By Sophia Flamoe
There was a boy they said had no fear. He was scared of nothing and no one, and thus, he believed himself a god amongst humans.
His name was Cygnus Bane, and unlike the legend, he wasn’t always so fearless. Cygnus Bane came from the worst sort of family for a boy like him; the seventh son of a seventh son, of a poor farmer, Cygnus was all but guaranteed a life of no acclaim and no fortune. But Cygnus wanted more from his lot. He had heard whispers of a witch in his village, a woman said to be able to do unexplainable magic, and grant any wish the heart could desire.
Cygnus had long watched his village be assailed by the ferocious sphinx that lived in the nearby mountain range, and came down to block their only trade route. Many a hero had risen up to best it, but they could not, for this sphinx, besides having the strength of ten strongmen, was sly, he could not be caught, and he could not be tamed. Cygnus’ own brothers had lost their lives to the wild beast a few years before, and though his brothers had been strong, and cunning, and wise, they had been no match for the sphinx.
Cygnus believed himself wise, and from that wisdom, he had decided that the reason the sphinx had not been bested was because each of his foe’s had been too scared to be a real threat. That if they had even the slightest bit of courage, they would have been rid of the cursed sphinx years ago. And though the loss had taken its toll on his family, Cygnus did not shy away from pointing out his brothers’ cowardice when facing the sphinx, that each one had died because they were no match in valor to himself or the sphinx, stating that, despite the fact he was barely a man, only just entering adulthood, he was brave enough to face the sphinx. Finally, having had enough, his mother cried that if he were so brave as he claimed, he should face the sphinx himself, and not come back home until he had vanquished the beast. Scorned, and embarrassed, Cygnus left his childhood home, unaware that this truly would be the last time he ever set foot inside it.
The sphinx sat on the outskirts of the village, in the middle of The Traders Path, looking for an unwitting traveler, or stupid villager for its next meal. When Cygnus approached, the sphinx was picking something out of her teeth with one long, curled talon, and though Cyngus tried, everytime he got within 100 feet of the beast, he could not move any farther. His fear had rooted him to the ground, unable to do the very thing he so believed himself capable of. Cygnus tried all night, and in the early morning, when he had managed a scarce few feet more, the sphinx finally noticed him
“Oh great hero!” The sphinx crooned, slinking closer to the not so great hero. “Have you come to vanquish the terrible blight? The sphinx who has no match, and no equal?”
Cygnus stammered, mouth hanging open, and then snapping closed with every passing second, “I-I’m not afraid of you!” he managed, accentuating his words with one tiny step towards the sphinx.
The sphinx’s smile only grew, “Tell you what, boy-hero, I have grown weary of my games, each foe your village has sent has been dismal in comparison to me, and I find no pleasure in their demise. I wish to leave and find a smarter village to conquer, but someone must solve my riddle! If you, weak minded as you are, can solve my great riddle I vow to leave your village and never return. If not…” The sphinx’s eyes narrowed into slits, and she slunk closer to Cygnus, lips pulling back to reveal three rows of razor sharp teeth, “I will take you and your cowardly little town, and eat you all in one bite!” At this, she snapped her teeth together in a mime bite, sending Cygnus tumbling back over his feet, and then running back into the village to escape the horrors he had seen. As he ran, the sphinx called after him, “My riddle is this; ‘What is something all men have, but all men deny. Man created it, but no man can hold it?’ find me, boy-hero, and give me your answer, you have one year!” Cygnus felt as though the sphinx’s voice followed him all the way through the village.
Cygnus, having not bested the sphinx, and feeling even more ashamed, found he could not return home, and with no where else to go, and nothing else to think, Cygnus found himself remembering the whispers of the Witch in the Wood, who could grant him any wish his heart desired. And Cygnus wished to be afraid of nothing, and no one.
When he arrived, the witch looked at Cygnus, and did not seem surprised.
“The fates have told me of your arrival.” She said, her voice like honey on glass.
“I wish to be fearless.” Cygnus said, trying to stand up straighter over the hunched witch, chest heaving with every breath.
“Bah!” the witch guffawed. “Everyone wants something, but no one wants to pay the price. Child, do you know what comes with your asking?”
“I’ll do anything! I’ll pay you anything!” Cygnus said, trying to muster the courage he wanted so badly.
“Not for me, you insolent boy! For you!” she cried, throwing her hands wide.
Cygnus felt his fear taking over, “How do you mean?
“You will learn. All in due time.” She laughed, jagged and hoarse, and pointed a bent finger at him. “Do you accept your fate?”
By now, Cygnus had grown tired of her games, he thought her a mad old crone, and was reassured in his righteousness, “Yes!” he cried, overjoyed at the ease with which he was achieving his wish. “I accept my fate, and any cost that comes with it!” Cygnus would become fearless, he would face the sphinx and return victorious, and his family would be sorry they ever doubted him.
At this, the witch lit up, a faint green glow surrounding her like a halo, and Cygnus felt the hair on his arms stand on end. From her shriveled finger a blast of light shot out, and hit Cygnus straight in the chest, knocking him backwards into a shelf of herbs and vials of liquid.
When he stood he found he no longer feared the witch, she was just an old woman, too eager to flaunt her magic to be any real threat. He found he no longer trembled at the memory of the sphinx, and knew that should he face her, he would win by courage alone.
“Now hear this, boy,” the witch called, as he walked towards her door. “You are not yet strong enough to best the sphinx. Go, fight the beasts terrorizing the villages over the world. Make a name for yourself, get stronger, but do not be hasty, do not be brash. Have courage, but do not insult. If you do this, then, and only then, will your fight against the sphinx yield you a victory.”
Cygnus, who had always been partial to impatience, thought her warning presumptuous, and tiresome, he was strong from a life spent working the fields with his father, and now that he could feel no fear, how could he lose. But he did find some truth in her words, many had fought and lost against the sphinx, and the thought that he could gather some fame before returning home- that his family would hear of his bravery and valor- was too enticing an idea to pass up. So with a brief nod in the witches direction, Cygnus left her hut.
Cygnus did travel, he fought monster after monster, saved village after village, and not once did he lose a fight. He took his time to think over the sphinx’s riddle, and after a year, he found he had the answer. He was so thrilled at his success; against the monsters, and against the riddle, that though his ego had swelled beyond measure, he believed himself capable of fighting and winning against the Sphinx, for how could he not? He had won every fight he’d since started!
And even if he weren’t strong enough, he’d solved the riddle! So what would it matter!
When Cygnus returned to his village the people called out to him, overjoyed, for the boy-hero had come to vanquish the terrible sphinx.
Cygnus passed right by his home, and his family, without even a glance; they would see, and they would be sorry.
By the time Cygnus had reached the edge of town where the sphinx lay, a crowd had gathered behind him. Somehow by his not being afraid, they didn’t seem to be so scared either.
“Oh great sphinx.” Cygnus called, raising a bronze sword in the direction of the beast. “I have come to finish what I started a year ago!”
The sphinx squinted at him for a moment, then her face lit up, “Ah! The famous boy-hero! Come to finish me off have you? Have you solved my riddle or are you relying only on your… strength.” At the word strength, the sphinx flashed her three rows of teeth, but Cygnus only smiled.
“I’m not afraid of you, beast, I have something all the rest didn’t; courage. And an answer. To your riddle.
An Idea!” Cygnus pronounced with a swell of his chest. “An Idea is the answer to your great riddle!
You see, your riddle was rather easy really. Any fool could have solved it. And to think, I’d heard of your mastery over the spoken word and riddle, and all this time it was just talk. It hardly took any time at all for me to solve, and it is quite dull I have to say. I would make a better master of riddles than you.” Cygnus had begun to gloat, his ego having swelled so large in his travels and victories that he had begun to believe himself invincible, incapable of any wrong or misstep.
At this, the growing crowd around him gasped, for no one had ever spoken to the sphinx in such a way, and Cygnus turned towards them, raising his arms in a symbol of victory.
The sphinx-who had never been spoken to like this- had started to become angry, this boy-hero had grown to think himself greater than the sphinx, wiser, more cunning, stronger. And because Cygnus could no longer feel fear, when he saw the sphinx approach, he did not see it for the danger it was.
“You’re wrong.” The sphinx said, now right beside Cygnus, who’s attention still remained on the crowd.
“About what?” Cygnus asked, turning, finally, back towards the sphinx.
“The answer to my riddle is not ‘an idea’” the sphinx said, advancing on Cygnus, a smile curling her mouth.
Cygnus again pointed his sword at the sphinx, but it was no use, in one clean bite, the sphinx swallowed him whole.
For the boy with no fear did not know when he was fighting a losing battle, and a boy with too big an ego wouldn’t back out even if he knew the price.
True to her word, the sphinx ate and destroyed the remainder of Cygnus’ village, and then flew to find a new, smarter village to toy with.
With the death of his town, came the death of the legend of the great boy-hero; Cygnus Bane, who was afraid of nothing and no one. The world had forgotten the would-be slayer of monsters. All, except, I suppose, for the sphinx, who thought back on the boy-hero ever so often.
And of the true answer to his riddle; fear.