The Eagle's Lament

He spotted the eagle not long after sun had chased the slate grey of twilight from the dawn sky. A brown speck soaring high, the familiar upturned bow of her wings not yet visible. He was glad the sun would soon drive the bitter chill of the mountain night from his bones. This was the best part of the day. Well, the least bad part of the day and night. The cold numbed the sores where his shackled wrists and ankles bound him to the rock. After his liver had regrown during the night, the wound below his sternum had closed and was healing. The itching was unbearable, which of course he couldn't scratch, his hands and feet chained to the mountain side, but it was better than the raw pain as the eagle tore at his liver, or the dull ache as it grew back again.

The bird was clearer now. He could make out the slight arc of its tail, see the gaps between the feathers at its wing tips. As it glided down towards him, the copper ruff of its neck brought back bitter memories of Hephaestus, and the metallic clunk of his hammer as it drove home the spikes which bound his chains to the rock.

The eagle landed a few strides away, staring intently. It cocked its head, hesitating before approaching. As it had done a hundred thousand times before.

"Good morning, Aetos," he said as brightly as he could under the circumstances. The eagle hunched its shoulders and paced forward a couple of steps, its swaggering gait betraying its bulk. "Liver again?"

The bird stopped, and stared. "Yes, Prometheus," it replied. "Yours."

"You must get tired of liver every day."

The bird cocked its head again.

"And so much of it. Zeus knows it takes me all night to grow it back again."

"Zeus wills it," the bird replied. "It is your punishment."

"And yours, Aetos. And yours."

The eagle stood, waiting. The nictitating membrane swept across its eyes as it stared. But it hesitated at this break from their endlessly repeated morning ritual. Its face was impossible to read, but Prometheus sensed uncertainty.

"When was the last time you had hare?" he asked.

The eagle cocked its head again.

"Or a nice, juicy ptarmigan."

Stillness.

"I bet you'd kill for a fawn," Prometheus teased. "Literally." He tried to laugh, but the morning sun had warmed up the bronze band that trapped his chest and it was rubbing against the weeping sores which never healed, unlike his eternally regenerating liver and stomach. It came out as more of a wince.

He nodded his head down the slope, towards the goats which were gathered below a stunted oak. "I fancy it's been a while since you tasted a freshly killed kid. Soft, tender flesh."

He paused.

"But no, liver again, hey, Aetos?"

The bird stepped gingerly forward. "The last time I had kid was to feed my fledglings just before they flew the nest," the eagle said. "It was good, tender. Big enough to tempt them down to the kill. Enough food to send them on their way, to find their own mates."

It was the most the eagle had said to Prometheus in all the years their fates had been intertwined. The plan was working.

"I have lost count of the seasons since I last brooded my eggs. Since I last had hatchlings to feed. Since I last chased my fledglings out of the nest." The eagle still stood, as impassive as ever, yet Prometheus could not miss the sorrow in its voice.

"Do you miss your mate?" he asked.

The eagle looked down. "He is long gone, many, many seasons ago," it said, the grief heavy. "I have perched alone all these nights."

The bird looked up again, staring at Prometheus. "It is your punishment, and mine," it said.

"My crime was to give the mortals the gift of fire, to help them to lift themselves out of ignorance and darkness, against the will of Zeus. What was your crime, Aetos?"

The bird stared again. The moment stretched. "Zeus wills it. So it must be done."

"For the rest of eternity?"

"Until Zeus wills it no more."

Prometheus paused. "You can help change his mind," he said softly. Then a little louder, "You can make him will it no more."

The eagle took another step forward, close enough that Prometheus could smell his own liver on its breath. It blinked again.

"I was only given the gift of speech to add to your torment," it said. "No one else, God or Immortal, can hear me."

"You won't need to speak," Prometheus replied quickly. "Not that your conversation is up to much anyway," muttered under his breath.

The eagle either did not hear, or did not care. But it was listening, staring intently again, eyes fixed on Prometheus' own, rather than the soft dimple below his sternum, the point where every morning, it jabbed its beak in to rend open his belly and expose his liver.

"After you have filled your gizzard with my liver, don't go back to your roost. Instead, fly west, across the great sea which stretches before us, and then across the two narrows towards Olympus. As you approach Olympus, head south, towards a hooked peninsula." Prometheus tried to put as much urgency into his voice as he dared, without exposing his fear that this plan would fail. "When you come to Pelion, look for the cave of a minotaur. You will know you are at the right one when you see it, it is neat and well-kept. On the left as you enter, there is a nook. There are two amphorae there, one sealed, one open."

Prometheus hesitated as he came to the crux of his plan. If Aetos got this wrong, then the minotaurs would stampede too early, and Heracles would not be forced to use the arrows poisoned with the blood of the Hydra to fend them all off. No poison arrows, no poisoned Chiron, and no exchanging the life of most genteel of minotaurs for his own.

"Take the open amphora, and spill the wine on the ground," Prometheus said. "Make sure it's the open one, mind. Be careful that you leave the sealed vessel well alone."

Silence from the eagle. Then "What happens after that?"

"Well..." Prometheus hesitated again. He had almost developed a fondness for the eagle. It wasn't the giant bird's fault he had been condemned to gorge on liver of the Titan until Chiron begged for death, swapping his immortality for the endless suffering of Prometheus. And he knew Heracles' fondness for taking down mighty beasts with an arrow.

"Let's just say that you won't have to eat liver ever again..."