Loyalty has no limits. Raised from a pup by Greek hero, Odysseus, Argos has come to learn the true meaning of love and loyalty. Little does he know that when Odysseus leaves for the Trojan War it will be 20 years before Argos will see his master again. With Odysseus gone, his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, are easy prey for neighboring kings and the Gods themselves. But Argos was tasked to keep them safe until Odysseus returns and that is a promise he is determined to keep—whatever the cost. Told through his eyes, Argos recounts the story of his life—his pain, his joy, his triumphs and failures; his endurance in the face of hardships that are almost too great to believe. Above all else, Argos strives to do what is right, to remain loyal to his King when all others have given up hope, and to live long enough to see his beloved master one more time. This epic myth of love and loyalty proves that a dog really is man's best friend.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Phillip W. Simpson is a teacher and a children's book author. Before embarking on his writing career, he joined the army as an officer cadet, worked in recruitment in both the UK and Australia, and owned a comic book shop. He is the author of How Can We Save the Cheetah?, Lion Habitats Under Threat, Minotaur, and Rapture. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.
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By Phillip W. Simpson
Month9BooksCopyright © 2016 Phillip W. Simpson
All rights reserved.
I awake only to discover that I have died. I am surrounded by gloomy silence. The landscape is devoid of features — or color for that matter. Mist washes over me, tendrils swirling together to form almost recognizable shapes and figures. I can hear whispered voices but from which direction they come, I'm not sure.
I know where I am of course. Hades. The Underworld. The halls of the dead. It makes sense that I am here and yet it does not. The last thing I remembered was lying dying on the manure pile outside the palace gates. Clearly, my body had given up its futile quest for life and so here I am.
But that doesn't ring true. As far as I know, the Underworld is the place where the souls of the dead dwell. The human dead. The souls of other creatures do not find their rest here. Dogs certainly aren't allowed in — at least I had never heard of any dogs being granted the privilege. I had heard the stories of the heroes who had ventured into the Underworld before their time: Aeneas, Cupid and Psyche, Heracles, Pirithous and Theseus. Not one of them mentioned encountering any dogs.
Perhaps I am going to be the first. But why single me out for this singular honor, if honor is indeed what it is? I have done nothing special. Like most dogs, I have devoted myself and my life to my master. I don't believe that is so unusual.
A thought occurs to me: maybe I'm not in the Underworld after all. Perhaps I'm dreaming. As dreams go, it's pretty bland, although still better than reality, where I have to face endless torment from fleas and ticks.
I choose a direction at random and start walking. I have no destination in mind and no goal. It is simply something to do. Padding along comfortably, it is then that I notice something unusual about my body. When I had last seen my own scrawny flesh, it looked nothing like this. My fur is healthy and clean. Clean! My muscles feel strong, nothing like the wasted bag of old bones I had been moments before. I am young again! What joy!
I take some time to experience the true thrill of youth, to leap and bound, and spring lightly. It is a heady sensation. The gods only know how long I do this for. It's hard to keep track of time in this place but I don't care — I'm too busy enjoying myself. After some time however, I gradually become aware that someone or something is watching me. Unbidden, my hackles and the fur on the back of my neck rise. A growl rumbles deep in my chest and emerges through barred teeth.
The mist clears and a boat materializes before me, bobbing calmly on a river as black as night. A figure stands on the boat, shrouded in a black cowl, taller than any human. He carries a long pole which he uses to halt his progress against the swift current.
A long finger emerges from the black sleeves and beckons toward me. I don't move. I can't move, frozen as I am in fear. I know who this is and I dare not approach.
The figure cocks his head at me as if considering. Then he whistles. It is the same two-tone whistle used by countless dog owners. Against my will, my traitorous tail wags and I take first one hesitant step forward and then another. Before I know it, I am standing on the shore next to the boat and the boatman.
"Pay your fare," demands a sepulchral voice drifting out of the black cowl. A hand, twice as large as any human's, but with six fingers, emerges again from the sleeve. The bones of the fingers are enclosed in rotting flesh.
I don't bother trying to respond. It's not like I can speak and tell him I have no fare. It is customary to pay a coin to cross the river Acheron — one of the legendary rivers of the Underworld, marking the boundary of Hades. The only way in or out is across the river and the only way to cross the river is in Charon's boat.
To gain passage, relatives of the recently deceased place a coin in the mouths of the dead. I have seen this done many times before, but I have no coin myself. Just to be sure, I open my mouth to check. Sure enough, I feel nothing on my tongue.
Charon cocks his head again. He seems to be listening to something, but even with my magnificent hearing, I can detect nothing.
"Very well," he says, seeming to talk to himself. He indicates that I am to enter the boat and obediently, I do exactly that, even though every part of my body screams at me to flee. I have always struggled to resist going for a ride in any form of moving vehicle, be it chariot, cart, or boat.
Charon says nothing as he poles us slowly across the river. The Acheron flows into another river, which I assume is the Styx. Unable to resist the impulse, I sit perched in the bow, my tongue wagging, sniffing the warm breeze. I recognize nothing.
Eventually, we reach the far shore. I don't have to be told to get out. I leap out as soon as I am able which is just as well because no sooner have I done so, Charon turns the boat and heads back the way he had come.
There is a darker line of shadow on the horizon before me, and with no better prospects, I make for it. As I get closer, I discover it is a huge inky black gate with two huge doors made of some unfamiliar material. Sitting calmly before the doors is a creature the likes of which I have never seen before. It is a massive dog. It isn't just size that marks it as unusual. This dog has three heads, a serpent's tail, and a mane of snakes that weave angrily in and out of the coarse black hair that covers the rest of the creature. Each huge paw is tipped with long claws that bear no resemblance to my own. These claws look like they could shred tree trunks.
I know immediately who it is. Cerberus. The great guardian of the gates of Hades. It is his job to ensure that none of the denizens of this place ever leave.
One of the heads swivels in my direction. I meet the gaze of those blood red eyes with rising panic.
"Be calm, Argos," says Cerberus in a voice like smoke and thunder. "You have nothing to fear from me."
"Your appearance certainly belies that," I say in my head. When I was younger, I had tried to speak but quickly realized that I didn't possess the clever tongue or vocal apparatus possessed by humans. My habit then had been to reply to rhetorical questions in my own mind. You can imagine my surprise when Cerberus gives every appearance of not only hearing me, but understanding me too.
The central head of the huge beast nods. "I realize that I appear quite fearsome, but it is mostly for show. Those who dwell here must stay. I could hardly stop them if I had the appearance and abilities of a common dog."
I swear to the gods that the speaking head seems to be smiling slightly. That's if dogs can smile. I confess I have tried to smile many times, but all I have succeeded in doing is lolling my tongue.
"I don't think I'd risk a confrontation with you," I say.
"Really, Argos? I have heard tales of your bravery. I think there are many things you would risk. Especially for your master." I notice that only one head speaks while the two heads flanking the central one move constantly, their baleful eyes seeking out any who would dare escape.
"You know of my master Odysseus then?" I ask.
The central head nods. "Of course. Odysseus is beloved of the gods — especially by the gray-eyed Goddess Athena. I have even heard my own master Hades speak highly of him. His deeds are legendary."
"They are?" I ask, silently cursing myself for doubting this fact. Of course his deeds are legendary. The actions of my master could not be anything else. I just hadn't heard of any of them. "So my master lives then?"
"It is not for me to say, Argos. I am sorry. Come closer. Do not be afraid."
Tentatively, I do as Cerberus asks and trot toward him, stopping a few spear lengths away. The gate looms above me as I move forward. I sink to my haunches to take in the enormity of it. The gate is taller than any structure I have ever seen. As for Cerberus, he towers over me, larger than any creature I have ever encountered. A visitor to Ithaca once told Odysseus about a mythical creature called an elephant that he had seen in his travels. From his description, Cerberus must be at least equal in size.
As nervous as I am, curiosity gets the better of me. "Can I at least hear about these legendary deeds then?" I ask, wagging my tail hopefully.
"Perhaps another time," says Cerberus. Eddies of smoke are slowly rising from his speaking mouth. "I have brought you here for another reason."
"Other than the fact that I'm dead?" I ask.
"Are you?" counters Cerberus.
"Why else would I be here?" I retort. A niggling doubt is starting to form. Maybe this is a dream after all.
"Let me ask you something, Argos. I have served my master Hades for millennia and will continue to do so for all of existence. Why do I do that?"
"For loyalty," I say immediately. "For love."
This time, Cerberus nods all three heads. "Indeed. I love my master. He is everything to me and he has repaid my loyalty countless times. I would do anything for him."
"As would I for my master," I say.
"And that is why you are here, Argos. You are an exceptional dog. You may not think so but I have watched you and I know. Your loyalty and love for your master is exceptional. It rivals even my own."
"So why am I here?" I ask, slightly confused.
"Because I want to hear your story. I want to hear it told in your own words, to experience it from your perspective. I want to hear about everything you and Odysseus experienced together and what made your bond so strong. I want to know why you have waited twenty years for him. In short, I want to hear the story of your life."
"Why?" I ask.
"Because," says Cerberus, "I want to know that I'm not the only one. That I'm not the only one whose loyalty exceeds all expectation and belief."
"And why should I do this for you?" I venture.
"You might be surprised if I told you," says Cerberus.
The words send a shiver running down my spine.CHAPTER 2
I was born on the same day as Telemachus, the only son of Penelope and Odysseus. Some would say that this is auspicious. I wasn't so special. I was after all one of eight littermates.
Telemachus entered the world in a similar manner to myself — bleating and howling for his mother's teat. We are not so dissimilar — man and dog. Four legs or two, we enter and leave this world in much the same way.
The kennels were kept behind the palace at Ithaca, no more than a stone's throw distance. Some kings like to keep their breeding kennels far away from their palaces for fear of smelling our rich aroma or hearing our pleas for attention. It was not so with Odysseus.
My master has many praiseworthy and honorable traits. Foremost amongst them is his empathy. He would often take the time to stop and talk to the most common farmer; to ask them how they were faring and what their hopes were for the coming harvest. This interest in the well-being of others did not stop at humans. He had a great respect and admiration for animals too — especially horses and dogs.
I won't delude myself into thinking that Odysseus cared about all animals. His primary interest in horses and dogs derived mostly from self-interest. And when I say self-interest, I mean hunting and warfare.
Odysseus loved to hunt more than almost anything. I don't think I'm being disloyal by saying that his love for the hunt was at least equal to the love he bore Penelope and Telemachus — and to a lesser extent, myself.
He kept the kennels close to the palace so he could keep a watchful eye on things. Breeding great hunting dogs was a special interest of his.
I still remember the day I first saw him. I must have been about a week or so old because my eyes had just opened. This gave me a distinct advantage over my littermates as most of their eyes remained stubbornly shut. While they crawled about, mewling, relying solely on their other senses to find our mother's teat, I found it with ease, much like a skilled archer finding his target.
I have fond memories of those times, nestled into the belly of my mother, covered with the warm and comforting wriggling bulk of my brothers and sisters. I was suckling away for all I was worth when I heard the voices.
I don't claim to be special but I know that I am unusual. Most relatively intelligent domesticated animals understand simple commands like "come" and "stay." Some can even be taught tricks. But what I can do is different. I was born with the ability to understand humans. Fully understand them. I suspect that like many of my abilities, it was a gift bestowed upon me by the great Goddess Athena even though I consider myself unworthy. Why waste such a beautiful gift on such as myself? Compared to my master or other great Greek heroes, I am nothing. When all things are weighed and considered, I am just a dog.
Hard as it is to believe, however, I came into this world with a mind already functioning like someone much older and wiser. I like to think that maybe the spirit of a dead warrior had chosen to inhabit my growing body when I was inside the belly of my mother, filling my empty shell to the brim with thoughts and intelligence beyond that of normal dogs. If that is the case, I hope he wasn't too disappointed to find himself in the body of a dog. I guess if you had been consigned to Hades for all eternity, life, regardless of which form it took, would be a welcome prospect.
I probably should have been born human but the Fates decreed otherwise. I am comfortable with that. Despite my attempts at humility, I like what I am, especially because it gave me the opportunity to experience a life surrounded by extraordinary people. There is beauty and joy to be had in this form. I can run faster than any man for one thing and my senses are far superior in every manner.
But I forget myself. Where was I? Oh, yes. None of my other littermates or even my mother, for that matter, paid the voices the slightest attention. At the time, I thought it was strange. How could they not heed these intriguing sounds?
As soon as I heard the voices, it was like a surge of lightning down my spine that set my limbs and mind quivering. My head snapped upright, almost of its own volition. I lost my grip of my mother's teat but I didn't care, not even when one of my brothers jostled me off and away.
I sat on my haunches and looked up. Three gigantic faces stared down at me.
"So this is the new litter then?" asked the face in the middle. It was strong and unlined with eyes that sparkled with intelligence. I felt an instant connection with him. In all my life, he was the only person I felt this way about. Some say that a moment like this only comes once — a connection that is so special, so profound that nothing can compare to it. I sensed that the feeling was mutual. The man's eyes widened in something akin to shock.
I didn't know it at the time but this man was god-like Odysseus, son of Laertes, favorite of the Goddess Athena, and great-godson of the God Hermes.
"It is, my lord. Born a week ago. Same day as your son, Telemachus," said the thin, spindly face to my left — all sharp angles and lines. "It's a good sign, my lord Odysseus." I recognized the smell of this man straight away. The kennels were full of his rank scent, and not one I savored. It was the first time I had seen or heard him. I later learnt that this was Amycus, the Master of the Hounds and the Kennels.
"And what of you, Eumaeus?" asked Odysseus, addressing the large bear-like man to my right.
Eumaeus stroked his thick black beard thoughtfully. "As you know, my lord, I am not much given to putting fanciful names on coincidences, but only a fool would ignore this much of a coincidence. I think these pups were born at the same time as your son for a reason."
Odysseus nodded slowly. "Wise words, Eumaeus." He clapped the larger man on the back. "What is it you do here on Ithaca again?"
"I'm a swineherd, my lord."
"Just a swineherd?" asked Odysseus archly.
"I like to consider myself your friend as well."
"Well, my friend," said Odysseus smiling, "it's about time I promoted you. How does senior swineherd sound?"
"You gave me that title last year, I believe, my lord," said Eumaeus, struggling not to grin.
"So I did," said Odysseus. "How about I make you my senior advisor then?"
"We've had this conversation," said Eumaeus. "With all respect, my lord, I like what I do. I like working with pigs."
Excerpted from Argos by Phillip W. Simpson. Copyright © 2016 Phillip W. Simpson. Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
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