فصل 03

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فصل 03

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Chapter Three WHEN I WOKE, PROMETHEUS was gone. The golden blood had been wiped from the floor. The hole the manacles had made was closed over. I heard the news from a naiad cousin: he had been taken to a great jagged peak in the Caucasus and chained to the rock. An eagle was commanded to come every noon and tear out his liver and eat it steaming from his flesh. Unspeakable punishment, she said, relishing each detail: the bloody beak, the shredded organ regrowing only to be ripped forth again. Can you imagine? I closed my eyes. I should have brought him a spear, I thought, something so he could have fought his way through. But that was foolish. He did not want a weapon. He had given himself up. Talk of Prometheus’ punishment scarcely lasted out the moon. A dryad stabbed one of the Graces with her hairpin. My uncle Boreas and Olympian Apollo had fallen in love with the same mortal youth. I waited till my uncles paused in their gossip. “Is there any news of Prometheus?” They frowned, as if I had offered them a plate of something foul. “What news could there be?” My palm ached where the blade had cut, though of course there was no mark. “Father,” I said, “will Zeus ever let Prometheus go?” My father squinted at his draughts. “He would have to get something better for it,” he said. “Like what?” My father did not answer. Someone’s daughter was changed into a bird. Boreas and Apollo quarreled over the youth they loved and he died. Boreas smiled slyly from his feasting couch. His gusty voice made the torches flicker. “You think I’d let Apollo have him? He does not deserve such a flower. I blew a discus into the boy’s head, that showed the Olympian prig.” The sound of my uncles’ laughter was a chaos, the squeaks of dolphins, seal barks, water slapping rocks. A group of nereids passed, eel-belly white, on their way home to their salt halls. Perses flicked an almond at my face. “What’s wrong with you these days?” “Maybe she’s in love,” Pasiphaë said. “Hah!” Perses laughed. “Father cannot even give her away. Believe me he’s tried.” My mother looked back over her delicate shoulder. “At least we don’t have to listen to her voice.” “I can make her talk, watch.” Perses took the flesh of my arm between his fingers and squeezed. “You’ve been feasting too much,” my sister laughed at him. He flushed. “She’s just a freak. She’s hiding something.” He caught me by the wrist. “What’re you always carrying around in your hand? She’s got something. Open her fingers.” Pasiphaë peeled them back one by one, her long nails pricking. They peered down. My sister spat. “Nothing.”

My mother whelped again, a boy. My father blessed him, but spoke no prophecy, so my mother looked around for somewhere to leave him. My aunts were wise by then and kept their hands behind their backs. “I will take him,” I said. My mother scoffed, but she was eager to show off her new string of amber beads. “Fine. At least you will be of some use. You can squawk at each other.” Aeëtes, my father had named him. Eagle. His skin was warm in my arms as a sun-hot stone and soft as petal-velvet. There had never been a sweeter child. He smelled like honey and just-kindled flames. He ate from my fingers and did not flinch at my frail voice. He only wanted to sleep curled against my neck while I told him stories. Every moment he was with me, I felt a rushing in my throat, which was my love for him, so great sometimes I could not speak.

He seemed to love me back, that was the greater wonder. Circe was the first word he ever spoke, and the second was sister. My mother might have been jealous, if she had noticed. Perses and Pasiphaë eyed us, to see if we would start a war. A war? We did not care for that. Aeëtes got permission from Father to leave the halls and found us a deserted seaside. The beach was small and pale and the trees barely scrub, but to me it seemed a great, lush wilderness. In a wink he was grown and taller than I was, but still we would walk arm in arm. Pasiphaë jeered that we looked like lovers, would we be those types of gods, who coupled with their siblings? I said if she thought of it, she must have done it first. It was a clumsy insult, but Aeëtes laughed, which made me feel quick as Athena, flashing god of wit. Later, people would say that Aeëtes was strange because of me. I cannot prove it was not so. But in my memory he was strange already, different from any other god I knew. Even as a child, he seemed to understand what others did not. He could name the monsters who lived in the sea’s darkest trenches. He knew that the herbs Zeus had poured down Kronos’ throat were called pharmaka. They could work wonders upon the world, and many grew from the fallen blood of gods. I would shake my head. “How do you hear such things?” “I listen.” I had listened too, but I was not my father’s favored heir. Aeëtes was summoned to sit in on all his councils. My uncles had begun inviting him to their halls. I waited in my room for him to come back, so we could go together to that deserted shore and sit on the rocks, the sea spray at our feet. I would lean my cheek upon his shoulder and he would ask me questions that I had never thought of and could barely understand, like: How does your divinity feel? “What do you mean?” I said. “Here,” he said, “let me tell you how mine feels. Like a column of water that pours ceaselessly over itself, and is clear down to its rocks. Now, you.” I tried answers: like breezes on a crag. Like a gull, screaming from its nest. He shook his head. “No. You are only saying those things because of what I said. What does it really feel like? Close your eyes and think.” I closed my eyes. If I had been a mortal, I would have heard the beating of my heart. But gods have sluggish veins, and the truth is, what I heard was nothing. Yet I hated to disappoint him. I pressed my hand to my chest, and after a little it did seem that I felt something. “A shell,” I said. “Aha!” He shook his finger in the air. “A shell like a clam or like a conch?” “A conch.” “And what is in that shell? A snail?” “Nothing,” I said. “Air.” “Those are not the same,” he said. “Nothing is empty void, while air is what fills all else. It is breath and life and spirit, the words we speak.” My brother, the philosopher. Do you know how many gods are such? Only one other that I had met. The blue sky arched above us, but I was in that old dark hall again, with its manacles and blood. “I have a secret,” I said. Aeëtes lifted his brows, amused. He thought it was a joke. I had never known anything he did not. “It was before you were born,” I said. Aeëtes did not look at me while I told him about Prometheus. His mind worked best, he always said, without distractions. His eyes were fixed on the horizon. They were sharp as the eagle he was named for, and could pry into all the cracks of things, like water pricking at a leaky hull. When I was finished, he was silent a long time. At last he said: “Prometheus was a god of prophecy. He would have known he would be punished, and how. Yet he did it anyway.” I had not thought of that. How even as Prometheus took up the flame for mankind, he would have known he was walking towards the eagle and that desolate, eternal crag. Well enough, he had answered, when I had asked how he would be. “Who else knows this?” “No one.” “You are sure?” His voice had an urgency to it I was not used to. “You did not tell anyone?” “No,” I said. “Who else is there? Who would have believed me?” “True.” He nodded once. “You must tell no one else. You should not talk about it again, even with me. You are lucky Father did not find out.” “You think he would be so angry? Prometheus is his cousin.”

He snorted. “We are all cousins, including the Olympians. You would make Father look like a fool who cannot control his offspring. He would throw you to the crows.” I felt my stomach clench with dread, and my brother laughed at the look on my face. “Exactly,” he said. “And for what? Prometheus is punished anyway. Let me give you some advice. Next time you’re going to defy the gods, do it for a better reason. I’d hate to see my sister turned to cinders for nothing.”

Pasiphaë was contracted in marriage. She had been angling for it a long time, sitting in my father’s lap and purring of how she longed to bear a good lord children. My brother Perses had been enlisted to help her, lifting goblets to toast her nubility at every meal. “Minos,” my father said from his feasting couch. “A son of Zeus and king of Crete.” “A mortal?” My mother sat up. “You said it would be a god.” “I said he would be an eternal son of Zeus, and so he is.” Perses sneered. “Prophecy talk. Does he die or not?” A flash in the room, searing as the fire’s heart. “Enough! Minos will rule all the other mortal souls in the afterlife. His name will go on through the centuries. It is done.” My brother dared say no more, nor my mother. Aeëtes caught my eye, and I heard his words as if he spoke them. See? Not a good enough reason. I expected my sister to weep over her demotion. But when I looked, she was smiling. What that meant I could not say; my mind was following a different thread. A flush had spread over my skin. If Minos were there, so would his family be, his court, his advisers, his vassals and astronomers, his cupbearers, his servants and underservants. All those creatures Prometheus had given his eternity for. Mortals.

On the wedding day, my father carried us across the sea in his golden chariot. The feast was to be held on Crete, in Minos’ great palace at Knossos. The walls were new-plastered and every surface hung with bright flowers; the tapestries glowed with richest saffron. Not only Titans would attend. Minos was a son of Zeus, and all the boot-licking Olympians would also come to pay their homage. The long colonnades filled up quickly with gods in their glory, clattering their adornments, laughing, casting glances to see who else had been invited. The thickest knot was around my father, immortals of every sort pressing in to congratulate him on his brilliant alliance. My uncles were especially pleased: Zeus was unlikely to move against us as long as the marriage held. From her bridal dais Pasiphaë glowed lush as ripe fruit. Her skin was gold, and her hair the color of sun on polished bronze. Around her crowded a hundred eager nymphs, each more desperate than the last to tell her how beautiful she looked. I stood back, out of the crush. Titans passed before me: my aunt Selene; my uncle Nereus trailing seaweed; Mnemosyne, mother of memories, and her nine light-footed daughters. My eyes skimmed over, searching. I found them at last at the hall’s edge. A dim huddle of figures, heads bent together. Prometheus had told me they were each different, but all I could make out was an indistinguished crowd, each with the same dull and sweated skin, the same wrinkled robes. I moved closer. Their hair hung lank, their flesh drooped soft off their bones. I tried to imagine going up to them, touching my hand to that dying skin. The thought sent a shiver through me. I had heard by then the stories whispered among my cousins, of what they might do to nymphs they caught alone. The rapes and ravishments, the abuses. I found it hard to believe. They looked weak as mushroom gills. They kept their faces carefully down, away from all those divinities. Mortals had their own stories, after all, of what happened to those who mixed with gods. An ill-timed glance, a foot set in an impropitious spot, such things could bring down death and woe upon their families for a dozen generations. It was like a great chain of fear, I thought. Zeus at the top and my father just behind. Then Zeus’ siblings and children, then my uncles, and on down through all the ranks of river-gods and brine-lords and Furies and Winds and Graces, until it came to the bottom where we sat, nymphs and mortals both, each eyeing the other. Aeëtes’ hand closed on my arm. “Not much to look at, are they? Come on, I found the Olympians.” I followed, my blood beating within me. I had never seen one before, those deities who rule from their celestial thrones. Aeëtes drew me to a window overlooking a sun-dazzled courtyard. And there they were: Apollo, lord of the lyre and the gleaming bow. His twin, moonlit Artemis, the pitiless huntress. Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods, who had made the chains that held Prometheus still. Brooding Poseidon, whose trident commands the waves, and Demeter, lady of bounty, whose harvests nourish all the world. I stared at them, gliding sleek in their power. The very air seemed to give way where they walked. “Do you see Athena?” I whispered. I had always liked the stories of her, gray-eyed warrior, goddess of wisdom, whose mind was swifter than the lightning bolt. But she was not there. Perhaps, Aeëtes said, she was too proud to rub shoulders with earthbound Titans. Perhaps she was too wise to offer compliments as one among a crowd. Or perhaps she was there after all, but concealed even from the eyes of other divinities. She was one of the most powerful of the Olympians, she could do such a thing, and so observe the currents of power, and listen to our secrets. My neck turned to gooseflesh at the thought. “Do you think she listens to us even now?” “Don’t be foolish. She is here for the great gods. Look, Minos comes.” Minos, king of Crete, son of Zeus and a mortal woman. A demigod, his kind were called, mortal themselves but blessed by their divine parentage. He towered over his advisers, his hair thick as matted brush and his chest broad as the deck of a ship. His eyes reminded me of my father’s obsidian halls, shining darkly beneath his golden crown. Yet when he placed his hand on my sister’s delicate arm, suddenly he looked like a tree in winter, bare and shriveled-small. He knew it, I think, and glowered, which made my sister glitter all the more. She would be happy here, I thought. Or preeminent, which was the same to her. “There,” Aeëtes said, leaning close to my ear. “Look.” He was pointing to a mortal, a man I had not noticed before, not quite so huddled as the rest. He was young, his head shaved clean in the Egyptian style, the skin of his face fitted comfortably into its lines. I liked him. His clear eyes were not smoked with wine like everybody else’s. “Of course you like him,” Aeëtes said. “It is Daedalus. He is one of the wonders of the mortal world, a craftsman almost equal to a god. When I am my own king, I will collect such glories around me too.” “Oh? And when will you be king?”

“Soon,” he said. “Father is giving me a kingdom.” I thought he was joking. “And may I live there?” “No,” he said. “It is mine. You will have to get your own.” His arm was through mine as it ever was, yet suddenly all was different, his voice swinging free, as if we were two creatures tied to separate cords, instead of to each other. “When?” I croaked. “After this. Father plans to take me straight.” He said it as if it were no more than a point of minor interest. I felt like I was turning to stone. I clung to him. “How could you not tell me?” I began. “You cannot leave me. What will I do? You do not know what it was like before—” He drew my arms back from his neck. “There is no need for such a scene. You knew this would come. I cannot rot all my life underground, with nothing of my own.” What of me? I wanted to ask. Shall I rot? But he had turned away to speak to one of my uncles, and as soon as the wedded pair was in their bedchamber, he stepped onto my father’s chariot. In a whirl of gold, he was gone.

Perses left a few days later. No one was surprised, those halls of my father were empty for him without my sister. He said he was going east, to live among the Persians. Their name is like mine, he said, fatuously. And I hear they raise creatures called demons, I would like to see one. My father frowned. He had taken against Perses ever since he had mocked him over Minos. “Why should they have demons, more than us?” Perses did not bother to answer. He would go through the ways of water, he did not need my father to ferry him. At least I will not have to hear that voice of yours anymore, was the last thing he said to me. In a handful of days, all my life had been unwound. I was a child again, waiting while my father drove his chariot, while my mother lounged by Oceanos’ riverbanks. I lay in our empty halls, my throat scraping with loneliness, and when I could not bear it any longer, I fled to Aeëtes and my old deserted shore. There I found the stones Aeëtes’ fingers had touched. I walked the sand his feet had turned. Of course he could not stay. He was a divine son of Helios, bright and shining, true-voiced and clever, with hopes of a throne. And I? I remembered his eyes as I had pleaded with him. I knew him well, and could read what was in them when he looked at me. Not a good enough reason. I sat on the rocks and thought of the stories I knew of nymphs who wept until they turned into stones and crying birds, into dumb beasts and slender trees, thoughts barked up for eternity. I could not even do that, it seemed. My life closed me in like granite walls. I should have spoken to those mortals, I thought. I could have begged among them for a husband. I was a daughter of Helios, surely one of those ragged men would have had me. Anything would be better than this. And that is when I saw the boat.

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