You are my possession
“I WANT MY WIFE FOUND NOW!!”
Cronus commanded, driving his fist into the arm of his throne. There had been no progress on the location of his queen and Cronus was losing his patience.
He slowly paced around a pair of golden thrones on a raised square dais. The throne room was illuminated briefly by lightening from the raging storm outside. Cronus looked at the throne of the high queen, carved with ornate branches bearing fruit, empty beside his own. The throne room was the yolk of the high king’s residence, a large circular room at the centre of the palace. The walls extended upwards with several balconies, extending the entire room’s circumference, from the upper floors.
A set of double doors were the only entrance with many smaller exits leading into the multitude of rooms and corridors in the palace. The large space was only obstructed by monolithic pillars, traced with elaborate patterns in gold. They were arranged into an inner circle, which separated the dais from his brother’s thrones, and an outer circle. His brothers children lounged behind the outer circle on divans draped with gold fabrics. Some were paying close attention while others ate from trays brought in by the mortals.
Within the inner circle Cronus’s brothers, the rulers of the provinces, were seated in their own thrones. Although these were stone and didn’t match the opulence of high king and queens, they were carved with the symbols and icons attributed to their power. Cronus stared down each of his brothers in turn.
He looked first to Oceanus, sat cross legged in his throne. His sea green eyes returned Cronus’ level stare with indignation. The bearded titan of the sea had little respect for his king and didn’t hesitate to show it. To keep his long shoulder length hair from his eyes two large braids extended from his temples to a loose bun at the base of his skull. His seat was carved with waves at the base and clouds up the back, symbolising the seas as a reflection of the heavens.
For Cronus, Oceanus’ distaste was mutual. Oceanus had been the only brother to isolate himself from the conflict with Ouranos, preferring to keep to the seas. Cronus would have left him to his own devices years ago, but his large family were essential to the preservation of the oceans and seas. Defying Cronus in every respect, Oceanus had insisted his guests stand beside his throne rather than being secluded to the outer ring. Oceanus was one of the most free-spirited of the titans, abhorring hierarchy. He saw his position as one of service, not power, and that mentality had led to many a clash with Cronus and his brothers. Oceanus’ four representatives remained as stoic as their patron. On his left were Doris and Nereus, heirs to the ocean once Tethys and Oceanus were ready to pass their responsibility on. On his right stood Metis and Acheron, the representatives of the Oceanids and Potamoi respectively. Behind her father’s throne, Electra stood sheepishly. She wasn’t used to such meetings but as the mother of Arke and Iris her presence had been requested by Cronus.
Cronus turned to Coeus, examiner of the spiritual axis of the heavens. Unlike the rest of his brothers Coeus had come to the meeting alone. Under Cronus’ gaze he did not shift in his seat, which was carved simply with a single vertical line. His head was lazily cupped in his right hand, making his boredom with the meeting apparent. The brother huffed and combed his hand through his dark hair, sitting straight once again. A reclusive sort, Coeus considered anything outside his work a waste of his attention. There were five other brothers who could find the queen, in his opinion his involvement was of little consequence.
The next to face Cronus’ scrutiny was Hyperion. The most loyal and devoted, the hulking titan of light had proven himself useful to Cronus many times. Hyperion kept to attention in his seat, carved with three suns to signify its movement across the sky. His throne was the only one lined with gold. Behind him his eldest son and daughter, Helios and Selene, lounged on divans in the outer circle. In contrast to their fathers obedience the two were fiercely rebellious. Helios was considered one of the most handsome titans, shining from within like the midday sun. Preferring to spend his time frivolously, Helios had resisted when Hyperion attempted to tame his son and force him towards his purpose. Selene was far less tempestuous than her brother but had a resolve and conviction that was far stronger. She commanded an independence that people were compelled to respect. As a result the two didn’t take such meetings seriously. Hyperion insisted on bringing them, in an effort to teach them the importance of their role in the golden age.
Moving his attention on, Cronus focussed on Krios. His brother sat quietly in his throne, carved with stars and constellations. Krios maintained a respectful interest in the matters at hand. Krios knew how hard it would be for him if Eurybia were the one who was missing. He was leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, looking intently at the king. Among his brothers Krios was the most diligent and amicable. Throughout Cronus’ reign he had managed to maintain good relations with all of his brothers. This had resulted in many of the marriages between their children and grandchildren being connected to his family. His sons, Pallas, Perses, and Astraios were seated on the divans behind him keeping a keen observation of the meeting, like their father.
Lastly, Cronus’ gaze fell on Iapetus, who twitched nervously in his seat. Unlike his brothers, being raised by their father had affected Iapetus severly. Their father’s abusive nature had made him fearful and submissive. During their father’s reign the Daimones had experimented on him with their abilities. He had had an affinity for craftsmanship when he was young, setting up the forge where his sons worked. However his lack of confidence meant they quickly surpassed him and took over his only role, creating the materials and tools demanded by the titans. With little self-esteem or drive to develop his abilities many were unsure of his purpose. This was reflected in his throne, which was the only one lacking carvings.
Cronus had kept him regardless. Someone who was easily intimidated could be of use. Iapetus seemed to shrink back into his blank throne under Cronus’ stare. His gaze darted to the floor and a cold sweat appeared on his brow. For support, all four of his sons had accompanied him. They knew the low opinion others had of their father and wanted to ensure his voice was heard. Atlas, Menoetius, and Epimetheus were lounging on divans but Prometheus sat separately, requesting a backless stool instead. Of all the titans’ children, Iapetus’ were considered the most peculiar. His dynasty had maintained a distance from the goings on of the other deities as a result, taking no consorts. The relief was apparent on Iapetus’ face when Cronus turned his attention away.
“Surely the culprit must have left some other evidence behind?”
Coeus asked, eager to bring the meeting to a swift conclusion.
“If there were any other indicators of my wife’s whereabouts don’t you think I would have pursued them? I asked for wisdom brother not simple-minded questions”
“Calm yourself Cronus. We’re not sure why you called us here in the first place. If there is nothing new, would our resources not be better spent continuing the search? The realm is finite we will find her eventually.”
Krios stated in Coeus’ defence. Cronus only scowled back.
“She is pregnant with what could be our only child. Time is of the essence.”
The king replied. The large hall was silent, except for the raging wind and rain. With a click of his fingers Cronus waved a hand towards Electra, gesturing her to come closer.
“You. Come here and tell me again what you know about your daughters.”
Cronus commanded. Oceanus bristled at the disrespect to his daughter. Electra stayed behind her father’s throne, not willing to be at the brunt of another outburst.
“My daughter is not yours to command Cronus. She can answer you from where she is”
Oceanus said. Cronus snorted.
“Where you can whisper excuses in her ear? You insist on them being involved then don’t object when they will be treated as such. I want her closer so she can tell me what she knows of her daughter’s location. Now.”
Cronus insisted. Electra looked to her father, who nodded once. Electra took her father’s hand as she moved past his throne, holding on until the tips of her fingers couldn’t reach him anymore. She emerged from the pillars and stood in front of the dais. In the light her skin took on an amber hue. Cronus stood over her and began his questioning.
“Where are Iris and Arke?”
“I can’t tell you what I don’t know. I-I don’t see them often”
“That’s what you tell me. I’m not asking for a sorry account of your actions as a mother. I’m asking if you have seen them recently”
“I haven’t been able to see them for years. Not since you took them into the palace”
“Ah I remember that day. It was Rhea who found them discarded on the coast. She took care of them like her own, she did your children a kindness and you can’t have the decency to answer a simple question truthfully?”
“I am giving you the truth.”
“Unfortunately you can see how your reputation would cause doubts? Someone who can abandon their children so easily wouldn’t find lies too difficult.”
“You don’t know what the attraction of the water is like. I wanted to be there for them. I wanted to provide for them but I can’t resist my calling. If I am as bad as you say then why would they come to me?”
“Spare me the excuses. I can see you’re hiding something. Where are they?”
Cronus interrogated. He stepped down from the dais and stood with Electra face to face.
Electra stammered and looked to her father, who was staring intently at Cronus. The king held her face and forced her eyes back on him.
“Look at me and tell the truth!”
Cronus shouted. Before he could continue with his questions, Archeron and Metis intervened. The king’s grip was quickly broken by Archeron, who pulled his arm back and forced his hand away. He possessed the characteristic wide shoulders and thick upper body of the Potamoi, overcoming Cronus’ physical strength with ease. Compared to the other river spirits, Archeron was different in many ways. His skin was a deep grey whereas his brothers were more vibrant greens and blues. Unlike his brothers, he was unable to find his river. Once a Potamoi enters the waters of their river they cannot be separated from it. This made Archeron the only free walking member of his kind, leaving the responsibility of their representative to him.
Oceanids were not bound to their waters so tightly, Metis held her position as representative for her wisdom. In addition to her age, Metis held an authoritative air that allowed her to hold her own. She pulled Electra into a comforting embrace, away from Cronus. Her intelligent eyes stared daggers at Cronus while Electra sobbed into her sisters’ shoulder.
“This interrogation is over. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Metis said. Cronus broke Archeron’s grip on his arm.
“Fine. Take her back.”
Cronus conceded, waving back to their positions. Archeron and Metis guided a still distraught Electra back to their father.
“You need to watch your actions Cronus. I will not have my children abused for your own ends”
Oceanus threatened. Electra returned to her place behind his throne, holding her father’s hand for comfort.
“You will not speak against your king brother! If he wishes it those Nymph-spawn must be found!”
Hyperion roared from opposite the hall.
“I will not have you refer to my progeny with insults and slurs. Stay your tongue or I will be forced to do it for you”
Oceanus didn’t have to raise his voice like Hyperion. The threatening edge to his tone was cold as ice.
“The queen must be found and the Oceanid deserves what she gets for hiding information!”
Cronus put out a hand to silence Hyperion.
“Stand down Hyperion. I acted rashly. Since being apart from Rhea I haven’t been myself. There is yet to be any progress and I just want answers. Iris and Arke were always like her shadow. Where they are Rhea will not be too far.”
Cronus appealed to his brothers. Oceanus still looked at Cronus with distaste but was placated enough not to continue the argument.
“I…………. may have, well that is to say I could…………..”
Iapetus’ ramblings caused Cronus to roll his eyes in contempt.
“Spit it out”
Cronus said with clear exasperation.
“I may have seen Arke”
Before Iapetus had finished his statement, Cronus was off the dais and looming over him. The king bent down slowly, placing each hand on the arms of his brother’s throne.
“And you decide to leave it until now to share this information? Tell me brother, in which direction was she going?”
“I....I’m not sure it could have been a trick of the light. Th-they move s-so fast I-I…….”
Iapetus stammered as he began to panic. Cronus grabbed the front of his brothers’ chiton and forcefully lifted him out of the seat.
“Remember a little better, brother!”
Cronus shouted. Iapetus could only mouth and splutter in shock. Three of his sons came to his aid trying to separate the two. Prometheus remained on his stool, his hands gripping the edge of his seat in clear distress. Cronus pushed Epimetheus back and continued harassing Iapetus. It was Krios who came between Cronus’ rage and its latest victim.
“Brother calm yourself. This is no way to treat your own family.”
Krios put an arm between them, attempting to guide Cronus back to the dais. Once Cronus’ initial wrath had abated he released Iapetus and let Krios lead him back to his gold throne. Iapetus was visibly shaking as Menoetius and Atlas kept by their fathers side and lowered him gently back into his seat. During the commotion Prometheus had begun rocking himself on the stool, the white of his knuckles showing how harsh his grip had become. Epimetheus knelt in front of his twin. To soothe his brother he counted on his fingers, touching his thumb to each finger in turn on both hands. Prometheus’ rocking and distress slowed as he copied his brother’s actions. Once his twin was more relaxed Epimetheus sat on the floor next to him, keeping Prometheus calm.
“It sounds to me that you’re searching for culprits instead of victims”
Helios piped up with an impetuous grin. Hyperion quickly turned on his son.
“Silence boy! You will only speak when the king addresses you!”
Hyperion shouted. Helios defiantly sat up on the divan.
“I think it’s worth knowing why he wants to find them so badly. If they’re victims they were kidnapped with the queen and there’s no need to search. The only situation you would specifically need to seek them out is if they’re the kidnappers.”
While Helios explained his theory, Selene nodded in agreement next to him. Coeus and Krios took note, raising eyebrows at the king.
“You will keep those thoughts to yourself! The king does not need to explain himself to you!”
Hyperion roared. Helios looked back at his father defiantly but he was silenced. Oceanus saw an opportunity to make the king more uncomfortable.
“Iris and Arke are my Grand-daughters. We all knew them. They were devoted to Rhea. I doubt they would be her kidnappers, perhaps her saviour instead?”
Oceanus accused, maintaining a scrutinising gaze on Cronus.
“You have to admit Cronus something doesn’t add up. Why focus on her retainers so much?”
Krios asked, his curiosity piqued. With the growing dissent Cronus sighed loudly and rose from his throne once again.
“What did I do to earn such distrust? I have lost my wife. Do you think you would act so logically if it were one of your consorts who was missing? I……….”
“That still doesn’t answer the question”
Oceanus insisted, interrupting Cronus’ speech. Cronus set his jaw in irritation.
“Fine. I wanted to keep this from you until I had more information, but your distrust has pushed me. I already know who kidnapped my queen. The Daimones.”
Upon Cronus’ confession a silence fell over the hall. Iapetus was in a clear state of terror.
“No……. No those beasts can’t be b-back. I can’t….. y-you said they were banished!”
Iapetus shouted in hysteria. He was mortified at the prospect of facing the Daimones. Atlas and Menoetius tried to calm their father. Even Coeus, who had kept a certain level of disinterest, had his attention fully directed on the king.
“That’s not possible and you know it Cronus. The fifth river of the underworld was created to keep them contained. Even if they found a way past it, the Daimones wouldn’t attempt something like this. They haven’t been able to use their power in years. They would be shades at best.”
Oceanus said, doubtful of his brother’s confession.
“Indeed Cocytus would keep them back. But before my wife’s disappearance Moros was in the palace with the Erinyes and a retinue of Keres. I believe since the Erinyes are daughters of Gaea and the Keres are daughters of Nyx he somehow managed to travel from the underworld undetected, using them as couriers. They have kidnapped the Queen and have declared war with us once again.”
“No! Those monsters are in the underworld where they belong! If……….. If they’re here then none of us are safe! None!”
Iapetus had lost all control at the mention of war. Before Menoetius or Atlas could stop him their father was out of his throne and exiting the hall, manic with fear. The two followed close after him. His father’s outburst had distressed Prometheus causing him to rock again, Epimetheus stayed behind to calm his twin once more.
“His weakness is disgraceful.”
Hyperion stated with distaste, looking at Iapetus’ empty throne.
“You can’t blame him Hyperion. You know how father used to use them to torture him……………”
Krios defended, but was interrupted by Hyperion.
“The rest of us were there and we did not reduce ourselves to being so feeble. He has even passed his failings on to his children”
Hyperion continued to disparage Iapetus’ legacy, looking on at the twins in the outer circle. Epimetheus stood and faced Hyperion without hesitation.
“I can assure you my brothers have no weakness. Prometheus is as capable, if not more so, than anyone else. I will not have you disrespect my family.”
Epimetheus replied, incensed at the way Hyperion talked about his siblings. Before Hyperion could reply, Cronus approached the brothers and placed a hand on Epimetheus’ shoulder.
“I apologise for the harsh words. My brother does not mean it. We all acknowledge the indispensable service you provide us in the forge. I actually wanted to approach the two of you with a project”
Cronus apologised. At the mention of a crafting task Prometheus lifted his head sharply. Although his attention was on the king, his eyes looked past Cronus to the ceiling. Epimetheus crossed his arms, not fully placated by the apology.
“What kind of project?”
“If Moros has brought the Keres to the surface, we need sentries to protect the inhabitants of the realm. The mortals are vulnerable. We may be able to defend ourselves but they are exposed……”
“The sentries would have to be polar opposites of the Keres. The Keres are female spirits with talons and pointed teeth. Perhaps, we could make our own defenders female as well. We could give them graceful features and large white wings……….”
Prometheus interrupted the king with his thoughts that faded to whispers. Cronus was irritated by the intrusion but let the matter rest, he needed their services. The interruption was not a gesture of rudeness but an outburst of Prometheus’ thoughts. Epimetheus was used to this and only smiled at his twin, who was still talking to himself. He maintained his cold demeanour with Cronus.
“It seems this has captured his imagination. I’ll see what we can do. Did you have any thoughts for a name?”
“The Aletheia. It means the truths, I thought it would be fitting.”
“I see. Like I said I will see what we can do”
Epimetheus replied. Prometheus looked up to his brother.
“Maybe making them would help father? If he knows there are protectors he will feel better.”
Epimetheus looked at his brother and then at the king. Prometheus’ direct words had not left much room for negotiation.
“I guess it’s settled. We will inform you when we are ready. Come on brother we’ll head back to the forge”
Before Epimetheus had finished Prometheus rose from his stool and exited the hall. Epimetheus bowed his head quickly before following behind.
“I will assume this meeting is done? I have to get back to my work”
Coeus said, eagerly using the opportunity to take his leave. Cronus waved his assent and his brother walked brusquely from the hall. The other titans also stood from their thrones making their goodbyes. Oceanus and his children were last to leave.
“Brother if you would allow I would like some time with Electra to apologise”
“You have said your apology now. I’m sure that will suffice”
Oceanus replied coldly. Metis protectively put an arm across Electra’s shoulders.
“No, words won’t do for how I acted. There is something I wish to show her, a gift to show how I truly regret my actions”
Oceanus looked to Electra, who just gave a meek nod.
“Very well. We will be waiting just beyond the gates.”
Oceanus and his representatives left the hall. Metis had lingered behind to give Electra a reassuring hug before following her family. Once they were alone Cronus held out a hand to Electra. She looked at his hand with apprehension.
“Come now I don’t have all day”
Cronus insisted. Electra took his hand and he led her to his throne on the dais. He gestured for her to sit down and she gingerly took the throne.
“Th-thank you for your apology”
Electra said, she shifted uncomfortably in the seat. Her kind weren’t used to the regal setting of the golden age as the others who lived on land. Cronus walked behind the gilded chair.
“I always admit when I have done wrong. When there is the occasion for it…….”
Cronus said, Electra’s tension beginning to relax. Just as she settled into a false sense of security, Cronus gripped her shoulders from behind the chair and held her against its back.
“……However this is not one of those occasions”
He whispered into her ear with menace. She struggled against his hold and attempted to call out to her father when Cronus put a hand over her mouth.
“I try to be a good king but my subjects are persistent liars. I know you’re not telling me the truth. I want to know where your daughters could be keeping my wife”
Cronus hissed. He released her mouth so Electra could answer.
“P-please I told you I don’t know where they are.”
“Think, Nymph. I may not know where Iris and Arke are but I know where you are keeping your youngest children. It is truly a shame they are not old enough for travel.”
Cronus’ threat stopped Electra from struggling any further.
“Please, they have no part in this. I-I don’t know where they are but Iris has visited me. Please I am of no use to you she never told me where they are.”
Electra regretted her admission but she couldn’t leave the harpies at Cronus’ mercy. When he had what he wanted Cronus released his grip.
“There, doesn’t honesty feel so much better? Don’t worry. You are of plenty us. You are going to arrange a meeting with your daughters.”
“But I don’t know a way to contact………”
“Then find one! You will arrange a meeting with them, bring them out of wherever they’re hiding”
Cronus commanded. Electra stood from his throne but he held her arm before she could get off the dais.
“Ah ah ah. I promised Oceanus I had a gift for you.”
Cronus tutted. The gold torque on his arm snaked its way down to his hand and onto Electra’s skin. She looked wide-eyed as it travelled up her own arm. The torque began to glow and she fell to her knees, screaming in pain. She tried to prise the torque off her arm, which was burning her skin. When he was satisfied, Cronus reached for her arm. The torque responded lightly to his touch, releasing its grip immediately and retaking its place on his left bicep. It had left a winding burn around Electra’s shoulder.
“I don’t tolerate defiance. When I am ready to see you again this mark will tell you. You are to come alone so I can give you further instruction. Be gone. I don’t want to keep my brother waiting. Try to keep this little gift between us, I can always give you more.”
Cronus threatened. Electra got to her feet and ran from the dais. Thinking he was alone, the king knelt in front of his queens’ empty throne.
“Even in your absence you drive me to such actions, my sweet. All I want is to be the perfect king. I will show my father that I can be the perfect and pure ruler he never could be. I will make the flawless realm he couldn’t and the sacrifices he wouldn’t. But why do you have to drive me to such actions? You plague me with impurities but I don’t feel whole without you.”
Cronus whispered to his absent queen, bowing his head.
“Can I talk with you, brother?”
Krios asked, re-entering the throne room. Cronus jumped and quickly got to his feet, he didn’t anticipate someone intruding on his private moment.
“What is it Krios?”
Cronus asked tersely. Krios furrowed his brow, suspicious of his brother’s tone.
“Is everything alright? I just saw Electra running through the gates. She seemed distressed.”
“Yes. She just misses her daughters dearly. Much like I miss Rhea.”
“I’m sorry brother I hope she is returned to us soon. If it is any consolation, as a daughter of Gaea the Daimones won’t dare harm her.”
“Nothing could console me. But I appreciate your words. What is it you wanted to discuss?”
Krios smiled at his brother’s softened mood, continuing with his original request.
“It concerns the charge you gave me when we defeated the Daimones and Ouranos. Do you think they will try to get her back?”
“No. They wouldn’t know that she is kept in the southern province. You should have nothing to fear. I am confident you will keep them away from her.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. Could there be any extra measures you could spare?”
“I can do nothing until Epimetheus and Prometheus start making the Aletheia. Once they are ready I can arrange for extra reinforcements to keep an eye in the southern province. I assume she is hidden well?”
“I appreciate it. Yes, no-one has noticed her presence. I hope you are reunited with Rhea as soon as possible. I can’t imagine if it were Eurybia in her place.”
With Krios’ kind words the two brothers locked arms.
“Thank you for your words brother. I have a feeling that I will be with my wife soon”
Cronus replied with a grin.
Rhea watched the sun rise, the wet rocks glittering in the morning light. She felt too sick with dread to eat or sleep the entire night. It would take time for the Queens sisters to make the journey. She remained sat in the same position, silently watching the entrance for her sister’s arrival. The log she was sat on had been moved to the centre of the cave with the other logs positioned in a semi-circle around it. Rhea had attempted to hide her injuries as best she could. But her arm, obscured by the shawl, was still in its sling. Arke stared at the Queen as Iris talked excitedly about the visit she made to their mother during the night.
“Arke? Are you listening to me?”
Iris asked. Her concentration broken, Arke turned back to her sister. Iris looked at her sternly tilting her head to the side. Her long hair tumbled over her shoulder, the colour was similar to amber in the sunlight. A trait the two of them shared.
“Are you tired? When did you last sleep? The titanides may not arrive for another few hours you could rest if you like.”
Iris continued. Arke took her younger sister’s hand, adorned with many rings. These kinds of adornments and jewellery had never appealed to Arke like it did to Iris. She had always preferred more shapeless and muted colours in her choice of clothes. But she wouldn’t begrudge her sister’s expression of herself. Iris had an unshakeable self confidence that Arke had always admired.
“If something goes wrong and we’re found. Promise me, no matter what, that you will save yourself”
“You can’t ask me to do that.”
“Please Iris. It will take a lot off my mind. It’s my responsibility to make sure you’re always safe”
“Just because you are older doesn’t mean you can take that burden alone, it goes both ways”
“At the very least when the time comes and I tell you to save yourself you have to do it”
“What has suddenly brought this on? I don’t want to talk about this anymore”
Iris said shaking her head, her amber circlet sparkling in the sun. Arke lowered her voice so the queen wouldn’t hear
“You don’t see the Queen of the entire realm in this state and expect life to carry on as normal. Something is on the horizon and I need to know that you’ll survive it. Please Iris.”
“Fine. I promise if it will give you peace of mind. Satisfied?”
Iris relented. Arke smiled and squeezed her sister’s hand.
“It does, thank you. So Electra called them the ‘harpies’?”
Arke asked. Iris gave her sister a weary look. Iris had been too young to remember how their mother’s disregard had left them in such dire circumstances. As she grew older it was privilege Arke let her keep. She had always made excuses for their parents absence, just because Arke resented them for their selfishness didn’t mean that connection had to be closed for Iris too. No matter what happened with their parents she would always be there for her if they let her down.
“You can call her mother you know. They were only born a few weeks ago, I was able to find her since they’re not ready to leave the island yet. She has named them Aello, Podarge and Ocypete. You should visit mum and see them.”
“When she deserves that title I will address her as such, for now Electra will do. Did you warn her that Cronus might come asking questions?”
“I did. Can’t you and mum make up? I know you still care about her. You wouldn’t have sent me otherwise…….”
Iris was cut off when a bright light illuminated the cave and Mnemosyne appeared.
“Sorry I’m late I was waylaid by a few mortals, I made sure no-one saw me leave”
Mnemosyne explained. Arke and Iris stood and bowed.
“You’re actually the first to arrive Lady Mnemosyne”
“So where’s her majesty the High Queen? I still don’t know what I was called here for…”
Mnemosyne said looking around for her sister. She knew Rhea didn’t like being called by her title, but insisted as a joke. But paused when she saw Rhea huddled on the log. She knelt at her sister’s side.
“Rhea! What happened to you? When I got your message I didn’t think…..”
“Just take a seat and wait for the others. I’m alright.”
Rhea whispered, placing a hand reassuringly on her sisters’ arm. Shocked, Mnemosyne didn’t take her eyes off Rhea as she sat down. It wasn’t long before splashing could be heard outside the mouth of the cave, announcing the arrival of Tethys, Clymene, and Eurybia. The three women’s discussion could be heard from inside the cave.
“It’s been too long since I was in the water. It feels good to swim again”
Eurybia said to the other two as they walked in. Their conversation was cut short when they saw the despondent Queen. They shared Mnemosyne’s underestimation of Rhea’s message.
“Just take your places and everything will be explained”
Rhea said quietly, turning her head to the latest arrivals. The cave remained silent as the titanesses took their places. The last three sisters arrived soon after. Theia and Phoebe walked swiftly into the cave, tired of Themis’ demanding company. The two were speechless when they saw Rhea and sat quietly.
“The two of you need to be more careful when you rush off. I’ve warned you about letting go too early while I am taking on passengers. I almost dropped you in the ocean”
Themis scolded when she entered the chamber. She looked at Rhea and the other titanides, raising an eyebrow at Clymene and Eurybia.
“Why are we called here exactly? If the in-laws are privy to such a meeting it can’t be significant”
“Just stay silent and sit Themis”
Mnemosyne said sharply. Themis glared back at her sister and perched on the end of the log. Rhea remained still as Iris and Arke stood either side of her. They helped the queen to stand in front of her sisters. Despite her weak demeanour, Rhea spoke regally and clearly.
“I have called you all here today to ask for your help. If after I have told you the truth you decide not to. I won’t blame you. I just ask you keep this meeting a secret”
Rhea stated. Each of her sisters had an expression of concern. They knew something was very wrong. Rhea paused, not knowing where to begin.
“I have kept many secrets from you so I will start at the beginning. When we took power from our father, Cronus had to banish the Daimones in the underworld. While he made the preparations, the Moirai gave him a prophecy about his reign. I trusted his account but he lied. He told me the Fates had predicted that our siblings would become afraid of our children’s power. We would be overthrown and our six children would be killed in the struggle. He was so distraught at the thought of that happening to our brothers, sisters, and our family that I………….. I said we should keep the prophecy from you. He………. He was so convincing that I doubted you all”
At the memory Rhea’s voice began to waver. Arke went forward to support the queen but she stopped her. If Rhea had to face this she would face it alone. She sobered herself and continued her story. Even after all these years, talking about her children was unbearable. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for the rest of her confession.
“We were able to ignore the prophecy for a time. But it wasn’t long before I was pregnant with Hestia. When our first child was born Cronus became reclusive and I tried to console him. It wasn’t long after that he started to become violent. Looking back on it now his manipulations began long before he raised a hand to me. He would apologise and beg for my forgiveness and every time I would accept. I thought if our children were safe with us that it might change him back. That was until Hades was born. Cronus feared a son most of all. I tried my best but we couldn’t ignore the prophecy any longer. He told me we had to get away. Cronus said I had to hide with Hades and Hestia. I………. I couldn’t bear the thought of being on the run from my own family and I feared for Cronus, I thought he needed me. He told me he loved me. He told me it was a sacrifice we had to make. But I thought of an alternative.”
Rhea paused as she saw the horror on her sisters faces, she knew they wouldn’t have approved of her actions. But she continued, her child depended on her sister’s cooperation.
“I thought that if we could break the prophecy then maybe we could make a future where our children would be safe. I asked him to lock the baby away where no one would be able to reach him. I don’t know where he took Hades, but Cronus told me that he could get him back when the time was right. I was able to convince myself that it was for the best. I told him we could bide our time and wait until our seventh child was born. I thought a solution would help him get better. But his violent episodes became more frequent. I thought it was my fault, I had driven him to this and it was killing him on the inside. I didn’t stop him taking Demeter and Posiedon, but when Hera was born I couldn’t take it. I tried to keep her but he insisted. I started to think we had gone too far and he took Hestia for good measure.”
Rhea’s voice wavered at the memories. She took a deep breath and thought of the child she had yet to give birth to.
“I had to keep telling myself that it was just one more. Just a little longer and I would have all my children with me. We could be a family. But that changed. Moros and a retinue of Keres were waiting for us at the palace. Moros said he had a message from the Fates, Cronus told me to go to our chambers for the child’s protection. I don’t know what made me stop outside the door but I listened in and found out everything, Moros recited the prophecy Cronus was truly given. It wouldn’t be our brothers and sisters but our own children who would be his downfall. Cronus just laughed back at him. He boasted about how he had beaten the prophecy, how he had our children locked away. He had lied to me all this time. Iris and Arke managed to help me escape. I called you here to ask, beg, for you for your help. I know I have betrayed you all, but my child doesn’t deserve this fate. I won’t ask for forgiveness I don’t deserve just so long as he is kept safe.”
Rhea’s last plea for her child hung in the air. Arke and Iris were in tears behind her. Where they had been standing either side of the Queen, they had moved closer and Arke had put an arm around Iris. The other women remained speechless as they took in what the queen had told them. Themis stood in front of Rhea, it was clear she was bristling with anger. Rhea would endure anything her sister had to say, if it meant her child would be spared from Cronus. Rhea was shocked when Themis pulled her into a close embrace.
“For all my foresight, I never saw this. We’ll do more than help this child Rhea. We are going to make sure he is never close enough to hurt you again”
Upon hearing Themis’ vow Rhea’s strength faltered and she sobbed loudly into her sister’s arm’s. The rest of her sisters joined them, huddling together, whispering words of reassurance. Rhea could have taken ridicule, she expected them to never talk to her again. Cronus had spent years sowing so much doubt in her mind that she wasn’t prepared for their acceptance. She had spent years being told that she was alone. But as she looked tearfully at the faces of her sisters, all Rhea felt was relief. She wasn’t alone anymore.
It felt unnatural, not waking up on the grass. In my mind’s eye I could see Eosphoros’ light display from the night before. My first thoughts were of him as I untangled myself from the bedsheets and sat up. I wondered where Eosphoros had gone, the last thing I could remember was the warm touch of his arms around me. I looked around the room. The pale glare of the stark white walls and furniture reflecting the morning sun. Astraea was facing the wall, sleeping on a divan. Her wings spanned the gap between the floor and the foot of the bed. It probably wasn’t best to wake her after the long flight to the palace. Beyond the door I could hear the shuffle of people walking up and down the corridor outside. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to explore, hoping to find Eosphoros somewhere near.
I gingerly crept to the door. I froze, my hand on the dark pine wood, when Astraea made a small grunting sound and shifted in her sleep. I carefully eased the door open and slipped into the corridor. The aroma of cooking immediately made my stomach ache. It led me back to the circular foyer and down the stairs. I was eager to find the source of the scent. I came to a set of double doors hidden away behind one of the staircases, obscured behind the pillars. There wasn’t anything remarkable about them, which put them out of place. Where other doors had lintels or carvings depicting stars and constellations, these had been left plain. The delicious smell beckoned me to enter regardless. The simplicity of the doors betrayed the activity of the kitchens behind. Clay ovens lined each wall on my left and right. The mortals were bustling around benches arranged in rows between them. They were silent while they worked but the hall was full of noise; the clatter of platters, the crackle of the fires and the shuffling of footsteps. The air was thick with heat as I moved through the crowd of people. The mortals were rushing around me, too caught up in their work to notice as I made my way to the nearest bench. It was strange being around mortals who were so active. That being said, they moved mechanically completely oblivious to each other’s presence. My heart sank as I realised there was little difference between the residents of the palace and the people of the meadow. Except they had been put to work.
‘It takes time to get to know people’
Eosphoros had assured me. But the people had to have an interest in getting to know each other first. Distracted by my hunger, I approached the aroma of food emanating from the benches filled with platters. Each tray was piled with steaming rolls and shallow cups of red liquid. The trays were round and elevated by a single foot, with two handles on either side. Even covered in food, I could see the edges of an ornate design painted on the tray. Whoever made it must have been very skilled.
I picked up one of the lumps, it felt warm to the touch, and bit into it. I couldn’t help but groan in pleasure, the savoury smell didn’t do the taste any justice. The satisfying crunch of the outer crust and the soft layer on the inside were heaven to my aching stomach. I hadn’t experienced food like this before, having only eaten the fruits found in the forest. As I went for my next bite one of the mortals bumped into me, knocking me forward and causing me to drop the roll on the floor.
The man said, his dark skin glistening with sweat from the ovens. I winced at his despondent tone but as he looked into my eyes, his face changed. He set the tray down and put his hands on his hips.
“You do know that’s someone else’s breakfast you’re eating?”
His voice had changed so rapidly, it caught me by surprise. I froze, he wasn’t apologetic anymore. I swallowed the mouthful I had already bitten off.
“I am sorry I never thought.... I had no intention to steal. The food smelled so good and………….”
I apologised, picking up and dusting off the roll I had dropped. I went to return it to the tray but he put out a hand to stop me.
“You may as well have that one now. Are you new? Do you know how to make bread?”
I didn’t respond, I was still stunned at his sudden change of character. I had never met a mortal that was so demanding.
“You do know what bread is? That’s the food you’re eating.”
He explained, pointing at the roll in my hands. I stayed silent, taking another bite of my roll. I don’t think that’s the response he wanted. He rolled his eyes and motioned for me to follow.
“Come with me. I’m Pacorus by the way.”
I replied between bites. I followed Pacorus down the hall through the crowds. I noticed the way he walked was more driven than the others around us. I still wondered what had caused the sudden change when we walked out of the kitchens and into one of the preparation rooms behind. It was still claustrophobic, despite being distinctly cooler. A small window, set high in the wall, let in some light but not much. The air was slightly misted from a white powder the mortals were using to roll out dough. They were sat in a row at a long table, each with a large vessel of dough at their feet. On their right another mortal stood behind each of them quietly. They had developed a precise routine. The shaped rolls were piled onto a tray on the edge of the table. Which was then carried out by their partner to the ovens, who would return with an empty tray to be refilled. Pacorus took me to the end of the table and gestured for me to sit down. I quickly finished the last of my roll before sitting down. He took a handful of white powder from a bowl and sprinkled it over the table top. He slapped a portion of dough in front of me, causing to me to cough with all the unsettled powder, and began working it with his knuckles.
“See how I’m doing it? You push the dough out with your palm, fold, turn and repeat”
Pacorus demonstrated. When the dough was ready he rolled it into lumps and placed them on the tray at the end of the table.
“Now you try”
He instructed, taking another measure of dough from the vessel. He dropped it onto the table with a loud thump. He watched me as I curled my hands into fists and attempted to knead. I yelped in surprise when the dough began sticking to my hands like pomegranate juice. I tried rubbing it off but to no avail. He must have found my frustration amusing, he laughed as he picked the dough off my fingers and rubbed some of the powder into my hands. I couldn’t help but notice how much larger his hands were than mine, through the layers of dough and powder I could feel the callouses in them too.
“I forgot to tell you to rub your hands in excess flour so it won’t stick. Try again you should do better this time”
Pacorus explained. My next attempt was more successful. After pushing the dough out and folding it several times, I rolled it into balls. He examined the rolls. He seemed satisfied with them and picked up the tray.
“Hmmmmm, you could try to make them the same size but they should do. I’ll take these out to the ovens and send someone else the fetch the rest for you. I will come back when breakfast is ready.”
Pacorus said, leaving me to my work. Shortly after he left a tall woman with short blonde hair set an empty tray at the end of the table and stood to my right. The way she fell so easily into formation with the others was unsettling. Even in such a confined space I could feel a detachment among the mortals still. No-one exchanged a word, silently continuing on with their work. Where my arms would ache and I would let out the odd groan or stop to stretch my arms, they did neither. The woman who was taking away my finished rolls didn’t make eye contact. It seemed that no matter where the mortals lived they were stoic and isolated.
Just because you can’t see it now, doesn’t mean the companionship isn’t there
Eosphoros’ words encouraged. Maybe if I approached them more directly I might get more of a reaction. It had worked with Xyanthe, and Pacorus too.
“So did you live in the meadow before you came here?”
I asked, attempting to start a conversation. The woman didn’t react. Frustrated, when she walked behind me I reached out for her wrist. when my hand touched her skin a spark of static caused the both of us to flinch.
“I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself first. My name is Callidora, what’s yours?”
I continued, turning to face her. She didn’t become lively but her detached air was gone. The woman just looked to the floor. I tried to look into her eyes but she sheepishly avoided my gaze. She returned to her place next to me. Instead of standing silently like she had before, she held one arm nervously.
She replied quietly. I got the feeling Aspasia wasn’t someone who wanted a conversation. I sighed and took out another lump of dough. She wasn’t standing as blankly as the others anymore, but I had expected her to be more willing to talk.
Before long, with no distraction, the task of kneading became more repetitive. I found my mind drifting back to Eosphoros and the night before. I was so lost in thought I didn’t notice Pacorus re-entering the room.
“Everyone’s ready to eat. We can bring breakfast to their graces and have our own”
He announced. I left the lump of dough I was currently kneading. I saw the other mortals going to a large vessel by the door filled with water, washing the excess dough off their hands. Inspecting my own, it was a good idea to do the same. Once I had washed off most of the dough I went back out into the large hall, the oven fires were all put out but windowless kitchen kept the humidity in. This didn’t seem to bother the mortals who were sitting at the rows of tables to eat. While I was trying to spot Astraea or Eosphoros, Pacorus waved me over to the double doors. Next to him other mortals were queued in single file, each of them holding a tray.
“Since it’s your first time making breakfast I thought you could also have your first time serving too”
I couldn’t finish my question before a tray was pushed into my hands and Pacorus guided me from the hall. The other mortals filed out behind me and continued to follow as Pacorus at led us across the foyer and through a large archway. We came out into an open square courtyard. Much of the courtyard was similar to the rocky terrain outside the palace, but there were cascades of wildflowers growing over the rocks. I marvelled at two regal stone thrones, ringed with benches, seated under a large willow tree. Pacorus turned towards the side of the courtyard, where a long table seated the titans. Instead of a wall, a row of ornate pillars was the only divider between the room and the courtyard. Except for a pair of empty chairs at the head of the table, every seat was filled. The table hummed with polite morning conversation and family activity, I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between this table and ones filled with mortals in the kitchens. Every one of titans were adorned in fine fabrics and accessories studded with gemstones. I tried to spot Eosphoros and Astraea but for once they were indistinguishable, blending into the scene of finery among others of their kind. The fact that the only mortals in the room were serving food and drink gave me pause. The people behind me filed down each side of the table, placing the trays in between large flower centrepieces. Slowly I started to follow suit and made my way down the room. A small woman wearing a golden hairnet clicked her fingers at me.
“You there. Set the tray down I’ve been waiting for too long”
She commanded with a haughty tone. I just looked at her in disbelief, I had never been treated like that before. She clicked her fingers again; a light rose colour extended up her hands and upper arms. Her wings, whose feathers were a mixture of yellows and oranges, twitched slightly in impatience.
“Astraea dear could you try with it? You seem to have more of a knack for talking to them than I do”
“Yes mother……….. Callidora?”
Astraea’s eyes widened when she saw me, but she looked relieved. I almost dropped the tray, I hadn’t noticed her at the table.
“What are you doing here? I was so worried when you weren’t in the room.”
“I’m not sure myself. I just followed the smell of food.”
I explained, walking over and awkwardly attempted to lower the tray. I managed to knock the centrepiece and sent a few of the rolls bouncing down the table.
“Your lot are so quaint when you’re flustered”
The woman next to Astraea piped up, amused by the spectacle.
Astraea exclaimed. I could see the resemblance between the two in the subtle curve of their faces. But the similarity ended when the mother opened her mouth.
“Now, now dear you give them too much credit.”
She said dismissively, picking up her drinking vessel. Her wings were shedding terracotta feathers onto the floor. The rest of Astraea’s family began eagerly reaching for the rolls. A couple of seats down on the opposite side of the table I recognised a pair of hazel eyes.
I exclaimed, waving to him. Instead of smiling, like I thought he would, he jumped and dropped the roll he was pulling apart. He avoided my eyes and moved awkwardly in his seat. Maybe he didn’t recognise me, there were many other mortals who lived here too.
“It’s Callidora, remember? From last………”
I continued. Astraea took my hand and I could feel the atmosphere around the table change. Astraea’s eyes were wide, begging me not to say anymore.
“I think it’s best if you joined the others and had your breakfast there. I’ll come and get you when you’re finished”
“But I thought I would eat with you. Why are none of the other mortals out here? It’s much less humid than the kitchens.”
Instantly, I knew this wasn’t what the titans wanted to hear. Astraea’s mother made a small chocking noise on a piece of roll. Astraea’s hold on my hand froze. Eosphoros still wouldn’t make eye contact with me as he dipped some bread into his wine.
“But I thought you might want to eat with them. It would be the perfect opportunity to get to know them”
Astraea said. I looked at the faces of Pacorus and the others. I had seen that same blank look of adoration on faces of the mortals back in the meadow. I had learned all I could.
“But Ismenara eats with us all the time.”
“I wouldn’t trust a Naiad’s choice of company”
Astraea’s mother snorted. Clearly, once she felt the urge to speak she wouldn’t think beforehand.
“What does she mean?”
“Don’t worry about it Callidora. Just go sit with the others I will come get you later”
Astraea attempted to console me. I pulled my hand from Astraea’s. No-one insults my friends.
“No. What does she mean?”
My voice hardened as I repeated the question. The scene was starting to attract stares from the rest of Astraea’s family.
“Nothing Callidora. Honestly I just thought you would benefit more from spending time with your own kind, it’s why I brought you here in the first place”
Astraea explained in an attempt to diffuse the tension. I looked one more time to Eosphoros, who was still studiously trying to deny I existed, then back at Astraea.
“I’ll see you when you’re done”
Astraea encouraged. Her mother was absentmindedly eating her roll with no remorse for what she had said. Back in the meadow I never had reason to feel a divide between me and Astraea. I had never been faced with such prejudices before. Watching someone I knew condone them made me feel powerless to object. Especially since the mortals here accepted such treatment with no change in their dispassionate nature. Rubbing away tears of frustration, I walked as fast as I could from the hall.