Nemean Lion

I was his first labor for a reason. He wasn’t strong. He was short, with thin arms, and dirty teeth, and ragged clothes. He looked like a starving beggar. He bowed before me. He warned me that he was the son of a God, and if I did not do as he asked he would destroy me. He told me that I was to leave my canyon forever, flee to the south and farther.

I roared. I devoured the little man, flesh and bone.

For days, I had terrible headaches, like someone screaming in my ear all the time. My insides ached like they were being remade. I didn’t feel like myself, at all. I felt like I was dying. I was poisoned and dying. I crawled down from the mountain, looking for a wise woman to ease my pains. I found Hera, there, waiting for us. She called me by a name I had never known.

I rose up to two legs. I had hands strong as steel and a face in my mouth with ragged teeth.

I had eaten the divine, yet the divine had eaten me. The paradox of heaven is creation out of entropy and decay. This, I learned too late.

“Heracles,” she had said. “Son of the Gods. My glory, now. Slayer of the Nemean Lion.”

I fought back. I roared when I could. I struggled against my new self. I watched through my own eyes while I become something else, until even that sight failed me, and I was dead, though my body lived on.

All that was done after my destruction – all that was saved – was of a young god wrestling with an old lion: monster and hero of one flesh.

Heracles, hero of strength and lust and glorious roars, was born of my hunger, my pride, and my death.

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