dry! This revelation ran through her in a little shiver of excitement.
Eleanor turned towards the man. He seemed so foreign and out of place. Lost. She had been dumped into this alien land it was true, but he seemed something more. He was washed up here by accident. He was off his planned course; wandering and alone. A name shimmered in her mind like a soap bubble. If she uttered it too soon it would burst, but it hung there, glittering with all the bright colours of possibility. She leaned down over him, and peered into his face.
It was a sun-browned and leathery face, creased by many wrinkles and a shadow of stubble covering his strong jaw, but his hair was full and dark not threaded by the grey she had expected. He had a beak of a nose that looked as though it had been broken several times. He had been aged by something. He had spent much time outside, that was clear. He was well muscled, probably from manual labour. However his hands, which she had first spotted him by, were delicate and slender and they did not seem to be part of his person, so supple were they, not rough and calloused by years of labour as she had expected to find. Each knuckle was wrapped by an artery and the fingernails were square, and well cared caught up the scraps of fabric from her trousers to cover his nakedness. Then she addressed herself to him an a voice that came out as a croak;
"Hello, can you hear me?" Surprised, she vigorously cleared her throat which rasped unpleasantly. She tried again. "Hello? Are you awake? What is your name? Where are you from?" No response.
She flattened and rested her ear to his chest, seeking a heartbeat, breathing, anything. There was nothing for a long minute, and then a very faint thump. There was a chance! She jerked upright, and began chest compressions and breathing. It was an automatic response. He felt rigid and cold and very lifeless under her hands and lips, but she kept going. She had heard a spark of life, she knew it was there. She coaxed it, like a spark in a fire, blowing on the ashes and feeding it kindling, and slowly bringing a small flame to lick around the log. After 20 minutes when she was starting to come to the end of her strength she felt his chest jerk and shudder. She leapt back as he spasmed and coughed. His eyes flew open, and she glimpsed an intense green. The sea poured out of his mouth and nose.
As the breath entered his lungs once again, he drew in a shuddering gasp. He pulled the precious air into his body. Slowly his skin began to lose its unnatural ashen tone and his face did not look so tight and waxy, like a death mask. She sat next to him, and sat him up more fully, so that his airways were clearer. He didn't notice, too taken up with the primal urge to survive.
Once he was no longer fighting for survival, his brain was beginning to throw up panic and the remnants of adrenalin from a near-death experience. His eyes roamed ceaselessly, jittering around like dice in cup. They flicked from the wine-dark sea, to Eleanor's face, back to the sea again. Down to his hands, his legs, his naked lap. Back to the girl's face. And there, they held her. Pinning her down. Now that he was no longer on death's door, he was able to regain some of his humanity and with it he had a haughty and regal manner, and a supreme confidence and power to command. All of this was conveyed in his stare in which grip Eleanor was now captive. His eyes were a dark green, the colour at the bottom of a still lake, and they raked Eleanor from her scalp to her soul and saw everything. He sat, waiting imperiously for her to speak. Eleanor knew she had to speak, had to reassure him, but the words in her throat rasped and stammered under his gaze.
"I saved you from the storm. You were sure to drown. I brought you here. I don't know where this is. Are you alright? What's your name?"
Once she had begun to speak, he had jerked his head in surprise and then as she had continued, his face had darkened and clouded. Eleanor realised with a shock that he had not understood a single word she had said.
Eleanor had always pictured the scenario; Tarzan and Jane in the jungle. He the wild savage, she the sophisticated pampered princess of culture. Separated by the thin veil of language. Jane had known that Tarzan was not really a menace and was capable of tenderness towards her and loyalty to protect her, and she knew all of this without the need for speech and language; she had just known. And for his part, Tarzan had been a fast learner and a ready pupil. And together they had managed to form an alliance. So it was with determined trepidation, and straining not to feel foolish that Eleanor had pointed to herself and said,
"Eleanor." She repeated it several times, trying to put as much force and conviction into her words as possible. Then she pointed to him. He looked blank. She went through the motions again, and again, not a flicker of response. The name which had glistened as a soap-bubble so bright and fragile in her mind was tempting her to utter it. Biting her lower lip, she tried one last time, with her new idea.
"I am Eleanor. You are Odysseus." And this time, at the sound of the ancient name, his eyes registered. His mouth opened, and he gasped at her. That was not the reaction she had necessarily expected but what happened next was even better.
"Ὀδυσσεύς!" He spoke! And he'd uttered the name. He had an accent, putting a foreign stress on the word, with an unfamiliar lilt. She said it again, nodding and smiling encouragingly at him, trying to say it with the same intonation as he had used. And then he spoke to her properly. Words bubbled out of him, and he was orating, preaching, gesticulating and motioning rapidly. His eyes were imploring. But Eleanor could not understand a single word of what he said. It was all said in a strange tongue, the likes of which she'd never heard.
"Ὀδυσσεύς eίμαι. Πώς είναι ότι γνωρίζετε, dίκαιη γένος; θαλασσοταραχή gια πολλά χρόνια tαξιδεύω. Πώς είναι δυνατόν εσείς προέρχονταν από εμένα; Σας ήταν σε θέση να αντιμετωπίσουν το στοιχειακό οργή του Ποσειδου και διάσωση μου από την άγρια θάλασσα. Έχετε πραγματικά να είναι άγιο. Αλλά πού είναι το νησί; kαι θα πρέπει να βρούμε έναν τρόπο αρχική."
I am Odysseus. How is it that you know me, fair maiden? I have been travelling the rough seas for many years. How is it that you came upon me? You were able to brave the elemental rage of Poseidon and save me from the savage sea. You are truly to be blessed. But where is this island? And I must find a way home.
"I don't understand. I cannot understand you. But you can understand me?"
"Είμαι Ὀδυσσεύς, είστε Έλενορου"
"Yes that's right, I'm Eleanor and you are Odysseus, if that is what you wish to call yourself. You were drowning at sea. I rescued you. How did you come to be lost at sea?"
As he spoke, Eleanor felt the meaning behind the strange words. It was not so much that she understood them individually, but more their collective conveyed meaning.
"My ship was destroyed and all my crew were lost to the hungry Poseidon. I was lucky to survive by holding on to the rounded keel of my sturdy boat. And then you, fair maiden, came to my rescue. I owe you my life."
A sudden thought made his eyes blaze and he studied her face with a seriousness and intensity, "You are no maiden, Eleanor. No, you are the dread goddess, Καλυψώ of the lovely hair!" and he reached forward and ran a hand through Eleanor's long golden hair. She was shocked by the sudden move towards her head, but did not jerk away from his touch, and sat stock still as his fingers twined in her hair, and travelled down to caress her cheek. "I owe you a great debt, Καλυψώ, one which will surely not be repaid in one lifetime alone."
"Don't mention it," Eleanor mumbled feeling herself blush hotly.
Eleanor rose shakily to her feet.
"We should explore this place; find some water, some food and shelter. Who knows how long we will be here for?" The man got to his feet as well, and seemed to notice his state of undress for the first time. A smile curved his lips.
"I shall make a skirt of grass so as to cover my nakedness before you."
"Good plan," Eleanor said quickly, looking anywhere but him, and said, "I'll start exploring, try to get a feel for how big this island is."
Eleanor strode off up the beach, leaving Odysseus standing holding her trouser ends. She made her way along the beach, back towards the bluff from which she's spotted him the previous night. Again, she scaled the rocks, her toes seeking out purchase on the slick rocks and stood atop the cliff, facing out towards the sparkling water. Faint whitecaps tipped the waves far out to sea, and a salty breeze added a refreshing edge to the humid day. The sun was already far overhead, and she could feel that her nose and chest were burning. She took the heavy coat off from her shoulders, relieved from its heavy weight but missing its comfort and protection, and tied it around her waist, not wishing to leave it behind, preferring to keep it close at hand. Then she turned around so that the sea was at her back, and surveyed the island spread out before her. From what she could see, the bluff was the highest point on the island and the treetops were spread below her.
The island was subtropical in vegetation so that there were palms and grassy scrub as well as a tangled rainforest jungle spreading over the western side. She was on the eastern side, and the width between the north and the south she estimated to be about a mile and a half. The northern edge of the island was jagged and jutted sharply out into the sea and the beach was a broken tumble of rocks where the full might of the ocean pounded and sent the swell in a foaming white spray far up the rock. The southern beach was calmer, as was the east, where she had landed, thankfully, as she quailed from the strength of such breakers, fearing for her bones. The southern side of the island also seemed to have several coves and inlets that proved promising for fishing and hunting as any wild animals inhabiting the island would surely prefer that protected stretch of beach to hunt as well. Eleanor set off to quarter the land. It wasn't a very large stretch of land; she estimated that it was probably 8 square miles when rounded up or down. It was approximately the size of the Heath/Richmond Park/etc in London, which she had strolled many times, with a book in hand. Now she set off to explore, drinking in the exotic smell of the plants and birdsong and enjoying the hot sun on her back.
She walked every inch of the island, finding several areas she wished to return to and explore more closely later as they held potential. She found indication of native animals; wild dogs most probably, but the most important find of her reconnaissance was fresh water from a spring which bubbled up from some rocks not all too far from the bluff. She found a coconut and managed to crack it with some boulders, and emptied out the milk before chipping out some of the flesh, which was flaky and sweet. Then she scooped up as much of the water from the spring as she could, and made her way back down to the beach where she hoped Odysseus would still be.
There, she found Odysseus, wearing an interesting garment of large banana leaves and her jeans and had managed to conjure a fire from a pile of damp dead wood and dried leaves and he too had found some coconuts and started boiling water in the shell of one. Also in his pile of treasure from his beachcombing was a hunk of sturdy wood which held potential for many objects, the first of which Eleanor thought would be a proper bowl, and secondly a knife. She walked down to the water's edge and searched out a sharp stone, and then returned and began to work at the wood, first by placing some hot ashes in its centre to soften the wood, and then working the sharp stone around and around, hollowing it out and carving it and grinding it down, until there was a deep crater, parabolic and slightly wonky but which may loosely be called a bowl. Odysseus reached out and took it from her hands, his hand closing over hers in the process, and Eleanor felt herself blush again. He held up the bowl, turned it between his hands and admired it, before turning a look of admiration on Eleanor.
"You're welcome," she said stolidly. Then she reached out, wrapping her hand in the fabric from her trousers to remove the blackened coconut shell from the fire. The little water inside had boiled, and she decanted it into the bowl with what was left from her gathering, and handed it to Odysseus. He locked eyes with her,
"You should be the first to drink, fair maiden."
"Don't give me any of that, I'm not a damsel in distress, you were the one who almost drowned. Now drink it." He nodded, not arguing and respecting her defiance and wish to be treated as an equal. He raised the bowl to the sky and spoke in his flowing language, offering up his thanks and a prayer to the gods, before pouring a libation and drinking deeply.
When he lowered the bowl, he held it out to Eleanor. She reached to take it from his hands, but he held it to her mouth and tilted it so that the water trickled onto her salt-parched and sunburnt lips. She opened her mouth and allowed the cool water to slip down her throat. She swallowed gratefully again and again.
Eleanor put her hands to the water-smooth wood of the bowl, deftly avoiding the slender fingers which wrapped the curves and lay along the grain of the wood, and lowered it from her lips, her eyes searching the weather-beaten face before her. Odysseus was looking at her, the whole of her being; studying the shape of her nose and the slender curve of her body beneath her thin shirt and the way the sun touched her hair. Eleanor saw him studying her in minute detail and sat still and calmly under his probing, penetrating look. Then she turned and addressed him, blurting out the questions to which she so desperately wanted answers.
"Where are you from? How have you come to be here? What is your story?"
Eleanor felt his eyes rake her frame once more and became aware of the damp top clinging to her slender frame and the slash in it revealing her stomach. She was normally shy and hid herself behind a façade of eccentric, plain, simple or frumpy clothes. She was a silent component in any group, preferring to observe and consider her words with care before giving her opinion or risking judgement by speaking her thoughts too soon, but now, in this situation she saw that holding back would be foolish and that there was no reason to be shy around this complete stranger when they might as well be the only two people in the universe. Odysseus saw the question in her brow and the softness of her adolescent skin but he also saw the years that had been put on her: in her hands and the set of her shoulders. He took all this in, finding the concern in her brow was ever-present and her heart had a large capacity to care for others and now, all this energy and compassion was focused like a spotlight on him. He found that he felt he could trust this girl implicitly and that he owed her a great debt that he would be unlikely to ever repay. And yet she was unconscious of how great this price was and would not hold it ever-present in her mind when speaking with him. In fact, he saw, she had saved him from the terrible and deadly rage of Poseidon without a second's thought for her own wellbeing, as blind natural instinct, intent only on saving the life of a complete stranger. Once he had come to this revelation, he knew that her asking him these personal questions was not out of selfish misplaced interesting, but purely the desire to help, once again, and probably from a deep-set curiosity, which he himself recognised as he shared the same quality.
The sun was setting in a dramatic splash of colour, sinking behind the cliff of the headland and its rays hitting the water and painting it into many shades of crimson, vermillion, carmine, scarlet, ruby and rust. Eleanor tried to count all the colours and found that it was an impossible task. Odysseus built up the fire and made sure there was a good supply of fuel for the night. Eleanor had pulled the rippling midnight fabric of her coat close around her shoulders again as the heat of the day fled with the rising of the large sickle-shaped blue moon, which looked like someone had taken a knife and slashed a gash into the fabric of night and the light from heaven behind was shining through, bleaching the sand a bone-white gleam. Odysseus sat next to Eleanor on the sand, watching the starts come out one by one and told his tale.
"I have been travelling for 10 years now, after the epic battle of Troy where we fought for a long and gruelling campaign, and it was only through trickery and deceit that we finally were able to deliver the killing blow to that fair city, razing it to the ground. I have sailed the wine-dark sea with a faithful crew and a dependable ship. We have had many adventures and strange happenings and seen sights which I myself would scarce believe if I had not witnessed their alien strangeness for myself and will no-doubt be disbelieved of their details by my fellows to the point they shall suspect me of being not sound of mind – what a tangled web does fate weave for us! – but slowly through our many trial and adventures my brave comrades have been slain or lost, and the wrath of Ποσειδον (Poseidon) has many-a-time hindered our progress. The Goddess Aθήνα (Athena) has protected me and been my patron through my long voyages, but when we came upon the land of the Cyclopes we were trapped by Πολυφημος (Polyphemus). I blinded and enraged and tricked him and he called the wrath of his father Ποσειδον down on me, asking that I be prevented from returning to my home of Iθαkα (Ithaca), but if this could not be granted, that I arrive alone with my crew dead, in a stranger's ship. The latest attempt to detain me from my home and my loving wife Πηνελόπη (Penelope) and my little son Tηλεμαχος (Telemachus) was the storm from which you so bravely rescued me last night. In that same storm my raft was finally destroyed. I was sure to drown in the raging tempest had it not been for your bravery.
"Now I find myself stranded on yet another strange land that is not my fatherland, at your mercy it would seem, and I must supplicate you and beg that you will help me to find a way to return to my home and my family. I am already several times in your debt and owe you my life, but I must once again seek your help."
It was a brief telling, as if the long version had been told too often and caused too much pain in the remembering. Eleanor would have to be content with that, but she was more than familiar with it.
"But I don't believe it!" she cried with incredulity, "You aren't just a wanderer, you are The Odysseus! Homer wrote about you, and ballads and great poems are sung about you! What year is it?" Eleanor asked desperately, struggling to believe. "You have epithets for the gods' sakes!"
"It has been almost 10 years since the conclusion of the 10-year campaign against Troy. I have been away from home for 20 years."
Eleanor would have gone on to question him more closely but he cut in,
"And what of you, mysterious maiden Καλυψώ? How did a nymph such as yourself come to be on this island and rescuing strange men from the rage of the Sea God?" he asked, in a joking and light-hearted way. Her lips curved into a smile.
"I myself hardly know let alone comprehend how it came to be that I was transported to this foreign land, far from my own fatherland." She stopped, confronted by the flowery and archaic nature of her speech. She must be picking up habits from Odysseus. She grinned at herself and continued. "I am a scholar and was carrying out some research when I came upon an oracle who set before me a prophecy that I alone was destined to be able to complete. I still do not fully understand it in its magnitude and majesty. This is the first stop on my quest. I only comprehend my quest in its subconscious component and will not know what path fate has laid for me unless I am able to walk the path blindly and without questioning my steps, letting my feet guide me and let my heart be in control," Which shall be a challenge, she said silently to herself, to turn off my brain and stop analyzing, and let my heart be the guide, "So I am as lost in this land as you."
Odysseus did not seem surprised to hear this. "I suspected that you were on quest from the Gods; you have that aura around you of one who is on celestial undertaking."
Odysseus reached over and brushed Eleanor's check with his fingertips, so lightly she wasn't sure if it had happened. She turned her head sideways to find his face inches from her own, the deep pools of his green eyes reflecting the brilliance of the moon. He reached out again, slowly, and Eleanor did not pull away as his strong delicate hand moved through her hair, smoothing and caressing. His hand moved down her back, exploring the arc of her tanned skin. Eleanor tentatively reached out towards him and found that as she moved forward Odysseus was suddenly very close, his breath warm on her face. He leaned in and his lips brushed hers, like his fingers had done, so soft and gentle, and inviting. He made to move away, but Eleanor reached out and took his face in her hands and kissed him. He returned it passionately. They were locked together. Eleanor was flooded with adrenalin as they kissed again, more slowly, and her brain had stopped processing rational thought, but her heart was filled with ardour and passion. The motion of the waves pervaded their bodies, and the night smiled on these two lone lovers. Eventually, they lay entangled in each other, spent and soft with affection, the rhythm of their breathing in time with the waves.