The Boy Hero

The snow fell in light flakes that blanketed the entire neighborhood. Staring out at them was like staring into another world. Everything was white and pristine, unblemished by the graffiti and pollution that would normally greet his gaze. Litter was a normal sight, but the snow covered it up. The street lamps lit the road even at this late hour. Even though there was no one dumb enough to go out onto the streets on a night like this. Even though the snow had come down so heavily that cars were completely covered.

He tiptoed out of his bedroom and out into the living room. His parents slept soundly, their door closed. They would likely not hear him even if he made noise, but he wanted to stay silent. The Christmas tree, small and false, provided the only light, flickering reds and greens and blues. No gifts sat under it; Christmas was still days away.

“You wanna go outside?” his grandfather asked. The voice came from the corner of the room, where grandfather’s chair always sat with grandfather in it. Even at this late hour, he was there. The boy knew his grandfather had his own bedroom to sleep in, but it seemed as if the old man never moved from his chair. He even ate dinner in his chair, which made the boy jealous, because the boy never got to eat dinner in his own room. Always at the table.

“Yes,” the boy said, even though he knew his parents would absolutely forbid him.

“Then go,” grandfather said. “Go out there. It’s where you belong, boy. You’re not supposed to be here.” His voice was different than it normally was. Grandfather always had the strongest voice, even though it quivered with old age. Now it was just all quiver with no strength.

“Can I really?” the boy asked in wonder. His parents would forbid it, but grandfather was dad’s parent.

“There’s no magic in here for you,” grandfather told the boy. “You gotta go now if you ever want to find it. Hurry!”

The boy threw open the front door and ran out. He didn’t even bother to change out of his pajamas or put on shoes. He threw open the door to the stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator, and ran down them in the dim light. Already his fingers and toes were beginning to tingle from the chill.

There was no night watchman in this building; even if there had been, he would have never made it through the snow. And no robbers would dare brave the elements. Though the weather was treacherous, it was the safest time to be in the city, because no one could do anything, even if that thing was evil.

The boy threw the doors open and waltzed out into the cold. It slapped him harder than his mother ever had. But he kept walking out into it, ignoring it as best he could. The snow reached up to his knees, but he trudged out, down the steps. He wrapped his arms around himself to keep warm.

His socks soaked through almost instantly. His toes felt like they were already frozen. After a few minutes of walking, he couldn’t feel them any more. His legs and hands were soon to approach the same fate.

But he walked on, down the sidewalk, away from the apartment. The snow fell down around him, so beautiful. A homeless man in an alley shivered, protected from the snow only by fire escapes and the narrowness of the alley.

The boy was so cold, but he could not turn around and go back. A street lamp in the distance made the swirling snow into a magic halo. He trudged for it. Snot ran down his nose as his ears burned in freezing pain.

The lamp seemed so far away. He tripped and fell in the snow. It didn’t hurt to fall. He could barely feel anything at all. But it was a struggle to stand again. He wasn’t even sure if he could get up. The snow fluttered down onto his back and began to blanket him. He felt sleepy and warm again, even under all the snow. Maybe it would be a good blanket and the snow was soft and downy, much better than his hard bed back at home.

“You really should be getting up, boy,” a voice said.

The boy rolled over onto his back and looked into the face of a satyr. “Who are you?” the boy asked.

“I am Faun,” the satyr told him. “You really should not be sleeping in the middle of nowhere.”

The boy sat up and looked around. He was wet all over and still cold, but the snow had melted. The street lamp was actually a phosphorescent moss on the side of a tree. In this deep forest, it glowed even though singular rays of sunlight managed to creep through the canopy.

“How did I get here?” the boy wondered. He shivered one more time, even though the air was warm and comforting.

“How should I know that?” Faun replied. “How did I get here? That’s a greater question for me.”

“Did you fall asleep in the snow too?” the boy asked.

The satyr laughed heavily and heartily. “Gods no, though perhaps one day I might get drunk enough to try it. I walked here, that’s how I got here, and I saw you lying in the leaves. This is no place for a young boy to be.”

“I’m not a young boy!” the boy objected, even though he knew full well that he was one. “I’m a magical hero.”

“Are you now?” Faun asked, looking him over with a critical eye. “You don’t look very heroic or very magical to me.”

“But I am,” the boy insisted. “I was laying in the snow and then I was here. I must be magical and if I’m magical, that must mean I’m a hero.”

“Well, that is a turn of logic worthy of Aristotle,” Faun exclaimed. “But I do suppose I need more proof than that if I’m to believe you’re actually a hero. Which of the gods was your father?”

The boy shook his head. “I don’t have a god father,” he said.

“Your mother, perhaps? Did you spring from Hera’s loins? Or perhaps Demeter’s coupling with a mortal man produced you, did it? Is that what you’re telling me?” Faun did not seem convinced by his own suggestions.

“No sir,” the boy answered. “Those aren’t my mother either. My mom’s named Shaquel.”

“Well, that’s no goddess I know,” Faun decided. “Though I suppose it may be one of the goddesses from some other, far away land. Perhaps Aksum, even. Are you from Aksum, boy?”

“No, I’m from New York,” the boy answered quite truthfully. He had never even heard of Aksum before. “But maybe my ancestors are from there,” he eventually decided. He did not want the satyr to dismiss him so easily. “In fact, I bet that’s it. My ancestors are from that place.”

Faun nodded his head slowly. “Perhaps they are,” the satyr said. “But should we really rely on bets and maybes? I don’t think that sounds very wise, do you?”

The boy shook his head slowly. “I guess not. What should we do then?”

“If you really are a hero, perhaps you can do some heroic deed and prove it then!” the satyr suggested.

“Yes!” the boy agreed, nodding vigorously. “I’ll do something heroic!” But the boy did not have much idea on what he could do. He stood there, fidgeting, looking askance at Faun and waiting for the satyr to present an idea to him.

Finally, the satyr realized the boy was not going to offer up any heroic suggestions. “Well, there is a great beast terrorizing this forest. If you were to slay it, you would easily prove that you are a hero.”

The boy’s eyes went wide. “What sort of beast?” he asked nervously. He thought it was ok to be nervous, even though he was supposed to be a hero. Even heroes got nervous, he thought, especially when they didn’t know what they were going to be fighting.

“It is a monster,” the satyr explained. “A long time ago, this land was ruled by a king. He was a great and powerful king and ruled over an entire city and all the surrounding lands. He had declared this entire forest his own private hunting ground, even though it was rich in game. His people despaired, because they were left with only small groves and the rivers to fish for their own meat.

“One day, the king was hunting in the forest. His men had spotted a great hart with so many branches upon its antlers that they had begun to sprout leaves and acorns. The king resolved to slay the hart and claim it as his trophy.

“But the hart was too great a foe for him. Whenever he or his men drew near, it would bound off. Once they managed to pin it in, but it bounded over them. The horses and hounds were sent into such a frenzy that men were thrown from the saddle and trampled and the hounds tore into each other and the horses and the fallen men as well. Yet this bloodshed only strengthened the king’s resolve to slay the great hart.

“For days he tracked the stag until finally he came upon it drinking from a stream. He sent his men off, only confident in his own abilities to subdue it. As he drew nearer, an arrow cut through the forest and struck the hart upon the breast. The mighty creature was gravely wounded, but a single arrow could not fell it, so it ran off.

“The king was enraged, for the arrow came not from his hunting party. He stormed out into the clearing and demanded the shooter reveal himself. Out from the woods emerged a woman wearing a knee-length tunic with a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder.

“The king immediately recognized her for the goddess Artemis and, had he been a wise man, he would have fallen to his knees and praised her. But he was arrogant and petty and demanded that the goddess pay penance for her actions.

“‘This forest belongs to me and none may hunt in it but me,’ the king shouted at her. ‘The penalty for unlawful hunting is death.’

“Artemis regarded the king coolly. ‘But I have not slain the beast yet,’ she reminded the king. ‘Merely wounded it. Thus I have committed no crime against you. If anything, I have aided you in your hunt, because you alone would have been unable to hunt the stag.’

“But the king was not placated by those words. ‘Even so, it was my right alone to hunt it. I do not wish your death, however. I will take something from you as payment for your misdeeds.’

“Artemis considered for some time and finally handed the king a single arrow. ‘With this, you shall be able to slay the hart. But you must dedicate the beast to me and give me my due sacrifice of the meat for the assistance I granted you in this hunt.’

“The king took the arrow without a word and Artemis departed. He then tracked the wounded beast through the forest until he found it, licking its wound beside a tree. He nocked his arrow and let it fly. It struck true and the beast let out a shuddering breath before falling and moving no more.

“The king and his men took the hart back to his palace, where he threw a great feast. Yet when the time came to dedicate the meal and make a sacrifice, the king only proclaimed himself and forgot about Artemis entirely. As the last bit of meat was devoured by the guests, the head of the hart, which had been kept as a trophy, began to speak.

“It spoke with Artemis’s voice. ‘You broke your vow to me,’ the head said. ‘You failed to offer me my due and you ignored my contributions to your hunt!’

“The king leapt to his feet in fright. ‘But I never made any promise,’ the king said. ‘And you broke the laws of my land. If I were to accept your offer, I would be bargaining with a criminal, not punishing one!’

“‘The laws of a mortal king mean nothing to the gods,’ Artemis told the king. ‘For your arrogance, you shall forever pay!’ And the head of the hart devoured the king and all the guests that had feasted on it. The head grew a new body made of the flesh of the men it had consumed, which made it many times larger than it had been before. The beast returned to the forest it had once dwelt in. Though the people rejoiced at first, because with the king dead they could hunt the forest at their leisure, the monstrous hart killed any man who dared hunt in its grounds.”

The boy was trembling after hearing that story. What could he do against such a vicious monster? He wanted to begin weeping, but heroes did not weep, and to cry now would betray his lie too soon to the satyr. “But how can I fight such a mighty beast?” the boy asked. “I have no bows or arrows to hunt with.”

The satyr smiled at the boy. “Of course you don’t! And even if you had a bow and arrows, they would not be enough to stop this monster. You must get magical items before you could ever hope to slay it!”

The boy sighed because he felt with magic, he might truly be able to succeed. “Where can we get these magical items?” the boy asked the satyr.

“There are many places,” Faun declared. “But of course not everything is suited to fighting a stag like the one that haunts this wood. There are three things you’ll need. Can you think what they are?”

“Bow and arrows,” the boy said, because those were the obvious ones. They were the tools of the hunter and would be used to bring down the hart. But what could the third item be? It could be anything, the boy thought. After a few moments of contemplation, he answered, “Shoes to help me sneak up on it.” Though he wasn’t sure if that was the right answer, he guessed it may have been, since the satyr told him the hart had been difficult to capture.

But Faun shook his head. “No, that’s not it. The Heian Hart no longer has to fear man hunting him. It does not run, but instead charges at any that come near and attempts to gore them. So does that tell you what you’ll need?”

The boy thought some more. “Some armor,” he decided. “So that when the hart charges me, it will not be able to harm me.”

Faun smiled at him and shook his head again. “No, that’s not it either. You were actually right the first time, though just not for the proper reasons. You truly must sneak up on it so that your first shot will fly true and slay the hart before it has a chance to react. So shoes for sneaking are what you must retrieve.”

The boy let out another sigh of relief, because he didn’t really want to have to face down the charging monster, even if he would have armor to protect him from it. “But where do we get these magic items?” the boy asked. “I don’t know anyone who has them.”

Faun shook his head in disappointment. “Some hero you are, then! But do not despair, because I happen to know of three who can provide you with the tools to defeat the Heian Hart.”

Faun led the boy from the forest to the home of a herder. The herder lived in simplicity on the top of a mountain, though he cared for hundreds of cattle and bulls. When the satyr approached, the herder fled into his home and returned with a bow and arrow. “You shall not have my wife,” the herder warned the satyr.

“Do not worry,” Faun said, waving the herder away. “Oenone is not the reason I come, at least not while her husband is around.” The satyr herded the boy toward the herder. “He is the reason I have ventured all this way.”

“Him?” the herder asked in disbelief. “What could you be doing with this young boy? And why would I be interested in him.”

“He is a great hero,” the satyr said with deep seriousness. “He has claimed he will slay the Heian Hart, but owns no weapons to do it. We beg that you lend him your bow.”

“My bow?” the herder asked. He held it out; it was a simple thing made of a piece of bent wood and sinew. It looked hardly the type to slay a legendary beast and the herder said so.

“And yet your bow will one day bring down the greatest hero of the age,” the satyr said, though with a mocking tone.

The herder handed over his bow despite Faun’s mockery. “If my bow will bring down a great beast, then that is all I could ask of this world. Do well by me, will you, young hero?”

“I promise,” the boy said, speaking for the first time to the herder. His voice was shaking. The bow was almost as big as he was. He tried to draw the string back and could only pull it a short distance before it became too much for him to bear.

But before he could object, Faun was leading him off. The two of them walked some distance before they came to a city named Meliboea. The satyr led the boy through the city to the palace of the king. The king looked upon the satyr warily.

“I know satyrs to be tricksters and deviants,” the king said. He was an old man who looked to have once been very powerful. “Why should I not strike you down right now with the poison that killed one of your kind and slew the greatest hero of all?”

Faun bowed low to the king. “It’s true that satyrs are not to be relied upon, but I am not here of my own accord. Instead, I bring this young hero.” Faun then presented the boy to the king.

“This boy? What sort of hero is he?” the king demanded to know.

“None yet,” the satyr said. “Though he hopes to be one some day. He seeks to slay the Heian Hart, but his bow is without arrows. Surely you could lend a few to aid in this task?”

The king looked down on the boy, who had not spoken and more cowered behind Faun’s haunches than step out and face the king on his own. “You are to be a great hero?” the king asked the boy.

The boy was too frightened to answer at first, but then he swallowed his nerves and nodded his head vigorously. “I’m going to be a hero,” the boy said. His voice shook but there was no mistaking his confidence. “I’m going to kill the monster and be a hero for all time. I promise.”

The king smiled at the boy’s words. “Valor grows from the smallest seeds,” the king said.

“All things grow from seeds small,” Faun muttered under his breath. “The king himself from the tiny seed of his father.”

The king handed the boy three arrows. The arrows were longer than the boy’s arms. He nocked one clumsily in the bow string and tried to draw it. He managed to bring it half-way back before it slipped and the arrow went clattering to the ground. Faun leapt away at the sound and stared at the arrow as if it were a serpent.

“Careful, hero,” the satyr said. “We need not you nicking yourself. Wait until we’re fighting the beast to fire your bow, shall you?”

The boy nodded. “I promise,” he said, for he was too worried about hurting himself with the arrows to try it again until it needed to be done.

Finally, the satyr led the boy to a tomb. They entered the front of the tomb and saw numerous artifacts lying about it. The boy went forward to touch a sword, but the satyr pulled him back. “That is not what we are here for,” Faun instructed him.

Instead, he took the boy to the read of the tomb, where rested a pair of winged sandals. The boy moved to take them, but a ghost appeared to block him. “Who are you who comes to take the sandals of Hermes?” the ghost asked.

“He’s a great hero,” the satyr relayed. “He is on a quest to slay the Heian Hart and requires the sandals to approach it.”

The ghost shook its head. “I know of no monster named the Heian Hart,” it insisted.

“It arose after your demise, great king,” the satyr said. “But would you deny the boy his opportunity? After all, you demanded the treasures from the Hesperides. Could you now turn back a hero who demands them of you?”

The ghost could not argue with that. “You are correct. There is no way I could refuse this boy. He may take the sandals. Hermes shall come to collect them when the quest has been completed.”

With the three magical items gathered together, the satyr led the boy back to the forest. It was a long journey, for they had traveled a great distance to claim the three items. But thanks to the winged sandals of Hermes, the trip was greatly shortened and they were back in the forest before it seemed they ever left.

“What now?” asked the boy of the satyr. “How do I kill the monster?”

“It’s simple,” Faun told the boy. “You need to merely find him, approach him from above, and shoot him with an arrow.”

“That’s it?” asked the boy. He was clearly hoping the satyr would tell him more. Perhaps instruct him how to properly draw and fire a bow. Or even, the boy hoped deeply down, take the bow and arrow himself and do the deed. The boy didn’t say that out loud and didn’t even say it quietly to himself, because a hero would never think such a thing. But he felt it deep in his heart.

“That’s it,” said the satyr. The boy supposed that would have to do.

He took to the air with the power of the sandals and circled the forest. It did not take him long to spot the Heian Hart, because it was now a massive beast who laid waste wherever it went. But the boy did not immediately approach it, as even the slightest sight of it set him quaking too much to hold an arrow.

After some time of circling, the boy calmed himself enough to approach. He came in from above the beast. Its antlers had become great, twisted oaks. Birds had nested in them and pecked at parasites living inside. Its back was a hill and a colony of moles had burrowed into it to take refuge from predators. Each of its eyes was a lake and each nostril a cavern.

The boy drew one of his arrows and put it on the bowstring. He kept his hand as steady as possible, which wasn’t very steady at all, and drew the arrow back. He pulled as hard as he could until his arm was aching and he couldn’t pull it back any further. Then his sweaty grip slipped and flew toward the unexpectant beast.

The arrow tumbled clumsily and struck the beast sideways. The beast whipped its head around and roared. It charged at the boy, who in his nervousness, had allowed himself to drift down toward the ground. The boy tried to alight the sky, but he was too slow and clumsy to avoid the terrible beast’s charge.

The beast’s antlers gored the boy and broke his body. A branch broke off in his chest and pinned him to the ground. The beast turned and charged him again, trampling him. The boy lay there, broken and bloody, until the beast lost interest and wandered off.

Hermes arrived and wordlessly retrieved the sandals. Moments later, Faun came and took the bow and the remaining two arrows. Faun did not even acknowledge the boy, though the boy weakly called out for him.

Things were growing cold again. As the boy blinked, he could feel the white flakes of snow falling around him. He heard a voice shouting his name. Perhaps Faun had come back for him. But he was already too sleepy. Far too sleepy. He wanted to close his eyes and go to bed. As his eyes closed, he wondered why a boy should ever have to face a monster alone.

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