فصل 04

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فصل 04

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Chapter Four I KNEW OF SHIPS from paintings, I had heard of them in stories. They were golden and huge as leviathans, their rails carved from ivory and horn. They were towed by grinning dolphins or else crewed by fifty black-haired nereids, faces silver as moonlight. This one had a mast thin as a sapling. Its sail hung skewed and fraying, its sides were patched. I remember the jump in my throat when the sailor lifted his face. Burnt it was, and shiny with sun. A mortal. Mankind was spreading across the world. Years had passed since my brother had first found that deserted land for our games. I stood behind a jut of cliff and watched as the man steered, skirting rocks and hauling at the nets. He looked nothing like the well-groomed nobles of Minos’ court. His hair was long and black, draggled from wave-spray. His clothes were worn, and his neck scabbed. Scars showed on his arms where fish scales had cut him. He did not move with unearthly grace, but strongly, cleanly, like a well-built hull in the waves. I could hear my pulse, loud in my ears. I thought again of those stories of nymphs ravished and abused by mortals. But this man’s face was soft with youth, and the hands that drew up his catch looked only swift, not cruel. Anyway, in the sky above me was my father, called the Watchman. If I was in danger, he would come. He was close to the shore by then, peering down into the water, tracking some fish I could not see. I took a breath and stepped forward onto the beach. “Hail, mortal.” He fumbled his nets but did not drop them. “Hail,” he said. “What goddess do I address?” His voice was gentle in my ears, sweet as summer winds. “Circe,” I said. “Ah.” His face was carefully blank. He told me much later it was because he had not heard of me and feared to give offense. He knelt on the rough boards. “Most reverend lady. Do I trespass on your waters?” “No,” I said. “I have no waters. Is that a boat?” Expressions passed across his face, but I could not read them. “It is,” he said. “I would like to sail upon it,” I said. He hesitated, then began to steer closer to the shore, but I did not know to wait. I waded out through the waves to him and pulled myself aboard. The deck was hot through my sandals, and its motion pleasing, a faint undulation, like I rode upon a snake. “Proceed,” I said. How stiff I was, dressed in my divine dignity that I did not even know I wore. And he was stiffer still. He trembled when my sleeve brushed his. His eyes darted whenever I addressed him. I realized with a shock that I knew such gestures. I had performed them a thousand times—for my father, and my grandfather, and all those mighty gods who strode through my days. The great chain of fear. “Oh, no,” I said to him. “I am not like that. I have scarcely any powers at all and cannot hurt you. Be comfortable, as you were.” “Thank you, kind goddess.” But he said it so flinchingly that I had to laugh. It was that laughter, more than my protestation, that seemed to ease him a little. Moment passed into moment, and we began to talk of the things around us: the fish jumping, a bird dipping overhead. I asked him how his nets were made, and he told me, warming to the subject, for he took great care with them. When I told him my father’s name, it sent him glancing at the sun and trembling worse than ever, but at day’s end no wrath had descended and he knelt to me and said that I must have blessed his nets, for they were the fullest they had ever been. I looked down at his thick, black hair, shining in the sunset light, his strong shoulders bowing low. This is what all those gods in our halls longed for, such worship. I thought perhaps he had not done it right, or more likely, I had not. All I wanted was to see his face again. “Rise,” I told him. “Please. I have not blessed your nets, I have no powers to do so. I am born from naiads, who govern fresh water only, and even their small gifts I lack.” “Yet,” he said, “may I return? Will you be here? For I have never known such a wondrous thing in all my life as you.” I had stood beside my father’s light. I had held Aeëtes in my arms, and my bed was heaped with thick-wooled blankets woven by immortal hands. But it was not until that moment that I think I had ever been warm. “Yes,” I told him. “I will be here.” His name was Glaucos, and he came every day. He brought along bread, which I had never tasted, and cheese, which I had, and olives that I liked to see his teeth bite through. I asked him about his family, and he told me that his father was old and bitter, always storming and worrying about food, and his mother used to make herb simples but was broken now from too much labor, and his sister had five children already and was always sick and angry. All of them would be turned out of their cottage if they could not give their lord the tribute he levied. No one had ever confided so in me. I drank down every story like a whirlpool sucks down waves, though I could hardly understand half of what they meant, poverty and toil and human terror. The only thing that was clear was Glaucos’ face, his handsome brow and earnest eyes, wet a little from his griefs but smiling always when he looked at me. I loved to watch him at his daily tasks, which he did with his hands instead of a blink of power: mending the torn nets, cleaning off the boat’s deck, sparking the flint. When he made his fire, he would start painstakingly with small bits of dried moss placed just so, then the smaller twigs, then larger, building He saw me watching and rubbed self-consciously at his calloused hands. “I know I am ugly to you.” No, I thought. My grandfather’s halls are filled with shining nymphs and muscled river-gods, but I would rather gaze on you than any of them. I shook my head. He sighed. “It must be wonderful to be a god and never bear a mark.” “My brother once said it feels like water.” He considered. “Yes, I can imagine that. As if you are brimming, like an overfilled cup. What brother is that? You have not spoken of him before.” “He is gone to be a king far away. Aeëtes, he is called.” The name felt strange on my tongue after so long. “I would have gone with him, but he said no.” “He sounds like a fool,” Glaucos said. “What do you mean?” He lifted his eyes to mine. “You are a golden goddess, beautiful and kind. If I had such a sister, I would never let her go.”

Our arms would brush as he worked at the ship’s rail. When we sat, my dress lapped over his feet. His skin was warm and slightly roughened. Sometimes I would drop something, so he might pick it up, and our hands would meet. That day, he knelt on the beach, kindling a fire to cook his lunch. It was still one of my favorite things to watch, that simple, mortal miracle of flint and tinder. His hair hung sweetly into his eyes, and his cheeks glowed with the flame’s light. I found myself thinking of my uncle who had given him that gift. “I met him once,” I said. Glaucos had spitted a fish and was roasting it. “Who?” “Prometheus,” I said. “When Zeus punished him, I brought him nectar.” He looked up. “Prometheus,” he said. “Yes.” He was not usually so slow. “Fire-bearer.” “That is a story from a dozen generations ago.” “More than a dozen,” I said. “Watch out, your fish.” The spit had drooped from his hand, and the fish was blackening on the coals. He did not rescue it. His eyes were fixed on me. “But you are my age.” My face had tricked him. It looked as young as his. I laughed. “No. I am not.” He had been half slouched to one side, knees touching mine. Now he jerked upright, pulling away from me so fast I felt the cold where he had been. It surprised me. “Those years are nothing,” I said. “I made no use of them. You know as much of the world as I do.” I reached for his hand. He yanked it away. “How can you say that? How old are you? A hundred? Two hundred?” I almost laughed again. But his neck was rigid, and his eyes wide. The fish smoked between us in the fire. I had told him so little of my life. What was there to tell? Only the same cruelties, the same sneers at my back. In those days, my mother was in an especial ill humor. My father had begun to prefer his draughts to her, and her venom over it fell to me. She would curl her lip when she saw me. Circe is dull as a rock. Circe has less wit than bare ground. Circe’s hair is matted like a dog’s. If I have to hear that broken voice of hers once more. Of all our children, why must it be she who is left? No one else will have her. If my father heard, he gave no sign, only moved his game counters here and there. In the old days, I would have crept to my room with tear-stained cheeks, but since Glaucos’ coming it was all like bees without a sting. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It was only a stupid joke. I never met him, I only wished to. Never fear, we are the same age.” Slowly, his posture loosened. He blew out a breath. “Hah,” he said. “Can you imagine? If you had really been alive then?” He finished his meal. He threw the scraps to the gulls, then chased them wheeling to the sky. He turned back to grin at me, outlined against the silver waves, his shoulders lifting in his tunic. No matter how many fires I watched him make, I never spoke of my uncle again.upwards and upwards. This art too, I did not know. Wood needed no coaxing for my father to kindle it.One day, Glaucos’ boat came late. He did not anchor it, only stood upon its deck, his face stiff and grim. There was a bruise on his cheek, storm-wave dark. His father had struck him. “Oh!” My pulse leapt. “You must rest. Sit with me, and I will bring you water.” “No,” he said, and his voice was sharp as I had ever heard it. “Not today, not ever again. Father says I loaf and all our hauls are down. We will starve, and it is my fault.” “Yet come sit, and let me help,” I said. “You cannot do anything,” he said. “You told me so. You have no powers at all.” I watched him sail off. Then wild I turned and ran to my grandfather’s palace. Through its arched passageways I went, to the women’s halls, with their clatter of shuttles and goblets and the jangle of bracelets on wrists. Past the naiads, past the visiting nereids and dryads, to the oaken stool on the dais, where my grandmother ruled. Tethys, she was called, great nurse of the world’s waters, born like her husband at the dawn of ages from Mother Earth herself. Her robes puddled blue at her feet, and around her neck was wrapped a water-serpent like a scarf. Before her was a golden loom that held her weaving. Her face was old but not withered. Countless daughters and sons had been birthed from her flowing womb, and their descendants were still brought to her for blessing. I myself had knelt to her once. She had touched my forehead with the tips of her soft fingers. Welcome, child. I knelt again, now. “I am Circe, Perse’s daughter. You must help me. There is a mortal who needs fish from the sea. I cannot bless him, but you can.” “He is noble?” she asked. “In nature,” I said. “Poor in possessions, yet rich in spirit and courage, and shining like a star.” “And what does this mortal offer you in exchange?” “Offer me?” She shook her head. “My dear, they must always offer something, even if it is small, even if only wine poured at your spring, else they will forget to be grateful, after.” “I do not have a spring and I do not need any gratitude. Please. I will never see him again if you do not help me.” She looked at me and sighed. She must have heard such pleas a thousand times. That is one thing gods and mortals share. When we are young, we think ourselves the first to have each feeling in the world. “I will grant your wish and fill his nets. Yet in return, let me hear you swear you will not lie with him. You know your father thinks to match you better than with some fish-boy.” “I swear,” I said.

He came skimming across the waves, shouting for me. His words poured over themselves. He had not even had to work the nets, he said. The fish leapt by themselves onto his deck, big as cows. His father was pacified, and the levy paid, with credit for next year. He knelt before me, head bowed. “Thank you, goddess.” I drew him up. “Do not kneel to me, it was my grandmother’s power.” “No.” He took my hands. “It was you. You were the one who persuaded her. Circe, miracle, blessing of my life, you have saved me.” He pressed his warm cheeks to my hands. His lips brushed my fingers. “I wish I were a god,” he breathed. “Then I could thank you as you deserve.” I let his curls fall around my wrist. I wished I were a real goddess so I could give him whales upon a golden plate, and he would never let me go. Every day we sat together talking. He was full of dreams, hoping that when he was older he might have his own boat, and his own cottage instead of his father’s. “And I will keep a fire,” he said, “burning for you always. If you will allow me.” “I would rather you keep a chair,” I said. “So I may come to speak with you.” He flushed, and I did too. I knew so little then. I had never lolled with my cousins, those broad-shouldered gods and lissom nymphs, when they talked of love. I had never crept off with a suitor into a private corner. I did not know enough even to say what I wanted. If I touched my hand to his, if I bent down my lips for a kiss, what then? He was watching me. His face was like the sand, showing a hundred impressions. “Your father—” he said, stumbling a little, for speaking of Helios always unnerved him. “He will choose a husband for you?” “Yes,” I said. “What sort of husband?” I thought I would weep. I wanted to press against him and say I wished it could be him, but my oath stood between us. So I made myself speak the truth, that my father sought out princes, or perhaps a king if he were foreign. He looked down at his hands. “Of course,” he said. “Of course. You are very dear to him.”I did not correct him. I went back to my father’s halls that night and knelt at his feet and asked him if it was possible to make a mortal a god. Helios frowned at his draughts in irritation. “You know it is not, unless it is in their stars already. Not even I can change the laws of the Fates.” I said no more. My thoughts were following upon themselves. If Glaucos remained a mortal, then he would grow old, and if he grew old he would die, and there would be a day upon that shore when I would come and he would not. Prometheus had told me, yet I had not understood. What a fool I had been. What a stupid fool. In a panic, I ran back to my grandmother. “That man,” I said, nearly choking. “He will die.” Her stool was oak, draped with softest weavings. The yarn in her fingers was river-stone green. She was winding it on her shuttle. “Oh, granddaughter,” she said. “Of course he will. He is mortal, that is their lot.” “It is not fair,” I said. “It cannot be.” “Those are two different things,” my grandmother said. All the shining naiads had turned from their talk to listen to us. I pressed on. “You must help me,” I said. “Great goddess, will you not take him to your halls and make him eternal?” “No god can do so much.” “I love him,” I said. “There must be a way.” She sighed. “Do you know how many nymphs before you have hoped the same and been disappointed?” I did not care about those nymphs. They were not Helios’ daughter, raised on stories of breaking the world. “Is there not some—I do not know the word. Some device. Some bargain with the Fates, some trick, some pharmaka—” It was the word Aeëtes had used, when he spoke of herbs with wondrous powers, sprung from the fallen blood of gods. The sea snake at my grandmother’s neck uncoiled and flicked a black tongue from its arrow mouth. Her voice was low and angry. “You dare to speak of that?” The sudden change surprised me. “Speak of what?” But she was rising, her full height unfurling before me. “Child, I have done as much for you as may be done, and there is no more. Go from here, and let me never hear you speak of that wickedness again.” My head was churning, my mouth sharp as though I had drunk raw wine. I walked back through the couches, the chairs, past the skirts of whispering, smirking naiads. She thinks just because she is daughter of the sun, she may uproot the world to please herself. I was too wild to feel any shame. It was true. I would not just uproot the world, but tear it, burn it, do any evil I could to keep Glaucos by my side. But what stayed most in my mind was the look on my grandmother’s face when I’d said that word, pharmaka. It was not a look I knew well, among the gods. But I had seen Glaucos when he spoke of the levy and empty nets and his father. I had begun to know what fear was. What could make a god afraid? I knew that answer too. A power greater than their own. I had learned something from my mother after all. I bound my hair in ringlets and put on my best dress, my brightest sandals. I went to my father’s feast, where all my uncles gathered, reclining on their purple couches. I poured their wine and smiled into their eyes and wreathed my arms around their necks. Uncle Proteus, I said. He was the one with seal meat in his teeth. You are brave and led valiantly in the war. Will you not tell me about its battles, where they were fought? Uncle Nereus, what about you? You were lord of the sea before Olympian Poseidon robbed you. I long to hear the great deeds of our kind, tell me where the blood fell thickest. I drew those stories from them. I learned the names of those many places that had been sown with gods’ blood, and where those places were. And at last I heard of one not far from Glaucos’ shore.

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