The cracks are showing
The grass felt cool on my back as I woke. I lay with my eyes shut delighting in the sun on my face. The slow breeze made the grass sway in slow waves, as if the earth was rising and falling slowly, breathing like I was.
I reluctantly roused myself fully from my sleep, maybe I could get some time alone with Astraea. With the celebrations the night before there wasn’t the chance to talk to her without a mortal present. Being who she was seemed to draw them to her like moths to a flame and it made it awkward for me to talk honestly. Even though I doubt they would be interested in anything I would say.
As I blinked away the weariness from my eyes I could see the mortals lying in circles around the burnt-out bonfires. The flames had leapt to the sky so strong, so powerful and now all that was left were piles of ash. Now black as the darkness it used to illuminate. I tried to spot anyone I knew but there were no faces I could recognise. It would be easy to assume that Astraea had other things to do and would be back later. But I started to worry about Xyanthe. Since we spent so much time together she seemed like my responsibility, despite me being the younger. I walked round the circle of people hoping to find her on the other side of the ashes but again no familiar faces.
Not sure of what to do next, I picked my way across the mass of sleeping bodies to the elm tree. When I reached the base, I couldn’t believe its height. I marvelled at the calloused bark and traced many of the lines with my fingers. They seemed to be endless, melding into the sea of branches and lush green leaves above. I leaned my head so far back that the wreath on my head fell to the ground. When I went to pick it up a jagged branch caught my eye. Looking at the wreath in my hands and then to the broken branch I made a decision.
“I think this would suit you better than me. But I don’t know what to do next.”
I said to the tree as I hung the wreath on the broken branch. The leaves seemed to rustle happily as if in thanks. A strong wind blew across the meadow, causing my hair to blow into my face in a shower of withered blossoms. Gathering my hair out of my eyes I looked up and saw that all the leaves of the elm were pointing in the same direction toward the forest. I continued to stare confused at the sign above me. A warm gust of wind stronger than the last blew me in the direction the leaves were pointing.
“Okay, okay I get it.”
I said making my way into the forest. I could feel the soil becoming richer under my feet as I weaved between the tree trunks and under low hanging tree branches. The variation of trees in the forest seemed unlimited. There were some with large leaves where others were small. Some had thick trunks, others sleek and slender. No tree shared the same combination of colours. Their leaves ranged from green to yellow to oranges and reds. The bark of each tree
varied in different shades of brown. The fruits and flowers reflected this vibrant range of colour. Some sprouted flowers from their branches and others had long thin blooms which dangled from clusters of leaves. I continued on, fantasies of swinging from the vines and travelling gracefully from tree to tree swimming through my mind. I made my way over the exposed roots of a tall tree whose bark was a rust red. Lost in my thoughts I didn’t notice a stray root and squealed as I fell, face first, into the soil. I could hear laughter and, when I recognised whose it was, continued to lie on the ground with a mixture of relief and embarassment.
“I don’t think I have ever heard that sound in the forest before. Are you alright?”
Xyanthe commented, still laughing lightly as she sat on one of thin red roots. I wondered if this was the first time she had laughed. There was something about it that sounded unsure, as if it needed practice. I sat back up and knelt on my knees.
“I’m fine, where have you been?”
I replied with a huff, noticing a round red fruit in her hand. Xyanthe raised an eyebrow
“Breakfast, isn’t that why you’re here?”
“No, I was looking for you. You weren’t with the others”
As I explained Xyanthe had a puzzled look on her face.
I asked. Xyanthe still looked confused as she took a round fleshy sphere from the fruit in her hand and popped it into her mouth. After spitting the seed out she continued to chew the pulp slowly. It was clear to me that the idea of seeking someone out was completely foreign to her. There were so many questions I wanted to ask but most of them seemed so alien to Xyanthe they caused her pain.
“Is there something wrong? Do people not really do that?”
I repeated my question again. I watched as Xyanthe pondered her response and swallowed the fruits flesh. These questions didn’t seem to hurt like the others. Suddenly her demeanour became more morose.
“I guess not. I…….I’ve never thought of it before.”
Xyanthe’s words slowed as she answered me. She put the back of her free hand to her forehead like she was diverting a headache. As quick as it came the moment passed when she turned and smiled.
She asked, suddenly oblivious of our previous topic. I decided to let it go for now and nodded. Xyanthe offered me one of the fleshy seeds from her fruit. I took it from her and I eyed it curiously. Xyanthe picked another one out herself.
“It’s called a Pomegranate. There are loads of smaller fruits inside. First you peel the flesh off with your tongue and then spit the seed out. Here I’ll show you.”
Xyanthe explained. She demonstrated by popping the small fruit into her mouth, emphasising the movement in her cheeks, and spitting the seed out.
I echoed slowly. I copied Xyanthe but swallowed it immediately, forgetting an important step. I gagged and choked as the seed made its way slowly and painfully down my throat.
“Eugh! And you actually eat these?”
I exclaimed in disgust. The soil would have gone down easier than that did. Xyanthe burst out laughing as I continued to cough and splutter. If she hadn’t laughed much before I was definitely giving her plenty of opportunities to practice.
“I guess I didn’t demonstrate right. Look the pulp is the part you eat see? You peel it off and then eat it”
Xyanthe explained again. She peeled pulp from the seed with her fingers and handed it to me. It was sticky and wet in my hand as the light red juices pooled in my palm.
“Then why do you put the whole thing in your mouth?”
I asked. I could see where Xyanthe was manoeuvring the latest seed in her mouth with her tongue ready to take off the pulp with her teeth. She swallowed and shrugged.
“Experience I guess”
Feeling a little apprehensive I lifted my palm to my mouth and threw the pulp in. Instantly I felt the sweetness of it on my tongue. Savouring the juice, I could taste some sourness before swallowing. Xyanthe handed me an entire seed as I licked the juice off my fingers.
“Mmmmmm Is this one of your favourites?”
“I assume so, I’ve been eating them every day”
Xyanthe replied. She looked at the fruit as if she was seeing it for the first time. She picked out seeds and kept handing them too me. I took each one hungrily until Xyanthe was scraping the last of the juice out with her fingers and tossing the empty red husk away.
“I know where we can get more, if you’re still hungry?”
Xyanthe said. I nodded eagerly.
“Come on then. We’ll have to be quick”
Xyanthe grasped my hand, lifting me off the ground, and starting running deeper into the forest. I hadn’t realised how much time had passed. The sun was higher in the sky casting long shadows on the forest floor, I tried my best not to trip again. The smell of tree bark and the buzz of insects intensified as the forest prepared to come alive for the day. I could have ran with Xyanthe through the forest forever, the forest was invigorating to every sense down to the soil in between my toes and the air in my lungs. However it wasn’t long before I was short of breath and feeling pain in my legs. Xyanthe noticed the tug on her hand as I began to slow down.
“It’s just a bit further”
She encouraged. Just as I was about to give in we reached a small stream. The water was crystal clear and the banks were lined with incredibly tall pomegranate trees. The deep crimson flower petals were beautiful and I would have appreciated them more if my lungs and legs weren’t in painful protest to my sudden run. I stopped to catch my breath as Xyanthe let go of my hand and walked to the stream bank.
Xyanthe called as I hunched over and heaved for breath. I could hear the rippling of the stream and the leaves of the pomegranate trees rustle. As I looked up with my breathing finally under control I gasped. She was radiant. A woman materialised from the stream. Her lustrous jet-black hair spilled to her shoulders like a fountain. She had a red pomegranate blossom nestled just above her left temple. Her skin had a translucent quality like it was made of the water itself. Her body was tall and hugged by a light green chiton which stopped mid-thigh. She was different to Astraea. Where Astraea was powerful and warm this woman exuded an undertone of fragile brilliance. She looked like she would dissolve away if you touched her.
“Xyanthe, you seem a lot more energetic today. What do you need?”
Ismenara asked. Her smooth voice flowed through the air like water; I wondered how Xyanthe managed to reply to such a voice.
“We wanted to pick a few more Pomegranates from the trees”
“Take as many as you like. Who is this?”
Ismenara asked directing her divine attention to me. She moved out of the stream and walked fluidly towards me. Xyanthe was already reaching up to the trees.
“This is Callidora she was born yesterday.”
“I..... I...... um”
I stammered, trying to compose my thoughts.
“Don’t worry. Language comes slowly to the new ones. You will get the hang of it eventually. It’s a shame Her grace Menemosyne isn’t visiting to help teach you.”
Ismenara reassured me. She turned to talk to Xyanthe when I managed to get the words out. “I can talk just fine. It’s just I haven’t seen anyone like you before.”
I explained. I could see the look in the corner of her eye at my outburst. It was the same one Astraea gave me. Ismenara smiled brilliantly and inclined her head towards me.
“Well it’s an honour to be the first Naiad you will meet”
“Hmmmmmm...... there is something about you that seems familiar. Are you sure you were born yesterday?”
Ismenara said her brow furrowing as she moved closer. My eyes snapped to hers as if she had caught me out doing something I shouldn’t. I stared into her eyes, which were searching for an answer I’m not sure I even had. She stared for what felt like an eternity.
“Ah! Maybe it’s a shared impeccable taste in hair adornment. Iris’ are a lovely choice but withered flowers never do any good for decoration”
Ismenara announced. She winked and proceeded to pick the last of the dried blooms from my hair, dropping them into the river where they drifted away. I didn’t protest. I couldn’t. I still found her presence too overwhelming. She was so close I could see the lines of scales that covered her body. As she moved I could see each of them reflecting the light like ripples in water.
The words were out before I could stop them. Shocked, I subconsciously put my hands to my mouth. The perplexed look grew in her eyes again. It seemed like my statement had caught her off guard.
“What about it?”
Ismenara replied coolly, placing her hands on her hips. I stared, eyes wide, I slowly lowered my hands from my mouth.
“I...... I was just interested..... in um... uh”
I continued stumbling over my words. My head couldn’t form a sentence in the growing panic as she stared me down. Suddenly Ismenara’s eyes softened and her lips curled into a grin.
“I’m sorry I just couldn’t help myself. Don’t worry you’re not in trouble, it would take more than that to offend me. You’re recently born it is only natural you would be curious. What do you want to know?”
“I was admiring the scales, they reflect the light beautifully”
“Really? Then watch this”
Ismenara’s eyes glittered, I doubted the other mortals were in a position to give out compliments. She took a step backward and held out her arms. Her skin began to ripple like water as the scales shifted in waves. The light floated over her body in blinding bands. I was dazzled by the sight, I never thought she could control them at will.
“The scales allow us to blend into the water”
Ismenara explained. She flattened her scales and her skin looked like my own, except for the light blue hue. She looked satisfied at my reaction. My curiosity overcame my awe.
“But why do you have to move in the water unnoticed? Is there something you’re hiding from?”
“The purpose is to connect and become one with the water. Each Naiad has its own spring, stream or fountain. We are then responsible for keeping the water clean and pure.”
“But how do you know which one is yours?”
I continued to ask. Ismenara’s eyes glittered, she never had the opportunity to share this before.
“Questions. Questions. When a nymph reaches a certain age she feels the urge to leave the ocean and come to land. It’s like a magnetism pulling us to where we are needed. If a nymph is with her water body for long enough she becomes so connected with it that its maintenance becomes more survival than duty”
“Ah ah ah that will have to wait for another time. You never give everything away first time”
Ismenara teased. Before I could ask anymore Xyanthe had returned with the pomegranates. She handed one to Ismenara and then to me. The three of us sat by the edge of the stream and started working at the fruits outer shell. I just sat staring at mine not sure how to mimic them.
“Here let me get that for you”
Ismenara said as she handed me her fruit, which already had a few seeds exposed. She took my own and started working her way inside.
“You just open the fruit with your fingernails but mind not to burst any of the seeds. It can be difficult but you get the knack of it after a while”
Ismenara explained licking some of the red juice from her fingers. I heard Xyanthe let out a triumphant grunt as she began eating the seeds too.
“Come on dig in.”
Xyanthe encouraged. The day hadn’t turned out as I planned but as I starting eating the pomegranate seeds I didn’t mind too much.
Rhea woke groggily from her nap in her large bed chamber. The room was decorated in sky blues and yellows, echoing the morning sun. The room was long and narrow with pillars in two rows leading from the door to the bed. Moonlight poured in from large arches in between the pillars leading out to balconies. Light blue curtains that hung from the ceiling to the floor in each archway. Every balcony was furnished with divans and other seating decorated with azure and gold cushions. She sat up in the bed looking at the large double doors opposite. They were carved with an image of Cronus on the left, holding a sickle, and Rhea on the right, with a baby in her arms. She stared at her husband’s visage that had been carved with a serene, thoughtful expression. He would be back soon. She could sense the presence of those she loved, even at a distance. She had never felt the need to explore her extant abilities like her sisters had but she always felt the pull on her heart when someone she cared about was near.
Rhea got out of bed and walked out onto one of the balconies, pulling the curtains behind her. She shivered and hugged herself. It wasn’t cold, she was still shaken from her talk with Tethys. Lowering herself carefully onto a divan, Rhea placed her hands protectively on her stomach.
How many times had she stared up at this same sky? Wishing and hoping Cronus would get better. How many times had she held one of her children like this? dreading the day they would be born? Rhea continued to brood on these thoughts. She didn’t notice the doors to the bedroom open and close nor the sound of sandals being kicked off. Rhea was roused from her thoughts by two muscular arms embracing her and a kiss on her forehead. She had to fight the urge to flinch at his touch.
Rhea whispered affectionately. The muscular arms released their embrace and two pale blue eyes met her green one’s.
“My dear Rhea”
Cronus whispered back kissing her again. Cronus’ wavy locks of blonde hair were dishevelled and his chiton was unpinned, held only by his belt. His chest was bare, except for a thick cold torque winding its way around his right bicep. Despite the tone of his body Cronus was extremely lean and the smallest of all the titans.
“Someone’s been training today”
Rhea stated, eyeing the casual state of her husband. Cronus lounged behind Rhea holding her in his embrace.
“Isn’t it a bit of a wasted effort? Considering there is no conflict”
“You and I both know why”
Cronus weighed down the light conversation with his sombre tone. Rhea shifted uncomfortably in his arms as she tried to brooch the subject further.
“You don’t know that. The Fates never favoured you in the first place. How do you know they weren’t lying?”
As Rhea began her plea, Cronus let out a deep, exasperated, breath. He retracted his arms.
“We have been through this before. Why do you insist on picking an argument?”
Cronus asked. His tone was very bored which insulted Rhea deeply; she sat up to face him.
“How do you know their prophecy can even come true? Can’t you just let me have one of my children with me? What if what you’re doing to avert it is what causes it?”
Rhea continued her questions, trying to remain assertive. Cronus just closed his eyes and replied in a patronising tone.
“You ask these questions every single time. And every time it is the same answer. We are so close, just one more and you can have your children with you.”
“Our children. Tethys was telling me how much she missed them. I have to lie to my sisters every time I see them. They think our children are dead. Our beautiful, wonderful children. I don’t know how much longer I can stand their condolences and their apologies. I don’t think I can do it anymore, I want to tell them.........”
Rhea paused slightly to gather the courage to finish her sentence. Cronus’ expression was already beginning to sour.
“I will tell them”
Cronus’ eyes snapped open and his arm moved like a coiled spring, grabbing Rhea’s wrist. She screamed in pain as Cronus crushed her wrist with his powerful grip.
“I have tried to be patient with you Rhea. I’ve told you before The Fates predicted our six children would overthrow me as I had overthrown my father. Yet YOU insisted on having them. This was your solution and at every turn YOU question me. All I wanted was to build this great era for mortals and gods. But I still had to accommodate your selfishness. Are you putting yourself before the world you rule? I’m trying my best to be a good king but at every turn you try to ruin my efforts”
Cronus carried on with his verbal assault. Pain shot up Rhea’s arm, leaving her breathless.
“I..... I’m sor.....sorry. I……… I should have been more considerate”
Rhea pleaded. Cronus tightened his grip even further causing Rhea to scream again. He put his face, contorted in disgust, to hers.
“I don’t want you questioning me again. Am I clear?”
Cronus commanded. Too incapacitated to speak, Rhea just nodded and he released her. She immediately brought her hand to chest and whimpered in pain. As Cronus stood and turned to walk away he spoke again.
“I don’t want to argue over this anymore Rhea. You know I don’t like it when we argue.”
Cronus disappeared through the curtains. It was only when she heard the sound of his chiton falling to the floor and Cronus getting into bed that she began to sob quietly on the balcony. Her hopes and resolve had been shattered into more pieces than the number of stars in the night sky.