From beneath the soil
Deep in Tartarus, the Moirai spun the threads for every living creature. None were exempt from their scope. The dark cave in which the three crones did their work contained an endless blackness. The tapestry, which extended up the cavern walls around them and out of sight, was the only exception. Its surface seemed to waver and writhe as circumstances coiled threads together, tore them apart, and changed their colour. There was no definitive pattern to the piece, the shape and form was dictated by the instinct of its creators. The threads were a multitude of colours where each creature had their own individuality. Some were vivid, sparkling in the gloom, where others were faded and dark.
The ever-growing tapestry was nurtured and managed by each Fate. Clotho was the youngest, her distaff suspended in the air before her. It drew in the darkness like a lightning rod, coalescing into a mass at the distaffs upper end. From there the dark wool was guided by Clotho’s hands to her spindle, where the thread would begin to take shape. The next fate, Lachesis, would draw the thread from the end of the spindle and pin the newly born string to the tapestry. Pinching her fore-finger and thumb along the thread, Lachesis would stretch it against her measuring rod. This would give the thread its colour and dictate that persons experiences, destiny, and personality. There the threads would remain, extending like a web from the spindle to the tapestry, until they met the shears of the third fate. The inevitable Atropos. Her shears would sever them from life and their thread would fully seat itself into the tapestry, the only reminder of their existence on the surface.
The three continued silently in their immortal work. Each fate’s hands moving slowly, precisely and with purpose. Their work only finished when the very fabric of the world had lived out its own thread.
Their movements weren’t interrupted when a shrouded figure began to materialise out of the darkness. The figure lifted its hood to reveal the grey, sallow face of a man. He looked to the Fates with clear distaste.
“I have an eternal misery to live out. What is it you want sisters?”
The man’s voice was unusually compelling for his thin appearance. Thick and convincing, it would numb your mind in waves. That voice was built to manipulate, planting ideas and thoughts, ensnaring you into a deadly trance. A fitting gift for the daimone of depression, despair, and self-doubt.
“We have a request”
“I gathered that. I’m not a servant on call. My time used to be precious.”
Moros replied sarcastically. He moved closer to his sisters. To others it may have seemed intimidating but his gesture didn’t disturb them.
“Excess time can be a burden rather than a blessing. Too much of a commodity tarnishes its value”
Lachesis commented. She measured out her newest thread, contemplating its length. Moros loomed over the middle sister.
“Value is relative. It’s my choice what I do with it. I could choose to find the time to inflict my gifts onto you three”
Moros sneered. The Moirai maintained a calm composure, he wasn’t getting the reaction he wanted. Moros sighed loudly.
“That said I still can’t do my best work banished under the surface.”
He lamented. The sister closest to him, Clotho, smiled slightly.
“It’s endearing you think you would have an effect on us. Besides we are very familiar with your gifts and their work without being the recipients.”
She replied. Moros looked to his own sleek black thread on the tapestry. It coiled its way around other threads, choking them and cutting them short.
“Well it’s good to know my power is recognised”
Moros commented in a mocking tone, taking a slight bow.
“You would do well to be more respectful. Your interference increases my workload”
Atropos declared, closing her shears for emphasis.
“Someone needs to keep you occupied.”
“Enough. We called you here to listen not talk”
“I thought you would be more courteous, not many hear me talk and live long enough to remember it.”
Moros goaded. When he didn’t get a reply, he sighed again and motioned for the Fates to continue.
“Fine, I have time to waste. What is it?”
“We need you to give a message to Cronus”
Moros’ eyes widened in shock.
“Are you three insane? Of course, I can deliver a message. Why don’t we all have a daytrip to the surface? I’m sure his golden majesty king Cronus would just adore a casual drop in from his cousins. He has always had a special place in his heart for our kind. My specialty is encouraging self-destruction not partaking in it.”
Moros ranted. The Fates continued their slow careful movements in silence while Moros could fully process what they were asking of him. Their grey eyes stared into the distance but he could feel their attention on him.
“Why not send Nemesis? Or Dolos? I hear he’s an apprentice of Iapetus’ sons these days. Riveting as this is I’m not going on a suicide attempt to the surface. What could possibly entice me to do such a thing?”
They explained in unison. Moros raised his eyebrow incredulously, his interest piqued.
“The bottom of the tapestry. What do you see?”
Atropos continued. Moros looked at Gaea’s thread, a thick emerald green rope, protruding from the end of the tapestry. From it emerged a web of small, uniform white hairs. These threads were different from the others. They remained separate and their ends were not connected to Clotho’s spindle. Instead they re-joined with Gaea’s own thread and emerged again in waves. Moros crossed his arms impatiently.
“I’m getting sick of riddles.”
“Each of those white threads represents a mortal. They are a race of people that Cronus created. Not so different from those Ouranos let you play with in the past. They are born from Gaea and kept in luxury on the surface. Until they die and re-join her”
“I didn’t know there was such a race”
“You find yourself and your siblings banished to the realms of the underworld and don’t think to question why the king went to the effort? Cronus idolises them. He would do anything to protect them and keep them from the influences of your brethren.”
“Splendid. Am I supposed to jump to your whim for a few easy morsels? I thought you would give me more credit than that. I have no desire to fight Cronus. Find someone else.”
Moros turned and began to meld into the shadows.
“He won’t be king for long”
The Moirai said in unison. Moros didn’t know what made him hesitate. Maybe it was the omniscient tone of their voices, or the vague glimmer of hope of being let free. To be set loose upon the world to do what he did best. The Moirai continued to speak, their instinct taking over.
“The golden era shall not last,
Destined to fade,
As bright and fleeting as the setting sun,
The titans will set as six heirs rise,
Once son usurps father,
The cycle becomes full again.”
Each of the crones said their lines in turn. Moros always had a quip or a retort, but he found himself speechless. A shiver ran up his spine and his breathing quickened. As the words of the prophecy rang through his ears he could see what they saw. Moros could hear his victim’s whimpers, delighting in their sadness and lapping up every drop of their despair. His work had stopped when the titans took over. He hungered, he yearned, for that feeling again. It filled his mind every minute. He had tried denying it but nothing could distract him from his true calling.
“What do you need me to do?”
Moros could barely keep his voice level as he quivered in anticipation. He hadn’t felt such exhilaration since before the fall of Ouranos.
“Deliver the prophecy to Cronus. He may appreciate a reminder…..”
The Moirai continued to explain their plans. None of the daimones noticed a small pale green thread emerge from Gaea’s. The small thread twisted and turned towards the other mortal threads, as if seeking them out. The surrounding white threads loosely began to coil around it, taking on pale colours of their own.
“That’s it” I heard as I strained to extend my arms and legs.
“Come on dearest” I pushed further, the encouraging voice pushing me on. Suddenly, the soil above me gave way and I straightened my back. I fully stood, the taste of the earth still in my mouth, and felt the enveloping heat of the sun on my skin. A squeal of delight rang in my ears.
“It’s not every day you see the birth of a mortal!” The voice exclaimed excitedly. I opened my eyes and saw an angelic woman before me. Her violet eyes met mine, they were full of excitement. Her waist length curls of blonde hair shone, golden, in the sunlight. The yellow shine contrasted with the stark white of her feathered wings, surrounding us as she moved closer. Each feather was traced with silver that glimmered with every step. The silky material of her lilac chiton brushed lightly against my skin as she embraced me. I knew I would never forget the next words she whispered in my ear.
“Welcome to this beautiful land”
“I don’t understand” I whispered back. She broke our embrace and held me at arm’s length, still beaming.
“I am Astraea custodian of the southern province. You must meet the rest of your kind”
“What?” I gasped as she moved, revealing a large crowd behind her. They were all looking at Astraea eagerly. Unease began to weigh on me more than the earth had.
She squeezed my hand in reassurance.
“I’ll be here every step of the way”
I swallowed hard and we stepped forward out of the overturned soil and onto the grass.
“As mortal custodian, appointed by his majesty high king Cronus, I introduce you all too….”
Astraea paused and looked at me expectantly. I didn’t know what she wanted from me but the word was murmured from my lips before I could think.
“Callidora!” Astraea echoed.
“Your new addition, Callidora”
The crowd continued to stand, resolute. They seemed more interested in Astraea’s words than mine. Their unblinking stares were fixed on the goddess, as if she were their only light in a dark cave. They remained transfixed when the ground began to shift under my feet. I turned and saw the small patch of over-turned earth, where I had been born, change before us. The earth shuddered back into its original place and a tree began to sprout and grow. In moments a fully-grown elm tree stood where I had been born.
“I think Gaea approves of you”
Astraea beamed. But I could see in the set of her mouth and the slight puzzled look on her face that something wasn’t right. Her warmth had ebbed slightly. Slowly the elm bent a branch down, which Astraea broke off slowly and deliberately. In her hands the branch curved into a wreath, sprouting delicate red flowers.
“We have a new arrival to celebrate” Astraea placed the wreath on my head and traced the side of my face lovingly with her hand. Her touch now felt like ice. An echo of tradition and regimen. There was so much I didn’t know but I felt in my core this wasn’t how this normally happened for Astraea.
“Callidora means the gift of beauty. It’s definitely a fitting name”
I smiled weakly at the complement. Astraea then turned to the crowd spreading her silver gilded wings.
“We shall hold a celebration for Callidora. I’m going to announce the good news back at the palace”
The crowd remained eerily silent as they took in her commands.
“I will return just after sunset to begin the celebrations.”
Astraea assured me as she gave me one last smile and leapt into the air. Seeing the reaction of the crowd I resisted the urge to stare after her as Astraea’s figure, sparkling silver and gold, grew smaller into the distance. When the last traces of her had disappeared, the crowd began to dissipate to their various tasks.
I could see the large flower meadow spread out before me. The emerald grass dotted with flowers in more colours and shapes than I could count. Beyond them the meadow was ringed by the trees of the forest. The crowd had now expanded across the meadow and into the forest collecting what Astraea had requested of them. But one had lingered. Her gaze shifting from the tree to me, her hazel eyes fixed on mine. They were different from Astraea’s. I couldn’t place it but I felt that there was something lacking that set them apart.
From her tone the words sounded more like a statement than an introduction. The despondent look in her eyes left me unsettled. We stood in front of each other in silence for many moments. I cleared my throat and managed a weak smile.
“Nice to meet you”
Like a spark setting light to dried leaves Xyanthe smiled back. The detached air around her evaporated and her posture straightened, even her dark hair seemed to lighten a shade. I frowned, unsure of what to make of the woman’s change.
“Is there something wrong?”
Xyanthe asked as she placed a hand on my shoulder. Even her voice was less terse. Her hand was warmer than I expected.
“No nothing. I was just wondering what preparations everyone is making”
“There is a stream over to the south and the best place to pick fruit and berries is in that direction. There will also be wood collected for pyres and animals will probably approach the meadow soon too.”
Xyanthe seemed more animated as she pointed in various directions. Many in the crowd had already left into the trees. This seemed like a lot of effort to me, especially since none of them had even met me. The fact that they were so easily commanded was unsettling.
“Is a celebration like this done for every birth?”
Xyanthes’ brow furrowed as if searching for the answer was causing her discomfort.
“I………… I can’t be sure”
“Wasn’t it the same for yours?”
I could see Xyanthe tense and rub her temples. I had to distract her before I caused her anymore distress. I looked quickly for a different topic and spotted the flowers at our feet.
“These flowers, the purple ones they look nice”
Xyanthes’ discomfort eased as I diverted her attention.
“They’re called an Iris.”
She bent down and picked one for me to admire.
Eventually we sat at the base of the elm as I distracted Xyanthe with questions about the plants, the forest, and the celebrations to come. All the time I had my eye trained on the horizon for Astraea’s return. If Xyanthe couldn’t answer my questions then maybe she could.
In a world of her own, Rhea lounged upon a divan. One hand on her pregnant stomach, the other held lazily by her elder sister. Theia sat on velvet cushions in front of her, holding her hand and talking with the other titanides. The divan was forged of ornately carved gold, depicting olive trees whose branches snaked their way across its entire frame. The soft fabrics draped across it were various shades of yellow and orange. The six sisters were arranged in a circle of cushions, of similar colours, and various trays laden with delicious food. Rhea had insisted that she could join her sisters on the floor but, to her reluctance, they had two mortals bring the divan from the throne room.
“You don’t want any unintentional harm to the little one”
They had said. She admired their concern but Rhea knew the child’s fate and it made her heart ache. The thought made her wince and caused her hand to flinch.
“Are you ok?”
Theia asked, noticing her sudden movement, stroking Rhea’s fingers with her thumb.
“Just a kick, nothing to worry about Tia.”
Rhea smiled, running a hand through Theia’s blonde locks reassuringly. Her sisters sky blue eye’s glittered a smile back.
“Alright if you’re getting tired just say so”
“I think I have energy enough to hear you all gossip”
Thiea squeezed Rhea’s hand and resumed her conversation with Phoebe. Theia was always a positive and caring individual, which had made Rhea’s pregnancy all the harder. Seeing her sister care about a niece or nephew she would never meet was difficult, but Rhea didn’t have the heart to reject her kindness. Rhea went back to her own world. Usually the meetings always went the same way. The intention was to discuss the ruling of the provinces but since the world lived off the bounty from their mother, Gaea, little input from the titans themselves was needed. The younger generations regulated the weather and acted as ambassadors to resolve minor conflicts that weren’t worth the titans’ attention.
It had been this way since Cronus and his brothers had overpowered their father, Ouranos. Cronus had separated the land according to the four cardinal directions. Phoebe and Coeus ruled the north, Krios and his wife Eurybia governed the south, Hyperion and Theia presided over the east, which left Iapetus and his wife Clymene to manage the lands to the west. Themis and Mnemosyne found their purpose with the mortals teaching them order and language. Tethys and Oceanus governed all oceans and water bodies while Rhea and Cronus ruled as king and queen from the centre of the land where their palace stood.
Rhea and Cronus’ palace was a sight to behold. Every wall and every floor were made of marble, lined with vibrant gold veins. Each window and door frame was ornately carved with symbols representing the couple. Each room was adorned with the finest furniture and decor. Themis had always complained it was too extravagant but Rhea never really paid attention, even as a child Themis had been pious. To others it seemed like more rooms than she needed but Rhea desperately wanted to fill those rooms with a dynasty of her own. Like her siblings had done at their own residences.
The sisters were currently using one of the smaller lounges. This was Rhea’s favourite which she had nicknamed the ‘sunset room’. The two large windows letting in the evening light of the setting sun illuminated the room with reds and oranges, which caused the gold viens in the marble to glitter warmly. It always brought back the memories of her mother holding Rhea when the sun set to comfort her childhood fear of the dark. She was admiring the sunlight on the pillars either side of the door when Themis raised her voice.
“Ah Phoebe I forgot to ask how Lelantus was doing as the new northern ambassador?”
Themis’ voice had that tone she used when she wanted to make a point about something. Phoebe remained fairly stoic. She was not very expressive and maintained an even more impassive air with Themis. As the titaness of bright intellect, Phoebe had the kind of knowing countenance and piercing eyes that could read a soul like words on paper. She and her husband mostly concerned themselves with the acquisition of cosmic knowledge, reading what they could from the axes of the earth and stars. As a result, Themis’ opinion of what was proper didn’t have much value to Phoebe.
“He is doing well. Leto has decided to join him in the forest and help with his ambassadorial duties since Periboia is close to having the baby.”
Phoebe replied, her expression didn’t give anything away. Themis continued to push forward with the topic regardless.
“Yes, yes. The………….. Oceanid is doing well? Has he even requested Eros to wed them yet?”
Themis probed. She watched Tethys, who was clutching the edge of her cushion in her fists, from the corner of her eye. She knew Tethys was always defensive of her daughters.
“My son does what makes him happy and I’ve seen the child will be healthy. That’s all I care about.”
She replied in a level tone. If Phoebe had been offended by Themis she didn’t show it.
“Of course, sister, you must care about his happiness. I’m just saying she might need some reassurance that his loyalty remains with her. After all those nymphs can be….. distracting and there are many who would want his attention”
“I dare you to say that again!”
Tethys exclaimed, unable to hold her tongue. Her deep sapphire eyes trained on Themis like knives. A slight grin played on Themis’ lips. She had got the reaction she wanted. If you or your family were doing something Themis didn’t approve of she always enjoyed telling you why, usually with an audience present for maximum effect.
“Now sister there is no need to raise your voice. I just meant that maybe the younger generations would know more of proper conduct if your daughters devoted more of their time to their appropriate duties”
Themis replied with an emphasised snotty tone, casually brushing a grey lock of hair behind her ear. Theia and Phoebe shared an uneasy glance, neither one wanting to get involved. Rhea sympathised most with Mnemosyne who was seated between Themis and Tethys. Tethys’ scaled skin visibly bristled.
“Don’t you dare criticise my children. If you have anything to say to me I canmorethan handle you myself.”
Tethys stated with gritted teeth. Mnemosyne’s eyes shifted from one sister to the other, her face clearly showing regret at her choice of seat.
“Let’s just calm down. Remember....”
Mnemosyne tried to appease her sisters to diffuse the tension, but to no avail.
“Quiet Mnemosyne. It’s time she learned the proper conduct required of her status.”
Themis rudely interrupted. Unfortunately, in this state of mind Themis wouldn’t be hushed and would have the last word.
“I have spent years honing my foresight to benefit this land. I have taught proper order to the residents of the provinces. Oceanus and yourself barely come to shore, what exactly is your contribution? It’s not my fault if you didn’t set the right example for your daughters. If you can’t handle that then I suggest there are some changes you have to make”
Themis lectured. She turned her chin up at Tethys and proceeded to pick up one of the honey cakes from a gold tray. Mnemosyne sank into the cushions while the other three sisters looked on in horror, this was the farthest Themis had ever gone. You could see something snap in Tethys’ eyes. She jumped to her feet and knocked the honey cake from Themis’ hand, sending the tray of honey cakes all over a now surprised Mnemosyne.
“How dare you question my role and dictate how my children should live. I am proud of them providing water throughout the provinces and I will not have you belittle that. It seems your precious order is worthless without progeny to teach it to.”
Tethys argued back. Themis stood to her sister face-to-face, breaking her calm and level facade.
“How would you know the importance of order? With morals as loose as yours?”
Themis retorted. With that the two ferociously began hurling insults at each other. Mnemosyne had now fully immersed herself in a protective shell of orange cushion and honey cake. Theia watched, her mouth wide, while Phoebe shifted uneasily. This wasn’t the first time Themis had caused a seething argument with Tethys but it had never degenerated to insults. Rhea was sick and tired of the performance.
“STOP THIS CHILDISH DISPLAY AT ONCE!! YOU ARE TITANS. ACT LIKE IT!”
Rhea shouted. Themis and Tethys fell silent as Rhea’s shout echoed around the room. In the group of six Rhea was always the grounding force between them. Being pregnant she now leaned toward more explosive means. Rhea rubbed her forehead in an effort to divert a headache.
“We had this meeting to discuss matters concerning the provinces and so far all you two have achieved is a squabbling session”
Rhea scolded as she looked from one to the other.
“We are by no means perfect but we each have our role to play. I should think that two equally important parts of this land would have the wisdom to be able to at least becivil”
The two avoided Rhea’s eyes like chastised children. Tethys even began fiddling with the belt holding her teal chiton in place. Rhea lounged back on her divan and let out a deep breath when she had finished her speech. Instantly Theia was at her side buzzing around her nervously. Mnemosyne stood, brushing the crumbs off of her sleek black chiton and picking them out of the curls of her long black hair.
“Rhea is right just make amends”
Mnemosyne said, relieved the ordeal was over. Out of the two Tethys was the only one which showed any remorse. Themis took stray strands of hair which had come loose and put them back into her hair clasp, which was encrusted with quartz beads.
“I may have been excessive in giving my advice”
Themis set her jaw as she managed a forced apology. Tethys raised an eyebrow and sighed when she knew it was the best she was going to get.
“Next time I won’t over-react as I did”
Tethys admitted. Theia whipped round on them both.
“Is that the best you can manage? Who do you two think you are putting this kind of strain on Rhea? You know the trouble she has had in the past”
Theia scolded putting her hands on her hips. Theia’s cheerful sky blue eyes had darkened to a stormy, deeper colour. Theia had her hair up and wore a bright cream chiton held by a matching belt with a clasp in the shape of the sun, a symbol of her husband. Theia was one of the most caring of the sisters but if you crossed one of her family her temper could match Tethys’. Phoebe wrapped a comforting arm around Thiea’s shoulders. Her violet eyes trained on Tethys and Themis.
“As much as you are right, I don’t see any harm done. I think Rhea has chastised them enough Tia”
“Phoebs is right. I’m fine”
Rhea assured Theia.
“Alright but I think we can arrange this for another time”
Theia said in a concerned tone as she sat by Rhea’s side and took her hand. Rhea absent-mindedly rubbed one of her green eyes.
“Maybe that would be for the best”
Rhea conceded. Theia smiled and kissed her on the cheek. She rose from the divan and hugged Phoebe and Mnemosyne in turn.
“I’ll visit soon. I think I’ve left Hyperion and Helios alone for far too long”
Theia said. She gave Themis a dirty look as she walked from the lounge.
“Rest well Rhea. Are you coming Themis?”
Mnemosyne asked making her way out of the room, still picking crumbs from her chiton.
Themis stated. Mnemosyne and Themis locked arms and disappeared in bright light, to which Phoebe lifted an eyebrow.
“I would have expected some hint of remorse. Our Themis ever the conundrum.”
Phoebe remarked. She took a seat beside Rhea who was looking wistfully out of the window.
“She loves us in her own way. At least she has found her way”
Rhea said, sounding forlorn. Phoebe held her hand reassuringly.
“I’m sorry for your losses sister. I wish I could have seen it coming but the truth of the matter is no-one is to blame.”
As Phoebe tried to console her sister Rhea had tears in her eyes.
“What do you see Phoebe?”
Rhea whispered. Phoebe placed her other hand on her sister’s stomach.
“I’m sorry I wish I could see more. My sight is usually clear but there is something preventing me from receiving any signs. However I do see he will be loved and that is what matters”
“I’m having a son?”
Phoebe smiled as the news perked up Rhea’s mood.
“Yes and he will be handsome and strong. A credit to his mother and his father.”
When Phoebe mentioned Cronus Rhea tensed.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, no just a kick. You said you were visiting your daughter in the southern province after the meeting?”
Rhea said diverting the subject. She managed a weak smile while withdrawing her hand from Phoebe’s.
“Yes. Just a short visit. It’s difficult with her being away but she seems happy. Hecate is growing fast as well. She is coming close to the age her abilities will present themselves. I have a feeling they are meant for something special. If I am going to make to them before nightfall I should be going. Goodbye sister”
Phoebe hugged Rhea as she said her farewell. As she left the lounge she walked past Tethys, who was still standing awkwardly amongst the cushions.
“You should have more consideration than Themis”
Phoebe whispered to Tethys, shutting the door behind her as she left. Tethys stood awkwardly for a few minutes more before Rhea spoke.
“Don’t worry on my account, it’s not the first time.”
Rhea assured her sister, readjusting her belt and brown chiton to a more accommodating position for her pregnant body. Tethys couldn’t help but notice how pregnancy always suited Rhea. Her brown hair and olive skin glowed, even if her temper did worsen. Before Rhea could lift herself from the divan Tethys sat next to her.
“I apologize Rhea I know the delicate position you are in and I should have been more considerate”
“Please Tethys don’t. It is ok just help me get up so I can go to bed and rest”
“I know losing five children is hard but I know this little boy is healthy and strong”
Tethys continued, she felt she had to say something after acting so rashly. Rhea’s hand began to shake
“To lose two sons and a daughter in child birth can’t be easy for you or Cronus, not to mention losing Hestia and Hera to illness so soon after”
Rhea insisted, her voice cracking as tears began to make their way down her cheeks. She could hold herself together when they weren’t mentioned but thoughts of her children plagued her mind every moment.
“No I have to say this. You haven’t talked about any of them after their deaths and I want to help. I can’t imagine what it’s like keeping this bottled.........”
“I see their faces every day Tethys. Hestia, Demeter, Hades, Hera and Posiedon their names are etched into my heart. You don’t know what it’s like to hold your child, hoping that in the next second they’ll breathe. After feeling hem grow within you wondering what kind of person they will be, looking forward to all the memories you’ll make together and in seconds it’s gone. I already told you I can’t talk. Every time I do it hurts and no amount of time can wash it away so please save me the pain and just go. You can’t understand it. Most of you have your children still. You get to be proud, to be taken for granted and loved in return so spare me.”
Rhea’s tone became bitter in an effort to push Tethys away. But she held onto her hand regardless. Tethys was crying as well and continued to share.
“Please Rhea I miss them too I still remember when Hera and Hestia would play with my daughters. They were such lovely children……”
“Enough Tethys I’m tired just go”
Rhea said. She pulled her hand from Tethys’ grasp and managed to stand.
“Unlike me you have a family to attend to”
The sun was setting before Astraea saw her Grandfathers mountain-side home. As she flew closer the goddess began to glide to the enormous gateway. The high marble walls glinted like ivory in the evening light.
‘I hope he listens this time’
Astraea thought as she came closer. She righted herself and glided slowly to a flat marble platform just below the gates. She wasn’t the only member of her grandfathers family to have wings and he objected to having his roof used as a landing platform. Before her feet had even brushed the cool marble, she rushed to the main gate. The gate itself was of simple construction, two large square towers with a pair of dark wooden doors between them. Every block of stone was made of stark white marble with deep azure veins tracing their way seamlessly around the structure.
The gate watchers spotted the approaching goddess and promptly bowed as the large doors opened. Normally she would have stopped to greet them but she was in too much of a rush to notice them now. She began to ascend the stairs that led from the gates to the citadel. Astraea couldn’t help but think that she could have flown up them in half the time.
Eventually she reached the top into the entrance hall. The hall itself was more of an open amphitheatre with a series of columns arranged in a square. Black curtains drifted lazily between the ornately carved stone pillars. The roofless hall was mostly used for entertaining guests and other official functions, in an effort to the keep the residential buildings more private. There were loungers and tables with bowls and glasses lying in wait to receive company. But all were empty, alone and unused for tonight.
“Please don’t be visiting others today”
Astraea said to the empty air. The titans were close siblings and were very common visitors in each other’s homes. Astraea brushed aside the layers of fabric and emerged from the hall. Krios’ palace was one of the most difficult to navigate. Astraea looked out onto the large citadel built on the mountainside, ringed by the marble wall.
Some would have found the wall imposing but to Astraea such a thing was more an inconvenience. There were many smaller buildings scattered in the forest landscape. These were the residences for the descendants of Krios, the titan of the stars and constellations. She could see the tall slender tower she shared with her parents and brothers. Krios’ own home was the largest and built in the centre.
Astraea started down one of the many mountain paths which led from the entrance hall. Krios’ wife Eurybia had insisted the landscape within the walls remained at its most natural as a homage to her mother Gaea. Astraea hastened her pace as the path through the forest grew darker under the elongating shadows of the trees. Before long she had reached the high columns of Krios’ home, made of the same marble as the gates. She made her way up yet more steps and into the corridors of the palace.
Astraea called as she darted from room to room, each lit by the soft orange of the setting sun. Eventually she bumped into one of the mortals of the palace.
“Your Grace. Is there anything I can help you with?”
Astraea acknowledged him as he bowed his head in greeting. She didn’t recognise his boyish features. Her grandfather was always accepting new mortals into the palace, but only when they volunteered. Most volunteered to serve the gods out of respect rather than force but they still showed subservience to the titans who lived there. Astraea inclined her head.
“I’m sorry but I don’t know your name. Could you tell me where grandfather is?”
Astraea said politely. The servant only smiled and bowed.
“Pacorus, your grace. I have only been here recently but I think….”
Pacorus replied. The mortal’s voice trailed off as he counted on his fingers. With each count Astraea felt the urge to tap her foot impatiently.
“About this time the master moves to the roof to watch the setting sun”
‘Great, the stairs to the roof are on the other side of the palace.’
Astraea thought impatiently. Pacorus noticed the goddesses face fall.
“I’m sorry my lady is there something wrong? Can I help?”
Ignoring his questions, Astraea grinned. She had spotted a wide window over the mortals shoulder. The urgency of her duties as custodian superseded the minor rules of the palace, surely her grandfather would understand that.
“Thank you for your help Pacorus”
Before the servant could respond Astraea was brusquely walking down the corridor, her wings spread wide. Within moments Astraea was landing on the roof. Instantly she spotted where Krios and Eurybia were lying on pillows watching the sunset in each other’s arms. Astraea saw the last rays of the sun were gleaming on the horizon and approached in earnest. She cleared her throat.
“Grandfather I have some news”
Astraea announced. The couple jumped, shocked out of their moment together. Krois turned on the pillows to face his grand-daughter. His short, sandy hair slightly tousled where Eurybia had run her hands through it. His deep, midnight blue eyes glittered in the brightening starlight. He was always more vibrant once the sun fell below the horizon.
“Astraea. It’s a pleasure to see you”
He turned awkwardly to Eurybia.
“However unexpected it may be”
Krios rose from the pillows, straightening out his black chiton. He had almost finished adjusting the silver clasp of his dark blue himation when Astraea persisted with her news.
“A mortal was born today”
“How is it you reached the roof? I don’t recall hearing your footsteps”
Krios asked, appearing to dismiss Astraea’s statement. He raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“I think you need to know about this one”
Astraea replied ignoring her grandfather’s queries. Krios’ eyes flicked to the side as he resisted the urge to fully roll them.
“A new mortal is not worth the effort of flying all the way here. I’m glad you are passionate about your new position but you have said the same many times before.”
“But its different this time. I swear something is going on, grandmother you understand”
“Astraea the mortals are not dying out. how many times do i have to have this conversation with you?” Eurybia said as she propped herself up better on the pillows. She grasped for her discarded silver pins and covered herself with the material of her sea blue chiton. Astraea nervously glanced to Krios then to Eurybia, she persisted despite their misgivings.
“This isn’t about all that. When the mortal was born, her name is Callidora, an elm tree grew on her birth mound. Not only that but the way she speaks and moves, its different to the others.”
While she explained the couple looked at Astraea as if she had gone mad. A few moments passed before Krios opened his mouth to speak.
“I’m not sure what the issue is Astraea. It’s not the first time Gaea has propagated a tree on a birth mound”
Astraea looked to the now dark horizon in frustration and saw the Aries constellation, Krios’ symbol, rise in the sky.
“That may be true but you weren’t there. It felt different. I’ve seen olive, pine, even cypress but never an elm in the event of a birth. The tree itself moved and lowered a branch to me. A tree has never responded like that. I know it has something to do with Gaea. She is affecting the mortals somehow; their births have been declining in the southern province since I started as custodian.”
Astraea’s explanation became more insistent. Eurybia brushed back a wisp of black hair and looking at her grand-daughter in concern.
“I think you are putting together pieces that are not there. Just because you have never seen an elm does not mean it has never happened. I know mother. She has never been known to be subtle. You should just enjoy this as any other birth.”
“I have spent enough time as their custodian to know when something is wrong. Please, Callidora could be a warning, maybe if I could bring her here you could see it too”
Astraea began to get more frantic the more her grandparents denied her theory. Krios reassuringly placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Enough now. It will be time for me to go soon and my wife and I would like to enjoy the time alone.”
Astraea looked defiantly into her grandfathers eyes. She wouldn’t be so easily diverted this time. Krios sighed.
“How about you keep watch on this mortal? If there turns out to be anything further then you can come back and we’ll look into it. But for now there truly is nothing to worry about, life is as good as it has ever been.”
The titan then joined his wife on the pillows.
“For now, go and celebrate. It is a beautiful night”
“Fine, but I will be back as soon as there is anything new”
Astraea spread her wings and started her flight back to Callidora’s birth celebration, leaving the titans to their evening together. She had a job to do and no-one was going to get in her way.