The Fire Thief

The Fire Thief

Terry Deary

Kingfisher

Chapter One
<p
Greece—the dawn of time
<p
This is where my story begins. I wasn't there myself in ancient Greece, but
one of the actors in this terrible tale told me the story, and I believe him. Let
me tell you his story as if I was a writer—I've always wanted to be a writer.
Who am I? Wait and see. Let's start at the dawn of time . . .
<p
The bird soared and wheeled in the cloudless sky over the silent earth.
Beneath it lay valleys of rich green and white-topped mountains. A crystal
blue sea shone in the distance. A deep forest loomed beneath the monstrous
bird, and from the heart of the darkness a smudge of smoke rose into the
clean air.
<p
"Ahh!" the bird growled. "Fire." It scented the sooty air and climbed away from
it. Then it turned and arrowed toward a distant mountain. "Breakfast," it
hissed, and then it swooped down. Rabbits froze, terrified as the bird's death
shadow passed over them. The bird ignored them and let the warm air lift it
up the mountainside.
<p
As it climbed, the shimmering grass below gave way to gray, wind-scrubbed
shrubs and then bare rocks, too bleak for even moss to grow.
The bird lifted its hooked beak and half closed its curved wings till it dropped
toward one massive boulder. On the boulder lay a man. Windburned and
sunbaked, he lay there as the bird's claws clattered against his rock and it
skidded to a halt. "Oooops!" the bird croaked. "After all this time I'm still not
good at landing."
<p
Fine chains had sunk into the rocks, and they wrapped around the man's
wrists and ankles. Fine links—but unbreakable.
<p
The bird shook its gold-brown feathers, and its black eyes burned. "Good
morning, Prometheus. I hope you slept well," the bird hissed.
<p
The man smiled. His face was as handsome as a god. "I slept very well."
<p
The bird blinked. "You seem cheerful," it snapped suspiciously.
<p
"I slept well," the man cried. "And had such wonderful dreams! I dreamed of
freedom."
<p
"You don't deserve it," the bird snarled. "You stole fire from the gods, and you
gave it to those crawling creatures they call humans. You sneaked it away,
hidden inside a reed—you are no better than some robber on the road." The
bird began to screech and ruffle its feathers. "The humans will burn our world
and choke us all with smoke. You deserve worse than death . . . Fire Thief."
<p
Prometheus smiled again. "And I have a punishment worse than death, don't
I? My cousin Zeus chained me here in the sun and snow, in the wind and
hail, always to suffer but never to die."
<p
A big gray tongue rolled from the side of the bird's cruel beak. "And worse,
Prometheus, and worse. You have me. The Fury. The great Avenger of the
gods."
<p
The bird began to pant. "What am I going to do, Prometheus?"
<p
Prometheus opened his eyes as wide as a baby. "Oh! I don't know! What
have you done every day for the last two hundred years, Fury? You have
used your little beak to peck into my side and pull out my liver. You have
killed me every morning for one hundred years. And every night I return to life
to suffer again the next dawn."
<p
"I don't peck," the bird snarled. "I tear."
<p
"Feels like a peck to me," Prometheus said with a sad shake of his head.
<p
The Fury was furious. "I don't pull your liver—I rip and rive it from your body."
"Feels like a little tug to me," the man shrugged, and the chains rattled
against the rock.
<p
The bird's claws clattered as it stamped angrily. "I wish Zeus would let me
tear out your lying tongue and your laughing eyes," it screeched.
<p
"Sorry, just my little old liver," the man sighed. "Come closer, Fury."
The bird froze. "What?"
<p
"I want to tell you about my dream."
<p
"Why would I want to hear your dream? You'll be dreaming the dreams of the
dead in a moment when I tear and rip your body."
<p
"Ah, it was such a dream, though. The sort of a dream you have once in two
hundred years," the man murmured.
<p
The bird edged closer. It wiped its beak against the cold rock to sharpen the
tip. "Lift your head, Prometheus," the bird screeched. "Look at the valley.
That smoke down there choked me this morning. Smoke from the fires that
YOU gave to those pitiful human animals. Your liver will taste all the better
this morning."
<p
The bird lunged at the man's side. The hand of Prometheus slipped free of
the chain and grasped the bird by the neck. It gave a startled squawk. Its
black eyes bulged, and its body struggled. But the more its body writhed, the
more its neck ached.
<p
"I haven't finished telling you about my dream," the man said, and his voice
was as soft as his hand was hard. "In my dream my friend Hercules came up
the mountain. He is the strongest creature in the world. Stronger than me."
Prometheus sighed and squeezed the feathered neck a little
harder. "Stronger than you. And Hercules snapped my chains like they were
made out of grass. Just like I am going to snap your neck now."
<p
The bird writhed and croaked. "You said it was a dream."
<p
"I lied," Prometheus said with a laugh. "I still have friends." He squeezed
again. "Strong friends, like Hercules. Good friends who think that I was
unfairly treated. Friends who sent Hercules to set me free last night."
<p.
"A dream, you said!"
<p
"A dream come true."
<p
"Zeus will never let you escape," the bird gasped. "No matter where you try to
hide on this earth, he will find you."
<p
Prometheus shrugged and shook off the broken chains. "Maybe I won't hide
in this world," he murmured. He squeezed. There was a crunch of broken
bone, a small sigh, and the monstrous bird hung limp in the man's hands. He
flung it away from him in disgust, its cruel beak and curved claws clattering
on the cool rock.
<p
Prometheus rose and stretched. The world lay beneath him. He set off down
the mountainside, his legs stiff from 200 years of chains. He felt like he was
being watched. He stopped and looked back. The eyes of the monstrous bird
were dull and dead. He squinted up into the morning sun and saw a shadow
cross it. The shadow of a long-necked bird. A swan.
<p
The young man closed his eyes for a moment and groaned. "Zeus," he
hissed. "Zeus." He looked for somewhere to hide. But on the bleak, bare
mountain there was nowhere at all.