Beyond the glass
I sat under my elm quietly watching the people go about their day. It had felt like an age since I’d seen Astraea last and I needed her guidance more than ever. Since my birth celebrations she had been visiting regularly, teaching me about the titans who ruled the realm and the world that provided for us. At first, when I was enjoying the weeks with Ismenara and Xyanthe, I had a distraction from her disappearances. We would spend the days together exploring the forest and swimming in the stream. But the more time I spent with them, the more I noticed how different Ismenara and her kind were from us. Ismenara gleamed like a jewel among stones. Not just in her looks, but the way she talked and moved. When she smiled, you could see the happiness behind it. Whereas when one of the people would smile, even Xyanthe, I couldn’t see the light within it. Even Xyanthe’s laugh rang hollow in my ears.
I did think it was a case of getting used to it. Perhaps I was too young to understand this normality. But every time Ismenara or Astraea came into the meadow the mortals would be drawn to them like moths to flame. It was as if the mortals could sense the life that they didn’t possess themselves, subconsciously wanting a taste of it. Recently, I found myself going to my elm most days. The way the leaves swayed in the wind was more animated than the people in the meadow before me; a respite from facing the hollowed eyes of my kin.
I looked on as three mortals were talking among the flowers. It pained me to know that there was no connection between them. I had started to think they might be incapable of it. The longer I remained with them the more I realised how rare a pair like Xyanthe and I were. If one of them disappeared I wasn’t sure if the other two would grieve or even remember them. Some mortals would leave and others would arrive, but their movements had no impact on the residents. None of them were upset by sudden absences or excited at new arrivals. The only time they reacted to anything was when a titan would visit.
I wanted to run over to them and shake them, attempt to rouse them from their false sense of contentment. I winced as one of them laughed, the hollow sound echoing in the air.
As if whispering in reassurance the leaves of the elm rustled quietly above me. I looked up at the towering tree and leaned harder into the bark. I was too lost in my thoughts to notice Xyanthe walking up to me.
“So this is where you’ve been hiding. I was going to get some fruits would you like to come with me?”
She asked, I thought I could hear an edge of concern. For a moment there was something tangible but, like smoke, it was gone in an instant. Still in my cloud of dark thoughts I didn’t respond. Xyanthe crouched, her brow furrowed in concern as she saw the sad look on my face.
“Is something the matter?”
Xyanthe asked, I jumped when she placed a hand on my shoulder. I wasn’t often she noticed my moods.
“No. Nothing. What fruit do you want to pick?”
I replied nonchalantly. The meaningless conversation tasted bitter on my tongue. The fact that deep down she wouldn’t care if I was gone made me sick to my stomach. Even if she didn’t feel the same I looked forward to spending the days with her. She was the only companion I had. Xyanthe ignored my change of subject.
“Whats wrong Callidora? You’ve been so happy”
The concern had drifted back into her tone. I paused, debating over whether or not to tell her. Xyanthe’s impassive nature faded with each day that passed but I didn’t want to cause her pain. I didn’t know what was changing her and I didn’t want to push her too far. This was really something I wanted to talk about with Astraea. Even if she didn’t seem to be coming back anytime soon. I looked into Xyanthe’s gaze and saw the feeling there. I would never know if I didn’t try.
“Do you remember when we first ate the pomegranates together?”
“That was weeks ago. Many of the people who lived in the meadow have gone since then. Don’t you want to join them?”
Xyanthe was taken aback by my question. I guess not many mortals thought of these things. I could see from her face that Xyanthe was struggling to think of an answer. But to my relief it didn’t seem to make her suffer.
“I’m not that sure. I’ve not felt the need to move on”
“What if I left? What would you do then?”
My voice became more eager as I got closer to hearing what I hoped Xyanthe would say. Without warning a tear darted down Xyanthe’s cheek. She seemed as startled as I was when she put a hand to her face and it came away wet.
Xyanthe stammered in disbelief. The pained look Xyanthe had when I started to talk about these matters started to return. I didn’t want to put her under any more strain.
“Let’s go and see what we can find in the forest. You never told me what you felt like having”
I mustered as happy a tone as I could. This seemed to distract her from her involuntary reaction. Xyanthe stood and she locked her arm with mine.
“Great I’m starving”
“IRIS! ARKE!” Rhea screamed. She held her pregnant belly protectively as she ran down the corridors of the palace, making her way to escape. If she made it to solid earth she could defend herself, a daughter of Gaea would never come to any harm on her mother’s soil. She could hear the sound of Cronos’ feet on the marble floor running behind her, catching up to her. She had to do anything to get away, if he reached her Rhea knew she would never be able to get away again.
“STOP RHEA LET ME EXPLAIN”
Cronos shouted behind her as she ran across the mezzanine above the throne room, his voice vibrating off the walls around her. Nothing he could say would ever convince her, she had heard too much.
“HELP! IRIS! ARKE!”
Rhea screamed again as she entered the passage to the stairs. She only had to make it down the flights and across the throne room, from there she could make her escape from the palace. Her breathing was becoming more ragged and her back began to ache. Rhea began to despair, she wasn’t going to reach the doors to the stairs in time. Turning a corner, she continued to run as fast as she could. The light of the evening sun flashed in her eyes as she passed the windows. In her effort to push on, Rhea tripped over the hem of her chiton and fell to the floor. Pain shot up her arm as she twisted mid-fall to land on her side. She couldn’t see him but Rhea knew Cronos had caught up. He was walking slowly up the corridor behind her, the clack of his sandals an ominous sign of his approach.
“My dear you shouldn’t push yourself like this in your condition”
Cronos scolded lightly as he attempted to help her up, but Rhea was having none of it. Shaking out of Cronus’ grip and falling to the floor again, she scrambled away from him and propped herself up against the wall. Rhea continued to stare at her husband venomously as she used the nearest window ledge to stand. She had been subject to this charming act before. It had worked again, and again, and again. If it didn’t, he was content with breaking her resolve with force instead. Most of the time she gave in before it got that far. But she resolved to make it different this time.
“Please Rhea don’t be like this I hate it when we fight”
Cronus pleaded. He moved towards her again but Rhea skirted from his embrace. She knew the next step was coming, the blue of his eyes was darkening and a sneer was playing on Cronus’ lips. She could only stall until they came to her rescue.
Rhea shouted again. Cronus lunged, grabbing her by the throat.
“Please dearest we don’t need to involve anyone else. Why won’t you talk to me?”
His harsh grip betrayed his caring tone. He forced her head to face him and looked into her eyes. His voice lowered threateningly.
“When will you learn? You. Are. On. Your. Own. Without me do you think any of them would bother with a treacherous liar like you? I keep your secrets, I try my best to keep you in luxury and there is no gratitude. They won’t take you in like I have. Not after your lies.”
Rhea begged, clawing at his hand on her neck.
“They would reject you, vilify you, it’s only because of me that you even have any integrity. It’s time for us to be good. Do you understand? You will do as I tell you. Am I clear?”
Cronus continued his threat. When he released his grip, Rhea slumped backwards, coughing and spluttering. She could already hear the excuses.
“Now you see what you make me do? If you would just see sense this could all be avoided. I try to be good king, but you have this effect on me Rhea.”
Cronus accused. All Rhea could do was lean on the window ledge and stare at her husband, hoping her aides would arrive soon.
Cronus exploded, making Rhea jump as if he had kicked her.
“I would rather live on my own before suffering here any longer. You have been deceiving me this entire time. You used our children, MY children, as pawns to hold onto power. You won’t have this child, I will make sure of that at least.”
Rhea whispered. It was all the resistance she could muster. She just needed to keep him talking until help could arrive. Cronus bent back down to her again, his face only a hair’s breadth from Rhea’s.
“If I don’t take the child you will only drive it away. Moros was lying. If you would stop and listen I can explain it all.”
“HESTIA! HERA! POSIEDON! DEMETER! HADES! Have you forgotten them already? The children you dragged away? I thought you would feel some remorse.”
“My dear, who wanted to have the children in the first place? I tried protecting you from the truth but, still knowing their fate, you wanted to bring them into this world anyway. I took them to where they would be safe. You told me to keep them safe. You were more than willing to go along with this. Even this little one........”
Cronus whispered furiously into her ear. Cronus tried to hold her stomach but Rhea immediately pushed him back. As if sharing her revulsion at their father, she could feel the baby kick.
“You will not be getting my son Cronus. I don’t care what happens to me but you are not taking this child. I heard Moros tell you that our children will be your undoing. You would keep our children locked away, you would lie to me, just to save yourself? Our siblings were never going to be jealous of their power.”
“You don’t understand! Everything I have built! I will not see it fall! it will be perfect! I will show everyone what I can do! I did this to save them. I could have been rid of them years ago but I left them alive for you!”
Cronus screamed, his face still inches from Rhea. Rhea felt the rage build inside her like electricity. She didn’t know where the impulse came from, Rhea screamed back and pushed Cronus away. Static exploded from her hands like lightening exploding from earth, sending the king flying backwards. Colliding into the ceiling, Cronus landed on the hard marble floor with a loud crash. Rhea was stunned, looking at her smoking hands in disbelief. She had never shown an affinity for electricity before.
When she looked back at her husband Rhea instantly regretted her actions. He lifted himself up slowly, pieces of the ceiling falling around him. There was pure rage in Cronus’ eyes, which were almost black. She could see the front of his chiton was burnt where she had touched him.
“I thought you might be redeemable but you have shown me you can’t see my perfect vision. You want our children? Join them then”
Cronus’ cool, detached tone sent shivers up Rhea’s spine. The air darkened around them, as if the light was being drained away. The golden armlet coiled around Cronus’ arm glowed and came alive. It snaked its way down his bicep and forearm towards his outstretched hand. In his fist the armlet changed shape into a long gold staff. Rhea could feel the power vibrating from the weapon. Gold light pulsed up its length, causing the characters carved into it to glow.
“What is that?”
Rhea managed to whisper. She was rooted to the spot with fear. Cronus smiled evilly as he twirled the staff in front of him.
He stated. Holding the staff like a spear, Cronus lunged at Rhea. Rhea was too frozen to defend herself when, suddenly, a girl with iridescent wings knelt in front of her. She embraced Rhea and drew her out of his path. Rhea could feel the shockwave as his deadly charge passed them. The marble wall behind them exploded, destroying the façade and sending debris out into the gardens below. The next second Rhea felt two arms hook themselves under her armpits and pull her smoothly from the nearest window. Rhea looked into Cronus’ eyes, stunned, as everything moved around her.
Cronus shouted in desperation. He swept rainbow-winged woman aside, causing her to violently collide with the wall, and reached to grab Rhea. He managed to clutch onto a bronze anklet. When Rhea felt the tug between Cronus and her rescuer she was jolted back into the real world. She looked at the maddened look in Cronus’ eyes as he desperately clung to her in an attempt to keep control.
“IRIS!!!! GET HIM OFF QUICK I CAN’T HOLD ON FOR LONG”
Arke shouted. Iris had her forehead cupped in her hand as she slowly got to her feet. Rhea could feel the desperate cling of Arke’s grasp under her arms slipping as the vice around her ankle tightened. Rhea screamed as she tried to get her ankle free. She saw Iris lift herself up and float into the air. Faster than Rhea could follow, Iris charged into Cronus and sent him flying down the hall. As soon as the queen was free, Arke darted from the façade.
Rhea could feel the baby moving and kicking furiously within her, the panic unsettling him. Storm clouds began to gather around them, heavy with rain and thunder. Even as the wind started squealing in Rhea’s ears she could still hear Cronus calling after her. She may be free but as they flew through the gathering storm Rhea knew this wasn’t the end.
The moon was high in the sky as I emerged from the forest. The flowers all took on light grey tone in the moonlight, as if reflecting the stars in the sky. I couldn’t sleep so I wanted to come back to my elm for some comfort. Endless thoughts and rest never went hand in hand.
I continued to tiptoe my way between the sleeping people to the elm, the grass cooling on my feet. I could see a figure standing at the foot of my elm. I was ready to tell them to get away until I realised the figure had wings, there was only one goddess I knew with wings. She was standing with her arms and wings outstretched, basking in the moonlight. There was a meditative stillness in the air around her. I quickened my pace, eager to reach her. The image of the mortals flocking to Ismenara flashed across my mind. The thought that I was not too different from the other mortals made me stop. I stood awkwardly for a moment before Astraea opened her eyes and smiled down at me. She knelt down on the grass and patted the space next to her with her hand.
“Hello Callidora. Shouldn’t you be asleep this late?”
“The forest and the meadow are beautiful at night. sometimes I like to stay awake to see it”
I tried my best to sound normal but I just couldn’t seem to muster it. I made my way over the last few people and joined her, making sure to avoid her gaze. I didn’t want to see another look of curiosity, especially when there was no explanation for it. I knew she thought something was wrong with me but I had never been able to get an answer.
“Is there something wrong? Aren’t you happy?”
Astraea asked. I just continued to sit awkwardly, not knowing what to do next. I tried a smile but Astraea was more difficult to fool than Xyanthe. She frowned and took my hand.
“You can tell me, I’m Custodian it’s what I’m here for.”
She urged. I breathed deeply, looking out at the meadow. We sat in silence for some time. I had no idea how to begin to tell her the thoughts in my head. Would she be offended? Will she just dismiss it?
“The people…….. The other mortals, I don’t think. Well I……..”
“Are you not fitting in well? I could take you to a different province if you like”
“No! There’s no need for that. I…… I just……”
I exclaimed, faltering as tried to explain my thoughts. Astraea just looked at me but there was no urgency. She waited patiently for me to get my words.
“Don’t you think it’s strange the way all the mortals look at you?”
“There’s nothing wrong with being liked. I try to be as good as I can with the role I’ve been given”
“But it’s more than that. It’s the same with Ismenara. They…… they cling to people like you”
“It’s the way this has always been.”
Astraea replied slowly. It seemed to me that no-one had told her this before.
“I don’t mean it in a cruel way but I know there is something………… strange and I don’t understand it. It seems like I’m the only one who sees it and anytime I try and find out any answers someone gets hurt. It’s all I think about and I can’t figure it out. I notice the looks you give me and I know there is something wrong. What’s wrong with me Astraea?”
My final question hung in the air. Astraea remained silent. She reached a hand out to my face and rubbed away a tear that was rolling down my cheek. The only sound was the grass rustling in the night breeze. I shifted awkwardly and brought my knees to my chin, unsure of Astraea’s silence.
“I... I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said anything”
“Come with me”
Astraea stood and took my hand.
“Where are we going?”
“To ease your mind”
Astraea slowly flapped her wings and lifted us off the ground.