فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Chapter Six NO FURIES CAME FOR me that night. None came the next morning either, or all that afternoon. By dusk I went to find my mother at her mirror. “Where is Father?” “Gone straight to Oceanos. The feast is there.” She wrinkled her nose, her pink tongue stuck between her teeth. “Your feet are filthy. Can you not at least wash them?” I did not wash them. I did not want to wait another moment. What if Scylla was at the banquet, lounging in Glaucos’ lap? What if they were married already? What if the sap had not worked? It is strange now, to remember how I worried that. The halls were even more crowded than usual, stinking of the same rose oil every nymph insisted was her special charm. I could not see my father, but my aunt Selene was there. She stood at the center of a clot of upturned faces, a mother and her baby birds, waiting to be crammed. “You must understand, I only went to look because the water was so roiled up. I thought perhaps it was some sort of…meeting. You know how Scylla is.” I felt the breath stop in my chest. My cousins were snickering and cutting their eyes at each other. Whatever comes, I thought, do not show a thing. “But she was flailing very strangely, like some sort of drowning cat. Then—I cannot say it.” She pressed her silvery hand to her mouth. It was a lovely gesture. Everything about my aunt was lovely. Her husband was a beautiful shepherd enchanted with ageless sleep, dreaming of her for eternity. “A leg,” she said. “A hideous leg. Like a squid’s, boneless and covered in slime. It burst from her belly, and another burst beside it, and more and more, until there were twelve all dangling from her.” My fingertips stung faintly where the sap had leaked. “That was only the beginning,” Selene said. “She was bucking, her shoulders writhing. Her skin turned gray and her neck began to stretch. From it tore five new heads, each filled with gaping teeth.” My cousins gasped, but the sound was distant, like far-off waves. It felt impossible to picture the horror Selene described. To make myself believe: I did that. “And all the while, she was baying and howling, barking like some wild pack of dogs. It was a relief when she finally dove beneath the waves.” As I had squeezed those flowers into Scylla’s cove, I had not wondered how my cousins would take it, those who were Scylla’s sisters and aunts and brothers and lovers. If I had thought of it, I would have said that Scylla was their darling, and that when the Furies came for me, they would have shouted loudest of all to see my blood. But now when I looked around me, all I saw were faces bright as whetted blades. They clung to each other, crowing. I wish I’d seen it! Can you imagine? “Tell it again,” an uncle shouted, and my cousins cried out their agreement. My aunt smiled. Her curving lips made a crescent like herself in the sky. She told it again: the legs, the necks, the teeth. My cousins’ voices swarmed up to the ceiling. You know she’s lain with half the halls. I’m glad I never let her have me. And one of the river-gods’ voices, rising over all: Of course she barks. She always was a bitch! Shrieking laughter clawed at my ears. I saw a river-god who had sworn he would fight Glaucos over her crying with mirth. Scylla’s sister pretended to howl like a dog. Even my grandparents had come to listen, smiling at the crowd’s edge. Oceanos said something in Tethys’ ear. I could not hear it, but I had watched him for half an eternity, I knew the movements of his lips. Good riddance. Beside me an uncle was shouting, Tell it again! This time my aunt only rolled her pearly eyes. He smelled like squids, and anyway, it was past time for the feast. The gods wafted to their couches. The cups were poured, the ambrosia passed. Their lips grew red with wine, their faces shone like jewels. Their laughter crackled around me. I knew that electric pleasure, I thought. I had seen it before, in another dark hall. The doors opened and Glaucos stepped through, his trident in his hand. His hair was greener than ever, fanned out like a lion’s mane. I saw the joy leap in my cousins’ eyes, heard their hiss of excitement. Here was more sport. They would tell him of his love’s transformation, crack his face like an egg and laugh at what ran out. But before they could say anything, my father was there, striding over to pull him aside. My cousins sank back on sour elbows. Spoilsport Helios, ruining their fun. No matter, Perse would get it out of him later, or Selene. They lifted their goblets and went back to their pleasures. I followed after Glaucos. I do not know how I dared, except that all my mind was filled up with a gray wash like churning waves. I stood outside the room where my father had drawn them.

I heard Glaucos’ low voice: “Can she not be changed back?” Every god-born knows that answer from their swaddles. “No,” my father said. “No god may undo what is done by the Fates or another god. Yet these halls have a thousand beauties, each ripe as the next. Look to them instead.” I waited. I still hoped Glaucos would think of me. I would have married him in a moment. But I found myself hoping for another thing too, which I would not have believed the day before: that he would weep all the salt in his veins for Scylla’s return, holding fast to her as his one, true love. “I understand,” Glaucos said. “It is a shame, but as you say there are others.” A soft metal ping rang out. He was flicking the tines of his trident. “Nereus’ youngest is fair,” he said. “What is her name? Thetis?” My father clicked his tongue. “Too salted for my taste.” “Well,” Glaucos said. “Thank you for your excellent counsel. I will look to it.” They walked right by me. My father took his golden place beside my grandfather. Glaucos made his way to the purple couches. He looked up at something a river-god said and laughed. It is the last memory I have of his face, his teeth bright as pearls in the torchlight, his skin stained blue. In years to come, he would take my father’s advice indeed. He lay with a thousand nymphs, siring children with green hair and tails, well loved by fishermen, for often they filled their nets. I would see them sometimes, sporting like dolphins in the deepest crests. They never came in to shore.

The black river slid along its banks. The pale flowers nodded on their stems. I was blind to all of it. One by one my hopes were dropping away. I would share no eternity with Glaucos. We would have no marriage. We would never lie in those woods. His love for me was drowned and gone. Nymphs and gods flowed past, their gossip drifting in the fragrant, torch-lit air. Their faces were the same as always, vivid and glowing, but they seemed suddenly alien. Their strings of jewels clacked loud as bird-bills, their red mouths stretched wide around their laughter. Somewhere Glaucos laughed among them, but I could not pick his voice out from the throng. Not all gods need be the same. My face had begun to burn. It was not pain, not exactly, but a stinging that went on and on. I pressed my fingers to my cheeks. How long had it been since I’d thought of Prometheus? A vision of him rose before me now: his torn back and steady face, his dark eyes encompassing everything. Prometheus had not cried out as the blows fell, though he had grown so covered in blood that he’d looked like a statue dipped in gold. And all the while, the gods had watched, their attention bright as lightning. They would have relished a turn with the Fury’s whip, given the chance. I was not like them. Are you not? The voice was my uncle’s, resonant and deep. Then you must think, Circe. What would they not do?

My father’s chair was draped with the skins of pure-black lambs. I knelt by their dangling necks. “Father,” I said, “it was I who made Scylla a monster.” All around me, voices dropped. I cannot say if the very furthest couches looked, if Glaucos looked, but all my uncles did, snapped up from their drowsy conversation. I felt a sharp joy. For the first time in my life, I wanted their eyes. “I used wicked pharmaka to make Glaucos a god, and then I changed Scylla. I was jealous of his love for her and wanted to make her ugly. I did it selfishly, in bitter heart, and I would bear the consequence.” “Pharmaka,” my father said. “Yes. The yellow flowers that grow from Kronos’ spilled blood and turn creatures to their truest selves. I dug up a hundred flowers and dropped them in her pool.” I had expected a whip to be brought forth, a Fury summoned. A place in chains beside my uncle’s on the rock. But my father only filled his cup. “It is no matter. Those flowers have no powers in them, not anymore. Zeus and I made sure of that.” I stared at him. “Father, I did it. With my own hands, I broke their stalks and smeared the sap on Glaucos’ lips, and he was changed.” “You had a premonition, which is common in my children.” His voice was even, firm as a stone wall. “It was Glaucos’ fate to be changed at that moment. The herbs did nothing.” “No,” I tried to say, but he did not pause. His voice lifted, to cover mine. “Think, daughter. If mortals could be made into gods so easily, would not every goddess feed them to her favorite? And would not half the nymphs be changed to monsters? You are not the first jealous girl in these halls.” My uncles were beginning to smile. “I am the only one who knows where those flowers are.” “Of course you are not,” my uncle Proteus said. “You had that knowledge from me. Do you think I would have given it, if I thought you could do any harm?”

“And if there was so much power in those plants,” Nereus said, “my fish from Scylla’s cove would be changed. Yet they are whole and well.” My face was flushing. “No.” I shook off Nereus’ seaweed hand. “I changed Scylla, and now I must take the punishment on my head.” “Daughter, you begin to make a spectacle.” The words cut across the air. “If the world contained the power you allege, do you think it would fall to such as you to discover it?” Soft laughter at my back, open amusement on my uncles’ faces. But most of all my father’s voice, speaking those words like trash he dropped. Such as you. Any other day in all my years of life I would have curled upon myself and wept. But that day his scorn was like a spark falling on dry tinder. My mouth opened. “You are wrong,” I said. He had leaned away to note something to my grandfather. Now his gaze swung back to mine. His face began to glow. “What did you say?” “I say those plants have power.” His skin flared white. White as the fire’s heart, as purest, hottest coals. He stood, yet he kept on rising, as if he would tear a hole in the ceiling, in the earth’s crust, as if he would not cease until he scraped the stars. And then the heat came, rolling over me with a sound like roaring waves, blistering my skin, crushing the breath from my chest. I gasped, but there was no air. He had taken it all. “You dare to contradict me? You who cannot light a single flame, or call one drop of water? Worst of my children, faded and broken, whom I cannot pay a husband to take. Since you were born, I pitied you and allowed you license, yet you grew disobedient and proud. Will you make me hate you more?” In another moment, the rocks themselves would have melted, and all my watery cousins dried up to their bones. My flesh bubbled and opened like a roasted fruit, my voice shriveled in my throat and was scorched to dust. The pain was such as I had never imagined could exist, a searing agony consuming every thought. I fell to my father’s feet. “Father,” I croaked, “forgive me. I was wrong to believe such a thing.” Slowly, the heat receded. I lay where I had fallen upon the mosaic floor, with its fish and purpled fruits. My eyes were half blind. My hands were melted claws. The river-gods shook their heads, making sounds like water over rocks. Helios, you have the strangest children. My father sighed. “It is Perse’s fault. All the ones before hers were fine.”

I did not move. The hours passed and no one looked at me or spoke my name. They talked of their own affairs, of the fineness of the wine and food. The torches went out and the couches emptied. My father rose and stepped over me. The faint breeze he stirred cut into my skin like a knife. I had thought my grandmother might speak a soft word, bring salve to sooth my burns, but she had gone to her bed. Perhaps they will send guards for me, I thought. But why should they? I was no danger in the world. The waves of pain ran cold and then hot and then cold again. I shook and the hours passed. My limbs were raw and blackened, my back bubbled over with sores. I was afraid to touch my face. Dawn would come soon, and my whole family would pour in for their breakfasts, chattering of the day’s amusements. They would curl their lips as they passed by where I lay. Inch by slow inch, I drew myself to my feet. The thought of returning to my father’s halls was like a white coal in my throat. I could not go home. There was only one other place in all the world I knew: those woods I had dreamed of so often. The deep shadows would hide me, and the mossy ground would be soft against my ruined skin. I set that image in my eye and limped towards it. The salt air of the beach stabbed like needles in my blasted throat, and each touch of wind set my burns screaming again. At last, I felt the shade close over me, and I curled up on the moss. It had rained a little, and the damp earth was sweet against me. So many times I had imagined lying there with Glaucos, but whatever tears might have been in me for that lost dream had been parched away. I closed my eyes, drifting through the shocks and skirls of pain. Slowly, my relentless divinity began to make headway. My breath eased, my eyes cleared. My arms and legs still ached, but when I brushed them with my fingers I touched skin instead of char. The sun set, glowing behind the trees. Night came with its stars. It was moondark, when my aunt Selene goes to her dreaming husband. It was that, I think, which gave me heart enough to rise, for I could not have endured the thought of her reporting it: That fool actually went to look at them! As if she still believed they worked! The night air tingled across my skin. The grass was dry, flattened by high-summer heat. I found the hill and halted up its slope. In the starlight, the flowers looked small, bled gray and faint. I plucked a stalk and held it in my hand. It lay there limp, all its sap dried and gone. What had I thought would happen? That it would leap up and shout, Your father is wrong. You changed Scylla and Glaucos. You are not poor and patchy, but Zeus come again? Yet, as I knelt there, I did hear something. Not a sound, but a sort of silence, a faint hum like the space between note and note in a song. I waited for it to fade into the air, for my mind to right itself. But it went on. I had a wild thought there, beneath that sky. I will eat these herbs. Then whatever is truly in me, let it be out, at last. I brought them to my mouth. But my courage failed. What was I truly? In the end, I could not bear to know.

It was nearly dawn when my uncle Achelous found me, beard foaming in his haste. “Your brother is here. You are summoned.” I followed him to my father’s halls, still stumbling a little. Past the polished tables we went, past the draped bedroom where my mother slept. Aeëtes was standing over our father’s draughts board. His face had grown sharp with manhood, his tawny beard was thick as bracken. He was dressed opulently even for a god, robed in indigos and purples, every inch heavy with embroidered gold. But when he turned to me, I felt the shock of that old love between us. It was only my father’s presence that kept me from hurtling into his arms. “Brother,” I said, “I have missed you.” He frowned. “What is wrong with your face?”I touched my hand to it, and the peeling skin flared with pain. I flushed. I did not want to tell him, not here. My father sat in his burning chair, and even his faint, habitual light made me ache anew. My father spared me from having to answer. “Well? She is come. Speak.” I quivered at the sound of his displeasure, but Aeëtes’ face was calm, as if my father’s anger were only another thing in the room, a table, a stool. “I have come,” he said, “because I heard of Scylla’s transformation, and Glaucos’ too, at Circe’s hands.” “At the Fates’ hands. I tell you, Circe has no such power.” “You are mistaken.” I stared, expecting my father’s wrath to fall upon him. But my brother continued. “In my kingdom of Colchis, I have done such things and more, much more. Called milk out of the earth, bewitched men’s senses, shaped warriors from dust. I have summoned dragons to draw my chariot. I have said charms that veil the sky with black, and brewed potions that raise the dead.” From anyone else’s mouth these claims would have seemed like wild lies. But my brother’s voice carried its old utter conviction. “Pharmakeia, such arts are called, for they deal in pharmaka, those herbs with the power to work changes upon the world, both those sprung from the blood of gods, as well as those which grow common upon the earth. It is a gift to be able to draw out their powers, and I am not alone in possessing it. In Crete, Pasiphaë rules with her poisons, and in Babylon Perses conjures souls into flesh again. Circe is the last and makes the proof.” My father’s gaze was far away. As if he were looking through sea and earth, all the way to Colchis. It might have been some trick of the hearth-fire, but I thought the light of his face flickered. “Shall I give you a demonstration?” My brother drew out from his robes a small pot with a wax seal. He broke the seal and touched his finger to the liquid inside. I smelled something sharp and green, with a brackish edge. He pressed his thumb to my face and spoke a word, too low for me to hear. My skin began to itch, and then, like a taper snuffed out, the pain was gone. When I put my hand to my cheek I felt only smoothness, and a faint sheen as if from oil. “A good trick, is it not?” Aeëtes said. My father did not answer. He sat strangely dumb. I felt struck dumb myself. The power of healing another’s flesh belonged only to the greatest gods, not to such as us. My brother smiled, as if he could hear my thoughts. “And that is the least of my powers. They are drawn from the earth itself, and so are not bound by the normal laws of divinity.” He let the words hang a moment in the air. “I understand of course that you can make no judgments now. You must take counsel. But you should know that I would be happy to give Zeus a more…impressive demonstration.” A look flashed in his eyes, like teeth in a wolf’s mouth. My father’s words came slowly. That same numbness still masked his face. I understood with an odd jolt. He is afraid. “I must take counsel, as you say. This is…new. Until it is decided, you will remain in these halls. Both of you.” “I expected no less,” Aeëtes said. He inclined his head and turned to go. I followed, skin prickling with the rush of my thoughts, and a breathless, rearing hope. The myrrh-wood doors shut behind us, and we stood in the hall. Aeëtes’ face was calm, as if he had not just performed a miracle and silenced our father. I had a thousand questions ready to tumble out, but he spoke first. “What have you been doing all this while? You took forever. I was beginning to think maybe you weren’t a pharmakis after all.” It was not a word I knew. It was not a word anyone knew, then. “Pharmakis,” I said. Witch.

News ran like spring rivers. At dinner, the children of Oceanos whispered when they saw me and skittered out of my path. If our arms brushed they paled, and when I passed a goblet to a river-god, his eyes dodged away. Oh no, thank you, I am not thirsty. Aeëtes laughed. “You will get used to it. We are ourselves alone now.” He did not seem alone. Every night he sat on my grandfather’s dais with my father and our uncles. I watched him, drinking nectar, laughing, showing his teeth. His expressions darted like schools of fish in the water, now light, now dark. I waited till our father was gone, then went to sit in a chair near him. I longed to take the place beside him on the couch, lean against his shoulder, but he seemed so grim and straight, I did not know how to touch him. “You like your kingdom? Colchis?” “It is the finest in the world,” he said. “I have done what I said, sister. I have gathered there all the wonders of our lands.”

I smiled to hear him call me sister, to speak of those old dreams. “I wish I could see it.” He said nothing. He was a magician who could break the teeth of snakes, tear up oaks by their roots. He did not need me. “Do you have Daedalus too?” He made a face. “No, Pasiphaë has him trapped. Perhaps in time. I have a giant fleece made of gold, though, and half a dozen dragons.” I did not have to draw his stories out of him. They burst forth, the spells and charms he cast, the beasts he summoned, the herbs he cut by moonlight and brewed into miracles. Each tale was more outlandish than the last, thunder leaping to his fingertips, lambs cooked and born again from their charred bones. “What was it you spoke when you healed my skin?” “A word of power.” “Will you teach it to me?” “Sorcery cannot be taught. You find it yourself, or you do not.” I thought of the humming I had heard when I touched those flowers, the eerie knowledge that had glided through me. “How long have you known you could do such things?” “Since I was born,” he said. “But I had to wait until I was out from Father’s eye.” All those years beside me, and he had said nothing. I opened my mouth to demand: how could you not tell me? But this new Aeëtes in his vivid robes was too unnerving. “Were you not afraid,” I said, “that Father would be angry?” “No. I was not fool enough to try to humiliate him in front of everyone.” He lifted his eyebrows at me, and I flushed. “Anyway, he is eager to imagine how such strength may be used to his benefit. His worry is over Zeus. He must paint us just right: that we are threat enough that Zeus should think twice, but not so much that he is forced to act.” My brother, who had always seen into the cracks of the world. “What if the Olympians try to take your spells from you?” He smiled. “I think they cannot, whatever they try. As I said, pharmakeia is not bound by the usual limits of gods.” I looked down at my hands and tried to imagine them weaving a spell to shake the world. But the certainty I had felt when I dripped the sap into Glaucos’ mouth and tainted Scylla’s cove, I could not seem to find anymore. Perhaps, I thought, if I could touch those flowers again. But I was not allowed to leave until my father spoke to Zeus. “And…you think I can work such wonders as you do?” “No,” my brother said. “I am the strongest of the four of us. But you do show a taste for transformation.” “That was only the flowers,” I said. “They grant creatures their truest forms.” His turned his philosopher’s eye on me. “You do not think it convenient that their truest forms should happen to be your desires?” I stared at him. “I did not desire to make Scylla a monster. I only meant to reveal the ugliness within her.” “And you believe that’s what was truly in her? A six-headed slavering horror?” My face was stinging. “Why not? You did not know her. She was very cruel.” He laughed. “Oh, Circe. She was a painted back-hall slattern same as the rest. If you will argue one of the greatest monsters of our age was hiding within her, then you are more of a fool than I thought.” “I do not think anyone can say what is in someone else.” He rolled his eyes and poured himself another cup. “What I think,” he said, “is that Scylla has escaped the punishment you intended for her.” “What do you mean?” “Think. What would an ugly nymph do in our halls? What is the worth of her life?” It was like the old days, him asking, and me without answers. “I don’t know.” “Of course you do. It’s why it would have been a good punishment. Even the most beautiful nymph is largely useless, and an ugly one would be nothing, less than nothing. She would never marry or produce children. She would be a burden to her family, a stain upon the face of the world. She would live in the shadows, scorned and reviled. But a monster,” he said, “she always has a place. She may have all the glory her

teeth can snatch. She will not be loved for it, but she will not be constrained either. So whatever foolish sorrow you harbor, forget it. I think it may be said that you improved her.”

For two nights, my father was closeted with my uncles. I lingered outside the mahogany doors but could hear nothing, not even a murmur. When they emerged, their faces were set and grim. My father strode to his chariot. His purple cloak glowed dark as wine, and on his head shone his great crown of golden rays. He did not look back as he leapt into the sky and turned the horses towards Olympus. We waited in Oceanos’ halls for his return. No one lounged on the riverbank or twined with a lover in the shadows. The naiads squabbled with red cheeks. The river-gods shoved each other. From his dais, my grandfather stared out over all of us, his cup empty in his hand. My mother was boasting among her sisters. “Perses and Pasiphaë were the ones who knew first, of course. Is it any wonder Circe was last? I plan to have a hundred more, and they will make me a silver boat that flies through the clouds. We will rule upon Olympus.” “Perse!” my grandmother hissed across the room. Only Aeëtes did not seem to feel the tension. He sat serene on his couch, drinking from his wrought-gold cup. I kept to the back, pacing the long passageways, running my hands over the rock walls, always faintly damp from the presence of so many water-gods. I scanned the room to see if Glaucos had come. There was still a piece of me that longed to look upon him, even then. When I’d asked Aeëtes if Glaucos feasted with the rest of the gods, he had grinned. “He’s hiding that blue face of his. He’s waiting for everyone to forget the truth of how he came by it.” My stomach twisted. I had not thought how my confession would take Glaucos’ greatest pride from him. Too late, I thought. Too late for all the things I should have known. I had made so many mistakes that I could not find my way back through their tangle to the first one. Was it changing Scylla, changing Glaucos, swearing the oath to my grandmother? Speaking to Glaucos in the first place? I felt a sickening unease that it went back further still, back to the first breath I ever drew. My father would be standing before Zeus now. My brother was sure that the Olympians could do nothing to us. But four Titan witches could not be easily dismissed. What if war came again? The great hall would crack open over us. Zeus’ head would blot out the light, and his hand would reach down to crush us one by one. Aeëtes would call his dragons, at least he could fight. What could I do? Pick flowers? My mother was bathing her feet. Two sisters held the silver basin, a third poured the sweet myrrh oil from its flask. I was being a fool, I told myself. There would be no war. My father was an old hand at such maneuvering. He would find a way to appease Zeus. The room brightened, and my father came. On his face was a look like hammered bronze. Our eyes followed him as he strode to the dais at the room’s front. The rays from his crown speared every shadow. He stared out over us. “I have spoken to Zeus,” he said. “We have found our way to an agreement.” A soughing relief from my cousins, like wind through wheat. “He agrees that something new moves in the world. That these powers are unlike any that have come before. He agrees that they grow from my four children with the nymph Perse.” A ripple again, this one tinged with growing excitement. My mother licked her lips, tilting her chin as if there were already a crown on her head. Her sisters glanced at each other, gnawing on their envy. “We have agreed as well that these powers present no immediate danger. Perses lives beyond our boundaries and is no threat. Pasiphaë’s husband is a son of Zeus, and he will be sure she is held to her proper place. Aeëtes will keep his kingdom, as long as he agrees to be watched.” My brother nodded gravely, but I saw the smile in his eyes. I can veil the sky itself. Just try to watch me. “Each of them has sworn besides that their powers came unbidden and unlooked for, from no malice, or attempted revolt. They stumbled upon the magic of herbs by accident.” Surprised, I darted another glance at my brother, but his face was unreadable. “Each of them, except for Circe. You were all here when she confessed that she sought her powers openly. She had been warned to stay away, yet she disobeyed.” My grandmother’s face, cold in her ivory-carved chair. “She defied my commands and contradicted my authority. She has turned her poisons against her own kind and committed other treacheries as well.” The white sear of his gaze landed on me. “She is a disgrace to our name. An ingrate to the care we have shown her. It is agreed with Zeus that for this she must be punished. She is exiled to a deserted island where she can do no more harm. She leaves tomorrow.” A thousand eyes pinned me. I wanted to cry out, to plead, but my breath would not catch. My voice, ever thin, was gone. Aeëtes will speak for me, I thought. But when I cast my gaze to him, he only looked back with all the rest. “One more thing,” my father said. “As I noted, it is clear that the source of this new power comes from my union with Perse.” My mother’s face, glossy with triumph, beaming through my haze. “So it is agreed: I will sire no more children upon her.” My mother screamed, falling backwards on her sisters’ laps. Her sobs echoed off the stone walls. My grandfather got slowly to his feet. He rubbed at his chin. “Well,” he said. “It is time for the feast.”

The torches burned like stars, and overhead the ceilings stretched high as the sky’s vault. For the last time, I watched all the gods and nymphs take their places. I felt dazed. I should say goodbye, I kept thinking. But my cousins flowed away from me like water around a rock. I heard their sneering whispers as they passed. I found myself missing Scylla. At least she would have dared to speak to my face. My grandmother, I thought, I must try to explain. But she turned away as well, and her sea snake buried its head.All the while my mother wept in her flock of sisters. When I came close, she raised her face so everyone could see her beautiful, extravagant grief. Have you not done enough? That left only my uncles, with their kelp hair and briny, scraggled beards. Yet when I thought of kneeling at their feet, I could not bring myself to do it. I went back to my room. Pack, I told myself. Pack, you are leaving tomorrow. But my hands hung numbly at my sides. How should I know what to bring? I had scarcely ever left these halls. I forced myself to find a bag, to gather clothes and sandals, a brush for my hair. I considered a tapestry on my wall. It was of a wedding and its party, woven by some aunt. Would I even have a house to hang it in? I did not know. I did not know anything. A deserted island, my father had said. Would it be bare rock exposed upon the sea, a pebbled shoal, a tangled wilderness? My bag was an absurdity, full of gilded detritus. The knife, I thought, the lion’s-head knife, I will bring that. But when I held it, it looked shrunken, meant to spear up morsels at a feast and no more. “It could have been much worse, you know.” Aeëtes had come to stand in my doorway. He was leaving too, his dragons already summoned. “I heard Zeus wanted to make an example of you. But of course Father can only allow him so much license.” The hairs stirred on my arms. “You did not tell him about Prometheus, did you?” He smiled. “Why, because he spoke of ‘other treacheries’? You know Father. He’s only being cautious, in case some further terror of yours comes to light. Anyway, what is there to tell? What did you do after all? Pour a single glass of nectar?” I looked up. “You said Father would have thrown me to the crows for it.” “Only if you were fool enough to admit it.” My face was hot. “I suppose I should take you as my tutor and deny everything?” “Yes,” he said. “That is how it works, Circe. I tell Father that my sorcery was an accident, he pretends to believe me, and Zeus pretends to believe him, and so the world is balanced. It is your own fault for confessing. Why you did that, I will never understand.” It was true, he would not. He had not been born when Prometheus was whipped. “I meant to tell you,” he said. “I finally met your Glaucos last night. I have never seen such a buffoon.” He clicked his tongue. “I hope you will choose better ahead. You have always trusted too easily.” I looked at him leaning in my doorway with his long robes and bright, wolfish eyes. My heart had leapt to see him as it always did. But he was like that column of water he had told me of once, cold and straight, sufficient to himself. “Thank you for your counsel,” I said. He left and I considered the tapestry again. Its groom was goggle-eyed, the bride buried in her veils, and behind them the family gaped like idiots. I had always hated it. Let it stay and rot.

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