The memories hurt Arcidamus more than his leg wound. He could walk now, but nothing could heal his mind.
“I keep seeing the elderly, the women and the children I slaughtered. I hear their cries, I smell their blood, and worst of all, the terror and disbelief in their eyes pierce my soul. How will I be judged in the underworld?”
“Stop torturing yourself,” said Eriboea, his wife. “You were a soldier obeying orders. It was the price to pay for peace. If it wasn’t for your victory, the Xenothants could have done the same thing to me and Theodon. ”
Arcidamus looked at his son. Only three years old, but already with a fierce look of determination in his eyes. Arcidamus wanted Theodon to be proud of him, just as he had been proud of his father, slain by Thalys, the Xenothant general, when Arcidamus was the same age as Theodon.
Arcidamus had been generously rewarded, and the land he had been granted was going to change his fortunes, but it couldn’t erase the memories that were going to haunt him for the rest of his life.
Arcidamus walked out of the cobbler’s workshop with his new shoes. The cobbler was the best in the city, and the shoes felt sturdy and comfortable. As he walked past the market, a voice stood out in the hubbub. “Come forth, you who are troubled by your painful memories. I can extract them and free you from torment.”
He walked towards the short, stout man with piercing eyes and a sharp nose, dressed in the purple robes of a magus.
“Here’s a man in need of my services,” said the magus. “I see you are troubled by the memories of your deeds.”
“What sort of magic do you wield that can remove the impalpable?”
“Oh ’tis not magic, but merely an elixir made from the water of the river Lethe.”
“But those who drink its water forget everything.”
“Those who are dead, yes, to forget their past lives before being reincarnated. But ’tis not your case, is it? The trick is to bring forth the memories that you want gone when you drink it, and only those memories will vanish. One for you then?” He waved a small phial enticingly in front of Arcidamus.
Arcidamus did not hesitate. Six months since the battle of Methaxas, and not one day without reliving it in fierce details. He nodded and the magus gave him the phial in exchange for a silver coin.
The elixir worked as the magus had promised. After Arcidamus had drunk the contents of the phial, his memories of the battle of Methaxas had been replaced by a blank, like he had slept through it. There was just a vague reminiscence of a nightmare, but he knew that like all nightmares, it would quickly fade away. He summoned memories of his other battles and was relieved to see he hadn’t slept through those as well.
Eriboea didn’t need to know about the elixir. Arcidamus told her she was right; time had the same effect on his memories as the spring sun on the snow, and what happened at Methaxas was of no consequence.
But the next week, she became suspicious.
“How could you forget how you got that wound on your leg? Don’t you remember the battle of Hertogan?”
“I know where Hertogan is, but I don’t remember fighting there.”
“Do you remember what happened at Kelorer?”
“Did we fight there too?”
“Your comrade Paschoveras died there.”
“No!” Arcidamus cried. “It can’t be true! The magus said I would only lose the memories I summoned when I drank the elixir.”
“He was at the market, selling an elixir to extract painful memories.”
“You fool! Go there and find him before you lose your entire mind.”
When Arcidamus reached the market, the magus was no longer there, and none of the stallholders Arcidamus asked remembered ever seeing a man in a purple robe.
“What’s my name?” asked Eriboea.
“Are you going to ask me every day?”
“Since yesterday you’ve forgotten the name of your own son. I don’t know how I’m going to hide the truth from my father. He thinks highly of you, but if he finds out you were foolish enough to be deceived by a magus, he’ll probably take away everything he gave you, including me.”
“I swear I’ll never forget you.”
“How can you say that? You have no control over your mind. It’s leaking like a boat with a hole and you’ll sink before you know it.”
“There must be a way to get my memory back, maybe an antidote to the potion…”
“All you can do now is pray to Mnemosyne.”
“Why would she manifest herself to a man of arms?”
“You know what they say about General Thalys.”
Of course he knew. The Xenothant general, who was going to be executed in two days, had an exceptional memory, and it was said that when Mnemosyne visited the world of mortals she fell in love with Thalys and gave him the secret to infallible memory, but Arcidamus was a captain, not a general.
Arcidamus gained access to the general’s cell with a gold coin donation to the guards. The stench made him gag, and he kicked an enormous rat which tried to bite his ankle.
Shackled to the wall, filth covering him from head to toes, and a stump where his right arm had been, it was difficult to imagine the man in the cell was the leader of the redoubtable Xenothant army.
“Who are you?” asked the general.
“Don’t you recognise me?”
“Why should I?”
“You killed my father twenty years ago. My mother was very proud to say I look like him.”
Thalys shook his head.
He’s lying, Arcidamus thought, but why?
“What do you want?”
“Your secret to infallible memory.”
“Why would I give it to you?”
“In exchange for your life, isn’t that a fair trade?”
Thalys shrugged. “I’m not afraid of death. I have lived a just life and I look forward to the rewards that await me in the underworld.”
“A fate worse than death will be yours if you don’t give me what I want. I could easily arrange your transfer to the Elsobeq prison, where the torturer has an endless imagination. He boasts that he invents a new way of making prisoners suffer every day.”
Arcidamus saw pure hatred in the eyes of Thalys, and the feeling was mutual. Not only had Thalys killed his father, but he was too cowardly to admit it to his face.
A thick silence filled the room. If Mnemosyne didn’t answer Arcidamus’ prayers, he would end up not knowing who he was. He would be like a dead man walking amongst the living. His only hope was that after a few days at Elsobeq, Thalys would beg for mercy.
Arcidamus turned around and was about to open the door of the cell, when Thalys said, “The river of Mnemosyne flows not only in the underworld, but in our world as well. I will tell you where it is, in exchange for the lives of all the Xenothants you’ve made prisoner.”
“Do you really think you are in a position to bargain? If you don’t tell me where it is, I’m sure there’ll be enough room at Elsobeq to accommodate your lieutenants.”
“May Mnemosyne forgive me for betraying her secret,” said Thalys through gritted teeth.
When Arcidamus reached the river which flowed inside a cave hidden under the hill of Tretongo, he asked his servant to taste the water first. He feared Thalys had tricked him into drinking from a poisonous spring.
The servant sipped the water and closed his eyes.
Arcidamus held his breath, but when he saw the smile on his servant’s face, he let it out.
“All my childhood memories came back to me, even those that I thought I’d lost. I saw my mother’s face. She died when I was little and all I had was my father’s description of her.” He looked at the stream and said, “This is a wondrous discovery!” He filled a cup with water and handed it to his master.
Arcidamus paused. He was about to get all his memories back, and he knew that some of them were so painful that he had found a way to eliminate them. He had been naïve to think he could kill the weeds without hurting the flowers. He took a big gulp and braced himself.
Memories flowed into his mind, bright like the noon sun, clear like the sea on a tranquil day.
Those he’d lost about the battles of Methaxas, the cries of the innocents echoing in his mind, and then those of the battles of Hertogan and Kelorer.
He saw his son coming into the world, his wedding, his army training, as if he was reliving his life in reverse.
Then came the memories that had been buried in the depths of his consciousness to be forgotten until his voyage in the underworld.
He explored his childhood like a faraway land he had visited aeons ago.
A bewildering scene made him stop the flow, and he played back the memory to make sure he hadn’t misunderstood.
He was a small child sitting on the earthen floor of his parents’ house. He heard knocking on the door and loud voices. His mother opened the door and three soldiers came in.
“We’re looking for hoplite Thimocles,” said one of the soldiers.
“He’s my husband, and he left yesterday to fight the Xenothants,” replied his mother.
“He hasn’t reported for duty.”
“Then something must have happened to him. Please find him!”
A few days later, the soldiers came back.
“Your husband was caught hiding in a cave. He tried to run away, but we killed him. We had no other choice.”
When the soldiers left, his mother took him in his arm and he felt her warm tears running down his face.
Arcidamus gasped. His father wasn’t killed by General Thalys, but by his own army. He was a deserter, a despicable coward. Arcidamus’ mother was a liar, but she gave him a role model, someone he could look up to and emulate, and her lie had made him the man he was today.
He opened his eyes and saw his servant looking at him expectantly.
“Mnemosyne be praised,” Arcidamus said. “I have recovered all my memories. Like you, I saw the parent I had lost so soon in my life that I could not remember him. My father, my hero. He was just as I imagined him.”
Stories passed from generation to generation were what made the departed alive in our hearts and made us strong, and so Arcidamus resolved to keep the story of his father as his mother had passed it on to him, so that Theodon could be proud to be the grandson of a valiant hero.
Pascal Inard is a bilingual writer and IT project manager from Melbourne, Australia.
His work has been published in the “Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers, and Robots” Anthology, Bewildering Stories, The Colored Lens, Antipodean SF Magazine, 9 Tales From Elsewhere, Flash Fiction Press, Scarlet Leaf Review, 101 Words and StrippedLit500
He is also the author of two novels, “The Memory Snatcher”, a science-fiction mystery about a police inspector and a quantum physicist who join forces to stop a memory thief from paralysing the world, and “Web of Destinies”, a time travel mystery about a doctor who inherits a mysterious typewriter that can change the past.
You can visit Pascal Inard on facebook.com/Pascal.Inard.Writer/ or on his blog at http://pascalinard.blogspot.com.au/