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Andromeda

Written By Daphne Bryant 
Photographed By Maya Johnson
Modeled By Ileana Pere

Fate.

 

If something is fated to happen, it is destined to turn out a particular way. Fate is inevitable and unavoidable because there is a fixed natural order to the universe…or at least, that’s what fate would say.

 

Andromeda, unlike fate, was not naive. 

 

She knew she was beautiful, to such an extent that people stared wherever she went, fell to their feet in astonishment, and sent elaborate letters to the palace requesting her hand in marriage. She was not naive. She did not pretend to be unattractive, even if she did not particularly enjoy the fawning and the comments. 

 

Her glowing, dark skin.

Her flowing, dark hair.

Her full, dark lips.

 

Andromeda had become such a romanticized figure in her own right that she’d begun to think of herself in the third person. She had been naturally born with all these features, just eighteen years ago. Today was her birthday, and the entire kingdom of Aethiopia was engaging in what could only be called a vibrant celebration of her life.

 

It had all started with the Sunrise Festival, which celebrated yet another year of the heir’s life! At the very crack of dawn everyone had flocked from their seaside homes to the center of Dunamis Square. Rich and poor alike took the day off to partake in the events of the festival. It started with Kuklos Dancing, where twelve dancers tapped clockwise around the square, accompanied by instruments and hearty cheers. Then came the painting of the Dunamis, where the children took chalk and drew bright, variant pictures of the kingdom’s emblem: a blue circle with a gold pentagram and five rays of golden light. Parents would watch adoringly as their little ones exercised their artistic muscles, and Andromeda would watch them with longing. What was it like to be an ordinary citizen with an ordinary life, coming together for the Sunrise Festival to celebrate a princess you’d probably never even talked to before?

 

Probably very exciting and easy. And very nice.

Next, enthusiastic vendors and merchants set up shop, lining the streets. Hundreds of people browsed for goods or haggled over prices, and though there was everything from shelves and hangers holding gaudy fabrics to lacquered boxes encasing wall art, toys, candles and religious relics, the food was always the most sought after item. Aethiopians did love their food. 

Walking casually and waving hello to all that dared to wave hello first, Andromeda smelled something spicy. She sniffed around like a hound until her eyes finally locked on a cooking pot with steam rising from it. Was that smoked fish and nuts lathered in locally grown spices, or chicken accompanied by roasted fruits and vegetables? Whatever it was, it must taste delicious. The food at the palace was good also, of course. It was more than good. It was incredibly well-made and well-staged and there was always more than Andromeda could ask for. But this kind of street food could only be found in the main kingdom and outer sectors, and this might be the last chance Andromeda had at savoring a bite before her coronation in the new year.

Andromeda found herself drifting towards the stall with the sun-faded fabric atop, but she didn’t get very far. Strolling alongside her was her mother Queen Cassiopeia, who slapped Andromeda’s brown hand. Hard. “Save your appetite for tonight,” she scolded.

Cassiopeia had no noble blood, having married into her riches, title and status, but one wouldn’t be able to tell just from looking at her. She carried herself as though she’d always been royal: looking down her nose, speaking with an accented lilt Andromeda knew was not natural because she only spoke this way in the presence of others, and donning fanciful clothing designed by only the best cloth makers in the world. Today she wore a ridiculously expensive emerald chiton undergarment with an ornament, multi-layered peplos over it, which fell to the feet and trailed behind her like a veil.

“But the banquet is hours from now.”

“Precisely,” said Cassiopeia. “You’re not a pig, are you?”

Ouch.

This was supposed to be a grand day. And it had been, until Andromeda’s mother had made that comment. Although, she wasn’t very surprised that she had.

 

For as long as she could remember, the princess had attended the Sunrise Festival thrown in her honor. But there was something especially lively about this one: the dancers had danced with fervor, as though their lives had depended on it, some of the youthful artists were so talented that her father, King Cepheus, had invited them to the palace to commission some paintings, and then once again there was that delicious-smelling food. All of this for her. Cassiopeia was sure to pull something evil out of her ass, simply because she was bitter.

 

Why did her mother have to be this way? She was always judging Andromeda for everything she did. Her hair could never be matted, she could never have bags under her eyes, she could never have patchy skin or wear anything but the finest. She could only leave the palace if she was also accompanied, only learn the sciences, only hang out with other nobility. And apparently she also had to “eat right”, which to Cassiopeia meant not eating much at all.

 

Andromeda shook her head. She wasn’t going to let her mother ruin this oh so special day. It was her birthday after all, and the entirety of Aethiopia had come out to celebrate. It’d been a good day. And now, it was time to head back to the palace for the banquet.

A swarm of security guarded Andromeda as she walked through the streets of the biggest village in the kingdom and the one closest to her palace, Thalassa. Her father was waiting at the edge of Dunamis Square, surrounded by wagons and chariots with painted suns. Groupies crowded around him, kept in control by the palace guards, though Cepheus did not seem to be enforcing this imaginary barrier much. He blew kisses and then actually kissed babies and all the while had on a warm, amiable countenance. Cepheus had always been much kinder than Cassiopeia was, in all the ways. Especially towards Andromeda. She had no siblings, so Cepheus doted on her with all he had. He never tried to enforce strict diet regimes or tell her what she could and couldn’t study. And he was a loving king to the people of Aethiopia, ensuring they had food and water and housing and smiles on their faces.

 

“Hello my heart,” Cepheus greeted Andromeda with a kiss on the forehead before pulling her in for a tight embrace. He smelled like fresh rose and cedarwood, as always.

 

“Hi daddy,” Andromeda pulled away, pulling out her signature pout. “Are we leaving already? So soon?”

 

The king nodded, gesturing at a sparkling silver chariot drawn by two-horses, and Andromeda tried to hide her disappointment. “You will ride in this one, while your mother and I ride in the one behind,” Cepheus, distracted, blew another kiss. At this Cassiopeia grunted.

 

Either she was not impressed, or she did not care for her husband’s blatant display of affection towards women other than herself. Not that it was ever adulterous. At least Andromeda didn’t think so. Cassiopeia just always had an attitude, and she liked to assume the worst, and she also got very jealous, very quickly.

 

No one was allowed to be better than her. No one except for Andromeda of course, and even that was a stretch.

 

Helped up by a guard in a bronze armor breastplate and helmet, Andromeda placed her hands confidently on the brim of the shell that made up the chariot. She would be standing the whole time, so it was a good thing the ride back to the palace would be very short. One of the riders, a nobleman at the very front who was known for his booming bean business, cracked the whip on his horse, and cheers once again emanated from the crowd. They were off.

Andromeda knew the drill. Smile brightly and politely, stand up straight, look both as though you are the friendliest and most intimidating person in the world. It is the kind of composure royals should have.

 

“Princess Andromeda!” a young child, no older than ten, had pushed her way through the crowd and was now only a few feet away. “You’re so beautiful!”

 

“Thank you,” Andromeda’s heart melted at her earnesty.

 

“My mother tells me you’re the most beautiful mortal that’s ever lived. Is that true?”

 

“Princess Andromeda!” another voice called out, this time from the other side of the parade and much more panicked. Hesitant to answer the child’s question, she turned now to face a much older individual, a man in his late thirties who was accompanied by someone of whom must be his wife. “Will you give us your blessing, so that we may have a child as gorgeous as you?” the man croaked out, his company on the verge of tears (though whether or not they were happy or sad ones Andromeda could not discern).

 

Andromeda fought the urge to crinkle up her nose in dissent. She could not grant blessings. She was not an extraordinary figure, some kind of mystical genie that could grant wishes. She was just…pretty. But apparently pretty also meant capable and magical and full of life to give.

 

Andromeda glanced back at her mother in the other chariot, who nodded slightly. The signal.

 

“Yes!” she turned back to the estranged couple. “You have my blessing.”

 

They toppled to the ground in relief, consequently being trampled by an onslaught of new citizens.

 

It went on like that for the next ten minutes, and just as the royal family of Aethiopia were about to head up the cliff, away from the villagers, Andromeda’s eyes met that of an elderly woman hunched over in the margins of the chaos. She held a rickety cane and had deep set wrinkles all over her face. It almost looked like she was too old to be alive.

 

Andromeda wanted to look away; the woman made her uncomfortable. But she couldn’t. There was just something about her…

 

“Rulers,” the woman suddenly uttered then, so quietly that Andromeda almost didn’t hear her over the noise. “Sitting on their high horses, never caring to really know what’s going on beneath the surface. Pathetic and pretty, that’s all you are.”

And just like that, she was gone. Poof.

It was safe to say that Andromeda was more than a little rattled. She tried to plaster a smile back on her face, but it kept faltering. What had the woman meant by all of that?

Pathetic and pretty, that’s all you are.

Andromeda continued to wave goodbye to everyone who’d shown up just to get a glimpse of her, but she couldn’t forget what that elderly woman had said to her. 

Sitting on their high horses, never caring to really know what’s going on beneath the surface. 

Andromeda slipped; a frown crossed her lips. She didn’t not know things on purpose. It was not in a royal’s nature to delve so deeply into the lives of others as it was for others to delve deeply into them. She knew at the very least that the villagers belonging to Thalassa thought her odd and shy, yet polite and of course beautiful. Still, Andromeda was also aware she did not get out nearly as much as she wanted to.

Most of her time was spent trapped inside the castle, although perhaps trapped was an insensitive word. The castle was not a bad place to be. Andromeda could see clearly from her current position, high on the clifftop, a palace made from pale stone with a tiled courtyard and impressive vaulted ceilings and so many rooms you could not even count them all on one hand. Two hands. Three hands! 

 

It was her palace, and it had been a lovely place to grow up and it was a lovely place to live.

 

But Andromeda was terribly tired of lovely.

 

And apparently, other people were tired of her.

What’s going on beneath the surface. Well, what was going on?

 

Andromeda needed to know what the woman had meant. She would stop this parade and ask the lady herself if she could, but just as quickly as she’d appeared she’d vanished. Poof!

Almost out of thin air. It was like…one second she was there, and the next she wasn’t. Perhaps she was a supernatural creature, like the ones in the stories?

Beneath the surface.

 

Going that deep meant exploring. And oh, how Andromeda wanted to explore. She wanted to know what the real world was like, outside of her perfectly curated bubble, the ones that her parents had maybe even unintentionally trapped her in. Andromeda knew virtually nothing about her own people and their everyday lives, and everything she did know was either told to her by her parents or observed on days like this. And days like this didn’t happen nearly as often as she would like them to.

It would be nice, for once, not to be shielded by the convenience of her wealth and protection. But that was wishful thinking.

Tonight there would be a grand feast for Andromeda; lower nobility, priests and all other important people who resided in Aethiopia would be present. The princess knew how these things went. Later on she would receive gifts and praise as a sign of respect and loyalty to the future queen. She could just imagine the agglomeration of them now: jewels crafted from the most precious of metals, clothing imported from Knossos, and even more symbolic offerings like romantic love poems and songs.

 

The thought of being sung a love song made Andromeda snicker a bit as she and her family departed their chariots and entered the palace. 

 

“This is a serious matter, Andromeda. You should be on your best behavior tonight, and at all times,” said Cassiopeia sternly.

 

Andromeda rolled her eyes. “It’s my birthday. Nothing should be a serious matter.”

 

Cassiopeia placed her hands on her hips, staring Andromeda down as she glided. She was at least a whole head taller. Beside her, Cepheus whistled absentmindedly. “Soon you will have the same responsibilities as I do. You will have to govern an entire kingdom. You will have to impress and stun and work and support. And you will have a husband.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Andromeda, passing underneath a sparkling chandelier on her way to her room. “Duty. Govern. Stun. Marriage; I get it. I’ll see you in a bit.”

 

Before Cassiopeia could protest, Andromeda ran up the side staircase. In defiance of her pushy and high-strung mother, or perhaps because Andromeda always had a difficult time picking out to wear, the princess took her sweet time getting ready. Two hours later she emerged from her sleeping quarters wearing the most extravagant thing she’d ever worn: a beaded, organza mermaid with a deep V-neckline, taffeta skirt slit and long sleeves. The dress likely cost more than the palace itself.

 

Andromeda shuffled to the main dining hall and ballroom, where she could already hear the sounds and noises of the party. People were talking about her. Her mother was waiting for her, looking very angry. “You’re horribly late,” Cassiopeia said before Andromeda could even open her mouth.

 

“I got caught up,” said Andromeda coyly. It was not a true apology. “Did you know that Selassie had ten new dresses sent here for the occasion? This wasn’t even the prettiest! Isn’t that marvelous?”

 

“What would be most marvelous,” King Cepheus cut-in, a smile on his face, “Is my daughter showing up to her own royal birthday celebration on time.”

 

At this Andromeda flushed. He had a different effect on her. “I know, father. I’m sorry.”

 

Cepheus quickly waved Cassiopeia off. “It’s alright, my sweet,” he turned the princess away from her mother. “Look around! See what we’ve done for you?”

 

Andromeda’s eyes drifted upwards and out. Her parents were right; a lot of effort had gone into making the banquet the most opulent event of the season. The vaulted ceilings, embellished with scalloped edging, seemed shinier than usual. Thick silk and satin drapes hung over the large windows, rich decorations that were not typically there. Standing on curved observation balconies were women and men in glittering dresses and expensive wraps. To reach them up there Andromeda would have to enter the ballroom through an archway, walk past the small orchestra playing indulgently and ascend the spiral staircase that led to the second level.

 

Andromeda noted that the guests must have been quite hungry, because no one had really waited for her to join them at dinner. Already entire half-eaten meals had been laid out on the long, wooden table in the center of the dining room, elaborate dishes and delicacies that had taken at least a week to prepare.

 

In the ballroom adjacent, dances were well underway. Couples twirled around together, caught up in the pentatonic music which never quite seemed to resolve, large intervals perfect for carefree dancing. All of this was, of course, played by the best of the best in Aethiopia. Her parents had hired a band of musicians, some orchestral, others more interpretative, and apparently there would also be a theatrical performance. Andromeda liked dramatics, but this was all just too much. Especially after the Sunrise Festival this morning, which had been lovely, but ended with more than a few unpleasant memories. The princess longed for some simplicity, a humble way to round out the night.

Cepheus, torn away by a bumbling priestess, squeezed Andromeda goodbye and she took the opportunity to beeline towards the dinner table. Her mouth watered at the sight of dulet, multiple, hearty cuts of cut meat cooked together with butter, chile, cardamon, onions, and pepper. It was perfect. Maybe she could grab a handful, sneak off behind some pillar out in the hallway and feast like a god.

 

“Not so fast,” Cassiopeia caught Andromeda before she could even reach for the meat and started pulling her towards a corner. Groaning, Andromeda’s jumbled focus was now drawn to a group of men standing rather oddly next to three violinists. Before the men had been chatting obnoxiously with each other, but as Andromeda neared they straightened their posture and lowered their volume and assumed what they must have thought were sensual smolders.

 

No. No, no, no, no-

“Say hello to your potential suitors, dear,” the queen said smugly. Goodness. Her mother really would stop at nothing. She couldn’t throw a tantrum, so she grudgingly obliged. With haste, Andromeda curtsied as Cassiopeia introduced each man to her. 

The latter, Prince Sebastian from Asia Minor, was bold enough to step forward and ask Andromeda to dance.

 

“If you’ll have me that is,” he grinned, and a singular dimple took shape. Cute enough, Andromeda thought to herself, even if the very last thing she wanted to do right now was dance with a potential future husband. It just…wasn’t her ideal birthday wish. Again Andromeda thought of the elderly woman with the cane who’d told her she was just pathetic and pretty. That she didn’t know what was really going on in her own backyard.

She would do anything to escape tonight’s superficial festivities in the palace and head back into the village. Focus, a voice that sounded like her mother told Andromeda, and she sighed, sidling closer to Sebastian.

All of the prince’s perceived charm dissipated the moment they hit the ballroom floor. Sebastian had forgotten to include in his spiel that he was clumsy, a bad dancer. “You don’t appear to know your left from your right,” said Andromeda flippantly, trying to mask her annoyance as her father chuckled in the background.

 

“Sorry,” a blush crept up Sebastian’s neck as he clutched Andromeda’s hand tighter. “I-I’ll get better. You just have to be patient with me-,”

 

Suddenly, the music came to an abrupt halt.

 

“Sorry!” Sebastian gushed, stepping on her foot once more, but ignoring him, Andromeda turned to see what the cause of ceasing was.

 

It did not take very long to figure out what had caused such a big distraction.

 

The Nereids had arrived. Nereids, legendary sea nymphs, symbolized everything beautiful and kind about the ocean. Andromeda had come into contact with them countless times before, as they had taken to the bodies of water Thalassa hosted. Nereids had melodious voices, much sweeter-sounding than hers despite all her training, and stunning faces, features that walked the line between soft and sharp and seemed to shimmer with magical quality. Tonight, they were crowned with branches of red coral and dressed in white silk robes trimmed with gold.

As they walked further into the ballroom they seemed to command respect. And everyone was giving it to them, bowing or blowing kisses, with the exception of Andromeda’s mother. The Nereids had reached the queen’s throne, where Cassiopeia had migrated after forcing Andromeda to dance and then something crazy happened. Cassiopeia spat in the face of their leader (a spirit with red eyes). Andromeda recoiled and gasps filled the room.

 

Startled, the spirit blinked until Cassiopeia spoke, projecting so that everyone could hear.

 

“You all disenchant me. How dare you come here, all high and mighty, knowing that my daughter is equal in beauty to the whole lot of you. Surely you see the way her midnight blue hair so dark it’s almost black cascades down her shoulders, the elegant way she walks, her perfect proportions and the way clothes fit on her body. Hmph,” Cassiopeia smirked and Andromeda wished she could fold in on herself. Where had this sudden burst of pride and arrogance come from? What was it about the Nereids that set her mother off?

The Nereids, all in unison, turned their heads around slowly and made eye contact with Andromeda. They did not seem very convinced by the queen’s words. In fact, they looked angry. For once, Andromeda was self-conscious of her looks, feeling very naive and silly indeed.

 

“Mother, please,” Andromeda stepped forward, her aquamarine gown swishing around her ankles as she moved. “I do not wish to upset the sea nymphs.”

 

But it was too late. Fate had other plans in mind.

 

Screams exploded from outside of the palace, so loud and piercing that everyone stopped what they were doing, including the Nereids. Harried, Cepheus rushed to the window and Andromeda was not far behind. What she saw below was unlike anything she’d ever seen before.

Some wicked serpent, with the head of a wild boar and body of a dolphin with divided, fan-like tails had descended upon the kingdom, and was not only flooding the area but destroying entire structures around the palace. BOOM! There went the churches. BAM! BOOM! There went the greenhouse. BOOM! There went the outer bailey, meant to protect the royal family and the palace’s inhabitants from dangers like this. Tendons stood out on Andromeda’s neck, and her body felt cold and hot all at the same time. The creature was so colossal, it created damage wherever it went.

“A sea monster,” said Andromeda  he ripped off an entire chunk off the cliff overlooking a rough sea. Above, a storm had started to churn. Thunder rumbled and lightning struck the obsidian-gray sky.

 

“Yes. A cetus,” Cepheus growled, his voice cracking on the letter t. All Andromeda could do was watch as the sea dragon ravaged the coast and devastated the land surrounding the palace. Should they all move? Would the creature come for them next? But no. Once it had dug up all around the foundation, it turned on its tail and started pounding headfirst, straight for the village.

“No,” Andromeda sobbed, clawing the window. She wasn’t alone in her distress. Everyone in the room either ran out, blindly rushing towards the battleground, or stood shell-shocked, watching. The cetus was heading straight for the people, all of the people that Andromeda had just greeted and kissed and made conversation with that entire day. People that she didn’t know but wanted to, beyond the superficiality her entire life had been built around. They were in danger. Andromeda couldn’t help but feel like somehow, in some way, this was her fault. Rulers. Sitting on their high horses, never caring to really know what’s going on beneath the surface. 

Behind Andromeda, the king let out a huge squeak.

She had never heard her father squeak before. Trembling, Andromeda turned on her heel, her head careening up as she witnessed what had her father frozen in fear. Andromeda’s own knees locked, her shoulders tightened and she felt her breath simultaneously quicken and slow.

 

Even though Andromeda had only heard of and seen hazy images of the Greek gods, she recognized this one without any need for an introduction.

Poseidon. 

Andromeda never thought she’d see a god up close, not like this. Poseidon was a bearded, curly-haired, and eight feet tall figure in the form of an older man. His entire look could be summed up as coarse, like the sea. In his hand he held the legendary trident, a three-pronged spear. He looked powerful. A silent kind of powerful.

Andromeda had no doubt he’d sent the sea monster on the prowl in Aethiopia. But why?

“Poseidon,” Cepheus kneeled instantaneously. He kept his head down, shaking. Andromeda wanted to reach out, to comfort him, but she did not want to come off weak in front of this god. If it was really him. Which it had to be; who else could it be? “How can we be of service?”

The entire ballroom had quieted to a peep. It was as though time were moving in slow motion, and when Poseidon did not answer, Cepheus had to clear his throat and speak again.

“My god. What do you want?”

“Yes,” Cassiopeia joined Cepheus, though she did not get on her knees. Her voice was steady, her expression wary but still composed. “Why have you come here? Why have you ruined my daughter’s birthday?”

My birthday. Andromeda wasn’t even thinking about that right now. She could barely keep up with the sequence of events that had just transpired. This was so much bigger than her eighteenth.

“You offended my sea nymphs,” said Poseidon simply, like he was telling Cassiopeia she had something in her teeth. But there was a subtle venom in his words, an anger that was beginning to transcend his much more apparent tranquility. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

 

Cepheus whimpered, clinging to Andromeda, but all Cassiopeia did was hold her head up high and look the sea god straight in his turquoise eyes, so much lighter than their own. “And so you’ve sent a cetus to our kingdom. A henchman. How cowardly.”

“Mother,” Andromeda snapped, her eyes wide. She had always known Cassiopeia to be a woman who spoke her mind. A woman who refused to be bested. But this had gone too far. There was a sea monster terrifying, and maybe even killing, their people right now as they spoke. She, her husband, her daughter, and a bunch of dignitaries and servants, were standing in front of a Greek god, one of whom they’d greatly peeved. And all because Cassiopeia had dared to compare Andromeda’s mortal beauty to that of a nymph. She had dug herself into a hole, and they should’ve been trying to climb their way out of it. Not digging further.

“Half of your kingdom will be dead by morning,” said Poseidon, simply again. At this, some of the noblemen stepped forward angrily. Servants too.

“I have children down there!”

“He can’t do that!”

“What have you all done?”

Andromeda’s heart began to race faster. They were all right, of course. Andromeda and her family were safe in their well-constructed, gilded towers. Everyone else? Not so much. Their families belonged to that 50% Poseidon planned on wiping out. And if the legends about the gods were true, then he really could do just that. So many lives, lost.

Cepheus was still shaking. He’d gone quiet. He knew this was a losing battle. Cassiopeia, also, seemed to be coming to her senses. She swallowed hard and glanced at Andromeda, her features tight. “How can we fix this? What can we offer you and Olympus? Riches? Prayers? A temple, perhaps?”

Poseidon shook his huge head. “Only Andromeda’s own sacrifice will appease the gods.”

 

And with that declaration, blocking out desperate protests from her parents, the god of the sea had the young and beautiful Andromeda chained to a rock. It was here that she would await death by the cetus. The beach she’d been binded to was a terrible coastal line, because it was hidden away from the palace and most of the kingdom, hard to access and hard to leave. 

And now, not only had the cetus destroyed her kingdom, but it was roaming, hungry for blood.

Andromeda tried to let the artistry of what lay before her ease her nerves. The water was sea-green, and whitecaps that rumbled and whispered merged with the gust of the wind on the waves. The air smelled of seaweed and algae, salty almost. On the very far horizon she saw ships and sailboats way out at sea, trying to recover from the storm. Andromeda would cry out for them but she had tried embarrassingly earlier and they were much too far to hear her pleas for help. To stop from crying Andromeda focused on something else, anything else. There were starfish!

 

Starfish, jellyfish and seashells lined the beach, except the longer Andromeda looked the faster she realized they were unmoving. If only she could reach out and touch one, see if they were really alive and thus, know if she were really alive too, but she was strapped to the rock like a slave. A prisoner of Poseidon, a goddess who did not feel very much like a goddess at all.

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Andromeda Photo Gallery

See more stunning images taken by Maya Johnson of the beautiful Ilean Perez

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