A herald of a time long since passed. A whisper of the days to come. Its breath fills the air with heat but leaves the bones of men chilled with unutterable fear. This is the story given from generation to generation.
It was a story Kepheus had heard over and over from his Assyrian great-grandmother. He’d learned to fear Leviathan, but his fear led him here, to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea where it was rumored the great beast made its bed.
He stood on the beach near Olympia and looked out upon the churning waters as a heavy breeze pulled at his robes under the grayness of early morning light. The sea knew he was here, and it warned Leviathan of his presence.
But Kepheus had made a deal, a deal he could not undo. His daughter’s life hung in the balance, and the gods offered him her well-being in exchange for him killing the creature of the deep.
He knew as well as the next man that the gods could free themselves of the terrible beast without his help, but they were forever meddling in the lives of men. With this knowledge, he hated and revered them in the same instant.
“Zeus! Poseidon! Hades! You brothers of wretched power, I place my life at your disposal for that of my daughter,” Kepheus cried into the wind, which now whipped about him in angry gusts.
He had no idea how he would overcome Leviathan, for the stories told said he was covered in scales, breathed fire, had a mouth full of sharp teeth, and a belly unbreachable. They’d given him nothing with which to subdue the deadly monster and no weapons were within his grasp.
All Kepheus carried with him was a flute, a gift given him by his only daughter, Eos. He stripped down to nothing but a loin cloth and gripped the flute to his bare chest as he waded out into the sea.
When the water reached his waist Kepheus began to play the song Eos loved most, and his heart yearned for her to be healed as he cursed the gods for using her life as a token. But the high, soft notes did not only stir his own longing; they called to Leviathan of the deep, pulling the beast from its hidden slumber as a siren calls men to their deaths.
Kepheus watched the bubbling and churning of the sea before him but continued to play the lullaby, though fear brought an unsteady warble into the tune. Still, the beast came. Its body rose up and thrashed about, the heat of its breath filled the air and brought steam rising from the water’s surface.
The song faded away as Kepheus’s heart hammered against his chest and he forgot to breath. As the tune diminished so did the beast’s writhing, but so also did Leviathan look upon his enemy stood among the foaming waves, misted about by the heat of his own breath.
Man and beast looked upon each other, hatred and fear mingled in their gaze.
“Your life or mine in exchange for that of my innocent daughter, Leviathan. Give me yours for I am all she has,” Kepheus said without raising his voice, sure his words would not be lost.
He knew what the answer would be without waiting to hear it, see it, or feel it. Leviathan would never surrender for the sake of a child. Kepheus began to play a new tune, this one sorrowful and full of low, humming notes. He watched the beast crawl from the sea, dragging its heavy tail through the mud and sand along the shore.
It moaned and cried out, every lumbering step slower than the one before. Kepheus was sure the beast was trying to escape, but the music of Eos’s flute tamed him, and he fell upon the rocks near the distant cliffs as a deep sleep overcame him.
Clouds rolled in, a blanket of darkness, and the wind died down to nothing but a feather-like tickle upon the hairs of his arms. Kepheus continued to play the sad tune as he walked from the water toward the hulking form of Leviathan who was as still as death except the steady rise and fall of his massive chest.
Kepheus played until his lips were exhausted and his breath all but gone. He stood in the face of the giant, hot breath singeing his skin, and with nothing but the flute in his possession, jabbed it into the beast’s eye.
Leviathan cried out in pain, but with his last breath he opened his jaw and sent a shower of fire upon Kepheus. Both man and beast, gone in an instant. But Kepheus did not die in vain, for Poseidon kept his promise and Eos was healed.
But in his death no tales were told, no stories of his bravery passed on, and his myth has never emerged except to those who know the song he played that day, the song of the deep that lulls mighty beasts to sleep.