“Interesting move, ipotane. Fine, I accept, and since you challenged me, I get to set the rules.” Apollo, the god of music and knowledge, was in his element of control. A beloved son of Zeus, as well as one of the twelve Olympians, which meant he commanded a great deal of power and had no qualms using it against anyone who crossed him.

“Fair enough, sir.” Marsyas tugged on his beard and started to think challenging the god to a musical contest might not have been a great idea, but he knew he could win. He was good and wanted the high praise this particular god would surely offer when he lost.

“We’ll each play a tune on our favored instrument and then the Muses will decide who was best. Winner decides the forfeit. You go first,” Apollo shook his hand and finished with a muttered, “good luck.”

There was a mixture of mortals and immortals alike at the party in the grove. The mood had been great and he’d felt inspired to liven up the atmosphere even further with music, hence the contest. Those around him while he’d played earlier had shouted out compliments that fed his ego. He already knew he was good, but to hear others confirm it without prompting gave him a feeling of empowerment.

People meandered around and formed a circle around him and Apollo. Beneath the tall pine trees, there was a clearing, and Marsyas wasted no time in stepping forward.

Ignoring the

rumble of nerves racing through his body, the first blast of air he blew through the reeds was note perfect and he was immediately lost in his music. He felt the tune he played run through his veins and out to the crowd. It was a true pleasure for him to share his skill with others and for them to feel the same joy. When the last note swirled around the party, he heard shouts of delight coming at him from all angles.

Marsyas smiled big, felt his performance was one of his best ever, and looked toward his opponent. He’d wanted to see some sort of proof Apollo had enjoyed his music, an approval of his musical abilities, but instead found an odd look on his face.

Needing support, his gaze raced around the partygoers to see if he could find some. From passionate groupings to laughter, there was happiness being expressed in a variety of ways, and he accepted them each as personal accolades. The celebratory ambiance ensured he felt successful, although the Muses had the final say. Feeling better, he looked back to the immortal. Instead of preparing to start his song, the god beckoned him forward. When he stopped in front of Apollo, the god reached out and tugged him close to his side.

“That was beyond words. Your playing inspired me to offer a forfeit in exchange for quality intimate time with you and your gorgeous form.” As he spoke, the god stroked a hand down his arm, and finally traced his form with what felt like lust. The god’s hands went from the top of his head, past his ears to his full twitching tail.

“Intimate time?” Marsyas knew what the immortal meant, sex, but he hadn’t been prepared to be propositioned in exchange for the win. The only thing he was thinking about was that they were in the midst of dueling with their musical talents. There was nothing else being offered.

“Sex, ipotane. You and your playing turned me on unlike any other for some time,” the god said quietly as he slid a hand over his obvious erection. “I want to relieve the pleasurable tension you created, with you.”

Flattered, even though he’d never been attracted to men, he made the mistake in not giving the offer enough attention. He was too intent on their contest and, unfortunately, the next words he uttered made the situation worse.

“No, that’s not to my taste, although I’m honored by your offer. Now, I believe it’s your turn to play, sir.”

Fire flared in Apollo’s eyes and Marsyas stepped back. Without another word, the god collected his lyre, and stepped into the clearing. He’d never doubted the immortal was a great musician, he was the god of music after all, but he turned out to be even better than Marsyas had imagined. When the tune finished, he clapped with real appreciation for the other’s skill. After receiving his portion of praise, Apollo nodded in his direction with anger written across his face, and then looked to the Muses.

“What say you, artistically, literary, musically inclined ladies? Who was the better of us two at playing our instruments of choice?”

Marsyas looked toward the group of women animatedly talking amongst themselves for the final answer. The longer they took, the more he worried about the outcome. Music was his life. That’s how he spent his every waking moment.

Of course he was the better musician, wasn’t he?

Finally, after much discussion, the muse for music, Euterpe, turned to the crowd. “You were both wonderful and, after much debate, we were unable to pick one over the other. It’s a tie. Apollo, as the challenged person and one who set the rules for the contest, it’s for you to decide what breaks the stalemate.”

Pleased to not be told he had lost the challenge, Marsyas smiled, and turned to the god of music to hear what they had to do next. He would win and be labeled the best musician. Watching the immortal intently, he noticed the look of anger hadn’t lessened. Tugging his full beard again, he realized Apollo’s bad mood couldn’t possibly bode well for him or his quest. Then, with a few words, his world crashed.

“We play our instruments again, while singing.”

“I can’t sing at the same time as playing the pipes,” he called out in frustration. All he wanted was for the god to create another option, but the immortal chose to take his words as his capitulation.

“Muses?” Apollo called out while looking unblinkingly at Marsyas.

“Then the God of Music wins and must decide upon the penalty.”

Stunned at the surprising end of the contest, the crowd muttered amongst themselves. A few came up to him, offering their support and condolences, but he wasn’t comforted. He believed Apollo was reacting to being denied time with his body.

No matter what, he wouldn't be forced to submit to someone else’s desire, no matter who they were. Besides, he had been the best musician, not Apollo.

The minute he thought about being better than an Olympian, he realized what a monumental error in judgment he’d made.

Marsyas took a deep breath and backed away, melding in with the crowd. He’d allowed his ego, hybris, to grow to extraordinary lengths until it controlled his actions. The immortal wasn’t at fault, he was, and would now have to accept the price Apollo decided upon without any words of dissent.

As the crowd shifted around him, he suddenly became aware he heard no music playing in his head like he normally would, but there was a voice he knew.

Cinyras, a son of Apollo’s and a man who also wanted to be recognized for his own musical prowess, presented the sacrifice he’d be handed. He spoke out, loud and clear from amongst the masses, stating what he wasn’t yet ready to hear.

“I just came from my father’s side and he’s going to string the arrogant ipotane up from that tree over there and then slowly strip the skin his body. After that, if he’s still alive…”

Marsyas didn’t wait to hear anything more. He moved back further through the crowd and then, without anyone noticing, managed to slip away. While he had no intention of hiding from the price he must pay for allowing his ego to exceed common sense, he would like time to come to terms with the imminent end of his life.

He ran faster through the trees, harder until he struggled for breath, and the guilt of what was about to happen overtook his mind and heart. His mistake would cost more than his life.

It would ultimately be the end of the ipotane race, his people.