The Adventures of Cletus XII

Cletus left Europe on a boat with a group of men going viking. A man named Leif captained the ship of thirty-five crewmen from Norway toward Greenland. Leif searched for a land west of Greenland that only one other ship had ever found. Twenty years prior, a man named Bjarni found a land covered in wheat and grapes after a storm threw his vessel off course. Leif had bought Bjarni’s ship for his own search and hired men to join him.

Leif followed Bjarni’s return route in reverse. The boat landed on a rocky, barren island. Leif stayed for a night before setting out to sea. After a day, the party found a land covered in lush forests, but no wheat or grapes. After two more days at sea, Leif found a land whose streams brimmed with salmon and lands covered in wild grapevines. Leif decided to encamp on the land for the winter. He divided the men into two groups. One group stayed to build a settlement while the other trekked inland to explore the forests.

Cletus accompanied the group exploring the land. He ditched the group as soon as he could. Cletus discovered native people a day’s walk inland. The natives took a strange liking to Cletus and welcomed him into their homes. The night Cletus arrived, the natives held a celebration that seemed to be in honor of the caveman. The natives fed Cletus a strange, green goo and forced him to smoke from a large pipe.

Cletus found himself in a field of beautiful flowers. The natives and the cold winter forest disappeared, replaced by meadows and brilliant blue skies. Massive statues dotted the landscape. Ominous cliffs rose into the sky on the far east and west horizons. To the north and south, thick mist eventually swallowed the far off edges of the valley. Cletus walked into the mist. Whispers and unintelligible voices drifted on the wind.

A man in beautiful, white robes approached Cletus in the mist. The dark-skinned, curly-haired man grabbed Cletus by the shoulders and said, “Hello, friend, do you believe in the five pillars? Do you follow them?”

“What?”

“Of course not. No one here follows the five pillars.”

The man scoffed and disappeared into the mist. Cletus continued to walk.

Slowly, the mist cleared. The valley had vanished. Cletus walked in a giant hall filled with massive tables. Warriors and monsters of every kind lined the tables, including countless familiar faces. At the end of the hall sat five stone thrones. Cletus marched past the feasting tables and approached the stone thrones. “Where am I?” Cletus asked Buddha.

“You’re in a special place,” Jesus said from his throne.

“A place you shouldn’t be, my little monkey friend,” Buddha said.

“WELCOME TO THE VALLEY OF GODS AND HEROES,” boomed an old, naked man on the center throne.

Cletus scanned the other two thrones. An old, one-eyed man in a cloak with ravens nested on his shoulders sat on one throne. Jupiter filled the final throne. Anger burned in his blue eyes. A massive pink scar covered the center of Jupiter’s torso.

“I’m sorry I killed you,” Cletus said to Jupiter. “At least you got better.”

“You can’t kill an idea, ape,” Jupiter said with a chuckle. “And indeed I got better.”

“Who’re you?” Cletus asked the naked man.

“YOU KNOW WHO I AM,” the naked man shouted at Cletus. The words boomed in Cletus’s head despite the man never opening his mouth.

“Yahweh,” Cletus said with a nod. “And you?”

The cloaked man leaned forward. “I am Wodan,” he said. “I am the All Father, and despite what these idiots tell you, this used to be Valhalla. I fear as more men begin believing in the naked war monger and his son, less of my great mead hall will remain.”

“Chill out, old man,” Jesus said.

“What is this place?” Cletus asked. “Valley of Gods and Heroes? What is that?”

“It is our true realm,” Jupiter said. “This is our piece of the spirit world where we exist outside of myths and minds of men. All gods, heroes, folk tales, and superstitions throughout time exist in this plane.”

“Why am I here?” Cletus asked.

“You aren’t,” Buddha said. “At least not wholly. Only your mind has come to us. Your body is elsewhere.”

“Sorry, brother,” Jesus said, “but you really have no place here. You must leave. Return to your physical form.”

“How the hell do I not belong here?” Cletus asked. “Am I not a hero? You all know the things I’ve done. I’ve lived thousands of years. I’ve killed numerous gods. I hunted monsters. I ruled multiple, prosperous kingdoms. Why do I not belong?”

“IT IS MOSTLY YOUR OWN DOING,” Yahweh said. “PEOPLE DO NOT REMEMBER STORIES TOLD OF CLETUS THE CAVEMAN.”

“Indeed,” said Wodan. “People remember tales of Hercules, Gilgamesh, Roland, King Arthur, Reynard, Robin Hood, Son Wukong, and Samson. All those men, those incarnations of you, exist here. Just as the rest of us, they were created by the belief and imaginations of people who heard tales of your deeds. You, Cletus, are real regardless of belief and worship.”

“If I don’t belong here, maybe I should just go.”

Cletus stomped away back into the mist. As he wandered into the fog, Cletus noticed small creatures flying around him. Cletus ignored the small, bulb-headed beings as he continued to walk. Massive statues of men and monsters still littered the valley. Cletus wondered if the statues had been gods that people stopped believing in. Cletus read names on the statues’ bases. Some names Cletus found familiar, especially from his time as Son Wukong and Gilgamesh.

While Cletus wandered from statue to statue, he did not notice the swarm of tiny creatures forming around him. Without warning, the things attacked Cletus, engulfing him. He swatted at them, but they held onto him. Cletus cursed the spirit world as he tried to tear the monsters off. The caveman struggled, but eventually the creatures carried him away.

The bulb-headed monsters flew Cletus deep into a volcano. The creatures abandoned Cletus in an enormous chamber. “They are called thetans,” a hoarse voice said.

Cletus barely saw a bald man with massive eyes and a ridiculous cloak chained to the volcanic wall. “They are called thetans,” the man said again. “They are lost and cannot find their bodies. Long ago, I kidnapped them from their planet. I destroyed their homes and bodies with nuclear bombs. I stole and confused their souls so they could never return home. Some of them trapped me here in this electronic cage.”

Cletus began screaming, but he had no clue why. As he screamed, Cletus awoke alone in a forest. The native village had disappeared, and winter had passed. Collecting himself, Cletus set out into the forest.

 

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Cletus woke before dawn. He milked his pale, blonde cow. Cletus fed his ox and his horse. While Cletus shoveled out his stables, a horseless carriage pulled to his cabin. Armed men stepped from the carriage followed by a man who looked like a fat eagle. Cletus set his work aside to greet the men.

“What do you want?” Cletus asked.

“Do you know who you’re talking to boy?” the fat eagle asked.

“Do you? Don’t fucking call me boy. You’re whole lifetime is barely an afterthought to me. I’ve got two fingers on my left hand, but I could beat your ass with just one of them before your two thugs could draw their pistols. I’ll ask you again, what do you want?”

“I am William McKinley,” the fat eagle said. “I’m the President of the United States.”

“What do you want, fat ass?”

“There are records, you know,” McKinley said. “Secrets kept that only the President can know. There are documents of a wild man, like a red ape. This man can’t die. This man fought in practically every war this country’s been a part of. Supposedly this man lived with coyotes in the desert. He’s bigger than a mountain, logged an entire forest with one hand, can lasso a tornado, has a blue ox, and has a horse so wild it bucked his wife all the way to the moon. According to Lincoln, this caveman is the greatest military tactician to ever live. Grant claims the Union would have lost the war without him.

“Now, of course as an educated man, I assumed all these stories are nonsense. Tall tales and folklore. Then, a few weeks ago, there are reports of a man appearing from nowhere at a steel mill who caught a fifty-ton crucible in midair to keep it from killing anyone.”

“Get to your point,” Cletus said.

“There’s a war going on, and your country needs that wild man. I’m putting together a regiment, the First Volunteers Cavalry. I need that wild man to lead those men. Will you come?”

“I’ve got seven fingers, one eye, and a wooden leg. What the fuck can I possibly do to help?”

“Just think about it,” McKinley said. “If you decide to help, there’s a meeting point in Arizona for the Volunteers. Right now the unit’s being led by Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and Colonel Leonard Wood. However, I think the regiment could use a Brigadier General.”

“I’ll think about it,” Cletus said. “Get the fuck off my lawn.”

Eventually, Cletus made his way to the meeting place in Arizona. Thanks to Roosevelt, the regiment remained well stocked with weapons and supplies. The regiment traveled by train to Florida and boat to Cuba. Most of the men arrived in Cuba, but most of the horses did not. During their first armed conflict against a Spanish fort, Cletus took an artillery shell to the torso. Cletus died in the sand, gasping and alone.

 

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Cletus lay still in darkness. The sand had gone. The sky had gone. The whole world around Cletus had disappeared. Flames engulfed Cletus and burned away his clothes. Heat scorched his body, boiling away sweat as it formed on his searing skin. The flames vanished.

Cletus plummeted through darkness. He drifted forever. Centuries could have gone by, Cletus would not have noticed. He slammed against hard stone at the end of his fall. Cletus climbed to his feet, stumbling as he realized he was on a stairway. A few steps up, the stairs ended in nothing. Cletus turned and made his way down the stairs.

The bottom of the steps opened into a barren field. A single tree slowly died at the center of the field. A silver disk in the sky that Cletus knew was not the moon lit the wasteland. Statues dotted the rocky earth. Cletus recognized all of them as he walked toward the tree. The name on each statue change, but the image carved into the stone was the same. At the base of the tree, Cletus found a tiny, stone figurine. Unlike the other statues, the figurine’s name matched the image of a man who lived through lies and violence. Somehow, people remembered his story if not his name.

Cletus stared at the statuette of himself, running his thumb over the embossed letters of his name. An owl called out from the scraggly tree. Cletus looked at the owl, meeting its golden gaze. “I bet you were the one that knew my name, huh?” Cletus asked the owl.

Cletus wrapped his meaty fists around the figurine and tried his best to crush the stone to no avail.

“WHO?” the owl called.

Cletus tossed the chunk of stone at the owl. “Shut up,” he said in a cracking voice.

The owl spread its wings and took flight. An explosion of feathers filled the area around the tree. Out of the mess stepped a woman with bird’s legs. Feathers covered her head and neck instead of hair. She pressed her warm skin against Cletus. Golden eyes glared into him as she jabbed a frighteningly long, clawed finger into his chin.

“I asked twice,” the old woman said. “Who are you?”

“I am Cletus.”

“No,” she said, “your true name.”

“My parents used to call me Ukku,” Cletus said. “That was so long ago.”

“No, I want your real name.”

“I don’t have one.”

The owl woman placed her hand on Cletus’s forehead. “You do no longer,” she said. “Choose your path wisely.”

The owl woman disappeared in another tsunami of feathers. The tree and field vanished. Cletus stood in a courtyard full of ash-colored flowers. Two doors stood before him. Cletus chose the door to the left. Darkness filled the tiny hall beyond the door. Cletus could reach out and touch the walls on either side. He began walking along the narrow corridor. The walls lit up around him with soft, blurry light. The lights displayed colored, moving photographs. Cletus walked, observing all the things displayed before him. The first he stopped to watch showed Cletus talking with the owl woman. The next showed his death, followed by a scene of the ship sailing to Cuba.

One scene showed Cletus hiring John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Lincoln in hopes the tragedy would reunite the Union through the loss. Several wars flashed by. Cletus recognized almost all of America’s conflicts. Meetings with Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington popped up as Cletus walked the hallway.

Decades, sometimes centuries, of adventure filled the gaps between major events. Cletus saw his transition from the murderous, treacherous Reynard the trickster to the kinder Robin Hood. Cletus watched himself pull the sword from the stone. Tears welled in his eyes. Cletus missed Merlyn, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Cletus fondly watched himself kill Grendel and the beast’s mother. Cletus watched a crowd of people carry Jesus away. He watched the destruction of the Temple of Dagon, his imprisonment by the Philistines, and all the things he did to earn it.

Cletus watched himself build Rome. Before that, he had been swept away by some strange spell of Prometheus after murdering Zeus. Cletus watched the slaughter of the Olympian gods with weapons of their brothers and sisters as well as the marvelous sword crafted by Hephaestus. Rage filled him at remembering the murder of his brother-in-law. Cletus watched with bliss as he performed his twelve labors for Eurystheus. He saw the meeting with the Oracle after killing Megara. Cletus almost wished he’d chosen Virtue over Pleasure when offered the gifts from Zeus.

Pain filled his chest as Cletus watched Enkidu’s funeral. He saw his travels with the monk Xuanzang and all his time as the Great Sage Equaling Heaven and the Handsome Monkey King.

Thousands of images rushed by as Cletus sprinted down the hallway with tears rushing from his eyes. Cletus ignored thousands of years full of loneliness and desperation as well as years of hibernating in a stone egg. Cletus slowed as he reached the end of the hall. Cletus watched the war he led his people in against the subterranean lizard people. Buddha had been so impressed with his courage and strength that he gave Cletus many magical gifts such as intelligence and immortality. He loved the last few scenes. Cletus watched as he taught a small group of other Neanderthals how to start a fire. Cletus watched himself grow up. The final scene in the hallway showed Cletus his birth. The caveman sat on the cold, stone floor and wept.

Cletus wiped away snot and tears as he exited the corridor. He stepped into another courtyard. Three doors faced Cletus. Faint light shined from the two doors on the sides. Cletus wanted no part of whatever lies or memories those doors had to share. Cletus wanted everything to be over. The center door engulfed Cletus with darkness as he walked inside.

Cletus stepped onto the shore of a small lake. Black mud stuck to his feet as he approached the water. Out on the lake, a muscular old man stood in a boat. “Hey!” Cletus shouted. “Over here.”

Cletus waved his arms about, but the man gave no attempt to respond. The boat slowly made its way to the shore, stopping twenty feet from Cletus. “You’ll have to swim out the rest of the way,” the old man said. “Boat’s old and rotted. I’ll tear up the bottom if I come any closer.”

Cletus nodded and swam out to the boat. He grabbed the sides and tried to pull himself in. The oarsman jabbed him with his paddle. “You got the toll?” the old man asked.

“I’m dead,” Cletus said. “I don’t have anything.”

The old man shook his head. He reached down, digging his finger into Cletus’s left eye and pulled out a large, silver coin. “It’s right here,” the old man said. “Come on up. Your feet’ll get wet. Damn thing’s been taking on water for at least a thousand years.”

The old man helped Cletus into the boat. The two stayed silent as the boat drifted across the lake. Cletus felt like the water watched him throughout the journey. On the other side of the lake, the old man pushed Cletus into the water. Laughing, the old man paddled away.

Cletus waded ashore. Another set of stone steps stood before Cletus. Cletus grew eager at the idea of facing the sort of monster that would need such massive stairs. He ran and leaped up the steps. At the top, Cletus discovered a giant man with skin colored like darkness and the head of a sharp-faced dog. The behemoth grabbed Cletus and squeezed him. With the dog man’s eyes glaring into his soul, Cletus could feel every pain and joy he had ever caused. When it finished, the dog man set Cletus down on the floor. The owl woman approached Cletus and set down a pair of golden scales.

“Where am I going?” Cletus asked. “Is any of this even real?”

“We will know shortly,” the dog man growled.

The owl lady pulled a feather from her head and placed it on one side of the scale. She smiled at Cletus as she tore into his chest to pull out a ruby mass of flesh that pulsated in her hand. The owl lady set Cletus’s heart on the other side of the scale. Cletus had killed and stolen many times in his life. He feared the worst. Cletus felt his heart sink, but knew better as he watched it wobble on the scale. After several minutes of tipping back and forth, the feather and his heart balanced out.

“Now what?” Cletus asked.

“Now, you choose,” the dog man said.

“What do I choose?”

“Whatever you want.”

“I want nothing,” Cletus said. “I just want it all to end. Just nothing.”

“So, you have decided,” the dog man said. “So, it shall be.”

Everything disappeared. Not even darkness remained. Cletus found nothing very soothing. From the nothing drifted a mass of tentacles that wrapped around Cletus. Two bulbs of meat appeared before Cletus. “What are you?” Cletus asked the mass of meat and tentacles.

“I am the true creator of all things,” the mass said. “You’ve chosen wisely, Old One.”

“Why do gods always insist on calling me that?”

“For most of us, it’s true. I won’t even be imagined by anyone until 2005 CE. You’re much older than I am.”

“But you exist now.”

“Nothing exists now. All things are neither now nor then. Existence is relative, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.”

“Why are you here? I was promised nothing. My heart was equal with the scale.”

“You shall receive nothing. You don’t believe that nothing meant you’d float here endlessly, did you?”

“I assumed nothing meant nothing.”

“No, my boy,” the mass of tentacles said. “There are big things in store for you. Just not you as you are now. You’ll have to be reborn a few more times first.”

Cletus glowed with every color imaginable. The caveman exploded into a burst of thousands of streaks of light. Cletus’s soul became a meteor shower of power and emotion that covered all of time and space.

The Adventures of Cletus XI

Cletus wandered through the forest until he reached a road. He followed the road for a long time, moving out of the forest, through towns, over rivers, and through smaller patches of trees. Cletus merrily greeted young ladies, old women, fat monks, and shining knights as he passed them on the lane. He took a path into the trees that led to a pebbled stream. A single log formed a bridge across the waters. As Cletus drew close to the bridge, he saw a stranger coming from the other side. Cletus had never seen a larger man. The stranger stood nearly seven feet tall, broader across the shoulders than two tree trunks, and nearly four feet around his waist. While Cletus walked faster to cross the log first, so did the stranger.

“Step back and let the better man cross first,” Cletus said.

The stranger said, “Then stand back yourself since I have to say that I’m the better man.”

Cletus drew a bow and arrow. “Stay where you are or I’ll show you how men from Nottingham play by sending a shaft between your ribs.”

“I’ll tan your hide until it’s as many colors as a beggar’s cloak if you so much as touch the string of that bow.”

“You sound like an ass. I could have this arrow in your heart before you can ask God forgiveness.”

“From my side of the stream, you sound like a coward,” said the stranger. “You stand there with a bow to shoot me from afar while I have nothing but a staff to beat you with.”

“Can’t say any man’s ever thought me a coward,” Cletus said. “I’ll lay the bow aside, and come at you with a cudgel.”

“I’ll wait here for you to go cut an oak branch and joyously whip you when you return.”

Cletus set his bow and arrows on the ground. He pulled a black pin from his ear and shook it out to transform it into a larger, iron staff.

“What wizardry is this?”

“Just a parlor trick,” Cletus said. “This is my good staff. It’s made from a tough iron and lusts for blood like no man ever could. We’ll fight until one of us falls into the stream.”

“The idea makes my whole heart warm,” the stranger said as he twirled his staff above his head, making the wood whistle in the wind.

Never had another soul met in a harsher fight than did those two men. Cletus feinted and bashed at the stranger’s head with a blow that could kill a man. The stranger deftly blocked the blow and returned one twice as hard which Cletus knocked off target. The men fought on the log for over an hour. Many blows struck their mark and left the men covered in bruises and gashes. Neither behemoth cried for the fight to end. The match seemed unlikely to finish by either man falling from the bridge. From time to time, the men stopped fighting to catch their breath. Cletus knew in all his life he had never seen a man so talented and brutal with a staff, and the stranger thought much the same about Cletus.

Finally, Cletus bashed the stranger on the ribs with such force that dust rose from the stranger’s jacket. The stranger came within a hair’s breadth of falling, but he quickly regained his footing. The stranger cracked Cletus on the forehead. Blood rushed down his face. Cletus snarled as anger filled his bones. He swung his staff at the stranger with all his might. The stranger warded off the blow and again whacked Cletus in the head. This time, the staff caught Cletus in the temple and sent him heels over head into the stream.

“Where are you now, good lad?” the stranger shouted, roaring with laughter.

“Floating downstream it would seem,” Cletus said, but he couldn’t help but laugh at himself.

The sound of bees hummed in his head. Cletus waded to the bank. “Give me a hand out of the water. I need you to be aware that you are the bravest, sturdiest man I’ve ever known, and you have the hardest swing with a staff I’ve ever had the misfortune of feeling.”

Cletus drew a horn from his belt. He pressed the end to his lips and blasted an eerie melody that echoed through the forest. Cletus remembered fighting Enkidu. He remembered the struggle of facing a man actually his better. Cletus looked at the tall stranger and remembered that feeling of challenge and burning desire to be better in the face of that adversity. “There’s no man between here and Rome that could beat me like that.”

The stranger pulled Cletus from the stream and said, “And you take a beating with a brave heart. You’re the stoutest little man I ever knew.”

Distant twigs and branches snapped with movement in the forests. Nearly forty men in dark green tunics burst out from the trees. “Good master,” said the man at the head of the swarm, “what’s happened here? You’re drenched to the bone.”

“Well, Will,” said Cletus, “the fellow over there tossed me into the water and gave my hide an impressive tanning.”

“Then he shall be beaten himself,” said Will. “Have at him, lads!”

The men pounced upon the stranger, but they found him ready to fight. The stranger striked right and left with his staff. When the green-clad men finally overcame the stranger through sheer numbers, many stepped away with broken bones and bleeding skulls.

“Stop, boys!” Cletus shouted, still laughing against his sore sides. “He’s a good man. Any harm that falls to him will be doubled back to you.” The men released the stranger. “Young man, will you stay with me and my band? I can’t offer much. You’d get three suits of lincoln green each year, a one-time pay of forty marks, and you’d share with us whatever good shall befall us. You’d eat the sweetest venison and drink the stoutest every night. You’d be my right hand man.”

“I do not know,” said the stranger, anger seeping into his voice. “If you handle the bow and arrow as poorly as you do a cudgel, I can’t see fit to call you my master, but if any man here can shoot better than me, I will join you.”

“I will bow to you like I’ve never bowed to a man before,” Cletus said. “I’ll stoop down to the level of playing games to decide.” Cletus turned to Will. “Stutely, cut a piece of white bark the size of your hand and place it eighty yards downstream.” Will Stutely did as asked. “Now, stranger, hit that to see if you can call yourself an archer.”

“I will,” said the stranger. “Give me a bow, and if I cannot hit it, choke me blue with the bowstrings.”

The band of men sat or lay upon the grass and watched the stranger shoot. He chose a bow from one man’s back and an arrow from another. The stranger drew the arrow to his cheek and loosed it down the path. The shaft shot to the very center of the white bark chunk.

“Beat that if you can,” the stranger said.

“Impressive,” Cletus said. “I can’t beat it, but by the blessing of Artemis, I can more than match it.”

Cletus took up his bow. He nocked an arrow with care and shot with the greatest skill. The arrow flew straight and true. The arrow hit upon the stranger’s own and shattered the shaft into splinters. The band of men leaped to their feet and shouted for joy.

“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” the stranger said. “I’ll be your right hand man.”

“Than I’ve gained a great man,” Cletus said. “What’s your name?”

“I’m called John Little back home.”

Will Stutely laughed. “Nay, little stranger,” said Will. “I don’t like your name, and I won’t pretend to. Indeed you are quite small though. Therefore, we’ll call you Little John, and I will be your godfather.”

Cletus and all his band laughed aloud until John Little grew angry.

“You keep making fun of me,” John said to Will, “and you will have sore bones right quickly.”

“No,” said Cletus, “bottle your temper. The name fits you well. No man would fear Little John until it’d be far too late to escape you. Little John you shall be called henceforth. Come, my merry men, we will prepare a christening feast for our fair infant.”

Turning away from the stream, the merry men disappeared into the forest. The men traced their own steps back to where they dwelled in the depths of Sherwood. In the woodland, the merry men lived in huts of bark and branches around a grand oak. Here they found the rest of the band roasting deer over great fires. When the feast finished cooking, they all sat down in the moss and grass or on stones and logs. Cletus sat upon a mossy boulder beneath the oak tree with Little John at his right.

As the feast ended, Will Stutely said, “It is now time to christen our tiny babe, merry boys.” Laughing and joyous shouts echoed through the woods in response. “Then we need sponsors!”

Little John sprang to his feet as Will approached with seven other men. “Lay a finger on me and you shall rue it,” John said.

The men seized Little John by the limbs and held him tightly despite his fight to free himself. A bald man dressed in dirty robes stepped forward with a pot of ale.

“Who brings this babe before the church of theft and merriment?” the fake priest asked.

“I do,” said Will Stutely.

“What name will you call this boy?”

“Little John I will call him.”

“Little John,” said the mock priest, “you have lived till now just to get through this world. From now on you will truly live. Little John, I christen thee.” With that, the priest dumped the pot of ale over Little John’s head.

All the merry men yelled with laughter as ale washed over Little John’s hair and beard. At first he looked angry, but the mood of the other men infected him. John bellowed with laughter while licking beer from his mustache. The men stripped Little John. Cletus clothed the sweet baby boy from head to toe in green and presented Little John with a bow of his own. As John grasped the stout wood, he officially became a member of the merry band of thieves and ruffians.

Will Stutely clapped Little John on the shoulders before departing. Will apologized to Cletus, but he had a prior arrangement with a young lady in Nottingham. Cletus shook Will’s hand as the man crept into the shadows. Back in the fire light, Little John’s baptism party continued throughout the night.

Days later, Cletus stood under the grand oak thinking of Will Stutely. Men of the band were free to come and go, but Will had no other home to go to. As Cletus worried, two men ran toward him with a busty young lady. Cletus recognized the woman as the barmaid of the Blue Boar in Nottingham. His heart fell. Cletus knew they bore ill news of Will Stutely.

“Will Stutely has been taken by the Sheriff,” the men said as they came to Cletus.

“And you bring me this woeful news?” Cletus asked the lady.

“Ay,” she said. “I saw it all. He’s wounded. One of the Sheriff’s men stroke him so hard it tore his head open before they bound him. I came running when I heard the news they’d hang him tomorrow.”

“He won’t be hanged tomorrow,” said Cletus.

Cletus blew three blasts from his horn, and men came running through the woods until over one hundred stood around him.

“Listen!” Cletus shouted. “Dear Will Stutely has been captured by the Sheriff. He has risked life and limb for all of us. We shall risk life and limb for him.”

The merry men craftily left Sherwood Forest in groups of two and three. At midday, the disguised men entered Nottingham and mixed with the people. Merry men pressed as near city guards as they could. Cletus and his men stayed hidden in the town, watching each other and the Sheriff’s men. When the sun dipped into the western sky, a bugle sounded from Nottingham castle. Crowds shifted through the town as rumor spread that the famous Will Stutely would be executed.

The castle gates opened, and the Sheriff led his men on a noisy parade. At the center of the guards, a cart pulled the shackled Will Stutely. Blood clotted in his blonde hair and on his pale face. Will begged the Sheriff to set him free to fight rather than kill Will like a coward. Cletus met Will’s gaze. Color sprang to Will’s cheeks, and he fell silent.

“Now, stand back!” a guard shouted.

Little John pushed through the crowd of guards to reach the cart. “What do you rats mean to push upon us?” a guard asked. “Stand back I say.”

“Stand back yourself,” Little John said.

Little John bashed the man on the side of the head. The guard fell dead instantly. John leaped upon the cart where Will lay. Little John tore the cage open with his hands and ripped the shackles from Will. “Leave the rest of us here, Will,” said John. “If you stay and fight, you will most likely die. I wouldn’t want you to die for I couldn’t ask for a nicer friend.”

Will jumped from the cart.

“Rebels!” screamed the Sheriff. “Guards, take him!”

The Sheriff kicked his horse toward Little John and swung his sword. John ducked the blow and rolled under the horse’s belly. “Sorry, Sheriff,” said Little John. “I must borrow your sword.”

Little John dragged the Sheriff from his horse and snatched the blade from the Sheriff’s hand. He tossed the sword to Stutely. “Will,” said Little John, “the kind Sheriff has given you his sword. Thank him for his gift and defend yourself!”

The Sheriff bellowed like an angry bull. He rushed at Will and Little John with no weapon. A strange horn sounded, and an arrow whistled within an inch of the Sheriff’s face. Curses filled the air as the merry men attacked. Swords and staves clashed, and arrows soared through the streets.

“Retreat! Retreat!” the Sheriff shouted.

The guards tore through the crowd back to the castle gates. Cletus commanded his men to stand down and let the guards flee.

“Stay!” said Will Stutely. “You can’t catch the dastardly Robin Hood if you never fight the man face to face, Sheriff.” Will laughed and turned to Little John. “Little John, my true friend, I did not think I’d see your face today or meet you this side of Heaven. I think now I may love you more than any other in the world.”

Cletus gathered his band in a tight group around Will Stutely and disappeared back into Sherwood.

 

<><><>

 

Spring passed away, leaving its flowers and rain. Summer too faded away with its scorching days and mellow nights. Fall came. Cletus and his men brewed ale, smoked pigs, and stored away food for roasting when winter would bring its winds and snow. Seasons passed and passed again. Leaves grew lush and green, and then crumpled to flat brown before falling, year after year.

“This is too nice a day to sit idle, Little John,” Cletus said one April morning. “Gather a group of men and go east. I’ll go west. Each of us will bring back a guest to dine tonight beneath our greenwood tree.”

Cletus brought along Will Scarlet, Allan a Dale, and Midge the Miller’s son. Men stayed behind to prepare a homecoming feast while others left with Cletus or Little John. Cletus and his group left the forest and wandered the highway through villages. At noon, Cletus stopped the men at a crossroads lined with large hedges. The men hid behind and beneath the giant bushes to rest and eat in the soft grass.

As the sun began to dip toward the western sky, a knight slowly rode over a nearby hill and toward the spot where Cletus and his men hide. The horse walked with a hanging head to match its limp rider’s brooding demeanor. Cletus walked into the road. As the knight passed, Cletus grabbed the reins and pulled the horse to a stop. “Hold, Sir,” Cletus said, “I beg you to wait for a short while. I have a few questions I’d like to ask you.”

“Who are you to stop a traveler like this on his Majesty’s highway?” asked the knight.

“That’s hard to say,” Cletus said. “Some would say I’m kind. Some call me cruel. Some might call me a murderer or a thief. Few may even call me good and righteous. There are too many eyes to judge a man. It depends who’s looking at me what I may be. People in this time and place call me Robin Hood.”

“Truly, good Robin Hood?” said the knight with a smile. “I hear much good of your name and little ill. What do you desire from me?”

“If you would come with me to Sherwood Forest, I will give you a merry feast greater than you have had in all your life.”

“You are too kind, but you will find me a sorry guest. It’d be best to let me be on my way.”

“No, I can’t let that happen. We keep a home in the depths of Sherwood, but so far from the roads and paths no one comes to visit. My friends and I have to seek them out when we grow bored. Although, I will say, Sir Knight, that our guests pay a fee for spending their nights with us.”

“I understand you,” said the knight, “but I am not the guest for you. I have no money at all.”

“That so? And if I don’t believe you?”

“I am ashamed to say that I have only ten shillings with me. That is every dime Sir Richard of Lea has to his name in this world.” Sir Richard handed his purse to Cletus.

“Put it away,” Cletus said. “I don’t doubt you. No one so pitiful would waste time lying to me. I’ve been many things in life, but I realized long ago that as a young man I made the wrong choices. Now, I seek to bring the proud down a peg or twelve, but I try to help the downtrodden whenever I can.”

“That’s what the stories say,” Sir Richard said.

“Come with us, Sir Richard,” Cletus said. “Warm your heart with us in the greenwood. Hopefully I can help you.”

“You mean to help me? I don’t think that you can, but I will go with you into Sherwood.”

Cletus called forth his men. Cletus stood on one side of Sir Richard’s horse with Will Scarlet on the other. The rest of the merry men fell in behind the knight. The group trotted into the woodlands to Sherwood forest. Cletus and Sir Richard continued to speak as they moved through the trees. Sir Richard suffered many debts to the point that in three days he would lose his castle and all his lands if he could not pay his debts in full. His money and property would forfeit to the church where Sir Richard would never be able to regain it.

Sir Richard lost his money by paying a ransom to the friends and kinsmen of Sir Walter of Lancaster. In a jousting tournament, Sir Richard’s son killed Sir Walter. To keep his son from prison and death, Sir Richard pawned his lands to the church to raise the money for the ransom. Sir Richard sent his son to Palestine to fight as a Christian for the Cross and to avoid the ill and hatred of Lancaster’s kinsmen.

“What more do you owe them?” Cletus asked.

“Four hundred pounds,” said Sir Richard.

“Your entire life will be forfeit over four hundred pounds?”

“It’s not my life I worry for, but my wife’s. When I lose my lands, she will have to return to her parents and live on the charity of her family. I will break her heart. For myself, I will join my son overseas to fight for the holy sepulcher.”

Will Scarlet asked, “Will your friends not help in your dire need?”

“While a rich man, I had many friends that spoke of their love for me,” Sir Richard said. “But like animals escaping a falling tree, they left me when I lost my money and gained powerful enemies.”

“You say you have no friends, Sir Richard,” Cletus said, “but many men have found Robin Hood a friend in their need.”

“So the stories go,” said Sir Richard. “I assume Robin Hood is a title? I’ve heard stories of your deeds since I was boy, but you are younger than me, good Robin.”

“The truth is more mysterious than that, but I’ll let you believe what you want.”

Night had fallen when Cletus led his band to the grand oak. From the distance, Cletus saw Little John and his men had returned already. When Cletus came near, he realized Little John had grabbed the Lord Bishop of Hereford as a dinner guest. The Bishop paced beneath the great tree while three Black Friars stood close behind him. Six horses stood hitched to the branches of the oak. One horse wore silken white and gold cloths while the others carried massive packs. The Bishop tried to flee upon seeing Cletus approach.

“Don’t run away, Lord Bishop,” Cletus said loudly. “I will be at your side soon. I could not have asked for a better dinner guest in all of England.

“How dare you treat a man so high in the church as I this way?” the Bishop asked. “Seven feet high heathens attacking a man on

“Stuff it, Bishop,” Cletus said. Cletus patted Little John’s shoulder as the crowds of merry men snickered. “Is this the man who hurt you, Lord Bishop?”

“Yes, the naughty fellow.”

“Have mercy on me, master,” Little John said whimsically as everyone began to laugh.

“Little John,” Cletus asked, “did you hurt his lordship?”

“Ay.”

“He called me travesties,” the Bishop said. “Fat priest, man-eater, greedy usurer.”

“Little John, did you call his lordship a fat priest?” Cletus asked.

“Ay.”

“And a man-eater?”

“Ay.”

“How about an usurer?”

“Ay,” said Little John so sorrowfully the crowd stopped laughing.

“Sadly,” Cletus said to the Bishop, “all these things must be true, you fat, greedy bastard. Little John is the most honest man I’ve ever known.”

Laughter rang into the air. Even Sir Richard joined the uproar.

“God will punish all of you monsters in time,” the Bishop said.

“Nay, Lord Bishop,” Cletus said. “Yahweh actually likes me quite well. We are ruffians, but we are not the evil men you think we are. No harm will come to you while you’re here. However, there are no kings nor bishops nor betters of any kind among us. All are equal men here. Sit down, Bishop, while my merry men prepare a woodland feast for us.”

Cletus bade his guests be seated. Fires roared. Men played games of archery and wrestling and drinking. Food cooked. Many men played instruments, and Allan a Dale sang magnificent songs. Allan’s songs told of love, war, glory, and sadness. Allan sang to the guests of a tale of man who lived forever, a lonely wanderer that began life as a murderous king but slowly softened his heart. Allan sang his ballad into the night.

When the full moon hovered over the great oak, Cletus led his guests to where steaming dishes filled the clearing with mouth-watering aromas. Plates covered a white cloth spread over the grass. Torches cast red and orange around the clearing. Men sat upon grass and moss around the linen table. On a signal from Cletus, men fell upon the food. Merriment filled the woods with rattling plates, talking, and laughter. As the feast dimmed to a close, men passed wine, ale, and cakes briskly about the circle. Cletus called for silence as everyone drank, and all fell quiet.

Cletus told the men the story of Sir Richard and his plight. As Cletus recounted the tale of death and debt, the Lord Bishop’s face lost color and grew stern. Over the course of the feast, the Bishop had become comfortable and had laughed with the merry men. As Cletus talked of Sir Richard, happiness left the Bishop to be replaced by a serious scowl. The Bishop set aside his wine. He fidgeted and constantly glanced about him as Cletus spoke.

As Cletus finished his tale, he looked to the Bishop and asked, “Lord Bishop, do you think this is not evil for any man to do to another, let alone a churchman?”

The Bishop did not answer but glared at the ground.

“Lord Bishop, you are the richest clergyman in all of England. Could you help Sir Richard?”

The Bishop still did not answer.

“Little John and Will Stutely,” Cletus said. “Bring the pack horses here.”

As the two men followed orders, Cletus obtained the ledger of goods from the Black Friars. John and Stutely scattered the packs at the center of the circle where the food had been. Cletus handed the ledger to Will Scarlet. Loud enough for all to hear, Scarlet read, “Three bales of silk to the mercer at Ancaster.”

Picking at his fingernails with a dagger, Cletus said, “Leave that alone. He’s an honest man who has risen from filth to prosper by his own hard work.”

“One bale of silk velvet for the Abbey of Beaumont.”

“What do priests and monks and friars want with velvet? I won’t steal it outright. Measure it off into lots, one for charity, one for us, and one to go onto the abbey.”

“Twoscore candles for the Chapel of Saint Thomas.”

“Leave that be. It belongs fairly to the chapel.”

In that way, Cletus progressed through all the goods and packages carried by the Bishop’s horses. Cletus ordered the goods adjusted as he saw fit. Some things he had set aside untouched, and most Cletus divided into three equal parts for charity, for the merry men, and for the owner. Soon goods covered the ground inside the circle of men so much that the grass could not be seen beyond the silks, velvet, clothes, wines, ales, dried meats, paintings, ornate sculptures, and many other things. Finally, Will Scarlet read off the last item on the list, “A box belonging to the Lord Bishop of Hereford.”

“My Lord Bishop, what is in your box?” Cletus asked.

The Bishop shook in the warm night as Little John dropped a wooden box with iron strips in the circle.

“My Lord, do you have the key to your box?”

The Bishop shook his head.

“Will Scarlet,” Cletus said, “go and bring an ax straightaway, and cut this box open.”

Will left and returned with a great, two-headed ax. He struck the ironbound box, and on the third blow the box burst open. A heap of gold streamed across the ground. Coins glowed ghastly orange in the torchlight as murmurs spread through the band of men. Cletus ordered three men to count the gold. It took a long time to count the money, but when the men finished, they called out that the gold added up to two thousand pounds in all. Along with the gold the men found a paper. Will Scarlet read the document aloud so all gathered heard that the money was the fines and forfeits from estates belonging to the Bishopric of Hereford.

Cletus shook his head. He placed the dagger point against the Bishop’s chin and forced the holy man to look up from the grass. “My Lord Bishop,” Cletus said, “I will not strip you completely. You will take back one third of your money. One third of it I will be keeping as payment for the entertainment and food my men have provided for you tonight. One third will go to charity as you can spare money for such a noble goal.”

Cletus turned to Sir Richard and said, “Now, Sir Richard, it seems to me that the church wanted nothing more than to leave you and those like you penniless. As punishment for that, a portion of the Bishop’s third will be given to you. You will take the third meant for charity as well as for a total of twelve hundred pounds. Pay your debts and make your life whole again.”

“I will take your gift,” Sir Richard said, “but not as charity. I will pay my debts and secure my livelihood. In a year and a day, I will return it safe to you for I feel free to borrow but not to steal.”

“I do not understand the pride that weighs your heart,” Cletus said. “It shall be as you say if that is what you wish.”

“Sadly, I must go, kind friend,” Sir Richard said. “My wife must be anxious.”

Will Scarlet said, “Let us give Sir Richard a golden chain and jewelry that befits a man of his blood.”

“You speak well,” Cletus said. “Make it so.”

“Let us give him a bale of rich velvet,” Will Stutely said. “And a roll of golden cloth and a case of wine to take home to his noble lady as a present from Robin Hood and his merry men.”

“Good master,” Little John said, “we cannot let him go unattended. Let me choose a score of fellows, and let us arm ourselves. We will serve as retainers to Sir Richard on his travel home.”

“You speak well Will and Little John. It shall be done.

Sir Richard failed to speak as tears fell from his eyes. Sir Richard kissed Cletus upon the cheek. Little John and nineteen armored men led Sir Richard through the woodlands by the glare of torches and steel. As the men marched away, the Bishop said, “I must be going as well, good Robin. The night grows too late.”

Cletus laid his hand on the Bishop’s shoulder and pointed the dagger at the holy man. “Unfortunately,” Cletus said, “you’ll be going nowhere. I can’t have a festering sore of a man like you causing trouble for that good gentleman. You’ll be staying here with us for a while. Lay at my mantle. There will be great sport of hunting to be done, which I’ve heard rumor that you enjoy. Try to lead a joyous life for a few short days. Hopefully you will learn to be a better man while here.”

The Bishop and his Black Friars stayed with Robin for several days. The Bishop enjoyed hunting and feasting with Cletus so much that when the time came for him to leave, the Bishop was sorry to leave Sherwood Forest.

The Adventures of Cletus X

Cletus stood on the battlements of a castle with Merlyn at his side.

“The win against Lot was quite easy,” Cletus said. “Soon enough, all these Gaelic bastards will be out of my country. I’ll kill them all.”

“You’re a blubbering ape,” Merlyn said. “Have I taught you nothing? Do I need to turn you into a fish again?”

Cletus rolled his eyes. “I understand that violence is not always the answer, but when it is, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little pride and enjoyment from it. That violence defended this kingdom and protected my people.”

“Protected your people? I’m glad you think so, caveman. How many foot soldiers died in that last battle? How many conscripted peasants did you and your army leave on the battlefield?”

“How should I know?”

“By caring, you bastard. You’re going to have to start thinking logically for yourself soon. I’m going to fall in love, and the bitch will trap me in a tree trunk for centuries with my own magic.”

Ignoring Merlyn, Cletus picked up a loose brick from the wall. “You know what’s truly amazing?” Cletus asked.

“The fact that you are unfazed by me talking about my own future?”

“No, you’re just another supernatural freak show. No, what is amazing is the fact that I could throw this stone onto the head of someone below. I could kill them near instantly, and no one would say or do anything to me. They couldn’t since I am their king.”

“You bloodthirsty savage,” Merlyn said. “I’ve clearly failed you as a tutor. I’ve failed the Greater Good.”

Cletus threw the rock at Merlyn, knocking the starry hat from the ancient man’s head. “Stupid magician,” Cletus said.

“I’m a wizard, dammit. Magicians are court jesters that perform illusions for table scraps.”

“C’mon, you geezer, we’re gonna be late for our hunting trip with Kay.”

“Geezer? You’re older than me!”

“Yeah, but I still have my boyish good looks,” Cletus said.

The two men met a tall, muscular redhead with a blonde beard. The three left the castle on horseback, armed with bows. “It’s unfortunate Wart couldn’t join us, Kay,” Cletus said to the red-haired man.

“Well, he’s hard at work,” Kay said. “He’s twenty now. Wart works day and night to be sure you’ll knight him come his next birthday.”

“Stop changing the subject,” Merlyn said. “We were not done talking about the Gaels.”

“They’re angry barbarians that want my kingdom,” Cletus said. “We’ll stifle their rebellion or kill them in trying. What more is there to the discussion?”

“There are countless reasons they’re rebelling. You need to understand their reasons and try to address those concerns. There is a deep trench of racism from the Normans against the Gaels. Plus, the former king, Uther Pendragon, slaughtered the Count of Cornwall, a Gael.”

“I understand why they fight, Merlyn. Men are inherently greedy and hunger for power that is not theirs. Evil men will corrupt others to use to those ends. I should take it upon myself to stop such corruption from controlling more of this world.”

“More wrongs do not make things right,” Merlyn said. “The Normans drove the Gaels from power. Long ago, the Gaels destroyed another race, but no one now remembers it because the conflict was lost to the time streams. It’s a cycle of death and violence that can and must be broken. Fighting is generally wrong. A good man only fights to defend himself or those weaker than him. Never more. Never less.”

“I’m not so sure I agree with you, wizard,” Kay said. “Not all of us sit on such moral high ground that we believe ourselves capable of looking down on the battlefields of men. From the position of the average man, I don’t think one can see who the evil man truly is.”

“Preposterous. It’s quite clear to see who drives aggressive situations. You have trouble seeing such things because you are typically the aggressor in conflicts, Sir Kay. Much like any man could easily say that you’re a hothead, it is obvious King Lot is the one at fault. The man starts wars as casually as we’re hunting this moment. He has no regard for the common soldier or his own countrymen.”

“Gentlemen,” Cletus said. “Can we shut up and just hunt these damn birds?”

That night, Cletus lay in bed. In his old age, he rarely slept. Days passed by as quickly as hours had when he was younger. Merlyn’s lectures from the last several weeks stayed in his head. Cletus knew the wizard had to be right. Fighting for fighting’s sake had brought him nothing but hardship in the past. Cletus left his room and went to Merlyn’s. After several loud blows against the wooden door, Merlyn answered. “Your Majesty,” Merlyn said, “what in blazes are you doing here?”

“Aren’t you all-knowing?”

“Not quite, but that’s beside the point. You’re a king. You don’t go to people’s rooms. You summon them to yours. Leave here at once.”

Cletus huffed, but left. If Cletus intended to rule his country right, he’d have to do even the smallest things correctly. Cletus stopped outside his bedchamber and ordered a servant retrieve a number of people. An hour later, Cletus sat in his royal chamber with Merlyn, Sir Kay, Sir Ector, and Wart.

“I’ve been thinking hard on the many lessons Merlyn has mentored me in,” Cletus said. “I have come to the conclusion that might does not always equal right. Knights in our own kingdom and across the world do whatever they please with their authority. Murder, torture, and rape occur as if they’re a sport.”

“It’s how things have always been,” Kay said.

“Not always,” Merlyn corrected.

“For as long as I can remember,” Cletus said, “but that does not make it right. Strength is just a tool that can be used. How a man uses that tool defines the man and the tool alike. Might can be used to achieve right. I will use force to stop Lot’s rebellion, and then harness that strength for good. When this war is over, I will create an order of knights that will pledge their lives to fight for just causes and nothing more.”

Week later, the same men stood in Cletus’s tent on the plains of Bedegraine, preparing for the battle with King Lot’s forces.

“I’ve been thinking more about the order of knights,” Cletus said. “I’ve decided to seat all at a round table. Each place at the table will be equal, with no one man having greater power than the others.”

“King Leodegrance has such a table,” Merlyn said. “That reminds me, don’t let me forget to talk to you about his daughter before I leave.”

“Tables are well and good,” Kay said, “but what do you plan to do after we defeat Lot?”

“Nothing,” Cletus said. “We quell his rebellion. The Gaels’ lands are still theirs. They will be free to swear fealty or not. We shall leave them in peace so long as they do not attack our lands again.”

“What nonsense,” Kay said. “They’re poor beyond imagination. Continuing to push into their kingdom to control them will benefit us both.”

“Might does not make right,” Merlyn said.

“This is right. If our victory will bring a better life to the conquered people, then the war itself is right. We can make their lives better by conquering their lands.”

Fire burned in Merlyn’s eyes. “It is far better to make ideas and knowledge available to those you defeat, than to force it upon them,” Merlyn said. The wizard and several items in the room trembled with rage. “In the future, there’s an Austrian that shares the same views as you, Sir Kay, and he damn near drags the whole world into bloody fucking chaos.”

“Everyone out,” Cletus said. “I need to speak with Merlyn.”

“Our time together is nearly up,” Merlyn said after the others had exited the tent.

“Why must you go?” Cletus asked. “Why can’t you avoid the imprisonment that awaits you?”

“You cannot escape destiny,” Merlyn said. “There are many timelines, many branches to how time flows. But, there are many points in time that are set in stone. No matter how much you try to change them, you simply cannot. The universe finds a way to correct the floods so that things are set they way they are meant to be. For example, long ago a man learned that he was to die soon. So, he set out on horseback to escape Death, but he ran into Death while running away.”

“Something so cruel should not be set in stone.”

“Cletus, be wary of King Leodegrance’s daughter, Guinevere, and of the knight Lancelot,” Merlyn said. “Their relationship will be the end of King Arthur. Please, be sure it is not also the end of you.”

Merlyn departed the tent for Cletus to never see him again. With sadness in his heart, Cletus gathered his armies. Ignoring knightly honor, Cletus led his armies around King Lot’s encampment. Cletus attacked in the middle of the night, assaulting Lot’s knights, but ignoring the foot soldiers. Although greatly outnumbered, Cletus swiftly defeated the Gaelic army.

 

<><><>

 

Fifteen years passed, and Camelot prospered. Cletus and his closest knight, Lancelot, fought the Romans for many years until Cletus became overlord of most of Europe. Cletus aided the French king, Ban, in guarding his kingdom. England grew more civilized. Scholars and hospitals and great shops covered the lands instead of murders, thieves, and flames. Not all was perfect. With little crime and war, Cletus feared that his knights had developed an obsession with games and competition instead. To strengthen the weakened Round Table, Cletus sent all his knights on a quest for the Holy Grail.

Two years later, the knights slowly gave up the search for the Holy Grail and returned to Camelot. Gawaine returned first, furious because he found no traces of the Grail. Then came Sir Lionel and Sir Aglovale. Slowly, all the other knights returned. Cletus heard many tales of slaughter and bloodshed, drunken womanizing and brotherly betrayal. Cletus listened politely to numerous contradicting tales from and about his knights.

When Lancelot returned, he had his own tale to of how he failed to find the Holy Grail since it was a task God had reserved for Galahad. Lancelot spun the tale of Galahad defeating the elder knight in a jousting match. Feeling weakened by the loss, Lancelot tried and failed to defeat a group of knights, and then again Lancelot was bested by a knight in black armor. In his defeat, Lancelot boarded a magic barge where he found Galahad. According to Lancelot, Galahad seemed distant because he was more angel than man. The barge took the knights to a castle where the Holy Grail rested. Galahad entered and participated in a mass with other holy knights, but an invisible force kept Lancelot from entering. The best knights of Camelot never returned.

 

<><><>

 

Many more years passed. The knights Agravaine and Mordred approached Cletus in his Justice Room.

“My lord,” Mordred said, “we’ve come to you bearing grave news.”

“What do you want Mordred?” Cletus asked.

“We’re here to request that the Queen be officially charged with adultery and Sir Lancelot with treason,” Mordred said.

“Do you have any proof of your claims?” Cletus asked.

“We have our word,” Agravaine said.

“Agravaine, you’re a drunk. Your word means nothing to me. Besides, under my new laws, there must be proof of wrongdoing before judgement can be passed.”

“Then we’ll gain proof, You Majesty,” Mordred said.

“Very well,” Cletus said. “I’ll be leaving for a month on a hunting trip. If you can obtain proof I will prosecute Guenevere and Lancelot to the fullest extend of the law. However, I hope that anyone that attempts to apprehend Lancelot in some foul way is caught and killed. If upon my return, you cannot prove this accusation, I will prosecute the two of you for bringing false charges against a Knight of the Round Table and the Queen of Camelot. Good day, gentlemen.”

Cletus left the Justice Room and went to Guenevere’s  chambers. As Cletus approached, he heard Lancelot and Guenevere talking.

“Arthur knows about our affair,” Lancelot said. “He ignores it and will never punish us.”

“We still must be careful,” Guenevere said. “Perhaps you should leave Camelot for a time again.”

“Absolutely not. I love Arthur too much to hurt him by continuing our affair, but I love you too much to stop or leave you.”

Cletus stepped away from Guenevere’s chamber door. In the castle halls, Cletus found a page to announced his presence to the Queen. Following the page, Cletus stepped into the chamber and greeted Guenevere and Lancelot. “There are things I need to discuss with you,” Cletus said.

“Of course, Arthur,” Lancelot said. “We are always here for you.”

“It involves the Orkney family,” Cletus said. “The youngest boy, Mordred, is my son.”

“How?” Guenevere asked.

“Neither of you were in Camelot yet. A few weeks after I defeated King Lot’s rebellion, Sir Pellinore married a girl named Piggy here at the castle. I slept with one of the ladies at the wedding, Queen Morgause of Orkney. That night, I fathered Mordred. I later tried to kill him.”

“You tried to kill a child?” Lancelot asked.

“Yes,” Cletus said. “When we first formed Camelot, Merlyn warned me that I would have a son with a witch. The magical child would try to kill me and bring about the end of Camelot. So, a year after that night, I had all babies less than six months old put out to sea to die. Somehow, Mordred survived that culling.

“I regret what I did then. Merlyn would have never let me do something so evil. I’ve tried to make amends with Mordred by ensuring he and his brothers lived a good life and even made all of them knights. None of it has helped. Gawaine, Gareth, and Gaheris are fine knights, but Mordred and their younger brother Agravaine have just become more aggressive with time. I fear Mordred is out for revenge. He does not seem to know I tried to kill him, but he feels I have offended his mother. Mordred may try to use the two of you against me.”

“We’d never let that happen,” Guenevere said.

“Be that as it may,” Cletus said, “if any proof comes into the light that either of you is working against me or my kingdom, I will punish you in the way the law sees fit.”

Unfortunately, Cletus did have to prosecute Guenevere and Lancelot. While away hunting, Mordred found Cletus. Mordred told Cletus of catching Guenevere and Lancelot in the midst of their adultery. Lancelot slaughtered twelve knights including Agravaine before fleeing Camelot. Though unwilling to kill his wife, Cletus returned to Camelot to prepare Guenevere’s execution. As Cletus stood in the square to watch his Queen burn at the stake, Lancelot saved the Queen. In the process of his rescue, Lancelot murdered Gareth and Gaheris.

Gawaine and Cletus followed Lancelot to France and sieged the knight’s castle. During the siege, the Pope pardoned Guenevere. Cletus allowed her to return to Camelot, but honor forced the caveman to remain at Lancelot’s castle. Weeks later, Cletus received a letter from Guenevere. Mordred had declared Cletus and Gawaine dead and seized the throne. Mordred forced Guenevere into marriage. Mordred formed a gang of rapists and murders called the Thrashers who practiced old Gaelic religions and hunted Jews and Christians.

Cletus lifted the siege on Lancelot’s castle and returned to England. He amassed an army on the fields of Kent to prepare to fight Mordred’s army. Even on the battlefield, Cletus worked on improving Camelot’s laws long into the night. Merlyn stepped into the tent.

“I must be dreaming,” Cletus said. “You’re locked away in a tree.”

“No dream, Cletus,” Merlyn said. “Time machine is wishy-washy. I eventually got out of the spell, thanks to your progeny no less.”

“Why have you come to me now?”

“That’s easy, Cletus. You need me now. Remember when we first met after you drew the sword at the church?”

“Yeah, we spent weeks where you turned me into animals and made me do weird shit to teach me lessons about different forms of government.”

“Right, but I was more talking about all the prophesies about how Camelot ends.”

“Mordred ruins everything,” Cletus said. “Seems it already happened.”

“That it has, my boy. That it has. Camelot’s done regardless of how this battle ends. I have two or three requests of you though.”

“What can I do for you?”

“You need to leave a legacy behind, especially a story about Arthur and a magical kingdom called Avalon. People need to believe in both ideas to fill them with power. Second, kill Mordred because if he lives he’ll become a powerful, demonic wizard the likes of which the world will not survive. Finally, get out of here however you can after killing the little prick.”

“Done. All of it.”

“Great,” Merlyn said. “I’ll be off then.”

“Merlyn, won’t you stay awhile? There’s so much I need to tell you.”

“I already know, son,” Merlyn said as he disappeared.

As the wizard vanished, a young boy entered the tent with a tray of tea and cookies. “What’s your name, boy?” Cletus asked.

“Tom of Warwick,” the boy said.

“Well Tom, peace is like a candle in the wind,” Cletus said. “Maximum effort is required to keep it alight. Might must only be used for good, and war is almost never justified. Do you know my story, Tom?”

“I know a lot, Your Majesty.”

Cletus handed Tom a small book. “It’s all in there. Run from this battlefield, Tom. Spread the story of King Arthur. I’m going to die here tonight, but my body will be set adrift on the sea to reach the towers of Avalon. The angels there will heal my wounds so that I may someday return as king again when Britain most needs me. Go now.”

Tom of Warwick ran from the tent. Cletus donned his gleaming armor and stepped out to face Mordred’s armies.

 

<><><>

 

“That’s really where you’re going to end that one?” Lyra asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “What’s wrong with that?”

“That’s not an ending. That’s a hook to get you ready for another chapter.”

“It’s King Arthur,” I said. “Everyone knows what happens. Excalibur gets buried hilt deep in Mordred. Mordred shoves a spear in Arthur’s side. The only difference here is that Cletus flees the scene after killing his evil wizard son.”

“Fair,” Lyra said. “But I do have one question.”

“Yes?”

“Did you free Merlyn from a tree prison?”

“Maybe.”

“I want to hear that story.”

“Some other time,” I said.

The Adventures of Cletus IX

Salt burned Cletus’s nose as the ship rocked. Several men dressed in animal furs and armor sat around the caveman. The thirteen men stood tall and thin with pale skin and light hair. In the early morning light, the ship pulled ashore on a foggy beach. One of the men motioned for everyone to leave the boat. Slowly, the warriors gathered their belongings and climbed down to the rocky shore.

A guard on horseback rushed toward the warriors. “You there,” the guard said as he pulled his horse to a stop, “what business do men clad in armor have coming onto Hrothgar’s land carrying weapons?”

The stoutest of the pale men—the one who had given the order to leave the boat—stepped forward. “I am the son of Ecgtheow,” he said. “My king is Hygelac. We heard the tales of a great monster that wrecked havoc upon the Danes for twelve years. We’ve come to slay this poor beast.”

“Very well,” said the guard. “I will escort you and your men to King Hrothgar. One of the guards will watch your ship.”

Cletus and the warriors followed the guard to a massive wooden building.  A small man stopped the group outside of the long structure. “I am Wulfgar, King Hrothgar’s personal adviser,” he said. “What business do you have at Heorot?”

The stout man stepped up again and said, “I am Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow. I come to fight your demons.”

“I will take this message to King Hrothgar immediately,” Wulfgar said. “Please, be patient and wait.”

Wulfgar disappeared for several minutes. When he returned, Wulfgar said to Beowulf, “The Danes welcome you to Heorot.”

Wulfgar led the group of fighters into the legendary mead hall. Darkness filled the foul-smelling room. Straw covered the earthen floor. Wooden tables and benches sat upon the straw. At the far end of the hall stood a large wooden throne. An old, fat man occupied the throne with a bronze crown upon his head. Beowulf, Cletus, and all the warriors stood before King Hrothgar and bowed. “Beowulf,” Hrothgar said with a roaring laugh. “I wondered when I would meet you. I knew your father. Years ago, your dad killed Heatholaf. I had to pay Heatholaf’s family to keep them from seeking vengeance upon Ecgtheow.”

“I’ve heard that story many times,” Beowulf said, “but that’s not why I’ve come. I want to kill the monster that torments Heorot.”

“Yeah,” Hrothgar said. “Wulfgar told me as much. I have to tell you though, Beowulf, many heroes such as yourself have tried to defeat Grendel. They all have died. You’re more than welcome to try. I propose a feast to celebrate the joy of someone saving Heorot.”

During the feast, Cletus astonished all the Danes. He packed in enough food to kill a horse, eating more than all the others combined. Once he finished eating, Cletus stared at the bewildered faces around him and said, “I’m still hungry. Bring me more.”

A scrawny, bucktoothed Dane banged his goblet on the table until he gained the attention of all of Heorot. “You’re weak, Beowulf,” the Dane said. “I remember the story of your swimming match in your youth. You were easily beaten.”

“I also remember that swimming contest,” Beowulf said. “My opponent sits at this very table with us. What you don’t seem to understand is that he and I swam for five days and nights in the open sea. I carried a sword in one hand at all times, only swimming with the free arm. On our return to shore, a sea monster dragged me under. While below the water’s surface, I slew eight monsters before I swam to Finland. Neither you, Unferth, nor the man I swam against would be capable of doing such a thing. You are simply ashamed of your own inability to kill Grendel.”

“That’s bullshit,” Cletus said as he stole a massive pig’s leg from another man’s plate, “and you know it, Honey Bear. On the sixth day of swimming, a huge storm came in. The waters got really choppy, waves reaching three times as high as this room. One of them pulled our little Bear under. I searched those waters day and night for a week. I never found you. You returned home weeks later. Claimed you fought a sea monster before swimming to Finland, but everyone knew that story was a lie. You can’t hold your own in any hard situation. Not to mention a dolphin could kick your ass.”

Cletus took a huge bite of the pig leg as he finished his story. No one said anything. Few people blinked. The Danes feared Cletus might eat them next if they made any sudden movements.

Beowulf laughed weakly. “My great friend Cletus boasts,” Beowulf said. “He’s always a jester. I promise to kill Grendel as soon as he attacks this hall.”

The warriors lightened up and continued laughing and drinking. Soon, Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s wife and queen, entered the mead hall with a ceremonial goblet. Everyone fell silent. One by one, the queen offered Beowulf’s warriors a drink from the goblet. Most men took a small sip and respectfully bowed their heads. Cletus drained the cup and demanded more. Horrified, Wealhtheow turned to the men at the table and said, “Thank the gods for sending these warriors to stop Grendel.

“I promise you this,” Beowulf said with a furrowed brow, “I will fight Grendel with my bare hands. I will kill that beast or die in this mead hall.”

Night fell. All of Hrothgar’s subjects left Heorot. Only Beowulf and his warriors remained. Beowulf striped down naked and slept. The rest of his countrymen stayed awake out of fear. While everyone else paced and played with fires, Cletus scrounged about the mead hall, eating anything he could get his hands on.

In the middle of the night, the door exploded apart. A hairy beast almost as tall as Heorot lurched underneath the door frame. The monster dragged itself into the hall, grabbing the nearest of Beowulf’s men and biting the warrior’s head off. Beowulf watched in terror as Grendel ravaged the mead hall, killing the warriors that tried to fight him. Grendel caused a massive commotion as he feasted upon fighters. The noise woke Cletus from his peaceful slumber in a corner. After wiping gunk from his eyes, Cletus grinned ear to ear. “Finally,” Cletus clapped. “Something that’ll be satisfying to eat.”

Grendel lunged at the frightened Beowulf, but shrieked when Cletus caught the monster by the wrist. Grendel screamed and tried to run. Cletus jerked the homunculus to the ground. The two, hairy, sub-humans wrestled about Heorot and destroyed everything in their path. Grendel’s cries spread ice spikes into the spine of all that heard it. Beowulf froze in fear while his men tried to help Cletus. The warriors attacked Grendel, but none of their weapons pierced the creature’s skin. As they continued to struggle, Cletus and Grendel managed to mow down the others in the hall. Their reckless fighting killed everyone but Beowulf. Cletus freed himself from Grendel’s grasp. The Neanderthal jumped into the air. He kicked his heel into Grendel’s chest just below the collarbone. Cletus grabbed the monster’s wrist and pulled with all his strength. With a sickly, loud snap, Cletus ripped off Grendel’s arm at the shoulder.

Grendel wailed in agony as he sprinted from Heorot. Cletus dropped down to his ass and began gnawing on Grendel’s arm before he went to sleep.

When Cletus woke, singing and cheering shook the mead hall. Apparently, Beowulf defeated Grendel in the night, saving Heorot and Hrothgar’s kingdom. Bards sang throughout the crowd of Beowulf’s glory. Beowulf’s treachery failed to bother Cletus, but Cletus took offense to Grendel’s arm resting in a frame over Heorot’s entrance.

“Come here, boy,” Hrothgar said. “You are the greatest champion the Danes have ever known. I promise that you shall receive amazing treasure for your deed.”

“Honestly, it was no challenge at all,” Beowulf said. “My only regret is that I wish I could have killed the monster while he was still Heorot so that its whole body could be used as a trophy.”

“Nevermind that, boy,” Hrothgar said. “We’ve got a banquet to prepare for.”

All of Hrothgar’s men worked to repair the horribly damaged mead hall while Cletus sneaked to the doorway and tore a chunk of meat off Grendel’s arm. The morsel would hold him over until breakfast.

That night, Hrothgar named Beowulf his son and heir at a massive feast. The king gave Beowulf armor, weapons, treasures, and eight horses. Cletus received a suit of armor as a gift for surviving. Hrothgar compensated Beowulf in gold for the deaths of all his men. Wealhtheow presented Beowulf with a golden necklace and a suit of chain mail armor. “Beowulf,” the queen said, “now, as my honorary son, you must promise me to watch over my children when Hrothgar passes.”

“So it shall be,” Beowulf said with a bow.

Cletus and Beowulf slept in suites in Hrothgar’s castle. Cletus stayed awake until the whole kingdom slept, and then he stole Grendel’s arm from Heorot to finish eating it.

The next morning, Hrothgar summoned Beowulf and Cletus to Heorot. Hrothgar shook his head glumly as the two approached. “It’s awful, son,” Hrothgar said. “Last night, Grendel’s mother attacked Heorot. She kidnapped one of my advisers and took her son’s arm back.

“She must have returned to her lair. It’s a swampy lake where the water burns flesh. Even animals avoid it. I’m sorry, Beowulf, but I must rely on you once more. If you rise to this challenge, I’ll reward you with chests of gold. Please, kill this demon.”

“I will kill Grendel’s mother,” Beowulf said.

Cletus and Beowulf adorned themselves with the armor received from Hrothgar and Wealhtheow. The man that accused Beowulf of being weak the previous night gave Beowulf a magic sword. “It’s named Hrunting,” Unferth said. “It has never been in a losing battle.”

“Thank you, friend,” Beowulf said with a stern smile.

Cletus and Beowulf mounted rode into the marches, following the tracks left by Grendel’s mother. The trail led to a cliff where Cletus and Beowulf discovered a man’s head. Over the cliff, massive serpents filled a putrid lake. Beowulf shot an arrow into the water, killing a single snake. The other snakes converged upon their dead sibling.

The two warriors dived into the lake after distracting the serpents. The two swam to the bottom of the lake. Cletus discovered a passage on the lake floor that led into a massive cavern. Grendel’s giant mother attacked Beowulf as soon as he and Cletus entered the cave. The hairy beast held Beowulf in her hands, slowly crushing him. Beowulf lashed at the monster with Hrunting, but the sword could not pierce her skin. Beowulf cast the weapon aside and screamed, “Help me, brother!”

Cletus pulled the pin out of his ear. The small sliver of metal transformed into his massive iron pole as he rushed toward the beast. With one, mighty swing, Cletus bashed her head off her body. The hairy skull smashed against the cave wall. The creature’s body collapsed, trapping Beowulf beneath the corpse.

“Thank you, brother,” Beowulf said. “I do not know how I could have defeated that demon without your help. Let us return to Heorot to claim our treasure and glory.”

Cletus lifted the carcass off Beowulf. “You couldn’t have beaten her without me,” Cletus said. “When we get back to the Heorot, I know you’ll just take credit for my kill. So, to hell with you. I’m leaving. Have fun being worthless and good luck getting out of here on your own. I hope you die in a fire.”

 

<><><>

 

Cletus wore bright orange furs and a hood made from a fox’s head. He sat around a campfire surrounded by men wearing furs and clothes colored in shades of green and brown like the forest around them. A man sitting across the fire asked, “How are we going to get them back, my lord?”

“We know where Morgan le Fay’s castle is,” Cletus said. “We’ve already tried to enter, but the witch has it cursed so only the innocent can enter. We’ll find a way inside.”

“I’ve already told you I can go,” a young girl at the campfire said. “I can go in alone and rescue Puck. Let me go, Reynard.”

“No, Rebekah, I won’t risk the life of a young girl. We’ll find another way.”

“No, we won’t,” Rebekah said. She jumped to her feet, kicking embers into the air. “I’m the only one of us that can get inside le Fay’s castle. You refuse to let me go because you aren’t confident in me. Reynard, inventor of the bow and trained by the goddess of the hunt, isn’t good enough to teach a little girl to do the same?”

“Both of you stop your bickering,” a soft voice called out from the shadows.

The circle of men turned to the trees and watched as a man stepped forward. Two boys in armor followed behind him. The blonde child could not have been older than ten. Cletus guessed the other boy to be at least sixteen with thick red hair and a faint, blonde mustache.

“Isaac,” Cletus said as he stood, “What have you got here?”

“I found these two near a creek,” Isaac said. “The older one is Kay. The runt is called Wart. Claim to be brothers.”

Cletus smiled at the boys. “Wart,” he said with a nod. “Kay. You can call me Reynard. This is my family of the forests. Why have you come along with Isaac to my humble home?”

“He told us that Morgan le Fay had kidnaped one of your men,” Kay said. “Two people from our father’s village have also gone missing, a servant and the local idiot. We think le Fay may have them as well. So, we’d like to help.”

“What you’re saying is that you’re looking for an adventure,” Cletus said. “I can respect that. I can also give you that adventure. Le Fay has one of my men, a fae boy named Puck. If you’d be willing to help rescue him, I’ll help you rescue your idiots.”

“We’ll be glad to help,” Wart said. “My tutor, Merlyn, has been teaching me to seek the good in all things.”

“Quiet down,” Kay said as he glared at the younger boy. “We’d be willing to assist you, Reynard.”

“Very well,” Cletus said. “My men and I will escort the two of you to Morgan le Fay’s castle. From there you will be on your own. The witch has made it so only those that are innocent can enter the building without her bringing them inside. So, once at the castle, it’ll be up to the two of you.”

“Three,” Rebekah said.

Cletus shook his head. “The three of you. Let’s be off while there’s still daylight.”

Cletus, his men, and the two boys packed up the camp and set off through the forest. Hours later, just after nightfall, they arrived at a grotesque castle. Mountains of steak and bacon shaped the walls. Cones of cheese topped every tower. Molten butter filled the moat around the building.

Cletus handed each boy a small dagger. “Le Fay is a witch,” Cletus said. “I’m fairly certain she’s some type of faerie. The daggers are made of cold iron, which is lethal to fae. Don’t eat anything in there. I know the whole place looks delicious, but there’s no telling what it actually is. It damn certain isn’t really bacon. Most of all, be careful. Good luck.”

Cletus turned to Rebekah. “You’ve got two more sets of eyes to watch your back. Bring Puck back to us, and kill that bitch if you can.”

Rebekah, Kay, and Wart entered the castle, leaving the men to wait for the innocent to return. The men slowly set up camp and began hunting. Later in the night, while the everyone ate, the castle disappeared. Rebekah, the boys, and a number of prisoners stood in the open field where the castle had been. A sleeping griffin also rested in the field. The monster slowly rose and attacked the escaping prisoners.

The prisoners ran for safety beyond the camp. Rebekah and Kay fired arrows at the beast. Cletus sprinted into the field. The griffin swooped toward Rebekah. She rolled to dodge the talons. Rebekah drew her sword and slashed at the creature. Cletus punched the griffin in the side. Gunshot-like sounds filled the air as the monster’s ribs cracked. The griffin wailed and launched into the sky. The griffin doubled back and dived at Wart. Wart stood, paralyzed with fear. Kay loosed an arrow to protect his brother. The arrow pierced the griffin’s eye. The beast died in the air. Its limp body crashed into Kay and Wart.

Cletus heaved the body off the boys.

“Wart,” Kay said as he crawled to Wart’s side. “Wart, are you all right?”

Hot tears filled Wart’s eyes. “There’s something wrong with my shoulder.”

Cletus tore the armor off Wart. A bone jutted against the skin of his upper chest.

“You’ve broken your collarbone,” Cletus said to Wart. “You’ll be fine. We just have to keep you from moving about too much.”

Rebekah nudged Cletus. Blood coated her clothes and hands. She clutched the griffin’s head in her hands. “Spoils of the kill,” she said with a smile.

“Spoils my ass,” Cletus said as he took the head from her. Cletus handed the head to Kay and said, “A trophy, boy. Remember this as the first time you killed a magical beast, and remember it as the time you saved your brother’s life. Never let him forget it.”

Cletus escorted the boys back to the castle of their father, Sir Ector.

 

<><><>

 

The King of England, Uther Pendragon, died. The day after the king’s death, an anvil appeared in front of a church in London. The anvil rested upon a stone. A glorious sword skewered the anvil and the stone. The engraving in the anvil read, “Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is Rightwise King Born of All England”.

The sword drew crowds from all over England. Uther’s advisors proclaimed a tournament for New Year’s Day. The advisors hoped the winner would pull the sword from the stone. During the tournament, Cletus stood in the church courtyard and debated with himself on whether or not to steal the sword. During his dilemma, a frail teenager rushed up to the sword and tried to remove it. Cletus recognized the boy and began to laugh.

“Wart,” Cletus called to the boy.

Wart froze and turned to Cletus. “Reynard?” Wart asked. “Reynard from the forest? I swear I wasn’t trying to steal the sword. It’s just that Kay’s sword broke, I forgot to bring a second sword for him. He’ll kill me if I don’t find a sword, but I don’t have time to run all the way back to the castle before his next match. I need this one.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Cletus reached out, grasping the sword in one hand and effortlessly pulled it from the stone and anvil. Cletus handed the sword to Wart. “Take the sword,” Cletus said. “Don’t tell anyone where you got it from.”

Wart ran off with the blade. Cletus tried to make his way out of the city before a riot began over Wart being named King of England. A crowd formed in the streets and dragged Cletus back to the church. People pushed Wart to the front with the sword. The entire crowd shouted and cursed Wart, demanding him to pull the sword again. Wart returned the sword to the stone and tried to pull it, but the sword remained still. Wart tried again to no avail.

Cletus shoved his way through the crowd. A tall man in the most peculiar, starry sky-patterned robes stood near Wart. The man smiled and nodded as Cletus pushed Wart aside. The caveman ripped the sword from the stone in front of all of London. The crowd fell silent. Slowly, everyone dropped to their knees and bowed before Cletus.

“This man is the rightful King of England,” the man in the robes said. “This man is Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther. All hail King Arthur!”

The crowd stood and chanted the praise over and over.

“You’re aware that my name isn’t Arthur, right?” Cletus asked.

“Yes,” the man said, “but we can’t exactly have people calling you the caveman king, can we, Cletus? This is how it’s going to go.”

“Who are you, old man?”

“My name is Merlyn,” the old man said. “I’ll be your adviser for a short time before some dubious things happen in the future. Just a heads up, try not to get too attached to any women or close friends during your tenure as king. It’ll end badly. You’re going to have a kid with Morgan le Fay that will try to kill you. Also, be prepared to fake your death and send everyone on a quest for a magic cup and near-mythical city in an attempt to heal you.”

“Gotcha,” Cletus said without further questions.

The Adventures of Cletus VIII

Cletus sat in a cave pondering how his life had reached yet another confrontation. The Olympian Zeus had long ago promised Cletus a life of adventure. Cletus blamed Zeus for many of the Neanderthal’s issues. Clearly, the Olympian’s idea of adventure boiled down to nothing more than sex and bloodshed.

Two soldiers entered the cave but kept their distance from Cletus. One soldier eyed the caveman cautiously. The other said, “Lord Judge, we’re warriors of Judah. Three thousand warriors have been sent to capture and return you to the Philistines to be tried for your crimes.”

“That so?” Cletus asked.

“Yes.”

“If I refuse?”

“We’d have to take you by force.”

“If I escape, forcing you to return empty-handed?” Cletus asked.

“We would be killed by the Philistines,” the soldiers said.

“You’ll die either way then?”

“That seems the most likely outcome,” one soldier said.

“Can’t have that.”

The caveman held his hands out to the soldiers. “Go on,” Cletus said, “take me to the Philistines.”

Using ropes, the soldiers tied Cletus’s hands together and led him out of the cave. The entire army of Judah marched Cletus to the Philistines. An official approached Cletus and said, “You are to be killed for your crimes against the Philistines to include murdering thirty men and using foxes to set fire to the crops of the Philistines. How do you plead?”

“Guilty,” Cletus said. “Although, you have to admit the thing with the foxes was pretty ingenious. Who else would have tied a bunch of wheat to a fox’s tail and set it on fire?”

The Philistine official scoffed. The army of Judah handed Cletus over to the Philistines. As soon as the official grabbed the caveman, Cletus burst from his restraints. Cletus pulled a pin from his ear and shook it out into a small baton. Cletus laughed wickedly as he slaughtered the Philistine army, killing at least a thousand men.

 

<><><>

 

Years later, Cletus had married yet again. His interest in women had diminished through the centuries since all his wives and lovers had the tendency to die. He and his new wife, Delilah, spent their time passing days away with sleep and sex. Between bouts of rest and activity, Delilah constantly questioned Cletus about the source of his strength. He explained that having more muscle mass than a human and the blessings of the Buddha made him strong. Delilah insisted Cletus hid the secret to his strength from her. Cletus continuously teased her about it. “If you tied me up with fresh bowstring, I’ll lose all my strength,” Cletus told Delilah.

Cletus awoke the next day bound head to toe in bowstrings that snapped off as he stretched. Delilah snarled and chastised him, demanding to know the real secret of his strength. Since he had told her the truth, Cletus assumed Delilah wanted to play some sort of game. “Ropes,” Cletus said. “You have to tie me up with brand new ropes. Use at least four of them, or I’ll break free.”

Cletus tore apart the ropes when he woke the next morning. “You misunderstood,” Cletus said to Delilah. “You have to weave my hair together before you tie me up, or it won’t work.”

The next morning, Cletus woke and untangled his hair. “This is getting annoying,” he said to himself. He stared at Delilah. “Listen, I don’t like this game. I’m done playing around with you. Let me be frank. Nothing can take my strength from me. It’s just not how this works. It is as much a part of me as the thing you lust after every night. Stop playing around. Granted, I’m sure you’re ignoring everything I’m saying because you’re apparently an idiot. Next, I bet you’ll do something stupid like try to cut my hair to see if that works.”

Cletus found himself lacking his glorious mane the next morning. “You have got to be fucking kidding me,” he said. “I was making fun of you. It was a joke.”

Cletus rolled over to face several spears pointed at his chest and throat. “Hi guys,” Cletus said to the soldiers with a bright smile. “I bet you didn’t come here to go for a swim.”

“We’re here to arrest you for your crimes against Philistine.”

Cletus nodded. “Figured as much,” he said. “It’s been like ten years. Can’t you guys just let it go?”

“Not so long as you breathe.”

“I’ll go quietly, but you guys should tell a badass story about fighting me.”

The Philistines bound Cletus with brass shackles and led him to Gaza. Stories spread far about the imprisoned Israelite Judge. The tales told how Delilah cut Cletus’s hair to steal his strength, and then, the Philistines stabbed out Cletus’s eyes in his sleep. While he still had his eyes, the Philistines imprisoned Cletus and forced him to use his strength to grind grain.

Months later, Cletus slept on the cold earth of his cell.

“AWAKEN,” a voice boomed.

Cletus opened his eyes. Flames coated his entire cell, but no heat came from the fire. Cletus rolled over and went back to sleep.

“DO NOT IGNORE ME,” the voice said.

“You want to know the easiest way to not be ignored?” Cletus asked. “I’ll tell you. You don’t set people’s homes on fire and shout at them. Level with them. Don’t be a dick.” Cletus sat up after a relieving stretch. “So, which god are you, and what do you want from the great and powerful Cletus?”

“I AM THE ONE TRUE GOD,” the voice said. “I AM THE LORD.”

“Oh,” Cletus said, “you. Yahweh. Hashem. Jehovah. The God of Abraham. You’re not the only god, you know.”

“I AM THE ONE TRUE GOD.”

“I’d argue there are no true gods,” Cletus said. “All of you are overzealous creations of the human imagination. Also, you never answered my question. What do you want from me?”

“I WILL HAVE A HUMAN SON,” Yahweh said. “I WISH FOR YOU TO PROTECT HIM THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE. YOU COME HIGHLY RECOMMENDED BY ZEUS AND BUDDHA. IN RETURN, I WILL GIVE YOU INFINITE STRENGTH.”

“I’m already as strong as ten men,” Cletus said. “I don’t see more helping all that much.”

“INFINITE STRENGTH.”

“Got it. What if I refuse?”

“YOU WILL BE KILLED BY THE PHILISTINES. THINK IT OVER.”

The flames disappeared from Cletus’s cell. Several Philistine guards rushed in. They shackled Cletus and led him out of the prison. Massive crowds of people lined the streets, cheering as the guards marched with Cletus.

“What’s going on?” Cletus asked.

“We’re taking you to the temple of Dagon as a sacrifice to thank him for your capture,” one guard said.

“Doesn’t that seem to defeat the purpose of taking me prisoner?” Cletus asked. “I mean, you’re going to thank him for capturing me by killing me. Shouldn’t you have just killed me from the start?”

The celebratory parade took Cletus to the temple entrance. Cletus doubled over and asked, “Can I just rest here on these pillars? I’m really tired from grinding grain all the time.”

The guards allowed Cletus to relax. Cletus leaned against the nearest pillar. “Yahweh, you there?” he whispered.

“THE LORD IS ALWAYS PRESENT AND ALWAYS WATCHING.”

“That’s not creepy at all,” Cletus said. “Listen, I’ll do it. I’ll protect your kid. Just hook me up with that strength right now.”

“I STRENGTHEN THEE.”

Cletus tore out of his shackles and toppled the pillar he had been leaning against. He watched the entire temple crumble as the pillars around the entrance crashed into the main building. Cletus slipped away in the chaos created by the temple’s destruction.

 

<><><>

 

Years passed with Yahweh’s voice ever-present in Cletus’s head. Yahweh instructed Cletus to find a man in the wilderness near a river. Cletus traveled into the wilderness and searched for days. Several miles up river, Cletus found a man in only a loincloth. “You,” the man said to Cletus, “have you heard?”

“Heard what?” Cletus asked.

“The Son of God?” the man said. “The Son of God is coming. The last prophet, the Messiah shall arrive. One thousand years of peace on Earth heralded by Him. Only through Him shall you be baptized by the Holy Spirit and fire.”

“I’ve heard so much about the Son of God that I just cannot wait to meet this guy,” Cletus said. “Who’re you?”

“They call me John,” the man said. John smelled awful, even by caveman standards. “Would you like some honey? How about a locust or two? I got plenty to eat and plenty to share.”

“I’m good,” Cletus said. “I prefer to get my protein from meat. Besides, I’m just here for the baptism.”

“Not ‘til tomorrow,” John said through mangled, rotten teeth.

“Yeah, I’m aware,” Cletus said.

The next day, a crowd gathered around the riverbed. John baptized several people before a man with shoulder length, curly hair and a thick, dark beard stepped forward. John placed his hand on the man’s head and said, “Let this child now receive the blessing of God. Fill him with the Holy Spirit, and cleanse his soul with the lake of fire.”

John dumped the man into the water, holding him there for a few moments before letting him up.

“THIS IS MY SON,” Yahweh said to Cletus, “THE BELOVED.”

“Awesome,” said Cletus. “We can finally take care of this shit.”

“TAKE THE BOY TO THE WILDERNESS. HE WILL BE TESTED.”

“We’re already in the middle of nowhere,” Cletus said. “You told me to come to the wilderness to find this place. Where do you want me to go?”

“TAKE HIM TO THE WILDERNESS.”

“Sure,” Cletus said.

Cletus approached the son of Yahweh. “Hey, I’m Cletus,” he said. “I’ve been sent by your father to protect you.”

“Yeah, man, that’s awesome. I’m Jesus. What’s up, buddy?”

“I’m good,” Cletus said. “Let’s get this show on the road.

Cletus, using his iron pole as a walking stick, wandered with the soaking wet Jesus father out into the wilderness. Trees became fewer and fewer, until rocks and sand surrounded the men. Only small, dry shrubs dotted the landscape.

“Man,” Jesus said, “I wish I would’ve met you when I was younger. Would’ve been a huge help. Like, when I was really little, my family ran into a cave full of dragons. My mom and her husband were all weirded out and stuff. I just had to use my magic powers to kill those poor dragons, man.”

“You have magic powers?” Cletus asked. “Magic powers that are strong enough to effortlessly kill dragons? Why do you need me?”

“I don’t know, man,” Jesus said. “It’s all in His plan. I got these magic powers, but they’re water based. I can do anything as long as water is involved. I can kill things and even heal things because living stuff is something like mostly water. I can do all sorts of neat stuff with water. Speaking of which, check this out.” Jesus grabbed the waterskin from Cletus’s waist. After a second, he handed it back to the caveman. “Merlot, man.”

Cletus took a swig of the now smooth, fruity wine. “Damn,” Cletus said. “You turned that shit into wine. How often do you do that?”

“Like all the time,” Jesus said. “I haven’t drank anything other than wine for as long as I can remember.”

“You are a crazy drunk,” Cletus said. “No wonder you need protection. You need to be shielded from yourself.”

“That is so true,” Jesus said. “When I was a kid, I got into so much trouble. I like, started this street gang that would force people who came to my hometown to come and worship me. If they refused, I’d just kill ‘em. Like, whatever. Screw you too, dude. I’m the Son of God. Finally, though, shit just got too real for me. Had to back out of it. Got out of most of the trouble by bringing all the peoplethat I killed back to life.”

“You’re a fucking lunatic,” Cletus said.

“I know, right?” said Jesus. I can’t wait for us to party together. It’s gonna be so crazy.”

Cletus stayed with Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus lay in the sand writhing in pain. From time to time, Jesus screamed out streams of pained gibberish. After a fortnight, a man approached Cletus. The man’s gold and red robes bathed the land in beautiful light. His golden hair waved in the wind. The man’s smile melted Cletus’s heart. The man held out a strong hand to Cletus and said, “I’m the seraph Lucifer. Pleased to meet you, Old One.”

“You’re Satan, “ Cletus said, grasping Lucifer’s hand as tightly as possible. “Are you here to kill the kid?”

“Oh, Heavens, no,” Lucifer said with a slight flick of his wrist. “I would never consider hurting this little guy. He’s way too important for the future. Also, could we not use the S word? It is just distasteful.”

“Could you call me Cletus instead of Old One?”

“Of course, of course,” Lucifer said. “I just wanted to be respectful. You are much older than I am, after all. I mean, sure, some incarnation of ultimate evil as always existed; however, the way that I am now is a fairly new concept created by the humans.”

“Oh yeah,” Cletus said, “there’s always been someone to blame shit on. The Grecians had several gods and beasts. The Egyptians had Set. the Sumerians had Pazuzu, among others. The Buddhists have Mara. The Jews have you.”

“I’d really rather not be lumped in with all of them,” Lucifer said as he sat beside Cletus on a large boulder. “I’m not nearly as bad as any of those fools. Not to mention that I’m not even evil. I’m just a liar and a tease. I did like, one wrong thing. That’s it.”

“You’re the supreme tempter though,” Cletus said. “Aren’t you the King of Hell? A fallen angel? The big bad to Yahweh’s greater good?”

“We need drinks,” Lucifer said without answering the question.

With a flick of Lucifer’s wrist, a massive mug at least a foot tall appeared in Cletus’s hand. A dark brown liquid sloshed about inside. “What the hell is this?” Cletus asked.

“Beer,” said Lucifer. “Technically, it’s dunkel. A very dark, German beer. Hasn’t even been invented yet. I love it.”

Cletus took a huge gulp, filling his mouth with smooth, cold fluid that tasted strongly of vegetables. “This shit tastes like wheat,” Cletus said before taking another drink.

“Don’t you just love the massive mugs it comes in?” Lucifer asked. “It’s great. Anyway. Yes, I’m the ruler of Hell. The fallen angel bit is kind of iffy. Lots of humans believe in it, but plenty remember the old stories where I’m just the tempter. Honestly, I still don’t know where people got the ridiculous idea that I was fallen. I hope it doesn’t catch on though. I literally love Yahweh more than anything else in existence.

“We should visit Him. He really loves making pancakes. Just don’t speak to Him unless He asks if you like the pancakes. Even then, only say, ‘Yes, my Lord,’ in the most dignified way that you can.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“I’m not ridiculous,” Lucifer said as he finished his beer, “I’m fun. You’re still drinking? Why are you so slow? Anyway, I rule Hell because I’m the only one He trusts to keep all that rebellious filth in line. The only thing I did was give that damn woman a fig from the tree of knowledge of what’s-its-fuck. But honestly, what was He thinking? Did He just want them to be worthless slaves for eternity? I turned that shit around with a single conversation.”

“So, you aren’t evil?” Cletus asked after wiping the last of his beer from the corner of his mouth.

“No, I’m marvelous,” Lucifer said. “Seriously, I’ve killed so few people you could count them on one hand. I understand human nature; therefore, I do not judge humans for simply being human. I accept all of His unwanted children, whether it be because they are indeed evil or because they don’t worship Him. I love them unconditionally regardless. Yet, people think I’m the evil one despite being their watchful protector.”

“What are you going on about?” Cletus asked. “I forgot already.”

“I was about to go into a monologue from a movie, but you ruined it.”

“A what?”

“Monologue?”

“No, the other thing.”

“Movie? You know, movies?”

“What?”

“You really don’t know what movies are? Seriously? I thought you knew the future? It’s obvious in your speech and mannerisms. How do you not know what fucking movies are?”

“I have a very limited knowledge of the course of the future,” Cletus said. “I wouldn’t say I really know that much about it at all. I have no idea what you were blabbering about.”

“You’re hopeless,” Lucifer said. “We should dance.”

Lucifer jumped down from the boulder and held his hand out to Cletus.

“I’m not dancing with you,” Cletus told him.

“You get your ass up right now and dance with me, Neanderthal, or I will end you,” Lucifer said. “I will travel the time stream and end each of your offspring. I will declare a fatwah upon your entire bloodline unless you dance with me.”

Cletus obliged and slowly waltzed with Lucifer.

“Have you ever danced with a dragon before, Cletus?” Lucifer asked as he led the caveman about.

“I’ve killed a few,” Cletus said, “but I’ve never danced with them.”

“Well, now you can say that you have.”

“You’re a dragon?”

“All seraphim are,” Lucifer said. “The word means flaming serpent. What else would a flaming serpent be?” Lucifer stopped dancing and pushed Cletus away. “You are a horrible dancer, and you should feel ashamed of yourself. We should get food.”

“What’re you thinking?” Cletus asked. “Might be some snakes or lizards around here somewhere.”

“I was actually thinking something from the future like a cheeseburger or döner. However, time’s up for Yeshua there. It’s my time to shine.”

“It’s already been forty days?” Cletus asked. “There’s no way. We’ve been talking for an hour at most.”

“Supreme being,” Lucifer said. “Space-time bends around me.”

Lucifer kneeled beside Jesus. “I’m so hungry,” Jesus said. “My stomach feels like it’s eating my insides.”

“If you are the Son of God,” Lucifer said with a smile, “tell these stones to become bread.”

“Man shall not live on bread alone,” Jesus said, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written:  ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said, “It is also written:  ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

“All this I will give you,” Lucifer said as he gestured to the air around him, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

“Away from me, Satan. For it is written:  ‘Worship the Lord, your God, and serve Him only.’”

Lucifer stood and brushed the dust off his hands. “That’s it for me, darling,” he said to Cletus. “I’m going to the twenty-first century Italy to drink wine on a riverbed. Have fun with the crazy drunk. Ciao.”

Lucifer disappeared in a burst of light and smoke.

Cletus helped Jesus to his feet. Cletus gave Jesus water, which promptly turned into wine. “Angels, man,” Jesus said. “Angels are taking care of me right now. Are you one of the angels?”

“Sure,” Cletus said.

From there, Cletus and Jesus traveled. They left Nazareth for Galilee. Everywhere they went, Jesus urged people to repent because “the Kingdom of Heaven draws closer”. Jesus gathered followers, mostly fishermen. As Jesus explained to Cletus, “If they can fish, I’ll teach them to fish for people.”

Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in synagogues, healing people, and spreading the good news of the coming kingdom. People brought to Jesus those who were ill with diseases, pain, demon possession, seizures, paralysis, and blindness for the prophet to heal. Everywhere Jesus wandered, crowds followed him.

Jesus led his crowd to a mountainside, where he sat with Cletus. Taking a massive gulp of wine, Jesus said, “Blessed are people who are depressed and sad. You’ll be comforted because the Kingdom is yours. The weak will inherit the earth. Great are those that desire righteousness because you’ll get it. The merciful will be shown mercy. The pure of heart will see God. Peaceful people will be the children of God. Blessed are those who are treated bad because of being good.

“And you know what, blessed are you when people treat you poorly because you believe in me. Ignore them. You’ll be rewarded in Heaven just as greatly as prophets before you that were also persecuted. Because you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. People don’t just light a lamp, and then stick it under a bowl. They set it up high on a stand so it lights the whole place. You have to be like that lamp. You have to shine. Let people see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.

“Do not be confused though. I have not come here to abolish the old laws or to abolish older prophets. I’m here to enforce all the laws that came before me. Until the end of time, no the smallest thing of the old law will change until we’ve accomplished everything we can. You must follow all the rules and do everything right. Otherwise, you won’t enter Heaven.”

Jesus continued his rambling speech. He told the people about murder and adultery. He banned divorce as it was the same as adultery. Jesus said revenge was foolish. He instructed those on the mountainside to love everyone and to be courteous. He encouraged them to give all their possession away to the poor. Jesus explained that only hypocrites worship in the open, and that everyone should pray indoors alone. Jesus insisted that prayers should be short and to the point and that people should keep it to themselves when they fast to not look like hypocrites. Jesus advised never storing treasure on earth, but rather sharing wealth to bask in the great treasures of Heaven.

Finally, Jesus ended his speech by saying, “And stop worrying about everything. Don’t worry about your lives or what you look like or the food you eat and drink or the clothes you wear. None of that matters. Life is so much more than that. Look at birds. They don’t worry about any of that, yet God still takes care of them. You’re no more important than the birds. Worrying isn’t making you live longer. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has too much to worry about itself. Just be righteous, and life will take care of you.”

Cletus thought Jesus had finished. The crowd slowly started to disperse, but Jesus took another swig of wine and continued. Jesus talked about not judging others and striving to achieve things one desired. There was talk of narrow and wide gates, a lot of discussion on false prophets and disciples, and even on those who are wise and those who are foolish.

After Jesus actually finished, the group left the mountainside. The crowd following Jesus grew considerably. A man with leprosy approached Jesus. Cletus stood between them, holding up his iron pole and growling at the man. “Be calm, man,” Jesus said to Cletus. “Brother, what is it that you desire from me?”

“Oh please, Lord, can you heal my leprosy?” the man asked.

Jesus lay his hands upon the man and said, “Be clean.” Jesus cleansed the man of his illness. “Don’t tell anybody that I did that.”

The man sprinted away into the city. “You realize that he’s going to tell every person he knows, right?” Cletus asked.

“Yeah,” Jesus said, “I know, but it looks better if I’m humble about it.”

A demon eventually attacked Jesus and his disciples.

“We are Legion, for we are many,” the possessed man said. “What do you want from us, Son of God? Have you come to destroy us before the appointed time at the End of Days?”

Jesus leaned in close to Cletus and said, “Hey, man, I need a favor. I can’t do anything to demons but cast them out of a person’s body. I don’t have anywhere to send ten thousand demons though. Why don’t you handle this guy while I create a distraction?”

Cletus sighed and trudged off.

“Everybody, over here!” Jesus shouted. “I’ve cast the demons into that herd of pigs over there.”

The crowd of people watched as Jesus controlled the herd of pigs, forcing them to run down a hill and throw themselves into a river to drown. While Jesus put on a show, Cletus battled with the possessed man until the man spit out a massive ball of eyes and tentacles. Cletus slammed his iron pole into the blob of filth, sending disgusting things flying in all directions. Cletus extended his pole and twirled it about as fast as he could to catch and shred all the demonic debris. With the demon defeated, Cletus shrunk his pole and rejoined Jesus. The congregation had moved into the village without noticing Cletus’s fight.

From there, Jesus and Cletus continued to travel and gather followers. Jesus continued to heal people and even brought some back from the dead. One night, Jesus gathered his most trusted followers and named them his twelve apostles. They were Simon (who was called Peter), Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, another James, Thaddaeus, Simon (who was actually called Simon), and Cletus (who was called Judas). Jesus sent these men out to preach. Jesus said to them, “Don’t go among the Gentiles or the Samaritans. Go to all the black sheep of Israel. Proclaim to everyone that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Freely you have received. So, freely give.”

Jesus instructed the apostles to take nothing but the clothes on their backs with them for the pilgrimages. The disciples stayed in the homes of people and blessed those that deserved it. Jesus commanded the apostles to help the sick and fight demons. Jesus warned them to be both shrewd and innocent, for they would be arrested, jailed, and flogged for teaching of Jesus. He assured them that when they were brought in front of governors and jailors, the disciples would know what to say, for God would speak to them. Before the apostles left, Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge them before my Father in Heaven. Whoever disowns me, I shall disown before my Father.”

The apostles left Jesus to preach the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“You just sent those guys to their deaths,” Cletus said. “All of them will be tortured and killed for trying to get people to worship you. Not to mention contradicting half of what you said on that mountain before. What happened to being private with worship and not worrying about what other people thought?”

“Don’t be fooled,” Jesus said to Cletus. “I did not come to bring peace on earth and goodwill to man. I came brining a sword. I will turn men against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the ones sitting at his own table. Anyone who loves their father or mother or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

“You are a twisted, sadistic, megalomaniac,” Cletus said. “What the hell is wrong with you? You’ve been preaching peace, love, and humility to these people. Now, you’re going to demand they devote their every waking thought to you and only you? No one will do that. Anyone who claims to do that is full of shit. You’re setting them up for failure.”

“Then, they’ll fail,” Jesus said.

With time, Jesus became more tyrannical. Cletus watched as the loving, happy man from the wilderness dissolved into an angry fiend. Jesus cursed people and called them children for not listening to John the Baptist. Jesus doomed many cities. He insisted that Sodom and Gomorrah would have a better fate than any city that did not welcome him. All because people of the cities did not worship him. Jesus claimed that Yahweh hid things from the intelligent, only revealing the truth to children. Jesus said that only he knew his Father and that only his Father knew him. “All things have been committed to me by my Father,” Jesus said. “Come only to me, all that are weary. I shall give you rest. I will cast upon you my yoke, for I am humble in heart. You will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Cletus grew more disgusted with Jesus’ change of heart. People asked for a sign, for proof that Jesus was the son of Yahweh, but Jesus cursed and mocked them for asking. His own family came to see him. His mother, brothers, and sisters came to Jesus. Jesus refused to meet with them, saying, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? Whoever does the will of my Father is my only brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus began to speak to his followers in riddles and parables, refusing to directly explain anything. “You’re being a massive asshole to everyone,” Cletus told Jesus. “I think you should stop drinking. I’m pretty sure you’re an alcoholic. Actually, you’ve gone beyond functional alcoholic to like total trash. None of this is going to end well for anyone.”

“The knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven has not been given to them,” Jesus said. “Whoever has, has more. They have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they do have will be taken from them.”

Jesus continued to speak in riddles as he traveled with Cletus to his hometown. Jesus preached to the people there, but they would not listen. All refused to believe that the carpenter’s son could perform such feats or wield such power. Out of anger, Jesus refused to perform any miracles because of the people’s lack of faith.

Jesus heard tales of the death of John the Baptist. This saddened him, so Jesus took Cletus by boat to a remote location alone. However, people still heard of his coming, and crowds followed Jesus. The other disciples slowly returned to the group as well. Jesus preached compassionately to the people and healed this sick. As night approached, his disciples came to him, asking to release the people so they could go eat.

“No,” Jesus said. “All will stay here with me. You shall feed them.”

“But, Lord,” said Peter, “we have only five loaves of bread and two fish. We can’t possibly feed thousands of people with that little. We can barely feed ourselves with that.”

“Bring them to me, on the grass,” Jesus instructed. Once the disciples left, Jesus turned to Cletus and said, “I need you to go and get as much bread and fish as you can possibly find. Steal it if you have to, I don’t care. Just get enough to feed thousands.”

Cletus traveled about, catching fish and stealing bread until he had enough to feed all the people who had gathered on the hillside. Despite there being thousands of people who happily ate that night, several baskets of food remained the next morning.

After the feast, Jesus instructed his disciples to get in his boat and go to the other side of the vast river without him. While the disciples sailed, Jesus dismissed the crowds. Jesus went up a mountainside to be alone. Shortly before dawn the next morning, Jesus approached the boat, walking across the water. Everyone but Cletus began shouting in surprise. They thought Jesus had died, and his ghost approached them. Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Take courage. It is I.”

Peter called to him, “If it is you, Lord, tell me to come onto the water with you.”

Jesus said, “Come.”

Peter stepped out onto the water, walking for a few moments before falling into the water, begging Jesus to save him. Jesus grabbed him, pulling Peter up and said, “Why did you doubt me?”

Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat. Peter said, “You truly are the Son of God.”

“Duh doy,” Jesus said. “We’ve been saying that this whole time. Nobody’s listening.”

Jesus continued to travel and preach and defy religious customs. His attitude and hypocrisy disturbed and angered many people. Yet, Peter declared Jesus as the Son of Man, the Messiah in flesh.

After the declaration from Peter, Jesus sat the disciples down and said, “I must soon travel to Jerusalem, where I will be tortured and killed.”

“Never, Lord,” Peter said. “This shall never happen to you.”

“Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus said to Peter. “You are a block in my way. You do not have the concerns of God in your heart, only the stupidity of man. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross to follow me. The Son of Man is going to come into this Father’s kingdom with his angels, and then he will reward his followers according to what they have done.”

Six days later, Jesus left to climb a mountain with Simon, James, and John. While the four were gone, Yahweh spoke with Cletus. “SOON, MY SON WILL DIE, AND YOU WILL BE FREED FROM YOUR BURDEN,” Yahweh said.

“How’s that going to work out?” Cletus asked.

“ALL WILL BE REVEALED IN TIME.”

Jesus and his disciples arrived in Jerusalem. Jesus called his twelve disciples fools and insisted they should be like children. He repeated things he’d already told his followers and continued to speak in riddles. In Jerusalem, Jesus entered a temple and ran everyone from it. He flipped tables and threw things onto the floors, shouting, “You’ve made my house a den of robbers.”

Jesus continued to curse things, killing a tree for not having fruit and threatening his disciples. He talked and went on endlessly about ridiculous and obscure things. Jesus talked about the end times. He spoke about how the day and hour will be unknown to anyone. When Jesus finally finished ranting, he said to his disciples, “Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

“OLD ONE, IT IS TIME,” Yahweh said to Cletus soon after. “YOU MUST GO NOW TO THE CHIEF PRIESTS AND BETRAY MY SON TO THEM.”

Cletus left Jesus and the disciples to seek out the priests. Upon finding them, Cletus said, “I know where Jesus of Nazareth is hiding. He’s the one claiming to be the Son of God. What’re you willing to give me if I hand him over?”

The priests traded Cletus thirty pieces of silver in exchange for the whereabouts of Jesus. Cletus accepted the payment.

Passover came. Jesus and his disciples sat at a table together when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

One-by-one, all the apostles questioned, “Surely not me, Lord?”

Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand in the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to the man who betrays the Son of God. It would be better for him to have not been born.”

“Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Cletus asked.

“You have said it.”

While they continued to eat, Jesus broke bread and said, “Take this; this is my body.” Jesus filled and cup and said, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured for the forgiveness of sins.”

All the disciples listened.

Then, Jesus told them, “This very night, all of you will fall on account of me, but after I arise, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”

Peter said, “Even if all fall from you, I never will.”

“Please,” Jesus said, “before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”

Jesus led his apostles to a placed called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here and let me pray.”

Jesus took Peter and two other disciples with him. While Jesus was gone, Cletus went to the chief priests and led them back to where Jesus prayed. As Cletus arrived at Gethsemane, Jesus pointed and shouted, “Here comes my betrayer!”

A massive crowd followed Cletus, carrying swords and clubs. Cletus turned to the mob and said, “The man that I kiss is the one called Jesus. That is the man you arrest.”

Cletus ran forward, kissing Jesus’ cheek and said, “Greetings, Rabbi.”

Jesus replied, “Do what you’ve come here for.”

The mob rushed forward and seized Jesus to arrest him. One of the disciples drew a sword. “Put that away,” Jesus said. “People who draw their swords die by their swords.”

The crowd dragged Jesus away. All the disciples fled, with only Peter following after Jesus.

“ALL THAT SHALL BE DONE, IS DONE,” Yahweh said to Cletus. “HIS BLOOD WILL REDEEM THE SINS OF ALL PEOPLE. HE SHALL RISE AND TAKE HIS PLACE AT MY SIDE.”

“Wait,” Cletus said, “hold up. You had me protect your kid just so you could kill him? That’s as retarded as the Philistines begging their god to help them capture me just to sacrifice me.”

“HE MUST SUFFER THROUGH LIFE TO BE REBORN.”

“He’s going to come back to life? Doesn’t being reborn pretty much make the whole sacrifice part of dying pretty meaningless? You gods are fucking stupid. Do I still get to keep the super strength that you granted me now that this is over?”

“OF COURSE.”

“Good enough for me.”

Cletus whipped out his iron pole and began to trek away from the city. In the days that followed Jesus’ crucifixion, mobs formed searching for the disciples of Jesus. The groups killed anyone accused. Cletus faked his death and wandered as far away as he possibly could before anything could happen to him.

The Adventures of Cletus VII

I watched Lyra toss back another mimosa while I slowly sipped kölsch. Our Italian restaurant stood on the riverside. Lyra and I dined at an outdoor table with a view of the Rhine, a remarkable bridge, and the small island where the Shokoladen Museum waited for our planned visit later that afternoon. The warm sun and clear sky made it a beautiful — I had no idea when we were. Pulling up my left sleeve, I examined the device on my wrist. August 10, 2010. Lyra and I had only been talking for about a week, but I somehow convinced her to take a trip with me just to grab lunch in Cologne, Germany. Pulling the time travel card could be very persuasive.

I pushed my unfinished carbonara away from me and downed the rest of my beer. “So,” I said, “would you like to hear more about Cletus? Not me Cletus, but caveman Cletus.”

Lyra hissed through her teeth. “I don’t know,” she said. “The more you tell me, the more it starts to make me worry. You’re just piling on hang ups with every new story.”

“How am I making you worry? They’re just stories.”

“Yeah, no, they’re not. If Cletus had a movie, it’d be called Rape and Murder Through the Ages.”

“It was a different time. Plus, I’ve been super vague and nondescript about any potential rape.”

“But it’s still there,” Lyra said. “Plus, the fact that Cletus must have millions of children. It makes me not want whatever this is with us to even happen because we are at least tangentially related because of your ancestor.”

“I mean, research states that all males on the planet can be linked back to a single male about a hundred and fifty thousand years ago,” I said.

“And that guy was probably Cletus.”

“Do you want to hear the stories or not?”

“I like stories,” Lyra said, “but I already know most of these stories. You’re just adding in a little Cletus flair to them.”

“You’re an anthropology student,” I said. “You should be interested in learning about an aspect of history that you can’t learn anywhere else.”

“Fine. Let’s hear the next one.”

 

<><><>

 

Wailing woke Cletus. He pulled himself out of the thick mud. A basket floated down the river. A screaming child flailed inside the basket. Cletus sighed. The caveman crawled through the slop into the raging river. He swam with the current. Cletus bobbed in and out of the rapids before grabbing the basket.

Angry waters swept away Cletus and the rescued baby. Cletus luckily grabbed a tree root that grew through the riverbank into the water. The river beat Cletus against the rocks and roots around him. Cletus could not pull himself from the water without letting go of the child. The caveman considered releasing the child. The idea offended Cletus in a way he failed to grasp.

Cletus heard a low growl. A massive, black wolf stood on the riverbank. The wolf clenched a tree branch in its jaws. The wolf lowered the branch into the river. Cletus quickly let go of the roots and snatched the branch. The giant wolf dragged Cletus and the baby onto dry land. Cletus collapsed next to the child. As Cletus rolled over from a violent coughing spell, the wolf bashed the side of the caveman’s head with its enormous paw.

Darkness surrounded Cletus when he woke. “Am I dead?” Cletus asked the emptiness.

“You live,” a woman’s voice answered in Cletus’s mind.

Yellow eyes glowed in the blackness. As Cletus adjusted to the dim light he saw the silhouette of the wolf form around the brilliant eyes.

“Where am I?”

“In my home,” the she-wolf said into the caveman’s thoughts again.

“Where’s the child?”

“The boy is with me. He feeds. You should do the same.”

“Why’d you bring me here?”

“You have been marked with a burden. You are destined to erect a city nearby. To do so, you must be strong. Come, feed.”

Cletus approached the she-wolf. “Where’s the food?”

“No food. Feed from me.”

“Feed from you?” Cletus asked. Images flew through his mind of the child suckling from the she-wolf. “Oh. No, thank you. That’s disgusting.”

The she-wolf growled. “Feed, child. Grow strong.”

“I could just kill you and eat you instead.”

The she-wolf pushed the baby to the side. “You are welcome to try. If you win, feed upon me if you wish. If I win, you must submit and feed from me.”

Cletus jumped at the she-wolf. Almost instantly, she pinned the caveman down. She bit Cletus on the throat, hard enough to hurt but not break through the skin. The she-wolf returned to her corner in the cave with the baby. “Now, child,” she said. “Come, feed from me.”

Rolling onto his stomach, Cletus crawled to the she-wolf. He cringed as he took her into his mouth and began drinking her milk. “Good, child,” the she-wolf said. “I am Lupa. I am your mother now. With me, you shall grow strong.”

Cletus and the boy lived on the milk of Lupa. Time had no meaning in the cave. To the best of his abilities, Cletus separated day and night by the cave being dark or darker. Each day Cletus challenged Lupa. Each day the she-wolf wrestled the caveman into submission. Years passed quickly before Cletus finally bested Lupa.

“You have finally become cunning and strong,” Lupa said. “Now, it is time for you to leave, my child. Take the boy. Follow the river north out of the swamp. In the fields you will meet the next step of your destiny.”

“I’m sick of always being the chosen one,” Cletus said as he and the boy left the cave.

Cletus walked along the river with the toddler stumbling along beside him. They left the swamp behind and found the vast fields beyond a large number of hills. A man with a flock of sheep approached the two. “You there!” the shepherd shouted. “Why are you boys naked?”

“We got caught in the river while travelling,” Cletus said. “Lost everything, even our clothes. Is there any chance you could spare some for us?”

“I think I might be able to aid you. Come with me back to my cabin.”

“Thank you kindly, stranger.”

“I’m Faustulus. What do you call yourselves?”

Cletus thought for a moment. Faustulus eyed the caveman suspiciously during the long pause. Cletus finally said, “This here is Remus, my younger brother. You can call me Romulus. We’re travelling from Greece.”

“Might want to keep that to yourself. Lots of Grecians coming up this way. Lots of people don’t take kindly to Grecians. Most here view you as trying to impose on the simple life we have here.”

“Well, we just left Greece to find a simpler life ourselves. Maybe we could even find a home and work in this area.”

“You don’t say. Any chance you have any experience shepherding?”

“I’ve herded cattle in the past,” Cletus said. “I’ve also dealt with numerous other animals as well.”

“Well,” Faustulus said, “maybe we could help each other. Don’t have any cattle, but lots of sheep and dogs. No children of my own to help me out. If you’d be willing to work for me, my wife and I could provide for you to a degree. Couldn’t pay you, but we could put you two in a bed at night and food in your belly.”

“I could only hope for such a kindness,” Cletus said. “It’d be better than my life in Greece.”

 

<><><>

 

Cletus stood before a crowd of men. Most carried spades, staves, and bows. “Those bastards from Alba Longa kidnapped my brother Remus,” Cletus said to the crowd. “Let’s get him back.”

Cletus led his shepherd militia from the Tiber River to the nearby kingdom of Alba Longa. Along the way, the shepherds attacked towns and villages in search of the now adult Remus. The small army grew as it marched to the castle of King Amulius of Alba Longa.

“Where is Remus?” Cletus shouted as he tore down the doors to the King Amulius’s court. “Where is the boy?”

The grey-haired king stared at Cletus. “You come looking for Numitor’s bastard grandson?” Amulius asked. “I take it you are the other twin. You were supposed to be killed before being thrown in that river.”

“Yet here I stand,” Cletus said. “Where’s Remus?”

“In the dungeon with your grandfather.”

Cletus rushed forward and crushed Amulius’s skull with his iron staff. The caveman freed Remus and Numitor from their cells. “Brother,” Remus said, “I’d like you to meet our grandfather.”

The white-haired old man grasped Cletus by the shoulders. “I’m glad that you live,” Numitor said. “Are you ready to take your throne?”

Cletus shook his head. “The throne to this city is yours, Numitor. I can make my own way.”

Numitor reclaimed his rightful place as king of Alba Longa. The shepherd army returned to the great fields on the Tiber. Cletus decided to abandon the life of a shepherd.

“I’m going south,” Cletus told Faustulus and Remus. “There’s land there that no one has claimed. I plan to start my own city there.”

“I’ll come with you,” Remus said.

“I’d prefer to go alone.”

“Nonsense. We could have ruled Alba Longa together, but you threw that away without even asking my opinion. I want to come with you.”

“Fine.”

Remus followed Cletus south along the Tiber. Within a day, they reached the many hills the two had passed two decades before while leaving Lupa’s den. Cletus set out for a hill close to the river but beyond the swamp where the she-wolf lived. Remus protested.

“We should build the city on the hill nearest the river,” Remus said.

“No, that would mean building the city inside the swamp. That’s an awful place to put the city. We build on the next hill over to avoid the swamp and still be close to the river.”

“Let’s have a contest then. We’ll use augury to decide where to build the city.”

“I have no idea what that is. I’m leaving now. You do whatever you want.”

Cletus began to build a wall around his hill while Remus wandered into the swamp. Days went by as Cletus gathered and placed stones around his hill. Cletus found Remus sitting against the wall. “So, augury has decided that our city shall be built on the hill closest to the river,” Remus said. “I stood atop the hill and saw six eagles.”

Cletus rolled his eyes. The caveman wiped sweat from his brow into his messy hair. “I saw twelve eagles on my hill,” he said. “So, I think I won. I went ahead and started building a city wall. Why don’t you help?”

“I don’t care if you saw twelve eagles. I saw my six first. That means that I won. We’re building a city in the swamp.”

“Kid, you’re starting to piss me off. We’re not building a city in the swamp. It would be a damn nightmare. Either help me build this wall or leave.”

“You call this a wall?” Remus jumped over the stones. “This isn’t going to stop anyone. I’m going to kill you brother for denying me my birthright as a king in Alba Longa.”

Remus drew a sword and stalked toward Cletus. Cletus wrapped a single hand around the boy’s neck. “I’m not your brother, you annoying pissant,” Cletus said as he squeezed until Remus’s throat collapsed.

 

<><><>

 

Cletus continued to build his city. Surrounding shepherds and farmers joined the construction effort. The city wall expanded from one hill to seven. Cletus named himself king of the new city, Roma. The new city welcomed all. Farmers, soldiers, exiles, refugees, criminals, and slaves made Roma their home. Cletus selected the richest noblemen in the city to serve as the fathers of Roma to care for the city and all its people. Cletus formed a council of one hundred elders called the Senate. Cletus developed an army of legions made up of three thousand infantry and three hundred cavalry each as well as his personal Praetorian Guard. The caveman established a system of government and social hierarchy to control the city.

Roma took in the world’s unwanted children, but most were men. The city suffered a vast shortage of women. Cletus invited the neighboring tribes, the Sabines and Latins, to a festival. As the men played games and drank wine, Cletus ordered the Romans to seize the women and drag them into the city.

Romans married Sabine and Latin women after strong persuasion. The Latin tribe attacked Roma, but Cletus led his legions into battle. The Romans easily triumphed over the Latins. Cletus annexed the Latin towns. Cletus divided the conquered lands among Roma’s citizens. Cletus allowed the Latins to remain free within their lands rather than being enslaved.

King Tatius marched the Sabines to battle with the Romans. The two kingdoms fought for days. One side would gain the upper hand only to be pushed back by the other kingdom. The war stood at a stalemate when the captured Sabine women interrupted the fight. The women begged Cletus and Tatius for unity between the kingdoms rather than more fighting.

The Senate developed a truce that all agreed upon. Cletus and Tatius ruled together with one hundred Sabine elders becoming Senators. The cultures blended in all aspects from clothing and food to military equipment. Sabine armies joined the legions. The joint rulers overcame the Albans and added their colonies to the lands of Roma. Cletus and Tatius served five years together before Lavinians assassinated Tatius for a previous slight, leaving Cletus Roma’s sole king.

Roma continued to grow. Cletus organized the city into multiple tribes with elected officials to represent them in the Senate. Cletus further separated the tribes into curiae and curiae into gentes, expanding the voting system of Roma. For two decades, Cletus waged war with surrounding lands to gain new territory. When Numitor died, Alba Longa named Cletus their new king. Cletus applied his Roman model to the city and made Alba Longa yet another Roman territory.

One night, Cletus walked one of the many hills of Roma. A storm brewed in the sky above him. Dark clouds and lightning blanketed Roma. Blue, electric eyes formed in the darkness. A booming voice called out, “I’ve found you, ape.”

Storm clouds launched from the sky and engulfed Cletus. The whirlwind of rain and lightning sucked Cletus into the sky and flung the caveman over the horizon.

Sand clung to Cletus when he woke. The storm tore his robes from his body. Cletus struggled to his feet and walked inland. Beautiful singing resounded across the entire island. The song stirred within Cletus. The melody pulled forward the smells of cedar and juniper in the caveman’s mind. Owls and eagles and crows majestically harmonized with the unseen woman’s hymn. Cletus marched through fields of violets and parsley as the sing tugged his heart along.

Alder and cypress trees surrounded a cave opening. The island’s lullaby drifted from the cave. Cletus trampled into the cave. A stunning blonde worked a loom in the cave as she sang her melody. She paused when her gaze fell upon Cletus. “So, Jupiter finally sent you,” she said.

“Don’t stop singing,” Cletus responded.

“You wouldn’t like to know why you’re here?”

“No, I just want you to keep singing.”

So she sang throughout the day as she worked at her loom. At the end of the day, the young woman finished her work. She brought Cletus a tray of bread, cheeses, eggs, fruit, and fish as well as milk and wine. “My name is Calypso,” the young lady said. “I am the daughter of Atlas. You are Hercules.”

“No,” Cletus said, “I used to be Heracles, but now I call myself Romulus.”

“You’re unaware of the gods’ new aspects,” Calypso said. “Many things have changed since your war with the Olympians. They returned, but they’re different now. Stronger. Angrier. More hungry for war. The change happened because they felt weak after their defeat.”

“Zeus attacked me with the storm.”

“No, Jupiter attacked you. Zeus is gone, but his power and essence took a new form in the Roman god Jupiter.”

“Where are we?”

“Ogygia,” Calypso said. “My prison, and my home. It’s an island that is nowhere and everywhere. It’s impossible to escape.”

“Why are you here?” Cletus asked.

“I supported my father during the Titanomachy. I can never leave here.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Cletus said. “You’re quite gorgeous. I would have taken you with me.”

“You cannot leave either. This is your prison now too.”

“Olympians can’t stop me.”

Cletus spent days tearing down trees around the cave entrance. Calypso fed him and laughed at his efforts. Cletus fashioned a raft. Calypso gave a bundle of thick cloth to use as a sail. “You won’t get anywhere,” Calypso said as Cletus pushed his raft into the sea.

Cletus left Ogygia behind for open waves. After hours in the sun, Cletus spotted another island. Pulling ashore, Cletus found Calypso waiting for him.

“I told you,” Calypso said, “you cannot leave Ogygia. The gods must give their permission for you to be able to leave.”

“I’ll build a bigger ship,” Cletus said.

“It won’t help.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?”

“Come inside,” Calypso said. “Eat and rest.”

Cletus bowed his head and dragged his feet through the sand back to Calypso’s cave. Calypso filled Cletus with wine and food. Calypso produced countless foods from cheese and berries to fresh meat. When Cletus refused to eat anymore, sweet juice and grease soaked his beard and gallons of wine spun in his head. Calypso helped the stumbling caveman to her massive bed deep in the cave. Calypso lay Cletus down onto the pile of cushions, and then Calypso lay with him.

Cletus and Calypso remained intertwined in bed for days. Cletus allowed his lust to control him, pushing away thoughts of escape to be replaced by Calypso. By day, Calypso filled Cletus with meat and wine. Calypso sang and danced at her loom, entrancing the drunken Neanderthal. At night, Cletus ravaged Calypso until exhausting both of them. Weeks on the island bled into years with little changing in the couple’s routine.

One morning, Cletus woke to find the cave empty. Cletus wandered the island until he found Calypso on the shore arguing with a thin, blonde man. A chicken and a tortoise circled the man’s feet. The man wore a winged hat and shoes and carried a staff entwined with snakes. Cletus recognized the small god instantly. “Hermes!” Cletus growled as he sprinted at the god. “Has Zeus sent you to announce our next fight to me?”

The god stepped away from Cletus and lifted the caduceus in defense. “Stay back from me, ape,” the god said. “I am not Hermes. I am Mercury. Hermes died at your hands. I’d prefer not to do the same.”

“Why are you here, thief god?” Cletus asked.

“Don’t say a word to him,” Calypso said to Mercury. “Just leave us in peace.”

“I will deliver my message, witch,” Mercury said.

“You don’t have to do this. Leave my island at once.”

“Speak your word and begone,” Cletus said.

Mercury pushed past Calypso to Cletus. “Jupiter sent me to fetch you, Hercules,” Mercury said. “You are to be freed from this prison. I will provide you a ship to return to the mortal world.”

“He doesn’t want to leave,” Calypso said.

“Yes, I do.”

“What? Why would you leave? We have a life together. We have children. We’ve been lovers for seven hundred years. Why would you leave me?”

“This is not my life,” Cletus said. “My life is not fucking the day away with a lesser goddess. My life is out there. Exploring and fighting and fucking random people. Zeus promised me a life of adventure. Staying with you is not adventurous.”

“This is Odysseus all over again,” Calypso said. “I’m done with all of you. Gods go about raping and coercing all the women you want. When a goddess wants to have a single man for all time, the rest of you bastards get up in arms about our unavailability to you. I hope you all rot in Tartarus.”

Calypso stormed away from the beach. Mercury shrugged. The god tapped his staff on the tortoise’s shell. The chicken and the reptile exploded into lights and flames. The brilliant color leaped into the sea foam and formed a small, azure sail boat. “All yours,” Mercury said just before he sprinted across the waves.

Cletus stole meat, cheese, and wine from Calypso’s cave. He loaded supplies onto his boat and set sail across the ocean. Cletus sailed peacefully for days before a storm brewed upon the seas. Cletus caught the wind and futilely tried to outrun the storm. Dark clouds overcame the small boat. Cletus sprinted about the deck, shifting sails about trying to heave the boat to a stop in the storm. As he worked, Cletus grunted and grumbled about not knowing how to sail a boat without a crew. Waves reached higher than the boat, spraying salt water into the grey-green skies. Water surged onto the deck, throwing Cletus against the cabin wall. Cletus struggled to catch his breath. He climbed to his feet on the rocking deck as a maelstrom swirled around him. Cletus brandished his fists and shouted, “Have you come to claim my life, little pond god? You won’t have me, Poseidon.”

Wind gusted so powerfully the boat’s mast tore away and disappeared into the storm. Laughter louder than the storm rumbled across the violent sea. A twelve-foot, naked man carrying a trident rose from the waves on a chariot pulled by strange, half-horse, half-fish monstrosities. The god laughed at Cletus. “They call me Neptune, now, boy,” the god said. “I’ve not come to kill you. I’ve come to help you leave these immortal waters to return to the human realm.”

Neptune continued laughing as he stabbed his trident into the raging seas. The small sailboat capsized and dumped Cletus into the water. The frothy, green waters faded to darkness as Cletus spun deeper beneath the waves.

Cletus awoke in a small tent surrounded with a young woman and an old man watching over him. “Where am I?” he asked.

“Please, be calm, Spartacus,” the old man said. “You are safe with the Maedi.”

“What did you call me?”

“Spartacus. You appeared in a storm of great wind and rain. You fell from the clouds. We knew not your name, but your clothes are that of Greece long ago. The symbols and colors are that of Sparta. So, we all simply called you Spartacus.”

“It’s a fine name,” Cletus said. “Where am I?”

“Where is not important,” the old man said. “Where the Maedi are changes with the sun. I am Brasus, leader of this tribe. This is Decaeni, our priestess. She has watched over you while you’ve recovered.”

“Why have you helped me?”

“The Maedi wander. So, we help those who also wander. Though, we do expect from you in return.”

Cletus joined the Maedi tribe as Spartacus. The tribe wandered the edge of the Roman Empire, in the small country of Thrace. The Maedi raided villages and kingdoms for supplies from time to time. When not at war with neighboring tribes, the nomads herded visent through the mountains and valleys. Cletus married Decaeni and fathered many children. Cletus prospered along with the tribe. Until the Romans came.

During a raid on a Macedonian village, Roman legions fell upon the Maedi tribe. Nearly ten thousand trained soldiers battled with the nomads. Within minutes, the legions killed or captured the Maedi. Cavalry separated Cletus from his wife and children during the fight. The descendants of his own city enslaved Cletus.

A Capuan man purchased Cletus and condemned the Neanderthal to a gladiatorial school. Day and night, Cletus trained to fight with a small, hooked blade and round shield. Cletus survived off a meager diet of beans, barley, nuts, small fish, and very little sleep. He fought savagely in the coliseums, gaining fame for the name of Spartacus. His master prized Cletus as the perfect slave, but Cletus could not live as another man’s property.

Cletus organized a small revolt. He and seventy other gladiators raided the kitchen. Using knives, forks, and skillets, the slaves attacked their guards. The gladiators stole horses and wagons filled with weapons and armor. The small force escaped high into Mount Vesuvius. On the volcanic mountaintop, the freed slaves voted on leadership. The group divided their desires for leaders among Cletus and the Gallic warriors Crixus and Oenomaus.

Within days, Romans cut off the only paths to and from Vesuvius. Cletus organized the former gladiators and showed them how to tie ropes from the vegetation growing on the mountains. As the Roman soldiers sieged the freed men, Cletus prepared his counterattack. Using the vine-and-sapling ropes, the gladiators climbed down the sheer cliff side of Mount Vesuvius. Cletus led his men from the unguarded cliffs around the mountain. The former slaves snuck upon the sleeping Romans early in the morning. Cletus and his men slaughtered all the Romans except for the leader, a Praetor.

“Leave with your life, Praetor,” Cletus said.

“Kill me,” the Praetor said. “I take no mercy from revolting slaves.”

“Then take it from Romulus,” Cletus said.

The caveman and his men left the Praetor and walked back to their camp atop Vesuvius. “I’m leaving,” Cletus told the other leaders. “I encourage everyone to do the same.”

“You would abandon your post and your men?” Crixus asked.

“These are not my men,” Cletus said. “I owe no allegiance to any of you.”

“So, you would just leave?”

“Yes. That was a Praetorian guard and a group of militiamen. The Romans are not taking us seriously. Next they will send legions to fight us. Seventy men cannot stand against three thousand or more.”
“Most of us are not cowardly Thracians,” Crixus said. “We are Gauls, and we will fight.”

“I am not Thracian. I am Roman. I will not stay to die. Any of you that value your lives are free to follow.”

Cletus left Mt. Vesuvius and wandered north.

The Adventures of Cletus VI

After a several hour climb up a sheer cliff face, Cletus pulled himself over a massive ledge onto a plateau. A stone table stood at the center of the plateau. A tan, muscular, blonde giant lay chained to the table while four white eagles tore at the giant’s insides. Cletus drew the bow tied to his back and fired arrows. Coated in hydra’s blood, the arrows killed the enormous eagles instantly. Cletus stepped up to the table and tore apart the giant’s shackles.

The freed giant screamed wildly as his body slowly healed.

“Thank you, Heracles,” the giant said. “Or, would you prefer another name? Gilgamesh? Sun Wukong? Monkey King?”

“Cletus is fine.”

“Well, Cletus, I am Prometheus. Thank you for freeing me. Is there anything I can do for you in return?”

“You wouldn’t happen to know of a way to kill a god, would you?” Cletus asked.

“There’s only one real way. People simply have to stop believing in them. However, there are numerous ways to destroy their physical forms.”

“Such as?”

“Fire! Why else would I give fire to humans other than to protect them from the gods’ eventual desire to destroy all of mankind. They’d need some way to defend themselves. There’s also the blood of Artemis’s golden hind. It’s severely toxic to them, and able to kill them instantly. There is the precious adamantine metal made from the stars themselves. Basically any weapon crafted by either the Cyclopes or Hephaestus can injure a god as well.”

“Anything else you can help with?”

“I could tell you more about your future. You will not live forever, Cletus. Don’t believe that your luck will hold out. Buddha granted you everlasting life and youth, but you can be killed. One day, you will be. Not to worry though. You’ve a few thousand more years to deal with still. You’ll be king again, more than once. After your death, you’ll be reborn many times.”

“While it’s nice to know I’ll live through this, it doesn’t help me now,” Cletus said. “How can I get to Mount Olympus?”

“Well, you could climb it, but that wouldn’t get you to their kingdom. It exists in another realm. The Olympians’ own little chunk of the netherworld. I have no answer for you, but I assure you that you will find your way eventually, Cletus.”

“Can you at least tell me how to get down from here without having to climb?”

“Take Zeus’s precious eagles. Use them to glide down. Before you go, I’d like you to have this.”

Prometheus placed his giant hands over Cletus’s. Warmth and weight filled Cletus’s palm. When Prometheus pulled away, Cletus examined the glass sphere. Amber mist filled the inside of the ball. The core of the globe glowed gloriously with a golden light.

“This is my power,” Prometheus said. “As much of my immortal essence as I can spare without dying is locked within that crystal. When the time comes, it will protect you.”

Cletus nodded. He tucked the orb away and grabbed one of the limp eagles. Clutching its talons in his hands, Cletus sprinted over the edge of the plateau.

 

<><><>

 

For the second time in his life, Cletus hunted the golden hind. He chased the animal for almost three years. During that time, he slayed monsters, saved cities, killed an ancient centaur, and impregnated a half-woman, half-snake demon.

Chasing the beast for years finally annoyed Cletus into a new plan. He found a mystical grove sacred to Artemis and fashioned a trap in the grove. Cletus concealed himself in the thick grass near the trap. Hidden in the grove, Cletus waited for the golden hind.

Cletus lay motionless in the grass, an arrow always nocked and ready to fire. Hours ticked by. Cletus did not move. Cletus barely even blinked. Night came, and day returned. Hours gave way to weeks. Seasons changed around Cletus as time moved on. Through snow, rain, and blistering sun, Cletus waited patiently for the golden hind.

One morning, close to dawn, the hind came. It walked with such grace and beauty that it seemed weightless, hovering on the very tips of the blades of grass. Soft, fur coat shimmered in the morning light like fields of goldenrod swaying in a breeze. An entrancing light surrounded the creature’s body. The hind walked across the clearing. It approached Cletus’s long-hidden trap. The hind’s front leg stepped over the trigger. Cletus tensed as he waited. The deer’s back leg fell into the circle of rope.

The trap coiled around the hind’s leg. Cletus fired three arrows before the hind realized that it had been snared. Two arrows caught the animal’s throat, and one hit behind its eye. Precious, god-killing blood spilled on the grass as the hind thrashed about, trying to break free. Cletus approached the flailing creature and bashed the beast’s head in with his club until the hind lay still.

“Now who’s the better hunter, you annoying bitch?” Cletus asked the empty air.

“You fool. What have you done?” asked a silky voice from behind Cletus.

Cletus turned to face a young woman. She stood a full head shorter than Cletus. She seemed fair and innocent, almost childlike. However, her large breasts and wide hips betrayed her age. Her dark hair cascaded down her back from where she tied it behind her head. She wore a bright green tunic, a quiver filled with silver arrows, and a golden bow. Her brownish-green eyes burned furiously into Cletus.

“What have you done, Heracles?” she shouted as she shoved him backward with one hand, tossing the caveman several feet with ease. “You come to my sacred grove and defile it with traps. You smear filth upon my name by killing my treasured animal in my own territory. I do not care if you are my father’s chosen champion, I will destroy you, Heracles.”

Artemis drew her bow and fired an arrow at Cletus. The silver projectile transformed into a bolt of beautiful light as it sliced through the air. Cletus threw up his cloak. The arrow hit the pelt of the Nemean Lion and bounced off into the trees.

“It’s great to see you again too, Artemis,” Cletus said.

Artemis rained arrows at Cletus. The caveman easily blocked all of them.

“You know,” Cletus said, “back in my day, a violent girl like you that liked to hunt and fight would have been beaten to be put in her place. Possibly even eaten too depending on how hard times were. I think I’ll introduce you to the ways of man before the gods came about.”

Artemis continued pelting Cletus with arrows as he rushed her. He swung his club with all his strength. Artemis made no attempt to dodge or defend herself. A look of horror coated her face as the blood-soaked club smashed into her side, shattering her left arm. Artemis dropped her bow and tumbled across the ground.

“Were you unaware that the hind’s blood could hurt you?” Cletus asked, tossing his club aside.

Cletus picked Artemis up. Thick, dark blood dried on the hands that held the goddess. He tossed the small girl into the air and punched her with all his might as she descended. Cletus slowly trudged toward Artemis after she crashed to the ground.

“First off,” Cletus said as he slapped Artemis across the face, “my name isn’t Heracles. To hell with that Greek nonsense. My name is Cletus.”

Artemis cried like a child, tears mixing with blood from her busted lip and nose as both streams streaked down her face. Artemis crawled helplessly across the ground as she tried to escape Cletus.

“I violated your holy ground,” Cletus said. “I slaughtered your treasured animal. I used its blood to beat you into submission. I will use that blood to kill Hera and your father and any other god that stands before me. I will also kill you, but before I do, I am going to destroy everything that makes you who are, Artemis. I hope your family hears your screams and does nothing to save you.”

 

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Weeks later, Cletus walked through a dark tunnel with several large bags over his shoulders. Heat bellowed from deep within the cave. As Cletus continued his journey, a faint red glow appeared at the end of the tunnel.

Flames and smoke belched from the earth as Cletus entered a massive room. Numerous flaming pits and geysers coated the floors. Various junk littered the ground including weapons, armor, metallic creatures, and random half-finished scraps of metalwork. Smoke and steam filled the chamber, drifting up and out of shafts in the domed, volcanic ceiling. A giant stone table rested at the center of the room.

A disgusting behemoth slept against the side of the table. Burns and scars covered the thing’s reddened skin. It wore a loose-fitting, black apron that displayed its gargantuan, rotund belly. Aside from the monster stomach, thick, bulging muscle covered the majority of its body. Except it’s right leg, which had been mangled in such a horrible way that it appeared unnaturally thin and long with three joints.

“Smith god!” Cletus screamed over the earth’s rumbling. “Wake up, Hephaestus. I’ve come to speak with you.”

The lame god roared as he woke and stretched. Rolling onto his stomach, he stared at Cletus. The top of Hephaestus’s head lacked hair, but an unruly mane of red fur surrounded his face. His dirty, tangled beard grew so thick it hid his neck and shoulders. His enormous right eye spun in circles while Hephaestus used his good eye to examine Cletus.

“Heracles,” Hephaestus spoke through one corner of his mouth while the other drooped. “There’s been a lot of talk about you lately, Old One. You’ve stirred up quite a bit of trouble, swearing revenge on Hera and Zeus alike. There’ve even been rumors of you killing mighty Artemis, and that you even killed her twin brother when Apollo came to save her. So, have you come to murder me next on your mad quest for vengeance?”

“I have no bad blood for you, Hephaestus,” Cletus said. “I come here to seek your aid.”

Hephaestus laughed gingerly.

“What aid can I possibly give to you?”

“I need a weapon capable of killing the Olympians, even Zeus himself. I have brought materials that I believe can kill the Olympians.”

Cletus tossed his bags onto the table.

“What’s all this?” Hephaestus asked as he rummaged through the bags.

“There’s a sack with the golden hind in it. I have a waterskin filled with hydra’s blood. I retrieved the adamantine sickle Kronos used to castrate Uranus. There’s also the heads of your siblings, Artemis and Apollo.”

“And you desire a weapon that can kill Zeus?”

“Yes. You are the only one who can make this for me, Hephaestus. I value your work high above that of the Cyclopes.”

“If it’s the death of the Olympians you seek, you’ve come more than prepared,” Hephaestus said as he rubbed his damaged leg. “I’ve wanted to see the death of my parents for a long time. Give me a little while.”

Hephaestus gathered the sacks and disappeared deep within his forge. Cletus sat cross-legged in the volcanic ash and waited for Hephaestus to return.

Several hours later, Hephaestus rumbled back into the room. In his right hand he held a sword surrounded by fire. He handed the sword to the caveman. The blade measured almost twice as long as Cletus stood tall. Black leather wrapped the handle, and a glass ball full of dark red ichor formed the pommel. Cletus looked at his reflection in the bright red blade and smiled.

“I call this sword Zeusbane,” Hephaestus said. “It is the finest weapon I have ever made. The blade is bronze and adamantine smelted together, scorched in the flames of Olympus and tempered with the blood of the hydra and the hind. I folded and shaped the blade, dipped it in the hind’s blood, cooled it in water from Styx, and refolded the alloy six thousand times. I installed an intricate system of living metal circulation to constantly coat the blade in fresh hind’s blood. The leather grip is made from the tanned hide of the sacred deer.

“I worked the essence of the Bringer of Light and the Maiden Huntress into the metal. Anyone who wields the sword will gain a portion of the twins’ strength, speed, and cunning. Not that you’d need it, Old One.

“Finally, I blessed the sword with my own power. When it is near a god, the blade will burst into flames. The more powerful the god is, the hotter and wilder the fire burns. The sword is always hot, able to burn whoever touches it.

“I have given you my divine protection, Heracles. Neither the blade nor flames nor heat of Zeusbane can ever harm you. Though I assure you that it can easily sear the flesh from even Zeus’s bones.”

“I am honored and forever in your gratitude,” Cletus said with a bow. “I have one final request. Will you point me in the direction of Mount Olympus?”

Hephaestus chuckled. “I can do more than that. I have a doorway I can open for you that leads to the castle of the Olympians. Before you go, I want you to know that I’ll help as much as I can. I crafted Hera’s throne centuries ago. At any time, I can activate the magic within it to trap her in the chair. I have robotic creatures hiding throughout Olympus. They will take your side in the fight.”

Hephaestus led Cletus to a giant metal ring. The god fiddled with the ring. The ring clicked and spat out smoke, but would not start. Hephaestus kicked the machine, and it buzzed to life. Blue light filled the ring and flickered until a view of a beautiful city made of crystal, marble, gold, and bronze appeared. Cletus nodded at Hephaestus. Armed with the Nemean cloak, the bow of Artemis, a quiver filled with gold and silver arrows stolen from Apollo and Artemis, his club, and the god-slaying sword; the caveman charged through the gate to Mount Olympus.

Cletus stepped out of the gate right at the entrance to the Olympic castle. He immediately heard a frightened gasp. Looking up, Cletus saw a silver-haired boy in a white tunic, winged sandals and a winged cap sitting against the wall above the castle entrance. The boy jumped down and sprinted into the castle before Cletus could draw his bow.

Nocking a golden arrow into Artemis’s bow, Cletus ran into the castle. Hordes of filthy dogs, wild pigs, and vultures greeted Cletus in the entrance hall. Cletus fired arrows that ignited into beams of light as they soared at their targets. Cletus kicked any animals that came too close as he launched volleys of arrows into the swarm of beasts.

A blood-curdling scream filled the hall. A crazed, muscular man sprinted toward Cletus. The man wore only a helmet and a small loin cloth. The man carried a spear and shield. Loose chains wrapped his arms and legs. A cluster of lesser gods dressed in similar fashion raced behind their leader.

“Heracles!” the head god snarled.

“God of War!” Cletus barked back. “Can you not face me without your swarm of underlings?”

Cletus dropped Artemis’s bow as he drew Zeusbane from his back. Brilliant red flame engulfed the weapon. Ares thrust his spear at Cletus, but Cletus knocked the blow aside. Cletus swung his greatsword at Ares. Zeusbane clashed against the war god’s shield. The shield protected Ares, but the flaming sword crushed the shield. Ares threw the twisted metal away and lunged at Cletus. The caveman parried the strike and cut the spear in two.

Ares unleashed a hysterical war cry as he attacked the caveman with his bare hands. The god punched Cletus across the room. Cletus lost his grip on Zeusbane, and the magic sword skidded across the floor. Ares pounced upon the weapon to claim it. The moment Ares grabbed the sword, fire consumed his hands. The god of war screamed in agony as he dropped the sword from his blackened hands. Cletus tackled Ares to the ground. Cletus grabbed the blade and brought it down ferociously. Ares’s head split in half all the way down to his jaw.

Ares convulsed wildly. Flames and red mist poured from his wounds. The body withered into ash and disappeared. A distorted face of anguish formed in the red smoke. The cloud flew around the room, wailing like a banshee before fading.

Cletus returned Zeusbane to his back. Grabbing his stolen bow, he pushed on. At the top of a mountain of ivory stairs, Cletus burst into a massive throne room. A circle of twelve gigantic thrones lined the walls. A brilliant map of the world painted the floor. With the exception of Hades and Poseidon, the remaining Olympians fought robotic spiders in the throne room. Hera stayed motionless on her throne and watched the others battle Hephaestus’s mechanical creatures.

Cletus loosed waves of arrows. Within moments, the dying Olympians filled the room with smoke and lights with only Hera remaining. The caveman tossed Artemis’s bow to the ground and drew Zeusbane, now blazing with a white flame up to Cletus’s elbow. Cletus sprinted at the queen of the gods and cut her head off.

Storm clouds filled the room with darkness. Lightning flashed. Thunder shook the ground. “Cletus!” Zeus bellowed as he appeared at the center of the room.

“I have no desire to kill you here, Zeus,” Cletus said. “It is your fault that I’m standing in this situation now, but you have given me incredible gifts. With your Eyes, I see the world as no other man could. You ensured my life would be one of excitement. Hera and her brood tormented me for years, but now they are gone. I am at ease. Step aside and allow me to leave peacefully.”

“You think that you can murder my entire family, my wife and children, and then leave here in peace?” Zeus asked, shaking the castle with each thunderous word. “You are a fool, Old One.”

An eight-foot bolt of white energy formed in Zeus’s hand. The god swung the rod of light, firing off a jet of lightning at Cletus. The caveman threw up the Nemean cloak, deflecting the lightning just in time. Zeus stormed forward, sliding across the ground on streams of electricity. Cletus threw up Zeusbane to block an electrified punch from the Olympian king. With Zeus so near, the flames around the sword spread into a massive, blue pyre surrounding Cletus. Zeus reached for the caveman’s throat, but Zeusbane’s protective flames charred Zeus to the bone.

“You dare protect him, Hephaestus?” Zeus asked the sky as he backed away from Cletus. “You freak. You are no son of mine.” Setting his icy gaze back on Cletus, Zeus said, “I have made you far too powerful, Ancient One.”

Energy whirled through Cletus, surging from every inch of his body. The power moved to his chest where it launched from his body as a bolt of blue lightning. Zeus collected the energy in his palm, forming a glowing blue sphere the size of a marble.

“Now,” Zeus said, “you lack the power I gave you. You are nothing more than a very old man.”

Fatigue washed over Cletus, but the caveman still laughed maniacally.

“I don’t need that to stop you!”

Cletus swung Zeusbane, unleashing a whirlwind of flames into the room. The flaming tornado engulfed Zeus for a brief moment. The fire died out as power left Zeus. The god crumpled to the floor.

“While I’m technically not human since I’m a Neanderthal,” Cletus said calmly as he walked toward Zeus, “I, like every other person, have a power that you lack and cannot understand. We have imaginations.

“I am over a quarter million years old. You Olympians didn’t exist at all back in my time. No gods did yet. All of you came to life from the imagination of mankind. Since enough people believed that you were real, you became real. Rest assured though. Eventually, people will stop believing in you. Then, when there’s no trace left of you in any man’s mind, you’ll finally weaken and disappear.

“I’m leaving you now. Please, do not proceed with more violence, or I will strike you down.”

Cletus turned to leave. Zeus growled savagely as he heaved his burned body into a final attack. Cletus spun around and stabbed Zeusbane hilt-deep into the god’s chest. Electric blue smoke poured from the wound. The mist drifted, forming a massive cloud. Lightning and storms formed in the cloud of blue smoke. The storm changed into the face of Zeus.

The god’s raw essence launched at Cletus. The caveman threw up Zeusbane to block the ghost’s assault. Uninhibited by his physical form, the powers of Zeusbane no longer harmed the Olympian. Zeus tore through the blade.

Instantly, Prometheus’s crystal exploded into a wave of amber light around Cletus. The Titan’s essence shielded Cletus from Zeus. The ball of energy lifted Cletus into the sky and zoomed toward the horizon.

“Cletus,” Prometheus’s voice filled the bubble, “to protect you, I must take you far away. I must take you to a place where no one worships Zeus. By killing him, you released his purest energy and truest form. Striking Zeus down made him infinitely more powerful. Soon, he will go mad, destroying all that remains of the Olympians before slowly dying.

“I am taking you north. Your new home will be a place where civilized men have not yet lived. Please, try to live a happy, peaceful life there, Cletus.

The sphere of amber light crashed into a muddy riverbank, knocking Cletus unconscious upon impact.