The Pledge

He stared out of his window at the high, majestic cliff, mesmerized. Under the moonglow it was overcast with shadows, and seawater lapped gently against its base. The marble-white temple crowning it was even more breathtaking than it had been during daytime. On a night like this it was not difficult to imagine the ancient legends coming to life, that something did dwell there. He wondered if those legends were, after all, half-truths mixed with fantasies.

He had joined the orchestra at eight, four years ago, and it had been his home ever since. His parents had died when he was small and his uncle, who had taken care of him ever since, had not been very fond of him. He found solace and peace in music, especially playing the flute. One day, after a short solo performance in a school play, a man approached him. The man was an orchestra conductor, and his daughter happened to go to the same school as the boy. The conductor said he showed considerable promise of becoming a very accomplished flutist, and would he care to join the orchestra, to learn along the way? He had said he would. When he left his uncle’s house, it was with mutual relief on both the uncle and the nephew’s sides.

The orchestra, a small one at first, was growing into a nice, solid one throughout the years. He knew some people there disliked him, saying behind his back that he was getting too much praise and it would someday make his head swell. Not that he cared; as long as he got his flute with him, he could be content.

The conductor, also the owner, had planned this world tour several months back, and it had been met with enthusiasm. They traveled from country to country, their payment little sometimes almost to the point of inadequate, their food and boarding fourth- or fifth-class. Yet critics were beginning to look their way, and the conductor was nurturing high hopes for his band of musicians. Today was their last day in Greece, the third country they had visited so far, and tomorrow they would move on to Italy.

But the young flutist did not want to leave; he wanted to linger, to stay if feasible. There was a power here, drawing him, beckoning to him, inviting him to discover new, untold-of things. He found himself unable to resist this allure. Tonight it was strongest; it had started to increase the second he had seen the cliff. He had to go there – he had to, come hell or high water. And he would too.

Leaving the window, he paused to take his flute with him. There was no clear reason why he did – he only knew he had to. The flute was his companion, his soul mate, his talisman perhaps. He could not leave for a strange place without it.

The cellist he shared the hotel room with was snoring heavily, dead to the world. There was no need to be quiet. He crossed the room, opened the door, and went out after a cursory glance around. If anyone saw him he could invent some excuse, but it was safer not to be spotted. The sooner he reached the cliff, the better.

He exited the hotel without any challenge; even the receptionist was not in her desk and no hotel staff was within view. For the first time he wondered if it was not a coincidence. Someone or something wanted him to be in the cliff, and somehow managed to put obstacles out of his path. It was a ridiculous thought, yet appealing none-theless.

Up close the cliff was even more fascinating. He stared up at it for a long time, savoring the sight. The call was growing more insistent, and he was more impatient to answer it, to find its source. His heart throbbed with yearnings long buried, dreams long forgotten. He gripped his flute tightly, finding comfort from the feel of it against his palm.

His flute! Of course! Why had he not thought of it before? He would play a song here, at the base of this magnificent cliff, in honor to its very magnificence. The cliff would understand and accept it. He put the flute to his lips and clear, haunting notes rang out in the night. He played, oblivious to the wind, to the sea that was slowly reaching around his ankles, unnoticed.

When the water had soaked him up to his thighs, he stopped and looked down, astonished. Had he walked this farther offshore? He could not remember. He turned toward the beach, and his heart contracted. The current was tugging at him, powerful invisible hands that would not relent. In his fear he tried to swim against it and only managed to stumble and fall, so that he was now neck-deep in the water.

I don’t want to die here, he thought, panicked. "Help!" he shouted, hoping someone would hear, hoping they would know he was in trouble even if they did not know his language. "Help! He – "

The rest of his words were robbed out of his mouth as the water closed over his head. His feet suddenly found no solid footing and he slipped farther down, at the mercy of the sea.

He woke up, gasping. For a moment he stared around wildly, disoriented. He was in alien surroundings, and he groped around for his flute. When his fingers touched it, he grabbed it thankfully.

Where am I? The last thing I remembered was being drowned…Am I dead? Is this life after death? But no, I can still feel my own pulse. I’m still alive. But where is this?

He stared up, and color left his face. Far above him water was suspended, a rippling sky, as if they had been held there by magic hands. Startled, he scrambled to his feet, a feeling of unreality swamping him. His alarm was now mounting. Clutching the flute close to his chest, he gazed at the water above, riveted. His brain was recovering from the shock and beginning to focus and function.

I must be somewhere under the sea. That’s the only explanation I could think of. And the water up there must be…the bottom of the sea?

He saw for the first time where he was and he had to blink several times to convince himself he was not hallucinating. He was sitting on the steps of some large, quiet palace, very much in the style of a Greek temple, complete with portico and Ionic pillars. For a moment he could only stare, the feeling of unreality now subsiding. In its stead was nostalgia, bittersweet memories evoked from the subconscious. He had this ridiculous yet oddly comforting familiarity, as if he had been here before, a long, long time ago.

Well, there was no use to just sit here and gape. Whatever the reason he had ended up here he would find within this palace. He climbed cautiously to his feet, mentally checking if something was injured. To his relief, nothing was. He ascended the steps and entered the palace.

Inside he came to a large hall. The young flutist stopped, awed. There were eight pedestals with names written on the dadoes, six of them bearing on them sets of armors. He read the names on the two pedestals whose armors were, he guessed, being worn by the owner at he moment. General Sea Dragon. Poseidon.

Poseidon, he thought. The name awakened in him feelings he had not known existed, a loyalty so fierce it was surprising, kaleidoscopic memories long held in check and now struggling to break free, to remind him of who he really was. He had something to do with this palace, Poseidon, and one of the six still available armors – but what could it be? How to find out?

Abruptly, without any apparent reason, he lifted his flute to his mouth and began to play. The melody was loud, charged with energy. He could feel his bones vibrate with each note he blew. Soon he merged into the song, his whole being concentrated on it. He was exhilarated, intoxicated, transported, lost in the song.

He was at home.

One of the armors quivered, then broke apart. Astounded, he stopped playing. Parts of the armor floated for a while in the air, then flew straight at him. He stood rooted on the spot while they clasped his body from head to toe. He expected feeling heavy and weighted down, but on the contrary, the armor was feather-light. He contemplated it. He looked at the pedestal it had come from and read the writing on the dado. General Siren, it said.

General Siren, the young flutist thought. That’s me. I am one of the chosen, a Marine General, aide of Poseidon who has pledged my life to him, and my music is my fortress and power. Yes. I remember now. Hundreds of years ago we were all sealed down here along with our Master by Athena…but the time of reckoning is indeed near.

Revenge against Athena. Yes, the Generals would rise again after centuries of silence and bring her crashing down, and start anew. Earth would be under Poseidon’s rule…A quiet stirring of unease moved within him but he dismissed it. This was no time to be queasy. He was a General and his duty was to serve Poseidon, who did not tolerate weakness or unsteady minds.

But what price will you have to pay? a small voice asked. Bloodshed, taking other people’s lives – can you face it if it comes to that? Yes, you are a General, but you’re a musician first and foremost. And music is supposed to bring happiness and hope in a peaceful way.

The unease resurfaced. He tried to push it back down, but it refused to. He looked away and his eyes met the empty pedestal with Poseidon’s name on the dado. He looked at it for a long time.

As the fish slipped off Julian’s hand and swam back into the azure sea, the flutist said quietly, "Master Julian, you seem to love all kinds of living things."

Julian threw him a glance. "Yes, I do. Even a small fish like that." Then his attention was diverted by the music case. "You’re a musician, did you say? Can I hear you play?"

"Of course." He unlatched the music case and took out his flute. It had been slightly damaged during his battle with the Andromeda Saint, but otherwise it was still perfect and could sing forth beautiful tones. He put it to his lips. His song floated in the warm air, and the reminiscences it summoned pierced him. Yet he plowed on with his song, letting himself be carried away with it.

When he finished, Julian clapped his hands. "That was extraordinary. You don’t just play the song; you live it."

He smiled. "I suppose you can say that."

"Would you like me to sponsor you? I have connections with famous musicians all over the world and other people from the music industry. I’m sure one of them will be enchanted to hear your performance."

The smile softened, became a little sad. "I’d appreciate it very much."